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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.


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

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

WWE Network: Early Observations

Some e-mails exchanges between PWI reporters through the first 30 hours of the new WWE Network era:

Louie D: I went out and bought a Roku last night (we had been wanting one anyway) so I could get the Network. It took me three hours to actually be able to sign up, but I'm watching WrestleMania 3, so it was worth it.

Louie D: Looks like no blurring/grayscale/etc. of blood is true. Just watched Billy Jack Haynes get busted open by Hercules and there is, as Gorilla Monsoon says, blood "pouring out of the forehead" of Haynes.

Louie D: Hillbilly Jim's music is the random banjo music they used on the WM Anthology DVD and not "Don't Go Messin' With A Country Boy" so I guess music rights issues are still a problem. Takes away a little bit in some instances, but again, beggars can't be choosers there.

Gerry Strauss: Just curious … within PPVs, etc., can you select specific matches to watch or do you have to scan through the whole shows?

Louie D: I'm on my laptop right now … clicked on WM3 and it played from the beginning, but I can "fast forward" the clip to anywhere in the show.

Al Castle: It took forever to get signed up (For once, I wanted to give WWE my money, and they wouldn't take it.) Up and running now, and it's pretty great. You can search by a wrestler's name or a match stipulation. Right now they're showing the awesome Bret-Shawn rivalry DVD. I'm the proverbial kid in a candy store. On my Roku 3, the picture is amazing. Better than when I get through my cable provider.

Mike Bessler: I just signed up and went right to WrestleMania III. Billy Jack vs. Hercules is one of my favorite underappreciated WM matches ever. I mean … wow! I still have my doubts about whether or not the model will work in the long run (I think it's bound to drive pro wrestling into a much smaller niche market at the end of the day), but speaking just as a fan, this feels like a dream.

Stu Saks: Why do you say that, Mike? Won’t more people watch their big events now?

Mike Bessler: On the PPV side, there is really a loss of incentive for fans to come together to watch the shows, either at home or at sports bars, etc. So that's one area where WWE will likely lose the ability to win over the kind of potential fans who are invited to experience wrestling collectively with devotees of the genre. WWE also loses the motivation to introduce a lot of new programming via conventional markets like cable television, which—whether Vince likes it or not—is still a medium of choice for millions and millions of fans. And the DVD market will, in all likelihood, take a humongous hit and eventually wither away with the emphasis on the network, so there will be less collecting and gift-giving of media in its tangible form. More merchandising with less emphasis on the primary product seems like a very unbalanced approach to me. All in all, I think the network caters well to true believers but leads the business into to into a bottleneck of a limited, pay to play fan base that doesn't do much to bring new fans into the fold. Still … pretty cool. Moved on to KOTR '93. I was totally at that show.

Kevin McElvaney: For what it's worth, I'm still planning to have a WrestleMania party at my place this year. (Who's bringing spinach dip?) You can watch the Super Bowl alone, too, but a social event is a social event.

Louie D: Me too, but remember three things, Kev: Umpteen million watch the Super Bowl but 10 percent of that watch the NFL on any given week, but that number is much, much smaller during the season—and part of that is because a lot of people watch at a bar or in a huge group at home to be part of the atmosphere as much as the game; the key for wrestling is keeping those people interested and having them come back for an Extreme Rules or Payback party. Two, in the same vein, if I'm a guy who is a casual watcher but cares little about the classic or ancillary content and knows a good friend has the network and thus every PPV (and likely will be like “hey, c'mon over and watch”), what's my incentive to give WWE any of my money? And, three, I don't know if they still do this everywhere, but my local Buffalo Wild Wings would still order all WWE PPVs simply because even if only one party comes in to watch but spends $20-$30 per head over the course of a night, it's a win. Either way, that exposes new fans to WWE in the fact that other people in BWW could theoretically watch. But now, can/will those places still want to do that, when tech-savvy people can pay $10 a month instead of $45 (or $30-plus at a BWW-type place) and watch at home —and even if they do, what if they have DirecTV or Dish or a cable company that decides to say "screw WWE, we're not carrying their events"? All that said, one area where I think the Network may actually help bring "new" fans is by bringing back old ones. A good friend of mine hasn't watched current programming in probably five years or more, but is subscribing to the network simply for the classic content; he says that now, but isn't there a chance he'll watch NXT, or Raw postgame show, or any other "current" event and maybe get the itch to check out Raw or Smackdown because of it?

