GUEST POST: Never Mind the Majors, Here’s the Independents!

Never Mind The Majors? Seems a bit harsh...

Sidekick Andrew: Disappointment with the wrestling business. It happens to us all from time to time, but it seems to be pretty wide spread amongst internet wrestling fans at the moment. A combination of the usual post-Wrestlemania slump, the Orton-Christian title change and a general feeling of malaise are combining to make people swear off wrestling more and more. As such, we want to help people realise that there is much, much more to wrestling than the two companies you can see on telly. Independent wrestling might take a bit more effort to access, but it can reward you far more than another WWE PPV that you might well regret afterwards.

In the interest of fairness, I should point out that both Boss Lady Ray and myself feel that the WWE do plenty of things well – they have a style of show that works for them and they do big budget wrestling spectaculars better than anyone else. The current CM Punk story for example has been really popular here in the bunker. However, we do appreciate that a lot of people are feeling slightly burned out when it comes to WWE, and that’s where this series will hopefully be of use. (BTW, you’ll notice I only mentioned WWE in this paragraph. TNA is still pants)

As an introduction to this series, regular reader Charles Hahn has kindly written a piece about the subject for us. Make him feel welcome and comment afterwards will you? Cheers…

I mentioned a while ago that I wanted to do some writing about the wonderful world of wrestling, as I am very good at alliteration. When I mentioned that I had nowhere to put said writing, the fine folks at Wrestlegasm graciously offered me the chance for a guest post. I, being a fan of the site, immediately accepted.

That is when I realized that, while it is relatively easy to come up with a concept for a piece, it is very difficult to expand that idea into a full article. I thought about letting Ray and Andrew (super weird calling him that, I know him much better as apsouthern) that I was a big dumb lazy failure.

Then this happened:

Then, 2 weeks later, this happened:

Then as I was in the midst of writing this, this happened:

Now I don’t think I’m exaggerating too much when I say that these things caused the internet to LOSE IT’S COLLECTIVE MIND. While I believe the reaction was a tad much, I can surely understand the ever growing frustration with pro wrestling. I read things like, “That’s it, I’m taking a break from wrestling.” “I can’t believe I spend money on this.” And worst of all, “Wrestling sucks right now.”

I am going to be honest, that last one shocked me. That’s when I realized, the majority of wrestling fans see WWE as not the biggest company in the world, but as wrestling itself. They think it’s WWE or nothing. Well, I guess TNA is fairly visible, but who really wants to watch TNA?

Well I’m here to tell you something folks. WWE isn’t wrestling. If you are tired of Randy Orton, John Cena, and continual mediocrity, you do not have to give up on something you love.

One month ago (at the time of writing), I got up at 4:30 in the morning, left my house, and drove for 7 hours and through 6 states, to go to a tiny arena in Philadelphia. In that arena were 700 other people. They were there to watch pro wrestling. And they got it. They got 3 nights Of energy, emotion, and pure joy. This wasn’t WWE. This wasn’t TNA. This was a promotion called CHIKARA. If you read Matt Jones’ excellent post about the wrestling nirvana that was King of Trios, you know just how incredible it was. Hell, if you’ve read more than one post on this site you know how great Chikara is. I spent that weekend around people who were wrestling fanatics. I watched some of the best matches I have ever seen. I saw a man slam a giant. I watched people fly. I shook hands with legends. I saw people openly crying in the memory of a man they had never met before. Ultramantis Black said I was awesome. Yeah, it was amazing.

But this isn’t just about CHIKARA. This is about Ring Of Honor, the company that produced one of the most skilled wrestlers EVER. This is about Pro Wrestling Guerilla, a crew of fantastic Californians who haved cranked out years worth of consistent greatness. This is about any promotion that puts out great wrestling. This is about the guys who aren’t big enough, guys who don’t have the right look, but go out every night and do their absolute damndest to tear it up and give the people who love wrestling something to love.

WWE has been accused of trying to kill the word wrestling. TNA says “Wrestling matters,” and don’t deliver. There are people losing hope for something they have loved since childhood. But they shouldn’t.

Great wrestling isn’t hard to find friends. You just have to look a little bit harder.

Sidekick Andrew: And there you have it folks, if you’re fed up with the WWE and TNA models of professional wrestling, that’s perfectly understandable. But please don’t assume that all wrestling suddenly sucks. Independent wrestling is a very different beast. I usually compare the WWE/Indie Wrestling situations to the differences between seeing a huge gig in a stadium with an internationally succesful rock band such as the Rolling Stones, or seeing a small punk band in a tiny club. On the one hand you will get a more impressive show at the Stones gig, but you as a person won’t matter. At the punk show you’ll be able to interact with the band… heckle… maybe meet the guys afterwards – and they’ll be appreciative of each and every member of the audience.

Using Charlie’s piece as a starting point, we are going to be running a series of posts introducing you to a few indie promotions that you might want to check out. CHIKARA in particular got me through a period of disillusion with professional wrestling at the time Chris Benoit went a bit mental, hopefully at least one of the companies we profile can help you do the same. Keep an eye out later this week for the first interview in the series.

Song for Whoever (Bonus Track): Daffney edition

I have something else in mind for my Song for Whoever this week, but I wanted to make quick mention of something that I read yesterday and this seems as good a place as any.

Other than the odd rant, we’re not generally a “serious” blog here at Wrestlegasm, but some things need to be said. We also try to refrain from swearing when possible, but I’m afraid this will be an exception: TNA are fucking awful. I know… I know… preaching to the converted. Big suprise, Andrew hates TNA! But rather than my general deep-seated loathing of a company that wastes amazing talent in favour of overpaying and overexposing ancient has-beens like some kind of Wrestling Antiques Roadshow, there is something specific that’s, frankly, appalled me this time.

Over at cagesideseats.com, a report has turned up describing some of the details behind the recent TNA release of Daffney and her treatment by the company prior to that.

