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Posted in: Column of the Month
June 2012 COTM - Take Up Thy Wrestling Boots and Walk: The State of Things Now
By Prime Time
Jul 30, 2012 - 2:34:57 PM

Welcome back to the column that thinks the trapezius is what they use in the circus, Take Up Thy Wrestling Boots and Walk. I’m the man who, like a broken drum, is hard to beat, Prime Time, back once again to take a look at the current landscape of the schizophrenic sphere of professional wrestling.

Winning column of the month (for the fifth time, which is incredibly flattering) gives me the chance to come up to the main page and talk to you all again, and the timing couldn’t be better from my point of view, because the 1000th episode of RAW has come and gone. I’m not going to dissect the show, because you can read that anywhere, but it’s a nice landmark and one that makes you slow down and think about things more generally.

First, though, a few thoughts on the show itself, and I guess I should start at the beginning. I quite enjoyed the D-X stuff at the beginning, though not as much as some people. Frankly I’ve always thought that they are an overrated stable, and that in general they benefit from the WWE usually not doing stables all that well. If you are only a WWE fan, then you’ve probably missed a lot of great stuff from the real great stables like The Four Horsemen, The Fabulous Freebirds, and the NWO. But with that negativity aside, they deserve a place in the show because they were real big players in the heyday of Monday Night RAW, as well as being one of the best groups the company put out. I think any trepidation at watching millionaire businessmen pretend to be degenerates was probably washed away by the nostalgia, the chance to see The New Age Outlaws again (and they were really always the ‘soul’ of the group), and the performance by Sandow in interacting with them.

A lot of people did mark out for this section of the show. My own personal moment was definitely Slick officiating at the AJ and Daniel Bryan wedding. Slick is one of the underrated managers of the 80’s, and it was great to see him, hear that distinctive voice, and that epic theme song once again. Does it achieve anything? Ultimately, no, but that is kind of missing the point with these kind of celebratory shows. They are about acknowledging the past, about having a good time, and seeing guys like Slick, Mick Foley, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, The NAO (I could go on) all coming back certainly goes a long way. So that’s why I’m not going to overanalyse a show that is mostly made up of segments like that. To be honest, overthinking things like this is to defeat the point.

The CM Punk thing was kind of a surprise. I’m still not really sure what to make of it, to be honest. I know most people on the ‘net have decided that it was a heel turn, but I watched The Experience at the weekend to see how they covered it, and it didn’t feel like they were making it a ‘heel turn’. Could this be because they’ve moved beyond faces and heels in the traditional sense, or is just that they are trying to reposition Punk as a more complex babyface, rather than the somewhat vanilla character that he has become over the past six months or more? Either way, there is no denying one thing, which is that Punk, who had been treading water a little bit, could have new life breathed into him going into Summerslam, and beyond. I’m not quite sure that it is really the move that the company needs, but to be fair it will probably result in something better than we’ve been seeing recently.

The moment when Punk assaulted Rocky, and AJ becoming the general manager, are really the two things that we need to take from RAW 1000 for the future. I’d love to put a new Intercontinental champion in that mix, but although Cody’s reigns did go a long way to rehabilitate the title I’ve just got very little confidence in their ability to make it mean something in any sustained fashion anymore. No, we’ve got to look to the new role of the man holding the company’s top strap, and, similarly, to the new role for AJ Lee.

That, too, is something of an odd decision for me. AJ has obviously never done anything like this before, but at the same time she has been one of the central players on WWE TV throughout 2012 so far, and she was going to need something different to do in order to keep her fresh. Unless they are going to make the Diva’s title a more prominent part of the show, she has probably gone beyond that level in terms of popularity, too. Thinking about it, if they did want to make it a bigger part of the show, then putting that belt on AJ would be a good way to try and get people invested in it again, but assuming that they want to keep it on the margins and keep it as a piss-break (as the comments of many women that have worked for the company indicate), then she’ll need to keep interacting with the men and putting her in a position of power is certainly one way to do it. It’s high risk, but with her track record for being crazy, could end up being high reward.

If I’m being honest, though, I don’t really think that there is enough of interest going on in WWE storylines. It’s always great to see Paul Heyman turn up, but I’m not feeling the Lesnar vs. Hunter build-up at all, and that took a further nosedive when I saw HHH chase off Lesnar, who for my money should be billed as unstoppable – certainly against a 40 year old, semi-retired wrestler. Dolph Ziggler has his program going on with Sheamus, and it will hopefully be one that finally propels him out of the ‘jobber to the stars’ role that he has been in for a while now, but frankly he still seems to be a fairly marginal figure on the shows.

I could go on with my general dissatisfaction, but I’ll come to the point quickly rather than dragging this out. In short, I think that for some time now TNA has been bossing the WWE, if not in terms of ratings then certainly in quality. I should start by saying that unlike some people, I feel very little loyalty to any one wrestling company. I’m more of a fan of the genre itself, and will happily watch wrestling from any number of promotions. So when I say this, it isn’t with the perspective of a TNA mark, taking a potshot at the WWE. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that the reverse was true, with the WWE clearly besting TNA on a weekly basis.

