Report from the Fort: Best Newcomer

As Rae mentioned in her Best Newcomer award, we’re eschewing the lure of the country show with its home-made preserves and tombola stalls. Rather, we’ve kicked off our shoes, slipped into our favourite pyjamas and took up residence in the pillow fort section of the Wrestlegasm Bunker to discuss this years winners. I’ll miss the excellent scones we got to sample last year, but crumbs and pillow forts don’t really mix anyway…

We struggled trying to find a recipient for Best Newcomer this year, and while I’m quite ashamed to say that Archibald Peck completely slipped my mind until just now, we ended up looking to FCW for our winner and the graphic’s been made up now and everything. Sorry about that Archie.

The trouble is, this year just hasn’t been one for newcomers. For all of Punk’s rhetoric about the winds of change moving through the landscape of the WWE, the “debuts” of 2011 tended to be returns such as Kevin Nash, Booker T, The Rock and HHH. Over in FCW however, along with Wrestlegasm favourite Claudio Castagnoli, the erstwhile Jon Moxley debuted as Dean Ambrose and quickly became a bit of an internet sensation after feuding with Seth “Tyler Black” Rollins, CM Punk and, most notably, William Regal.

After a debut interview in which he epitomised the word “grubby” and put a huge smile on Regal’s face, he went on to have a trilogy of matches with Seth Rollins, culminating in a great 30 minute effort showcasing two of the indie talents that have made it into developmental.

Following on from his Rollins feud, and a chance to challenge CM Punk at another FCW show, Ambrose moved onto Regal and the two of them brought the best out of each other, both in promos and in the following match in which Regal finally gets to be himself in the ring again.

In a promotion where the majority of the talent are still trying to find a personality beyond “tanned muscley bloke” Ambrose stands out as the greasy-haired kid from the dodgy estate that you always felt would get you in serious trouble one day. He’s got a great future ahead of him, and we’re very happy to present him this award – probably his first of many.

Honourable Mention: goes to Mason Ryan. Can you guess who might have decided on this one? Much like the interstellar radiation still detectable from the big bang, I’m sure that in the furthest recesses of the Bunker you can still hear the faint echoes of the immense squeal let out by Boss Lady Rae when she saw this photo on a Tuesday morning last January.

While it would be extremely generous to say that Ryan has set the WWE alight with his in ring prowess and fly-away hair, never underestimate the power of local bias. My love for Regal is no secret, and the same goes for Rae and her homeboy from the ‘Diff. As for me, I’m always happy to see more UK wrestlers getting a break in the US, and I’m still hopeful for Barri (as we in the know call him) to improve and become better in the ring as time goes by.

PS I’m well aware that, much like last year, neither of these guys are actually “newcomers” having had careers over the last few years, but for the sake of the awards, we’re taking major company debuts as counting

andrew’s ecw(lite): what’s NXT?

Every week I sit down to write an ECW recap, and every week real life gets in the way and I let Ray down. It’s getting to the point where I am seriously considering just channelling Jeffrey Bernard and posting “Andrew Southern is unwell” each week.

Part of the issue is that as ECW is such a short show there is rarely chance for more than two or so concurrent storylines to actually get any airtime. And as this blog is never going to be a play-by-play account of the matches (despite the undoubted quality of some of the ECW wrestlers) this doesn’t leave much to write about.  However, this week on ECW something different happened that, despite not quite matching up to the hype leading to the announcement, has apparently annoyed certain members of the wrestling community beyond all reason.

For those of you who may not have seen the episode, throughout the show Vince McMahon’s address on the future of ECW was trailed between almost every match or segment, leading to an announcement that in three weeks time ECW will be off the air, to be replace by a brand new WWE show (later revealed to be titled NXT – as in Next Generation.) At the time of writing, nobody outside of the WWE actually knows what NXT will consist of. There have been rumours that it will be incorporating more Sci-Fi (or SyFy) elements – remember the ECW Yeti? Or that it be more reality TV-like, featuring audience interactivity (a bit like the failed Taboo Tuesday/Cyber Sunday PPVs.) The general consensus seems to be that NXT will feature new wrestlers, and perhaps not even have anybody on the show that is already a member of the WWE roster. What this would mean for WWE’s current developmental company FCW is unknown, but it could hopefully involve people like Bryan Danielson, Kaval (formerly Low Ki) and possibly some random Welsh bloke called Barri might get a call up to national television.

