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

Revisiting SmackDown back when it was the Rock’s show, SmackDown

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After finishing work Wednesday night, I found @poolhalljames watching the live stream of WWE Network, which was playing a classic SmackDown from April 27, 2000 (direct link to the episode here).

First off, I want to point out I’m a huge fan of what WWE has going on right now. Daniel Bryan, the Shield, Paige, the Wyatts, Cesaro (and Paul “MY CLIENT BROCK LESNAR ENDED THE STREAK” Heyman), Evolution (IS A MYSTERY). Hell, even John Cena on occasion … this is probably the most entertaining group of stars WWE has had in quite a while (despite the absence of CM Punk).

However, while of course my viewing experience was heightened by nostalgia, it was fun having a couple of post-work beers and watching this 2000 episode for several reasons

1. The roster: The Rock, Austin, HHH, the McMahons, Eddie Guerrero, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Chyna, Christian, Lita, Trish Stratus, the Hardy Boyz … plus even lesser players like Hardcore Holly, Crash Holly, Tazz, Val Venis, Test and Albert, Dean Malenko, Saturn, Too Cool … there was plenty of memorable talent on the show. Adding Test and Albert to that list was a stretch, I know.

2. The episode-long storyline of “Is Austin here?”: This week’s RAW had some entertaining stuff: the opening segment with Bray Wyatt/Cena/a bunch of creepy children, Magneto making an appearance, Bad News Barrett advancing in the Intercontinental Title tournament. However, basically all those segments were their own, individual thing … segments didn’t build on previous segments, for the most part. This SmackDown, on the other hand, has a major theme for the entire episode: Is Stone Cold here? And, if he is, when will he show up/what will he do?

The Rock “guaran-damn-tees” that Austin is at the show, and for the rest of the episode, they cut to clips of the McMahons/HHH becoming more and more paranoid. This includes HHH getting “3:16” sent to him on his pager (!); Shane McMahon attacking a cardboard cutout of Austin; Shane/HHH finding a can of beer, following a trail of beer cans hoping to find Austin, opening door of a closet to find no Austin but about 100 empty beer cans (swig of 100 beers for the working man!).

3. The Rock’s $5,000 shirt: I realize Rock wore out his welcome for many during his return from Wrestlemania 27-29, but 2000 Rock was and is amazing.

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4. Vince McMahon: “Austin doesn’t have the temerity, in other words, Austin doesn’t have the GRAPEFRUITS to show up tonight!” Also, his face in the photo at the top of the post.

5. Non self-aware crowd: BACK IN MY DAY a hot crowd booed and cheered loudly, it chanted vulgarities. What it didn’t do was start chanting random wrestlers’ names to amuse itself the second it got bored, or chant “This is awesome!” for every slightly above-average match.

6. Midcard feuds: HHH makes a big deal during his promo with the Rock about Road Dogg having a match later in the show with Christian. Crash Holly, shown earlier in the episode to be depressed about losing the Hardcore Title, eventually sneaks in to regain the Hardcore Title during the match between Jeff & Matt Hardy later in the show. They show a non-PG promo video of Stratus playing mind games with Buh Buh Ray Dudley, he comes out during a match and tries to put her through a table (again, non-PG era), she successfully escapes by “mesmerizing him” with a smooch on the head.

Despite — or possibly because of — RAW being three-friggin’-hours long now, it feels like far too often they’ll throw out some match that has zero storyline.  Sometimes, that’s fine — they are wrestlers, after all.  But it generally helps to have some kind of reason, big or small, for the conflict to be memorable.

7. Austin in a vehicle: While it was not as memorable as Austin on the zamboni or monster truck, Stone Cold finally arrives and uses a giant crane to drop a cinder block onto HHH’s bus, the DX Express. Paranoia justified. DTA.

The horrible part of watching this show: This was only back in 2000, and multiple wrestlers: Guerrero, Bossman, Test, Benoit and Crash Holly are dead. The Hardy Boyz, Chyna and Angle have all dealt with personal issues or major injuries in the years since this aired. The Attitude Era was enjoyable, but many paid a steep price as a result of providing that entertainment.

Brian Cougar

Aside

Just a spoke on the wheel: CM Punk and Daniel Bryan

“The reason I’m leaving is you people, because after I’m gone you’re still going to pour money into this company. I’m just a spoke on the wheel. The wheel’s gonna keep turning. And I understand that.” — CM Punk during the “Pipe bomb” promo on June 27, 2011

Cult of Personality hits … CM Punk walks out … he yells, “It’s clobbering time!” and heads down to the ring.

At some point in the future, be it next Monday night or years down the line, that series of events is almost definitely going to happen. And when it does, I, like millions of others, will be MARKING OUT, BRO pumped. If Punk returns to help/to attack/to help then immediately after helping attack Daniel Bryan (or someone else), it’ll be a great moment.

Punk’s last appearance with WWE was the Royal Rumble in January, and we still don’t know why, exactly, he decided to leave. Was he burnt out? Injured? Unhappy with his Wrestlemania plans? People were even saying he had a dispute with Vince McMahon/HHH over how wrestlers were going to be paid as a result of the move away from PPV due to the start of the WWE Network. However, since then, we’ve heard little. Punk’s last tweet came the day after the Royal Rumble, McMahon said during a conference call with share holders that Punk was on “sabbatical,” and the only time Punk has been mentioned on air was when Paul Heyman came out at the beginning of “Hijack RAW” in Chicago.

