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Friday, October 10, 2014

Roman Reigns … A Paul Heyman Guy?


Since my last PWI blog entry, the main event picture of WWE has slowly morphed into a state of chaos. After a memorable championship win at WrestleMania, Daniel Bryan seemed poised to be the face of the company for the rest of 2014. Then, a particularly untimely injury forced Bryan to vacate the WWE World heavyweight championship back in June. John Cena won the vacant title at Money in the Bank, only to lose it in a lopsided match with Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam. Seth Rollins interfered in Cena’s guaranteed rematch at Night of Champions, costing him the belt in a controversial disqualification finish. Cena’s attention quickly shifted to Rollins, who was already embroiled in a bitter rivalry with Dean Ambrose. Now, Ambrose – who was recently sidelined for five weeks by Rollins – is set to face Cena for the mere right to pummel Rollins at the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view. Ambrose is quickly becoming one of the most popular wrestlers in WWE, which should be of concern to his former Shield teammate, the currently incapacitated Roman Reigns.

When Brock Lesnar so decisively won the WWE world title from Cena at SummerSlam, talk quickly centered around just who would be able to unseat him as champion. With Lesnar only contracted to appear for WWE on a limited basis, he would be able to spend most of his time training – making himself into an even more formidable opponent than he already was. Many observers predicted that Reigns, who seemed poised to dominate in singles competition, could be the man to take down Lesnar. With size, strength, and charisma in spades, Reigns would ride a wave of fan adulation to the top of company, eventually taking down Lesnar sometime in 2015. Or so it seemed, anyway.

As Daniel Bryan found out earlier in the year, the inability to compete is the biggest deterrent to staying on top in WWE. Reigns was diagnosed with an incarcerated hernia in September and immediately underwent surgery. Doctors estimated Reigns would be out for at least six weeks. In the meantime, Ambrose has stepped up in a big way. The former mouthpiece of The Shield has used his verbal skills, twisted sense of humor, and penchant for relentless brawling (particularly against his number one target, Rollins) to garner arguably the biggest fan reactions of anyone in the company. When Reigns is healthy enough to return to the ring, it’s entirely possible that fans will have decided that they simply like Ambrose better. If the increasingly vocal WWE fan base, comprised largely of males in the very loud 18-49 demographic, refuses to accept someone as a top fan favorite, that guy won’t be
 a fan favorite for very long. Just ask Batista.

What can Reigns do to avoid this potential backlash? Well, he needs to stand out. One way to do that would be to intentionally not compete with Ambrose for fan adulation. He may never be as unpredictable or bitingly funny as his former teammate, but Reigns (like Liam Neeson in Taken) has a very specific set of skills. If Reigns focuses on being a sort of anti-Ambrose, he just might garner a different, yet equally valuable form of fan reaction. He’ll need a mouthpiece, though, and I know exactly who that should be.

As a “Paul Heyman guy,” Reigns won’t have to worry about what some perceive as his verbal shortcomings on his way up the WWE ladder. Brock Lesnar was an instant monster in 2002, and he barely had to say a word. When words needed to be said (read: screamed), Heyman took care of business for him. Heyman will be a great business advocate and vocal presence for Reigns, who will be learning from one of the best every week by simply being in Paul E.’s presence. Meanwhile, Reigns won’t have to worry about winning a popularity contest with the inherently likable, if abrasive, Ambrose. When the time comes for Reigns to get a major, one-on-one title shot, it won’t matter who the champion was. Lesnar, Cena, Ambrose, Bryan … he’ll be ready for the challenge, and fans will be along for the ride. 

Kevin McElvaney
PWI Contributing Writer
@OfficialPWI Twitter Contributor

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Before You Criticize …


Take out a piece of paper. I have a challenge for you. 

I want you to rank the top 50 actors in the world over the past 12 months.

Go.

Okay … Matthew McConaughey won the Best Actor Emmy and he is amazing in True Detective, so maybe he gets the top spot. Brian Cranston earned another Emmy for his magnificent work as Walter White in Breaking Bad, so maybe he earns the number-two spot.

 Now what? For the purpose of this exercise, we’re omitting women (they’ll get their turn next issue), so who’s number three? Is it the star of the biggest summer blockbuster (Chris Pratt from Guardians Of The Galaxy?) Is it a proven commodity, like Leonardo DiCaprio or Kevin Spacey? Is it a feature film star, a television star, or someone from Broadway (or off-Broadway, for that matter)?

Don’t forget—we’re looking at the world here. Anyone stand out in Bollywood this year? Who has been doing The Bard the most justice in Merry Olde England?

Go ahead … try to make your list of 50, being sure to consider standouts in regional/community theater, supporting characters in sitcoms, and Hollywood megastars.  Now go ahead and expand your list to the top 500.

