RAW: Damage Limitation

Alright. Let’s stop dancing around the inevitable. Punk is gone. He hasn’t been officially future endeavoured and there is a part of me holding on to the fact that this might be the most ballsy, elaborate work in history. But as he’s been pulled from pre-paid AXXESS meet & greets and assessing the bizarre atmosphere on RAW this week, we can assume that at the very least he’s having an extended holiday.

There was a definite air of damage limitation on this week’s RAW. Fan-made signs enquiring as to Punk’s whereabouts were confiscated by security. In the same way that Rey Mysterio was booed at the Royal Rumble simply for not being Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton’s words made no impact on the crowd, who were otherwise engaged in repeatedly chanting for CM Punk. Being a bit of a tough-nut, their disinterest in his moaning about his lack of…(umm, what was it again?) made no impression on him either.

Needing to pacify an already volatile crowd Steph and HHH appeared on the ramp to instruct Randy to stop whining. To curry favour with the audience even further, they warned him that they had the power to strip him of his ‘face of the company’ moniker. If he didn’t cool his boots they might be forced to make someone else their favourite. Daniel Bryan, maybe. HHH even joined the Yes Movement. Turncoat!

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Daniel Bryan, who in the space of a week has gone from their whipping boy to potential poster boy. You can’t help but feel that even what would have been Bryan’s eventual triumph over ‘the man’ has been ditched in favour of keeping people from turning off.

The Shield won a three-man tag against Big E. Langston, Kofi and Rey Mysterio, but the crucial part of the story came when Dean Ambrose (unf) and Roman Reigns squabbled over who should have taken the pin. Poor Seth Rollins. As if his comedic tumbling the previous week hadn’t been upsetting enough. Now mummy and daddy are fighting again. I wonder which of them plays mum and which takes on the role of dad. Let’s think about that for a moment. Anyway, the bickering soon ended and their broken pieces were glued back together when the Wyatts appeared on screen hoping to capitalise on their moment of collective weakness. They didn’t.

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It also seems there’s dissent at Camp Real Americans. After losing a place in the Elimination Chamber to Christian on SmackDown, Jack Swagger was given a rematch, only to lose a second time. You can always tell when Swagger’s in a panic. His bottom lip bursts open, like that kid in school who always got stress-related nosebleeds on class trips.  Zeb Colter made his disgruntlement known in no uncertain terms and even Antonio Cesaro dropped and shook his head in shame. Time to disband these guys and start hyping Cesaro, lest he go the same way as Hero. At least, let’s not allow that to happen before I can successfully attend any British shows he might be booked on. Selfish? Me? Absolutely. It already sticks in my craw that I don’t get to clap eyes on Chris Hero’s colour-of-a-cornfield mane when he’s in the UK at the end of this month.

In further attempts to placate the ready-to-riot crowd, the New Age Outlaws were forced to put the tag titles on the line against Goldust and Cody Rhodes. Oh and they were forced to do it *MOVIE TRAILER VOICE* inside a steel caaaaage. New Age Outlaws retained in a match that went on for far too long, never really got going and made little-to-no use of the cage. Hey, Hunter? Where’s Punk?

Thankfully this was followed by Batista’s arrival. Now, hold on. I know this doesn’t sound all that exciting. But the small detail I deliberately omitted in the name of building tension is that our Dave’s back in the double denim. Yes!

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And not just top and bottom denim, but a matching burnout tee. Cor! But beyond my predictable giddiness at Dave-denim, the real star of this segment was Alberto Del Rio. Dressed in less impressive single denim, the promo he ripped on Dave was so convincingly impassioned you might believe there was some truth behind it. I mean, why would the guy who’s been consistently great but never truly trusted to carry the company along with the big boys feel cheesed off that Dave’s waltzed back in to steal a Wrestlemania headline slot? It was the first time in many months I’ve really sat up and taken notice of Del Rio. Their scrap was fierce and Del Rio was so pumped he returned to the ring to retrieve his rather fetching black blazer, before catching glimpse of Dave’s face and thinking better of it.

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Speaking of those flying uncomfortably under the radar, Dolph Ziggler was teamed up with R-Truth and Xavier Woods to go up against the Wyatts. The match had all the bumps and jumps you’d expect, with Bray Wyatt pinning Dolph for the win. To match their video interruption earlier in the evening, The Shield made their own video based gift, with Dean Ambrose (unf) mocking the Wyatts’ scare tactics and his fellow warriors warning of retribution. This was met with the usual psychotic laughter in the ring. Standard but still pleasing fare.

This took us to a long main event between Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan, the winner of which would become the McMahon-Helmsley’s favourite boy. It was a long and involved match where both gave a lot, but it was flat. It was missing something. Despite some interference from Kane, Bryan still won the match, but it didn’t have the shine it should have. It’s not enough just to give us what we want. We need the backstory to make it mean something. That’s where promoters get wrestling fans all wrong. It’s about the journey. I wonder if that’s the line they’d be following if Punk was still around. And the fact that Orton and Kane continued to pummel Bryan after the bell means it’ll all probably flip-flop back the other way quicker than a Westminster sex scandal come next week. It just didn’t make sense. Unless Kane interfered to make sure Bryan didn’t win, what was the point?

Can you say ‘state of flux’?

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N.B. This week, in an attempt to skip what I thought were just the ads, I watched RAW via the Sky Sports On Demand service. Unfortunately, I only realised after writing this that they’d cut out several mid-card matches, linking segments etc. I’ll have seen all the missing pieces before next week, but just a warning to those in the UK. It gives a skewed view of the show and I’m going to be complaining to Sky about it.   

