Guys and Divas #12: Late Motif (Brodus Clay, Nikki Bella, The Authority)

(ONE DAY LATER…)

Hey there, ho there, hi there, everybody!

Welcome to my twelfth and final edition…of 2013! (Sorry, detractors. Didn’t mean to get your hopes up.) Yes, it’s “Guys and Divas”; the only column on Inside Pulse Wrestling that’s just bacon and cars.

In the “Divas” segment, it’s one more bloody (literally) evaluation for the road; and in “The Bonus Ball”, I look back at the birth of wrestling’s most powerful couple in this month’s edition of “Wayback Championship Wrestling Federation Entertainment”.

…BUT FIRST(!), this year in WWE shenanigans came to a close this past Sunday at TLC. Where do we stand heading into 2014?–Find out in this week’s…

GUYS

Well, there you have it. Randy Orton is our new WWE World Heavyweight Champion.

…Now what?

You know, lately I’ve been kicking off the “Guys” segment with a bullet-pointed(!) summary of the WWE main-event status quo…but truth be told, that’s about it; and unfortunately, this week’s Raw didn’t offer much more in the way of narrative development. You would think that with a special Christmas episode (oh, boy) already set for next week and the first of 2014’s “big four” pay-per-views immediately on the horizon, WWE might want to start setting the stage for some significant things…but I can’t say I’m shocked they failed in that regard.

It is in times like these that we must look to the midcard for inspiration…and lucky for me, there’s quite a bit happening.

Following a surprisingly show-stealing performance at TLC on Sunday, it looks like the hastily thrown-together team of Big Show and Rey Mysterio will be the next to challenge for The Rhodes Brothers’ WWE Tag Team Championships. Had you told me that even a week ago, I would have stared at you incredulously and groaned very loudly. Why would that be a thing that could happen?–It would have simply made no sense (and, for the record, I’m generally not as down on these two fellows as most people…but seriously).

Big E Langston’s reign as Intercontinental Champion continues, and it looks like–SPOILER ALERT!–he’s headed for a long-awaited confrontation with the beloved show-off Dol–FANDANGO? …What? …Okay.

However, the midcard shenanigan that has most prominently caught my attention is the dissolution of everybody’s favorite comic-relief tag team (no, not Los Matadores because they’re terrible; #SavePrimoAndEpico) Tons of Funk.

During a surprise singles bout on Sunday, Brodus Clay continued his rivalry with newcomer Xavier Woods by taking on his mentor/tag team partner R-Truth. After attempting to reason with the newly aggressive Funkasaurus, Tensai and the Funkadactyls walked out, leaving the big man to suffer a quick roll-up pin from the rapping superstar. The following night, Brodus put the definitive kibosh on his fun-loving, funk-dancing stable after roundly assaulting the former Asian Lord-turned-Sweet T and loudly berating his adorable backup dancers.

Truth be told: I LOVE IT.

When Brodus first re-emerged as the dancing babyface back in January 2012, I was as shocked as anyone. What a left-field character turn for a man who for months prior had been teased as an impending storm of out-and-out terror; a rotund monster with a penchant for inflicting pain.

We all asked: how did we go from this…

…to this?

(To wit, that opening dance has NEVER been as good since.)

I distinctly remember numerous conversations with our own Chris Sanders in which we tried to make sense of it all. After a few days, we couldn’t help but love it. It was just such a beautifully absurd, “only in WWE” kind of moment that we were on board pretty quickly.

That being said, I’m BEYOND excited to finally see the aggressive, indomitable wrecking machine we were promised over two years ago; and even more intrigued that it seems he’s got his eyes set on the main event scene. If Brodus can make it big, it’ll be proof-positive of an idea I’ve been kicking around of late.

As mentioned numerous times of late, I’ve found myself watching countless old pay-per-views from my almost sixteen years as a wrestling fan; and while I’ve certainly suffered the requisite amount of the usual “bring back the Attitude era”-type grief, one thing that has really stuck out has been the effect of a strong midcard on the show as a whole.

