Our friend, Daniel Bryan

 

When the lure of baby-oiled torsos and borderline Shakespearian tragedies first gripped me in the late 90s, we didn’t really know much about the private lives or genuine character traits of the men and women on Monday Night RAW. The internet was in its infancy and tales of real-life relationships, family mishaps or what went on behind a performer’s ring name took some time to surface; particularly in the UK, where gossip and out-of-ring news seemed to arrive via a combination of Transatlantic whispers and carrier pigeon.

The rise of celebrity culture, WWE’s albeit tardy discovery of the internet as a useful marketing tool, and the immense growth and insatiable nature of social media has meant that the people behind our favourite well-known wrestlers have become highly accessible. It’s now not enough for the engagement to end when the credits roll. We need to know who they are when they pull their coat on and drive home at the end of the night, almost as much as we need to love or hate them in the ring. Those we identify with when they’re in their real lives have a direct impact on how we feel about what or who they portray on stepping out from behind the curtain. And that’s pretty new. 

Nobody has been more intriguing in the gradual WWE merging of real-life and character than Daniel Bryan. And the most interesting thing about it is how little there now seems to be between the man and the character, and what that means in relation to how much we both adore him and feel comfortable with how deserving he is of his current extraordinary success. 

Bryan Danielson was one of the first picks when WWE started shifting recruitment attention from second and third generation kids to skimming off the cream of the American indie crop. His earned reputation as one of the best wrestlers in the world, an exemplary work ethic and known salt-of-the earth personality carried with him a loyal and passionate fan base. 

bryan_danielson

That army of followers was outraged that the big machine had dared to change his name to the simpler and more marketable Daniel Bryan. When Bryan was forced to spend several weeks taking part in silly parlour games in the jolly but rigged gameshow that was the first incarnation of NXT, the cries from those who had long charted his independent career were of exasperation and embarrassment on his behalf. Even the implication that he was a rookie grated. 

image3

Bryan, however, took the entire assimilation period in his stride and with his now trademark good grace. Even those in WWE who wrote him off as an internet darling who didn’t fit the Connecticut mould didn’t seem to dull the smile. He never once looked like a guy who didn’t love getting up for work every morning. Unusually, even when he slipped into the mid-card after the excitement of the NXT invasion died down, Bryan never really fell out of favour. Regardless of what his character was doing, those who knew what he was capable of stuck with him. 

The long and pleasingly written Yes Movement storyline, which had Bryan spend months playing underdog and oppressed worker to the modernised McMahon-Helmsleys and that culminated at Wrestlemania XXX a few weeks ago, sealed the deal. The support for Bryan throughout the Yes Movement was unprecedented. There cannot be anyone who didn’t muse over whether there had ever been a single roster member quite so over with such a wide cross-section of fans. Maybe it was the 3:55am time check, but as Bryan lifted the title belts and got showered with ticker tape, I shed a few proper tears for his achievement. 

daniel_bryan_wrestlemania_30

The joy was twofold. We celebrated the fact that, against the odds, Daniel Bryan had beaten his horrible bosses and had the world’s eyes on him during the most coveted few moments in any given wrestling year. But we also felt that our old friend Bryan Danielson had won, too. There is great power and satisfaction in watching someone you’ve seen toil their entire career make it to the highest point possible, without ever complaining or making demands that plaudits are automatically owed to them. We were as much in raptures for the man as we were the character. He was a double hero. 

The almost universal support for Bryan Danielson transferred to Daniel Bryan. And to spread the Bryan love to mainstream media, his real-life relationship with Brie Bella has featured regularly in the Total Divas reality series; always showing him to be the grounded, dependable, nature-loving, good guy we strongly expect he might be when the cameras aren’t pointing at him. 

Total Divas is, of course, largely manufactured. Any representations of real people away from their characters are still carefully created in the company’s eye. But there was genuine affection when the week after Wrestlemania Bryan and Brie got married. The photos released by WWE will no doubt be the wedding ceremony shown as part of Total Divas. But just as we expressed our happiness that both Daniel Bryan and Bryan Danielson won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania, there was also affection for the very sincere union of Bryan Danielson and Brianna Garcia-Colace. The nice guy won again. Twice. 

Brie_04112014_af101219

Life can be almost unbearably cruel at times, and following two of the happiest moments of Bryan’s life, we heard this week that his father had suddenly passed away. He could easily have disappeared from screen for a few weeks without any repercussions or complaint from fans. Instead, he and Brie went to work to make the transition of their time off-screen a little easier on the writers. It was an admirable yet unsurprising move given what we know of Bryan’s dedication to his work. But the tears he failed to choke back as he joined his new wife in the ring at the opening of this week’s RAW were very real. Brie too struggled to keep her composure when faced with her tearful husband. It was hard to watch.

This was not like watching a character in pain. It wasn’t even like watching someone we vaguely know grieving. People pass away every day and even when it’s an acquaintance’s grief we tilt our heads, offer our condolences and move on with our day. We have so much affection for Bryan Danielson and we know so much about his true character that it was genuinely heartbreaking to see him hurting so badly. Bizarrely, it was like watching a good friend in the worst pain of his life. And the thing about friendship is that while you celebrate your successes together, you also share each other’s hurt. 

