Wrestling Flashback – The SmackDown! Six

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In 2002, the WWE draft would have a major impact on WWE television. Gone were the days of competition from WCW. With the contracts of WCW talent being bought out by the WWE, it became apparent that all of these stars couldn’t possibly be given the chance to perform. With the entire roster working on all of the TV shows, there was little opportunity for lower-card talent to get an on-screen appearance on RAW or SmackDown! There was simply too big a roster to deal with. The WWE draft came up with a solution… split the roster down the middle creating two separate brands called RAW and SmackDown!

Another potential reason for the roster split was down to the ratings for RAW and SmackDown! taking a huge hit coming off the “Attitude Era”. According to Paul Heyman, who became the head writer of SmackDown! in 2002, SmackDown! was facing cancellation as the writing team was split up to serve both brands. Internally, all eyes were on RAW and Heyman’s job was to “take SmackDown! of their plate”. With the need to feature everybody and pressure on both WWE’s two flagship shows, the brand wars was on.

With all eyes on RAW, Paul Heyman was left with Stephanie McMahon to build up the stars that the “powers-that-be” didn’t see a lot of potential in. When the time was right, WWE could eventually pluck out these stars for their “flagship” show RAW. One of the first examples of this was when Chris Jericho was moved to RAW from SmackDown!, after finishing up a great rivalry with the up-and-comer Edge. Paul protested this move as Jericho was making Edge into a legitimate star on SmackDown! However, Heyman was offered a “compensation” for losing the main-event star Jericho. Heyman wanted Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero (who were, according to Heyman, the “nWo’s whipping boys” at the time on RAW) in exchange for losing Jericho. Heyman saw a lot of potential in Benoit and Guerrero, while the RAW writers didn’t. With the trade agreed and Benoit and Guerrero “stolen” by SmackDown! General Manager Stephanie McMahon, the table was set for Heyman to take these stars to the next level.

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The funny thing about looking back at 2002 is the relaxed booking from Paul Heyman compared to the frankly desperate attempts for ratings on RAW. Heyman didn’t have to resort to featuring HLA or a storyline about necrophilia in order to grab ratings. All it took for Heyman was simple story-telling and build up which resulted in more eye balls watching SmackDown! to see the intensity of these stories build over time. And the reason that’s so funny is because NXT is trumping WWE’s flagship shows right now for the very simple reason. Why do you think the fans of Brooklyn went nuts for Bayley vs Sasha Banks at NXT TakeOver while they paid little attention to the Divas Revolution on Summerslam and RAW?

Heyman allowed the action in the ring to tell the stories for the viewers, and the viewers understood the story-telling very well. Michael Cole and Tazz didn’t need to talk about the storylines as much and could refocus the viewer’s attention to the match. That’s what made them such a great pairing.

Heyman’s most notable claim to fame as SmackDown! head writer was the introduction of the SmackDown! tag team division. RAW never really had a strong tag team division of it’s own at the time as it was mostly considered an after-thought by the writers. This was Heyman’s chance to seize the moment. With Guerrero and Benoit now apart of the roster and Rey Mysterio being brought into the company in July, Heyman could bring them together in a tag team environment in order to push them as singles stars. Rey Mysterio was teamed up with Edge, with the both of them being strong fan favourites and possessing a unique chemistry as a tag team. Eddie Guerrero was thrown into the mix too, with his nephew Chavo being promoted up to the main roster as well. These two tag teams naturally clicked together but what about Chris Benoit? Having just turned in face in mid-2002, who could Benoit team up with in this tag team division? Well, in a move that could benefit everyone, Paul decided to interject one of his main-eventers into that tag team scene to team with the “Rabid Wolverine”. That way, it would be more acceptable for all of these men to be featured in the main events on SmackDown! This main eventer… was Kurt Angle.

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Chavo Guerrero vs Rey Mysterio in the main event of SmackDown! would have seemed a bit of a fantasy considering the stars like Brock Lesnar and Undertaker on the show. But Rey Mysterio vs KURT ANGLE would have worked as Kurt already had the star power to justify his position in the main event. Putting him up against Rey, Edge, Eddie or Chavo would also give them the main event spotlight too, resulting in the stock of all these men rising as individuals. That way, their rise to success as singles star moved along in a much faster rate in that tag team scenario.

