Hidden Highlights 09.10.2006: Issue #54 [REPOST]
By JP Prag and James “JT” Thomlison
Hello everyone that is wishing for one more beach day, and welcome back to Hidden Highlights!!
Hidden Highlight (n) – a small, hardly noticeable point that makes a big, positive difference. This could be anything from a wrestler putting extra emphasis into his moves to make it believable to a person in the background reacting while not the focus to the cameraman shaking the picture to create an effect. There are just so many unsung heroes of wrestling that it is impossible to cover them all.
Every week we take the top 3 Hidden Highlights from the biggest shows on television (RAW, ECW of SciFi, iMPACT, SmackDown!, and a PPV or television special if there is one). Plus we turn to you, the readers, to let us know all the Hidden Highlights you saw this, last, or any week in history. On top of all that, we explore the other issues that prove why this is the most positive article in the IWC.
And who is this mysterious we, you ask?
We bring you Hidden Highlights with one goal in mind: to appreciate all those little things that make a huge difference. JT?
JT: Hello all! As you’re reading this, I’m probably drinking my sorrows away at Ford Field as I suffer through the Lions game against Seattle! Hey, you never know… that’s why they play the game, right?
JP: Luckily, it is football season since the Sox are not going to do it for me this year. Bets are still on the dynasty Patriots! But enough football talk, on with the Hidden Highlights!
Hidden Highlights for WWE RAW: Monday, September 4, 2006 by JP
JP: I was driving by Titan Towers at the end of last week, and I noticed the big “spray painted” DX was still on the side of the building. You would think that if Vince were that upset with it he would have brought in some emergency power washers… or at least made Funaki go clean it off by hand.
(3) It’s a very little war:
During the opening contest, Johnny Nitro was defending his Intercontinental Championship against Jeff Hardy. Part way into the match, JR mentioned that the Monday Night wars started 11 years ago that match. And as we know, Johnny Nitro got his name when he was Eric Bischoff’s protégé a while back. As if that wasn’t enough, after escaping with the title, JR called him “Johnny Monday Nitro”. Then, when we came back from break it was This Week in Wrestling History with the premier of Nitro! So much Nitro that flowed together well, or made JR extremely confused. Either way, it worked for me. Well, me and reader Ben Stickle.
Later in the evening, there was a triple threat number one contenders match for the Tag Team Championship. With Murdoch in the corner, Viscera and Haas started doing that “reverse a throw so I can throw you faster into the corner” slash thing. Wow, that sounded like a JT description. Anyway, when Haas threw Viscera, he (Haas) went flying into the air and then fell flat on his face, unable to get up for a few moments. This makes so much sense as Vis is a huge guy, and the force it would take to move him that quickly would have an equal and opposite reaction that would send Haas flying. Good job by Haas to really play up the laws of physics… or at least wrestling physics.
(1) Breaking the move:
A lot of times when a wrestler has someone in a submission move, I’ll look at it and say, “Why doesn’t he just do that so he can easily break it?” Where “that” is replaced with poke in the eyes, pull hair, slap in the face, or stand up and walk away. So when wrestlers do believable things to break out of moves, I am very happy. Earlier in the evening, the leaner and meaner Chris Masters was taking on the debuting Super Crazy (why did Super Crazy go to RAW instead of ECW? And where is Masato Tanaka already? If I were TNA, I’d let Killings and Brown go and pick up Masato Tanaka to replace them. He’s great as an upper-mid carder who can sometimes main event. Although I will miss Brown, he’s not so irreplaceable). Late into the match (now that we are talking about the match again), Masters had Crazy in a standing key lock. And what did Crazy do to help escape from the move? He just stomped on Master’s boot! Excellent work by Crazy showing that it is the little touches that make a match much better and much more believable.
JT:> Wow… Hidden Highlights from a Chris Masters match; maybe the critics are all wrong! And what was with that TNA rant?
Hidden Highlights for ECW on SciFi: Tuesday, September 5, 2006 by JP
JP: Well, I was never sure if I would ever like CM Punk the same way the message board monkeys do, but he found a way to win me over. Walking up to Shannon Moore and calling him a poser… too awesome. Go watch SLC Punk!!! The movie changed my life, seriously. What does a kid from North Carolina know about inner city punk culture? I saw a kid walking around in the suburbs the other day with fish net stockings on his hands and I thought, “This kid is just TRYING to be different because he wants to ‘rebel’, but has nothing to rebel against.” Now, I’m no conservative by any stretch (sorry LaFave), but there’s a difference between living by your beliefs to make a statement compared to dressing up just to be different. Remember that conversation we had about art versus “art”? Here it is again, in people form! What? Oh right, there was also ECW:
(3) Who is this man?:
In a very surprising upset of the night, Stevie Richards was able to defeat Balls Mahoney by pinfall. What is more surprising is the difference between Justin Robert’s announcing and the graphic on the screen during the intros. I’ve noticed for the past couple of months that Roberts always calls him “Stevie” while the graphic always says “Steven” and I just thought this was a great time to point it out. And Roberts, keep doing what you are doing because the “Extremist” page agrees with you!
(2) Not talking about stingrays:
Matt Striker is apparently getting a lot flack this week because of his joke about sting rays. I had read all the controversy well before I heard the comment, and all I can say it is that it Vince should have NEVER issued an apology. Honestly, I heard much worse on other programs this week, and that wasn’t even a rough comment. Hell, it’s not even one tenth of what other wresters have said about Eddie Guerrero in the past year! Geez. Well, to make Mr. Striker feel better, I’m going to give him kudos for something that was not written by some hackney booker. While coming down to the ring, a fan was holding up his middle finger right in Striker’s face. Striker in turn, slowly pushed the hand out of the way and turned his face up in such disgust you would think he just walked through a pile of horse manure. Excellent work by Striker to be aware of his surroundings and super over-react in character to the fans at ringside.
