Doctor's Orders: March 5-9, 2017 - Pros and Cons From Fast Lane/Raw/SD, WrestleMania 33 - Where It All Begins Again...Again...Again?, & DDP In The Hall of Fame Spotlight
By The Doc
Mar 9, 2017 - 7:41:45 AM
”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE's top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.
Pros and Cons From Fast Lane, Raw, & Smackdown
WrestleMania 33 Could Step WWE Into The Next Phase Of Its Evolution
Diamond Dallas Page (An Excerpt from The WrestleMania Era)
QUESTION OF THE DAY: What is your Win and Fail for WWE this week?
WWE Fast Lane (Two Pros)
-The Cruiserweight division has seen a sharp rise in its quality since Neville entered the scene in December; The King's first PPV defense of his crown against Jack Gallagher (*** ½) was the latest example in a growing body of evidence that, with The Man That Gravity Forgot as its anchor, the cruisers are well-positioned to be a highlight on shows like Fast Lane instead of afterthoughts. 205 Live has provided a platform to develop characters and Gallagher vs. Neville on Sunday was perhaps the best evidence of the inherent payoff; both champion and challenger are well-defined, allowing for a greater investment by the audience and an organic tendency for CW title matches to earn a reaction. Little things like the use of the crowd-popping Red Arrow only when Neville felt desperate enough go unnoticed by most, but can make a good match really good.
-Braun Strowman vs. Roman Reigns (****) was a ton of fun, like a comic book battle come to life in the wrestling ring. Was I surprised by the victor? Yes, but it apparently did not bother me nearly as much as it bothered others. I was actually somewhat surprised by the result as opposed to disappointed, thinking Reigns to finally be the underdog given Strowman's presentation in recent months and the possibility of Undertaker showing up to get revenge from being eliminated from the Rumble by The Big Dog. Braun has truly proven himself in his recent matches with Reigns and Big Show, so I highly doubt that he was done much if any harm moving forward in spite of the loss, especially considering how it was booked. Reigns deserves credit too for his part of such an impressive overall performance. This was a scenario in which his so-termed “Superman” routine was called for against a legitimate supervillain. It was one of my favorite matches of the year to date.
WWE Fast Lane (One Con)
-You folks have heard and read enough of me thumbing down the idea of Goldberg winning the Universal Title, so allow me to direct my more constructively-critical attention for Fast Lane on the atrocious period of the worst brand-only PPV since Split 2.0 began. After Samoa Joe soundly defeated Sami Zayn (** ½) and before the Neville-Gallagher match began, there was about an hour of totally worthless drivel. The Tag Team Championships may as well not even exist as far as I'm concerned. Call it lousy-by-comparison, if you will; NXT has handled tag team wrestling with care and it is a highlight of each and every NXT event, so what is WWE proper's problem? Gallows and Anderson vs. The Realest Guys was impossible for me to engage with on account of it just flat out not being presented as something that really matters. Nia Jax is progressing as slowly as a snail, so I had no more interest in her match with Sasha Banks as I did in the Tag Title bout. In so much as those two matches would have been better fits for Raw filler, the stain on the rear-end of this show was unquestionably whatever that was between 'Roids Mahal, Rusev, Cesaro, and The World's Largest Athlete. What a total waste of someone as talented as The Bulgarian Brute.
Monday Night Raw (Two Pros)
-Chris Jericho did a solid job of responding to Kevin Owens turning on him during the classic Festival of Friendship segment a few weeks ago; Kevin Owens did a fine job of responding to Chris Jericho's actions that led to him losing the Universal Championship at Fast Lane. It was not a great segment, that which set-up the United States Title match at WrestleMania 33, but considering that Owens addressed the logic hole in not immediately getting his rematch for the Big Red Belt and that Jericho managed to keep some of the persona that allowed him to ratchet his popularity back to previous heights without veering directly into the often less interesting babyface Y2J, the presentation worked well enough to advance the Mania storyline and keep the budding rivalry hot. Jericho and Owens are tasked over the next three weeks with not considerably cooling momentum, so a night like Monday was exactly what they needed it to be.
