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the brand, spanking new Consol Energy Center, a venue that was completed this year to replace the decrepit and totally outdated Civic Arena.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.

Later!

JD

Friday, September 3, 2010

RAW is BLAH

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!

Later!

JD

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.

Later!

JD

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.

Later!

JD

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.

Later!

JD

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.

Later!

JD

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.

Later!

JD

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Plot Thickens

Last night’s edition of Monday Night RAW began and ended with a bang.

Right out of the chute we had a top notch Triple Threat Match between Randy Orton, Edge and Chris Jericho. I’ve always been a fan of Triple Threat Matches (especially ECW’s Three Way Dances), but the success (or lack thereof) of the match depends on the wrestlers. I know that some people like to see crazy three-way spots like you’ll see in your average indy match, but this is WWE, so I didn’t expect anything like that. What I did expect was a solid match between three of the feds best workers, and I wasn’t disappointed.

There were a ton of near falls, almost no breaks in the action (save one Jericho reverse chinlock that might have lasted all of 45 seconds) and a satisfying, clean ending (with Orton hitting both Edge and Jericho with RKOs). Orton’s victory guarantees him a match at SummerSlam against the WWE Champion (right now it’s Sheamus, but that could change – more on that in a bit). Frankly, Orton deserves the spot. Since his face turn, he’s continued to be near the top of the card, but this will be his first time main eventing as a face. Overall, I’m very satisfied with how WWE has handled Orton’s face turn. It’s much like they did when Steve Austin became a face after his epic WrestleMania match with Bret Hart many years ago. Orton’s personality hasn’t changed. All that’s really changed is that he’s now wrestling heels and being cheered by the fans. Memo to Vince Russo: that’s how you do a face/heel turn.

After the match, Edge and Jericho had a confrontation that played out pretty much like I expected but led to something I really didn’t see coming. Edge called out Jericho and both ended up calling out the Nexus. Nexus ended up beating the tar out of Edge while Jericho cheered them on, and then (predictably) Nexus turned on Jericho and beat him up, too. Predictable as it was, it was the logical next step in the ongoing Nexus storyline.

It’s been a very long time since WWE had an angle like this, and I’m very pleased with how it’s played out so far. Nexus hasn’t been too overexposed (much like the nWo came to be), but they’re still a constant presence on RAW. Whereas the nWo dominanted every angle on Nitro, there are still other non-Nexus angles on RAW, which leads me to your friend and mine, The Miz.

When The Miz first burst onto the scene, I immediately dismissed him because of his reality show background. I didn’t think he was a very good wrestler nor did I think he had any business in the big leagues with his amazing lack of experience. But The Miz paid his dues and rose up through the ranks and is now to the point where he’s going to be a WWE Champion soon. When The Miz won Money in the Bank on Sunday that was WWE’s signal that The Miz had finally made it. Each and every wrestler who has won the Money in the Bank has gone on to be a WWE or World Champion, and The Miz will be no different.

Last night Sheamus came out and cut a promo about how he’d called a truce with Nexus and did his usual spiel about how he’s beaten John Cena and so on. On cue, out came The Miz to cut a wicked promo on Sheamus (right down to a hysterical impression of Sheamus’ use of the word “fella”). It was a shining moment for The Miz who even got a few cheers during the head-to-head confrontation.

After Sheamus beat Evan Bourne (still gaining acceptance), The Miz jumped into the ring and clocked Sheamus with the Money in the Bank briefcase. For a minute or two, it looked like The Miz was going to cash in his title shot then and there, especially after hitting Sheamus with the Skull Crushing Finale on the briefcase. But before The Miz could get the fall, out came R-Truth (continuing their budding rivalry) to prevent The Miz from becoming WWE Champion.

However, it’s only a matter of time, and y’know what? It’s well deserved. It’s obvious to me that Miz has worked his ass off to become a better wrestler both in the ring and with his promos. I don’t know when I’ve seen a wrestler improve this much in a very long time. He’s also made a big commitment outside of the ring to do whatever WWE management asks of him. Things like that win serious brownie points with Vince McMahon who is 100% behind the push The Miz is getting.

The middle part of the show was little more than filler – a Divas match that was only contested to further the John Morrison/Ted Dibiase feud and a tag match with Santino and Kozlov vs. Regal and Ryder that was pretty much a squash for Santino and Kozlov. It’s nice to see Santino actually wrestling and not being limited to just comedy bits with the Guest Host, a concept that (thankfully) has been de-emphasized.

