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



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: Claudio Castagnoli/Antonio Cesaro & WWE/TNA/World Peace etc Edition

RAE: Whatever their wrestling background, when performers get called up to the WWE, a certain amount of ‘bedding in’ takes place. And it’s not exclusively reserved for the kids cherry-picked out of the thousands waving their arms in the air screaming ‘choose me!’. Even big fish in smaller ponds are expected to transition into the WWE style. And why not? There’s no point in having a global brand if you’re going to say ‘hey, just do whatever you like.’ Easy, tigers. I’m not saying everyone has to look and wrestle the same way; just that there have to be recognisable notes that pull all the individuality together.

When Bryan Danielson morphed into a the initial Daniel Bryan character, he spent a short spell in developmental before playing out a season on NXT. Danielson had such a genuine, indie geek-boy persona that WWE played it up rather than trying to turn him into an out of place bronzed adonis. It was a smart move. Although, I’m pretty sure he’s been dabbling with the Garnier Summer Body Creme lately and he definitely seems less of a quirky novelty than when he first arrived. He’s put his roots down.

Aww, bless.

In Bryan’s case, the tactic worked. Alberto Del Rio also managed the transition from Mexican hero to smooth talking WWE main eventer pretty easily. But for every success there are countless guys and girls who haven’t gelled with the WWE house style. Sin Cara was the exciting signing who’s stalled time and time again. I worry for my beloved Mason Ryan/Barri Griffiths who, despite bypassing NXT and jumping straight to the big leagues, seems to have dropped back into developmental. Maybe he needs a little more time.

There is, however, someone who seems to have gone from FCW to Smackdown with such ease it appears he was made for it: Claudio Castagnoli or, as he’s now known, Antonio Cesaro. Impossible to mention either name without rapidly fluttering my hand against my chest and exclaiming that my beating heart should be still.  Girly crushes aside, it’s bizarre how quickly Claudio seems to have become part of the furniture. Even during his first fleeting Smackdown appearance as Aksana’s rugby playing old pal, he seemed a natural WWE fit. Ah yes. Switzerland. That noble rugby playing nation. Hah! Still, you can’t deny he looks beefy enough to have chased the egg.

Poor ole Teddy

Claudio/Antonio’s match participation has been minimal so far, but those of us who followed his career before the magic phone call know his in-ring skills more than match his physical stature. And we know he pulls off a mean promo. That’s what makes his steady ascent so finger-tremblingly exciting. It’s like feeling the low rumble of an earthquake waiting for the right time to let rip.

The only question mark over Claudio’s move to the big time was whether his unmistakable presence would transfer to the much bigger WWE arenas. Maybe it’s difficult to separate giddy fan from logical thinker, but he certainly fills my screen every time he appears on it. So if it’s all the same with you, I’ll keep holding on to the walls. This one’s for you, ‘former rugby play’…

ANDREW: I’ve no doubt that it’s been prompted by the Avengers film, but I’m going through a comic phase at the moment. I don’t know if it works the same way for everyone but each of my more geeky interests seems to come and go in waves. Whether it’s wrestling, video games, comics… I’ll go for months showing hardly any interest then binge for weeks on end; endlessly devouring DVDs of obscure indie promotions, forcing myself to collect that one last memory fragment in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations or (as was the case this month) ploughing through Marvel’s expansive Civil War and Fear Itself storylines.

People much more knowledgable, intelligent and talented than me have written before about the glaringly obvious parallels between wrestling and comic books. Both looked on as lesser forms of entertainment. Both focussing for the main on interweaving, overly wordy storylines punctuated by periods of graphic violence. The masks… the starkly drawn good guys and bad guys… the improbable physiques… oh, and the ridiculously sexist costumes of course.

Another common factor is the distribution of power in both fields. Both the wrestling and comic book industries are essentially ruled (in the west at least) by two major companies, WWE/TNA and Marvel/DC respectively. Below them there are a number of smaller companies carving out their own share of the market. In wrestling you have the larger independents such as ROH, CHIKARA and PWG, while in comics you have companies such as Image and Wildstorm selling an edgier product to a smaller audience.

While these smaller companies are generally happy to share talent the big two in each field are usually more exclusive. Indie wrestlers are, for the most part, free to work in whichever promotion they like, and while they may change it slightly they are able to take their character with them. The same happens with smaller comic companies, where crossover events and guest stars from another companies line aren’t seen as a rarity. However, when it comes to Marvel (owner of the Avengers, Spider-Man and the X-Men to name a few) and DC (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman etc) this is a much less exected occurence, as indeed it is with the WWE and TNA…

Never say never…

…especially in wrestling

Yes, the big wrestling story this week was Christian’s appearance at TNA Slammiversary. Apparently a reciprocal deal for Ric Flair’s involvement in the 2012 Hall of Fame ceremony, the idea of a current WWE title holder being allowed to appear at a TNA PPV is quite amazing. As a fan it’s great to think that this is even possible, and the temptation is to wonder whether this could mean anything going forward? Will there be a new working relationship between the two companies? Will we see more TNA stars on WWE shows and vice versa? Will we finally see Sting recognised in the WWE Hall of Fame?