Kevin McElvaney: No doubt. If your friend already pays the $10 per month, and you simply want to catch the pay-per-views, you might opt not to subscribe yourself. I was only countering what Mike said about the cheap subscription fee being something that might discourage group viewing habits. I don't think that'll necessarily be the case, although I can't imagine groups getting together for a Payback party. The Rumble, though, would probably be a weird thing to watch by oneself, so I guess it depends. A compelling event is a compelling event.

As far as I know, the pay-per-view Blast Zones (like Buffalo Wild Wings) are going to stay operational. There's a communal aspect to those, as well. Whether or not they'll stay active long term is another question entirely.

Louie D: Watching Survivor Series 1990—Hogan just said WWF, so I guess that piece of litigation is also now in the past.

Al Castle: Yeah that's been the case for about a year now. They can also show the old scratch logo now too. A lot of the legal stuff seems so arbitrary. On the HBK Mr. WrestleMania DVD I just bought, all the Ventura commentary is erased. But they're showing ’Mania 1 right now with Ventura on it.

Kevin McElvaney: Has anyone else been running into access problems with the Network? I only attempted to use it for the first time last night, following Raw, but I had no luck playing any videos. My guess is that bandwidth issues are going to be a major thing in the early stages of the launch. I can only hope we won't see streaming inconsistencies during WrestleMania and other future events.

Al Castle: I've only been able to watch the live stream, and some of the on demand selection of original shows. I haven't been able to pull up any of the archived PPVs on my Rokus. I always get a timed out error message.

Mike Bessler: I've had decent luck. The buffering issues during the afternoon yesterday thwarted my efforts at watching KOTR '93, but I watched a lot of WM 17 last night. Some of the delays and skipping is frustrating, but I'm sure it will improve.

Louie D: I had the same problems as Al last night on my Roku … only the live stream would work. I also noticed that not all of the PPVs would show up, either. In addition, this may just be a settings thing, but I couldn't even watch the ECW Hardcore TV that was on the live stream because it kept telling me my parental controls wouldn't allow it.

Al Castle: I've also noticed at least one missing PPV: Great American Bash 1991. How am I supposed to get my Skywalkers 2 fix?

Louie D: I've been going through Ron Simmons vs. Oz withdrawal for 23 years now! I didn't have a handful of WrestleManias or SummerSlams, which was weird. And nothing from like 2002-08.

Stu Saks: The Shawn Michaels-Bret Hart documentary starts and stops on my iPad more than a Larry Zbyszko match. Very frustrating.

Friday, February 21, 2014

WWE Network: Point/Counterpoint

By Dan Murphy
PWI Senior Writer

With countless hours of content from the WWE vault (including footage from WCW, ECW, the AWA, and dozens of major historical territories), as well as new content (such as the long-delayed reality show Legends House), the WWE Network seems like a dream-come-true for wrestling fans. Throw in every single pay-per-view, including WrestleMania, for just $10 per month, and it’s a no-brainer, right?

Sorry. I’m just not interested.

First of all, while it makes economic sense for WWE to offer the Network as a video streaming service, as opposed to a traditional television channel, that’s a turnoff to me. I already have Netflix and a Roku box with dozens of on-demand content at my disposal. I also have a premium cable TV package with hundreds of channels, where I can watch anything from Cheers re-runs to True Detective on HBO (maybe I’m more of a Woody Harrelson fan than I ever realized). I literally have thousands of options for content, and maybe an hour or two of viable TV time available per day.

