Welcome to VS where the most talented writing staff on the ‘net battles it out to see who is the supreme debater using wrestling as the great equalizer.
Today we have Prime Time Pulse and Reality Dish editor and Inside Fights and DVD Lounge staff member Kevin Wong.
On the other side of the ring we’ve got the Canadian writing machine Gordi Whitelaw. You know Girdo from such sections as Inside Fights and Pulse Wrestling.
Me? I’m Rob Blatt. I’m the guy who covers ECW live, occasionally writes for someone else in Pulse Wrestling and do the podcast “Kendo Sticks and Microphones”. You also might know me from the News Dribble. Together with Pulse Glazer, I write the questions for VS week in and week out.
1. In March of 2002, the WWE announced a brand extension. Since then there have been ups and downs involving the different brands, like the Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle feud and December to Dismember. Lately, it seems like the brands mean less and less with pay pew views dropping branding and moving superstars around like Edge, Matt Hardy, Bobby Lashley and the rumored Randy Orton move later in the summer. What SHOULD the future of the brand extension hold?
Gordi: The important thing to understand is that, in all likelihood, what SHOULD happen and what WILL happen have next to nothing in common. In theory, having two brands should have made room for WWE to develop new stars, elevate mid-carders, pay attention to the different belts and divisions, and broaden their fan base. Though WWE is now stuck in the sadly familiar pattern of pushing only McMahon-approved huge bodybuilders and hyper-pituitary freaks, I think it could be fairly argued that, without the Brand Extension, we might never have seen title reigns for Benoit, Eddie, Rey, or even Cena. I’d say that the brand extension at its best did in fact make room to create a couple of new stars and to allow a couple of upper-mid-carders their moment in the sun. I’d also argue that WWE have blown most of the chances that they’ve been given to break new stars into the stratosphere, and that they ruined both Rey and Benoit’s title runs with terrible booking… but that doesn’t answer your question. What SHOULD be done… what I’ve always felt SHOULD be done… is this: Put all of the Superheavyweight guys, all of the bodybuilders and powerlifters and giants onto one show. Base that show on convoluted storylines and WWE Main Event Style matches, focus everything on the battle for the World Title, and use the US title as a mid-card belt to give the younger musclemen and acromegalics something to do. Give Steph and Hunter this show as their unquestioned kingdom and playground. Take the other show, and use it to create something quite different, that will appeal to those fans that aren’t satisfied with WWE Main Event style wrestling and the often racist, homophobic, misogynistic and xenophobic storylines that go along with it. Give the smaller and more athletic wrestlers a playground of their own. Put together some tag teams that stay together as teams for years, instead of always breaking them up within a few months in a failed attempt to create the next HBK. Give the cruiserweights the chance to show some personality, and more importantly give them the time to stretch out and show what they can do in the ring. Have a women’s division that is made up of actual professional wrestlers. Build year-long storylines around young wrestlers chasing the Intercontinental championship. Have each and every show lead up to a lengthy match featuring some of the company’s best wrestlers. Keep ref bumps, run-ins, and screw jobs to an absolute bare minimum. Give the book to someone from outside of the McMahon family but inside of the pro wrestling fraternity, and stay out of their way. Create two actual brands, and bring them together for PPVs. Let the big guys have every Main Event. As long as you give us enough real wrestling action on the rest of the card, real wrestling fans will still show up.
Kevin Wong: Has it really been 5 years since the extension? Man, time flies.
At this point, the idea of keeping all brands separate is fairly stale, and I like the idea of “interleague” play. At the same time, I’m not a fan of having crossovers on every show. By keeping interbrand matches as an uncommon occurrence, it gives those matches a feeling of “specialness”, of something we should look forward to. I don’t want to see Funaki jobbing on all three shows, or Lashley and Umaga fighting across three shows, you know?
What do you mean, Lashley and Umaga have been fighting on every show?
With respect to moving people around, I really don’t have a problem with that. Move them, but do it so that it makes sense within the “brand” context. Meaning guys like Matt Hardy should be on Raw full time now.
