Monday, September 20, 2010

In Which I Rant About the Civic Arena

As Dennis Miller used to say once upon a time, “I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but…”

In about a month, the Pittsburgh Penguins will play their first regular season game at the brand, spanking new Consol Energy Center, a venue that was completed this year to replace the decrepit and totally outdated Civic Arena. For those of you not from around here, you have no idea what it took for this to happen. Once upon a time, those of us who are Pens fans were afraid that the Pens would be headed out of town to Kansas City or Vegas or anywhere else but the Burgh. Then Mario Lemieux swept in, bought the team and worked out a deal with the city to build a new arena right down the hill from the Civic Arena. Said new arena was completed earlier this year, and by all accounts, it’s going to be a spectacular venue for hockey, basketball, concerts, pro wresting and so on.

End of story, right? Er, not quite.

Before I get into this story, let me take you back in time about 10 years. The powers-that-be finally decided that Three Rivers Stadium had to go. It had become a dinosaur like so many of the multi-purpose stadiums built back in the early 1970s. It was old and decrepit with an Astroturf surface and little in the way of amenities that modern sports facilities have. Few people could have argued with this, but when the time came to finance what would become PNC Park and Heinz Field by adding 1% to Allegheny County’s sales tax, you would have thought that the county was asking for people’s firstborn. There was that much uproar.

Look, I’m a conservative. I hate new taxes, but if it meant that Three Rivers Stadium would go buh-bye and we’d get two new, state-of-the-art facilities in its place, then I’d bite the bullet and just deal with it. And deal with it I have. Every time I set foot into PNC Park and see one of the best ballparks in America, I’m more than happy to continue to pay the added sales tax (though it would be nice if the Buccos were actually, y’know, good, but that’s another rant for another time). The same can be said for going to Heinz Field for Pitt and Steelers games. The fact that the Steelers have won two more Super Bowls since moving into Heinz Field hasn’t escaped me, either.

Yet, over a decade later, there are still people who bitch and moan about the respective costs of the stadiums. But think about this – when one stadium became two, that opened up jobs for the people who work at PNC Park and Heinz Field. And best of all, the city finally developed the space between the two stadiums with restaurants and office buildings and hotels. Before that, there was practically no where to have a bite to eat or a beer before a sporting event. Now there are upwards of 10 different restaurants around and between PNC Park and Heinz Field to go to before or after the game. Think of all of the jobs that the restaurants and hotels have provided, especially in this troubled economy, and tell me that the stadiums weren’t worth it.

Fast forward to today. With the Pens moving into Consol Energy Center, the Civic Arena is just taking up space. The city and the Stadium and Exhibition Authority (the SEA) want to tear down the Arena and develop the former Arena site and the land around it. Great idea, right? Well, not according to some of the anti-progress naysayers who live around here. Because the Arena has great historical value (and it does, don’t get me wrong), these people want it saved and repurposed. Great. Who’s gonna pay for it? I don’t think it should fall to the city or county to pay for the upkeep (rumored to be around half million dollars a year), so I ask again: who’s gonna pay for it. I also ask: what are you going to do with the Arena other than let it stand there as a giant eyesore?

Trust me, outside of a rather tiny (yet still awesome) bar called the Souper Bowl and a bar/restaurant inside a hotel, there’s pretty much no where to go before or after an event at the Civic Arena to have a meal or throw back a few brews. People come to the events and do everything they can to get out of there ASAP because traffic can be a real pain, especially if you’re from out of town and don’t know how to navigate the streets of downtown Pittsburgh (most of which are usually under construction). There have to be more places to go, more places for people to spend their money, more places to build revenue.

The Arena holds a lot of memories for me. I saw my first concert there (Huey Lewis and The News). I was in attendance when Chris Benoit, Eddy Guerrero, Perry Saturn and Dean Malenko left WCW and showed up on Monday Night RAW. I was there when Jaromir Jagr scored in OT to beat the New Jersey Devils in what some people believed could be the last game at the Arena (this was when the Pens were in bankruptcy and were not 100% going to still be in town). And I was there in the very last sporting event at the Arena when the Pens beat the Canadiens earlier this year. I love the Arena, but it has to go. It’s cramped, smelly and so antiquated that you’ll wonder how the city managed to draw any sort of concerts or wrestling events to it.

My guess is that many of the naysayers are the same people who didn’t want a new arena in the first place. Look, people, I realize that much of the city of Pittsburgh is still stuck in the 1980s and hates progress of any kind, but we needed a new arena, period. It’s not just for the Pens (who only play there a maximum of 50-60 times year); it’s for musical acts that have been skipping over Pittsburgh because the Civic Arena was a dump. It’s for WWE who, while still holding TV tapings in Pittsburgh, have not had one of their big four PPVs here because the Arena is a dump. It’s for the NCAA to hold first and second round NCAA Men’s Basketball tourney games (and maybe even a regional eventually). It’s for the Frozen Four. And both of these things wouldn’t be coming back to Pittsburgh if they still had to use the Arena because the Civic Arena is a dump! Period.

Do I trust the city, county and SEA to do the right thing with the development of the (hopefully) soon-to-be-vacant Civic Arena lot? Not necessarily, but I see the job that’s been done on the North Side between PNC Park and Heinz Field, and I’m encouraged. I think of all of the jobs it might create, and I’m again encouraged.

Some people are complaining about the lack of transparency behind the whole vote on what to do with the Arena (which is pretty funny considering our President’s failed promise to have the most transparent presidency in history), but you know what? I really couldn’t care less, especially when I read that people were shouting “Gestapo!” during the vote. Way to play the Nazi card, people. *eye roll* Deal with it, people, unless, of course, you want to come up with the money to pay for the upkeep of the Arena, that is. And if you expect someone to come swooping in to save the Arena from demolition, then I think you’re gonna have a long wait.

I was watching from across the river the morning that Three Rivers Stadium was imploded, and I was happy to see it go. It was a giant, concrete ashtray that had no individuality or personality. Yes, there were plenty of good memories from the old dump, but that doesn’t mean that new memories can’t be created at PNC Park and Heinz Field, like Brian Giles’ walk-off grand slam to beat the Astros several years ago and Pedro Alvarez’s walk-off three run homer to beat the Rockies earlier this year. Or how about Troy Polamalu’s mad dash to the end zone against the Ravens in the AFC Championship to sew up the Steelers’ second trip to the Super Bowl in four years.

