ANYTHING BUT FOXY
It's normal to not like every segment or storyline when you watch professional wrestling. As someone who has watched pro wrestling just about every week of his life since he was 12 years old, there's been a lot that I've sat through that I've rolled my eyes at, shook my head at or downright hated. Last night on Raw, there was a segment that I just stared blankly at, because it was so ridiculously rotten that I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that it was conceived, much less that it was executed the way it was.
In recent weeks on Raw and 205 Live, Noam Dar has been the aggressive, condescending villain obsessed with taking the fair hand of Alicia Fox from her beloved, Cedric Alexander. Even if you think the story is ridiculous, pro wrestling has always had soap opera elements to it and all good stories have some sort of triangle that has to be resolved. This one is no different. Dar is the antagonist, making life miserable for our protagonists, Cedric and Alicia. His haunting of them has cost Cedric matches and has caused Cedric to lose his cool. Any guy can related to that, because they are going to want to protect someone they care about.
There's nothing uniquely original about such a story - it's been told and passed down and performed and executed a billion ways over the course of time. At the end, the message is that love conquers all. Now, this is pro wrestling, so that's not always the case (unless you are Gorgeous Jimmy Garvin and Precious, that is...) but the course of the story is pretty concise and easy to follow and as a way to establish Dar as a villain and Cedric as a likeable babyface, all is well. Plus, it gives Fox a storyline.
But last night made no sense at all. Why would Fox confront Dar, kiss him passionately and then tell him that he can't handle a real woman?
Ignoring the fact that the cameras caught all this, so anyone, including Cedric could see this all over any WWE platform, let's ask this question: in what story realm would this empower the female character? WWE had done nothing to tease that perhaps Dar was making Alicia's heart flutter. They had done nothing to tease the idea that perhaps she was trying to play mind games with him the way Dar has tormented Cedric?
No, instead we have a plot twist out of nowhere that the likes of Degrassi would have rejected - the victimized female comes on to her potential assailant.
It didn't advance the story. It just felt wrong and dirty and dumb.
WWE is allowed to make their mis-steps, obviously, but during the same time period that we are getting to see female talents main event PPVs and seeing female athletes drive ratings, storylines and excellent matches, this felt more out of place on WWE programming than ever and may have been one of the most ridiculously conceived moments for the women's division since Nikki Bella told Brie Bella that she wished Brie had died in the womb.
That line was quickly forgotten and let's hope last night's segment is as well. It was beneath the story and beneath WWE in 2017.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
One of the more interesting developments over the last week or so is that upon his return to WWE, Chris Hero was once again Kassius Ohno. Then, WWE NXT began renaming European stars Big Damo and Tommy End? That has led to a number of emails from readers wondering if WWE is trying to "own" the names of their talents again.
I am sure they are, and for good reason. At the end of the day, WWE is in the entertainment business foremost and no different than Disney or Universal, they are going to protect their trademarks. So, while the likes of Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode and Eric Young have made it to WWE NXT without any major changes or tweaks to their name (although the latter two certainly have had minor tweaks to their presentation), the European talents did not carry that same commodity that came with their names on a major international basis. So, of course WWE is going to change the names. They want to own, trademark and copyright the names.
Now, one could argue that Chris Hero may have that international level of notoriety that should result in him keeping his name, but again, this is an entertainment company - one that has invested in created the name, trademark, graphics, etc. of one Kassius Ohno. It's already in their arsenal, so of course WWE is going to use it to their advantage.
At the end of the day, none of the aforementioned are going to be hurt because they are using WWE-conceived and produced names. Bryan Danielson was not. Neither was Sami Zayn. Or, for that matter, Kevin Owens. Like the aforementioned trio, All three of the newly signed talents are going to get the chance to be a part of the NXT brand and that allows them to build upon and expand their roots and their fan base. No matter what name they use, the potential for greater stardom and money is there for all of them. That's a good thing.