All pretty good yeah? Well, apparently not, if some are to be believed. The most outspoken complainant this week has been ex-ECW star and WWE commentator Taz(z) – who posted a blog on his Facebook account complaining that, while Vince took the time the thank the backstage staff in his address, there was no mention of Paul Heyman or the wrestlers of the “original” ECW. Taz went on to complain that Vince had made “a lot of $$$” from the letters ECW over the years, and therefore should be more respectful of the “original” ECW history and be prepared to give it a proper send off.

Bearing in mind that ECW is still on the air for the next two weeks, and we don’t have any idea what will be happening in those last shows, it does seem slightly premature of Taz to complain about the way ECW will end.  The almost cultlike way in which people talk about the “original” ECW is frustrating in many ways, not least of which being the fact that Extreme Championship Wrestling was hardly the “original” ECW, being an evolution of the older Eastern Championship Wrestling (where the initials originally came from.) Hence the mildly annoying inverted commas around the word “original” throughout this paragraph, a conceit which I shall stop now.

Taz complaining that Vince McMahon and the WWE made money from ECW also seems quite hypocritical, especially when you read a later paragraph from that blog. ‘Can some say that, “hey Taz… you sold out and left ECW to go to the WWE”…..well yes. Unfortunately, this is a business and I did what I needed to do (at the time) for my family and have ZERO regrets!’ The reason Taz needed to “sell out” was because, visionary as Paul Heyman may be, it is widely acknowledged by even his staunchest supporters that he was a terrible business man, so paying wrestlers wasn’t always top of his priorities. Taz therefore moved to the WWE, where he had a pretty successful showing as a wrestler, taking the Hardcore Title and Tag Team Titles before he moved to a commentary position (mainly due to injuries from his pre-WWE career.) While working commentary, Taz had a “shoot” blog on WWE.com, in which he said that “WWE deserves credit for what it’s done for ECW,” something which it’s apparently easy to disagree with when you now work for the competition.

ECW had it’s good elements, I wouldn’t try and deny that. But in today’s business there are only two major companies in the US, and once you move to one it seems that you can’t say anything nice about the other. The wrestlers that were actually talented and successful in ECW went on to make much more money working for the WWE, in a much safer style. Think of the biggest names in ECW; Taz, Raven, Tommy Dreamer, Terry Funk, Rhino, Cactus Jack, Steve Austin, The Dudleys, Sabu, Sandman, even Joey Styles and Paul Heyman himself – they all went on to work for the WWE (and most had pretty successful runs with the company.) Other guys like Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guererro, Chris Jericho etc. all worked for a while in ECW before moving over to WCW – but there is a reason that they made that move, and as Taz said earlier “this is a business.”  Vince McMahon and the WWE gave Paul Heyman’s Extreme Championship Wrestling an amazing send-off with the original ECW: One Night Stand PPV, before creating a new brand: Vince McMahon’s Extreme Championship Wrestling. The problems arose from people assuming that the two companies would be the same, when it should have been obvious that this would never be the case.

Over the last couple of years this new ECW has proven itself to be a very successful show, especially when it comes to bringing in developmental wrestlers via the New Superstar Initiative. Admittedly, for every Sheamus or Yoshi Tatsu we’ve had to put up with a Tyler Reks or DJ Gabriel, but ECW has given valuable TV and development time to people like CM Punk, Zack Ryder, Sheamus, Evan Bourne, William Regal, Christian, Shelton Benjamin, Jack Swagger and current break-out stars Trent Baretta and Caylen Croft. In my opinion this shows the true succession of the old ECW brand – bringing new wrestlers to the attention of fans bored with the domination of the top stars like Triple H and John Cena. And for that I will always be happy to watch ECW, regardless of what it is called; and it’s why I’m really excited for NXT (even if it is a stupid name.)

