Learn to Love It: Royal Rumble 2015

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(Photo courtesy of the WWE Network)

“Learn to love it!” — Ric Flair, predicting Batista would win the 2014 Royal Rumble.

In 2002, the score of the MLB All-Star Game was 7-7 after 11 innings. Due to the fact that both the American League and National League teams were out of pitchers, Commissioner Bud Selig ended up ruling that the game would end in a tie. People freaked out.

In the 2003 All-Star Game, the AL was trailing the NL, 6-5, in the bottom of the eighth inning. Hank Blalock strolled to the plate for the AL with Vernon Wells on second base and two outs. Blalock hit the ball out of the park. Wells scored. As Blalock was rounding third and approaching home plate, Selig ran out of the dugout, hit Blalock with a steel chair and declared that the game had ended in a 6-6 tie.

Wait, no. In 2003, the year after the All-Star Game ended in a tie, MLB changed the rules so that the league that won the Midsummer Classic got home-field advantage in the World Series. The rosters were also expanded a bit, with Selig promising that a tie would never happen again.

Blalaock’s home run gave the AL a 7-6 win. The Marlins, the NL pennant winners that year, ended up beating the AL-champion Yankees in six games, with Florida clinching the title at Yankee Stadium.

Many people, in 2015, still hate that the All-Star Game decides home-field advantage in the World Series (… maybe this wasn’t the best analogy). But at least there haven’t been any ties!

In 2014, Daniel Bryan had become arguably the No. 2 star (after John Cena) in WWE, and many people were hoping that he would win the Royal Rumble and fight for the title at Wrestlemania XXX. For some reason, Bryan not only didn’t win the Royal Rumble, he wasn’t even part of the match. Dave Batista, a former champion who had recently returned to the WWE after a few years away, won the right to face the champion at Wrestlemania by tossing the popular Roman Reigns — more on him later — over the top rope.* People freaked out.

On Sunday night, WWE held the 2015 Royal Rumble**. Bryan, who recently returned from injury, was part of the match this year. He entered at No. 10, and the crowd in Philadelphia went bananas. Reigns — who’s still very popular — was the favorite to win, but most people assumed Bryan, at the very least, would be one of the Final Four. After about 10 minutes, Bryan was eliminated, before Reigns even entered the match.

Reigns, eventually, was victorious. The crowd was not happy, and they continued to boo even after the Rock, who’s related to Reigns, made an appearance to show his support. People watching at home freaked out, to the point that #CancelWWENetwork apparently trended on Twitter.

Vince McMahon has been running WWE since the early 1980s. He created Wrestlemania, and ran the company during the boom periods of Hulkamania and the Attitude Era. He outlasted all his major competitors, including WCW in the mid-to-late 1990s, and the company is bigger now than it’s ever been.

He’s also the one ultimately responsible for the past two Royal Rumbles.

Learn to love it.

Brian Cougar

* WWE eventually, due to fan outcry, allowed Bryan to fight for the title at Mania XXX, which he won. I guess they could go the same route this year.

** The PPV is worth seeing for the title match between Cena/Brock Lesnar/Seth Rollins. It was amazing. If you have WWE Network, the link to the event is here.

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Learn to Love It: Royal Rumble 2015

Riot in the Streets: The WWE promo video to rule them all

Something WWE does better than all other professional sports (I said this in the Macho Man post, and I’ll say it again: On this MLBlog, pro wrestling is considered a professional sport — on par with the XFL and all those other, lesser ones) is promo/highlight videos. WWE fans complain about plenty (Vince McMahon is out of touch, LOLCenawins, the fact that Naked Mideon is no longer employed by the company), but when it comes to these prematch and recap videos, I think pretty much everyone agrees that they’re consistently great.

Here are three of the best:

Wrestlemania XVII: Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. the Rock

“I need to beat you, Rock. I need it more than anything you could ever imagine.” — Austin

This Wrestlemania is considered by many to be the best, and the main event was Austin, the challenger, vs. the Rock, the champion. The two biggest stars of the Attitude Era main eventing Wrestlemania for the second time, and this one took place at the Astrodome, which is located in Austin’s home state of Texas.