The WWE (or WWF, as it was) that I started watching back in 1998 was a federation where no matter who you were or how often you were on the television screen, you always seemed to have something going on. So many promos, backstage segments, true character-building scenarios for even the Crash Hollys and Spike Dudleys of the world…and what was most startling: it WASN’T always about comic relief. These were legitimate storylines with high stakes and real repercussions.

The midcard is where–in a perfect world–the main eventers of tomorrow hone their craft and their personality. Can you imagine the world of difference it would make to lose all the awkward WWE app tutorials and full-length replays of scenes from earlier in the show (that could usually easily be explained in roughly two lines of commentators’ dialogue) and instead give us a real rivalry for a midcard title?

Because while Big E Langston is a really entertaining guy and a worthy holder of that white belt, the viewer knows virtually NOTHING about him. What if–to use his impending challenger–Fandango really turned the screws on? What if he cut promos denigrating Big E? Did dastardly things to weaken Big E’s resolve?

In short, what if the midcard got as much screen time as the main event?

Let’s be real. At any point during three hours of Raw, are you really in any danger of forgetting who’s in the main event or who’s going for the newly dubbed WWE World Heavyweight Championship (which should only need a single belt, by the by)? Are you REALLY going to forget that John Cena exists?–I highly doubt it.

Are you going to forget who’s currently in the running for the IC or Tag Team belts?–Much more probably.

My feeling is, once someone has reached main-event status, we should know them well enough from their years of midcard work that we don’t really need long scenes and so much pomp and circumstance to know what their motivations might be heading into a big match…but in the current WWE, we often don’t.

This leads to failed experiments like the main event push of Ryback this past year. Honestly, going into his rivalry with John Cena this past spring, can we really say we knew much more about him than “Feed Me More”, his RVD-esque singlets and his strong resemblance to a certain former WCW Champion?–Eh. Eh, at best.

So, call me nutty. Call me overzealous. Call Jake Bradley (JAKE BRADLEY!)…but I’m putting just a bit of hope into this main event monster heel Brodus Clay experiment. Join me, won’t you?

…and from the fall of the funk to a busted Bella, let’s take a look at this week’s goings-on with the…

DIVAS

Sometimes it’s not always about a championship.

While such a statement might bother a few people, it’s something I’ve gone back to a lot as the year of Diva action comes to a close. At the conclusion of Raw this week, there was no real indication of who would next challenge (my spirit animal) AJ Lee for the butterfly belt…and that was okay.

What WAS clear however, is that this is a division on the move. As usual, I can’t in good conscience commend WWE for any amount of intentional subtlety; but over the past twelve (or let’s be more realistic, six) months, the creative minds behind my favorite female protagonists may have stumbled onto the building blocks of what could be a dynamite 2014.

In case you missed it, this past Monday saw a six-Diva tag match pitting the aforementioned Divas Champion, her muscle Tamina Snuka and the ever-vacillating Alicia Fox against the “Total Divas” trio of Natalya and the Bella Twins. It was a really enjoyable showcase of where these six (or honestly, five out of these six; I’m pretty sure Natalya was never even tagged in) women stand as we hit the precipice of a new year.

Sparing you my usual gushing and fawning over my dear Ms. Lee, I instead focus on–undoubtedly–the most improved Diva (nay, person in general) in WWE this year: Brie Bella. As documented on their popular E! reality series, Brie’s time apart from sister Nikki has done absolute wonders.

Together, they’re often simply identical eye candy meant to titillate people with weird incestuous twin fantasies. As individuals, they’re finally allowed to shine as unique human beings each with skills all their own. Brie (as I’ve stated before) has really emerged as a competitive figure. When she’s in the ring, you truly believe she’s out to win; and not just to reach the predetermined result. As for Nikki, she’s still got a bit of a ways to go; but there is something distinctly more measured and deliberately paced about her movements.

Gone (for the most part) are the days of repetitive clotheslines, cat fight-like head banging and unnecessary booty popping. Whether you feel inclined to compliment their in-ring prowess, you simply cannot deny that no matter what the skill level, the Divas division is ready to be taken seriously again.

…Sorry. Got off on a bit of a tangent there.

Obviously, the biggest (and bloodiest) story to come out of this week’s Raw was a collision of boot and face.

Yikes. Say what you will (and have)…but I couldn’t imagine a Kelly Kelly taking a kick like that and walking it off.