-After Neville added another really strong match to his Championship reign against Rich Swann, Austin Aries put the finishing touches on a highly entertaining run as a commentator/broadcast journalist by blasting the Cruiserweight titleholder in the mouth with his elbow. The Chicago crowd raised the stakes, gifting Aries a massive pop to accompany his actions and setting the stage for what could be the next step up for the 205-and-under division as we move along the Road to WrestleMania. Aries vs. Neville is an intriguing match-up, for A-Double appears to be in the rare spot of a persona who is all heel in his mannerisms and promos while being cast in the protagonist role opposite an antagonistic champion. I, for one, wish WWE would allow such situations to occur at the top of the card, as there is, believe it or not Vince, real interest in seeing who the better villain is. Here's hoping that Neville-Aries makes the main WM card.
Monday Night Raw (One Con)
-If Braun Strowman does not explain his actions next week, citing the subtle nod of respect but quite frankly far more obvious and out of character exit once Undertaker arrived in the closing segment, you can put that in the place of what I'm about to cite as Raw's biggest negative. Personally, I don't care if Strowman says Taker is his father, he should not have backed away so reverentially, as that is a microcosm of everything that I've been talking about with the presentation of legends at the expense of newer stars (i.e. get out of the way, newbie, the real star is here). That said, I'll wait and see with that. I've played the wait-and-see long enough with the Women's division on Raw. I need a lot more words than I've allotted to cover all that they have been struggling to accomplish creatively with the red team's female athletes but, in a nutshell, Bayley has been exposed in her feud with Charlotte as lacking core charisma and being a spotty in-ring performer. The timing was not right for Bayley to be elevated to championship contender and was seemingly pushed to that spot for lack of roster depth and, thus, any other options. Lengthy dialogue among these women connects at about a 25% rate and it does the division no favors. Monday exemplified the issues as much as any other week.
Smackdown Live (Two Pros)
-Randy Orton vs. AJ Styles was far from the greatest main-event in Smackdown history, as Mauro Ranallo irritatingly kept repeating throughout the broadcast. It was, though, a good match with an innovative finish. Orton fell in love long ago with his RKO-out-of-nowhere on an opponent flying through the air via springboard. Styles countering by dropping back to his feet on the apron instead of executing a springboard assault into the ring was very cool. I thought the match gave the impression of a foregone conclusion right from the start of the program, so I struggled to get in-tune with what they were trying to do, but admittedly that was fueled by long-held knowledge of WWE's plans for Shane vs. AJ; let that not take anything away from a high quality TV main-event confirming Smackdown's headliner for WrestleMania.
-Technically, it happened after Smackdown went off the air and was shown on Talking Smack later on in the night, but the brief and heated interaction between Shane and AJ in the Gorilla position was the next layer of a quickly escalating Styles vs. authority-figure storyline that might actually get me invested in the all-but-confirmed match between The Phenomenal One and The Prodigal Son. Basically, Styles proved on-screen that which he had proved throughout his incredible first year in WWE: that he belonged in the WrestleMania main-event; that McMahon and Daniel Bryan set-up one too many hoops for him to jump through plays off part of the situation's reality and, if diehard fans will allow it to, gives a reason to take all the pent up frustration at Styles being misused and throw it at the match itself instead of the situation behind the scenes. It is one of the Reality Era-holdover strategies that takes what we know from the dirtsheets and serves it back to us in fiction so that we might better resonate with it. I like it.
Smackdown Live (One Con)
-Not since the days of James Ellsworth sucking the wind out of the blue team's sails has Smackdown opened with a segment more worthy of flipping the channel or fast-forwarding than this Tuesday's. They announced Orton vs. Styles mid-way through last week, showed a video package of last week's Smackdown closing moment right at the start this week, then immediately cut to Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon explaining everything that happened and what they were going to do about it, complete with the same footage we'd just seen open the show, in about as boring and monotonous and pointless a piece of television that Smackdown has produced since the split. Good gracious, what a waste of time. The show arguably struggled to recover from such a lousy start, spun its wheels for most of its two-hours, and closed on a reasonably high but painfully obvious note. Raw wins the weekly battle for the first quarter of March 2017.
