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Posted in: Requesting Flyby
REQUESTING FLYBY: The Wednesday Hot Take (Styles vs Cena Edition)
By Maverick
Aug 24, 2016 - 5:11:37 PM

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The Wednesday Hot Take (Styles vs Cena Edition)



Welcome back, dear readers! You may not know this about me, but I joined the Internet Wrestling Community relatively late in its development. I began watching WWF at the age of ten, in 1990, and I probably got “smart” to the business a year or so afterwards (the Santa/Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy moment for me was a breakfast television presenter asking an on tour in the UK Hulk Hogan if wrestling was fake...Hogan flim flammed around a bit, and gave a pretty unconvincing answer that was sufficient enough to wise me up). Following that, I began to look a bit closer at how matches were put together to be “good”, with Mr Perfect vs Bret Hart at Summerslam 1991 being the key bout in that respect. After Wrestlemania IX in 1993, feeling proto-smarkishly disgusted with the product after The Hulkster crashed Bret’s party, my interest waned and waxed depending on what was going on and at some point in 1996(I want to say September, as I remember a review of the Shawn vs Vader match at Summerslam 96) I discovered Powerslam magazine, a UK based non-kayfabe publication which was the first exposure I ever had to “backstage” rumours and such, as well as the first place I read subjective reviews of matches and events. I guess the point is that because of both this magazine, which even then I only would read now and again when I happened to have the pocket change, and because I hated having events spoiled (I often couldn’t watch live for various reasons too boring to go into) when the internet began to get big, I never used it for wrestling news. In addition, my parents didn’t have the net, so the only place I had regular access to it was at university, during term time, or at local libraries outside of it. I certainly spent plenty of time on music forums and such, but for whatever reason it never occurred to me that often to go to any wrestling site that wasn’t WWF/E dot com. In actual fact, I don’t think I spent any considerable amount of time on dirt sheets at all until the Benoit tragedy, when the up to the minute news was very much needed. Even then, a paranoid fear of spoilers concerning who might be pushed and so on meant that I generally avoided them. I think it was around 2009 when I finally started visiting Lords Of Pain daily...guess I finally caved. I started writing in the LOP Columns Forum in 2012, was promoted to the main page in 2014, and here I am to this day, way more involved in discussing wrestling on the internet than I could ever have imagined being.

All of which is a very long winded way of saying that there are times when I crave my more innocent existence. After I finished university and began my teaching career, money was tight, I was paying off a lot of debts, and I often couldn’t afford cable television and internet. There were long stretches of time where I was a month or two behind the product, buying VHS or DVD copies of PPVs with no knowledge of the results or what was going on on TV. All of the friends I’d grown up with had long since abandoned wrestling, so it was just me and my opinion in a vacuum. Since I joined the IWC, I’ve usually been glad that I found like minds to discuss the product with. You fine people have generously received my columns ever since I was called up to this page. Before that, the writers of the Columns Forum were similarly kind to my work. Along with Mazza, ‘Plan and Shinobi I run a wrestling podcast, The Right Side Of The Pond, that gets thousands of downloads a month. I would never thought in a million years that my opinions about professional wrestling would be heard and read by so many. I’ve valued my many discussions with fellow LOP writers in the CF, on here, on Facebook and on Twitter. But I have to tell you, dear readers, this has been a week when, in my darker moments, I wished it was just me and my thoughts. Rarely have I so disagreed so vehemently with so many LOP personalities over a pay-per-view weekend, and particularly on one specific match. So look, here’s an alternative view of what went down in the fourth match of the night in Brooklyn. I don’t know if it will go down well, but I know what I like when it comes to pro wrestling, and I think I can justify my thoughts with some actual logic, so...I hope you enjoy my take.


In Wrestling, Less Is Always More...And That’s Why I Hated AJ Styles vs John Cena

I grew up watching Mr Perfect, Bret Hart, Rick Rude, Ted DiBiase, Randy Savage, Shawn Michaels and Jake Roberts. It was an amazing education. All of those men invested every single action inside the squared circle with meaning. If it didn’t advance the story, they didn’t do it. Matches were all about storytelling and psychology, and the suspension of disbelief. Spots and sequences were worked up to, and if one man finally got the better of another, and a finisher was unleashed, that was the end of the match. At Wrestlemania IV, Savage only escaped the Million Dollar Dream because of Hogan’s interference. Immediately after, Macho hit the flying elbow and won the WWF Championship. For Ted, there was no getting up. When Mr Perfect took on Bret Hart at Summerslam ‘91 and hit the Perfect Plex, it was in the knowledge that nobody had yet kicked out of the hold. When The Hitman did just that two seconds later, it was a huge shock. It enhanced the drama of the match tenfold because nobody had done it before. Think about when Bret slapped the Sharpshooter on a bloodied Steve Austin at Wrestlemania XIII. For all his resilience, the Rattlesnake could not escape, and passed out in kayfabe. A legend was born. This sort of thing is important. Don’t try to tell me it isn’t.