RAW: Something’s Amiss

I feel there’s something else I should be musing over today. But I can’t quite put my finger on what it might be. Hmm. Maybe it’ll come to me as we go along.

The Royal Rumble officially kicks off the Road to Wrestlemania. We should be frothing at the mere thought that the biggest party of the year is on its way. And yet…

Grinning like the cats who got the cream, Stephanie and HHH over-egged their excitement at great mate Dave Batista winning the Rumble to such an extent you have to wonder if they realised soon after that they were lactose intolerant and vomited up what turned out to be a flop after all.

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The patronising tone they cloaked their jubilation in served only to rile the crowd further and… do you ever get the feeling you’ve been sneakily trolled? Baited into reacting by someone who knows how to push your buttons? Do you wonder if this is exactly what they wanted? To leave Daniel Bryan out so that we’d riot for the international press?

In sharp contrast to the acute hatred spat at the McMahon-Helmsleys, Daniel Bryan’s arrival mustered something akin to the second coming of Christ.

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It’s rare that I lash out at these two, but their incessant giggling and claim that Bryan’s match of the night against Bray Wyatt “was a good little effort” had me wanting to sock them both in the chops. Stephanie’s now modelled so much in her father’s image I’m convinced that any second she’s going to peel off her face to reveal she was Vince all along. There are no lengths my imagination won’t run to in the name of believing Steph’s a good lass.

Bryan’s impassioned demands that he be compensated for his lack of Rumble action with an automatic Elimination Chamber slot were met with a nose in the face and the arrival of The Shield, with Seth Rollins’ serendipitous tumble over the barrier cutting through the hostility in the crowd for a few seconds. The boy is the epitome of “If you stumble, make it part of the dance.” What a pro!

The Shield proceeded to maul Bryan but, as you might expect, a few mates came in his hour of need. Sheamus (yes, he’s back) and John Cena ran to the rescue before chasing the nasty bad guys away. There’s still something comforting about the fact that after all these years Michael Cole has never understood the difference between ‘cavalry’ and ‘Calvary’.

There was something else I needed to talk about. What was it? Maybe I was supposed to talk about how much I want to have Dean Ambrose bend my…mind. No, that’s not it. I already talk about that enough. It can’t have been the match between The Real Americans and Rey Mysterio & Sin Cara. That was as expected. Could it be Wade Barrett? Barrett, who now appears to spend his time being thrust toward the rafters on a mechanical penis while telling us that everything’s shit. I had a dream like that once except the cherrypicker penis belonged to….never mind. He’s like Eva Peron, but from Preston, and peddling terrible wisecracks. “Don’t cry for me, WWE Universe.” I do, Wade. I really do.

What was it, guys? Obviously not Fandango vs R-Truth. I definitely wouldn’t have been rushing to talk about Brock Lesnar interrupting Randy Orton and Brad Maddox’s discussion with a docker just off the night shift.

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I cannot recall a wrestler I’ve wanted to boot in their big, slimy, maroon face more than Lesnar. Loathing is too mild a word. I’d like to take some clippers to his stupid haircut that’s too small for his puffed up head and…yeah, it’s not him.

It couldn’t have been The Battle of Cleveland match between Miz and Dolph. Unless we’re talking hockey my knowledge of American sports is currently on hiatus. Maybe it was how depressing, if amusing, it was that the crowd were chanting for each individual member of the windbag commentary team during  Kofi and Del Rio’s match. We really should talk about the New Age Outlaw shaped pin that burst the tag-team bubble. Champions? Really? *cough* Nepotism *cough*. And a Selina Gomez quote? Okay, Dad. Why don’t you just get Snapchat and tell us how you can send your rude bits to your main squeeze like all the kids do. Ach, who am I to judge?  I’m the old lady who just typed ‘main squeeze’ and who’s already lost the Snapchat novelty.

There’s something bigger though. Something shocking. Something that might make me cry. The Divas getting better with their ring work but needing some stories is less red hot news and more a gospel chanted since the dawn of time. It does make me want to cry though. Jake Roberts being inducted into the Hall of Fame would not leave me dying to discuss it.

We’re back where we started now, with Daniel Bryan, Sheamus and John Cena trying to beat up on The Shield. Whichever team won would get the first three spots in the Elimination Chamber. It was a pretty good match, as it goes. Even better when The Wyatts turned up to interfere with The Shield’s game plan, costing them the match and setting up more scrapping between them going forward. If Randy Orton has to defend in the EC, that leaves just two spots left to fight over. Could this be what instigates the Shield break-up they’ve been teasing? All good fun, but not the ‘big thing’ of the week. Hmm.

Wait! Hold the phone. Why wasn’t Punk on Raw this week?!

RAW: The More Things Change the More They Stay the Same

Something has gone awry on Planet WWE. In a twist of bizarre proportions, Daniel Bryan has joined the unsavoury and unwashed Wyatt family. Except nobody really believes it. It’s about as unsettling as when a puppy softly growls at you in an attempt to convince you of its wolfy lineage.

