Greetings all pro wrestling fans,
We here at the Spare Change Newsletter are happy to join you again for another issue in this interim between the first and second seasons of the Marshall Matters Show.
Smackdown guys are special because they get personalized graphics next to their names during their ring entrances, even when they’re guests on Raw. Mark Henry’s got a set of weights, Heath Slater has a guitar, Wade Barrett has a Union Jack, etc. Even though it would be fun to see what the Raw people would get as their icons/mascots, I’m still glad that they’re only on Smackdown. It fits more with the theme of the show, which you aptly described in your most recent post as being less serious (in a good way).
Of course, it isn’t always fun and games; I was actually kind of tense this week after it was announced that Mark Henry would have to defend the title in a lumberjack match. It seemed like it would be too convenient an opportunity for the belt to be taken off of him, considering all the guys around the ring who were bound to gang up on him at some point. Thankfully, he fought them all off and retained. He was great again on Raw, when he annihilated Great Khali! That was awesome for two reasons—first, the World’s Strongest Slam on Khali looked mega-cool, and second, we didn’t have to watch an actual match between them. Niiiice!
This week on TNA Impact Wrestling, RVD was attacked off-camera, and was found sprawled out on the floor backstage, and Hulk Hogan made an announcement that he was going to drop a bomb that would change the industry FOREVER… next week. In other words, a classic episode. Vintage TNA. Gaak!
ROH’s new TV show debuted this past Saturday, and it was a pretty good program which showed a lot of potential. It’s an hour long, and has plenty of top-notch pro wrestling. The inaugural episode had two matches, both tag team matches, and each were entertaining. Much the rest of the time was taken up by a review of June’s Best in the World iPPV, which ostensibly served to introduce new viewers to some of the higher profile talents on the roster. There was also a brief educatory video of Jim Cornette explaining how the ROH handshake protocol works. The rest of the hour was taken up by advertisements and promo interviews.
The way ROH works, or at least the way it seems to work, given my limited exposure to it, is that there aren’t dramatized story arcs, at least in the way that we’re used to seeing them. The stories are there alright, but they’re told almost entirely in the ring through the actions and characterizations of the performers. To really get a sense for who you want to root for, you need to watch a few programs to get a sense of what each guy is all about. It isn’t an easy transition to make for a person used to the WWE soap opera style, which clearly delineates the characters, and rarely features any wrestling matches that don’t center around a grudge. ROH is about pure competition, and while much of the roster can be easily identified as babyface or heel based on their entrance, the lack of melodrama is keenly felt, and it takes time for a would-be fan to connect with them. On the other hand, a wrestling fan who follows the program with any regularity will pick up on things, and may grow to appreciate their favorites even more so than with the WWE characters, since the ROH guys can only be judged on their own merit, as opposed to the spot they’re in, or the material they’ve been fed by creative. The in-ring style and ability of each wrestler is the bread and butter of getting over in ROH, but it isn’t just that. Pre-recorded backstage interview promos are scattered throughout the show, and are aired between matches, sometimes a few in a row. Some are introspective, to try and sell a character’s backstory, some are threatening and full of bravado, some are aimed at selling particular merch or events. They make it easier to pick up on the characters and make the overall product more relatable to viewers. This is in contrast to some of their past material, such as the iPPV they produced just two weekends ago, which featured match after match without any promos at all. There was one segment where a wrestler came out, got on the mic and worked an angle, but that only lasted about 5 minutes, and wasn’t exactly a time-out from the action. All the wrestling on the iPPV (titled Death Before Dishonor 9) was good, but without any backstory on the guys, or promos to sell their characters, to me it came off flat. There was one excellent wrestling match that stood out, but the main event of the show was too bloody and spotty for me to enjoy at all. I couldn’t say how ROH themselves felt about it, since they had plenty of opportunity to talk it up on their first TV show, but instead highlighted the far superior iPPV from 3 months ago.
The final verdict on the TV show is that it seems like a really well constructed reboot for a company boasting mountains of talent. The production looks better than it ever has, the commentary benefits from a new color guy- Nigel McGuinness (aka TNA’s Desmond Wolfe), and the crowd is loud and proud, which makes the overall feel of the program strong, fun to watch and to listen to. I think the groundwork is laid for what could be an engrossing pro wrestling show.
