Sunday, 27 July 2014

WWE: Ladies and Gentleman My Name is Paul Heyman DVD Review

If you’re a fan of wrestling now or you have been a fan of wrestling in the modern era, you really ought to see the new Paul Heyman documentary. Just last week, I wrote about the meagre offering that the WWE had put out for Dave Batista - this, by comparison, is probably the most comprehensive and dense pieces that I’ve ever seen the WWE produce. Heyman’s career is covered in two hours and little is left out, skirted round or overlooked. It is absolutely tremendous if not enthrallingly intense.

If you know the typical WWE documentary, you’ll know that the follow a certain pattern. Often what is unavailable is papered over by zooming in on stills or images from the period in question while narration does the rest. Here, though, we get access to pretty much everything and, crucially, I think more than in any other documentary piece that the WWE have put out to date, the star of the collection is the focal point for opinions and views on aspects of his career more than the onlookers. Far too often we hear phatic, empty, out of context snippets from talking heads who really had nothing to do with the superstar in question. As Jim Ross notes, Heyman “is the best orator working in the business today, period,” and here WWE let the finest talker in the company do what he does best.

Moreover, if you know the typical WWE documentary, it is fairly rare to learn much from them. With the greatest respect to WWE’s ability to package and edit the stories of their superstars’ careers, frequently they are just fun to watch; you’re taken along for a recap of what you already pretty much knew with the odd gem or nugget thrown in for good measure. With this, I felt like I was learning a lot. Often the talking head’s will point out that this or that had “never been said before” and say things like “I probably shouldn’t be saying this but…” I’d hate to deprive a wrestling fan of that feeling of discovery, so all I’ll say is look out for the contributions of Jim Ross, Bill Apter, Joey Styles and particularly Tommy Dreamer. Dreamer is so erudite and insightful; he’s a huge asset to the film.

The first hour chronicles Heyman from 11 year old bedroom entrepreneur (selling posters) to newsletter writer and photographer to 27 year owner of ECW and being at the helm of the sinking ship. It feels roomy and generous, and the ECW footage is excellent. In fact, to ECW fans it will make a perfect shelf partner to last year’s rather more depressing Barbed Wire City for content that will allow fans to reflect on what that time was like for ECW employees. The backstage footage of the early days is pretty extensive and for those lapsed fans will give enough alone to delight.

Naturally, you are drawn in by the man’s hugely passionate and charismatic delivery that you are inclined to believe everything that he says, but this is Paul Heyman - we have to take some things with a pinch of salt. His longstanding relationship with Vince McMahon is certainly told in honest-sounding fashion, though – he notes that it is a credit to Vince that he is even associated with the company anymore but then, “Vince says it is better to have me inside the castle p***ing out that than it is to have me outside the castle p***ing in”.

Jim Ross is equally honest. He is evenly kind and critical, in true, balanced JR fashion. Heyman states that he “learned more about performance from Jim Ross than anyone else in the industry” but Ross indicates that he “legit p****ed me off” because he was like an “abrasive” yet “bright troublesome student.”

Other professionals on hand to share their views on Heyman’s life and career are: Raven, CM Punk, Bill Apter, Larry Zbysko, Tod Gordon, Rob Van Dam, Brock Lesnar, Big Show, Edge, Bray Wyatt and Renee Young to name just a few. And all indicate that Paul Heyman is, as RVD puts it, the “ultimate motivator” who gets people “to do so much for so little.” Not only that, but all who know him best share the view that that becoming a father has made him into a more mature, relaxed, reflective and reasonable man.

We’re painted a portrait of a man who has worked his skin to the bone in the wrestling industry who is now in the golden age of his life and career. He has, in some ways, sought redemption and found it but, in other ways, is unapologetic for his past mistakes and misjudgements: Apter notes that Heyman once fired his own mother; Steph tells us that he was the first writer that she has ever had to suspend without pay. The convergence of becoming a father, taking time out of the industry and then moving to being solely an on-screen talent seem to have made all the difference as Heyman is comfortable and happy in both his public and private spheres. And who wouldn’t allow Heyman that? This is a man who worked himself to the edge of destruction at several points in his career.

