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’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.

The Undertaker Returns At WWE Battleground

There were many reasons why I enjoyed being very tired at work today; normally if it’s just because I can’t sleep I’ll have a miserable day, but last night was the WWE Battleground pay-per-view so I didn’t mind the late bedtime.

I didn’t watch it all live, but thanks to the power of the WWE Network I was able to catch the last three matches tonight. And while it definitely had its positives – the Women’s Division is once again alive and well thanks to an NXT injection – there were a couple of things that felt off for me.

Lesnar vs Undertaker II at Summerslam 2015?

Firstly, the result of the main event. Brock Lesnar had manoeuvred his way into the WWE World Heavyweight Title match against Seth Rollins, and was once again looking like an absolute double-hard bastard who would slowly murder his opponent en route to another win. However, once Rollins had taken something like 13 suplexes and a couple of finishers, the three-count was rudely interrupted…by a gong and the lights going out.

Yes, The Undertaker has returned – but not to Wrestlemania.

undertaker brock lesnar summerslam 2015

When the lights came back up, there was no sign of Rollins – nor any further mention of him for the rest of the show in fact, as Taker sized up and double-Tombstoned The Beast Incarnate. The show ended with his ‘vintage’ (copyright, Michael ‘Broken Fucking Record’ Cole) pose on the stage, as Lesnar remained out cold in the ring.

So it looks like we’re heading for a rematch between the two big men; Taker wants to avenge his loss against the man who broke his Streak, while Lesnar will be quite happy for another opponent on which to continue his disciplined practice of chucking about in the ring.

First of all – do we really need this rematch? For a man who only wrestles once a year (unless they’re trying to get Network subscriptions up, lol), Lesnar has already decisively beaten Taker, to the tune of one Broken Streak. A rematch at Summerslam may not be the answer.

Secondly, was the return of The Phenom just a way to get Seth Rollins out of what was going to be a relatively simple…well, death…with the title around his waist? Having survived yet another match by the skin of his teeth – and again, with plenty of help – Rollins is starting to look less like the absolute dickhead heel he’s supposed to be. More than capable when forced but otherwise happy to cheat, Rollins is now starting to look very cowardly instead, and against lesser men than Lesnar (ie pretty much all other men) he’s in danger of repeating the feat. We’ll have to see who steps up to challenge him at Summerslam – my hope would be another match against Dean Ambrose but I can see him evening up the side against the Wyatts with Roman Reigns.

Can Kevin Owens recover from being Cena’d?

Just before that, and even more worryingly, another big Battleground casualty – Kevin Owens’ momentum. After beating John Cena in an absolutely fantastic match at Elimination Chamber, we all knew Cena was going to level the score at Money In The Bank. A third match, while necessary, was probably always going to go against Owens too, but the manner in which it happened was very disappointing.

john cena kevin owens summerslam 2015

Rather than a last-gasp victory from the jaws of defeat, or even from one of his random ‘nah, not selling any more mate’ decisions into the usual victory routine – culminating in hitting the Attitude Adjustment and getting the three – John Cena made Kevin Owens tap out to his STF submission hold.

It’s one thing to have three close-run matches, as Cena now has the 2-1 lead in the feud. But for the third to be concluded so emphatically is a huge blow to Owens. Of all the guys Cena has conquered in his admittedly fantastic US Title run so far, this one should’ve been portrayed a lot less convincingly if Owens is supposed to stay looking strong. Cena’s strongest critics have pointed to the bone-jarring halts in momentum suffered by Rusev and Bray Wyatt following big losses, and I have to agree with how depressing it’s been to see Rusev progress into some weird love triangle story with Lana and Dolph Ziggler.

John Cena is, without a doubt, one of the best WWE has. He’s a true professional and a very capable worker. But the fact remains that having a win over John Cena does nobody any good when he’s got two back over them – especially when one of them is so visibly, categorically decisive that it’ll take a hell of a lot to come back from. Can Owens do it?

 

The Week in Geek: MITB 2015, Kickstarter’s Revenge and Kaboom Comics

Welcome to this week’s geek culture news, featuring the build to the next WWE PPV event and an interesting follow-up on a previously-covered Kickstarter campaign.

week in geek culture news

The Doom That Came To Erik Chevalier

When designer Erik Chevalier cancelled his Kickstarter project for The Doom That Came To Atlantic City about two years ago, backers were sceptical as to what had been done with the £80,000 they’d raised to fund it.