Two years and roughly one month ago, I witnessed the diehard community of wrestling fans collectively reach what I to this day feel was its lowest point. WrestleMania 31 was a week away, Roman Reigns was ascending to a place that few thought he was ready for, Daniel Bryan was cleared to work but stuck in a multi-man Ladder Match, and it seemed to me as though the majority of the IWC was resigned to merely “get through” the biggest show of the year instead of embracing it. It sat in contrast to the previous year’s hyper-controversy surrounding Bryan’s main-event status, as the passion that fueled the #YesMovement had been replaced by a general malaise; the sentiment regarding Mania 31 was like a greater version of the apathy felt toward the so-termed “Re-Match-a-Mania” in 2013.
So, I wrote an article that pulled on the one enthusiastic narrative thread that I could find that might stimulate some excitement. Titled, “WrestleMania 31: Where It All Begins Again…Again,” the column detailed the positive steps taken by WWE to feature newer stars in major matches in a manner reminiscent of WrestleMania 21. In 2005, WWE was coming off of a “Showcase of the Immortals” the prior year that ended with diehard fan-favorites, Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero, hugging it out as World Champions; when Mania went Hollywood, Batista, John Cena, Randy Orton, and Edge all took major steps forward to becoming cornerstones for the next half decade or longer. In 2015, WWE was in a similar situation, coming off “The Miracle on Bourbon Street” with Bryan being the focal point as the diehard fan hero; I thought Mania in Silicon Valley had the look of a night that would see Reigns, Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt, and Rusev soar to new heights and establish themselves as the backbone of the next several WrestleMania cycles.
Reflecting back on it now, the column was a preview of the hope that WrestleMania 31 did indeed provide. Rollins stood tall as the show faded to black (and arguably stole the show with Orton earlier in the night), Reigns had a standout performance in the main-event, Rusev was presented as a building block for WWE’s future, and Wyatt remained firmly in the spotlight despite losing to Undertaker; it was a rousing success in spite of such mundane creative in the build-up. Yet it is also in reflecting back on that article that perhaps we discover another layer of the growing ill-will toward WrestleMania Season by the diehard fanbase: the offer of hope by WWE that the future had arrived only for the offer to have been rescinded last year and a further step back to arguably be in the process of being taken at present time.
Rewinding a few more years, WrestleMania XXVIII featuring the Triple H-Taker rematch and Rock vs. Cena felt like a culmination point to me. WrestleMania 29, then, felt like the natural fall back to earth, when WWE tried to force the re-creation of something in 2013 that had come about quite organically in 2012; WrestleMania XXX, with Bryan’s relatively impromptu moment of glory and Taker’s Streak ending, almost felt like hitting the reset button so that WrestleMania 31 could build a new foundation for the next several years. That WrestleMania 32 felt like the timeline had been skewed, plunging us into an alternate reality off of the timeline that prior years had drawn, was very unsettling. Aside from the Women’s Revolution taking center stage, Mania 32 felt like much of the progress that had been made for “The Show of Shows” – and, consequently, the product overall – in the present and near-future was squashed and that WWE took several steps backward. Such a statement adds context to the statistics shared over the past few months; that for instance there has yet to a Top 3 Mania match exclusively featuring talents that debuted after 2002 or that only eight of the last thirty Top 3 Mania spots have gone to new stars. WWE has, throughout this decade, had at least one figurative foot firmly planted in the past and, just when it seemed it might be embracing the future (Mania 30 and 31), it was as if the tentacles of the Attitude Era and the OVW Class of 2002 latched back onto that other foot and brought it backwards again (Mania 32 and perhaps Mania 33).
