WWE Suffering from Poor Creative and the Refusal to Take Risks

You know when I brought back JV.com in blog form last year, I expected that I’d be writing weekly about wrestling and MMA, if not even more so than that.  But a lot has changed since last Fall.  Most segments and storylines on WWE television each week are unwatchable, and I typically find myself channel surfing on Monday nights more times than not.  And MMA has become so saturated with a UFC pay-per-view every two weeks (and at least one UFC television show a week) that it’s rare to see a fight that you’re truly excited about – the latest Fox special last weekend was headlined by a fight that was good, but had no story or star power and subsequently did a downright brutal TV rating.

Let’s start by talking about Wrestlemania.  The show itself, I really enjoyed and thought was a good, entertaining show that proved that when they *want* to and are motivated, WWE can still deliver on the big stage.  Taker vs. Hunter was a good match that told a story, and the 50 year old busted up Taker can still go.  And love him or hate him due to his backstage clout and political game, 43 year old Triple H is still a hell of a worker.  A lot of people seemed to complain about Daniel Bryan losing the World Title in 18 seconds, but I think that those people are predominantly hardcore wrestling fans that don’t see the big picture – the loss didn’t hurt Bryan since it came off as a fluke and a result of Bryan’s distraction by AJ.  Sure it would have been nice to see Bryan put in 20+ minutes on the biggest show of the year, but he’s still young so there’s plenty of time for that.

Of course the big draw was The Rock vs. John Cena.  It was a year in the making, and Rock’s first singles match in eight years.  WWE brought Rock to Raw every week for about a month before Mania in order to do the big build and really sell the show.  But for the most part, I absolutely hated the booking, and it seems I wasn’t in the minority since Raw ratings flattened out despite The Rock being live in the building every week.

WWE really needs to listen to their own scripting and “embrace the hate” with John Cena.  They need to accept the fact that their fan base – aside from children, teenage girls and some women – despise John Cena’s character.  When The Rock first threw down the gauntlet and issued the challenge to Cena in 2011, he “told it like it was” about John Cena, and fans ate it up.  Rock talked about Cena’s ridiculous look with the over-sized rainbow colored T-shirts. He talked about Cena’s phony character, always smiling and joking and acting obnoxious, even in serious situations.  He talked about Cena’s stupid “You Can’t See Me” catchphrase.  He talked about how Cena had done nothing original in years aside from changing his shorts from jeans to camouflage.  He said what everyone had always thought about Cena’s wrestling character, but what no one had ever said on television aside from a few brief moments of brilliance out of CM Punk.  The fans ate up Rock’s words, and ratings were on the upswing.  But then like always, the WWE creative machine screwed it up by snuffing out Rock’s momentum due to their fears of Cena becoming a full fledged heel with the fans.  They made Rock tone down his promos to the point that Cena would take the mic and tear into Rock, while Rock in return would just stand there looking angry and say nothing.  WWE wanted a 50/50 split with the fans going into Mania, failing to understand that the show was taking place in Rock’s hometown and he’d be treated as the hero regardless.  By the time they got to the Raw broadcast the week before Mania, the fans were still booing Cena (big shock there), but now they were also giving Rock a mixed reaction because he’d been booked like a disingenuous wuss in promos with Cena too often.  WWE refused to take risks, they refused to do something different, because they were too interested in protecting their full-time cash cow.  The company even quietly lowered their internal targets in terms of PPV buys prior to Mania.  But luckily for them, Rock vs. Cena, Taker vs. HHH and the draw of the Wrestlemania brand itself was still enough to generate a reported 1.3 million worldwide PPV buys, a record breaking figure for the company.

Rumors began circulating over Wrestlemania weekend that Brock Lesnar had quietly flown to Miami to finalize a new deal with WWE, and there was even anticipation that he’d show up at Mania and interfere in the main event.  While that didn’t happen, one night later on Monday Night Raw the live crowd almost blew the roof off the building as Lesnar’s music hit, he walked to the ring (where John Cena stood, having called out The Rock), hit the F5 to a huge pop, then put an exclamation point on the segment by kicking Cena’s bright green hat across the ring.  Just like that, WWE became interesting again.  Everyone was talking about Lesnar’s return, and various other MMA fighters like Tito Ortiz and “King” Mo Lawal started talking about breaking into pro wrestling themselves.  Lesnar reportedly signed a deal unlike any other in the history of the company – $5 million for one year, a requirement for just 24 dates (an average of just 2 per month), and the right to sell and wear his own sponsorship.  No one – not Hogan, not Rock, not Austin, not Cena, not Taker – had ever gotten WWE to agree to such a deal.  You could sense the momentum that WWE had generated through Lesnar’s signing and his well booked return appearance.  But then one week later – again – the creative machine screwed it all up.

WWE has put a lot of time and effort into making John Laurinaitis this era’s Vince McMahon – the evil, crooked corporate boss who pulls the strings, screws the babyfaces, and gets what’s coming to him in the end.  The problem is, Laurinaitis sucks as a performer, and the fans don’t give a damn about him.  He doesn’t have the, “he’s evil and I’ll pay money to see him get his ass kicked” type of heat that McMahon did during the “Attitude Era” when he feuded with Steve Austin.  The fan response to Laurinatis is more like, “Oh God it’s him again… let’s see what else is on TV.”  He’s got the face of a corpse, the delivery of Larry Merchant, and quite simply he’s not a draw and there is zero money in him as a heel, just as there was zero money in Michael Cole as a heel (WWE has seemed to finally figure that out, it only took them a year).   So what does WWE do?  They align Brock Lesnar with John Laurinaitis and announce that his first match back in WWE will be against John Cena at Extreme Rules – a “B” PPV show that never draws – just THREE WEEKS after Brock’s return.  Once again, WWE’s poor creative decisions and refusal to take risks wipes out a huge opportunity to engage new or former fans and make some serious money.

To me, booking Brock Lesnar appeared to be so easy and so obvious, they seemingly could have had Stephanie’s young children do it and be successful.  Brock represented real fighting, not sports entertainment.  They needed to distance him from the “good guy vs. bad guy” world of wrestling and treat him as something different.  They also needed to book him on television sparingly and carefully, and hold off his first match back for a major PPV that would allow a long build-up.  To a degree, they did that as they produced an excellent video package about Brock’s background, his success in the UFC, and the fact that he was an ass kicker, not a sports entertainer.  But by aligning him with a phony heel like Laurinaitis, they took away his edge.  By booking him on a “B” level PPV after only three weeks, they ruined the big box office they were sure to get had they waited for a major PPV like Summerslam.  And of course the most mind-boggling thing of all – they had him lose his first time out.  In his first match in WWE in eight years, and coming off huge momentum from the UFC, where he was the Heavyweight Champion and the biggest PPV attraction in that company’s history, WWE again refused to take any risk, and had John Cena pin Lesnar clean.  Wow.  Just like that, Lesnar became just another heel wrestler on the roster, albeit a very well paid one.

