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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Black" days ahead for ROH

Amid all the buzz surrounding the new Monday Night War, "The Pope's" big win on Sunday night, the last episode of ECW, the first episode of NXT, and WWE's big hype for WrestleMania and the Elimination Chamber, a fairly significant piece of wrestling history has been lost in the shuffle.

On Saturday night, a wrestling star may have been born.

I’m talking about the coronation of Tyler Black as the new Ring of Honor heavyweight champion. In the climax of a rivalry that has spanned more than a year, Black defeated Austin Aries in the main event of ROH’s Eighth Anniversary show in New York City to capture the title.

Now, I’m sure that many fans of Black, and of ROH, may say that the Iowa native was already a star long before winning the title Saturday night. Fair enough. I could certainly point to his 2008 ROH title match against Nigel McGuinness in the main event of the “Take No Prisoners” as the night that the wrestling world took notice of Black. But what he accomplished at the Manhattan Center on Saturday night takes his place in the wrestling world to a whole new level.

To the disappointment of many an ROH fan, Pro Wrestling Illustrated still does not recognize the ROH heavyweight title as a “world championship,” but that is not to say that it is not one of the most prestigious titles in the sport. Among the 13 men who have worn the title belt are some of the sport’s true elite – men like McGuinness, Bryan Danielson, C.M. Punk and Samoa Joe. In fact, of Black’s 12 predecessors as ROH champion, seven are currently employed by WWE or TNA. All past ROH champs have had at least a cup of coffee in one of the two major national promotions.

And so Black’s title win Saturday night could very well be the start of something truly special.

Or, maybe not.

Black’s elevation into the very top of the ROH hierarchy has not been without some controversy. When Black first challenged Aries for the title in the main event of December’s Final Battle show, which aired as an Internet exclusive pay-per-view, he was soundly rejected by the passionate New York crowd. Perhaps seeing in Black the same kind of “pretty boy” qualities that have made John Cena a punching bag for many adult male wrestling fans, the ROH crowd showered Black with chants of “over-rated!” during what should have been the biggest match of his career.

And so, at the dawn of what may be the Tyler Black era in ROH, the new champion may have quite the hill to climb to win over the support of many fans. To do that, he’ll have to give ROH fans what they crave the most – excellent matches.

In his five years in the sport, Black has shown the ability to do just that, including in a remarkable series of tag team matches last year in which he partnered with Danielson to take on The American Wolves. This editorial staff recognized Black’s potential when we slotted him 17th in last year’s "PWI 500" – above then-ROH champ Aries, as well as WWE and TNA main-eventers such as A.J. Styles, Rey Mysterio and The Big Show.

I asked ROH owner Cary Silkin about Black during a recent interview for an upcoming PWI story.

“Tyler Black is extremely talented. He’s only 23 years old,” said Silkin, who blamed much of the New York crowd’s negative reaction toward Black back in December on the fact that the show had already gone long by the time the one-hour-ong main event came to the ring. “I just think he’s tremendous. I’m a big fan of his. He’s a hardworking kid and I think this is his year.”

His year, indeed. Now it’s up to the new ROH champion whether he becomes the next C.M. Punk, or, instead, the next Xavier.

-Al Castle
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Senior Writer


So far, all I've been able to piece together about WWE NXT is that the format involves some sort of partnering system whereby select WWE veterans pair off with select WWE newcomers/prospects for reasons heretofore undisclosed.

Of course, Vince McMahon touted this as "the next evolution of sports entertainment," but it smells a lot like a cross between Tough Enough and The Ultimate Fighter to me, which in all reality were previous stages on sports entertainment's evolution chart.

Regardless, I couldn't help but laugh at the notion that the pairing of The Miz and Bryan Danielson-Oops! Daniel Bryan-can be seen as "evolutionary" in any sense of the word. What in the world can Miz teach Danielson about wrestling? While Danielson was setting new standards for mat wrestling around the globe, The Miz was baring his soul on MTV confession cams. Is he going to teach Danielson the WWE "style"? Please!