He doesn’t even look like a Wyatt; largely because he clearly owns some salon quality shampoo and conditioner (sulphate-free, of course). But also because you know that tucked under those pristinely pressed sleeveless overalls is a Whole Foods carrier bag containing organic quinoa, a new jar of Stevia and a bumper sized tub of chia seeds. DB does not look like a man who resides in a swamp-drenched shack. And all I can think as his and Bray’s tag match against The Usos plays out is that, with it gathering so elegantly at the waist, not since Jennifer Beals has a boiler suit looked quite so glamorous.
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The bellowing Usos won the match as the result of DQ when the two additional Wyatts gatecrashed the party. It seemed this development had to be used to teach Daniel Bryan a lesson in losing, so was followed by an awkward body-dip, the likes of which is generally only seen during the first week of Strictly Come Dancing training. You get the feeling Daniel Bryan’s not in any way prepared for the Wyatt brand of prison romance.
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The match between Damian Sandow and John Cena is standard second fight fodder and seems only to exist to remind us that Sandow cashed in his MITB contract on Cena and lost. The most remarkable thing about this match is that Cena has clashed his fluorescent green laces with the garish red and yellow boxer short elastic he seems intent on showing us throughout. Because asserting your status through your ability to afford expensive underwear is absolutely what a man of the 21st century would do! But then, I’m picking on a guy who’s worn cut-off jeans as wrestling gear for the entirety of his career. I have no doubt that he gives zero fucks that I feel the need to help him clash his neons more gracefully or tuck his knicker band back in. Check Alex Jones schooling John on how to do clashing neons on Wednesday’s One Show.
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WWE Network is the talk of the town and, to be fair, it looks promising. Being able to watch a year’s worth of PPVs for the suspiciously measly $9.99 is a bargain. And that’s before the thousands of hours of archive footage one can sift through to satiate one’s boredom. You also get to watch a reality show where veterans of the ring seemingly sit around arguing with each other over the semantics of matches nobody remembers. It has the potential to be as fist-gnawingly horrendous as Celebrity Big Brother and yet some seem to be vomiting with excitement to see it. Get back to me when you’re ready to roll out worldwide.

Big Show’s TKO on Zeb Colter following a blink-and-it’s-gone match was all you might expect it to be. Far better to hotfoot it to CM Punk and the New Age Outlaws against The Shield. It’s Rumble season, which means WWE like to drag out the old-timers gathering dust in the basement in preparation. I was left mulling over the stark American juxtaposition of a sports arena being named after a doughnut bakery. I then found myself wishing for a box of American doughnuts while I patiently waited for Gunn and Dogg to spew out their croaky patter and introduce their partner.

Ah CM Punk. I cannot quit you and I have no desire to. We’ve come a long way together, kid, and the first riff of Cult of Personality is akin to hearing the sudden jerk of that special ringtone you save for your boyfriend. I am never not fanning myself.  Enough swoonage, let’s move on to their opponents – The Shield. Oh. The improbable yet perfect trifecta of impressive brawn, dastardly brains and adorability. They’re renegades! Kind of. They still storm the ring through the crowd! While kissing babies on the head. Rollins continues to Jack-Bauer-roll over the barrier to announce his arrival! And then winks at the camera. The real story behind this match was that Punk’s degenerative sidekicks left him to be mauled by The Shield, which malfunctioned my cheer-o-meter beyond repair. Someone tell me how to feel.

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AJ and Tamina’s match against the Funkadactyls was as depressing a reminder as it comes that the women’s division is becoming a single cherry tomato in a massive salad bowl. While the announcement that Ultimate Warrior be an inductee to the Hall of Fame is the best case yet for video games spoiling surprises.’Surprises’ makes the fanfare sound quite pleasant, but I think I’d rather save my trumpet blowing for less abominable human beings. Like that woman who threw a cat in the bin.

Ripple monster Randy Orton, now weighed down by two championship belts and therefore traversing the ramp slower than ever, had a match against sprightly Kofi Kingston. While the match had its charms, it was really just a vehicle to hype Orton’s title match against Cena at the Rumble. Frothing and dribbling phlegm like a teen at Harry Styles’ locked dressing room door, Randy Orton lost control in the eye of defeat.

Where would his spinning rage take him? To the ground? Yes. To the announce table? Naturally. To John Cena’s dad who just happened to be in the front row? Yep! A Cena/Orton feud just isn’t legendary until John’s dad gets his squishy face smashed in. It’s alluring in the same way that I cannot look away from Mary Poppins any time it’s scheduled on TV. I know what’s going to happen, but I enjoy it nonetheless. I particularly enjoyed the lone, blood-curdling scream that called out as Orton launched himself over the barrier and Cena Sr. I’ll expect that girl to be the new recruit on Total Divas next season.

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The tag match barely made a dent and Alberto Del Rio vs Rey Mysterio was mainly used to tease Batista’s return next week. Oh yeah. There’s definitely a Rumble coming. Lest we forget my most favourite Batista screencap. That double denim, man.
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On the orders of Brad Maddox and a now besuited Kane, the main event was a repeat of the first event. This time Daniel Bryan – still looking like a fraudulent banker accidentally sent to a maximum security prison – and his new best mate were locked inside a steel cage with the Usos. The real brothers won the match by scaling the chains and making a quick exit. This left Wyatt furious and determined to dance Bryan into submission once more. His sweaty mouth whispered sweet nothings into Bryan’s ear before yet again dipping him into an imaginary baptism pool. Ah. But this wasn’t just a case of deja vu. Our trusted hero found his sword. So that wasn’t just a bag of quinoa in his pocket after all! He overthrew Wyatt.