Social media and living your life in public are not without their pitfalls; not just for celebrities and not only in the wrestling game but for pretty much anyone with a job, or friends, or access to a keyboard. Grave errors of judgement and oversharing are made on Twitter and Facebook every day, sometimes with significant consequences. Accessibility and being generous on your way up, however, often reaps rewards. 

Our experience of Daniel Bryan has been significantly improved upon because of Bryan Danielson’s character, dedication and generosity with his time. Just as we felt he deserved to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship because we knew the personal journey that had led him there, our familiarity with him will be rewarded with all the time and space he needs during the saddest of times. Back in January I said, “…those deserving always get rewarded in the end. Daniel Bryan is proof positive that the nice guy doesn’t always finish first, but he definitely finishes best.” With that now fulfilled, Bryan is also the perfect example of why modern wrestling’s shift toward breaking kayfabe may kill some of the mystery, but what it gives us instead is a different and arguably more human experience. 

I wish Bryan and his family the absolute best during their very sad time.  

RaeSignature

 

Thoughts on Insane Fight Club

grado

All too often when professional wrestling and the mainstream media cross paths it’s more collision than harmonious union. We’re sometimes left feeling sheepish that the spotlight’s been shone on a salacious or maybe even lethal corner of the industry. Most regularly, we’re left peeking through our fingers and cringing at inept interviews or amateur reactions to professional situations.

Outside the cosy confines of the British wrestling community, there is an inherent misunderstanding and disinterest in the media in relation to wrestling’s place in the world. It seems bizarre that a form of theatre so ingrained in British popular culture just a few decades ago needs careful explaining all over again. Yet every magazine show that books a WWE Superstar or local nightly news bulletin filling its quota of ‘small town kids made good’ stories trot out the same tired questions on whether wrestling is real or not. There must be hours worth of Sunday Brunch footage where Tim Lovejoy and Simon Rimmer ask, “But does it actually hurt?” before handing over to a segment on making your own Easter eggs and the like, the second the reply ends.

WrestleTalk TV, at least in its current incarnation tucked away on late night Challenge, is the best case against ‘all publicity is good publicity’. ‘Something is better than nothing’ does not apply here. If its purpose is to make British wrestling sit comfortably among more popular forms of mainstream entertainment, it fails. Its low rent production, unbalanced views and as we’ve seen recently, unprofessional social media interaction outside the show, would do nothing to persuade casual fans that British wrestling has something special to offer that WWE can’t deliver. It’s everything I wish to distance myself from.

This lack of understanding, laziness and life-sucking self-sabotage is what made Insane Fight Club – the BBC1 documentary on Glasgow’s ICW – such a refreshing gulp of oxygen, if a little vodka scented. It dealt briefly with the question of what wrestling is, but didn’t dwell on it. It trusted the viewers’ intelligence enough not to spend an hour holding their hands through the ABCs of winning and losing when you know how your match is going to end. This programme showcased the people and not just the process.

Not only did Insane Fight Club avoid patronising its audience, it also sidestepped the trap of ridiculing its subjects. Television currently has a nasty habit of making documentaries where the tone is set a little too low and judgemental. We end up being encouraged to point and laugh at quirks of personality or practice. This show got it so right, it made the strength of community surrounding ICW and its fans alluring. It presented their lifestyle and sense of belonging without commentary.

What made Insane Fight Club great as a piece of television and quite different to most other wrestling TV was tapping into the human element of ICW’s story, therefore taking it from a show for wrestling fans to a documentary about the people, just with wrestling as its backdrop. Jack Jester’s pursuit to impress his father, who had been supportive of his son’s career but had never felt able to watch him wrestle, was endearing. You truly willed his dad to stay in situ as Jester became champion for the first time. Even when he was dangerously close to bleeding out too much.

Grado’s need to please and be adored is impossible not to indulge. How can you not be smitten with a man who wanders into Nicky Clark’s London salon in full ring attire and after getting his highlights tinted, has the man himself perform his catchphrase “It’s yersel!” into Grado’s phone camera. He humbled himself in front of dream opponent Colt Cabana who – maybe arguably given Mad Man Manson and Danny Hope’s recent genius – sets the standard internationally for comedy matches. But you get the feeling that for all his posturing and laughter chasing, Grado doesn’t yet realise his own star potential. Maybe watching back the penny might drop, but you also slightly feel that part of the attraction is that he doesn’t understand how bankable his silliness really is.

Most intriguing was promoter Mark Dallas, whose intense desire to elevate himself, his family, friends and staff to a better standard of living via ICW brought viewers to his side. The story of how he’s begun implementing his plan to monetise his passion and turn hobbies into careers played out throughout the documentary. It charted the journey from ICW’s regular venue to a much larger building for one epic show.

We tagged along on alcohol-fuelled brainstorming sessions where he and his team devised unorthodox ticket selling tactics. You have to question whether the long term goal of a profitable business marries up with Dallas’ spending. Particularly when he lavishes over £1000 on hotels to “make them feel like stars.”  He spoke most sense when he debunked the most worn out debate in British wrestling – that dotting imported, well known, international talent among your regular roster is absolutely essential if you want to run a growing, thriving business within the British wrestling industry.

Braver than letting the cameras into his finances, Mark Dallas let us peer in on his family and what ICW is doing for his relationship with his son, Danny, who lives with autism. While Dallas clearly struggles in accepting his son’s developmental disability, he just as obviously wants to do his best by his family. He tearfully relayed the day when Danny didn’t want to go to nursery school because he felt different, before explaining that he used a DVD of himself standing in the middle of the ICW ring to help his son understand that it’s okay to be different. Dad is different. It worked, and it clearly meant everything to him as a parent.

