Well, we made it: The Road to Wrestlemania XXXI

(Photo from WWE.com)

Wrestlemania XXXI is this Sunday. I own a Macho Man Randy Savage ski cap and multiple wrestling shirts, so I was going to watch it no matter what. Generally, the WWE hits a bit of a dead spot around September-December — although Survivor Series this past November ended up being an entertaining show — then things pick up at the Royal Rumble in January as the ROAD TO WRESTLEMANIA begins.

This year, WWE has stumbled to the finish line.

Trouble started at the Royal Rumble, when the WWE, for the second straight time, completely mishandled Daniel Bryan’s role in the show. Last year, they responded to the audience, and Wrestlemania XXX ended up being a pretty great event that concluded with Bryan as champion. For Wrestlemania XXXI, they’ve stuck with the original plan, which pits Royal Rumble winner Roman Reigns against World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar.

One of the issues is Lesnar: He’s terrifying. Over the past year, Lesnar was part of the most shocking finish in WWE history (when he ended the Undertaker’s 21-0 streak at Wrestlemania), and he then completely demolished John Cena, the face of the company for what seems like forever, at Summerslam to become champion. They’ve built Lesnar into a seemingly unstoppable monster, and he both looks and acts the part. And he’s represented by Paul Heyman, arguably the greatest manager of all time.

The main issue is Reigns: He’s not ready. When he was in the Shield, he was great. When he’s spearing people or punching them in the face, he’s pretty great (and such a wonderful head of hair). When he has to say anything more than “Believe that,” he is not so great.

As a result, the most intriguing part of the main event of Wrestlemania isn’t the matchup, it’s, “Is there any way the end of the biggest show of the year isn’t terrible?”

Now, that doesn’t mean the show is going to be terrible. I’ve very much enjoyed the build up for HHH vs. Sting. Bray Wyatt (the Eater of Worlds) has tried very, very hard to hype his match with the Undertaker (who has not been seen since last year’s Wrestlemania), and it will, at the very least, include two amazing entrances.

Rusev (CRUSH) is taking on Cena in a match that has me rooting against USA (well, it’s more a pro-Rusev thing, but the guy does consult with Vladimir Putin and did kick a “soldier” in the face). Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins has a chance to steal the show. And while the Intercontinental title feud has been incredibly dopey, it is ending in a ladder match featuring the most talented guy (Bryan) in the company and six other solid-to-good guys (Dean Ambrose, Bad News Barrett, Dolph Ziggler, Luke Harper, Stardust and R-Truth). Naked Mideon could show up!*

And, hey, maybe Lesnar will win. Maybe Reigns will prove he is, in fact, ready. Maybe, in this case, it’s the destination, not the journey.

Brian Cougar

* False.

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Well, we made it: The Road to Wrestlemania XXXI

A tale of great courage

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“Oh my, that’s a bat.”

I was staring at the ceiling in the front of my apartment in Scranton, Pa., in 2004. It was the end of the Summer of Starvation*, and my brothers were coming the next day to pick me up so I could spend a week home in Brooklyn, N.Y., before returning for my senior year at the University of Scranton.

I ran into my room and shut the door. Panic set in immediately. I’m sure some of you are thinking, “What, it’s just a bat.” Well, I had never come face to face with one before, damnit. And I knew two things about bats: They can fly. And they all have rabies. I know that second one isn’t true, but it is.

First I wondered, “How the hell did it get into the apartment?” Then I remembered that while I was sweeping the front porch, I had left the door wide open for some reason. Dope. Why was I even sweeping the front porch? Eleven college dudes were going to be living in the apartment, it would never be clean (and it was NOT). Then I thought, “Maybe I can just lock myself in here for the night, and it’ll be gone by the morning.” But what if it got in somehow? The raptors in Jurassic Park figured out how to open doors! And also, it was, at least while hanging from the ceiling, quite tiny. What if it crawled under the gap at the bottom of the door? Murdered while I sleep.

