The Montreal Screwjob

It’s 20 years since the Montreal Screwjob – an event which took place on 9th November 1997 at the WWF Survivor Series. A business decision which changed the fortunes of the WWF forever, which came at the expense of arguably its hardest-working and most talented star, Bret Hart.

What was the Montreal Screwjob?

The real-life deception of wrestler Bret Hart by WWF owner Vince McMahon. It was carried out in Montreal at Survivor Series 1997. McMahon and other WWF staffers conspired to change the scripted ending of Bret Hart’s match against Shawn Michaels, without Hart’s knowledge, so he would lose his WWF Championship.

What happened?

In what was his final WWF appearance for a decade, Bret Hart was ready to defend his title against challenger Shawn Michaels in the main event of the 1997 Survivor Series. It was decided backstage and agreed between Hart, Michaels and McMahon that the match would not have a ‘clean’ finish – a decisive victory by one man – and instead would be subject to a ‘schmoz’ finish, which would involve members of both wrestlers’ crews interfering in the match and the referee calling for a double DQ.

The main event began in unusual fashion, as Hart and Michaels brawled around the ringside area and on the stage for an extended length of time, before taking it into the ring for the match to officially begin. After a few minutes of in-ring action, match referee Earl Hebner was rendered ‘unconscious’ – an important phase of the plan that Hart and Michaels had laid out in advance.

With Hebner down, Shawn Michaels grabbed Hart’s legs and locked on the Sharpshooter, Hart’s own trademark submission hold. Although Hart’s plan was to reverse the hold and carry on the match, Hebner got up quickly and called for the bell to be rung, signalling Michaels’ victory by submission. The match ended before Hart realised what had occurred – the match ending had been changed without his knowledge, and he had lost the title.

Why did the Montreal Screwjob happen?

Basically, the Montreal Screwjob happened because Vince McMahon didn’t trust Bret Hart to drop the WWF Championship honourably, before Hart made the move to join the rival World Championship Wrestling. However, there were a number of other contributing factors, including the personal issues between Hart and Shawn Michaels.

McMahon and the WWF had been decisively beaten into second place by the WCW over the course of the Monday Night Wars. McMahon had been playing it safe for years within the cartoonish confines of his wrestling storylines, until WCW made a number of plays to gain some of that audience share during the mid-1990s.

Firstly, WCW Executive Producer Eric Bischoff made moves for a number of McMahon’s current and former stars. The most notable name was Hulk Hogan, who together with McMahon had put the WWF and pro wrestling on the map, bringing global prestige and a new generation of wrestling fans through the WWF doors. Hollywood beckoned for Hogan, who took his leave from the WWF in 1993 – but just a year later he would be back in the ring, this time for WCW, winning their World Championship in his very first match at their 1994 Bash at the Beach.

Initial plans for Hogan didn’t shake out too great – his world-beating act had grown stale – but WCW turned the wrestling world upside down when Hollywood Hulk Hogan re-debuted with a shock as the leader of the New World Order, along with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall.

As former WWF Superstars Diesel and Razor Ramon, Nash and Hall had left for new, much more lucrative deals with WCW than the ones McMahon wanted to offer them in 1996. And with Hogan, the nWo would take WCW’s Monday Nitro far above and beyond the WWF’s Monday Night Raw in the ratings, as the Monday Night Wars brought millions of new fans to both shows. That was another of Bischoff’s moves – the launching of a new WCW flagship show to go head-to-head with Raw on Monday nights.

Nitro was on the verge of making their dominance insurmountable – and Hart was set to join them, following McMahon’s withdrawal of a contract offer just months into a one-of-a-kind deal, which would have seen Hart remain with the WWF for 20 years.

Old school vs new

Hart was old-school; he didn’t care much for the new edgy direction which the WWF was taking. With scantily-clad ladies and a new thirst for adult themes, Raw was becoming too raw for Bret.

Not so for Shawn – the leader of D-Generation X, a faction which encouraged fans who didn’t care for them to ‘suck it’, and the innovators of the style of raunchy content which was starting to bring back fans to the WWF’s failing product.

Once word got out that Hart was set to join WCW, McMahon believed that the loss of just one more big name – his World Champion, no less – would be the final nail in the coffin for the WWF.

With Hart now into the final month of his contract, he received a special perk which allowed him control over the manner of his departure from the WWF. It was customary for departing Superstars to lose to a chosen performer in order to pass on ‘the rub’ – but in a bizarre turn of events, the ever-professional Bret refused to lose to Shawn.

Refusing to lose

This decision came from a conversation the two had previously had. There had been an extended period of hostility between the two men, which took in off-script name-calling on the air, plus a real-life locker room fight. With their careers on the line against a dominant WCW, and Bret’s preference for a united locker room, Hart had attempted to patch things up with Michaels. According to his autobiography, Hart had tried to tell Michaels that he would always do what was asked of him in the ring, including losing to Michaels. In an apparent fit of pique, Michaels would tell Hart that he would never be prepared to return the favour.

As champion, Bret was appalled at this lack of respect shown to the entire locker room, and decided to have it out with Vince. With this, the expected outcome of their Survivor Series match – Hart passing the torch to Michaels – was now thrown into doubt, as Hart refused to lose the Montreal match.

Hart offered a number of alternatives to McMahon – he would lose anytime, anywhere, to anyone except Michaels. Hart’s move to WCW was looming, and the possibility existed in McMahon’s head that Hart would behave dishonourably – it had happened before during the take-no-prisoners Monday Night Wars – or that WCW would take the advantage in making an announcement on the next night’s Nitro.

On the very first episode of WCW Monday Nitro in September 1995, Lex Luger made his return to the company just one day after appearing at a WWF house show, and eight days after a high-profile appearance on their Summerslam pay-per-view. And three months later, former WCW wrestler Deborah Miceli fka Alundra Blayze returned to Nitro with her WWF Women’s Championship in hand – which she would drop into a trash can live on air.

With these reputation-damaging incidents in mind, and Bischoff’s tendency to talk out of turn about the opposition while Nitro was on air, McMahon decided to take drastic action.

