Saturday, 25 October 2014

John Cena’s Greatest Rivalries DVD Review

“The reason why I don’t want to change is because I’m happy with what I stand for. It’s taken a lot of conscious thought and I’ve had to take a lot of comments on the chin, but I’ll take them because, at the end of the day, I feel like I’m doing a greater good.” John Cena – John Cena’s Greatest Rivalries, 2014.

At his peak, whenever Hulk Hogan took of his mask and presented us with Terry Bollea, he’d always take on a refined, dulcet tone, one about an octave lower than his character’s voice and he’d sit and convince you that what he was saying was genuine. He has equally as compelling as the in-ring performer but spoke with a calm and inviting candidness – as if he was taking you to one side, putting an arm around your shoulder and saying “son, did I ever tell you about the time…” There are few who have the kind of charisma.
John Cena has it.

In much the same manner, the unmasked Cena speaks in a soothing baritone that sells you on just about any subject. He tells you about the greatest work of his career in a way that commands your attention and your respect. And yet what he doesn’t have is that unmistakable sincerity of those who have long since left the company – Edge, Shawn Michaels, Jim Ross. He still speaks in sound bites. He still has the script memorised. He still says the right thing.

That ‘conscious thought’ that he refers to is still very much part of his makeup. Rather than say something controversial, he’ll say something good; something nice. Actually, it is more than likely that he’ll say something definitive yet unmemorable.

Many of you reading this won’t want to buy this DVD. To some extent a good John Cena match has a ceiling in terms of how good it can be. Maybe once you’ve seen a few, you’ve seen enough. But John Cena is as consistent a performer as you get in WWE today. If you look back through Observers at Cena’s matches you would have to go back as far as 2010 to find anything under 3 stars. Most matches are above 3 ½ stars. Many are above 4. And this is true of much of his career. 

His consistency is perhaps what makes him so undesirable to fans: in many respects, he’s always the same. He rarely surprises you. 

On this DVD set, you can watch Cena against Eddie Guerrero, Batista, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, JBL, The Rock, Triple H, Edge, CM Punk and Randy Orton. The matches are good but the sit down interview and build up around them is really rather meagre and really fairly dull. It’s worth noting that Kurt Angle ought to be on that list but it’s clear as to why he isn’t right now.

Cena is extremely self aware, however. You wouldn’t get to his position, I suppose, if you weren’t. On several occasions he refers to his limited ability in the ring – in that, he has limits. “I’m quite the lumbering individual” he notes, stating that working with people like Eddie Guerrero and Shawn Michaels were learning curves. 

On Eddie, Cena calls him the “overflowing book of knowledge” who had a “chicken soup recipe” that you didn’t really want to mess with because he’d got it down to a fine art. Whilst on Michaels, Cena finds how he “prides himself on making everyone look great – fighting him was like taking a night off […] at times, you just want to stop and watch him”

Refreshing too, in what is not a career retrospective, is what he highlights about others with regard to their style of work. On Randy Orton, “He’s gifted and is one of the smoothest performers inside the ring. I don’t have that, he does.” And on JBL, “he’s like Vince Lombardi was to the Packers – a drill sergeant who is uncompromising. I’ve never had the crap beaten out of me more than with JBL […] his style is ‘hit hard and often’” And on that point, it’s disappointing to see that his match with JBL from Judgment Day 2005 didn’t make this set.

Cena’s respect is perhaps given out most deeply, though, to the likes of Jericho, Edge and Michaels. He talks a lot about ‘chances’ and ‘getting your chance’ and praises Jericho for giving him the time of day back in 2002, “he was my first ppv match […] I owe a lot of my early success to Chris. Most people said I was no good, he stuck up for me.” While for Edge “I like his story because whether he knows it or not, he wasn’t supposed to get his chance. We called each other ‘old shoe’ because working together was always as comfortable as putting on an old shoe or old baseball glove” And again, their match from Unforgiven 2006 really ought to have made the cut.

