Oct 31 - A Tale of Three PPVsAuthor’s Note: I started this column Monday before Raw. I only had the “Main event” portion left to go by the time Raw started. By the time the show was over, I felt like scraping this column to talk about some of the more relevant issues (Cena vs Sandow, Wyatts vs Bryan/Punk, Show vs Orton), but I held off. Now, I know this isn’t as well timed a few days after the last of the 3 PPVs discussed took place, but I still felt it to be an interesting discussion, even if not immediately following the last of these events. Thank you. - Joe-
A Tale of Three Pay Per Views
Over the span of 8 days, I watched 3 separate PPV events from 3 separate companies. On October 19th, UFC put on their latest event headlined by the 3rd encounter between UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez vs challenger and former champion Junior Dos Santos at UFC 166. On October 20th, TNA/Impact Wrestling aired their biggest show of the year, Bound For Glory 2013. And just this past Sunday, WWE had their latest installment of the Hell in a Cell PPV.
This isn’t exactly a review column. What I am hoping to do is discuss the differences and similarities of all 3 shows, highlight the aspects that work and perhaps should be copied by one of the other promotions, and point out the areas that definitely require improvement.Now, I understand that UFC produces a real sporting event, and therefore isn’t a 100% fair comparison to a scripted wrestling show. Be that as it may, there’s certainly more than enough shared between these combat PPVs that they can fit in the discussion.
I must repeat, this isn’t really a review of the in-ring/cage content. I will touch on the actual action from time to time, but I really wanted to examine how all 3 of these companies approached delivering their events with the expectations that fans will want to purchase the rights to watch from home. In that regard, all 3 events are fair game and on the same level ground.
All 3 PPV events had pre-shows that were available for free in some format.
UFC 166 - As is standard for all Ultimate Fighting Championship Pay Per View events, they start their evening with online preliminary fights on both their youtube and facebook pages. The main announcers are in place next to the cage, while the lights are dimmed to the max as to not show how there might only be 50 people in attendance. For the record, at UFC 158 in Montreal, I made sure my girlfriend understood we’d be in the Bell Centre for the full event, from prelims to main event. That meant 6 and a half hours in those arena seats. Worth every penny (of the $650 spent on each ticket).
The online prelims are generally the lower card guys. There aren’t really “jobbers” in MMA, so consider this more like the NXT portion of the show. These are dudes who are just getting their first fights in the UFC or at the very least looking for their first win (rarely will a guy be kept in the UFC longer than 2 losses without any wins). The difference between MMA and wrestling is that even these early fights have a chance at being the best of the night. That’s why I sit my ass in front of the TV/laptop starting at the first fight throughout the whole event, all 13 fights. UFC 166 was a prime example, because from the first fight until the last 2, the action was non-stop and exciting.
The online part of the prelims don’t have a lot of content between fights. Sometimes it’s a still camera shot of the cage as the arena gets the next fight ready. Once in a while, we get the standard commercial for that night’s PPV, but not often.
After the first 4 fights, the second set of prelims started on Fox Sports 1, which most call the TV prelims. Being on free TV instead of free online, the name power starts to show up more. The sole women’s bout on the card was contest on FS1, to give you an idea of how the competition ramps up once they move to the TV portion.
Between fights, we get interviews with big names on the card (or the next PPV to hype that one) commercials for the same 2 PPVs, reviews of other upcoming cards on free TV, review of the weigh-ins. and a return to the panel of commentators, usually including oft-mention and highly entertaining Chael Sonnen (friends with CM Punk and rumored to be branching into WWE announcing in the future) along with another top MMA name, and a standard Fox broadcaster who generally doesn’t know a triangle choke from a hockey brawl.
Basically, it’s a mix of everything WWE does as well. I’ll get to their preshow in a second, but I think it’s safe to say that the WWE pre-show is very much influenced by what Dana White and the Fertittas have developed for UFC shows.
WWE HIAC - Hell in a Cell had their preshow air on Youtube, and had their standard panel of unused wrestlers and personalities at the top of the arena in what I like to consider an homage to the heyday of Gorilla and Ventura broadcasting some of the early Wrestlemanias. Sadly, these segments are piss poor at best. Matthews is a very average broadcaster, but he looks like a star in most of these panel discussions because the talent used to fit in are awful. A big issue is the amount of people invited with a total of 3 other invitees to join him behind the desk. Ziggler did fine as he’s very capable on the microphone, Truth was his usual self, while Kaitlyn was unbearable as the Divas commentator. And no matter how decent they are on the microphone, the delivery and setup is painfully obvious. You just know the director told them 30 seconds before the cameras turned to them and said “Dolph, you hype John Cena, Truth you cover the main event, and Kaitlyn has boobies to talk about the boobie matches.” They all come off as terrible infomercial host announcers for a Ronco product.
