And another thing…

Craig Wilson

Hell in a Cell – a screwy finish?

Going in to this weekend’s Hell in a Cell I described not having Ryback win as being an illogical booking decision and that’s exactly what happened.

Perhaps owing to the fact that few wrestling fans saw any chance that Punk would leave Sunday’s event with the title, the WWE came up with a last minute swerve to keep the title on Punk thanks to a screwjob finish. I’ve seen comments from both sides of the argument – some see that now the streak’s over its done whilst others believe it allows him to develop other parts of his character. I think it was a stupid move not to have Ryback go over and I hope it doesn’t hurt him long term.

Best WWE DVD in the world?

Sticking with Punk, this weekend I finally caught up with the rest of the wrestling world and watched the CM Punk DVD ‘Best in the World’ and like everyone else I wasn’t disappointed.

Jamie’s previously reviewed the DVD but even after such a glowing review I was surprised at just how good the DVD is.

I’ve now seen a number of the superstar DVDs produced by the WWE and I have to say that this is by far the best that I have seen. I was really impressed with the range of friends that popped up to give their two cents on how Punk has gotten on in the wrestling world and his career was chronicled perfectly from the humble beginnings of setting up a backyard promotion with friends to being the WWE Champion.

It was also great again to see the “shoot” promo Punk gave on Raw last summer as well as seeing him highlight the often questionable booking decisions made by the WWE creative department and booking team. If you’ve not seen this DVD yet then I’d advise you to check it out.

Justin Gabriel getting a push

For me, one of the least utilised superstars currently on the WWE roster is Justin Gabriel and it’s good to see him getting a mini push and a title shot at a PPV.

I’d previously had high hopes for his tag team with Tyson Kidd but think much better things will come for the South African superstar in singles competition. He has a unique look and an exciting move-set and I hope that the powers that be can find him a good feud to get him more over with the fans.

Moments that Changed Wrestling History: The Chris Benoit double murder suicide

Craig Wilson

On Monday 25 June 2007 at around 2.30pm Eastern Time, police entered the home of Chris Benoit and were met with a scene that shocked the entire world, in and out of wrestling circles, and has left a sickening legacy on the world of wrestling as two innocent people lost their lives.

The Chris Benoit double murder suicide

On Sunday 24 June 2007, Christ Benoit was scheduled to face CM Punk on Vengeance Night of the Champions for the ECW Championship, a belt that Stephanie McMahon later stated Benoit was to win.

However, Benoit missed that event, along with that weekend’s house shows, due to, as he claimed, his wife and son vomiting and having to take them to hospital.

But over the course of a few days the full gruesome facts over what had happened at the Benoit house began to emerge causing a ripple of shock to pass through the world of wrestling and at the same time create a media storm like never seen before in wrestling circles.

In the space of three days Chris Benoit went from missing a pay per view event due to a family emergency to being paid tribute to on a Raw special to being removed entirely from the history of the WWE on day three. A quite incredible turn of events for a wrestler with a then glittering career and place in the Hall of Fame a certainty.

When the police entered the Benoit house on the Monday afternoon the full, and very grizzly, facts become apparent. A series of sickening and gruesome acts had taken place as both Nancy and Daniel Benoit were murdered, with bibles placed next to their bodies, before Chris Benoit hung himself from his multi-gym.

The world of professional wrestling is sadly associated with its star passing away far too early. The early deaths of professional wrestlers have been a vastly underreported story for years and the mainstream media in America make no time for it. Had Benoit killed only himself that weekend, the story would have gotten a mere fraction of the coverage it did. Tragically, this incident also involved the death of two innocent family members and led to a number of serious questions being asked about wrestling.

Initial reaction

At first it was believed that the whole family had been murdered which led to the WWE cancelling the arranged storyline Raw and replacing it with a tribute three hour show.

Within 24 hours the picture had changed dramatically, however, and Vince addressed WWE fans via a television taping to state that the name “Chris Benoit” will not be mentioned on WWE television ever again. A promise that the company has rigidly stuck to since that date.

As for the tribute show, a standard tribute show with superstar after superstar lining up to provide a Benoit anecdote with many providing snippets about how much is family mattered to him, something now deeply unsettling to view. One superstar was noticeably different, however, and that wrestler was William Regal.

It is clear from Regal’s choice of words and his body language that he is completely uncomfortable with reaction to the situation so early without the full facts being known and speaks only of Benoit’s work rate, not of him as a person or as a family man. Something it is very difficult to find as anything other than telling.

Another case of roid-rage?

The media queued up to blame Benoit’s use of steroids on what happened, something not helped by a bizarre statement being released by the WWE stating that steroids played no part in this tragedy.

Many media outlets, supported by former wrestlers touring that circuit, simply attributed what happened to just another roided up wrestler. The toxicology reports go a long way to supporting that view.

When these reports were released they showed that Benoit had significantly elevated levels of testosterone in his system. His 220 pound frame was absolutely pumped full of it. A normal person has a testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio of 1:1, an athlete tends to have a ratio of 1:4 while the WWE allows 10:1. The ratio for Chris Benoit at the time of his death was a staggering 59:1. While Benoit tested positive for testosterone but negative for anabolic steroids he was not flagged up as a WWE wellness policy fail. It seems that while the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency considers testosterone and anabolic steroids to be the same thing, the WWE do not. It is therefore little wonder that Daily News sportswriter Christian Red declared that the WWE was “in full spin control”.

