Thursday, December 31, 2015

On 2015

Was It A Good Year?
Honestly, yeah, pretty good, all things considered. The road to the ending has been mercilessly stressful, but I think I'll be alright.

Greatest Professional Accomplishment
This year was chock full of 'em: Moving out, the Alternative Digital Arts Festival, finishing the first draft of the FFVII book (tentatively titled Heroism Is The Labor of Sacrifice,) but probably the biggest is now being able to earn all of my rent and utilities entirely through freelance writing.

Biggest Personal Accomplishment
Coming out as agender? I guess? It feels like a non-event honestly, probably since it means identifying as a non-gendered person.

Best "Weird" Console Title
None. (Technically MGSV, but, eh.)

The Reason There Is No Best "Weird" Console Title
I'm really not sure why I held out hope for Xenoblade Chronicles X to be any good.

Best PS4 Game
Well Metal Gear Solid V is great, but it has a hot contender in Final Fantasy VII, new and improved with a no random battles feature that more easily accommodates low level runs.

Best Indie Game
We Know The Devil

Worst Game

Least Favorite Game
Xenoblade Chronicles X

Best Old Game Austin Just Played This Year
Resident Evil (2002)
Best Movie
Mad Max: Fury Road

Only Movie Austin Went Out And Saw This Year, But Fuck It

Mad Max: Fury Road

Movies Austin Managed To See Before The Year Ended He EnjoyedStar Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Metal Album
Two-way tie: M - Myrkur and The Ark Work - Liturgy

Highest Concentration of Bangers
Trivium - Silence in The Snow

Austin's One New Rap Album This Year

Travis Scott - Rodeo

Degree to Which FFVIII Improved With Age This Year
Bigger leap than in any previous year, arguably deserves some kind of "Most Improved" award.

Worst Pieces of Games Writing This Year
Tim Rogers' Bloodborne article on Gamasutra (#GamaHateReads), Frank Lantz's response to "Ludocentrism," (#GamaHateReads) but the worst without question was Phil Owen's What The Fuck Is Wrong With Videogames, which comes to us courtesy of The Year Two-Thousand And Seven.

New Year's Resolutions
Put out the book and make this the last year I don't develop a videogame. Record (and release?) the metal album I've taken the past year and a half to write. As well, take more responsibility for myself, and be aware of and uphold my responsibilities to those around me.

Destroy any doubt that I am among the best at what I do.

- Austin C. Howe, Washington and Florida, December, 2015

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Critical Switch: The Joy of Bob Ross

On Bob Ross

Hi, glad you could join me. Today I thought I'd share a happy little page of some thoughts on the benefits of watching Bob Ross before bed each night, for the growing creative.


Bob Ross' gentle voice and tame Floridian accent, along with the comfortable patterns of his speech, (his catchphrases in particular, parental in their practical wisdom and comfort) and the simple, procedural instructions he vocalizes make him the perfect thing to listen to while getting ready to sleep. Sometimes I even turn on an episode of The Joy of Painting and turn the phone over such that the video doesn't glow in my eyes, and simply listen to Ross speak. This is a man of a particular expertise, with decades of experience in his craft. If we are lucky, someday we might be able to instruct in our craft with similar ease and comfort.


Bob Ross shows that anyone can paint, including you, and all you have to do is do it. And he does it by demonstrating his techniques, each day, from a blank canvas (covered in magic white.) This is incredibly important as a rhetorical technique: the first step to doing something is of course to start, regardless of whatever happy accidents we may make along the way towards creating a finished product.


The purpose of The Joy of Painting is extremely simple. Using a limited color palette and a limited set of painting tools, Bob Ross instructs beginner painters in some of the basic techniques of wet-on-wet landscape painting. When we watch The Joy of Painting we are witnessing the practice of craft, in the most literal sense. By the time Bob Ross began hosting The Joy of Painting, he was already a master of the techniques he presents, but each time he performs them for us, he keeps his skills practiced and refined. Ross was lucky that any number of people paid him to practice his craft, many of us are not so lucky, but we should strive to work like Ross and refine our basic technique, constantly, and consistently, such that we get better at what we do, and stay good at it.


Ross reminds us that, when painting, we have control over the world we wish to paint. For Ross, this meant an opportunity to create images of idyllic landscapes, separate from the petty toils of living, and the corruption of society, a world that is happy. As writers, musicians, visual artists, what have we, we often choose other purposes than to make our audience our ourselves happy. But the important part is that we choose, consciously, what that purpose is, and we know intimately what we wish to attain with our work.

In Conclusion

To watch Bob Ross is to immerse one's self in the basics of craft, and as such, serves to refresh our willingness to practice our craft, our want to improve in our craft, and our passion for our craft. He sends us to rest with dignity, and respect for ourselves and our work. 

From all of us here at Critical Switch in Olympia, WA, all one of us, Play is Labor, I'm Austin C. Howe. God bless.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Survivor Series 2015 and "Theses on Roman Reigns in The Main Event"

 To get business out of the way: Almost every single match on the card ranged from good to very good, though I wouldn't call any of them instant classics like I did with Reigns' cell match last month. The booking behind the matches made many of the results predictable (that the bracket managed to kill a singles push for Kalisto is especially worthy of reprimand, Cesaro slightly less so given his recent injury,) but the quality of the matches worked ended up making that more or less irrelevant, especially since most of the matches had “the right” endings from a booking perspective. Originally I'd've booked Owens to beat Ambrose so Reigns could feud with Owens, which continues their history from the #1 Contendor's Tournament from before Rollins' knee injury, but given the swerve cash-in ending, Ambrose and Reigns fighting a clean face vs. face match for the title was the smart move.
Highlights for me included: Del Rio showing up to work and putting on a really physical match with Reigns that far exceeded my expectations for the US Champion who's run so far has been marked with spotty, slow matches.

As well, Charlotte worked her best match as Women's Champion thus far, with the progression of the match naturally creating the needed pace without needing the forced drama of kayfabe injuries that make finishing with the Figure-Eight nonsensical. Paige also showed off some very natural and well-studied heel work in the ring, taunting her opponent, the audience, and brutalizing Charlotte with submission maneuvers and hard hits. Charlotte's own offense was aggressive in nature, including an attempted pin with her knee on Paige's throat, but I think logic would make that excusable given the lengths Paige went to to question Charlotte's ability and credibility. This feud is probably ending here after the faux pas on RAW about Charlotte's family, but this match may have actually been the highlight match for those focused mostly on technical ring work.

As well, WWE successfully bit the bullet and resisted the temptation to make either of their top babyfaces turn heel in the main event, which would've been career-threatening for both men, incredibly obvious, and incredibly short-sighted.