The aftermath

Unusually, Vince McMahon and a number of WWF officials were present at ringside during the match – in storyline it was chalked up to the simmering tensions between Bret and Shawn, and the possibility that it may have spilled over into ‘real’ violence. However, McMahon was there to ensure that the plan was carried off without a hitch. According to the Hitman biography, McMahon was heard yelling at the timekeeper to ‘ring the fucking bell’ following the confusion which took place within the ring. Michaels, in a strop that was thought to be a mixture of his bad-boy attitude and a hint that something wasn’t right, grabbed the WWF Title and left in a hurry, closely followed by Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Gerald Brisco.

As seen in the footage, Hart calmly walked to the ropes, standing above McMahon, and spat on him. As the show went off the air, Hart made ‘WCW’ gestures with his hands, and began trashing television equipment around the ring.

Backstage, chaos reigned as WWF wrestlers who sided with Hart showed their anger at what had unfolded. The Undertaker reportedly threatened to beat down the door to Vince’s office, demanding answers and an apology to Bret. McMahon went to the locker room, where Hart and Michaels were. As captured in the ‘Wrestling With Shadows’ documentary, Michaels swore to Hart he knew nothing about this plan. Some sources, including Titan Screwed and Hitman, then report that Hart threatened McMahon to leave or he would receive a knockout punch. McMahon foolishly chose to stay, and was subsequently knocked out by Bret. McMahon also got an ankle injury during the commotion.

With so many conflicting sources, there’s some confusion over who was aware of the plan before it was carried out.

Who knew about the Montreal Screwjob?

Aside from McMahon and Michaels, a number of people were aware of what was planned for Montreal, including Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Gerald Brisco. It’s said that Pat Patterson knew about it, but others dispute it due to Patterson and Hart’s close friendship.

Another name left out of the plan was Jim Ross, then-head of talent relations, who it was felt was too close to a number of the wrestlers that would be affected to remain neutral in his dealings.

The highly recommended Titan Screwed has it that Vince Russo and Jim Cornette were at some point involved in meetings about what to do with the crisis situation, although neither were briefed on the final plan. Referee Earl Hebner was apparently told shortly before the match by Brisco on what to do, despite having sworn to Hart (according to the Hitman autobiography) that he would not go along with anything he was asked to do to screw Bret over.

No matter who was really behind it all, the Montreal Screwjob would have far-reaching consequences for the future of the WWF.

The Montreal Screwjob and the Attitude Era

With Hart leaving for WCW, the top babyface spot was now opened up for a fast-rising star: Stone Cold Steve Austin, who would capture the WWF Championship from Shawn Michaels, ushering in a new era at Wrestlemania 14.

As for McMahon, his company would benefit hugely from the Montreal Screwjob. With fans’ disgust ringing in his ears, McMahon took on a new character known as ‘Mr McMahon’ – the evil billionaire boss who saw Austin as the enemy, to be defeated at all costs. McMahon’s interviews immediately following Survivor Series 1997 – most notably his insistence that “Bret screwed Bret” – would actually make him one of the most hated and most effective authority figure characters in wrestling history. It’s a well-worn trope by now but in this guise, was a huge contributor to the success of the Attitude Era, as fans tuned in to watch McMahon get his comeuppance.

Hart would not fare so well in WCW, as their decline in popularity began a month after the Screwjob, with the supposed culmination of the WCW vs nWo storyline which saw Sting defeat Hogan in the main event at Starrcade 1997. Seen as the hottest free agent in wrestling history, Hart was badly misused, debuting as a guest referee in the semi-main event (between two non-active wrestling personalities on the roster) before objecting to the false finish in the Hogan/Sting match. Legend has it that Hogan ordered a so-called fast count favouring him to be counted normally, making his opponent Sting look terribly ineffectual, and squeezing all the satisfaction out of Sting’s proper win a few minutes later.

The months between Starrcade and Wrestlemania were a chance for fans who had had enough of the nWo, to change the channel to see the WWF charging up for its most successful ever boom period – the Attitude Era.

And suddenly the war was over – thanks to one huge business decision which shook the industry as we know it today. Bret Hart’s work through the late 1980s and 1990s was integral in keeping the WWF afloat, just long enough for McMahon to seize an opportunity to see it become the biggest wrestling show on earth.

TNA Final Deletion – the hot take

Editor’s Note: This piece was written by guest writer Anton Krasauskas, who has little to no prior knowledge of TNA Wrestling – but then, who does?

TNA’s ‘Final Deletion’ is a lost collaboration between the creative minds behind Sunset Beach. It was directed by Ridley Scott and contains the last known work by legendary animator Ray Harryhausen. Unfortunately, all the footage that was shot was eaten by Ridley Scott, one sunny afternoon in January of 2016.

Fortunately one master copy survived. It was being sent to a processing laboratory in California to be printed. Unfortunately the laboratory was attacked by the Kraken from Clash of the Titans due to a dispute over royalties between the Kraken and Harryhausen. Harryhausen was killed during the altercation and never recovered.

Having already spent the entire budget, lost their one-man special effects team and being unable to remember the phone number for Ridley Scott, the remaining crew of six was out of options. So they did what they could and and broke into a house to film what they could remember of the script.

The actor who originally played Matt Hardy died on the Titanic, and so the crew taped six cats to a bear and taught it to speak in a Mexican accent. One of the cats died during filming, but no-one seemed to notice.

TNA Wrestling Final Deletion

Michael Sheen, the actor who played Maxel, was very happy to come back for reshoots, but insisted that everyone on set pretend it was his 1st birthday. The lit candle on the cake shocked one of the cats playing Matt Hardy into delivering its lines early. So the crew just started shooting and went with it, leaving the entire scene in the finished production.With the deadline for release fast approaching, the team felt it necessary to keep a raw “rough and ready” approach to the project, which can be seen in the final edit.

Senor Benjamin owned the building that the crew had broken into to shoot the film. Over the course of the morning he constantly asked the crew why they were in his house and who they were. One of the cats playing Matt Hardy took an instant dislike to the man and poisoned him. The final time we see Senor Benjamin, we are actually looking at the body of a man who had been dead for almost fifteen hours.