Even more remarkably both Linda and Vince McMahon appeared on television to back the company’s wellness policy with interviewers unable to land any significant blows on the pair. That is despite the evidence stacking up to show that the wellness policy was not the success the WWE were claiming.

While the toxicology reports indicated that Benoit did indeed have steroids as well as other drugs in his system at the time of his death they did not prove that the steroids were behind the murders or offer any reason to why Benoit committed the acts.

Nobody should defend steroid use, and Benoit almost certainly used them during the course of his career. But was roid rage the sole reason behind this tragedy? Roid rage is not known for being spread out over the course of multiple days so this gruesome act has roots that ran deeper that just steroid abuse.

The role of head trauma

Tests conducted on Benoit’s brain showed that it was “so severely damaged it resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient” while also showing the advanced stages of dementia.

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One of Benoit’s most famous moves, used part in homage to one of his heroes the Dynamite Kid, was a diving headbutt from the top rope. Benoit used this move even after returning from a year off with a broken neck. As well as that, Benoit is noted as being one of the few superstars that would take the dangerous chair shots to the back of the head. Both of these played a significant part in the concussions and other head problems that he suffered from. The whole point of professional wrestling is to give the impression you are being hurt while remaining pain free.

But what of Benoit’s mental state? Many of his co-workers refer to him being somewhat lost after the passing of his close friend Eddie Guerrero with other anecdotal evidence also raising serious concerns.

His former colleague William Regal recalls being invited around to Benoit’s house to watch wrestling matches but when he arrived at his house, Benoit failed to recall issuing the invite and refused to allow him to enter his property. Chris Jericho also tells a story about being offered a rose by Benoit to throw on Eddie Guerrero’s coffin at his funeral but Benoit walking away, after a lengthy discussion on the significance of the rose, without actually giving it to him.

Benoit suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a form of brain damage that includes depression, cognitive impairment, dementia, Parkinsonism and erratic behavior. The texts messages sent by Benoit on the weekend of the tragedy also highlight a deeply troubling mental state:

Text Message 1 to two co-workers (sent 6/24 at 3:53am)- Chris Benoit’s cell phone
“My physical address is 130 Green Meadow Lane, Fayetteville Georgia. 30215″
Text Message 2 to two co-workers (sent 6/24 at 3:53am)- Chris Benoit’s cell phone
“The dogs are in the enclosed pool area. Garage side door is open”
Text Message 3 to two co-workers (sent 6/24 at 3:54am)- Nancy Benoit’ cell phone
“My physical address is 130 Green Meadow Lane. Fayetteville Georgia.”
Text Message 4 to two co-workers (sent 6/24 at 3:55am)- Nancy Benoit’s cell phone
“My physical address is 130 Green Meadow Lane. Fayetteville Georgia. 30215″
Text Message 5 to one co-worker (sent 6/24 at 3:58am)- Nancy Benoit’s cell phone
“My address is 130 Green Meadow Lane. Fayetteville Georgia. 30215″

These texts are as unsettling and are a clear call for authorities to turn up at the scene. They also pose more questions than they provide answers. It is also worth noting that no attempts were made to hide the steroids. While other evidence such as his own diaries as well as Nancy’s photographs taken in the aftermath of claims of physical abuse towards her were destroyed, the steroids remained at the scene.

The former professional wrestler turned anti-concussion campaigner Christopher Nowinski stated that Benoit may have been suffering from repeated, untreated concussions throughout his wrestling career which ultimately leading to an unstable mental state.

The tests conducted on Benoit’s brain showed how damaged his brain was while tests conducted on the brain tissue revealed he did in fact suffer from severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy and had brain damage in all four lobes of the brain and brain stem. The conclusion from these tests was that repeated concussions can lead todementia, which can contribute to severe behavioral problems. Chris Benoit’s father suggests that brain damage may have been the leading cause of the double murder-suicide, a view derided as “speculative” by the WWE.

In Benoit, while at the end he was still lucid enough to wrestle brilliantly and complete the tasks of everyday living, his brain was damaged to the extent that his impulse and emotional control and restraint, and his rationality, were severely impaired.

Will Benoit’s in-ring achievements ever be recognized?

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In 2003, Benoit was inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame. After the double murder-suicide, his induction underwent a recall election in 2008. However, Benoit’s place in that Hall of Fame was retained as a member. While 53.6% supported his removal, that figure fell below the necessary 60% threshold.

The reaction from the WWE in the aftermath of the incident was a mess. The news of the deaths broke a few hours before Monday Night RAW was due to air and a clearly shaken Vince McMahon made an announcement that RAW would celebrate the career of Benoit, showing some of his best matches and moments.

Of course, this was before the details of the case broke, before it was known that Chris Benoit himself had committed these horrendous acts. Perhaps it was an emotional decision, but Vince McMahon again appeared at the start of the next TV taping, retracting his previous remarks and stating that Benoit would never be mentioned again in the WWE. It has been now more than five years since this tragedy and the promotion has not veered from that policy announced by McMahon on that night.

