Report from the Fort: Best Match (Rae’s Picks)

Andrew posted his favourite matches of 2011 yesterday. Here are my two awards winners….

Winner: CM Punk vs John Cena (WWE’s Money in the Bank: July 17th 2011)

What exactly do you want from the perfect wrestling match? Hitting the right balance for one viewer is tricky enough. Trying to cultivate a match that speaks to the masses is quite another. What CM Punk and John Cena managed to do at the 2011 Money in the Bank Pay-Per-View was truly remarkable.

If the Rock’s reappearance at last year’s Wrestlemania was designed to engage the casual fan who largely turned its back on the WWE once corporate branding turned the sex and violence soft, Punk and Cena’s match came about to mobilise current fans becoming complacent with the product. And, oh, did it succeed!

I wrote about the match the day after it took place in such a state of emotional, sleepless exhaustion that I had no idea whether what I’d written was brilliant or complete dross. Trusting my colleague’s wisdom, I took Andrew’s advice that I should post it immediately. Thankfully, to lovely feedback. By Tuesday there were whole sentences I had no recollection of writing whatsoever. There are events where a level head are mandatory when putting fingertips to keys, but the impact this match had was so strong, only stream of consciousness ramblings would do.

I rewatched Punk and Cena’s match a little over a week ago. I wondered if I would feel the same way about it now, knowing how the tale was punctuated. I wondered if the months of following stories would have washed away all those flailing emotions. I pondered this right up until a couple of minutes before the match started. Then I stopped. My heart started beating faster and I felt a rush of slight breathlessness as that incredible Chicago crowd noise assaulted me through my speakers.

When wrestling first drew me into its fold, the most intriguing thing of all was that grey space between reality and fiction; where you’re not fully convinced that what you’re watching is real, but it feels liberally speckled with truth at the same time. This match wasn’t the most technically precise display of wrestling that ever was, and I do love repeated nearfalls and cartoon-like “Why don’t you just DIE?” grimaces. Technically accurate does not a great story make. It didn’t need to be perfect because it had intense passion. In Punk’s possibly real contract ending and in John’s threatened firing, the story had potentially cataclysmic, game changing consequences that stretched way beyond just the two of them. When that’s your base, everything else takes care of itself.

Winner: The Throwbacks + Matt Classic vs Team Osaka Pro (CHIKARA King of Trios 2011 – Night One: 15th April 2011)

The morning after I watched this year’s Royal Rumble, I was in the back of a taxi chatting with the driver about the previous night’s TV, as you do. On finding out that I had spent three hours of my evening watching professional wrestling, he was stunned. “You? YOU!? Really? What a dark horse!” He also went on to joke that wrestling was not my hobby, but my downfall, and looked blankly as I responded to his question about my favourite wrestler with ‘CM Punk’. Apparently, in loving wrestling, I am a walking contradiction. Maybe I should have been offended. But hey, how often do you get to appear enigmatic in the company of strangers?

Explaining a love of wrestling to non-fans isn’t easy. I often wonder how I might convert them if I just had one match to do it with. One match, where they have a lightbulb moment and come over to my side of the fence. You might expect me to select that much discussed CM Punk vs John Cena at Money in the Bank match.  But I happened to watch a large chunk of it with non-fan company last week and either had to explain the storyline in great detail, which I didn’t actually mind, or had to suffer the ridicule of just loving it to begin with. I minded that rather a lot.

I’m paraphrasing slightly from the second Kayfabe Comedy podcast here, but if we accept that wrestling is ultimately very silly, and that CHIKARA do silly better than anyone, a CHIKARA match is the perfect introductory match. At King of Trios 2011, The Throwbacks and Matt Classic vs Team Osaka Pro had the ultimate newbie match. Before the action even gets under way, enough grin inducing, beautifully timed, slapstick comedy has taken place as to make everything that happens during the actual match feel like gravy. There’s competitive running of the ropes, makeshift basketball and Matt Classic’s in-match yoga moves. By far the most engaging character is Sugar Dunkerton, currently absent from CHIKARA for very personal reasons. Here, he shines.

There are some brilliant spots from both teams and there’s no complex story to explain, apart from maybe Dasher Hatfield’s stitch-face. No crowd sells silliness like a CHIKARA crowd and if this match doesn’t make you proud to pay wrestling forward, you might be needing a break. As well as being a great introduction to wrestling for novice fans, it’s also an effective antidote for when seasoned pros like ourselves get a little jaded. I recommend keeping a copy in your medicine cabinet.

