The Irish Whip

One Irish fan's perspective on the weird wide world of professional wrestling

26 August 2006

Kurt Angle bows out

Can you say, whaaaa?:
Due to personal issues, Kurt Angle has been granted an early release from his contract. WWE looks forward to establishing a new relationship with Kurt in the near future.
Maybe the issues regarding his marriage and his health have finally reached a peak. Who knows? In any case, it's probably for the best.

Many of his fans have been begging him to quit while he's ahead for some time now; we don't want to see him become another Dynamite Kid.

Here's hoping he can sort out himself (and his life) properly. By doing what's right for himself and his family, he's doing right by his fans and for the business.

Good luck, Kurt.

06 August 2006

GAB Post-Mortem; SmackDown! Notes

So the Bash wasn't actually the complete disaster I had anticipated, given the hasty reworking of the card's biggest matches. It still made absolutely no sense for the Undertaker (American) to fight The Big Show (American) in a Punjabi Prison match, but at least Show can pull off a good match now and then, unlike the walking jinx that is the Great Khali, so we're probably much better off for it.

It was also a good decision, whether it was made as a result of the talent issues or not, to give the undercard bouts plenty of room to breathe. It pretty much salvaged what could have been an absolute stinker of a show, letting the younger guys strut their stuff without the usual time restrictions.

But still, it wasn't specatular enough to warrant me commenting any sooner than now, some two weeks later. What can I say? It's a summer slump. Even the sudden influx of new talent to the SmackDown! brand hasn't been sparking my interest much -- maybe because they're doing too much too soon to compensate for the victims of the Wellness Program.

Back in my day, Creative would bring out a new character once every three or four weeks; nowaways you get stagnancy for months, then a whole bumch of anonymous newbies get thrown in at once, and we're expected to care? Oy!

But enought abnout that. Tonight I'll get to see the new ECW's 'triumphant' return to the Hammerstein Ballroom, so this week coming seems as good a time as any to flesh out some of my thoughts and opinions on the revival.

22 July 2006

The (Not So) Great American Bash

I can't be the only one who sees the funny side in the fact that three wrestlers involved in three of the biggest angles scheduled for tomorrow night's Great American Bash have been pulled from the road and, in turn, the pay-per-view.

Not only is Mark Henry out following the knee injury he suffered at Saturday Night's Main Event last week -- and which he should have seen coming, with the amount of weight he carries -- but it was announced today that both Bobby Lashley and The Great Khali have been nixed due to liver ailments. (I'm not even going to speculate about certain chemical substances and what they can do to the body, ahem...)

Which basically means that any reason that anyone might have had to pay for the show is gone, and the booking team will basically be winging it -- prepare yourselves, ladies and gents, for the worst show of the year by far!

You know, I might even stay up and watch the whole thing; it's a car crash waiting to happen.

PS: This isn't the first time The Great American Bash has been subject to last-minute card changes; the event has a notorious precendent in this respect.

14 June 2006

Head To Head, One Night Stand, and Beyond

Well, a week has passed, and ECW is now officially back in operation. And it isn't even just a rebranding of OVW (which is still alive for the forseeable future) -- it's a dedicated brand extension.

It's beginning, however, wasn't particularly mindblowing. In fact I was mightily pissed off when the satellite feed went down five minutes into the 'Head to Head' special last Wednesday night and didn't come back till almost 3am, meaning that I stayed up half the night to see only half the show. And even at that it was nothing special. So my hopes weren't too high for One Night Stand.

Which was a good thing, since the show wasn't a patch on last year's card. For one, Tazz's 'match' with Jerry Lawler was a joke -- you can't introduce a man as 'the human suplex machine' and then not have him throw a suplex! In addition, the Rey Misterio/Sabu match had a bullshitty ending, despite the sick-looking table spot that led to it (it snapped at the end, not in half, so it looked like a blown spot -- good work on that one, at least). And Balls Mahoney and Masato Tanaka were only given a few minutes to do their thing, boiling down the 'extreme' quotient of the show a little too much.

But of course it wasn't all bad. The WWE vs ECW tag team match was a spot-fest beyond: Terry Funk hit the barbed wire hard and bled -- as good ol' JR says -- like a stuck pig, and I don't think Mick Foley has been that close to fire (WrestleMania XXII excepted) since the King of the Death Matches tournament in 1995.

Kurt Angle, too, was phenomenal in his match with Randy Orton, feeding off the energy of the ECW crowd and giving them a real 'wrestling' match to boot. Orton was cleary out of his league, so he wisely stuck to selling for most of the bout -- although whenever he did get the upper hand, he was obviously enjoying the venom the crowd directed his way. It's usually better to play the heel, after all.