Bryan shed his starched overalls, unleashed his suppressed fury on his hirsute mentor and left the crowd in absolute raptures. In a borderline terrifying display of support boasting the precision of a North Korean military pageant, the audience punched the air and Yes! Yes! Yes!’d along with Bryan’s every move, at various speeds, entirely dictated by him. You could say it’s a good job he’s such a nice guy. In the hands of those with a less dignified ego, this kind of universal adoration could go straight to their heads. But the thing is, only a genuinely nice guy could garner this type of widespread approval. Because those deserving always get rewarded in the end. Daniel Bryan is proof positive that the nice guy doesn’t always finish first, but he definitely finishes best.
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That Was The Week That Was: 20th-26th May 2013

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Seven days is a long time in wrestling. Each week Rachel will cast her eye over the landscape and handpick the stuff that stands out. Sometimes they’ll be the most obvious events, but often more subtle shifts in the business. They’ll always be written from her own unique point of view. Unlike the original That Was The Week That Was, she won’t be singing the news. 

AJ Lee’s T-Shirt

One of the first of many rants I wrote on this site was about WWE’s women’s merchandise. By that I mean both merchandise made for women and that devised to promote female performers. Has it changed since then? Yes. As much as I want it to? Not even close. But we’re moving in the right direction.

Four years ago WWE had little-to-no shirts cut for women and, just generally, most of their stock was dull. WWE Shop was a sorry sight, but over time it’s improved. The design turnover has been quick, the clothing pages aren’t a sea of black anymore and there are now shirts designed to fit a female figure. Women have curved waists, tits and don’t want to dress like men. Who knew?

It still irritates me that the choice is limited. I hate that someone in an office decides which shirts women will buy. They regularly get it wrong. Why on earth was the Antonio Cesaro shirt not made available to women when you can buy a slim cut Prime Time Players shirt? Madness.

I also take issue with the policy that women’s shirts aren’t stocked at UK live events. When Andrew and I went to Raw, we both intended on buying the yellow CM Punk shirt as a momento. Andrew bought his but I couldn’t find any for women. I decided I’d buy online the next day. That never happened because even when applying a discount code, the extortionate shipping charge made it a $43 shirt. I don’t love it that much.

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This needs to change. And a few more v-necks wouldn’t go amiss while they’re at it. I prefer when my chest doesn’t look like it’s growing straight out of my neck.

There may have been some progress on the buying side, but the promotion of female wrestlers when it comes to merchandise has been dreadful. The problem was the same old cycle of no character, no interest, no merch. I have no idea where the Divas’ division is heading at the moment. It’s in a weird place. I’m both tentatively excited at the prospect of a higher mainstream profile and terrified that it means the death of any matches at all. I’m putting all my faith in Sara Del Rey’s influence and a sympathetically edited reality show.

AJ Lee, though, has done something a little special. I may not always have approved of the stories WWE placed her in, but what’s crucial is that she’s had top-billing placement that made people care. The audience wants to see what happens next. She’s not the piss break. It’s been an awfully long time since the crowd cared this much about a woman. Even the cringe-making narratives that played out between Mickie James and LayCool didn’t produce t-shirts, and LayCool were coming out in custom branded shirts and hoodies every week. 

I cant say that I love the design of AJ’s shirt. It’s not my style, I doubt I’d ever wear it and I feel a little old for it. But if I can stomach the shipping cost I’m sorely tempted to buy it just to drive home the point that if you make the Divas relevant they will shift stock. And the dollar’s what WWE is all about, right?

Good for you, kid. Never has a t-shirt launch seemed quite so significant. Dare I whisper ‘tipping point’?

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Current WWE Shop splash

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What you see when you’re not looking – Part Two

The first ‘What you see when you’re not looking’ post was originally going to include this topic. Then the first turned out to be longer than I expected and I didn’t want to do this point a disservice by tagging it onto the end of something else. So, this is part two – on why wrestling has to stop clinging to the sex industry. 

When we took a step back from blogging and observed without commenting, it became clearer to me just how much the sex industry remains unnecessarily intertwined with the wrestling business. The truth is, we should have cut those apron strings years ago. It’s outdated. It’s harmful to the business as it moves forward and becomes more popular – especially with children – and it’s damaging to the position of women in the industry. WWE is probably cleaner than it’s ever been, but on the independent scene, wrestling’s fixation with the sleazier side is reigning in its potential to be a legitimate and credible form of entertainment. It’s not good enough to say that wrestling is sleazy and always will be. It can change, if promotions are inclined to put the wheels in motion.

For all the rose-tinted harping back to the late 1990s and the 2000s, it was murky. When the American government feel the need to intervene, you know you’re getting something wrong. It was time to start cleaning up wrestling. The government’s concerns largely surrounded health, but wrestling needed an overhaul in every way. The landscape has changed dramatically since I first became a wrestling fan in 1997. It’s changed since we started this blog in 2009. But it’s hit a stumbling block, particularly when it comes to women.

I’m confident we’ll never see a repeat of Trish Stratus barking like a dog on her hands and knees on worldwide television again. I sincerely hope that bra and panties matches have been left in the ‘what were we thinking?’ category of wrestling history. But the connection to the porn industry that hangs around wrestling like a stale smell the day after a party is just one of the reasons I sometimes find it embarrassing to plug it as entertainment to my friends and family and to the young children in my life.

I fully appreciate that not all promotions are looking to be family friendly, although I think they could do a better job at letting families know when a show won’t be for kids. I also acknowledge that being a woman in my early thirties, I’m looking for something very different to what I was searching for when I was in my late teens and early twenties. Your tastes change. You become more discerning. You have a clearer view of what you will and won’t let slide without comment. When I was much younger, when hormones were raging, I was terribly unsure of myself and every conversation felt like it had to be loaded with sniggering innuendo and sexuality. I wasn’t as concerned with women’s place in wrestling. I knew it wasn’t right, but I didn’t really know how to protest it. I have changed, the world has changed and wrestling has changed. It just needs one last, very easy push to make itself properly current.