“Yesterday my picture was taken down off of the TNA roster page. My contract expires today and TNA did not renew it. I do not know if it has anything to do with it, but I’ve filed a Workers Comp claim against them for injuries I’ve sustained in the ring and my lawyers said to not go into anymore details.”

This quote from Daffney’s Facebook and Twitter accounts is only the tip of the iceberg. The catch-all term of “injuries” covers a list that is pretty substantial (to quote from the article):

1. a serious concussion at Bound For Glory 2009 after she was chokeslammed from the ring apron by Abyss onto a barb-wire board
2. a deeply bruised sternum, a severe stinger and yet another concussion in the now infamous try-out, dark match for indie wrestler Miss Betsy
3. another concussion in her program with Tara after she got clobbered on the head with a toolbox

Concussions are scary enough, but in pro-wrestling today you would hope that the supposed Number Two company in the world would be especially aware of their consequences after the added media attention following the Benoit murders and the work done by ex-WWE wrestler Chris Nowinski at the Sports Legacy Institute but apparently not.

The first injury on the list, after being chokeslammed from the second rope to the floor through a barbed wire table, is probably the most shocking on first glance. Certainly it was a move that was arguably unnecessary at best, and positively manipulative at worse. According to the article (via a “long term employee” of TNA) Daffney was unsurprisingly hesitant to take the move, but was persuaded by Director of Talent Relations Terry Taylor that she would be taken care of and it was important for the storyline. Of course, the move happened and she was injured and taken to hopsital and billed for it. TNA then neglected to pay the bill, despite months of emails between the two parties, in the end denying they had any reponsibility to pay.

To literally add insult to injury; all this was for a spot that didn’t lead anywhere storyline-wise, was never allowed to be shown on TNA Impact as it breached the networks policy on violence towards women, and wasn’t even caught on camera live and was only shown on replay!

As for the second injury on that list, it’s probably pretty well know by now, but just in case: Miss Betsy was a very inexperienced trainee of Team 3D. In her tryout match she landed on Daffney’s chest, leading to sternum bruising – a move followed by a powerbomb which left Daffney with another concussion. As the article mentions, anybody else who injured a full time member of the roster in their tryout match would have been rightly run out of the building. But this is TNA, who have shown time and time again that they couldn’t care less about the welfare of their roster (especially, it seems, the Knockouts.) So of course they signed Miss Betsy (as Rosie Lottalove) to a contract, and actually showed the footage of the injury on Impact in an attempt to get her over.

I should point out that I (and I believe Daffney) aren’t about to start criticising Betsy/Rosie for the injury. It was another unfortunate example of ageing wrestlers politicking behind the scenes, in this case Bubba Ray Dudley. In fact, when TNA realised that even they couldn’t justify having her on the roster, Bubba Ray allegedly blamed Daffney and gave her the cold shoulder backstage. Oh, and it should probably go without saying that TNA didn’t pay Daffney’s medical bills for this one either.

The third injury, although it sounds almost innocuous up there in the list, is certainly the one which shows TNA at their most petty and heartless. TNA tape their shows in advance: rather than filming each week like WWE, they will film a block of episodes over a number of days to fill the upcoming month. In this case, it was Day 1 of a five day taping schedule when Daffney received yet another concussion. Daffney was told again by Terry Taylor that she should work the next two days (with a concussion remember) and she’ll be fine. After consideration Daffney quite rightly decided against wrestling and risking worsening her condition. This is where TNA’s petty side comes out, as they announced she would be unable to take part in a photoshoot that would have been useful income for her (given TNA’s notoriously low pay for female wrestlers) if she wasn’t prepared to wrestle.

Not only were TNA asking Daffney to wrestle with a concussion for a further two days (all while still refusing to pay her medical bills from the Rosie incident; this was all while they were happily running a concussion angle with Ken Anderson – to the point of going on air and singing the praises of the Sports Legacy Institute and constantly reminding the viewers that “Dixie Carter has always looked out for the welfare of her performers.” Hey kids! Can you spell “HYPOCRISY”?

So, Daffney, quite understandably, has had enough and contacted her lawyers. Shortly after TNA remove her from their website and allow her contract to expire. Reports are circling that she is not the only wrestler considering legal action against TNA for unpaid medical bills, and hopefully this is true. Strangely, I don’t want TNA to fail – I want another large wrestling company giving wrestlers international TV exposure. I want competition – without it the industry will stagnate and mainstream pro-wrestling will slowly become unwatchable. I hate TNA as it stands, but I genuinely hope they can turn things around and become a company that appreciates and respects some of the amazing talent they have, while ending their seeming obsession with re-enacting the final years of WCW.

As for Daffney, if even if only a third of the claims in that article are correct, that’s enough to justify my support. This songs for you, good luck!

The original article can be read at: http://www.cagesideseats.com/2011/4/21/2125160/the-sad-story-of-shannon-daffney-spruill and is well worth a read if you care about the wellbeing of wrestlers in anyway

Sunday Musings

I was going to write a humorous summary of Wade Barrett’s appearance on Daybreak today. Nothing makes me feel more smug than non-wrestling bods interviewing wrestlers, desperately walking the journalistic tightrope of curiosity vs ignorance. The idea of Adrian Chiles snarling and spitting “Wrestling is fake though, isn’t it?” at Wade Barrett would have been worthy of a whole post in itself. Christine Bleakely trying to look interested in any man who isn’t Chiles or pretty-faced boyfriend Frank Lampard would have been great, especially when faced with wonky nosed Barrett. At least they could have discussed their shared interest in over-tanning.

If you’re not lucky enough to be British and have no clue what I’m babbling on about, Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakely are a platonic TV couple who jumped ship from their daily evening show on the BBC (where they were great) to front a daily morning show for more cash on ITV (where they are terrible). Adrian Chiles just isn’t made for being seen in the morning and Christine Bleakely makes me not want to look in the mirror myself in the morning.

