Our No Way Out predictions have nothing to do with the Kevin Costner film

Sidekick Andrew - Well, here’s one that the internet will no doubt be *very* excited about. Two “comic relief” wrestlers in a comedy gimmick match – this has five star classic written all over it. Of course, sarcasm aside, this could be at least fun – assuming you can sit back and not take wrestling too seriously. It’s not been put on to impress with hold and counter hold, insane lucha flips or hardcore bumps – it’s put on for the “entertainment” part of sports entertainment and will hopefully fulfill that role adequately.

That said, the obvious choice for this is Santino to win and embarrass Rodriguez again. It’s not often that heels will win a match with this kind of stipulation.

Boss Lady Rae:  “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun aaaaand SNAP! The job’s a game!” Words of wisdom from that great philosopher Mary Poppins there. One of the things we noticed while we took a little break is just how seriously we had started to take wrestling. That’s not to say we don’t stand by all our more serious points from the past, or that we won’t be making serious points again in the near future. But we definitely forgot some of the fun.

This “match” is pure fun and I’m kind of looking forward to it. The crowd love Santino’s foolin’ and Ricardo’s antics over the past few weeks have rivalled his opponent’s for laffs. It seems obvious that Santino will win, and I believe he’ll win the war. But because I think they’ll string this out a little longer, I’ll say that Ricardo’s got this battle won. If only to reward his wicked Sheamus impression.

Sidekick Andrew - Given more than five minutes, this could be a pretty enjoyable match. Both wrestlers are more than capable of impressing, and we’re fans of both here in the Bunker. In fact *ahem* you could say I’m torn between the two…

 Gratuitous links? We got ‘em!

Anyway, now that unpleasantness is over with, my prediction. Pretty sure Layla is going to keep the title tonight. She’s not had it long and there’s still mileage in pushing her as champion. If Kharma is on her way back (as indicated on twitter this week) then Beth doesn’t need the title just yet as there’s (hopefully) a feud on it’s way for her.

Boss Lady Rae: I won’t lie, the girl crush I developed on Layla before injury sent her packing for a year is back with a vengeance.  Chances of me betting against her at the moment are pretty slim, so I won’t. Layla will win. I’m definitely not torn between them. *ahem* Having said that, I agree with my colleague. Given more than a couple of minutes this could be a great match. We can but hope.

Sidekick Andrew - I still can’t bring myself to get excited about a Christian match. I know people love him, but he just bores me so much. On the other hand, Cody is always great to watch so there’s a chance the match should be watchable at least. Honestly, I can’t think of much else to say about this one. So I hope you’ll accept this photo of Cody eating chicken with a lady as recompense.


 Christian’s probably going to win this by the way…

Boss Lady Rae: Cody Rhodes has been kind of a revelation lately. I spent years passing him off as dull mid-card fodder. Then the Wrestlemania run-up kicked in and I started warming to him. I lost a lot of the enjoyment I got out of Christian’s stories after the hullaballoo following his lost title last year. Hopefully Cody can inject some interest into this one and swipe the belt back. 

Sidekick Andrew -
Punk vs Bryan?
Well, we all know how good that can be.

Punk vs Bryan vs Kane?
Hmm… suddenly I’m not so sure about this match.

Punk vs Bryan vs Kane (with added crazy AJ)?
Yep, that’ll do!

Is it strange that in a match containing two of the best wrestlers in the world, and one of the best “monsters” in the world, the deciding factor in this one for me is AJ? Rae and myself have spent the last week gushing over how well AJ is playing her character at the moment, questionable “I Dig Crazy Chicks” shirts aside. It really does seem like the role she was born to play, with small details like the way she reacted to the crowd’s chants on Monday showing that she’s the skill to improvise rather than just being well written.

I’m a big fan of Punk and Bryan, and I’ll always have a soft spot for Kane. Adding AJ into the mix is just the stupidly cute cherry on the top. As for a winner? Oh, let’s say Punk wins and retains the belt (and hopefully changes it for something more tasteful soon.)

