Talking Wrestling: TH and Survivor Series
Sometimes you just want to talk wrestling, you know? I emailed my buddy Tom Holzerman of the Wrestling Blog for a talk about Survivor Series then and now, roster sizes, NXT and CM Punk. It was a good time, you should read it.
The wrestling that I remember most from my youth is when I was eleven and twelve years old. I'm talking old school WWF new generation. That period when Tatanka was undefeated, the Undertaker was a good guy feuding with Yokozuna and I had a styrofoam urn to support him, Randy Savage was an announcer, the Hart brothers were exploding, the 1-2-3 Kid was becoming a thing and Razor Ramon was the coolest man on Earth. (Don't judge me.) I still look back on this time as my absolute favorite time to be a wrestling fan and I suspect that it was Mike Quackenbush's favorite too based on the last two King of Trios. I think the time period from Survivor Series 1993 to Survivor Series 1994 was one of the best booked periods in WWE history that sadly ended at an MSG show after Survivor Series 1994. (Thanks a lot, Diesel.)
The Survivor Series matches during this time period meant something. Or at least Todd Pettengill's Survivor Series reports made me think they did.
The Hart Family vs. The King's Knights had been building since King of the Ring, the Foreign Fanatics vs. The All-Americans was a battle for our country's future (with just a dash of McMahon jingoism), even Doink's matches at these shows were well built and felt somewhat important. I think I always liked the Survivor Series style matches because of the way they can showcase wrestlers in a unique way much like the Royal Rumble. The opening match of the 1994 Survivor Series did just as much to make Diesel into a star as his showing in the 1994 Royal Rumble did. Survivor Series 1993 is probably the highlight of the 1-2-3 Kid's career and probably his longest match as well. 26 minutes! That's how you showcase your undercard guys. Heck, Survivor Series 2009 is the highlight of Kofi Kingston's career and probably always will be. I don't want to ever see the Survivor Series matches go away like Vince said they would back in 2010 (remember?) because they can do so much for young guys by just letting them do what they are paid to do and, honestly, undercard guys are my favorite to watch anyway. Always have been, always will be.
First off, your attempts at buttering me up by linking my own blog to me in an e-mail have worked. I will buy whatever you are selling.
Second, Survivor Series was always weird to me. Even though it was the second regular event WWE decided to make a pay-per-view, it always felt like the bastard child among the big four. Mania was Mania. SummerSlam was SummerMania. The Rumble, even before it was for a title shot, was a spectacle because it was an innately fun match, a trainwreck so to speak. Survivor Series though? It was always fun, no doubt, because back then, all WWF PPVs were fun because we were kids, right? But something always felt like it was missing from it. The team matches were great, and as I've gotten older, I've grown to appreciate them more. However, the fact that there were no WWF Championship matches on the show until '91 felt kinda lame to me. I was a dumb kid and a mark for gold. Sue me.
Even when they started to throw singles matches on the show, things always felt dubious as a dumb kid. There was Hulk Hogan losing to the Undertaker because Ric Flair decided he was gonna use that chair. Then Owen Hart threw in the towel even though everyone knew he wasn't doing it for the best interests of his big brother. Then Montreal. Damn, Bret Hart couldn't ever catch a break at Survivor Series, could he? I really want to look back at Survivor Series with the same nostalgia but to do that, I'd have to pretend I dug something that I always thought was just an appetizer between SummerSlam and the Rumble.
That being said, they had a shot to add some gravitas to the traditional five-on-five (or four-on-four) matches this year following up Ryback vs. Punk with Team Foley vs. Team Punk, but they had to go and panic. It was the perfect opportunity! Three weeks between matches? A bulging need to feed Ryback a huge win without ruining Punk's streak or the Royal Rumble non-Rumble match main event? A whole bunch of stories converging and causing opportunities for crossing the streams? Yeah! We still get the latter, but that three way is such a goddamn cop-out man.
But yeah, not only do I think we "can" return to a time when those matches were the coolest and best way to tell a story, I think they pretty much have to. Twelve pay-per-views are and have been hard to fill up with twelve unique main events that don't at all feel like they're selling you the same damn thing over and over and over and over and you catch my drift.
My question to you is if you think they'll ever expand the roster to the gargantuan size needed to have like four or five unique elimination matches like they had those first few years?
VM: See, I have to disagree with you on the whole appetizer thing. The 1994 Survivor Series, to me, set the perfect formula for what Survivor Series should be. Two clear main event singles matches with importance and three elimination style matches with The Undertaker and Yokozuna going on last because that was their blowoff match and it didn't have a BS ending like the Hart/Backlund match. Yes, I realize that I might be blinded by nostalgia eyes here, but I just think the entire format of that show worked and could work again. We're so used to PPVs with eight or more matches, but I'd love for Survivor Series to be that time of year when we get five matches and each one of them gets at least twenty minutes to shine. I can dream, can't I?
