Friday, October 21, 2011

Book Review: Hot Shots and High Spots

The name George Napolitano may or may not ring bells with some wrestling fans. While the man has been affiliated with professional wrestling for more than 40 years, he is not someone instantly recognizable as a known television performer or personality.

Breaking into the business as a photographer when it was comprised of smaller, frequently self-contained territories, Napolitano’s extensive career includes authoring and co-authoring nearly a dozen books on the subject. In the grappling industry, he has long been regarded as THE premier professional shutterbug. And I’m here to say that any doubts of that lofty designation are quickly dismissed with the release of Napolitano’s latest effort, Hot Shots and High Spots, available this month online and in bookstores.

The book is large, over-sized as it is with photographic tributes, lovingly presented and identified to unabashed wrestling fans, covering every decade since the 1960s. Limited in text, an abundance of words are not necessary to convey the emotions that go far beyond the ordinary. (That noted, there are also some lengthier passages that enhance the accompanying photography). Both the posed photos and those taken at the height of in-ring action are identified and beautifully rendered without compromise. It’s not difficult to state that any wrestling fan with a true love for the art of pro wrestling will be enthralled with the turn of every page.

Mind you, while most every sumptuous picture will likely cause the reader to experience a reaction, be it a large or small one, the difference mainly depends on where said reader’s wrestling frame of reference is centered. In the case of this reviewer, who discovered the uniquely American art form in 1958, that time period would be the 1960s through the 1980s. As such, there is a wealth of material to capture the eye. Without exaggeration, taking the time to study an image can give one something of the “emotional feel” that oozes from just about all of the images found in this boundless collection.

Divided into 17 chapters, each focusing on a specific individual or topic, the presentation is very well organized. If one prefers to go from, say, Classic Hogan to Hardcore to Tag Teams, the Table of Contents makes it easy to move accordingly. There are a handful of photos that include Napolitano and members of his family, often with brief descriptions of the occasion.

As such, I give this voluminous production the highest recommendation possible. ECW Press, the publisher, has a well-deserved reputation as producers of some of the most complete and professional books on the subject of wrestling. Their long string of successes continues here.

As someone who has been a pro wrestling fan for 53 years (and has been participating in one form or another for 21), I’m occasionally given to grouse about the current state of the business. Hot Shots and High Spots has effectively worked its magic on me. While my opinions haven’t been altered, my feelings of admiration and respect for most of the pictured participants have been greatly heightened. Through this effort, George Napolitano has succeeded in reminding me all of the reasons why I became a fan the very first time I saw professional wrestling. I can think of no greater gift an author can give his readership.

Friday, January 14, 2011


And so, two years and one month after the Ring of Honor promotion debuted on HDNet, the door will close. Come April 4th, the final episode in "the only weekly national wrestling show worth watching" will signal the end of its television contract.

I, for one, am sincerely sorry to see this program go. Since it hit the air in March of 2009, my enthusiasm for the ROH product has fluctuated somewhat. Oh, it never faltered to the point where I couldn't be bothered tuning in. But, as in the case of most weekly fare of any kind, there were some good shows and some that can best be described with a mild 'meh.' Fortunately, there were also some truly excellent offerings that filled the viewer with hope for the future.

It's true; in some ways, the presentation could have been more captivating, a la Bill Watts' old UWF promotion of the '80s. What made that promotion so compelling was in the very structure of the company and its philosophy; there was a method behind the madness, so to speak. With the conclusion of most every week's episode, the UWF succeeded in creating a sense of 'I've gotta make sure to see what happens next week.' The intelligent wrestling fan anxiously awaited to see how the logic (yes, logic! Relentless logic, even!) would continue to develop.

The ROH program hasn't been as consistently compelling as that. But to give credit where it's due, the beauty of ROH on HDNet has been in the athleticism of the product. With only a few exceptions, the roster is made up of well-schooled wrestlers who know how to actually ply their trade. Every now and again, the TV show gives off the feel of an old-time territorial promotion, at least to one degree or another. Naturally, the more modern aspects, such as lucha acrobatics, have become staples as well.

So, while the TV program has been far from perfect, their Internet PPVs have been amazing in their intensity. Not restricted to the weekly 53-minute time frame, matches are allowed to fully develop and tell complete stories. While the last such PPV (Final Battle, December 2010) gave us two matches that were light years beyond anything I'd seen in a North American company for a very long time, the fact is that the entire card was strong. Now, had THAT been aired on HDNet over a two-to-three-week period (the undercard alone would have been just dandy), I have little doubt that there would have been a healthy buzz coursing through the wrestling community.

BTW, the two matches I mentioned were the final two of the PPV show. First came the title bout between champion Roderick Strong and challenger Davey Richards. No BS ... the fans were aching for Richards to take the strap. The bout kept building in intensity until the unfortunate accident that forced them to go home quickly. (Richards sustained a ruptured eardrum and Level 2 concussion in a bad fall; his vacant eyes and the blood coming out of his right ear made it obvious that he was in trouble).

Following that was the 'non-sanctioned' blow-off to the year-long feud between long-standing partners El Generico and Kevin Steen. The tit-for-tat violence reached the apex that night, with Generico putting up his mask and Steen agreeing to end his ROH career, should he lose. See, what ROH does that WWE and TNA fail to understand, is to create a credible (or at least semi-credible) situation that continues to build until it's finally time to render a conclusion.

Sometimes, the finish comes sooner than at others; the smart matchmaker will keep several top-to-middle storylines moving along seamlessly. As a general rule, one tends to be just a wee bit hotter than the others for a brief period; still, they all are given enough time to take the focal lead.

Done correctly, the results should keep the concepts fresh in the viewer's mind. I'm not suggesting over-the-top nonsense either, but issues that are worthy of our emotional investment. (Again, I refer to Bill Watts' UWF promotion as THE prime example of memorable television. Stampede Wrestling, from the late '70s through 1984, was another).

Anyway, the point is a simple one; there should always be a couple of soon-to-debut stories just bubbling beneath the surface. You don't want to rush anything, but you keep the speed moving as reality would have it. Which means that some will advance faster than others, like the ebb and flow of the tides.

The backstory behind this particular ROH feud was a fairly standard one: Steen, a large and powerful man, had long since been teaming with the masked El Generico. By wrestling standards, Kevin's hooded partner was noticeably smaller and thinner. Together over the years, they'd had some classic matches with the Briscoe Brothers and others of equal ability. The year before, at Final Battle 2009, Steen suddenly turned on his teammate without so much as a warning, attacking and finishing El Generico off with a nasty-ass chair shot to the masked man's face/head.