Boss Lady Rae: I’ve observed some chatter about how sexist AJ’s current character apparently is. Trust me. I’m usually the first to jump on this shit. And yeah, it would be lovely if there were more big female characters unconnected to men. (I have an updated Eve piece in the works. Shhh.) But AJ’s done such a brilliant job of playing the lunatic ex-girlfriend, it’s lovely to see a well developed female character, regardless of the situation.

The 4-way banter between Punk, Bryan, Kane and AJ on this week’s Raw was brilliant and long may it continue. I’m not sure why Kane has become involved with this story beyond adding an extra string to its creative bow, but I’m pretty sure he isn’t winning any titles tonight. Keep the title on Punk’s waist and keep this thing going. I flippin’ love it.

Sidekick Andrew - It shouldn’t be any surprise which of these two wrestlers is my favourite. Sheamus is (kind of) local, talented, surprisingly huge and with a charisma and look that stand him apart from the rest of the roster. But he’s no Dolph Ziggler…

Straight as I am, no man can make me swoon like Dolph comes out to the ring. I Am Perfection? Yes you are sir, yes you are. We’ve been singing his praises for what seems like years now at Wrestlegasm, and he hasn’t lost any of his appeal, even if he did lose some momentum along the way. Back in the title picture due to Del Rio’s unfortunate concussion, I’m going to predict that Ziggler will be the (perhaps unlikely) winner tonight. There is precedent for last minutes replacements to win titles on PPV with Johnny Nitro taking the title in a match with Punk after Benoit did, well… you know. Plus Ziggler deserves a second title run, and one that lasts slightly longer than 11 minutes and 23 seconds.

Boss Lady Rae: This is by far the most tantalising match on the card, and this is a show where Punk and Bryan are going at it again. Sheamus is absolutely on fire at the moment, which is nice to see considering he spent the best part of a year in the doldrums. We’re also delirious that Dolph Ziggler, our top bloke of 2011, is getting a title shot. He’s more than paid his dues in the mid-card and he’s long overdue another jump to the top. I suppose he has Alberto Del Rio and Randy Orton to thank for this one, but it’s not how opportunities arise, it’s what you do with them when you get them. I think Sheamus is keeping the title for now, but the idea these two might get a long title run out of someone else’s misfortune is absolutely delicious.  YUM!

Sidekick Andrew - This is unfortunately another match that I’m struggling to get excited about. I’m not a Cena hater like a lot of people, but he needs someone great to go against, and Big Show just isn’t that great.

Oh grow up…

The added stipulations would seem to suggest that Cena is winning this. Certainly Laurinitis getting fired makes more sense that Cena getting fired. Except for the fact that Cena getting fired is about as permanent as Superman dying or me deciding to stop eating bacon sandwiches for breakfast. Add in the fact that Cena is going through a divorce at the moment and this could end up being a chance for him to take some much deserved time off.

What I’m positive we will see is one of Cenas patented feats of strength. I wouldn’t be surprised if Laurinitis or Otunga gets involved at some point, and I also wouldn’t be surprised if Cena manages to get Big Show and Otunga/Laurinitis up for a double Attitude Adjustment. I’m going to go with Big Show winning this one, although I’m conscious that betting against Cena is always a bad idea.

Boss Lady Rae: It’s no secret that John Cena’s been having a tough time lately. A little light relief was in order and, honestly, there’s nothing to be taken less seriously than a run with Big Show. If you like Big Show as a face, hang on a few months and he’ll turn into a happy chappy. Like him as a heel? Hold out a little while and he’ll be the black-bearded bad guy again. It’s all veh silly.

The stipulation that would leave Laurinaitis out of a job is the basis of this whole story and, with Vince back on the scene this week and HHH showing up tomorrow, it would seem pretty likely that John Cena’s got this one in the kitbag. Dude, you never bet against Cena.

A Song for Whoever: Rock Edition

We thought it might be time we resurrected A Song For Whoever, where we write a blurb on a wrestling biz happening from that week and dedicate a song to the person the story’s about. It was one of our favourite regular features, so we thought it deserved another airing. Enjoy!

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During Wrestlemania 28, I had a bit of a moment. It wasn’t the tender embrace exchanged between the three veterans marking the End of an Era. It wasn’t even Edge’s speech on being ushered into the Hall of Fame; mainly because I haven’t had the courage to let his carefully chosen and heartfelt words ruin my mascara yet. It was The Rock’s entrance.