(1) Now that’s a rib:
Anyone who has read me long enough knows that as much as I enjoy his creative genius, I find Paul Heyman to be one of the most hypocritical, manipulative liars in the business ever. That being said, I will always give credit where credit is due, and this week’s top ECW Hidden Highlight definitely goes to Mr. Heyman. Everyone has focused on Heyman taking away the stipulation of the match between the Big Show and DX being under Extreme Rules away that they missed the best dig of the season. After his line about consciousness, it went like this…
Paul Heyman: How could ECW expose our invited guest Triple H and Shawn Michaels….
[Long pause… Audience cheers]
Paul Heyman: How could we expose them to Extreme Rules?
Did you see what Heyman did there? That was absolutely hilarious! He got to take an excellent knock at DX in the old school ECW, yet cover it up and make it look like he was just making a dramatic moment. Super kudos go to Heyman for getting away with that moment!
JT: I too was going to give Striker some flack, but after thinking about it for a week, I’m not going to make him the scapegoat for something that Gerwitz (reportedly) wrote and Vince McMahon approved and apologized for. Honestly, while I’ve heard worse since then, my thoughts at the time were that it was just to soon (it was the day AFTER I believe).
Hidden Highlights for TNA iMPACT: Thursday, September 7, 2006 by JT
JT: Eric Young’s gone black, LAX retains (in a non-title match!), Jarrett is sweating a polygraph, Eric young (again!) plays pretend attorney, Daniels and AJ love jungle gyms, THE BRAIN is in the house, AMW gets all pissy, and Captain Charisma takes out the Truth! And how about that Cornette… I said it about JBL, and I will now say it about him (as he’s even more of a promo legend than JBL), the man could cut a promo about dancing squirrels getting paper cuts, and it would be gold.
(3) You’re either with us or against us:
During LAX intro, it would switch back and forth between the wrestlers walking to the ring, and a blurry orange and red video of a rioting crowd. Now, what I liked about this was that a couple of times you could roughly make out people in the crowd waving flags. <i>American</i> flags. This is gold because you have to remember that they are heels, not faces. If they were faces, it would make perfect sense for the crowd to be holding flags of their home country. But they aren’t, indicating that the rioting crowd is against them, which fits in perfectly with the whole “everyone is against us” gimmick that they have going for them. Nice work production!
(2) It’s all about the plugs:
As Jay Lethal and Co. are getting chewed out by Jerry Lynn, they were showing some Jackass footage. Some of the footage going on the background was someone apparently hanging onto some sort of long suspended water hose. Now, the thing to note is that it was unseen footage; footage not found in any of the trailers, or even extended trailers (to my knowledge). This is a small sign of Jackass (who we know are coming) and TNA rubbing each other’s back. “Sure, we’ll plug your movie and give you some face time; all we need is some unseen footage and an appearance”. Now, this may seem small, but I am telling you that when I get to work tomorrow, I will tell all the co-workers (non wrestling fans, FYI) to watch the first ten minutes of the show to see this hilarious clip, and I guarantee you I’m not the only one who will do so. Nielsen ratings are recorded about every thirty seconds. So if a bunch of non-wrestling fans tune in for ten minutes, that’s 20 – 25 times that the rating is up for the replay. On the same note, some who may not have intended on seeing Jackass 2 might change their mind because of their involvement with TNA. Look, it seem long and a bit difficult to explain exactly how the unseen footage helps because it really does touch on many different scenarios, so let’s just say it was a smart move on TNA (and Jackass 2’s) part to get involved with each other.
(1) Hidden Highlights no brainer:
Christian had Killings down, went to the corner, motioned/begged for him to get up, and Speared him! For the first time in Hidden Highlights history, there is no explanation required. Because of Cage’s history in the business, you – the readers – are simply not that stupid to the point you would actually warrant or require a break down.
On a side note not related to that, I will mention though that in addition to the aforementioned non explained HH, it is ALSO good considering how close to a Gore that it is (aka practically identical), the finisher of the man he currently feuds with in Rhino. Double HH!
JP: I was thinking the exact same thing when I saw that. Actually I was thinking, “JT is going to mention this as a double Hidden Highlight.” No joke!
Hidden Highlights for WWE SmackDown!: Friday, September 8, 2006 by JT
JT: Finlay still loves to fight, the tag champs retain in classic tag team wrestling fashion, the Miz gets another win, Chavo is 1 – 0 in his un-retirement, and—let me also say—I think Kennedy has really done a great job since returning from injury of getting himself over as a heel when it looked like the crowd just wasn’t going to let him remain one. Oh, and what a GREAT video package for Booker T about halfway through the show.
(3) I just don’t have the will:
Now, there were several things in the opening match that were definitely not hidden. For one, he got his ass absolutely handed to him by Finlay. For another – as Cole reminded us 397 times – Rey Mysterio’s head wasn’t in the game due to the actions of the Guerrero’s the last couple of weeks. But there was one instance in particular that I’d like to focus on. After JBL’s tactless line of questioning, when Rey hopped down from the ring, he hit his backside on the ring apron before hitting the floor; something we’d never see. This nice little touch not only sold that his body was in bad shape (ie he didn’t have the energy to make an effort to jump down, but rather just kind of fell), but to me it was one of the many things that contributed to the overall performance by Rey of selling the mental and physical beatdown he had just endured.
(2) I have no idea what to title this:
I will do my best to explain this one. If you saw it, hopefully you’ll know what I’m talking about; if you didn’t, I hope this isn’t confusing. Now, bear in mind I only caught a glimpse of this for the second count, and saw it fully for the third count, so I’m assuming that he did it for all three counts in the pinfall. When Brian Kendrick went for the reverse roll up on KC James, most men in his position would have simply stood there attempting to grab his legs for leverage. However, not Kendrick. A second before each count, he would push off of the ground with one of his legs so that he was off the ground for the count! (I believe left, right, and that left) He did so to ensure that if KC did try to kick out, not only did Kendrick have leverage, but he actually had counter-momentum going in the opposite direction, further helping him to keep KC’s shoulders to the ground. This is something I have NEVER seen but as soon as I did I immediately knew why he did so. Great job by Kendrick and it’s the EXACT sort of thing (in kayfabe world) you have to do if you expect to keep the tag team gold.
