Survivor Series Live Thoughts
WWE Reminds Me Why I'm Still a Wrestling Fan
It's been 8 months since I've last written a column for this site. During that time, a lot of people have been asking me when I was going to write again. I always appreciated those loyal readers, some of whom have been following my work since I wrote my first column for the old Wrestling Observer site back in 2003. Seems like another lifetime ago, at this point.
But the simple reason as to why I wasn't writing is because, as people that have followed my work know, I write about WWE wrestling. It's what I grew up watching, and it's what I know the best. And to be perfectly honest, as anyone that has watched the product knows, aside from a few week period this past July, when CM Punk was the new hot thing in wrestling, WWE has been a mostly uninspired, lackluster, often times shitty product. There wasn't much for me to write about.
I could have been writing about how much Raw sucks a lot of weeks, and how atrocious the announcing has become, and how a 6 year old could have made better sense than some of their booking in recent months. But I've written a lot of those columns over the years, and they get old after a while. I get tired of writing them, and I'm sure you probably get tired of reading them.
I had no desire or motivation to write anything. But then I went to Survivor Series at Madison Square Garden last night, and I was reminded of why I'm still a wrestling fan. The spark was lit inside me once again.
Survivor Series was a damn good show live. I haven't had the chance to watch it on TV yet, so I don't know how any of it came across on TV. But the fans at MSG once again proved why they are the best fans in the world. I give major respect to the fans in Chicago, who helped make Money in the Bank the best WWE PPV of the year, but I'm always going to partial to The Garden.
In this day we live in, where UFC is king of the sports entertainment genre, people often ask me why I still watch wrestling. And there have been a lot of weeks where I ask myself that same question. But nights like last night at MSG are the reason why. Nights like that are the reason why I've hung around through the good, the bad, and the ugly, for the past 26 years.
I watched a man return to the ring after 7 1/2 years away, looking like he never left, never missing a beat, and I watched him hold a crowd in the palm of his hand like I haven't seen too many guys in the history of wrestling be able to do with such ease. It was a remarkable sight to behold, and a reminder of what true greatness is, and how they don't make them like that anymore. They sure don't make them like The Rock anymore, that's for damn sure.
It wasn't so much about the match itself, because Rock/Cena vs. Miz/Truth was pretty much your basic tag team wrestling match. Rock started off, did some spots, the crowd ate it up like cotton candy, then John Cena came in, and the crowd despised everything he did, Miz and Truth got heat on Cena, and they got heat on Cena, and they got heat on Cena, and they got heat on Cena, and they got heat on Cena, you get the point if you saw the match, basically it felt like the heat spot on Cena lasted about 5 hours, until finally Rock made the hot tag, came in, cleaned house, and got the pinfall to win the match.
Nothing earth shattering by any means, but sometimes simple and basic is better, and that's what was needed here. It was all about setting up the bigger picture, which is The Rock facing John Cena on April 1st at Wrestlemania 28 in Miami. It's a long time from now, and they'll have plenty of time to promote the match, so they didn't need to do a big angle at the end of the show.
Rock and Cena stared each other down, talked some smack to each other, and then Rock dropped Cena with a Rock Bottom. Thank you and good night! It was exactly what they needed to do. It gave the fans a small taste of what's to come, without giving too much away. Leave them wanting more, as the old saying goes.
I'm not saying that WWE won't find a way to fuck up Rock vs. Cena between now and Wrestlemania. This is Vince McMahon we're talking about. The same man that has probably changed the script for tonight's Raw about 20 times already by the time you read this. To borrow a quote from the great Jim Cornette, there are times when Vince can't even book a fart after a dinner at Taco Bell, and we've unfortunately seen that practice at work especially over the past few months.
So if there's a way to screw up Rock/Cena, Vince will find it. But to give them the credit they deserve in this case, they're off to a great start. For the first time in a long time, I'm excited to see a wrestling match that WWE has planned, and I'm more than willing to pay money to see it. That's a strange concept, I know.
Seeing The Rock live again was phenomenal, and he's in a class by himself, as I said. But we all know he's not coming back on a weekly basis, and that he's going to come and go as he pleases, and I'm totally fine with that. He's more than earned the right. The people that bitch and moan about him not being on Raw every week, when he said he was back, need to learn how not take every word that someone says literally.
However, the guys that are going to be around every week, and the guys that the future of the company is going to be built on, they had a great night at Survivor Series, as well. And that's another thing that was so cool about this show. Rock did his thing, but the younger guys got their moment to shine also. Unless your names or Miz and R-Truth, but that's another story, and I'm trying to be positive today.
Let's start with CM Punk. He and Alberto Del Rio had the best match of the night, in my opinion. It really was a great wrestling match from start to finish. And Punk recaptured the WWE Title after making Del Rio tap to the Anaconda Vice. It was the right finish. The right guy won. It makes sense for Punk to be champion. He's the hottest act the company has right now.
Admittedly, quite a bit cooled down from his peak of popularity over the summer. But Punk recently topped John Cena in merchandise sales, taking over the top spot that Cena had held for like 5 years. And that spoke volumes about where Punk is right now, and where the people see him, and that's a message that Vince McMahon finally got. It took him a while, but money filling up his wallet is definitely something that he understands. Punk is in the exact spot that he should be in. He deserves it, and he's more than earned it.