And yesterday those suspicions were confirmed, as the BBC reported on a finding by The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that Chevalier spent much of the money he’d raised on relocating and rent – not to mention commencing work on an entirely different project.

The FTC also found that Chevalier had not yet refunded any of his backers, despite promising to do so in the Kickstarter page’s final update.

In a settlement reached between the parties, Chevalier is banned from misrepresenting himself in any future crowd-funded campaigns – including pledging rewards that he doesn’t deliver on and how he intends to spend the money.

In return, an order that Chevalier must repay all of the money he was awarded has been suspended on the grounds that…he can’t afford it. However, if this turns out to be untrue then the order will be reinforced.

The lesson here, kids, is make sure you know what you’re getting into the next time you’re looking to back something.

 

WWE Money In The Bank 2015

Just two weeks after the last WWE event, Sunday night sees the return of the most valuable briefcase in sports entertainment with the annual Money In The Bank pay-per-view.

As always, the marquee match is the Ladder Match for the Money In The Bank briefcase; I would list the seven competitors involved but recent form suggests that I’ll name Roman Reigns as the sole favourite and leave it at that.

Other big matches slated for the event include a rematch from Elimination Chamber between John Cena and Kevin Owens, and the WWE World Heavyweight Title match; another prize to be hung above the ring and contested by champion Seth Rollins and his former Shield brother Dean Ambrose.

Ambrose isn’t going through the best booking right now – when was the last time he did? – but fans sadly can’t quite get behind the antics of the belt-stealing, mad-looking Lunatic Fringe. (And that one bounce-through the ropes spot is getting a bit old if I’m honest.)

There’s a very interesting theory doing the rounds, but for me the timing wouldn’t quite be there to be pulled off convincingly. Word is, once Reigns has (obviously) won the briefcase, he’ll cash in on the very same night…by turning heel on a victorious Dean Ambrose. WWE writers have done a pretty good job of buddying the two men up, so imagine how shocking this turn of events would be!

Except, it wouldn’t. As much as he’s improved since Wrestlemania (and even during; that main event match was spectacular), I still don’t buy Reigns as a credible threat whether with the fans or against them. There’s still too much to the Shield breakup that hasn’t been straightened out, and this isn’t the time to get into it.

Nor do I buy Ambrose as WWE Champion to lose it, sadly, and that’s partly down to the Dusty Finish (RIP) we got at Elimination Chamber which gave and took away that credibility in a matter of seconds.

 

Kaboom Comics

And just in case you missed it, I did an interview with Dave from Kaboom Comics earlier this week – go give it a read!

Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar vs Booking Logic (WM31 Preview)

In which wrestling fans pray for logic at Wrestlemania 31.

Well, it’s been a while since I managed the first part of this Wrestlemania 31 preview, and since then the Powers That Be have seen fit to reduce the importance of the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal even further by shifting it into the pre-show. I know it’s still a big event to be happening on the night of Wrestlemania, but the ‘pre-show’ thing still makes me think of those awful Free For All matches you’d see during the WWF New Generation and be expected to order the PPV as a result.

Wrestlemania 31 card

So here’s the rest of the card in brief, aside from a Fatal Four Way for the tag titles that I can’t even be bothered to look up.

AJ Lee & Paige v The Bella Twins

I can’t stand the Bella Twins. Paige and AJ (I‘m really hoping they go with ‘Pai-J’) are two of the WWE’s most talented and popular women’s wrestlers. Too bad they’re not the stars of a completely separate reality TV show (every time I’ve switched that on, which sadly has been more than once ever, it’s one of the Bellas arguing with her boyfriend/husband) otherwise they might have a chance. Should be a good way to end…whatever this is though, as Wrestlemania can sometimes do. But who knows.

Undertaker v Bray Wyatt

I wanted to write a completely separate post to set this one up; as people are so keen on saying that Wyatt needs a good rub from winning this one, I’m not even convinced he’s going to. The Undertaker’s legacy is now, sadly, built on wrestling and winning once a year. If he loses two of those in a row then it does rather tarnish the whole thing. And as good as Wyatt is at promos, this whole thunder-lightning, Johnny Cash-quoting thing is starting to get a bit hokey again. If anything, I want The Undertaker to win just to prove how once-in-a-lifetime Brock Lesnar’s steak-ending victory was. The Streak can still count for something if the WWE can prove that losing it was simply unavoidable.