Will the WWE recognize Benoit’s achievements? I find that highly unlikely. Despite all of these championship wins, and many other honors in a glittering wrestling career, many of these successes have simply been airbrushed from history. What’s more, any video footage that does contain Benoit has him blacked out of the picture.

Few believed that Benoit, at his peak, would not have entered into the WWE Hall of Fame but not now. The image of Benoit and Guerrero celebrating in the ring at Wrestlemania 20 is one of the most iconic pictures in recent wrestling history as it showed that two smaller guys could indeed ascend to the top of the wrestling world. Yet within a few years both of those superstars had passed away.

Chris Benoit will be remembered as one of the greatest wrestlers ever to set foot inside the squared circle but because of the heinous acts committed in and around the 24th of June 2007, it will be as a superstar that many fans will not feel right remembering fondly ever again.

One this is for sure, the debate will continue for years to come whether or not the WWE is correct to remove the Benoit from their record books and history. While it’s easy to just dismiss the murders as another wrestler with uncontrollable ‘roid rage, the nuances changed the course of wrestling forever.

The wider impact of this tragedy

It’s been a half decade since one of the WWE’s blackest days. It was an event that would truly change the landscape of the company and tarnish its all-important public image.

No one will ever know exactly what happened in the Benoit household. The actions of Benoit over the course of that June weekend highlighted the very worst of what excessive brain damage could do. The research that came from the incident started a series of studies that determined just how serious concussions could be. The Benoit murders occurred in June and by August of the same year the NFL had released its first new policy on concussions.

Personally speaking, I am still completely unsure over many aspects of this in a wrestling sense. I find it very difficult to watch his matches and that is a shame considering how many stand out matches he had. One of my favorite Benoit matches, against Bret Hart as a tribute to Owen, is a match I have not watched since the incident.

That is a purely selfish view from a wrestling fan. Ultimately, however, the impact was more seriously felt outside of wrestling with the tragic and needless loss of two lives. The remainder of the Benoit family will have to live the rest of their lives with the stigma associated with the heinous actions committed over that weekend in June 2007. At the heart of this tragedy is the fact that an innocent woman and her son were murdered in cold blood.

R.I.P to Nancy and Daniel Benoit.

More of my musings on the often crazy world of wrestling can be found on the blog I write with a couple of friends RingtheDamnBell Blog. You can follow the blog on Twitter @Ringthedamnbel1

Feel free to suggest future ‘Moments that changed the face of wrestling’ in the comments section below or better still tweet them to me Ringthedamnbel1

Hell in a Cell 2012 predictions

Craig Wilson, James Giles & Jamie Lithgow

Tonight is the WWE Hell in a Cell 2012 PPV and as is the normal with PPV Sunday’s, here are our predictions for the event.

Randy Orton v Alberto Del Rio

Craig: Two of the most overrated WWE superstars in one match – lucky lucky us. I hope that Orton will take this one though as that’ll hopefully result in Del Rio not getting a title shot for at least a PPV or two. Orton has been teasing a heel turn recently and I hope that that comes to fruition soon. Just don’t buy into him as a face at all.

Winner: Randy Orton

James: I’m not sure that their styles will gel into a very exciting match, so I’m not really looking forward to this. Del Rio still isn’t anywhere near over enough, despite spending 3 or 4 months feuding with Sheamus over the title. The crowd seems to go hot and cold for Orton, but he could be over with right momentum, and would be a much more sensible challenger for Sheamus championship.

Winner: Randy Orton

Jamie: Two wrestlers I don’t care about in a match I don’t care about. That’s about as bad a comment as you can make about a match involving superstars of this stature. Randy Orton as a babyface is beyond dull and I just can’t get into Del Rio as a character, he’s so clichéd. Predicting a winner is a tricky one because I’ve x30’d their entire feud. This is WWE though, so if in doubt pick the babyface.

Winner: Randy Orton

Eve (c) v Kaitlyn v Layla – Divas Championship

Craig: If these are the first two matches then I’ll have started to lose interest about now. I’ve previously voiced numerous grumbles about the state of divas wrestling and this match here highlights how far the divas division has fallen. Ultimately my answer to who wins is “who cares?” but as I have to pick a winner then I’ll pluck for Eve here.
Winner: Eve

James : The Diva’s division is so badly maligned that the outcome of this match is irrelevant to me and probably most fans. None of these women are bad performers though and with time and attention the Divas division could mean something, but I can’t see WWE ever being really interested enough.

Winner: Eve

Jamie: Fantastic, another match I don’t care about involving wrestlers I don’t care about. I’ve at least caught the gist of this feud though. The only thing entertaining about this feud so far has been Layla’s acting on Monday’s Raw. They may as well have dubbed “why I oughta…” over her actual words. Awful, just awful.

Winner: Eve

Kofi Kingston (c) v The Miz – Intercontinental Championship

Craig: I really like Kofi and after his brief flirtation with being higher up the card earlier in the year I was quite disappointed that he then quietly resumed his role in the tag team division. It was somewhat of a surprise that he won the Intercontinental title from The Miz but I hope he can get a run with the belt. I don’t believe he’ll make it as a world champion in the WWE – I think he is just short of the attributes required to reach that goal – but he’s more than capable of being a good Intercontinental Champion.