The very brief Lesnar vs. Cena feud had its moments.  Of course Lesnar’s return the night after Mania had everybody talking.  One week later, Lesnar took Cena down in the ring and delivered a stuff punch that bloodied Cena’s mouth, making a lot of fans believe that the feud was real and that the two really hated each other.  Then at Extreme Rules, the two legitimately beat on each other; Lesnar  opened up Cena’s head with elbow smashes just moments into the match, delivered stiff knees to the body later on, and Cena returned the favor with a very stiff chain shot that legit opened a cut on Lesnar.  It was the stiffest and most believable pro wrestling match I’d seen in years.  But the fact remains that Lesnar lost, and whereas WWE could have at least given Cena some time off to sell the damage that Lesnar had supposedly done to him, they decided to book Cena in another PPV match three weeks later against the guy that they seem to believe is the real star of the show and the real top heel in the company – John Laurinaitis.  The whole thing makes my head hurt.

One of the theories that’s been thrown around by guys like Lance Storm and Dave Meltzer is that WWE had Lesnar lose in his first match because Brock is known to be very moody and temperamental, and so there’s no guarantee that he’ll actually last a year in the company, therefore WWE wanted to have footage of one of their stars beating him in case he takes off.  The thought process is, WWE wanted Brock to lose now, rather than have him destroy all the top guys on the roster and then get mad and quit before the company is able to get the big win back.  Maybe that is WWE’s theory and it makes some sense, but I look at it like this – if you’re unwilling to take any risks with the guy, then don’t sign him, and certainly don’t sign him for $5 million.  But if you’re going to put a huge financial investment into one piece of talent, you better get the most on your return even if there are risks involved.  And really when it comes right down to it, Brock is 35 this year, his body has been ravaged by diverticulitis, and he only has one option left to make serious money, and that’s in WWE.  So to me there was really only one way to go – you have Lesnar on TV sparingly and you have him destroy a top guy whether it’s Cena or Orton or Triple H or whoever.  You keep him separate and don’t align him with any of the useless heels on your roster.  You save his first match for Summerslam which is one of the biggest shows of the year, and you have him squash a top babyface.  Then you do it again at another PPV, maybe Survivor Series.  Then at the Rumble he wins the WWE Title, leading to a title match at Wrestlemania with either Rock or Cena, and it’s at that show that Brock loses.  His year is up, he leaves the company, WWE gets the big win on the biggest show of the year, and they just sit back and count the millions and millions that they made off Lesnar over that year.  Sure you risk that Brock quits halfway through so that all you have on the books are his squash wins over top talent.  But again that’s the risk you take when you bring in a star of his magnitude and with his price tag.

It appears now that WWE is trying to salvage Brock’s momentum; they had him take out Triple H the night after Extreme Rules, and will now apparently keep Brock mostly off television until the build for his expected match with Triple H at Summerslam.  They’ve also brought in Paul Heyman as Brock’s mouthpiece for now (since they’ve already gone through 5 or 6 of Brock’s 24 contracted appearances for the year and have to use him sparingly from here on out) which I think is a nice touch.  WWE may still profit off Brock Lesnar and get a good return on their investment, but it could have been so much bigger had they done it right.  I guess time will tell.

Some additional thoughts…

* WWE’s mid-card roster is probably in the worst shape it’s ever been in, and it’s frustrating to see given some of the talent they have like Miz, Ziggler, Swagger, Kingston, Truth, Santino and others.  Week in and week out, WWE books any combination of these guys into meaningless matches with stupid distraction finishes that serve no purpose and as a result, these guys are in a constant holding pattern.  You could literally miss several months worth of Raw matches with any of these guys, and you wouldn’t miss a thing because nothing changes.  One year ago, Kingston and Evan Bourne were battling Swagger and Ziggler on Raw over the buried and useless tag titles, and now one year later it’s the same stuff except they’ve got Truth in there instead of Bourne.  Every now and then when the company realizes they have no new top level stars, they will elevate someone like Ziggler into a World Title program long enough to get through a PPV or two, then job him out and put him right back where he was.  It’s just really unfortunate, but it’s indicative of how useless WWE’s overall creative process is today, particularly on Raw.

* The brand extension is so dead, I’m almost embarrassed for the company whenever they try to pull off another tired Raw vs. Smackdown! angle like what they did with Laurinaitis and Teddy Long at Wrestlemania.  It’s become so stupid, you will now routinely see a Raw guy (like Chris Jericho) challenge for the World Heavyweight Title (which is supposed to be a Smackdown! belt), or a Smackdown! guy (like Mark Henry) challenge for the Raw brand’s supposed title, the WWE Title.  They need to officially abolish the “brand war” once and for all, unify the world titles, unify the United States and Intercontinental Titles, and have one set of champions defending on both shows, like how it was in 1999 when Smackdown! was created.  They can still have two rosters on simultaneous tours, so they might as well give up the brand extension and stop making me want to kick my own ass for continuing to watch this disorganized mess.

* I wonder if the WWE brain trust will ever realize that the hardcore wrestling fans on the Internet still make up only a fraction of the 4-5M viewers that watch Raw on USA Network every week.  I’m asking this because the company continues to change angles on the fly after word gets out on the Internet.  WWE had planned to bring Kharma back as a surprise opponent for Nikki Bella at Extreme Rules, and have Kharma win the Divas Title to not only settle her grudge with the Bella Twins from last year, but also to set up Kharma vs. Beth Phoenix as the money match of the Divas division.  But as soon as word got out on the Internet that the company planned to do this, they scrapped the plan, brought back Layla to no interest, and went so far as to have Eve tell the Bellas on television (in regards to who the mystery opponent would be), “Don’t worry, it’s not Kharma,” which basically confirmed that they’d changed the plan due to the Internet leak when in reality, most viewers had no clue that Kharma was scheduled to return.

* I like Matt “A-Train/Albert/Lord Tensai” Bloom a lot.  A number of years ago I did an interview with him that turned into a several hour discussion, and I found him to be a good and genuine person, the type of guy you want to see succeed.  Unfortunately, this Lord Tensai thing just isn’t working.  It’s no fault of Bloom’s, he’s doing everything he’s being told to do.  But the fans remember him from his previous WWE run as a mid-carder and so despite WWE’s attempts to put him over as a main event heel, he’s not getting any heat and every match is filled with “Albert” chants.  I hope that WWE doesn’t give up on him too soon since he’s a big, talented, well liked guy.  But they have to tweak the character somewhat, maybe cover him up, have him win a title, something to get the fans to look at him differently.

