Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic

I’m not sure when a fan turns into a critic. It might just be a natural development for someone who watches a lot of a certain television program. You watch, discuss, and dissect. You evaluate the impact and effectiveness of a certain episode or segment. You fondly recall your favorite moments and long for a time when things were more to your liking. As a pro wrestling fan, I watch six (soon to be seven) hours of original programming each week, plus the occasional pay-per-view. I often tap into my personal collection, including ppvs, documentaries, and DVD sets. In short, I watch a LOT of wrestling. I’m a fan first, and sometimes regret how often my columns reflect negative opinions about the current WWE and TNA products. So in the fine tradition of the “bright side” writers whose work I respect, here are a few things I’ve enjoyed lately from the wide world of professional wrestling.

TODAY’S ISSUE: A Few Good Things

On RAW last week, Intercontinental Champion Jeff Hardy defended his crown against former IC champ Shelton Benjamin in a very solid television match. With the amount of time and the deep talent pool Vince has at his disposal, you’d think we could see two matches of this caliber per show, but you take what you can get. The match Hardy and Benjamin had was hard-hitting and entertaining, with both displaying their classic spots plus a few innovations, like Hardy’s heads-up duck of Benjamin’s spinning heel kick. This is the kind of action I always long for when I tune into WWE programming.

ECW has once again found a way to make the run-of-the-mill match between the usual suspects interesting by putting something important on the line. The “Elimination Chase to No Mercy” is a mini-tournament to determine a new number one contender to CM Punk’s ECW title, which instantly raises the stakes and brings focus to otherwise meaningless in-ring action on Tuesday nights. Elijah Burke, Kevin Thorn, Stevie Richards and former ECW Champion Tommy Dreamer are competing against one another for the right to face Punk for the gold on October 7th at No Mercy. With Richards the first to be eliminated, the three remaining survivors will meet in a triple threat match this week. The two men who avoid defeat in that match battle next week to determine the new #1 contender. This is quite solid booking, and it really highlights the value of a shot at the title.

CM Punk as champion, for however fleeting a time his reign may be, is a good thing. The man can go in the ring, his “straight edge” gimmick stands out in a crowd, and he’s over with the fans. A CM Punk match is guaranteed to be what most pro wrestling fans want to see.

Also in ECW is the arc featuring Big Daddy V versus the Boogeyman. While I don’t enjoy either performer, at least the creative team is taking the time to build an actual feud between these two monsters. Quality storytelling can go a long way toward making a boring, unappealing match-up at least palatable.

On SmackDown!, the repackaging of Chuck Palumbo is already working well, even this early on in the process. After debuting in WWF as one half of the WCW tag team champions alongside Sean O’Haire, Chuck Palumbo’s most memorable storyline was, unfortunately, the infamous gay-but-not-really love affair between himself and tag team partner Billy Gunn. I chuckled to myself Friday night when I realized the last time the Godfather interrupted a wedding on SmackDown! was Billy and Chuck’s debacle, wearing the same white fur coat. Fortunately, enough time has gone by so that the stench of the awful faux-homosexual angle has dissipated, and Palumbo is taking advantage of this second chance. Now he’s a big, burly, America-loving hardcore biker and motorcycle builder with fire in his eyes and another opportunity to make big things happen in his career. Good luck, Chuck.

Speaking of getting rid of a bad aroma, the strong in-ring performances and character interaction of cruiserweights Jamie Noble, Jimmy Wang Yang, and Shannon Moore are just what the doctor ordered to remove the odor of Hornswoggle from the WWE Cruiserweight Championship, and restore it to it’s former glory. If given the opportunity and enough time between the ropes, high-fliers like The Pit Bull, The Resident Redneck, and The Reject could light up the cruiserweight division and bring some magic back to Friday nights. They just need to get the belt off the newest McMahon first. Hope springs eternal

Although the wacky-mismatched-tag-team-partners angle has been done to death in the past few years, including the recent Kurt Angle/Sting version in TNA, WWE Tag Team Champions Matt Hardy and MVP have a nice dynamic to their take on this tried-and-true story, and it simply works. Their bitter rivalry over the United States Championship has led them to the tag titles, and each man is obsessed with one-upping the other, proving who the better man is, and challenging his partner at every opportunity. While in violation of Jim Cornette’s seven-year rule, I say as long as something’s interesting, I don’t have a problem with it. The eventual blow off singles match is going to be special, and could really launch both performers to the next level, just as HHH and the Rock once did for one another. I wonder how long WWE will hold off on delivering the showdown between these two volatile partners.

Meanwhile in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, the Kurt Angle and Friends Variety Hour has been providing a bit of comedy at the top of the card, and Angle can always be counted on for a good wrestling match along the way. But the real intensity in TNA comes in the form of the Christian Cage and Samoa Joe feud, which promises to boil over in a big way at Bound For Glory, when Joe most likely puts the first mark on Cage’s thus far unblemished record. Christian hasn’t been pinned or made to submit yet, and Joe’s just the man to do it. Cage and Joe could provide the match of the night on October 14th.

Christian’s Coalition is a nice echo of the legendary heel stables of old. Tomko has displayed that he’s more than muscle and back-up. He’s stepped outside the traditional “enforcer” role when his needs have been ignored. AJ Styles is one of the best performers today, and although he’s still gold in the ring, his goofy lackey role has run its course. Hopefully he’ll get more opportunities to shine. I’d like to see him turn babyface due to the actions of a duplicitous Christian, and rediscover his self-confidence. Perhaps after the big show next month, Styles will break away from Cage and company.

The last bit of news in the optimism department is that several big-time players are soon to return to WWE from injury or suspension. Edge, Shawn Michaels, Kennedy, William Regal, John Morrison, and Umaga, and a handful of others, will all be back in the near future. These returns may indicate that the worst is over and things will no doubt improve, although the guys who remained on TV during this thin roster period more than held their own.

As you can see, there are still some good things happening on weekly pro wrestling programs if you make the effort to see them.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – “As you know, you have to go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want.” – Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld

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