New memories will be made at the Consol Energy Center. The Civic Arena will be gone but not forgotten. And as much as people are going to bitch and moan and protest and complain about the (inevitable) razing of the Civic Arena, progress will go on, whether they like it or not.

So, when I go to the Consol Energy Center later on this year (probably for the annual City Game between Pitt and Duquesne on December 1st), I’ll look up to where the Civic Arena sits and salute the old girl and think fondly back on all of the good times I had there. However, I’ll also look forward to the restaurants and shops that may be there some day. Right now, I hope it’s not matter of if, but a matter of when.



Friday, September 3, 2010


Can TV shows have a “feel?” If they can, then this past Monday’s 900th episode of Monday Night RAW sure didn’t feel like an anniversary show. It felt more like, um, a 721st show, if that makes a lick of sense. I guess that’s my convoluted way of saying that the show pretty much sucked. WWE had been promoting the hell out of Monday’s 900th show of the “longest running episodic show in television history” (TM Michael Cole), but they really dropped the ball.

Where to begin? How about the Divas tag team match that lasted all of about 2 minutes and only featured two of the participants. All it really did was set up a unification match at Night of Champions between Melina and LayCool. I don’t have a problem with that, but at least let Eve Torres and Michelle McCool actually, y’know, participate in the match. What a waste of time.

Speaking of wastes of time, did anyone actually think that Bret Hart and the Undertaker would actually wrestle one another? Please. Bret can’t wrestle anymore. Period. And Taker… well, Taker has seen his better days, to be sure. Look, when the total combined age of the two participants is around 100, you have to wonder who’s trying to fool who. The match was never going to happen, and the clustermess that happened after it with the Nexus and Kane just made me wonder why WWE even bothered teasing the match. The whole lights out thing could have happened at the open of the show and saved time that could have been devoted to an actual match. Though I do have to admit it was nice to see a veteran like Taker put over the Nexus.

As a quick aside, am I the only one who really isn’t thrilled about Undertaker vs. Kane Part 100? I really thought that WWE would have enough sense to not trot out that relic of a feud again, but lo and behold, they proved me wrong. Sorry, but I just don’t buy that Kane still feels like he’s in the Undertaker’s shadow anymore. Kane has been a multiple time World Champion and has always been over whether heel or face. I hope this feud ends quickly.

One of the matches that the Undertaker angle took away from had to be the blink and you’ll miss it tag team match between John Morrison, R-Truth, Cody Rhodes and Drew McIntyre that degenerated into a double-DQ brawl in less than two minutes. The match was ostensibly to determine a challenger for the Hart Dynasty’s tag team titles. I thought that’s what the Usos were brought up for, but once again, WWE is back to all but ignoring the tag team division. I could go on and on about the death of tag team wrestling on a big league scale, but that’s another rant for another time.

The triple threat tag team match was cool, if only because I got to see my two favorite wrestlers on the WWE roster – Daniel Bryan and Kaval – team up. WWE could do worse than just keeping those two together as a duo and have them try to jazz up the tag team division. At the very worst, I suspect that Bryan will beat the Miz for the U.S. Title in the near future.

Another segment that went on way too long was CM Punk’s mocking of some of the “most despicable acts” in RAW history (among them is Stone Cold’s famous drenching of Mr. McMahon with a beer bath). And while it was cool to see some older clips like that, they should have been presented in a manner that didn’t feel like a throwaway. I would have devoted at least one whole segment to wrestlers past and present reflecting on 900 episodes of Monday Night RAW, something that was sorely lacking Monday night. In the end, Big Show came out to further his yawn-inducing feud with Punk and the Straight Edge Society. Even Show’s dead-on Hulk Hogan impression couldn’t save this segment.

The main event (an elimination match between Cena/Edge/Jericho/Orton/Sheamus vs. the Nexus) wasn’t bad, but it started way too late and as a result, felt rushed. I will say that the most interesting thing to come out of the match was how Sheamus acting during it. Both Edge and Jericho took themselves out of the match rather quickly, but Sheamus remained in the match before succumbing to the numbers game and being pinned by Heath Slater. Could the fact that Sheamus didn’t bail on Cena and Orton be a sign of a possible face turn? Probably not, but it was an interesting development, nonetheless. Oh yeah, Wade Barrett was the sole survivor of the match, pinning Orton with his incredibly lame “Wasteland” finisher (basically a fireman’s carry forward slam).

I certainly expected more out of Monday night’s show, and I’m surprised and disappointed that it wasn’t a three-hour extravaganza celebrating the history of Monday Night RAW. Where was Stone Cold? Where was The Rock? Where was JR? Heck, where was Mr. McMahon? Ever since he was punked out by the Nexus, Vince has been off TV. At the very least, I thought he would have made a cameo appearance last night, even if via satellite or on tape. His presence was sorely missed Monday night, as was any number of former RAW superstars who helped make Monday Night RAW the longest… well, you know the rest.

There was no surprise factor, no wow factor. It felt like, well, like just another run-of-the-mill Monday Night RAW. If I were Vince, I’d be steamed at how poorly the show came off, and if USA refused to give them the time to do a three-hour show (which is purely conjecture on my part), I’d be pissed at the network, too. Whatever the case, Monday night was not a night that WWE fans will be talking about for some time. Here’s hoping that the 1,000th episode of Monday Night RAW (which will approximately take place in July of 2012) is a much better show.