And Rob Van Dam beating Cena for the title was what everyone wanted. Even Cena seemed to be fine with it, getting into the hostility towards his character -- he's the man we all love to hate now, and he's finally getting used to it.

The celebrations continued last night with the premiere of ECW's new weekly show on the US version of the Sci-Fi Channel. It'll be shown over here on Sky Sports this Sunday so I'll have to wait until then to pass judgement, but from the photos posted on the ECW website, it doesn't really look like ECW.

Sure, the entrance area is there, and it says ECW on the canvas. But the ringside barrier is WWE-safe, and the ringposts are SmackDown! silver, which only brings home the notion that the 'new' ECW is a B-show to the B-show.

Top that off with the fact that the ECW website is obviously a sub-site of -- hell, it doesn't even have its own domain -- and you have a bit of a mish-mash that's going to take some time to gel into a truly unique prospect, rather than just a pool of hardcore guys to feed into the main brands for higher ratings or more pay-per-view buys.

07 June 2006

More Thoughts on the 'New' ECW

Things have moved on considerably since my last post on this topic, but more with a whisper than a scream.

The ECW revival finally begins tonight -- ahead of One Night Stand II this Sunday -- with the 'Head to Head' special on USA Network (it starts at 2am here on Sky Sports, so I'm in for a late night). Considering the gravity of the whole situation for many wrestling fans, the build-up has been pretty low-key by WWE standards, even compared to last year's One Night Stand. It isn't even the main storyline on Raw: that belongs to Triple H's 'road to Damascus' feud with Vince McMahon, which as everyone knows will culminate with the revival of those other '90s renegades Degeneration-X at the end of this month.

In fact, the whole 'head to head' concept has pretty much come out of nowhere storyline-wise. And that's not a good omen for where the McMahons want to see the brand taken.

Something else that I've noted is the sheer number of old-school ECW mainstays who have been signed to be a part of the 'new' ECW. Now I can see the business sense in that -- not counting last year's event, ECW has been defunct for six years, so it would be stupid to relaunch it without any of the faces that helped popularise the brand as a force to be reckoned with.

But on the other hand, doing what they're doing is slightly anathema to what ECW was and what it did back in the day. Aside from the extreme action that was its calling card, ECW made a point of pushing the types of wrestlers who couldn't make it in the big leagues at the time, and did the same for grizzled veterans of the Big Two who found their careers in the doldrums. Johnny Polo is a great example: he was pretty much a nobody, barely hanging on at the tail-end of the WWF's golden age of managers -- but in ECW he became Raven, capturing the zeitgeist in an instant. And there was Aldo Montoya, another WWF mid-carder/jobber going nowhere fast -- but with a little spin from Paul Heyman he became Justin Credible, someone that ECW's fans were thrilled to see in action.

Over in WCW, there was Robbie V, known for wrestling barefooted and not exactly setting the world alight -- but in ECW he was Rob Van Dam, the 'Whole Fucking Show', and is still one of the most popular stars employed by the WWE today. And of course, there was Steve Austin: released from WCW in the worst manner possible (he was forced to drop the US Title to Hacksaw Jim Duggan in less than a minute) because Eric Bischoff didn't know what do to with him, he found a home in ECW where he could exercise his natural wit and charisma, and sewed the seeds for the biggest stage in his career -- he moved on to the WWF within months and, after an initial misstep as 'The Ringmaster', he became 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin, won the 1996 King of the Ring tournament, an uttered the catchphrase that sold a billion t-shirts.

The point I'm making is that ECW's bread and butter wasn't really in 'hardcore', but in pushing or creating its own new stars, whether out of new talent just emerging from the indies or veterans of the Big Two who were never given a chance to live up to their potential. The hardcore stuff was an adrenalin rush, for sure, but you can ask any regular at the ECW Arena -- that wasn't the only reason ECW sold tickets. Where talent was concerned, Paul Heyman had a gift for turning crap into gold. I can't count the number of times he repackaged WWF and WCW rejects, only for the big boys to snatch them back as soon as they could after Heyman laid down the ground work.

The 'new' ECW that we're about to get our first glimpse of tonight -- last year's pay-per-view notwithstanding -- is a very different prospect. It's almost like a tribute show to the original ECW, with the same old characters doing the same old shit. Please don't get me wrong; as someone who could only read about ECW back in the '90s it's exciting to finally see these guys do their thing in the ring. But it's also slightly sad, because it's like nothing has changed in the last six years -- when the original ECW was all about change, and looking forward to the future.