Otherwise, as you might expect, this is a 3-disc wrestling DVD that offers very little wrestling. Instead we have a collection of some fantastic promos throughout his career in ECW, WCW and WWE spanning 1987 to today. We see the changes in his character over time and we feel that maybe those altered nuances in his character are more just the maturing Paul. He considers himself to be a “far better performer [now] for having been out of the company” for some time and says that he is now “having a blast”.

Stephen Hawking says that the definition of intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. Paul Heyman has in many respects continually reinvented himself over the last four decades but has in equal measures simply adapted to the changing landscape of the wrestling industry. Either way you look at it, Paul Heyman is an outstanding performer who exudes an intelligence that many others don’t possess in professional wrestling.

Ladies And Gentlemen, My Name Is Paul Heyman is out on August 4th on DVD and Blu Ray:

Friday, 25 July 2014

WWE Superstars TV Report – 25th July 2014

Noteworthy: Adam Rose continues to be hidden away from the mass WWE audience on this show. Hornswoggle has finally shaved off all of his hair and turns to become a Rosebud. Heath Slater after eliminating Cesaro at Battleground and doing a segment with Flo Rida on Raw is back to just being a geek. Alberto Del Rio gets a rare run out on Superstars, showing you just how much his stock has dropped of late.

Adam Rose pinned Heath Slater with the Party Foul in 3:11

Tom Philips tells us that this is a rematch from four weeks ago on this show. I literally have no memory of this. This was a match that was all comedy and seemed to essentially be a vehicle for reassigning Hornswoggle who ended the match as a Rosebud.

As Heath enters the ring he has to prise Hornswoggle from the Rosebuds who seem to have him charmed. As the bell rings, Hornswoggle is on the apron and Rose is coaxing him into the ring. Slater is sent outside immediately, hit with a clothesline, rolled back in where he regains his composure and plants a heel kick on Rose out of an Irish whip. Slater goes for the cover and gets a two count.

Slater stomps Rose, whilst glancing back to see what Hornswoggle is doing, goes down to make another cover but again only gets two. Slater then misses a charge to the corner and Rose powers up with forearms and a neat sitout spinebuster. He hits a signature running clothesline to the corner (which the announcers are yet to name for me) and while Heath is down, he turns his back on him to watch see what Hornswoggle wants, he continues to stomp on him nonchalantly.

Rose is enticed to the ropes by Hornswoggle and as he gets there the Rosebuds grab Hornswoggle and lift him down into their group. Heath sneaks up behind Rose and slaps on a back suplex but instead of going for a pin, is distracted by the Rosebuds. They disperse to reveal that they have transformed Hornswoggle into one of them – he is wearing a red hat, massive white sunglasses and a Rosebud t-shirt.

Rose hits the Party Foul on the distracted Slater and gets the win in one of the shortest matches that they’ve done on Superstars in a long time.

The Raw rebound was the opening angle of Raw followed by the 2-on-1 handicap match between Reigns and Orton & Kane. They also showed the Xavier Woods promo in front of Big E and Kofi.

Backstage Byron Saxton interviewed R-Truth and asked him about Xavier Woods’ comments. They left it open as to whether Woods and Truth will feud as Truth disagreed with Woods’ statements about ‘singing and dancing like a puppet’ and ‘kissing babies’ but agreed with the sentiment of going out and getting the job done.

Heath confronted Hornswoggle backstage, he was angry at him for making him lose. Hornswoggle tried to persuade him that the chicks all wanted him. Heath didn’t buy it and left saying that Hornswoggle could no longer ride with him. Not sure why we needed this.

Alberton Del Rio beat R-Truth with the cross armbreaker in 8:07

R-Truth is sent to the corner from the get go with kicks by Del Rio but a tilt-a-whirl headscissors by Truth allows him to take control. A hip toss followed by a leg drop allows Truth to get a two count.