This is, essentially, what we do each year with the “PWI 500.”

It’s not an easy task; after all, we’re comparing many different kinds of wrestlers—good guys and bad guys, big guys and little guys, MMA-styled submission machines and Mr. Juicy. But we believe the “PWI 500” is a valuable exercise. Sure, it’s great to finish in the top 10, but there are also hundreds of guys competing throughout the independent circuit hoping to get recognition and a 60-word blurb as a reward all of the sacrifices they have made—weekends traveling long distances for little pay, time away from their families, and aches and pains that sometimes keep them awake at night, wondering why they’re doing it.

We endeavor to make the “500” as objective as possible by adhering as closely as possible to our criteria. We consider accomplishments during the designated evaluation period, title success, activity, and quality of opposition.  Like the exercise with actors, we evaluate wrestlers from different countries, different styles (or genres), and different roles within their own company.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when the “500” list is invariably posted online, and message boards light up with comments like … Why was Wrestler X so low, how can Wrestler Y be above Wrestler Z, etc. Generally speaking, if you pay attention to the criteria as outlined in the introduction to the section, and read the biographies, you’ll be able to see why we made the decisions we did. We do wish people would at least understand our criteria and the time frame we’re evaluating before passing judgment. People may disagree; we expect them to disagree. If you could have sat in on our editorial team ranking meetings, you would have heard plenty of disagreements amongst ourselves. It’s a good thing we conducted our meeting via GoToMeeting. I might have taken a swing at Mike Bessler at one point if he were in front of me.

I’m not trying to make the “PWI 500” out to be a Herculean task. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s something we love to do, and something our readers love to read, discuss, and debate. I just want to make sure everyone—from our readers, to the wrestlers (those ranked and unranked), and the anonymous Internet message board commentators—to know that we take this project seriously.

The actors exercise may give some general insight into the difficulties inherent in what we do, but when all is said and done, we think our ranking accurately reflects the top 500 wrestlers in the world over the past year.

Dan Murphy
PWI Senior Writer

Friday, August 8, 2014

Taking One (Too Far) For The Team

I'm sure that a lot of wrestlers and fans will disagree with me on this but after working closely with victims of violence and abuse for many years -- the vast majority of whom were female -- I was pretty uncomfortable with how everything went down with Dixie's table spot at the end of it all.

I've interviewed Bully and Devon and corresponded with Tommy Dreamer while working on different projects. They're all nice guys and I'm sure they very were careful in how they executed the move. Dixie knew what she was getting into and she sold it well. But the sight of a large contingent of the male-dominated locker room demanding that Spud turn her over to the guys and the sound of the entire Manhattan Center (again, mostly men) calling for her blood was just way too unsettling for me. I get that it's a show. I know she did it willingly. I understand the angle and everything that went into it. It just left me feeling really, really bad.

Mike Bessler
PWI Contributing Writer

Photo by Lee South/TNA Wrestling

Friday, April 11, 2014

The NXT Step In WWE's Evolution


The episode of Raw following WrestleMania is most always memorable, and Raw the night after WrestleMania 30 was certainly no exception. The Shield lived up to their “Hounds Of Justice” moniker by rescuing Daniel Bryan from actual injustice at the hands of Triple-H. Cesaro hitched his wagon to Paul Heyman, a move that can only help the “King Of Swing’s” already sizzling momentum. Perhaps every bit as important as either of these things, though, was the large presence the NXT brand had on the show.

The April 7 edition of Raw was notable for the appearances of two NXT stars: Paige (the first and, to date, only NXT Divas champion) and Alexander Rusev (with his valet, Lana, by his side). Additionally, vignettes aired for Adam Rose and former NXT champ Bo Dallas. Rusev dominated Zack Ryder in his first televised singles match on the main roster. Rose and Dallas’ vignettes were both well received. Paige made perhaps the biggest impression of the pack, putting an end to AJ Lee’s nearly 300-day WWE Divas title reign.

When AJ was interrupted by the debuting Paige, a sizable portion of the live crowd seemed to already be familiar with the self-proclaimed “Anti-Diva.” Sure, those in attendance the night after WrestleMania tend to be a hip crowd. Maybe some of those chanting for Paige had been following her since her days on the independent circuit. Still, one can’t help but get the feeling that the increased visibility of NXT (including its recent Arrival special) helped to make her debut all the more newsworthy.

Broad access to NXT programming, both through the WWE Network and Hulu, has fostered an awareness of WWE’s developmental system, which would have previously been unthinkable. Go ahead and watch the debuts of John Cena, Brock Lesnar, and Randy Orton. All three men were products of lengthy stints in WWE developmental (at the time, quartered at Ohio Valley Wrestling). All three made a big impact pretty quickly. Yet few fans seemed to have any idea who these men were when they first appeared. In a sense, they had their work cut out for them. Thanks to the weekly NXT broadcasts being available online, burgeoning stars like Paige, Rusev, and Emma have already established loyal fan bases by the time they get to compete on Raw or Smackdown.