I opened my laptop and tried to search for info on bat removal. But since we hadn’t set up Internet at the apartment yet, I was relying on the weak wireless signal from the library and nothing was loading. It was like 2 in the morning, and while this was clearly an emergency, I didn’t think anyone else would consider it one, so I figured a phone call would either be ignored or end up with me being mocked.

I had to get rid of it myself.

I looked for things around my room that could help me achieve this. The broom! I had left it on the front porch. Damnit. I had a large collection of CDs, but Queensryche’s “Operation: Mindcrime” and Iron Maiden’s “Powerslave” were not going to be sacrificed in my attempt to drive this evildoer out. Wait, I had an old pair of shoes! Two chances to hit it. My hope was that a direct shot would cause it to explode into tiny light bubbles like when you die in “Mega Man.” Or at least stun it. Then I would throw my dirty bedroom sheets on top and throw it onto the front lawn.

Before I could put my shoe plan into action, I had to armor myself. That armor consisted of two pairs of socks, my winter boots, a pair of jeans, a pair of sweat pants, a T-shirt, fleece sweater and a bubble jacket. Plus a ski cap to cover my head, my glasses to protect my eyes despite the fact that I was wearing contacts, and a Jack Daniels bandana wrapped around my face. Note: It was 85 degrees out. I looked like a lunatic, but had convinced myself that rabies could not penetrate this shield. I wished that I had some type of booze in my room to give me some liquid courage, but sadly I did not. If I’d had the time or the right, I would have said a prayer.**

I opened the door of my room. The bat hadn’t moved. I had a shoe in each hand, and after a few seconds to find what little courage I clearly have, I ran underneath it and launched the first shoe at the ceiling. I completely missed the bat. But I hit the panel it had latched onto. The bat did not like this. It spread its wings, which were approximately 30-feet long, then shrieked and launched itself at me. Hellspawn! I dove to the ground, did a military crawl to my room, and kicked the door shut. After spending 30 seconds on the floor with my hands over my head, I got up, opened my front window, and climbed out onto the front porch.

While I had not got rid of the bat, I had rid myself of the bat. Success!

I took off enough of my “armor” on the front porch so that I could walk around without looking like a crazy person, then headed over to the library, which thankfully was open 24 hours, to calm down. When I returned an hour or so later, I slowly opened the door and peaked inside. I looked up at ceiling. No bat. I looked in my room. No bat. I checked every room in the apartment. No bat. It was never seen again.

But it’s still out there. And it will find me.

Brian Cougar

* When I arrived to Scranton as a freshman, I weighed 250 pounds. Because I do everything ass backwards, I actually lost weight in college. By the end of the Summer of Starvation, due to my job hauling kegs and cases of beer around Northeastern Pennsylvania, plus the fact that I was solely responsible for acquiring/cooking my meals on a limited budget, I had dropped down to about 180.

** A Batman reference was going to happen in this post, and this was it, from “The Dark Knight Returns.”

A tale of great courage

SMOKING GOOD: Sting makes for best 1-hour RAW yet

I hate three-hour RAWs*. Hate them. People complain about pace-of-play in Major League Baseball, but I’ll take the most boring three-plus hour baseball game over a three-hour RAW almost anytime. Even when a three-hour RAW is good it drags. Too much talking. Too many random matches or repeat matches. Too much of the fireable RAW commentary team (Michael Cole/JBL/Booker T).

As a result of this, over the past six or so months, I almost never tune into RAW when it starts at 8 p.m. I might briefly turn it on at some point during the first two hours, but I generally don’t. Some weeks I just skip the show all-together. But if I do watch, it starts at 10 p.m. (maybe I just really miss WAR ZONE**)

This week, that decision paid off. I got to see the great Paul Heyman as he valiantly (desperately) attempts to sell the Wrestlemania main event between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns (the fact that Heyman needs to try so hard to do this is a good sign of why it probably shouldn’t be the main event). I got to see an entertaining six-man tag match centered around the dopey feud for the now near-worthless Intercontinental title. I got to see Bray Wyatt cut a promo while holding an urn that contains the ashes of his favorite rocking chair. I got to see Seth Rollins (dubbed the new Shawn Michaels by noted wrestling historian @poolhalljames). And I got to see STING.