I don't doubt for a second that Paul Heyman is thinking exactly the same thing. He knows getting the veterans, the ECW faces, back in is just a part of the initial strategy; to draw in the marks, so to speak. Then, once he's got an audience to play with, he'll do what he really wants to do -- that's to give us something different in the ring from what we're used to, and push the kind of developmental talent that won't find a place on Raw or SmackDown! no matter how good they are. Give him a few months to work out the kinks, and we really will have a 'new' ECW.

At least that's what I'm hoping for, anyway. As long as the McMahons leave him to do what he does best (this time he doesn't have to worry about the money) I can see it happening, and I can see it becoming a huge success. But if Vince calls the shots and turns it into a travelling tribute show? Well, let's just say there probably won't be a One Night Stand III.

26 April 2006

The Return of ECW

The big news in the wrestling world right now is the WWE's intention to relaunch the ECW brand on a full-time basis. And conveniently enough, it's been timed just right for the second One Night Stand pay-per-view coming up in June.

The plan, according to speculation on the dirtsheets, is that the WWE's primary farm territory -- Ohio Valley Wrestling, which is currently booked by Paul Heyman and Tommy Dreamer -- will simply be converted to ECW. Such a plan makes a lot of sense, at least logistically. There's already a proven infrastructure in place in terms of a regular house show network, television tapings, a wrestling school and so on, not to mention a proven track record of OVW graduates being promoted to the main WWE rosters. So on the face of it, all that really needs to be done is to change the name.

But it's not quite as simple as that, is it? I haven't seen any OVW tapings myself, but from what I've read of the promotion over the last few years, and knowing that until a year ago it was under the very capable but traditional hands of Jim Cornette, Ohio Valley Wrestling is a very different promotion to what ECW was. If anything, it's like comparing ECW to Cornette's first attempt to run an independent territory back in the early '90s, Smoky Mountain Wrestling.

In essence, it's a classic promotion very much tied to the Mid-West with an emphasis on bold characters and telling stories in the ring -- a lesson in the basics, really, that the kids today need schoolin' in. ECW, in contrast, is the street-smart big-city cousin with a switchblade in its back pocket. Sure, ECW had some memorable plots and angles too, but by and large its booking was driven by the hardcore element. It wasn't called Extreme Championship Wrestling for nothing. People didn't go to the ECW Arena to see technical classics of ring psychology -- they went to see someone get bludgeoned with the weapons they brought with them. They went for the blood and the barbed wire and the tables and the swearing and the envelope-pushing. They went to see the stuff that no one else in America was doing at the time.

So the promotional infrastructure might be in place, yes, but it's going to take a lot more than a name change to turn OVW into ECW. The farm territory factor is just one considerable obstacle; if this new ECW is to be anything like the old ECW, it's got to be a standalone promotion with a distinct style that will certainly be at odds not only with the current Ohio Valley house style but also with what the WWE's bookers deem acceptable for the Raw and SmackDown! rosters. Presuming that the new Deep South territory takes OVW's place as the farm league, that might resolve the issue, but it's a significant shift in focus for the team behind the scenes at OVW that can't and won't be taken lightly.

In the few days since the ECW rebirth plan was leaked online, talk has already gone from a tentative launch with just house shows with no TV slot, to a regular showcase spot on the WWE's weekly programming, to a full-on dedicated show on national cable and a resumption of the ECW house show network as it was before Heyman closed up shop in January 2001. Sheesh! Let's not get ourselves carried away here. The return of ECW is an exciting prospect, undeniably -- and especially for the likes of me who never had access to the original ECW in its heyday -- but we don't want another 'invasion angle' on our hands now, do we?

Anyway, until a concrete announcement has been made the details are all mere speculation at this point. In the meantime I'm looking forward with optimism to see what happens. If the rumours are true, I'm sure Heyman and Dreamer will do a great job with the brand. But will Vince McMahon let them? That remains to be seen.

03 April 2006

Blogging WrestleMania 22

So here we are, it's WrestleMania XXII, and boy doesn't that arena look small? Chicago might be a big wrestling town, but the Allstate Arena (nee Rosemont Horizon) is a bit of a shoebox compared to other buildings on the annual schedule. WrestleMania needs a bigger space than this to reflect the larger-than-life nature of the show. But anyway, they've made the most of it. The entrance stage isn't as good as WrestleMania XX's, but much nicer than last year's. Although that curtain looks a bit funny. Anyway, on with the show...