Insane Fight Club was not without its flaws. In displaying the bloody, hardcore nature of ICW it may have given unaccustomed viewers the impression that you can’t attend a British wrestling show without going home spattered in blood. This is obviously not true. The bleeding debate is fierce and divisive. Hardcore shows are in the minority on the British scene and many are far more family friendly. In the same vein, storyline meetings and marketing ventures in many promotions are not accompanied by such a flagrant drinking culture. At least, not until the aftershow parties.

Other promoters may worry that viewers might assume all independent wrestling businesses are run on the ICW model. The wisest promotions spend sparingly on accommodation, for example, and ensure profits plough forward into future shows, avoiding short term extravagance in the name of balancing the books. But not only did Dallas make clear that his shows are designed for a very specific adult audience and that he’s running the company in his own style, it’s also a little unfair to ask one promotion to represent the wide variety of choice offered by British wrestling. After all, ICW were chosen because their following has become something of a sub-culture in Glasgow. The programme was made to shed light on ICW, not make it the BritWres poster child. But overall, in presenting a sensitively made documentary on one sector of British wrestling, there is hope that the mainstream profile has been raised for everyone. And that can only be a good thing.

RaeSignature

Let’s Go Home

To steal, paraphrase and then alter the wisdom of Frank Skinner and David Baddiel like the Instagram inspirational quotes I both despise and covet, “It’s coming home. It’s coming home. Wrestling’s coming home.”

The announcement at this year’s National Pro Wrestling Day that CHIKARA would be back in action in just a few short months was a massive sigh of relief. In the butchered words of Joni Mitchell, “You don’t know how great the wrestling promotion you’ve got is until it’s gone and sliced up into so many pieces you can’t keep up.” And just like everything they do, the only predictable thing about the return was that the way it played out was entirely unpredictable.

The last time I wrote about CHIKARA, back in June of last year, I opted not to theorise on what might be happening next. I read and listened to others muse over possible next steps, each more complicated than the last. But I only knew two things for sure: that the dedication put into making the company’s apparent demise seem genuine was equally unnerving and beautiful, and that CHIKARA had never done me wrong, so I trusted that whatever they were trying to do was worth whatever came next.

Watching Archibald Peck – in his full marching band regalia – leading 3.0 out of a smoke covered DeLorean and into the arena to join newly-good Icarus and his army of CHIKARA natives, my faith that all would be right in the end was rewarded. That slightly juddery internet stream made me smile more than any form of wrestling has in months. It made me love it again. The whoosh of the pilot light it lit in my stomach was almost audible. It made my shoulders rise up to my ears, like only the very best things do.

When Andrew bought me the 2009 sampler DVD and introduced me to CHIKARA, I had no idea what I was getting into. Despite learning how to appreciate small-scale, non-McMahon brands of wrestling some years before, I didn’t have anything indie that regularly excited me. I’ve made no secret of my loathing of TNA and have explained my reasons clearly. Ring of Honor was something I dipped in and out of but couldn’t get a full grip on. The American indies seemed so sprawling I didn’t know where to start and, if I’m honest, I didn’t have much inclination to plunder their depths until I had a knowledgeable teacher.

Then there was CHIKARA. The first time I sat down and watched it, the pace was so fast I kept holding my breath waiting for the action to abate. It never seemed to. I often post the photo of me watching them for the first time with the reminder to breathe as a joke. But I genuinely needed that reminder. I fell in love. And when you’re first in love you just can’t breathe. Your heart races. I hadn’t really seen anything like it before and I was utterly mesmerised.

chikara_first_time

This was all before I got filled in on the story. Oh blimey. The story. Everyone comes to wrestling for different reasons. If you’re only there to fill your mental wank bank with oily silhouettes, fine. Knock yourself out. Knock one out. Knock several out. If you most appreciate a highly technical match, there’s plenty out there for you. If you’re not so concerned with a long and involved grapple but love the glossy pomp and pyro of a big production, Vince has got you covered. Personally, I like to take slices from all those pies. But most of all I want to care. I like things that make me tap into my emotions. I want there to be a story that makes me think. I want to have to work for the rewards. CHIKARA is the unequivocal king of “to be continued…” Nobody else cares enough to give the narrative such pride of place. Nobody else trusts their audience enough not to patronise them by dumbing down the cleverness.

It’s not just that CHIKARA tells a tale, it’s that the yarn it spins is so indubitably geeky along with it. I’m amazed no Pennsylvania college has taught CHIKARA Legend 101 yet. It reads like the backstory to a lengthy comic book series or a fantasy novel anthology. The history behind Ultramantis Black alone is enough to make your head spin, but that’s kind of why I love it.

This stuff isn’t just unbelievably nerdy within wrestling. It resides in the upper echelon of all nerd world. I like that not everyone gets it.  I love that being a CHIKARA fan is a little like when motorcyclists nod at each other when they ride past each other. Just by claiming it as your own you immediately say something about yourself to other CHIKARA fans. And it’s been by far the most warm and welcoming exclusive club I’ve found. How something so niche manages to be so friendly to all remains a mystery. Maybe that’s the point, though. We’re all a little weird in this troupe. I’m definitely weird. It’s just a lot of people being weird together. Where else could a few bars of a Dave Matthews song and some adults-sized ants instigate such glee? In a recent Nigel Slater documentary on the British love of biscuits, an expert in biscuits suggested that people who love the dark chocolate digestive over the sweeter, sicklier milk chocolate version think themselves a little more discerning than the masses. CHIKARA is my dark chocolate biscuit.

