Guys and Divas #15: Mr. Brightside (Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Trish Stratus, Lita)

Hump of the day to you, reader!

Welcome back to “Guys and Divas”; the only column on Inside Pulse Wrestling that chose the dead of winter as a good time to shave its head. (See?)

In this week’s “Divas”, I take a second-hand look back at highlights in the careers of–arguably–the two greatest of all-time; and in “The Bonus Ball”, I go all Jerry Maguire on you (again).

…BUT FIRST(!), with this year’s “Royal Rumble” just a few days away, we thought we had things all figured out. After this Monday, confusion and disappointment are the name of the game. It’s all happening in this week’s…

GUYS

It seemed like a sure thing to so many of us.

Daniel Bryan–fresh off his victorious trouncing of Bray Wyatt last week–was off to bigger and better things; namely winning the Royal Rumble Match and headlining Wrestlemania XXX, where his ascension to the top of the mountain as the new WWE World Heavyweight Champion was all but a certainty. However, while stranger things have happened, it seems that the path we foresaw for our favorite goatfaced underdog is now closed; or at the very least, being modified drastically.

Indeed, with this past Monday’s announcement that Daniel Bryan will face Bray Wyatt in one-on-one competition at this Sunday’s event, many are now a bit heartbroken.

Meanwhile, it seems that my Gretzky (and likely some of yours) CM Punk is on a bit of a detour on the road to Wrestlemania. Most signs pointed to a clash of Punk and Triple H on April 6, but Corporate Kane has finally become a factor in proceedings and not the way many of us expected. While my infamous theory regarding the Big Red Machine’s involvement in the Bryan/Wyatts situation isn’t entirely unfeasible, it grows more and more unlikely.

Now usually this is the part where I–like many wrestling pundits–would start forecasting; or in my case, modifying my previous cracker of a premonition. However, I’ve recently come to realize that slavish adherence to prediction only leads to disappointment, and that such thoughts run counter-intuitive to my ongoing quest for optimism. (If you enjoy a good what if scenario, I once again recommend John Kincaid’s dynamite “Creative Control” series; right here at Inside Pulse Wrestling.)

As such, I think it’s time for me to get back to what I always intended: not lamenting over what I believe WWE may be doing wrong, but rather focusing on what I believe they’re doing just right…or at the very least, where they’re moving in the right direction.

Naturally, let’s begin with the two subjects of this week’s “Guys”: the uncrowned face of WWE Daniel Bryan and “The Best in the World” (although, those quotes could/should easily disappear) CM Punk.

Yes, it’s bothersome that–unless we’re in for a surprise–Daniel Bryan is out of the Royal Rumble match. However, I certainly wouldn’t scoff at one more one-on-one confrontation with Bray Wyatt. Their tension as face and heel is the best I’ve seen between two characters in a very long time, and we know that both men are capable of putting on a dynamite match. So, at the very least, we’ll be entertained when they lock horns (or beards, as it were) this Sunday.

“But Jeff,” you ask, “where does that leave D-Bry’s future as a world champion?”

Well, dear reader…I think the key thing to remember is that Daniel Bryan HAS a future as a world champion. As reported right here at Inside Pulse, the powers that be–including Vince McMahon himself–were very impressed with the final segment of last Monday’s Raw and the reaction that it elicited from the Rhode Island crowd.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: WWE knows that they have something special with our boy D-Bry; and they’d be fools not to cash in and cement his status as THE face of the next generation. Moreover, let’s not forget; there’s still the Elimination Chamber in February, and who knows how the result of that event will affect what’s in store for us in New Orleans? Or what about the idea I proposed last week?–A full-circle redemption story concluding at SummerSlam. I would be no less satisfied, and I sincerely hope you wouldn’t either.

The possibilities are endless, folks. Daniel Bryan’s rise is undeniable; and no matter how this shakes out, 2014 has the potential to be a hell of a year.

The same can of course be said for CM Punk. As announced on Raw this past Monday, he’ll be entering the Royal Rumble match at the dreaded #1 spot. As that fabulous “by the numbers” video always tells us, that’s a number that has created as many winners as sweet #30. Perhaps WWE thinks it’s time for another feel-good, long-haul win at the January classic.

Let’s be honest. Would anyone take issue at the thought of CM Punk holding the big gold again?–I certainly wouldn’t.

All of this being said, I think the key idea I’d like to get across this week is that there is something just as alluring about not knowing where this story is going as there is getting exactly what we wanted or foresaw. Maybe…just maybe…there’s something even more intriguing waiting around the bend. It just requires a little patience.

Good vibes, my dearies.

See what I mean?–It feels alright…and if you’re still uneased, click that link up there. You’ll feel groovy before too long.

While I’ve got you in a good mood, let’s do something a little different for the next segment. Two of the greatest of all-time sat down this week to reminisce about some of their fondest wrestling memories. Let’s join them (after a fashion) in this week’s…

DIVAS

I’ll admit it. Things have slowed to a pretty dead halt in the Divas division lately. The matches continue to improve week-by-week; but narratively, there’s practically nothing going on.