It might be nothing but Truth is doing way, way more dancing and crowd posturing in this match than he normally does. I’d guess they could be about to turn him and put him with Woods. After what Truth said about ‘singing and dancing like a puppet’ in the backstage segment, this would seem to make sense. Truth garrottes Del Rio on the top rope sending him to the floor outside and after a long pause we go to a break.

Weirdly, when we come back Del Rio is offering Truth a handshake. Truth denies it and starts to go on the attack, forcing him to the corner and mounting the second rope and counting out 10 punches. Del Rio throws him off and reverses and Irish whip. Out of nowhere he hits an enziguri like only Alberto Del Rio can. This gets a two count and so a frustrated Del Rio goes for a rear chin lock.

The finish sees Del Rio’s charge to the corner blocked and Truth hits clotheslines, a heel kick, and a Stinger splash. Truth uses a DDT but Del Rio kicks out just before three for a near fall. Truth postures to crowd and Del Rio gets up and tries to slap on the cross armbreaker but it is countered and so Del Rio is able to smack a superkick to the side of Truth’s jaw. The cross armbreaker finishes Truth off.

Either this will lead into an angle where Truth is turned by Woods who can show him the error of his ways and will join his this new Nation stable or he will continue to be a bottom-of-the-deck babyface on shows like this.

Great to review an episode of this show that was actually remotely newsworthy.

The Raw Rebound recapped the Steph and Bella twins angle.

Monday, 21 July 2014

WWE Battleground 2014 Review

A show that didn’t live up to expectations, but then they booked themselves into a corner here. Most of these matches are SummerSlam matches that were booked a month too early and so they had to come up with screwy finishes or no shows in order to keep the status quo for August 17th.

Naomi vs. Cameron

Disappointing. Both Divas have new looks, Cameron has new music and boy is it now clear that her blonde hair really lifted her look. The finish was poor and the match was nothing, when Cameron grabbed the tights for a school girl win. They didn’t work together well at all. Probably the worst match on the show. This needs work on the house shows over the next month and then they should give this another shot at SummerSlam

The Usos vs. The Wyatt Family 2-out-of-3 Falls match for Tag Team Championships

After two nothing falls this BURST into life. What was the purpose of the first two falls? I really don’t know. The first two falls went a little under eight minutes total and were both soft pins for both sides. The two early finishes made the last fall look stupid – they both got pinned by moves that all of a sudden they were able to kick out of later on?

Great spot when Jey superkicked Harper from outside, leading him to eat a splash from Jimmy. The dives were great, it was creative and both teams ended up looking strong. The double suplex off the top rope was a ‘this is awesome’ moment and worthily so and the stereo splashes to finish the match was a welcome end to this feud. I’m keen to know where they go next.

Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins

Hmmm. Odd. Why take this off the show? They couldn’t come up with a finish that they were happy with? So, don’t book the match.

Neither of them wrestled on this show. Surely, that’s a negative here? The brawl (sans the car lot stuff) is Raw-worthy, not ppv. Instead of watching these two wrestling something that could have been absolutely tremendous, we had to sit through Adam Rose and Fandango? Makes me angry.

Paige vs. AJ Lee for the Divas Championship

Paige tried the Big E Langston tackle through the ropes and kind of just stopped and they half tumbled through the ropes instead. It looked like a botched spot at an indie show and the crowd grew less and less into this. There was also a sunset flip off the top rope by Paige that made AJ land on her head and it just looked like it really sucked. More’s to boot, after every spot, Paige would stop and shout fake encouragement, saying, ‘come on AJ!’ which just got tiresome. This didn’t come across well and the crowd weren’t in it and nothing in this match really ever looked right.

The shining wizard finish didn’t look right, either. The layout of the match was fine and could have been a good match as I had hoped and predicted it would be, but the lack of execution on so many spots, coupled with the lack of crowd reaction just left this one as a fairly damp squib, unfortunately.

Rusev vs. Jack Swagger

I was hot for this match and they’ve since had some mainstream pub for Lana’s implied comments about the Malaysian Airlines incident. The crowd weren’t into this, though, unfortunately. I wish it had happened in front of that Virginia crowd from Monday. When Lana was talking, there was far less reaction than I would have expected.