I also want to take a moment to say something about Alberto Del Rio. Although I've been a fan of his work over the past year, I'll be the first to admit that he was underwhelming as champion. A large majority of the reason for that goes to booking, and the way he would be booked as a top guy one week, and a joke the next. That is not Del Rio's fault, and he's hardly the only guy they've booked that way, but it is what it is.
Some people call him boring, which I never really understood, and I don't think is fair at all. Sure, he got repetitive with the whole “Destiny” thing, and some of the other things he said and did, which again points to writing more than anything else. A valid criticism nonetheless.
But I'll say this, people can say whatever they want about the guy, but one thing he's proven this year is that he's a good worker. He's been in a lot of good matches this year, with a wide variety of opponents. And regardless of what you might think about his character or whatever else, in my world, there's nothing boring about being a good wrestler. His title reigns might not have set the world on fire, but I think Del Rio more than cemented his place as being a top guy in WWE.
It's a good time to be a babyface champion in WWE, and Punk is in that spot now, and I hope he finally has the lengthy title reign that he deserves. There is no shortage of potential heels for him to work with, and we saw a number of them on display at Survivor Series. Wade Barrett and Cody Rhodes were the survivors in the Traditional 5 on 5 Elimination Match, and that was a welcome surprise for me.
I thought for sure that Randy Orton was going over in that match. But as he's done many times over the past few months, Orton did what was right for business, and put the less established guys over clean. He did it twice for Mark Henry, and that went a long way towards doing what I honestly didn't think was possible, and that was make Henry a credible World Champion. They made a believer out of me, and Henry has been doing the best, most inspired work of his career, which should also be recognized.
Orton put over Barrett in the main event of Smackdown two weeks ago, and then again last night. He's doing what an established top guy that is comfortable with himself, and with his spot, should be doing. John Cena should take some notes. And now Barrett, whose career was going nowhere fast after an initial fast start, is on the cusp of breaking back into the main event title picture. He's a guy that has all the tools you look for in a main event star, as far as I'm concerned, and I would love to see him get the chance to work a title program with CM Punk down the road.
Another young guy that's really been coming into his own is Cody Rhodes. He's always been someone that looked like a star, but was always missing something in the ring, on the mic, and just the way he carried himself in general. He was saddled with a silly gimmick, the mask, the paper bags, the over the top cartoon villain promos.
It got him noticed for sure, but it was a dead end, second match type of character that was never going to get him where he needed to be. Recently, he dumped the mask, and got rid of the paper bag routine, and low and behold, people are starting take him seriously.
He's worked hard to improve in the ring, he's gotten better on his promos, and he's starting to carry himself like a star. He's still got a long way to go, but for the first time, I actually see him as someone that could break into that main event picture. I honestly didn't see it before, but I'm starting to see it now.
And he's starting to get more notice from the fans, which never hurts. Aside from the guys you would expect, Cody was one of the most over wrestlers with the MSG fans. All of the things I just mentioned combined makes me think that big things are on the horizon for Cody Rhodes.
I feel the same way about Dolph Ziggler, another young star that got a showcase on this PPV. In a lot of ways, I think he's even further along than Cody. When you really look at it, he's been one of the best, most consistent in-ring performers that WWE has had this year. There's a reason they booked him to wrestle twice on the last two PPV's.
He's becoming one of those guys, dare I say like a Shawn Michaels, where you can throw him in the ring with just about anyone, and he'll have a good match with them. His mic skills are underrated in my view, and constantly improving.
He's got a good act with Vickie Guerrero, although I know a lot of people seem to think he needs to ditch Vickie in order to move to the next level. I don't necessarily agree with that. I think they compliment each other very well. I think Dolph has what it takes to move into that coveted upper echelon, and there's no reason that he shouldn't. I think Jack Swagger is in the mix, as well, and you can throw any number of guys in there on the heel side.
On the face side, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Zack Ryder. There's a guy that was literally going nowhere in WWE, and was probably on the fast track to being wished the best in his future endeavors. He decided that instead of waiting for the company to hand him an opportunity, he was going to make his own opportunity, and make them take notice. I never would have thought I'd see the roof blow off Madison Square Garden for a Zack Ryder appearance, but that's exactly what happened.
This kid is one of the most over guys in the company, and it's an amazing story. It's a story of perseverance, and working your way up the hard way, on your own, with no company support, and never giving up when the odds were stacked against you, and the company was actually punishing you for doing exactly what they tell all their young talent to do, create their own opportunity. And in the process, I know it's a novel concept, but I'll be damned if they didn't make a US Title program actually mean something in 2011.
WWE is stacked with young talent that is on the rise, and with CM Punk as champion, I think that could provide the perfect opportunity for some of these guys to move up the ladder. I'd love to see him work a title program with any one of the guys I just mentioned, and he's more than talented enough to make it work.
More importantly, it needs to work, because as I said, these are the guys that will need to carry the company. Bringing guys like The Rock back is a great boost for business, and everyone loves seeing them. But Vince and company can't keep going to the nostalgia well, because sooner or later, that well is going to run dry.
Overall, I feel better about the future of WWE than I have in a while. I'm not going to pretend that all the problems, and all the negatives that we've seen over the past months, have just magically disappeared after one show. I've been watching wrestling for too long to be that naive. But I feel like at least they're starting to move in the right direction, and I'll take that for now.
For one night, and what will hopefully be the catalyst for better shows in the future, between The Rock taking me back to my glory days as a wrestling fan, turning the clock back as if he never left, to my renewed hope for the future, WWE reminded me last light why I'm still a wrestling fan, and proud of it.