If the WWE Network was airing vintage Mid-South footage or episodes of World Class Championship Wrestling, I might tune in and watch a bit before bedtime, instead of tuning into Comedy Central for a bit. I might set the DVR and watch a little on the weekend. But WWE isn’t offering that programming yet. It’s offering its library of pay-per-views from WWE, WCW, and ECW.

If I have a spare bit of time, I’m not going to choose to fill it by watching Goldberg and Lex Luger stink up the ring from Mayhem 2000. I’ve already seen most of those PPVs and have no interest in watching 90 percent of them again. And, if I did want to see any of those matches, I’m pretty sure I can find them on one of the many free video sharing sites out there. I know WWE’s legal team works hard to keep that content offline, but it’s not hard to find.

But you can get live WWE 12 PPVs for just $120 for the year. That’s roughly a $600 value right there, you might say.

True, if I planned to buy every single WWE PPV. I have no earthly intention of doing that. Does anyone remember the string of lousy PPVs at the tail end of 2013? WWE should be paying me to watch the 2013 Survivor Series.

The WWE Network is going to make WWE programming even more of a niche and take it out of the mainstream. I don’t see casual fans making the jump the way WWE expects them to. Ten bucks a month isn’t a lot, but entertainment dollars are hard to come by, and there are so many entertainment options out there that $120 a year to watch wrestling pay-per-views is a tough sell, especially when the market is flooded with so much WWE programming isvalready available on free TV. Skip the PPV and tune into Raw the next night; not only will you get a full rundown, but you’ll probably also see several rematches from the PPV, right there on free TV.

According to WWE’s estimates, it needs 2 million subscribers for the Network to be a major financial success. That’s twice as many people that buy WrestleMania. I don’t think that many people will be willing to sign up; remember, there are still a lot of people of who don’t have Internet access in this country, let alone a video streaming provider like Roku or X-Box. WWE is making a huge gamble. This time, I’m betting against them.

By Kevin McElvaney
PWI Contributing Writer

Given all WWE has invested in its brand, it must continue to find ways to innovate and attract new fans in order to stay viable. YouTube exclusive programming, endless references to the WWE app, and even all the talk of trending on Twitter and social media are all attempts by WWE to stay ahead of the curve. The WWE Network is a major and, in my mind, very shrewd step in that direction.

Streaming video and internet-only programming represent the wave of the future. What WWE will be doing now starting Monday—streamlining some of its products and making them available independent of cable providers—is nothing short of cutting edge. Mark my words: You will see the HBOs and ESPNs of the world doing the same thing within the next five years. Is there a chance that some fans won’t bite, given the need for a tablet, streaming device, or other ìsmartî technology to watch the Network? Sure. For that matter, the moving of WWE’s weekly programming to cable probably alienated some fans. It also undoubtedly inspired others to subscribe to a cable service so that they wouldn’t miss the programming they were used to catching with their rabbit ear antennas. WWE’s younger fans are and will continue to be tech savvy, and WWE is wise to jump on the streaming bandwagon sooner than later.

Sure, there is already plenty of WWE programming available, even without the exclusive new and archival content promised by the Network. There are also, as Mr. Murphy mentions, only so many hours in the day to watch television. And yet, has this done anything to impede the success of Netflix, Hulu, Redbox, and various other convenient, new outlets for getting entertainment? No. It has only hurt those companies that have been unable to adapt, or those that increasingly cost too much money (looking at you, cable providers). A streaming service specifically for pro wrestling fans makes up for the dearth of in-ring content served up by other providers, and there is absolutely a market for this sort of thing.