It’s no secret that I often struggle to justify being a fan of professional wrestling. I regularly use these pages to work through my tortured thought process. But the fact remains, I never walk away. The well worn line I trot out every time someone asks me how I got into wrestling is ‘I came for Shawn Michaels, but I stayed for The Rock.’ I came to find out why my younger brother was shouting ‘Sweet Chin Music’ at me, and I stayed because I developed a swift and monumental crush on The Rock.

As a teenage girl, it was that gorgeous creature peacocking about in silk shirts, suggestively raising his eyebrow at me (just me), and who always knew exactly what to say that kept me from reaching for the remote. Basic, yes. But biology often is. It was a while before I really understood what wrestling was about. It was ages before I had a grip on long and complicated stories and the infinite joy of a well crafted, old fashioned grappling match.  The Rock was like that person who holds your hand while you tentatively wade into a freezing cold swimming pool. “Come on in! The water’s lovely!” It wasn’t. Not at first. I just stared at him long enough for the water to feel warm enough to dunk my head under.

Announcing the Rock/Cena match a year in advance was probably a mistake. If there’s one thing you should never do, it’s give wrestling fans time to ponder a story. They should know by now that we’ll club the life out of anything that isn’t a moving target. But I enjoyed those last few weeks leading up to Wrestlemania more than I cared to admit publicly. I didn’t get angry about the banality of kung pao chicken. I got that Rock was setting Cena up to look like the hero before eventually coming out on top. I wasn’t prepared to write the match off as a shambles before it happened, just because it was the most mainstream thing taking place on the planet that day. I was looking forward to it. There. I said it.

What I wasn’t expecting was to feel emotional. Yes, it was 3:21am and I had consumed enough MSG laced cheese puffs that I may have been in a slightly vulnerable state. But once the wonderfully awful and awfully wonderful musical introductions had passed, I was floored by a practical freight train of sentimentality. It suddenly struck me that without that one man sending Miami into a frenzy on my telly, I wouldn’t be sat here over a decade later, still staying up all night for wrestling, still not put off by the ridicule of people who just don’t get it.

I realised that, without him, I’d be bereft of the countless happy and stupidly exciting hours of fun wrestling has given me. There are immeasurably important people I’d never have met. There are parts of the world I’d never have seen. I may even be on an entirely different career path. It might all sound rather dramatic, and at 4am it felt even more profound, but it’s no less true. When Rock went on to win, a double air punch and a YEAAAAAAAAAAH didn’t quite seem to mark what felt like coming full circle.

It didn’t even end there. Finally watching his victory speech on Raw this morning, I might as well have skipped back in time. Alone, in my pyjamas, with a big mug of tea, when Rock invited the audience to jump into his sentence with “…and millions” three times with gradually ascending volume, I absolutely played along out loud. I can pretend to be cool and grown-up and aloof, but had he hugged me instead of the blonde girl with the sign asking for a hug, I’d have had the same dumbstruck expression. And then I’d have burst into tears.

So thanks, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Thanks for making my adolescent loins burn. Thank you for holding my attention while delivering all those promos so brilliantly some 14 years ago. I still smell what you’re cooking, you big superstar you.

The Eve and John Conundrum

There came a point where I stopped bickering on a regular basis about how disheartened I was with the WWE Divas division. The wound on my forehead, acquired from banging it against a brick wall, would never heal unless I gave it time to scab. Reacting was always tempting. It stuck its middle finger up at me like smoking, sniggering, backpack-wearing teenagers on a school trip to London; beckoning one of the statuesque Queen’s Guards to buckle under the weight of their immature insult. This week, I snatched at that middle finger.

How did we get here? Why was it okay for the WWE’s top babyface to use derogatory language towards a woman, in front of children? We need to backtrack. The WWE is sitting on a goldmine in its Divas division. And yet, they refuse to plumb the depths of that mine to get to the good stuff. For a company so driven by profit, continually looking for the next big thing to keep fans interested, it’s just lazy economics. Why have a portion of your roster largely idle? The merchandising opportunities alone could be worth a fortune. I never understood why there were no LayCool t-shirts, for example.