The last part of the show was once again devoted to the ongoing battle between John Cena and the Nexus. It started with Wade Barrett defeating Mark Henry semi-cleanly (though Barrett nearly injured Henry with a botched fireman’s carry slam that probably looked even worse in person than it did on TV). The rest of Nexus came to ringside after the match, and out came a very downtrodden Cena. Barrett offered Cena a spot in Nexus, and after teasing that he might accept, Cena left the ring, seemingly with his tail between his legs. And that’s when things got interesting…

Cena once again vowed to take out each and every member of Nexus, by himself or with a little team he’d been gathering behind the scenes. And just like that, business picked up. Out comes Edge, John Morrison, The Great Khali, Chris Jericho, and R-Truth, all victims of the Nexus in the past (except for Khali, but they needed a big man, so there you go). As Cena and his team stood there, I wondered who the 7th man of the team would be. It couldn’t be Orton or Sheamus or The Miz. No way would it be Evan Bourne. Would it be someone from Smackdown? Maybe Triple H would make a surprise return. When the 7th member’s music hit, even I was shocked – it was Bret Hart.

Bret Hart’s return engagement with WWE had seemingly ended a few months ago when Bret went away after being attacked by Nexus. Rumor had it that Lloyd’s of London (the holder of Hart’s insurance policy) didn’t like him getting involved in wrestling again. Other reports said it was Hart’s fiancĂ©e who was against Bret being a big part of WWE again. Whatever the case, I really thought he was done for good this time. So, when he came out, I was pretty much blown away. Kudos to WWE for keeping his return a surprise. However, I think I’m starting to see where this angle is going.

Of the six men on Cena’s team, the only one who could legitimately be in cahoots with Nexus (and make it seem shocking) is Bret Hart. Okay, maybe Cena would be even more shocking, but that would be a terrible idea – have him continually beaten up by the very group he formed; that’s Russo-bad booking. So, right now, I’m predicting that Bret Hart will turn against Cena et al at SummerSlam and reveal that he is the brains behind the Nexus. Maybe it’s too obvious. Maybe it will turn out to be Triple H as has also been rumored. Whatever the case, we’re set up for a doozy of a 14-man(!) tag team war at SummerSlam between Team RAW and the Nexus.

WWE is doing an excellent job of both building toward SummerSlam and furthering the Nexus angle on RAW. At a time when WWE really needs some solid booking, it’s delivered big time. The question remains whether or not the momentum will continue between now and SummerSlam. For once, I’m really looking forward to finding out.

Later!

JD

Monday, July 19, 2010

I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blahs

Have you ever had one of those days in which nothing specific went wrong or anything really bad happened, yet you find yourself in a funk? That was my day today. I guess you could blame it on today being Monday, but I find myself having more and more “blah” days lately.

Call it wanderlust, call it frustration with my current job situation, call it my lack of a love life, call it what you want. Whatever the reason, today was just blah, and I’m having trouble shaking the blahs.

For a good portion of the day, I sat staring at my monitors at work, longing to be “somewhere other than here” (TM Jimmy Buffett). I don’t know… sometimes I get in these moods in which I just want to run away. Well, maybe not run away per se, but at least go somewhere else other than McKees Rocks, PA 15136.

I don’t complain about the Pittsburgh area like some people do. I like the fact that it’s a “big” city with a small town feel. I like living close to any number of major shopping areas and the airport. I like the quiet neighborhood I live in. I like having 3 professional sports franchises in town (yes, I do count the Pirates in that). Yet, outside of one year in Washington, DC, and one year in Manhattan, KS, I’ve lived in the state of Pennsylvania my entire life. And now, at the tender age of 38, I’m starting to wonder if my destiny lies elsewhere.

Look, anyone who knows me knows that I have a comfort zone that’s not exactly very large. It’s very easy for me to become complacent and even downright lazy at times. But on days like today, I would give just about anything to be doing anything else other than sitting behind a computer sending email after email out to abstractors asking for order status. Is it an easy job? Oh, yes. Is it a mentally demanding and/or mentally satisfying job? That would be a definite no.

I guess for me to say that I’m bored is something of an understatement. It’s something that had started to happen to me at my old job, and it’s rearing its ugly head once again. Maybe I would have a different perspective if I were actually a full-time employee with benefits (another rant for another time), but I don’t think so.