The patriot lock spots were good and Rusev is great at selling the submission hold. I’m glad that they put over the hold but kept Rusev strong for the finish, crawling in for the 10 count so that Swagger could get counted out. I wanted this to spill over into SummerSlam and given the current political climate, this is entirely appropriate and ought to get high billing in August. I think they need to go hardcore with this, but they won’t, unfortunately.

Chris Jericho vs. Bray Wyatt

The finish came out of nowhere and, again, this was odd. I guess though, after the screwy finish in the Rusev match and after Rollins and Ambrose didn’t wrestle, you sort of had to do a pinfall in this match – I just never thought it would be Jericho.

So, Wyatt can beat Cena at WrestleMania but can’t beat the part-time 43 year old Chris Jericho? Made no sense to beat Wyatt here. They ought to have used Harper and Rowan (who had been sent to the back) in order to get the DQ so that a SummerSlam rematch was set up. Its obvious booking, but I have to say that this made no real sense.

Ultimately, the match never quite clicked. They never really synched up. There was some good stuff but nobody thought that codebreaker was the finish. Bray Wyatt's left eye looked really bad – it looks worse than it did on Monday, how does that work? And has anyone else ever wondered what the hell is wrong with that weird red tat on Bray’s left arm? It looks like someone has swiped a paintbrush across his arm and forgotten to wipe it off.

Battleground Battle Royale for the Intercontinental Championship

They’d tread water so much earlier and yet they were able still able to give all the guys entrance music burst – yet, oddy, no RVD, not that it matters hugely. Zack Ryder still exists. Wade Barratt looks thin and unwell. He’s claiming to be back to take on the IC champ, but by the time he’s back, it’ll have changed hands 5 times.

There was some awful camera work where they showed Miz hiding outside the ring on the floor and they weren’t supposed to. They also did that thing where if a guy would throw someone out, they would be the next person out. Surely in 2014, we’re beyond this in WWE?

The odds had Cesaro as favourite all week until late Saturday when Miz fell from 13/1 right down to 5/6 within 12 hours.

No Heyman with Cesaro? We’ll see tomorrow night what this means. Brock’s back – maybe they’ll just forget about Heyman ever being with Cesaro?

The Kofi spot was great and the Cesaro stuff with him was good fun, if not completely illogical. They seemed to get lost at some stage throughout this mini feud in this match, with Cesaro at some point pulling Kofi’s hair in order to stay in the match. Cesaro ultimately getting eliminated by Heath Slater has to lead to an amusing squash on Monday.

I wonder what they do with Bo Dallas now?

Miz winning leads us to wonder whether they will unite the titles once and for all at SummerSlam. Questions are: what would they call it? Is Dolph Ziggler involved?

John Cena vs. Roman Reigns vs. Randy Orton vs. Kane for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

In the end, this was a good match, with lots of near falls and saves. Fans even did a ‘this is awesome’ chant at one point. It was all built around Cena vs. Reigns, but every time they'd get there Kane or Orton would break it up. They finally did a trading of punches and big moves. Reigns seemed to spear everyone constantly but it was always broken up. He also did his running kick on the floor to everyone. The big spot was Reigns spearing Orton through the barricade. Match wasn't smooth in spots and, like Jericho and Wyatt, was just missing something here.

They really wrestled in the spirit of the match (fatal four way), working tornado tag style early on but they kept everything in the ring with lots of saves and ruined pins by everyone. Better camera work allowed this to happen.

They made this all about Kane and Randy being at each other and Cena and Reigns being equals who were neck and neck throughout. If you didn’t know better, you’d really assume that Cena and Reigns were doing the main event at SummerSlam. What they do now, as a result, will be interesting.

WWE Batista: The Animal Unleashed DVD Review

Perhaps a more appropriate tagline for this new WWE release would have been Batista: The Animal Understated. The documentary on this 3-disc set runs at 40 minutes and is essentially a whistle stop tour of Dave Batista’s life since he left the WWE in 2010.