Now, I understand that as time went on, matches in WWF/E got more frenetic. I think it was around 2001 when multiple finisher kick outs first surfaced in earnest. If you watch Kurt Angle vs The Rock and Stone Cold vs The Rock from February and April 2001 respectively, you’ll see two very well worked examples. In both cases, the story was that no matter what was thrown at the opponent, it wasn’t quite enough. It was wrestling as imagined by a 50s monster movie director, and because it was exciting, everyone loved it. Hell, I loved it. Goodness knows, 2001 was one of the single most exciting years of wrestling ever. But here’s the thing: even those matches worked up to the point where the high spots started to hit. I mean, we’re talking about three of the best to ever pull on a pair of boots here. My LOP colleague and TRSOTP chum ‘Plan is far more qualified than me to comprehensively trace the curse of the multiple false finish across the 2001 to present time frame. In terms of turning points, we might include the Shawn Michaels vs Undertaker and Triple H “Tetralogy”, as well as the multi-match Cena/Orton series from 2009, and a whole litany of others. My point is this- unless there is a very good reason for wrestling a frenetic match filled with finisher kick outs (and I know, before you point it out, that there are times when it’s called for), you just shouldn’t do it.

There are multiple reasons why you shouldn’t do it. Firstly, the suspension of disbelief is completely destroyed. Next, the impact such a frenetic match has on the crowd should not be underestimated. Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker torpedoed Randy Orton and Triple H’s chances of wrestling a memorable match stone dead, because they burned the crowd right out. Thirdly, in this approach, there’s none of the connecting storytelling tissue that forms wrestling’s raison d’etre. For me, half an hour of finishers is not a story. To give you a sneak preview of this week’s edition of The Right Side Of The Pond, ‘Plan describes the approach as a “sugar rush” and one which, just like a real sugar rush, ends in an energy crash. They age badly. I liked the first Kevin Owens vs John Cena match because the narrative- indie darling proving himself on his first night against the face of the company- fit the approach. In the case of Cena vs Styles II, I just didn’t see the connection.

Less than five minutes in, they were already busting out the two and a half counts, and at that point I was already taken out of the action. By the time they were swapping finishers, I was disgusted by what I was seeing. There was no semantic weight to anything they were doing. To borrow a phrase from Shakespeare, it was a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Now, I am well aware that WWE booking AJ Styles to beat John Cena in the middle of the ring is an incredible thing. Not only that, they booked him to beat Cena two straight in singles matches, even if the first one was tainted by the involvement of The Club. So don’t think that I don’t understand how refreshing that is; all I wish is that singles match #2 had not been such a disappointment to me. Funnily enough, I remember fearing that the Money In The Bank match was going to be like the Summerslam one. When it was, instead, a highly cerebral, competitive and interesting piece of art, I was delighted. I was similarly delighted by the fact that they transitioned the feud into a tag match involving The Club and The Realest Guys In The Room. I had been looking forward to Cena vs Styles II, but what I saw was, in actuality, a grotesque parody of what professional wrestling has become. It’s a shame, because both men are capable of better (though Cena is a bit of a serial offender with this sort of thing, particularly against Orton).

I’m well aware that I’m massively in the minority on this match. But I keep seeing Perfect and Hart in my mind’s eye, and to me, that is what professional wrestling, at its best, at Summerslam, should be. Interestingly enough, Ambrose, Ziggler, Rollins and Balor followed that classic pattern later in the evening. Predictably, I loved those matches as much as I hated Cena vs Styles. Ultimately, it all comes down to what you want from your pro wrestling. Personally, I want story and psychology, and The Franchise Player vs The Phenomenal One had neither.

I fully expect the comments section to be lively here...but all I can do as wrestling columnist is to tell you what I think. And be honest with you. And to be honest with you, I hated Cena vs Styles, and similarly hated the lauding of it as a classic. In the immortal words of Bret Hart, it was a 4/10, and it wasn’t in my top one thousand.

This is Maverick, requesting flyby.

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