(1) It’s a Guerrero thing:
And the first Hidden Highlight is going to Vicki Guerrero! That’s right bitches, I said it. I originally planned to say quite a bit here, and still may sometime in the near future, but Csonka keeps killing my buzz so I’ll just stick to the small stuff. Fact is, no matter what the circumstances are, Vicki is out there, and my job here is to accept it and see the positives therein. When she came out, she grabbed the mic and started to say, “It’s my honor to introduce”. As she did so, a small part of the crowd started an Eddie chant; she stopped what she was saying, and shot the smallest yet EVILEST of eye rolls like “fucking fans and their fucking chants”. After doing so, she continued to proceed to start over, this time not skipping a beat on her intro of Chavo. This was SUCH a veteran heel move. She didn’t care the chant was for her late husband; she shot it down like she was sick of the fans. I was VERY surprised when she did this, as it shows she is actually putting some thought and effort into the character (especially having only been on TV for a month! Talk about being green!). Even more telling of this little eyerolls’ power is that it actually worked. As soon as she paused and gave it, the crowd shut the fuck up like “oh, she doesn’t seem to like that”. I thought this was a great little move on her part.
JP: She has lived around three generations of wrestling Guerreros, so she must have been bound to pick something up! Then again, have you seen the last two generations of Von Erichs? Youch!
Reader Write-in Hidden Highlights
Hidden Highlights aren’t just for us to find and tell you about, but for you to spot and share with us. Don’t just sit there and stare, but be a more active, attentive, and engaged viewer. Appreciate all the hard work that goes into making the wrestling we have the privilege to watch and then let us know what you caught this and every week.
This week JP gets to pick our Reader Write-in Hidden Highlights of the week.
JP: Since I didn’t have TV this week, I’ve had to find… alternative sources… to watch wrestling. Consequently, I’m a little behind. Therefore, I may have no idea what some of these are talking about and *GENERAL WARNING*:: some parts of the following Reader Write-in Hidden Highlights may be edited for grammar, spelling, and English translation…
We’ll start off this week with Gary from Ireland and some older ECW content:
I picked up on a small Hidden Highlight while watching ECW on Sci-Fi two weeks ago. It was during the Extreme body contest when Tazz said that "The sexiest women on TV are all found in the WWE" and Joey Styles jumped in and said "And ECW". I liked this as it shows that Styles is always aware and acknowledges ECW as a separate brand.
JP: And everyone knows that I prefer the brands to be as separate as possible, so I like this one. And Gary, just so you know, it’s JT and I who write this article, and you can e-mail us together at firstname.lastname@example.org. Neither of us is named “411”, although I heard Geoff is considering changing his name to that to suck up to Larry some more.
Still in the past is Jamel Wright with:
I was watching Eric Young's match with Shark Boy last Thursday. After Eric Young wins, they happened to cut to Hebner trying to attack Slick Johnson. This, obviously, led to Larry Z. ushering him out of the building. However, before the commercial, they quickly cut back to Eric Young going up the face ramp. The Hidden Highlight here, goes to the cameraman, who was doing the finger gesture that he is "on to Eric young's secret plan." Nice job and attention to detail by the production crew, and just out and out silly.
JP: I totally missed that! That’s the problem with watching things on SlingBox, it’s hard to catch the details that are on a pristine 32” TV. Luckily for me I just won $500 to Best Buy in a drawing at work (did I mention how good changing jobs has been to me). Unluckily my personal laptop exploded last week, so I need a new one. Ah well. But luckily Jamel also sent a clip of Jessie singing “I’m so excited” from Saved by the Bell, so I feel better again. Perhaps I’m happier than Alex Willis who takes us waaaaaay back in this CLASSIC HIDDEN HIGHLIGHT:
During Flair-Steamboat II in New Orleans there is a point in the second fall where The Dragon is dropping some 18 zillion elbows into Ric Flair's thigh. Referee Tommy Young shows his game by starting to count Flair's shoulders down at one point. Of course it can be really tough to spot as it only gets a one count and the count isn't very loud and can easily get lost in the commentary. Glad Young didn't just sit around and do nothing he kept moving and for years did his job perfectly.
JP: Referees doing their job? I love it! But man, I don’t remember that many elbows being hit. Maybe my memory has gone hazy? Someone with less of hazy memory is Jared Smith who caught this goodie on SmackDown!:
During the Batista/King Booker contract signing, when His Majesty was making his speech ('this is nothing but a shaum' - classic), Booker did not make eye contact with Batista ONCE.
At first I thought he was "off" tonight, then I realized, it was deliberately brilliant character work.
It continued throughout the promo, he looked everywhere but at his future opponent, even when interrupting him - showing the mighty King did not want to corrupt his eyes by looking at this lowly "peasant" - refusing to legitimize this pretender to his throne.
By contrast, Batista stared a hole through the King, sometimes looking more exasperated than anything, but still never taking his eyes off him.
The payoff was after he signed the contract, Batista walked around the table and stood right next to Booker not so much to start a fight, but to MAKE the King acknowledge him with eye-contact, which Booker STILL refused to do, right up until throwing a haymaker which could also explain why he missed - he hadn't lined up his target properly so being pompus backfired and the King ate table.
Not bad physiology by both guys for a simple set up promo.
JP: What more can I say than that? You really covered it all perfectly, just like his majesty did. All Hail King Booker! Moving over to RAW is Brian Blaze> with:
I'm showing Maria some love but not the same kind JP tries to show the ladies. When they cut back to Maria she was still watching paint dry, but if you noticed there was a new paint spot. That fits Maria's character so well. After not understanding Jeff's reference and not understanding after watching paint dry once, she tried it again.