Evidence

Unfortunately, Wade Barrett was bumped from Friday’s show. They needed room to cover the atrocious earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan. That’s fair. They’d be hauled over the coals for chatting away with a home-grown wrestling superstar while thousands of people were suffering at that very moment. Having said that, they did find time to run a segment where five, yes five, grown adults sat around and chuckled at the fact that the Ken doll has a new haircut. It went on for some time. This was before speaking with their Hollywood reporter live via satellite to ask for an update on that washed-up actor who has been dominating Twitter with his incoherent musings. (I’m deliberately not saying his name.) Nice to know you’ve got your priorities straight, Daybreak. So Wade recorded a British radio interview to be broadcast next week and jetted off to Germany for more promotional work before I’d even caught glimpse of him on local telly.

Now what am I going to talk about? I could tell you about the dream I had last night where CM Punk dumped me for Kaitlyn while we were on holiday in Cornwall, only to find myself crying on Stephen Merchant’s shoulder, but that’s not very interesting. The truth is, it’s actually been a very busy week for both of us. It’s definitely been one of those weeks where real life has taken priority over blogging. We even had to skip our sacred ‘watching Smackdown in pyjamas’ on Saturday morning. Sad times. We did manage to watch CHIKARA’s Anniversario Elf show on Thursday, which was unsurprisingly fantastic, and we squeezed WWE Superstars in on Friday afternoon. Unusually, I’ve only just got round to watching Raw and Smackdown. Smackdown on a Sunday is wrong. It is to be watched on Saturday mornings in pyjamas with the Sidekick or not at all.

I’m not going to recap either show and the post I might have written about Michael Cole’s interruption of the Raw Divas match on International Women’s Day has already been written rather wonderfully elsewhere. More on that in a few paragraphs time. But something quite profound struck me while my eyes jogged through today’s Raw/Smackdown marathon, and that is that this really is a watershed in WWE programming. At least, I hope it is.

The forthcoming Wrestlemania is the pulling-out-all-the-stops Wrestlemania. They’ve brought legends back, others are probably on their last trot around the paddock and a young and overly stacked roster are salivating at the prospect of being moved up. Obviously, Wrestlemania is the money spinner; the one chance WWE has to draw in PPV buys from people who don’t bother for the rest of the year. Unabashed carrot dangling is expected, but what they’re doing here can never be done again, at least not without people saying “Meh. You’ve done this already. Show me something else.” If you’re going to this Wrestlemania, soak it in.

The Rock’s reappearance sent tingles down my spine, but he definitely won’t be a regular feature once ‘Mania’s done. Austin will always be around in some form, but if he values the use of his lower body he’ll never wrestle again. Trish Stratus is ultimately back to plug her own yoga business. The Undertaker’s body is so broken I’m worried he won’t even make it to his Wrestlemania match with HHH. Triple H has made no secret of the fact that he loves his backstage role and would be fine if he disappeared again. Shawn Michaels is indirectly involved in the Taker/HHH match and will be in Atlanta to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Strange as it seems, I hope this last hoorah is a way for all those legends to say goodbye.  When I started watching wrestling, all these people were at the top of their game. They were wrestling to me. They were the reason I watched. This loaded Wrestlemania card should be where they say thank you, step aside and let the young roster flourish. Yes, The Rock pulls out the most incredible promos. He always will. He’s the best. But I don’t think he necessarily shows the other performers up. Wrestling is a totally different game now and I don’t think Jim Ross was fair in telling the younger guys to shut up and stop complaining about having to share the ring with their predecessors.

It’s got to be frustrating for them and I don’t buy into the idea that today’s wrestlers are less of a draw than Rock and Austin. The output and the audience have changed dramatically. If you still want the Attitude Era and profess about how much you hate the PG era, wrestling has left you behind. You can’t compare current individual performers with those from 15 years ago because they’re working in an entirely different environment. It’s not disrespectful to acknowledge that this is a whole new ballgame. Without balls. Well, some balls, but…..never mind. You get my drift.

I’m genuinely proud of the young performers and how their media savvy selves are embracing their roles inside and outside the ring. The way Dolph Ziggler sold his faux firing on Twitter, for example, was brilliant. The current mix of former collegiate athletes, second or third generation competitors and indie stars is actually a nice mix. They don’t always use them properly and I’d like to see more indie guys being brought up, but then, I’m a born again indie geek. I would say that.

Once, Wrestlemania’s over, I hope WWE have the courage and the confidence to leave the past as it stands and put some faith into their current roster. I’m quite comfortable with Rock, Austin, Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, HHH and Trish Stratus limiting their appearances to biennial pops, leaving Edge, Christian, Mysterio, Jericho and possibly even Cena to be the elder statesman. If you feel you’d be left wanting without the people brought back for Wrestlemania 27, I’ve a feeling you might find the next 18 months or so rather painful.

Before I sign off for the day I just wanted to mention the excellent work going on over at Fair to Flair. I caught up on the latest posts this morning and it’s really inspiring work. It makes me want to be a better wrestling blogger. There are very few places where you can read intelligent, thought-provoking writing on professional wrestling without the aggravating, smarky, ‘wrestling fan’ rubbish, but you’ll definitely find it there. If any project deserves to prosper, it’s Fair to Flair. I mentioned earlier that the women’s post I might have written has already been written brilliantly elsewhere and that’s where you’ll find it. Click here to read and enjoy.