Jeff Hardy, still coming to terms with the death of his brother on the 14th April 1912, agreed to reshoot the film in his honour.

In the original script there had been a tense and acrobatic showdown between the brothers, both armed with bazookas and flamethrowers. The script called for them to fight across the skyline of downtown Manhattan, ending with a showdown in Times Square where they would cause millions of dollars worth of property damage and commit several counts of public disorder and indecent exposure. But on such a tight schedule they had to improvise with some fireworks that they found in a shed, a nearby tree and a dilapidated boat. The dilapidated boat section was completely ad libbed on the spot and the new director, a local horse, decided to keep the scene in the final cut, signalling its approval by stamping its foot three times and biting a small child on the face.

During the scene where the brothers fight by the water there was intended to be a battle involving a giant octopus and the legendary Leviathan, in which the brothers would become embroiled, eventually leading to the deaths of the octopus, the Leviathan and Matt Hardy. However, if you look closely at the scene you might see a masked figure leap out of the water and attempt to choke Matt Hardy with a flag. This man was not affiliated with the project in any way whatsoever, and Psychic Detectives later confirmed that there had been sightings of “Mictlantecuhtli”, the Aztec god of Death. During the struggle, the cat-swathed bear threw off its attacker and, in an unreleased scene, mauled the death god, swiping its face clear away from its head. The cat who had done away with Senor Benjamin hatched a plan to hide the body in the costume of the death god, mercilessly slaughtering two birds with one stone.

In the final scene there was intended to be a pitched battle between the two brothers that would descend into a vicious brawl. But instead of the planned and choreographed fight, the bear decided to snatch a candle from the actress playing Matt’s wife and burn the entire place to the ground. Jeff Hardy was shocked by the sudden and unexpected change to the planned scene and fell off a ladder, landing awkwardly on a mattress covered in sand and dying instantly. No-one on the crew had any inkling that he had been allergic to sand, and had they known this, they probably wouldn’t have used that sand pit that just happened to be there.

All in all, it is a miracle that this project ever came together the way that it did. And though there were numerous deaths and maulings during that fateful day in June of 2016 it would go down in history as the day that some people tried to relive their glory days in somebody’s back yard and wished they hadn’t bothered.

Also, that xylophone was fucking delightful.

A plea from Alan Partridge to WWE – stop getting Wrestlemania wrong!

The biggest date in the sports entertainment calendar is under threat, as the WWE unleashes a card of absolute mehness for Wrestlemania 32.

There’s a scene in I’m Alan Partridge, where Alan’s assembled friends, employees and a surly ex-copper are trying to remember which Bond film is which. Confusion reigns before Alan shouts at everyone to “STOP GETTING BOND WRONG!”

stop getting bond wrong

This would form the base of the impassioned plea that I have for Vince McMahon and the other higher-ups at the WWE. STOP GETTING WRESTLEMANIA WRONG!

Hitting the big time

For the first ever Wrestlemania in 1985, the WWE had staked its whole future on making the original event work, with celebrity appearances from Muhammad Ali, Mr T and Liberace boosting the mainstream appeal alongside the very biggest names in pro wrestling. The headline bout of Wrestlemania I saw the tag team of WWF World Champion Hulk Hogan and Mr T defeated Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff. While the bout was by no means a classic, it did deliver in the entertainment factor and in the grandeur that fans look for during the WWE’s flagship PPV event.

Which is why I’ve been tremendously disappointed by this year’s build to the big event. With the exception of one exciting, potentially very brutal match which could steal the show despite the WWE’s best efforts to derail it with dodgy booking, there’s not much to look forward to this year.

Because it goes without saying that Wrestlemania is the single biggest event in pro wrestling, it sometimes seems as if the WWE believe that the show will book itself. At a time when they can expect both hardcore fans and casual viewers to at least take an interest in the build-up – if not to shell out their £9.99 for the chance to see it – there’s been a disturbing lack of effort in building towards a must-see show.

And while in terms of financial gain, the company can already chalk it up in the win column, managing to keep the fans happy with a card of intrigue, excitement and action appears to be beyond them yet again.

Getting Bond wrong

We all know how much I love Dean Ambrose at this point, and his upcoming Street Fight against Brock Lesnar is my pick for best-built match. But there’s been a hint that the Wyatt Family will turn up to cost Lesnar the match with screwy work. This means the writers are blatantly ignoring the more valuable objective – organically turning Ambrose into a fully-fledged superstar with a commanding performance all of his own, win or lose.

Besides that, even as far back as the Royal Rumble, when we were given a Rumble match for the World Title rather than a challenger for the belt in the Wrestlemania main event, the WWE failed to predict the ramifications.

Without the momentum afforded to a Rumble winner and their talking up the Wrestlemania main event, it doesn’t look as if the title match will even be the main event – not when there’s a badly-built match between two part-timers to be had.

Here comes the money

I was as excited as anyone to see Shane McMahon back in the WWE, skipping down the aisle on Raw to challenge Vince for control of the company. But then I realised that we’ve been here so, so many times before.

shane mcmahon wrestlemania 32

Vince told Shane that he would be facing The Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell match at Wrestlemania – and aside from one of Shane’s standout diving elbows onto the Taker through an announce table, there’s been so little in the way of story, or logic, leading into this match. And while I’ve no doubt that Shane will relive his stuntman days of falling or diving off something high during the bout, that alone is not enough to keep my interest in the stipulation – let alone where Taker’s motivation to do Vince’s bidding has come from.

As if it weren’t bad enough that Wrestlemania 32 could be headlined by two middle-aged part-time performers, it’s even worse when you realise that only two of the six men featured in the top three matches are actually wrestling on WWE TV every week of the year.

I’m not especially looking forward to Roman Reigns vs Triple H for the World Title – neither man should be World champion – but keeping it out of the main event in favour of Taker/Shane shows you how little confidence the company has in touting their current storylines on what WWE calls the grandest stage of them all.

What else is there to look forward to? Aside from the sight of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn beating the crap out of each other – while five other men are involved in a ladder match for Owens’ IC title – not much. Maybe AJ Styles vs Jericho will provide something new…or maybe not, we’ve seen it many times already now.