Right now, I get the sense that diehard wrestling fans, members of our community, feel similar to how they might towards a loved one who is stuck in a life pattern that they find detrimental to their relationship and that, every time they feel as though the pattern is being broken and the relationship is getting stronger, their loved one falls right back into the pattern again. We each have things that we fundamentally value over others. With your significant other, with your kids, with your friends, with your co-workers, there are hard-line issues in every relationship; that extends to our relationship with WWE since we pay so much time and money on it.
One of the fundamental things that I want from my relationship with WWE, for instance, is a product that progresses, era-to-era; that's a hard-liner for me. I am not all about instant gratification by any means, especially not with storytelling, but in today's world there should be a far more cyclical movement at the top of WWE's talent hierarchy in my opinion and I would argue that it goes without saying that today's roster is full of talents good enough to filter into the Holy Grail positions on the WrestleMania card and carry the load with a little boost from returning legends to differentiate the show from all others.
Unfortunately, WWE is addicted to its past and it is having a negative impact on its relationship with many of its most ardent supporters. As has been discussed in previous columns and podcasts, it is difficult for those of us jaded by the part-timer pattern to accept that the biggest wrestling show of the year is not for the biggest wrestling fans; as someone who has grown as disenchanted because of this issue as ever before, I believe that WrestleMania in the past has been able to strike an ideal balance between attracting casual viewers and engaging to a greater extent than at any other time of the year the audience that is loyal to them throughout the calendar and I see no reason why such a balance cannot be struck regularly.
The primary argument in favor of the part-timer influx is monetary and I myself have regularity pointed to WWE's record revenue financial quarters that they have been touting for the past two years as evidence of their economic health, but WrestleMania 32 was not as fruitful as one might think. In the Network Era, WWE actually lost $5.7 million during the second quarter of 2016, which included the vaunted special event juggernaut emanating from Dallas, Texas. Why? How? Free subscribers – the casual fans attracted by the Shane McMahons, Undertakers, and Brock Lesnars of the world. So, does the part-timer argument really hold water? And, if it does not, should WWE continue to alienate parts of its diehard fanbase by going back to the well every year to such an extent as they are this year and have in others instead of elevating regular roster members to those spots?
Like in any relationship, there has to be give and take. If your loved one keeps finding ways to rationalize the behavior that crosses your hard-line on a core issue and the rationalization does not make sense to you, then it can cascade into the creation of irreconcilable differences...unless of course we keep giving them another chance to prove themselves again. I know a lot of WWE fans who have given up and put their money where their mouths have been, not watching Raw, canceling their Network subscriptions, and disengaging from a company that they had followed for a long, long time. Raw ratings are, in part, evidence of it. Network sales have plateaued. Personally, I am still miles away from throwing in the towel because I very much enjoy what I get for the money I pay for my Network subscription, but to concede that WrestleMania just isn't geared toward me anymore is to concede that my favorite time of the year is not for me anymore when I have plenty of evidence that WWE is more than capable of moving forward with their product and building their business through WrestleMania.
I have been asked frequently over the course of this Mania Season when I think that WWE will fully move itself into the present day, in so much as is realistic given the important role that stars from the past should continue to play – that much, by the way, I am more than willing to concede. I do not know the answer to that question, yet, but I am beginning to see WrestleMania 33 as another opportunity for a WrestleMania 21/31-type. Reigns, Rollins, Owens, Wyatt, and Styles are all being paired with key, well-established players.
Rollins, presuming that he is indeed healthy by April 2, might very well defeat his mentor on the grandest stage and it does not over-stretch the imagination to think that it could be one of the best matches of the year; Wyatt has looked up at the lights each time he has competed at Mania in the past, but a successful WWE Championship defense against Orton could change his fate; Styles, opposite Shane, could lay down a supreme beating comparable to the one that Kurt Angle gave McMahon years ago, perhaps a star-enhancing turn of events for The Phenomenal One in a similar manner that it was for Our Olympic Hero in 2001; Reigns, were he to put the final nail in the coffin for the Undertaker's career, would have a signature victory that could grow his reputation, especially if the match delivers, to a kind of uber-polarizing level that WWE seems to wish he could reach; and Owens, in a potential show-stealing effort with Chris Jericho, could take the next step in his main roster run and prove himself ready for even bigger things in the future, even without the Universal Title at stake.
