Guys and Divas #5: Silver Linings Playbooker (John Cena, Damien Sandow, Summer Rae)

Hello and hi, everyone!

Welcome once again to “Guys and Divas”; the only column on Inside Pulse Wrestling that gets its hair care advice from beloved NBC newsman Brian Williams.

It’s been a hell of a week in the world of sports entertainment, and an equally crazy week for yours truly as a viewer. I left Hell in A Cell this past Sunday (up to about the 9 o’clock hour of Raw on Monday) feeling like WWE had created a series of impenetrable narrative roadblocks for themselves. By 11:05 Monday night, I felt overwhelmed by the promise of a wild and unpredictable future for the characters we all know and love.

In this week’s Bonus Ball, I’ll bring you a stream of consciousness about my first month here at IPW; and in the Divas section, I’ll look at an abundant week of Diva action, including the big-time in-ring debut of the adorable “Mrs. Fandango” Summer Rae.

BUT FIRST(!), it seems there’s only one topic on everyone’s minds as it pertains to the male side of things. Allow me to throw my intellectual hat in the ring and try to find the upside of the new status quo in WWE. It’s time to talk about the…

GUYS

Let’s not mince words.

Randy Orton and John Cena now sit at the top of the WWE food chain and a lot of people (including myself, for the most part) are not happy about it.

Now, to be fair, Randy winning was always a possibility; an illogical possibility, but a possibility just the same. Cena beating Alberto Del Rio was practically a given. What has clearly upset a great deal of the WWE viewership is how things were handled from there.

The first hour of this past Monday’s “Raw” was one of the most frustrating in my 15+ years as a fan of this business, and if Twitter and even the pages of Inside Pulse Wrestling are any indication, this was a common feeling. John Cena took to the ring, and with his fakey Marky Mark blaccent firmly and inexplicably back in place, gave the usual Hustle Loyalty Respect spiel we’ve come to expect.

A literal chorus rang out, and Damien Sandow emerged with his beautifully crafted faux-leather briefcase to remind Cena that now is the time to watch his back. This was all well and good, and could (and arguably should) have been left at that. Maybe Cena walks away shaking his head at this brash upstart with his Money in the Bank contract,  Sandow has a random match with some upper midcard schmo and the show goes on.

As we all know, this is not what happened.

Sandow takes the opportunity to give the new World Champ a round and severe beating; perhaps the most brutal we’ve seen on Raw or Smackdown in months. He sees that he’s softened Cena up enough to be the kind of opportunist that briefcase has been creating for almost a decade now, signals the referee, and the match is set. The viewer sees this and thinks, “Oh, wow. This is actually about to happen. This is quite exciting!”

And then they went to commercial. This should have immediately indicated to all of us that this wasn’t going to end the way we’d like.

When we return, we get–let’s be honest–a pretty great match between champ and challenger, with lots of false endings and the like. The audience is into it. There are multiple “THIS IS AWESOME!” chants. This could honestly go either way.

Arguably, there’s only one way it should have gone, though; and that’s not the way it all went.

John Cena, still sporting a protective elbow pad and having been beaten mercilessly for about twenty minutes, suddenly has the gumption to pull off those infamous five moves and before we’ve even hit the first half-hour mark of the night, Damien Sandow’s chance at championship glory has come and gone.

At the moment, I was frustrated. This show just implied that even with a practically useless arm and a nagging leg injury, John Cena is still “better” than everyone else on the WWE roster. It’s beyond the usual–to steal a term from Pulse’s own Chris Sanders–circlejerk. It’s a downright slap in the face…

…and in a weird way, I wish I could still be angry about that.

But then the rest of the show happened.

We get a really fun six-man tag match with The Usos & Big E Langston taking on The Shield. Shawn Michaels puts on a tremendous performance as he attempts (and fails) to beg forgiveness of his former protégé Daniel Bryan. Kane cryptically turns heel(?) and unmasks for Stephanie McMahon. The Wyatts go on a rampage attacking their most high-profile targets to date. The Real Americans stake a firm claim to be the next to challenge the Rhodes Brothers for the tag belts, and not one but TWO DIVAS MATCHES(!). Top it all off with the locker room dogpiling on The Shield as The Big Show defiantly (and I mean defiantly, not definitely; as these are two separate words–something the denizens of the Internet could stand to learn) throws down the gauntlet at The Authority.

In spite of everything, I found myself excited to see what happens next. Everything we all predicted for the WWE and World Heavyweight Championship picture is dead and buried…but I can’t stop smiling.

I begin to wonder: is it just my natural optimism seeking hope in the rest of the show or has WWE subconsciously changed the focus of their entire show, all the while placing the championships on–arguably–their two biggest names? After all, it’s not unheard of for the WWE and World Championships to take a backseat to other storylines. Perhaps in this, the darkest hour of so many viewers, it’s on us to find the bright side.

Maybe it’s the resurgent tag team division. The Rhodes Brothers are effortlessly bringing prestige and importance back to those “big pennies”, and there seems to be an abundance of strong duos looking to take them on.