Insofar as these two were concerned, 2010 was devoted to building up the ongoing hatred between them in such a way that most any fan following the developments couldn't help but become hooked. Sometimes hotter than hell, it occasionally seemed to cool down, simmering in the background but always within a hair of re-igniting. It often did, of course, with Kevin resorting to one fiendish scheme after another, causing 'severe physical and mental anguish' to his former friend.

No kidding ... the back-and-forth stuff all year (with Steen retaining the upper hand more often than not) had to come to a head, and the 'match to end it all' arrived exactly twelve months after the initial breach. The resulting bout at Final Battle 2010 was unbelievably brutal which is, given all that had transpired, what it needed to be.

When the conclusive moment came, a bloodied and weakened Kevin Steen had fallen to his knees in the middle of the ring. His hands clasped together as he begged the equally blood-soaked Generico not to hit him with the chair he was holding so menacingly. The masked generic luchadore paused. He looked directly at the crowd. Slowly lowering the weapon, he appeared to be considering the option of putting it down in an act of mercy. Steen continued to make his plea, as he seemed to be imploring El Generico to 'find his humanity.'

Again, Generico looked to the fans, who screamed for him to gain the tantalizing revenge that had been so long in coming. And then ... El Generico came to a decision. Without any further hesitation, he raised the chair and smashed Steen in the face/head, virtually duplicating the same dangerous form of humiliation he himself had suffered 12 months before. The feud had come full circle, concluding with the same act of brutality and violence that had started it. El Generico had finally avenged his personal debasement, and in the process sent Kevin Steen packing.

Now, please don't be misled. While I've certainly emphasized the more savage aspects of ROH, most of the wrestlers are capable of exchanging holds and counter-holds with the best of 'em. Many bouts held over the years have been top heavy with brilliant back-and-forth chain-wrestling exhibitions that made perfect sense. It was a silent assertion (with complete conviction) that the image was indeed one of a legitimate competition.

So again, without ROH on HDNET to anticipate every week, our pro wrestling television options have shrunk to nil. Well, at least mine have. Sure, The Fight Network here in Canada still offers old school programs from the territorial days, for which I'm eternally grateful. But as far as the modern product is concerned, there's very little on TV that causes this old fool to look forward with any real enthusiasm.

At this time, fingers and other body parts are crossed that ROH will find a home on another channel. As well, they must continue to hold onto a philosophy that pushes the athletic skills of the wrestlers in tandem with some (usually) well-considered booking decisions. And it certainly wouldn't hurt them to look into improving their television product ... maybe see if Les Thatcher, for one, is willing to add his valuable input.

I feel compelled to conclude by posing this question: Why does it feel like I ask too much from what once was so easy to enjoy?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mark My Words...

Earlier this week, I received a large gift. Now, I’d known about its impending arrival for several days; but still, until I actually took possession, the 50 pounds of old pro wrestling magazines, newsletters and what-not that dropped into my lap couldn’t have been anticipated.

To be clear, I need to give a short history of how this sudden wealth came my way. As I’ve mentioned from time-to-time, minutes (and sometimes hours) of an average day for me are spent at the message board of Wrestling Not only does it feature a repository of information by and for wrestling fans, historians and other reprobates, but there are some mighty fine (and often mighty rare) DVDs available for purchase at the site’s online store.

Owned and operated by former pro wrestling announcer Mark Nulty, Wrestling Classics is a beacon of light in a sometimes dank webosphere. Beyond some of the brightest minds to ever grace the wrestling business (and others), you’ll find moderators who ensure that exchanges adhere to a higher standard of expression. You won’t encounter nasty flame-wars on this message board.

Disagreements, sure … there are plenty of ‘em. But “Head Mod,” Crimson Mask, is vigilant in his role. As well as being one of the most intellectually gifted individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading (on almost any subject … the man is scary-smart), he keeps potential miscreants from pushing the boundaries of behavior from crossing the line. Fair but as stern as necessary, CM is a large part of the reason for the success of Wrestling

Anyway, about the magazines … one of the most beloved members of the WCMB community was Mark Markley. (That was his legitimate name, even though it smacks of something created by a brain-weary wrestling booker). While there is a goodly number of writers, artists, joke-tellers and show biz types to be found at the message board (along with professionals of every stripe), Mark was unique. It’s said that only once in his many years as a contributor did he get genuinely angry about someone’s ill-advised and personally directed post. And, true to Mark’s nature, that was resolved quickly and cleanly.

Otherwise, we all enjoyed his frequently funny input. Whether it was about wrestling (he’d grown up enthralled with the Portland, OR promotion), some of his favorite bands from the ‘70s (someone may correct me on this, but I think Grand Funk Railroad topped ‘em all), his beloved son and daughter, or his thoughts on life in general, he inevitably made us smile, chuckle or outright guffaw. Odd though it may seem, the visitor invariably left WCMB feeling better than when he’d arrived. The way he could connect with just about anybody, courtesy of an unexpectedly clever turn of phrase, pithy comment or posted photo, Mark had a positive influence on us all.

In the fall of 2007, when we learned the shocking news of Mark’s sudden passing soon after his 50th birthday, many of us tried to put our feelings into words. A large number of pages (with 39 posts per page) were devoted to tributes, memories and heartfelt goodbyes to our friend. Many of them induced tears among those that had enjoyed the time they’d spent with Mr. Markley.

Those of us living in the Pacific Northwest felt especially aggrieved; we had finally agreed on a time and place not too far outside of Seattle where we all might gather and hoist a cold one. It’s no lie when I state that everybody planning to attend the event was looking forward to meeting the man behind the humor that graced the message board. Sadly, he died just a matter of weeks before the scheduled date. So, Mark’s daughter and her boyfriend showed up. As a couple, they were lovely, delightful people. But nothing could make up for the empty chair, the one where Mark Markley should have been sitting.

Some 10 days ago, I received an e-mail from a woman I didn’t know. It turned out she was the boyfriend’s (now fiancée’s) mother. As it so happened, she was planning on driving up from Washington State to Vancouver to attend a show. Mark’s daughter thought that since I lived in that Canadian city, it might be a good idea to contact me and find out if I’d be interested in acquiring Mark’s wrestling possessions. So, when she made the inquiry, I was perfectly happy to offer a home to my online friend’s collection. We made the arrangements and needless to say, I was pleased when she pulled up right in front of my building with the five large, heavy boxes.

One minor backache later, they were upstairs in my condo. I’ve only just started to weed through them. So far, the oldest magazines I’ve found are from the early ‘70s; the most current date back to the early ‘90s. And as I thumb my way through them, chuckling occasionally at some of the bald-faced fabrications found within, I also feel a slight twinge of sadness.