As for your question, I've been thinking about the WWE roster a lot lately and here's the thing: it has no veterans. Or at least veterans that you would consider veterans. (Punk and Kofi are considered elder statesman in the locker room. Seriously.) Think about it, outside of John Cena, Big Show and Kane nearly every top guy from the past few years is gone. Batista is making movies, Edge got hurt, The Undertaker is Wrestlemania only, Shawn Michaels got retired by him, Triple H doesn't count, Jeff Hardy is the TNA Divas champion and Jericho prefers leather pants over his spandex. Even guys that WWE spent a lot of time build up, but weren't quite top guys are gone too. Guys like MVP, Mr. Anderson, Booker T, Bobby Lashley, Carlito, Matt Hardy, Chavo Guerrero, Umaga, John Morrison, Evan Bourne, Finlay and Shelton Benjamin are all gone for one reason or another. There will always be turnover on the roster, but that is a lot of guys who have come and gone over the past five years. When you talk about the bloated rosters of years past I don't think you're talking about actual number of guys on the roster, but actual guys on the roster that mattered. If even one third of the people I listed had managed to hang on we might not be having this conversation. I also think that CM Punk's title reign would have went a bit better if he had a bigger roster to work with and gotten to wrestle more than John Cena, three guys with short title reigns that you didn't believe would beat him (Del Rio, Miz, Bryan) and three giants (but only in triple threats with Cena or Bryan.) Building a roster that people care about takes time. The seeds of the WWF Attitude 1998 roster were all there in 1997, they just needed time to grow into what they would become. Between the their inability to pull the trigger on people, all the future stars being down in NXT and WWE losing so many guys in the peak of their careers for whatever reason, WWE is in a building stage once again. Only I'm not sure if they know it. Or care.
Since we're on the subject of roster I have a question for you. If WWE signs El Generico as they are rumored to and sends him to NXT, does the NXT roster become the most talented roster in America? It's at least close to TNA now, right? Honestly, I'm not sure why there isn't an NXT match on this PPV. I mean, this is the same company that once had a Smoky Mountain Wrestling tag team title match on a PPV. You know NXT a little better than I do so I'm going to leave this one up to you: Who would you book from NXT in a match for Survivor Series that would properly represent the future of THIS BUSINESS?
TH: You raise an interesting point about a lack of veterans. It's a shame that Mark Henry had to go on the shelf because he'd have had a damn good program with Punk if given the chance. They had two really awesome matches in April for the title. Such a tease. SUCH A TEASE. But of the guys you mentioned, Anderson, Lashley and Hardy were useless, Chavito was a pale imitation of his uncle, Benjamin is a charisma void and Finlay was old when he came out of leg-laceration retirement. So you're left really with MVP, Carlito, JoMo and Bourne as misses. But yeah, I get what you're saying.
Anyway, I'm less worried about NXT being the best roster in America than I am with them not getting Generico. Like, your entire blog is Generico themed. You and I both want to see him get paid massive amounts of money because he deserves it, but what will be the unintended results? Like, they'll water him down and he could lose a lot of his charm. Maybe I'm flipping out for nothing, because Daniel Bryan is still the best in the world, and CM Punk is the biggest cot dam star in the world, but Generico feels different.
But as to your question? Give me Generico, Adrian Neville (PAC for the uninitiated), Richie Steamboat, Rick Victor and Xavier Woods against Kassius Ohno, Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, Kenneth Cameron and Conor O'Brian. And if Generico doesn't sign, replace him with Dean Ambrose just to fill everyone's heads full of grade-A fuck. That would be a fine match to add onto this card, but I feel like it would overshadow the rest of it. Seriously, I am not feeling this card at all so far, maybe because they totally screwed up the mojo of it by taking Punk and Ryback out of the team matches. The original lineup, paired with Sheamus/Show II and Cena/Ziggler would've been a rockstar card. Am I irrationally on the ledge here?
VM: I have images of Bray Wyatt standing on the outside of the ring for the entire match giving an insane promo. I want this. Bad.
Seriously, NXT is loaded with guys I love to see wrestle and out of everyone I think Wyatt might be my favorite and the one I am most excited to see get the call. Please let this happen.
(Side note: I can't stand PAC's name. Every time I read it I think of Joe C's line from Bawitdaba "high ass voice like Aaron Neville and I'm down with the devil." Please change it to AskJeeves or something.)