The one match that didn't have the right ending was The Brothers of Destruction vs. Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper. I'm not sure what Braun Strowman did to piss people off backstage, but he got buried hard tonight, and Bray Wyatt's credibility as a heel took a huge hit yet again in a match that he and Strowman both really needed to win and also that Undertaker really needed to lose (and I mean he needed to eat the pin) to make stakes for what will likely be his final Wrestlemania match. Last month Wyatt could disregard match outcomes as he reorganized his Family, but this match made the entire family look weak. All of this only amplifies what I talked about last month: Undertaker won't be on RAW tomorrow and he won't work a match at TLC, the Royal Rumble, or Fastlane, the roster is hurting for credible heels, and older wrestlers on WWE's roster have done a horrible, horrible job putting over new stars who need wins a lot more than they do.

With all of that out of the way, I present to you:

Theses on Roman Reigns in The Main Event.

I: How Human Voices Work

I'm doing a lot of generalization here, but stick with me. Grown women and children have naturally higher voices than grown men do. Children occupy an alto-soprano range voice, with girls capable of reaching the treble range and boys capable of reaching the soprano range, and while women's voices lower as they age, their voices remain naturally high, also tending to occupy an alto-soprano range (typically the Soprano I range, with a rare few being capable of retaining Soprano II range as they age.) Men, however, reach down into the countertenor, baritone, and bass ranges. For any number of reasons, these tones, and thus, these lower voices, more easily project across a wider range, which, combined with the tendency for mean to speak louder, means that grown men are more easily heard.

Thus, it must be noted than when you hear Roman Reigns get booed (or John Cena), he is never being booed nearly as universally as one might think. This was on display during Reigns' barn-burner HIAC match against Bray Wyatt last month, wherein we heard the noted “Cena split”, where the higher voices of the audience, the women and children, chanted “Let's go Roman!” while the deeper and louder voices of the audience chanted “Roman Sucks!”

In short: if you think WWE going with Reigns as a main-eventer is stupid because he's getting booed, I refer you to the above. The WWE does a lot of stupid things. They don't put belts on people who don't draw or make merch money.

This is to say nothing of the fact that in the internet age, when there is more backstage reporting than ever before, babyfaces being booed is pretty much inevitable, because the booing itself is a political act mostly meant to perform the supposed hardcore-ness of the wrestling fans who do it. The booing doesn't say “this guy's a jerk, he should lose” or even “this guy isn't good” (though it does say that) but mostly “I'm not getting what I specifically want right now,” and aside from possibly the return of Daniel Bryan (whose push towards Wrestlemania XXX played on these internet politics) and thrusting him back into the main event, pretty much nothing would ever silence those boos, and WWE does well to ignore them while listening to the kids who will continue to be their most dedicated fans.

II : On The Possibility of Ambrose or Reigns Turning Heel

I'll talk about Ambrose later down but we need to focus on Roman first, because there are a number of levels, almost too many to write about, on which the concept of the Roman Reigns heel turn simply does not work.

First: it's what the Rock did. And as I've discussed before, the “Samoan Heritage” angle is not going to get Roman over, partially because of vile racism, and mostly because for the brief moment that WWE did highlight his Samoan heritage and pointed out his relationship to The Rock, people believed that he was only getting pushed because of his relationship to The Rock, something that can only get you heat. As well: Rock 2.0 (which is ultimately how people would view Heel Reigns, regardless of the character he performed, because of the expectation that he will follow a similar character arc to The Rock, because Nostalgia) is not a sellable character beyond nostalgia, and is not something that WWE can rely on for someone they want to make into their next long-term babyface while John Cena slides back down to the midcard. For Reigns to be The Man he has to be his own man, and turning him heel would undo most of the work done to establish him as a separate identity from his relatives.

As well, Roman's key weakness (which he has been steadily improving) is his mic work. For any number of reasons, a babyface can afford to have less-than-stellar mic work, but a heel needs to be able to talk for days. They need to be able to talk shit. They need to be able to rile up a crowd. The only heat Roman has is with smarks who hate him for whatever god-forsaken reason, and he gets booed during his promos precisely because for the longest time his promos were very weak. (That they have notably improved has had little effect on those who boo him at live events, which is as unsurprising as it is disappointing.)

On top of that, Roman's moveset, while hard-hitting and slam-oriented, is ill-suited towards heel work. This is not to say that he couldn't learn the submission moves and limb-specific work that would be required of him as a heel, but suffice to say that his in-ring work as it exists is not already well-suited towards him being a heel.

In short, Roman would be ineffective as a heel in a way that he has not proven ineffective as a babyface. This brings up an uncomfortable truth for the IWC to confront: what they see as being desperately necessary out of Roman because they believe that Roman gets booed because people hate him is actually incredibly risky. If Reigns doesn't work as a heel (and he won't) he has to do a lot of work to turn back face, and that quite simply may not work with the fans he has, particularly children, who may find it difficult to forgive him. He may only be a few years old in the main roster, but for good or ill, Roman Reigns is already John Cena, and if WWE wants him to be John Cena, in terms of being their hero for children, they cannot make him a heel.

Ambrose, on the other hand, is frankly just an incredibly obvious heel, who might actually excel in that role. However, a turn for him now serves to sever one of the few dramatic bits of humanity on WWE TV that has proven resonant with fans of Ambrose and Reigns: the friendship shared by the both of them. (That breaking up that friendship also delays the reuniting of the SHIELD should not go unnoticed of course.) Moreover, Dean Ambrose may be able to effectively work and talk as a heel, but it is very likely that his heel persona would be dealing in some incredibly offensive stereotypes about mentally ill people, given that his already uncomfortable “Lunatic Fringe” merchandise (that he rarely ever wears) already plays off of it. On top of everything else, he is already a well liked babyface, and while he is really in need of a hot feud to put him back in the spotlight, I personally think it makes more sense for him to be wrestling for the IC or US belt while he waits to be put back into the main event (where he definitely belongs after Reigns' next title reign comes to an end.)

III: The Match Itself

In the moment the match felt obviously rushed because what could've been a 20 or 30-minute main event was forced down to 10 to fit in Sheamus' cash-in, but this was a well-constructed 10-minute match that featured my favorite developing feature of Roman Reigns: his tendency to use his high-impact moves sparsely and intelligently while working around his opponents offense (as well as simply absorb it, Reigns can eat a lot of finishers on PPV.) At Hell in A Cell, this resulted in a matchup that had more one-sided paces, with Reigns dominating early, Wyatt getting the advantage only with weapons, and then Reigns managing to counter a number of Wyatt's in-ring moves to close out the match. Here, it resulted in a more even matchup with counters abounding on both sides as Ambrose's speed occasionally overwhelmed Roman's defense, as well as his unusual reversals of momentum on the ropes and apron. As well, being top guys, both managed to absorb at least one finisher from each other, with Ambrose kicking out of a Spear earlier in the going. Ultimately, as deeply-underrated commentator Michael Cole said, it came down to the last man with the ball. Ambrose went off the turnbuckle and winded up for a big move, and Reigns hit him suddenly with the spear for the pin. For a moment, Roman Reigns was your World Heavyweight Champion. It was not to last.

