Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Winners and Losers on the Road To WrestleMania

After a long hiatus, I must first apologize to my faithful readers (all six of them) for my absence. The Pro Wrestling Pundit disappeared in November, leaving many (or six) to watch reruns of Saturday Night Live and uninspired headlines on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

So what led to this writer’s strike? Well, I have stewed over it for three months, but it seems as though now is the time to get over it. Despite the anticipation and excitement, three months after the fact I am left with only one question: What the hell did the WWE do with the return of Chris Jericho?

Obviously, the plan would have been for Cena to remain healthy and handily defeat Randy Orton at the Survivor Series. The next night on Raw, Chris Jericho would return triumphantly, telling fans he was there to save them from Cena. How much would the fans have popped for that?

Instead, from showing him backstage all the way to missing the word Jericho on the Titantron, the mismanagement of Jericho’s return sucked the wrestling life right out of me. Added to that were the facts that Jerry Lawler was defeating Santino Marella, Carlito was running through fictional holes in walls, and Hardbody Harrison was convicted of sex trafficking… Ok, maybe the last one was irrelevant, but still, it was damn hard to write an article.

All around the net, writers were finding things to write about. Jake Roberts went to rehab, and Ron Simmons, Scott Hall, and Sean Waltman soon followed. No word if the New World Snake Nation will be debuting in TNA anytime soon. It just sounds like something they’d do. Oh, and Test retired and unretired. Next thing you know the internet will be buzzing with news concerning Damien Demento? Oh, wait…

While I continued watching, when it came to writing, I couldn’t help but be anything other than indifferent. Big Daddy V and Mark Henry as a team was teased, but never allowed to become the super force it should have. All I could come up with was that fans still have to sit through two separate matches featuring these guys when they go see a Smackdown/ECW show, a more than hearty helping of black monster heel.

Charlie Haas had a brief appearance where he debated being a masked superstar. Jim Ross seemed into it, but I wasn’t sure I could churn out a whole article on the subject. Luckily I didn’t try, as Haas hasn’t been seen since, unless you are an avid Heat watcher.

BobCore Rhodes took home the tag titles, and as with anything else involving Hardcore Holly, I was indifferent.

About the only thing I felt I could truly write about was a cameo by Sunny at Raw’s 15th Anniversary Show, but I was not sure if readers would be enthralled with the onset of my puberty and stories of the many hours spent alone with calendars ripped from the pages of WWE Magazine.

What is a writer supposed to do? Rob Van Dam showed up for 5 minutes to put under Santino Marella, then disappeared into the Titantron sunset. Mick Foley showed up for about 10, but at this stage of the game, who gets remotely excited about a Mick Foley appearance? Ron Killings and Chris Harris are coming, and still I can’t shake the feeling that I just don’t give a shit.

Until last night when I was watching Raw, and I had to ask myself. Pro Wrestling Pundit (as I like to call myself while creating revisionist history), what the hell is it about wrestling that you do care about?

Well the answer certainly wasn’t Ashley. The fact that Ashley’s skank ass came back on Raw is a total downgrade. No matter how much applause Matt Hardy and Paul London get from WWE fans, they can always remember that they got the clap from Ashley.
It also wasn’t Lashley. Bobby Lashley seemed too vanilla to live up to the nickname of Black Lesnar. Well he showed his true colors when he decided that a US title reign, multiple ECW Championship reigns, a main event slot at WrestleMania, and one million dollars was an unsatisfactory professional wrestling career. Imagine how Super Crazy feels. Dear Mr. Lashley, Have fun in MMA douchebag. Hope someone breaks your legs. Sincerely, Tim Haught.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. What I care about is getting my money’s worth. What I care about are superstars who will work hard and bust their ass to entertain me. What I care about are superstars who can make a fluid sentence on the mic, and then back it up in the ring. Well, those things and Sunny, as aforementioned. Anyways, disregarding Val Venis and Victoria, who should be ECW Champion and My Wife, respectively (I hope you guys know what respectively means, or you are gonna think I am hella-gay), I present to you the winners and losers on the Road To Wrestlemania.

