May 29, 2012

Spare Change Newsletter: The Grinding Halt and The Infectious Beginning

Greetings Rybuddies and Backettes,

Is it summer already?  I've heard tell of rumors that describe WWE's summer programming as being somewhat experimental; that it's the time of year when the creative team will throw shit at the wall and try out new things, since viewership is expected to be down anyway.  Well take a look around boys, the floor is covered with shit, the wall's squeaky clean, and I'm pretty sure it isn't even summertime yet.

Culprit numero uno:  Big Show's heel push.

This is not a bad angle.  BS as a bad guy was worth trying out- remember how awesome Mark Henry was?  His finisher (however dumb I think it is) is totally over and has been for a long time.  I can't remember the last match he lost clean, he was just a good guy schlup who'd always get screwed before he could do his big punchy move.  The story isn't what makes this suck.  What makes this angle so disappointing to me is the amount of time and level of importance it's given.  First there was The Segment That Wouldn't Die on Raw a few weeks ago which culminated in the firing of BS by Johnny L.  Then they replayed the entire segment, start to finish, on Smackdown, even though it had no relevance to that show (it aired right before the main event).  The video packages which opened Raw and Smackdown this week were gratuitously long and boring.  The end segment of Raw couldn't have been more lackluster, with BS very slowly beating up Brodus Clay and friends.  However, it only really sucks in context.  The fact that Brodus Clay cut a promo on BS, and got his ass kicked for the first time is pretty cool, and gets some good heat for BS.  What makes it suck is that it was the main event, when it's no more than part of an overhyped mid-card storyline.  The real main event- the part of the show that put butts in seats and eyes on TVs- happened in the middle of the show when CM Punk and Daniel Bryan had another fantastic match.  What was there to look forward to after that?  And this gets into what bothers me most about it- that the most interesting story that's going on in WWE right now is one that doesn't have much on-screen dialogue.  Whatever is being thrown into the mix (Kane, AJ) Daniel Bryan and CM Punk continue to wow the crowds just by wrestling.  They wrestle their hearts out, show what they do best, and you don't have to be a smark or hardcore fan to tell the difference.  There was way more crowd response for the holds and counters during their match than any of the plot device cliches plotted out for BS to act out.  And this is where I'm going to stop, step back and look at some of the other things in this week of pro wrestling, or else this post will just go on forever.  My hope is that there's a long term plan for all this- like a killer setup for Summerslam or something, and it's just not coming together yet.

So Raw didn't have much going for it, but there was that great DBD-Punk match.  The finish with D-Bry cleverly using AJ's distraction in his favor came off really well.  As far as Kane goes, I don't really have a strong opinion either way.  Part of me doesn't want Kane to be a third man in a WWE title match with Bryan and Punk, but part of me doesn't really care because they could get a good match out of Kane, and it might even serve to extend the feud between Punk and Bryan.  As far as AJ goes, whatever.  Punk is really funny around her.  Conversely, Punk was really unfunny while selling video games and making dick jokes.
I like Ziggler and Swagger together, but am totally cool with Ziggs flying solo again.  Better to leave the tag team belts to the real tag teams.  By the way, when I say "real tag teams" I'm not referring to Kofi and R-Truth.  If they don't dress alike, have anything in common, and/or have a team name and unique entrance, they're not a real tag team. 

On Smackdown, it was nice to see Hunico in a match against the Intercontinental champ and have a decent amount of time to work, but I thought the match was overall mediocre.  What happened to the awesome Sin Cara Negro?  Sin Cara Azul is coming back to Smackdown this week, and it makes me nostalgic for the old Hunico.  Similar sentiments for the Usos, who were great to see but didn't end up making an impression.  Ryback's appearance was his best yet, taking on two jobbers at the same time, and Poncho Man, I gotta say that as someone who followed Nitro religiously at the time of Goldberg's rise to the top, I thought Goldberg was an over-hyped second rate cartoon of Steve Austin, and my opinion hasn't changed much since then.  Ryback might be a cartoon of Goldberg, but I can live with that.  The concept of the terminator Ryback vs. the heel jobber army is really funny to me, and I've already gotten more entertainment out of him than I ever did from Goldberg.  Matter of opinion.
The highlight of Smackdown this week was Damien Sandow's promo and match against Yoshi Tatsu.  The promo made me laugh, and the match featured the best side russian leg sweep I think I've ever seen.

For the second week in a row, NXT didn't have any backstage segments or character-building stories going on.  There have been a growing number of Superstars caliber talent making appearances, with six altogether outnumbering four NXT regulars.  The format I'd grown so fond of seems to be a thing of the past.  There's been no mention of the show moving to a permanent location, even though there have already been events in Florida under the NXT banner.  The only good match on the show this week was Alicia Fox versus Maxine, with Maxine employing a few different submission holds before finally making Fox tap to a dragon sleeper/body scissors combo.  Good stuff.