More Than a Feeling: CM Punk at Money in the Bank

I haven’t had much sleep. I took myself off to bed at 9:10pm last night with the hope of sleeping until Money in the Bank started at 1am. This didn’t happen and was largely down to the fact that I was too excited about the show to drift off.  By my calculations, I had about 90 minutes of uninterrupted sleep beforehand and didn’t fare too well afterwards either. The ending was so thrilling that when I returned to bed at 4:20am with the sun starting to rise and a stupid smile on my face, I found it impossible to sleep. It seems there is no natural antidote to adrenaline. Lord knows when I finally dropped off, but I know I was awake again not long after 8am. And now, in the early evening, I look and feel like death warmed up in the microwave, incurring the physical consequences of spending the night on North American time. I don’t regret a thing. What I experienced watching Money in the Bank was worth its weight in insomnia related nausea and under-eye luggage. It must be love!

I spent the first hour I was ‘awake’ trying to think about how I might express just how incredible last night was; writing whole paragraphs in my head and forgetting them the second I dotted them with a full-stop. I then turned to music and asked again….how do you explain something that’s bigger than a feeling and so much more important than a few wrestling matches? This was proceeded by 30 minutes of me playing Boston’s More than a Feeling on a loop, while treating the neighbours to my own unique, croaky brand of power ballad vibrato. “I closed mah eyes an’ ah slipped er-way-y-y-y-y-y-y.”

The show as a whole was the best of the year – better than the Rumble and definitely better than style-over-substance Wrestlemania. Every single match was booked to make the fans happy, which is almost unheard of. Both Money in the Bank matches were outstanding and, being the born-again indie kid that I am, seeing Daniel Bryan win the Smackdown briefcase was a massive surprise and a win I reacted to with…..

But if we’re all honest, we were only truly interested in one match – CM Punk vs John Cena. I had mixed feelings about this match. I never want anyone to become ill or burnt out just for the sake of my entertainment. I don’t expect wrestlers to be circus animals, jumping every time someone cracks a whip because they have no other choice than to keep going. But I have to admit that the idea of Punk leaving left my heart a little heavy.  Over the past few years I’ve fallen in love with Punk in the most wonderfully organic way. He was ‘just there’ for a long time, then I liked him, then I loved him…unconditionally. And despite what our blog archives will tell you, it really has nothing to do with the fact that he filled those tiny lavender trunks so impressively. The fact that I fancied the pants off him was a lovely bonus. He was just special. When Killswitch Engage’s crunching guitar rang out around countless arenas, I stopped what I was doing and paid attention – partly to swoon and sigh with my chin in my hands like a 1950s teeny-bopper, and partly because I knew that whatever was about to happen would indubitably be good.

Myself and Andrew had dipped in and out of Twitter throughout the show. In the early hours of the morning, feeling like you’re at a PPV party can be the stimulus you need to stay awake, but it can also be a distraction. There’s nothing more annoying than missing a brilliant, bone-crushing move because you were refreshing your Twitter feed at the time. As the promo video for the main event began, we decided to turn Twitter off and concentrate on what had the potential to be one of the most historic hours of wrestling in years. And so began a little experiment we’ll call ‘How many times can Ray’s stomach flip over in an hour.’

It began with the entrance. With that first rabid eruption of appreciation from the hometown crowd, synching perfectly with the initial scream in the entrance music, it  felt like my tummy was being stirred with a giant spoon, spinning back the other way and sending a shiver up my spine when Punk reached to the ground, looked at his imaginary watch and declared it was most definitely clobbering time. I can’t remember the last time a single wrestler caused that kind of crowd reaction, and as he marched down the ramp to the ring I started getting a little emotional. I promised myself I’d stay dry-eyed until the end, but as Punk plonked himself cross-legged in the middle of the ring, my bottom lip started to tremble and I declared out loud that “I love wrestling so much!” There have been so many moments where I’ve exclaimed the exact opposite (even as recently as a few weeks ago) but here I was brushing real tears away from the corners of my eyes, pressing my lips together tightly and more in love than I ever knew I could be – with Punk and with wrestling. It became even more intense when he jumped back to his feet, flew over to give him mum a kiss and whipped the crowd into even more of a frenzy.