As such, they are all well-presented, strongly-performed matches away from setting the stage for a transition at WrestleMania 34, though to what degree will keep being a point of intrigue probably for the foreseeable future. Legends are going to continue to be a major part of the top of the Mania card, but if WWE could manage to create showdowns from their core roster minus the assistance of part-timers, it would be a step in the right direction. Last year, Shane described both Rollins vs. Reigns and the Shield Triple Threat as “matches that could main-event WrestleMania”; how about letting them do that? Compliment the biggest possible matches featuring the roster that the fanbase invests in throughout the year with bouts involving legends, rather than the other way around, and you take a step forward in the evolution of the product; it's something that diehard enthusiasts are increasingly in need of seeing to renew their enthusiasm.
In the months of preparation before starting to write this book, I had a few historical events to brush up on. One of the main things was the WCW half of the Monday Night Wars. I was not, generally, one of those fans that switched back and forth every Monday. In reviewing WCW’s side of that era, I began noticing a name pop up in well-thought-of matches from the height of The N.W.O. right up until Vince bought the company. After watching many of those matches, I gained a completely new appreciation for what this man brought to the table. In all honesty, it is through writing this book that I can state that I am a late-blooming fan of Diamond Dallas Page.
My earliest memory of Page was when he drove his pink Cadillac down the massive entrance ramp at WrestleMania VI in Toronto, carrying Rhythm and Blues with Jimmy Hart. My lasting impression of DDP – until I started researching for this book – had been watching him in the horrible movie, Ready to Rumble. I also recalled his being demolished at the hands of Undertaker and Kane when he made a brief splash on WWE’s Raw during the Invasion in 2001 and thought fondly of his WrestleMania X-8 match with Christian for the European Championship.
I knew, though, that there had to be much more to DDP than I had seen. He was, after all, a 3-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion during a very important period in the business. He was also given the responsibility of helping to carry celebrity angles in 1998 with Karl Malone and Jay Leno as tag team partners that gave WCW much needed momentum against the surging WWE Attitude Era. The higher ups in WCW clearly thought well of him. His reputation on the internet seemed to be fairly strong, too. So, I sought out some of his better star-rated matches. I decided on, first, watching his WCW Championship bout with Goldberg from 1998’s Halloween Havoc. The match was infamous for being blacked out because the PPV ran too long, but it should be famous for how impressive a performance it was. Goldberg was not thought to be a very good wrestler, but DDP led the way to one of the finer matches of both their careers. I was blown away watching some of the things that Page could do. He was a pretty big guy, so if you had told me that he could pull off a flying head scissor, I would have called you a liar, Mean Gene.
What I found most impressive was the ingenuity of his counter wrestling. Counters create nuance and nuance is part of the art of wrestling. Page may not have been among the best ever at it, but he was definitely one of the best of the rest ever at it. Creative counters became a recurring theme in all the matches that I watched featuring DDP from 1997 onward. His reversal of Goldberg’s Jackhammer into the Diamond Cutter, for example, was awesome. Up he went into vertical suplex position, but he slid off to Goldberg’s rear, right into a reversed DDT position. Goldberg turned to counter, but straight into the Diamond Cutter. “BANG!” He also got down on the mat and unexpectedly grappled back and forth with Goldberg, doing chain wrestling that you did not often see from “Da Man.” My hat goes off and back in time to him for that night in October 1998.