A hearty ouch and kudos. This game just got real.

…and finally, it’s time for another of my monthly trips down memory lane. Let’s harken back to some matrimonial mayhem in this edition of…

THE BONUS BALL presents “WAYBACK CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING FEDERATION ENTERTAINMENT”

WWF Raw Is War – 11/29/1999

In the nineteen months that I had been watching professional wrestling, a lot of big things had happened.

The Monday Night Wars were red hot. The nWo continued to run wild over the WCW landscape. Goldberg became World Heavyweight Champion after soundly defeating Hollywood Hogan in front of a hometown Atlanta crowd. The Rock went from People’s Champion to Corporate Champion to an even more beloved People’s Champion. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin got hit by a car…I could go on. Point is, every Monday night had the proverbial “big fight feel”. Something was going to go down, and that was simply that.

For some reason however, nothing seemed bigger to me than the marriage of a billion dollar princess and a former Motley Crüe roadie.

Stephanie McMahon debuted as an on-screen character in early 1999. She was adorable, endearing and every bit her daddy’s little girl. Naturally, terrible things started happening around her. She was abducted by the Undertaker, crucified on his logo and almost forced to wed him in a satanic ceremony…you know…that old chestnut.

Around that time, flirtations began to arise between Steph and Corporation-turned-Union member Test. After a brief courtship (that was temporarily opposed by brother–and everyone’s favorite–Shane, leading to a “Love Her or Leave Her” Greenwich Street Fight at Summerslam 1999), the two were engaged that fall.

Meanwhile that September, Stephanie’s father and WWE owner Mr. McMahon returned from a brief hiatus as a face and defeated Triple H for the WWE Championship on an episode of Smackdown; igniting a battle between the McMahons and The Game (backed by D-Generation X) that would last for months thereafter.

November 29. We set our scene at the then-recently-opened Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. Tonight, the long-awaited nuptials will take place. The whole roster (save for The Acolytes and The Dudley Boys who are preoccupied with a poker game backstage) is decked out for the occasion.

Throughout the night, we’re shown a series of clips from Stephanie’s Las Vegas bachelorette party; which is attended by a handful of her friends from back in Connecticut and–because why not?–The Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young. It’s a pretty low-key, one-camera-angle affair with a game of Truth or Dare, copious amounts of champagne, a stripping electrician (who is chased away by the ever-amorous Mae), some light dancing to some royalty-free funk music and lastly a not-at-all-suspicious celebratory shot of vodka which is hand-delivered by a member of the hotel staff; all taking place under what appears to be a massive portrait of “Dragnet” star Jack Webb.

(Yeah. Take all of that in.)

Early in the evening, D-Generation X takes to the ring and–after a brief pause due to some audio technical difficulties in the arena (i.e. some inept Staples Center employee accidentally turned on some disco music…no, seriously)–vow that we will not see our anticipated live wedding this evening. Father of the Bride Mr. McMahon hits the stage (keeping his distance due to a Temporary Order of Protection that was filed after this happened) and informs the band of degenerates (especially their leader) that tonight’s festivities are only open to immediate McMahon family/invited guests and should any uninvited WWE personnel interfere, they will be fired on-the spot.

To that end, Vince books two matches: Triple H vs. Test and a Six-Man Tag pitting the remaining members of DX (X-Pac, Road Dogg and Mr. Ass) against The Rock ‘n Sock Connection (The Rock and Mankind) and a partner of their choosing.

In the first bout, something seems a bit…off.

That couldn’t be the boss under that mask?–After all, that would be in violation of the aforementioned court order and there’s no way Patterson and Brisco’s calls to Vince in the bathroom are a (terribly-acted) ruse…is there?

No matter. In the prelude to the latter match, we see an unmasked Mick Foley attempting to convince his pal Al Snow to be the third man on his team. To put it mildly, Al Snow doesn’t care for The People’s Champion. Comedy ensues.

(Rock’s delivery on “Who is this roody poo?” is worth the price of admission alone.)

With all our matches out of the way, it’s time for the real show.