JP: OUCH! Try? Man, there is no trying. That is natural suave, thank you! First timer dweeby touches on something besides the ladies (now that’s a good pun):
This isn't even on TV, this is from the WWE.com video of Maria watching paint dry. As Eugene walks up and takes over watching the paint dry, notice that his jacket STILL has green paint stains on it from when the McMahons dumped paint on him several weeks ago! Continuity rules!
JP: A few people have mentioned this over the weeks, but I’ll let you have the props because you got it from WWE.com, and we don’t get too many of those! As a matter of fact, regular Katie caught the same one, and a few more (of course, of course). Actually, she caught a bunch that I’ve already mentioned and that were covered in other articles during the week (stop stealing our material!). Because of that, I have no other choice but to move on to Jack Thornley from the UK:
I was just watching the replay of the latest installment of ECW over here in the UK. I noticed the colours the announcer is wearing. Black suit, Red shirt and a black, red and metallic Grey on his tie. The colours of the ECW logo, ring apron etc. just thought it was worth mentioning.
JP: DAMN YOU AND YOUR BRITISH SPELLING!!! What? Oh yes, they have been matching clothes rather well. Also, no matter what show he is on, the lights always go purple whenever the Big Show comes out. Nestor moves us over to Nintendo Power… errr… I mean iMPACT (anyone get that joke?):
On Impact during the non-title match with LAX, Tenay called Homicide finisher both from his ROH run & TNA run. I thought that it was a nice touch when he added that Homicide's "Cop Killa" was renamed the "Gringo Killa."
JP: Tenay is a historian and you KNOW that he watches everything. I’d just like to listen to him completely without a leash. It would be like listening to… to… me! Eric Quattro also has a nice iMPACT one:
When AMW came out, only one side of their pyro went up, so the camera changed to an angle where that side wasn't shown. So that was a good call by production or whoever decided to do that.
JP: Giving love to production, good. Getting this sign on TV at Unforgiven:
Finishing off the regulars this week is Manu Bumb with:
BTW, here's a very hidden highlight - http://www.rbccenter.com/index.asp. Notice anything? On the right side of the RBC banner, they've got a pic of the Rock. He's up there on the same banner as a Hurricane, Stanley Cup winners. All these years later, and he's still the biggest thing in sports entertainment.
JP: That is kind of funny. Now, you better have the above sign when you go to No Mercy.
And finally, Adam S. wants you all to know that the secret code is, in fact, to “press L1 to initiate a finisher and L2+R2 to counter it.” Props also to Bob and Brian Blaze for that as well. Thanks, I’ll leave it up to the Games Zone to repost this.
JT: Our readers are unstoppable! And Manu, we’ll be looking for that sign, as well as … bed sheet next Sunday at Unforgiven!
Do you have a Hidden Highlight from this or any week in history that you would like to share? Please e-mail JP..erT…er…us at email@example.com with your thoughts! Send them by Friday afternoon to be considered! And remember, they can be from any show, live or taped, or any house show, or anything you saw… we just like to know!
That Other Section
This week, JP and JT have something for That Other Section.
JP: If you didn’t read what this is about, then click that link because it will explain all.
THE GREAT POSITIVITY DEBATE 3 TOURNAMENT: SEMI-FINALS
JP: It’s hard to live in a world of positivity, and the Great Positivity Debate is a demonstration of that. In a typical debate, the writers are trying to make the most valid point for their side. In TGPD, the writers are trying to make the most valid positive point as a test of their writing skills and imagination. You the readers are the ultimate judges and decide who moves on and who hits the bricks. As a reminder, here are the rules for the semi-finals:
We will list six topics.
Each side may have only one response to each topic.
The response to the topic can be no more than 500 words.
The response to the topic must be the most positive thing that side can think up.
The positive response must be something that side believes in (honor code in effect).
The first two topics will be answered first by one side, and then the two shall switch answering order.
At the end, you the readers will vote who is the winner.
Neither of these two competitors are fighting for who is more positive. Instead, they are fighting over who has more writing skill in the confines of positivity.
Last week, Steve Cook took on Julian Williams in a furious battle of the never-ending DX/McMahon feud, Vicky Guerrero being a sellout, TNA dropping the ball with Monty Brown, and ECW sending contradictory messages. And with 44.8% of the vote, the winner was:
Despite the fact that NEITHER competitor answered the Monty Brown question with positivity, it ended up being a very close contention. As Cook said on the message board, that was too close for comfort.
Well, because of that win, here are the updated brackets:
As a reminder, opening round matches consist of four questions, semi-finals six questions, and the finals eight. The winner of the tournament goes on to face JT and I in THE GREAT POSITIVITY DEBATE 3: THE SEQUEL NOBODY ASKED FOR!
Without further ado, this week’s competitors are:
Stephen Randle – After a convincing victory over Sat, the writer of Wrestling News Experience every Monday and often forgotten co-editor of the Wrestling Zone, Randle is poised to continue his dominant streak. Can he continue to win by extreme amounts, or was that a one time deal?
Will Helm – After a major upset over Sforcina, the author of Misunderstood Masterpieces over in the Movies/TV Zone is ready to take on the big dogs. Was that first time a fluke, or can Helm take the only remaining over Zone to the finals?
JT: Don’t worry JP, I gave Cook quite an earful about his choosing to answer based on his interpretation of the question. We won’t have that problem next time. I have his home address. Now, by the flip of the coin, Stephen Randle will go first.
JP: Question 1: Despite lower domestic buys, one less PPV this quarter, and a drop in ad revenues due to new programming based contracts, the WWE still managed to make almost as much profit this quarter as they did last year. With the continued diversification into international markets, expanding digital media and DVD revenue, and new programming (ECW), the WWE is set to make even more money. Despite complaints that Vince and company do not understand the audience, they continue to do well. Is money getting in the way of the WWE having a consistently creative, entertaining, and thoughtful product?