The man who’d originally purchased them must have known hours of joy thumbing through this literary landscape, one which ranges from the thoughtful to the preposterous. The photos are fun, and the stories, many of which claim to be insider stuff not known to the average wrestling fan, frequently strain credibility to the breaking point. No matter. As a long-time writer on the topic of wrestling, what I’m finding leads me to question and research areas and territories I doubt I would have otherwise considered. One can never gain too much knowledge, can one?

And so, I carry on reading these colorful tales, taking my time to absorb and test them against what I’ve learned and come to believe from the years I’ve worked in the business. But it goes without saying that it would have been so much more preferable to have Mark Markley alive and well, keeping us laughing and regaling us with some of the “whacked-out” stories from these very same publications.

I will continue to miss his presence at the Wrestling Classics Message Board, but will consider the magazines as a personal gift from the man himself. They are now safe and secure in an area I’ve dubbed “The Mark Markley Reading Library.”

It’s the least I can do.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Gene Kiniski

When the sad news came early this morning that Gene "Big Thunder" Kiniski, “Canada’s Greatest Athlete,” had passed away during the night, I felt a numbness wash over me. Not that it came as a surprise … the former world champion had been diagnosed with cancer years before. And while it was in remission and under control for a substantial period of time, the disease had come back with a vengeance over the past year.

My introduction to Gene Kiniski, other than through the mark magazines of the 1960s, was on a Friday night in November, 1968. At that time, he was the NWA heavyweight titlist, and for the first time in more than a decade, he was appearing in Los Angeles. That evening, Kiniski was defending the belt against the equally large and rugged Bobo Brazil. The match was 2-out-of-3-falls, and the two men fought to a 60-minute draw before a sell-out crowd at the Olympic Auditorium.

While the match itself was relatively slow-moving (some would actually call it ponderous), it was not boring. Yes, it can be said there were more than a few spots that saw each man clamp on a leg hold, a body scissors or a side headlock and work it for minutes on end. We didn’t mind watching with growing interest and tension, waiting to see how much damage had been done in this wearing down process.

It’s the type of wrestling you won’t find much in 2010. In today’s pro wrestling climate, such an exhibition wouldn’t be tolerated by those expecting constant movement and acrobatics. But then, bouts that emphasized tests of strength, endurance and ring psychology mattered to the fans. A crowd appreciated the grueling exchange of holds and counter-holds every bit as much as the faster-paced wild brawls.

Gene Kiniski was recognized by the vast majority of wrestling promotions as the legitimate world heavyweight champion, and he received the respect accorded that lofty title. It meant something! So, on that night in ‘68, with the majority of fans pulling for Bobo Brazil, the champion was also given his due. Even though there was no winner or loser (each man having won a single fall), both competitors were loudly cheered when the final bell rang.

Well, that may not be exactly accurate. Today, a solitary bell is ringing everywhere wrestling fans gather. The memories of the man are bright and vivid, with plenty of stories to be found about Gene’s remarkable skill, both in the ring and when manipulating the media. Many of his interviews are the stuff of legend, whether they were conducted as part of a wrestling program or a mainstream radio show.

And while one can always question Gene’s declaration of being “Canada’s greatest athlete,” there’s no doubting his legitimacy as a top rank pro wrestler and genuine character. The final bell may have indeed tolled, but Gene Kiniski will be with us for a long time to come.

On behalf of the wrestling community everywhere, I offer my sincere condolences to Gene’s family and friends. And a heartfelt thank you to Big Thunder, for providing so many of us with so many nights of excitement. Gene Kiniski was not only a professional wrestler ... he was a true professional in every aspect of the word.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Little People's Court

I've been doing a very good job of ignoring WWE's RAW program ever since The Jericho Dare concluded this past August (see the two columns below this for details). The fact is, I rarely think about RAW. Contrarily, I make a point of recording ROH on HDNet every Monday. While that show is far from perfect, at least what they're doing for an hour holds my attention. I also don't feel like a chump for watching.

It was through sheer boredom and nothing else that caused me to stumble and fall over RAW a couple of hours after ROH finished last night. It was well into the program. My stay in WWE-land wasn't destined to be long ... truthfully, it was decidedly short. (Given the topic at hand, this turns out to be a really bad pun, something I try to studiously avoid).

When I tune in, the refuse-to-leave-and-never-come-back team of Trippie H and The Windbreak Kid (Triple H/Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Shawn Michaels/The Heartbreak Kid, together known as DX/Degeneration X) is wildly over-emoting in an exuberant display of amateurish acting. They must decide whether or not to go under the ring together. Putting aside the sense of unease THAT mental image creates, it's impossible to dismiss the boys' ridiculous antics. Migawd, the facial expressions and exaggerated performances are so outrageous and beyond the pale that even fans of early slapstick comedy must be demanding that they turn it down several notches.

(Edit: after looking around online, I've since learned the explanation for their dilemma, such as it was. It seems that Hornswoggle, the leprechaun, wants to join up with DX as their mascot. The two men masquerading as teenagers reject him outright, going so far as to nail the Little Lep with Trippie's Pedigree finisher).

Stupidly, I choose to wait and see where this is all leading. After all, when it comes to the "writing" in WWE, anything is possible with no questions asked. Absolutely anything. Just ask Mae Young.

The two stooges finally resolve their hissy fit. Am I wrong, or is Trips always the guy that wants to plunge ahead and his partner is the reluctant one that needs convincing? Eh, who cares?

Anyhoo, having come to some sort of an understanding, DX quickly stoop down low and plunge forward beneath the ring. Rather than banging their fool heads on tables and ladders and stacks of chairs (which always seem to be conveniently housed beneath the ring as a weapons repository), they instead find themselves standing up to their full height in a long hallway. Ah, of course. Why didn't I see that coming?

The "exceedingly close friends" aimlessly wander towards a sign tacked up on a door that reads "Little People's Court." The over-sized and over-cooked hams enter, and I finally catch onto the reason for DX's earlier debate. (Remember, I hadn't read the background story yet).

Continuing to watch just to see where this is going, I gather that DX has incurred the wrath of the little people ... at least the little wrestling people. A jury of six midgets sit in a makeshift jury box. (Is the word midget now considered politically incorrect? I have a difficult time keeping up with such rules as laid down by those that can't wait for opportunities to jump in and smugly tsk-tsk, thus "lending proof" of their own ultra-high levels of sensitivity. It should be bloody obvious that I mean no offense to anyone of any size).

Back to the show: a whole lot of noise, as everybody seems to be talk-shouting at the same time, with the voice of that most evil of leprechauns, Hornswoggle, floating just above the rest. I'm guessing that he's supposed to represent the prosecution or maybe the judge in whatever the case is about, but I'm not sure. Nor do I care one little bit. Hell, I care more about the frog I saw earlier in the day. Squashed flat in the gutter it was, the poor little ex-hopper.