It was truly masterful to see how Heyman used the tag team division as a means to get these six into the main events of SmackDown! From a business standpoint, the SmackDown! six delivered when it came to ratings and merchandise. There was heavy competition for SmackDown! at the time, including the final season of “Friends”. However, the ratings were holding and everybody in that tag team scenario benefited immensely. While RAW was up against the ropes, SmackDown! was pulling out all the punches.

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The storyline itself was introduced when Stephanie McMahon announced a tag team tournament to crown the first ever WWE Tag Team Champions. Edge and Mysterio were partnered up and Eddie sided with Chavo. However, Stephanie McMahon also decreed that Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle would be a tag team in the tournament too. This wound up both men as they had been feuding at that point. Stephanie ruled that Kurt and Benoit would be suspended for a year without pay if there were any physicality between them. However, Benoit and Angle proved to be a formidable tag team. Despite their differences, they were able to make it to the final by defeating Los Guerreros. At No Mercy, Benoit and Angle defeated Edge and Mysterio in the final to become the first ever WWE Tag Team Champions.

Angle and Benoit would be presented with a trophy to commemorate their tournament win. However, things would break down after Angle and Benoit began arguing about who was the “captain” of the team. This would lead to Stephanie being accidentally smacked in the face with the trophy. Stephanie responded by slapping both men and booking a match for them to settle their differences “the old fashioned way”. However, Los Guerreros would get involved which led to further brawling later that night. Edge and Rey Mysterio were able to capitalize on Angle and Benoit’s troubles, winning a 2 out of 3 falls tag match on SmackDown! to win the tag titles. This led to a triple threat tag team match at Survivor Series between Edge and Mysterio, Benoit and Angle and Los Guerreros for the tag titles. The Guerreros finally got the job done, winning the match and the titles.

Each of these men would go on to establish themselves as singles stars and all of these men would end up winning world titles later on in their careers. Kurt Angle had already been a WWE Championship before the “SmackDown! Six” but did go on to win the WWE Championship again just a month later at Armageddon. Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero won world championships in 2004, with the two of them closing out Wrestlemania XX as World Heavyweight Champion and WWE Champion respectively. Edge and Rey Mysterio would win their first world titles in 2006 and Chavo Guerrero would win the ECW Championship in 2008.

It seems then that Heyman succeeded in elevating all six of these men as singles stars, after grouping them as tag teams first in the tag team division. This was one of those eras in wrestling when tag team wrestling was at its finest. True competition put together with a simple and logical storyline to help elevate the importance of the championship and the tag teams competing for the gold. Heyman’s had a lot of successes as a writer, but the “SmackDown! Six” era was Heyman’s finest hour…

 

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Wrestling Flashback – AJ Styles’ Evil Ways

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When I think back to the very best of times with TNA, I think of years like 2005 and 2006. These were the years when it was down to the top quality of the X-Division. A time when TNA had wrestlers that would kill it every time they were on iMPACT, PPV or whatever. TNA was flooded with wrestlers like Samoa Joe and Christopher Daniels with so much potential. But I think a period of TNA which I really enjoyed was around 2012 and 2013 and the Aces And Eights storyline. These years were very different and it wasn’t that it was good because the in-ring action was outstanding. It was good because the writers were doing what every wrestling writer should be doing as a means to keep the audience watching the product… sticking to a plan.

That’s one of the things that really annoys me when I watch WWE. CM Punk said it best on the podcast with Colt Cabana. WWE only have plans for a select number of wrestler. This sucks because all this talent is wasted as WWE don’t know what to do with them. When some NXT talent like the Ascension debut on the main roster, Vince and the rest of the writers had NO IDEA how to build them up. Before calling ANYONE up from NXT, surely you’ve got to get a game-plan. Look at the star and say “Right, what do we want Finn Balor doing in six months time?” or something like that. WWE don’t think like that with anyone. They might have had a long-term plan with Kevin Owens, but obviously they’ve went back on a few things with his feud loss to John Cena.

