A Raw Opinion: Are We All Beliebers Now?

This in the first of what will be part of our weekly The Tuesday After Raw™ branding suite. Raw Opinions may be blurbs like this, or carefully constructs treatises on the importance of clowns in wrestling. This is one from our friend, C.J. Tuttle on The Shield, John Cena and the importance of proper heel maintenance. Enjoy.

The Shield

I can’t remember the last wrestler/wrestlers I felt the level of excitement I experience when The Shield’s theme hits.

Instead of the usual thought process:

“oh, this guy is back again?”

Or- “this guy is being re-packaged again?”

Followed by- “where’s the skip ahead 30 seconds button…”

I genuinely become interested in where the show is going to lead me for the next commercial infested 15 or so minutes. So how much longer will I feel this way?

The build up of the three new-era independent wrestlers in the faction has been great, and above all other things of importance: steady. So, Monday night when The Shield wrestled in the co-main event of the Lesnar*HHH show and lost via disqualification on FREE television it left me befuddled:

  1. These are the only heels that mean anything to anyone in your company.
  2. You just had them destroy The Undertaker.
  3. They are poised to win two belts on Sunday.

You put on pay-per-view events, let alone one’s in 6 days, to see the good guy get his redemption. Not throw away everything that comes along with a new “Streak” that Michael Cole is talking about incessantly on free television. WWE is asking us to suspend our disbelief for a few minutes, or actually until we find the next nanosecond to open the WWE App and believe that The Shield are in fact beatable.

When did the ideology that bad guys can be bad AND good at what they do disappear? 2013 style heels seem to always require an out to get victories. When all that really is required is consecutive wins over formidable heroes.

For the first time in a long time, the WWE had done all of this.

Monday, some of that was destroyed. Along with a glorious triple threat match featuring Dolph Ziggler — thanks, Jack! — and just about anything else a 26 year old male viewer can grasp onto nowadays. I understand why the brilliant minds [just in case they read this] at WWE creative did what they did with Cena, just like anyone familiar with the PG business model.

I just hoped they would Shield me from it just a little longer.

Better Know a Wrestler: “Superstar” Billy Graham

Superstar_Billy_Graham_16
Billy Graham showing off the impossible physique that changed wrestling

Imagine Dusty Rhodes’ jive-talking pseudo-preacher in the body of Hulk Hogan, and you’ve got Superstar Billy Graham. He bragged about owning the “world’s largest arms” and called them “22-inch pythons” — and those are just two of the 10,000 lines that have been stolen from him by other wrestlers. For better or worse, Graham’s most obvious mark on the business was being the first wrestler to utilize anabolic steroids to create what became the definitive main event look. By his own admission, Graham couldn’t wrestle a lick, but he could do just enough physically to get over the masterfully-crafted character he played. So many have imitated him that it’s hard to explain what made him so special, but he was truly the man of the hour, the man with the power — too sweet to be sour!

Even with his lack of visibility within the business since his retirement, Billy Graham is as big a part of modern wrestling as John Cena. The Superstar’s shadow is as long and dark as that of anyone in wrestling history: his promo-heavy, work-light style evolved into the dominant method of storytelling in Vincent K. McMahon’s WWF, and by extension 21st century “sports entertainment.” In fact, despite a sometimes tepid relationship over the last 20 years, McMahon still honors Billy Graham’s legacy every time an announcer opens their mouth on TV, as the term “Superstar” (in lieu of “wrestler”) comes from Graham’s ring name.

Graham was decades ahead of the industry in terms of character. From Hulk Hogan to Jesse Ventura to Scott Steiner to Triple H himself, nearly every muscle bound superstar has spoken at length about how Billy directly influenced their looks, attitudes, and careers. Hogan, the most important star in wrestling history, has said that he decided to become a wrestler after going to a wrestling show with his father and seeing Superstar Billy Graham perform.

Being ahead of his time had its consequences though, and it is widely rumored one of the reasons Bob Backlund became “the man” instead of the Superstar was that Graham was deemed to be a “cool heel,” something that Vince McMahon Sr. knew would upset the clearly-defined structure of wrestling. Twenty years later, the NWO and DX dominated the wrestling business doing precisely that.