Loser: Ken Kennedy
While the Jeff Hardy train continued rolling, Ken Kennedy got a clean victory over Shawn Michaels. Were things looking up? Nope, not really. Michaels got his heat back relatively quickly, and since then, Kennedy has been in midcard purgatory. A clean loss to Ric Flair is all the momentum he has going into Mania, and rather than a meaningful singles match, he has a chance to repeat as Mr. Money in the Bank. Unfortunately for Kennedy, it seems as though that ship has sailed. I don’t know anyone that views Kennedy as the next big thing at the moment. Chances are, right before his next push to the next level, he will get hurt again.

Winner: Big Show
When Big Show announced he was returning, my immediate thought was to have him cost Triple H his shot at the Rumble and his shot to main event WrestleMania, leading to a one on one match between them. Instead WWE waited to debut the Show until No Way out, but it didn’t hurt him in the least. This story with Floyd Mayweather might not be exciting to me, but Big Show went from walking out on Vince McMahon and Donald Trump last year to getting all the mainstream media attention WrestleMania will garner this year. Too bad now that Mysterio is hurt, Show can’t convince Hogan to return and stand by Mayweather’s side, to really draw money and mainstream attention.

Loser: Mickie James
James seemed to be the superstar with the most legitimate shot of knocking of the Glamazon. Instead, she has been on the jobber world tour, losing so much to Phoenix that it brought her to tears on Raw. With Maria showing her goods in Playboy and the return of Candice Michelle, she falls further back down the totem pole, and will likely only be seen at Mania if a horrible women’s gimmick match is booked. Apparantely each time she comes out and the crowd pops, no one in the back is watching.

Loser: Santino Marella
Another superstar reeling from the impact of Maria’s Playboy decision is Santino Marella. Now forgive me for being visionary, but I looked at this storyline as a real opportunity for Santino. Instead, the WWE went down the same road they have traveled with Marc Mero. I can’t speak for Marella’s in-ring credentials, but on the stick, there is no one more entertaining than him currently in the WWE. So what do you do? Saddle him with Carlito. I suppose the idea was similar to putting Billy Gunn’s “athleticism” with Road Dogg’s “mic skills,” but thus far it has fallen on deaf eyes and ears. When Santino and Carlito were put together and a few people popped. Those who were too stupid to understand the current state of the WWE Tag Team Division, that is. Carlito’s decision to stay in the WWE after half-assing the majority of his time in the WWE doesn’t seem to be working out the way he intended. Maria and Santino have been an item for quite some time in the WWE. As soon as the internet began reporting the possibility of Maria in Playboy, I would have had Santino ask her to marry her, with the proposal coinciding with her Playboy decision. When Maria announces the offer, Santino vehemently protests, telling her that it’s him or Playboy. He then softens, drops to one knee, and asks for her hand in Maria Marella Matrimony. The next week, we are cordially invited to their nuptials. Maria suggests that she had always dreamed of posing for Playboy, however she loves Santino. If she respects his wishes of not posing in Playboy however, he should respect her desires for him to clean up his act and essentially become a fan favorite. Marella takes her hand and delivers a vicious STO on the altar, grabs the mic and begins to berate her, calling her a slut for even considering Playboy. Marella is now a more serious heel, with comic undertones. Name your babyface (Jericho, Hardy, shit somebody push Val Venis), and you have a hot feud and a match for WrestleMania. Instead, Santino will likely slap the mat while Maria has her ass handed to her by the Glamazon.

Loser: Shelton Benjamin
Shelton Benjamin received a new home on ECW, and the Gold Standard appeared to be ready for big things. If looking like “Natural” Butch Reed is the key to getting you off heat and onto another brand, grab the peroxide. Shelton is undoubtedly the most athletic superstar in all of professional wrestling, as evidenced by how 75% of the MITB highlight reel featured him, and he hasn’t even participated in all of them. Benjamin looks to be on his way to Money in the Bank yet again this year, which of course is better than not appearing at all. However, up until Chavo Guerrero won his first World Title (if you can call the ECW title that), it appeared as if a Shelton/Punk ECW World Title match was the logical choice for Mania, and undoubtedly had the potential to steal the show and establish both men as the future of the company. Instead Benjamin will add a few extra highlights to his resume and continue to languish until the company figures out how to make a ton of money with him.