We’ll be back tomorrow with our latest Song for Whoever and hoping real life gives us a break this week. Happy Sunday and if you haven’t entered our second birthday giveaway yet, you’re missing out. Click here to win excellent prizes. They’re on us!


all-female wrestling: a woman’s view

Over the past 24 hours a discussion has been circulating on Twitter concerning the fact that Pro-Wrestling: Eve has been accused of being sexist and bad for the wrestling business. Pro-Wrestling: Eve is a new, all-female, UK based wrestling promotion. Their first show (the DVD of which Andrew will be reviewing soon) took place in May and the next takes place on the 16th of this month at The Delphi Club, Sudbury, Suffolk. It has been intriguing to watch it start-up and we’re looking forward to seeing how it evolves.
Why Pro-Wrestling: Eve has been singled out, I don’t know. The wrestling industry is often unfathomable.  If Pro-Wrestling: Eve is discriminatory, why isn’t Shimmer, for example? The comments bring up issues that are more wide-reaching than just one single promotion. Is a women-only promotion sexist? Well, it kind of depends on your definition of the term. If you believe that anything excluding the opposite sex as a matter of course is sexist, then yes, I suppose it is. It’s tricky though, isn’t it? Nothing is ever quite that black and white. If someone launched a wrestling franchise that was advertised as exclusively for male competitors, there would be an outrage. It would seem unfair and unjust.
So what’s the difference? The difference is that, to claim that an all-women’s promotion is sexist, it suggests that male and female competitors within the wrestling industry are all working on a level playing field. If you think they are, you’re dreaming. When was the last time you watched a WWE pay-per-view, or even a WWE weekly show, where women were involved in the main event? And when I say ‘involved’ I mean competing. I do not mean draped over the arm of one of the male competitors. As an aside, I’m discussing WWE because it is generally considered the ultimate goal for any wrestler. Love it or hate it, wanting to be gainfully employed by the biggest wrestling company on the planet is a perfectly reasonable aspiration.
To be honest, I’m just pleased when a Divas match gets booked for a WWE PPV. I then spend the actual match gripping the arms of my recliner repeating pleasebegoodpleasebegoodpleasebegood in my head until it ends. This has nothing to do with the talent of the women on the roster. It’s more about the way they’re presented and the pitiful amount of time they’re given to build feuds and tell stories in the ring. I’ve mentioned my frustration that women within the WWE are treated like second-class citizens and have to fight for airtime on several occasions. Having recently watch Maria Kanellis’ shoot interview on Highspots.TV, my suspicion that the Divas themselves are even more frustrated than the viewers was confirmed.
I almost wish WWE hadn’t made the third and supposedly final series of NXT all-female. Call me a cynic, but they knew all too well that NXT was being cancelled by SyFy. They knew they’d have less time to play with. With Michael Cole trashing it every week they’re all but admitting they know it’s terrible and they don’t care. What it does do is give WWE a tentative excuse if anyone suggests that they don’t give the Divas enough TV time. It’ll be a case of ‘Hey, we gave them a chance to have their own show and it was terrible. Nobody watched it. So we’ll assume nobody wants to watch women’s wrestling.’ But that argument will only be valid if WWE had made the best possible show they could have. Making a deliberately awful programme does not win your argument.
Even on this week’s Smackdown, which was an opportunity for WWE to showcase its talent to a new audience on a new American TV network, the Divas action was short and interfered with by Hornswoggle. Only knowing that Beth Phoenix is almost healthy, the fact Natalya has a much-deserved title shot at Hell in a Cell and the brilliant comedy timing of LayCool excites me at the moment.
A few months ago I wrote a post about the lack of intergender matches in mainstream wrestling and I mentioned the issues surrounding the conflict between kayfabe and reality. I won’t repeat the whole piece, but it’s worth mentioning again the fact that televised wrestling really struggles with placing men and women on the same physical level. If wrestling is an alternate universe where absolutely anything can happen (and it does), there should be no argument that men and women fighting each other is a thumbs up for violence against women, yet it’s used as an excuse keep men and women apart all the time.
Without independent wrestling promotions, and especially those showcasing women as the main product, how on earth will women get an opportunity to truly wrestle? Surely if there are more opportunities for women to perform, everyone wins. The competitors improve their skills and the audience is even better entertained.  Who could possibly complain about seeing a great show? I’ve watched hours upon hours of all-female wrestling over the past few months and I’m regularly blown away by their athleticism and wrestling ability. In fact, the more I see, the more it frustrates me that so few people get to see it and enjoy it as I have.
The truth is, if women in wrestling had exactly the same opportunities as men, nobody would mind if all-female promotions (or all-male ones, for that matter) existed. I’m genuinely pleased and even excited that Pro-Wrestling: Eve is in business, promoting women and giving them a platform they’d struggle to find within mixed promotions. How something that allows women to progress within wrestling can be damaging to the business is beyond me. If you don’t want it to succeed, I would suggest you don’t want women to succeed in wrestling at all.


playing with boys: in search of the elusive intergender match

A few weeks ago, Michelle McCool was billed as being in an intergender match on WWE Superstars. I was excited. This would have been real progress for the WWE. When I asked which male Superstar she’d be opposing, I was unfortunately informed that it was a match against Beth Phoenix. It was billed as an intergender match to fall in with the Glam-a-Man moniker that Team LayCool had attached to Beth Phoenix. I was disappointed. I love Beth Phoenix, but the dashed promise of the elusive boy vs girl match was a slight letdown.

I got to thinking about why the WWE are so afraid of pitting women against men. On the surface, it’s obvious. This is the PG era, where all WWE programming is produced to be child-friendly. The mere mention of violence against women, even a choreographed wrestling match, would be unacceptable. It would be wholly hypocritical of a company so geared towards entertaining younger viewers to be seen to condone men hitting women.

At Christmas I began playing the Smackdown vs Raw 2010 video game. It doesn’t have the facility to allow intergender matches. As in the shows themselves, mixed tag matches are the closest you can get.

When a male competitor is in the ring, you have to make sure your female competitor tags her male partner in. If you’re playing as a male Superstar and strike one of the Divas, even accidentally, you lose immediately by disqualification. Though, curiously, if you’re playing as a woman and hit a man, you aren’t disqualified. On the 19th April episode of Monday Night Raw, while Luke Gallows and CM Punk beat Triple H down to have his head shaved, Serena was encouraged to kick him. But in no way could Triple H have retaliated against Serena.

Even on TNA, which likes to suggest that it is anti-PG by having half its roster spill their own blood on a weekly basis, there is still a certain awkwardness towards men and women fighting each other. During TNA’s tour of the UK this February, guest writer Toni reported on how Hamada had practically begged Amazing Red for a match, which he seemed loathed to give her. Amazing Red eventually fought and beat her, but only after displaying an obvious conflict of conscience at being in a match with a woman.