There is a cycle of indifference at the heart of this problem. When it comes to long storytelling, indie wrestling matches can largely stand alone, and they’re no less enjoyable as a result. In the WWE, we need a sturdy narrative. We need verbal and physical dialogue that lead into the next week. We need peaks and troughs and, more than anything, we need to care about the characters. During the part of a show you care about least, you empty your bladder, or get something to eat, or chat to your mates. Enter the one-minute Divas match.

Give people a reason to care and they’ll stay in their seats. Come up with clever, forward thinking stories and the crowd will engage with the action. Trust that your female roster can perform as well as their male counterparts. Challenge them, and they’ll rise to it. If you work in a professional kitchen as a pot washer and stay a pot washer, you’ll never learn how to cook. But if the head chef gives you the opportunity to step up and be a part of service, you’ll acquire the skills you need to progress. It’s hardly rocket science.

Let the more experienced women bring the others up to their standard. Give them longer matches so they can learn from each other. The Divas aren’t all useless models, as so many like to suggest. The female roster is a mixture of indie graduates and athletes learning-on-the-job, just like the male roster. Beth Phoenix paid her dues in the indies, as did CM Punk. Eve Torres is a jiu jitsu expert learning the craft of pro wrestling as she goes. Dolph Ziggler was an amateur collegiate athlete who didn’t learn how to be a professional wrestler until he went to OVW. Nobody ever refers to Dolph as a model.

The WWE are like those people who buy expensive perfume and only use it on very special occasions. The rest of the time they just leave the bottle sat on their dressing table because it looks pretty. The Beth Phoenix vs Tamina Snuka match at the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view was like a gentle mist of CHANEL No. 5. Why not use it every week? Let’s have the best all the time. Nobody will ever  compliment you on the glass bottle you keep hidden away in your bedroom. Use it! Nobody ever compliments the Divas on staying out of sight. Use them!

At first glance, Eve Torres’s involvement with Zack Ryder and John Cena appears to be a small step forward. It’s a Diva taking centre stage in a big story. But the execution was less a dab of CHANEL parfum and more swamped in Britney Spears’ Midnight Fantasy eau de toilette. Its lack of class reeked to high heaven.

It is great that they wanted to give Eve a personality. It is great that they turned her heel. It’s great that she mixed with main eventers. It’s bad that they rushed the entire heel turn through in a matter of hours. It’s bad that, yet again, a woman is rarely made a villain in the WWE without her being linked to a man or without being involved in a superficial image issue. It’s so unbelievably boring, lazy and outdated. I wonder why Stephanie McMahon doesn’t make her team come up with something better. The answer I keep avoiding is that she may be her father’s daughter in the worst ways, as well as the best. It stings when your heroine doesn’t seem to represent the things you want her to.

Comparisons have been made between Edge and Eve. Edge did indeed use Vickie Guerrero’s position of power to serve himself. But the big difference there was that they were both the villains. The dramatic entertainment came in them slowly destroying each other. They deserved each other. Which leads us uncomfortably to John Cena.

Super Cena! Our hero. Children’s charity worker. Fighting the good fight, day and night. The role model. Setting the moral compass for kids everywhere. All this is what makes Monday night so upsetting. They made John Cena ‘that guy’. A lad. The most insufferable kind of man. Baseball cap on backwards, swigging cheap beer from a plastic cup, double-fist-bumping their buddies, bromancing about town and engaging in ‘the banter’. The kind of nauseating, testosterone charged chatter that some men partake in when they’re in the company of other men. The kind of banter where rape jokes are hilarious. The banter that allowed the offensive and now defunct UniLad website to operate. The lad culture that makes young rugby teams write lists of tour rules that allow cheating on girlfriends to go unreported.

With the language John Cena used towards Eve on Monday night, with his ‘skank juice’ and disease slurs, he aligned himself with ‘those guys’. The vocabulary made him sound about as eloquent as a Jersey Shore cast member. Yes, Eve was the villain, and yes, she revealed herself to be self-serving. But Cena’s reaction, while grinning, popping his Rise Above Hate t-shirt at the camera, and encouraging ‘hoeski’ chants, was hypocritical and confusingly out of character.