Lest one get the idea that NXT is merely a useful tool for young wrestlers, it’s also important to consider that the brand is good for fans. The sort of wrestling on NXT broadcasts is, for the time being anyway, markedly different than what we see on Raw and Smackdown. It’s quirkier, with a diverse crop of colorful characters that are learning to express themselves in new and unusual ways. The in-ring action is often more vibrant and unpredictable. In short, it is definitely an alternative to the other, more mainstream WWE programming.

At the same time, NXT might not remain a simple alternative for much longer. As more of its stars make the leap to the main roster—Cesaro, The Wyatt Family, and The Shield all cut their teeth at NXT—the tastes of fans change, and the norm shifts. Raw and Smackdown will continue to evolve to meet the desires of fans. That’s how we have come to see someone like Daniel Bryan, who hardly considered a career in WWE years ago, as one of the faces of the company in 2014. It’s an exciting time for the company, as the new guard challenges the old guard and encourages it to step up its game. Fans who want to see into the future know where to look. WWE developmental has, for years now, been a window into the future. It just so happens that millions of people can now peer through that window on a weekly basis.

Kevin McElvaney
PWI Contributing Writer
@OfficialPWI Twitter Contributor



Thursday, April 3, 2014

WrestleMania 30: Staff Predictions


Wrestling’s biggest spectacle celebrates 30 years this Sunday, when WrestleMania takes over  the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. Fans can count on the PWI team to be all over event, including with live Tweeting Sunday night (@OfficialPWI) and the usual wall-to-wall coverage in the July issue (digital edition on sale May 1; print edition on sale May 27), including our annual “Real Winners And Losers” feature. To kick things off, here are our staff predictions for WrestleMania 30, courtesy of Publisher Stu Saks, Senior writers Dan Murphy and Al Castle, and Contributing Writers Mike Bessler and Kevin McElvaney.

Randy Orton vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan or Triple-H: 
Triple-Threat Match for the WWE World heavyweight championship

Saks: Bryan
Murphy: Bryan
Castle: Bryan
Bessler: Bryan
McElvaney: Bryan

Analysis: It’s unanimous. We envision WrestleMania 30 ending much the same as most of you probably do: With 70,000 rabid New Orleans fans thrusting their index figers skyward and greeting the new World champ with a boisterous chant of “Yes! Yes! Yes!” 

Triple-H vs. Daniel Bryan: Winner gets added to the World heavyweight title main event
Saks: Bryan
Murphy: Bryan
Castle: Bryan
Bessler: Bryan
McElvaney: Bryan

Analysis: Our unanimous picks for the title match pretty much give away how we all think this match will conclude. That’s not to say it will be easy for the leader of the “Yes Movement.” We expect the Authority to put every obstacle possible in Bryan’s way to prevent him from coming out of this match victorious, and for Bryan to conquer them all.

The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar 
Saks: Undertaker
Murphy: Undertaker
Castle: Undertaker
Bessler: Undertaker
McElvaney: Undertaker

Analysis: Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us 21 times, shame on us. None of us are about to bet against the “Dead Man” extending his revered WrestleMania winning streak to 22-0. And, frankly, WWE hasn’t done a very good job convincing us that the former UFC heavyweight champ is even that much of a threat. To be sure, we’ll see 'Taker go down for some convincing nearfalls throughout the match, but we won’t buy it. Or, at least, we’ll try not to.

John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt
Saks: Wyatt
Murphy: Cena
Castle: Cena
Bessler: Cena
McElvaney: Wyatt

Analysis: Finally, something we can’t agree on. We’re leaning toward Cena getting the duke here, if only to make up for slotting WWE’s biggest star in a mid-card match at the biggest show of the year. But with fan favorites expected to triumph in the night’s other big matches, this may be an opportunity to keep Wyatt’s momentum going en route to an even higher-stakes rematch with Cena at next month’s Extreme Rules event.

Andre the Giant Memorial 30-man battle royal
Saks: Big Show
Murphy: Sheamus
Castle: Hulk Hogan
Bessler: Big E
McElvaney: Big E

Analysis: With 30 possible outcomes, it’s not surprising we couldn’t reach a consensus. But a couple of us are counting on WWE taking the opportunity to shine the WrestleMania spotlight on Intercontinental champion Big E. Despite WWE’s portrayal of the 7-foot Big Show as Andre’s heir apparent, only one of us is picking him as the winner. And one of us thinking a battle royal is just the right setting for Hulkamania to once again run wild, without the "Hulkster" never having to leave his feet.