The matches on display here are varied in terms of when they fall on the timeline of John Cena’s career. The kids will no doubt find it strange to see Cena (then as Prototype) v Batista (then as Leviathan) from OVW in 2002 and may well baulk at its graininess and lack of HD gloss. Arguably the finest are those against Triple H (who Cena calls “the measuring stick”) from WrestleMania 22 – which he likens to “a rite of passage” – and those against Edge (from Raw in 2006 and Backlash 2009) and Michaels (two Raw matches from 2007 and 2008) – what is not included is often as good if not better, in this instance.

The greatest of his latter day feuds – with CM Punk – is buried, on the no doubt lesser-purchased Blu Ray, under ‘extras’. No love lost between WWE and Punk there then. But Cena’s comments are more interesting about Punk than most, “I think he loves wrestling, maybe he doesn’t, I don’t know […] People say ‘the machine wants you to believe in Cena’, but Punk offered you something different.” Amusingly, he likens his matches with The Rock (only the first of which is on this DVD collection) to Rocky Balboa v Apollo Creed. You can tell that it’s the verbal exchanges between the two that last in his memory and made that feud ‘great’.

If Cena can ever take off the shackles of WWE and wriggle out of the straight jacket that 300+ days a year for the last 12 years of living and breathing this brand has encased him in, we might just get an interview that lacks that aforementioned ‘conscious thought’. 

Even at 37 years old, the company are still afraid to beat him and, at 50, he’s still afraid to beat them. It might not be in the next 5 years, or 10 years or even 15 years but somewhere along the line, we might just see what John Cena really thinks – ‘might’ being the operative word.

WWE Hell in a Cell 2014 Predictions

Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins

I kind of think that they should have put the briefcase on the line at least here. Ultimately, this will be match of the night but, in a way, the cell gimmick restricts what they could do. These two work well together, the heat has remained pretty high despite the awful segments that they had to do of late – Monday’s was saved only by Foley who practically had them within arm’s length of one another and they didn’t flinch. The guy was put through cinder blocks for Christ sake! And that stuff with the doll was embarrassing.

Logically, Ambrose goes over here. I just don’t think it will necessarily be a clean finish. Seth can lose and still look strong because he has the briefcase. Ambrose losing makes no sense because he has nowhere to go from there. Rollins v Orton would seem to be the obvious next step and Monday night more than lit the touch paper there.

I predict a Roman Reigns return to fight off the threat from The Authority who try to interfere.

John Cena vs. Randy Orton

I’m not going to moan about another Cena v Orton match. I actually think that this will be really good. AND I really liked the promo segment on Monday. I thought they did a decent job making me feel like this was a blow off match. I agree with Lance Storm to an extent, who recently stated that he thought that Orton was probably the best worker in wrestling today – anyone decnet could go in there and have a good match with him without too much prep.

And there’s the operative word, ‘prep’. If these two map out a really creative match that tells a good story and isn’t too spotty, I think they could steal the show. I’ve said many times before that Cena rarely doesn’t deliver on ppv. If you look back of the last 3-4 years, he’s barely had a sub 3* match on ppv and Orton can be fantastic.

So, yes, I get it, these two have wrestled plenty of times before but that doesn’t alter the fact that they are wrestling together this Sunday. I’d assume Cena goes over and that Orton turns babyface imminently.

Brie Bella vs. Nikki Bella

I really don’t care. Crucially, too, the crowd aren’t going to care either. Sorry. Nikki wins and makes her sister suffer for a month? Either way, it’s going to make for some bad TV over the next few weeks. Brie’s a better worker than Nikki. I don’t think this will any good at all though. 

Sheamus (c) vs. The Miz

Been a lot of fun this feud. But that’s about all I’ll credit it with – a lot of fun. I can’t believe the title needs to change hands unless they’re going to do something with Sheamus’ character longer term. The more interesting subplot is what they do with Sandow. They’ll either go with Sheamus clean here or Miz by DQ but god knows we don’t need another DQ finish.

Big Show vs. Rusev

Rusev ought to win but if he doesn’t Big Show shouldn’t be winning with by pin or submission. They’re doing a great job building Rusev up as a monster but, as I’ve said before, how many monsters after this initial push ever go on to be any good? He needs to start working with better wrestlers so that he can improve enough to be able to carry a main event programme and work 15-20 minute matches. Look at how Umaga, Koslov, Khali et al all got pushed to the moon and then once they were beaten, just went back to being soft nobodies.