IV: On Consistent Storytelling and Metatext

Roman Reigns' loss to Sheamus tonight was heartbreaking, and genuinely tragic in structure. Allowing himself a brief moment to vent his frustrations with how opportunity has been stolen from beneath him despite effort upon effort, Reigns rejected to have his hand raised by Triple-H and Speared the COO, at which point he was immediately Brogue Kicked by the Irishman, who immediately cashed in the Money in the Bank Contract. Reigns kicked out of the first finisher, but he ate a second almost immediately and that put him down. Sheamus is your World Heavyweight Champion, and he doesn't deserve to be there.

This is where we hit the consistent drama and the metatext: Roman Reigns spearing Triple-H is not representative necessarily of beef with Triple-H, but of Reigns' frustrations with WWE as a structure. How the inherent unfairness of the Money in the Bank briefcase lead to him being screwed at Wrestlemania XXXI and how shoddy officiating led to his failure to achieve retribution by using that briefcase himself, and then Triple-H had the gall to offer him a place in the Authority despite having never shown him any love before, not to mention causing the betrayal of his once-friend Seth Rollins. It's also about how WWE has mismanaged Roman Reigns. How they screwed up his push towards WMXXXI and his characterization basically since the breakup of the SHIELD. How they've managed to make something as simple as making Roman Reigns a main event superstar and screw it up, just like they've screwed it up with so many guaranteed winners before. For fans of Reigns, seeing him Spear Triple-H is satisfying on a number of levels because of all of these factors both inside and outside of kayfabe.

That Spear also represents a minor betrayal of the sort of values that Reigns is intended to embody as a babyface, as deserved as it is. It was a display of hubris, and it also betrayed the sort of calm Reigns has portrayed. It's the kind of short-term and short-sighted satisfaction that one is not supposed to strive for as a babyface.

And as punishment, Reigns was cashed-in on, again, and lost to Sheamus, the man who he lost the MiTB contract to after deserving to win it so obviously. (Note: this would be a great setup for a feud if Sheamus was even remotely threatening as a heel, or entertaining as a wrestler.) Yet again, Roman worked so hard to get where he got to, and lost it all because as tough as he is, and as talented as he is, he's only human. And this time it even happened again, during a title match, with a Money In The Bank cash-in. And he lost it to Sheamus, a total jobber who's been an absolute afterthought for most of the year, and who totally deserves it because he's a lazy in-ring worker and an at-best uninspired talker who's W-L record can never back up the bark. (Something that I can't help now but think was planned as a way to make his cash-in win as much of a swerve as possible.) The consistency of that is pretty admirable.

It's also smart: Roman has been slowly regaining popularity throughout the year because he's continued to work hard and yet continually lose on a number of occasions, and nothing else builds fan sympathy easier. I'd have to run the numbers again, but since Mania, Roman has barely more than a 50/50 win-rate on PPV, and that's only after two consecutive PPV wins these past two months. And while his sudden push to win the title here felt a little rushed, it now makes a lot of sense since we're learning that satisfaction is likely going to be delayed until at least TLC, though I think for pure excitement WWE shouldn't pull the trigger on that until the Royal Rumble in January. Last year's event, though the Rumble itself was obviously a huge disappointment, had an air of real excitement in the triple-threat between Cena, Rollins, and Lesnar, as we were left predicting who might win the Royal Rumble, as well as wondering who might be the Champion, leaving the Mania card itself totally empty. With smarter and less predictable booking (I know, I'm asking a lot) WWE could really capitalize on a similar setup again in January.

All in all, I really enjoyed Survivor Series, and, while I think Sheamus' reign should not be long, I do think that WWE showed a lot of restraint here by not making Reigns champion and by avoiding the obvious heel turns they could've created for short-lived drama. That makes it unbearably “safe” for some, but to me, sometimes “safe” just means smart.

- From Olympia, WA, Play is Labor, I'm Austin C. Howe.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Critical Switch: Zolani's Departure and The Beginner's Guide

A Special Announcement and The Beginner's Guide

This episode of Critical Switch marks an important transition. Sadly, it is my responsibility to announce that, during his time away from the show while focusing on his personal life and other game criticism projects, Zolani Stewart has decided to leave Critical Switch.

As of yet, I don't know how Zolani's departure may impact the format of the show. What I can say with absolute certainty is that Critical Switch will continue, and will not be going anywhere anytime soon. I really don't know yet, but suffice to say that, aside from my intention to continue bringing you short form radio-report-style audio criticism once a week, the format may be mildly unstable for a time.

Zolani Stewart is, and I really mean this, one of my best friends in the entire world. Since I got to know him last year, we collaborated on IndiE3, and built up it's sequel The Alternative Digital Arts Festival from practically nothing. We slept across from each other in a bare, undecorated, brand-new apartment, with no internet, and a week to actually put on ADAF after half a year of fumbling under unsupportive leadership and with a near-total lack of funding, and within a week, thanks in no small part to Iris Bull and Solon S. Scott III, we launched, on time, successfully. It was one of the most draining things either of us have ever done in our entire lives and it stands as perhaps our greatest collaborative achievement.

I'm incredibly honored that he worked with me on the basic concept of this show, and it will remain a highlight of my career and my life that we worked together on the same critical project even once. Aside from his fantastic episodes, it will remain likely his greatest contribution to keep the show limited to audio, rather than quickly expanding into video, as was my initial plan. The impact of that decision is something I may write a whole episode on at some point. And who knows, maybe the man himself will be back for a guest episode or two in the future.

For now, I want to send him off in the only way that feels right. Since I met him, Zolani has been a huge fan of “walking simulators,” first-person narrative games, whatever you wanna call them. He is second-to-none in his understanding of the genre, and his advocacy of it, with the exception of, perhaps, the great Amy Dentata, who he and I both cite as a major influence. In his very first episode of Critical Switch, which was the very first episode of the show, he talked about the walking simulator Bernband and how it inverts some of the genre norms of walking sims, particularly their oppressive and overwhelming sense of drama, dread, and loneliness.

Having played many of the walking sims he's discussed at his recommendation, I'd report that no walking sim has ever captured those genre characteristics more strongly than Davey Wreden's new game The Beginner's Guide.