A one-time WWWF (World Wide Wrestling Federation) Champion, Graham’s title reign — he held the title for about 300 days — seems lengthy to us today, but it pales in comparison to the runs of the two men who bookend him: Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund.  In interviews, he’s said repeatedly that dropping the title to Backlund ruined his confidence, as he felt that his character was hitting its stride right when the brass ring was snatched away. He left the WWF and bounced around the territories. His workload dropped off to almost nothing in the early 80s after he began suffering due to his longtime steroid abuse and possibly the early signs of Hepatitis C, which he believes he contracted in the 70s while sharing blades in the ring, a common practice in the pre-AIDS wrestling world.

When his health improved, a now-skinny Graham returned to the WWF and had an unsuccessful run at the still-reigning Backlund, then disappeared as quickly as he had resurfaced before a run with the then-standard bearers of the NWA, Jim Crockett Promotions. He bulked back up, adopting the look known by most current fans: shaved head and bleached mustache. While he was still Superstar Billy Graham, he didn’t quite seem the same. His promos, while still a cut above almost everybody in wrestling, seemed to be at half the speed and intensity that they had in his prime. His health problems, while arguably self-inflicted, had not only drastically changed his appearance, they had dulled his razor-sharp personality.

At the height of Hulkamania, Graham returned to the WWE as a babyface almost a decade after Vince’s father had denied him the opportunity. Ravaged by steroids, Hepatitis, and a hip replacement in his early 40s, the Superstar had very little left in the tank by 1986. He retired in ’87 following a feud with “The Natural” Butch Reed, transitioning into managing with Don “The Rock” Muraco, another wrestler known for his stunning, anabolic physique. Superstar Billy Graham, one of the most influential wrestlers in the history of the business faded out not with a bang, but a whimper, as failing health limited him and a major falling out with Vince McMahon over the early 90s steroid trials made him a leper in the business for over a decade.

Despite his relatively short run at the top of the wrestling world, Superstar Billy Graham contributed more to our modern conceptions of what the “main event” is more than almost any other wrestler in history. His promos talked people into the building to the tune of 19 sellouts in the 20 times he headlined Madison Square Garden. His musculature created what became the main event look that, wellness policy or not, persists as the ideal to this day. In short, he was a pioneer of what we now call the WWE style. He is the Superstar.

billy-graham
“Superstar” Billy Graham looking impossibly wise and, somehow, still the reflection of perfection

Where is he now? Unfortunately, the Superstar is in rough shape these days. He is suffering from advanced complications associated with Hepatitis and has had bouts of very serious pneumonia and organ failure in recent months. On the other hand, he is said to have the same zest for life that was clear in his game-changing promos decades ago. His passion and creativity are still evident, as he has become an accomplished painter. Some of his work can be seen at his website, www.superstarbillygraham.org

Jerry Lawler Hosts So You Think You Can (Get Over with a) Dance: RAW Regurgitated, 5/13

Fandango

FACT: The design on Jerry Lawler’s shirt is based on Chris Jericho’s left-arm dad tattoo.

Hey, Chris: Not only is “kick your jack ass” not PG, it’s not something people say as humans.

2013’s most creative use of a bad segment idea definitely goes to Fandango and Chris Jericho for Nobody Puts Summer Rae in the Corner.

***

RybackRulesWWE must have paid Nintendo through the nose on Team Rocket logo rights for Ryback’s hat.

Poor Zach Ryder. He was going to get his short trunks and hair gel back if he won that match with The Ryback. Instead, he’s Speedy from the Venture Bros.

***

SweetTeaMatt Bloom would have been better off just going straight to fat   guy tag team wrestler instead of starting off as an action movie heavy. That’s right, the Lord Tensai gimmick was so bad that Hard House Typhoon was a better career option.

The Prime Time Players have slowly become this generation’s Cryme Tyme. I don’t mean that in  a racist way. WWE does, but I don’t.

***

I thought I’d be proud of the WWE for not allowing Dolph Ziggler to wrestle a major PPV with a concussion but letting him keep the belt, before I remembered that they used “concussion” as the equivalent of a tweaked hammy during the Attitude Era/how Chris Benoit killed his wife and his son (his handicapped son he pumped full of steroids) because of CTE. Then it felt a little less like the scene in Varsity Blues where James Van Der Beek refuses to keep playing under Jon Voight.

Teddy Long’s suit looks like he’s going to prom with Kane. BUT HOW WILL DANIEL BRYAN REACT?

Teddy Long

***

DamienFor a guy with that much pyro and flippy-spinny, Kofi Kingston’s entire oeuvre lacks a certain “excitement” or “interestingness”. Hope this doesn’t affect his long-term career prospects.