Outside the CHIKARA and Shimmer bubble, wrestling still feels sexist. It makes me sad when fans at British wrestling shows are genuinely surprised when the couple of women on the card put on a great match. It’s especially disappointing when they feel the need to point out that they’re ‘Really good, and not just good for girls, either’. WWE has to take some of the responsibility here. For almost everyone it’s the first wrestling they’re exposed to. If their promotion of women involves nothing but one-minute matches and boyfriend or beauty stories, we’re not telling the young people and children watching that women have more to offer. It should be a given, but it isn’t. It just feeds the notion that the female purpose in wrestling is merely decorative. The rest of the responsibility lies with anyone who doesn’t make an effort correct these archaic views.

Women already struggle to get their names on the card in both mainstream and indie wrestling (British and overseas) simply because the impression is that crowds won’t get behind them. When, for example, porn stars or exotic dancers are hired to act as valets, interval entertainment or even makeshift wrestlers, the female wrestlers find themselves competing with both the male talent and the additional bookings. Very rarely are men hired in wrestling because they’ve had a career in the sex industry. You’ll never see a man on the roster overshadowed by someone who works in porn. It’s blatant pandering to dinosaurs of the game and hormone infested young men who have money to burn. Just because the lowest common denominator sells, it doesn’t mean you should sell it. If your wrestling and your stories are good you shouldn’t need porn, and a little social conscience goes an awful long way.

I’m not on a crusade against sex. We’re all grown-ups and we all enjoy our sex lives. I’m not even trying to banish pornography. It’s not my cup of tea, but as long as it isn’t hurting anyone, I don’t subscribe to the idea that it’s universally a terrible thing. Most crucially, I’m not suggesting we rid wrestling of ‘attraction’. It’s a highly visual medium and aesthetics are crucial. Wrestlers, particularly in the mainstream, are hired for their good (or less so) looks to fit who the company wants them to be; just like actors in a TV show. It’s obviously not the only reason talent are hired, but having ‘a look’ that you then shape the stories around – whether appealing to the eye or not – is a fundamental part of wrestling. The irony that I’m writing this post on a website called Wrestlegasm isn’t lost on me. And I’m definitely not ignoring that ultimately wrestling is a load of oiled, half-naked folk rolling around with each other with a story as its backdrop. But there is a stark difference between Dolph Ziggler and AJ Lee kissing on camera to sell their relationship, for example, and sex for the sake of selling sex. The latter is what we need to move away from.

Wrestling, and indie wrestling especially, needs to think carefully about the language it uses, too. You can only pull the Jack Swagger/Zeb Colter trick of being outlandishly politically incorrect if you’re making it absolutely clear that the views your ‘characters’ are peddling are completely unacceptable. Without the caveat of million-dollar TV contracts hanging over your head, there’s little incentive to get that balance right every single time.  It’s not enough just to book women on shows. How they’re treated is important too. On the unregulated and non-televised circuit, women are sometimes on the receiving end of unsavoury sexual banter. Eva Wiseman recently wrote an excellent column in the Observer on lad culture in universities. She talked about how you can find it difficult to remove yourself from derogatory behaviour and language because when you’re in a group where it’s expected, you play along to fit in. It’s the only option. There is an awful lot of that in wrestling. I believe it’s one of the reasons so many people leave wrestling as they grow older.

There’s a great deal of tolerating what was once acceptable and it’s very disappointing. I’d like to see braver booking, cleverer stories and less reliance on the sex industry to raise interest in wrestling products. The gap between the two needs to grow larger. Fans will follow where promoters lead. They just need to have the courage to move forward.

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9 Stages of Giddiness

I had planned on writing a long and worthy review of Wrestlemania, but as this past week has been quite the whirlwind, I decided just to run through all the WWE stuff making me happy at moment. Let’s just have a chat.  

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The chances of John Cena not winning the WWE title at Wrestlemania were slim. Really slim. The promo videos charting his hidden emotional collapse could have been a swerve, but they’re rarely that sneaky when it comes to Cena. His turmoil is over, the Rock’s job is done, time for a new story. Mmmm. New stories.  At stupid o’clock in the morning after having too little sleep and too much junk food I was loopy enough to find even the cat nuzzling my hand an emotional experience. But that little chat and the hug Cena and Rock shared at the end of the show genuinely moved me. Considering all their history, it felt poignant. It’s so easy to be in love with wrestling when the sun is about to come up and you haven’t really slept yet. I know it was a predictable outcome, but everyone secretly loves those practically post-coital, crowd whipping winner speeches John Cena gives the night after regaining a title.

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Ziggler! Finally! 

The problem with Raw being live at 2am is that unless you avoid the internet until you have an opportunity to watch it, you’re going to find out what happens. It’s so rarely worth the abstinence that Raw spoilers have just become a British way of life. It only becomes a problem when gargantuan, memorable moments take place. Case and point:  Ziggler’s cash-in. Andrew and I both ruined that for ourselves when we simultaneously opened Instagram and Facebook and held pictures of Ziggler wearing the belt up to each other. D’oh!