Plus, let's not forget that in March 1996, Mick Foley intended to retire Cactus Jack and just perform as Mankind the Mutilator. By October 1997, not only had Cactus Jack reemerged to a standing ovation in Madison Square Garden, but Dude Love had been unleashed upon the world. Things change and evolve in WWE all the time - there's no telling if and when Chris Hero will pop up again, or for that matter, Tommy End or Big Damo.
Pro Wrestling, like water, ebbs and flows. You never know which way it's going to go.
MOST UNDERRATED PLAYER
If I had to pick one talent that really deserves a run with a WWE championship in a major way, or even just as run as the Money in the Bank case holder, it may be Rusev.
Rusev has continuously improved, both in the ring and on the mic, since making his debut in WWE a few years ago. His character, pretty much the foreign menace brute, has evolve beyond just the cookie cutter pro-Russian/anti-USA personality that was a throwback to the days of The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff. His in-ring work is always pretty inspired and Lana adds a nice dimension to his presentation with the ring announcing, her pouty facial reactions and her put-upon Russian accent.
In recent months, we've seen a lot more of their true personalities on Total Divas and the reality is that Rusev is pretty damn funny and charismatic on that show in a way that so few are. That leaves WWE in something of a conundrum - how to continue to maintain the level of heat Rusev and Lana get on one show while showing their softer, sillier side on another. I don't have the answer to that riddle today but I can say that they succeed on that series for the same reason they overcame the obvious split and burial after their engagement became public - they are a hell of a team.
While the feud with Enzo and Big Cass has been fine (and even given Jinder Mahal as nice role as Rusev's flunky) I can't help but feel Rusev may be one of the most underrated players in WWE today. I hope that as 2017 moves forward, that changes. He deserves more of the spotlight that was on him when he was feuding with John Cena a few years ago - it's been earned. When someone can be as entertaining as Rusev was last night on Raw with material as goofy as "put my wife in your movie with CGI", he's absolutely earned his stripes.
SPACE CITY MEMORIES COME ALIVE
With the Royal Rumble returning to San Antonio, Texas, it's only natural to think about past wrestling memories from The Lone Star State, whether it be past Wrestlemanias, The Von Erichs in Dallas, The Funks in Amarillo, or the good old days of 'wrassling in Space City, Houston.
The good news is that the latest pro wrestling DVD from Kit Parker Films "Houston's Wrestling Spectacular" which was released back in November, allows for some amazingly vibrant material to be seen from the Paul Boesch library. I've been taking my time going through the DVD in recent weeks because I didn't want to rush through what is a great time capsule for an era and territory where men were men and pro wrestlers were supreme fighting machines.
One of my favorite bouts is a 1982 attraction where then-AWA World champion comes to town to defend against Dick Slater. Slater, like Dick Murdoch and Wahoo McDaniel, is one of those truly tough SOBs who's star power and rugged bad-assery is sort of lost on today's audience as his major runs were over by the time Vince McMahon changed the landscape of pro wrestling with the Hulkamania era.
The DVD is a great spotlight on what a truly great worker Slater was and what an great champion Bockwinkel was at the thinking man's heel. While the likes of Hogan and Ric Flair are certainly to be revered forever due to their star power in the 1980s and beyond, names like Bockwinkel and Slater are the ones that older fans think of when thinking back to the "good old days."
Obviously the style is slower and the matches are executed differently, but everything means so much more and the fans are well, FAR, more invested in what is happening inside the ring. They are living and dying by the ride these two take them on and it's so refreshing to watch and feel that energy. It's not that the audience was stupider or were dumb rednecks - its that pro wrestling was presented in a way that you are left with that sliver of "can it be real?" that mentally and emotionally puts you into the same gear that a great movie or TV show does in 2017. It doesn't matter, because it's good.
So is the DVD set. Highly recommended. To order the DVD, click here.
Mike Johnson can be reached at MikeJohnsonPWInsider@gmail.com.
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