I suppose, though, the intrigue will be surrounding what Mark Henry does. Does he turn or does Big Show turn on him? If you listened to Show’s promo last Friday, you could well argue that he’ll turn on Henry. Either way, I expect the interference to cause a messy finish of sorts.

AJ Lee (c) vs. Paige

AJ Lee to retain. They need to bring some other Divas up onto the main roster or go with Naomi who is by far the best new talent they have. Total Divas has been a blessing for many of them who now have screen time when they otherwise wouldn’t have but it’s also made for turgid feuds.

Gold and Stardust (c) vs. The Usos (Jimmy Uso and Jey Uso) 

Dust brothers to retain. I like their matches but in one way or another we’ve seen these teams work together too many times. No doubt they’ll kick the show off and it’ll be great and credit to these guys but it’s time for some new tag teams. They key will be the finish – how do they keep this fresh after so many outings together?

Dolph Ziggler (c) vs. Cesaro

They’re now doing a two out of three falls match. Dolph is on a losing streak. Cesaro is too good to lose. It makes sense that there is a title change but the title seems to mean virtually nothing any more so maybe not. They’ll have a great match but I think it’s time to pull the trigger on Cesaro and put him up in the main event slots. Perhaps that won’t/can’t happen until after the European tour. Dolph lost so easily on Monday that you kind of think that means he’ll retain on Sunday. My gut says Dolph, my head says Cesaro. I’ll stick on Dolph.

The argument for SmackDown

Over the last few months I’ve been watching SmackDown. I used to watch it. Then I stopped watching it. And for quite a while I would literally give it no credence whatsoever – I wouldn’t look at results, read spoilers or reports or go out of my way to watch any of it. It was a dead show. I guess it still is. Rarely, if ever, is there anything newsworthy or of note on SmackDown.
I suppose, if I’m honest that’s the beauty of it.

When NXT rebranded itself, moved to Full Sail, got rid of the reality show contest gimmick and became a FCW/performance centre training ground show, it quickly became the most admired of all of WWE programming. In fact, if you were to ask most people who have the Network, particularly in the US, what their viewing habits are, they’ll probably tell you that NXT is the only current programming that they’ll watch on the Network.

Rarely on NXT does the show open up with anything other than a wrestling match. Simple, right? A wrestling match on a wrestling show? Well, you’d think so. 

9 times out of 10, Raw will open with a 10+ minute promo that meanders and winds its way round to a point (sometimes, but not always) and then by 20-30 minutes in you have your first match. And that’s fine. I’m used to that and sometimes those promos can be pretty compelling (see the work of Paul Heyman, Dean Ambrose, HHH). Generally, NXT doesn’t do this – they keep promos short and to the point, they keep the focus on wrestling and turn it away from angles, skits and filler. Why? Because it’s a 1 hour show.

SmackDown shares some of these traits. 

When I started watching it again, it was partly because it was summer, I was too happily ensconced on my sofa and couldn’t be bother to fire up the laptop to watch something on the Network. But it was partly because I discovered a rather wonderful service on Sky. No, I don’t work for BSkyB. They’d recently launched their catch up and on demand services.

On Sky, you can now navigate to a WWE section in the catch up area and download the shows to your box. The real beauty, though, is that they are advert-free. I can now watch Raw, SmackDown, NXT and Superstars without adverts to fast-forward through. In fact the only adverts they show are WWE tour adverts or ‘don’t try this at home’ ads that are barely 30 seconds long.

Again, this comes back to my laziness. I was fed up with taping shows and then frantically tapping the remote every 5-10 minutes to get through the breaks and back to the show. Here, I found a service that is perfectly suited to me weekend lethargy. Disgusting to admit, but true.

So where is SmackDown in all of this? Well, once I started watching it, it became, like most things, habitual to an extent. But it was also hugely satisfying: if the show opened up with talk, it was quickly done with; if the show didn’t really have anything newsworthy, it didn’t matter, it still had some good wrestling; I’d get to see different matches and different wrestlers than the ones on Raw. In fact, Raw had been so bad over the summer and into this autumn that I was glad not to be left frustrated by a WWE show. And when there is something newsworthy on there, it just makes the whole process more pleasurable.