Winner: And still Intercontinental Champion, Kofi Kingston.

James : Both men are solid, dependable mid-carders that could help keep the IC Title a respectable belt. They are also both decent workers, so the match should be entertaining enough. Kingston definitely needs to retain, as he hasn’t been the champ long, and then the rehabilitation of Miz can continue on his way back to the main events.

Winner: Kofi Kingston

Jamie: Things are getting better on this card, here we have a match worth investing some viewing time in at least. At the very least I expect these two to produce a solid match, plus I like the title switch before the PPV because I prefer when Kofi is a champion with something to hold on to. I predict that Miz will dominate the match but Kofi will pull out a gutsy, if slightly lucky, victory. This makes Kofi look hard to beat and prepares Miz for a push further up the card without denting him too much.

Winner: Kofi Kingston

Hell Yeah (c) v Rhodes Scholars – Tag Team Championship

Craig: Is it time for the much anticipated split in Team Hell Yeah or do they continue a little longer with the titles? I think they’ll keep the belts here but more and more does dissention start to creep in. The eventual dropping of the titles and split will have a bigger pay off than this card so I can’t see past Team Hell Yeah retaining. The Rhodes Scholars are a promising team and I hope that they stick together for a bit longer as, if nothing else, it gives both members something meaningful to do.

Winner: Team Hell Yeah.

James : It is almost impossible not to like Team Hell Yeah, thanks to their hilarious promos and classic chemistry. I really hope WWE keeps them as team for a little while longer, because there is still millage there and they are the most entertaining thing on WWE TV. This match could be the dark horse of the show and hopefully they will be given time to shine. Keep the belts on Team Hell Yeah for just a while longer I say.

Winner: Team Hell Yeah

Jamie: Firstly, I anticipate a good match here with plenty of crowd noise. The champs are brimming with personality while Rhodes and particularly Sandow can more than hold their own against them in that department. However, I’m starting to find the antics of Kane and Bryan beyond lame. I know a lot of people find it funny, but I don’t, it’s just not my cup of tea. I do see light at the end of the tunnel however. I’m predicting that Rhodes Scholars will win the titles which should mark the end for Team Hell No. Incidentally I really hate tag team names with the prefix “Team…”

Winner: Rhodes Scholars

Sheamus (c) v The Big Show – World Heavyweight Championship

Craig: I’ve been nothing but disappointed by Sheamus’ run with this belt. It got off to the worst start imaginable and hasn’t really picked up much since. Is Big Show really worthy of a title shot here? The only argument for him getting a shot is that it has stopped Alberto Del Rio getting another one. The booking here seems to focus on having Sheamus get a lengthy run with the belt so I can see him keeping the big gold belt at Hell in a Cell.

Winner: And still World Heavyweight Champion… Sheamus.

James : Sheamus run as world champion has started to dry up now, after his long and largely uninspired feud with Del Rio. Hopefully Orton will win his bout with Del Rio, and then turn heel and feud with Sheamus. But one unanswerable question is why was Big Show chosen as the interim challenger? They’ll probably have a better match than the lacklustre series with ADR, but seriously, why isn’t Ziggler in this spot? Or on the card AT ALL?? If Show wins, they may as well abandon this title altogether.

Winner: Has to be Sheamus.

Jamie: Not interested in the slightest. There’s really no point watching because the action will be pants and we all know Sheamus is going to win.

Winner: Sheamus

CM Punk (c) v Ryback – WWE Championship – Hell in a Cell

Craig Wilson: Two pay per view main events in a row is nose bleed territory for CM Punk and it’s quite disappointing for me, as a big CM Punk fan, that he’ll be ending the night as the former WWE Champion. Even by WWE booking standards it would be completely illogical to not have Ryback win this one. The only question that remains is whether this will be a Goldberg esque squash or not. I personally can’t see this one lasting all that long at all but, that said, CM Punk doesn’t need the belt to be over and I’ve always enjoyed him more when he’s doing the chasing.

Winner: and new WWE Champion, Ryback.

James: As we have discussed quite extensively recently, the outcome of this one is really card to call. Ideally, they should just never have booked it, but now they have someone is gonna come out of it looking bad. If Ryback loses straight, his momentum is killed, and even if he wins he isn’t really ready for the championship. If Punk loses, he will have to regain soon for his match with Rock at the Rumble (there is no way they would book Ryback Vs The Rock…is there??) or months of planned feuds will be screwed up. Just thinking about all his is making my head hurt. And I can’t see the match being very good either, as Ryback hasn’t worked longer than 5 minutes. What a terrible main event this is shaping up to be. It does undeniably have that ‘car crash’ appeal in that I don’t think I won’t be able to watch it though…

Winner: Ryback (purely to maintain the momentum)