Unsurprisingly for a game made by the developer of The Stanley Parable and The Stanley Parable HD Remix (which are meaningfully separate titles in my opinion, but more on that in a different episode), The Beginner's Guide has already been a lightning rod for critical discussion, given that, like it's predecessor, it is not only a videogame about videogames, but it is also a videogame that presents itself more or less as a piece of interactive videogame criticism: Davey Wreden is showing us some small videogames made by a friend of his, Coda, who stopped making videogames 4 years ago, and he hopes that by encouraging interest in his work, Coda will feel encouraged to make games again.

This is, for the record, entirely kayfabe. Coda is not a person who exists, and surely if he did, Davey Wreden himself would be mired in controversy right now based on things that he says about his relationship with Coda and based on things he quotes Coda as having said. (Though, I have read, coincidentally, that there is a popular developer of Counter-Strike: Global Operations maps who's name is Coda.)

The story told by The Beginner's Guide is intimate in scope, simple, and, unsurprisingly for the creator of The Stanley Parable, deals with characters who feel coldness between one another and distance between themselves, and I found myself unjustifiably shocked when the game's ending revealed that these characters had nowhere near the level of comfort or intimacy with each other as I'd been lead to believe. As a narrative, it runs on one of the simplest structures that recurs throughout all storytelling media: the twist that makes the point.

What point has been a subject of fierce debate amongst game critics since the game came out, with some critics feeling personally implicated by the game's seeming distrust of Davey Wreden (the character's) tendency towards close analysis. I would suggest something simpler: that Davey's crime is less his willingness to read depth into Coda's games, but rather that he takes his interpretations of Coda's games as an opportunity to read into Coda's authorial intent.

Though Wreden is revealed over the course of The Guide to be both invasive and unintentionally abusive of Coda, portions of his analyses of Coda's games have legitimate merit: his games do project reclusiveness, depression, social anxiety, and can often be cold and unforgiving. But in attempting to assign all of those things onto Coda himself, Wreden poisons the well, because the art and the artist are no longer separate, and Wreden's evaluations of the games eventually become judgements of Coda himself. As the game goes on, it becomes much clearer that Wreden resents Coda for not letting him in more, while Coda himself tries to make his games that much more unwelcoming to Wreden until he is suddenly forced to reveal his intent at the top of The Tower, wherein he explicitly states to Davey how his attempts to engage with his work have poisoned what made making games enjoyable or expressive for him, as the games are no longer for him but for Davey.

As is the failing of many an overenthusiastic critic, Wreden fails to maintain critical distance from his subject, and becomes too personally invested in Coda as an artist to allow Coda any space to breathe, which ironically takes out the uniquely “Coda” things about Coda's games that drew Davey to them in the first place.

Quite frankly, the most we can pull away from it as critics is Wreden's reliance on his attempts to read intent rather than to read simply what is communicated. Given the particulars of the story, as Coda is a developer with an audience of one, the story does not seem to be immediately applicable as anything else than a warning about the dangers of reading authorial intent, one who's stakes are driven higher by Coda's singular audience. Perhaps there are other metaphorical or allegorical readings that would add more metaphorical depth to it, but they do not occur to me now as I write this.

Any interpretation of the narrative is put into question as well not just by the reveal at the top of The Tower, but as well the epilogue of the game, which, as Heather Alexandra pointed out in her excellent video on the game, raises a lot of “water cooler” questions. Who developed the epilogue? Was it Coda's final masterpiece he never allowed Davey to see? Was it Davey, making something he thought might give him the answers he was looking for in Coda's games? What do the particular recurring symbols we see in the ending tell us about the rest of the game?

As a narrative text, The Beginner's Guide suddenly jumps from relative simplicity to incredible complexity, and creates that incredible complexity by way of devices that make the ultimate meaning of the game unknowable unless anyone in it's audience is absolutely certain of what they know the ending to represent.

For that reason, I wish to be non-perscriptive, step back from the narrative, and just sort of interpret the spaces the game puts us through from a purely emotional perspective. Maybe, after all, that's what the game wants us to do, to simply see the games we're being shown through our own eyes. The various games we're made to play in The Beginner's Guide are emotionally imposing experiences. As is the hallmark of any good walking sim, just moving through these spaces is by itself an emotional experience. That sort of experience isn't what I as a critic feel very experienced in, so I'm simply going to stop here and recommend playing the game yourself. You can also find interesting reactions to the game by Heather Alexandra, Matt Lees, and others, I'm actually very late to the party.

Suffice to say, I think The Beginner's Guide is exceptionally beautiful. And I want to wish Zolani best of luck in his continuing efforts as a freelancer and running The Arcade Review. You can show Zolani your appreciation for his time at Critical Switch by tweeting at him, I know I've thanked him enough.

From Olympia, WA, Play is Labor, I'm Austin C. Howe.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Monday Night RAW, 9/27/16: Why Isn't Cesaro Getting Pushed? (The Answer Is Pretty Easy.)

Part 1: Prestige of the Intercontinental Title, and the Position of the IC Belt and It's Owner

The Intercontinental Title has a big problem in how it is sold. It's represented as both a belt meant for WWE's most talented wrestlers as well as the competitors most likely to make a shot towards the world title. One potential problem with this: the belt is therefore seen as a stepping stone and something meant to be acquired and then discarded quickly, leading to a quick turnover of champions as WWE searches for their next Big Thing.

The other problem with that being that the IC belt has not recently proved a great way to actually find their next WHC. Here are the IC belt holders since the beginning of 2015: Wade Barrett (who is currently displaying how little it means to be King of The Ring anymore), Daniel Bryan, Ryback (it's the only championship The Big Guy has ever won), and currently NXT newcomer Kevin Owens.

Rebuilding the stature of the belt is a multi-step process, and step one of that process is attaching it to a talented in-ring performer like Kevin Owens (or Cesaro) and having them hold it for a significant period of time with a significant amount of defenses ending in clean victories for the current Intercontinental Champion, and though the match itself needed more time to feel more significant, WWE made a smart decision in booking Owens to go over Ryback clean at Hell in A Cell to start that process. (As much as I'd like to support more time for the women on the roster, they got more time than the IC belt contenders for a feud that's way less over than Owens himself.) That belt has to be the prize, not what it means in relation to a WHC shot, and you can make that belt more of a prize by keeping it attached to a prize-winning fighter.

When the opportunities the belt presents mean more than the belt itself, the belt itself is devalued, and that's exactly what WWE did by embroiling Kevin Owens in the tournament for this shot at the WHC. Instead, in a separate segment, he should've come out and told the crowd what he did to Ryback at Hell in a Cell (beat him cleanly in a quick, concise, pretty match) and say that he is ready to accept challengers, and then out walks Cesaro, Neville, or whoever. (Hint: it also makes a lot of sense to attach Europeans to the belt that Vince doesn't want as WHC so that they can have a position of comfort and guaranteed importance on the card!)