SmackDown can also be a lot of fun. Yes, fun. Wrestling is (or at least should be) fun. Over the last few months I’ve seen: Dean Ambrose put ‘the cruiserweight division’ through tables; Rusev and Mark Henry arm wrestle; the 15th anniversary show; less Divas action and more men’s; the focus on Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose; very little John Cena; plenty of Cesaro and lots of Damien Mizdow. Fun.

To moan on about Raw is a bandwagon I’m not trying to get on but if you ever find yourself just wanting something a bit simpler, less frustrating and often more fun, get yourself a Sky box and cut a 2 hour show down to 80 minutes. And then enjoy it. Hell, if you don’t, there’s always NXT…

WWE Superstars TV Report 23rd October 2014

Noteworthy: Tyson Kidd made his return to Superstars. Bo Dallas lost again despite being 3 and Bo against Mark Henry. We had two good matches this week.

Tyson Kidd (w/ Natalya) beat Kofi Kingston with the Sharpshooter in 4:42

Tyson Kidd had an outing on Main Event this week and here only got 4 minutes with Kofi but was, as usual, a pleasure to watch. I could happily watch these two go 15 minutes on a ppv but they are unfortunately stuck in lower card hell.

Kidd opens up with strikes out of the bell. Kingston gets some room and uses a quick drop kick, goes for a pin, but Kidd kicks out at one. Kofi charges at Kidd in the corner but runs into boot and Kidd uses scoop slam to plant Kofi to the mat. Lovely spot where Kingston goes for a kip up but turns it into head scissors takedown and an embarrassed Tyson rolls outside to his wife.

He has heated words with Natty and Kofi hits him first with a baseball slide and then with a beautiful, safe seated senton. He rolls Kidd back in the ring, the Kansas crowd are hot and he climbs the ropes looking to end this early. Kidd leaps up and crotches him, though, and both men down.

Kidd gets the advantage with strikes and knees but then runs into an elbow. Kofi dodges a charge and hits him with a drop kick. Kofi uses a high cross; Tyson catches him and kicks out at two. And then Kofi powers up but it doesn’t last long as he goes for a forearm and is caught by Kidd with a roundhouse.

Kidd tries to dump Kingston but he skins the cat and uses a middle rope springboard drop kick to take Tyson down. He kicks out at two and rolls outside where Kidd hides behind his wife to distract Kofi. He then climbs up on to the apron and kicks Kofi in the face so, so hard. Kofi looks out of it and Kidd rolls him back in, hits him with a leg drop to the back of the head and quickly puts on the Sharpshooter for the win.

More of this please! Kidd is tremendous and plays a great chicken shit heel.

Jack Swagger (w/ Zeb Colter) beat Bo Dallas with the Patriot Lock in 7:10

Swagger gets a great reception here and comes off like a credible mid card babyface. Out of the bell he takes down Dallas but Bo ducks under the ropes to escape. Swagger hits him with a shoulder barge out of an Irish whip but Bo takes the advantage and elbows and strikes Swagger in the corner.

Dallas tries to wear Swagger down with a cravat until Swagger uses a facebuster to get out of it. Bo Rolls out of the ring on the hard cam side and Swagger uses the Lesnar clothesline where he slides out on the announce table side and runs around and cuts him off. It’s a great move, the crowd love it, Swagger postures and we go to a break.

Swagger is in charge until Dallas uses a top rope clothesline and covers Swagger for a mere one count. So, Bo returns to a series of headlocks. He wears him out and then Swagger is dumped clear over the top rope. 270lbs man cleanly flung over the top rope by little Bo Dallas. You tell me.

Dallas nails Swagger each time he gets to the apron. Swagger gets mad, slides back in and clotheslines Dallas and then uses a big boot to knock him down. Again, the crowd really like him here and are fully behind the ‘we the people!’ chants. A Swagger Bomb gets a two count and then a gut wrench powerbomb attempt from Jack is reversed into neckbreaker, and Bo gets a two count.

Dallas angered, rains punches on Swagger. He goes for the running Bo-Dog but Swagger reverses it into the Patriot Lock and Dallas quickly taps. Nice match; Swagger is really over in Kansas City.