I know Dixie, they’re just “roomers” aren’t they?

Yep, that’s TNA’s official YouTube channel showing that they don’t listen to nasty roomers like that. In the long run this means nothing, but it happened, and we were there to see it. Well, when I say “we” I don’t mean Rae and myself. We’re not going to sit around watching TNA when there’s some paint drying in the south wing of the WrestleBunker. What do you think we are? Masochists?

Anyway, in the spirit of harmony and coexistence here’s to you TNA and WWE. It’s always nice (if disappointingly rare) to be surprised by wrestling, but the fact that the two of you could do something like this show’s a side of you that isn’t as petty and childish as we have come to expect. And that was a surprise…

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!


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.

Wrestlemania Predictions: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is!

Every year we consider how we might do something slightly different for our Wrestlemania predictions. Like we always say, Wrestlemania either brings stories to an end or starts new ones, so it can be a tricky thing to predict.

There was the infamous cupcake method for a couple of years, and then last year we invited our friends and family to select our winners for us, based purely on aesthetics. If you’re ever getting comfortable with the fact that you’re a wrestling fan, try putting pictures of oily men in Speedos under the noses of your work colleagues and observe the looks they shoot you from across the office. Can you say… ‘outcast’?

Anyway, life is busy at this moment in time and the big hoopla we had planned didn’t come off, so we’ve taken a different route. We’re not sure how they can get away with giving genuine odds on something where the outcome has already been decided, but Paddy Power are taking bets on Wrestlemania matches.

Rae has a bona fide gambling addiction and Andrew’s always proclaiming that his predictions are good enough to make him money, so we jumped at the chance of losing our hard earned cash to scoundrel bookies. Our bets are below. One thing we’ve learnt is that the possibility of a cash prize doesn’t half influence how we predict. As if there’s any chance Beth and Eve are going to win! But hey, it’s Wrestlemania, anything could happen.

Rae’s Bets

 Andrew’s Bets

Before we go, in all the running around we’ve been doing lately we completely forgot to celebrate our third blog birthday this week. It’s amazing to us that a blog Rae started by herself and didn’t expect to last more than a few weeks is still around three years on. We may have to take breaks from time to time when other things have to take priority, but we really do appreciate that you take the time to visit us and share your thoughts; either here, on Twitter, on Tumblr or on Facebook. Thanks, everyone. We’d give you a hug but, you know, eww, wrestling fans. See you on the other side!

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 Wrestler (Male)

Before we move on to our man of the year, a quick word on why we decided to choose a male and female wrestler of the year, rather than just one person. We don’t feel that, at least in mainstream wrestling, men and women get the same crack of the whip at the moment. They don’t occupy the same space in the same way. Are we happy about that? Definitely not. But we wanted to recognise both separately this year and, of course, we consider both male and female awards to be completely equal. If we’re still plugging away at this by next year, maybe we’ll change things around and make it a mainstream and independent award. For now, here’s our number one bloke of 2011. 

The problem with American collegiate athletes, is that they can appear a little dull on the surface. During the years in which I spent large amounts of time trying to make sense of the magnitude that is  American college sport, the bizarre and alien cattle market that is a draft proved my point. Neither college sports nor a draft system operate in British based sports. Every boy who ever held up his sateen professional jersey in front of draft day flashbulbs seemed as generic as the next.  The thing about these kids though, is that they don’t need to be interesting and have sparkling personalities. They’re expected to court the media to a point, but ultimately, as long as they’re scoring points, they’re winning at life.

But what about collegiate wrestlers who want to make the jump from amateur sport to sports entertainment, where they can make some cash if they work hard and wink at the right people? How do you go from a place where only being able to move matters, to a place where you also have to sell the movement like an actor playing things up for those sitting in the cheap seats at the back? It’s not easy, especially if you haven’t had the benefit of learning the craft of audience engagement in front of demanding indie circuit crowds.

One man who has made that leap work is Dolph Ziggler. Dolph had a brilliant 2011 and is proof that paying your dues in the mid-card under various guises for however long it takes pays dividends. It doesn’t happen often, but Dolph Ziggler is a true all-rounder. The full package. In 2011 he was World Heavyweight Champion, albeit for just 11 minutes and 23 seconds. He held the United States Championship for six months, his mic work was continually spot on, his partnership with the magnificent Vickie Guerrero continued to be an enormous source of fun, his appearances on Zack Ryder’s YouTube show had us pawing at out computer screens and, most crucially, his matches never disappointed. We had no choice but to make him our man of the year.

Basically, Dolph Ziggler’s such an astute showman that, whether he’s in the ring or on the mic, people definitely pay attention when he’s around. Even his haircut and change of hair colour sparked all kinds of internet debate about character identity and branding. Here’s to 2012, Dolph Ziggler. We’re watching every move. But not in a creepy stalker kind of way. Not most days anyway.