IMG: Property Wrestlegasm.Com

I fully understand why the WWE would be nervous of pushing the matter in the current litigation climate. Wrestling struggles to maintain a respectable reputation at the best of times. It doesn’t need an over-zealous parent filing a lawsuit against the company because their son broke their daughter’s sternum copying a move he saw Chris Jericho put on Gail Kim, for example. Bad publicity indeed. But the real contradiction is not Violence Against Women vs PG Programming; it’s Reality vs Unreality.

Professional Wrestling is something of an alternate universe. Wait. That’s putting is mildly. Wrestling is a complete alternate universe where the rules of real life do not apply. This is a world where Rey Mysterio can take on the Big Show and win. A place where seemingly random people run up to CM Punk in the middle of a show and demand that their head be shaved to rid them of their toxic sins. A universe where people are carried out of arenas on spinal boards and carted off in ambulances, only to reappear an hour later with a sledgehammer in their hand to finish the job they started earlier in the show. It’s a world where you can physically and verbally abuse your boss and still have a job in the morning.

If we all have enough sense to understand kayfabe, why should the rules be different for intergender matches? Can’t John Cena’s ‘Don’t Try this at Home’ video cover all aspects of the content?

Ok, so my brother never listened to such advice when we were kids. I was regularly the victim of a Stone-Cold Stunner. But if it’s an adequate disclaimer for anything that happens during the show, why not let it be a disclaimer for intergender matches too? If reality played any part in wrestling, Rey Mysterio would win less matches, the police might like to speak with Mr. Punk to ensure that he’s not taking advantage of vulnerable members of society, Triple H would still be in traction permanently and The Hart Dynasty would have been fired the day after Wrestlemania 26.

Women and men fighting each other should be no more of a concern than placing a 5’6″ man in the ring against a 7’0″ man. It’s not like when Annika Sörenstam asked to play in a Bank of America Colonial golfing tournament on the Men’s PGA Tour, and there were genuine concerns as to whether she would be at a physical disadvantage playing against men. Wrestling is a scripted form of entertainment without the need for real world logic.

Just yesterday I was watching a 2007 CHIKARA match where Icarus, Gran Akuma and Brodie Lee took on Cheech, Cloudy and Sara Del Rey. Sara Del Rey did not seem out-of-place in any way. She was just another performer who played an incredible part in the match. She was not treated any differently because she was a woman. In fact, Brodie Lee won the match by lifting Sara up to his 6’7″ shoulders and slamming her into the canvas for the pin. Nobody thought of it as a guy beating up a girl. Nobody feared that Sara had been abused in any way when he rolled her over and shouted in her face. She just happened to be the competitor who lost the match.

This is the fundamental difference between mainstream, primetime wrestling and independent wrestling. Assumed social responsibility and feared lawsuits aside, women in the WWE and TNA aren’t valued in the same way that women are in independent wrestling. The Divas match at this year’s Extreme Rules Pay Per View was so incredibly insulting that I only continued to watch it because I knew I would have to recap the PPV for this blog. The prospect of a Women’s Title match on a Pay Per View should have been thrilling. Instead, I just peeked from behind a cushion while Beth Phoenix and Michelle McCool fought it out in an ‘Extreme Makeover’ match. This was basically a standard extreme rules match but in place of trash cans, chairs and tables, the ladies had to hit each other with ironing boards, mops, brooms and buckets. They also sprayed each other with hairspray and were allowed used of a large table of make-up akin to that laid out for a grooming challenge on America’s Next Top Model.

I’m amazed they didn’t send Beth Phoenix out dressed as Rosie the Riveter and Michelle McCool dressed as an aproned 1950s housewife. If Creative were concerned about placing the Divas in a match requiring an extreme stipulation, couldn’t they just have gone with a LumberJills match or, even better, a ladder match? They certainly could have ditched the idea of a dumbed-down extremes rules match. The only good thing to come out of this was that Beth Phoenix went away the new and very deserving Women’s Champion.

I’m all for irony. It can be fun. But for this match to have been ironic, it would have needed something opposing to be compared to, and there is very little in the WWE which doesn’t pander to outdated stereotypes. The Raw brand is particularly guilty of this – sending the ladies out to compete in ballgown matches etc. I’m not even saying that women shouldn’t have feminine gimmicks. Strong characterisation is key in all professional wrestling. But when one of the few women in the WWE who looks slightly different to the rest has her face plastered in lipstick because she doesn’t fit the standard physical mold, there isn’t much hope of any genuine intergender matches any time soon.

At least Beth Phoenix was allowed to enter the Royal Rumble this year. I’ve mentioned before that while her dalliance in the ring with CM Punk during the Rumble match was short, it was truly exciting and especially memorable.

It seems to me that intergender matches, when done well, are the sign of a confident and respectful franchise. Until WWE begin respecting and trusting the women on their roster to pull off quality wrestling matches and allow them to be more than just supplementary to the male stars, I can’t see women being pitted against men. I was informed last week that Creative are discussing ways of strengthening the division. Whether this is true or not is anyone’s guess; especially a week after they released both their poster-girl in Mickie James and one of their edgier female wrestlers in Katie Lea. It’s difficult not to be cynical, especially when people like Jim Ross have their reservations about a positive future for the women of the WWE, but I’ll hope for the best. Once you start expecting less than the best, there’s no impetus for those in charge to change anything.

new mnw: the post-mortem

Leading up to Monday, I was asked by several people how I felt about the new and supposed Monday Night War, which was about to begin between the WWE and TNA. For the most part I kept my answer brief and vague because I didn’t really have an opinion. When in doubt, say nothing until you’re sure of where you stand. Admittedly, I don’t always play by that rule, but having nothing to go on but hype and anticipation, I wanted to see what happened first. Also, I was pretty new to wrestling when the original Monday Night Wars were drawing to a close. I didn’t fully appreciate what was happening until much later.