Jamie: Since last Sunday’s Sermon I think I’m starting to piece this match together, I think. I said that wrestling logic points to a Ryback win, which is what WWE wants us to think because business logic points to a CM Punk win. Ryback is in this spot because John Cena is injured, if Cena were fit Ryback would be squashing a random mid-carder. WWE have thrown the kitchen sink at CM Punk’s initial push and recent heel turn, but what have they done for Ryback? Have they invested in countless pieces of merchandise? Shoved his face all over posters? Had him do dozens of media appearances per week? Had Stone Cold Steve Austin target him over Twitter and YouTube? Has he verbally buried The Rock? Has he delivered his finishing move to The Great One too? No. WWE has spent comparatively little time, money and effort on Ryback, in fact all they have done is have him show up towards the end of the show for the last few weeks. There’s no doubt that Ryback is on fire, so how hated will CM Punk be when he puts that fire out? Punk is already a huge heel but WWE (and Punk) are making a monster in preparation for his inevitable clash with The Rock. As for Ryback, if the finish of the match is well managed then he should be able to go back to what he was doing before all of this. However, if WWE drop the ball with him then it’s no huge loss to them, easy come easy go.

Winner: CM Punk

Overall Thoughts

Craig Wilson:

Not watch: and I’m even off on Monday! There is nothing on this card, as it stands, that really marks it out as a must watch event. I am struggling to see what a potential candidate is for match of the night. I think the tag titles match will be decent as will the Intercontinental Championship bout but other than that there are three matches I can barely muster enthusiasm for and even the main event doesn’t really do anything for me.

James : Well it is hardly shaping up to be a classic B-level PPV, but should provide some interesting enough stuff (IC match, Tag Title, the main event). Doesn’t seem to be build up a whole towards Survivor Series though, which is troubling.

Watch/Not watch: Well I can’t say I’ll feel good about paying for it, but I don’t think I can miss that main event, so watch (albeit reluctantly

Jamie:

Watch/Not watch: There’s a lot of intrigue around the main event but below it is one of the worst looking WWE cards I’ve seen in a long time. If I find the time I’ll watch the Punk/Ryback match, but I’ll probably just read the results online to be honest. Not watch.

When will the WWE wake up and take notice?

Craig Wilson

So, today’s news is that the WWE has the lowest Raw ratings for fifteen years but to anyone with more than a passing interest in wrestling, is that really a surprise?

For me, it is a resounding no. For far too long now the WWE product has been stale and boring. Gone are the surprises of old and the superstars that made us tune in and they have been replaced by a bland product that is predictable and lacks many genuine stand out stars.

Remember when Mankin won the title on Raw or when Austin got in Mike Tyson’s face? Those are stand out moments from the history of the WWE. Remember when DX invaded Raw or impersonated the Nation of Domination? We all do. Of course we do. These will be moments that will be rightly remembered from the period when Raw was unmissible.

Fast forward to now and look at the moments we see on Raw. In ten to fifteen years’ time will we remember AJ’s reign as Raw GM or when Lesnar attacked Shawn Michaels? No, no one will remember these moments. Not only because of the low viewing figures but because they weren’t significant. Nobody cares. That there is the problem for the WWE.

But what is the WWE doing to tackle this? The answer on the surface appears to be virtually nothing. Raw has been stale for years. The notion that it is because of Linda running for Senate aren’t the only factor here.

The biggest problem has been the lack of stars being created. Someone new watching Raw and Smackdown would keep seeing the same faces time and time again and probably believe that the WWE roster was quite small despite the enormous number of wrestlers doing nothing or worse, stuck in squash matches on superstars.

The creative department in the WWE is well and truly stuck in a rut. There is a fantastic amount of talent bubbling under the surface – a casual watch of NXT will show some of the great wrestling ability that many stars have. The problem? The lack of a gimmick for most.

The most evident sign of the lack of star power in the WWE has been the fact that the WWE has become dependent on bringing back former talent to headline shows – your Rock and Lesnar being prime examples. Years of short sightedness has created the malaise in the WWE and it is proving to be very difficult to get out of.

A recent sign of desperation was Vince’s return to in ring competition – an in-ring return for a man five years older than another non wrestler who had a heart attack in the ring the week before. Now there are rumours that another man in his sixties, Ric Flair who is 63, will be returning to Raw next weekend.

So who do the WWE have in terms of stars? Of the current full-time roster, there three biggest guys are probably Randy Orton, John Cena and CM Punk. Orton looks completely generic; Cena is disliked by a crowd who tired of him being pushed down their throat Rock style with CM Punk arguably being the most over star on the roster.

His reward? A failure to highlight a PPV this year, other than Night of Champions against Cena, despite being WWE Champion. But what about Hell in a Cell 2012 I hear you ask, well it looks very much like Ryback will ride rough shot over him in that one.

McMahon apparently demanded “results or resignations” at a recent backstage meeting, perhaps he should have been more proactive rather than leaving it so late and looking both desperate and reactive.

And another thing

Craig Wilson

A bit of blurb ahead of what I hope will become a weekly feature on the blog as muse generally on wrestling.

Hell in a Cell 2012

We’re mere days away now from this year’s Hell in a Cell PPV set to, somewhat surprisingly, be headlined by a match featuring CM Punk. That said, any wrestling writer worth their salt has Punk pegged to lose this one to the man with the meteoric rise to the top: Ryback.

Of course, there are several dissenters when it comes to Ryback. Questions remain over his readiness for such an ascent as well as over if he’s just a cheap imitation of Goldberg or not. One thing is for sure, despite what he says he’s not superior in any way to Bill Goldberg.

