Let’s talk about… the UK Wrestling scene

For the frequent readers of my blog, by now, you’ve probably guessed that I’m quite the big pro-wrestling fan by now. What you might not know, however, is that WWE isn’t the only promotional brand of professional wrestling that I watch. And with the WWE successfully pulling off the fantastic “UK Championship”, which is available on the WWE Network for an undisclosed price, it’s time we talked about wrestling in the UK.

Wrestling in the UK has been around for a very long time, and some of the best wrestlers in the world come from the UK: Davey Boy Smith (a.k.a. The British Bulldog), William Regal, Wade Barrett, Big Damo and local hero Joe Hendry come from these damp and distant shores. The same is true over history as well: Dave Taylor, Giant Haystacks, Fit Finlay, Layla, Dynamite Kid and Les Kellett all were born and raised here.

The UK’s wrestling style is very different from the main style we see on TV these days: the WWE showcase a style developed by Toots Mondt called “Slam Bang Western-Style”. This style puts more emphasis on the “razzle dazzle” aspects of wrestling, such as gimmicks, suplexes and athletic showmanship. The style of wrestling developed in Blighty, however, is far more technical and agile. It’s no surprise to me that the more technically-sound wrestlers learned their trade over here. From Finn Balor to Seth Rollins, we see this develop all the time. It’s also no surprise to me that Chris Benoit, who was one of the most gifted technical wrestlers of the Attitude Era, was tutored and mentored under UK wrestler, William Regal.

And here’s where both the internet snarks like myself and wrestling fans start seeing problems. Can Triple H and Vince McMahon get the wrestlers to adapt a somewhat softer style for the WWE Network?

 

The Best and Worst of Wrestling in 2016

So, 2016 has been a pile of steaming dog-turd, hasn’t it? From the magnificent David Bowie shuffling off his mortal coil to Ric Flair getting seven types of shit beaten out of him, this really hasn’t been a good year for anyone in the entertainment industry. But, this is the time where I look at the 5 best and 5 worst things that happened in wrestling this year.

The Best

5. Broken Matt Hardy
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Broken Matt Hardy, showing Dean Ambrose how to mess around on machinery and make it fit your gimmick. Courtesy of KnowYourMeme.com

I’ve often been criticised for my WWE-Focused look at the world of wrestling, but be fair: Who else has that kind of an audience? So, to quieten the snarky keyboard warriors who like wrestling, I’ve picked something *ahem* brilliant from the perpetual Scrappy-Doo to WWE’s Scooby, Mr Matthew Hardy.
Before this year, the Hardy brothers appeared to most as a footnote: the tag team that could have been champions, but never quite made it. That all changed this year when Matt finally cracked, and the “broken brilliance” entered Matt Hardy. So far, so gimmick, so, to be honest, a little bit shit.
That was until Matt Hardy started keeping character on his YouTube Channel.
Oh boy, things changed. TNA simply couldn’t contain him in The Impact Zone, and he’s made several independent promotion appearances in character, most notably in Delete WCPW, where he bit the ear off some arsehole presenter (Jack The Jobber, for any fellow WhatCulture fans).

4. Bullet Club Exodus

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Shortly after Japan’s equivalent of Wrestlemania, Wrestle Kingdom 10, Dave Meltzer from Pro-Wrestling Illustrated broke the news that four big stars from New Japan Pro Wrestling would be going to WWE. They were: The Phenomenal AJ Styles, The “King of Strong Style” Shinsuke Nakamura, Doc Gallows and Machine Gun Karl Anderson. The internet’s reaction? Well, it had kittens. I’m not joking. WhatCulture (who I would love to work for), did at least two videos on it, and the rest of the community were gobsmacked as well. Why? Well, Nakamura earned the nickname in supercommas (quotation marks) due to his performances in NJPW, and has one of the stiffest knees in wrestling history. I’m not joking. The man doesn’t have normal knees. He’s got hammers where his knees should be. Or, at least, it seems that way.
AJ Styles, The Phenomenal One, is one of the best wrestlers on the planet, and again, comes from NJPW, the wrestling school of hard knocks. He’s more famous, however, for his work in TNA. He was there when TNA started, and through sheer force of work rate, quickly became one of the best wrestlers on the freakin’ planet. Although Kevin Owens knocked him out of the 2016 Royal Rumble (I’ll get to that), he quickly became WWE Champion before the Brand Split, and most people love him. His best piece of work this year was of course, his alliance and then feud with Chris Jericho.
Doc Gallows and Machine Gun Karl Anderson were in a stable (like a team) of wrestlers in NJPW, and proved themselves to be brilliant in a similar manner as AJ Styles. With Anderson proving himself to be as technically sound in the ring as William Regal, WWE landed a brilliant tag team. They haven’t been used too well yet, but we should expect bright futures for the both of them in WWE.