Loser: Chris Jericho
Coming off a huge pop that one would have thought at the time solidified him as a main event player, Chris Jericho went to Raw the following week to wrestle a lackluster match with Santino Marella. By all means, the Orton storyline was not going as well as it would have with John Cena at the helm. Jericho wrestled Umaga in a match that he won, but looked lucky in doing so. A year ago, that would have been worthwhile, but Umaga is nothing more than main event job fodder these days. Jericho is out of position to be World Champion, and takes a boot from JBL to solidify that. It didn’t take long for JBL to bring his new manboobs out in his feud with the Ayatollah of Rock N’ Rollah. The Wrestling Gawd and his mammaries choked the hell out of Jericho on Raw to relatively no reaction. In fact, just about everything JBL has done, from calling out Jericho’s kids to having a ton of pyro go off for 10 minutes, to recently attacking Hornswaggle has gotten no reaction. JBL JackieGayda’d a bulldog at the Rumble, sending Chris into overdrive to save the match. To JBL’s credit, their Raw blowoff match was actually good, but too little too late. Jericho will be fortunate to be in Money in the Bank this year, and stands little to no chance of winning the match.

Winner: Edge
All it took for Edge to take his rightful place back at the top of the Smackdown Mountain was stealing Doink’s gimmick. Rey Mysterio wasn’t exactly the most convincing challenger for him at the Rumble or No Way Out, but it doesn’t matter as long as a long awaited Edge/Undertaker showdown is a go. You may remember people clamoring for this one a few years back; before Edge dropped his match at WrestleMania 23 and both were undefeated. Even without that angle to work, this match should be one for the ages as WWE’s only real heel and their top babyface square off at the pinnacle of both of their careers. Yes, despite his age, I think that the Undertaker started peaking about a year and a half ago and will remain hot until he hangs it up, and this upcoming title reign will be more significant than his post Wrestlemania 13 reign or any other reign he has had thus far.

Loser: Ric Flair
When Ric Flair returned to announce he would NEVER RETIRE, it seemed we had a storyline for the ages. When Vince appeared to suggest that Flair’s next loss would be his last, it seemed intriguing. It was apparent that Flair would get one last run with one of three world titles, and when he finally dropped it, he would gracefully step away from the sport to which he has given so much. Yet, as the New Year approached, it became more apparent that Flair wasn’t heading towards one final run as champion. The storyline began to fizzle. Flair would steal matches from a number of up and coming superstars, serving to do nothing more than add a sense of predictability to his matches. For those young fans that weren’t around 20 years ago to see Flair in his prime, they are likely cheering MVP and Kennedy in their futile efforts to unseat the Nature Boy and send him packing. Unfortunately, a rub like that will not be given to a superstar that needs it. Instead, it is looking like HBK will add another notch in his belt by retiring Naitch. A Naitch Notch if you will. God, I sound like Dusty Rhodes on the Muthaship. Forget the image of Ric Flair holding the big gold belt one last time. Forget the fanfare of him walking that aisle at Mania to pass the torch, and the emotional moment afterwards. Forget any possibility that Sting makes his first WWE appearance to make the match even that much more intriguing since it isn’t for the title. Flair will wreck his body one last time, to lose one last match after a strand of cheap wins he has accumulated that are relatively meaningless. WWE hasn’t dropped the ball this hard since the Invasion. I just pray that Batista doesn’t somehow end up in this one.