I think the WWE could certainly have done things a little different with him, perhaps a bodyguard or something for Punk giving him exposure to the main event scene. After all, a similar storyline worked fairly well in getting Diesel over.

That said, it’s too late for all that now. We’ll just have to see how he does on Sunday and I’m expecting a fairly short match as he defeats Punk for the belt. Where it goes from then is anyone’s guess.

Stables

A general reflection recently on old school wrestling in the WWE from the 80s made me reminisce about the various stables there were back then.

It seemed like everyone was in on the act. Jimmy Hart had a steady stream of guys under his tutelage and of course there was the Heenan Family. The stable concept was naturally not just in the WWE though and was a nod back to a previous era where heel managers would bring in various bad guys in an attempt to topple the organisation’s top babyface.

As much as I long for those days, I know they’ve changed but that doesn’t mean that a stable can’t still play a prominent part in a wrestling promotion. Until his Kobe Bryant gaffe, I had fairly high hopes for the one being started by Abraham Washington. With so many superstars on the roster clicking their heels either doing nothing or stuck in squash matches, it would be a great way of giving a lot of them the rub required to get them more over with the WWE fanbase.

Randy Orton benefited greatly from his spells in Evolution and The Legacy and I see no reason why any number of superstars currently on the roster can’t benefit in a similar way from a run with a stable.

and finally

As with every year, I am eagerly anticipating the launch of this year’s WWE game, in this case WWE ’13. Perhaps I am more excited than ever before with the game boasting not just current performers but a series of stars from the Attitude Era but I can’t help thinking that the makers and WWE have missed a trick here.

Why no NXT stars on the game? Now I know that none are hardly household names but featuring them on the game may prompt a lot of fans to want to find out more about these guys and as a result start watching NXT – which in my opinion is the best WWE product anyway.

Quite surprised that the WWE didn’t think of that themselves. Still, for next year’s edition they can have that idea for free.

CM Punk: Best in the World – DVD Review

Jamie Lithgow

(Image courtesy of diehardprowrestling.blogspot.com)

(Image courtesy of diehardprowrestling.blogspot.com)

Recently I got my hands on the new CM Punk DVD, and as this is the first release in a long time that I took the trouble to pre order I figure I may as well review it before everyone gets their hands on a copy.

So what’s it about? Well, CM Punk obviously. It is the latest addition to WWE’s hit and miss collection of biographical DVDs. As a CM Punk fan I was always going to order this DVD, but I was crossing my fingers that it wasn’t just a collection of matches with the occasional talking head in between. Thankfully it doesn’t follow this formula. What you get is an approximately 2 hour long biography of Punk with an excellent, and relevant, array of talking heads. Along with Punk we hear from Paul Heyman, Colt Cabana, Michael Hayes, Kofi Kingston, Triple H, Daniel Bryan, Chris Hero (interestingly not referred to as Kassius Ohno), Ace Steel, Jim Ross and other genuinely relevant people in Punk’s wrestling life. The good thing about this DVD is that it’s not just about Punk the wrestler; it’s about Punk the person. None of his biological family are interviewed but we do hear from his childhood friends whom he more or less lived with as a teenager. We also hear from a couple of ex-girlfriends, one of which being Lita. Also, and probably the coolest talking head on any WWE DVD, Lars Frederiksen from the band Rancid provides more and more insight into Punk the person as the DVD goes on. Continue reading

Matches from History: Classic Hell in a Cell Bouts

James Giles

With the WWE’s annual Hell in a Cell PPV only a week away, and given my recent post about the decline in HIAC, I thought now would be a good time to revisit some of classic Cell bouts from the past. For the old school fans, this will provide a welcome trip down memory lane, as many of the posts on this blog do. But for newer fans, I hope this will help show them why I (and many other fans) used to be so enthusiastic about the famous over-sized cage, and maybe encourage them to seek out more of the same. This is in no way meant to be a definitive list of the best, just three of my personal favourites from over the years. With that said, lets get this nostalgia fuelled epic underway!

The Original – The Undertaker Vs Shawn Michaels, Bad Blood 1997

For me, it is fitting that the first ever Hell in Cell match was contested by two of the finest workers ever in WWE, and it appropriately set the precedent very high for every subsequent Cell bout. It was intended to bring a decisive outcome to Taker’s feud with HBK, which began when Michaels cost the Deadman the WWF Championship in the main event of Summerslam 1997. They had already had a very entertaining brawl at Ground Zero in September ‘97, which ended in a no-contest after interference from Rick Rude, the use of brass knucks and a shit-ton of ref bumps. Although it was initially ambiguous if Michael’s actions at Summerslam were intentional or accident, HBK clarified this in the build up to Bad Blood by viciously busting Taker open with a chair after a match. To settle the score, a roofed caged (devised by Jim Cornette) was created, the aim of which was to keep everyone else out and maximise the potential for brutality.