Let’s consider what WWE Network offers. True, as my colleague says, it will not initially include much of the classic, regional programming now part of the WWE library. The service is just starting, though, and we will almost certainly be seeing World Class Championship Wrestling, National Wrestling Alliance, and all the rest offered on the Network sometime soon. In the meantime, every WWE, WCW, and ECW pay-per-view is nothing to take lightly. If you can’t find something to enjoy in an archive of that caliber, then maybe pro wrestling isn’t for you.

Then, there is the inclusion of every pay-per-view in the subscription price. Sure, I will admit to not having any interest in some of WWE’s monthly events. But do the math. There is not a year goes by when I’m willing to miss The Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, or SummerSlam. That’s about $180 right there. So, even if I’m only watching three monthly pay-per-views—for some reason neglecting the service for the rest of the year while dutifully paying the bill for it—I’ve come out ahead of the $120 yearly tab. In practice, I have plenty of interest in the archival content, most of the other monthly pay-per-view events, and, yes, even programs like Legends House.

The impending launch of the WWE Network is a big gamble. It’s untested, and it needs a whole heap of subscribers to be a success. My bet is that they’ll get halfway there pretty quickly, and then Dan Murphy and the many more holdouts will come to their senses.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why TNA Still Matters

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve written quite a few items in support of TNA (hey, here’s one from almost four years ago from this very blog). Throughout its various and sundry phases of expansion, contraction, innovation, and stagnancy, I’ve tried to stay optimistic for the sake of the business itself because, in my mind, the more wrestling that’s out there, the better it is, whether you’re a wrestler, a fan, a concession vendor, or a writer for the world’s most respected wrestling magazine. That’s not to say that people should settle for a substandard product either. And these days, TNA is anything but substandard. In fact, as hesitant as I am to once again publicly get behind TNA’s new direction, I’m going to do it again because TNA still matters. And it’s the efforts of some of their brightest stars that give me more enthusiasm than ever that something positive is going on with the company. Here are a few of my favorite examples:

Magnus: He’s the perfect face for the new incarnation of TNA and Impact Wrestling. A solid performer not just with regard to his in-ring skills and appearance, but also with an ability to tell a story with what he says and what he doesn’t say. Throughout the Bound For Glory tournament and his break from the Main Event Mafia, it was the omnipresent feeling that Magnus was holding back his emotions and sentiments that put him in a great position for a credible turn to the dark side. Now that he has the brass ring, there’s still a sense that Magnus isn’t really happy with the idea that he’s at the beck and call of the Carter clan. How he chooses to resolve his inner conflicts remains to be seen.

MVP: It’s true that just about anybody without a tremendous amount of baggage in the business (Hogan, Bischoff, Russo, et al) could’ve stepped into the “secret investor” role and brought some intrigue to the mix, but MVP really offers a lot in his new gig with TNA. I admit that I was skeptical at first, but it didn’t take long for me to change my tune. He’s a gifted talker, a seasoned grappler, and he has the kind of charisma that grabs fans’ interest and sustains it. It’s especially encouraging that just a couple of weeks into this stint, MVP has worked every angle of his new character to perfection.

Rockstar Spud and Ethan Carter: Early on, I just couldn’t stand these guys. Every time either dude was on the screen, I had to fight the urge to punch my TV screen. Then it hit me: I was seeing them through the eyes of a fan. There’s nothing wrong with that, but what the realization meant to me is that they were doing their job extremely well. They were putting everything they had into making the audience hate them, and it was absolutely working. Spud and EC3 are excellent buttresses to Dixie’s credibility as a bad guy, because where her credibility as a performer often falters, they can step in without hesitation and draw the ire of fans on her behalf. That’s how you know they’re real professionals.

Willow: It’s nice to see that Jeff Hardy wasn’t in the exodus of those leaving TNA in pursuit of greener pastures (and some old glory). When the new “Willow” promo aired during last week’s show, social media bubbled over with folks complaining that Hardy’s character was a ripoff of The Wyatt Family, Back Reign, and Spider-Man foe Electro. A 1.82 second search on Google will educate even the snarkiest fans, revealing that Willow has been around for a while, though. Maybe Hardy’s dusting off this persona off provide a change of scenery for his longtime fans. Either way, it’s something different for TNA. Three cheers for that.