* I applaud WWE for continuing to give Great Khali a means of making a living for himself and his family.  But it’s becoming sadder and sadder watching him hobble out there, and I can’t help but think about Andre the Giant in his final years in the ring.  Khali has trouble walking, has trouble getting up after taking a bump, and is just very limited in what he can do.  WWE may be better off giving him a salary but keeping him at home or using him as an international ambassador for the business.

Finally, Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, and to all the moms and expecting moms out there!

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Trying to Make Chicken Salad out of Chicken Shit

First off, happy holidays and a great new year to everyone who stumbles across this little piece of writing!

You know my mother always said, “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”  And so in trying to adhere to that advice, I let two months pass without any new posts here.  I was getting tired of writing about a lot of negativity, and didn’t exactly have glowing remarks to make about WWE, or even UFC for that matter.  And I’m not a TNA watcher, as their creative abilities even make the baboons within WWE look brilliant, plus I tired of the X-Division (which for a long time was one of the few bright spots in that company) and the repetitive, high spot, no psychology, multi-false finish style of matches.

Two months later not much has changed, but I thought I’d just share some random thoughts, some bad and surprisingly enough, some good too!

* Brock Lesnar: I’m a big fan of Brock’s and have a ton of respect for the guy.  In fact a couple of years ago, I spoke to one of his more famous friends/managers and would have booked Lesnar for a promotional event in Las Vegas before the company I was representing at the time decided to cut their expense budget.  It takes an elite level of athlete to make an NFL practice squad with no football experience outside of high school, then make the UFC with only one professional fight and win the company’s heavyweight championship.  Brock has his share of critics who believe that his early UFC opponents were hand-picked to elevate him into a PPV draw, but I hardly look at Frank Mir, Randy Couture or Shane Carwin as a bunch of scrubs.  Lesnar faced the best and beat the best, he became the UFC’s #1 draw, and he did it while battling diverticulitis, a disease that almost killed him.  Last night, the man that entered the Octagon and lost to Alistair Overeem wasn’t the same Brock Lesnar that had torn up WWE, signed with the Minnesota Vikings and won the UFC Title.  Maybe the disease and subsequent surgery took their toll on Brock; maybe he had a bad training camp.  But you could see it on his face, and in his game plan – he was a beaten man before the fight even started.  He didn’t attempt even one shoot or take-down, and the one single-leg attempt he made was weak and half-ass.  Clearly his post-fight retirement announcement had been planned out days, if not weeks in advance.  And whether he wasn’t mentally into the fight, or whether diverticulitis had robbed him of some of his physical gifts and he knew it; I guess it’s pure speculation at this point.  All signs now seem to point to a return to WWE for a short, high profile run, so long as the UFC lets him (he’s still under contract), and so long as he can financially come to terms with WWE, since I think this loss to Overeem has changed Lesnar’s mystique with a lot of people and so he may not generate the sort of PPV buys for WWE that they’d like for what I’m sure will be a  high price tag for his services.  But whatever happens, I think Brock has earned the respect of a lot of people – including a lot of his naysayers – for his ability to overcome adversity and hang with the UFC elite.

* WWE’s fear of mainstream stardom: Over the last couple of years, WWE has gone with John Cena and Randy Orton as their two untouchable main event stars week after week, month after month, pay-per-view after pay-per-view.  As a fan, I am so tired of both performers, I wish they would just go away for a while (at least they’re teasing a heel turn for Cena now which would be something fresh but likely won’t happen).  Cena is their resident Superman, beating all the odds, and all his competitors, single-handedly.  He’s jeered more than cheered at every event because the fans are tired of being force-fed the same repetitive garbage every single week.  WWE will probably tell you that they continuously go with Cena because he drives television ratings and sells merchandise, and when they’ve tried putting others into the top spot (like CM Punk right now), the numbers fall off.  But when it comes right down to it, they are the victims of their own creative decisions.  CM Punk lost match after match before getting his latest WWE Title run, and so how can you expect viewers to suddenly treat him like a superstar?  Same goes for Alberto Del Rio, same goes for The Miz, same goes for just about everyone else that WWE has devoted some main event time to over the last year.  None of those guys were given dominant runs with big-time convincing wins.  And so are we to be surprised that they’re not generating the sort of numbers that WWE expects of them?

Times have changed in the world of sports entertainment.  It used to be that WWE wielded all the power, and the performers had nowhere else to go to make big money, so they did whatever they were told to do in order to get that almighty contract.  But today, WWE is more accepted as an entertainment platform than it was 20 years ago, and so people like The Rock and Brock Lesnar and Trish Stratus and Batista and Chris Jericho and others have been able to leave on top to pursue other interests even as WWE wanted badly to re-sign them.  As a result of all that, it seems as if WWE is unwilling to put their marketing machine 100% behind any new performers for fear of losing them after investing in them.  They’ll give them some wins and some titles, but they’ll also make sure they lose and stay below that “glass ceiling” so to speak, so that they don’t become big enough that one day they might decide to leave and do something else.  This is just a theory of course, but I think it’s a viable one.  And if there’s any truth to this at all, Vince and Stephanie McMahon (and Triple H now I suppose) need to look at their roster, look at their numbers, and stop holding back talent for fear of one day losing them.

* Enough of the force feeding: Just as John Cena’s reign of supremacy has grown stale due to years of shoving him down our throats, the same can be said now for certain buzz words that the company chooses to push constantly.  For one, “WWE Universe”.  I am so tired of that stupid piece of marketing, I wish I could shoot it, kill it and bury it myself.  Last week of Raw, CM Punk and John Laurinaitis must have said it 10 times just in the first segment of the show.  Punk at first tried of make fun of it, but eventually was using the term himself (which is no surprise since his character now is completely corporate and watered down even though his initial rebellion is what got him over).  I find it sad whenever a legend returns for a promo like a Bret Hart or a Roddy Piper, and even they repeatedly will say “WWE Universe” because clearly they were prepped to do so.  It’s stupid, it’s irritating, and if I could program my cable box to censor it out during a Raw telecast I would.

And as if “WWE Universe” isn’t bad enough, what about the constant Twitter references?  I read before a WWE PPV a couple of months back that someone had calculated how many times Twitter was mentioned in some form on the air, and it equated to something like a mention every three minutes.  That is ridiculous.  Michael Cole is the absolute worst offender, but I realize that he is mainly just saying and doing what he’s being told, so I can’t lay too much blame on him.  The fact is, Twitter trending doesn’t really mean anything; it hasn’t proven to be of any significance in terms of increased ratings, PPV buys or anything else.  When you “trend worldwide”, you are only trending among the users on the Twitter network.   And some people may try to put a positive spin on it by saying that Twitter has something like 200 million registered users, but a lot of those accounts are inactive, and about half of them only follow one or two people.  I’m not sold on Twitter as a bankable form of marketing, and I don’t think it’s done anything for WWE in terms of generating new dollars.  I chalk it up to Vince McMahon being completely out of touch with his audience and thinking it’s what they’re interested in when they’re really not, especially not to the degree he’s throwing it at us.