Anyway, on to the finale of season two of NXT. We all know that wrestling is fixed in some way or another, yet I gotta be honest – in my wildest dreams, I never expected that Kaval would be the winner on Tuesday night. I thought for sure that either Alex Riley (who has the look of a prototypical WWE wreslter) or Joe “Michael McGillicutty” Hennig (a third generation wrestler) would prevail over the uber-talented yet uber-small Kaval. If Kaval was picked by the powers-that-be to be the winner then kudos to WWE for picking a wrestler who doesn’t fit the WWE cookie-cutter look. But if he wasn’t, and the fans did pick him and the vote was legit, then I’m surprised it wasn’t fixed so Riley or Hennig won. If Kaval is destined to be the WWE’s Next Breakout Star, then he’s going to have to be pushed on his in-ring talent, not his size, which is something that WWE doesn’t do very often, if at all. The Era of Kaval sure didn’t get off to a good start as he had the stuffing kicked out of him by the rest of the NXT season two cast. Not exactly how I would have put over the winner, but what do I know. Whatever happens to Kaval going forward, I’m overjoyed that he won because it’s a testament to the ten years he spent on the indy circuit wrestling in high school gyms and armories and fire halls all in the hopes that he’d make it to the big time. Every wrestler on the indy circuit who dreams of making it to WWE one day can take a look at what Kaval did and believe he has a chance to do the same thing. Kudos to Kaval!

Well, that’s it for now. I’m two and a half hours away from the start of the three day Labor Day weekend, and for once, the weather is supposed be below 90 degrees. Woohoo! Have a good weekend folks!



Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Rise of the Indies

Last Saturday night, I had the privilege of attending my 5th Chikara Pro Wrestling event, this time in Reading, PA, for the second night of Chikara’s annual Young Lions Cup tournament. Every year, indy wrestlers (aged 25 or younger) from across the country (and even from Japan) come to Chikara to compete for the prestigious Young Lions Cup, which is basically the top singles title in Chikara.

I would run down the competitors in this year’s tournament, but to be honest, outside of Chikara mainstays like Lince Dorado, Frightmare, Amasis and Ophidian, I hadn’t really heard of any of them. But that was what I enjoyed the most. Y’see, with the wrestling scene pretty much dominated by WWE, it’s nice to be able to see some wrestlers who I’ll probably never see again unless they come back to Chikara or somehow, some way make it to the big time. These are the guys who wrestle because they love the business. Nearly all of them have day jobs and travel across the country (usually on their own dime) to wrestle in front of crowds that usually number anywhere from 50 to 250 – a far cry from the thousands of fans who attend your average Monday Night RAW broadcast.

I’ve always had a particular affinity for independent wrestling, and WWE and TNA wouldn’t be where they are today without the indies. If you look up and down their respective rosters, you’ll see more than a few wrestlers who got their starts on the indy circuit.

Take CM Punk, for example – he was a big player in ROH long before he because the Straight Edge Superstar in WWE. Triple H toiled away in a variety of Northeast indy promotions before going to WCW and then to stardom in WWE. I could go on and on, but independent wrestling is the lifeblood of the industry, and it’s nice to see that independent wrestling has made such a tremendous comeback in the past decade. Heck, even NXT Season Two winner, Kaval (a/k/a Low-Ki) cut his teeth on the indy circuit.

Prior to the then-WWF’s national expansion in the mid-80s, wrestling operated as a series of “territories” spread across the country. The WWF ran the Northeast. Jim Crockett Promotions ran the Mid-Atlantic. Verne Gagne’s AWA ran the Midwest. Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling promoted Louisiana. Championship Wrestling from Florida controlled the Sunshine State. Georgia Championship Wrestling and its national TV show had control of the Peachtree State. The Von Erich family had a huge following in Texas with World Class Championship Wrestling and even a national following thanks to its nationally syndicated TV show.

These are just some of the promotions that dominated pro wrestling in the 70s and early 80s. When Vince McMahon took the WWF national, the territories started to dry up one by one until they were all gone, leaving WWE as the wrestling super power. NWA/WCW gave WWE a run for its money in the 90s, but it’s long since gone. The rest of the territories just couldn’t compete with the money McMahon could offer and went away. And for quite a few years, there wasn’t much wrestling outside of WWE, WCW, and (briefly) ECW. Now, though, indies are thriving again, and I’m starting to think that we may be in for another wrestling boom in the next five to ten years.

Think about it: no matter how much I rag on TNA and think that its product is god-awful, it still has a following and a national TV deal. If Dixie Carter ever gets her head out of her ass and actually hires some people who know how to book a good wrestling show, then maybe TNA will actually start to thrive instead of just treading water as it’s been doing pretty much since its inception. Of course, I think it wouldn’t take much to fix TNA, and one of these days, I’m actually going to sit down and come up with an easy-to-follow plan (step one: Get rid of Hogan, Bischoff and Vince Russo).

ROH Wrestling has gained a reputation for excellent in-ring wrestling (something lacking in both WWE and TNA) and an old school booking philosophy that’s sorely been missing in wrestling since the territories dried up. It also has something of a TV deal on HDNet (which, unfortunately, my cable company doesn’t carry – stupid Comcast).

There are even rumors running rampant of a new national wrestling company being started by one of Fred Wilpon’s sons (Wilpon owns the New York Mets). I, of course, will believe this when I believe it, but it does show that there’s someone out there who thinks that the time may be right to try to compete with WWE.

Look, as much as I do enjoy watching WWE, I realize that it has some serious flaws, not the least of which is overdoing it with a PG product, and I do understand why they’re doing it, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a way to get closer to the edginess of the Attitude Era without falling back into the Crash TV booking Vince Russo made famous (and then subsequently ruined when he went to WCW).

My solution is very simple – more wrestling. And that brings me back to the indies. Your average indy match is significantly longer than a WWE TV match and features a degree of innovation rarely seen in your average WWE match. Yes, I know that a lot of indy matches are nothing but spotfests. I’m not advocating matches like that; they just don’t work very well in the long run. However, some of the innovates moves and non-cookie cutter matches you see on indy cards would be much welcomed by me (and other fans, I surmise) in WWE.

Let’s face facts: pretty much every John Cena match is the same. On the rarest of occasion will you see him pull off a move that’s not in his usual repertoire. My challenge to Cena (and to every WWE wrestler) is for him to find a move or two that he can pull off and occasionally add them to his matches. Maybe it’s a new submission move or a suplex variation or a new kind of power bomb. Whatever it is, put it into the match and make the fans go “Oh!”