Instead, WWE chose to push Owens himself as a competitor, towards his inevitable loss in that night's main event in a defeat in the fatal four-way match for the #1 contender's spot. Nevermind that, instead of beating Cesaro, Owens could've beaten, I don't know, Bo Dallas or The Big Show or some shit in a squash match. The real purpose of that tournament wasn't to make Owens look good, it was to make Reigns look good. It did, (it really did) but WWE wasted a lot of talent to make it that way.

As a result, yet again, down goes Cesaro, who is one of the most popular wrestlers on the roster, puts on great matches every time he goes out, and continues to make the best of his spot in the company despite barely having one to speak of.

Part 2: Cesaro Is Becoming Continuously Victimized By The Booking He's Given

This one is pretty simple and really, really hurts to write.

Cesaro cannot get a shot at the WHC because he cannot win the IC belt and he cannot win the US belt and he cannot beat the Big Show. It does not make any sense to put him anywhere near the big belt unless he's proven in a kayfabe sense he can compete on that level, which, in a kayfabe sense, he simply has not. In kayfabe, he could lose to R-Truth tomorrow and it would be totally believable.

This is entirely WWE's fault and it's something WWE can fix easily.

Start slow. Have him beat Mark Henry, or Bo Dallas, or take revenge on the Big Show for all I care. Give him a mic, let him tell his rabid fans "I've been letting you all down, but starting tonight, I will start working to become the great wrestler you know I can be." (And yes, those are the guys he has to beat because right now, Cesaro's status as a competitor is that of someone on the absolute bottom of the card.) Put him in a small face stable of guys he works with well. (Hey! they already did that! and they already scored victories on lowcard heels at Hell in A Cell!) 

After maybe a month of that low-level rebuilding, it'll make perfect sense to shoot him straight to the moon, and the fans will eat it up big time because they'll have seen their guy work his way up from the absolute bottom. 

From that point, all that needs to be decided is whether KO gets to keep holding the IC belt, or whether Cesaro will be it's new face who gets to have the historic privilege of rebuilding it just like he rebuilt himself.

Hey, that's a pretty good idea for an angle I'd figure . . .

From Olympia, WA, Play is Labor, I'm Austin C. Howe.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Hell in A Cell Review (?)

Pre-Show Match: Cesaro, Neville, and Dolph Ziggler teamed to fight Rusev, Sheamus, and  Cesaro continues to refuse to let repeated burials stop him. Ziggler didn't get much in this showing, but Cesaro's teamwork with Neville resulted in some fun spots. A very fun match that shows off why all six of the guys in this match deserve much better booking than they're getting, especially Rusev and Ziggler.

John Cena vs. . . Alberto Del Rio?! w/ Zeb Colter At Ringside?!

Huge swerve in this match, as last we'd heard from Rio in the WWE he'd been fired from WWE for slapping someone who supposedly made a racist joke about him. Not exactly a controversy that's easy to bury the hatchet on. As well, at ringside with him was Zeb Colter, a guy who's mostly known for being a tea party dude. The possible racially-based tensions between the two spells for an angle that would be questionable, but his return is definitely welcome for fans. The match itself was a bit slow in spots, but these two having worked with each other before and being comfortable with each other's styles showed. A great wrestler for Cena to drop the US title to on his way to vacation. As well, Del Rio currently holds one of the belts in the AAA promotion in Mexico, so we'll have to wait and see how that plays out (possibly as a cross-promotion? It would be out of character for Vince, but it has happened before.)

John Cena winning the US title at Wrestlemania XXXI over Rusev buried Rusev in a big, big way, and he's been stuck with easily the worst storyline currently running in the WWE. That said, Cena's US Open Challenge has been an amazing multi-tool combination for the long-running, talented, and deeply divisive competitor:

1) It put great matches on TV without giving away any major money feuds for free.
2) It's allowed Cena to put on great matches with talent deserving of better booking, like Cesaro, and Neville while maintaining his position as champion, (a position that WWE misguidedly finds very, very necessary,) . . .
3) . . . without putting time into long-running storylines that ultimately work to diminish the importance of the people he's competing against as in years previous. 
4) As well, it allowed WWE to put Cena, easily still one of their top draws, consistently in arenas and on TV without having his matches and feuds dominate the card in the way that some aged fucks tend to do (we'll get to them later.)

All in all, the effectiveness of booking people in matches they're meant to lose as a means of pushing the people who lose is still questionable, but it makes sense given the dominance, both historical and continuing, of John Cena himself. That Cena has used his dominance and prestige to subvert the horrendous booking given to younger superstars, allowing them to come out and perform their routine with WWE's top guy, is commendable.

That aforementioned dominance has been divisive, but also very necessary given that he has been one of the only consistent, reliable figures in WWE since the early 2000's and among the very few wrestlers who debuted near the mid-2000's who's established himself as a legitimate, Hall-of-Fame-in-his-first-eligible-year #Legend. But given that, for the first time in over a decade, Cena has actually elected, by his own choice, to take some time off, we'll see whether he may finally be choosing to fade into a more background-oriented role.

What I'm saying is I really like John Cena and fuck you, ok?

Reigns vs. Wyatt, Hell in A Cell

Match of the night, easily. (What, you liked Lesnar and Taker in the cell? Fuck you, we'll get to you later.) Both competitors looked beastly in Reigns' debut inside the cell, and there was an exactly appropriate combination of wrestling in the ring, wrestling on the outside, and weapons use, (shouts to Roman pulling out double fucking kendo sticks hell to the god damn yes, please, and thank you,) and the crowd audibly loved it, and audibly loved (and hated) Roman. 

The feud itself was . . . glacially-paced, at best, but it did a lot of work to rebuild Roman's popularity as he retrieved some of his cool, distant confidence of his time in the SHIELD while also adding just a dash of violence and danger to his persona and ring by letting Bray Wyatt drag him into the darkness, juuuuust a bit. Reigns still could use work on the mic, but he is also someone who genuinely benefits from not talking because his face and demeanor are so expressive, like Goldberg with less overacting. (It's also worth noting that plenty of wrestling's great faces were never great talkers, a fact that the centering of the Attitude Era in WWE as wrestling's golden age, as well as the plethora of explosive mic men in the 80's like Savage, Flair, and The Ultimate Warrior, has obscured. Bret Hart and Goldberg come to mind as two huge draws that were never known for great mic work. (Some might respond by saying "yeah but Bret Hart was one of the great technical wrestlers of all time," which, sure, Reigns isn't, but he's also a significantly better wrestler, brawler, and "stuntman" than Goldberg, who was significantly more popular.