* Easy on the distraction finishes: I recently read JJ Dillon’s autobiography, and in it he talks about how WWE was so detail oriented in the 80’s and  90’s, they always made sure not to utilize the same finish on a show twice.  So in other words, if one guy was going to use a piledriver, nobody else on the same show could use a piledriver.  In fact, they were *so* on the ball back then, they even made sure not to book back-to-back matches on a show using the same manager.  So if Bobby Heenan was involved in match #1, they would make sure he wasn’t back out there for match #2.  They wanted to keep the crowd interested and keep things different.  In 2011, that theory was completely out the window in WWE.  The writing staff (many of which are “Hollywood” people and not wrestling people and therefore don’t know any better) is lazy and doesn’t understand how insignificant matches look with distraction finishes, not to mention how disinterested and tuned-out the fans become when they see the same finish play out continuously.   The same thing happened with Dusty Rhodes in the 80’s when he booked too many “Dusty finishes” and started killing towns.  But in WWE, things became laughable in the second half of 2011.  There were some Raw episodes when you would see the same distraction finish 3-4 times over 5-6 matches.  And in some instances, they even played the distractor’s freakin’ entrance music when he came out.  And yet WWE can’t seem to understand why numbers are down across the board, and why no one outside of Cena can draw a rating on Raw?

* I’m ending this one with my “good and bad list” for 2011.  First, the good:

- Sheamus: He’s one of the few guys that has managed to elevate himself despite the creative inefficiencies within WWE.  He’s got a great look, he’s got charisma, he can talk, and he’s also proven to be a good go-to man for the media.   We should see big things from him in 2012.

- Zack Ryder: I still think that his goofy character is best suited for a bottom-feeder or at best, middle of the road type of performer rather than a top level star.  But here’s a guy who stepped up and got himself noticed after realizing that relying solely on WWE creative (which most performers do) wouldn’t get it done.  He took full advantage of social media, created a YouTube show that got a decent following, had his own Internet Title designed, came up with a character and catchphrases, made believers out of people like John Cena who got on board with what he was trying to do, and ultimately left WWE with no choice but to showcase him.  He’s still a victim of bad creative decisions and poor match booking which is out of his control, but he’s busted his ass to do about as much as any one person can do to get noticed.

- Jon “Bones” Jones: This kid had perhaps the biggest year of anyone in the history of the UFC.  He steamrolled the competition and won the Light Heavyweight Title, and he did it with ease, utilizing his reach and striking so well that he came out of every fight with not a mark on him.  And he didn’t exactly face chumps this year; he beat high caliber fighters like Rampage Jackson, Shogun Rua and Lyoto Machida, and he beat them all in dominant fashion.  He’s also a very intelligent, articulate speaker, and he has charisma.  This time next year, he’ll probably be the face of the company, especially now that Brock is done and GSP (the company’s #2 PPV draw behind Brock) is injured and has a questionable future.

- WWE tag team division: For the first time in a long time, it appears that WWE is actually going to put more emphasis on the tag team ranks.  I miss the “Attitude” days when phenomenal teams like the Hardys, Edge & Christian and the Dudleys were putting on exciting, action-packed matches every week.  And don’t even get me started on the mid-80’s, which might have been the best time ever for tag team wrestling.  The division really fell into a lull when the belts were put on David Otunga and Michael McGillicutty, who were then treated like jobbers.  But now, the company seems firmly behind Air Boom (who at first looked like another short-lived team comprised of singles stars), plus they have the Colons and the Usos working as full-time teams.  The division is improving and I’m all for it.

- Going with workrate: The pushes might be short-lived, but it’s at least nice to see WWE changing their old mindset about size, and elevating guys like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan to title status.  In terms of in-ring skill, they might be the best in the business today, and they’re finally getting their due.  Dolph Ziggler (who really needs a new, better ring name) has also upped his game and is one of the best workers around.

The bad:

- Michael Cole: Again, I know he’s doing what he’s being told to do.  But whoever decided to turn the play-by-play man on WWE’s flagship show (who most fans already disliked and viewed as inferior to Jim Ross) into an obnoxious, over-bearing heel, needs to have their head examined.  Cole was a channel changing heel, not a “I want to pay to see him get beat up” heel.  And to make matters worse, he would constantly go in and out of character during each broadcast, one minute ripping Jerry Lawler and the fans and the wrestlers, and the next minute smiling and joking with Lawler and trying to sell the next PPV.  The entire idea was horrible, and fortunately Cole’s character was toned down a lot on Raw last week so hopefully the light bulb has gone off in somebody’s head and they’ve realized just how terrible and counter-productive the whole thing was.

- Nick Diaz: This guy may someday wear the UFC Welterweight Title.  But for the sake of his future, he needs to wake up and realize that he’s been blessed with great opportunities and not take things for granted before he winds up fighting for $1,000 in a small town casino somewhere. In 2011 Diaz was almost fired by the UFC before he even fought his first fight back, after he no-showed press conferences to promote his fight with GSP.  The UFC pulled him from the fight because of his actions, but kept him on the card and put him in a match with BJ Penn, which he won.  So now with GSP on the shelf, Diaz has a shot at the interim title.  All the while, he’s had this “everybody’s against me” attitude, claiming he doesn’t get paid enough, his team doesn’t get paid enough,  and maybe he should jump to boxing in order to get better paydays.  Of course what isn’t mentioned is the fact that he made $200,000 for the Penn fight, plus an additional $75,000 “Fight of the Night” bonus.  That’s not exactly chump change.  Diaz’s younger brother Nate seems to get it, as he shows up for all appearances, is good and gracious with the media, and seems grateful for his UFC opportunities.  Big brother needs to learn from little brother’s example.

- John Laurinaitis: I praise WWE for trying to find a fresh face to play the on-camera corporate executive heel rather than always going with someone named, or related to a McMahon.   But for the love of God, has the company ever lost their touch with respect to picking television personalities.  Laurinaitis was by far the worst on-air performer of anyone in WWE this year.  He can’t talk, he has no personality, he forgets his lines, stumbles over his words and then stands there with that “deer in the headlights” look; he is so terrible, the fact that he has lasted this long on television is indicative of the state of the company behind-the-scenes.  CM Punk has tried his best to make chicken salad out of the crap he’s being given, but simply put WWE should have booted JL off TV ala Mike Adamle ages ago.  He might be great at his day job handling talent relations, but a television star he is not.

- UFC schedule: Is it a shock that UFC PPV numbers were way down this year, and they weren’t even selling out shows in new markets like Toronto that they infrequently visit?  Exorbitant prices for tickets are a factor as well but simply put, the UFC is scheduling too many events between their PPVs and “Fight Night” cards, and now with their Fox obligations things will probably only get worse in 2012.  UFC nights used to be big “boys nights” at my house but now unless the card includes a big money fight like the Lesnar fight last night, I’m more likely to skip the show these days, and that’s typical of the viewing patterns that UFC is experiencing now.