Much has been made this week of John Cena’s association with the Be a Star anti-bullying campaign. The initiative is a tricky concept to negotiate for a product based on people bullying each other. But it’s always seemed similar to the ‘don’t try this at home’ videos to me. They tell kids that any bullying they see on TV just isn’t cool in real life and explain that the bullies are mean characters.

The problem with John Cena is not only that he’s the number one good guy. There’s also such an extremely fine line between John Cena the character and John Cena the person, that any lapse of grace in either incarnation damages him somewhere. It’s not an easy place to be, but it’s the price paid for never being the bad guy, on-screen and in life. His choice of insults can’t just be put down to the script. WWE and its performers have to start accepting that they offer a unique, hybrid form of entertainment. It’s neither fiction nor reality and if John Cena is to set the example, he has to do it all the time.  They can’t ignore the impact his words might have on one sector of the audience to briefly win favour with ‘the lads’. Usually he thrives on not being over with that crowd.

In 15 minutes of television, all this succeeded in doing was making me wonder if by simply watching WWE programming, I’m trying to push a square peg through a round hole. Maybe this stuff just isn’t made for me. But I don’t want to give up on it. It’s easy to say ‘just leave it behind and concentrate on the indies.’ And I do watch and love a lot of indie wrestling. But they’re two very different entities. Both WWE and the indies offer things the other can’t, and when it comes down to it, I want to be around when the WWE’s penny finally drops.

Elimination Chamber Predictions: now with 33.333% extra terrible wrestlers!

Due to a number of factors (illness, real life work, school holidays and at least one unexpected trek through the Amazon in search of the fabled golden skull of Mezzakin the Unwise) these predictions will be a more compact and bijou affair than usual. Compact and bijou – can you tell I’ve been dealing with estate agents recently? Anyway, with that preemptive disclaimer out of the way and my cocktail cabinet fully stocked, let’s do the whole “predicting predetermined pretend pugilism” thing!

Well.. I *say* cocktail cabinet...

Beth Phoenix vs Tamina Snuka

A Diva’s PPV match featuring two women who can wrestle! Not only that, but Tamina has now progressed to the upper echelon of the WWE Women’s Division – a distinction shown by the fact she now has a surname. This could be a really enjoyable match, assuming they are given the time to tell a proper story, and they keep the interference (and hilarious fart jokes) to a minimum. It’s no secret that we love Beth here in the Bunker, but we’re both agreed that it’s time for a change in the run up to Wrestlemania, and that Tamina will take the belt tonight.

Rae’s Prediction: Tamina Snuka
Andrew’s Prediction: Tamina Snuka

John Cena vs Kane

This is apparently an Ambulance Match, so promises to be pretty brutal at least. Kane has experience in this type of match, in fact I’ve still fond memories of his Ambulance Match with Shane McMahon from Survivor Series 2003.

As for who’s going to win, Cena is always the obvious choice for winning a PPV match, and I have to agree that he’s probably going to win here. Unless they want Kane to interfere in the Rock-Cena match at Wrestlemania they have to bring this feud to an end soon.

Rae’s Prediction: John Cena
Andrew’s Prediction: John Cena

Raw Elimination Chamber

Definitely the better of the two Chamber matches on paper, the only wrestler in this match that I’m not a fan of is R-Truth. The idea of Jericho wrestling in the match and overtaking HHH as having the highest number of entries is pretty cool, and Kofi is bound to replicate RVD and Morrison’s spidermonkey antics from previous years. Add to that great wrestlers like Punk and Ziggler and this has the chance to be the best match on the card. As for winners, Rae has decided that Jericho will win, which is very possible. I personally think that Punk will retain here though, just because I think they’ll have him as champion at Wrestlemania. Having said that, if Rae is right that does open up the chance for Punk to get his rematch at ‘Mania, so I’ll be happy either way.