Raw was guest hosted by Bret Hart this week and it was a huge deal. After twelve years of hurt feelings, bruised egos and ever-increasing dollar bills hanging like a carrot from a stick, Bret Hart finally returned to the WWE and it worked. It was exciting. The fact that I was as excited as I was took me by surprise. I wasn’t just worked up about Bret’s return, I was actually looking forward to Raw as a whole. That hasn’t happened too often lately. I’ve mentioned before that Bret Hart is one of the very few wrestlers I remember as a kid. I have no overt  affection for him but, to a point, he is my oldest wrestling crush.

His moment of recompense with Shawn Michaels over the Montreal Screwjob at the top of the show was fascinating. It was like that family member you fell out with at so-and-so’s wedding coming up to you at some other family function and offering to make peace. When I first started watching wrestling, one of the things I loved about it was that you were never truly sure what was real and what was being played out for a storyline. It was neorealism before neorealism was cool. Often the lines were blurry, mixing genuine personal events with fictitious storylines. That still goes on but with the arrival of social media, secrets are harder to keep under wraps. One slip of the fingers on someone’s iPhone and a whole month of feuds could be blown. But it was different when I started watching. Ahhh life before the internet. Remember? Yeah, I’m struggling too.

The opening gambit where Shawn and Bret agreed to bury the hatchet without bringing it down on each other’s heads felt real. It fed off real emotions, yet you knew a story had been penned and agreed in advance. The whole show had a flow it’s been sorely lacking in recent months. Even down to the way The Miz entered the ring while Maryse was leaving. And that’s something that can continue regardless of whether Bret Hart is there or not. It wasn’t all wonderful. They could have done a lot more. But if Bret Hart’s got a floating contract to run until after WM26, the potential for interaction with young talent, specifically The Hart Dynasty, might still exist.

Moving on to less congenial television, TNA iMPACT was painful. I’ve made no effort in the past to hide the fact that I always find it painful to watch TNA. It sets my teeth on edge more than once every single week. It’s not that their wrestlers are bad. In most cases they’re pretty talented. Their Women’s Division alone is stacked with excellent workers and strong characters. But the lack of effort that goes into the production makes me want to yank my hair out from the follicles. Even little things drive me to distraction; the incessant crowd noise and awful acoustics, just for a start.

I explained how I felt about Hogan’s signing to TNA when it first blew up. I haven’t changed that view in the past couple of days. No, I don’t like him. I think he’s an awful figurehead for any company and he signifies everything I don’t want new fans of wrestling to buy in to. There’s no doubt his name is still a draw, but unless TNA make plans to progress the young talent begging for structured storylines with equally worthy wrestlers soon, they’ll do nothing but re-hash old feuds between wrestlers who can’t make the matches believable any more. The older statesmen should be used to put the younger talent over. If they refuse to do that, the whole company will become famous for being nothing more than the free night-bus for those with nowhere else to go.

TNA bookers are like magpies,  picking up every mildly sparkling free agent available but with no plans for how they might polish them to a brilliant shine. It was anticipated that Hulk Hogan’s debut on iMPACT  would force the show to be largely about him. But the fact that he’s making the entire company about him and his grotesque friends is appalling, and I still believe Dixie Carter will regret having him on board. At the very least I think she’ll regret giving him so much power. Eric Bischoff less so. He understands business. But Hogan’s there for a retirement party and a pay-cheque. I’m all for ‘jobs for the boys’. We all like to look after our friends, but this level of  nepotism is pathetic, both creatively and in a business sense. If I never see Brian Knobbs’ hideous face again, it’ll be too soon.

I have my own views on Jeff Hardy and Ric Flair’s bookings on Monday night and they revolve around loyalty. I’ll keep them to myself unless anyone actually wants to know what I think. Otherwise, hey, they’re both free to work for who they please. Who am I to be their moral compass? If Ric Flair needs to pay his electricity bill, it’s not for me to say he can’t keep his heating on at night. But purely on a booking level, they make no sense. Jeff’s in court for drug offences soon and Flair can’t possibly have anything to offer in-ring.  Use what you’ve got. Seek out your best assets and plug them to the hills. It’s not rocket science. Don’t grab at everything left on shell because it’s a brand everyone recognises. Have the self-confidence to turn people down from time-to-time. If the good stuff gets sidelined because the ‘names’ want an undeserved slice of the airtime pie, you should be outraged.

TNA are akin to teenagers having sex. All the mechanics are there and they’re sure they know how to do it, but they’re nervous, over-enthusiastic and they rush their way through the parts they should linger on. There was something very mature and confident about Raw this week. And I recognise the irony in calling any show with a  Hornswoggle segment ‘mature’, but it managed to deliver a well balanced show in a methodical and experienced manner. It was easy. It had rhythm and a gripping ending. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve shouted at the screen watching Raw too. But Raw’s problems are largely creative. They can easily be fixed. Also, WWE has other brands and business off-shootsto fall back on if one element of its product isn’t working.

There’s no doubt that TNA put their stamp on the industry on Monday night. In many ways, I admire their pluck, the fact that they had the courage to stand up to Vince McMahon and demand his attention. It certainly worked.  But to sustain the momentum they kickstarted this week, TNA are going to have to try harder. The novelty factor will wear off very quickly; not just for the viewers but I suspect for several of the newly signed roster too. Hulk Hogan in particular.

(I will recap Raw in the usual way before the end of the week. I promise I haven’t lost my sense of humour. Honest, guvna!)

that’s quite enough, thank you

On last week’s Smackdown, Mickie James was ‘reduced to tears’ when Michelle McCool and Layla interrupted her match against Natalya by cutting her clothes to pieces with some dressmaking scissors.

I didn’t like it, but I made a joke of it and chalked it up as another lame Diva storyline that might end up with Mickie beating Michelle McCool for the Women’s Title somewhere down the line. But this week the silliness didn’t just continue, it became infuriating. To the point where I feel embarrassed for the women involved.