I’m aware that my experience of this odd corner of professional wrestling is a very British one. It’s one that’s lived from behind a screen, in a different timezone. It’s felt more inclusive since those painful weeks waiting for King of Trios DVDs to pop through my letterbox were replaced with iPPVs and a streaming service. But I know I’m experiencing something a little different to those sitting in the front row. The live show is a beautiful thing. It’s thrilling to know that the people you’re watching leap from the top rope could land in your lap at any moment. But it’s not the only thing.

There’s nothing like singing your favourite song when the person who wrote it stands on a stage right in front of you. But I’ll still get a rush from putting my headphones on and belting it out with the same vigour. A stand-up comedy show is made up of the same jokes whether you’re there in person or watching the DVD. Your laughter is just a little less cosseted.  I adore settling down in front of my TV or computer to watch CHIKARA. It makes me happy to put my pyjamas on, gather some drinks and snacks and watch something I undoubtedly know will send me to bed smiling. I’d love to be there in person, but I love my own experience because it’s mine. I’m excited to do it again.

CHIKARA was my gateway to indie wrestling. I hadn’t realised how little I understood before it came along. It was both an education and confirmation that wrestling really is what I think it’s supposed to be – fun. Wrestling has been a poorer place since the family fractured and the shards splintered out into alternate Quackenbush promotions. Ironically, even ‘Wrestling is Fun!’ felt like less fun than CHIKARA. That’s because CHIKARA boils up a special brew that doesn’t taste right when you mix it with other things. It gets diluted. You just can’t argue with chemistry.

CHIKARA makes me feel like a kid in the best possible way. It opens up my imagination in a way that few other things manage to. It’s proper escapism. The idea that anything could happen at any time should be the building blocks of every wrestling promotion. After all, it’s not any more the real world than any soap opera, pantomime or cartoon. But when you look closely, it isn’t the main focus in many places. So many just go through the motions and empty the cash tin at the end of the night. There’s something to be said for running your ship so tightly that the backstage politics and the finances aren’t your primary public topic of discussion. There’s something to be said for playing the game and for kayfabe.

Few things have felt more like going home than when Bryce Remsburg’s trademark, octave-jumping screech tried to make sense of the brawl that took place to make the CHIKARA return at NPWD a real thing. Who knew that a squeal could feel like a hug? I’m ready to add a brand new chapter to my favourite story. In the unadulterated words of those great 1970s philosophers Emerson, Lake & Palmer, “Show me! Show me! Show me the road that leads home.”

 

You can watch the announcement here from 1:57:00

You can catch up on the story here.

RaeSignature

RAW: Damage Limitation

Alright. Let’s stop dancing around the inevitable. Punk is gone. He hasn’t been officially future endeavoured and there is a part of me holding on to the fact that this might be the most ballsy, elaborate work in history. But as he’s been pulled from pre-paid AXXESS meet & greets and assessing the bizarre atmosphere on RAW this week, we can assume that at the very least he’s having an extended holiday.

There was a definite air of damage limitation on this week’s RAW. Fan-made signs enquiring as to Punk’s whereabouts were confiscated by security. In the same way that Rey Mysterio was booed at the Royal Rumble simply for not being Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton’s words made no impact on the crowd, who were otherwise engaged in repeatedly chanting for CM Punk. Being a bit of a tough-nut, their disinterest in his moaning about his lack of…(umm, what was it again?) made no impression on him either.

Needing to pacify an already volatile crowd Steph and HHH appeared on the ramp to instruct Randy to stop whining. To curry favour with the audience even further, they warned him that they had the power to strip him of his ‘face of the company’ moniker. If he didn’t cool his boots they might be forced to make someone else their favourite. Daniel Bryan, maybe. HHH even joined the Yes Movement. Turncoat!

RAW_1080_Photo_014

Daniel Bryan, who in the space of a week has gone from their whipping boy to potential poster boy. You can’t help but feel that even what would have been Bryan’s eventual triumph over ‘the man’ has been ditched in favour of keeping people from turning off.

The Shield won a three-man tag against Big E. Langston, Kofi and Rey Mysterio, but the crucial part of the story came when Dean Ambrose (unf) and Roman Reigns squabbled over who should have taken the pin. Poor Seth Rollins. As if his comedic tumbling the previous week hadn’t been upsetting enough. Now mummy and daddy are fighting again. I wonder which of them plays mum and which takes on the role of dad. Let’s think about that for a moment. Anyway, the bickering soon ended and their broken pieces were glued back together when the Wyatts appeared on screen hoping to capitalise on their moment of collective weakness. They didn’t.