However when it came to the Aces And Eights angle, particular up until Lockdown 2013, they knew what the end game was going to be. They had a plan and stuck to it. It sounds like the most obvious thing in the world, but it’s insane how much wrestling writers nowadays don’t plan things out in advance. It’s always “spur-of-the-moment” booking with WWE regarding RAW. It’s always “spur-of-the-moment” booking with the PPVs. Considering we’re live in a world in which the likes of Game of Thrones rules television with it’s detailed storylines, WWE really need to step up.

However, I think there was one instance in which TNA did well with the planning of its storylines. Not only with the Aces and Eights storyline, but with AJ Styles’ 2013 storyline as well.

At Final Resolution 2012, AJ lost his supposed last match with Christopher Daniels shortly after being banned from the TNA World title picture until Bound For Glory. AJ cut a promo claiming he was tired of always doing the right thing. He decided that he was going to do his own thing. AJ left the company for a few months with cameraman observing a more darker AJ at his home. When he arrived at TNA, AJ had a new attitude which he took out on the good guys of wrestling. After feuding with James Storm and Kurt Angle, the Aces and Eights looked to try and get AJ into their group. Sadly, AJ declined the offer to join up with Aces and Eights OR TNA and decided to be a lone wolf.


With only himself in mind now, AJ took this new attitude into the Bound For Glory Series… which he won. Following his win, AJ began hitting out at how TNA was run and it’s president Dixie Carter. AJ shared the opinions of a lot of wrestling fans had of Dixie Carter, which led to the heel turn of the TNA President. Despite her interferences, AJ ended up winning the TNA World Championship at Bound For Glory. Following this win, AJ walked out on the company with the TNA World Title. After defending it around the world, he returned to challenge Dixie’s hand-picked champion Magnus to a “Winner-Take-All” Title Unification match. The match was set, but AJ sadly lost to Magnus due to an insane amount of interference. This would be the last we see of AJ Styles in TNA.

This storyline was a fantastic send-off for AJ, who seemed to have his sights set on leaving the company a lot sooner. This new attitude was exactly the thing AJ needed. He didn’t need to be a heel, but he needed to be the lone outcast in the war between TNA and Aces and Eights. With his title win, he finally got one last title reign under his belt before he moved onto the independent scene. Now AJ’s really tearing it up with ROH and in Japan. It’ll be interesting to see where the Phenomenal One goes from here…

Wrestling Flashback – Brock Lesnar vs CM Punk

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So recently, I went back and watched Summerslam 2013. This PPV was actually a really good one. It was probably one of the better Summerslams in recent years and there was very little about this PPV that I didn’t like. I remember not liking the Bray Wyatt vs Kane match and the divas match and… that’s pretty much it. Del Rio vs Christian for the World Title was a solid match as was the match between Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow. The ending of Summerslam particularly was what I really loved about Summerslam, because Randy Orton and Triple H had turned heel and we saw an incredible double turn with those two which was executed brilliantly. However, I wanted to go back and watch a match from that PPV which was the best match of the night. It was CM Punk vs Brock Lesnar and the reason I wanted to go back and watch this one, is because I’ve been very back and forth in the last few years as to just HOW good this match was.

This was a very physical and well paced match. There wasn’t a time where it looked like they were stalling for no reason. There wasn’t a time which I thought the match began to fall apart or dire down. Punk delivered a great amount of an attack onto Brock and the fans were going NUTS for this match. The submission spots with the kimuras and armbars was well worked and it was sort of done in a way to resemble a really fight. Brock was trying to fight like he would if he was back in UFC. There was a sense of realism which I missed initially watching it that did add to the match. Punk might argue that a loss would have made him look weak, but he looked incredibly good against Lesnar in this match. I think even in loss, he would have come off really well if he wasn’t booked in the awful feuds with Ryback and Curtis Axel.

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I actually did do a review of the entire PPV back in 2013, which you can find at this link. However, I wanted to pull an extract from my own review of this match at the time and I think I got a few things wrong when looking back at what I wrote. I said:

“Definitely Brock’s best match since he returned in 2012. Just a straight up brawl between the two. A lot of people before hand wondered how CM Punk would cope against Lesnar considering their sizes, but it was pretty much an even playing-field. Punk was very innovative with his submission holds here. God, Triangle Holds, Anaconda Vices, FREAKING ARMBARS! I do think Lesnar got tired quick in this match like, but Punk made up for that and was on top form tonight. However, Lesnar picking up the win does hinder Punk a little. But I don’t think it’ll hinder him THAT much. I think Punk will probably hit it big and will likely be in the WWE Title frame soon. However, Punk could have done with that big win over Lesnar. But it was not to be for the best, as he was no match for the BEAST… who’s now the best.”