Stephen Randle: That's a hard question to answer, actually. Sure, Vince loves being called a billionaire, and WWE stockholders kind of demand to see increasing profits and dividends every quarter, but I don't think that the fact that the company is insanely profitable is what's keeping it from experiencing another massive boom in creativity. The key word in the question is "consistently", because at times, aspects of the product are still entertaining. There are still just as many five-star matches being put on now as there were during the Attitude era, and there are still wrestlers out there cutting great promos, even though the feuds and matches that are involved aren't much more than insta-feuds. Hell, John Cena and Edge have been feuding for nine months now off and on, and it's actually a fresh, interesting matchup after years of other people in the main event. And I don't really think that the Attitude era was any more consistent in bringing the entertainment. At that time, the product was less under a microscope, plus it benefited from having two of the greatest wrestlers/sports entertainers in history on the rise at the same time in Austin and Rock. Aside from those two and a couple other feuds, though, how much of the rest of the product was really that good or interesting? People seem more willing to forgive the strange and sometimes just plain crazy crap WWE was throwing around in their midcard feuds, because the main event was on fire. And storylines changed from week-to-week, whenever Vince Russo's ADD kicked in.
This sounds like I'm saying WWE has always been garbage with only a few highlights, but that'd be the most negative way to look at it. I'm saying that WWE right now is about as consistent with the entertainment as it has been for years, it's just being noticed more and more now and the company becomes more and more public. Plus, there's the nostalgia factor that will always be there of "things were better in the Austin/Rock days", with people more willing to forget that at the same time, WWE was dividing their midcard by race and having them fight it out in Gang Warz. People get misty-eyed remembering the five-star matches of Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, and want to ignore that less people saw those matches then are currently watching right now.
The only difference, in the end, between WWE now and WWE then is that they don't have their Austin/Hogan, and they're focussing way too hard on trying to "create" one from scratch, as opposed to letting their wrestlers develop on their own. In the end, though, a wrestler's going to have to take the ball and run with it. Cena almost did it, Batista came close, it's really only a matter of time before something changes for the better.
Will Helm: It goes without saying that Vince McMahon is a shrewd individual. He, and the rest of the WWE executives, knows how to make money. WWE is quite profitable and wisely diversified. Its product lines are consistently top sellers and they always seem to be one step ahead with many advancements in distribution. With a company such as this, it is tempting to believe that they’re forsaking their most famous product for the rest, but they’re really not.
Most importantly, one key to the “misunderstanding” of the “audience” is to discern just who that audience is. It must be remembered that the WWE audience isn’t just hardcore wrestling aficionados but also runs the gamut of viewers and each segment must be satisfied to a certain degree – although the WWE wouldn’t necessarily want to satisfy them totally; then the audience wouldn’t watch again to find out what happens. This need to provide a modicum of satisfaction for the audience as a whole may cause friction between differing segments, but it does show a certain attitude toward providing a creative, entertaining, and thoughtful product.
Since the product is still creative, entertaining, and thoughtful – though not necessarily to all segments of the audience all of the time – money certainly isn’t getting in the way of that. In fact, as WWE attempts to please each segment of the audience as much as possible – to a degree – money – and earning money – is the root of the current product. The WWE will make money as long as it keeps the product creative, entertaining, and thoughtful for as many segments as possible and money – and the need to make it – will keep the product creative, entertaining, and thoughtful.
JP: Randle: 473 words. Helm: 280 words. JT?
JT: Question 2: We know that in the long run, Kurt Angle leaving is better for him. In the short term, how is it better for the company?
Stephen Randle: A much easier question here. The reason why it's better for the company to not have Kurt Angle bumping around the ring on a nightly basis is that they are spared the eventual massive public scrutiny that would come when they are eventually forced to post the following message (or something similar) on WWE.com:
"Kurt Angle was found dead last night in his hotel room. WWE.com offers its condolences to Kurt's family"
I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that Kurt Angle is a man who ignores his own physical limits. That's admirable to a degree, and it's what makes Batman so cool, but as an actual human being, that's insanely dangerous to your prospects of living a life of any decent length. And I think the only way WWE was going to force Kurt Angle to stay off the road for any period of time was to put him in a situation where he is unable to wrestle, and has no set timetable for his return. If you put him on injured leave, there's a return date. If you suspend him, there's a return date. When Kurt Angle has a return date, he works his ass off to return in better physical shape, and also to return earlier than projected. That's contrary to what is best for him, and therefore, contrary to what is best for the company.
I believe that WWE probably would be in massive trouble if another wrestler was found dead any time in the near future. I might not even be exaggerating to say that there'd probably be some sort of lawsuit filed by someone, or government involvement of some kind. Eddie Guerrero's death was an impetuous for the Wellness program, and don't think there wasn't some sort of massive outside pressure on WWE to institute one at the time. Kurt Angle's death would definitely start some serious media pressure on WWE, with a series of 20/20 or Dateline segments on "the very real problems of pro wrestling". This is bad publicity that even Vince can't spin, and thus, since Kurt would never voluntarily take himself off the road, they used the one option they had left, for both his own good, and the company's.
Will Helm: Regarding Kurt Angle’s shocking release from the WWE, the initial instinct would be for most to label the move a huge blow in the short term. While it does signify the loss of one of the greatest talents of the past ten years – if not ever – the release also opens up a lot of possibilities in the short term as well.
The amount of respect Kurt Angle garnered within and without the WWE cannot be denied and would be difficult to replace, if the WWE didn’t have two champions – if not necessarily gold medalists – in its midst. The criminally underused Shelton Benjamin and relative – to WWE – newcomer Sylvester Terkay possess well-regarded collegiate wrestling experience and, in Terkay’s case, an NCAA championship as well. These two talents can easily step up and fill in as WWE’s resident technical wrestling specialists.