Now, the future. What should happen in the future? Well, with RVD all but gone, moving Orton, Edge or Benoit to ECW makes a lot of sense – you immediately prop up the brand with a “name” wrestler. Unify the tag team titles and make it a cross-brand title. If you’re not moving Matt to Raw it’s essentially that anyway. If you need a secondary ECW title, revive the TV Title or the Hardcore title (but dropping the 24/7 rule). I don’t think it’s necessary, but it’d be nice to have something for Stevie Richards to shoot for when he’s jobbing to C.M. Punk.
Smackdown, I like. They’ve got a good mix of cruiserweights, “technical” wrestlers and power wrestlers. Move Mizanin and Kennedy to Raw. Raw has been and will continue to be the flagship show, and I don’t really think that WWE does much to disguise that fact, so it should be the home for the Main Event style wrestlers, sportz entertainerz and/or anyone who’s willing to job to/get buried by Triple H.
What I’m trying to do is to have each brand play up it’s “style” more, so that everything doesn’t seem like 5 hours of the exact same thing with different wrestlers and valets.
Judge Blatt’s ruling: Hmm. Gordi lays out an interesting idea in making a real separate brand within the WWE, and Wong goes with the current direction, but cleaning up the rules a bit. I’m going to give the point here to Wong because his approach is a little more realistic. However, I’d like to state for the record that I love Gordi‘s idea and would watch both shows that he’s proposed. If Ted Turner would only give him trucks of money and a few hours on TV each week. Wong is up 1-0.
2. So now that TNA and the NWA have parted ways, we have a chance to look back and see what the relationship meant to each of the companies. Now that it’s official that the TNA titles are separate from the NWA titles, which company saw the most benefit from the relationship? Which is hurt more from the end of the relationship?
Gordi: TNA has turned out to be an absolute, miserable failure as a wrestling company. They only still exist as a tax dodge for an energy company. They used to have one redeeming feature: The ability to put on at least one genuinely great match per show by giving free reign to a couple of the pro wrestling artists on their roster. They don’t even seem to have the ability to do that any more. They have been sullying the once-glorious name of the NWA more than long enough. I couldn’t be more happy to hear that this abusive and exploitative relationship has finally come to an end. The NWA has seen no real benefit from this relationship whatsoever. One might argue that at least TNA has kept the NWA name alive and in the national spotlight… but in so doing they have dragged the name down from its association with great champions like Hackenschmidt, Gotch, Lewis, Nagursky, Thesz, Kiniski, Funk, Brisco, Race, and Flair. It’s now associated with a midget, beatin’ off, in a trash can. I’d say that TNA certainly saw more benefit from the relationship, as the name probably once gave them some sense of legitimacy, before they pissed it all away. I don’t see that either company is really going to be hurt by the end of the relationship. The NWA benefits greatly by removing the giant reeking albatross from around their neck. TNA won’t probably lose anything, as I’d assume that every real NWA has already up on TNA a long, long time ago.
Kevin Wong: Since the relationship was a way for the NWA to keep it’s name alive, and for TNA to claim a title lineage all the way back to George Hackenschmidt, I suppose both sides benefited from it. Call it a draw.
When it comes to the end of the relationship the current losers from the split are the NWA. TNA hasn’t been officially affiliated with the NWA since 2004, yet managed to cut a deal to keep using the NWA titles (on an exclusive basis) – until now. But it was soooooo hard to start calling them the TNA titles, wasn’t it? The NWA name sounded important when it was prominently featured in TNA graphics, but it hasn’t been for over 2 years – have you called it NWA-TNA recently? So as it stands, the “importance” of the NWA name/title is about the same as when Mike Rapada and Jerry Flynn fought for the title.
Of course, if Danielson wins the NWA title and starts defending it on ROH shows, we could once again have a draw.
Judge Blatt’s ruling: Point for Gordi for calling TNA “a midget beating off in a trash can”. No discussion needed. The game is tied at 1-1.