RAW_1080_Photo_048

It also seems there’s dissent at Camp Real Americans. After losing a place in the Elimination Chamber to Christian on SmackDown, Jack Swagger was given a rematch, only to lose a second time. You can always tell when Swagger’s in a panic. His bottom lip bursts open, like that kid in school who always got stress-related nosebleeds on class trips.  Zeb Colter made his disgruntlement known in no uncertain terms and even Antonio Cesaro dropped and shook his head in shame. Time to disband these guys and start hyping Cesaro, lest he go the same way as Hero. At least, let’s not allow that to happen before I can successfully attend any British shows he might be booked on. Selfish? Me? Absolutely. It already sticks in my craw that I don’t get to clap eyes on Chris Hero’s colour-of-a-cornfield mane when he’s in the UK at the end of this month.

In further attempts to placate the ready-to-riot crowd, the New Age Outlaws were forced to put the tag titles on the line against Goldust and Cody Rhodes. Oh and they were forced to do it *MOVIE TRAILER VOICE* inside a steel caaaaage. New Age Outlaws retained in a match that went on for far too long, never really got going and made little-to-no use of the cage. Hey, Hunter? Where’s Punk?

Thankfully this was followed by Batista’s arrival. Now, hold on. I know this doesn’t sound all that exciting. But the small detail I deliberately omitted in the name of building tension is that our Dave’s back in the double denim. Yes!

RAW_1080_Photo_173

RAW_1080_Photo_174

And not just top and bottom denim, but a matching burnout tee. Cor! But beyond my predictable giddiness at Dave-denim, the real star of this segment was Alberto Del Rio. Dressed in less impressive single denim, the promo he ripped on Dave was so convincingly impassioned you might believe there was some truth behind it. I mean, why would the guy who’s been consistently great but never truly trusted to carry the company along with the big boys feel cheesed off that Dave’s waltzed back in to steal a Wrestlemania headline slot? It was the first time in many months I’ve really sat up and taken notice of Del Rio. Their scrap was fierce and Del Rio was so pumped he returned to the ring to retrieve his rather fetching black blazer, before catching glimpse of Dave’s face and thinking better of it.

RAW_1080_Photo_188

Speaking of those flying uncomfortably under the radar, Dolph Ziggler was teamed up with R-Truth and Xavier Woods to go up against the Wyatts. The match had all the bumps and jumps you’d expect, with Bray Wyatt pinning Dolph for the win. To match their video interruption earlier in the evening, The Shield made their own video based gift, with Dean Ambrose (unf) mocking the Wyatts’ scare tactics and his fellow warriors warning of retribution. This was met with the usual psychotic laughter in the ring. Standard but still pleasing fare.

This took us to a long main event between Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan, the winner of which would become the McMahon-Helmsley’s favourite boy. It was a long and involved match where both gave a lot, but it was flat. It was missing something. Despite some interference from Kane, Bryan still won the match, but it didn’t have the shine it should have. It’s not enough just to give us what we want. We need the backstory to make it mean something. That’s where promoters get wrestling fans all wrong. It’s about the journey. I wonder if that’s the line they’d be following if Punk was still around. And the fact that Orton and Kane continued to pummel Bryan after the bell means it’ll all probably flip-flop back the other way quicker than a Westminster sex scandal come next week. It just didn’t make sense. Unless Kane interfered to make sure Bryan didn’t win, what was the point?

Can you say ‘state of flux’?

RAW_1080_Photo_279

N.B. This week, in an attempt to skip what I thought were just the ads, I watched RAW via the Sky Sports On Demand service. Unfortunately, I only realised after writing this that they’d cut out several mid-card matches, linking segments etc. I’ll have seen all the missing pieces before next week, but just a warning to those in the UK. It gives a skewed view of the show and I’m going to be complaining to Sky about it.   

RAW: Something’s Amiss

I feel there’s something else I should be musing over today. But I can’t quite put my finger on what it might be. Hmm. Maybe it’ll come to me as we go along.

The Royal Rumble officially kicks off the Road to Wrestlemania. We should be frothing at the mere thought that the biggest party of the year is on its way. And yet…

Grinning like the cats who got the cream, Stephanie and HHH over-egged their excitement at great mate Dave Batista winning the Rumble to such an extent you have to wonder if they realised soon after that they were lactose intolerant and vomited up what turned out to be a flop after all.

RAW_1079_Photo_006

The patronising tone they cloaked their jubilation in served only to rile the crowd further and… do you ever get the feeling you’ve been sneakily trolled? Baited into reacting by someone who knows how to push your buttons? Do you wonder if this is exactly what they wanted? To leave Daniel Bryan out so that we’d riot for the international press?

In sharp contrast to the acute hatred spat at the McMahon-Helmsleys, Daniel Bryan’s arrival mustered something akin to the second coming of Christ.

RAW_1079_Photo_008

It’s rare that I lash out at these two, but their incessant giggling and claim that Bryan’s match of the night against Bray Wyatt “was a good little effort” had me wanting to sock them both in the chops. Stephanie’s now modelled so much in her father’s image I’m convinced that any second she’s going to peel off her face to reveal she was Vince all along. There are no lengths my imagination won’t run to in the name of believing Steph’s a good lass.

Bryan’s impassioned demands that he be compensated for his lack of Rumble action with an automatic Elimination Chamber slot were met with a nose in the face and the arrival of The Shield, with Seth Rollins’ serendipitous tumble over the barrier cutting through the hostility in the crowd for a few seconds. The boy is the epitome of “If you stumble, make it part of the dance.” What a pro!