In Japan, every wrestler has a variety of signature and finishing moves, any number of which can be used to end a match. The matches are also more athletic and more competitive. WWE has plenty of wrestlers who can wrestle this more athletic “strong” style. Your average WWE wrestler might have two finishers and often over-rely on punches and kicks. Longer and better matches are the answer. Well, I think it’s the answer, anyway. I’m not in the business nor will I probably ever be, but I really think that WWE needs to try something new. Without the edgy storylines that people used to tune in to see, you’re left with having to rely on a PG product to draw in viewers or to bring back old ones. More wrestling, better wrestling, more competitive and athletic wrestling – this is what WWE needs.

When WWE was in trouble during the early part of the Monday Night Wars, it took a page from the edgy product of ECW, and the Attitude Era was born, a period of some serious money-making for WWE. I think WWE needs to look toward the indies again to find a new identity that will help them regain the audience it’s lost since WCW went away. Look to ROH and Chikara and IWC and PWX and AIW and PWG and all of those tiny promotions that operate out of firehalls and sports complexes and high school gyms. Look to the wrestlers who bleed and sweat for the love of the business, not movie deals or merchandising opportunities. Bring wrestling back to the fans, and they’ll come back to you. All you have to do is watch one night of a Chikara show to see this. Trust me on this; people are dying for a product that’s not a cookie cutter.

Well, that’s all for today. I will hopefully be back tomorrow with a review of Monday Night RAW’s 900th show (and it ain’t gonna be pretty) and the NXT season finale. Can’t wait to hear how many times Michael Cole will say that RAW is “the longest running episodic program in the history of television.” I’m sure it will be close to ten.



Monday, August 16, 2010

Tidbits from the Week that Was

Yeah, I know it’s been over a week since my last entry, but I have a good excuse. Okay, maybe not a good excuse, but an excuse nonetheless. I was busy last week preparing for the Jimmy Buffett concert. Hey, a lot of preparation goes into Buffett – food has to be prepared, alcohol has to be purchased, leis have to be found, etc. I told you it wasn’t a good excuse. If you are interested, I’ll eventually have concert pics up over at Facebook (all suitable for workplace viewing – if you wanna see the good ones, you’ll have to email me). Anyway, on to the week that was…

- SummerSlam has come and gone and featured the return of Bryan Danielson (a/k/a Daniel Bryan) to the RAW roster as the surprise 7th member of Team WWE. Bryan made it all the way to the final two before being eliminated thanks to a briefcase upside the head courtesy of The Miz. John Cena (of course) was the last man standing for a victorious Team WWE. So where does the Nexus angle go from here? I don’t really know. None of the other predicted surprises (Cena or Bret Hart goes heel, Triple H is revealed as the brains behind the Nexus) happened. I doubt the angle has come to an end, so I’ll be very curious to see what happens tonight RAW

I’m extremely happy that Bryan is back in the good graces of WWE, though I’ll go on record as saying that his “firing” after the initial Nexus attack on RAW was nothing but a swerve on the internet wrestling community. If it was, then kudos to WWE and Bryan for selling it as well as they did. I’m not going to bitch about it because it did allow me to see Bryan on a CHIKARA show. I do wonder, however, if Bryan will be allowed to complete his indy bookings since all indications are that he’s going to be on the RAW roster full time going forward and will eventually challenge The Miz for the U.S. Title (though from all indications, he will be allowed). I have no doubt that Bryan is going to be getting a good push out of all of this which furthers my belief that WWE might actually be heading in the right direction with its pushes and booking style. Let’s hope I’m not proven wrong.

- The Steelers began their exhibition season Saturday night with a semi-interesting 23-7 victory over the Detroit Lions. Big Ben was a DNP but is expected to play some in the last three exhibition games. The first stringers on offense (led by the ever-immobile Bryon Leftwich) didn’t do a whole lot, and it wasn’t until the back-ups (led by QB Dennis Dixon and RB Isaac “Red Zone” Redman) came into the game that business started to pick up.

Dixon was very effective, completing 6 of 7 passes for 128 yards (including a nifty pass out of a bootleg that Arnaz Battle turned into a long gainer) and rushing six times for 31 yards (though on some of the plays, I think he would have been better served to look for a received downfield, but it is only the first exhibition game). His QB rating as a perfect 158.3 (though that really means zilch, especially in a exhibition game). Redman had an especially good game that featured a run that looked like it came out of a Madden game, complete with no less than three spin moves. He also scored a touchdown at the end of the first half during a torrential downpour that eventually caused the came to be delayed.

The respective performances of Dixon and Redman create some questions as camp continues. Leftwich has been assumed to be the starter for the first four games of the season while Ben is on suspension, but I wonder if his glaring lack of mobility and elongated wind-up combined with a suspect offensive line will cause Mike Tomlin to think twice and install Dixon as starter for the first four games. Local radio personality Stan Savran is always fond of saying that you don’t win championships on broken plays, but we’re only asking Dixon to play in four games, not the whole season. Yes, I know it was against the JVs of the Lions (who some have called the Pittsburgh Pirates of the NFL), but consider me in the camp of those who doesn’t think it’s set in stone that Leftwich is going to be the starter at the beginning of the season. At the very least, I’m betting the Steelers will have some packages ready for Dixon.

As for Redman, I really think the job of short yardage back and back-up to Rashard Mendenhall is his to lose. Frankly, he should have made the team out of camp last year, and I think the Steelers ended up regretting not having him on the team. Redman has a nose for the end zone and always seems to run hard when he has the ball. If Mewelde Moore remains the third down back and Frank “The Tank” Summers is going to be the starting fullback, then much-ballyhooed sixth round pick Jonathan Dwyer might find himself cut or on the practice squad.

The Steelers next game is Saturday night against the Giants at the new Giants Stadium in New Jersey. Big Ben is expected to play, and I’ll be curious to see the kind of reaction he gets from the New York/New Jersey crowd.

- In a brief side note that is semi-related to the game, am I the only one that just can’t stand how KDKA-TV2 covers the Steelers exhibition games? Since I have the NFL Network, I get to see all the out of town exhibition games, and nearly all of them feature announcers who have network gigs during the regular season. The Dolphins, for example, have veteran play-by-play man Dick Stockton. The Patriots have Don Criqui. The Seahawks have FOX pre-game host Curt Menifee. Who do the Steelers have? Longtime sportscaster Bob Pompeani who might be one of the worst football announcers ever. It’s painful to listen to him do a game. Even more comical is the sideline reporter, Jeff Verszyla, who just happens to be KDKA’s chief meteorologist. That’s right – he’s the weatherman. Former Steeler Edmund Nelson is a competent (if snooze inducing) color man, but I’d much rather have someone like former Steelers Merrill Hoge or Jack Ham on the games.