3. It’s a New Day (yes, it is!)
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Xavier Woods, “Big” E Langston, Kofi Kingston and a trombone called Francesca. Vince McMahon must have been smoking some serious narcotics to get this idea.

Although they started last year, they get a mention in this year’s list because of how well the three lads have made this idea work: From comedy side-shows, to the great big “booty-O’s” at Wrestlemania, for some strange reason, this gimmick started to fly. There are issues with it- using heel tactics throughout the year even though they’re marketed as faces, and WWE ending their streak just after they beat Domination’s Tag-team record- but on the whole, well done WWE.

2. Daniel Bryan’s retirement.
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A tearful farewell

Admit it, you cried. I cried, you cried, everyone cried. To put this into context for people just getting into wrestling, Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan) was one of the best wrestlers in the world. Through successive shots and spots where he landed (literally) head-first, Bryan ended up with multiple serious concussions and was barred from wrestling due to medical reasons. The man responsible for the “yes” movement and one of the best burns ever to happen on WWE had to retire. We all miss him in the ring. He still appears on SmackDown as a “general manager”, but you can’t help but notice his eyes go sad every time he stands in the ring. What’s left for him, I hear you ask from behind the umpteenth cup of coffee? Well, in my opinion, he should train wrestlers, as he didn’t put a foot wrong in the squared circle, and finally got his moment at Wrestlemania. Daniel Bryan, I salute you.

1. Wrestle Kingdom 10
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Courtesy of NJPW

The working title for NJPW should be “wrestling for real”. Not that Pro-Wrestling is completely real-no fakesies, but whereas with TNA and WWE you can tell when something is staged or planned: with NJPW, you really can’t. It is, simply put, wrestling that really f**king hurts (will you stop swearing in your blog?!- ed).
On to WK10: If the WWE ever needed to look at an existing card as a model for how to do a Pay-Per-View show, then this event would be the best modern one there.

Rising Japanese star, Kushida (no pun intended to any english-speaking japanese readers) absolutely demolished canadian great, Kenny Omega in a match-of-the-year contender, and the penultimate match, AJ Styles versus Shinsuke Nakamura, was really one of the best wrestling matches in history. It was so good that Dave Meltzer automatically awarded it his elusive 5-star rating (which has only ever happened three times). Usually, Meltzer waits until the feud has finished, but this was a match for the ages: the wrestling equivalent of the “thriller in Manila”.

And now for the bad bits. These are the 5 worst things to happen in the world of wrestling this year:

5. The Wyatt Family Booking.

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This one should be obvious to WWE. If you want a stable of wrestlers with a gimmick to look strong, book them to win. It’s really that simple. Bray Wyatt is one of the best wrestlers out there: Brilliant on the microphone, brilliant away from the ring and bloody fantastic in the ring (happy now, editor?). The way that the creepy, backwoods cult-ish stable have been booked this year, though, has been worse that the time Sting faced Jeff Hardy at Bound For Glory.

To put this into perspective for people just getting into wrestling: imagine your favourite band have three years of successive hits, and then in 2016, come out with albums making Justin Bieber’s. What’s happened to The Wyatt Family this year is the wrestling equivalent. To make matters even worse, Randy Orton’s joined them. A beast like that should be on his own, or the leader of another stable, not just following the same storyline Daniel Bryan did with them two and a half years ago.