The Undertaker and HBK certainly live up to that potential too; within minutes of the opening bell the fast paced action has spilled outside the ring, and both men utilise the giant to cage to their advantage. Michaels is showier, climbing the cell to deliver a flurry of punches, or using it for leverage to drop an elbow. Undertaker is much more blunt, body-slamming HBK into it, or ramming him headfirst against the mesh. They brawl back and forth some more, inside and outside the ring, and trade some of their signature moves; much like their legendary Mania matches, the timing and selling of every exchange is spot on. A chair is introduced by Michaels (to Takers back) and a camera man gets wiped out by a flying HBK; Michaels even pulls off a rarely seen piledriver on the steel steps. After a little while, they manage to escape the cage, thanks to the ineffective Commissioner Slaughter, and Taker busts HBK open by catapulting him into the mesh. Shawn then scores a low blow and tries to get away from the Phenom by climbing to the Cell roof. Unfortunately for HBK, he soon learns that there is frequently only one way down from the Cell….

Shawn Michaels Vs The Undertaker Hell In A Cell… by SecondWWE

Although Michaels bump may not seem such a big deal to a generation weaned on TLC/MITB matches, it was the most dangerous drop done in the company up to that point, and not something the ’97 audience was accustomed to seeing. It took real guts by Shawn to do and they so skilfully built the tension up to it too, it makes a great example of a match with one massive bump being more exciting than most bouts that feature dozens. Undertaker stays in control of the match afterwards, and seems to be wrapping things up nicely, with a chokeslam off the top turnbuckle, followed by a stiff unprotected chair-shot to the head, fitting revenge for Summerslam. But just as The Deadman signals for the Tombstone piledriver, the lights go out; seconds later Kane, who had been spoken of by Taker and Paul Bearer for months, makes his debut. The Big Red Machine tears off the Cell door and lays out Taker with a Tombstone of his own, allowing a bloody, battered Michaels to crawl over for the pin.

An electric and engaging match from the first moments, it delivers a proficiently told story through brutal, thrilling action and doesn’t let up until the closing bell. Widely considered the greatest cage match ever of any variety, and one of the best WWE matches of all time (tellingly, it was the last WWF/E match to be awarded 5 stars by Dave Meltzer until Cena/Punk MITB 2011), it left a hell of legacy for the HIAC gimmick to try and follow. And boy did some people try hard…..

High drama, high emotion, high spots – HHH Vs Cactus Jack, No Way Out 2000

If you were to ask a group of wrestling fans which three names were most synonymous with the HIAC bout, 9 out of 10 times you’d get the same three names; HHH, The Undertaker and Mick Foley. Taker and HHH you can understand – The Game has featured in 9, whilst The Deadman has been in a whopping 12. But Mick Foley has only participated in 4, and two of these were on RAW is WAR during 1998, all but forgotten even by those with very good memories. Of the two that appeared on PPV though, both are bona-fide classics. Much has already been written of the infamous King of the Ring battle between Foley (as Mankind) and The Undertaker, and for me personally it hasn’t weathered the years so well. Whilst Mick’s jaw-dropping, death defying bumps are inarguably iconic moments in WWE history, the rest of the match desperately lacks, Taker barely able to hold things together after Foley is knocked silly. Retrospective knowledge of the extent of the injuries suffered by Foley, and the effect it had on his career and life, make it pretty uncomfortable viewing now too, even if it was a different story when I was 14 in 1998 (which it was; myself and my friends would have laughed off any concern we had for wrestlers well-being we had with the wilfully ignorant and naïve belief they knew how to bump without really hurting themselves).

But Mick’s war with HHH from No Way Out is another matter altogether; viewed now, it still holds ups as an excellent example of classic-formula HIAC. At the time, many felt that they would have a hard time following their legendary Street Fight from Royal Rumble the previous month; that bout had so far exceeded expectations, that there was an anticipation some believed couldn’t now be lived up to. So WWE and Foley decided to give it an extra emotional hook by having Cactus Jack declare it was his dream to main event Wrestlemania, and vowing to retire should he lose at No Way Out. At the time, it worked too because many fans were aware of Foleys catalogue of injuries, and his desire to go out on a high before his body gave up for him. With the legacy of the Rumble bout casting its shadow, and with a career changing outcome on the line, HHH and Foley would have to the extra mile to put on something worthy of the fans expectations.

Cactus Jack vs. Triple H – Hell In A Cell & WWF… by Gus_VoxCatch

They certainly tried their damndest too. The bout starts with Cactus in control, pounding on HHH with punches, a running forearm and smashing his head into the steel steps. He is soon outside the ring, looking for an exit to the Cell; in the early going, the story is that Cactus wants to take HHH up to the roof, presumably to throw him off. The Game take over soon though, and in brutal fashion; as Cactus is climbing into the ring with a chair, HHH sends him flying off the apron with a running knee, before whipping Cactus into the ring steps. And just to add emphasis, HHH then throws the steps at Cactus. Soon HHH is able to get a near fall when he drops Cactus with a chair shot, but Jack soon turns the table with a low blow, and scores a near-fall of his own with a double arm DDT on the chair. The momentum goes back and forth for a few minutes, with crowd heat building the whole time, before Cactus gets a massive pop by catapulting HHH from the stairs into the Cell wall, busting him open in the process. Cactus then tops it with an even bigger pop by jumping, steel chair in arm, from the second rope to a prone HHH on the floor.