Dave is relaxed, calm and honest and speaks with a maturity and wisdom that few 45 year old semi-retired professional wrestlers possess – he is almost unnervingly low key and modest, drawing you in with his everyman humility. But, as a collection, this is certainly no better than the 2009 release, I Walk Alone. And when compared to recent superstar retrospectives (Triple H and Warrior, for example) the relative brevity of the documentary feature might give you every right to feel rather short-changed.

If, of course, matches are what you look for in these sorts of things, then you will be happy enough. Most of the work on display is taken from 2007-2010 providing you with some light and shade and some different offerings from those that were available on I Walk Alone. Though his excellent work with The Undertaker is not exhibited here, there are matches worthy of remark with Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio and Edge for your money.

Watching Batista on his return to WWE in January 2014 feels at times as though you are intruding on some deeply private moments. There is wonderful backstage footage of him meeting staff old and new (look out for his chat with Khali), in what he refers to quite firmly as his ‘home’. What strongly comes across, though, from this voyeuristic insight is that Dave Batista is a professional who likes to do things by the book, doesn’t like special treatment and would rather do something the hard way rather than merely dialling it in. A case in point is found in his preparation for his latest film: if you read about Guardians for the Galaxy, you’ll find that he and Chris Pratt trained for two and half months just for their one fight scene which director, James Gunn, decided at the 11th hour he wanted to film in one long shot without cuts. Batista has noted that it took them 22 takes to get it right. Here is a man who is not shy of a little hard labour.

Having left in 2010 due to the shift in the product to a PG-era and what he felt was a growing lack of opportunities for him in main event spots, Batista moved to pastures new. We’re shown his work with Josh Rafferty under Cesar Gracie in preparation for his first, and only, professional MMA fight against Vince Lucero in 2012. Gracie talks about his commitment to training and that he was a natural despite his age when he first arrived. Stephan Bonnar is equally complementary in what is an interesting departure for WWE programming as we are shown Jiu-Jitsu training and the toughness of MMA and real fighting is explored and explained. We even see Dave receiving his purple belt from Gracie and the subsequent belt-whipping from his peers in the dojo.

At his return to Raw in Dayton, Ohio, in January, he jokes about the WWE having faith in his ability to work after four years out of the ring. He is acutely aware that he has legions of internet detractors (well, haters) and, returning from a recent Achilles tendon injury amongst many new, young faces in the company, he is clearly desperate not to ‘mess it up’. Describing himself on several occasions as his ‘own worst critic,’ Batista is happy to work just as physically as he used to, despite the L1 spinal surgery that he underwent in 2011 (an injury that he reveals he sustained when Cena threw him through the stage at Over the Limit 2010).

Seeing how hard Batista worked whilst away and knowing how hard he worked during his first run in WWE, makes his reaction to the boos that he gets at the Consol Energy Center at the Royal Rumble in Pittsburgh all the more uncomfortable to watch. The crew captures him post-show, backstage that night where he looks somewhat crestfallen and, although trying his best to acknowledge that the business is like that sometimes, is visibly saddened by the reaction.

He leaves us with words of deep excitement for WrestleMania 30 and his utter and very genuine delight at being cast as Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy. The work he has done in his time away and the success he has gained seems to have been like everything else in Dave Batista’s life: rocky, tough and hard-earned. If you piece together the facts from I Walk Alone and add in this stop-gap, you gain a clearer picture of why he is so visibly moved when he talks about Marvel’s decision to go with him for their latest marquee piece.

It might have been better, therefore, to have waited. Had WWE followed Dave Batista through to the other side of the film’s release this summer and to a subsequent return to in-ring action, they may well have found themselves with a far more remarkable documentary feature, chronicling the story of their jeered former champion taking on the world of Hollywood and winning. At 45, though, would that have been possible? Would that have been wise? Regardless, we’re left little more than a pleasant stroll through the last four years of Dave Batista’s life and another collection of some of his finer matches as he awaits the launch of the next stage of his career.