All told, the idea that Wrestlemania sells itself can be a double-edged sword. While the brand is known worldwide and can expect to draw many new eyes to the current product, it’s the more loyal fans who have been made to suffer through yet another flat build and would be right to vent their frustrations at the expected outcomes by voting with their remote controls on Monday nights – and more importantly, their wallets.

Dean Ambrose could be a made man after Wrestlemania 32

While the WWE is busy driving the whole ‘Road To Wrestlemania’ thing into the ground with the Fastlane/Roadblock motif, I’m getting mildly nervous at the prospect that the only thing going into the ground is Dean Ambrose’s babyface cred.

Dean_Ambrose_durante_un_House_Show_di_gennaio_2015.jpg By Anton – WWE House Show – Garrett Coliseum – 1/10/15, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39931017

From being betrayed by his brother Seth Rollins, to the near-miss in their Ladder match for the title and even the Dusty Finish which had him ever-so-briefly crowned champion, Dean Ambrose has been edging closer to the big time – added to his great showing at the Royal Rumble 2016, fans are starting to get a bit edgy that his moment isn’t gonna come any time soon.

And that’s a real shame, because Dean Ambrose is over as hell. By coming so close and being denied so much, Ambrose earns the sympathy from the audience at large that’s been missing since Daniel Bryan got his own Wrestlemania moment two years ago. I’m not about to compare the two in terms of ring skill; Bryan is one of the best ever wrestlers to step between the ropes, while I see Ambrose more as a WWE Superstar than I do a wrestler – but a great one nonetheless. But while the focus of WWE programming is focused on someone else, there’s little chance for Ambrose to get his shot in – which could actually be beneficial in the long run.

Waiting for Roman

Times are few and far between that the Venn diagram of ‘crowd favourite’ and ‘Vince McMahon’s favourite’ have settled on the very same person – this has been the case for years. Ever since we had co-winners at the 1994 Royal Rumble, when Bret Hart was roundly cheered by fans, much more so than the backstage pick Lex Luger (and with good cause) has there been a battle for prominence on the card.

While we’ve (somewhat) patiently waited for the current holder of Vince’s brass ring, Roman Reigns, to get over, Dean Ambrose has more than ably settled in as the best friend and tag team partner to his Shield brother. And while Reigns has been given opportunity after opportunity (by storyline sworn enemies Authority figures Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, who aren’t fans of logic), it seemed like Ambrose made the most of the few opportunities he was given, among them the World title ladder match and Elimination Chamber title shot.

Roman_Reigns_November_2013

But despite all his various sidlings into main events, Reigns has simply not connected with the crowd in the way that Ambrose has just because a lot of fans don’t like to be told who they’re supposed to cheer for; something Reigns knows full well from when he came up against a previous McMahon-designated project, Batista, at the 2014 Rumble, and fell short.

Getting over

It’s one of the WWE Universe’s biggest bug-bears; the ongoing battle between the performers who go out every night and earn their reaction, and the pet projects who are seemingly unbeatable – which in itself creates no tension at all when it comes to the crunch. Ambrose has picked himself up from every defeat – including the recent loss of his Intercontinental title to Kevin Owens – dusted himself off and promised to do whatever it takes to get to the top.

That is how you get the babyface reactions. Just ask Steve Austin – you try, you fail, you get right back on the horse and try again. You don’t smirk, pump your fist and get yet another eye-rollingly easy win against ‘all’ the odds – this is the sort of booking that just makes your opponents look weak, no matter how many of them there are at once and what dumb name they give themselves.

Much as we can dream, Ambrose isn’t likely to pick up the WWE World Title with a win at Roadblock, but he’ll again come heartbreakingly close.

And at Wrestlemania, there’ll be a key moment coming in Ambrose’s career, once the dust settles on his Street Fight against Brock Lesnar. Whatever the result of this particular ‘slobberknocker’, Dean Ambrose’s character has been solidified such that he can become a made man within the WWE by making Lesnar work incredibly hard to beat him. He could even end up visibly earning Lesnar’s respect once their final trip to Suplex City has been arranged, on the grandest stage of them all – proving Ambrose’s resilience and finally getting him over the top as a guy worthy of grabbing the brass ring.

Talking Points From The 2016 Royal Rumble match

Like most WWE PPVs of late, the Royal Rumble had its ups and downs. Let’s talk about some of the biggest issues and incidents.

Royal Rumble 2016 talking points

Your winner…and new WWE Champion

Roman Reigns went in at number one, and not many thought he’d be capable of wrestling more than hour in order to retain his title. So when Vince McMahon sicced his League of Nations (minus King Barrett) on Reigns, and Rusev sent him crashing through a table, Reigns received the stretcher job treatment – meaning it was only a matter of time until he returned to win.

So as Reigns began his comeback out of nowhere against the incoming number 29 entrant, Sheamus, the fix appeared to be in. That is, until Triple H entered the Rumble at number 30 and duly took the title. Reigns was actually the second-to-last man to be eliminated from the match, leaving Triple H in the ring against an absolutely fantastic Dean Ambrose, who the crowd got behind fiercely.

The art of salesmanship

Speaking of fierce, the reaction to both Ambrose and Kevin Owens’ Rumble entrances following their absolutely fantastic Last Man Standing match was something to behold. Meanwhile, after taking a particularly intense beating himself, Reigns sprang as if out of nowhere to surprise Sheamus with a Superman Punch in the aisle, later in the very same match.

It reminded me very much of the events of the 1994 Royal Rumble, in which co-winners Bret Hart and Lex Luger were both subjected to some rough treatment. Earlier in the night, Bret was attacked by his brother Owen, who took his frustrations out on Bret’s leg. The image of Kevin Owens’ entry into the Rumble last night was almost identical – maybe even in homage – to Bret, as both men dragged a bad leg behind them on the way into the ring to equally big pops from the crowd.

bretrumble

Luger, like Reigns, was jumped and beaten by two assailants before he could enter the match – but as soon as his number came up, Luger hit the ring like a house on fire, with absolutely no regard for selling the condition he’d been put in. Reigns’ entrance and subsequent domination of those in the ring was equally far-fetched.