4. Goldberg

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That’s right, I did just type that name. Not only is the 49 year old who is universally disliked back, but WWE have made him look like a monster already, destroying Brock Lesnar in under 2 minutes. I can understand why you’d want someone to demolish the suplex-spamming machine that is Brock Lesnar, but c’mon! Goldberg’s like what, 50 ish? Lesnar’s in his prime right now! He defeated the Undertaker’s legendary streak, for fuck’s sake (SWEARING!-ed)! If you wanted anyone to beat the sometimes-heel, sometimes-face monster, I personally would have booked Cesaro. Think about this- both can wrestle, and with the doping ban on Lesnar from UFC, this would have turned Cesaro face, and he’s a brilliant, if underused wrestler.

3. The build-up to Shane McMahon versus The Undertaker at Wrestlemania.

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Why, oh why, when things go badly belly-up with WWE, does the McMahon family have something to do with it? I’m not knocking the match itself: that really deserved to be at the very top of the card. I’m knocking the build-up. It’s simple booking issues again, really. If you want a match to be watched, and your biggest performer is off due to a knee injury (in this case, the man who can’t be seen, John Cena), then make damned sure that your story is good, and give the viewers a reason other than the match type to watch it. Yes, Hell In A Cell matches are always fun to watch, but to truly make people care in 2016, you have to entertain them with a good story. I don’t want to see a true veteran of the industry being called Vince McMahon’s bitch; I want to see The Undertaker have a real reason to go after Shane.

2. The Ending of Summer Slam 2016

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I really don’t know how to write this one without a flurry of hate-filled expletives. I really don’t people. WWE fined and eventually banned Batista for blading (a techinque WWE wrestlers used to use for bleeding) in the ring, and this heaping pile of skunk-shit happens. Randy Orton was going up against Brock Lesnar, in what was admittedly one of the best built-up matches of the year. You wanted Randy to kick Lesnar’s behind so much that there would be a permanent boot-print. Instead, Lesnar destoryed Randy Orton. That wasn’t what myself and WWE fans got angry about.
My editor, Jonathan, won’t let me put the picture up, so I’m going to have to type this one. (It’s up now, d*ckhead!- ed) In a move that shocked and annoyed WWE wrestlers and fans alike, Orton got the bejesus kicked out of him that much that his face resembled a traffic light: and blading wasn’t involved this time. This was “hard-way” bleeding. Turns out Lesnar hurt Orton so much, that Orton burst a blood vessel in his forehead. This is one of those matches you show to people who complain that WWE is faked. The matches are pre-determined, and the spots decided on, but that definitely wasn’t.

1. The booking of Charlotte Flair

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Gotta admit, I love me some women’s wrestling on WWE. There’s only one problem with it really: booking. This should be simple to WWE writers! Simply create an awesome feud, and give it to the girls!
The most notable problem this year was the way in which they booked Charlotte Flair. On one hand she’s a feminist icon who’s brought legitimacy to women’s wrestling in WWE; and on the other hand, she’s an evil “kray-kray” bitch who beat the sh*t (I’ll just asterisk your curse-words out then, shall I?- ed) out of her own father on global TV.
The thing is, Ms Flair has the potential to be one of the best wrestlers of all time: surpassing her father’s achievements and she can do this without cashing in on his legacy. Just don’t turn her into a female John Cena and have her win at every-f**king-Pay-Per-View going. There was nothing wrong with the Roadblock match, other than the result. You’re supposed to turn heel after you become champion, not beforehand.

Let’s hope 2017 is better.

Davey

Thanks to Fred Callaghan for helping me out on this one!

Seth Rolliins, Tyler Black and why the WWE need to up their game for the Brand Split

In a return to the sports posts, I have decided to discuss one of the WWE’s most controversial modern stars, Seth Rollins. Previously a Florida Championship Wrestling (one of WWE’s developmental divisions) star, he was promoted to NXt where he found great success before rising to the main roster as part of one of the most popular stables in wreslting history: The Shield.