The Shield proceeded to maul Bryan but, as you might expect, a few mates came in his hour of need. Sheamus (yes, he’s back) and John Cena ran to the rescue before chasing the nasty bad guys away. There’s still something comforting about the fact that after all these years Michael Cole has never understood the difference between ‘cavalry’ and ‘Calvary’.

There was something else I needed to talk about. What was it? Maybe I was supposed to talk about how much I want to have Dean Ambrose bend my…mind. No, that’s not it. I already talk about that enough. It can’t have been the match between The Real Americans and Rey Mysterio & Sin Cara. That was as expected. Could it be Wade Barrett? Barrett, who now appears to spend his time being thrust toward the rafters on a mechanical penis while telling us that everything’s shit. I had a dream like that once except the cherrypicker penis belonged to….never mind. He’s like Eva Peron, but from Preston, and peddling terrible wisecracks. “Don’t cry for me, WWE Universe.” I do, Wade. I really do.

What was it, guys? Obviously not Fandango vs R-Truth. I definitely wouldn’t have been rushing to talk about Brock Lesnar interrupting Randy Orton and Brad Maddox’s discussion with a docker just off the night shift.

RAW_1079_Photo_086

I cannot recall a wrestler I’ve wanted to boot in their big, slimy, maroon face more than Lesnar. Loathing is too mild a word. I’d like to take some clippers to his stupid haircut that’s too small for his puffed up head and…yeah, it’s not him.

It couldn’t have been The Battle of Cleveland match between Miz and Dolph. Unless we’re talking hockey my knowledge of American sports is currently on hiatus. Maybe it was how depressing, if amusing, it was that the crowd were chanting for each individual member of the windbag commentary team during  Kofi and Del Rio’s match. We really should talk about the New Age Outlaw shaped pin that burst the tag-team bubble. Champions? Really? *cough* Nepotism *cough*. And a Selina Gomez quote? Okay, Dad. Why don’t you just get Snapchat and tell us how you can send your rude bits to your main squeeze like all the kids do. Ach, who am I to judge?  I’m the old lady who just typed ‘main squeeze’ and who’s already lost the Snapchat novelty.

There’s something bigger though. Something shocking. Something that might make me cry. The Divas getting better with their ring work but needing some stories is less red hot news and more a gospel chanted since the dawn of time. It does make me want to cry though. Jake Roberts being inducted into the Hall of Fame would not leave me dying to discuss it.

We’re back where we started now, with Daniel Bryan, Sheamus and John Cena trying to beat up on The Shield. Whichever team won would get the first three spots in the Elimination Chamber. It was a pretty good match, as it goes. Even better when The Wyatts turned up to interfere with The Shield’s game plan, costing them the match and setting up more scrapping between them going forward. If Randy Orton has to defend in the EC, that leaves just two spots left to fight over. Could this be what instigates the Shield break-up they’ve been teasing? All good fun, but not the ‘big thing’ of the week. Hmm.

Wait! Hold the phone. Why wasn’t Punk on Raw this week?!

RAW: The More Things Change the More They Stay the Same

Something has gone awry on Planet WWE. In a twist of bizarre proportions, Daniel Bryan has joined the unsavoury and unwashed Wyatt family. Except nobody really believes it. It’s about as unsettling as when a puppy softly growls at you in an attempt to convince you of its wolfy lineage.

He doesn’t even look like a Wyatt; largely because he clearly owns some salon quality shampoo and conditioner (sulphate-free, of course). But also because you know that tucked under those pristinely pressed sleeveless overalls is a Whole Foods carrier bag containing organic quinoa, a new jar of Stevia and a bumper sized tub of chia seeds. DB does not look like a man who resides in a swamp-drenched shack. And all I can think as his and Bray’s tag match against The Usos plays out is that, with it gathering so elegantly at the waist, not since Jennifer Beals has a boiler suit looked quite so glamorous.
Daniel_Bryan_Boiler_Suit
The bellowing Usos won the match as the result of DQ when the two additional Wyatts gatecrashed the party. It seemed this development had to be used to teach Daniel Bryan a lesson in losing, so was followed by an awkward body-dip, the likes of which is generally only seen during the first week of Strictly Come Dancing training. You get the feeling Daniel Bryan’s not in any way prepared for the Wyatt brand of prison romance.
Daniel_Bryan_Bray_Wyatt
The match between Damian Sandow and John Cena is standard second fight fodder and seems only to exist to remind us that Sandow cashed in his MITB contract on Cena and lost. The most remarkable thing about this match is that Cena has clashed his fluorescent green laces with the garish red and yellow boxer short elastic he seems intent on showing us throughout. Because asserting your status through your ability to afford expensive underwear is absolutely what a man of the 21st century would do! But then, I’m picking on a guy who’s worn cut-off jeans as wrestling gear for the entirety of his career. I have no doubt that he gives zero fucks that I feel the need to help him clash his neons more gracefully or tuck his knicker band back in. Check Alex Jones schooling John on how to do clashing neons on Wednesday’s One Show.
RAW_1077_Photo_060 Alex-Jones

WWE Network is the talk of the town and, to be fair, it looks promising. Being able to watch a year’s worth of PPVs for the suspiciously measly $9.99 is a bargain. And that’s before the thousands of hours of archive footage one can sift through to satiate one’s boredom. You also get to watch a reality show where veterans of the ring seemingly sit around arguing with each other over the semantics of matches nobody remembers. It has the potential to be as fist-gnawingly horrendous as Celebrity Big Brother and yet some seem to be vomiting with excitement to see it. Get back to me when you’re ready to roll out worldwide.