A few months before I was laid off, I came up with this grand idea of opening up my own sports bar and restaurant – preferably not around here (Bradenton, FL, being my dream destination). I even bought a book called “Running a Restaurant for Dummies,” but I haven’t read one page of it. Now, the practical side of me knows that now is not the time to be opening a restaurant thanks to the current financial problems our country continues to have (contrary to what the White House tries to say), and that’s all well and fine, but I should at least be, y’know, planning something. Yet, most evenings I find myself watching TV or messing around online, wasting valuable time in which I should be doing something.

Am I complaining about something I actually have control over? You bet. But I just don’t feel right sometimes. Maybe I need to have my Lexapro dosage upped. Of course, since I currently have health insurance, I can’t see my doctor without paying an exorbitant fee and don’t get me started on what my monthly prescription costs without health insurance.

Or maybe I just need to do something to get me out of my rut. If it’s too hot to do anything other than lie around the house (as it’s been for most of this summer), then I should at least either read my restaurant book or get back to work on the many stories I have half written. I just hate being in such a funk. I can’t even call it depression because I’m not that down. I just want something different in my life beyond the normal muck and grind. Sometimes, when you get stuck in a rut, it’s hard to get unstuck from it.

I get in these moods from time to time, and I think the fact that since I went back to work in early March, I’ve had exactly three weekdays off – the day of the Pirates home opener, Memorial Day and July 5th – has to be a factor. I hardly count my time unemployed as a vacation. The fact that it happened during one of the worst snowstorms in history certainly added to that. I could really use a beach vacation or a golfing trip or… I’m going to stop now because I know it’s not going to happen. I’ll have to be content to wait for the day of the Buffett concert next month for my next day off. But to paraphrase Stephen King by way of Homer Simpson, “All work and no play make John something something.”

And then when you factor in the fact that I’m about to become a first time homebuyer of a house that I don’t even live in (yes, you did read that right, and yes, it is that confusing), you get a whole other layer of stress and annoyance that is weighing on me. But that’s life, I guess, and it’s part of the reason I just want to go away and hide some days – like today.Anyway, that’s what’s on my mind today. Let’s hope that the blahs go away soon because days like today are way too high on the Number of Frustrated Sighs Index.

I'll be back later on this week with a (hopefully) less blah post.

Later,

JD

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wrestling Jeopardy

The answer: A beginning, a middle and an end.

The question: What should all successful wrestling angles have?

The biggest angle to hit the WWE in years is the group that's known as "Nexus." For those of you who aren't aware, the members of Nexus are all of the season one NXT rookies (minus the since released Daniel Bryan). In tactics not seen since the heyday of the nWo (more on them later), Nexus has run roughshod over most of the RAW roster over the past month. Even Vince McMahon wasn't spared as he endured a beatdown of epic proportions at the hands of Nexus. John Cena has been their personal whipping boy taking a beating seemingly every week on RAW.

I applaud WWE for giving the newbies such a prominent role in the company so early on in their respective careers. The exposure the Nexus 7 are getting can only benefit them in the long run. However, as past angles have shown, invasion angles have to be booked very carefully. You don't want the outsiders to seem invincible, yet you don't want the wrestlers being targeted to turn the tide within a matter of weeks.

Let's go all the way back to when the nWo took over Nitro back during the Monday Night Wars of the 1990s. In the beginning, it was one of the most controversial and compelling angles ever attempted by a wrestling company - taking two ex-WWF wrestlers (Hall and Nash) and pairing them with arguably the most popular wrestler of all time (Hulk Hogan) to form a heel group the likes of which hadn't been seen since the Four Horseman. When the nWo started to add members and gain even more strength, the angle just got hotter. And that's when things started to fall apart.

The nWo seemingly never lost. The WCW roster almost never got the upper hand. Week after week it was an nWo beatdown of a popular wrestler followed by the inevitable spray painting of "nWo" on their backs. For me, anyway, it got real old, real fast, especially when seemingly every other wrestler started to join the nWo. Heck, I think that I might have been a member of the nWo at one time. Okay, maybe not, but it sure seemed that way when mid-card jobbers like Scott Norton joined the group. And don't get me started on how the Sting-in-the-rafters angle was botched. I blame it all on the massive egos of Hogan and Eric Bischoff, but that's another post for another time.