So you can imagine I was pleased as the proverbial punch to see this article pop up on my Twitter feed Monday night. Indeed, former Divas Champions and all-around awesome ladies Amy “Lita” Dumas and the legendary Trish Stratus sat down for a look back at ten of their most memorable collaborative moments in WWE.

Naturally, I’m a sucker for sports entertainment nostalgia–especially when the Divas are the topic–so I thought I might count down their selections right here, and offer some of my own thoughts and memories. Enjoy!

#10: Trish’s “Walking Kiss of Death” Promo – 11/1/2004

While I’m known to gush endlessly about the short but storied ongoing career of (my spirit animal) AJ Lee, there’s no topping Lita for memorable storylines. I could go on and on about her various relationships and scrapes with all manner of WWE superstars and Divas…but wouldn’t you know it?–Trish saved us all the trouble and put together a video piece chronicling one of the more bizarre periods in Diva history.

It’s easy to immediately point to the effectiveness, the power–hell, the very existence of a segment like this as merely a product of the deservedly revered “Attitude Era”, but there’s no reason we couldn’t see another rivalry like the one these two legends had in the current WWE. Some may scoff and balk at the idea of any of the current crop pulling something like this off; but to be fair, emotional resonance isn’t WWE’s strong suit of late, no matter the gender of the people involved.

Obviously, what makes this segment so great is Trish’s commitment to character. As the old adage goes, “when she was good, she was great…but when she was bad, she was even better”.

 

#9: “OH MY GOD, IT’S KANE!” – April 2004

As covered above, 2004 was an interesting year for Lita; and when one thinks “interesting” in WWE, very often the Big Red Machine is involved.

Kane has long been my favorite character on the show, because he is–as I’ve said many times–a capital-C CHARACTER. Even now, as he stands backstage as The Authority’s sore thumb of a Director of Operations, we’re getting something very unique. What motivated him to surrender the mask? Why the sudden change of heart?–Hopefully we’ll find out soon enough.

In the meantime, we have this clip. In the spring of 2004, Kane took a decided shine to Lita. Obviously, this didn’t sit well with her longtime boyfriend Matt Hardy who defended his lady-love at every turn…but Kane was persistent and, well…Kane. This put Lita in quite the traumatized state, so of course her long-time frenemy Trish decided to have a little fun. Thus, another classic moment from these two great rivals.

 

#8: Trish & Trips vs. Lita & The Rock – 7/24/2000

As I get older, I have a much more divisive relationship with the concept of the intergender match.

On one hand, I’ve seen so much man-on-woman violence in the world around me (particularly over the past decade) that just thinking about it in the context of sports entertainment leaves me significantly uneased. On the other, I routinely have discussions with acquaintances about the equality of the sexes in the world of legitimate sports. (How is women’s ski jumping only just now in 2014 an Olympic event?)

Watching this, I’m definitely more in the latter headspace; because I think we all know that Trish Stratus and Lita are two of the toughest cookies to ever emerge from the proverbial jar. (Bizarre metaphors!)

What I find even more striking about this match however, is just how early in the legendary careers of these two influential Divas it took place. It’s unquestionable: these are not the polished, consummate performers that Trish and Lita would later become. These are two young upstarts who–at the time–were only just getting their feet wet.

I think many in the current fan culture could stand to remember that everyone–male or female–that we revere and canonize today started somewhere; and while the Divas division of today is still shaking off the ill effects of the Diva searches and model auditions that gave us people like Kelly Kelly, I can see the potential in so many of the current ladies of WWE to be the shining examples Trish and Lita have become.

An important moment, to be sure.

 

#7: Trish and Lita Go “Dynasty” – 3/14/2002

“That escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast.”

As Trish and Lita note in their comments, yes. Those slaps were VERY real, and led to nothing short of a classic knock-down, drag-out brawl between these two bitter adversaries. Obviously, we all wish we could see that kind of intensity from the current Diva roster; but I think the fact that we likely won’t is less a matter of lesser talents than of WWE’s stricter safety standards in the last seven years or so.

 

#6: Lita’s Bloody Revenge – Survivor Series 2004 (11/14/2004)

Pregnancy certainly allows a girl time to build up some frustration.

In this, the penultimate match of their tremendous 2004 conflict…well, it certainly stops being a match pretty quickly; and becomes a brief statement on what these two can do when put against each other. Lita’s legitimate bloodying of Trish’s nose is a declaration that the Divas can raise hell with the same ferocity as their superstar counterparts.

The rubber match a month later was a decided exclamation point on that declaration…

…but we’ll get to that next week.

“Hold on there, Jeff. You’re only on #6.”

Oh, I know that, dear reader. Call it a precaution, but–and as you know, I say this with love–I can’t be certain I’ll have much in the current Diva milieu to discuss next week, so we’ll count down the top 5 Trish/Lita moments either here or in next week’s “Bonus Ball”.

Speaking of which, it’s time for THIS week’s edition of my anything-goes third segment. You know it. You tolerate it. It’s…

THE BONUS BALL

As I kick off my second calendar year here at Inside Pulse Wrestling, I think it might be a good idea to go back and revisit what led me here. (Calm down; it’s not another long-winded retelling of my nascent days as a fan of sports entertainment.)