Another benefit Kurt Angle’s absence lends WWE in the short term is that it allows for the development of “big fight” wrestlers – who can seemingly get a good match out of nearly anyone – in preparation for Kurt Angle’s true retirement sometime in the near future. Even though it seems there are few, if any, who can fill in this position, a handful of names, old and young, come to mind. The impending return of Chris Benoit, as well as the ageless Finlay’s recent performances, gives hope for the near-term future of the “guaranteed great match.” Two younger talents who can easily take up that mystique as well are Bobby Lashley – who also has a technical wrestling pedigree under his belt as well – and ECW’s new phenomenon CM Punk. These two young talents have already connected with the audience and, if allowed, can quickly develop into wrestlers who can bring out the best in any opponent and capture the attention of the crowd.
If these possibilities come to pass in the short term, the greatest benefit will be realized overall when – or if – Kurt Angle makes his triumphant return: he’ll be looking for revenge against those who have usurped his position. Between the elevation of new talent and an impending big-money storyline and feuds, WWE has much to gain in the short term from Kurt Angle’s recent release.
JT: Randle: 371 words. Helm: 366 words. JP?
JP: Question 3: Despite being the longest reigning champion in Sports Entertainment today, Gregory Helms does not seem to be feuding with any cruiserweights. Is his current storyline beneficial to the Cruiserweight Championship?
Stephen Randle: Sure it is. Because having any storyline is better than having none. Just ask the guy he's currently feuding with. If you have a storyline, no matter how half-assed it may seem, it means that the company knows you exist and isn't planning to have you fired in the next round of talent cuts. That's a little comforting, wouldn't you say? But the question is if it benefits the title itself. Well, sure it does. Matt Hardy has wrestled as a "cruiserweight" before, if you recall, and it was a good enough feud that the blowoff match got the main event slot on Smackdown and did decent ratings. I'm not suggesting this feud will have the same end result, but it's something to think about. Anyway, the definition of a cruiserweight has changed several times since the title was invented, so I'm pretty sure nobody cares that Matt's about 20 pounds too heavy for the "actual' weight limit. He can wrestle a cruiserweight style, and that's what's important to the division.
Furthermore, it's two guys who grew up in the business together, who are (presumably) close friends, and who are probably willing to make each other look really good in the process. Hey, title matches that are decent-to-good matches, there's a concept people can work with, right?
Besides, anyone who thinks cruiserweights aren't getting a fair shake is neglecting the fact that all the other cruisers on Smackdown who have value are currently feuding over the tag titles (or over Eddie Guerrero, but I digress). When you look at it that way, we're kind of lucky they're giving the cruiserweight title any sort of feud at all, what with the dearth of available talent to fight for it.
And finally, it's showing that Gregory Helms still has potential, despite losing the gimmick with which he pulled in so much money. That's good, because really, what was the Hurricane ever going to be besides a comedy act?
Will Helm: Even though the WWE Cruiserweight division appears free of competition, there is a massive benefit to Gregory Helms holding the title for as long as he has, regardless of opponent: perception. The longer Gregory Helms holds the title – and still gets face time on television – the greater the perception of title’s prestige increases.
WWE, for good or for ill, have long proven they are masters of propaganda in a business where propaganda is one of the most important elements to success. To this day, many still believe that there were 93,000 in the Silverdome for WrestleMania III. Some will contend that Hulk Hogan’s spine exploded when he slammed a 3-ton Andre the Giant at that very event. A few hold faith that Samoans have genetically hard heads – but perhaps not as hard as the Junkyard Dog’s. Why do some wrestling fans hold these truths to be self-evident? Because WWE – or the federation of their choice – said so.
Along that line of thought, in recent weeks, SmackDown! has made sure to feature Gregory Helms and his glittering gold belt on television in some way. The average viewer, not necessarily keeping track of Helms’ title defenses, probably wonders how long Helms has held that belt, rather than how many he’s faced since winning it. Aiding in keeping up the perception is a complicit JBL, who seems to always make sure to stress how long Helms has had his title and, especially, that he is the longest-reigning champion currently in the WWE. Even though astute viewers may disagree, this contention develops the perception that Helms – and, by extension, the Cruiserweight title – is unbeatable because he’s held the belt so long, which must mean that the belt is important to him to fight tooth and nail to keep it in his possession.
When the WWE finally builds up the Cruiserweight division – after the tag team ranks are shored up, apparently – the fact that Helms has held the belt as long as he has and the prestige that goes with it can only serve to motivate the challengers and, in turn, heighten the audience’s perception of those challengers’ quest.
JP: Randle: 326 words. Helm: 354 words. SWITCH! JT?
JT: Question 4: There are many people who will not get SmackDown! for four to six weeks as UPN transitions into the CW. Is the brand strong enough that people will wait and come back for its return?
Will Helm: Even though some consider SmackDown! to be the weaker – or weakest, depending on one’s feelings toward ECW – brand under the WWE umbrella, I believe it is certainly strong enough to survive a slight hiatus in some households. As of late, SmackDown! – the brand – has been developing an identity and wrestlers all its own and has truly been establishing itself as a rival brand alongside RAW and ECW, instead of just a haven for castoffs and unknown talent, looked down upon by RAW and the wrestling community at large.
Most significantly for SmackDown!, the main event (World Championship) and second tier (U.S. Championship) are set with exciting talents. Booker T, Batista, and Rey Misterio – with Bobby Lashley waiting in the wings – are all viable competitors for the brand’s top title. Meanwhile, as new champion Ken Kennedy holds the U.S. title, he has rivals such as Finlay, William Regal, Matt Hardy as well as others with whom he can contend. The most interest common denominator among these varied talents is that, other than possibly Batista, most have come into their own or found their niche on SmackDown! . . . or even, in the cases of Misterio, Lashley, Kennedy, and Finlay, starred solely on SmackDown!, firmly entrenching them as SmackDown!-brand talents.