John Cena vs Rusev (United States Championship)

John Cena’s been acting like quite the prat lately. After having been refused a rematch for Rusev’s US Title after making Cena pass out to his Accolade hold, Cena clamped in his own submission on Rusev on Monday Night Raw during a surprise attack. When Rusev himself passed out, Cena revived him with a glass of water…and locked on his STF again until evil manager Lana gave in and agreed to the rematch. Rusev is the man who won a match fair and square(ish), and is well within his rights to refuse a rematch. That’s not being a bad guy, it’s just acknowledgement that he might not be so lucky next time. Meanwhile, Cena’s been insulting them left and right between surprise attacks and random patriotic outbursts. I’m fairly sure Cena isn’t supposed to be the bad guy here, but nothing he’s doing is convincing me otherwise, especially as Rusev isn’t being especially heelish. Sadly we can expect Cena to win this one, as his losing two in a row is unheard of.

Seth Rollins v Randy Orton

I really wish I cared about this; Seth Rollins is the Man. His performance in the WWE Championship triple threat match against Cena and Brock Lesnar has been the wrestling highlight of my year so far, and I really wanted his match against Randy Orton to be a more cut-and-dried affair. As it is, Orton’s return on Raw a few weeks back to attack nearly the entire Authority was completely undercut just days later as he tagged with its members. It completely stalled the momentum of a surprise return and massive kicking to Rollins; one which Orton has recently delivered on Mr Money in the Bank anyway, with a huge RKO through the announce table. It’s certainly going to be a fiery enough affair which, if Orton wins, ought to end the rivalry and allow Rollins to move on to bigger, beltier things…

Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar vs Booking Logic (for the WWE Championship)

…like cashing in on the winner of the main event which, up until Brock Lesnar signed a new contract was looking like a fairly foregone conclusion; Roman Reigns would get his moment in the sun.

You see, despite Reigns’ steady improvement in the past month or so, he’s still nowhere near toppling the man who has, through a steady string of sound booking and (uncharacteristic for the WWE) logic, become an absolute beast – incarnate.

I am so, SO psyched that Lesnar is staying because losing to Reigns without at least one rematch wouldn’t feel like the solid enough dose of credibility that Reigns desperately needs. No matter how this match turns out, knowing we haven’t seen the last of the part-time world champion is reason enough to stay hopeful that he’ll do it again.

Through either blind luck or a systematic build of such effectiveness that you wonder why it can’t be arranged for absolutely anybody else on the roster, Lesnar has become the very best example of an invulnerable threat in years. Having Reigns two-moves-of-doom his way to the gold against a man who broke Triple H’s arm, ended The Streak, and brutalised John Cena would just feel like a massive leap in logic.

Oh crap, I’ve jinxed it with this logic stuff haven’t I. If logic decides to take its leave, and Roman Reigns lifts that world title, all you can do is pray for Seth Rollins and his briefcase on Sunday night.

WWE Fastlane and a bad crowd

The road to Wrestlemania hits a speed bump thanks to a dodgy Fastlane crowd.

Following the, ahem, blur that was my 30th birthday night out on Saturday, I was far too hungover to stay up and watch WWE Fastlane on Sunday night, so fit in a viewing on Monday night with my lady.

It could have been the below-average quality of my WWE Network stream, it could’ve been my speakers, it could even be my imagination, but for me there were roughly 13,000 different reasons why the PPV didn’t deliver.

wwe fastlane bad crowd

The crowd at the event just didn’t seem to care.

Not even being in Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler’s neck of the woods could give the show a real fight night feel, because the Memphis audience just weren’t into it. Their reactions to the different wrestlers’ appearances were subdued at best, and just flat-out absent elsewhere.

I’ve never been at an event where he’s wrestled, but if there’s one sound effect that’s guaranteed to get a huge response, it’s the Undertaker’s gong. Then again, given that it was Bray Wyatt trolling the fans, and we would definitely have heard in advance if The Phenom was scheduled to appear, perhaps that explains the hushed response.

But Cena! Even John Cena couldn’t elicit the usual high-pitched response from the 13,000 in attendance. Ah, there’s probably a reason for that actually – everyone was confused as to why his music was playing so early on in the night (lol).