If you have not been watching WWE recently (and many weeks I would not blame you), Sting made his first appearance in WWE this past November at Survivor Series. If you are not up to speed on the history of Sting (and why the HELL aren’t you), he was the one major guy over the past 30 years to never appear in WWF/WWE. Sting was the biggest star in WCW for a while, both as “Surfer Sting” and the Crow knock-off you see at the top of this post, and after WWE bought WCW in 2001, he wrestled against Ric Flair to close out the final WCW Monday Nitro, then vanished (well, he wrestled for a smaller promotion, TNA, for several years, but if you don’t know the history of Sting there’s no shot you have ever seen TNA).

Since the end of WCW, there were occasional rumors that Sting was going to sign with WWE to fight the Undertaker at Wrestlemania, but it never happened. When he finally appeared at Survivor Series, it was to begin a feud with HHH (aka The Game aka The King of Kings aka The Cerebral Assasin aka the Connecticut Blueblood).

It didn’t really make any sense why Sting had any beef with HHH, other than that Sting is a good guy and HHH is a bad guy (I mean, I guess that’s a good enough reason). WWE randomly started calling him The Vigilante Sting (for this there is no good reason). HHH then decided the feud was about Sting being mad that HHH ran WCW out of business, which is a stretch for multiple reasons, the main being the fact that WCW went out of business because of the dopes running WCW.

I’ve enjoyed every Sting appearance in WWE. The Survivor Series one was slightly spoiled ahead of time because the Internet is a force of good and evil, but when Sting showed up at a WWE show for the first time, it was still surreal. At the PPV last month, HHH/Sting had a “confrontation” which Sting got the better of despite the fact that he had a baseball bat and HHH had a sledgehammer (although, to be fair, Sting’s baseball bat is up there with Excalibur). But Monday night was my favorite so far.

When Sting first started the Crow deal in WCW, it was during his feud with the nWo (4 life). The nWo would be ganging up on someone, then Sting would drop down from the rafters and start wrecking people.  It was great. On Monday, the Authority (HHH, Rollins, Kane, the Big Show and J&J Security … legends, all of them) surrounded the ring with plans to attack Randy Orton, who was all by his lonesome. The lights when out. When they turned back on, there was Sting. BASEBALL BAT TO KANE’S KNEE. JACKET CHUCKED AT HHH. STINGER SPLASH TO J&J SECURITY. SCORPION DEATHDROP TO ONE OF THE J&J SECURITY DUDES. POUNDS CHEST LIKE KING KONG. It was great.

To cap things off, after the show Sting spoke for the first time since coming to WWE, and he yelled that he feels “SMOKING GOOD!” I have no idea what that means, but if you ever ask me how I’m feeling and I don’t yell “SMOKING GOOD!” you should be concerned.

Brian Cougar

*As a way of keeping the show/wrestlers fresh, I would go back to two-hour RAWs, lose Smackdown (unless they were to go back to a legit roster split), keep NXT (of course) for the WWE Network, then have a one-hour show on Saturday mornings that’s highlight videos/a couple of goofy matches FOR THE KIDS. I’m sure none of this makes sense from a business standpoint.

**Back in the 1990s, for ratings purposes, the first hour of RAW was called Raw is War and the second was called War Zone.

SMOKING GOOD: Sting makes for best 1-hour RAW yet

Y’all know me, know how I earn a livin’

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When I was a kid, I used to watch “Ghostbusters” every day. Eventually, I watched the movie so much that the VHS tape stopped working. My mom told me it “died,” so it was, understandably, no longer a part of her everyday life.

Over this past summer, I watched “JAWS” more times than I care to admit. I consider it my all-time favorite movie. I also watched “JAWS 2,” which was … not quite good. I think it’s pretty much impossible to do a sequel to JAWS, mostly because it’s a nearly perfect movie. HOWEVER, I do think it’s possible to write an entertaining opening scene to a JAWS sequel that will never be made. Last night, after drinking a few beers, I attempted to do so. It’s posted below. If you have your own attempt at an opening for a JAWS sequel, please send it my way, and I will likely post it.