Big Show’s TKO on Zeb Colter following a blink-and-it’s-gone match was all you might expect it to be. Far better to hotfoot it to CM Punk and the New Age Outlaws against The Shield. It’s Rumble season, which means WWE like to drag out the old-timers gathering dust in the basement in preparation. I was left mulling over the stark American juxtaposition of a sports arena being named after a doughnut bakery. I then found myself wishing for a box of American doughnuts while I patiently waited for Gunn and Dogg to spew out their croaky patter and introduce their partner.

Ah CM Punk. I cannot quit you and I have no desire to. We’ve come a long way together, kid, and the first riff of Cult of Personality is akin to hearing the sudden jerk of that special ringtone you save for your boyfriend. I am never not fanning myself.  Enough swoonage, let’s move on to their opponents – The Shield. Oh. The improbable yet perfect trifecta of impressive brawn, dastardly brains and adorability. They’re renegades! Kind of. They still storm the ring through the crowd! While kissing babies on the head. Rollins continues to Jack-Bauer-roll over the barrier to announce his arrival! And then winks at the camera. The real story behind this match was that Punk’s degenerative sidekicks left him to be mauled by The Shield, which malfunctioned my cheer-o-meter beyond repair. Someone tell me how to feel.

Punk_Shield

AJ and Tamina’s match against the Funkadactyls was as depressing a reminder as it comes that the women’s division is becoming a single cherry tomato in a massive salad bowl. While the announcement that Ultimate Warrior be an inductee to the Hall of Fame is the best case yet for video games spoiling surprises.’Surprises’ makes the fanfare sound quite pleasant, but I think I’d rather save my trumpet blowing for less abominable human beings. Like that woman who threw a cat in the bin.

Ripple monster Randy Orton, now weighed down by two championship belts and therefore traversing the ramp slower than ever, had a match against sprightly Kofi Kingston. While the match had its charms, it was really just a vehicle to hype Orton’s title match against Cena at the Rumble. Frothing and dribbling phlegm like a teen at Harry Styles’ locked dressing room door, Randy Orton lost control in the eye of defeat.

Where would his spinning rage take him? To the ground? Yes. To the announce table? Naturally. To John Cena’s dad who just happened to be in the front row? Yep! A Cena/Orton feud just isn’t legendary until John’s dad gets his squishy face smashed in. It’s alluring in the same way that I cannot look away from Mary Poppins any time it’s scheduled on TV. I know what’s going to happen, but I enjoy it nonetheless. I particularly enjoyed the lone, blood-curdling scream that called out as Orton launched himself over the barrier and Cena Sr. I’ll expect that girl to be the new recruit on Total Divas next season.

Randy_Orton
The tag match barely made a dent and Alberto Del Rio vs Rey Mysterio was mainly used to tease Batista’s return next week. Oh yeah. There’s definitely a Rumble coming. Lest we forget my most favourite Batista screencap. That double denim, man.
Batista_Double_Denim

On the orders of Brad Maddox and a now besuited Kane, the main event was a repeat of the first event. This time Daniel Bryan – still looking like a fraudulent banker accidentally sent to a maximum security prison – and his new best mate were locked inside a steel cage with the Usos. The real brothers won the match by scaling the chains and making a quick exit. This left Wyatt furious and determined to dance Bryan into submission once more. His sweaty mouth whispered sweet nothings into Bryan’s ear before yet again dipping him into an imaginary baptism pool. Ah. But this wasn’t just a case of deja vu. Our trusted hero found his sword. So that wasn’t just a bag of quinoa in his pocket after all! He overthrew Wyatt.

Bryan shed his starched overalls, unleashed his suppressed fury on his hirsute mentor and left the crowd in absolute raptures. In a borderline terrifying display of support boasting the precision of a North Korean military pageant, the audience punched the air and Yes! Yes! Yes!’d along with Bryan’s every move, at various speeds, entirely dictated by him. You could say it’s a good job he’s such a nice guy. In the hands of those with a less dignified ego, this kind of universal adoration could go straight to their heads. But the thing is, only a genuinely nice guy could garner this type of widespread approval. Because those deserving always get rewarded in the end. Daniel Bryan is proof positive that the nice guy doesn’t always finish first, but he definitely finishes best.
Daniel_Bryan_crowd
RaeSignature

The Wrestlegasm Pay it Forward Giveaway – Closed

Once upon a time I thought WWE/F was king. No other form of wrestling interested me. If it wasn’t on TV I didn’t care. Then some 5 or 6 years into my wrestling fandom I was taken to a random, low-rent indie show in a Tennessee town so remote and obscure I defy anyone outside the area to have heard of it. The impact this show had on me was startling. It taught me the value of the show I couldn’t see at the click of a button. I wrote an extended piece on this event and you can listen to me reading it by clicking here. It’s a nice story, even if I do say so myself, and you get to hear my dulcet tones.

Several years passed before I started enjoying indie wrestling again. I didn’t really know how to access it, and I certainly didn’t fully know what I was talking about until after I launched this blog in 2009. Andrew introduced me to most of it. Without his influence I doubt I’d have the connection to CHIKARA I do now. Most, if not all, of the independent wrestling I got into first was American. It was fun, but it always had a slight distance to it. Then British wrestling started building up a head of steam again.