I get that last night was all about defying the odds, but Reigns’ sudden revitalisation as he re-entered the match came off as so clumsy.

Brock vs Bray

It’s looking likely that a match between Brock Lesnar and Bray Wyatt is set to happen at Wrestlemania 32. This after Lesnar’s impact in the ring was dampened by the members of the Wyatt Family, whose leader Bray oversaw Brock’s elimination by his loyal subjects. The Wyatt Family put on a great performance in the ring – well, Luke Harper did at least but that’s nothing new – and may be on their way to establishing themselves as the big deal fans always thought they could be.

It’s just a shame Lesnar will go over at Mania – and that their big green giant of a man, Braun Strowman, continues to receive any prominent focus.

Chris Jericho – iron man?

I always liked Chris Jericho – he’s had some fantastic wrestling matches in his time, and can always be relied upon to put in a great performance and help put over young talent.

Which is why it’s so baffling to me that Jericho went more than 50 minutes – only Reigns ‘went’ longer. All that and with only one elimination to his name, I found it kind of strange that Chris Jericho was portrayed in the Rumble run-up as one of the frontrunners to win the match. But with the depleted roster, and the resultant need for a big name, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that he’d been offered a big deal to be portrayed as a big deal in return.

Standouts and surprises

What with the match being for the World title rather than a shot at Wrestlemania, it made sense not to rely on the surprise guests and comedy spots – but that doesn’t mean we weren’t treated to some excellent Royal Rumble surprises.

AJ Styles WWE

Image by Zohyo

 

The worst-kept secret in professional wrestling was revealed, as the number three entrant turned out to be AJ Styles, fresh from NJPW and a bona fide wrestling star. His entrance was somewhat tainted as we couldn’t see the reveal of ‘The Phenomenal One’ on the Titantron – the TV cameras were trained on Reigns. And while it was too much to ask to have a debuting Styles go deep into the match, he still put on a great showing in his debut match.

The chain of events around this time were especially great. It was left to the other indie darling, Kevin Owens to eliminate Styles, who’d gone nearly half an hour in the match – only to be dumped out by his former friend and NXT Championship rival, Sami Zayn.

All in all I quite enjoyed the Rumble event – it certainly an improvement on the last two – but once again it’s been a case of making the best of what they had instead of planning ahead a little more. Assuming Roman Reigns is going to get his crowning moment at Wrestlemania once again – and assuming as well they don’t have an emergency ripcord to pull like they did last year – it could be an interesting few weeks ahead.

Royal Rumble 2016 predictions

In which Roman Reigns is made to look really strong.

We’re under a week away from what’s probably my favourite WWE event of the year, but at the time of writing I can’t even decide if I want to take the next morning off work to watch it.

Normally going into a Royal Rumble match there’s a large enough degree of uncertainty about what’s going to happen to keep it interesting – but in the company’s latest mission to make Roman Reigns look like an unstoppable superhuman it’s verging on the incredible. And not in a good way.

Royal Rumble 2016 predictions

For the first time ever, the WWE World Heavyweight Championship will be defended in the actual Royal Rumble match. Unlike previous years where the winner gets the World title shot at Wrestlemania, this year they’ve decided to lob in the actual belt instead.

At the 1992 Royal Rumble, Ric Flair won the vacant World title thanks to some screwery involving Sid Justice, but this year there’s going to be a defending champion; it’s an awful lot of pressure on Roman Reigns in both kayfabe and real-life terms.

The odds. The stacking. The againstness. The adversity. The overcoming: all things which we’re being treated to in the story of Reigns’ upcoming title defence. And while that worked for a little bloke like Daniel Bryan at Wrestlemania XXX, I don’t know why Reigns has ever been portrayed as the underdog when he’s chiselled from granite and one of the most powerful men in the game today.

Forcing him into the Rumble with his title on the line – you can thank a returning Vince McMahon for that, who at 70 years of age deserves a big hand for bumping around like he has in the last few weeks – is a compelling enough storyline to keep me interested, but what happens at the end of the night is where it really gets interesting.

The way I see it, the Rumble’s going to go one of two ways; one of them only slightly less offensive than the other.

If Reigns retains

If Roman Reigns is going to make history by defending his Royal Rumble title, then for the sake of credibility he needs not to be in the first five, or even ten entries. The match has been won from an early position before – Shawn Michaels won it from the number one spot in 1995, but wrestled for less than 40 minutes. Chris Benoit won the Royal Rumble in 2004, clocking in a more impressive 61 minutes. But both men were a lot more capable workers than Reigns is now.

Not that any of that matters, because this is Superman we’re talking about. For Reigns not to be booed out of the building in winning his second consecutive Royal Rumble match – for all the marbles this time – the order of entry will be key; the later, the better. For the sake of believability – and of the WWE not ramming him down fans’ throats for the second year in a row – Reigns must enter later if he’s really going to win it all, despite it seeming like less of an achievement.

If Reigns loses

On the other hand, if it’s decided that someone else will be walking out of the Rumble as world champion, the likely scenario seems to be that Reigns – on the verge of victory and achieving the impossible – will be screwed by some Authority…screwery.

With the McMahon family seething, as well as Triple H seeking revenge for Reigns’ attack at TLC, we can expect even more of the deck-stacking as the Authority sends out stooge after stooge in an attempt to take out Reigns. Sheamus, Del Rio – even Bad News Barrett and Rusev who are sadly injured at last count – will be set to take out the champ as soon as possible.

Reigns, naturally, will overcome – but you can expect some last-minute tomfoolery to put down the champion if they decide not to go with Reigns as the champion heading out of the 2016 Rumble. Of course, that will be immediately remedied with a Wrestlemania main event against whoever does win that match – let’s not pretend that Fastlane is important enough to see a title change – so Reigns fans need not despair if he does lose the title at the Royal Rumble.

So if Reigns does give up the prize, who can we expect to take the belt?

Sadly, there are whispers that if you want the job done right, you’ve got to do it yourself – which is why it could be Triple H closing out the night as Royal Rumble winner 2016. Outside of that, the usual suspects would be Brock Lesnar, or…actually, there isn’t really anyone else is there?