Kofi Kingston should change his ring name to “Transitional Mid-Card Champion”.

Three guys I would pay to see talk into a microphone: Damien Sandow, Damien Sandow and Damien Sandow.

I’m glad that Sandow insists on bringing the 80’s back one abdominal stretch at the time.

When Kofi Kingston figured out that he didn’t have to let the crowd know he was going to use the Trouble in Paradise, he must have felt like the first coach to try a forward pass.

***

MarkHenry

Mark Henry saying “whupping” repeatedly has single-handedly made me want to buy this PPV. Every other part of show? Not so much.

These announcer beat up segments are what Matt Stryker is for. Josh Matthews kayfabe abuse lawsuit against the WWE stopping after Jerry Lawler’s shoot heart attack makes less sense than The Rock Sting main eventing a major PPV in 2013.

If his mic work was this good ten years ago, Mark Henry wouldn’t be paying hand support to Mae Young.

***

CesaroBisonAre they giving Randy Orton a Guile storyline to match Cesaro’s M. Bison gimmick?

UPDATE: That’s not a M. Bison gimmick, it’s based on Rolento.

***

Considering the amount of WWE movies they put him in, it’s clear that The Miz is the WWE’s favorite actor in the way that Limp Bizkit was their favorite band.

TheMizThe level to which I care about this Heath Slater-Miz match is probably best explained by the fact that I thought The Miz’s tights changed colors halfway through the match.

The Miz should have hung out more than five times with Ric Flair on TV before they started calling the Nature Boy his “mentor”. “Idol” is totally fine, but “mentor” implies that he knows the Miz’s real name.

***

Real Talk: Even when it’s just boos, the response to John Cena — Every Single Time He Comes Out — is the loudest thing you’ve ever heard.

A walkie-talkie company should sponsor The Shield’s entrance. Assuming there are any walkie-talkie companies left, of course.

A few quick questions about THE SHIELD:

  • Are those flak jackets the Shield are wearing just for show or do they actually offer protection?

    • If so, why wouldn’t everyone wear them?

    • Or do they get special dispensation to wear them?

DanielBryan

WWE should offer an app that lets you make Kofi Kane’s tag team partner and Daniel Bryan the US Champ for the Extreme Rules PPV.

Why would you stand where in the one spot on the outside Daniel Bryan divebombs into someone Every Single Week, Roman? WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT? Also, when you chase him into a corner, you do realize he’s just going to do a backflip over you, right, Seth?

When Daniel Bryan goes for the No Lock, it always looks like he’s trying to get a guy in a headlock on the playground. Then, it looks like he put on a Crippler Crossface wrong as a silent protest against Benoit getting the Trotsky treatment.

If Cena can always overcome the odds, shouldn’t he also beat the damned numbers game? These seem like the same thing to me.

Ryback’s gear answers a very important question for me: there IS a certain amount of time after turning heel before you get new gear. Either that, or he hasn’t submitted the proper paperwork.

***

Physically, you have to figure AJ Lee could fit into Big E Langston’s chest cavity. I like to imagine the two of them in lab coats doing the math to confirm this.

Keep this in mind: Jack Swagger ruining the triple threat match at Extreme Rules by actually kicking Dolph Ziggler in the actual face is only the second most disruptive thing he’s “accidentally” done to a storyline in the past 3 months.

Big E. Langston wearing a singlet would seem more like a censorship issue if it wasn’t clear that it’s just so he can do the strap pull down at some point in the match. Either way, his breasts are magnificent.

I hope that Big E. is the one that gives Dolph Ziggler the enziguiri that allows him to turn face.

Big ENot entirely sure why Big E. took the Northwest Passage to the ropes to get the break on that Patriot Lock, but I’m sure he had his reasons.

It makes me sad that Alberto Del Rio’s greatest contribution to the larger culture will be the horns in his theme song. That and the hiring of personal ring announcers that will likely become commonplace in MMA/the finance industry over the next five years.

***

I skipped through the women’s match. I’m sorry for this.

Okay, I stopped during that surprisingly interesting submission maneuver.

AJNatalya

It’s clear at this point that Natayla’s only attracted to the Great Khali because he reminds her of dad. Not her dad, per se, but a dad, definitely.

***

“I think we Triple H because we accept it as an inevitability” – Overheard at a Dutch hash bar

“I’m just going to gravel in my Triple H voice for about 20 minutes” – Overheard at Triple H’s home office

God, Brock Lesnar has a fat head.