The worst part of the nWo angle is that it really never had a real ending, even though it went on for years longer than it should have. Eventually, the nWo just kind of went away. Oh sure, it kinda sorta came back every now and then, but it had become a cliche by then. The angle should have had a definitive ending - WCW triumphs and vanquishes the nWo. Period. That's how it needed to end.

When the WWF had it's Invasion angle that's how it was ended - the WWF being victorious over the WCW/ECW Alliance. Yes, I do realize that as a whole, the angle was royally botched (also another column for another time), but at least it had a definitive beginning, middle and end.

Getting back to Nexus, I think we can all agree that some of the following things might start to happen in the coming months: 1) there will be some sort of dissension in the ranks; 2) a surprise member of the RAW roster will join Nexus; 3) the group's leader will be revealed; 4) there will be a big PPV match between Nexus and a team of RAW wrestlers, face and heel. Whichever of these happens, WWE has to keep its eyes on the ending of the Nexus angle. And most importantly, they can't let it drag out beyond this year. If we're still talking about Nexus this time next year, then the angle will have entered nWo territory, and that's not a good thing.

No matter what, though, the RAW roster has to start to chip away at Nexus. I think Cena has already done that by taking out Darren Young (temporarily or otherwise). The invincible group thing can only go on for so long before it starts to get old.

My favorite indy promotion, CHIKARA, is having its own invasion angle this year. The BDK is running roughshod over the promotion with the rest of the roster (heel and face) seemingly unable to do anything about it. Since winning the promotions tag team championships, Ares and Claudio Castagnoli haven't even lost a fall during their title defenses (title matches in CHIKARA are 2/3 falls). Eventually, a team is going to have to rise through the ranks to at least take a fall from Ares and Claudio, if not win the tag titles outright (my money is on The Colony). This angle had been building for at least two years, so I do hope that it will be brought to a successful conclusion that makes even the worst fanboys applaud.

Y'see, it's really all about a battle of good vs. evil - in the beginning, evil gets the upperhand and looks invincible until good finds its inner strength and eventually triumphs. This is the basic formula of most wrestling angles, but getting from point A to point B is the tricky part.

Even the all-but unwatchable TNA is about to run its own invasion angle, this time with a bunch of washed up ex-ECW wrestlers, most of whom are well past their primes (with the notable exception being RVD). The beginning of the angle won't air on TV until tomorrow night, so I won't spoil anything. I will say that if TNA President Dixie Carter is expecting Paul Heyman to come in and be the lynch pin of the angle, she shouldn't hold her breath. Heyman won't go to TNA unless he gets total control of the promotion (and a suitcase full of cash). However, even without seeing how the angle is played out, I expect it to be a total disaster. After all, it is TNA, y'know, the same promotion that built up a seemingly big angle between Sting and Christopher Daniels only to blow it off after on PPV match. Now there's an example of angle that didn't have a middle. What happens in the middle will determine how many people stick around to the ending. That's what doomed the nWo - the middle just fell apart somewhere between the "Crow" Sting angle and the nWo black and white and the nWo Wolfpack coming back together. By then, most people had had enough of the nWo. Let's hope the same thing doesn't happen to Nexus, because I am legitimately interested to see where this angle goes.

JD

Friday, July 9, 2010

LeBron James Meets Barnum and Bailey

So, were you also suckered into watching "The Decision" on ESPN last night?

I'll admit - I watched it. Even though pretty much everyone knew or suspected that LeBron was going to announce his intention to sign with the Miami Heat, I still felt compelled to watch if only to see if it was going to be as big of a joke as I expected. And it was a joke - a joke on the people watching, the city of Cleveland, ESPN and the media as a whole. We were all stupid enough to be captivated by a pro athlete announcing what team he's going to play for in a one hour TV special. That's gotta be one of the most egotistical displays in the history of ever. Yet the second King James made the offer to ESPN, the four-letter couldn't have said "yes" fast enough.

Look, I'm sure that last night's show (because it was strictly entertainment - no sports involved) probably did boffo ratings for ESPN. Really, what else are they gonna have on at 9pm on a Thursday night in July? WNBA? Poker? Billiards? Aussie Rules Football? Believe me, ESPN will be laughing all the way to the bank, but it doesn't mean they can't be embarassed by what went down last night.