Add to that, they usually have a match. Now, an injury ruined last night’s pre-show match, so I can’t shit on that too much. But generally, these matches are insanely inconsequential to the event. Damian Sandow vs Kofi Kingston was a decent enough contest, but it had no bearing on the rest of the show. This will be important in a moment. Big E Langston used some interview time to earn his US title match against Ambrose from the panel (meaning there were then 5 people in that booth at the same time… ugh), but generally the pre-show match is a midcard match with no direct influence on the card. The pre-show is in no way “must-watch” and I am quite tempted to avoid it, barring the announced match on youtube being a tag team contest (The Shield vs The Usos from Money in the Bank was the perfect opening bout).
TNA BFG - TNA follows a similar pattern on Spike TV, as we have the announce team and backstage announcer taking turns getting the viewers up to speed with what to expect, adding a layer or two to the storylines with a few extra promos. On top of that, they add a match. This is where TNA earns points. Their match was to determine who would get a tag team title shot later on during the actual PPV. WWE have done this in the past, and I know it’s difficult to use often, but it’s still not done nearly enough in the land of HHH and Vinny Mac. So by including a free TV match-up that has the payoff during the paid portion of the show, TNA delivers a solid pre-show.
Overall - TNA puts on the best wrestling based pre-show, though I say it’s tied with UFC’s overall. UFC has a bigger budget, longer airtime, and therefore more variety to their 2-4 hours of free promotion for the PPV. They fill it up wisely, without bombarding the audience with the same Cena promo ad nauseum. TNA gave us a match that was decent, and was a tease to something you would have to pay to see come to a close. WWE attempted this with the Langston challenge to Ambrose, but it was so poorly done, and the eventual match so poorly received (understandably due to the lame build up) that it can’t compete in the pre-show department.
I noticed something while watching Bound for Glory that made me need to include this category.
TNA BFG - A victim if nostalgia, I long for many aspects to a wrestling show that I admired from my childhood. Now I truly believe there is a right and wrong way to go about these things, but it's quite possible that because of how I grew up as a wrestling fan that it feels like those methods are the best. I still fondly watch my WWF collection of PPVs from 1987-1990 as the epitome of what I love about wrestling. Barring that at 32 years of age, I've grown to appreciate classic in-ring action much more than I did when I was 6-9 years old, WWF packaged a near perfect spectacle for this kid at heart. A big part of the package was the backstage interviews during the PPVs. With the logo of whatever event was taking place behind them, Okerlund asking Hulk Hogan the perfect question to allow him to branch off into "Well, you know something Mean Gene...", it gave the perfect aura of promotion with only minutes until the match.
I never realized how much I missed those interviews until BFG. It started with the introduction of the TNA Tag Team Champions of the World by Jeremy Borash, as James Storm and "The Modern Day Viking" Gunner gave a rather standard pre-match hype interview. Nothing about it was revolutionary, nor are either talents all too exciting on the mic. But it was still something fresh in the landscape of wrestling. Too often is the wrestling business dependent upon long winded promos in the ring for weeks on end. No wonder we don't see backstage interviews too often, there's barely anything left to say after months and months of ranting. Thankfully, Impact Wrestling delivered a match that wasn't fully booked until maybe 30 minutes prior to the backstage promo, so the team of Storm/Gunner hadn't exhausted too much of their breath on the Bro-Mans. It was a breath of fresh air.
Now, for the main event, we still got a Bully Ray promo. Again, it was nothing new, fresh, or innovative. But when it is delivered by a promo genius in Bully Ray, it was the perfect way to pump me up for the World Championship bout. And I'll be honest, it needed a boost. Putting AJ in a main event isn't the way to get me excited, but a Bully Ray promo will, and did.
There were plenty of interviews in between, but TNA showed that no matter how they compete with WWE, the one thing they are the undisputed champions of is backstage segments.
WWE HIAC - Meanwhile, back in Miami for the WWE program, all the promotion was handled by pre-packaged promos. I never really complained about them before, but there was obvious overuse of Cena packages over the last few weeks on Raw and Smackdown. Repeating them for the PPV was overkill. I understand that the moment he appeared on the stage should be saved as his reintroduction. But that doesn't mean none of the matches could have used some sort of pre-match promo with Renee Young. It was a major let down in that department seeing the flaws in the WWE machine for a show they expect the WWE Universe to pay for.
UFC 166 - Interviews are an entirely different beast for Mixed Martial Arts. Sometimes there's a rivalry that propels the action into fruition. But it's so very rare that most interviews are the same standard BS you can see in any sport. Need an example? Pick your favorite sport, and tell me how many time you heard an athlete in that specific contest say something along the lines of:
“As a/an team/individual, we/I hope to give 100% effort to defeat our/my opponents.”
Standard stuff, right? UFC is no different. Well, except for anything involving Joe Rogan and Dana White. And those only happens before the show as a last minute push to get you to buy the PPV.
Overall - TNA – Hands down. No contest.
Again, it's not fair to compare the quality of the contests at this point. By main event, I mean how did these shows deliver on the hype based on these headliners.