Maybe it’s Kane. After sixteen years as–quite possibly–the most fully fleshed-out character in WWE (if not professional wrestling as a whole), he still finds a way to surprise us, and leave us asking all sorts of provocative questions. Why align with The Authority, who’ve spent the better part of a year antagonizing his close friend Daniel Bryan? Why unmask? Simply WHY?

Maybe it’s the Wyatt Family. While their motivation and ultimate plan is still unknown, their targets are growing more and more notable; and Windham Rotunda’s performance as Bray continues to be one of the most fascinating and entertaining things in WWE today.

Maybe (and I’l obviously cover this in more detail in the next segment) it’s the Divas. Opinions about their in-ring viability aside, their presence as important and influential figures within the company is on a marked rise. AJ Lee is still the Divas champion, Tamina is still her muscle, and by God, Brie Bella is actually showing some commendable chops in the ring…and that’s arguably barely scratching the surface!

Maybe (and this is somewhat surprising) it’s the Big Show. Yes, he’s apparently fired but still has his entrance theme at the ready and a camera waiting for him in front of some comedy club-esque brick wall whenever he needs to rant; and yes, it’s fun to snark about that…but in the big picture, he may have just set off a company-wide civil war of sorts.

Yes; it sucks that Cena’s a top champion again. Yes; it’s less than ideal that Randy Orton beat Daniel Bryan. Yes; it’s incredibly frustrating that the company just wasted the potential of one of its most talented and watchable up-and-comers in Damien Sandow…

…but look at all this other stuff!

In short (and at the risk of getting a bit dark), if WWE clearly doesn’t care about its top championships right now…maybe we don’t have to either…and maybe that’s not a bad thing…because again, LOOK AT ALL THIS OTHER STUFF!

Next Monday, let’s all plop down, turn on the TV and watch the adventures of a pair of brothers with giant copper belts, a bearded religious cult from the deep south, a possibly no longer masked pyromaniac and his new corporate mistress, a wacky mentally unstable girl and her Amazon bodyguard, and a bald giant with nothing left to lose.

Yeah, there’ll probably be a former white rapper who spouts obnoxious family friendly platitudes and a sweaty, tattooed snake of a man who speaks in an unchanging monotone; and yeah, they’ll both have some big gold things around their waists and/or over their shoulders…but they don’t have to matter. Starting next Monday, they’re the b-plot.

Optimism. It’s what’s for dinner.

…yeah, that got a little abstract. Sorry about that; but I hope you get what I mean.

Let’s tango on over to our next segment, in which a valet becomes a full-fledged competitor in this week’s…

DIVAS

Make that FOUR DIVAS MATCHES in TWO NIGHTS(!) and Messrs. Sanders and Leonard are on the money.

Needless to say, while other events of the past week have been a bit disheartening, the doubled presence of my favorite female protagonists on both Sunday’s Hell in A Cell card and this past Monday night on Raw made my heart soar.

It all kicked off roughly forty minutes into WWE’s most recent pay-per-view offering, as Fandango and (GASP!) Summer Rae teamed up to take on the (distressingly) reunited team of The Great Khali and Natalya. Thankfully, the gents took a backseat in what turned out to be a fun back-and-forth between the semi-debuting “Mrs. Fandango” and the third-generation Canadian Diva.

About ninety minutes later, we got our Divas Championship bout between reigning champ (and my spirit animal) AJ Lee and challenger Brie Bella. It was a short but sweet affair, with the future Mrs. Bryan Danielson putting up an admirable effort against our favorite deranged girl next door, but coming up short after some interference by the imposing Tamina Snuka (and to a lesser extent, her sister Nikki).

Truth be told, I favor their second clash in tag team action this past Monday which saw the Bellas trounced handily by AJ and mostly Tamina, whose match closing Samoan Drop and hesitant tag to her current (for lack of a better term) employer suggest that not only is the Superfly’s daughter a force to be reckoned with, but that her client may soon be feeling the brunt of some reckoning of her own. (My prediction/hope from two weeks ago seems to be coming true, ever so quietly.)

Topping it all off, we got the Raw singles debut of Summer Rae as she took on her previous night’s opponent Natalya (frustratingly entering to Khali’s theme; #SaveNatalya). Watching this match, I got a much clearer picture of what Summer will bring to the table as a competing Diva.

As a valet, she’s proven infinitely enchanting with her silent movie starlet histrionics and that brain-meltingly gorgeous smile. As a competitor, she couples that with a sort of effortless and (if you will) graceful aggression; reminiscent of Miz’s main squeeze Maryse. Summer is a stark reminder that while technical proficiency is what we all want in our Divas, it’s nothing without a strong, magnetic personality; and she’s got that in spades.

A happy camper?–Color me the happiest in the bunk.

If that seemed a bit brief, it’s only because it’s time for our main event.

This column marks the conclusion of my first month here at Inside Pulse Wrestling, and in this week’s “Bonus Ball”, I’d like to take a moment and reflect (naturally) at length about my first 30ish days of Diva-defending, bullet-pointing, unexpected controversy-creating columnization.