It’s taken a while for me to really understand British wrestling. Andrew got it straight away; maybe because he has easier access to local shows in Lancashire than I do in Cardiff. Where it clicked with him immediately, it’s taken me to longer. His patience in helping me put faces to names and in learning a new wrestling culture means that I now know what it’s really about. It’s not easy trying to get involved with something new, but British wrestling is worth the effort. It’s a completely different beast to American wrestling. It has its own unique quirks and dysfunctions. The fans are different. Most importantly, it’s a warm and welcoming scene for newcomers. I kind of love it now.

I’ve never gotten into a new wrestling gang without being introduced to it by someone else. Sometimes you need somebody with a little more knowledge to guide you. For that reason, I want to give one person the gift of British wrestling with a little giveaway. I’m paying it forward.

The Prizes

One person will win…

One copy of Carrie Dunn’s new book Spandex, Screw Jobs & Cheap Pops – Inside the Business of British Pro Wrestling. Carrie is a freelance journalist, an academic and founding editor of The Only Way is Suplex. The book explores the current resurgence in British wrestling, interviewing some of its biggest performers and promoters, and contemplating where the scene is heading. It’s a brilliant dissection of British wrestling, whether you’re a newbie or a more seasoned follower.

One copy of the Preston City Wrestling’s SpringSlam DVD (March 2013). PCW is one of the fastest growing promotions in the UK, selling out their venue and regularly putting on Supershow weekends, where fans can attend Q&A sessions and Meet & Greets, as well as see multiple shows over the course of a weekend. They’re not just experts at showcasing top UK talent, but also in attracting interest from international wrestlers. Recent visitors include Akira Tozawa, Johnny Gargano, Kevin Steen, The Young Bucks, Goldust, Lita and Chris Masters.

One copy of Progress Wrestling’s Chapter Seven: Every Sinner Has a Past, Every Sinner Has a Future DVD (May 2013). Progress is the only promotion putting on regular shows in Central London and, to date, has sold out every one of its shows well in advance of show day. With an almost exclusively British flavour and a strong focus on promoting new talent, Progress is the perfect place to catch both established UK wrestlers and up-and-coming stars of the future.

How to Enter

1) Follow @Wrestlegasm on Twitter

2) Tweet a link to this blog post and include the hashtag #PIFgiveaway

 ==============

-The giveaway will close on Tuesday 25th June 2013 at 7.00pm (UK time).

-Please enter only once per Twitter account. Spammers will be blocked and their entry will be void.

-The giveaway is open internationally.

-The winner will be chosen at random.

Good luck!

Hurts So Good

Andrew’s going to be extra busy with other things for a little while, so you get a bit more of me instead. I have an appalling memory, so I won’t be introducing you to matches you may have missed or forgotten about. I’ll pick a random video from time to time and write some commentary on it. Feel free to tweet me videos I might be interested in. 

================= 

My mother always said I never did things the easy way. Call it stubbornness, but I always have to take the challenging option. There’s a reason I often feel that The Dixie Chicks’ The Long Way Around is my personal theme tune. And while we’re talking in clichés, I also firmly believe you don’t choose the people and past times you love.

Given all this, it’s no surprise that two of the things I love most in the world, pro wrestling and country music, regularly niggle at me. They often force me to question what I believe in. They both cause me to cringe as much as they make me swoon. Maybe I kind of like it that way. It’s a challenge.

I came across this TNA video while looking for CMA Fest material. You’d think that combining my two favourite things would leave me delirious, but it left me a little flat. There is nothing particularly wrong with the video. It features a lot of Mickie James, who is lovely. It showcases their charitable acts. Assuming it’s not overly generous editing, the crowds seem pleased to see them. TNA is based in Nashville, so it makes sense to tag on to the biggest festival of the year and prove they’re part of the community.

But just like when I wince at songs about having a beer with Jesus, or catch myself singing along to every word of Luke Bryan encouraging willing, panting country girls to shake their arses for woodland animals, so do I recoil a little at TNA.

The problem isn’t that I’m just not a fan of the product. There are choices within wrestling so that we all find something to hitch our wagons to. Nobody likes everything. The issue is that the despicable way they treat their roster always overshadows everything they do. I find it hard to congratulate them on their charity work when they don’t pay their own staff medical bills. It cheapens the fun stuff – rolling around town on a carnival float and joshing with D-List country music stars – when lying in the background is this unspoken dissatisfaction. The elephant never leaves the room.

The big difference between TNA and country music, though, is that country music is so ingrained in language and a particular lifestyle that to change it’s going to take time. And maybe if it changes it’s not country music anymore. Country culture, whether genuine or embellished by the music, is constantly in a state of flux and trying to strike a balance between being both current and traditional, carefree and politically correct. So much of what bothers me about the lyrics is objective.  I only experienced and grew to understand that Southern lifestyle for maybe 10 years.  To a point, I only look in on it from the outside. I love it or I leave it.

On this occasion and while talking about TNA, the issue is welfare. It’s about facts, not opinions. They can solve so many problems by starting to care about the people who make them money. Once they do that they’ll stop being the ridicule of so many, a thorn in my side, and maybe start looking like the company Dixie Carter sees in her mind’s eye.

Hurts so good, guys. Hurts so good.

RaeSignature