Lower on SmackDown!’s card, in recent weeks there seems to be a concerted effort to renew the once-stagnating tag-team division, which can only aid the strength of the brand further. The increasing – and exciting – rivalry between champions London and Kendrick, the Pitbulls, and the “Teacher’s Pets” can do nothing but add more luster to a once forgotten division, especially since the talents involved are all excellent in their roles. In addition to the revitalization of the tag-team scene, SmackDown! also has a good thing going with its mini-Women’s division (and I don’t mean female midget wrestlers). Even though it is only three strong – comprising Jillian, Kristal, and Ashley (when she’s healthy) – the SmackDown! Women’s division is an intriguing – and remarkably quality – respite from the other action on the brand. The only work-in-progress left on the brand is the Cruiserweight division, but that can be easily shored up through promotion from the feeder federations or the independents.
With such a strong and identifiable base as this in place, the brand that is SmackDown! has positioned itself on firm footing, safe from any dangers a brief hiatus in some households may bring. Of course, those households do have the impeccable coverage of 411mania to fall back on for their SmackDown! fix to fill the gap, if need be.
Stephen Randle: Absolutely the fans who get pre-empted for those four or so weeks will come back to Smackdown. First of all, it's Friday night, what else are people who are wrestling fans going to watch? Frankly, there's nothing else on TV on Friday for anybody except Smackdown. Secondly, while I don't entirely understand cable ratings vs network ratings, I seem to recall that when the numbers are translated to actual households, more people watch Smackdown than Raw anyway, since it's a network show, and thus, wouldn't that make it the "better" show already? Thirdly, Smackdown was already getting pre-empted for sports a whole lot, in several major markets, and I don't recall there being any real sort of swing in the ratings.
I'm not sure where anyone gets the idea that the Smackdown brand is the weaker brand. I'm not saying it's the strongest brand either, but more that all three are about on par. ECW, Raw, and Smackdown all have some very good strengths, and some very glaring weaknesses. While Smackdown has lost a lot of talent in varying ways, those that remain are fairly impressive. The show can boast a very strong, hardworking midcard spanning the US and tag divisions, with a very strong heel character holding the major title, and a large fan favourite as his foil. I think the reason that Smackdown gets the shaft in the online world is because it happens at the end of the week, when there's less real news and "buzz" surrounding wrestling in general. If you switched Smackdown to Monday and Raw to Friday, I would bet that Raw would be thought of as "weaker". Another online perception is that Smackdown is weaker because it's taped. I think sometimes we forget that the entire world doesn't read spoilers, and most of Smackdown's audience goes in without foreknowledge of the match outcomes.
I guess the perception of Smackdown's supposed weakness can be summed up in one world: online. Outside of our little bubble, Smackdown's actually a fairly healthy show, especially considering that the network it's on, whether UPN or The CW, has no other show that even comes lose to drawing the same ratings. And no matter what happens during the changeover, the fans will likely come back. People don't stop liking baseball when it takes six months off, after all.
JT: Helm: 425 words. Randle: 389 words. JP?
JP: Question 5: ECW has a better timeslot, better ratings, and may get an additional 30 to 60 minutes before TNA iMPACT does. Has Spike shown the right amount of faith and put in the best effort for TNA?
Will Helm: Spike, even in its prior incarnation as TNN – The National Network, has always had a sordid relationship with professional wrestling. Years ago, TNN was the first fairly major cable network to take a chance on a regularly produced ECW program – in its original incarnation. Of course, as is widely publicized, TNN forsook ECW for a greater cash cow: WWF/E’s RAW. The 4 ½-year relationship between TNN/Spike and WWE would prove mercurial as WWE would end up spurning Spike for its former home at USA.
With this history of wrestling programming behind it, it can easily be said that Spike has put just the right amount of faith behind TNA iMPACT as it is, for the most part, a fairly new commodity. TNA iMPACT, as it stands now, has only been on Spike for a little under a year and, during that span, it has proven itself only slightly and most of that in a low-profile Saturday night slot. TNA iMPACT, for all intents and purposes, has yet to prove itself on Thursday nights, especially independently of its UFC lead-ins. In addition – and in comparison to ECW – TNA itself does not have the pedigree that the WWE-backed ECW has, so Spike has reason to be wary of its long-term stability, even though it appears on safe ground for the most part.
That being said, I do not think Spike – or its parent, Viacom – is putting forth enough of an effort to support TNA iMPACT. For the most part, even though ratings have been relatively stagnant, TNA iMPACT has kept up its part of the broadcasting bargain by providing high-quality programs with the TNA flavor that fans have grown to appreciate. On the other hand, I have seen few advertisements for TNA iMPACT during other Spike programs and, most tellingly, never on any of the other Viacom cable networks, especially MTV or even CMT, which would help TNA iMPACT’s visibility and viewership grow. Speaking of MTV, perhaps the greatest inclination of Viacom/Spike’s commitment to TNA iMPACT is the fact that, in the near future, MTV – the highest profile cable network under the Viacom banner – will be broadcasting Wrestling Society X, a rival professional wrestling program.
With conditions such as this, where it seems that the company running the network is acting against their best interests, it is imperative that TNA iMPACT – and TNA itself – stay the course and keep up their end of the agreement until they are noticed – and, with talents to build on like A.J. Styles and Samoa Joe, they should be noticed.
Stephen Randle: I have to say that it's almost impossible for Spike to put more faith into Impact. They gave it a timeslot back when it had virtually no track record in terms of drawing viewers, gave it a better timeslot several months later, gave it a lead-in of their best-drawing original television show in the network's history in the Ultimate Fighter, and have indicated that they intend to continue the relationship with TNA for the future. All this despite TNA not exactly setting the world on fire with their ratings, and seemingly doing little to overtly change that fact.
Let's keep in mind that TNA is still deceptively fragile. If one day someone at Panda Energy looks at the bottom line and decides that TNA needs to start drawing money NOW or be cut from the balance sheet, TNA would be in some serious financial trouble. I'm not saying it's going to happen, but given the possibility is always in the back of the mind that TNA might not exist a year from now, I'd say that Spike has shown some amazing faith in airing and promoting Impact. I think people get confused when they say that Spike doesn't air as many commercials for Impact as they did for Raw. Many of the commercials aired during Raw's tenure were for other products that starred WWE wrestlers (remember YJ Stinger?), so of course they aired in the regular rotation. TNA doesn't exactly have the national presence to have Christian Cage shilling energy drinks, or Sting biting into a Whopper. So, you see less TNA-related commercials that aren't directly advertising Impact.