This was a really fun episode, despite RTruth and Miz not being around. If you noticed, they were even taken out of the intro videos. Mark Henry replaced Miz in the WWE signature video that opens every program, and Randy Orton, Mark Henry, and Cody Rhodes took their places in the Raw intro theme. Also, I’m pretty sure the Raw intro featured more Del Rio and Punk than it used to. Without the Awesome Truth's regular mid-show interruption, and only one HHH segment, the show actually kept a pretty consistent pace with lots of good old fashioned wrestling action.
The first match saw Cody Rhodes beat the odds to retain his Intercontinental belt, which I was super thrilled for. Not that he’s my favorite guy or anything like that, but I do like the fact that he’s champ. He makes it more high-profile than it has been in a long time. The 10 man over-the-top-rope match featured seven Smackdown guys, plus A-Ri, J-Mo, and Drew McIntyre, who was the first eliminated. Y’know, it wasn’t even that long ago that he was in an Elimination Chamber match for the WHW Championship, and now he can’t even beat Ted DiBiase on Superstars? Frax must be saaaad. :'(
The second match that was super fun to watch was a Teddy Long Special, a spur-of-the-moment 6 man tag with good guys vs. bad guys… vs. Mason Ryan. Well forget about that, and let’s rewind a minute. First, Ziggler successfully defends his US title against Zack Ryder, with the cheatin’ help of his cohort/rival Jack Swagger. This was cool because it means that they are indeed a stable working together, united by a common manager in Vickie Guerrero. I really hope this lasts for a while, and that their personal differences can be set aside for long enough to put their association to good use. When Vickie went back to find a third guy for the 6 man tag, Alice and I were PRAYING that she’d come back with Brodus Clay, who could help them to victory and earn a spot on Vickie’s talent roster as the enforcer of the group. That would’ve been rad, but instead we get to see Mason Ryan getting a cheap pop by (officially) turning face and unleashing his Welsh fury on Swagger and Ziggler, who had burned Ryan by comparing him to a robot last week. Maybe next week Ryan will have a real match on Raw, and be outed as the terrible hack that he is.
Another disappointment was the performance of John Cena, whose match with Christian was highlighted only by CM Punk’s commentary and Del Rio’s interference. John Cena himself was on commentary for the main event, and he was beyond shitty. He kept laying out these inane platitudes in his deadpan super-serious voice, which was incredibly lame. It was only just a few weeks ago that I complained about his lack of ability to build interest for his match at NoC, and now it’s basically the same gripe before HiaC. I’m not trying to hate on Cena too much, because I’m not a “Cena sucks” guy, but he leaves a lot to be desired, and is often frustrating to have on TV at all. He has moments of greatness, but they’re usually separated by weeks of mediocrity. And for cryin’ out loud, I hope he’s never on commentary again.
There were some notable utterances from the announcers on Raw this week. JR referred to the upcoming PPV as being a “bottomless pit of Hell” and Cole re-dubbed the Divas of Doom the “Sisters of Destruction”. But only one phrase resonated with me enough to merit induction into the Hall of Thriving Stubstance, and it was from Smackdown. Take it away Booker T!
It was a fantastic surprise having him on Raw this week in the place of Jerryatric Lawler. I enjoy his commentating so much, it won’t be long before I won’t be able to imagine WWE wrestling without it. Totally iconic. He rules.
Another good surprise was the utilization of David Otunga in a speaking role. He obviously feels comfortable in front of the camera, and what he lacks in in-ring experience he certainly makes up for in verbal skills, not to mention his great true-to-life gimmick. The whole “litigation angle” is about as lame as lame can be, but if it doesn’t take up too much TV time, and something good can come of it, I can’t complain. I’m curious to see where it goes, despite it being the lamest thing that’s ever happened in the history of the world.
One more super-lame thing before I go, and I’ve fussed about this before, but I absolutely HATE it when the “good guys” beat up on non-wrestlers. Cena and Punk punishing Ricardo with their finishing moves might get a cheer from the sea of churls who dominate the audience, but as someone who follows the storylines and buys into the characters, it’s always a source of discontent when the babyfaces send mixed messages by participating in such heelish behavior. I demand maturity and accountability from my pro wrestling, dammit!
Be excellent to each other,
PS. Party on, dudes.