Spoilers aside we watched Raw later that evening and blimey, that cash-in was bloody great. The reward for being disappointed every time Dolph didn’t appear at the top of the ramp with that battered briefcase and a referee in hand (including at Wrestlemania) was that explosive moment. It made my tummy flip. It made me squeak. We have long been devoted to Dolph Ziggler around here and having paid his dues both in-ring and on the mic, he’s finally got a major title for more than a few seconds. We’re thrilled!

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The Shield 

There aren’t enough words to express how much I completely adore The Shield. This is why the blog post I keep trying to write about them is still in ever-changing draft form. Every time that radio crackle permeates whichever arena they happen to be in, my shoulders involuntarily rise to my ears. I am smitten, and not just in that lustful, early CM Punk sort of way. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve been visiting this blog for the past four years.

They’re so perfectly balanced I almost can’t stand it. A few weeks ago while watching The Shield on Smackdown, I turned to Andrew and suggested that I write a blog post on how threesomes work. Once the terror/intrigue had passed and we ascertained that what I actually meant was ‘trios’, I set about trying to put it into coherent words. As soon as I figure out how to make ‘I love them so much it aches’ sound less juvenile, it’ll be posted.

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Aesthetics 

Wrestlemania looked beautiful. 29 may not have been full of surprises or curveballs. Even I as a Triple H fan have to admit his match with Lesnar was way below par. As an event, though, Wrestlemania looked gorgeous. I’m a sucker for New York City at the best of times, but that setting, the stage, the colours, the fireworks…. For the first time in ages I felt envious of people experiencing the spectacle live and not necessarily the matches. As always, a slightly predictable Wrestlemania is STILL WRESTLEMANIA, GUYS. If you said you were glad you didn’t buy it when all you did was read a results page, you mugged yourself.

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NXT

The ludicrous gymkhana that was the old NXT holds a special place in our hearts. It was ridiculous, but we watched several series of it religiously. I will always feel a nostalgic flutter when I hear those first few bars of Wild and Young. The new NXT is a whole different animal. Ditching the middle ground between developmental and TV, then really investing in the way new talent is presented is the best thing WWE have done in a long time. NXT now feels like an exciting indie promotion, with stories, characters that aren’t charicatures and potentially huge rewards for working hard. Also, William Regal and Kassius Ohno kicking the nonsense out of each other. What more encouragement could you possibly need?

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I don’t know about you…

This video, mainly for Punk’s interpretation of the chorus. I would pay an awful lot of money to have CM Punk softly read me the lyrics of an entire Taylor Swift album. I think it might help me sleep better at night.

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HHH and Stephanie on Twitter

If you read the long piece I wrote for the Fair to Flair Quarterly a long time ago, you’ll remember that Stephanie and Hunter’s fictional and real relationships were the penny dropping moment in my understanding wrestling journey. It’s the reason I find them so fascinating, both individually and as a couple. When they both joined Twitter I was beside myself. When Stephanie joined, Andrew texted me immediately to tell me. I’m far too old to be fangirling over anyone, yet weeks on I’m still trying to think of something I can tweet to Stephanie that doesn’t suggest I’m 15 years my junior. To say that I’m in a constant state of marking out is putting it mildly.

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Fandango 

I have so much to say about ole Johnny. Soon.

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Our long weekend

You know sometimes when life has been busy and you just need to kick back, order junk food, be irresponsible with your sleep pattern (and your bank account) and do something fun? That’s what we did over Wrestlemania weekend. If you’re interested in all the delicious rubbish we ate and what we look like in our pyjamas, there’s a short post about that here. It was a brilliant four days.

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Approx 3am.

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What you see when you’re not looking

When you’re removed from a community you see it with different eyes. You spot the stuff you missed before because you were caught up in the same old arguments. Sometimes you observe heartwarming things that you’re proud to be associated with, and sometimes you spot themes that are far less endearing.  The least appealing traits I’ve been watching lately are bad spin and its closest bedfellow, promotion snobbery.

Dara O’Briain has a brilliant segment in one of his stand-up shows about how much he despises music snobs and so-called guilty pleasures. “Music snobbery is the worst kind of snobbery. Oh, you like those noises? Those sounds in your ear? Do you like them? They’re the wrong sounds! You should like these sounds in your ear!” Dara clearly never spent time with wrestling fans. We’re champions at snobbery. We are the worst.

Over the past six months or so I’ve sat back and watched fans make other fans feel bad about their wrestling viewing choices. The barbs seem even more spiteful when that choice is WWE.  During the interval at the WWE show we mentioned in our last post, I checked Twitter to find that people attending indie shows that night were trashing the very event we were watching. Who were they to tell me it was awful? They weren’t even there! We were having a ball.

Taking the most popular route is selling out, right? No. It’s just enjoying something that a lot of other people also happen to like. Equally, there are just as many mainstream fans who believe if it’s not on TV it can’t be good. I know, because before I experienced my first indie show almost 10 years ago I used to be one of them. I would encourage everyone to explore beyond their usual boundaries. Hopefully you’ll find something new. If nothing else it gives your favourite promotion some perspective. But if you decide that what you really love is the mainstream, that’s alright too.

In that same section of his show, Dara O’Briain goes on to talk about how infuriating it is that people who dip into the mainstream are forced to call it their guilty pleasure because it’s just not underground enough. The thing is, though, we’re wrestling fans. There is no cool.

A few weeks ago I found myself watching a documentary called Allotment Wars. Bear with me. I watched agog as gentle gardeners sabotaged others’ competition crops, raided plot holders’ sheds and called the police on a youngster who found himself a tenner in rent arrears. A couple of old friends fell out two years ago. You could feel from their interviews that the fight and their continuing rivalry had left them both burning with rage.

