Guys and Divas #8: Country Weak (Big E Langston, AJ Lee, Vickie Guerrero, Survivor Series)

How you holding up, dear reader?

Welcome to week eight of “Guys and Divas”; the only column on Inside Pulse Wrestling that makes it weirder than Pete Holmes.

…Oh, boy.

So, obviously in this week’s “Divas” segment, I’ll be addressing the insulting disaster that was the Diva portions of this past Monday’s “Raw Country”; and on a happier note, I’ll be looking back at the first three Survivor Series events of my life as a wrestling fan in this month’s edition of “Wayback Championship Wrestling Federation Entertainment” in this week’s “Bonus Ball”.

…but first(.), this week’s column is going to be a rant-ish stream of consciousness for the most part, and it all starts with the latest edition of…

GUYS

Let’s be fair. I knew this week’s country music-themed episode of Raw would probably not be my cup of tea. However, little did I know that it would skid right past being a cup of tea in general and instead become a frothing cauldron of disease-ridden urine.

Now, in this column’s ongoing spirit of optimism, I’ll start by giving credit where it is due.

Big E Langston emerged from this week’s show as the long-awaited savior of the Intercontinental Championship; finally wresting it from the bland, forgettable waist of Curtis Axel. It was a great match that put a spotlight on both men’s strengths and a fantastic way to start the show proper.

Props also to my spirit animal AJ Lee and the invaluable Vickie Guerrero for taking their admittedly somewhat weak and indisputably mean-spirited “match” and making it as entertaining as possible. While I don’t care for WWE poking fun at AJ’s recent overseas health scare, they at least had the sense to put their top Diva and one of their greatest character performers into a segment that involved neither music nor chairs.

Also, a great debut for NXT’s Xavier Woods. While we may mock R-Truth from time to time in the IWC, pairing him up with the highly-educated newcomer was a fun time for all concerned (3MB notwithstanding).

…and of course, there was that main event. WWE’s decision to waste what would have been a blockbuster traditional Survivor Series match on arguably the worst episode of Raw this year aside, it was still these twelve men that we were all itching to see go toe-to-toe following the conclusion of last week’s show and a tremendous way to close out the night.

THAT. BEING. SAID…

…I don’t entirely know the profanity policy here at IPW, but [censored just in case].

What a three-hour pile of festering garbage! Not only was it just a terrible weekly show, but that it was ostensibly the go-home show (a phrase of which I’m not a fan, but no matter) for the last of this year’s “big four” pay-per-views is incredibly upsetting.

How did I hate it?–Let me count the ways:

  1. At the risk of completely quoting my own Twitter account, whoever decided Big E’s entrance theme needed a noisy, overproduced dubstep remix should be slapped. Really, really hard.
  2. Even if you enjoy the genre, there’s no justifying the agonizing snippets of current country music videos that took us to and back from commercial. Also, seriously Blake Shelton? A song that celebrates tobacco spit?–God, I hate the south. I’m counting the days in which I no longer have to live in this excruciating, stereotype-ridden region.
  3. I’m with our own Chris Sanders. Since when have Damien Sandow and Dolph Ziggler had “issues”? Like, was this episode written by a staff of one-off writers who had never seen the show before?
  4. (Not really about this episode, but it was announced in the midst of all this, so…) GOD, I thought we would never have to hear the phrase “guest host” ever again. No disrespect to Michael Strahan, who–despite my not giving the faintest of damns about football–seems like a perfectly charming and enjoyable fellow…but it feels like WWE just wants to take any and all progress they’ve made in the past two years or so and throw it out the window (but not before dousing it in gasoline and setting it ablaze), seemingly out of absolutely nowhere. Just ugh.
  5. Living where I do, I grew up on country music. In fact, my childhood coincided with what was arguably the biggest period of mainstream success for the genre; with names like Garth Brooks and Reba McEntire topping all the charts, no matter what the category. Even if that boom were still happening and the artists of the day were still on the level of those two multi-talented legends, the genre is still so specialized that interrupting your wrestling show for a musical performance by a band that only a minimal percentage of your viewing audience has heard of or cares about only further alienates the majority of your viewers (who’ve already had to suffer the preceding 150 minutes of godawful television) and makes your product seem overly niche and closed off. Never do this again, show.

So, yeah. Maybe those all come off as purely cosmetic gripes, but I defy anyone to have sat through that show and not just felt a pervasive sense of…BLERG.