Loser: Jeff Hardy
At Armageddon, everyone got excited, as it appeared Jeff Hardy had broken through the glass ceiling. 3 months later, I have a more realistic perspective. Jeff Hardy got a few turns with the mic, and despite his horrible voice and tendency to say everything the exact same overstated yet emotionless way, somehow endeared himself more to the audience. Hey, I can get into the guy as long as he’s not strung out and painting his body in glow in the dark paint. Jeff Hardy defeated Umaga in a very underrated cage match that made him the hottest thing in the company. Jeff followed his fantastic cage performance with a crazy ass dive from the Raw set onto Randy Orton. I marked, saying this is the best the WWE has done at creating a new main eventer in a long time. Rumors even started that Jeff Hardy might win the belt at the Royal Rumble. Too bad that pushing the most over guy in the company to a World title puts a kink in the plans of the most having sex with the owner’s daughter guy in the company. Hardy put on a great match at the Rumble, but fell to the randomness of the RKO, which WCW did a great job of putting over its ability to come out of nowhere, but WWE has not. Then, Hardy is the last man to enter the Elimination Chamber but is no match for the Cerebral Assassin, the Game, The King of Kings, the guy who will win 40 world titles by the time he finally hangs up the boots, Triple H. Hardy is the favorite to win Money in the Bank this year. Maybe you can win a world title at Summerslam Jeff. That is of course if you head to a brand without Triple H, John Cena, or the Undertaker. The only way Hardy ends up with a win, is if he wins MITB and cashes it in that night against the winner of the Triple Threat.

Winner: Hornswaggle
Many people on the Internet continue to bitch about Hornswaggle. Too bad that the little bastard’s pops are bigger than almost anyone else’s. No matter what you think of the interactions with his father, his feud with Khali, or his midget battle royal (which was priceless, btw), Horny is established as one of the most popular superstars on the roster, and that has directly rubbed off onto his big buddy Finlay.

Loser: Finlay
Unfortunately for Finlay, becoming a top face is not easy to come by. Just when it seemed undoubtable that Finlay and Vince were headed for a WrestleMania showdown that would have made Finlay’s popularity reach unimaginable levels, John Bigtits Leyfield sticks his, well, bigtits into things. Finlay was receiving one of the most genuine fan reactions in the WWE in sometime, with both internet smarks and marks alike wanting to see him succeed. Now instead of a classic confrontation with McMahon, he is lined up for a standard knock down drag out midcard match with a guy who isn’t eliciting any fan reaction whatsoever. Mr. Leyfield, please go back behind the Smackdown announcing booth, and let McMahon and Finlay handle their business on their own.

Winner: Triple H
Triple H has dominated the Raw brand since his return at Summerslam, and continued dominating the brand in Cena’s absence. Whether his actions made him a heel or face, it didn’t seem to matter. Triple H was sure to position himself to be the most important guy on the show. Whether reuniting DX fifty times or bludgeoning William Regal or the languishing Umaga, The King of Kings was sending the message he was ready to get back on the throne. On the road to WrestleMania Triple H beat Snitsky, Mark Henry, even got to destroy the old TitanTron. Despite missing two weeks of Raw due to a family emergency and being far from the most over guy in the match, he dominated the Elimination Chamber at No Way Out, and got to pedigree both of his challengers on the most recent edition of Raw. Basically get ready to see the same guy that buried RVD, Kane, and Booker T back on your television’s come April. This time however, it will be Randy Orton, Ken Kennedy, and Jeff Hardy who feel his wrath.

Winner: John Cena
Huge props to the WWE for working the entire internet and creating probably the greatest moment in Royal Rumble history. Smarks can bitch and moan as much as they want, but I am one who is happy to see Cena return earlier than expected. The guy is a workhorse, and just based on crowd reaction alone is always controversial and entertaining. Plus, anyone that keeps that gold strap off Triple H is fine in my book. Not many come out on top of Cena, but no one gets destroyed in the process. The Game-ah cannot say the same-ah.

Loser: Randy Orton
Obviously WWE does not have faith in Randy Orton to put butts in the seats, as this is the second time they have thrown a third element into his World title match at WrestleMania.

Not sure how so many can’t miss prospects and can’t miss storylines came nowhere near the mark on the Road to WrestleMania. The Showcase of the Immortals could have been all that much more spectacular with a more visionary focus and some creative long term booking. Instead, outside of the two main events, you might as well call this the Showcase of the Glorified midcarders, as never before has it been so apparent leading into a WrestleMania how bad writing and bad booking have hindered the breaking of the glass ceiling. Will the lack of momentum for so many superstars effect buy rates? Most likely not. It’s WrestleMania for God’s sakes.

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