Ken Anderson and Bully Ray: According to the official line from Impact Wrestling, their feud ended last week with the casket match. But I wouldn’t mind if it went a few more months. The dramatic side of the rivalry went a little too far when Bully threatened Anderson’s newborn twins. That was just a little too gratuitous for my liking. But their in-ring meetings were classic throwdowns, and I wouldn't mind seeing them mix it up a few more times.

There’s a lot more stuff to crow about with TNA right now. The BroMans are on fire, the company has added Alpha Female and Santana Garrett to the Knockouts roster, and guys like Chris Sabin and Bobby Roode are giving us some of the best “must watch” backstage moments from week to week. I’d like to see some more indy folks brought in, even just for short-term spots on television. Midwest brawler “Farmer” Billy Hills or southerner Barry Wolf, the latter of whom was gunning for a TNA spot in last year's Gut Check Challenge, are the kind of guys that I’d love to see on TV mixing it up with TNA’s mainstays. The fact is, it’s a big world out there and TNA doesn’t have to hand out a big ol’ buttload of long-term contracts to keep its talent pool and storylines fresh.

None of my enthusiasm is meant to say that TNA is over the hump with regard to finances, ratings, and any anything else that’s going on backstage and in their front office. It is worth noting, however, that I’ve heard from a number of TNA’s top-tier guys that, by and large, they’re very happy with how things are going in the company and that the nonstop reports of TNA’s imminent demise are largely fictional. This doesn’t mean that TNA is close to being or will ever be a credible competitor to WWE’s spot as the industry leader. But as long as they’re alive, accessible, and entertaining, it’s worth the time and attention of wrestling fans to hang in there and enjoy what they’re bringing to the table.

Mike Bessler
PWI Contributing Writer
@OfficialPWI Contributor

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

10 Reasons To Make Cena vs. Hogan At WM 30

I can't believe I'm about to write this, but here goes:

Hulk Hogan should wrestle John Cena in the main event of WrestleMania 30.

I'll give you moment to stop laughing and throwing tomatoes at your computer monitor.
I know, it sounds preposterous. John Cena is the star in all of wrestling, and, at 36, is still at his physical prime. Hulk Hogan is a very beaten up 60, and has struggled in recent years just to walk to the ring, much less work an actual match.

But, if the match is at all possible, there are several reasons why WWE should do it this year in New Orleans. Here are some:

1. It is one of the last few "dream matches": With WWE having all but monopolized the pro wrestling business in the United States--there are few, if any, big matches that fans haven't seen yet. Even more so than they did with Rock vs. Cena, WWE can bill this as a truly exclusive, once in a lifetime match, pitting the two biggest stars of their respective generations against each other. Short of, maybe, Cena vs. Steve Austin, what match could possibly be bigger?

2. It may be now or never: Whether it was Austin vs. Hogan, Flair vs. Hogan at WrestleMania 8, or a well-booked WCW invasion angle, WWE's history is filled with missed opportunities that fans, and Vince McMahon alike, would love to have a chance to make right. Sure, you can argue that the window to make this match already closed several years ago. But, even if it's open a small crack, that's more than it will be next year, when both Hogan and Cena will be a year older. Besides that, who knows where Hogan will be a year from now? He could re-sign with TNA or have some other business or personal commitment that would preclude him from participating in future WrestleManias. Hogan is available now and has made it clear he wants to do business with WWE. The stars may never align like this again.

3. If just for one night, Hogan can still be Hogan: Don't count on seeing Hogan drop the big leg, or even run the ropes. But even in his physical condition, Hogan could still transform the SuperDome into a time machine headed for 1987. Whether it's feverishly pointing to the ring as he walks down the aisle (slowly) to "Real American," or "Hulking Up" at just the right moment, Hogan has enough tricks up his sleeve to give fans their money's worth in 2014. At the very least, Hogan still largely looks like the "Hulkster" WWE fans remember from years ago, and that can go a long way.