Rae’s Prediction: Chris Jericho
Andrew’s Prediction: CM Punk

Smackdown Elimination Chamber

Well, talk about extremes (and no, I don’t mean XTREME! because the match takes part inside “Satan’s Prison”) You have three really talented wrestlers in this match, people I’d be happy to watch wrestle any day of the week, in Daniel Bryan, Cody Rhodes and Wade Barrett. You have Big Show who has a role to fit and plays it well – the giant who punches people in the face will always be worth a look. And then… well… yeah, you’ve got the other two. Santino isn’t the worse wrestler in the world, and he’s ridiculously over with the crowd, so I’ve no real objection to him being in there for a while. Khali on the other hand, is a frankly bizarre choice for the match, and I can only hope that he’ll be the last to enter, only for everyone to hit their finishers and eliminate him within an minute.

As for the winner, Rae says Barrett will win (which would be amazing) but I think Bryan will retain. He needs a decisive title victory/defence and this is the ideal time. Let him go into Mania as champion to wrestle Sheamus and make everyone happy. Please?

Rae’s Prediction: Wade Barrett
Andrew’s Prediction: Daniel Bryan

Report From The Fort: Best Major Shows

I know, I know… bloody Andrew going on about bloody CHIKARA again. But there’s a reason for this, and it’s pretty simple. Are you ready? Here it is…

…CHIKARA are just that good.

There, pretty simple isn’t it when you see it typed out like that. CHIKARA are, by far, my “desert island” wrestling promotion. The one company I would choose above all others if I was inexplicably stranded on a desert island and somehow only given access to one company’s back catalogue. The wrestling is of a standard that has caused both Rae and myself to forget to breathe on more than occasion. The storylines are complex and spanning a matter of months, if not years in some cases. The characters are well rounded, funny and captivating. Most importantly of all, CHIKARA (more than any other large-ish promotion) has a real family feel to it. Not just “family friendly” but “family.”

Outside of the blog, I do some design work for a couple of small UK indie promotions. Promotions that are getting decent buzz both here and abroad, but still pretty small compared to CHIKARA. Despite “working” for these companies, and being on speaking terms with the promoters and some of the wrestlers, I still feel a closer bond to CHIKARA than to any other promotion.

They were the promotion that got me through the post-Benoit period when, as a father of two young children, I felt that the WWE wasn’t something I was sure I could watch. They helped me convert Rae to the joys of indie wrestling, and provided some very happy memories of her joy at discovering the likes of Claudio and his tiny trunks. They were the company that, as a blog, made us promise to visit Philadelphia for King of Trios one year (rather than rely on the kindness of guest writers.) In short, the only thing that could have made CHIKARA better for me would be for them to be within travelling distance.

And then, towards the end of last year, they announced that their season finale would be available to watch live on iPPV. Finally, a chance to watch a CHIKARA show live, and not just any CHIKARA show. This was the season finale, the show to wrap up all the stories from 2011, and to finally crown the inaugural CHIKARA Grand Champion.

I’m not very good at writing about emotions on here, Rae is much better at that than I am (being a girl and everything) but it really did mean a lot to me to be part of that family for those few hours. With great match after great match, and one of the most important main events in CHIKARA history, even without the emotional impact this would be a show I would recommend to anybody. You can buy the DVD obviously, but even better (and keeping in theme with the whole “bringing CHIKARA to you worldwide” ethos of this show) it’s available for only $9.99 as a digital download.

Do yourself a favour and at least check out the trailer below. If the wrestling appeals to you, buy the show. Once the storylines, promos and, yes… emotions, all kick in you’ll be hooked and my work here will be done.

I know, I know… bloody Rae going on about bloody Money in the Bank again. But there’s a reason for this, and it’s pretty simple. Are you ready? Here it is…

…it was fucking amazing! 

We’ve spoken at great length about the WWE Money in the Bank Pay-Per-View, and we’re conscious of avoiding repetition. But the steady build towards that main event during this show was palpable. A frond of electricity crept through every single match in anticipation of the finale.

It touched the then professional nice-guy Daniel Bryan’s blue briefcase win in the Smackdown match with even more fairy dust than it would have without that looming last match. The indie kid did good. What was in store for their main eventing indie kid? I was one of the first to criticise removing the MITB match from the Wrestlemania card and plonking it into another gimmicky PPV. But somehow, it seems to have worked.