Did Paul Heyman just call Triple H a hunk of beef?

Paul’s made it clear why Brock won’t face you “man to man”: he’s here for the booze, the bitches and the small number of guaranteed dates for which he’s agreed to appear.

PaulHeyman

When Triple H says Brock is Heyman’s meal ticket, you have to assume he’s implying that Lesnar is the  Transformers to Punk’s Pain and Gain.

Why would you put referees in the way of Brock Lesnar when you have actual security guards on the payroll? And why are they trying to prevent Lesnar from fighting their boss AFTER he publicly requested it.

I’M TAKING OFF MY SHIRT TO SHOW HOW MUCH I CARE ABOUT BEING A MAN!

Nothing like ending the show by running a recap of a segment that hasn’t finished yet.

Juice Make Sugar Presents Things We Like/Help Make: Headlock’d

We have a lot of friends doing a lot of wrestling related things that we help them with and there are a lot of wrestling related things that we like just because. We’ll be showing you that stuff on a semi-frequent basis, starting with Headlock’d. Headlock’d is a weekly web show that looks back on the past week in Professional Wrestling. recap show that our friend (and future occasional contributor) Noah Waterman started a few months ago. It’s fun, irreverent and other things people say about things.

The X Division: Where have we been, and Where are we now?

tna_x_division_championshipAt Slammiversary, TNA and the X Division will celebrate their 11th birthday. Like all 11 year olds, the company has spent the last year experiencing major growing pains and people are left wondering if the product will ever mature, or just remain a petulant little boy in a gangly, man-child body.

As originally envisioned, The X Division was supposed to be the answer to the question “How is TNA different from the WWE? What can I see there that I can’t see on Raw?” The idea was to showcase the athleticism of smaller wrestlers and through workrate and highspots tell a story that was completely different from, but equally compelling as, the heavyweight title scene.

This was inspired by the phenomenally successful IWGP Junior Heavyweight division in New Japan Pro Wrestling between the mid-80s and late-90s. Featuring names like Tiger Mask, Dynamite Kid, Jushin Liger, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, and Ultimo Dragon, the division was known for its innovative stars and their hard-hitting matches. Frankenstein stitch this together with the prevailing midcard booking philosophy of the Wrestling Boom period in the United States, and you have the X Division.

But things have changed from the time of golden era of junior heavyweight division, when midcarders were good hands that kept smart fans interested with innovative in-ring storytelling and, well, less smart fans entertained with high spots. The cream of the crop amongst these workers — the Curt Hennigs and Rick Rudes — were rewarded with a prestigious belt that literally said to the world “this is the best guy we have on the roster” in plated gold.

In the Attitude Era titles largely became sugar sprinkled on any midcarders lucky enough to get over. During the Monday Night Wars, crowds were rapidly reprogrammed and made to believe that winning a title was something anybody could attain (“Anything can happen here in the World Wrestling Federation! Ha-ha!”).There were European Titles, Light Heavyweight Titles, Intercontinental Titles, Cruiserweight Titles, US Titles, Television Titles, Hardcore Titles, and it seemed like each week at least one of them was going to change hands.

The result of all this hotshotting and title saturation was that the crowd actually became bored when someone had a long title reign, and holding a non-World Heavyweight Title became so “midcard” that very few of the decorated IC/US/European champions of the era (notable exceptions: Chris Jericho and Eddie Guerrero) ever developed into true main eventers who were accepted by the crowd. This exposed the belts as props, and cheap props at that. It was a blow to wrestling from which the midcard still hasn’t recovered.

So imagine that as the world the X Division was born into: a landscape filled with talented workers and loosey-goosey booking that did everything it could to group them together rather than set a small number of them apart as truly special. Obviously TNA’s goals for the X Title were lofty – attempting to redefine midcard wrestling at a time when it was drying up in the WWE. Eleven years later, we can finally begin to draw some conclusions about whether the concept worked. Is there a cohesive, linear narrative told by the history of the X Division Title, or does it represent a long series of minimally successful experiments?

***

A glance at the list of X Division title reigns shows that during the Asylum Era, the title mostly existed to give fans a sense that they were going to see a high-energy match with a serious chance of a title changing hands. In the first 40 weeks of the belt’s existence, the X Division title had nine different champions, each with an average reign of about 36 days. Low Ki, A.J. Styles, Amazing Red, and Sean Waltman all had runs with the belt that lasted only two weeks. For the fans in Nashville, I’m sure this was a very exciting proposition: see high spots, then title change. However, this model was rooted in that Monday Night War philosophy that the only way to get a title over was to put it in the hands of as many exciting wrestlers as possible.