4. There's a heck of a story to be told: For guidance on how to properly book this match, I'd hand WWE writers a DVD of Rocky Balboa, the 2006 film that told the story of a 60ish "Italian Stallion" getting one last shot at the heavyweight championship, if only for nostalgia's sake. Cena might be reluctant to wrestle Hogan, out of concern of hurting the old-imer. He can even "take it easy" on him in the match's opening minutes. But, as the bout progresses, Cena begins to realize that he underestimated Hogan, whose determination and strength are more than Cena bargained for. The decision on who wins the match is less important than the story they tell.

5. Hogan would be at his best: I was in the building a couple years ago for Hogan's last real singles match, against Sting at TNA Bound For Glory 2011. The bout was hardly a masterpiece, but it did vastly exceed my expectations, thanks in part to TNA wisely incorporating a lot of outside interference and gimmickry to limit what Hogan was expected to do. (That said, Hogan took at least three back bumps). Granted, Hogan is three years older, but he'll also be more driven than he has been in years to bring his A-game on the biggest of all stages, WrestleMania. If the fans' cheers aren't enough motivation for Hogan, the paycheck he's sure to earn, as well as the possibility of more WWE paydays, should be, given Hogan's reported financial problems. For his part, Cena would likely welcome the challenge of carrying Hogan to a watchable performance, and nobody knows how to work the WWE main-event style better than Cena. What's more, WWE is sure to call upon the absolute master of wrestling smoke and mirrors, Pat Patterson, to layout an entertaining spectacle. WWE also has the resources to help get Hogan in the best possible physical shape in time for the big show.

6. Cena doesn't have any other obvious WrestleMania opponents: If booking Cena vs. Hogan at WrestleMania 30 came at the expense of another surefire WrestleMania main-event-worthy match, then my reservations would be even greater. But, in truth, there is no other obvious money match for Cena this year. Heck, as of a couple of weeks ago, WWE was even considering pairing Cena with Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania, according to reports. This is not to say that WWE couldn't come up with a suitable main-event level opponent for Cena, including CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Brock Lesnar, Triple-H, or even The Undertaker. But, with the exception of 'Taker, none of those feel exactly fresh, nor worthy of WrestleMania 30 main-event status. Coming off of back-to-back matches with The Rock, Cena demands a truly big-name opponent for WrestleMania. And they don't come any bigger than Hulk Hogan.

7. It would create other interesting match possibilities: Pairing Cena with Hogan would open up the possibility of several other key matches at WrestleMania--including a true "main event." Instead of wrestling Cena in what would likely be the other big-money 'Mania match WWE could put together, The Undertaker could instead take on Brock Lesnar in a long-talked about showdown. Triple-H--also rumored to be a likely WrestleMania opponent for Cena--could instead take on Daniel Bryan. Whatever the case, if Hogan and Cena wrestled each other in a featured match somewhere in the mid-card, that would allow two other, deserving talents to shine in the final match of the night.

8. Fans would go nuts: To this day, I've never heard a louder crowd than that inside the Toronto SkyDome at WrestleMania 18 a dozen years ago when Hogan took on The Rock. I expect that many of the same ingredients that made that match so special in the eyes of fans would be replicated in Hogan vs. Cena. Not only would the pairing drive WWE's existing fans to a frenzy, but it is also likely to lure in many more fans from Hogan's era who would be curious to see Hogan in one more WrestleMania main event. Incidentally, many of those fans would likely be inclined to subscribe to the nostalgia-heavy WWE Network.