Randy Orton and Christian were at full throttle, Orton continuing on his transition from villain to hero. Lest we forget Randy’s loopy announce table tongue work. At this time too, Mark Henry’s star was ascending, Alberto Del Rio had properly arrived and this all taking place with the bristling undercurrent of ‘is CM Punk really leaving for good?’ Magical.

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.

A Song for Whoever: Matt Striker & HHH/Cena Edition

Boss Lady Ray: I often wander around our humble Wrestle Bunker professing about how lucky I am to have (fake) Matt Striker as my mentor. “Aren’t I lucky?” I would say. “Matt Striker and I are just sooooo alike. I see him in my dreams and somehow they come true. It’s like we’re, you know, connected or something.” Then I hold two fingers to my eyes to show Andrew how Matt and I are ‘connected’. At this juncture he usually smiles and nods politely before tutting and rolling his eyes the second my back is turned. He thinks I can’t see him doing this. He has no idea this is why I make him wash all the dishes.

But we really are connected. Oh yes. I’m not just some loony fangirl pretending. Oh no. If you follow our Tumblr, and quite frankly why wouldn’t you be, you might have spotted the post where I explained my recent run of Matt Striker dreams. They were largely interesting to me and me alone, but during the last one he was in a lot of pain. Doubled over in pain, even. This made no sense. Why would Matt Striker be doubled over in pain in my dream? He’s a host and a ‘backstage broadcast colleague’ these days. All was revealed on last week’s NXT.

Titus O’Neil was chatting to Striker about something or other and doing his strange sea lion bark. Derrick Bateman and Darren Young turned up. There was all kinds of “I’m better than you.” “No, I’m better than you.” “Shutup, I’m better…..” You get the idea. By the way, how many weeks has this series been running? Is the end even in sight? Anyway, the bad guys seemed to be ganging up on Titus, so Striker stepped in to reset the balance. Titus O’Neil suggested they have a tag match and Striker encouraged the crowd to get behind this idea with their cheers, always the gameshow host. Bateman and Young were furious with this idea. They agreed, but only if they could choose their opponent’s partner. They chose…….MATT STRIKER! AAAAH!

Striker was all….

And they were all…

And Striker was all….

And I was all….

So other stuff happened. No idea what. I was just waiting for the main event. The bad dudes came out, AJ, Hornswoggle and Titus came out, (get on with it, NXT) “Aaaaaand his partner from Bayvieeeew, New York, weighing in at 230 pouuunds, MATT STRI-KERRRRR!” EEEEEEEEEP!

Look at him there. Long shorts, beaten up boots and with a look of complete fear on his face. Bless. He needed a hug. They could have left this whole thing to Titus. Striker really hasn’t wrestled a match in four years. He looks like he’s in great shape but he’s nowhere near as muscular as he used to be. In William Regal’s words, he’s definitely a little “ring rusty”. But Striker did surprisingly well. No really, he jumped back in and executed the moves with such ease I’d want him back in the ring every week if I didn’t miss his commentary so much and worry about him getting hurt. I realise I’m not exactly impartial. He could flap his hands like a birdie and run around in circles and I’d still think he had a good go. But I was suitably impressed.

Towards the end of the match he started huffing and puffing. He couldn’t quite keep up with the youngsters and at one point he was DOUBLED OVER IN PAIN! Ah-ha! Didn’t I tell you? Didn’t I say that my dream would come true? In your face, doubters. I foresaw this event, I just hope that when he went out to the back afterwards, there wasn’t too much vomiting, as per the dream. Oh, and of course he won:

Striker seemed to be holding his shoulder down and grimacing pretty convincingly at the end. He may have been selling it really well, but it looked genuine to me. Nevertheless, he looked happy(ish), if a little tousled, by the time they sent him back out to call his Superstars matches.

Tousled is good

In honour of my mentor’s short-lived return to the ring, I am dedicating this tune to him because “we tease him a lot, ‘cause we got him on the spot, but welcome back, welcome back, welcome back, wel-come baaaack.”