The rivalry also put over Strowman in a big way, who's still undefeated and still a fearsome, no-sell monster heel. A lot of people are unhappy to see Wyatt himself pick up so many losses, but what he's lost in matches he's more than made up for in a stronger-than-ever Wyatt family.

All in all, I'd now easily describe Reigns as a legitimate title threat once again, he's over with every section of the wrestling fandom that matters (which is to say, not the IWC, thank god) and all WWE had to do was let it happen naturally, whoulda fucking thunk it.

Highlight spots: Pretty much the whole match. 
Reigns missing a drive-by and still catching Wyatt with a right hand to plop him on the apron, then successfully hitting the drive-by. 
Wyatt sitting in the chair while going for kendo stick shots. 
The use of the kendo sticks and chairs wedged into the cell as traps to be thrown into (which I'm fairly certain is a brand new HIAC spot). 
Double fucking Kendo Stick Offense. 
Side slam through a table by Wyatt. 
Roman reversing a superplex by falling below Wyatt and putting him in a powerbomb through another table. 
Wyatt setting up a Sister Abigail, Reigns falling to the floor to counter and rolling up Wyatt. Wyatt popping out and as he charges, Reigns charging up the Superman Punch, lands it, Wyatt selling it beautifully, then kicking out of the subsequent pin with a pop that sends Roman flying into the referee. 
Reigns Spearing Wyatt off the apron into a table.
Finally, after a few false finishes, Wyatt sets up the two kendo sticks in the ring posts such that they're pointing out towards the center of the ring. He looks as if he's going to throw Reigns head right through both of them, Reigns tosses him forward, grabs one of the sticks and smacks Wyatt with it a few times, throws him into the other one such that his forehead went directly into it, then Speared him for the finish.

The New Day (w/o Xavier Woods) vs The Dudley Boyz for the Tag Team Championships

Sometimes you don't need a great feud to get over, just great performers. That's what's happening right now in the WWE tag team division right now. 

In one corner, you have The Dudley Boyz, Bubba Ray and Devon who've been over practically since day 1 and never haven't been. ECW originals who co-starred in the beloved original Tables, Ladders, and Chairs matches with The Hardy Boyz and Edge and Christian, who are also legitimately great tag team wrestlers even without the assistance of weapons (they still have the most refined arsenal of tag maneuvers in the business next to like, The Young Bucks), the only tag team in the TNA Hall of Fame, and are easily the most decorated tag team in the history of professional wrestling, having won the tag team belts in every promotion they've worked in at least once, who hold the record for the WWE tag team championships having held it nine times with a tenth seemingly in the cards.

In the other you have The New Day: two-time tag team champions who're easily the most beloved team since The SHIELD, and whose comedic antics have made them breaths of fresh air in what often feels like overwritten episodes of RAW. Kofi gives you the fast guy offense, Big E gives you the big guy moves, they combine for a hot tag maneuver where Big E throws Kofi in a missile dropkick position into a ringposted opponent, and the whole time, Xavier Woods plays a trombone and screams about tricep meat. They're technically heels but no one really likes to boo for them, and a full-fledged face turn is imminent. They are hot, they are money, they are fantastic.

By any objective measure, these teams are equally matched, but to preserve the semblance of a face/heel dynamic (which is usually meaningless in a tag team feud where four different wrestlers or more are trying to get over), New Day have often resorted to classic heel tactics to retain their titles, typically by getting themselves disqualified and losing the match, which, under championship belt rules, means the championship belts themselves means they cannot change hands. This has become a somewhat tiring holding pattern as Bubba and Devon destroy the New Day with their genuine wrestling acumen and veteran teamwork, only to have the match end abruptly, and WWE showed bad form in allowing New Day to use the exact same finish on both Night of Champions and their recent house show from Madison Square Garden they showed on the WWE Network.

The match itself was probably the best worked match between these two yet, with the Dudleyz pulling out all of their great tag combos (including the rare "3D II" variation, which Kofi kicked out of), and, Xavier being gone from ringside gave more room for Kingston and Big E's genuine in-ring talent to shine, but the match was blemished notably by easily the worst botch of the night when Bubba tried to set up one of those great tag combos and "miscommunicated" with D-Von, as JBL pointed out. It was, indeed, so bad that JBL felt the need to point it out. So did the crowd. That's pretty rare for a WWE show.

Many thought tonight would spell defeat for the New Day, especially with Woods out on a (kayfabe) injury from eating a table shot by the Dudleyz on RAW, but Kingston and Big E found a new trick: pretending to be Eddie Guerrero. At the end of the match, Kingston grabbed Xavier Woods' trombone and tossed it at Bubba Ray Dudley, and then took a dive and began to sell as though the Dudley Boy had hit him. The ref didn't buy it, but while he was distracted, Big E managed to grab the trombone and smack Bubba. D-Von hits Big E with a Cactus Clothesline, they both go out, Bubba gets back in and isn't ready for Kingston to hit the Trouble in Paradise, Kofi gets the pin on Bubba to retain.

Xavier pinned D-Von clean on RAW, but this is the first time The New Day have beaten the Dudley Boyz, clean or unclean, on a PPV, and that shows a significant jump in strength for them that they can contend with legends like the Dudleyz. How this feud will develop into Survivor Series and how the blowoff will work at TLC is a topic of huge and vital interest.

Charlotte Vs. Nikki Bella for the Diva's Championship

God, I really just don't know what to say. Charlotte winning was the correct call here, but her ring work has just been outright sloppy since her debut on the main roster. In fact, many on wrestling twitter noted, correctly, shockingly, that Nikki was actually the much better in-ring performer here. The highlight spot in what was otherwise an abysmal match was Bella's half Boston Crab on Charlotte, whose flexibility meant that Nikki could pull that leg to angles previously thought unthinkable in my mind, that same flexibility giving Charlotte exactly the way to push forward and reach the ropes.

The botches? Numerous and embarrassing, including falls from the top rope, (bless Michael Cole's heart, trying to sell that as "an incredible counter by Charlotte!") flubbed submission holds, Nikki grabbing the ropes to break Charlotte's Figure-Four (yes, it was a Figure-Four, she did the Figure-Eight to finish) after already reversing the hold and flipping Charlotte upside-down, and of course, the ever-persistent "Charlotte has no other finisher so she's going to do the figure-eight, kayfabe injuries to legs and back be damned." I tend to accept this as a presentation of toughness by Charlotte, but other fans ain't buying it and you can't really blame them.

Charlotte is a great wrestler, but this was by far her weakest performance since her main roster debut, and that is actually saying a lot. This feud also hasn't worked for Charlotte or Nikki, and hopefully this rematch-clause catastrophe here at Hell in A Cell means we can move on from this.