I’ll leave you with a quote from my favourite new twitter account (@THETOMMYDREAMER) from last Tuesday: “Many people have asked me why I left WWE. If you watched ECW tonight, a piece of the puzzle was revealed for my actions. Stay tuned.”

i present to you…..the REAL celtic warrior

As a wrestling fan, I feel under-represented by the WWE roster. Hold your horses. Don’t back slowly away from the page. I’m not about to go on another immense ‘women in the workplace’ rant. This feeling of being left out relates to my nationality. I know what you’re thinking… “What’s her beef? There are plenty of British born wrestlers in the WWE!” True, there’s Drew McIntyre, Finlay, Layla, William Regal, The Burchills, Alesha Fox etc. And to satisfy my Celtic blood further, I also have Sheamus. WWE champion, no less.

But what about my Welshness? It’s as important as my Britishness but Wales is always the poor relation to Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland. While in America, it’s all I can do to maintain my polite exterior as I’m asked “Which part of England is Wales in?” AAAAARGH!  I’ve also been asked on several occasions if I’m Australian, which is weird.  No, I’m not an Aussie, but I want to go Sydney sooooo baaaad! I digress. You could say that a small province stuck to the side of England and with a population of three million people has no right to representation on a global wrestling product. That would be a fair deduction, I suppose. Thankfully for me and the other 2,999,999  people in this strange little place, Vince McMahon thinks otherwise. This, my friends, is Barri Griffiths:

And that's Barri with an i not a y.

Fabulous, isn’t he? And yes, you’re right, he does look like a younger, more handsome Dave Batista. He’s Welsh. VERY Welsh. He speaks the Welsh language AS HIS FIRST LANGUAGE. That’s huge. I speak fluent Welsh and spent every day from the age of 4-18 in Welsh medium education. But being dirty, filthy, Cardiff kids, everyone at my school spoke English at every opportunity; much to the despair of all our teachers.

So why am I telling you about this guy? Because he’s been signed to a developmental contract with the WWE and he’s making his way over to Florida this month to begin his amazing new life as an employee of the McMahons. I’m sure he’s very excited, but surely not as giddy as I am. Ok, maybe he’s a bit more excited than I am. Just a dash.

I’ve never paid a huge amount of attention to FCW, but from this month onwards that all changes. Barri’s not on the roster page of the website yet, but he needs to settle into the Florida way of life and get some training under his belt before stepping in front of an audience. Not that Bazza’s any stranger to an audience. He was ‘Goliath’ on the 2009 UK Gladiators……..

Tres Gerard Butler in 300, non?

…… and he’s wrestled locally. Although, he’s been going by the name ‘The Celtic Warrior’, so that’ll have to go. Unless he ends up in a feud against Sheamus where they battle it out for who gets to keep that prestigious moniker. Oooh and he could come out in Welsh flag trunks and drop whole sentences of our mother tongue into his promos the way Rey Mysterio drops Spanish into his. Then again, we could have some kind of Celtic Alliance where Drew McIntyre, Sheamus and Barri team up together………I’m getting ahead of myself. Observe his wrestling while I relocate reality:

Admittedly, 99% of people won’t have a clue what he’s saying, but in this next video he’s basically telling the story of how he was signed to his WWE contract and how he’s looking forward to moving to Florida. This video is from Uned5 (pronounced ee-ned-pimp) which is a daily TV show for teenagers on S4C, the only Welsh language TV channel. If you live in the UK, think of it as a less trendy version of T4 but a cooler version of Blue Peter. Got it? Sidenote: I was actually in the same year in high school as one of the girls who hosts this televisual gem, though as she was in the ‘cool-rugby-players-and-their-girlfriends’ group, and I just wanted to be, I doubt she’d remember me. Enough of my pitiful high school years, let’s get back to Barri. Watch and be transfixed:

And if you want another one, click here. Again, it’s in Welsh but it’s my favourite of the lot. Unfortunately it can’t be embedded, but in this one he takes part in a quiz about himself, two teenage girls struggle to stay composed in his presence and he reveals that he’s actually got red hair and eyebrows which he dyes black. Oh and his favourite meal is tuna and broccoli. Riveting stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Just in case Barri happens to be reading this….. Pob lwc i ti yn yr UDA. Da ni’n edrych ymlaen i dy weld ar y teledu. Ddangosa i’r byd beth mae’r Gymraeg wedi eu wneud o. Cariad mawr o Gaerdydd!

There will be more on this young man. Oh yes, there will be more. Stay tuned.