Not to mention the incredibly foolish booking decisions that saw the most talked-about clash in recent memory (the 12-Man Tag) wasted at the tail-end of a beyond-lackluster free(ish) show instead of the impending pay-per-view that is ENTIRELY BASED AROUND MULTI-WRESTLER ELIMINATION TAG MATCHES; or what about Big E Langston’s IC Title win?

How much bigger would that have been for both Big E and the somewhat-tarnished midcard belt to have their moment of long-awaited redemption and triumph in the midst of one of the biggest shows of the year?–The same can be asked of the upcoming Tag Team Championship bout between the reigning champion Rhodes Brothers and the #1 Contenders The Real Americans, which has been scheduled for Friday’s episode of Smackdown. None of this makes any sense.

Admittedly, my rage has tamped down considerably after a good night’s sleep, but it doesn’t diminish the fact that WWE seriously screwed the proverbial pooch this week. It’s going to take a lot to redeem missteps like these in 2014…but I must remain diligently hopeful they can pull it off.

Speaking of missteps…you knew I’d have to talk about this. Here’s this week’s…

DIVAS

As I closed my eyes to rest Monday night, one thing was clear: I was HEARTBROKEN.

I’ve made no bones about my battle with depression here at “Guys and Divas”, and over the past few years I’ve really come to rely on my entertainment choices to help see me through the hard times. I’ve been disappointed before (post-Season 1 “Community”; post-Season 5 “Doctor Who”, etc.), but it never gets any easier.

If it hasn’t been made apparent in the past eight weeks of this column, I adore the Divas. Yes, some of that is because they are physically attractive and I have eyes. Slightly more of it is my lifelong affection for strong female protagonists. However, as discussed in recent weeks, the biggest reason is because I appreciate these performers (and this includes the Superstars, as well) as human beings. I want to see them succeed and do so in a manner that they and we can all be proud of.

This doesn’t mean (as I’ve often been incorrectly accused) that I’m not aware that things could be better. They could have more screen time, more substantial storylines, better booking…but to be fair, a lot of the very same things could be said of the male quotient, particularly in the midcard. (I digress.) There is also the not-entirely-unfounded criticism that a number of the Divas have not been trained nearly enough to be where they are right now.

None of this should be levied at these women themselves. Yes, things could be better; but these are decent, intelligent, adult human beings and to dismiss them wholesale as people and ignore the fact that the people in charge of their place in this business are doing them grave injustice after grave injustice is shortsighted and mean-spirited; i.e. the very reason why I decided to do a column like this one. (It’s not that the column is Diva-centric per se, it’s merely a column where you can be guaranteed that these women will be–without fail–regularly discussed in a respectful, understanding manner.)

I’ve basically said all of this before…but watching the travesty of a television segment the majority of WWE’s Divas were subjected to this past Monday night, I knew I’d need to reiterate my mission statement before I go on (at length) about how utterly infuriated I was.

“But Jeff, it’s not the first time that these women have participated in such a frivolous segment; and more to the point, it’s sadly not the first time they’ve played musical chairs.”

I know that, dear reader. That’s not my issue (although it’s not a good excuse, just to say).

What troubles me is that after the past two-ish years of undeniable progress and concerted efforts to make this division something special again AND with a group of women who have been culled down to–I think it can be argued–the best (or at least, most potentially great) we’ve seen since the departures of the holy trinity that is Trish, Lita and Mickie AND on the final show before one of WWE’s “big four” pay-per-views…they were paraded around like strippers/Hooters waitresses/braindead Playboy centerfolds in thematic outfits playing a childrens’ game.

Am I glad it’s led to the upcoming 7-on-7 Traditional Survivor Series Elimination Match (Total Divas vs. Non-Total Divas)?–Yes…but the ends most certainly do not justify the means.

Mock me if you must (and undoubtedly will) but I respect each and every member of the Divas division (even, begrudgingly, Eva Marie) as a person of intelligence and ambition and think they deserve better than this. Because for all the hand-wringing that’s been done about the overall state of the division, you can’t dispute that this was an incredibly low move; definitely the lowest in a very long while.

Let me put it this way: I would gladly watch the aforementioned Eva Marie haphazardly roll-up Tamina Snuka for a cheap pin in a Six-Diva Tag Team Match over and over and over and over, etc. before I’d ever want to see this kind of immature nonsense again.

Bad form, WWE. The worst form.