The ‘BOO’ John Cena entered the arena to was so hostile I almost felt sorry for him, although it felt pretty awesome too. John’s not accustomed to being the bad guy, but for one night we entered an alternate universe where he felt the full brunt of an unappreciative crowd. John’s no stranger to hostility though. If he could survive a roasting from an old-school ECW crowd, he could cope with this. By this point I could feel my heart beating hard and fast in my chest. I didn’t even need to put my hand on it, I could just feel it pulsating far faster than it ever should be at gone 3am. I had no idea where all this was coming from, but had to concede that I loved wrestling even more than I had admitted to and was more than happy to roll with this glorious feeling.

The match was strange. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to happen. We had decided not to make any predictions for it because we wanted to just absorb whatever they had in store. The downside to this was that I had no clue what a good or bad outcome would feel like. All I knew was that every time John pinned Punk, I gasped loudly and held my hands to my face. Every time that pin was reversed I lifted my shoulders to my ears, sunk my nails into the leather of the couch and held my breath counting “1, 2..awww.” And it got worse. I watched the time ticking away, knowing that the further into this thing we got, the more chance there was of that three-count actually ending with the bell ringing.

The defining moment for me was late in the match when Punk dove through the middle of the ropes to land on a dizzy John and reached up to high-5 his mum. He had his two best friends and other family members whooping and hollering across the barrier and a crowd whose noise levels refused to quit. After that I was lost to the match, carried along entirely by the pacy back and forth between the two like a rip-tide I couldn’t and didn’t want to fight. STFs, failed attempts at making John Go to Sleep, duelling crowd chants, wobbly top rope leaps, raised shoulders and quivering hands trying desperately not to spank the mat and submit – I loved it all and responded to each with a new swear word of increasing obscenity. It seems I swear a lot when I’m that excited.

When Mr. McMahon and John Laurinaitis turned up, my mood changed. For all I praise the McMahons and the brand of wrestling they pump out every week, if they ruined this for me I would not be a happy bunny! I believe the expression I used was “DON’T FUCK THIS UP! PLEAAAAASE!” When Vince called for the bell, my “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” could have woken people three streets away, but they didn’t mess it up at all. John indicated that he wanted everything to be legit, the GTS did its job for the first time all match and the three-count finally hit the three with both John’s shoulders down.

I reached up and punched the air above my head repeatedly, pyjama sleeves flopping around in the downdraft. I think I just figured out what I wanted to happen. Even when Vince marched Alberto Del Rio out to cash in his MITB contract, I knew he wasn’t going to get it. They had given Punk the moment he deserved and there was no going back. I revelled in the euphoria of it all as Punk blew a vacant-faced Mr. McMahon a kiss and disappeared into the Chicago crowd, reaching their hands out to touch him as if some form of messiah was passing among them.

Then that little green logo appeared in the bottom left corner of my screen and it hit me that he was gone.

Remember that scene in Titanic where Rose is floating around in the freezing Atlantic and she has to blow a whistle and scream for the lifeboat to collect her? And remember how she barely had enough breath to make a sound? I felt like that. I don’t want him to go. I wanted to drag him back and force him to stay. I wanted to promise that everything would be OK if he just stuck around. At 4:00am I was exhausted and emotional enough that this all made perfect sense. It all seems a little ludicrous now. WHISTLE-WHISTLE-WHISTLE. COME BAHHHHCK! COME BAAAAAAHHHHHCK! WHISTLE-WHISTLE-WHISTLE. COME BAHHHHHHCK!

For the next 30 minutes I rested my head into the back of the chair with what can only be described as a gorgeous post-coital floatiness. I don’t really mind what you loved about it, as long as you did love it. Whether you loved it because Punk was sticking it to the man, or that John Cena proved his immeasurable worth, or that Vince allowed himself to be ridiculed in the name of narrative, or because of the cacophony of sound coming from the audience, that you saw an incredible wrestling match, or just (like me) that you felt moved seeing your favourite performer reach their full potential for the very first time – it all works. All I care about is that you felt that same tingle under your skin that I did. And if you didn’t, we need to talk. Sometimes you have to give yourself over to the story, even if you know the ending will make you sad.

I suppose now that Punk’s having a holiday I need a new person to direct my affections to towards, eh? Hey, Colt Cabana. How you doin’?