- Cody Rhodes: I’ve written about him before so no use going into great detail but I’ll just say it again – he’ll never draw as a main eventer.  They can keep trying but it won’t work, he’s missing that “it” factor, and he’s a terrible actor with awful facials and awkward mannerisms.  They did finally give him knee pads though so kudos on that.

- The Divas: Every week, there seems to be no purpose to the matches with the WWE Divas.  They always last a minute or less on Raw (they’re given more time on PPV but nobody’s watching) which just emphasizes that wrestling is fake, and every month WWE just seems to pick their next interchangeable Barbie Doll to push for the upcoming PPV before moving on to the next one.   I like the idea of pushing women like Beth Phoenix and Natalya as being different, but the girls aren’t really over, the matches are sloppy, and nobody cares.  To think that years ago, the women’s division included Trish Stratus, Lita, Victoria and Molly Holly!  Those girls were incredibly talented and worked hard to hone their skills.  Today, the Divas are mostly bubble-heads that John Laurinaitis recruits through modeling agencies or photo catalogs.

- David Otunga: If he didn’t have a celebrity wife, he wouldn’t even have a job in WWE, and that’s the bottom line.  He’s got a Harvard degree, he needs to start practicing law and forget about wrestling because he’ll never draw a dime unless he’s a roadie at a Jennifer Hudson concert.

Enough rambling for one day, have a safe and healthy new year!

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A “safe” GSP deserves KO loss to Diaz

I’ve become a big fan of MMA over the last several years, and follow the sport as much, if not more so than I do wrestling today.  And being Canadian, of course my UFC allegiance lies with current UFC Welterweight Champion, Georges “Rush” St. Pierre.  GSP has reached a status of iconic proportions in this country and I, like thousands of others, have spent money to see him fight in person and on pay-per-view, plus I’ve parted with additional dollars for St. Pierre-branded merchandise like T-shirts and action figures.  And while GSP isn’t the most famous athlete to come out of Canada (no matter how much Dana White wants you to believe it), he has undoubtedly become *one of* the most famous Canadian athletes, and a legend in the making when it comes to the world of MMA.

As dominant as St. Pierre’s 22-2 record makes him appear to be – and in many aspects he has been – there are a pair of factors that have prevented him from reaching the top of the “pound for pound” greatest list.  Most agree that Anderson Silva is the king of that list, and recently Dana White even pushed GSP from his long-standing placement in the #2 position, feeling that UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar has surpassed GSP and overtaken that position to leave St. Pierre as the 3rd rank.  Of course the “pound for pound” list is irrelevant and a matter of opinion, but it’s pretty telling to have a dominant champion successfully defend his title six times straight (and win nine straight fights overall) and get outranked by a champion who barely squeaked out a victory in his last fight after fighting to a draw with the same opponent in their previous bout.  Again it comes down to a pair of factors that, if GSP is unable to overcome them prior to his February 2012 showdown with Nick Diaz, may result in St. Pierre suffering his first defeat in five years, and rightfully so.

We’ve seen it time and again – fighters become different in the ring after knockout losses.  Wanderlei Silva went from ferocious to cautious after getting KO’d by Mirko Cro Cop in Pride, and he was never the same again.  Chuck Liddell was a dominant UFC Champion before a defeat at the hands of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson changed everything and saw Liddell go on to lose four of his next five fights and be forced into retirement after three straight KO losses.  And then there’s Georges St. Pierre.  He entered the UFC in January of 2004 to much fanfare, and aside from a submission loss to Matt Hughes that October (with just one second left in the first round), he was a force, dominating opponents with his ability to work the angles and mix up his strikes to always keep them guessing.  He also displayed a tremendous ground game, wrestling at such a high level that he was a candidate for the Canadian Olympic wrestling team.  GSP quickly became one of the UFC’s most popular and most bankable stars.  But with the success came the pressure, not to mention the outside temptations, and it all caught up to St. Pierre on April 7, 2007 when he lost his title via knockout in the first round to Matt Serra.  Going into the fight, Serra hadn’t even been considered a legitimate contender, having earned the title shot by winning that season’s “Ultimate Fighter” tournament against a group of has-been fighters looking for another shot at glory.  But whether it was a fluke or an inevitable conclusion didn’t matter; GSP was out, and Serra was the new champion.

When St. Pierre returned to action, he displayed all of the hunger and dominance that had brought him the title to begin with.  He blew through Josh Koscheck with a wrestling game that stunned the former NCAA wrestling stand-out.  He knocked out former champion Hughes.  And then he pummelled and pounded Serra in their rematch to reclaim the championship.  He became even more popular, an even bigger pay-per-view draw, and he was considered untouchable – if not unbeatable – by fans and critics alike.  But fast forward a few years, and some things have changed.  Georges is still the champion, having won six straight fights in the four years since he beat Serra.  He is still a top PPV draw, and is still embraced by his countrymen as an all-time great.  But with respect to his in-ring performances, he has become a disappointment, unable to finish any of his last six opponents (BJ Penn’s corner threw in the towel after the 4th round of their fight so it was ruled a TKO, but Georges didn’t finish him).  He has been questioned repeatedly by the media for his inability to finish fights, and GSP himself has felt the need to voluntarily address this issue in interviews, expressing his disappointment after each unanimous decision win.

Not only did GSP’s KO loss to Serra seemingly turn him into a more cautious, hesitant fighter, but you also have to look at the insurmountable pressure that he faces each time he steps into the UFC Octagon.  He carries with him the weight of not just a nation, but a global fanbase that views defeat as unacceptable.  He also faces the pressures of an employer that always shines the spotlight on him, labelling him as their prototypical fighter, role model and spokesman.  In addition, he is the first UFC fighter to land major corporate sponsorship from the likes of Under Armour and Gatorade.  This all adds up to a fighter that feels the pressure to win perhaps more so than any other.

All of this pressure has caused St. Pierre to take opponents more seriously than perhaps he should, as if he believes the UFC’s own marketing efforts in promoting his opponents.  When he fought Dan Hardy in March of 2010, Hardy was viewed by many as a, shall we say, less than formidable contender.  GSP did come close to submitting Hardy at one point, but otherwise he was content to win a five-round decision full of mostly takedowns and ineffective, cautious strikes.  Hardy went on to lose three straight fights after the GSP loss, including one by KO to Carlos Condit, and one by submission to Chris Lytle.