Anyway, my sense of self-preservation kicked in at this point and I don't remember much more, except the two goofballs are found guilty of something or other. They then come sliding back out from beneath the ring. Was the poor edit intentional? Criticize them all you want, but WWE is usually very polished and professional when it comes to production values.

I guess it's a good thing that DX manages to safely escape the "hidden world of little people" ... the same mysterious place we all suspect actually exists, despite our knee-jerk denials.

Seriously, just how much longer will today's wrestling fans be willing to dine at this horse trough? When will it finally be enough for WWE's loyal customers to scream as one, "STOP THE INSANITY! WE SHALL NOT PUT UP WITH THIS CONSTANT DUMP OF STEAMING HOT FERTILIZER ANY FURTHER!"

Just how far does the E need to sink before people stop tuning in and accepting their puerile fantasies as a natural part of wrestling? With the news of a possible return of the New World Order faction to TNA come January 4th, 2010, can the current pro product possibly sink any further? (Former NWO member Sean Waltman has supposed been signed for this purpose).

The sad part is that I recall asking the same question last year. It frightens me, this bargain basement stuff I just saw. (And that was but a few minutes of 2-hour-plus show, the reviews of which have been seemingly unanimous in their scornful dismissal). I'm already dreading the thought of what that head-to-head confrontation becomes on January 4th. Will the two most watched wrestling companies do their best to out-embarrass each other, only to give themselves a hotfoot? The prospects are utterly dispiriting.

And on that joyous note, I want to send out my wishes for a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah and an equally enjoyable and reflective New Year to all who visit one or both of my websites. My gratitude especially goes out to those who have purchased the book, A Fool for Old School ... Wrestling, That is. Some of you have taken the time to send along your thoughts on what you've read. It truly warms this old heart to know that you care enough to honestly and fairly offer your compliments, corrections and critiques.

To put my optimist's hat on (if only momentarily), I want to believe that someday soon, a person or a collective with the necessary background and funding gives us a promotion devoted to the concept of pro wrestling as sport, rather than a comedy/action/grade-school-level TV show. An oasis, of sorts, for the fan who is beyond sick and tired of the non-stop arrogance, the contempt, the ridicule, and the abject stupidity they receive several times a week from the two primary sources.

This mentally proposed television show eschews pyrotechnics, skits and individuals whose behavior equates the maturity level of a 12-year-old approaching puberty. The unnamed WRESTLING program will be laden with well-developed matches and sensible storylines.

Yes, this WRESTLING company will make sense, dadgum it, relegating ref bumps and outside interference to genuinely surprising rarities. Logic will reign supreme! As a general rule of thumb, clean finishes will become the calling card, while contrived bullshit, nonsensical swerves and meaningless switches back-and-forth from baby-to-heel and vice versa will become naught but a distasteful memory.

I'm really not kidding, folks. In the past, I once took a certain amount of pride admitting to having worked in the business. Now, unless I'm exchanging views with fans and people who have or had been involved in wrestling, my connection remains unspoken. It becomes just too much work trying to explain the differences between what the territorial system of the past was selling (and I include both the good and the not-so-good circuits), as opposed to the pointless and pale imitation dubbed sports entertainment.

For further analysis, consider ordering my book. For now ... I think I'm gonna go egg nog myself into oblivion. And I HATE egg nog!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Jericho Dare Part II – WWE Monday Night RAW – August 17, 2009

As in the case of The Jericho Dare, Part I - Smackdown (see article below), I ask for your understanding, should you find the following description of RAW wanting. There were just too many parts of the program that were … uh … let’s call it challenging. Fair enough?

As stated, the episode of WWE Smackdown that I watched last week featured some surprisingly good wrestling. True, it was buried under a mountain of distractions (a very few okay, some banal, others ridiculous and a couple of them crossing the line into the offensive). Still, I came out appreciating that while many of the talented wrestlers were constrained by the preferred WWE style, that style has broadened somewhat since I last tuned in. A very pleasant revelation, that.

So, now it’s on to WWE Monday Night RAW, the TV show that is lauded as the company's flagship. It’s the one that gets the most attention and the highest ratings. It also receives the greatest amount of criticism for going off the rails with exasperating regularity.

Here in Canada, we are “treated” to a 15-minute preview of the night’s show, thanks to “Countdown to RAW.” Countdown begins at the top of the hour, which means everything that follows is a quarter-of-an-hour later than what our southern neighbors are viewing. For my purposes, it's a good thing. Greg Sansone is a typical generic WWE-style host, although he’s actually an anchorman for The Score, the national channel in Canada carrying all WWE programming. He does a good job bringing us up-to-date with the usual hype. The current storylines and angles are highlighted, awash as they are in clips from the recent past. Wowie, looks like we’re in for a humdinger of a show, dadgum it!

One thing that fails to raise my hopes comes with the announcement that this week’s “Guest GM” is Freddie Prinze, Jr. Nothing personal against Prinze the Younger … I’m not at all familiar with his work, but the few times I’ve seen him he seemed affable enough. Besides, I liked his old man back in the ‘70s.

But what’s the deal with a celebrity running the program every week? Okay, we know the real reason is cross-promotion. Other than that, does the gimmick enhance the matches at all? No other sport that I’m aware of allows an outside individual to call the shots. The angle itself is not a major crime in this make believe world, but such stuff makes it much more difficult to suspend disbelief and go with the proceedings. I actively dislike this manner of contrivance.

Anyway, RAW kicks off with a skit featuring Santino Marella and Freddie Prinze, Jr. Like Colt Cabana of ROH, Marella’s a natural comedian with plenty of charisma. That said, the material he’s given is horribly unfunny. Interesting to note that Santino’s thick Italian accent drops completely as he mimics other characters, one of whom is, I believe, from the program “24.” (Is it Keifer Sutherland’s role?) Fortunately, the whole thing was short, over and done before it became truly annoying.

Now, WWE champion Randy Orton joins Prinze in the ring to make it clear he has no intention of working that night, even if Sergeant Slaughter, the previous week’s Guest GM, set up this week’s main event. Tonight, Orton is scheduled to team up with his hated enemy (and the challenger for his title come SummerSlam on Sunday), John Cena. Not only that, they’ll have to face the tag team champs, Big Show and Chris Jericho. Seems to be a lot of talent crossover between RAW and Smackdown. As one might expect, RO doesn’t go for it. As far as he’s concerned, there’s nothing to discuss.

I dig Randy’s heel work. Unlike most everybody else, he doesn’t bluster and yell. At least, not to this point. Instead, he speaks in quiet and measured tones, which makes his heel personality vastly more interesting and intimidating than the screamers. Huzzah! Then, through his actions, Prinze informs us that he’s got big brass ones, for he lays down the law … the match has been made and Orton WILL appear in the main event. A little bit of back-and-forth and then bang … Orton nails him with his finisher, the RKO. Prinze is down and out on the mat, his subconscious wondering who the hell thought this would be an okay idea. It actually looked pretty good on the replay.