Granted, The Miz has infinitely more personality and charisma than Danielson, but you can't teach charisma. Yes, The Miz reeled off an excellent promo on Raw a few weeks back, but we're not talking about Ric Flair here. He's The Miz ... and he is good, not AWESEOME!!!

Bryanson Daniels may have "evolved" to a new pay grade by signing with WWE, but Darwin must be rolling over in his grave! I sincerely hope Dyan Branielson gets the security he seeks in WWE, but the jump just feels like a giant leap backward.

Now, I'm not going to bury NXT without having watched an episode, but any scenario in which The Miz is presented as being superior to Bryan Dan-Daniel Bryan-seems flawed. What do you think?
Frank Krewda

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Why the "Death" of ECW is a Good Thing for the future of WWE

Last night on Syfy, Vince McMahon announced that ECW would be canceled in three weeks to make way for the “next evolution of WWE.”

Reaction ran rampant from good to bad, and those who still hold the notion that the new incarnation would never be any good because it wasn’t “ECW” are probably jumping for joy.

That said, the question remains to be answered whether or not this new venture will be a good or a bad thing.

But if rumors (and trademarks) hold true and the next evolution is more of a developmental showcase, that can only be a good thing. While it may hurt the feelings of some of those involved in the ECW side of WWE over the last four years – many of whom I was personally fond of working with during my time in Stamford – it is, unfortunately, the truth.

For instance, look at the ECW roster on Seven of the 21 “official” ECW Superstars are peripheral players; besides GM Tiffany, you have three announcers (four depending on how you would classify Abraham Washington) and two hangers-on in Rosa Mendes and Tony Atlas.

So that leaves 14 guys to build storylines and/or shows around. Looking at the group, it’s a combination of upper mid-card talent with no real direction (Christian, Regal, Kozlov, Benjamin), nostalgia acts like Goldust and The Hurricane and developmental talent looking for a break.

While the former group will be fine and there’s always a place for those like Dustin Rhodes and Shane Helms, the problem lies in the latter half of the roster – specifically that they’re virtually indistinguishable amongst each other.

Unless you’ve seen FCW – which most of the WWE audience hasn’t – you’d have no idea who these guys are or what their motives are. So as a WWE fan, what is there to help me separate Caylen Croft from Tyler Reks from Vance Archer?

Realistically, outside of those who have personality traits or established gimmicks that separate them from the pack (namely Yoshi Tatsu, Zack Ryder and perhaps Ezekiel Jackson), there’s no reason to have any emotional attachment to any newcomers in ECW.

But giving that developmental group their own national showcase – sort of what baseball fans would consider a “4A” league between the minors of FCW/independents and the majors of Raw/SmackDown – would be just the thing to cure that.

Instead of guys like Reks coming up with the same generic look and a goofy gimmick, beating a handful of local talents and never really going anywhere, they’ll have a chance to actually develop.

The entire WWE Universe – not just those in Florida – will be able to see these guys as they develop and grow into their gimmicks. Guys like Archer, Reks and Croft will be in a position where they’re not presumed to be “over their heads,” while those in FCW still waiting for a chance – whether they be second-generation stars like Joe Hennig, Brett DiBiase or the Rotundos or up-and-comers like Heath Slater and Michael Tarver – will have one more step to progress before they make it to the “big time.”

Those who succeed will move on and maintain the natural progression of the industry as a whole (Sheamus, Kofi Kingston, Evan Bourne and numerous others who cut their teeth in the new ECW are a testament to that), while others will simply have a national showcase to ply their trade.

In reality, the future has to be now for WWE. While they’re all still top stars, guys like Shawn Michaels, Undertaker and even Triple-H won’t be around forever – and while it may seem that those like Sheamus, CM Punk, The Miz, Drew McIntyre et al are in a good position to ostensibly replace them, there must be a wave ready to take the spots those men must vacate.

This is a good first step. And besides, no matter how the letters, trademarks or brands may be used, “ECW” as in Extreme Championship Wrestling died in March of 2001. But the next generation of WWE? That has to carry the company into 2011 and beyond.