Next for St. Pierre came a title defense against Josh Koscheck, and despite an impressive usage of his jab – which broke Koscheck’s orbital bone and closed his right eye – Georges never “went in for the kill” and was content to circle and jab (and use the occasional takedown) for five straight rounds.  Most recently, GSP won a lacklustre fight against Jake Shields and again, GSP lacked killer instinct and chose to fight a safe fight.  He even managed to knock Shields down a couple of times but never moved in for a finish, choosing instead to stay back and allow Shields to get up.  GSP simply showed Shields (as he did Hardy and the others) too much respect, something Jake Ellenberger didn’t do when he knocked Shields out in the first round of their fight, five months after the GSP fight.

Next up for St. Pierre is Nick Diaz, the brash, disrespectful former Strikeforce Champion that initially lost out on his chance to fight GSP after repeatedly missing press conferences to promote their fight, then re-earned the title shot after beating BJ Penn and promptly calling out GSP.  According to Dana White, St. Pierre “flipped out” after Diaz accused him of faking a knee injury in order to avoid fighting that same night, and St. Pierre demanded that White match him against Diaz next rather than his previously booked opponent, Carlos Condit.  White obliged St. Pierre in his request, and the match was made for this coming February.  So it begs the question – which GSP will show for the fight with Diaz?  Will it be the hungry, aggressive GSP that once laid beatings on all who opposed him?  Or will it be the cautious, hesitant GSP that seems more interested in winning than in finishing?  If the latter fighter shows up that night (again), maybe a KO loss to Diaz will smarten him up.  Time will tell.

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WWE Raw “Why?” List for October 24

After watching this week’s edition of WWE Raw on The Score here in Canada, I came up with the idea of a “Why?” List.  Think “Things that make you go “hmmm”,” but different, due mostly to a lack of interest in dealing with any potential trademark lawsuits :)

1) Triple H is still the COO, and John Laurinaitis works for him.  But, wasn’t Triple H relieved of his duties a couple of weeks ago?  And if he really is still the COO, why make Johnny the interim GM of Raw at all if Triple H can just overrule his decisions?  Doesn’t this essentially mean that nothing has changed since the vote of no confidence?  Why does the current creative regime have no understanding of storyline logic at all?

2) Triple H ordered Johnny Ace to sign Kevin Nash to a big contract so that Triple H can “legally” tear him up in the ring.  Why?  Didn’t Nash gloat a while back that he’d signed a guaranteed deal so he’d get paid whether he worked or not?

3) Christian and Cody Rhodes both lose in individual competition at Vengeance to Sheamus and Randy Orton respectively, and so WWE goes and books a tag match with these four, and has the heels lose again.  Why?  Do they NOT want any viable heels on Smackdown! moving forward?

4) John Cena comes out with new T-shirts two or three times a year, and every single time they are the typical 1980’s style WWE T-shirt that you might buy at the live event, but you’ll never wear again out in public unless you’re under 5-years old because they’re so goofy and embarrassing.  Why does he (and/or the merchandising team) have such terrible tastes in clothing?

5) CM Punk is one of the few characters that has kept me interested in WWE programming, but on Raw he told Alberto Del Rio that he deserves a title shot despite the fact that he’s lost every major match he’s been involved in over the last two months, including two high profile PPV matches in a row.  Why does he deserve a title shot given that sort of shoddy record/booking?

6) John Laurinaitis gives Punk a very easy order – if you want your WWE Title match, just say you respect me.  But Punk decides to pull a Hogan or Cena and rather than do the obvious and lie (Heaven forbid the babyface lies!), he mocks Johnny and risks losing the match.  Why not just lie (especially when it’s such a stupid and unimportant lie) to better your career?

7) Alicia Fox has been anything but a prominent character on WWE’s flagship show for months.  Her only TV time has been in the WWE’s “Be a Star” campaign commercial, in which she does her best to look just like Rhianna.  So WWE decides to put her over Natalya clean despite the fact that Natalya (along with Beth Phoenix) has been the focal point of the Divas division for some time.  Why?  I understand that this means that Fox will be the next “Diva of the Month” to get a spot that will be taken away inside of eight weeks, but still, why?

#8 (using a bracket turned it into a smiley face) Something I’ve noticed – WWE has a thing about giving mid-card characters an item of clothing to wear to the ring that you never see them in otherwise; not in backstage promos or segments, not in run-ins, nothing.  Joe “Don’t call me Mcgillicutty” Hennig was given a backwards hat to wear in the brief time that he and David Otunga were tag team champions.  Otunga wore an unbuttoned shirt to the ring during the same period.  And now they’ve got Wade Barrett wearing an open trench coat that he takes off as soon as he gets on the stage.  Why?  Do the creative powers within WWE actually believe that if you’re wearing a trench coat or a hat to the ring, the fans will think you’re a bigger deal?

9) Michael Cole and John Laurinaitis both still have prominent positions on WWE television.  I have to use caps for this one – WHY?  CM Punk put it best on Raw when he said that Laurinaitis has a “deer in the headlights” look.  Johnny is an awful speaker, a terrible all around performer, and he takes away from every segment he’s in because he’s so bad and unbelievable.  And Cole?  How stupid does WWE think the fans are to have Cole constantly go back and forth from being the straight-laced play-by-play guy, to the obnoxious heel announcer?  He doesn’t have good heat.  He has “this guy is irritating so it’s time to change the channel” heat.  Ideally, WWE has JR beat Cole next week, take over the Raw chair, and they give Cole a fresh start doing PBP only on Smackdown!.  But we all know that that is unlikely to happen.

10) John Cena spends several minutes at the end of Raw thinking about who he’ll choose as his tag team partner to face The Miz and R. Truth at the Survivor Series.  Keep in mind – this is after WWE announced several weeks ago that The Rock will team up with Cena at the Survivor Series.  And I don’t know about USA Network in the States but here in Canada, they aired a promo all night long during the two-hour Raw broadcast for The Rock/Cena tag team at the PPV.  It made Cena’s decision (and more so the fact that he paused to actually ponder his decision) so fake that the entire live crowd chanted “Rocky” because they already knew.  Just one big all around “Why?” on this one.

As always, I welcome your feedback!

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WWE: Killing them with blindness

In late 1997, Vince McMahon appeared in a now famous (or perhaps infamous) video on Raw essentially announcing the start of the “Attitude Era”.  This led to the blurring of the lines between “good guys” and “bad guys” and helped elevate Steve Austin’s character to record proportions.   To me McMahon’s best line in that video was, “We, in the WWF, think that you, the audience, are quite frankly, tired of having your intelligence insulted.”

Fast forward to 2011, and WWE is struggling in their PPV numbers as well as television ratings.  Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for that has to do with the fact that the company has arguably insulted their fans’ intelligence more in the last three months than at any other point in their history.