The coverage itself leaves something to be desired, with the incessant promos for the new fall shows on CBS and the CW along with no pre-taped packages (which would have been especially helpful during the nearly 90 minute weather delay when Pomp and Edmund droned on incessantly). There was also a glaring mistake early in the game when Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz was shown to be in his first year as a head coach (it’s his second). KDKA is well known in the area for being exceedingly cheap, and I suspect that the people who run the game behind the scenes are probably all current KDKA employees who probably know very little about the product they’re presenting. How else can you explain how bad the camerawork is and how Pompeani is the PxP announcer and so on?

- Next, we come to the hapless, helpless and downright godawful Pittsburgh Pirates. I’ve been a baseball fan for most of my life, and this year’s incarnation of the Pirates is quite possibly the worst baseball team I’ve ever seen. I’m not kidding about that, either. Watching a Pirates game is the equivalent to having your fingernails pulled out be a pair of pliers, only more painful. The hitting is non-existent (any more than two runs a game is considered an outburst), and the pitching just can’t maintain a lead or get a key out when it needs it. Yes, I realize that there will be growing pains with such a young team, but show me something for goodness sake!

The starting pitching is horrendous. There is not one pitcher among the starting five that strikes fear in the heart of any player on any team, and even when the Pirates do manage a decent start (like Ross Ohlendorf turned in on Friday), the offense only manages a single run. I’m sorry, but you can’t expect to win games 1-0. Score some runs, stop acting like you’ve never played the game before, and look like you care.

The Pirates are on pace to have one of the worst records in franchise history, yet I don’t get any sense that John Russell and Neal Huntington are in danger of losing their jobs. What?!? This team could lose 110 games, and those two jabronies will still have their jobs. What a disgrace. I would think that Frank Coonelly and Bob Nutting would be ashamed by they product they’re putting on the field on a daily basis, but they’re too busy counting the beans and worrying about Pirates Charities and spending more on the draft than any other team. BFD. Spend some money on the big league club, huh? Get some pitchers – real pitchers that aren’t one step away from being washed up (see Morris, Matt), and please, oh please, stop trying to tell us that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. The only light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train.

As Beano Cook would say, the Pirates are an absolute disgrace!

- Oh yeah, one more thing – our great and glorious President (I like to call him Chairman O) has come out kinda, sorta in favor of the proposed mosque just blocks away from Ground Zero in NYC. He really didn’t endorse it, but he sure as hell didn’t not endorse it, either, thereby earning the wrath of a majority of Americans who really, really don’t think it’s such a good idea. But you know what? That’s just fine. Let Obama and the Democratic Party continue to shoot themselves in the foot. It just makes the path for the Republicans to regain control of the House and/or the Senate in November smoother. Yes, I am a Conservative, and I’m proud of it. You’ll never hear me calling myself a Progressive or endorsing the views of left wing whackos like Rosie O’Donnell, Sean Penn and Danny Glover. Socialism doesn’t work. Period. And neither does trying to placate radical Muslims who will always hate infidel Americans no matter what we do. Political rant over.

Anyway, I’ll be back tomorrow with my post-SummerSlam RAW recap.



Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Fame Monster

Do you want to be famous?

It’s not a rhetorical question, though I suspect that some people would think it is. I mean, doesn’t everyone want to be famous? Isn’t part of the reason that I write this blog is that someone will take note of it and say they read it and like it? Well, maybe, but if no one read this blog (and very few people do as it is), then I’d still be writing it, if only for the therapeutic reasons I’ve discussed in the past.

Yet, I know that some people out there have blogs or websites if only because they think it will make them famous or get them noticed.

But fame is very fickle, and you can go from being famous to being infamous in a matter of minutes. Take the case of one Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, for example.

For those of you out there who are unaware of who Ms. Polizzi is, she is one of the cast members (and I use that term loosely) of a reality show on MTV called "Jersey Shore". It follows the lives of a bunch of twenty-somethings (mostly of Italian descent) spending their summer in a house on the Jersey shore. Now, I’ve never seen the show, and if I have my way, I’ll never see it. My belief is that your IQ will drop if you watch the show and that you immediately have to turn on PBS or Discovery Channel before the loss of intelligence becomes permanent. But that’s beside the point and another blog for another time.

The show has become a big hit for MTV and is now in its second season. Consequently, some of the people who are on the show have gained a degree of notoriety, notably Snooki and Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino (really? The Situation? What kind of douche bag has that for a nickname? I guess a guy whose mantra is "Gym. Tan. Laundry," but I digress.). Well, as I pointed out earlier, the line between famous and infamous is a thin one. Just ask Snooki.

Last Friday, a drunken and disorderly Snooki was arrested in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, for basically making an ass out of herself. Snooki was allegedly harassing beach-goers in the middle of the afternoon (reports say she was stumbling around, being loud and obnoxious and was really, really hammered). Upon being arrested by the cops and thrown in the slammer, she (allegedly) proceeded to try to get out of her incarceration by loudly saying, “Do you know who I am? I’m f@#$%^g Snooki!” When I read this in the New York Post over the weekend, I laughed my ass off for a couple of reasons.

First of all, was anyone out there surprised by this (outside of the people who actually thought Brett Favre was going to actually retire this time)? This little twit is in the midst of her 15 minutes of fame and thinks that just because she’s on some godawful reality show on MTV that she’s suddenly all that and then some. The only thing that surprises me is that it took this long to happen.

Secondly, my readers out there who are regular listeners of “The Tony Kornheiser Show” on ESPN 980 out of Washington, D.C., know that a running gag on the show is an audio clip of Robert DeNiro shouting “Do you know who I am?” This is in reference to a passage in a book written by noted author and windbag John “Junior” Feinstein that depicted Mr. Tony loudly saying that very quote to a hotel clerk, and though Kornheiser has continually denied ever saying anything like that, it’s become a running joke on the show because Mr. Tony can come off like that.