9. It's WrestleMania 30: Even if they don't do it this year, it's all together possible that WWE could book Cena vs. Hogan at WrestleMania 31, or even later. Yes, Hogan will be a year older, but he'd also have more time to heal his body and get in shape. That said, WrestleMania 30 is a truly historic milestone for WWE, and it's worthy of a truly match. Seeing as how Hogan had a big hand in the success of the early WrestleManias, it's fitting that he would headline the 30th installment.

10. WWE has nothing to lose: It comes down to this: Why not? Sure, there is every chance that Hogan vs. Cena, even under the best of circumstances, would be bowling shoe ugly, as JR would say. But, the fact is, fans will have already spent their money by then. That may sound particularly cynical, but it's how the fight game works. Whether it's boxing, mixed martial arts, or wrestling, big events are made or broken before the fighters get into the ring. It's why the hype for WrestleMania 24 centered on The Big Show vs. Floyd Mayweather, and not The Undertaker vs. Edge. As it did with Show-Mayweather, WWE could choose to put Hogan-Cena somewhere in the middle of the event, and close the show with another top match. But if WWE's goal is to get as many pay-per-view buys, or new subscribers to its network, then no other marquee match carries the must-see, freak show marketability of Hogan vs. Cena. Whether you think it's a good idea, or a terrible one, you know you'll want to see it.

Al Castle
PWI Senior Writer

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Wrestling “Wish List” for 2014

Because I spend so much time on social media these days—for personal stuff as well as handling Twitter-related matters for @OfficialPWI—I think I have a decent feel for how fans feel about 2013. Generally speaking, the consensus seems to be that it wasn’t one of pro wrestling’s better years. In fact, many fans appear to think there was more bad than good going on in the squared circle in 2013. There was plenty of good, to be sure. For my money, Bully Ray was one of the most enjoyable workers in TNA and he made the promotion fun to watch. Then there’s Daniel Bryan, who had a banner year, as evidenced by the fact that PWI readers voted him “Wrestler of the Year” in our new issue (which, incidentally is on sale now at

But 2014 could certainly be better than 2013, that much is for certain. Hey, I’ve said it before: When it comes to wrestling, I can be pretty easy to please. I suppose that’s why I’m content to watch and re-watch the same old grainy footage of Kareem Mohammed tearing up Jay Youngblood’s headdress  from their feud in the early-1980s; I like the stuff that’s compelling and attention-getting without having to think or worry too much about what’s going on backstage. There are a few things that I’d really like to see in the coming year. Some of them are relatively “mainstream,” but I have a few offbeat druthers as well. All in all, what I’m hoping for isn’t exactly on par with the imaginations of Tolstoy or Melville, but it’s a little outside of the box, and that might be what we need to bounce back from a rather lackluster year. Here’s a sampling of my personal wish list ...

A “double-turn” from Daniel Bryan: I can’t claim this idea as my own, because I saw it being discussed in a chat room during this week’s Monday Night Raw, but I have to say it’d be way cool if Bryan’s turn to the “dark side” somehow resulted in him turning The Wyatt Family into an anti-Authority rebellion. It would be complex and perhaps difficult to pull off (kind of like “The Switch” episode of Seinfeld) but if everything fell into place, it would be well worth the long, strange trip. Whatever actually happens, it has to be better than the time CM Punk joined The New Breed. Or that time that John Cena joined Nexus. Prognosis: Possible, but not probable.

Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania: No doubt about it, if "Hulkster" came back at The Royal Rumble, it would turn the wrestling world on its ear. Everyone from Jimmy Hart to your typical fanboy in his shrunken, old-school PWI T-shirt wants to see this happen. It’s a sure thing that a 'Mania match that pits Hogan against any big name from today’s roster could easily make that show one of the biggest shindigs in wrestling history. Prognosis: All signs point to maybe.