Let’s look at the booking of CM Punk for example.  This past July, it was revealed on television that Punk’s WWE contract was set to expire and he had no intentions of re-signing, at least not immediately.  To add to that news, Punk started cutting brilliant worked shoot promos on Raw that gave just enough inside information to pique the interest of the viewing audience without going so inside as to alienate WWE’s smart fans from their broader, more casual viewers.  The result was an increase in the PPV buyrate for the Money in the Bank PPV this year over last year, plus Punk’s newest T-shirt became a huge bestseller at live events as well as online.  WWE fans were optimistic that the company had turned the corner, and Raw was starting to become water cooler talk all over again.

Of course it wasn’t long before the train derailed, and boy did it ever.  First the company booked a WWE Title tournament post-Money in the Bank (since Punk had won the title and walked out).  That part was fine.  But then, the company went and gave a fresh John Cena yet another title match against a tired (having wrestled The Miz earlier in the night) Rey Mysterio to put the belt back on Cena AGAIN.  And then, out walked CM Punk with his version of the title, revealing that he was back in the company just two weeks after Money in the Bank.  The whole angle stifled Punk’s momentum, and bored any viewer (raise your hands) who were sick of seeing John Cena back in the title picture.  Punk did the media rounds explaining that he’d come back quickly because Summerslam was coming up and it was one of WWE’s top shows of the year.  But to the casual fan, Punk’s quick return made his very real walkout appear no more genuine than any of the “firings” or other scripted departures that had happened in the company and that had also resulted in prompt returns.

Side note: Triple H mentioned in a promo regarding Punk’s sudden return that Punk had simply walked up to him at the end of Raw one night, handed him a signed contract and said “hit my music”.  A fair explanation… good thing for Triple H that Punk had somehow worked with the production staff on his own and arranged for new music and a new video to be prepped and ready to go huh?

Things continued to get better after Summerslam.  First, an almost immobile Kevin Nash returned and was given an asinine storyline about how he’d attacked Punk at Summerslam because Triple H had texted him asking him to “stick the winner”, only to reveal that he had lied about it.  But to WWE, just claiming a simple lie wasn’t enough.  Nope, they had Nash claim that he had walked into Triple H’s office at Summerslam on the off chance that Triple H had left his cell phone behind (which conveniently he had) so that Nash could send a text to himself using Triple H’s phone in order to back up his lie.  Not that I need to ask, but if you’re going to lie anyway, and if you’re not going to actually show the text message on television, why even bother going into the guy’s office thinking that as unlikely as it would be for Triple H to leave his phone behind, the stars would be aligned that night and it’d be sitting there waiting for you?

Of course all of this looks like Oscar-caliber writing compared to the Triple H/COO storyline, which began on the July 18, 2011 edition of Raw that actually marked Triple H’s first television appearance after several months.  On that night, Triple H informed Vince McMahon that the WWE Board of Directors had relieved him of his duties due to questionable decisions and an overall inability to maintain order.  Triple H was thereby appointed the COO of WWE.  In the weeks that followed, typical wrestling mayhem continued to ensue until the talent roster decided to give Triple H a vote of no confidence and walked out.  This of course was ridiculous given that this is pro wrestling where guys are always attacking other guys and causing chaos.  Hell, the entire Austin Era was based  on that.  But to make the whole thing even more mind-blowing, WWE talent decided to stand up for their rights by boycotting Raw and only wrestling on Smackdown! because in their eyes, Triple H was suddenly only the COO of Raw and had no authority on another show.  Boy what a great move, they sure showed him!

Another side note: When the roster and crew walked out on Triple H, thank God that the hard camera guy stayed, and the audio guy, and the guy that handles the spotlighting, and the video guy… nothing like ignoring the little details.

This whole thing culminated on last week’s edition of Raw when everyone aside from the top babyfaces (i.e. Cena, Orton and Punk) staged a sit-down strike in the parking lot.  Triple H responded by burying almost the entire roster by saying he could get a better match out of a broomstick than he could that talent.   Punk and Cena did their part to bury the talent as well, and Punk made sure to lose whatever edge he had left by suddenly sucking up and being buddies with Triple H (the same guy that he spent months ridiculing and humiliating to the point that Triple H challenged him to a match at Night of Champions three weeks earlier), even putting on Triple H’s suit jacket and happily attending to commentary and timekeeping and whatever else Hunter ordered him to do.  Then came Vince McMahon, who despite being relieved of his duties a few months ago, still had the title of Chairman on his entrance video, and had been appointed by the Board for some reason to inform Triple H that he was now out, and John Laurinaitis (who is arguably the worst WWE actor since Steve Blackman) was in.  This creative mess resulted in hundreds of thousands of television viewers deciding that it was time to watch something else.  But hey, it’s a good thing that WWE doesn’t want its audience to have their intelligence insulted.

JV.com Flashback

In December of 2005 I had the pleasure of interviewing one of the all time greats (and a WWE Hall of Famer), Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat.  Rick was one of the kindest, most laid back people I’d ever talked to in the business, and time got away from both of us as we’d talked for two hours before we knew it, and with me only about halfway through my questions.  So Rick graciously asked me to call him back the next day, and we finished the questions for a total interview time of four hours.  I probably got more feedback to this interview than any other one I conducted, including messages from wrestling writers and talent alike.  Below is part 1 of that interview.  As time goes on I’ll post other interview clips and any other interesting stuff I come across on my old server.

JimmyVan.com Interview with Ricky Steamboat (Part 1)

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Looking (and acting) the part

Given the state of the WWE product today (last Monday’s edition of Raw saw hundreds of thousands of viewers tune out as the broadcast went on, most likely due to the creative decisions), it would be really easy for me to point the finger at the obvious culprits that are usually to blame for a poor wrestling product, and I’ll touch upon these at some point but not today:

- Bad and illogical storylines
– The same players in the main event spots
– Weak and repetitive match finishes

But something that I feel is overlooked – and this sort of plays into point #2 above – is WWE’s apparent inability to scout talent.  The company is not only struggling to elevate new stars to the top of the card, but they’re struggling in their choice of talent to hone for elevation.

In the 80’s and 90’s when wrestling enjoyed two boom periods, you could look at almost any performer working the main events in WWE and WCW/NWA and it wasn’t hard for you to suspend disbelief and truly look at those performers as tough-as-nails, ass kicking fighters.  From Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Andre the Giant, Randy Savage, Ric Flair, Sting, Lex Luger and the Road Warriors from the 80’s, to the likes of Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, Triple H, Kane, Mankind, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, The Giant and Goldberg from the 90’s, all of these performers had the size, the charisma, and the in-ring skill required to make the viewing audience at home believe that they were fully capable of both taking and dishing out a hell of a beating.