But what does being famous get you in the long run? Okay, yeah, more often than not it gets you a lot of money and a lot of perks. I certainly don’t have anything against money and perks (I could use some more of both myself), but it’s painfully obvious that some people cannot handle the burden of being famous, whether it’s on a national or local level.

Look at Lindsay Lohan. She was a promising young actress with a potentially nice career ahead of her. But once she grew up and started to become famous, she couldn’t handle it – booze, DUI, jail time, rehab, etc. I know that she was under a microscope being a somewhat famous movie star and that the tabloids and paparazzi were seemingly following her everywhere. I get that; I do. But plenty of celebrities past and present have also had to deal with the so-called pressure of being a celebrity and have reacted just fine. Some people just can’t handle it, though and end up making the same mistakes over and over again (see: Sheen, Charlie).

Being famous also feeds your ego. Take LeBron James, for example. He’s arguably the most famous basketball player in the world, and he still needed to have his ego fed by having a one hour special on ESPN announcing what NBA team he’d be playing for this coming season. He needed to have the attention. He needed to have a legion of sycophants around him telling him how awesome he is. Fame can go to people’s heads in a hurry.

Anyway, back to Snooki. I can all but guarantee that she or one of her castmembers will end up on "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" both because of a desperate need to remain in the spotlight and because they’re so totally effed up that they need to be in rehab.

And to make matters worse, people can fawn all over celebs that it just makes matters worse. People get so caught up in their worship of celebrities (including our own President) that they cannot or will not see the faults of their so-called idols. When you’re surrounded by people who continually tell you just how awesome and infallible you are, it can go to your head and make you think that you’re awesome and can do no wrong (see: Obama, Barack).

I’m not saying it’s easy to be a celebrity, but I’m also not buying that it’s as difficult as some people make it out to be. There’s an old saying, “Act like you’ve been there before.” It applies to a variety of people in a variety of situations, notably entertainers and athletes. If you go ballistic every time a photog sticks his camera in your face, you’re going to gain a reputation, meaning that where there were once one or two photogs hounding you, now there are ten. But if you act like it doesn’t bother you (even if it pisses you off to no end), they’ll eventually get bored with you and move on. In this situation, being boring and uninteresting is a good thing. But if you yell at them and flip them off and act like it’s such a burden to have your picture taken in public, well, then you know what’s going to happen.

Part of being a celebrity is having to deal with the fame that comes along with it. You can’t be famous and still expect to have the privacy you did when you were just some jabronie no one cared about. And part of it is also not acting like a total jackass in public (see Roethlisburger, Ben).

Here in Pittsburgh, people leave celebs alone for the most part. In my travails in and around the city over the years, I’ve seen my fair share of pro athletes out in public. I pay them the courtesy of a) not pointing them out to everyone else and b) not bothering them. I think this holds true for most people here. A lot of movies are being made in Pittsburgh these days, and pretty much every celeb who has come through here has said how surprised they were about how much they weren’t bothered by people. You can’t get that in New York or L.A. I think that also might be a reason why so many athletes not from Pittsburgh have settled here, even after only playing in town for a year or two.

So what’s the point of this blog (outside of ripping on "Jersey Shore" and idiot celebrities)? It’s to point out that being rich and famous ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. So, for all of you out there who would give up your first born to be famous, be careful what you wish for because you could be the next Snooki or The Situation, and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.



Tuesday, August 3, 2010

And then there were five

With less than two weeks to go until SummerSlam, WWE has continued to build on the Nexus vs. RAW angle that’s been going on for the past few months. As opposed to some of their past angles that either fizzled or just went no where, this angle has continued to keep my interest and has not been as predictable as most WWE booking is.

Last night’s RAW started with Edge cutting a promo telling everyone that he was going to be the one to take out Nexus by challenging Wade Barrett to a match. Edge says he’s tired of listening to everyone else and is going to start to listen to himself. He says he’ll beat Barrett all by himself and tells the rest of his team to stay away. Of course, someone has to answer that and out comes R-Truth.

Truth calls Edge out and says Edge should listen to Cena and be a team player (good stuff from Truth – actually cutting a promo and not rapping during it). Edge, of course, won’t listen and threatens to spear Truth if he doesn’t leave. The anonymous GM sends an email to Michael Cole saying that Edge will face Barrett and that it will be on his own. Truth leaves and out comes Barrett.

The Edge/Barrett match wasn’t a four-star affair (despite his big push, Barrett is still kind of green in the ring), but it did show the fans getting behind Edge. With Edge gaining the upper hand, Barrett called out the rest of Nexus, and Edge ran like a scalded dog (TM Jim Ross) into the crowd.

When we come back from break, Edge is looking for John Cena. When Edge finds Cena, he asks the supposed leader of Team WWE where he was while Edge was going it alone. This was a great heelish thing for Edge to do – calling out Cena for not interfering in the match after Edge said he could do it by himself. Cena, of course, said he was respecting Edge’s wishes by staying in the back. They go back and forth before Edge decides to quit Team WWE, much to Cena’s consternation.

As Edge leaves, the camera pans over to reveal a smirking Chris Jericho (few wrestlers can convey as much with facial expressions as Y2J). Jericho does his usual “blame Cena” spiel before eventually challenging Cena to a match – loser is no longer on Team WWE. Cena accepts, but you can tell that he’s not happy about it.

Another development happens when John Morrison tries to get through to the Great Khali (on the “not annoying” list for two straight weeks, a new record) saying that Team WWE needs to be like the Magnificent Seven – united as one. Khali responds by saying something about the Seven Dwarves, causing Morrison to walk away. Enter Michael Tarver and David Otunga who plant more seeds with Khali. They claim that Cena will kick him off Team WWE if Khali loses to Ted DiBiase later on. They also offer him a place in Nexus where he’ll always be respected. Khali says nothing, but the wheels are turning.