Out loud I shouted “What is wrong with these people? None of this actually matters in the grand scheme of life!” I scoffed at their silly bickering over carrot soil and congratulated myself on being too well-adjusted to be involved with a group that deals in such juvenile squabbling. Of course, until I remembered that if there’s one thing that can be desperately uncool, petty and all puffed up with misplaced importance, it’s being a wrestling fan.

The older you get the more people shoot you that ‘Wrestling? Really?’ look. The older you get the more awkward a positive response feels.  None of us got into this big ball of ridiculous to score cool points. I’m trying to avoid a High School Musical moment here, but if we’re all in this together why are we so intent on playing games of one-upmanship?  Who are we trying to impress? It’s weird. Your thing is not better, it’s just different.

The worst byproduct of this behaviour is bad spin.  Bad spin is what bad politicians do. They make themselves look the more progressive option by rubbishing the competition. Most of the time they’ll say nothing about what actually makes them so wonderful. As long as they’ve planted that ’them bad, me better’ message, the job’s done. It’s lazy and transparent.

I hate seeing this tactic in wrestling. Whether it’s tweets from well-meaning fans or promotions themselves, I want a wrestling company to do more to excite me than make hollow claims about being ‘better’ than WWE. I don’t want to hear that your show is superior to another popular thing if you can’t even tell me why. I want to know what sets it apart from the rest and makes it unique amidst a world full of weekend wrestling watching options. Otherwise, it just feels like you’re covering up your failings by clinging on to your opponents’ faults. It turns me off.

We all watch wrestling for different reasons and we switch promotions to alter our experiences. A tiny indie show will never deliver the reliable gloss of Monday Night Raw. Monday Night Raw will never achieve the unpredictable intimacy of a tiny indie show. I don’t want them to out-do each other. I want them to put every ounce of energy into being the best at the very specific brand of wrestling they deliver, whatever that happens to be.

It’s completely possible to love both equally, just like it’s fine to listen to Katy Perry one minute, then jump to that band you saw with 19 other people in an unlicenced indie club. It’s alright if you like the PG era. It’s fine if you also go elsewhere for something more grown up sometimes. If you thought WWE peaked when it was still called WWF, that’s fine. But it peaked in 2002 for you. The kids in the front row right now have no idea what you’re talking about. The Attitude Era is an overpriced vintage t-shirt for them and that’s okay too.

If you were stood at an ice cream stand with a friend and they chose a different flavour to you, you wouldn’t throw their cone in the bin and insist that only your flavour’s worth eating. What you’d probably do is encourage them to grab a spoon and have a taste of yours. Let’s do more of that. Let’s cut each other some slack, understand where opinions start and facts stop, and pass out more sample spoons. The flavour doesn’t matter as long as we’re all having fun. Unless, of course, you want to buy me a TNA sundae. ‘Cause that thing’s gonna need an awful lot of cherries on top!

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Paul Heyman Called Me Ma’am

Back in November Andrew and I went to a WWE Raw house show. It may sound like an unremarkable and standard night out for wrestling fans, but this was a rather special show for us. There is a very personal account of why this was such a difficult challenge for me here, but stay with us for the duration of this post before clicking away. This story is about how I found myself unexpectedly backstage and how I made an attempt at keeping a cool head while literally faced with my heroes.

We bought the tickets months in advance, not entirely sure we’d be able to go. A few weeks from show time, I contacted WWE’s international PR office and requested a press photography pass. I signed the waiver and sent it back. This document basically meant I wouldn’t sue the McMahons if, for example, CM Punk crushed and killed me following a top rope dive while I skipped around the ring with my camera. I can’t walk especially well, let alone skip, so no fear of death. But hey, what a way to go!

With just a few days left to cross off the calendar, the PR agent seemed to have gone underground without getting back in touch as he’d promised. I packed up my DSLR on show night and we headed for the arena hoping I was on the list and able to collect my golden ticket at the front desk.

The Friday night traffic made us late. The show was starting just as we walked through the arena doors. On the plus side, no queue. On the downside, nobody knew where my press pass was. I was anxious that we were missing the introductions and as I wasn’t on a particular commission, I very nearly told them I’d do without my camera. Just at that moment, the box office clerk asked one of his staff to escort us to the production office.

We walked. Then we walked some more. It soon became apparent that we were heading for the curtain. I gave Andrew the side-eye and whispered “I think we might be going backstage.” His “maybe” exuded constraint, his face was more ‘holy shit!’ Here’s the thing. When you’re a member of the press, you’re not supposed to get starstruck. You’re meant to hold your nerve and be one of the guys, whether you feel in control of your emotions or not. I didn’t have a sane grip on what was about to happen, but I kept a strictly professional face.

We reached the curtain and several arena employees started radioing each other about my arrival. Andrew and I excitedly glanced at each other some more before I had to leave him at the black fabric doorway and allow myself to be ushered to the production room. It felt like entering a dishevelled royal palace; murky, but oozing mystique.  At this point I really was backstage. Andrew will tell you that I left him to fend for himself. And I did, reluctantly. But ‘alone’ meant hanging out at the side curtain with John Laurinaitis, so it wasn’t all that bad.