Randy slowly leaves the ring, and again I like how he works. Supremely arrogant yet soft-spoken is a rare novelty in today’s sports entertainment, and for that reason it’s all-the-more impressive. The viewer tends to listen to the message because it’s at a conversational level, a simple act that makes it even more menacing. So, it’s bye-bye and off to the hospital for Prinze, who didn’t even get a chance to hype his latest project (then again, I may have fast-forwarded through it). Interesting decision to pre-sell Freddie’s attendance and then kiss him goodbye within the first 10 minutes. Of course, this can only mean he’ll be back before it’s all over.

And now for something completely different: a match! Kofi Kingston, a highly energetic holder of the U.S. title takes on a nasty-ass Carlito. Haven’t seen Kingston before, but I’m pleased that Carlito seems to be over his apple-spitting phase. Done routinely, it’s predictable, boring and means nothing.

The bout is pretty stiff with a few nice spots, although Kingston’s over-amplified facial expressions don’t help. With the occasional exception, someone trying to convey an emotion by going way over the top relegates it to caricature. It only serves to remind us of what we are unable to achieve ... the suspension of disbelief. I have a feeling it won’t be the last time tonight.

Oh, joy. Just like on Smackdown, we start receiving notices that Degeneration X is coming back. The punch-lines from a series of idiotic skits Shawn Michaels and Triple H had performed over the years as DX are thrown at us lickety split. Like so many of the matches from this company, there’s no build-up … just the pay-off. Lacking genuine humor, it makes me dread the reappearance of two men that are over 40 yet pretending to be teenagers with snotty attitudes. I know each has a large following, but does anyone over the age of 12 find this turn amusing? I may be in the minority on this, but to me it's moronic in the extreme.

WWE wants you to e-mail your vote now! Can Randy Orton & John Cena defeat the team of Big Show & Chris Jericho in tonight’s main event? Hurry! (Nice method of bumping up the hits on the company website, Shane. Actually, it’s pretty clever).

The Miz (anybody happen to know what a Miz iz?) comes out and gives the crowd plenty of snark. Like C.M. Punk over on Smackdown, he’s a recent convert to the heel side of the fence. He’s taking on Evan Bourne in what proves to be mostly a spot-fest. There’s very little psychology to speak of, but the athleticism is certainly admirable. Well, except for a clothesline on Bourne near the finish that sends shivers up my spine. Call me a naïve mark if you want, but over the years I’ve seen too many wrestlers legitimately injured from things just like this. My immediate impression is that Evan has inadvertently landed hard on his neck and/or back of his head. Still, he manages to kick out of a pin attempt. Not so sure about the hardship created by the clothesline now. Bourne continues and soon loses, not showing much of an effect from the bad bump. So I’ll reduce my suspicion to 50/50.

Another DX reminder, courtesy of Jerry Lawler in the arena and a camera crew waiting in the parkade for their arrival. I’m beginning to shake in a combination of nervousness and dread of what’s to come.

And following the break … yep, here they are. Shawn Michaels and Triple H have arrived in all of their crotch-chopping glory. Exiting from a monstrously long limo with DX spray-painted on its side (thoughtfully parked right where the cameras can get an unencumbered shot), they walk with a sense of purpose towards the building. But before they can enter, they must first run a gauntlet of stupid people. (Or, more fairly, people doing stupid things).

First, it’s two girls, one with long blonde hair, acting in the role of crazed fan. Jumping around like she’s got a nest of wasps in her shorts, she continually screeches about DX until Trips empties a rubber trash can on her head, followed by the can itself. The other girl, who looks supremely embarrassed during her friend’s conniption fit, merely stands and watches the entire production. Who the hell writes this stuff and why haven’t they been sedated? Maybe they already are…

Then Santino, once again adopting the Keifer Sutherland role in “24” (if that’s what it is), drops in and acts the fool once again. Even though he himself remains appealing, this pretense is wearing awfully thin for me. One thing the “E” fails to grasp is that when something works, you don’t need to drive it into the ground by repeating it over and over in rapid succession. The surprise factor isn’t there after the first time, and with each replay the alleged humor diminishes. It also wouldn’t hurt to hire writers possessing a sense of humor that resembles an adult’s.

Shawn Michaels hits Marella with a Super-kick to the chin, laying him out. And here, I’ll admit it. I found the final few throwaway lines between the two friends to be genuinely witty, causing me to laugh at both the absurdity and the delivery. Once in awhile, the law of averages tells us they’ll get it right, and they certainly did so at the very end. Kind of an unexpected reward for sticking around.

As we all must be anticipating, DX hits the ring to the insane delight of the crowd. I guess this answers my earlier question … as long as people eat this foolishness up, Vince McMahon will continue dispensing it. The “boys” go into their long-running ego trip and self-congratulatory routine. (No offense to anyone, but my God … is it ever gay! Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) They merrily cavort about the ring until The Legacy (Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase, Jr.) run in to destroy the old-timers right where they prance. As intended, the result is an instant feud, and waddya know … it’s just in time for SummerSlam! Couldn’t see THAT coming.

Our next match is a women’s contest between Diva titleholder Mickie James (who’s put on a hint of flab around the mid-section since I last saw her) and Gail Kim. Remembering both of them as polished professionals, I’m expecting a well worked bout, far above the usual WWE women’s standards. Both are babyfaces, so with neither one needing to play the heel, there should be some decent exchanges.

But something’s wrong here. I don’t know if they’re having a hard time communicating during the bout or what, but it’s dangerously sloppy at times. Kim especially seems particularly loose and semi-lethargic, and I’m getting the feeling that Mickie is becoming exasperated. Still, it continues and I suppose it could be worse. The end, though, confirms my suspicions.

The conclusion is nothing less than a big-time screw-up. Rightly or wrongly, here’s the way I saw it: James accidentally clips Kim in the face with a spinning kick of some sort. It legitimately seems to knock her woozy. Mickie follows that up with a stiff clothesline, a roll-up and the pin. She’s looking kinda pissed off, while Gail lies perfectly still on the mat. She’s not selling a bogus injury and is barely beginning to stir.

So, the ref raises Mickie’s hand in victory, and together they take a quick walk around the ring. James then wanders over to Kim, who is attempting to regain her composure. Mickie’s talking to her, possibly apologizing but more likely reminding Gail that they are both babies and need to confirm as much to the crowd and the TV viewers. That means Kim should be raising James’ hand while both show signs of mutual respect.