THE BONUS BALL

One month ago, when our own Chris Sanders brought it to my attention that there was an opening in the ranks of Inside Pulse Wrestling, I jumped at the chance to join this distinguished band of pundits, ranters and recappers.

I’ve loved professional wrestling for the majority of my life at this point, so this is something that means a great deal to me; and to get the opportunity to talk shop on a weekly basis with a group of individuals with a similar passion has been a thrill and a rewarding experience.

Doing this column has also allowed me to put a more defined chronology on my experience as a viewer and fan of this industry. I value memory and treat milestones as mnemonic devices with which to organize the knowledge and experiences I attain in my life. So, with that in mind, how will I remember October 2013?

It was a month of CONTROVERSY. At the risk of re-stirring a pot, I remain somewhat astounded at just how extreme some reactions were to the idea of a Diva-centric column. I apologize again for taking such a militant and defensive stance at the outset of my work here, but I must reiterate that it all came/comes from a place of affection and optimism. I adore these women and want to see them succeed, no matter what form that may take. Maybe I’ll change some minds along the way, maybe not; but at the end of the day, we’ve started a dialogue and that’s always something to appreciate.

It was a month of SURPRISES. John Cena’s “miraculous” recovery radically changed the landscape on which we’d all prepared to travel into 2014. However, as mentioned in this week’s “Guys” segment, don’t let this get you down; and don’t levee all of your disappointment on this one story point. Bear in mind, Randy would have won on Sunday regardless of what was happening with Cena and Del Rio. For all of our grumbling and outrage, it looks like there has always been a plan and it will continue to play out over the next few months. Don’t count Daniel Bryan out. WWE may not have the best track record for paying attention to the fans, but they’d have to be next-level oblivious toolbags to not see how over this guy is. He’s a top guy and he always will be.

It was a month of PROMISE. The Divas division is making progress, little by little. I hate to pull out such an old cliché, but let’s not forget that Rome wasn’t built in a day. We’ve gotten some really great, well-paced matches over the past few weeks; and ladies we may not have put much stock in from a technical perspective are clearly working very hard to make lemonade out of lemons. Tips of the cap to Brie Bella and the aforementioned Summer Rae, who’ve both stepped up their game and impressed even some doubters this month. There is a concerted effort being made here, and I truly pity anyone who can’t see it.

It was a month of GREAT PERFORMANCES. There are times when I lament an overlong promo or non-wrestling segment, but I’ve reveled in each and every moment of the Daniel/Randy/Authority/Big Show plot. Everyone is at the top of their game, led with tremendous turns by our favorite power couple, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. Every backstage segment, every promo; hell, even the contract signing two weeks ago…aces, all. One of my biggest gripes about the “reality era” of WWE has been a lack of strong characterization. Outside of capital-C characters like Kane and Bray Wyatt, we’ve sort of fallen into a trap of (admittedly, well-built) average Joes and Janes duking it out in a fictional arena; but within this storyline, these performers have raised the game, and brought something extraordinary out of characters that have become more and more ordinary. Kudos.

It was a month of TRIUMPHS. There’s something so magical about watching all the pieces of a puzzle fall into place. So it’s been with the Rhodes Brothers and, indeed, the tag team division as a whole. Over the past month, we’ve seen the ascension of a new big name player in Cody Rhodes, the redemption and long-overdue commendation of a hard-working legend in Goldust, and the return of prestige to a division that has often gone forgotten these past few years. Just look at how many full-time tag teams are making waves right now: The Rhodes Brothers, The Usos, The Real Americans, The Primetime Players, (God help me) Los Matadores, etc. It’s a great time to be a fan of tag team wrestling, and it looks like it’s only going to get better.

At the risk of sounding Sorkin-esque, what kind of month will November be?–I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to find out AND I can’t wait to be part of the conversation with all of you here at “Guys and Divas”.

…and with some nostalgia and a dash of sentimentality, the first month of “Guys and Divas” comes to a close.

I truly appreciate all your great questions, comments, thoughts, etc. and hope this week’s homework assignments will help us to continue that tradition.

  • Cena and Orton got you down?–Tell me what mid-card/non-championship storylines you’ll be finding solace in while the top gold rests on their waists/shoulders.
  • Following the successful in-ring debut week of Summer Rae, I’m sure we’re all looking forward to which current NXT Divas will soon be following in her footsteps. Tell me who you’d like to see on the big stage next. Would you start them as a valet like Summer? If so, for whom would they valet?–Let’s do some fantasy booking for the next up-and-coming lady of WWE.
  • I managed to rattle off a look back at the top moments of October without a single bullet-point! (I impress even myself.) How has the tenth month of 2013 treated you as a wrestling fan? What facets of the show have stood out to you?–Sound off with highlights and memories of our first month together as columnist and reader.

As always, join me for my weekly Monday Night Raw live-tweet (@biscuitman18; #GuysAndDivas) and while I’ve got your eyes, why not stop by Turntable.fm’s “Connect the Songs! Read Info!” room sometime?–I’m in there quite often, kicking out the jams and having a laugh with the gang. Join us for music and fun!

Until next week/month, I’m Jeff Heatherly saying “Be a man and take responsibility for your child!“. Later, all!

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