No, seriously though: I never like to get on my soapbox about these things – because it’s wrestling and I’m paying £9.99 a month to be patronised, not so I can patronise everyone myself – but the crowd’s low rate of interest throughout the night sort of detracted from my own enjoyment of the show. A live crowd really adds to the atmosphere of the show for those watching at home, and for the Memphis fans at Fastlane to seemingly care so little as came across on my TV (and as reported elsewhere after the fact) definitely bumped down the quality a notch.

I guess after watching the show I’ve got bigger issues than the live crowd; like the creative paper bag that Roman Reigns can’t get booked out of, or that Dolph Ziggler’s crusade against The Authority has taken him from sole survivor in November’s main event to losing in a six-man tag opener which featured Kane and The Big Show on the winning side.

Ah well. Four and a bit weeks until Wrestlemania. They can fix all this, right? They can make Roman Reigns a credible enough opponent in four and a bit weeks to knock off the Streak-ending, world champion, practically-a-babyface-by-now awesome powerhouse that is Lesnar, right?

Who will win the 2015 Royal Rumble?

And who will headline Wrestlemania XXXI?

We’re only a couple of weeks away from this year’s instalment of the WWE Royal Rumble; a unique 30-man match whose winner is guaranteed a World Title match at Wrestlemania XXXI.

With the company’s continued anointing of former Shield member Roman Reigns as The Man, and Brock Lesnar expected to defeat John Cena in their rematch for the title at the Rumble, we should expect Reigns to take not only the WWE title but also the rub from ending the Streak-ender at Wrestlemania.

Roman Reigns WWE 2015 Royal Rumble

Image by Miguel Discart

However, with the addition of Seth Rollins to the Royal Rumble title match and the less-than-stellar response Reigns receives from WWE crowds, for once we’re not completely assured of anything.

It’s still pretty much nailed on that Roman Reigns will take the victory this year, but with the doubt surrounding world champ Brock Lesnar’s immediate future and which MMA company he’ll be returning to, there’s been just a tiny bit of doubt cast on him.

Having received the push towards main event level after The Shield broke up, Reigns worked on combining his toughness with a standard babyface moveset, developing something smarks refer to as the Five Moves of Doom. Reigns’ momentum was cut short before he could face Seth Rollins at September’s Night of Champions due to injury, but was barely off TV in the interim cutting some fairly average promos.

Nonetheless, Reigns has returned and looks likely to win the Royal Rumble match – barring any last-minute developments behind the scenes.

Personally I’d be okay with Reigns taking the win here, but he really needs some earned momentum to get to Wrestlemania and be a credible challenger for whomever he comes up against. A very very strong performance in the Rumble at the very least, followed up by a great match and/or promo every single week in the weeks to follow.

And while I’m disappointed that the likes of Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler and Rusev are going to miss out, hopefully they won’t be entirely out in the cold for the rest of 2015.

The Death of WCW – 10th Anniversary Edition

A fascinating independent chronicle of the fall of WCW pro wrestling.

I don’t know if it was because I was purely a WWF kid, but the few times I tried to watch WCW programming in the UK, it just didn’t click.

Sometime in late 1997/early 1998 I will have happened across it on TNT; best known to people my age as the channel which began at 7pm when Cartoon Network went off the air.

The Death of WCW book

The colour scheme in the ring was entirely black and white, and various people I recognised – among them one Hulk Hogan – were strutting their stuff and not actually doing much wrestling. I don’t recall seeing a single wrestling match during this time; in fact, I wasn’t even sure it was actually a wrestling show but for all the various archetypes they had; entrance themes, big strong men and commentators not describing the action properly.

When Channel 5 showed it in about 2000, there was plenty of wrestling to go around – the only problem was that none of it made any sense. Having got back into the WWF when it came to Channel 4 at this time, the differences were clear: the WWF had great production values, young talent, well-defined characters and logical storylines; all sorely lacking from what I saw in the WCW product of the time.

I’ve managed to piece together what exactly happened to turn the WCW from a cultural giant in the mid-90s to the absolute shambles of a company it became at the turn of the millennium, but reading The Death of WCW by RD Reynolds and Bryan Alvarez has more than filled in the gaps.

Death of WCW book

The 10th anniversary edition has been revised and expanded to include more quotes from the people involved, as well as the story of what has happened in the years since WCW was swallowed up by Monday Night War enemies the WWF in 2001 – and the cautionary tale of some of the same mistakes which are being made by TNA to this day (whose future is still not 100% safe according to some sources).