The Shield vs. The New Age Outlaws & Kane
Saks: Shield
Murphy: Shield
Castle: Kane/Outlaws
Bessler: Kane/Outlaws
McElvaney: Shield

Analysis: By a narrow margin, we’re picking the “Hounds Of Justice” to get the win over the veteran team. It’s worth noting that the youngest member of the Authority team, Road Dogg, made his pro wrestling debut the same year The Shield’s youngest member, Rollins, was born. So it’s fair to say The Shield will have youth on their side.

14-Woman Vickie Guerrero Invitational Divas Championship Match
Saks: Natalya
Murphy: AJ Lee
Castle: Natalya
Bessler: Eva Marie
McElvaney: AJ Lee

Analysis: We’re pretty much split on whether AJ Lee will continue her reign as the longest Divas champ in WWE history, or if the sympathetic Natalya will realize her dream of recapturing the title at the “Showcase Of The Immortals.” It will likely come down to what makes for more compelling reality show fodder for Total Divas.

The Usos vs. Rybak & Curtis Axel vs. The Real Americans vs. Los Matadores: Four-way tag team championship match
Saks: Ryback & Axel
Murphy: Usos
Castle: Usos
Bessler: Usos
McElvaney: Real Americans

Analysis: Because the goal of the opening match at WrestleMania is typically to get the fans in the arena and at home excited for what’s ahead, we’re counting on the popular and energetic tag champs keeping their belts in this, the pre-show match.




Monday, March 10, 2014

Monday, March 3, 2014

WWE Network Wish List

For decades, wrestling fans have enjoyed the art of fantasy booking. Now with the advent of a 24-hour pro wrestling television network, we can try our hand at fantasy programming as well.
Here’s a few ideas for shows I’d like to see on the WWE Network.


• A house show show: For years, WWE would air some of its major live events, known as “house shows,” on regional sports cable channels, like MSG. The no-frills shows were a thrill for fans because they featured key match-ups from WWE’s hottest feuds. These days WWE doesn’t even acknowledge its house shows outside of some local television ads. It wouldn’t take much effort or production cost to air a few key matches every Friday or Saturday night from a WWE house show. Not only would it make for good original programming, but it would give fans more reason to buy a ticket next time WWE comes to town.

 A news-documentary style show: WWE’s short-lived Confidential series, which aired from 2002 to 2004, broke new ground with some deep, shoot-style news segments covering a range of major stories, from Randy Orton’s military court martial to Steve Austin walking out of the company. Granted, every story came with the WWE spin you would expect, but they still often made for entertaining, and sometimes riveting, television. WWE would be wise to revisit this formula on its new network.


 A children’s show: There will always be questions about whether WWE’s brand of simulated violence is appropriate viewing for kids, but the fact remains that the K-12 crowd is a sizable, and important, segment of WWE’s audience. And they buy a lot of merchandise—or at least beg their parents to. Before WWE lost interest in it, Saturday Morning Slam was a fun half-hour on the CW network, and included some positive messages for kids about fitness and nutrition. The show wouldn’t need first-run matches, and instead could include some fun historical clips, and some light-hearted segments with Superstars.

 A Mystery Science Theater-type show: If you didn’t see it while aired, go out of your way to watch every episode of Are You Serious?—a Youtube show that aired for several months in 2012. The show featured Josh Matthews and the Road Dogg lampooning some of the worst matches, characters, and storylines in wrestling history from a viewing room inside “the basement of Titan Tower.” The hilarious show featured regular appearances from “Puppet H”—a raspy-voiced, sock puppet version of "The Game" himself. On any given week, Are You Serious? was the best thing WWE would produce. Reviving the show for the WWE Network is a no-brainer.

• A life-on-the-road-show: If the success of reality shows like Ice Road Truckers and Duck Dynasty have taught us anything, it’s that American television viewers love immersing themselves in the lives of people with unique occupations. And occupations don’t come any more unique than WWE performers. Each week, cameras could follow a new Superstar or Diva through their usual work week, capturing them living out of suitcases, driving hundreds of miles through the night, and eating at hotel bars. Depicting the less-glamorous side of WWE performers’ lives would give fans a deeper appreciation for what they do.

 Re-packaged classics in their original time slots: If you were a wrestling fan with cable television in the 1980s and '90s, there’s a good chance your television was tuned to TBS on Saturday night at exactly 6:05. Airing a different episode of World Championship Wrestling/WCW Saturday Night at the same time every week would surely put smiles on the faces of nostalgic wrestling fans, as would an episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event each Saturday at 11:30 p.m. The old shows could be freshened up with some "Pop Up Video" inspired comments from some wrestling veterans from the era.

Post your ideas for new WWE Network shows in the comments section!


Al Castle
PWI Senior Writer