When and if Punk returns, the ready-made feud is clearly Punk vs. Bryan. For three reasons:

1) Bryan got to main event a Wrestlemania, and Punk never has. On the “Best In The World” DVD that WWE put out about Punk (it is great), he brings up the fact that the Miz main eventing Wrestlemania 27 was something that pissed him off (although, to be fair, plenty seems to piss Punk off). Then, the next two years — while Punk was the most popular he’ll likely ever be as a pro wrestler — the Mania main event was Rock/Cena (“Once in a Lifetime” at Wrestlemania 28 and “We lied about that whole Once in a Lifetime deal” at Wrestlemania 29). While I’m fairly certain Punk holds Bryan in higher regard than Miz/the Rock, it wouldn’t be hard to believe that could cause him to be jealous.

2) Bryan got to complete what Punk started with the Pipe bomb promo. The first part of that promo dealt with Cena and how he wasn’t the best — Punk was the best. And, at Money in the Bank and Summerslam that year, Punk defeated Cena to back up those words. But the second part of that promo took aim at the McMahon family: Vince, his “idiotic daughter and his doofus son-in-law” (Stephanie McMahon and HHH). Stephanie and HHH would eventually become The Authority, and Bryan, not Punk, was the one to defeat them at Mania on his way to winning the title.

3) Those people Punk so lovingly describes in the quote at the top of this story. After Punk left, there were plenty of “CM PUNK!” chants at WWE events. There was the attempt to “Hijack RAW” in Chicago which featured … a few more “CM PUNK!” chants than usual. Wrestlemania 30 came and went, and the thing that pissed most people off wasn’t the lack of Punk, it was Brock Lesnar ending The Streak.

And while the crowd will still chant “CM PUNK!” on occasion, what they cheer far, far more is “Yes!”

WWE — the wheel — keeps turning.

Brian Cougar

Just a spoke on the wheel: CM Punk and Daniel Bryan

Swig of beer for the podcasting man: the wonderfully weird Stone Cold Steve Austin

Sunday on reddit.com/r/squaredcircle, someone posted this video of Stone Cold Steve Austin:

Back during the Attitude era, while I was of course a fan of his, Stone Cold was not MY GUY. As a slightly weird, overweight high school student, I very much related to Mick Foley and was a huge fan of him as a wrestler and was invested in his path to achieving his dream. When it came to Austin/Rock, I was on #teambringit. I got back into wrestling in the late 1990s because I read a newspaper article about all the old WWF wrestlers who were a part of WCW/nWo, but early heel Rock — I still remember seeing the People’s Elbow for the first time — was such a wonderfully obnoxious character that I quickly drifted back to being a much bigger fan of WWF.

Stone Cold, the beer swilling redneck who was in the early stages of his feud with his boss, Vince McMahon, wasn’t someone I related to at the time (although if I was the 30-year-old, employed dude I am now back then, that would’ve been a different story). It actually wasn’t until after he aligned with McMahon at Wrestlemania 17 and his subsequent transformation into a paranoid (and hilarious) whack job — I’ll forgive him for What? since it was great when he first started doing it — that I got fully on board with the Bionic Redneck.

And in the past few years, Austin has excelled somewhere outside the squared circle: the internet.

First, there’s his Twitter. And it is glorious:

And then it gets even better with his podcast, The Steve Austin Show

Now I only listen to like five podcasts, but until Tom Scharpling brings back the Best Show, Austin is the reigning champion of the podcasting world.

Not surprisingly, the man responsible for “Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!”, “And that’s the bottom line cause Stone Cold said so!” and “Gimme a hell yeah!” has a few catch phrases on his podcast:

“Swig of (beer/Red Bull/water) for the working man!”

“We’re making money up in this bitch!”

“They keep sending little gimmicks in the mail and they’re called bills.”

Austin has two different versions of the show: A PG one and an “Unleashed” one … “Unleashed” meaning he will use the word “mother [expletive]” within the first two minutes. Generally, of course, the guest/focus of the show has to do with wrestling, but he’s also interviewed David Lee Roth (the highlight being when the two of them just started cackling at one point), among other non-wrestling celebrities.

The great thing about Austin’s show is the fact that 1) he has improved a ton since the first couple of episodes and 2) since he’s one of the top 3 pro wrestlers of all time, other wrestlers show him a ton of respect and therefore seem open to discussing whatever the hell he wants to talk about. He’s had on legends (Ric Flair), underrated veterans (William Regal), current stars (Daniel Bryan), behind-the-scenes people (Jim Johnston, who composes most of the theme music), and has even had Q&A sessions with fans, respectfully referring to one as a “member of the Internet Wrestling Community” as though the person was some kind of ambassador and not just a jabroni calling from home.

Also, Austin is a weirdo. He’s got an ongoing feud with anyone who drives a Prius/anyone who throws a cigarette butt out of their car window/as my buddy James pointed out after this was originally posted, Trader Joe’s for their tiny parking lots, had all the fans calling in for the first Q&A session end their calls by cutting 15-second promos on McMahon for screwing up the Royal Rumble and reads his ad copy with a fantastic amount of intensity.

And, most of all, he still has a passion for pro wrestling. He doesn’t condescend or discuss wrestling in any kind of ironic manner, and you can tell how serious he is about the work involved when it comes to the athletic and entertainment aspects of the job. Also, at the end of a very enjoyable interview with John Cena, Austin made sure to call out Cena for how loose he applies the STF, which was, to use Austin’s term, audio whoop ass.

Swig of beer for the podcasting man.

Brian Cougar

Swig of beer for the podcasting man: the wonderfully weird Stone Cold Steve Austin