3. The Briscoe Brothers have put on an arguable number of seven match of the year candidates and it’s only May. Is it possible that a tag team can be the wrestlers of the year? Has a tag team ever been wrestlers of the year? If you had to chose one that would have been, who would it be?
Gordi: I am a huge fan of tag team wrestling. It was the Bulldogs vs. Harts feud, as much as anything, that turned me from an ordinary pro wrestling fan into a drooling fanatic. I don’t see any problem in granting the Wrestle of the Year award to a team if the team was truly dominant over a twelve-month period. It’s the most prestigious award, and we shouldn’t let semantics keep it from going to the most deserving recipient. If the Briscoes can keep it up, then they will be the obvious choice to take the Wrestler of the Year award in 2007, much as Brian Danielson was the clear #1 in 2006. I don’t see any sign that the Briscoes will be slowing down, either. I might have given my personal WOTY prize to the Bulldogs in 1986. That year, they made the leap from Stampede to the WWF, had the tea party with Mr. Fuji and Moondog Spot, beat the Dream Team at WrestleMania 2 to take the straps, and feuded with the Hart Foundation. Ric Flair, who was a perpetual WOTY candidate throughout the decade, was tied up in feuds with Dusty Rhodes and Nikita Koloff though most of ’86, so it was one of his weaker years in terms of match quality. I also like the Midnight Express as WOTY in 1988. Flair had some great matches against Sting and Luger that year, but I’d personally take Lane & Eaton’s matches against The Fantastics, Arn & Tully, the Road Warriors, and the “Original” Midnight Express. Hats off to ROH for doing their bit to bring true tag team wrestling back to the forefront!
Kevin Wong: a. As a guy once said on the Donald’s reality show, “It’s not The Apprenti, it’s The Apprentice”. One winner, not two.
A tag team should never be considered WRESTLER of the year unless they’ve both done well enough in singles competition to warrant that title. The Briscoes work well together, but that’s the essential component of being a TEAM. You have to see how they work individually as well – if they can hang with the mid-to-top level guys in 1-on-1 situations, then I think that you give them WoY consideration… individually. You take into consideration all of their matches but you give more weight to singles matches. If there’s a tie between the two when the votes are tabulated, then congratulations, you’re co-Wrestlers of the Year, but NOT solely because you’re a tag team – it’s because you’ve done tremendously well outside of the tag environment.
Do I think this is possible for them? I can’t say for certain as I’ve never seen Mark wrestle solo. I have seen Jay’s matches with Samoa Joe though, and I think he’s got the potential to be a top singles wrestler.
b. A tag team being wrestler of the year… I certainly can’t remember there ever being one. I’ll admit to using Google to confirm this, but I haven’t seen anything in PWI, WON or RSPW that lists a tag team as WoY. Maybe those wacky DVDVR guys have something.
c. If I had to choose a tag team as WoY… I can’t say that I could do that with any current or recent team. I’d have to go back to teams like the Midnight Express, the Horsemen, British Bulldogs etc. My pick would likely be Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard. Both guys were great singles competitors, but they also brought it in tag team matches. I don’t think that they matched up with the Flairs, Dustys and Steamboats of the world as far as singles go, but if I was forced to choose, those guys would be it.
Judge Blatt’s ruling: The only question in my mind would be if they take #1 and #2, or just the entity of the team in #1. Gordi gets the point because when were talking about voting a tag team as wrestler of the year, not as two separate wrestlers. Gordi‘s up 2-1.