The Shield were kayfabe (only real for the sake of storylines) enforcers for the kayfabe corporation running Monday Night Raw. They consisted of three wrestlers: Roman Reigns, the powerhouse of the group, Dean Ambrose, the slightly insane one who happened to be unpredictable, and the athletic and brainy one; Seth Rollins.

Rollins’ background is fascinating, having been one of the most popular independent wrestlers in modern times. His popularity started with an appearance in Total Nonstop Action: Impact Zone, from which he was headhunted into Pro Wrestling Guerilla (PWG) where he won a Tag Team Championship before heading to Liverpool, UK to win a Full Impact Pro (FIP) World Heavyweight Championship using his former billing name, Tyler Black).

In 2009, he started appearing in Ring Of Honour, one of the WWE’s rivals as Tyler Black, where he performed extremely well, beating big names such as Austin Aries, Chris Hero and Colt Cabana (I recommend the latter’s podcast: it’s excellent). He had and held the World Championship there for over a year before being signed to the developmental programmes of WWE, with a new monicker: Seth Rollins.

When Rollins appeared on the main roster of WWE, his character he had portrayed had completely changed. He had gone from being a devil-may-care, flamboyant, give-no-damns son-of-a-bitch to being the exact opposite. Out had gone his signature move (the Phoenix Splash, which is an amazing piece of acrobatics) and he had got a dangerous move called the kerbstomp until the end of Daniel Bryan’s career. Bryan’s career ended because of a concussion brought on by this move, and now Rollins uses a stock move, made iconic by the Undertaker and Triple H: The Pedigree.

Now that Roman Reigns has been suspended for the consumption of a banned substance in line with the WWE’s wellness policy, Vince McMahon and co. have been left with a problem: What do we do with Seth Rollins?

Here’s what I would do. I would get rid of the whiny bitch heel that Rollins has become and make him more like Tyler Black. Let him use his acrobatic style and brains to win matches. And this is how:

We’re coming up to Summerslam this year: At SS, Dean Ambrose loses his World Heavyweight Championship Title to Rollins. Rollins, on the following Monday Night Raw, does a Bret Hart and claims “he’s the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be”. This causes Triple H (who’s currently the kayfabe manager of Raw) to make Rollins prove it. At Clash of Champions (where every belt is contested), Rollins has a triple threat match against Reigns and Ambrose. They’re doing this at Battleground, but it will be arse gravy of the worst kind.

Rollins retains, but barely. Due to a no-disqualification stipulation, Rollins knocks out Ambrose with chairs and pretty much anything he can get his hands on, before pinning Reigns to win. Nobody likes Reigns anyway, and this will get Rollins popular with the crowd.

Then at Hell in a Cell, Rollins is made to face the godfather of this match type: The Undertaker. The Undertaker beats Rollins in a near-perfect replication of the Taker’s match against Mick Foley, getting the title off Rollins. However, due to sustained damage from his 25-year career in WWE, Taker loses it to Ambrose the following night on Raw. Rollins is, understandably, furious. He demands a title shot from Triple H, but Triple H refuses, saying that as Survivor Series has the matches booked already, Seth is just going to have to wait until Tables, Ladders and Chairs in December. Seth begins to train hard, getting more of a bodybuilder’s physique that he had when he was Tyler Black.

At Survivor Series, a returning Kurt Angle breaks Ambrose’s ankle using his famous ankle-lock manouvre that made him famous. After being awarded the title, he turns to the cameras, and picking up a microphone, calls Rollins a coward and challenges him to a match at TLC.

TLC arrives and the two put on a solid performance. Twenty minutes of pure athleticism pass before Angle’s ego gets too big and pins Rollins after stealing Rollins’ finishing move: The Pedigree. This makes Kurt Angle a heel (villain) and solidifies Rollins both as a tough guy and a babyface (hero).