As you might imagine, a McMahon wedding is an all-out affair. A long line of WWE Superstar groomsmen, the groom’s arrival to his entrance theme (because of course) and the entrance of the bride (during which Steph almost trips twice on her gown’s massive train) all lead to the ceremony proper. The priest says his bit. There’s an awkward full-length romantic duet from what I can only assume are some local wedding singers…and then the moment where everything changes (starting at 1:20 and followed by the deal-sealing aftermath at Armageddon 1999)…

Needless to say, as Raw faded to black that night, my twelve-year-old mind was blown. At the time, I was somewhere in-between knowing that this is a scripted performance and still thinking that maybe, somewhere in there was a nugget of reality…so this was pretty huge. (It should be noted that this is the only episode of WWE programming I ever felt the need to tape.)

Here we are fourteen years later, and despite a few kayfabe spats (a faked pregnancy or two; you know, the usual whatnots) the fictional-turned-real-life power couple is as strong as ever; and while many (somewhat rightfully) grouse about the way the McMahon family (including Triple H) handle things…I’ll always have affection for these two. They’re easily in my top 3 married couples I don’t know personally.

Now, usually here in the WCWFE segment, this would be the moment in which I talk about all the things I miss, don’t miss, etc. about the Raw of 1999…but let’s face it: we of the IWC have pretty thoroughly covered our fond memories of the Attitude Era. As such, I’d just like to conclude this memorable affair with a few errant bullet-pointed(!) thoughts.

  • I’ve mentioned the unpleasant grunginess of the Attutude Era WWF many times; but watching this episode, I felt like that feeling is no better encapsulated than in the person of Sean “X-Pac” Waltman. Every time he was on screen, I felt genuinely gross; and while I know I came in long after he’d abandoned the 1-2-3 Kid moniker AND that I’m–by all accounts–not alone in my distaste for the man, I ask my dear readers…seriously, was he always this way? How did I/we ever put up with him? (Early homework assignment.)
  • You know, there’s probably nothing a vibrant 23-year-old girl wants more at her bachelorette party than two sex-crazed octogenarians.
  • This was obviously my first televised professional wrestling wedding, so some of my older readers might forgive me for falling for the twist all those years ago. I’ve certainly seen many more since and will readily admit that this wasn’t an uncommon occurrence…but it was still classic.
  • Triple H’s gleefully delivered “consummate the marriage” line remains one of my favorite bits of dialogue in my 15+ years watching this show. Just golden.
  • This episode is also notable for the introduction of the short-lived Diva Barbara “B.B.” Bush, who–like any average Jane EMT–challenges then-Women’s Champion Ivory to an Evening Gown Match. You know…like you would.
  • Can you believe there was once a time where a character went by the moniker “Mr. Ass”?

…and that’s it for this month’s “Wayback Championship Wrestling Federation Entertainment” join me again on January 15 for another nostalgic look back at my history in sports entertainment.

So. There you have it. So ends the year in “Guys and Divas”. As you might expect, I’ll be taking next week off for the holidays; but in the meantime, here are some things to caper and sing about…

  • Looks like Brodus Clay is finally becoming the monster he was always meant to be. Does he have what it takes to be the “main event player” he so claims? What are some midcard-to-main event success stories that have really piqued your interest over the years?–Amble and ramble about the ascent of superstars.
  • Nikki Bella’s one tough cookie, and she’s got the busted lip to prove it. What are some other badges of courage you’ve seen superstars and Divas endure over the years that made you stop for a golf clap? Who turned tough-as-nails and turned you into a fan?–Show some respect to the scars of battle and those who bear them.
  • The infamous drive-thru wedding of Triple H and Stephanie remains one of my favorite blockbuster twists of all-time. What are some moments that boggled your mind with their audacious outrageousness? What made you stop and think “Wow. They went there”?–Mumble about mind-blowing minutiae.

As always, don’t miss my weekly Raw live-tweet (@biscuitman18; #GuysAndDivas) and–as 2013 comes to a close–a big thanks to everyone who’s stopped by my column over these past twelve weeks. Your words and your readership have meant the world to me, and I hope to see you all again in 2014!

Until next year, I’m Jeff Heatherly saying “Freezer I’ll Shoot!“. Happy holidays, everybody!

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