A Song for Whoever: Edge & Larry Sweeney Edition

BOSS LADY RAY: There isn’t much I can say about Edge and his shock retirement that hasn’t already been said this week. We can’t, however, let it pass without comment. The outpouring of love for Adam Copeland over the past seven days has been astonishing. I’m not for a second suggesting he doesn’t deserve it. Quite the opposite. I just mean it’s been a long time since I’ve seen such universal affection for a single wrestler.

At 3:00am on Tuesday morning, the wind blowing through a forgotten, open window woke me up. I was suddenly struck with insomnia. To entertain myself I opened Twitter to see if anything interesting was happening on Raw. Edge was retiring. I assumed it was a story. There have been so many false goodbyes in the WWE lately and there were no signs of injury at Wrestlemania. But the more my Twitter feed refreshed, the more it became apparent that it was a very real farewell. I resisted the urge to turn on the television. Feeling sleepy again I went back to bed. When my alarm woke me up I returned to Twitter to find it awash with mournful messages tagged with #ThankYouEdge. Clearly I hadn’t just dreamt it.  Before I’d even got up I navigated my way to YouTube on my phone and watched the speech North Americans had been reeling over four hours earlier. I had a little cry.

.....as did he.

One of the things I’ve really been taken aback by this week is just how well respected and very much needed Edge is backstage. Curt Hawkins’ video tribute was especially lovely.

It must be an incredible feeling to make the difficult decision to take your ship to shore for the final time, knowing that not only your audience are going to miss you, but that your peers will miss you even more. The extended send-off WWE sprung on Edge on this week’s Smackdown was even more touching than his big announcement on Raw. And yes, I definitely cried.

The thought that keeps coming back to me is that Edge can’t possibly retire because he’s one of the new guys. But he isn’t. He’s 38 this year. He was already established in The Brood when I started watching some thirteen years ago. He’s one of the most decorated Superstars in the WWE. So why do I keep thinking of him as one of the new guys? I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because Edge’s retirement feels untimely. We’re not used to wrestlers being given medical advice to quit and actually listening. We’re not accustomed to seeing wrestlers retiring without their bodies and faces looking twenty years older than they really are. Sad as I am to see Edge go, I’m thrilled I won’t be seeing him dragging a broken carcass around the ring ten years from now. I’m happy he gets to go hiking in the mountains with his good lady and a couple of dogs. Live the dream, make your money and get out while you can still enjoy it.

This is the first generation of wrestlers who have the sense and the future prospects to retire when their body tells them to. It’s a relief to me. This is why Hulk Hogan’s comments that there is somehow something weak about retiring before dropping dead in the ring are infuriating. Hogan’s generation haven’t retired because they don’t know what else to do but wrestle. They had no options of second careers so they just kept going. Is this ideal? No. It’s terrible for them and embarrassing to watch. So why on earth would Hogan feel the need to denigrate Edge’s very sensible decision? Maybe envy, but probably just irresponsible stupidity. I could not despise that man more.

This new generation of educated and media savvy performers have something to fall back on at the end of their careers; whether that’s at the end of an illustrious career or one cut short because of injury as Edge’s has been. Once he’s finished being off the radar, I have no doubt he’ll be back in some way, shape or form. I only realised this week that Edge had been part of the creative team during the time he was recovering from the spinal fusion surgery he underwent seven years ago. My guess is that the door is very much open to him whenever he decides to walk back through it again.

Regardless of the fact that professional wrestling results are predetermined, what they do in the ring requires real physical effort. Wrestlers are athletes in every way apart from the fact that they know when they’re winning and when they’re losing. How many professional athletes do you know who continue in their sport beyond maybe their late thirties? A lifetime of athletic exertion takes its toll. In the words of that esteemed philosopher Kenny Rogers “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.” Edge is declaring himself out and walking away from the table with his body and his dignity fully intact. I couldn’t be prouder. Thank you, Edge. This one’s for you…….

SIDEKICK ANDREW:

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!)

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.