4. Who is the most dangerous man with a live mic?
Gordi: It’s still the Rowdy One: Roddy Piper. I was lucky enough to be in Bellingham, Washington last April when Piper was there doing his One Man Show. I fully and unreservedly urge anyone and everyone to go out to see this show if they get the chance. It’s just The Hot Rod on stage telling stories for a couple of hours with a little help, on the night I saw him, from Mean Gene. If you are not captivated, fascinated, moved, amused, and shocked by this man’s stories, then you probably have no soul. Roddy’s seen it all, and he’s got a gift for talking about it. I just obtained disc 3 of Born to Controversy, which is entirely devoted to episodes of Piper’s Pit. It’s got to be one of the most consistently entertaining discs in my library. I’ve got old footage of Piper in Portland, and most of what he did on the mic back then in the 70s is better than anything you’ll see on TV today. He’s always been one of the very best on the mic, and at this stage of his career, he’s more likely than ever to just say whatever pops into his mind. That makes him, by far, the most dangerous man in pro wrestling when he’s got a live mic in his hand.
Kevin Wong: Vague question. It really depends on what you mean by “Dangerous”. Orton shouldn’t be put near a mic because he’s a crowd killer on it.
If you told any good talker (Pillman, The Rock, Austin, Angle etc) to go out there and shoot, they could be dangerous. If Angle’s roided to the gills, he’s even more dangerous.
Guys like Lashley and Dan Severn provide unintentional comedy given that their voices entirely contradict their badass personnas.
If you’re talking about legit dangerous men, up until last month I would’ve said Mirko Cro Cop (“Right leg – hospital. Left leg – morgue”). Now… I dunno. I wouldn’t want to be his next opponent though.
Judge Blatt’s ruling: Who’s this Cro Cop fellow? You mean Marcus Cor Von? A joke. I kid. This one’s Gordi‘s point because, after all, Roddy Piper is the hands down most over guy when you give him a microphone, provided he’s not talking about the fraternity. Other acceptable answers would ahve been the roided up Steiner, ECW era Austin, and ECW era Shane Douglas. Also Ralphus. Gordi is up 3-1.
5. Now that Ring of Honor is putting on pay per view events, do you think that they can stick with their current level of production? The other two American companies are producing much more slick pay per view events. Should they change their production?
Gordi: Do you play any of Adam Ryland’s pro wrestling booking sims? It’s an exciting moment when your little indy promotion gets popular enough to make it on PPV. As soon as you can afford it, you want to increase your production values and that will almost surely increase the public’s opinion of your promotion, which will lead to more buys and more money, allowing you to increase your production values still further. In the game, I’d say it’s definitely time for ROH to spring for increased production values. In real life… I don’t see any need to be in a big rush. By far the main priority has to be signing up the best available wrestlers so that ROH can continue to put on the best matches of any American promotion. Their fan base has always been, and will continue to be, interested in the steak more than the sizzle. That’s not to say that ROH shouldn’t continually strive to produce their shows at the highest level they can afford… but I don’t think there’s any reason that they should be shooting for slickness. A simpler production style gives ROH an identity of their own, much as basic CD art work and sound engineering give indy music an edge that its fans can identify with. They need to keep the emphasis where their fans know it belongs: On quality wrestling.
Kevin Wong: For years, ECW managed to get away with sub-par production for TV and PPV. I don’t know that it helped or hindered in growing the fanbase, but the truth is that ECW looks better now as a WWE brand than it did back in the day, even if the product isn’t the same. It could be better lighting, better cameras, better venues, or a combination, but simply put, the “look” is better.
I think that ROH should increase their level of production, but it’s a gradual process. Producing a slick PPV is great, but financially I don’t see it making sense for ROH right now. Certainly, if the PPVs are a success and they make money off of it, you get the better lighting, buy the better cameras, rent the small arenas. The guys behind the scenes seem to be a patient bunch, so I can see them taking this approach.
I would like to see them produce nicer, cleaner graphics though for the PPV. It’s simple, it’s cheap, and it would make things look more professional. Keep everything else the same until they can afford it.
Judge Blatt’s ruling: Two answers too close to each other for a ruling on this one. Both have the same message to Ring of Honor: “Make more money, produce better looking shows.” It’s important to note that everyone shares the opinion about the steak, not the sizzle. No matter how much sizzle you put on a Punjabi Prison match, it’s still just as good as the Kennel in a Cell. This leaves the score at 3-1.