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.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Smackdown Main Event 10/22/15 "review"

Contained herein is an analysis of booking logic surrounding Smackdown's main event this past week, which a writer on WhatCulture criticized as, essentially, weakening the New Day heading into Hell in A Cell. Sorry I haven't been keeping up with my wrestling writing.

- Austin C. Howe, Olympia, WA, 2015

Friday, October 2, 2015

Critical Switch: On Self-Respect

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I was talking to Omar Elassar on Twitter before I sat down to write this and he was pointing out that sometimes we use irony to distance ourselves from things that embarrass us, but that at the end of the day, he still eats Dorritos and drinks Mountain Dew while playing Call of Duty because, well, it's something he likes to do.

He tweets this out and I realize I'm sitting in a tanktop and pajama pants, there are three empty cans of soda on my coffee table, two of which are Mountain Dew, and the only thing I'd eaten in the past few hours was chips and dip. I own at least 50 videogames, but I brought less maybe 6 books with me to Washington when I moved, with my movie collection represented by a copy of The Room and an intermittent subscription to Netflix. So I'm a gamer loser I guess.

And honestly, the more I think about that, I'm ok with that. I'm poor, so this is the food I eat. I'm jobless [or, at least I was when I wrote this, heh], and more importantly, I'm a videogame critic, so I sit and play videogames a lot, and, yeah, I play games more than I read, more than I watch movies, and most of the time when I'm listening to music I'm playing fighting games anyway

Answer me this question and answer this seriously: what's wrong with that picture? Better question: is their anything wrong with that?

Subject to yourself at an experiment at my whim. Compare two images in your mind, a shelf full of books and a shelf full of games. Gut reaction, which one implies the person who is the person who is more politically invested and culturally educated? It's the book shelf, right?

As a community, videogame critics have done pretty well at moving past the discussion over whether games are an art form, but we still seem to have the same preconceptions of games as a trashy, craftless pulp medium that we had before those discussions really got kickstarted almost a decade ago. We reflexively see videogames as inferior either because game developers have yet to author the masterpiece that will truly distinguish the unique qualities of videogames as an art form, or because games consistently reinforce racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and other social ills, or because gamers themselves are such terrible people.

Yet, as we've seen consistently, gamer culture is really just a byproduct or an offshoot of the culture that gave it birth. The worlds of film and literature protect sexual predators and excuse the worst of whiteness and masculinity and defend that as art, and yet we see this as a distinctive quality of games and games culture that makes games inferior to other forms.

Moreover, when critical thought is applied, videogames have produced that medium-legitimizing masterpiece every year since 1996, in my estimation, but I also get the feeling that if I listed out which games I thought were those kinds of masterpieces that no wide group of people would agree with any one of them because it seems as though no matter how good videogames often are, they're never good enough for us as critics to feel like they aren't irredeemable trash. [Not in the episode: We need only look to Phil Owen's recent Polygon article, outdated and useless as it is, still wrestling with problems long resolved by other critics, to see this in progress.]

Or, at the very least, there's a very serious conception among game critics that games still aren't “good enough,” and I don't ever see us getting to the point where we don't think that's true without a change in attitude, and I don't think that that change in attitude will come as the result of some game or some cultural event, I think it has to be a change in mindset.

The only reason I can imagine that we can look at this body of work, and say “this isn't good enough” is self-flagellance. In comparison to say, music or film critics, games critics, both as individuals and as a community, seem to have an incredible capacity to for self-loathing, and loathing either performed, ironic, or genuine for videogames themselves. This phenomena of critics who either appear or claim hate the thing they dedicate most of their public voice to isn't unique to games, as nothing is, (hell even professional wrestling has that kind of critic in Jim Cornette,) but in no other medium is that kind of self-hatred so widespread or so accepted as indicative of critical distance from the medium.

I should hope that the very existence of this show should be a direct contradiction to that instinctive lack of respect so many have for this medium and that we as critics have for ourselves.

From Olympia WA, I'm Austin C. Howe