Then, I watched his series of matches with Macho Man. DDP may never have become a main-event star if it were not for his lengthy feud with Randy Savage in 1997. He had turned on The N.W.O.’s Outsiders at Souled Out ’97, igniting his feud with the faction and ultimately leading to the storyline with Savage (one of the group’s most prominent members). Page being involved as a key WCW mainstay stepping up to battle arguably the greatest stable ever assembled helped him step up from the mid-card. The three PPV matches against Macho Man - at April’s Spring Stampede, July’s Great American Bash, and October’s Halloween Havoc - really put DDP on the map. I jotted down the following note after watching the match at The Bash while researching Page a few summers ago: “DDP showed surprising athleticism and in-ring awareness. I think he’s a bit underrated, historically.” After viewing the payoff match, I wrote that “the more I see of DDP, the more highly I think of his work.” Spring Stampede ’97 was Page’s first PPV main-event. He won the match to give WCW a rare victory over an N.W.O. member in a spotlight situation. Though he lost the next two matches, the quality could not be denied nor could the fact that he had arrived as a major player.
Coming off of the bouts with Macho Man, DDP was no longer just a former manager that looked like a guy you would see walking to the gas station to buy another carton of cigarettes before heading back to the trailer park to re-bleach his mangy hair and lay out in the sun all day until his skin turns leathery. Instead, Page was a force to be reckoned with. He won the United States title and had a strong run in that division battling the likes of Curt Hennig, Raven, and Chris Benoit. Next up on my DDP viewer’s guide was his three-way Falls Count Anywhere match at Uncensored with Benoit and Raven that was one of the first triple threat matches on a mainstream wrestling event in the U.S. They started off with a very unique triple lock-up and later busted out a triple sleeper hold and a triple German suplex, each attractive spots in the match that reiterated the earlier claim of DDP’s creativity.
It was the battles against Raven that got him so over that WCW pushed him into the aforementioned celebrity angles in the summer of 1998. Teaming with Malone and Leno put him opposite the top heel in the entire business in Hulk Hogan and set up his October championship match with Goldberg. Though, as mentioned, the title bout did not air for many PPV buyers, its replay on Nitro the following night was the last ratings victory for WCW in the Monday Night Wars. Proof of his being a draw eventually earned him the WCW Championship at the following Spring Stampede in 1999. Page was somewhat of a “Mr. Spring Stampede” looking back. Some of his best and biggest matches came at the event – a four year run that included his 1st main-event, one of his best matches, his first WCW title victory, and an underrated title bout against Jeff Jarrett.
His first and second runs with the World title came about two hours apart. He lost the title to Sting in the first hour of the April 26, 1999 Nitro, only to regain the title at the end of the show in a Fatal 4-way. It was a silly night of hotshot booking, but Page was the center of attention. The match with Sting was arguably the finest of Page’s career. No “self high five” necessary, DDP. I will give you one for that performance.
After losing the title to Kevin Nash, he created an alliance with Bam Bam Bigelow and Kanyon, called “The Jersey Triad,” which led to Tag Team Championship gold. It was later partially revisited in the WWE’s Invasion angle when DDP and Kanyon battled Undertaker and Kane at Summerslam ’01. The remainder of his WCW career consisted of him getting back into the title picture. He regained the belt, but then was involved in one of the most controversial (and stupid) angles in wrestling history when David Arquette (actor) won the title in a tag match. DDP remained a focal point, despite never regaining the championship, eventually tagging with Kevin Nash to win the WCW Tag Team titles and then getting back into the main-event picture one last time in a losing effort to Scott Steiner on the final WCW PPV, Greed. The match against Steiner was another top notch effort from DDP. Steiner had been on a roll and Page was built as the last guy that could conceivably take the title off of him. The night belonged to Big Poppa Pump, but Page left one more lasting impression in another really good match.
Well-deserved was DDP’s time at the top of the card from 1997 until WCW shut down its operations in March 2001. To think that he had started out as a manager, but worked his tail off to make it as a successful, main-event wrestler is pretty amazing. He represents an example of how hard work can pay off in a big way, even in an industry as often politically based as pro wrestling. Injuries (that led to retirement) kept him from repeating his WCW glory in WWE.
I must say that DDP has enhanced my life. I started doing his version of yoga in 2015 and I feel the best I have felt in years. Long clinic hours and a busy family life made finding time for exercise a lot harder, so I do DDP Yoga every morning and night; it is awesome and highly recommend it. In recent years, DDP also offered me great new wrestling memories, even if they were a decade or more behind the times.