Sidekick Andrew: This might be the most controversial thing I’ve ever written on this site. More than the time I wrote an article incessantly insulting Matt Hardy until people complained. More than the time that I had a go at Tommy Dreamer’s ingratitude resulting in a number of Direct Messages from him on Twitter. Even more than that time I wrote an NXT recap from the perspective of an imaginary asylum inmate and “THE MAN” decided it wasn’t acceptable. Well, I say “THE MAN”, it was of course the ever fragrant and wise “BOSS LADY RAY”

Anyway, this CM Punk storyline. Great isn’t it? Nobody could deny that Punk has single-handedly made Raw watchable again. Even I, long and staunch opposition to the dreary dreadful dirge that is Raw, now watch every week to see where this show is going. Punk’s mixture of powerful political polemic and quasi-shoot revelations are thrilling internet “smarks” and regular fans alike. Who would have thought that the little blonde guy with a couple of tattoos hurling invective and insults at rednecks down an invisible microphone would become the sole saviour of a multi-million dollar industry giant?

Except of course, Punk isn’t “single-handedly” the “sole saviour” at all. Punk is amazing, I’m never going to deny that. He was a great promo in his indie days (the afore-mentioned invisible microphone in IWA: Mid-South, the WWE contract signing on the ROH belt) and he’s a great promo in WWE. Look at the Jeff Hardy storyline or the SES evangelical sermons he was throwing out week after week for examples. But any storyline involving rebellion needs something or someone to rebel against. Punk has been great in this storyline, but he’s not the only one.

Yep, sorry internet but HHH is right, I do mean them. I know, I know… HHH and John Cena are evil incarnate… everything that is wrong with the WWE and the professional wrestling industry as a whole… one an opportunistic 13 time world champion through backstage politics and nepotism, the other an industry yes-man, constantly being put over despite only knowing five wrestling moves. Everyone hates HHH & Cena…

BOSS LADY RAY: This wasn't me. I swear.

Well OK, maybe this random lady from Facebook likes them a bit but everyone else hates them right? The trouble with that is that we as internet wrestling fans aren’t supposed to like Cena, and we’re not supposed to like HHH. Cena is the company yes-man, this is true. But he’s also the role model for thousands of kids across the world thanks to his Never Give Up attitude, whether we like it or not. The very fact that he is the company’s chosen one (sorry Drew, you should have known Vince would never respect a man who got beaten up by a girl) made him the perfect foil for Punk’s anti-establishment rhetoric. Cena played his role to perfection, being the good guy caught in an awkward position. He (as in his character) never asked to be the company’s go-to champion, the man to right all wrongs; but goddammit he loves this business and goddammit he loves that bloody ugly belt.

Punk needed someone like Cena to work against, in the same way that Punk’s idol Stone Cold Steve Austin needed The Rock or Bret Hart to work against. Punk and Austin have so much in common that the obvious glaring difference doesn’t seem to be important. Both were amazing speakers… both excelled in anti-establishment roles… both got their big breaks thanks to Paul Heyman and ECW… both are not afraid to mix truth and storyline in a promo… There’s a reason that this excellent video from the WWE All Stars video game works so well.

And once Punk had managed to get rid of Cena, who did he move on to? After a brief dalliance with McMahon (Austin’s old nemesis of course) he moved onto the his replacement. From the Rock’s modern day replacement to Vince’s, Punk is now going up against HHH. And I know that “Punk came back too soon” and “HHH is just going to bury Punk” but frankly I don’t believe that. Punk coming back was a surprise, and we’ve said before on this site how much we love it when wrestling surprises us. As for HHH burying Punk, the fact that Punk got to say the things he did last Monday leaves with more hope than fear that this storyline will continue for a while yet.

So, this weeks Song for Whoever is dedicated to two men. Two men I never, ever, thought I would dedicate a song to. Two men that I think should get some credit for helping to sell the most exciting storyline since the Nexus invasion over a year ago. Every great rebel needs an establishment to rail against, a windmill to charge, and in this case Cena and HHH are doing a great job of being that establishment… Cena, HHH & Punk: an unlikely triumvirate but one that goes together like… well… like ham, cheese & pickle. Like pie, chips & gravy. Like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong…

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’?