Days gone by: Toby Keith
visits the Impact Zone
A new and serious contender in the wrestling industry: The hot rumor at the moment is that Jeff Jarrett and Toby Keith are set to announce a new project—something along the lines of a brand new wrestling promotion—in the very near future. To make things a bit more scintillating, Jim Ross is allegedly in the fold in some capacity or another. Details are sketchy, but some insiders, like wrestling vet turned podcaster Konnan, are saying that it’s really and truly in the works. It sounds almost too good to be true, really. I’m a lifelong fan of the southern style rasslin’ and that’s why Memphis-area brawler Phil Hickerson will always rank in my list of all-time favorites. So I can totally get on board with this idea in principle. But if the whole “Billy Corgan is buying TNA” affair from weeks past has taught us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t get too excited until the key players get behind a microphone or in front of a camera and tell us that the ink is dry on a contract or two. Nevertheless, a collaboration between an innovator like Jarrett and a deep-pocketed enthusiast like Keith brings about the kind of potential that is the stuff of dreams for wrestling fans. And Ol’ J.R. would be the icing on that cake, too. Prognosis: With a little less talk and a lot more action, we just might have something to believe in.

A higher grade of women’s wrestling from TNA and WWE: I definitely miss some of the Knockouts who are no longer with TNA, but ODB’s recent rise to prominence as well as Madison Rayne’s return to the squared circle are encouraging signs of things to come. I’d hope that WWE might spend less time grooming their Divas for roles on a reality show, but it sure looks like WWE has hit upon a recipe for short-term success with the hype and ratings surrounding of Total Divas. Prognosis: Thank goodness for SHIMMER.

Better times for TNA: I’m not the least bit ashamed to say that I love watching the TNA product. But at the same time, a lot of the company's recent moves have been pretty hard to get behind. They’re losing big names left and right, and at some level, with so many rumors flying, one would have to logically conclude that they’re going through a rough patch. But they enjoy a spot on prime time television and a dedicated following in the U.S. and abroad. They have a talented locker room, even without the big names who left in 2013. I agree with PWI’s Al Castle that one can hardly call TNA a distant second to WWE at this point but I also believe that folks who really want TNA to collapse or be assimilated into WWE are, at the very least, terribly misguided. TNA’s demise, at this point in the game, would leave a tremendous void in the business, and if you don’t like what you’re seeing from WWE right now, I’ve got sour news for you, Jack: An absence of TNA will mean more of the same from WWE for a long, long time. Still, TNA has some major problems to fix, and for things to drastically improve, they need to make some far-reaching, yet common sense changes, soon. Prognosis: Crossing my fingers, but not holding my breath.
PWI, December '95

Some good TV time for R-Truth
: Okay, I know this is probably not on anyone else’s radar, but I really see some potential for Truth to be a breakout star if the right people get behind him. His in-ring work has improved and he’s gold on the mike, especially when he’s “Crazy R-Truth.” I don’t care if he’s “good guy crazy” or “bad guy crazy,” this guy can really work. His current work with Xavier Woods and their rivalry with Brodus Clay give R-Truth the chance to get out there and make people take notice once again. Fort my part, I’d love to see him get to the top someday. Prognosis: Stranger things have happened ... like the time that Diesel and Mabel made the cover of PWI.

A decent sampling of indy wrestling on television: Indy stuff is all over the 'net, but there’s still nothing like firing up some wrestling on the ol’ boob tube. More and more these days, smaller satellite channels seem to be playing around with offering indy promotions time slots on their networks. Sometimes these promotions are getting regional coverage, and others, like Arkansas-based TCW, are inking deals that bring their action into homes all around the country. Sure, the time slots aren’t always great, but in the age of the DVR, it’s pretty easy to set your timer and watch something new and different whenever you want. In that respect, it’s a good time to be a wrestling fan. Prognosis: Take this one to the bank, brother.

Let's face it: The Attitude Era is a thing of the past and the original ECW isn't coming back. But there's still a lot to enjoy when it comes to wrestling, both with respect to what's already here and what could be right around the corner.

Mike Bessler
PWI Contributing Writer
@officialPWI Contributor