Last Man Standing

Who would I like to see win? Dean Ambrose. Kevin Owens. Two hugely popular wrestlers, so popular in fact that WWE have already taken measures to ensure it won’t be either of them – by booking them opposite each other in a Last Man Standing match for the Intercontinental Title. So bizarre is this booking, in fact, that it’s the champion Ambrose who issued the challenge rather than the prizefighter Owens.

So with those two outside hopes swiftly taken care of, it’s going to be a matter of how badly WWE wants to get Roman Reigns, supreme champion, over at the Rumble. It’s strange that they can’t even wait for that Mania moment to ensure that Reigns gets the glory – or at least enough of the rub to get some sympathy via villainous interference – but I suppose we’ll see what they have in store for us.

Reasons to watch the Rumble

Despite the lack of intrigue this year surrounding the main event, there’s always a reason to tune into the Royal Rumble match – the surprise returns and debuts. And with the various members of Bullet Club all but confirmed to make their WWE debuts over the next few weeks, it’s going to be well worth tuning in to see which of the talented performers steps out onto the stage in Orlando, Florida, this Sunday night.

 

Five For Friday: Top 5 WWE PPV Matches of 2015

Five For Friday this week (yeah, yeah, it’s technically gone live on Saturday. Sue me) focuses on the best WWE PPV matches of 2015.

best wwe ppv matches 2015

I’m not really one to do these ‘year in review’ type posts, mainly because I don’t consume enough of the particularly new releases in order to rank them. I certainly haven’t read five books from 2015, and I’m not even sure I’ve watched five films released this year.

But as a many posts from the past year will tell you, I’ve watched a lot of WWE – enough in fact to struggle with choosing just five of the best pay-per-view matches from this year.

Let’s face it – 2015 has not been a good year creatively for the WWE. When they decided to pull themselves out of the hole by putting the World Heavyweight Championship on Seth Rollins, they immediately plunged into another by booking him rather badly. Months later and here we are with the man they were so sure of right from the start, Royal Rumble winner Roman Reigns, finally getting over with the crowd by punching a 70-year old man in the face on the way to his second World Title win.

Well, I enjoyed that.

So without further ado, in near-chronological order, here are five matches which have managed to stay in my brain during this difficult year.

Royal Rumble – Brock Lesnar vs John Cena vs Seth Rollins (WWE WHC)

An absolute stormer to kick off the year, as Lesnar put his title up against both John Cena and the Money in the Bank winner, Seth Rollins, who for some reason didn’t actually need to cash in his contract. I remember this match just for the bit where Cena and Rollins combined to put Lesnar through a table – the flying elbow from Rollins was glorious – only to see Lesnar return with a vengeance and get the pin on Rollins with an F-5. Beautiful stuff; Rollins was scintillating, Lesnar an absolute demon and even Cena putting in a fantastic shift.

Elimination Chamber – John Cena vs Kevin Owens

john cena kevin owens summerslam 2015

I can’t believe there are two John Cena matches in my top five of the year, but we’ve covered this before – the man is capable of a great match provided he’s got a quality opponent and isn’t booked comically. Here at Elimination Chamber against the NXT Champion Kevin Owens, in his main roster debut, Cena was far from comical as he fell to a Pop-Up Powerbomb from Owens for the clean victory. Absolutely nobody expected this result, which is what made it all the more special – and the match itself was pretty bloody special.

Money in the Bank – Seth Rollins vs Dean Ambrose (WWE WHC – ladder match)

The Architect of The Shield was having a bad time of it with his leaders in The Authority, but when Triple H gave him a stern pep talk I knew we were in for something special from the WWE Champion. That’s exactly what we got from Rollins and his former ally Dean Ambrose, in a series of increasingly hardcore spots involving the ladder. We were in for a dramatic finish too as both men came down from the ladder with the title belt, before Rollins made a late grab to secure the win. An awesome match for both guys; Rollins showing that a great performance will make up for shoddy booking (most of the time) and Ambrose showing off his own main event credentials for future reference.

Summerslam – Cesaro vs Kevin Owens

It’s only a shame that this went on second-to-last at Summerslam with relatively little build-up, as Kevin Owens bounced back from his subsequent losses to John Cena with a victory over the King of Swing, Cesaro.

I’m with Mick Foley on this – his two words for the future of WWE: ‘Push Cesaro’. The man is insanely talented, and has proved as much both in singles and tag team competition; paired with fellow ‘Creative has nothing for you’ victim, Tyson Kidd, the two made a spectacular duo and had some great title matches. And only 24 hours removed from losing his own title, the NXT Championship, Owens was still raring to go with 15 minutes of superb wrestling that was only lessened by the relative little pre-match background. As a one-off match in its own right though, this was definitely a wrestling fan’s dream come true.

Wrestlemania – Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns

seth rollins wrestlemania 31

If the rumours are to be believed, we can expect a rematch of this year’s fantastic World Title battle as the main event of Wrestlemania 32, with Brock Lesnar widely expected to win the Royal Rumble next month. Reigns’ victory at this year’s instalment of the 30-man match was not warmly received, not even with an assist from The Rock, and so Lesnar was given the actual hero’s welcome which WWE brass wanted to be solely reserved for Reigns.

After the same sort of beatdown dished out to John Cena in previous encounters, Reigns struck back suddenly and almost creditably. But from a sudden point of advantage Reigns began the classic babyface ‘power up’ routine, and the resulting comeback was duly booed out of the building…until Seth Rollins popped up with a briefcase, in what was definitely my favourite WWE moment of 2015.

So there we go. The overriding theme here is that relatively new superstars have done just as well in terms of having their moment as the old hands – and the signs are finally good that we’ll see a bit more progress towards building stars of the future rather than relying on the part-timers of old.

What was your favourite match of 2015? Where would mine rank with your own picks?

WWE TLC 2015: the card, predictions and pretending to care

Tomorrow night is another instalment of the gimmick fest that is the WWE TLC pay-per-view. I’ve never liked the kind of shows where the gimmick match is the feature (Hell in a Cell, I’m looking at you) but there is almost nothing that makes me want to tune in tomorrow night.