But that’s not how it goes down. As Gail Kim regains her feet, she’s shooting daggers in Mickie James’ direction. The top diva grabs her hand and raises it in an attempt to sell their unity. After a couple of seconds, Gail jerks her hand away (or perhaps Mickie throws it down in contempt), with James no longer hiding her facial displeasure. Somebody better get between these two in the back! Or better yet, NOW’S the time for the ever-intrusive cameras to show us what’s going on behind-the-scenes. I dunno what really happened, but it was definitely not scripted.

Michael Cole excitedly informs us that Freddie Prinze, Jr. has now returned to the arena. (Toldja!) We’re then back in the ring with Josh Matthews as he conducts an interview with John Cena. Of course, the discussion centers around John’s challenge to gain Randy Orton’s WWE belt on Sunday. I like Cena’s responses to the questions. He gives credit to his opponent, which flies in the face of modern wrestling practice.

It doesn’t take a college degree to recognize that a man giving credit to an adversary creates the impression that the speaker is a realist. The match between the two will be even-up and compelling, and it’ll be a tough night for both of them. To take the opposite approach by claiming that his foe is beneath him tells the fans that maybe the bout won’t be competitive, and THAT message reduces the I-must-see-this-match factor.

Now Chris Jericho and Big Show arrive and verbally intimidate Cena. Not sure why these guys are interjected when the focus needs to be squarely on Cena versus Orton.

Next match: MVP vs. Jack Swagger. It’s all punch ‘n’ kick for two minutes or so. The ref disqualifies Swagger, whereupon MVP jumps him from behind and they roll around on the mat until it’s time to leave. Nothing particularly good or bad here.

The matches are coming fast and furious now. Chavo Guerrero is slated to face the Irish midget, Hornswoggle for the umpteenth time. (Found that last part on the net). It’s a nothing match, a comedy chase under the ring and into the back. It's too senseless to recount, so I won’t. I’ll simply say that Chavo is a highly talented wrestler who is utterly wasted in a bad burlesque parody. Ugh.

Just-recovered Freddie Prinze, Jr. is still the General Manager for the night, dadgum it! And he decrees that the main event is now going to be a lumberjack match. More so, the ‘jacks are all individuals that have a particular dislike for Randy Orton. Take that!

After a break, we get the final result of the e-mail question concerning whether or not Orton and Cena can defeat Jericho and Big Show in the main event. Oh, right! THIS is why the tag team champs came out to intimidate Cena beforehand. At least it makes sense now. Anyway, 76 percent of the respondents said yes, the duo could defeat the baddies, and 24 percent said no. Not sure what it proves except that people watching RAW are capable of sending e-mail messages when instructed.

After another ubiquitous commercial break, we join the match just as it’s starting. However … at least here in western Canada … there’s no audio. Can we possibly follow the action without yammering heads telling us what we’re seeing?

After several silent minutes, we are suddenly plunged into darkness, then jerked back to the beginning of the bout. Again, there are no announcers, at least not until Cole and Lawler find their microphone’s “on” button. With no explanation forthcoming, maybe the technical misstep was limited to certain areas. In any event, the bout is reasonably well paced, with the crowd loving it every time Orton is sent outside the ring, only to face the wrath of the unfriendly lumberjacks.

Pretty fair exchanges with some decent storytelling taking place. With everything breaking down at the end, Orton decides that now is the best time to sneak up on Cena and hit him with an Attitude Adjustment, thus concluding their temporary partnership for the night. Randy makes his exit up the aisle, and then stops to appraise the damage done from the top of the ramp.

Now it’s the lumberjack’s turn to jump inside the ring, only to be quickly tossed outside by Jericho and Show. However, this gives Cena time to recover, and in the most surprising move of the night, snaps Show’s head off the top rope. The large man tumbles to the floor, so an angered Cena picks up Jericho, airplane spins and slams him hard to the mat, getting the pin. Gotta say, I never would have expected anything resembling an actual finish to the match, and I give props to Chris Jericho for doing the job.

All-in-all, the program wasn’t as horrifically bad as I was anticipating. But then again, it was far from good, or even average. Way too much crap throughout, with nothing to inspire me to tune in to RAW again anytime soon.

But you know what? The next night, and without any pre-planning, I found myself watching one of my Pro Wrestling NOAH discs, all-the-while breathing a sigh of relief. The lesson through all of this was: wrestling can be a fickle mistress. Loud, irritating and extremely immature at times, it's often full of promise while delivering very little. But then again, when performed with consideration and intelligence, it can also be highly rewarding.

RAW Grades:

The Wrestling: D
The Skits and General B.S: F
Combined Grade: D-

Monday, August 17, 2009

Review of WWE Smackdown ... August 14, 2009 ... AKA The Jericho Dare

A brief explanation: as time permits, I tend to hang out over at the Wrestling Classics Message Board ( One of the regular members, Wild Rover, issued a challenge to yours truly: watch WWE RAW (and Smackdown), then post your thoughts on what you’ve seen. Specifically, Chris Jericho.

It’s Mr. Rover’s contention that Jericho’s current work as a heel is absolutely sublime at this stage in his career. An “intelligent heel,” so to speak. Which, by the way, is the title of a chapter in my book, A Fool for Old School … Wrestling, That is. (I know, I know … nothing but a sneaky insertion of a plug for the book).

We kicked the idea back and forth, with numerous other folks joining in and helping out. Ultimately, the “Jericho Dare” came down to this: I agreed to watch both Smackdown and the following Monday’s RAW. However, I reserved the right to fast-forward as much as I felt necessary (except for anything involving Chris Jericho’s participation). This was a mandatory provision on my part, so as to keep the bile from rising. After a cyber-handshake, the deal was consummated.

So, here’s a full review of Smackdown, which aired two nights ago. Please keep in mind that I did skip past some parts of the show rather hastily, but I managed to see at least parts of everything that took place. Point being, if a few details are missed, out-of-order or otherwise imprecise, I trust you'll cut me some slack. As always, I was hoping to be as accurate as possible by taking hastily written notes, figuring I’d not want to watch the proceedings more than once. Anyway, from my scribblings:

This week’s show is hosted by Jim Ross and Todd Grisham (I presume they’re the regular announcers). After a brief and breathless recitation of the major issues to be addressed at the SummerSlam PPV (coming up in two Sundays), we’re treated to a slick promo for the ultra-violent feud between recently-turned-heel C.M. Punk (who holds the WWE world title!) and the beloved-by-screaming-girls-everywhere, Jeff Hardy. Apparently, Mr. Punk had impolitely beaten the holy crap out of his nemesis the week before, concluding his exuberant display by wrapping a chair with great force around his foe’s head. Then, he rudely ran Hardy, with the chair stubbornly dangling around the victim’s head and neck, into the ring post. Hey, OW!