A Song for Whoever: Smashing Pumpkins and Bryan Danielson edition

SIDEKICK ANDREW: Just a quick one this week, although the video is longer than usual. I was tempted to write about Superstars and how amazing this week’s episode was. There was a great match between Beth Phoenix and Gail Kim, a surprisingly good match between Alicia Fox and Kaitlyn, and an amazing six-man tag involving the Usos and Trent Baretta against Tyson Kidd, Heath Slater & Justin Gabriel. Wondering what was so great about that match? Well, when was the last time you saw a move like this on Raw?

also, never headbutt a Samoan

Anyway, I was going to write about Superstars, but I’ve already pleaded with you guys to watch the show. Something else you should definitely watch if you get chance (neat segue!) is the Wrestling Road Diaries documentary put out by Colt “Scotty Goldman” Cabana, Bryan “Daniel Bryan” Danielson and Sal “the other one” Rinauro. We had a screening in the Bunker this weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. If you’ve got a spare couple of quid knocking about, support indie wrestlers and buy it at WrestlingRoadDiaries.com, you won’t regret it.

And in a slightly less smooth segue than before, the behind the scenes footage in that documentary leads to my Song For Whoever this week (bear with me, we’ll get there.) When I was nineteen I lived, for a while, in the back of a van parked for the most part in the car park of Morrison’s supermarket in Blackpool with a friend called Wayne Squire. His name isn’t relevant to the story, but just in case he ever does one of those self-indulgent Google searches we all do from time to time… hi Wayne!

no Google, I did not mean "southern"

When we lived in the van we had a number of cassettes that were played pretty incessantly. Black Sunday by Cypress Hill, Automatic for the People by REM, In Utero by Nirvana… and the first two Smashing Pumpkins albums – Gish and Siamese Dream. These were the soundtrack to my life at a pretty weird time, and as such I’ve still a soft spot for all these bands. So I was pretty excited to hear that the Smashing Pumpkins were recording their new video at an indie wrestling show and involving Raven, Cheerleader Melissa and Shelly Martinez in the shoot.

Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins is a massive (if somewhat unlikely) wrestling fan, having shown up in the original ECW as well as allowing his songs to be used for at least two TNA PPV hype videos.


How to explain the logic behind releasing a video this week for a single that was released back in 2009? Well, here’s an paragraph I’m stealing from Consequence of Sound to explain it for me.

Let’s start with the facts: Billy Corgan’s Smashing Pumpkins have a new video for their past single, “Owata”, off the still evolving 44-track effort, Teargarden By Kaleidyscope. (The same album which will contain the previously released two EPs and the forthcoming album-within-an-album, Oceania, which is currently being endorsed by one Kareem Abdul-Jabar.) Instead of issuing a quick three to four minute video, which is apparently in the pipeline too, Corgan’s attached his song to director Robby Starbuck’s 12 minute short film about female underground wrestling.

All clear? Cool…

Obligatory Simpsons Reference

So, I started off saying this would be a short one, and it hasn’t been really. Sorry about that. I suppose I could scroll back up and delete that line, but meh… Enjoy the video.

BOSS LADY RAY: I’m afraid I don’t like Smashing Pumpkins or that song or the video (sorry, Andrew) so I’m going to take you down a slightly jazzier road this week. As Andrew mentioned, this past weekend we watched Colt Cabana, Bryan Danielson and Sal Rinauro take a ten-day road trip to shows and training workshops in the Wrestling Road Diaries documentary. It’s rather brilliant and worth any spare pennies you’ve got floating around.

The ten days it covers are Bryan Danielson’s last week and a half before he heads off to the WWE to morph into Daniel Bryan on NXT. There are two things that come across strongly throughout – the wonderful friendship between the three of them, and the fact that they love their jobs. I mean they really love their jobs. They travel all over the world for very little money, in a car with a cracked windscreen, sleeping on friends’ couches and buying clothes in charity shops. Admittedly that last one was just for fun. But still, it becomes apparent that to be on the indie wrestling circuit you have to truly love it and they clearly do. They regularly mention that they think they have the best job in the world. How many people can honestly say they feel that way about their job? Even when some health issues put Bryan Danielson’s WWE contract in jeopardy, he’s reasonably calm about it, because he can still do what he loves to do elsewhere.

I watched Bryan wrestle Ted DiBiase on Smackdown this morning, and it occurred to me that he’s one of the few who gets to just go out and completely be himself on TV. (Albeit with a slight name change.) Despite the fact that his style of wrestling isn’t Flavour of the Month in the mainstream at the moment, he’s still the same guy he is in the documentary, at least for as long as that character allows him to be. This one’s dedicated to you, Bryan Da>ielson, for reminding me that if you don’t love your job, you need a new one.

PS—> Previous mild crush on Colt Cabana is now a giant one. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a boy who makes me laugh!