On a positive note, I sincerely can’t wait for the aforementioned 7-on-7 match at Survivor Series. I want to really see what all these ladies can do. I know there’ll be some disappointment, but in the end, I think we’re going to see a lot of promise and get a match we can call be proud of.

and speaking of WWE’s “fall classic”, I decided to revisit a few of my first experiences with the event for this month’s…

THE BONUS BALL presents “WAYBACK CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING FEDERATION ENTERTAINMENT”

WWE Survivor Series 1998/1999/2000

That’s right. This month I’m tackling a veritable triple threat.

Last week, I spoke briefly about my very first Survivor Series, 1998’s “Deadly Game” Tournament. All those memories flooding back, I decided I wanted to truly relive it. So, through the magic of the Internet, I watched all roughly three hours of the memorable WWE Championship tournament that saw (SPOILER ALERT) The Rock come out on top AND make, quite possibly, his most notable heel turn as he became Vince McMahon’s “Corporate Champion”.

When that was over, I found myself still awash in nostalgia…so I watched the 1999 edition…AND the 2000 edition; and when it was all said and done, I realized I’d truly just given myself a cross-section of what made the “Attitude Era” the period we all know and revere today.

…but I’m getting ahead of myself. First, some memories…

Sounds like one hell of a match, right?–It sure would have been…but devotees will remember, it didn’t exactly turn out the way we expected.

One of the main things I took from revisiting these three events was remembering what a strong sense of continuity WWE had in those halcyon years. In 1998, Vince (and our favorite, Shane) McMahon “screwed” Steve Austin out of the WWE Championship in order to place the belt on someone they feel to be more suitable as the face of the company. (Sound familiar?)

By 1999, the tumult between Austin and the McMahons had died down considerably, the Rock was once again the People’s Champion and Triple H was just beginning his long journey to the COO’s chair. These were the top three men in the company, and the tensions among them couldn’t have been higher. In the twelve months since the prior Survivor Series, their roads began to intersect more and more and a collision was inevitable. Although, I don’t think anyone predicted THIS collision:

To wit, the–at the time–face McMahons wouldn’t allow this misdeed to go unanswered, and refused to kowtow to whoever was responsible. There would still be a Triple Threat Match for the WWE Championship, and Austin’s replacement: the 500-pound Big Show. Show had just–for the most part–wrapped up (that very night, in fact) his notorious rivalry with the Big Boss Man, which included the unforgettable incident involving Boss Man towing the casket away from Show’s father’s funeral, as the giant sobbingly rode atop  it. He was renewed but still angry; and in a shocker, he came away from Survivor Series 1999 as our new WWE Champion.

Meanwhile, “Who Ran Over Stone Cold?” became the #1 question. In professional wrestling’s answer to “Who Shot J.R.?” (or to a comedic extent, “Who Shot Mr. Burns?“), the entire WWE roster was subject to a full-scale investigation that took up almost the entire ensuing year. The McMahons immediately began to suspect the members of D-Generation X, led by Triple H. This sparked a rivalry between Vince and Triple H that ran–most notably–through 1999’s Armageddon pay-per-view, and included the infamous on-screen wedding of Triple H and Stephanie McMahon (on an episode of Raw that may very well be the subject of next month’s WCWFE).

About ten months later, “Stone Cold” returned to the WWE looking for payback. It wasn’t long before the legendary Rikishi stepped forward and, at long last, took responsibility for  having run down Austin. The pair faced off in a No Holds Barred Match at No Mercy 2000, which memorably included Austin attempting to run Rikishi down in the parking lot with his pickup truck.

Finally, as November approached, the truth was revealed. It had indeed been Triple H who masterminded the attack on Austin one year prior, hiring Rikishi to be the wheelman and protect The Game’s reign as WWE Champion. Naturally, the Texas Rattlesnake was hellbent on revenge, and would finally have his chance at Survivor Series 2000.

After two years, the battle was finally on. Austin would meet Triple H in a No Holds Barred Match for the WWE Championship. At the event, Triple H–who had recently aligned himself with the Radicalz–seemed pretty confident he would come out of the fracas unscathed and still our WWE Champion.

To his credit, he was half-right.

Stone Cold and The Game had one hell of a bloody battle in the ring, until finally the action spilled out and headed backstage, where Trips’ new buddies The Radicalz waited to beat Austin into submission. The champ ran out to the parking lot and got into his car, where it quickly became apparent that he intended to see history repeat itself. The match having been thrown out, the Rattlesnake had pretty much nothing to lose. This trilogy of classic Attitude Era events concluded with a bang.

(The uncut version is a bit more fun, as you might remember.)