Chris Sabin with the then-NWA X Division Title
Chris Sabin with the then-NWA X Division Title

Although some fans with a cynical view of TNA will say that the X Division only existed to get A.J. Styles over (much like the NWA Title was only there to get Jeff Jarrett over), it was actually Chris Sabin who put his foot on the brakes (although never in the ring) and made the title mean something. Sabin was (and still is) a perfect example of an extremely talented wrestler with a lot to offer who for various reasons is probably better off in TNA than the “big pond” of WWE. One of Sabin’s important intangible skills is his ability to tell a credible story in multi-man gimmick matches. In many ways he was the anchor that kept all the high spots and big bumps from turning into a carnival tumbling show. Sabin and Christopher Daniels helped redefine the X Division and shooed it away from the frenetic, illogical pace of late Attitude Era midcard booking.

After the likes of Sabin, Styles, and Daniels had done everything they could to put over the X Division as a comparable, although completely parallel, entity to the World Heavyweight Title, the X Division was done a great disservice by being pulled into heavyweight storylines. Samoa Joe and Kurt Angle’s quest to unify all the various belts in TNA was a good angle for them, but unfortunately it didn’t do much for anybody else in the company. (It can be argued that Angle gave back by losing the title to Jay Lethal, but watch that match again. It feels more like a wrestler artificially “giving a rub” than an actual competitive match.) Five years into its history, the X Division Title was derailed by the same mistake that has plagued top tier midcard wrestling forever: using it to enhance main eventers.

After this, the title began to feel very, very midcard, bouncing around for a few years, even getting dragged through the mud of the Shane Sewell angle. Petey Williams and his Canadian Destroyer were surely exciting, but the X Division began biting at its own back, building matches towards one signature high spot and piling worker upon worker into their pay per view matches. It was like a group of talented but wide-eyed midcarders had climbed in a time machine and gone back to the year 2000.

After the Eric Young/Shane Sewell silliness, TNA tried to reestablish the X Division Title through a tournament that included Eric Young, Sheik Abdul Bashir (Shawn Daivari), Alex Shelley, Jay Lethal, Chris Sabin, Sonjay Dutt, Consequences Creed (now Xavier Woods in WWE developmental), and Kiyoshi (now a main eventer in All Japan Pro Wrestling). While most of the matches in the tournament were just solid, they successfully told the story that the X Title was something special that smaller, more athletic wrestlers really, really wanted. The finale of the tournament was a pay per view match between Sabin and his Motor City Machineguns partner Alex Shelley. The two had a good match before Shelley feigned an injury and rolled up the overly sympathetic Sabin for the clean, albeit heelish win.

I remember being a huge fan of both Sabin and Shelley at this point and thinking that the X Division was really going to take off again. Unfortunately, rather than have the two finalists in a tournament, one of whom had been cheated out of a title win, engage in a big, hot angle, the powers that be decided that Sabin was fine with the chicanery and was “happy to be there” with his best buddy as champion. Then, when it seemed like things couldn’t make any less sense, TNA decided to use the X Title to promote the TNA iMPACT! [sic] video game.

The game was a miserable failure because dying studio Midway rushed it to market at breakneck speed due to their impending bankruptcy, and TNA was saddled with the masked character Suicide. Suicide was X Division veteran hand Frankie Kazarian, then Christopher Daniels, then Kiyoshi under a skull mask, and his gimmick was that he performed high impact moves that none of the aforementioned men could actually do very well.

When Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff arrived in TNA as 2009 became 2010, one of the very first booking moves of the new regime was to put the X Division Title onto veteran worker Doug(las) Williams. Williams had been under contract to TNA for several years, but had been used sparingly, only appearing in World X Cup matches. Williams represented an experienced wrestler with a polished in-ring style who could effectively stand as a “gatekeeper” above a crew of younger, hungry stars. It looked like a step towards a well-executed rebuild of the division. Then, after months of looking like a strong champion, Williams was used to put over Jay Lethal, a younger although still-veteran star who received big on-screen rubs from Hogan and Ric Flair. About seven months later, Lethal was gone from TNA and the wisdom of putting him over the built-up Williams looked suspect, at best.