Funny thing is, that was about a year ago. TNA were doing OK with the BFG series and the emergence of Bobby Roode and James Storm as singles wrestlers, but the WWE had some of the best wrestlers of the world, and one of them, CM Punk, in one of the best WWE angles in recent memory. Then, all of that seemed to fizzle out – and quickly, too. It’s disappointing that with RAW 1000 and Summerslam -ostensibly still the second biggest PPV on the WWE calendar – around this time of year that the company haven’t found a way to put out some more interesting shows. Sure, RAW 1000 did have its moments, but there was very little that you could sustain in it. I feel like, at this point, I’m now watching RAW not because of what is happening, but purely because some of the best people in the world are doing it. I’m interested in guys like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan regardless of what the WWE is offering me, not because of it.

Contrast that with TNA, and it is like night and day. I think that most people would agree that, a couple of big names excepted, they can’t compete with WWE in terms of talent. Their main event roster does still look like a WWE alumni convention – again, with a couple of big names being the notable exceptions. That said, for most of this year at least (and certainly throughout the summer) TNA have been delivering a far better product than the WWE.

Roode carried the belt well, and with the relegation of the WWE title to sub-Cena levels then you could certainly argue that he became, and that now Aries is, the ‘real’ World Champion. There is no pushing the Gold up the card in TNA, it remains a central focus of the show. Putting the strap on Aries could well be a great move, too, because he could be the kind of guy that might – given the right programme – attract new fans to a company that desperately needs to grow.

One thing that they are doing reasonably well is to push the ‘mystery’ angles. These kinds of things generally keep people tuning in, and at this point showing that the company can grow their audience by bringing people back week after week is pretty much paramount for the company. They started that off with the AJ/Daniels storyline, and although that has turned out to be something of a soap-opera train-wreck, they’ve really upped the ante with the Aces and Eights attacks. Again, not everything is being hit out of the park, and that is probably just stopping it catching on in the way that it might, but I think this is the kind of thing that can genuinely intrigue people as to where it’s going. To be sure, TNA have overdone the authority angles in their short history, but this is (so far at least) the way to get your authority figures involved that you don’t mind seeing.

I’m not going to say that they are getting everything right. As I’ve already pointed out, the Claire Lynch and AJ angle is a bit of a debacle, and the sooner that becomes about a couple of straight matches between AJ and Daniels, and hopefully AJ and Kaz too, the better. There are also things like Gut Check, which has been really quite hit and miss so far (although thankfully, those segments have been kept short), and things like the presence of Garrett Bischoff will always draw criticisms, even though you rarely see him. Any TNA detractor will be able to point to a few things on the show and scoff – though to be honest, they were everywhere in wrestling in 1999, even on RAW as they pulled in their highest ratings, and no one gave a crap then. The long and short of it is that, for a long time now, the show I’ve looked forward to more has been Impact. When you consider the talent at the WWE’s disposal, their budget, the added prestige that comes with them being the brand leader, I’ve got to say that to me that speaks volumes.

So, what is the point to all this? Well, there isn’t one, really, apart from maybe this; if you have been disappointed by the WWE in recent months and it just isn’t doing it for you, and if you have an open mind on TNA (even if you have been let down in the past), then give it a go for a few weeks. I mean, really give it a fair shake. Don’t just watch the first show, see that the production values aren’t in the same league as WWE, and mentally tune out before never watching it again. Give it three weeks, a month, and maybe you’ll like what you see. I’m a firm believer that a healthy TNA (and RoH, and any other promotion that can get to that kind of level) is good for wrestling in general, and it can’t hurt you to give it a shot.

And besides, wouldn’t it be great to see TNA’s ratings shoot up after they finally binned Vince Russo? By itself, that has to be worth tuning in.

With that, it’s time for the least prestigious awards in wrestling!

Take Up Thy Wrestling Boots, Bobby Roode. It was tempting, in the name of balance, to reach out to a WWE guy for this award, but I guess it wouldn’t be in keeping with the rest of the column, so I’m going to hand it out to the former TNA World Champ. Thing is, it can be very easy to sink back into the pack when you’ve lost the belt, but Roode has done pretty well for himself over the past few weeks. I don’t expect him to go over Aries at Hardcore Justice, but I’ve loved some of his interactions over the past couple of weeks, and I thought his attempts to lay the blame for Aces and Eight’s at James Storm’s door was a very nice touch, that he played very well.

… and walk, Michael Cole. I know, I know, my Cole-bashing must be getting pretty old to some of you out there. I know there must be a few people (possibly that have been lobotomised) who actually think he’s a passable announcer. But when you get a man who is known for overusing the word ‘vintage’ to begin with, and then put him in a situation like RAW 1000, then you know things are going to get tiresome by the end of it. So, being the reason I’m most likely to reach for the fast-forward button, Michael Cole can walk.

And with that, I’m out. Thank you for reading.

Prime Time