Image by Miguel Discart

Image by Miguel Discart

 

WWE World Heavyweight Championship – TLC rules

Sheamus vs Roman Reigns

Intercontinental championship

Kevin Owens vs. Dean Ambrose

Tag Team titles – ladder match

The New Day vs Lucha Dragons vs The Usos

United States championship – Chairs match

Alberto Del Rio vs Jack Swagger

WWE Divas championship match

Charlotte vs Paige

4-on-4 Tables elimination match

The Wyatt Family vs ECW Originals

Who even cares? match

Ryback vs. Rusev

 

Reigns vs Sheamus – why should I care?

I watched the Survivor Series main event – the world title match between Reigns and Ambrose for the vacant belt – and was a bit surprised to see it as a straight-up eight-minute wrestling match between the two men, with little in the way of relationship or story development.

Reigns won the match to win the World belt for the first time, surprising nobody, but was himself taken out just five minutes and fifteen seconds later by the current champ Sheamus thanks to his Money in the Bank briefcase.

Sheamus has since surrounded himself with some heavies known as the League of Nations: Alberto del Rio, Rusev and King Barrett – the latter two of which deserve better. Reigns responded by siding with The Usos and Dean Ambrose to form The Family; typical WWE writing.

But pretty much every week on Raw has been the same old formula; Sheamus, with the blessing of The Authority, sticks Reigns and his mates into tough matches. Reigns then overcomes adversity, punches multiple people in the face, and stands tall at the end of the night.

Every time.

So many times, in fact, that anyone who comes up against him, no matter the numerical or underhanded advantage, ends up looking like an idiot because they couldn’t tame one man.

And so, coupling Roman’s complete invulnerability with Sheamus’ complete inability to win a match on any terms, together into the main event of TLC means I’m not at all tempted to watch it.

I’m not trying to hate on Reigns, honestly I’m not. Like his spiritual predecessor John Cena, I can see the appeal. He’s got the look, some decent moves and is a solid performer in the ring. But he is being made out to look like a complete berk – despite or even because of the way he’s being portrayed. I don’t buy that he’s an unstoppable force of nature, and I don’t feel sorry for him when it’s proven otherwise.

To get some sympy from me (trademark: Scott Steiner) Reigns needs to lose matches, cleanly. He needs to come up short like the heroic babyface, and to triumph in the end. There’s only one person who I can genuinely conceive of beating up four people single-handedly – and they’re not paying him enough to turn up every week.

When Reigns (and the aforementioned Brrrrock Lesnaaaaaar) lost the main event of Wrestlemania 31 to a briefcase-wielding Seth Rollins, it was credit to Rollins for being the smartest guy in the room. Credit which he was soon robbed of at every turn in the following weeks and months, as the likes of Reigns, Cena and even bloody Kane made him look like a pillock week in, week out.

I felt bad for Reigns because he’d worked to get there, and even could’ve had Lesnar beat in that great main event match, but for the wily Rollins.

Responding to that near-miss with an immediate return to Unbeatable Mode completely robbed Reigns of any relatability. Not even the cash-in by Sheamus at Survivor Series restored any of that goodwill for the storyline because it was so predictable and, in my own case, because I like Sheamus even less than Reigns.

So as the two of them prepare for a World Title match tomorrow night in Boston, I’m really struggling to think of a reason to stay tuned in until the end. Or, aside from Owens-Ambrose and the three-team ladder match, to tune in at all.

WWE’s rock-bottom ratings mean new stars are desperately needed

I’ve just finished watching last night’s WWE Hell in a Cell pay-per-view in something like reverse order; after I happened to be up late enough to see the main event of Brock Lesnar vs The Undertaker last night, I’ve ended with the pre-show six-man tag match which pitted Dolph Ziggler, Neville and Cesaro against King Barrett, Rusev and Sheamus.

In a show which also touted Kane competing for a WWE World Title shot against Seth Rollins, and The Dudley Boyz against The New Day for the Tag Titles, I’ve become confused as to what the year is.

undertaker brock lesnar summerslam 2015

In the year 2000, you’ll have found D-Von and Bubba Ray, Taker and Kane all floating about at the top of the card against guys like Edge and Christian, The Rock and Triple H.

Hang on, they’re all ringing a bell too. Could it be that, 15 years on from the time that WWE became the hottest commodity in all of pop culture, they’re still hanging on to the same old names appearing on their programming in an effort to pop buy rates and ratings?

Yes it could. And while (spoilers), none of those more established names were able to get the victory, in kayfabe terms it’s all well and good giving the younger guys some of ‘the rub’ by getting the wins, but realistically none of these performers should still be in the mix.

But while those guys are staking their claims on the championship titles, it’s keeping out some of the younger talents – the best six examples of which (if you really must count Sheamus…) are stuck in the curtain-jerker spot, warming up the crowd with what was honestly one of my favourite matches of the night.

Cesaro Section

While I’ll concede that Wade ‘King of Bad News’ Barrett isn’t exactly setting the world on fire with his character, he is a very good hand to have on your roster. But as for the rest of that line-up, I’ll single out Cesaro as the man who’s so deserving of a Prime Time (Players) spot on any given WWE card, that it feels criminal for him to be denied one by the likes of Kane, Taker and the damn Dudleys – again, all of whom I’m a fan of.

WWF Smackdown 2 Know Your Role

But the higher-ups’ reluctance to trust these talents with prestigious spots, or to have some patience when they did previously have the spotlight – Ziggler’s MITB briefcase win and two WHC reigns come to mind – is costing them dearly in fan reactions for two reasons.

Sure, you’ve got part-timers like Taker, Lesnar and even The Rock who are prepared to show up and do battle, alongside the likes of legends like Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels to turn up and talk the talk, but we’re getting to a generational gap where younger fans – let’s just call them Cena fans and be done with it – won’t physically be aware of the days where these guys made their original mark. They won’t even have been born!

And more egregiously, as the same older names do turn up for the occasional run – Taker’s now wrestled as many times in 2015 as he did from 2012 to 2014 – they’re costing men like the aforementioned Cesaro, Rusev and Barrett their own run near or at the top. It’s this lack of opportunity to gain the biggest of big match experience that was partly why one CM Punk left the company after the 2014 Royal Rumble; one of the hottest heels of the past five years was jobbed out left and right to part-timers like Taker and The Rock – the latter for his WWE World Title which The Rock duly dropped to Cena during their second consecutive Wrestlemania main event.