LeBron was supposed to make his big annoucement within the first 10 minutes of the broadcast, but it didn't end up happening until about 9:30. I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was. I was also incredibly annoyed, especially because I had to listen to Schtu Scott, Chris Broussard, Jon Barry and Michael "How can anyone take me as a serious journalist anymore?" Wilbon drone on about a decision that wasn't a surprise. And who did LBJ have conducting the interview? None other than "The Always Exciting" Jim Grey, perhaps one of the most uncharismatic sports journalists in the history of the medium. What bugged me even more was that instead of just coming out and asking James where he was going to play, Grey asked a bunch of meaningless questions building up to the big announcement.

I don't begrudge LeBron for wanting to leave Cleveland. I don't even begrudge him for obviously being in cahoots with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to all go to Miami as the new Big 3. But I do begrudge how he did it.

When Kobe Bryant reupped with the Lakers, there wasn't any primetime TV special or anything like that, and Kobe has 5 championships to LeBron's none. The team just issued a press release the next day like it was no big deal. To put a Pittsburgh perspective on this, can you imagine Sidney Crosby doing something like this. Yeah, I know there are a lot of Sid bashers out there, but I don't know if any of them would think he'd pull a LeBron. It was all about stroking LeBron's ego and all of his "team" telling him how wonderful he is. Too bad LeBron's on camera charisma doesn't exactly match up to someone like Magic Johnson.

I'm telling you, I half expected Vince McMahon's music to start playing during the show last night and for LeBron to announce he was going to join WWE. It was a spectacle worthy of the inventor of Sports Entertainment. Maybe if The Miz had come out and cut a promo on LeBron (The Miz is a Cleveland native after all), it would have saved what was otherwise some of the worst TV this side of Big Brother.

Look, it was clear to anyone who's even a semi-NBA fan (such as yours truly) that LeBron was never going to win a championship in Cleveland. He never had the supporting cast he needed. For Kobe's 5 titles, he had Shaq and Pau Gasol to be his number two men. Jordan had Scottie Pippen, a Hall of Famer. Who has LeBron had? Mo Williams? Anderson Varejao? A well past his prime Shaq? Overrated Antawn Jameson? In Miami he'll have one of the best big men in the NBA and a guy who's already won an NBA title. They could and should win a championship going away. But they'd better win because the Heat have put all of their eggs in the LeBron/Bosh/D-Wade basket. It's going to be the Big Three and the Seven Dwarves.

The reaction in Cleveland has been expected - anger, cursing, rebuking, threats - and that's just from Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. Gilbert has every right to be angry, but he comes off like a total jackass in his missive to Cavs fans. Unless LeBron promised that he would never, ever leave Cleveland, then I don't see how he's betraying the city of Cleveland. Pro athletes are mercenaries, plain and simple. Some do manage to rise above it, but most follow the money, the chance to win a championship or both. And for Gilbert to claim that the Cavs will win a title before LeBron does... um, has he taken a look at the Cavs roster for next season? They'll be lucky if they make the playoffs. Of course, wouldn't it be so ironic if the Cavs ended up meeting the Heat in the playoffs next season? I'd pay to see that. I also can't wait to hear how much heel heat LeBron draws when he returns to Cleveland for the first time as a member of Miami. It could be Vickie Guerrero-level heel heat.

Now does this whole debacle make me any more interested in the NBA? Nope. Of the four major sports, my interest in the NBA ranks fourth. Heck, if you factor in college football, it ranks fifth. On some days, I'd put it below NASCAR and the PGA Tour. Yeah, I'll watch when the Heat travel to Cleveland just to see LeBron get booed out of the building every time he touches the ball (ala Jaromir Jagr in Pittsburgh), but my interest will quickly wane. I just don't like basketball that much.

I am glad of one thing - now that LeBron has finally made up his mind, all of the endless speculation can now stop. Sure, there's going to be tremendous hype and build up to LeBron's first game as a member of the Heat, and ESPN is going to make me nauseous with how much it will make it seem like it's the greatest event in the history of ever, but I can and will do my best to ignore it. At least this part is over. Yet, why do I keep hearing circus music in my head?

Have a good weekend, folks!

JD

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A not-really shameless plug

Hey all... I want all of you to check out my friend David Kincannon's new blog Wrestling With Wrestling. Much like yours truly, he's a big wrestling fan, and he'll be offering his take on the world of pro wrestling, the good and bad, the ups and downs and everything in-between.

And along those same lines, this blog will become more of a wrestling-related blog, but don't worry, I still have lots of things to say about non-wrestling subjects, such as:

Why I'm a Conservative and proud of it.
Comics books you should be reading.
The LeBron James circus.
Does anyone really think Lindsay Lohan will change because she's going to jail?
Why the term "purple drank" makes me laugh out loud.
Steelers Training Camp preview.
Penguins free agency and what else they need to do before the season starts.
Does anyone really care about the MLB All-Star Game?