-Louie Dee
Contributing Writer

Monday, February 1, 2010

Remembering The Great One, Jack Brisco

After losing wrestling's greatest friend (Georgiann Makropoulos) last week, today we've lost one of its greatest all-time stars, former NWA and NCAA champion Jack Brisco.

Brisco died at age 68 after undergoing triple-bybass surgery last week.

Until the arrival of Kurt Angle, Brisco was the most heralded of amateur wrestlers to make the move to the professional ranks. In 1965, he won the NCAA title without having a takedown scored against him the entire year. Eight years later, on July 20,1973, he beat Harley Race for the NWA World title. He lost the title in Japan to Shohei Baba in December 1974, but regained it after only a week and continued his reign until being beaten by Terry Funk a year later.

Jack and younger brother Gerald (Jerry) were three-time NWA World tag team champions, but are perhaps more famous for what they did as business partners, convincing a majority of their fellow partners to sell Georgia Championship Wrestling to Vince McMahon in 1984 and enabling the WWF to claim the nationally syndicated TBS time slot at the expense of the NWA.

Jack Brisco was a tremendously devoted husband to wife, Jan, who shared his passion for traveling around the country taking in NASCAR events as well top amateur wrestling championships. "Traveling is no longer stressful, as when I was wrestling,” Jack told me. “Now I actually look forward to seeing all I missed.”

Brisco is a charter member of The Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, along with Jerry, in 2008.

“When I walked away from the business, that was it,” he told me in 2001. “I still loved wrestling and my friendships with my peers, but I had had enough. It was more than just my body aching. We all had made so many sacrifices; being away from our families was the biggest one. At least I was lucky for all the time I did get to spend with Jerry on the road, though. I can't complain, I've had a great life so far."

—Mike Lano

On The Edge Of Love

They say (whoever "they" are) that to be in love is to look into someone's eyes and to know what they're thinking or feeling. That until you truly know someone, you've never really lived.

Last night, while watching the Royal Rumble with a few of my friends, I think I actually fell in love with Edge. Now, I'm not talking the traditional kind of romantic love that most would associate with the word (the kind of love that is, coincidentally, reserved for Maria Kanellis each night when I go to sleep). I guess what I'm trying to say is that last night I was able to look into Edge's eyes when he first came out at the highly coveted number-29 spot. For the first time in quite a long time - 5-1/2 years by my math - the fans seemed to be solidly behind the "Rated-R Superstar" as he made his way down to the ring to claim his first Royal Rumble victory, just as I'd predicted a few posts below.

More importantly than the fans' reaction to Edge's "surprise" appearance or his even more "stunning" win - which will give him a world title match at WrestleMania - were the real, true emotions that were so clearly etched on Edge's face in those closing Royal Rumble minutes. I know Edge had to be thinking that this was his time, and that, hopefully, only he could be the one to truly take it away from himself. It can be difficult to look back on a career that includes nine world titles as one unfulfilled, but I think Edge truly has to look into the mirror and wonder just how much of a legacy he will leave if his injuries continue to mount with age.

Make no mistake, Edge's recent return is a huge deal. It is the sort of injury that has sidelined baseball and football players for more than a season ... even ending the careers of some. The fact that Edge was able to make a return to active wrestling in just six months is such a testament to his desire to be the best of the best ... mentioned in the same breaths as John Cena, The Undertaker, and Triple-H. Edge may have been a main event player for a few years now, but last night his eyes conveyed to me that he was finally going to take that one giant step toward the kind of immortality that is reserved for very few men. He also has to know that one poorly planted foot could actually spell the end of his wrestling career, forever.

Whether or not this mountain that I am describing is one that Edge is even capable of climbing, is one thing. You still have to admire the fact that he is willing to take a chance in an attempt at reaching the summit. After all, it'll be a mighty fall if his foot gives way.

At least, that's what his eyes seemed to tell me.

--Brady Hicks
Contributing Writer