Here's what I think about Generico (and to an extent Cesaro, Ohno, Ambrose and Rollins), you always hear these WWE higher ups or former stars like Steve Austin saying things like "someone needs to step up, someone needs to take the ball and run with it" about the current crop of WWE talent. I've even heard Daniel Bryan say that there are certain guys in the locker room who would rather not have to wrestle on TV. Some people just don't want it bad enough and aren't willing to do whatever it takes to become a superstar. I don't think Generico has that gene in him. He is built in the same way that Bryan and Punk are. He wants to be the best. He won't stop until he succeeds. The WWE can sign him and give him the worst name and the worst gimmick and he will make it work. He will work his ass off to make it work. I'm not worried about losing Generico to the WWE and never seeing him again. I'm worried about never being able to sing "Ole" in a crowded room again
Anyways, I have to admit that I'm not feeling this card either, but it's not because of the loss of the Survivor Series match (which, admittedly, would have ruled) but because WWE's booking has been pissing me off so much lately. Which can be pretty much one hundred and ten percent attributed to the ongoing burial of CM Punk.
Punk is basically (in his own words) playing Bobby Eaton to Ryback right now and that's great... for Ryback, but Bobby Eaton was like the fourth best member of Dangerous Alliance and he was never the Best in the World. CM Punk was something special. I think we both like Ryback and want the WWE to strike while the iron is hot with him. There is something there, but it isn't what they have (had) with Punk. Punk's ascension was earned. Punk's words meant something because they were years in the making. I'm not sure if you've seen his DVD, which is excellent and everyone should actually spend money to buy, but when you walk away from watching it you think nothing but positive thoughts. This guy deserves to be on top. This guy could change the WWE. I'm glad this guy is WWE champion. I want to see what he's going to do next. Only what he's going to do next is retain his title against Cena and Ryback in a bullshit fashion that does everything for those two and nothing for him, then limp into Royal Rumble where The Rock is going to win the title. After that? Who knows. I could easily see him in the midcard of Wrestlemania on Team Vickie or something. I don't have a problem with CM Punk being a heel or even losing, but he should be Ric Flair and not Jack Swagger. For all the talk of how this three way is a cop out for the burgeoning Ryback, it is even worse for CM Punk. CM Punk is facing THE ROCK in two months. He needs to look strong now more than ever. There needs to be doubt that The Rock won't win the title and if Punk barely crawls out of Survivor Series with the title after a cheap win and barely crawls out of TLC with another cheap win then they have failed. I think CM Punk is doing his absolute best with the material given to him and is undoubtedly the top heel in the company, but he is still clearly in a third row minivan backseat to Cena and Ryback right now and that is just not right.
Over dramatic? Over reacting? Super smarky? You tell me, Tom.
But seriously, Antonio Cesaro vs. R-Truth is going to rule.
TH: Look, Antonio Cesaro is amazing in WWE, but let's not attribute him to miracle working now.
Anyway, I don't feel like you're being super smarky here, and I agree, he should be Ric Flair and not Jack Swagger, but is he really Jack Swagger right now? How many times did Flair need the Horsemen to bail him out? How many times did the local babyface whip his ass red in a non-title match, only to either win or score a 60 minute draw in the title match before moving onto the next territory? I agree, I'd like to see Punk get that signature, clean, SLAM DUNK win over Cena that he's missing, and I think he needs it before some fans "buy" him. I like Champions to get a big win here and there. That being said, whenever he talks, he gets whatever momentum back that he may have lost. Punk is special, and if he had come up 15 years earlier, he would have been an awesomely popular counterbalance to The Rock. Now, when the fat of the land is no longer so fat, a lot of the deficiencies in his booking seem a lot sorer.
You won't get arguments from me that WWE Creative sucks, but you will get the argument that a lot of what we think matters may not matter that much at all. You know what does matter though? Thanksgiving, that's what. I know the wait between Survivor Series and Thanksgiving is now 72 hours instead of 16, but it's still a tradition. May you and your own have a great holiday, and may your turkey be more Butterball than Gobbledygooker!
Yours in Bryan
TH, if you will
VM: I know I can take things too seriously at times, but sometimes perception is reality, you know? I guess we'll just have to do the ol' Wait And See What Happens.
I would totally prefer to watch Survivor Series on Thanksgiving, but stupid football has a stranglehold on the holiday and I don't think it will ever happen. Plus, it'd be hard to convince my family to watch anything involving the Miz over football. They're not stupid. So I'd probably just end up watching it alone and if I'm going to watch TV alone on Thanksgiving I'd rather FX bring back the all day Buffy marathon.
I hope your Thanksgiving is good as well and I look forward to seeing pictures of it on Holzerman Hungers. Thanks for listening to me complain for a few emails. We'll have to do it again sometime. Under the Hood, maybe?