Anyway, I'll be back tomorrow with my thoughts on the Nexus angle that's currently dominating Monday Night RAW as well as my thoughts on if the NXT brand has been a success or failure halfway through it's second season.

Later!

JD

Monday, June 28, 2010

CHIKARA spells rasslin

The above title is with all apologies and credit to the one and only Gavin Loudspeaker who sang a song with the very same title at a CHIKARA show last year.

So lemme ask all of you out there something... would you drive 6 hours to watch an independent wrestling show with a bunch of wrestlers 99.9% of the population has never heard of in front of a crowd of between 150 and 250 people? I'm going to guess that the answer for most of you is, "What? No. Are you nuts?" Well, I have done just that - three times in fact. I've driven from Pittsburgh all the way out to Easton, PA, to watch a fledgling indy wrestling company known as CHIKARA. If you haven't heard of CHIKARA, don't worry. It's a small company run out of the eastern part of PA that runs 2, sometimes 3, shows a month, mainly in PA.

Yesterday afternoon, I traveled to Ohio to see CHIKARA at the West Park Party Center in West Cleveland. It was pretty much like most venues indy feds run - a Knights of Columbus hall that wasn't that well lit, was bordering on sweltering thanks to a packed house and shaky air conditioning and was about as far from a venue that WWE would run as you can get. Yet I was in heaven.

I found out about CHIKARA strictly by accident about a year and a half ago. Though Pittsburgh supports two thriving indy wrestling promotions, I haven't been to one of their cards in years. However, I haven't been to a WWE event in well over 5 years. Why? Well, money for one thing, and I'd much rather watch RAW on TV so I have easier access to food and the bathroom. So why the heck would I drive more than half way across the state to see a wrestling show with guys who will most likely never make it to the big time? The answer is very simple: I enjoy the hell out of it.

I've been a wrestling fan for 25 years now, and my interest in the "sport" has ebbed and flowed over the years. Yeah, I still watch Monday Night RAW without fail every week, but I almost never see Smackdown. I can't/won't watch TNA. So, with ECW (the real ECW, that is) long since gone, I needed an outlet for the pure wrestling geek in me, the one who marks out at crazy ass moves and stiff kicks and lots of near falls. Let's face facts: WWE has become a very watered down product since it went all PG on us (more on this later). As a result, many of its matches just aren't that good anymore. Oh sure, you'll get some good matches on PPV, but your average TV match is at best a two star affair.

When you go to a CHIKARA card, you're going to see a bunch of young, talented wrestlers putting on a great show for all of the fans in attendance. It's a family-friendly show - no swearing, no rude chants. Most shows have tons of kids in attendance, and the majority of the wrestlers (even the rudos) will sign autographs or take pictures with them. And you know what? They seem to be happy to do it. That's an added notch in my book.

CHIKARA was founded in 2002 by Mike Quackenbush (the company's head booker and one of its top technicos - go look him up on YouTube for some kick ass matches). Most of the roster consists of wrestlers who were trained at CHIKARA's Wrestle Factory, so there's a lot of familiarity with the competitors, most of whom have grown up in the business together. The result is a very professional product despite it being an indy promotion. Is it as polished as your average WWE show? Of course not, but that's one of the reasons I like it. It's raw (no pun intended) and fast-paced and athletic. You'll see moves in your average CHIKARA match that most WWE wrestlers wouldn't (or couldn't) dream of doing.

The real hook of CHIKARA (for me anyway) is that it's very based in lucha libre wrestling. The majority of the wrestlers wear masks and the lost arts of tag team and trios wrestling is embraced by the promotion. Trios matches can be especially chaotic since there don't necessarily have to be tags for wrestlers to come into the ring. On last night's card, The Colony (a trio of masked wrestlers all named after ants) wrestled a group out of Chicago known as Da Soul Touchaz. At one point during the match Willie "Da Bomb" Richardson (who runs at least 350) hit Green Ant (who might be 175 pounds) with a running side shoulder block that nearly launched Green Ant into the back row. I kid you not - if the ropes hadn't gotten into the way, Green Ant would have been launched into the crowd. It was awesome. You'd never see that on Monday Night RAW.