They finally find a way out of the cage, when HHH dodges a flying set of steps, which plough through the mesh fence wall. Cactus send the Game through it too, and follows up with a piledriver on the announce table, which doesn’t break. Jack then brings out his old friend ‘Barbie’, the barbed-wire wrapped 2×4, and the wallops The Game in the head. Thanks to a temporary distraction from Stephanie, HHH is able to flee up to the Cell roof. Cactus tries to follow, but makes the mistake of throwing Barbie up first; HHH then uses it to cut Cactus off on his way, sending him plummeting through the announce table in stunning fashion. Amazingly Cactus is soon up and making his way to the roof again. He manages to get to the top, only to be met with more shots from the barbed wire bat. Cactus manages to regain control with a low blow, before lighting Barbie on fire. He hits HHH with a convincing a blow as you could manage with a burning bat, before signalling for a piledriver. This backfires spectacularly though, when HHH reverses and sends Cactus plunging through the roof to ring mat, which caves in on impact. HHH does a great job of selling shock, and the crowd breaks out into a Holy Shit chant. The Games climbs down into the ring, and it seems certain that all he has to do is pin Cactus; a deafening Foley chant begins, and Cactus manages to raise an arm to the biggest pop of his career. Despite getting to his feet, HHH soon finishes Cactus off with the Pedigree, to the dismay of the audience. They start cheering Foley again as he refuses medical treatment and as Cactus walks down the aisle (supposedly for the last time) the fans are on their feet clapping, some even in tears.

Despite the fact WWE would soon poop all over this by having Foley unretire three weeks later, to the utter indignation of a lot of fans, at the time it was one of the most touching and heart-warming moments ever in wrestling; and regardless of the tainted ending, the content of the match is still excellent. Violent, shocking and gripping from bell to bell, it is a top-notch example of how to do Hell in Cell right.

The Bloodbath – Undertaker Vs Brock Lesnar, No Mercy 2002

My third match choice comes from late 2002, a period in WWE history which was a bit up and down, to say the least. RAW was being dominated by HHH in full-blown ego mode, who mercilessly trampled any start he came up against at this time (just ask RVD, Kane, Booker T etc.) in some diabolical angles, including the infamous Katie Vick storyline. On the other show, Smackdown, things were actually much brighter, with a reinvigorated tag team division headed up by Angle/Benoit and Edge/Mysterio combos, and the main events featuring WWE Champion Brock Lesnar and his primary challenger The Undertaker. They first clashed in a mediocre bout at Unforgiven, which finished with a lame double DQ, and saw Undertaker in ego-mode himself after the bell; face Undertaker dominated and pounded on monster heel Lesnar and tossed him through the entrance sign. Many were disappointed by Takers actions, expecting him to help Lesnar (WWE’s new chosen one) look impressive in his first title defence.

If was for this reason that some were dismayed when it was announced they would clash again at No Mercy; these feelings were further compounded when Lesnar (storyline) broke the Deadman’s hand, giving Lesnar a weakness to try an exploit, when in actuality he should have been able to beat Taker by his own merits on an even playing field. But most of these fears were dashed once the bout got underway. From the start, Lesnar takes the advantage over Undertaker, thanks to his superior agility and speed, wearing him down with forearms and knees. When Taker starts to fight back, Lesnar goes for the cast on the hand, attacking it in various ways. The Deadman manages to turn the tables and batter Lesnar with it instead, busting the young champ open. He holds the advantage by sending Lesnar into the cage, and grating his bloody face against the mesh. Taker allows himself to be distracted by Lesnar’s manager Heyman but Taker is able to gain a measure of revenge on him by booting the Cell wall into his face, before grabbing his tie and ramming his face over and over. The crowd goes wild for this, Heyman having been a very affective heel manager and mouthpiece for The Next Big Thing.

WWE Championship – The Undertaker Vs… by sportsvipwiner

Unfortunately for Taker, this gives Lesnar time to recover, and he lobs Taker into the Cell repeatedly, before tying his hand to the mesh and smashing it with a chair. Lesnar continues the beat-down in the ring, and eventually removes the cast completely. Undertaker attempts a dive in desperation at Lesnar on the outside, but Lesnar dodges and Taker hits the steel. Brock follows up by using the steps as a battering ram into the Undertakers head, busting him wide open; indeed even by the standards of this blade-happy period, it is very graphic juice job. This manages to get the crowd even more solidly behind The Deadman, especially when he is able to turn the tables and stomp on Lesnar’s hand for payback. Lesnar goes for the F5 but Taker reveres it into a chokeslam for the near-fall. Brock dominates Undertaker back into a corner but when his guard is down, Taker manages to hit the Last Ride; Lesnar does make the ropes though, for a very unpopular near-fall. Undertaker then attempts a Tombstone but this is reversed by Lesnar into an F5 for the pin-fall, and Lesnar retains the title.

Even though it doesn’t feature any big bumps from the Cell, Undertaker and Lesnar proved that you can have an absorbing and exciting match without them. Through intense brawling, a super-heated crowd and much, much blood spilling, The Deadman and The Next Big Thing not only proved Lesnar was worthy of the top monster heel spot, but also did justice to the legacy and legend of WWE’s premier gimmick match.