TNA attempted to hit the reset button again by putting the belt on Frankie Kazarian, mercifully playing himself this time. Kaz was the master of having pretty good matches, but there was always something missing in him personality-wise, and while he was a great as part of a mix, there was absolutely nothing about him that said “star champion.” (Note: Given the character he plays as part of Bad Influence, I think Kaz could be a convincing singles title holder now, but his character in 2011 had absolutely none of the edge that makes him entertaining these days.) Kazarian’s reign ended when the lumbering Abyss won the title to show that Eric Bischoff was smarter and better than undersized midcard wrestlers. Okay, maybe that’s a little smarmy to say, but it was smarmy booking.

The chosen one to save the X Division from Frankenstein’s Monster turned out to be Brian Kendrick, who was playing what seemed like a babyface combination of “Loose Cannon” Brian Pillman and Shoko Asahara (look it up!). Kendrick won the title and while he held it for only two months, he did something truly important to the modern history of the X Division Title: he lost it to Austin Aries.

Aries’ attitude upon his arrival in TNA was something like Steve Austin coming to the WWE: mad as hell that he hadn’t already become a big star, and confident in his abilities to do so given the right platform. Aries went on to have the single longest reign in the history of the X Division at 301 days. His matches contained the high-energy, high-impact style that the division had originally been built around. He was a different wrestler than is usually featured on national TV: a good worker who’s allowed to be a good worker; simultaneously a smaller guy who does big guy moves and a decent sized guy doing little guy moves. It also helped that he could talk himself up without reducing his opponent to nothing. His promo and in-ring abilities made him the best all-around X Division Champion of all time. The only problem? He was main event good.

To elevate Aries without making him lose the title, TNA came up with a pretty good idea: Aries was allowed to cash in the belt for a one-time-only shot at the World Heavyweight Title. Aries agreed, but cut a promo in which he was set up as an X Division hero, saying that he would only agree if each year the X Division Champion would receive a similar opportunity to cash in at the Destination X pay per view. It was a great hook, and hopefully one which TNA will honor, although it’s hard to say with their reduced pay per view schedule.

After Aries surrendered the title, it was won by Zema Ion in a signature X Division multi-man “what does this even mean?” match. Ion represented a concerted effort to inject some youth into the title, which made sense. What didn’t make sense for a second was Rob Van Dam winning the title from him at Bound for Glory. Had the X Division existed in 1996 or 2000, this could have been a good fit.  However, what Van Dam represents now — an older guy resting on his laurels doing his three spots we all recognize and looking blown up most of the match — was exactly the kind of tired shenanigans the division was envisioned to avoid. Granted, Van Dam has a name and a reputation, but whether it was due to age or decreased motivation, Van Dam seemed absolutely incapable of making the younger, faster men he was wrestling look good. There was almost an early-90s Ric Flair feeling to his matches: selling just enough to take care of himself and make the crowd ooh and ah at his signature bumps but not really enhancing the other worker at all. The X Division Title felt like a “Career Achievement Award” for Van Dam, a nod to the fact that he once was on par with guys like Styles, Sabin, Daniels, Kazarian, or Williams. Van Dam’s reign didn’t give “big time superstar” rub to the title, rather it dulled the “intense, hungry guy” shine that Aries had spent the better part of a year putting on it.

Kenny King is the face of revamped X Division -- at least for now!
Kenny King is the face of the revamped X Division — at least for now!

And so here we are at the modern X Division: the champion is Kenny King, the man who defeated Rob Van Dam back in February. The division is a combination of young, fresh faces like King and Ion coupled with popular X Division stars of the past such as Sabin, Sonjay Dutt, and Petey Williams. In an attempt to get back to the title’s original goal of being “different,” TNA recently shook up the rules of X Division competition: the champion now always defends the title in triple-threat matches. The man who takes the pin is eliminated from title contention, and kicked back down into the qualifying stages in which men compete in another set of triple-threat matches to determine who has the right to wrestle the champion and the survivor of the previous triple-threat (who is effectively a number one contender).

It all seems a little over-booked, but it creates some interesting scenarios. What if one man keeps his spot in the championship triple-threats for a long time, but never wins? TNA could easily build a huge feud between that wrestler and the champion. On the other hand, what if a heel champion like Kenny King struck up a long-standing alliance with one of the contenders to help protect his spot as champion? Also intriguing! The question is do we as fans have any faith in TNA to make the stipulations mean anything, or are they just complicated window dressing to spice up the midcard?