And lest you think that CHIKARA doesn't have storylines. On the contrary, the booking of CHIKARA is intricate and thought out well in advance. Do yourself a favor and go look up BDK on Wikipedia. It's the name of the new super rudo group in CHIKARA that was formed at the end of last year in an angle that took close to two years to come to fruition. Let's see WWE pull something like that off.

Don't go to a CHIKARA show expecting to see a bunch of heavyweights and super-heavyweights. Oh sure, the promotion does have some of both (Claudio Castagnoli and Tursas fall into the respective categories), but most of the wrestlers are less than 6 feet tall and under 200 pounds. But who cares? WWE has gotten it so drilled into our heads that you have to be 6'3" and built like a body builder to be taken serious as a wrestler. Well, I'm here to tell you that isn't even remotely true.

Some of you may be aware of the situation of Bryan Danielson a/k/a Daniel Bryan of WWE NXT season 1. He was fired from WWE for choking the ring announcer using a tie during the NXT invasion angle, something that just doesn't happen on PG rated RAW (ostensibly because of the Chris Benoit tragedy, but I'm skeptical). Danielson has been called "The Best in the World" by many of his fans. The validity of that is up for debate, but there's no doubting that he's one of the best mat wrestlers in the world today, and he's built like an average guy. In other words, he doesn't have that "look" that WWE loves its wrestlers to have. Look or not, I'll pay to watch Danielson wrestle every day before I plunk down whatever it costs to see John Cena wrestle in person.

Danielson chose CHIKARA to make his return to the indy circuit this past weekend. Check out the promo he cut at Saturday's show in Michigan about the WWE's PG product:



Danielson's point is a valid one - you can be PG and family-friendly while still having competitive, athletic, hard hitting matches that are entertaining. Somewhere along the way, WWE stopped caring so much about wrestling and focused more on entertainment. Frankly, I think if they improved the in-ring product, their stagnant ratings would come back to life, but instead they focus on things like celebrity guest hosts that are mostly Z-listers no one gives a crap about. Lemme put it to the powers that be at WWE in simple terms: more wrestling = better ratings.

I can't say enough about how much I enjoy CHIKARA and how well they treat their fans. So, if you get a chance, hop on over to Smart Mark Video and find yourself a CHIKARA DVD to buy. I'd recommend the Best of 2009 in which you get 22 matches for only 20 bucks. And if you live on the east coast, do yourself a favor and check out a CHIKARA show. If you're a wrestling fan and you long for the days of ECW and are disenchanted by the current WWE product, then CHIKARA is what you're looking for. They also have a weekly podcast on Facebook you should check out, too.

Okay, I'm done being a shameless plug for all things CHIKARA. Just check it out if you have a chance. I promise you won't be disappointed.

JD

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why Detroit is better than Pittsburgh... in baseball, that is

So, I spent my Saturday night watching the Pirates blow a late inning lead. Nothing new there, right? Well, instead of watching them lose at PNC Park, I drove all the way to Detroit to watch them lose to the Tigers. I should preface this by saying that the Tigers are my second favorite team, so I was probably 60% rooting for the home team, if only because they at least have a shot at making the playoffs this year.

Comerica Park, home of the Tigers, is a great venue. It's very expansive with tons of concession stands and a vast variety of choices for food (not to mention Little Caesar's Pizza throughout the park). Granted the Tigers had more land to build on than the Pirates did for PNC Park, so that explains that. However, one thing that struck me right away was the amazing lack of in-game entertainment that's prevalent to the point of nauseating at your average Bucco game. There was no pierogie race, no hot dog shooting, no t-shirt tossing or even any Q&A's with the Tigers' players. All you had was the game, and I was perfectly fine with that.

Y'see, I am one of the few people who actually go to a Pirate game to *gasp* watch the game. Yeah, I know that the on-field product often makes me wonder why I even watch the Pirates in the first place (more on that in a bit), but I just really enjoy baseball. It's not my most favorite sport like it was when I was a kid, but I still enjoy a Saturday night at the ballpark. I don't see a trip to PNC Park as a family outing that consists of waiting for the game to end so they can watch the fireworks or going ga-ga over the Pierogie Race and ignoring most of the rest of the game.

The people I sat by at Comerica Park not only were there to watch the game, they also knew things about the team and actually were there to watch the game and a team that doesn't suck. Granted, a team with Miguel Cabrera (a leading AL MVP candidate), Justin Verlander and Brennan Boesch (top AL Rookie) on it just has to be better than the Pirates, and Jim Leyland can manage circles around John Russell, but I digress...