The book as a whole outlines the success of the old Jim Crockett Promotions during the late 1970s and 1980s; the move into a rivalry with Vince McMahon as the two then-biggest companies redrew their boundaries are prepared for war, as well as how a young producer named Eric Bischoff made some key strategic and financial decisions to give WCW more than an edge during the mid-90s – one of which was the addition of former WWF stars Scott Hall and Kevin Nash.

Scott Hall Kevin Nash WCW NWO

Look at the adjective! “Play!”

What follows in the pages of this book is the story of how WCW went from being atop the wrestling mountain thanks to Hall/Nash being the origins of the phenomenally successful NWO, to shedding viewers and box office like they were going out of fashion through bad booking, dodgy contracts and no sense of continuity or playing to the crowd; using inside stories, gossip and cold hard numbers to tell a very entertaining story of the at times bewilderingly logic-free decisions which caused the downfall of WCW.

Reynolds and Alvarez combine great wrestling journalism with great storytelling and plenty of humour to produce this fine work. It’s essential reading for wrestling fans, no two ways about it.

Hulk Hogan and Creative Control

Examining the excessive use of Hulk Hogan’s creative control in WWF and WCW.

Hulk Hogan is a wrestling legend, no two ways about it. When he defeated The Iron Sheik for his first WWF Championship in 1984, plans were already in motion to make the charismatic Hogan the face of American wrestling – a plan which came to financial and cultural fruition with the first Wrestlemania in 1985.

For the rest of his career, the Hulkster used the fact that he’d single-handedly built Vince McMahon, Jr’s WWF empire to his own ends; helping friends get over at the expense of more talented competitors, even choosing between alternate title runs and extended breaks from wrestling to further his Hollywood career in a somewhat loose form of creative control.

But when Hogan signed for wrestling rivals WCW in 1994, he actually had a clause written into his (massive) contract that allowed him full creative control of his character. Hogan could choose when, where and how much he wrestled, whether he won or lost, and who to.

In having that control, Hogan was able to protect his image during his most relevant years, but as the market hotted up again during the mid-90s, fellow veterans were beginning to make way for the younger stars – except Hogan and a select few colleagues, all of which spelled trouble for WCW in the end.

Here are three times that Hulk Hogan’s uses of creative control rubbed fans and colleagues alike the wrong way.

1993 – Wrestlemania IX

Hulk Hogan creative control

Hogan had already wrestled earlier in the night, teaming with his ‘old pal’ Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake in a match against Money, Inc. (Ted DiBiase and ‘The’ IRS) and losing by disqualification after Hogan used Brutus’ protective facemask as a weapon. But following the main event which saw Yokozuna cheating Bret Hart to become the new WWF Champion, Hogan hit the ring to defend his friend’s honour. Manager Mr Fuji, who threw salt in Hart’s eyes to get the win for his giant protégé, randomly offered out Hogan for a match then and there.

There’s a reason Cagesideseats.com ranked this match the second-worst Wrestlemania main event of all time (the worst wasn’t for the title and had an NFL player in it), as Hogan had had a word in Vince’s ear that Bret wasn’t the guy to carry the company through its (too numerous to mention) problems in 1993. The answer? Put the strap back on the Hulkster, brother.

His very first title defence was the loss to Yokozuna at King of the Ring 1993; it was also Hogan’s final WWF appearance for almost a decade. Bret had to content himself with winning the tournament itself, but wouldn’t get near the belt again for months.

Bash at the Beach 2000

Hulk Hogan creative control

Hogan signed for WCW in 1994, and won their World title in his very first match against Ric Flair, as you do. Hogan held the belt for fifteen months before dropping it to a pre-Big Show Paul Wight as The Giant in October 1995 – by disqualification, obviously – before taking an extended break.

When he returned to shock the wrestling world by forming the NWO with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, he was once again indestructible – although this time the script called for it, rather than just how he was feeling that day. An account of the events at Starrcade 1997 – in which Hogan may or may not have influenced the result to make him look better – proves that Hogan was in business for himself, artificially extending a feud that had already been 18 months in the making and exposing the first chink in WCW’s hitherto impenetrable armour.