0:10 ...which kicks off with Carlito and Chris Masters versus Kane and The Big Show. Now I like Carlito, don't get me wrong, but they're really making me work to stay awake for this one.

I don't know whether it's true or not, but I like to believe that Carlito was the victim of booking issues. I'm sure that he was intended to be in the Money In The Bank match from the start, but Creative changed their minds when they realised that Kane and The Big Show didn't have anyone to defend the titles against, other than the thrown-together tandem of Carlito and the Masterpiece.

Seeing as the eventual match just turned out to be a squash, I don't know why they bothered. The only explanation I can see is that somebody in the office doesn't like Carlito.

0:25 Anyway, next up is the aforementioned Money In The Bank ladder match ... Flair got knocked out early after a suplex from the ladder by Matt Hardy. It looked like a shoot at first, but then Flair toddled back out to the ring five minutes later. Yay.

However I wasn't about to let his presence mar my enjoyment of the match, which was pretty damn excellent, with fine efforts from everyone else involved, though it seemed far too short. Even so, Hardy and especially Rob Van Dam and Shelton Benjamin outdid themselves, and even Bobby Lashley showed his willingness to take some major bumps. In the end, RVD was the deserving winner.

0:45 Taking a break next, to bring out the previous night's inductees from the Hall of Fame. Howard Finkel was roped into making a bit of a show about Bret Hart's non-appearance, but they made up for it with the warm reception for Vicki Guerrero. Hopefully they'll cut it with the exploitative angles from now on; I don't know how she's put up with it till here.

0:50 The ramp lifted up for JBL's limo to drive to the ring for the next contest, which unfortunately was the most exciting thing to happen in this match, despite Chris Benoit's efforts. Hyatte was right about this one: Benoit is better holding a title than chasing one, but JBL was due a favour after being out through the ringer the last few months. So JBL got the nod and cheated to win with the US strap, much to my chagrin...

Hmm, three matches in less than an hour, and still three hours to go? Something tells me Cena vs Triple H has been booked to go on far longer than necessary...

1:05 Hardcore action next, as Edge took on Mick Foley. It started off kind of slow -- 'let's kick Foley's head in' basically -- but then Edge hit him with the spear and took it unusually badly. As he writhed in the corner, Foley took off his shirt to show his Cactus Jack t-shirt, and more importantly the strand of barbed wire wrapped around his torso! The match just got crazier from there on -- Barbed wire baseball bats! Thumb tacks! Lighter fluid!

Edge eventually got the win after spearing Foley from the apron onto a burning table, and he looked utterly traumatised afterwards. That's entertainment!

1:25 After all that bloody excitement, some comedy was in order as Booker T and Sharmell ran a gauntlet of freaks (including the incomperable Goldust) on the way to the ring for their 'match' with the Boogeyman. The joke wore thin pretty quickly, though, as Booker was virtually squashed. Big booking mistake there, methinks.

1:45 Back to the wrestling now, with Women's Champion Trish Stratus against psycho-bitch Mickie James. At least it started out with wrestling -- after a while it slipped into something a lot more risque. I'm sure Hyatte will get the DVD for one moment in particular -- if you saw it, you know what I mean. As for the result? Mickie fucked up the finish but they recovered without missing a beat, with JR's commentary a great help, and Stratus did the job. But she'll be back on top soon -- you know she will.

2:00 It's the half-way mark now, and time for the casket match. Great observation from Tazz: "It's like a shed, not a casket!" Typical Undertaker match really, with a few extreme moves thrown in so Taker could prove to the boys that he's still got it. The bookers kept the whole thing mercifully short, Taker kept his record intact, and everybody left happy.

Well, everyone except for Mark Henry, who got wheeled away inside the casket. Oops.

2:20 Shawn Michaels against Vince McMahon next. The set-up for this has been pretty weird over the last few weeks, with McMahon making Michaels' life a living hell. The only way that could go tonight that would leave anybody happy would be to get Shawn get his revenge -- and he did, in spades.

It started off slow, and then suddenly erupted when HBK threw Vince over the announce table into JR's lap, which the director must have thought was unscriped as he cut away to the crowd for a few seconds. Even if the 'match' was just a bloody brawl of the like we've seen a million times before from these two, it was worth watching just to hear JR's brilliantly spiteful, bile-laden commentary.

2:45 A short respite after that, as it's announced that WrestleMania 23 will be held on April Fool's Day at the spanking-new Ford Field in Detroit. Now that's more like it! Shame I won't be able to go, but I'm aiming for WrestleMania 25. I've been at WrestleMania before, and I'll be there again...