When the two wrestled in the main event of Wrestlemania XV, Austin was the clear fan favorite going against bad-guy Rock, who was Vince McMahon’s “Corporate champion.” At XVII, Austin was still the top guy, but Rock was not far behind with his millions (AND MILLIONS) of fans.

The video sells the importance of the heavyweight title better than WWE probably has done since, and Austin’s desperation to reclaim it is clear by the line I’ve quoted above (he would *SPOILER* turn to the darkside and align himself with McMahon to win this match). The soundtrack for this video is the song “My Way” by Limp Bizkit. And while I know everyone — even the people who loved them back in the late 1990s/early 2000s — hates that band now, it was a most #hireable choice.

Money in the Bank 2011: CM Punk vs. John Cena

“Do I have everybody’s attention now?” — Punk

This is the PPV after Punk delivered his famous “Pipebomb promo” and went from being a star to a superstar.

Punk was the No. 1 contender, and his contract with WWE was (I’m pretty sure legit) coming to an end. He hadn’t signed a new deal yet, and guaranteed he would win the title — in his home state of Illinois, no less — and then leave the WWE with it.

Punk was angry about the fact that even though he believed he was “Best in the World” and should be face of the company, the WWE — run by Vince, his “idiotic daughter and his doofus son-in-law” (Stephanie McMahon and HHH) — wanted to keep him down so that Cena (Hustle, Loyalty, Respect) would continue being the top guy.

The video, which repeats the line quoted above several times, does a great job of showing how different the two wrestlers are and how outrageously self-righteous/entertaining Punk was at this point. Sadly, no Limp Bizkit this time, although Cena (from West Newbury, Mass.) finally snapping and punching Punk after Punk compares him to the Yankees will always crack me up.

Wrestlemania XXVI: Shawn Michaels vs. the Undertaker

“You willing to throw DX away?!” — HHH

At Wrestlemania XXV, the Undertaker and Michaels had one of the best, if not the best, Wrestlemania matches of all time. A year later, there was talk that they were going to have a rematch. At first, I didn’t think this was a good idea — How could they top the last one? But after seeing this video on an episode of Monday Night RAW, I was on board.

Michaels had challenged Undertaker to fight him again at Mania XXVI, but the Dead Man just kept going, “Nope.” So Michaels became obsessed to the point that he was attacking his friends, refs and screwing up in all his matches. This led to that HHH quote above, which does not best represent the feud but always kills me due to how sincere and sad HHH sounded, as if Michaels was letting down some noble institution and not a group most known for its catchphrase, “Suck it!”

Eventually, Michaels gets Undertaker angry enough that he grants the rematch — but only if Michaels puts his career on the line. The soundtrack for this video is “Running Up That Hill” by Placebo (a cover of a Kate Bush song) and it is a friggin’ perfect choice. The match itself — which I saw LIVE at my first Wrasslemania — was not as great as the first one, but still very good, and it features the legendary LEAPING TOMBSTONE.

Now, those are three of the best, but I’ve recently discovered one that possibly tops them all: The Best of 1985 highlight video, featuring the song “Riot In the Streets.”

Saturday Night’s Main Event used to air occasionally on NBC in the 1980s and early ’90s (they also brought it back a few times in the 2000s) when SNL was on break. The WWE Network added the entire SNME library over the summer, and since I’d only seen clips of the show before, it was a chance to see new matches/angles/interviews involving childhood favorites like Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper and the Macho Man. The episodes are quite ridiculous/entertaining, and one of the more ridiculous/entertaining things is the Best of 1985 video package (here’s the link to the episode on WWE Network — the clip starts around the 42-minute mark).

It’s introduced by these two maniacs:

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And while the video itself is just random clips from the past year, “Riot in the Streets” sounds like it was written by someone who listened to the Rocky IV soundtrack on repeat until it drove them insane. Lyrics below:

They do all their talking with a gun

They’ll shoot them as fast as they come

Well a million new voices will be found

Their heads are held up high, the braver ones

There’s more than a wall that must come down

Before their flag is raised again!

 

Someday, the regime will end

The wheels turn, and we must defend

 

Chorus:

Cause there’s a riot in the streets

Hiding in the dark

Waiting for the light of day

When they call out their warning

We can hear what they say

Cause there’s a riot in the streets

There’s a riot in the streets

 

We’ve seen frontiers vanish overnight

Some have come down without a fight

But absolute power will soon be gone

We have the strength to carry on!

 

One of the challenges of democracy

How will we be seen by history?

(Chorus)

The video is followed by a “Peace Match” between Nikolai Volkoff, who sings the national anthem of the Soviet Union after entering the ring, and Corporal Kirchner, a former army paratrooper. Volkoff wins. USSR! USSR!

Cause there’s a riot in the streets.

** UPDATE **

Commenter mentioned that “Riot in the Streets” might have replaced the original song, and he/she is CORRECT. The original airing features Billy Ocean’s “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” which fits the video much better, especially the goofy/light-hearted parts. I still consider the “Riot in the Streets” version to be superior, mostly because I wrote this whole friggin’ post about it.

Brian Cougar

Riot in the Streets: The WWE promo video to rule them all

Worst-case scenario

I wake up in an empty apartment. Girlfriend, gone. Cat, gone. Complete silence. I walk out the front door. No one walking. No joggers. No cars driving by. I knock on my neighbor’s door. No answer.

I go back inside and hit the power button on the TV. Nothing happens. I pick up my cellphone. Battery dead.

I sit on the floor and close my eyes. I remember we bought a hand-crank radio after we moved in. I find it.

I crank for three minutes. I turn the volume button to the right. I hear a click. Then, the sound of static.

I turn the tuning button to the left. More static. I turn the tuning button to the right. More static. I do it again, but this time, slowly. Static.

I’m ready to give up. Once more, I turn to the left. Even slower this time. I hear static. Then a crackle. Then a man’s voice.

“This is … (static) … with a CBS Sports Minute.”

I shut off the radio. I begin to weep.

Brian Cougar

Worst-case scenario

#billyjoelsucks: The greatness of The Best Show and Tom Scharpling

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(Illustration, by Jeff Owens, lifted from Best Show’s Facebook page)

Starting my freshman year in college, I felt compelled to go on long walks, often at night. My friends referred to them as my “crazy walks.” It could be 1 a.m. on a Monday night in the middle of winter, and I’d throw on a jacket, grab my discman (I’m 31 aka old), and wander the streets of Scranton, Pa. In general, nothing “crazy” happened (although I once looked into the window of a store to see a man vacuuming in nothing but his underwear). I was usually just restless, so I’d head out, listen to some music, calm down, return home and go to bed.

After graduating college, the restlessness/long walks continued, but the soundtrack, starting in 2007, changed. Instead of listening to Bruce Dickinson sing “The Wickerman,” “The Trooper” and several other songs starting “The …” for Iron Maiden, I often found myself listening to Tom Scharpling’s “The Best Show,” which consists of three hours of mirth, music and mayhem.

The first time I remember listening to “The Best Show” (then on WFMU, now on thebestshow.net) was after I had just moved to Hoboken, N.J. My roommate, @danieljohnbryan, was a huge fan. We were drinking a few beers (hopefully Coors Light tall boys, in honor of AP Mike) and playing one of the all-time great baseball video games (MVP Baseball 2005) on a Tuesday night, and Dan had the show on in the background. It was the Dec. 7 episode, and the main things I remember from it are Tom utilizing a sound machine to turn bad callers into “ghosts” after he hung up on them, Tom’s glorious takedown of the Bob Dylan movie “I’m Not There” and Tom lauding the comedic aspects of “The Sopranos” (“You can’t throw a shoe without hitting something funny on that show,” if I remember correctly).

I didn’t become a Best Show enthusiast immediately, but it was the start. I didn’t listen live that often at the time (9 p.m. to midnight, every Tuesday night), but I started downloading episodes on my Zune — yes, I owned/loved the Zune — and would put them on while heading to work the graveyard shift at my job. Soon enough, I was hooked. Tom, his comedy partner Jon Wurster and call-screener/all-around legend AP Mike put together the most entertaining show I’d hear/watch week in and week out.

On multiple occasions, I’d be walking along the waterfront in Jersey City on a Tuesday night and look like a complete lunatic due to the fact that I’d be laughing out loud as a result of something on the show, be it Tom freaking out over an impending cicada awakening, Wurster saying something completely ridiculous (“Crack a hymnal much? It don’t sound like you do!”) or AP Mike loudly opening a can of beer at the most perfect/inopportune moment (Chiku). Then you had the callers — regulars (Spike, Jason from Alabama, Julie from Cincinnati, Fred from Honolulu), randoms (Terry from Woodstock) and terrible (many). The show is like nothing else out there, and it’s more fun than anything else out there, too.

The most-recent episode, however, had to deal with some tragedy before it got to the fun. Tom’s dad recently died unexpectedly, and after missing last week’s show, Tom returned last night. He spent an emotional first hour discussing his dad (“If you like me, you like him.”), and how hard this time has been (including a story of a good-intentioned Pizza Man making Tom and his family feel even more sad. “Don’t you have a calzone to heat up?”).

Then, after admitting how hard it was to put together a funny show right now, Tom did just that.

Best Show 4 life (and Billy Joel sucks).

Brian Cougar

#billyjoelsucks: The greatness of The Best Show and Tom Scharpling

The WWE Hall of Fame beckons the Macho Man! (finally)

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(Photo courtesy of WWE.com)

“East of the Pacific Ocean, west of London, England, south of Mars and north of hell!” — location of the Danger Zone, according to Macho Man Randy Savage.

Macho Man Randy Savage is, in the opinion of myself and many others, the greatest professional wrestler of all time. He was tremendous in the ring, had amazing charisma, performed god-like promos and was part of several classic matches.

His match with Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat at Wrestlemania III is arguably the best match in the history of the “Showcase of the Immortals” (Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker at Mania 25 and Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 13 are two of the others in the conversation). He’s one of a group of wrestlers (with Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Austin, the Rock, Undertaker, Ric Flair, Roddy Piper, Hart, John Cena, maybe a few others) who’s well-known by people who don’t follow pro wrestling. And, on Monday, it was finally announced that he would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Now, unlike the Hall of Fame of other pro sports (yes, damnit, for the purposes of this post I’m referring to pro wrestling as a sport) where you have to be voted in, you’re only getting into the WWE Hall of Fame if A) Vince McMahon wants you in it and B) You yourself want to be in it. It made no sense that Savage didn’t gain entry until this year, after his death in 2011, and there are four possible reasons it took this long.

1) McMahon was still angry about Savage jumping ship to WCW in the mid-1990s, a time when WWE was struggling.

2) Savage, according to his brother, Lanny “The Genius” Poffo, refused to be inducted unless his brother and father were also inducted.

3) A scandalous rumor involving Savage that I’m not going to include here, but can easily be found out via Google (or BING).

4) Jack Tunney.

Now, from Wrestlemania III-VIII, Savage has in my opinion the greatest run in Wrestlemania history.

III) Bad-guy Savage brutally attacks Steamboat leading up to the event. The two go on to steal the show (one headlined by Andre/Hogan) with their legendary match for the Intercontinental Title, which Steamboat wins.

IV) Because he’s so awesome, Savage becomes a fan-favorite. He goes on to beat Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase (with an assist/chair shot from Hogan) for his first world title.

V) After forming the greatest tag team ever (The Mega Powers), Savage/Hogan split up because Hogan gets a bit too friendly with Savage’s manager, Miss Elizabeth (aka, has LUST IN HIS EYES)/Savage is an insane, jealous human being. Hogan defeats Savage for the world title.

VI) The American Dream Dusty Rhodes/Sweet Sapphire (with Elizabeth) defeat heel Savage/Sensational Queen Sherri. OK, this wasn’t exactly a classic.

VII) Savage, despite hitting approximately one million flying elbows, loses to the Ultimate Warrior in a career match. However, after the match, Sherri attacks Savage and Elizabeth comes to his rescue. Savage/Elizabeth reunite, and people in the crowd legit cry tears of happiness. Later in the year, Savage/Elizabeth get married at Summerslam.

VIII) Savage wears a gold suit to battle Flair for the world title after Flair says Elizabeth was “mine before she was yours!” Flair/his executive consultant, Mr. Perfect, cheat the entire match before Savage wins his second — and last — WWE championship. The writer of this post watches this match at least once a year since 1992 (including RIGHT NOW). (Additional Wrestlemania VIII coverage courtesy of @SportsAngle).

Summary of that run: Best match at Manias 3-5, 7 & 8 … plus two world titles. Oooooh yeah! FREAK OUT, FREAK OUT.

The other great thing about Savage — he never lost his mystique. Now, that’s not to say his pro wrestling career ended on a high note: His final Mania match was against friggin’ Crush at Wrestlemania X, and the last thing I remember from his WCW tenure — which had some great moments — was Team Madness, which no one but hardcore wrestling fans who read this will know about. Savage basically vanished from the public eye around 2000 (outside of his appearance in the first Spider-Man movie … and his rap album). He didn’t have one last Wrestlemania moment. He didn’t host RAW. He wasn’t a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble. The final thing Savage did for WWE was an announcement for an action figure in 2010.

But if you ask most people what they remember about Randy Savage, they’ll remember a man SNAPPING IT TO A SLIM JIM. They’ll remember a man with his fingers pointed to the sky before delivering a devastating elbow drop. They’ll remember the CREAM OF THE CROP. They’ll remember the Macho Man. Dig it?

“Nobody does it better.”

Brian Cougar

The WWE Hall of Fame beckons the Macho Man! (finally)

Love your enemy: a Yanks fan on the greatness of Pedro

I am a Yankees (and Cowboys — love me!) fan, and therefore probably shouldn’t like Pedro Martinez as much as I do. The newly elected Hall of Famer spent the majority of his career with the Red Sox, then had a memorable run with the Mets and finished up his big league tenure pitching for the Phillies against the Yanks in the 2009 World Series. But Pedro, due to his electrifying talent and charisma, was part of some of my all-time favorite baseball moments, even when they involved him beating the Yankees or beating senior citizens who worked for the club.

1: Pedro outduels Clemens, May 28, 2000

Not only am I a Yankees/Cowboys fan, I am — still — a fan of Roger Clemens. I feel like most Yankees/Red Sox/Blue Jays fans don’t really care for him anymore (although I for some reason think Astros/Sugar Land Skeeters fans still dig him), but I look back fondly on The Rocket’s career, and I think my appreciation of him started with this game.

I remember, after getting home from the beach, watching the entire thing in the basement of my old house in Brooklyn. Unlike the Pedro-Clemens matchup in the 1999 American League Championship Series, when Clemens stunk and the Sox ended up winning in a rout, this time, they matched each other pitch for pitch until the ninth inning. It was also in old Yankee Stadium, so the atmosphere was electric and the seats behind home plate were filled the entire game. Then, in the top of the ninth, friggin’ Trot Nixon hit a two-run homer, and the Sox went on to win, 2-0. Nixon is up there with Curt Schilling, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis as my all-time least-favorite Sox players based solely on this home run.

2: Pedro chucks Zimmer, 2003 ALCS, Game 3

Clemens vs. Pedro again! Everyone remember this one. I watched this game with a few friends at Jeremy’s, a bar by the South Street Seaport known for its giant styrofoam beers and the bras that adorn the walls/ceiling. I recently rewatched the extended clip from this incident, and I had completely forgotten how messed up the pitch Pedro threw to Karim Garcia in the fourth inning that got everyone heated was. He unleashes a fastball right behind Garcia’s head, leading Garcia to, understandably, make this face:

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Then, in the bottom of the fourth, Clemens threw a pitch that was high and inside but nowhere near Manny Ramirez’s head, and things got real crazy:

I was standing at the bar waiting for a beer when Pedro threw Don Zimmer to the ground, and a random woman grabbed my arm, looked me in the eyes and yelled, “What are we gonna do?!” I had no answer.

3: 2003 ALCS, Game 7

Once more, Clemens vs. Pedro! Clearly they should have gone into the Hall of Fame together. I was a junior in college (University of Scranton 4 life), and had a night class scheduled for when this game occurred. My newswriting teacher had received an advanced copy of the movie “Shattered Glass” (Hayden Christensen in his greatest role) to show us, and she said if we missed class, it counted as two absences, which would have screwed with my grade.

I actually showed up to class early, but immediately decided my duties as a Yankees fan were more important than my duties as a Communications Major, so I left. Right move! As after a terrifying 7 1/2 innings, Grady Little left Pedro in too long, the Yanks rallied, and Aaron Boone eventually did that thing he’s famous for. I ended up emailing my teacher and told her I skipped class because I felt I couldn’t miss the game. She basically called me an idiot, but understood. I think I ended up with a B- in the class.

4: Summer of Pedro, Shea Stadium 2005

No 2004 games will be on this list, how dare you. After graduating college in ’05, I returned home to Brooklyn and spent the summer putting on a solid 25-30 pounds thanks to too many Bud Heavies and Bubba Burgers. I also went to several Mets games with my younger brother Kevin, and we tried to go whenever Pedro was pitching at Shea. I know the Mets have had several impressive pitchers since 2005 (Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Bartolo Colon), but that first summer Pedro pitched for the Mets was the most fun I ever had watching games at glorious, gone-but-not-forgotten Shea Stadium. Two specific moments stand out:

1) In the middle of an inning that season, the sprinklers went off on the field. Most pitchers facing that situation would either run away or pout (I feel like Mike Mussina would’ve pouted), but Pedro stuck his head right in front of a sprinkler to cool off, then walked around with a goofy smile on his face.

2) On June 7 vs. the Astros, Pedro had a no-hitter going into the seventh inning. This was during the Mets’ infamous run of never having thrown a no-hitter, and a buzz was starting to build. In the break between the bottom of the sixth and the top of the seventh, a few dudes — Mets fans — sitting down the aisle from Kevin and I started discussing the fact that Pedro was throwing a no-no. Not only were they breaking the rule of “Don’t talk about a no-hitter while it’s happening” (settle down all you “Duhh, you can’t actually jinx a no-hitter by talking about it” people), they were predicting which player on the Astros would end up getting the hit! I specifically remember them guessing it would be Brad Ausmus, Houston’s light-hitting catcher. Kevin, not surprisingly, was becoming enraged, but he, surprisingly if you know him, did not start screaming at them. With one out in the seventh, Chris Burke hit a home run. Pedro ended up throwing a complete game, striking out Burke to end it. Now that I think about it, Kev might have started screaming at them after the home run.

I currently live in Boston, and over the past few months I’ve occasionally had people commenting on my Yankees gear while I’m out and about. The conversations have tended to be them going, “I hate the Yankees, but Derek Jeter is all class.” With me responding, “I don’t care what you think about Jeter, as long as you love and respect Bernie Williams.” That second part might not be true.

As fans, it’s natural to hate the players on rival teams, but in the case of guys like Pedro Martinez, it’s OK to love them a bit, too.

— Brian Cougar

Love your enemy: a Yanks fan on the greatness of Pedro