But in the year 2000, at what would be Hogan’s final WCW appearance, it was head writer Vince Russo who had had enough. After Hogan had decided (as you do) he fancied winning the World belt from Jeff Jarrett that night in order to get the most from his remaining contract, he and Russo planned to fake Jarrett’s laying down for Hogan. After Hogan convincingly told Russo to shove it and left, planning on a big return match down the line to clear up this apparent badly-booked mess, Russo – for realsies – came back to the ring and blasted Hogan for playing the dreaded creative control card when “he knew it was bullshit all along”.

 

2005/6 – Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton

In 2002 Hulk Hogan returned to WWE, winning another World title and doing the very occasional job to younger guys before deciding he wasn’t satisfied with the role he’d been placed in and making on-and-off appearances. He falls out with Vince McMahon over pay, telling McMahon he felt his driver was making the same money that he was on.

Two of Hogan’s biggest-profile matches in the mid-00s come against Shawn Michaels and Randy Orton; the latter, an upcoming star who’d become The Legend Killer; the former, a legend in his own right who just wanted to find out who was stronger.

By this time, Hogan was getting on in years – at 53 he was more than twice Orton’s age when they faced off at Summerslam 2006. But nonetheless, Hogan wanted to win the match cleanly, which he did against a former World Champion in Orton.

But it’s the match with Michaels that’s more interesting. Having never faced off before, it was being sold as something of a dream match. Michaels even agreed to turn heel just to make it happen. The idea was that both men would win a match each, with Hulk winning the first. Hogan agreed, and their match at Summerslam 2005 was…interesting.

Michaels bumped around cartoonishly for the aging Hogan, knowing it would make him look somewhat foolish in the way he was hitting big moves. There are points in the match too where Michaels just looks outright annoyed at having to carry Hulk Hogan throughout, losing his cool and stiffing Hogan with a slap in between Irish whips. Michaels agreed to lose clean in the centre of the ring, which Hogan duly obliged – and later called off any talk of a rematch, causing Michaels some understandable aggravation.

Even in the midst of the new era of wrestling, Hulk Hogan couldn’t be relied upon to make his youngers look the slightest bit competitive by losing, or even drawing in the big-profile matches. What’s even worse is what happened when he made his way over to TNA, but that’s a story for another time.

When will Daniel Bryan return to WWE action?

Will it be Yes or No for Daniel Bryan in 2014?

When Daniel Bryan won the WWE World Heavyweight Title at Wrestlemania XXX, fans and pundits alike called it one of the most memorable Wrestlemania moments for years.

He even managed to somewhat upstage the ending of The Streak, such was the passion felt by the fans who were ecstatic to see his final victory over the scheming Authority.

But when world champion Bryan announced just days later that he needed neck surgery, we faced a long wait to see when he would return.

With Bryan’s absence growing ever longer, can we expect to see him wrestle again in 2014?

Put bluntly, no. According to WrestlingInc.com Bryan is expected back at around the same time as fellow babyface Roman Reigns, who missed his scheduled bout at Night of Champions after undergoing surgery for a persistently painful hernia surgery the day before.

It seems that the current plan among WWE top brass is to have Reigns win the Royal Rumble 2015 and successfully challenge world champion Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 31. While it would be interesting to see Roman Reigns win the world title next spring, I must confess I’d rather see Bryan in that slot.

In the run up to Daniel Bryan defeating John Cena for the world title at Summerslam 2013, the man was over. He stayed over right the way up to Wrestlemania XXX – a very tough task to accomplish when the Authority plays out the meta-angle that he’s just not the man for the job.

The WWE has historically had a ‘type’ that the likes of Bryan and CM Punk just don’t fit into; huge, muscled guys like Batista, Lesnar and – yes – Roman Reigns.

Unlike Reigns, who is now the next pick for the world title by the creative team, Bryan earned his spot by sheer fan support, not to mention his phenomenal in-ring ability.

Reigns doesn’t have anywhere near the levels of fandom that Bryan enjoyed during his run to Wrestlemania glory, but perhaps he’ll get there somehow once he’s back in the New Year.

Until then, that top babyface spot is open, and there’s no question that Dean Ambrose is the man to step up. His feud with former teammate Seth Rollins is keeping the ratings up right now. It’s a shame that WWE seems to prefer Reigns to his fellow Shield guys, but I’m sure Rollins and Ambrose can help change opinion in the next few months before Reigns gets back.

As for Bryan, we can but hope that he’ll actually be in the 2015 Royal Rumble at the very least.