“Come on down here and chum some of this shit,” — Chief Brody

Bruce put his headphones in, pet his cat, then headed out the door. He walked halfway up the block, then started to slowly jog. He had put this off over the past hour, checking Twitter, Facebook, Twitter again. But, as usual, once he got moving, he remembered how much he enjoyed going on a run.

It was the first warmish day in about two weeks. The snow was starting to melt, although Bruce had to keep an eye out for icy patches. Bruce had managed to get through the entire snowy winter without falling during a run, and he had no intention of breaking that streak today.

While waiting at the corner, Bruce adjusted the volume on his iPod. “Jump” was playing, and he was having a hard time hearing David Lee Roth tell him that he had to “roll with the punches and get to what’s real.” The light stopped flashing red, so he crossed the street. He jogged by a man holding a cardboard sign that said “Unemployed. Donations appreciated.”

After doing a half-walk, half-run to the trail on the other side of the street, Bruce turned left. He had been running this trail for the past month, since it was one of the few places near his apartment in Boston where they had plowed. The trail, which ran parallel to the Charles River, was only a few miles, but he’d rather run a few miles outside instead of 10 miles on a treadmill. Treadmills were the worst.

Bruce knew he was behind in his training for the Brooklyn half-marathon, but not so far behind that he couldn’t beat his younger brother Chris for the second straight year. Bruce knew Chris had been busy at work. He knew Chris had to attend two bachelor parties over the past month. But Bruce also remembered that he had stayed at the bar until closing last night and smoked a pack of cigarettes. He started to pick up speed.

After a few minutes, Bruce was running a steady pace. When he had started jogging a year ago, after seeing a picture of himself that brought memories of his high school nickname, “The Whale,” finding a steady pace was difficult. He would start running, then something would be off. His legs would hurt. Or his breathing would get too heavy. Or his mouth would feel too dry. Or he would think to himself, “Walking is a much more enjoyable experience.” But now, the early part of the run was fun. It was just a matter of how how far he could go.

A little bit ahead from Bruce was another runner. When he was younger, Bruce was a bit ambivalent when it came to competitive sports. As long as he was having a good time, Bruce didn’t really care how he did or if his team won or lost. He used to occasionally play air guitar on his bat when going to the plate during a baseball game. But, for whatever reason, if he saw someone running in front of him, Bruce, now 30 years old, was determined to outrun them. Didn’t matter if the person was an athletic college kid or some middle-aged dude, or the fact that the person running ahead had no idea Bruce all of a sudden considered them the enemy. He started to sprint.

Within a minute, Bruce passed the guy. He felt happier than he cared to admit. Then, his right calf started to cramp. You idiot, Bruce thought. Probably shouldn’t have drank that sixth tall boy of PBR last night. He stopped. Five seconds later, the guy ran by. Bruce shook his right leg and stared at the river.

He watched a group of young women rowing; the crew team for a local college. Trailing them, in a motorized boat, was a guy with a megaphone. He was yelling instructions. This was a familiar scene for Bruce, and he always harbored a hatred for the person holding the megaphone. I’m going to yell at him, he thought. I don’t care if it’s his job.

“Hey, jabroni,” Bruce said. But, right after he said that, something in the water caught his eye. It looked like a shark fin, but, Bruce assumed, sharks don’t swim in rivers. He shook his head. The fin was gone.

“Hey, jabroni,” Bruce yelled it this time. The guy with the megaphone looked in his direction. He started to gesture at Bruce, then fell over the side of the boat, which had jolted to a stop after hitting something. Bruce started to yell, “Are you …”  The fin reappeared. A second later, the man screamed, then was pulled under the water.

Despite the fact that the guitar solo in “Hot For Teacher” had just started, Bruce hit the pause button on his iPod.

Brian Cougar

Y’all know me, know how I earn a livin’