As Slammiversary nears, the X Division Title situation isn’t completely clear. Will there be a triple-threat match on the pay per view, or will TNA use the next three weeks of television to create a one-on-one personal issue between Chris Sabin and Kenny King? Will the story be about King holding onto the title through the pro-heel psychology of multi-man matches, or will Chris Sabin have a big moment holding the belt high in celebration after two years lost to injury? Will the match be intense and athletic and dynamic on a night being main evented by Sting, or will the X Division workers be asked to hold back so as not to eclipse the featured match? A lot is up in the air.

I come back to the question I asked earlier: Is there a cohesive, consistent narrative to the history of the X Division, or is it a series of minimally successful experiments? I’m not sure. You tell me.

Help Me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope!

Over the last few weeks, wrestling fans have felt a variety of emotions from anger to fear to outrage to despair due to TNA’s booking of senior stars Hulk Hogan and Sting. The non-wrestler Hogan appears in more segments than Steve Austin during the Monday Night War, and “The Icon” Sting (by the way, isn’t the nickname “The Icon” just a nice way of saying “old guy”?) has singlehandedly neutralized a gang of big, scary bikers and become number one contender to the World Heavyweight Title after cleanly defeating a man twice his size and twice his speed.

Sting becomes the #1 contender for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship, forcing Matt Morgan to submit to his Scorpion Deathlock on the May 2nd edition of Impact Wrestling.

I’ve had since October of 2009 to get off the fence, and I’m finally ready to say it: Hulk Hogan isn’t putting anyone over in TNA. He will continue to promise (or threaten) to take every Tom, Dick, and Joey Ryan to “a whole ‘nother level,” but we will never look back at the history of Impact Wrestling and fondly marvel, “Remember when Hogan made that guy?”

On the other hand, I believe there is still hope for Sting to have one more big moment and give something meaningful back to the company that’s pushed his greatness and touted his legacy even harder than WCW ever did. Call me crazy, but I see Sting as the Obi-Wan Kenobi of TNA. How is Sting like old Ben Kenobi, you ask?

  1. He’s old. It’s obvious, but both men have all the positives and negatives of age. They’re simultaneously worn down and venerable.
  2. He’s still willing to fight for what’s right, in spite of his obviously reduced skills.
  3. He has ties to a legendary but largely eliminated order of heroes. Sting is to NWA main event stars as Obi-Wan Kenobi is to Jedi Knights.
  4. He’s hanging around to correct a personal mistake. Kenobi trusted Anakin; Sting trusted Bully Ray.
  5. The most meaningful thing he has left to give is to help elevate a young learner.

Yes, he’s at least one decade past his prime and lacks the energy that made him special when he was so, so special, but he still has one last battle in him – the one where Darth Vader kills him.

It doesn’t have to be an exciting, dramatic battle – in fact, it shouldn’t be. Ben Kenobi’s duel with Vader is short, stiff and mechanical. The point isn’t to show that Kenobi is a legendary fighter (which TNA constantly attempts to do with Sting), but rather an old man who knows he will lose but believes it’s the right time to bow out and pass the fight to the now-mostly-ready younger generation.

If Obi-Wan never dies, Luke never goes to Dagobah and trains with Master Yoda. He never becomes the self-assured, self-reliant Skywalker who walks into Jabba the Hutt’s palace with only his lightsaber and his wits. Luke becomes the biggest babyface in the galaxy because his security blanket isn’t there anymore.

There is still a great moment out there for Sting. Only one moment, though – his last. For three or four years, it’s felt like TNA has been searching for the right angle to build Sting up to gigantic, heroic stature. The problem, however, is that they’re casting him in a role he can’t and shouldn’t play. Turn off the tractor beam, get squashed by Darth Vader, and vanish. That’s it.

Then, every babyface in the company has a shot to grow into Luke Skywalker – fighting Vader to avenge their old mentor and discovering more about themselves and their true power as they go. That’s storytelling. That’s wrestling.

Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re me only hope!

Welcome to Thunderdome. (No, not that Thunderdome, the other one).

This site is exactly what you think it is: an excuse for me and my friends to write about whatever weird wrestling idea comes to our heads. We hope you enjoy what ever me, Dave, Daron, Noah and others have to say in coming days, weeks, and months. But, for now, here’s our favorite video, (which will also explain the name of our blog):

%d bloggers like this: