VS. #5 – Steve Murray vs. ML Kennedy

Order in the court, suckas! Yes indeed, it is I, Ben Morse, formerly of Comics Nexus fame, currently of Wizard Magazine infamy. Yes, I’m the “pretty big writer” that Pulse Glazer alluded to when he did this column last week and I have returned to Pulse Wrestling to throw on the judge’s robe on and led some credibility to VS. and throw as many hyperlinks in along the way as I can (half a dozen before the end of the first paragraph, baby)!

I don’t know a lot of these new kids who have come onboard the site since I was last here regularly nearly three years ago, so let’s meet today’s competitors together

Steve Murray seems to have taken my spot as the site’s resident optimist with his column A Look On The Bright Side. I admire Steve’s efforts to stay positive in the face of Eric S. (I’m not dissing you, Eric, it was for the HYPERLINK), but will I show him favoritism as a result ? (Answer: No)

ML Kennedy seems to not be a member of the famed political family from my home state of Massachusetts, but rather one of those Moodspins fellas.

Ok, introductions out of the way, so let’s get down to business and hang one of these fools!

1. Why is the popularity of tag team wrestling always changing in the WWE? What reasons do you think that it’s so weak right now? How can the tag division on RAW be fixed?

Steve Murray: This past week’s Monday Night RAW gives a pretty good example of why it’s weak: the Highlanders were squashed in a handicap match by Umaga, and Cryme Tyme appeared only in a mildly amusing backstage skit. And remember: both of these teams were given week’s worth of build-up before their debut. The primary reason is the WWE’s complete and total lack of patience: if you don’t connect with the crowd immediately, you’re forgotten (the Rockers would have never gotten off the ground if they had debuted in 2006). The popularity changes based upon the relative talent level, and the patience of the writing staff – back when the Hardys, the Dudleys, and Edge & Christian were at their peak, a retarded poodle could have been booking the tag scene and still been successful. But now, they rush teams to WWE before they are truly ready, and give up on them before they have time to evolve into a successful team (would The Brood have been allowed to turn into their current state nowadays, or would they have been eventually squashed by Bobby Lashley in a 2-on-1 match?). To fix it will require a few things that can be controlled by the creative staff (patience, and the ability to recognize truly talented teams), and one thing they cannot control – an influx of truly talented teams.

ML Kennedy: WWE tag teams are used primarily to get singles stars ready to be singles stars, while the WWE tag belts are used to get new teams over. If the WWE constantly uses the championship to get green teams over, then the belts lose all prestige.

Although, when was the last time tag belts had any prestige? Look at any given time in the past 10 years. Were WWE, the WWF, or WCW to put the tag champs against the heavyweight champ in a handicap match, what would happen? What usually did happen? If memory serves, the team is more likely to job. Do you think the Hardy Boys are likely to beat John Cena were they to face him in handicap match? What about Deuce and Domino against Taker?

The two tag champs are less than one heavyweight champ.

There is one way to “fix” the tag division on Raw: kill the titles. Or rather, unify the Smackdown and Raw tag titles. Every PPV is cross-branded anyway. Have one set of tag champs for Raw, Smackdown, and ECW. Have one tag title match each PPV, with the champs making at least one appearance on each brand per month.

It’s simple economics. Value increases with scarcity and an increase in demand. With this scenario, there are fewer belts; there are more teams vying for the championship.

Judge Morse’s Verdict: Hmm I’m a little disappointed that neither guy really gave a go at answering the first part of the question about why the general popularity of tag team wrestling is always in flux and leapt straight to the “fix” portion, but since they both did it, neither guy gains an edge. Steve advocates patience—a virtue to be sure but not really much in the way of a solution. ML not only presents the avenue most people would advocate as far as consolidating the various titles, but also works math into his argument not once, but twice, making him instantly sound smarter whether he is or not. Point to ML, 1-0.

2. TNA has proven that just because you have a big name, it doesn’t mean ratings will increase. Sting and Christian haven’t helped ratings or buy rates. Maybe this is because they are utilizing the big names incorrectly. What should the role of these big names be in TNA?

Steve Murray: The key here is a definition of “big name” – Christian was, at best, an Intercontinental title contender in the WWE, and Sting hasn’t made a significant splash since he switched to black and white makeup. The major problem is that there is no growth anywhere in wrestling right now: the ratings for WWE and TNA are stagnant, and ROH, while increasingly growing its reputation amongst the “smart” wrestling fans, struggles to get even 1,000 people to show up for its major shows. So, to expect ratings to increase while doing nothing to actually pull in new fans is counter-intuitive. Yes, you and I know that Samoa Joe is one of the top wrestlers in North America now – but how many non-smark fans have even heard of him? Does having his name on a marquee (even when facing Kurt Angle) do anything to increase ratings or buyrates? As we’ve seen already from undeniable evidence: no.

So, the role of the big names should be to build up some of the truly talented young wrestlers below them, who just need a slight tweak in order to be considered the Next Big Thing. Sure, AJ Styles is never going to grow 6 inches – but are you telling me that Kurt Angle couldn’t teach him how to nail an effective promo? Or how to grow his own unique match psychology (like the pop-up superplexes) in order to get the crowd to pop when he wanted to? And the most criminally underused guy here is Kevin Nash – who is more natural on the mic than every single other person in TNA — and yet *NO ONE* seems to learn from his natural style. TNA doesn’t need better wrestling – it needs a more entertaining show.

ML Kennedy: There are two types of Sting fans: die hard fans of old WCW and fans of the “Crow” sting. The former are watching TNA with or without Sting. The latter stopped watching wrestling years ago (with everybody else).

If TNA wants to increase their audience, they need to create a buzz. They could accomplish this by having a better TV product. There are few big names that mean a good goddamn.

The big names in TNA should be used the same way as the small ones, i.e. to create compelling stories. It doesn’t matter who jobs out to whom so long as the marks are given a reason to care.

Judge Morse’s Verdict: Steve gives a well-thought out and intelligent answer here, basically saying that at the moment there are no true “big name” stars in TNA because TNA isn’t itself a “big name,” but if the more experienced guys like Sting, Cage, Angle and Nash help make younger guys like Joe and Styles better, perhaps they can all get there together and all be big names. ML seems to have his heart in the right place, but his “better TV product” fix is a bit too generic and not fleshed out for my tastes and the general gloom and doom at the beginning of his answer steer me to want to root for his opponent, my brother in optimism. Point to Steve to tie it up 1-1.

So now that ROH has a fledgling PPV deal, how does Ring of Honor compare to ECW when it first went onto PPV circa 1997? Can a real comparison be made between the two companies?

Steve Murray: A comparison can be made, but only to point out how stark the contrasts are. ECW grew into such a legend because of two reasons: 1) it provided an alternative to the ever-growing “character-based” approach in then-WWF, and the “old guys rule the roost” in WCW, and 2) because it laid the foundation for everything that eventually grew into the Attitude Era. ECW was simultaneously putting on the best pure wrestling matches in North America at the time, and was doing things that no one had ever seen in a wrestling ring before. ROH actually suffers in the shadow of ECW – it’s nearly impossible to imagine pulling out gimmicks and storyline angles that will truly catch the audience by surprise. Say what you will about Paul Heyman’s financial sense, but no one on earth could come up with wrestling storylines like he could.

ML Kennedy: Well, ECW had a TV show I could find on cable. They also had surreptitious McMahon support. They also had wrestlers with significant TV exposure. They also had Terry Funk.

And lesbians.

Be that as it may, ROH probably has a better business model. (It has to right?)

ROH also doesn’t have WCW looming over its head. Specifically, ROH doesn’t have to deal with WCW’s ability to run at a deficit, and its need to fill up 3 hours of Nitro, two hours of Thunder, Saturday Night, Worldwide, etc.

Judge Morse’s Verdict: Both guys seems to be in agreement (and so am I): comparisons between ROH and ECW don’t make much sense as the two companies are apples and oranges once you scratch the “third major player” or “underground alternative” shell. It’s a close one here, but ML gets my vote because of the astute observation that ROH has the advantage of not having a WCW to reckon with (and not because he went for the cheap lesbians reference). Point to ML to put him back in the lead 2-1.

So now that ROH is going to be on PPV, they need to lock in some talent. Build a core Ring of Honor roster using two guys from each of the big two wrestling promotions. What two non-main event talents would you take from the WWE and what two non-main event talents would you take from TNA to build ROH?