Another good one could be seen on Superstars- a full length rematch between Antonio Cesaro and Tyson Kidd.  It was very fun to watch, and really stuck out as feeling different, as both guys were using so many moves that you wouldn't see anybody else do.  The rest of Superstars sucked.

I got caught up on two weeks of FCW this weekend, and it was all decent, with one real solid main event, made all the better by JR's commentary.

On Impact, there was no continuation of the tournament which I was so pleased with last week.  Instead, throughout the program there were reality show style vignettes with Hulk Hogan eliminating three of the four finalists one by one based on nothing but his own opinion.  Needless to say, I was not impressed.  I did approve of the eventual selection of AJ Styles, who gave it up clean to Roode in the main event.  This was significant because with this win, Roode beat Styles' record to have the longest world championship run in TNA history.  There was confetti.  Then Hogan said something about somebody coming back and changing everything, the lights go black, come back on, and who is standing there but.... Sting.  He had quietly disappeared two months ago after losing a big match to Roode.  Holy shit Impact is stupid.

ROH did a good job of recapping their iPPV from 2 weeks ago, but it really felt like the show should've been last week's episode.  The ROH TV production team must only work part time because on the ball they are not.  The show replayed the entire main event from the iPPV, which would have been super cool if I hadn't already seen it.  The show closed with a post-match promo by the new champ Kevin Steen, all red and sweaty and stuffing sheet cake into his fat mouth, talking about how he's going to hold ROH hostage.  I'm not a big fan of Steen's, but I'm curious as to whether or not a present-day ROH storyline can be any good.

Despite ROH having mediocre storylines, TNA having incredibly stupid storylines, and WWE being boring recently, this week I did watch a whole lot of wrestling that had really interesting angles going on.  I got caught up on the past month of Chikara.  They come out with a new DVD of a live event about every other week.  Chikara is the best thing going right now.  I'd still have to say that WWE is my favorite, because it's got the two best wrestlers in the world, and many other incredible talents, but Chikara utilizes their roster better, has good, sometimes great matches, and has the best angles in pro wrestling today.  You can read all about Chikara at length on other sites, but I'll give you a few examples of what I like about it, in no particular order.
1.  The way angles work.  In Chikara, every year has one main story arc, in the way that some TV shows will have one main story arc throughout a season, with other things going on along the way.  It was really easy for me to pick up on what's going on, and I think it's genuinely interesting.  The stories are told partially in promos, partially in the ring, and partially in the commentary.
2. The commentary.  Usually on commentary there will be two people, and one of them is usually Mike Quackenbush.  Not only do his storytelling skills sell the angles, he's very funny and clever, and knows wrestling inside and out.  The other announcers are entertaining as well.
3. All the wrestlers are well trained.  Chikara actually started as a wrestling school, and they began putting on shows to give the students and alumni a venue to perform.  Much of the roster are obviously less experienced, but they only get pushed when they're ready, and the main event gang are solid.  There are no Mason Ryans or Garrett Bischoffs in Chikara.  Quackenbush was one of the original founders of the school, and remains the head trainer.  He's also head booker and the owner of the company.  Chikara has a very distinct style, and it's because Mike Quackenbush has a vision and knows how to make it materialize.
4. The cast of characters.  The first thing a person is liable to notice about Chikara.  Colorful masks, cartoonish personalities, and wacky stunts.  From a distance I thought they all blended together and looked like one big circus.  After watching one event, it was simple to pick up on the distinct personalities of everyone I'd seen, as each member of the roster has their own unique gimmick, fully formed from the costume to the move set.  Some of them are funny, some are campy, some are magical, some are just tough, and some defy categorization.
5. Championships.  Chikara didn't have an equivalent to a world title until pretty recently.  The idea was that whenever a new promotion starts up, right off the bat they start their own world championship.  Chikara really established themselves before creating the title, with the intention of having the title be more meaningful.  Also, there's a point system for tag teams to earn title shots, which makes every tag match count toward something.  These are examples of some of the good ideas and outside-the-box thinking that makes Chikara unique and cool.

There are many other specific things that I have loved about Chikara.  Gender equality among wrestlers, truly PG content, and web and app goodies are other things I could write a paragraph on.  The bottom line is that everyone involved seems to want to put on the best show possible, and the talent, passion and effort they put forward are plain to see.

If you're interested in Chikara, last month's Hot Off the Griddle was really solid, the best of their shows that I've seen.  Another thing I watched this week was Woodchipper Massacre again, which I had talked Alice into seeing by explaining that it was a gore-less comedy.  She really liked it, and I enjoyed it just as much the second time around.  She refused to watch Chikara with me saying that she'd "only watch one promotion.  Just one."  I put it on quietly while she was reading, and she watched some of it anyway.  Also, I was secretly proud that she knew to call it a "promotion".  Wrestling lingo.

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