Fast forward to 2011, and just look at some of the talent that WWE has invested time and money into believing them to be worthy of any sort of push, and it’s not hard to understand why the company always resorts to putting John Cena or Randy Orton into another title match on PPV:

- Cody Rhodes: A lot of people may not know this, but Cody actually went to Hollywood to try his hand at acting before he utilized his daddy Dusty Rhodes’ clout to get him a spot in WWE.  Clearly he failed as an actor, and he’s failing as a performer despite WWE’s best efforts to push him with feuds against Rey Mysterio and most recently, Randy Orton.  To me, just about everything about this guy says “enhancement talent” and not “main eventer”.  Whether it’s the chicken leg body (put on some damn knee pads already!), the lisp when he talks, or his complete inability to sell himself as an ass-kicking heel (his laugh after beating down Orton on Raw this past week was one of the all time worst performances ever), I just don’t see him ever drawing top level money unless he’s part of a group with a leader (like they’re trying right now with Christian), or he’s part of a tag team and can rely on his partner to carry him like Billy Gunn did for so many years.  Make him the Intercontinental Champion if you want, or give him a PPV match with Randy Orton if you want, and it won’t matter.  He’s just not believable as a fighter.

- Heath Slater: How is this guy even employed?  Just look at him.  He looks like the offspring of Conan O’Brien and Carrot Top.   There is absolutely nothing intimidating about this guy at all.  Add to the fact that he can’t talk, and he’s got a stupid gimmick calling himself the “One Man Rock Band”, and there really should be no place for him on the WWE roster. Cut him loose and give his spot to someone with more upside.

- Zack Ryder: I know I’ll get some heat over this one, but I don’t see why the Internet has fallen in love with Zack Ryder.  When he’s not on Raw, the Internet wrestling fans complain.  When he is on Raw but loses a match, they complain again.  Sure he’s got a funny little YouTube show.  But really, what else do you expect out of this guy aside from an opening match squash loss?  His character is meant to be nothing more than comedy relief, sort of like Santino Marella but not nearly as funny or as entertaining, and so when you put him over another wrestler, it only buries that other wrestler.  Make him somebody’s manager, that’s fine.  But this is a rare case in which WWE is actually booking him the right way, since his character is a joke and so you can’t seriously expect him to make any real noise as far as wins/losses or titles.

- Ted DiBiase, Jr.: This is another example of a worker that the Internet fans think deserves a prime spot, and questions WWE’s decision to not utilize him on television that often.  And again I guess I’m in the minority because I agree with WWE’s decision, and if anything I’d consider cutting him loose as well.  He’s got the look, and he definitely has the genes, but when it comes to charisma and cutting a promo, he simply isn’t worthy of tying his father’s shoelaces.  I thought that putting him with Maryse was a great idea since she is just dripping charisma, but of course WWE is impatient when it comes to angles these days and so it was only a matter of weeks before they teased dissension and eventually split them up.  DiBiase needs a mouthpiece, because his segments crash and burn whenever he’s given the mic.  On his own, he’ll never come close to emulating the success of his Hall of Famer dad.

- Alex Riley: A lot of people raved about Riley when he turned on The Miz, but what they failed to realize is that it was The Miz’s performance that got Riley over.  He bumped all over the place for Riley, took all his big moves, and put him over repeatedly.  But once WWE split them up and matched Riley with different opposition, he started falling down the cards until he no longer appeared regularly on Raw at all.  The problem is that Riley is a prime example of today’s WWE cookie-cutter wrestler prototype: good size, good body, no charisma, no mic skills, and no ring psychology.  It’s the same category that David Otunga, Drew McIntyre, Mason Ryan and Michael McGillicutty all fall into.  You just can’t get by on look alone; you need to have the ability to “talk them into the building” as they say.  Chael Sonnen has 11 losses on his MMA record, yet he’s currently one of the UFC’s most newsworthy performers based mostly on his ability to cut promos on his opponents.  Riley and the others mentioned here lack that skill, and will never draw as a top star because of it.

Wrestling in the 80’s and 90’s was filled with charismatic, entertaining performers of all shapes and sizes that offered dozens of intriguing match pairings.  Today outside of the Cena’s, Punk’s, Orton’s and Del Rio’s, it’s mostly “Boring Cookie-Cutter Prototype #1″ vs. “Boring Cookie-Cutter Prototype #2″, week in and week out.  And it’s not for a lack of unique performers.  There are guys like Tyler Reks, Jinder Mahal, Ezekiel Jackson and Brodus Clay that at least look different than the others, not to mention underrated promo men like Wade Barrett just waiting for opportunities.  Maybe… perhaps… hopefully… the powers that be will eventually recognize that numbers are flat, nobody cares about the COO, and the roster will finally get a good shake-up.

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What’s old is new again

In 1997 while attending Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, I was taking a New Media class and given the assignment of creating a simple Internet website.  Now keep in mind this was 1997; this Internet thing was pretty new to me, and the concept of creating a site sounded about as simple as making plutonium in my kitchen.  But I signed up for a free Geocities site and presto chango, the WWF (before they “got the F out”) Wrestle Wire was born.  I was a life-long wrestling fan and figured if I have to make a site about something, why not the WWF?

Over time, the Wrestle Wire transformed to JimmyVan.com, then KnowYourNews.com, and eventually back to JV.com.  I expanded on the content too,  deciding to cover all of wrestling, not to mention boxing, mixed martial arts and anything else where people punched or kicked each other (scripted or not).  Before I knew it, my horrible looking, image-heavy little website started to develop a following, peaking at around 40,000-60,000 unique visitors a day around 2000.  I did some research on web advertising, cut myself a few banner deals, and eventually managed to quit my day job and make the site a full-time venture before the dot-com bubble burst in 2001 and my income crashed along with oh, at least a few other people from what I’ve heard.

By the time 2004 rolled around, I was broke from bottomed-out site revenues, plus I’d decided to try my hand at promoting on the independent wrestling scene in Canada and as much fun as that was, I’d taken a hit to the wallet there as well.  I even attempted to go the “paid subscription” route but that didn’t pan out either (but thank you Alistair for your regular donations and subscriptions, I was your biggest fan!).  Combine all of that with the sour taste left in my mouth by brief dealings with WWE over a television writing job, and I knew it was time for me to say “good-bye” to JimmyVan.com and “hello” to real employment.  At least the experience culminated in a published book (*cheap plug*), Wrestling’s Underbelly: From Bingo Halls to Shopping Malls, which sold around 2,000 units and I believe is now out of print.

Fast forward several years, and I’m now a businessman in Toronto with a regular, happy life who still follows wrestling, boxing and MMA; not necessarily something to boast about, especially given the quality of the product that WWE in particular claims is “entertainment” these days.  But I missed the days of watching a horrible, vomit-inducing program and not having a place to ramble about it, so I decided to bring back a very scaled down (i.e. free WordPress blog) version of JimmyVan.com for the handful of people that might still find my thoughts of some kind of interest.  I might even warp you back a few years from time to time by posting old images and interview audio clips from the glory days.

And as always, I will welcome your feedback, whether you love my writing and want to throw roses at my feet, or whether you hate my opinion and want to throw eggs at my head.

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