Up next is a 6 Diva tag match that actually didn’t suck. It was short and relatively action packed. Natalya Neidhart has some skills, and I think she’s being wasted as the Hart Dynasty’s manager. As for Tamina… well, um, y’see… let’s hope she can get over with her in-ring skills because she’s not exactly what I’d call a looker. But maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, after Alicia Fox wins the match for her team, she cuts a promo saying how she’s beaten every Diva on RAW in every kind of match and that she’s the greatest champion of all time (or something to that affect). Cue Melina’s music. Melina’s been on the shelf pretty much all year, so it was good to see her back. Melina hit the ring and took out Alicia with the Sunset Split, yelling “I’m back!” as she did. My only hope is that Melina can actually stay healthy for an extended period of time because she’s clearly the most talented Diva (in and out of the ring) on RAW.

Next up is an old-fashioned squash match between Sheamus and Goldust. It’s a shame that Goldust has become a jobber to the stars, but hey, it pays the bills. After finishing off Goldust with the High Cross (a crucifix powerbomb for those of you keeping score at home), Sheamus cuts a killer promo saying how far he’s come in the past year and how he did it all himself – he didn’t need a briefcase and isn’t a third-generation star. Good stuff here – I’m not the biggest Sheamus fan and was puzzled when he got the push he did, but he’s worked really hard to become a solid wrestler and is improving on the mic. His program with Randy Orton and The Miz has been a welcome co-main event to the ongoing Nexus angle.

The outcome of the Cena/Jericho match that followed was never in question, but I was curious to see how it would be carried out. The match itself was top notch – a very good TV match, but I expect that from Cena and Jericho. The pair has wrestled one another so many times now that I think they could have a good match in their sleep. The best part of the match was how Cole and Lawler put over how Cena’s heart wasn’t in the match. It was refreshing to hear announcers actually putting over an angle by analyzing a match. JR used to do this all the time, but Cole rarely (if ever) does. The actual ending was a bit unexpected as Jericho tapped out before Cena could actually lock in the STF, meaning that Jericho had to leave Team WWE.

Jericho left to a chorus of boos. Cena got on the mic and tried to talk Jericho into rejoining the team. Once again, Jericho’s “conflicted” facial expressions sold the bit, but of course, he walked away in the end. Team WWE is down to five members.

In the back, Edge and Jericho have a heart-to-heart and finally make up (awww…). It’s a mutual admiration society as each says he respects the other for leaving Cena in the dust. Then the mystery GM pipes up and announces a match for next week – Cena and Bret Hart (still mysteriously absent) vs. Edge and Jericho in a lumberjack match. The lumberjacks will be the Nexus. That should be interesting - though I expect that the remaining members of Team WWE will also end up as lumberjacks.

Cut to the always-smiling Josh Matthews with Randy Orton. Since Orton went face his promos have still been top notch. He’s much calmer and more matter-of-fact. He knows how good he is. He also knows how over he is. Orton as a heel had been growing very stale, and his face turn has been probably the best executed face turn WWE has pulled off in a long time. I expect him to hold the WWE Title before the year is out.

I pity Ted DiBiase having to job to the Great Khali, but it did further the whole is Khali going to side with Nexus storyline when Khali used the Vise Grip to defeat DiBiase after Barrett and Skip Sheffield distracted the Fortunate Son. The match was short and to the point, but I really hope that DiBiase eventually gets a decent push, even though I’ve soured on him since Legacy split up.

It’s main event time – Randy Orton vs. The Miz. As usual, Miz cuts a killer promo before the match, saying that his time has come and that he will be WWE champion, because he’s the Miz, and well, you know the rest. Have I mentioned how I’ve done a complete 180 on the Miz? I used to loathe him, and now I see him as the future of WWE. His promos are among the best on the roster, and he’s gotten so much better in the ring that I can’t even believe he’s the same guy who was buried on ECW in tag team matches.

The match itself was a good back and forth affair that saw Orton get the win with the RKO after ducking a Miz lariat. Sheamus tried a run-in at the end, but he retreated when Orton dropped into the Viper pose.

All in all, while it wasn’t as good of a show as the past few weeks had been, last night’s RAW still managed to build momentum going into SummerSlam. John Cena’s dream team appears to be down two members, making the main event match a 7-on-5 affair. Of course, I don’t believe for a minute that Team WWE vs. The Nexus will be anything less than 7-on-7. But who those 7 members of Team WWE will be is up for debate.

Part of me thinks this whole “dissention in the ranks” act is all part of one massive swerve by Cena, Edge, Jericho, et al (maybe orchestrated behind the scenes by Vince McMahon?) to lull the Nexus into a false sense of security. Nexus comes into the match overconfident, expecting Cena’s team to be in disarray and down (at least) two members only to end up facing a team that’s not only unified but is also at full strength. That would be an awesome pay off to everything that’s been going on the past few weeks, but I really don’t think it will play out that way. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Vince does return to RAW next week to force Edge and Jericho to be on the team.

Another way I see this possibly playing out is that there could be a surprise or two in store for the Nexus at SummerSlam. Maybe Triple H’s current injury is a work, and he’ll be a surprise member of Team WWE. Or maybe a mid-card heel will step up to the plate and into a main event slot (ala Lex Luger’s surprise face turn and subsequent mega-push many years ago). I could see someone like Zack Ryder put into this spot, as he’s been off TV lately but is in line for a push.

Honestly, I really have no idea what’s going to happen, and that’s a good thing. For years, I’ve been bemoaning how predictable WWE booking is, and I’m pleasantly surprised by how well executed the Nexus angle has been up until now. Let’s just hope the payoff is as good as the build up has been.



Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sowing the Seeds of Discontent

Everyone out there who thought that John Cena’s handpicked team to conquer the Nexus would be a well-oiled, cohesive unit raise your hand. Yeah. That’s what I thought.

C’mon… it’s wrestling. Nothing’s supposed to go smooth or as planned.

Monday night’s RAW began with John Cena cutting a promo about how his team was going to take down the Nexus at SummerSlam – you know, your typical Cena babyface promo. Out comes Chris Jericho to rain on Cena’s parade by proclaiming that Jericho should be the leader of the team, not Cena. Cena, of course, could not care less who leads the team as long as the job is done. Jericho (in an interesting little dig at Cena) says that Cena is just as bad as the Nexus.

The duo nearly come to blows before the still-unseen RAW General Manager (this week he seems to be Triple H, which, of course, means it’s not him) orders Cena and Jericho to show their teamwork by teaming in a match again an unnamed team of the GM’s choosing.