What it really comes down to is that TNA Impact draws roughly 1/5th the audience of Raw or Smackdown, and half the audience of ECW, a show that only debuted three months ago. Impact has not significantly improved on the ratings it got when it debuted, remaining hovering around 0.7. Spike TV has shown remarkable patience with Impact, and seems willing to do what is necessary to help it succeed. At this point, the next step is up to TNA.
JP: Helm: 423 words. Randle: 348 words. JT?
JT: Question 6: There have to be plenty of positives to ECW getting the renewed deal with SciFi. Choose ONE positive and elaborate.
Will Helm: The renewal of ECW’s unlikely broadcast deal with SciFi has a myriad of positives to it, predominately within ECW itself. Most importantly, the renewal has to be a boost to the morale of the roster, as now they’ve been legitimized by the network, in a way. The booking team also must feel a great deal of pressure has been taken off their shoulders, as they now have the freedom to craft long-term, internal storylines and build up performers as solely ECW talents, like Kevin Thorne or, especially, CM Punk. However, the most significant boon – in my eyes – that the renewal brings ECW is that it elevates the brand in the eyes of the WWE as a whole.
For the most part, the rebirth of ECW could be considered nothing short of a crackpot scheme. Long before the return of ECW was announced, skeptics, critics, and naysayers considered any “new” ECW to be a failure on principle. Once the announcement was made that ECW was coming back, WWE – to its credit, for once – stubbornly trudged on as each new piece of news regarding the ECW brand brought pessimistic shockwaves surging from wrestling commentators. Many complained as the brand was first intended as SmackDown!’s “opening act,” taped before the other brand’s show. There was much contention as the new brand signed on talent considered “has-beens,” such as Tommy Dreamer or Sandman; “never weres,” like Mordecai and Justin Credible; and largely unproven commodities, specifically independent darling CM Punk. Despite the initial misgivings, WWE – for whatever reason – kept going with the project.
Presently, whether it was their intention for ECW to be a success or not, WWE has to be equally surprised and delighted by the renewal. While ECW may have initially been an experiment, now it is, at least, a fledgling third brand and, with the renewal, there is a chance that WWE will treat it as such. Though ECW has, largely, a good deal of the “feel” of its original incarnation intact, it would aid them greatly if WWE allowed occasional – or more – tapings in smaller, more ECW-style arenas, regardless of whether the venue allows pyrotechnics or not; the environment at the recent show at the Hammerstein Ballroom proved that this is an exciting and viable option. More importantly, WWE, with the renewal justifying their decision, can afford now to take the training wheels off of ECW and perhaps let the brand operate independently of its sister brands, making appearances by talent from other brands a rarity more so than a necessity.
ECW, whether WWE likes it or not – though I’m sure they really like it – has been accepted and embraced by the network and, with that support, it is their time to shine and WWE’s time to let them do so.
Stephen Randle: Choose one? But there are so many. But I'll go with the one Paul Heyman mentioned in his comments on WWE.com in response to the renewal: the chance for storylines. During ECW's initial twelve-week run, storylines were mostly thrown to the wayside in the interest of introducing as many wrestlers and as much of the product as possible. Plus, a wrench got thrown in the works in the form of RVD and Sabu's Wild Ride. You think about how much gets screwed up when something goes wrong for Raw or Smackdown, and now imagine how much worse it is when your main event loses the poster boy for the entire product three weeks into the run. Now the centerpiece of the entire twelve-week story they probably had planned out is gone, but you still have to build the product and garner enough ratings to get a renewal. So WWE trotted out Raw and Smackdown stars on ECW in order to get fans to tune in to the show and thus get ratings to justify airing ECW.
Now, Sci Fi has given ECW a year and a bit on the network. Paul Heyman has the best commodity he can get, which is time. And when Paul Heyman has time, you know you're going to start getting long, overarching, epic story lines that span months, especially since he really only has 2 PPV's a year to plan for. For a creative genius like Heyman, this is probably everything he ever wanted: a promotion to play with, and someone else looking after the finances. Now he can get into character motivations, histories, and the like. He can explain why Kevin Thorn and Ariel pretend to be vampires, why Shannon Moore hangs out in stairwells, and who the guys under the riot helmets are. He can make you care about the wrestlers, and then stick them in storylines with rivals with similarly fleshed-out backgrounds, and create intricate plots with twists and turns. Will we get another Dreamer-Raven or Tazz-Sabu? It's entirely possible, since now Heyman has the ability to have year-long stories. And unlike the old ECW, he doesn't have to worry about his characters leaving the promotion without notice. Imagine how much longer Dreamer-Raven could have gone if WCW hadn't come calling. Or what Hollywood Steve Austin could have done if WWE hadn't taken him away nearly immediately. The mind boggles.
JT: Helm: 460 words. Randle: 398 words. JP?
JP: All right, now it’s time to vote. Who won TGPD semi-final match between Will Helm and Stephen Randle?
JP: Voting will remain open until Saturday September 16th at 2:00am GMT. Thanks for playing!
Next week the semi-finals finish up in a battle of wrestling news reporters as Jeff Small takes on the winner of last week’s debate, Steve Cook. Only one news reporter can survive, and the other will be fed to Bayani’s pet hedgehog.
Exit, stage left!
JT: That should be a tough vote for the readers, that was a damn fine round, certainly worthy of semi-final status. Nice job by both men. Now, it’s late (not that late), but I’m trying to enjoy my Saturday evening, so, as usual, have a great week and I’ll see you next time my little pigskins.
JP: Thank goodness JT has something to look forward to, because he is going to mad as hell when he sees how much stuff I edited out of this issue. That’s right kids, this issue was even longer than what you are reading now! But all is fair in the world of positivity! Except negativity…
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