Steve Murray: Well, the definition of “non-main event talent” is pretty crucial. But I’m going to assume it means discounting anyone who could be brought in on name recognition alone, or who currently holds or is chasing after a major title. So sadly, this means I can’t choose Chris Benoit, who would be my obvious first choice. He’s an incredible technical wrestler, he knows how to pace a match, and he’s completely unselfish. But, he has the IC title, and will probably be going for the World title soon. So, from the WWE, I’ll choose Shelton Benjamin and Elijah Burke. They are both for similar reasons – freakish athletic ability, no obvious backstage egos, and they are both growing into their own in promo styles (especially Burke – he could do wonders for ROH storyline growth). From TNA, the first choice without the “non-main event” restriction would be Kurt Angle, for almost all of the same reasons as Benoit. Instead, I’ll choose the criminally under-used Ron Killings (for the same reasons as Benjamin – no I’m not being racist, shut up), and…Shane Douglas. Why? Because the launch of ECW as we know it, was due to Douglas tossing the NWA title to the floor. One truly inspired promo from him could A) immediately acknowledge ROH as a player, B) bring back the nostalgia of ECW (despite what I said above about them not being truly comparable), and C) create a YouTube clip that could be played forever.

ML Kennedy: Currently, the only guy worth building a company around is Edge, but he is a main event guy. So let’s say Shelton Benjamin and Paul London from WWE.

Now here comes the tricky part. I don’t watch ROH or TNA, and yet I am going to select to TNA guys to go to ROH. I don’t know who counts as the TNA main event level talent, so I say f*ckitall and draft Buh Buh and D-Von.

Judge Morse’s Verdict: Both guys screw up in my eyes before even launching their real answers, Steve on the technical oversight of calling Chris Benoit the IC champion when he’s actually the U.S. champ and ML by making the enormous leap that Edge is the only guy “worth building a company around”—dude, subjective likes and dislikes aside, it’s crazy to argue you couldn’t build a company around a proven money maker like John Cena, I don’t care how many people boo him but I digress.

I think Steve makes three solid picks with Benjamin, Burke and Killings, then makes it a riskier proposition by throwing Douglas in there. I’m a huge “Franchise” fan, but the guy has got a number of factors working against him, among them age, injuries, addictions and attitude. The first two didn’t stop Terry Funk from helping to make ECW, but he brought more name value than Douglas will ever have. Despite not having the cache of a Terry Funk, Douglas also hasn’t shown a willingness to be as unselfish as “The Funker” and put over everybody in the locker room to help build the company. At this stage in the game, I’m really not sure how much Shane Douglas brings to the table of a fledgling company and the risks outweigh the reward in my mind—also, didn’t he get booed out of the building the last time he showed up in ROH?

Switching over to ML, he makes the same smart pick of Benjamin, then follows up with perhaps an even smarter one by bringing London back to his old stomping grounds with the credibility of having carved a decent niche on national television and enough name value to get at least a few fans to follow him. The former Dudleys I was a bit skeptical when I first read their names, thinking their act has gotten stale, but upon reflection, they’re at their best when they’re trying to help an underdog company get on its feet and you know they will always bust ass and give 100% every night. Bubba’s experience as an agent in the old ECW helps here too.

On the strength of ML’s London and Team 3D picks, coupled with my nervousness over Steve’s selection of Shane Douglas potentially bearing bitter fruit, I’d say Mr. Kennedy has the advantage here. Point to ML, putting him ahead 3-1 Can Steve at least make things interesting with the final question and help himself out in the overall point system?

Vince is the ECW champion. Who’s the second worst heavyweight champion of all time? David Arquette is clearly #1, so we’re going to remove him from the conversation.

Steve Murray: Too easy – Vince Russo. The booker makes himself the World Champ of a fake sport, because he wanted to draw even that more much attention to himself? Pathetic. This was Vinny-Ru’s true cry for help.

ML Kennedy: Vince Russo, who held the WCW title from September 25th to October 2nd of 2000. He won the title from Booker T in a cage match by means of Goldberg knocking him through the cage. (Escape rules suck.) He held on to the title for a week, then vacated it. Booker T immediately won back the title.

The only other contender for this dubious distinction would require us to accept a meta-answer. That is to say, the worst champion is “vacant” who held the WCW title 12 times between 1991 and 2001.

Judge Morse’s Verdict: I’d argue that Russo actually has a decent claim to worst champ ever; Arquette at least recognizes the ridiculousness of his holding the title and tried to argue against it and failing that still gave his earnings to the families of Brian Pillman and Owen Hart. As for who gets the point, when a guy can work the term “meta-answer” into his response, is there really any question? ML scores the final point to win it 4-1.
ML Kennedy (4) defeats Steve Murray (1).