As always, it was fun to look back on some notable moments in my life as a wrestling fan, particularly three such formative pay-per-views to my philosophies as a viewer; but of course, this being “Guys and Divas”, it wouldn’t be complete without a bullet-pointed list to sum things up. It’s time for this month’s installment of MISS/DON’T MISS/CONFLICTED/NOTEWORTHY: Survivor Series 1998-2000 Edition!

  • MISS: The continuity. It can’t be overstated. WWE is at its best when it remembers the details, and the evolution of the relationships among Austin, The McMahons, The Rock and Triple H were on full display with these three events. I wish the writers would write long-term like this again, but perhaps it was all just more a matter of lucky booking.
  • DON’T MISS: Jerry Lawler the pervert. Make no mistake; I’ve never said that all facets of the way the Divas were handled in the past were sterling, but some of the comments The King made in this time period are even more mind-blowingly awful in retrospect. At the time, it was just part of the show’s trashy charm. By comparison to the show (and the Lawler) of today…just wow.
  • MISS: The weird gothicness of the Attitude Era. Just watch the opening video of Survivor Series 1998. From the creepy music to Freddie Blassie’s narration to the skull logo of the “Deadly Game” tournament, it’s all very spooky. It’s like a horror movie crossed with a biker gang (and this was two years before Undertaker’s biker gimmick).
  • NOTEWORTHY: (…and on that note…) If I’m not mistaken, the lead-up to Undertaker’s WWE Championship match with Kurt Angle at Survivor Series 2000 included the first utterances of “this is my yard” and “I’ll make you famous”, two of the more iconic catchphrases of Biker Taker.
  • NOTEWORTHY: (…and on a tangentially related note…) Survivor Series 1999 saw the WWE debut of 1996 Olympic gold-medalist Kurt Angle, as he took on Shawn “Meat” Stasiak. Watching the match, I was immediately taken back to those promo videos that heralded his arrival AND taken aback at how ballsily meta WWE was for referring to him as the only “real athlete” in the company.
  • MISS: J.R. and The King on commentary. It goes without saying that there may never be a better duo at the desk. Their rapport as on-screen rivals is made that much more fantastic knowing what great friends the two are off-screen. I wish they were still calling the action.
  • MISS: (…and on yet another related note…) How unabashedly this was a TV show. Sometimes, I’m glad we’ve come to a point with WWE that the fourth wall is broken so regularly; but watching these events, I remember how gripping it was when the show seemed to take place all in its own little world. Attempted vehicular manslaughter?–Not a problem. Roofied drive-thru marriages?–Why not? A Satanic cult led by a long-haired figurehead and his rotund stepfather?–Of course! While I love the access that changing culture and the advent of social media have given us to the reality of this business, I really wish it was still possible to get lost in the fiction. Maybe it’ll happen again someday. I can only hope.
  • CONFLICTED: The underlying trashiness of it all. As a young man, I felt so rebellious watching this show with its harsh language, well-endowed women and bloody battles. It was, as I say, part of its charm…and yet, it’s kind of nice living in a time where WWE is such an established brand of legitimate entertainment that I don’t have to feel quite so ashamed to tell people it’s one of my favorite things in the world.

All in all, another fun trip down memory lane. Join me again on December 18th for another edition of “Wayback Championship Wrestling Federation Entertainment”!

…and that just about does it for this week’s “Guys and Divas”. It seems it was good to talk out my frustrations, and honestly, I’m still rather excited to see what comes out of this Sunday’s Survivor Series 2013.

As we head into Thanksgiving Week, your last homework assignments before the break:

  • “Raw Country” was a tough one to endure, but it certainly wasn’t the first big stinker for Monday Night Raw. What are some of your least favorite episodes?–Rant freely about sub-par sports entertainment shows.
  • Divas Musical Chairs was certainly a low point of this week’s events, but to be fair, the Superstars haven’t always been given the best to work with either. Tell us about a Superstar moment that made your jaw drop in a similar disgust.
  • Of course, Survivor Series 2013 is just a few days away. I took some time to remember some of my favorite years for the WWE’s “fall classic”. What’s been your favorite Survivor Series?–Don’t be the sole commenter to gush about the past!

Of course, don’t miss my weekly Raw live-tweet (@biscuitman18; #GuysAndDivas) where I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say about the unwanted return of guest hosts, and hey!–If you’re feeling crafty, why not follow me on Pinterest? (Apologies. I just needed something to put after the live-tweet plug. I hope you understand. It’s just a stylistic choice.)

Until next week, I’m Jeff Heatherly saying…well, at least one good thing came out of that terrible segment. #Swoon

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