The main premise was that following a pitifully short but victorious match against Layla , Mickie James was pointed in the direction of the titantron by her opponent. There she was met with a pre-recorded cartoony video of Michelle McCool referring to Mickie as ‘Piggy James’. McCool proceeded to sing her own version of ‘Old McDonald Had a Farm’, replacing McDonald with McCool and singing that Mickie was the newest piggy on her farm. This left Mickie James to walk out of the arena dejected and in tears.

I’m not stupid. I’ve watched wrestling for a long time. I understand that this is a work. All professional wrestling in the ‘sports-entertainment’ stable is based on very basic principles.  There is a good guy/girl, a bad guy/girl, and ultimately good will prevail over evil. How and when each feud reaches that conclusion is down to the creative team, but the story will reach the same conclusion almost every time. Mickie James will, no doubt, get her revenge on Michelle McCool and Layla, we’ll all cheer and the story will be done and dusted. But there’s something more important going on here and I’m concerned about what it means for women in the WWE.

The most obvious reason for this storyline is that Mickie James’ shift from Raw to Smackdown during the recent Divas draft was down to the fact that she has become overweight. But that theory makes no sense. Firstly, I saw Mickie James in person a couple of weeks ago. She isn’t even close to being overweight. She looks incredibly healthy. You could possibly say that her work rate has very marginally decreased, but I would be more inclined to attribute that to the lack of time given to Divas matches than to Mickie’s actual wrestling talent.  Also, Smackdown is by far the superior wrestling show. Its mainstream media profile may be lower than Raw, especially since the introduction of the celebrity guest host feature, but among the wrestling community Smackdown has rarely missed the mark in recent months and I look forward to it more than any other brand. If being drafted to Smackdown is such a punishment, why would Beth Phoenix, debatably the most talented female wrestler in the entire company, be drafted at the same time? All indications were that Smackdown would be the place to go for strong, exciting female competition. Unfortunately, this is turning out to be painfully untrue.

I’m not too worried about Mickie James’ state of mind. Wrestlers are actors. They can summon up tears in the same way they can limp up the ramp with a fake knee injury. And I suspect Mickie had to agree to this storyline before it got started. But what worries me is that all Creative can come up with for these talented women is a sniping, catty, bitchy feud revolving around clothes, weight gain, the importance of physical appearance. Gender stereotyping in its purest form. Very little importance is placed upon the actual wrestling. I’m all for jokes and silliness. This website is based on just that and if you’re not taking wrestling with a pinch of salt, you should probably navigate to a different form of entertainment. Whether you’re a fan or a superstar you certainly need tough skin, however deeply involved with this industry you happen to be.

But what message does this ‘piggy’ story send out to the kids who watch wrestling? Personally, I preferred when wrestling was targeted at adults. I came to it during the Attitude Era when anything was fair game. As an adult, I found that exciting. But if WWE are making the shrewd business move of marketing their product to children, they need to think more carefully about how children might interpret the storylines they throw out there. When I watched Mickie’s entrance I was happy to see this little girl in the crowd.

It’s nice to see girls cheering for girls as well as the male wrestlers. But I wonder what she made of seeing Michelle McCool’s nursery rhyme based attack on her heroine. You’re a fat pig, you should feel ashamed and cry about it? I wouldn’t want any daughter of mine exposed to that. Of course, Mickie will eventually overcome the bullies and deliver a message of positivity. But this feud isn’t sitting comfortably with me at the moment. Women in general are bombarded with negative media and fashion industry messages concerning physical beauty, largely that physical beauty equals personal success and anything less than airbrushed perfection is failure. To a certain extent, physical appearance is an important theme within wrestling for both men and women. Wrestling’s connection to the bodybuilding and fitness industries suggests that a certain level of fitness and muscle tone are required as standard. But women within the WWE are held to higher physical standards than men. Men get away with carrying extra pounds in a way that women do not.

I’m not opposed to female feuds. On the contrary, I want to see more made of the exchanges between the women on the roster so that fans will start caring about the matches. I want that snowball to start rolling. But the methods and ideas currently used within these storylines are both lazy and outdated. Batista and Rey Mysterio’s current intense battle is based upon the breakdown of a long-standing friendship. CM Punk’s fight with R-Truth is based on the fact that Punk claims to be morally and socially superior to Truth. His feud with Jeff Hardy ran along similar lines. Mickie James’ feud with Michelle McCool is based on the suggestion that she is fat and her two bullies aren’t. There is no clever characterisation. No depth. No narrative. It’s insulting. Not necessarily to Mickie James, because she can take it on the chin, but to the audience. Women care about physical appearance above all else, right? So let’s just throw that out there and spend the rest of our time coming up with clever insults for CM Punk to chuck at the audience. It’s so very wrong.

According to a piece I read on Diva-Dirt.com earlier today, the piggy storyline also pertains to some concern among WWE management that Mickie James has an interest in pursuing a career beyond the company. If this happens to be true, I wish her good luck. A wrestler’s career is short and could be ended at any moment by serious injury. The in-ring career of any wrestler, male or female, will not take them through to their pension. A back-up plan is required. Today’s young, college educated talent have a Bachelor’s degree and in some cases a Masters degree to fall back on. I doubt we’ll see Dolph Ziggler and John Morrison ripping each other to pieces on an overseas tour into their late fifties and sixties. They have options. Flair and Hogan do not.

Female careers in wrestling are even shorter. The importance placed on youthful looking women within the WWE means that their shelf-life is significantly shorter than that of their male counterparts. The Undertaker, Triple H and Shawn Michaels are all headlining well into their forties. Can we say with any confidence that Michelle McCool, Mickie James and Layla will still be wrestling into their forties? There are all kinds of issues concerning why women don’t reach positions of prominence in the workplace, not just in wrestling but in the Western workplace as a whole. One argument, for example, is that women are more likely to leave their jobs when starting a family and are less likely to return to full-time work until after their children reach school age than their male equivalents.