In the spirit of “Jerry Maguire”, I want to present a sort of revised mission statement. (Fair warning. This will be a bit of a stream of consciousness, so bear with me.)

I was–at long last–listening to CM Punk’s appearance on Marc Maron’s “WTF?” podcast; and as my Gretzky and the podcasting pioneer chatted about Punk’s origins in wrestling, I began to contemplate not why I like to watch but why I like to discuss.

On my Twitter feed, I somewhat jokingly refer to myself as a “semi-professional media maven”. This is an identity I realized I carried in my last few years at my university of choice. I lived to bring rare films and television series to the attention of my friends, and reveled in the wonderful, thoughtful conversations they often created.

As you might understand, I was a bit reticent to broach the idea of my love for WWE with my various acquaintances. No matter how times change, this is still a niche form of entertainment that carries with it a history of…well…unpleasantness. While many of us look at it from an almost academic perspective, there are still countless others that see our enjoyment of this business as a sign of lower intellect.

I wanted to change that. I started by bringing my best friend Nick into the fold; and–as you may remember from way back in my very first column–quickly had an ally. While he’s never been an active viewer of the show, he’s never shied away from letting me gab at length about the characters and stories that have kept me watching this show for almost two decades now.

Shortly after I graduated from college, I noticed that my old chum Chris Sanders was a member of the staff here at Inside Pulse Wrestling; and I began to long for such a forum in which I could share my thoughts and feelings on this roller coaster of a business with like minds and provocative thinkers.

As a long-time reader of internet wrestling sites such as IPW, I knew however that I would face a bit of an uphill climb should I ever get my opportunity. It’s simply a fact: pessimism, hate, and general abject grumpiness are the name of the game, it seems. This saddened/saddens me considerably.

“Why?” I thought, “Why would someone not only watch, but regularly and publicly speak at length about something that caused them so much frustration?”

In my case, I knew the answer was that there’s another side to this coin; that for every time one of our favorites gets shafted from an opportunity, every time a segment makes us roll our eyes, every time WWE simply misses the point…there’s also a moment where we are reminded why so many of us keep watching.

As a devout optimist, I try to keep my mind on those moments; and while I wholly understand that that may not work for everyone, I encourage others to do the same.

One thing that helps me do that is something that has helped me keep this academic eye on professional wrestling over the years; and that’s knowing that while what unfolds on our screens may not always satisfy us, we’re still watching a cast of real human beings who dreamed of getting even a moment out in that ring, under the lights, broadcast live around the world and now they get to live that dream each and every week.

So often I think we forget that these actors (and yes, I will continue to use that term because at root, that’s what they are) are not always in control of how often or how significantly they get to make their presences felt on these weekly television shows. We forget that–I feel it should be reiterated–these are human beings; real people with thoughts, emotions, beliefs, flaws…everything that makes all of us who we are…

…and no matter how we feel about how they’re utilized or how often or in what fashion, they put their lives on the line for us every week.

Do I wish backstage politics weren’t so obnoxiously transparent sometimes?–Of course; but I’m not going to let that diminish the way I feel about this business, these people, and the millions () of us who have brought this crazy thing called professional wrestling into our lives.

Things happen. Things change. People succeed. People fail. It’s nothing that any of us should take personally…because at the end of the day, it’s still JUST a TV show.

It’s a TV show that I love very dearly; and because I love it very dearly, I love to talk about it; and when I talk about it, I love to talk about it with a smile, a sense of hope, and a deep and abiding respect for the individuals who make it all possible.

I won’t deny it. Sometimes, I have a hard time living up to my own credo. Sometimes, I make mistakes. Sometimes, I fail myself. Sometimes, cooler heads don’t prevail; but when those moments come, I step back and breathe and remember why this show is so important to me.

In the end, the key reason: it makes me happy. With this column, I have always wanted more than anything to share that happiness with all of you; to recreate the discussions I had with friends and family; to share in the love of this ridiculous industry.

I sincerely hope we can continue to do that together. With respect. With fondness. With intelligence.

Thank you for letting me be part of the conversation.

…and on that unexpectedly sincere note, this week’s “Guys and Divas” comes to a close; but what kind of column would it be if I didn’t leave you with a few topics of discussion?:

  • This past Monday’s Raw left many of us scrambling to adjust our predictions for the Road to Wrestlemania. Who will main event in the Big Easy? What will become of Daniel Bryan and CM Punk?–Posit possibilities about the proceeding period. (Alliteration strikes again!)
  • I tagged up on a look back at the most memorable moments of Trish and Lita. What are some of your favorite moments from these two legendary ladies?–Perhaps you’re fond of something that I’ll cover in the top 5 next week; but regardless, reminisce away!

As always, join me for my weekly Raw live-tweet (@biscuitman18; #GuysAndDivas) and hey!–Maybe I’ll let a few thoughts fly during this Sunday’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view! Follow me and find out!

Until next week, I’m Jeff Heatherly saying “Eat a carrot, for god’s sake!“. Good day, all!

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