Before we move on, I'd like to be as positive as possible about women's wrestling in WWE, so how about this: instead of watching this match, go watch the triple threat between Jazz, Trish Stratus, and Victoria at Wrestlemania XIX. That match was awesome.

Seth Rollins Vs. "Demon" Kane for the World Heavyweight Championship

I liked this match a lot better than others, but the Spanish announce table refusing to break after what was already a heavily botched setup speaks for itself. Kane is too old to be working on a main event level, but that's the point, and this angle is clearly setting up his retirement.  

Speaking of the angle: It was a short and sweet way for Kane to transition back into the Demon character full time before he rides off into the sunset, and that's exactly what Kane should be. Corporate Kane had it's ups and downs, but Kane deserves to go out in hellfire, and in a mask. People are wondering what this does to push Seth Rollins since he's working with yet another old guy.

This angle actually served to strengthen Rollins and the rest of the Roster. In case you hadn't noticed: this was by far not the most important match on this card. No matter what happened, Taker and Lesnar was going to matter more to live show ticket buyers, and the return of Alberto Del Rio and beating Cena clean was going to overshadow a lot of things. On top of that, Rollins and Kane weren't wrestling inside the cell (and shouldn't have) when fellow top stars Bray Wyatt and Roman Reigns did.

Seth, because of Kane's sheer offense, was forced to use more of his high-flying moves that were a staple as a face, and the crowd reacted in turn. He eventually got the win after a sloppy Pedigree. This is the second time he has won clean over a legend, and I think it's slowly simmering towards a face turn to set up the inevitable SHIELD reunion. On top of taking a severe beating from John Cena at Night of Champions, this is one of the traditional building blocks towards a face turn.

Seth came out looking stronger than he has since Wrestlemania XXXI and WWE's wisdom in booking a throwaway feud for their champion on a night when the big money match was between two legends and they're working to build Owens and Reigns is commendable.

The only sad weak link in the chain really was a slightly lackluster match, which was also what happened at Night of Champions when Sting got injured early in the match, the result being that the reports make Rollins look stronger than the match does. The next move is to book Rollins with someone closer to his age who can actually compete with him.

Kevin Owens Vs. Ryback for the Intercontinental Championship

This match was very short and both men ended up looking good in it, which is a huge improvement over the pseudo-squash-ending-in-an-eye-rake-and-a-rollup we got at Night of Champions. In the WWE of my dreams, Kevin Owens and his complete and utter lack of microphone talent (did you see that pre-show promo in front of the Magic Johnson statue? God, such garbage, I mean we can debate the merits of self-help books but we can't debate the merits of a heel's shit talk including grievous factual errors when they're supposed to be "smart") would've never won the belt, Ryback would already be a two-time World Champion looking to secure a place of midcard dominance, and Kevin Owens would just be meat on the table to him.

High spots: do you like a particular move either of these wrestlers does that isn't Ryback's shellshock? They were all in this match, pick one. Overall I'm glad Ryback protects his finisher and praying someday he gets the booking he deserves. FEED. ME. MORE.

Overall: I Liked It A Lot!

To me, this was an extremely well-booked PPV that was only a few execution mistakes away from being a classic. I think it might be the best PPV of the year so far and I feel like this is exactly the way it should've gone down.

Wait, wait a minute . . . I'm receiving word that I forgot to analyze a match. It's . . . it's! . . . Oh fuck, it's Taker Vs. Lesnar in the Cell.

. . . 

God fucking dammit.

Taker Vs. Lesnar

And you thought the Charlotte's match sucked. 

So let's not fuck around here.

This match sucked. This match suuuuucked. This match sucked so bad it almost soured my taste on the entire PPV, which had great action from (almost) every corner of the roster that can actually still wrestle. I hate this match. I hate everything it represents about how WWE books and sell PPVs, I hate what it represents for the roster, I hate what it represents for the psychology and storytelling of wrestling, I hated it on a technical level, I hated Brock Lesnar going into the match, I ended up hating the Undertaker by the end of the match, I hated it on conceivably every god damn level it could be hated.

First and foremost: Maybe booking two of their all time legends helped WWE sell this PPV to an older crowd, but for regular ass marks like me who actually watch RAW, NXT, and Smackdown! every week, I'm looking at two old fuckers get in the way of my favorite wrestlers getting the time and prominence they deserve. Seth Rollins had to wrestle Kane. Ryback vs. Kevin Owens got I think 13 minutes.

Undertaker cannot wrestle at a main event level anymore and has not been able to do so since 2013 at the very latest. He and Triple H both should've retired completely after their classic Hell in a Cell match at Wrestlemania XXVIII, and every shitty match Taker works since then only continues to spoil the legacy of that amazing confrontation. His WMXXIX match with CM Punk was a barnburner, but it mainly marked yet another step in a longcon burial for the straight-edge superstar. And let's not even talk about his feud with Bray Wyatt because god damn Bray worked his ass off to get that feud over, and there's no one who would've made more sense to lose to at his final Mania. But nope, comes out, does a few signature spots, and the man who was once WWE's most fearsome heel goes on a losing streak. And by the way, Cole, I really love you in a way most WWE fans simply don't, but the sooner you stop using the phrase "pure striker" to describe the Undertaker, the better. He is a striker. He goes on strike after every Wrestlemania apparently!

Brock Lesnar refuses to wrestle at the level he can actually wrestle at. People criticize John Cena for having the "five moves of doom," (which is essentially an extended finisher that rounds out what is actually a fairly extensive movelist,) and yet Lesnar does 15 German Supplexes in a match and the internet and old fans eat him the fuck up like we're watching Bret Hart counter a sharpshooter or some shit. That plus the F5 is the entire moveset of a guy who was once an amateur wrestling champion in the NCAA and former UFC World Heavyweight Champion, literally a person formerly recognized as being the best fighter on the planet. I'm really not that attached to the idea of technical mat wrestling. I like strikes, I like power moves. I like Roman Reigns and Ryback, and quite frankly, I even like Kevin Nash when his quads are having a good day, but you'd think a man of Lesnar's repute as a fighter could get a little more fucking creative with his spots, let alone wrestle on the level of Big Daddy Cool Diezel. "Suplex City Bitch!" Yeah, I think for it to be a city it needs to have a population higher than one fucking supplex you asshole.

On top of that, Brock Lesnar a bigoted homophobic bully who recently referred to his legendary manager Paul Heyman, one of the greatest figures in the history of the business, as "the Jew." Which ain't PC anyway, but isn't exactly helped by him insistently using a German supplex almost exclusively and the man himself looking an Aryan fucking bratwurst.