WWE HIAC - I've noticed that many find themselves completely dissatisfied with how the Hell in a Cell ended. I think these online fans are more mark than they'd like to admit. Everyone is so geared towards the Daniel Bryan success that they easily forget that his shining moment won't occur at a minor event like HIAC. At no point of the last 3 weeks did WWE give any sort of push for this to FINALLY be the time the Yes Man gets his clean victory.
Instead we were given more heel domination, as many predicted. Had Bryan walked out as champion, the storyline is over with a whimper. The Rhodes overcame the Shield, The Big Show laid the WMD on HHH on a massive KO, so where would anything go if Bryan overcame the odds inside the cell? So it seems to me that the Orton vs Bryan chapter is over, while another gear will be pushed for HHH vs Bryan to eventually be brought back into focus after some involvement with the Wyatts and Punk, and the Authority deals with Big Show.
Maybe it was the 2 (or 3 if you include the post-match for Cena vs Bryan) main events ago, I’d have more to complain about with the finish to the Cell match for Orton and Bryan. But I honestly feel that WWE did a great job with how this angle took place. I know it’s easy to point out that Bryan is not WWE Champion yet, but that’s not nearly as important when you consider how hot he still is after all of the BS his character has been put through. He’s still a major star (not to be confused with draw - that’s yet to be fully determined) and hasn’t lost a step in his momentum while being essential in helping make Orton out to be the top wrestling heel in the company. The matches were solid at worst, and the storyline was enthralling for the most part, interweaving many moving parts that helped elevate the Usos, Cody Rhodes, Big Show, and Goldust (who is quickly becoming one of my favorite wrestlers to watch). I think in that regard, the WWE main event more than delivered at Hell in a Cell.
TNA BFG - This is a tough one. TNA’’s storytelling ability has seemed to take a dive recently. I was never on board with the recent praise for the company’s creative direction during the Aces and Eights angle, but it’s taken a significant dip in quality that has been noticeable to even the hardest of TNA’s diehard fans.
So how does TNA incorporate the recent storylines to book their main event? I’ll be honest, I haven’t tuned in for maybe 6-8 months, so my judgment is based on reading the results and feedback only. But I have watched Bound For Glory. Unfortunately, they are working uphill since AJ Styles is in the main event. I understand he’s their main “homegrown” talent, but the dude is a bore to me. It was a strange show to watch as we saw clips of AJ achieving the impossible all night long as he won numerous titles in flashbacks to previous major TNA events. It sort of drew away from the importance of his title shot to end the show.
I also found the story to be convoluted. It was like they felt that the title contendership won through the Bound For Glory series wasn’t enough, and AJ not resigning a new deal wasn’t enough, so they invented some lame reasons for the match to be personal. I understand I haven’t been a witness to the weekly subtleties on Impact Wrestling, but my impression was that there was very little reason to care about this pretty predictable main event. Not too impressive.
UFC 166 - In a real sport, there is no contrived reasons for us to believe combatants truly despise each other. Reality needs to be the source, and thankfully once in a while the pieces fit to book something that is wrestling quality storytelling. These 2 men have faced off twice with exact opposite results - 1 was a first round KO win for Dos Santos, 2 was a five round decision beatdown win for Velasquez. Who would win the 3rd battle?
it’s a pretty simple formula that worked tremendously well, even for 2 fighters I can’t really say I’m that interested in. Thankfully, by the time the fight started, I was hooked in to enjoy a great heavyweight battle between these giants. Classic? Not really, but a solid beating where Cain Lelasquez, who originally defeated Brock Lesnar to win his first UFC Heavyweight Championship, stood victorious with a technical knockout in the 5th round. Well done.
Overall - It is again difficult to compare organic sport rivalries with the scripted feuds of wrestling, but WWE delivered best in their main event.
I enjoyed all 3 PPVs, though I think I have to vote UFC 166 the best all out entertainment as I saw an amazing string of great fights. WWE had the better wrestling show, but TNA impressed in regards I never expected them to.
In general, all 3 PPVs needed work to reach their potential. UFC needs to have more on the backburner to air, because when fights end early, they repeat too many of the same commercials over the 6 and a half hour broadcast. You can’t control the quality of the fights as much as you can for wrestling, but UFC rarely bores me with too many bad fights. It happens about as often as WWE completely tanks a PPV.
TNA needs to concentrate on putting on better matches with better storytelling. They have some decent talent, but they felt wasted on this show. But, they’ve improved leaps and bounds as to how they produce and deliver a PPV. Kudos to that.
WWE had an average PPV, but it felt spectacular after 2 complete bombs (Night of Champions and Battleground).
As I watched Night of Champions, and while writing this piece over the week, I came to a very apt conclusion concerning WWE’s main event scene. I want to research it a bit more before I lay it out, but I think I’ll just lay out the statistics and facts, and not input my own opinion, letting you judge for yourself. But, allow me a few days to collect the data. I think it should be a nice surprise.
And on that note, Peace out
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