These issues are far too complex to discuss here, but it’s interesting that Lillian Garcia recently left the WWE because she was getting married and wanted to start a new chapter in her life. Vickie Guerrero took several months off work because she felt she was travelling too much and needed to spend more time with her children.  We rarely hear of male superstars taking this kind of action. Two of the WWE’s most popular Divas, Trish Stratus and Lita, both left to forge successful careers in other industries. If Mickie James’ career aspirations lie elsewhere, why should she be denied that opportunity? WWE seem to have few plans to develop their women’s division, yet as soon as one of its most popular female stars expresses the tiniest indication that she might leave, they object. Like I say, I’m only responding to a rumour I read elsewhere, which may be untrue. But if it is true it’s extremely bad form and I’d like to see them give Mickie and her female colleagues a reason to stay, rather than punishing them for wanting to leave.

I don’t often write long, serious posts such as this. My mission statement has always been to look on the lighter side of the industry and find the comedy in the product the WWE put out there. But sometimes seemingly small developments make me angry and I have to get them off my chest. This has been one of those occasions. Normal, comedic service will resume with the Raw and Smackdown recaps.

tna and their human sticking plaster

My childhood memories of wrestling are sketchy.  I can’t remember actually watching it and yet I have a very vivid memory of one of my primary school friends asking me who my favourite wrestler was, and me then pointing to a padded Bret Hart sticker on my pencil case. I can’t even remember why I placed that sticker on my pencil case, but it probably had something to do with the colour pink and a mild, innocent, child-like crush on The Hitman.

It’s funny how things change as you grow up. I no longer place stickers on my pencil case. (No, now I dot trading cards around my office.) I no longer spend time discussing who my favourite wrestlers are. (No, I just started a blog to do exactly that.) And I no longer develop crushes on dysfunctional and emotionally bankrupt wrestlers. (Duh!)

My memories of Hulk Hogan are centred around watching Thunder in Paradise on weekend afternoons at my grandparents’ house and re-watching Mr. Nanny several times over at Christmas. Saying that, I’ve got a vague recollection of  singing “I am a real A-me-ri-caaan!” with displaced  pride. My love affair with the USA goes way back, but I’ll talk about that briefly in my Raw recap. Unlike the wrestling fans who truly grew up with Hulk Hogan, I don’t have any loyalty to his cause. I never dressed up like him for halloween or lost my voice screaming at the TV when he won or lost matches. I don’t have quite the same gut wrenching sadness when he screws up. Alright, maybe a little. I mean, I’m pretty soft-hearted. I would never enjoy someone being caged by depression and suicidal thoughts.

Strangely, I do feel huge affection and sadness for Ric Flair, which is bizarre because as a kid I couldn’t have picked Flair out of a police lineup. *Insert your own Ric Flair/police line-up joke* I suppose it’s the unexplained but enduring allure of The Nature Boy. And by ‘allure’  I mean as a character. I find him physically quite frightening. If I found myself cornered by Flair in a dark alley I’d probably pray for unconsciousness.

I digress. The whole purpose of this post is to consider what good, if any, can come of Hulk Hogan signing with TNA, as was announced yesterday. Clearly this is a great PR exercise for TNA. Despite cutting a somewhat tragic figure, Hogan still pulls in a huge amount of mainstream media attention. It’s not always favourable attention, but his name still draws interest from outside the wrestling world.

TNA, deservedly in WWE’s shadow, needs a hook. Something to prick up the ears of people who know nothing of wrestling but may be persuaded to watch if a familiar face appears in the opening credits. People like my brother’s girlfriend who, when I asked her if she wanted to come to one of the WWE shows on their forthcoming British tour, asked me “Will Hulk Hogan be there?” When I said no, she declined the offer to join us.

What’s in it for Hogan? A regular salary, promotion for his new tell-all book, the opportunity to hear a crowd chanting his name again and the satisfaction of telling the tax man  he’s working for a legitimate wrestling franchise. A TV marriage of convenience in the purest form.

TNA is the only franchise to even come close to rocking Vince McMahon’s boat. And by that I mean TNA’s kayak bobs and bounces off the McMahon luxury cruise liner. They have an opportunity to develop characters, make stars and break the monopoly the WWE holds over televised professional wrestling. But they go nowhere and, at least on the surface, don’t appear to have a vision of the creative direction the company needs to take. They seem more than happy to remain in the stalemate of  mediocrity and leave their product seemingly unfinished. I do watch TNA; partly because of the women’s division and partly because I think I should watch it.  I will admit though, some weeks I just can’t face it.

In signing Hogan, all TNA are doing is placing a sticking plaster over the cut. It’ll hold for a while, but once the initial glue stops sticking, the wound will still be there and the plaster with be thrown away. Much like WWE’s Raw guest host bit, the hope at TNA is that people will come for Hogan and stay for the show.But that will get old quickly. At least Raw’s guest hosts change on a weekly basis, leaving room for a better show next week if this week’s show was terrible.

I can’t believe I’m doing this, because Brett Favre is personal hero of mine and comparing him to one of life’s more cringe worthy characters feels shameful and wrong. But the situation is similar to struggling (American) football teams bidding to bring Favre out of retirement for what feels like the tenth time and capitalise on his immense throwing arm. It’s a temporary fix while you’re preparing the ground for new talent to come up through the ranks. Except, it kind of works in football’s case because a) Brett Favre can still go like a train and b) the teams who sign him know they’re on borrowed time and need to make plans for the future.  Hogan can’t go any more and TNA don’t appear to have any plans to gloss up and pad out their TV output.

The worst thing about this whole development is that, despite knowing it’ll be awful and objecting to Hogan’s contract, I’m still being sucked in by what I’ll refer to as the Mike Tyson Effect. There’s something fascinating  about watching oddball characters who should be settling down behaving inappropriately. When I watched the Tyson movie, some of Mike Tyson’s comments were vile, and yet I watched the whole thing all the way through. Out of sheer morbid fascination I want to see how this latest chapter of Hogan’s life plays out. And I feel really bad about that. Just like how I felt like a TV whore watching Hogan Know’s Best and then Brooke Knows Best.

It would be great to be proven wrong on this. Really. But all the road signs point to Disasterville, TNA.