C.M. Punk starts the proceedings from the ring, and delivers a fairly effective heel rant. After a couple of minutes of this, General Manager Teddy Long interrupts him by strutting down the aisle. (It’s good to see Long still working and in pretty good shape). He interrupts Punk’s speech by confirming that the SummerSlam match between the two would be a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match. Cuz nothing determines who the better wrestler is than loading the ring up with lots ‘n’ lots of weapons.

Long also informs C.M. Punk that he’ll be facing John Morrison (Jeff Hardy’s pal and tag partner, I’m led to believe) in the main event this very night! As Punk rants and displays the usual heel displeasure upon receiving such news, somebody’s entrance music blares out, and C.M. is once again interrupted. (I have the feeling that THIS is why he now has such a nasty temper. He can never complete a thought without somebody interfering!)

Who’s this at the top of the ramp? Why, it’s a Black man! No, wait! It turns out to be Jeff Hardy himself. He only appeared as he did at first, thanks to the combination of multi-colored face paint and the equally multi-colored gel-encased spotlights that illuminated him in the dark.

Jeff approaches the ring as the crowd spunks hard for him. In my estimation, he’s doing a lousy job of selling his neck injury. Yes, I know he was pushing the idea that he was badly hurt from the chair/ring-post skirmish; yet, he would now prove to Punk that he could summon up the strength and come to the ring for a chat. A very unconvincing performance, in my estimation.

Clips of Kane, who apparently abducted the Great Khali’s manager, Runjin (or Ranjin) Singh the week before. I guess nobody except perhaps Khali gives a damn, probably because what follows is cheesy as hell. Kane is verbally terrorizing the man, but at least the victim’s been allowed to keep his nice threads. Goes to show us Kane ain’t all THAT bad.

GM Teddy Long is back in his office. Coincidentally, he receives a phone call right when the camera is there to catch it. (It’s the same deal with Kane and his abduction of Singh. I mean, could no one be bothered to hunt for the missing man at some point over the past seven days? Hell, just follow the cameramen! They have amazing instincts and somehow know just where to set up in case something meaningful occurs).

Anyway, the call that Teddy got was from the head honcho hisself, Vincent K. McMahon. (Before the show started, I wondered if he’d be able to avoid making some sort of an appearance on Smackdown. After all, several years ago, I vividly recall that he was all over RAW). McMahon, still perfectly comfortable in his omnipotent heel role, insists that Jeff Hardy, who has already been acknowledged as “definitely too injured to fight tonight,” would indeed appear in a match. And not your average one-on-one encounter, either. Nope, Mr. McMahon is waaaay too evil for that. Long must serve up Jeff Hardy in a HANDICAP bout this very evening! Hardy will face … the Hart Dynasty! What a fiend!

Clips of Fit Finlay and Rey Misterio, Jr. on a collision course with Mike Knox a week or two before. Far too convoluted … when are the writers going to realize that compelling storylines come from basic emotions, not convoluted soap opera dramatics? The failed TV writers dispensing this stuff don’t have a clue what makes pro wrestling work AS wrestling. Instead, they’re churning out short playlets designed specifically for TV audiences, as opposed to crafting a pseudo-sporting event. The fact is, even granting that this is the way the modern version of grappling is done, their output is embarrassing, insulting and puerile.

This leads us into a match between Fit Finlay and Dolph Ziggler. Never heard of the latter, at least under that name. But the exchanges are sharp and crisp, and for the first time I stop jumping forward and begin watching with interest.

It is indeed a good, solid match that unfortunately has a crappy finish. When Mike Knox arrives to stand at ringside, who among us doesn’t know that he’d become involved? Which is what happens, of course. I give them credit for pulling it off as well as they did … Findlay remains a consummate pro, and Knox looks capable and comfortable in his role. Well done though it was, I hate the failure to use a clean finish as the standard. (I know, I ask for the impossible sometimes).

Now we’re back to the ongoing plot featuring Kane and his captive, Ranjin Singh. More verbal abuse and physical intimidation from the formerly mute-and-masked man. This storyline is ridiculous, unnecessary and distasteful.

Three divas act (?) the part expertly. I have no idea what they’re talking about, but it’s oozing with bitchy attitude. Irritating, at the very least. There’s nobody to root for, as they all come across as whiny and bland simultaneously. Okay, I suppose that takes some skill.

Ah, good. Another actual match is about to take place. It’s the promised bout between C.M. Punk and John Morrison. (BTW, the level of heat Punk receives grows with each piece of footage they show or appearance he makes. Which is what SHOULD occur with a good-to-great heel). Happy to see it.

So, with the background of the animosity between the two explained, I’d call this another highly watchable match. To my surprise, it comes complete with some damn fine psychology. The exchanges go back and forth smoothly and credibly. My only complaint (and it’s a minor one) is that there are a few too many false finishes. Tiny gripe, really, and no big deal. So, that now makes two matches I’m glad I saw. Huh … live and learn.

But, it’s now time for a reality check. It seems that every time I find something to like about Smackdown, the pointless junk factor is inserted to mute my enthusiasm. To wit:

Melina and Layla are now having a match. Mostly punching and kicking, with a few half-decent (and very obviously choreographed) hints of wrestling. No question that these two women are genuine athletes. The finish comes when, for no apparent reason, Melina screeches at a level that causes banshees to recoil in horror. Ross or Grisham mention in passing that it’s a primal scream, an indication that the finish is at hand. Why? It’s a gimmick for sure, but again … why? Is this supposed to enhance Melina somehow? Yuck. Even more irritating than the stupid Kane and Diva stuff that preceded it.

Now, it’s Cryme Tyme’s moment in the sun. They are two Black men (Shad Gaspard and JTG) who look like good athletes decked out in slick urban fashions. Well, they’re either going to be nasty-ass heels who have a problem with White people or they’ll play the street-wise-but-still-babyface gangstas. Stereotyping in the simplest of terms has long been an accepted practice in pro wrestling, likely from the very beginning. The attire and presentation makes it easy for the crowd to identify what an individual or a team represents without a word spoken. In this case, the clothing and wise-guy attitude is all we need to know in order to pigeonhole them.

Anyway, they’re good guys, cuz they slap hands with the fans, smile a lot and act friendly. They then perform a well-rehearsed and highly stylized verbal routine that I found entertaining … once. What with the constant “yo yo” refrain, I keep expecting one of them to yank an old Duncan Imperial out of his pocket and start walking the dog from turnbuckle to turnbuckle, all-the-while not missing a beat of his rap.

After the break, we find that Cryme Tyme is still in the ring, patiently waiting for something to happen. Ah, here we go. A bald Big Show (haven’t seen him like this up ‘til now) is approaching with a surly expression etched on his face. Accompanying him is his partner and fellow tag team champion ... the guy that is the main reason I’m watching Smackdown this week. I’ll get you for this if it’s the last thing I do, Chris Jericho!