On the following Raw, Triple H teams up either the Big Show or Ryback with Rollins to help him win the Royal Rumble, but in Rollin’s refusal to be moddycoddled by the bigwigs, he eliminates his babysitter but is sadly himself eliminated by Finn Balor. If Finn isn’t part of the main roster by January 2017, expect a very long-winded rant from me.

After this, Triple H brutally attacks Rollins in his rage, and Rollins is “hospitalised”. In the real world, Rollins will be training again, making himself more resilient and stronger for the next bout. At the first Pay-Per-View after Royal Rumble, the big screen (TitanTron) is hijacked by hand-held camera footage (reminiscent of The Shield’s promos). Seth Rollins ambushes others and gets his revenge, making one final demand: a Wrestlemania match between himself and Triple H.

Wrestlemania arrives and the two men go the distnace: a full-on 30 minute match in which neither man leaves the ring. Solid, athletic wrestling takes place and it becomes a Dave Meltzer 5-star match. At the ending moments, Rollins gets his moment performing his finishing move from before WWE: The Phoenix Splash. The crowd go mental, and Rollins is now what he should be: WWE’s most iconic current babyface.

I have to give thanks to Adam Blampied and Whatculture for the idea and the loose plotlines behind this post, and also thanks to my many years of watching wrestling.

WWE

To put this post into some context for you: I am a wrestling fan. From living in the UK, the USA and Japan, wrestling has been a big part of my life. I grew up during the Monday Night Wars and the Attitude Era, and am suffering (but still watching) through the PG Era (which frankly, needs to end).

The reason I am writing, to any WWE fan, should be obvious. To any non-WWE fans on here, I shall explain. WWE’s PG Era was the least thought-out move the wrestling industry has ever seen. We moved away from Hogan’s “say your prayers and eat your vitamins” schtick in the 1980’s, towards a more realistic, more progressive, more mature era right until the mid noughties, and now we’ve regressed back to the 1980’s bollocks. John Cena, a man once known for having a good move-set (amount of effective techniques in the squared circle) and the biggest mouth in the business, is now known for never losing his temper, or swearing. He became “Mr. Hustle, Loyaltly, and Respect”, burying talent (always winning clean) and never being a real person. Vincent Kennedy McMahon and Paul Levesque, if you read my pokey little blog, which nobody really does, you may want to read onwards.

The first thing wrong with WWE, is that you never let your talent have what they want. That’s why you have just lost your biggest ironman since The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar. All he wanted was a return to the championship scene, and because you refused him, where is he and Paul Heyman headed? UFC. You never gave the best wrestler in the business the promotion needed along side his push forwards, and where did CM Punk go? UFC. If you don’t give the self-styled “King of Strong-Style” what he needs, he’ll end up back at New Japan Pro Wrestling. Your “Phenomenal One” AJ Styles will go back to TNA. Oh wait, I’ve made a cock-up there, even in your WWE Network documentaries, you never mention Total Nonstop Action: Impact, which still beats you in the ratings. It’s time you acknowleged them. They have got two of your biggest old talents working for them: Kurt Angle (why that man isn’t in the WWE Hall of Fame is beyond me) and Booker T (again, should be in the Hall of Fame).

The second thing wrong with WWE is your booking problems. Jesus, even I could book your shows and Pay-per-views better than you have been doing for the last three years. There is even a popular YouTube show from the WhatCulture channel called “How WWE Should Have Booked/Should Book” because of your continuous booking failiures and fuck-ups. Seriously, we know Joseph Anoa’ii (better known as Roman Reigns) is a powerhouse of a man, with speed and the strength to match it, but there are serious problems with him. He cannot speak well on a microphone to save his life, and the fans hate him. Something to me seems seriously wrong when you have to drown out the boos from your live crowd with over-dubbed cheers at the biggest event of the year for you. If that isn’t enough, stars like fellow englishman, Wade Barrett leave after 10 years of loyalty, just because you want to play favourites and because some of your biggest stars have had family that have done your company well 20-30 years ago. From a business point of view, your model is not only useless, but obsolete and irrevelevant.