2:55 Next up, the first of the big title matches, as Kurt Angle defended the World Championship against Rey Misterio and Randy Orton. Misterio came out to the ring in a headdress he must have borrowed from Tatanka. Weird. The match itself was pretty unusual, too, as the trio abandoned the plodding style I've been used to from SmackDown! every week and had themselves a bit of a spot-fest.

I was expecting a dud, but these guys really pulled off a stunner. All credit to Angle and Misterio, and even Orton pulled more than his weight. Misterio got the nod and the pin after a too short (only nine minutes!) but fast-paced match, yet I fear it's only because of Eddie, and they'll find some way to take the strap off him quickly. Or maybe Creative will prove me wrong and let him run with the ball a while. We shall see.

3:10 Whatever the case, SmackDown! pulled out all the stops. They may have been relegated to the undercard tonight, but they've done more than enough to outshine anything else that Raw can do in the last two matches on the card, the penultimate one being the Playboy pillow fight. I need not report on the bout itself, but I will quote JR's commentary: "I suggested this match be held in the frozen food aisle of a local supermarket, but nobody went for it."

3:20 And finally, the moment we've all (not) been waiting for -- Triple H versus John Cena for the WWE Championship. Triple H came out dressed as Conan the Barbarian, while Cena was dolled up as a gangster (complete with a blank-firing tommy gun).

After all that pantomime, the snoozefest began. I honestly didn't pay much attention until the end, when Triple H surprisingly did the job. Actually, it's not so surprising -- he's a company boy, and he probably felt it was good for business to put over Cena as a credible champ who's even good enough to defeat The Game. Unfortunately even a casual fan could see through that plot. How much longer can they keep throwing money at this character before they cut their losses? Hell, even the Ultimate Warrior was a better champ!

So that was that. If I can sum it all up in one sentence, WrestleMania this year was a lot like the Oscars: two hours of great entertainment, spread over four hours.

02 April 2006

Back on Blogspot, Ready for WrestleMania

As you've probably guessed by now, The Irish Whip has returned to Blogspot. No big explanation necessary; it's just a personal preference. I've also ended my two-and-a-half-month hiatus, which was brought about by nothing more exciting than general laziness, boredom and lack of enthusiasm.

But I couldn't ignore WrestleMania, could I? It's the biggest event on the wrestling calendar, and I -- along with pretty much every other mat fan in the UK and Ireland -- will be staying up till 4am tonight subjecting myself to enjoying every moment of it.

Good news for you, dear reader: I'll be watching on the big telly downstairs and bringing my laptop with me so I can 'blog' the proceedings from the comfort of my living room. (I say 'blog' like that since I won't have an internet connection, so I'll be posting my observations after the fact. But who's gonna be reading this site in the middle of the night anyway?)

Fingers crossed it'll be a good show and the booking will keep me alert enough so as I don't fall asleep half-way through.

Hall of Fame 2006

WrestleMania weekend wouldn't be complete these days without the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which took place last night in Chicago. This year's crop of entrants were obviously outshined by the one-two punch Eddie Guerrero and Bret 'Hitman' Hart, but it's the people you might not have heard of who better deserve the attention, if not the honour -- people, like the AWA's Verne Gagne, who were invaluable to the development of the industry.

So with that in mind, click here to see the first two hours of this year's Hall of Fame ceremony. It's worth it to see the 'priceless' Sensational Sherri's speech alone.

In Praise of the Set Designers

Time to break the radio silence here, with a pic of the entrance stage at Saturday Night's Main Event from two weeks ago.

I don't know about other wrestling fans, but I'm a big sucker for good set design. There's just something about the lighting and the staging that can create a unique atmosphere, and I'm glad that the WWE started to recognise this after years of austerity. Just compare any major pay-per-view from the early '90s -- with no more than a lit-up WWF logo hanging over a black curtain -- with today's massive ramps and platforms and giant screens and fireworks, and you can see what a difference it makes. It's all about the attention to detail.

Even if there's nothing to appreciate about the booking or the wrestling at any given show (like SNME, which wasn't much to write home about, being mostly an advert aimed at wrestling newbies) you can be sure that the WWE's set designers will do a bang-up job, at least most of the time. As you can see from the above image, Saturday Night's Main Event was one of those times. It elevates this dirty, grimy, sleazy pseudo-sport to the level of proper showbiz, where it should be.

It goes without saying that I'm looking forward to see what they've come up with for WrestleMania tonight.