There was good work all around here. Cena came off as he should – not caring who the leader is so long as the Nexus is taken down, and Jericho in full heel mode accusing Cena of being as bad as the Nexus and patronizing him at the same time. These two work very well together, and it’ll be a shame that they won’t have a bigger program after the Nexus angle as done. Why you may ask? Rumor has it that Jericho will again be taking some time off after SummerSlam when his contract is up. Take that for what you will, of course.

In the midst of all of this, it was also announced that the Team Cena vs. Nexus 7-on-7 match at SummerSlam is now an elimination match which is a tremendous decision. This will really add to the drama of the match and could offer a clue or two to Nexus’ leader, if he is on Cena’s team as I suspect.

As a bit of a preview, the Nexus would be taking on a team of RAW superstars (and I use that term loosely since the team included Goldust and Yoshi Tatsu) in a 7-on-7 elimination match. And before the match even started, I knew the outcome – a clean sweep for the Nexus. Why? It was the only logical outcome. But more on that in a bit.

Before this match, Randy Orton beat Jey Uso in a short squash match. Sheamus was at ringside for the match and predictably went after Orton. Orton managed to take Sheamus out with an RKO which brought out the Miz to again try to cash in his Money in the Bank title shot. Well, before the match could be started, Orton took out Miz with another RKO.

I’m really enjoying the Miz’s work now that he’s been pushed to the top of the card, and Sheamus (the whitest man in North America) is starting to grow on me. Orton has rapidly become the number two babyface on RAW and is responding with some of his best in-ring work and promos. Unlike his first ill-fated face turn, this one is working incredible well for Orton. Oh, yeah, one more thing – the GM announced that the main event would be a tag match between Cena/Jericho and Miz/Sheamus.

This brings us to the elimination match. Thankfully, it was short and pretty much a squash – as much as a match like this can be a squash. The Nexus dominated the RAW C-listers (with the exception of Evan Bourne) and won without having a single member of Nexus eliminated. Having one of their members pinned by someone like Goldust would only have weakened the Nexus going into SummerSlam. They need to appear to be all-but invincible for the angle to work like it should, especially because Cena’s team is in ruins.

Speaking of that, more dissension in the ranks came in the form of Edge and The Great Khali (who is suddenly somewhat interesting for the first time in… okay, for the first time ever). Edge cut a backstage promo on Khali that really wasn’t all that condescending, but Khali’s increasingly devious handler fed Khali a bogus translation causing Khali to demand a match with Edge.

The match was blessedly short (videos of Great Khali matches are used to interrogate prisoners in Gitmo… at least that’s the rumor) and was cut short by the Nexus. Edge ran like a scalded dog (TM Jim Ross) leaving Khali to fend for himself. Strangely, the Nexus let Khali leave without any incident which further fuels the story that Cena’s team is weak and not unified.

This plot development was furthered when R-Truth (sort of) cost John Morrison a match against Ted Dibiase which resulted in the obligatory pushing and shoving between Truth and Morrison.

Now where is Bret Hart, the seventh member of Team Cena, in the midst of all of this mess? Supposedly back in Calgary, training for the big match. Hmmm…

Before I delve into the developments of the main event, I need to take a quick detour and talk about how awful the Women’s division is on RAW.

I understand that injuries (to Melina, among others) and retirements (of Trish Stratus and Lita) have really crippled what was once one of the best parts of RAW, but man, does Alicia Fox suck out loud as the current Divas Champion. Her match against one of the Bella Twins did nothing to change my mind. I really like Eve Torres – she can actually work a half decent match – so why the powers-that-be put the title on Fox is beyond me. As is the woeful under-use of Gail Kim, who was so big in TNA and yet has barely registered a blip on the RAW radar. Former champ Maryse is now Ted Dibiase's arm candy and hasn't had much ring work as of late. Jillian Hall needs a gimmick revamp and maybe even a face turn. The Bella Twins are useless.

Thankfully (spoiler alert!) Melina is finally due back from (another) injury and did a run-in at the RAW taping that was done after the live show on Monday. Melina is easily the best worker on RAW or Smackdown, and I’ll be happy to see her back. Let’s hope it’s not too long before she’s holding the Divas Championship.

Anyway, onto the main event…

The match was an excellent back and forth affair with both mismatched teams working surprisingly well together. The end did catch me slightly by surprise, though in retrospect, I should have seen it coming. As the referee was busy with Miz and Sheamus, Jericho snuck back into the ring (after hot tagging Cena) and hit Cena with the Code Breaker. Miz immediately tagged himself in and pinned Cena.

Jericho took advantage of the downed Cena and put Cena in the Walls of Jericho which Cena reversed into the STF. Before long, the remaining members of Team Cena hit the ring and started arguing with one another. Cena and even the Great Khali tried to play peacemaker. As RAW went off the air, one has to wonder if Team Cena will be able to put their differences aside and be a real team against the mighty Nexus.

Once again, this week’s RAW propelled the Nexus vs. the RAW roster storyline toward its conclusion(?) at SummerSlam. The Nexus looks invincible while John Cena’s team is in shambles. And that is how it should be. If Cena’s team was unified, then there would be no doubt as to the outcome of the elimination match at SummerSlam. But now… well, I think there’s a good chance Cena’s team loses and the Nexus angle continues into the fall. However, I really think that we need to see some chinks in the Nexus’ armor in the coming weeks. I mean, they are a bunch of rookies, and sooner or later, that’s got to be addressed. Though as to who will break away from Nexus and strike out on his own remains a question.

One last thing before I sign off. Rumors are still persisting that John Cena will be revealed as the behind-the-scenes leader of the Nexus. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – this would be the worst piece of booking since “The Finger Poke of Doom” angle back in WCW during the nWo storyline. Making Cena the leader of Nexus not only makes no sense, it also takes away WWE’s number one babyface something that would be a huge mistake since there’s no one on either roster ready to take that spot.

If it’s Bret Hart, that’s fine. If it’s Triple H (out for months more after yet another injury), that’s also fine. If it’s someone no one would have ever thought of, that’s also fine. But it can’t be John Cena. Period.