Waiting at the gorilla position were Tensai and Michael McGillicutty. They were excessively oily and kicking their legs to keep warm. They puffed their cheeks out in preparation for their match as we glided through their view. I was pretty stoked. Just being able to see two WWE guys psyching themselves up for combat was exciting. As we walked into a new corridor, I quietly revelled in the fact that I’d be able to relay this sweaty scene to Andrew when I returned. And then John Cena walked towards me.

If you were reading this blog before we relaunched you’ll know that, despite his criticism, I generally tend to defend John Cena. Considering I’ve probably heard his theme music thousands of times by now, those first few seconds still make my shoulder muscles tense in the most wonderful way. To summarise, I AM BACKSTAGE AND MOTHERFUCKING JOHN CENA IS WALKING MY WAY! Also, he’s much more human-looking in person. It was a comforting discovery. John clearly had somewhere to be and so did I. Our shoulders scuffed. We passed like ships in the night. It was beautiful, man.

I entered the production room. The show was being managed entirely from this small space. Cables for collections of personal electronics ran around the room while faces I didn’t recognise replied to emails and referees reclined on couches with drinks. I sat demurely while the manager made his way over to the room. It just so happened that they sat me in sight of the door. The door was open and directly opposite the male locker room. Life is like a locker room door, you never know what (who) you’re gonna get.

It became clear that nobody needing press clearance had been passed on to WWE tour staff. Dealing with those of us just trying to get back into the arena with our papers rubber-stamped was becoming an increasing and understandable headache for the show directors. They wanted us out, but not until they knew we weren’t fooling them. From across the room I caught the eye of another guy waiting for his pass. He had the same look of outer-calm-inner-squeal that I did. If our eyes were talking to each other, they were saying, “OMG. This shit cray, right?”

The locker room door opened and closed every ten seconds or so. I didn’t want to be ‘that girl’, but with the wrestlers dashing from room to room laughing and joking with each other, it was hard not to gawp. Dolph Ziggler, Zack Ryder and Antonio Cesaro, among others, skimmed past me. If I’d thought it through I could have angled myself so that Claudio could see my CHIKARA emblazoned jacket. We could have shared a deep and meaningful discourse on the BDK and the hole left in the roster following his promotion to the big leagues. It wasn’t to be. Finlay had just arrived. The production room was getting hectic. I was starting to feel awkward and unwelcome. So began the interrogation.

WWE are immensely protective of their product. Basically, you want them more than they need you and we all knew it. The manager had arrived and both my fellow camera carrier and I began pleading our cases. We shouldn’t have had to do this. We already had pre-clearance. And just as one of the referees began blistering me with “Yeah, that’s what they all say!” when I swore I wasn’t selling the pictures for profit, the manager took the paperwork and asked me to sit outside while he finished the necessaries. “You know the rules. No finishers and absolutely NO VIDEO!” I didn’t argue.

I grabbed my walking stick and made for the door, almost walking into Paul Heyman as I left. “Whoa! Busy room tonight. Oh pardon me, ma’am.” Ma’am. Paul Heyman called me ma’am and stepped aside gently, giving me room to walk through. I’ve spent years thinking he’s slippery and impolite and with one ma’am I was converted. I’m a Paul Heyman girl. Now. Of sorts.

So I waited. To my right the roster were in a little cubby hole watching the show. I was surprised. I always imagined that at WWE those ‘we’re all watching backstage’ shots were staged for TV. They’re not. Everyone’s watching everything. It’s nice to know they care that much. It’s unfair to have expected that they don’t.

I looked to my left. Kane shuffled my way. I looked to my right again. Dolph Ziggler approached Kane with a smirk. Just inches from my knees they had a cryptic conversation I didn’t and wasn’t supposed to understand. All I could ascertain was that something had been suggested to Kane. He had apparently seemed unhappy about it. He wasn’t. He was alright. Dolph was pleased to hear that. Seriously, no idea. I started texting Andrew, who was still waiting at the curtain, to make it look like I wasn’t listening. Because, you know, I’m totally cool with all this. Match-ready Ziggler stood at my side with his lean limbs making me feel like the chubbiest thing on the planet was no problem. I’m fine with this. (I was not fine with this.)

With that, I was allowed to leave with my clearance in place. I rescued Andrew from Johnny’s side and we sauntered across the arena. Stewards booted out the kids who thought they’d got lucky in stealing our roomy aisle seats and I whipped out my officially approved zoom lens.

My favourite image backstage wasn’t seeing John Cena’s breeze as he sailed past me, or Dolph Ziggler’s sickeningly defined, well, everything. It wasn’t even becoming a born again Paul Heyman girl on the basis of one, gentlemanly word. It was Eve Torres rushing around in her ring gear, tanned within an inch of her life and with her hair twisted up into enormous velcro rollers. It felt private, like I was peeking in on something I wasn’t supposed to see. It was one of those moments I’d loved to have captured on camera, but you can’t. I couldn’t. This was their space to be themselves. It’s where they’re ‘off’. These people spend their lives continually being asked to pose and smile when they don’t feel like it. Behind the curtain, they don’t have to be anything.

The show itself was brilliant. Kane and Daniel Bryan commanded the crowd with their genuinely laugh-out-loud comedy. I finally understood why Damien Sandow is so highly regarded. CM Punk allowed his happier side to shine through as he interacted with the audience and the gathered masses flipped their lids for Ryback. Everyone loves a three word chant, right?

We went home with burgers and a glow about us. It sounds saccharine, but it really was one of the most perfect evenings of my life and the best things about the night couldn’t be bought with a ticket. It took me about four days to fully recover physically. Worth every minute.

Images property Rachel Davies

Images property Rachel Davies

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