Back to Tigers fans knowing their team. My friend Mike and I stayed just outside of Toledo, figuring that would be a cheaper option than staying close to the city. So, we were about an hour away. The game started at 7:05, so we were hoping for a relatively quick game so we could get back to our hotel and grab some food and beer at Applebee's before it closed at midnight (by the way... wassupwitdat?). When Mike said this aloud, the guy in front of us said, "Not with Bondo (Jeremy Bonderman) pitching. He's guaranteed for 2:45 every game." Of course, he was right, and of course, the game went into extra innings (with the Pirates losing on a Carlos Guillen walk-off homer in the bottom of the 1oth that I called before it happened). We didn't get back until almost midnight. If it wasn't for the drive thru at Mickey D's and a Meijer grocery store (thank god you can buy beer in a grocery store in Ohio after midnight), we would have been SOL.

Anyway, back to my point... it was refreshing to go to a game with actual baseball fans and not just people out for a night of entertainment. I don't have anything against the latter, but don't give me dirty looks when I boo or yell at the Pirates when they do something stupid (which is rather often, come to think of it). Most of the blame for this has to be placed on the Pirates management, who are more concerned about entertaining the fans then putting a representative ballclub on the field. If Pirates' brass was concerned about the on-field product, then former number one overall draft pick Pedro Alvarez would be in the starting line-up tonight.

Last week, one day after phenom Stephen Strasburg made the Pirates look like a bunch of high school kids in his Major League debut, the Pirates promoted pitcher Brad Lincoln and left-fielder Jose Tabata to the big club. It was the right time for both of them, and seeing as how they're two of our top prospects, it's about damned time. But where is Alvarez? Shouldn't he be playing third base instead of Andy LaRoche? Neal Huntington will tell you that Alvarez just isn't quite ready yet. He needs to hit lefties better or be more patient or some such excuse. Remember, Huntington wouldn't promote Neil Walker because Walker was supposedly a malcontent at AAA Indianapolis (something that not one person believed).

Tonight, Lincoln and Tabata are making their PNC Park debuts. Imagine the walk-up the Pirates would have gotten if Alvarez had been making his Major League debut tonight, which would have been significant because the Pirates normally can't draw above 10,000 fans on your average Tuesday night. Sure, it wouldn't have gotten the kind of overwhelming media attention that Steven Strasburg got for his debut, but I can guarantee you that it would have gotten the Bucs some exposure on SportsCenter and the MLB Network. But, no, Alvarez will be in Wilkes-Barre tonight still playing in the minor leagues. What a missed opportunity, but I'm not surprised.

Speaking of not surprised, no one on the Pirates should have been surprised by how poorly Ryan Doumit played first base over the weekend. He pretty much blew Saturday night's game when he couldn't catch Evan Meek's low throw that would have ended the 8th inning and should have fielded a pick off throw earlier that put a runner at second for the Tigers. What I don't get is why John Russell just didn't put Doumit at DH instead of Garrett Jones. Jones isn't the second coming of Keith Hernandez defensively, but he's tons better at first base than Doumit. For that matter, why was Ryan Church even in the line-up? Why not Delwyn Young?

I realize that the Pirates have very, very few actual Major League players on their 25 man roster, but that's no excuse for some of the line-ups JR has posted lately. At least Aki Iwamura is relegated to the bench, but that also means he's an option for pinch hitting. I have a feeling that once Alvarez is finally promoted that Aki will be on a one way flight back to Japan. Let some other team deal with him and his below .200 average. What a total waste of a trade, one of the many that Huntington has made since he became GM.

I know a lot of people are calling for JR and Neil to get the boot, and I can't say that I'd blame the Pirates if they axed the both of them. At the same time, I'm not sure what good it would do so long as Bob Nutting refuses to spend any money on the big league team. If Bob Nutting isn't the worst owner in sports, he's definitely right up there.

Well, at least Andrew McCutchen has been as advertised, though he was drafted by the previous regime, and Garrett Jones has been a pleasant surprise, even though he was picked up by the Pirates last year as a favor to JR. Of course, that means that the Pirates two best players have little, if anything to do with the GM's ability to recognize talent.

Well, sucker that I am, I'll be going to both games against the Indians this weekend. What can I say? I still like baseball, inept Pirates be damned.

Later!

JD