The feel-bad ratings hit of the autumn

While younger fans are content to cheer and boo the appropriate performers, and buy up as much merchandise as they can carry, where it all really counts is the weekly TV ratings for their three hours on Monday nights. And ratings are down – Cageside Seats puts them at their lowest since 1997, in fact. Even this particularly star-studded episode (Michaels, Taker, Lesnar and Flair all appeared – as did Stone Cold Steve Austin) is indicative of the slowest WWE period since they were getting their weekly ratings kicking from the nWo over on TNT.

But what’s worse than the slow decline is the absolute dragging of WWE’s heels in trying to buck the trend. When even an Austin appearance doesn’t manage to perk up the points, maybe it’s time to try something – someone – new. Anything. Anyone.

Especially Cesaro and Neville.

WWF – the story of Fake Diesel and Fake Razor Ramon

When Scott Hall and Kevin Nash left the WWF in early 1996, nobody knew the kind of impact the two men would have on the industry, and particularly on the Monday Night War.

In re-joining WCW and eventually teaming with with Hulk Hogan to form the NWO, the whole business brought a rapid audience resurgence, with millions of new viewers to both products.

But a few months on from that shocking development, the WWF’s personal response to Hall and Nash was fairly bloody weak – and sadly this evening I’ve seen it in all its trainwreck glory.

fake diesel glen jacobs kane

Having clearly learned nothing from the Undertaker vs Undertaker debacle at Summerslam 1994, this all began when good ol’ JR, Jim Ross, began teasing a major announcement on the WWF’s Monday Night Raw in an attempt at his own (short-lived) heel character development. One day in September 1996 he would brag that he had secured the services of Razor Ramon and Diesel, and would be bringing them back to the WWF. Fans were led to believe that this meant the return of Hall and Nash – but the reality was much worse.

The Return of Diesel and Razor

Back when more people wrestled under aliases than they did their real, or ‘shoot’ names, it may have been more feasible to replace them handily. So when JR presented his new recruits, two men emerged as the Razor Ramon and Diesel characters – greasy hair, toothpicks, black gloves, the lot. Fans were understandably disappointed that the names alone didn’t guarantee the talent that went with it.

And while it’s fair to say that Glen Jacobs, who had previously dragged Bret Hart down in his Isaac Yankem, DDS guise, was an improving talent, the same cannot be said for Rick Bognar, whose Razor Ramon impersonation and mannerisms were so far off the mark as to be offensive. This despite his own claims that WWF owner Vince McMahon ‘heard [he] did a great Razor Ramon’.

Tonight I watched the two of them pair up in a tag match against the then-tag champions, the British Bulldog and Owen Hart, from WWF In Your House: It’s Time.

How I wish I hadn’t.

To Be The Man…

It’s said that the clothes maketh the man. If that were true then the t-shirt I’m wearing right now would see me dubbed Best In The World. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

CM Punk best in the world

The two men may look the part, but their mannerisms are terrible – and again, I feel bad for Rick Bognar, but Vince was a liar when he said Bognar did a good impersonation.

(To be fair, the story also goes that when Scott Hall showed off his bad Tony Montana ‘Scarface’ impression for the first time, McMahon had no idea Hall had lifted it from elsewhere.)

Terrible. But at least he was giving it a go; Jacobs barely raised a gloved fist in the entire match.

And while Jacobs had a passable Nash-esque moveset at this time, judging by the match I watched, Bognar Ramon spent a good deal of the match either a) doing moves which Hall had never done before as Ramon (including what was, to be fair, an okay exploder suplex), or b) getting the basics completely wrong. (He couldn’t even ‘paintbrush’ the back of Owen’s head properly.)

The crowd reaction was fairly negative from the outset; it took Owen and the Bulldog, two cheap and cheating, down and dirty heels, to play the endangered babyfaces for there to have been any reaction at all. Hart was always so brilliant at taking the bumps, while Bulldog as the powerful hot tag worked really well – he’d been a face for about 80% of his WWF run to this point anyway, so the tactics were still fresh in his mind. This psychology confused me even more than the crap impersonators, but it was necessary just to keep the match ticking over. Interference from Stone Cold Steve Austin and a couple of luchadores certainly helped distract from the below-average work of ‘Diesel’ and ‘Razor’ as well.

Looking back

In 2015, I’m not impressed, but even the 1996 crowd felt somewhat cheated by this terrible cheap trick to get some press going back the WWF’s way. Basically, the feeling was that because they had created these gimmicks, it didn’t matter who filled them. And while you can maybe get away with more than one guy playing the role of Doink The Clown, or even Sin Cara (the former got worse with each incarnation, while the latter actually improved), their popularity was nowhere near on the level of Hall’s and Nash’s star power.

Kevin Nash may have had a bad run of it as WWF Champion in 1995, but that was a matter of the opponents he was pitted against and the way his matches were booked. When he was Shawn Michaels’ badass bodyguard, his performances demonstrated a very high quality and popularity, none more evidently than his run in the 1994 Royal Rumble, when he basically turned face with each louder reaction, such was his powerful performance.

As for Scott Hall, his entrances would more often than not get among the loudest reception of each show, and his in-ring talent was helped no end by the character he’d carefully crafted into a confident yet slightly dogged brawler. (Speaking of brawling, Hall’s punches were some of the best things to come out of early-to-mid 90s WWF – Bognar’s not so much.) A World Title run would’ve been brilliant for Hall, but for this and many other reasons (cough money cough) he took the decision to join WCW once his contract had expired.

When the two men helped turn the tide WCW’s way, the WWF’s arrogance in assuming their expendability would cost them dearly for at least another eighteen months – and their replacements would not fare well at all in these roles.

It turned out alright for Jacobs in the end; he would don a different outfit and re-debut further down the line, but for Bognar, who retired due to a neck injury in 1999, it was his highest point as a wrestler. Poor sod.