Now let me just get onto the two things which I believe I got wrong at the time…

1. “Definitely Brock’s best match since he returned in 2012.”

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I don’t think this was Brock’s best match since he returned in 2012 up until that point. And that’s only because I don’t think I gave the Brock Lesnar vs John Cena match at Extreme Rules 2012 enough credit back then. Because looking back at THAT match, I also underrated that one entirely because I didn’t realize how innovative it was. That match was unlike all the other main events you usually get in WWE. This was a BROCK LESNAR main event. It’s the type of match we’ve come to get out of Lesnar. We got it with John Cena, we got it with Roman Reigns and we got it with Kofi Kingston at Beast in the East. Nobody expected Cena to take a BEATING like that from Brock Lesnar. And considering that the Extreme Rules match was Lesnar’s first match in 8 years, he put on a quality performance. So it’s very debatable about whether the Punk match was better than that Extreme Rules match. It’s not a “definitely” that Punk’s match was better than the Cena match. It’s very hard to decide which of those two were the best match looking back in hindsight and it probably should be something I should blog about!

 2. “Lesnar picking up the win does hinder Punk a little…. Punk could have done with that big win over Lesnar.”

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Punk may well have needed a big win like that rolling back into WWE in June 2013. However, I was thinking too heavily on CM Punk’s need to win the big match and I think now looking back, Brock Lesnar WAS the man that needed to win that match. Just think, Brock Lesnar’s record up until that point since returning in 2012 was 2-2. He’s lost to Triple H and John Cena and his only wins were against Triple H. His only wins up until Summerslam 2013 was against the SAME MAN.

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Needless to say, WWE did a great job “ruining the mystique of Brock Lesnar” really right off the bat in 2012. He shouldn’t have lost those two matches but the fact was… he had. But man, just think of how much it would have elevated the Lesnar/Punk match if he had run through those guys as opposed to losing cleanly both times. Now if Lesnar would have lost to Punk that night, he would have been 2-3 since he returned in 2012. The “unbeatable” would have been reduced to being like every other monster in WWE had he lost to Punk. Because it’s not like he’s losing due to shenanigans or anything like that, he would have lost them all clean. And if Vince was thinking to himself around Summerslam time “Let’s have Lesnar end the Undertaker’s streak”, then how badly would that moment have been damaged if he had lost to Punk?

Just think, Punk had previously tried to break Undertaker’s streak and lost. If Punk wounded up beating Lesnar and then LESNAR tried to break that streak, Brock would just look so weak as he would have lost to the guy that lost to the Undertaker. Punk was somebody that, in his own right, needed a big win of his own. Not denying that. He had lost to The Rock and Undertaker earlier that year and this would hurt Punk. However, if Taker was going to be the guy to end that streak, then that should outweigh Punk’s need to win just so he can stay as strong as all those other superstars that he got beat by.

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Overall, if I was like Bryan Alvarez or Dave Meltzer, I’d give this match… a 4.5/5. I think though if Lesnar had been booked to have won those previous fights with Cena and HHH, I would have loved this match more. All the near falls and times Punk looked like he’d won would have meant a lot more and might have shifted my rating to a 4.75/5… maybe event a 5 out of 5. A bit of thought WWE… you could have made both men look SO strong after that match…

Wrestling Flashback – Hard Times For The American Dream (RIP Dusty Rhodes)

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In honor of one of the true all-time wrestling legends. The American Dream Dusty Rhodes telling us about hard times in this incredible promo.

R.I.P. Dusty Rhodes

Wrestling Flashback – Randy Orton vs Roman Reigns

Thanks ToxHLRules for the awesome video highlights.

I really did like this feud between Roman Reigns and Randy Orton. There was that great amount of intensity that made this short feud really worth while. You’ve got the venomous viper against the cold soft-spoken badass Samoan. If you put them together, you’re in for a treat.

Although Orton lost, he still looked strong coming off of it. He put on a great performance against Reigns that night. I remember the Spear reversed into the powerslam and the spear into the RKO as two examples. Those two spots, when I saw them live, really had me on the edge of my seat.