People, and by "people" I mean smarks, and by smarks I mostly mean adult men, because they're the ones making the most noise during his matches, like Brock Lesnar for exactly two reasons.  One, his manager is the aforementioned Paul Heyman, whose simple physical presence next to a human being would be capable of putting them over. He was the owner of ECW, for which he will always be beloved, and he is also one of the greatest managers and talkers in the history of the business, absolutely excellent at building up his clientele's opponent, then destroying them as he describes the strength of his client, Brock Lesnar. Without Paul Heyman, Brock Lesnar would be nothing, another musclebound asshole with a mercenary attitude towards professional wrestling who would have went as fast as he came like Goldberg before him. The other reason internet smarks love him is because he beat John Cena in one of the cleanest squashes in recent memory, and smarks hate John Cena. This, despite the fact that, in 2015, John Cena has had probably the feud of the year with Seth Rollins, and during the rest of his US Open Title has put on multiple match of the year candidates, as well as being historically a strong performer who's always been more harshly criticized than he deserves. I love John Cena, and I fucking hate Brock Lesnar. I hate Brock Lesnar almost as much as I hate Dark Souls and the Republican party combined.

But you know what I really hated? His egregiously overdone blade job after his head getting knocked into a blunt fucking object. I can hear the smarks now. "Yeah, you shove that right in Vince's face, Brock! Fuck the PG era!" Yeah fuck you buddy. You know what's nice? Watching a wrestling match and not worrying that the guy who literally said he would beat people in the street if it was legal isn't going to accidentally fucking murder the 50-year-old man he's wrestling with. I fucking cheered those doctors when they came to clean him up, I hope one of them said right to his fucking face "you're a fucking idiot and that cut makes no sense based on any of the hits you've taken." Except wait, they can't say that because he hadn't taken any major hits yet because he cut his shit up like that literally five minutes into the fucking match. Y'know what, I just checked, it wasn't even five minutes. It was actually two minutes. Two minutes y'all.

By three minutes into the match, Brock is already using a steel chair that was seemingly summoned from god damn nowhere by the power of . . . fuck it, I don't know, Paul Bearer's Urn or some shit. Undertaker looking like an old man putting up his hands to block it. Michael Cole, that beautiful bastard, calls it "you can put your hands up all you want, Brock Lesnar's got a steel chair." Thank you Cole, thank you for pointing out how Taker apparently doesn't know how to sell a god damn chair shot anymore.

We cut back to the action live where Lesnar is now removing his combat gloves to punch the Undertaker with his hand directly, something much more likely to damage his hand than the Undertaker's skull. Undertaker drives Lesnar's throat into the edge of the steel chair as he throws it down to the mat which . . . ok that was pretty good, but we're still using a steel chair 3 minutes into what could've very likely been The Undertaker's Retirement Match, well, that was until the announced earlier in the PPV that Survivor Series would be the "25 Years of The Undertaker" show, hey by the way, stop spoiling shit like that.

9 minutes into a PPV ending, theoretically half-hour long match and Brock Lesnar hits his first F5 (after only 3 German Supplexes! What a twist!) A doctor comes to check on the Undertaker, then Brock throws that doctor aside. Y'know there are heel moves . . . actually what am I saying, in this feud both of these guys are heels, because #AttitudeEra amirite? But I mean, there are heel moves, and then there's like "fuck sports safety, I'm a badass" and it's like, no motherfucker, you're a dumbass, and you're making a bad example to the inevitably many, many young children who are watching this and thinking of becoming some kind of athlete. That sorta move might work if the announcers highlighted the importance of safety a little more, or if Lesnar was clearly the heel in this feud, but neither of those things were true. It was a throwaway spot that probably reflects the real life attitudes of a terrible person. He goes for a second F5, Taker kicks out.

The crowd is chanting "this is awesome!" Some of them booed Roman Reigns. Others booed John Cena. I hate them. I hate them so damn much.

Lesnar goes for a shot with the stairs and just stands and waits for Taker to politely tap him with his feet to escape the stairs, and it sends Lesnar inexplicably flying. "This is stupid!" *clap, clap, clap-clap-clap*. They both sit for like a full minute before Taker puts Lesnar in the worst Hell's Gate of all time, Lesnar counters by doing the same arm shots Ralphie did to that bully in A Christmas Story

Look I'm not doing the rest of this. Tearing up the ring and exposing the wood planks? Awesome spot. The way they used it? Lame and ineffectual. A tombstone onto hardwood and Lesnar kicks out (stupid), hits Taker with a low blow (FUCK. THIS. MATCH.) and F5's him for the win.

I really don't care if neither of them made a huge, glaring execution error during the match, being able to do a total of five actual wrestling moves correctly between the two of them means nothing when the story between these two was stupid, the booking of this feud was stupid (WWE should've known something was wrong when Lesnar, a guy who admittedly has no love for this business, agreed to end the Streak), only one of the two previous matches between these two was any good, and the story told in this match with the genuinely incredible psychological acumen between these two performers did nothing to compensate for any of the above. (By which I mean: Taker, you fucked up, big time.)

This was easily the worst worked match of the year, the worst match of this rivalry, and the ending to what should go down in the books as one of the all-time worst feuds in the history of the WWE, and I can only hope someone at WWE is learning from this hot, nonsense garbage. 

Compare that to the match between Wyatt and Reigns. Have we seen these two wrestle before? Yes, but not in this type of match. (Unlike Taker/Lesnar, who have fought in the cell before, and Lesnar also won.) Was their feud barely about them and more about giving something for Roman to do while not chasing a belt and also pushing Braun Strowman? Yes. Ultimately, however, none of that really matters because Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt are two excellent, incredibly talented wrestlers with well-developed movesets and really strong understandings of how to put together a match that manages to tell a story on it's own, regardless of the booking. That's why they've both been getting over with TV crowds despite being booked with absolutely nothing to go on except their own skills.

And the best part is? WWE has a roster stacked to the fucking teeth with people as talented or arguably even better than Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt. I've talked with a few people who've been watching wrestling a lot longer than I have, and a number of them, even deeply cynical smarks, believe that in 2015 WWE has by far the strongest roster of talent they've ever had. Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Luke Harper, Braun Strowman, Dolph Ziggler, Cesaro, Neville, "King" Wade "Bad News" Barrett, Rusev, Stardust, The Ascencion, The Lucha Dragons, The New Day, Sasha Banks, Naomi, Tamina, Natalya, Charlotte, Paige, Becky Lynch, and a wealth of talent coming up through NXT that want to do nothing more than get a crowd into a match. And none of them cost nearly as much money as Brock Lesnar or the Undertaker.

WWE, you have young talent. Use them. They did amazing work on this PPV, and they each put in fantastic matches every week on RAW and Smackdown. Let your overpriced oldies go home and shoot documentary footage.

From Olympia, WA, Play is Labor, and I still really enjoyed this PPV. I'm Austin C. Howe.