Jericho is not wrestling tonight, wearing a nice suit and all, but he’s brought along his mouth. So, co-announcing the match between Big Show and JTG justifies why he’s there. Well, that and probably so he could interfere at some point. When’s the last time a heel came down to “watch a match” without getting involved?

The bout is a bonafide squash that only lasts a few minutes. Big Show is too much for one man to handle, and JTG is disposed of quickly. Chris Jericho, throwing out comments meant to undercut Cryme Tyme, makes it clear that he and Show will be putting their belts on the line against them. Of course, they’ll have no difficulty retaining, Jericho says cockily. Given the destruction of JTG in the one-on-one confrontation, I suppose that means that the underdogs will pull off the upset win to claim the tag title. Isn’t that how it’s usually done in WWE? *shrug*

About Jericho: he did just fine on the mic, talking coherently, primarily selling the championship match to come at SummerSlam, with little bits of sly humor thrown in. Wild Rover is right … Chris Jericho IS an intelligent heel. (Say, did I happen to mention that this was a chapter in my book?) The predictable wild confrontation at the end involving all four participants achieved its purpose leading up to the PPV encounter.

And then … damn it! Another installment in the never-ending serial about Kane and his prisoner. Except this time, Khali has become aware that his manager/brother is in great peril and requires his assistance, if he's not too busy. (What the hell’s the big dope been doing up to now? Why isn’t the FBI involved? Or at least Donald Trump!)

So, Khali wanders into the smallish supply room in the bowels of the building where at long last he finds Runjin Singh. His manager is hanging upside down, courtesy of a chain attached to the ceiling (I think). But, it’s all a big set-up, doncha know. Kane had been hiding in the shadows, only to lunge at Khali as he turns his back to free Singh. Whack! Kane smacks Khali on the back (or perhaps the back of the head) with a metal pipe. The ambushed man loses his balance and looks effectively loopy as he goes down to his knees. With Kane whacking and smacking him over and over again, I decide to move forward. Sorry, but I really don’t like this stuff at all. If you have to go to these lengths to sell a match, then you need to make changes in your creative direction.

Oh, great. Now, one of the most horribly unfunny skits I’ve seen in many-a-year splays out across the screen. See, Triple H needs his old buddy, Shawn Michaels, to return to action and … re-form DX. The performances by all concerned would have failed to make it out of junior high school. And I’m completely convinced that the obnoxious little girl in the piece was modeled after Stephanie McMahon as a child. I’m betting the McFamily viewed this crap as cute and priceless.

Anyway, the skit played as if it was being staged at a burlesque theater in the 1930s. Unfortunately, it lacks the wit and maturity of the original knockabouts. Near as I can tell, the whole thing makes two points.

1: Michaels and Triple H have no problem humiliating themselves before an audience. In that, they were wildly successful.

2: DX is coming back. Tell me … does the idea of two men in their 40s acting like smug, practical-joking teenagers appeal to anyone? I guess so, because WWE knows how to give its followers what they want. Even utter shash.

But finally, my patience is rewarded. The handicap match with the injured Jeff Hardy taking on The Hart Dynasty is ready to go. I was delighted to see Harry Smith (David Hart Smith here, in case someone couldn’t make the connection to his father, his mother and his family background). I was also just as glad to see T.J. Wilson (Tyson Kidd here) as well. During a brief summer visit back in the late ‘80s, I first saw the two young boys, working out and wrestling in Stu Hart’s backyard ring.

The two Stampede graduates are accompanied by Nattie Neidhart. A real sweetheart, she is, even though my introduction to her resulted in receiving a pie in the mush at a Calgary restaurant. Like I said, the girl's a real sweetheart.

I’ve more-or-less followed their development from a distance and know how good they are. Too bad that they look to be severely limited by the WWE style, which discourages the use of clever wrestling holds and strategy in favor of the ultra-boring punch/kick formula. (In the entire show, I don’t recall seeing one collar-and-elbow tie-up or anything like that. One guy kicks the other in the stomach, then follows it up with something equally as banal, like an Irish Whip (excuse me … “The Ride”).

Jeff Hardy did very, very well athletically, although he was clearly out-manned. He got in some impressive offense along the way, eventually succumbing to the sheer onslaught of The Hart Dynasty. Harry is working the strong-man gimmick and TJ is the technician. Both performed admirably despite the constraints placed on them.

Just as before, I had a problem with Jeff Hardy’s selling of his neck injury. It seemed to me that he was touching his neck and grimacing occasionally. But now, in this match, it’s forgotten almost immediately. He’d do one of his spectacular aerial stunts that wouldn’t be possible with the damage he supposedly suffered; after which, he’d remember to touch and grimace for a second or two.

If I’m calling the shots, I’d want Hardy to make like he can barely stand up without suffering greatly. The deeply etched evidence of his pain would never leave his face. Which means he wouldn’t be able to withstand the Hart assault at all. Assuming he comes across convincingly, the crowd leaves with concern for Jeff’s well-being after yet another thrashing. The fans should fear for how he could possibly compete at SummerSlam in his quest to take the title from C.M. Punk.

THAT’S the question the fans should be pondering … ya gotta give people incentive to become emotionally involved. Instead, Jeff Hardy looks like he’s dealing with a minor inconvenience off and on, which depletes the heat factor exponentially.

But I have to say that the match itself is as good as it had any right to be. As soon as the bout is over, C.M. Punk hits the ring to inflict further damage on the just-defeated Jeff Hardy. His intent is clear: put him out of the PPV once and for all. Man, the fans are REALLY hating on the Punker!

After the typical minute or two of pounding without anybody arriving to break it up, Hardy is rescued by his brother, Matt. After researching the story a bit, it seems the two had a falling out over Jeff’s alleged reliance on drugs. Which is reasonable justification for Matt to BURN DOWN JEFF'S HOUSE and KILL HIS DOG! (I know that this event really did take place in Jeff Hardy’s life, although the Matt-as-miserable-bastard part is pure WWE fantasy).

The show fades out with the duo cautiously shaking hands and talking to each other in the ring. Hmmm … if I were keen to project, I’d say they’ll definitely rekindle their brotherly ties. If Jeff takes the belt off Punk, then soon thereafter Matt turns on him again, cuz he wants his shot at the title. Should Punk retain, then it might be awhile before one or the other turns. But you have to believe that it’ll come to pass. Because, as we all know, people go through radical and severe personality changes all the time.

In grading this one episode, I felt it only right to divide the show up into sections.

The Wrestling: B
The Skits and General B.S. : F
Combined Grade: C-

Next up: Monday Night RAW.

God help me.