The two wrestlers just played off each other so well and when you’re on the outside of a major storyline involving Cena, The Authority and Brock Lesnar, it’s hard to make yourself noticed. You have to take a backseat as obviously everybody is interested in Lesnar and Cena. Also, there was a huge interest in Seth Rollins vs Dean Ambrose too. But these two really blew if out of the park at Summerslam and I’m really annoyed that the feud finished so early as it had so much left in its tank. Maybe they were planning to come back to it if Roman hadn’t gotten injured. I don’t know. However, if the purpose was just to provide a short but exciting program that could elevate Roman Reigns… WWE did a hell of a job.

Wrestling Flashback – The John Cena vs Seth Rollins Feud

This next statement may cause eyebrows to be raised and angry comments being posted, but I do need to say something. John Cena… is a damn good wrestler.

The reason I started with that seemingly controversial comment is because this feud with Seth Rollins confirmed what I thought all along about John Cena. Cena is somebody that can step up and keep up with just about anybody on the roster. Even with the likes of Daniel Bryan, Cesaro and CM Punk, Cena’s been able to pull off some quality matches in the past with some of the best technical wrestlers in the business. You can chalk that down to wrestlers he’s in the ring with but it’s up to Cena to keep up to their speed and standards for the matches to be as effective as they are. That’s signs of a great worker.

Now that’s not to say Cena can have great matches with EVERYONE. Few people can. Hell, remember his feud with John Cena that I discussed in an old blog post?  If anything, the only person that I thought could do was Jericho until his feud with Bray Wyatt happened. But against some of the most advanced wrestlers in the biggest stages there is, no one puts in the work like Cena to make it as good as he can be.

This is probably coming off as a Cena love-fest right now! However, I just wanted to point this out before I run down his feud with Seth Rollins, probably the best worker in WWE right now. With the potential a top main event match like this could have, it really boggled my mind why when Rollins and Cena feud last year, they never had a one-on-one main event PPV match?

Yeah, they were opposing captains at Survivor Series, but that match was mostly about The Authority losing power more than anything. So the rivalry between Cena and Rollins wasn’t really focused on. However at TLC, the two eventually squared off in a tables match with Cena’s WWE World title shot on the line.

I was actually really looking forward to this match at the time. These two could have a very creative match and they certainty did. I remember during the TLC review, I said I liked the initial draw finish but now looking back, I really don’t. For those of you that don’t remember, let me break it down.

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The match goes on and then there’s a ref bump… during a tables match.

While this ref is down, Cena put Seth through the table with an AA off the top I think. But the ref is down, so apparently nobody is able to call it. They fight for a bit and then they both go through the tables on the outside at the same time. THEN, two referees and the original referee began arguing about who went through first. The original ref says screw it and restarted the match. After a while and the likes of Big Show and Roman Reigns interfering, Cena wins the match.

Now let me just state that I liked the draw finish a great deal. But WHY didn’t one of the refs that came out to argue about the draw finish come out earlier to declare Cena the winner after he clearly put Rollins through the table initially?

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Other than that, the match itself is good. Great work by Rollins. A very creative match. I would recommend that you’d go back and watch this match.

This feud continued for a while as Rollins made Cena bring back the Authority. I’ll admit, Cena is the best person to help Seth become more of a serious and menacing villain. Rollins had to battle the superhero John Cena mentally rather than physically by holding somebody like Edge hostage. And if you can’t remember what angle I’m on about, click on this link for more…

Seth then got added to the Brock Lesnar and John Cena match at the Royal Rumble, and deliver QUITE the match. This match was just all kinds of quality and was perhaps the only redeeming quality of this REALLY bad PPV. Excellent work and I… actually wanna go back and watch this match! I actually was not able to watch this live which really annoyed me! However, it’s still a top match whenever you watch it…

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And that about wraps up this feud. I really wish this feud developed a bit more because it would have been more fitting and noteworthy if it ended at Wrestlemania or something. I’d love to see these two have one last blow-off match at the big dance. Cena going over also wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world as Seth would have cashed in Money In The Bank that night anyway!

However, Cena and Rollins still provided us a very interesting program in the few months that they were feuding! Hats off to them…