Hello, wrestling fanatics, and welcome to the latest article in my long-running WWE vs. TNA series, in which every week I review and analyse the main output of the two promotions and pick a winner.
This week Raw went "old school" (as they insist on calling it), while TNA had its last Impact before one of its now scarcer pay-per-views: Lockdown. With all this excitement afoot, let's dive right in.
Raw this week went old school, a clichéd phrase I hate and which was used about 20 times per minute throughout the night. Really it means old but not in a bad way, but we already have a word for that: classic. Maybe that's not down with the kids enough, but then neither is the whole appeal to nostalgia that is the concept.
Talking of old school, everyone's favourite ridiculous gimmick wrestler opened the show. Or at least, he sort of did. He did his entrance as a pre-show teaser, but then wasn't there at the start of the show.
CM Punk opened the post-title sequence show and said that, without being in the main event at WrestleMania, there won't be much reason for him to be there. Before we had too much of a chance to sarcastically say "Gee, I wonder where this is going," he announced his intention to challenge The Undertaker.
It wasn't the Deadman (or, you could say, the Very-old-man) who interrupted though, but Randy Orton, The Big Show and Sheamus. Most people have been itching for CM Punk to face Methuselah, but as Sheamus validly pointed out, he's never faced him and is the only one to not have jobbed to Taker already.
I'm not a fan of Sheamus, but his first match with The Big Show last year showed that he can put on a good match in the right circumstances.
Furthermore, CM Punk's lost enough lately without taking another loss from the oldest man alive. Of course, Sheamus, Orton and The Big Show are all tangled up with The Shield at the moment, so it's not as if Punk's challenging would be in any doubt. "Old school" for this segment apparently meant "SmackDown" as Managing Supervisor Vickie Guerrero came out to make a Fatal 4-Way between them.
Ryback vs. Antonio Cesaro kicked off the real action. At one point Ryback was knocked off of the apron onto the "old school barricade," to genuinely quote Michael Cole. On the subject of Cole, why not call it Vintage Raw? Anyway, Ryback old school won. His tense staredown with Mark Henry afterwards, now that's something unexpected that I can really get behind. Even more than seeing Henry squash Zack Ryder.
Woooooo-ic Flair was in the corner for The Miz's match against Dolph Ziggler. Sadly things weren't so old school that we didn't have tweets scrolling across the bottom of the screen, with various people vapidly old school telling us how much they old school love old school Raw. It was even more irritating than the N-ancient-ure Boy pratting about on the outside and not being rewarded with a clubbing from Big E Langston.
"This is old school!" said Jerry Lawler as The Rock entered the ring. It is? Why didn't someone say!? All right, I promise I won't mention it again. Shame they didn't promise the same.
The Rock took five minutes to tell us it was colder in Buffalo than in Panama, before John Cena interrupted him. I was getting deja vu, and not just from the o** s***** paraphernalia. In fairness, though, this promo between the two was very good, and managed to hold off the feeling of having seen it all before.
Jack Swagger absolutely clocked Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Sgt. Slaughter and Dusty Rhodes with the 2x4, which gave me great joy. The picture of The Undertaker used throughout the night featuring him with no hair wearing his hat originally put me in mind of Freddy Krueger, but so help me, if his hat was green rather than black then I could not tell him from Sarge.
"Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase is someone I was happy to see, mainly because his theme song is hilarious. Daniel Bryan robbing the money out of Darren Young's mouth was very funny too. It was a fairly minor segment but my favourite use of an oldie in the show up to that point.
The Honky Tonk Man smashed his guitar over Heath Slater's head. More went on in the segment that that (including a "match"), but that's what we were waiting for and that's what we eventually got.
Fandango once again built us up to let us down as he did not debut. I already prefer him to Kofi Kingston anyway.
Triple H, the single worst thing in the past 15 years of wrestling, made his return to the mic. Unfortunately he still inspires enough reverence from the crowd that a "You wet yourself!" chant didn't start up, so there was nothing of worth in the segment whatsoever.
Alberto Del Rio defeated Wade Barrett in only the show's second (or, viewed generously, third) proper wrestling match. So really, they weren't so old school as to include more than a handful of proper matches.
The scores of old wrestlers brought back up to this point were to varying levels of success, but I adore The New Age Outlaws. Seeing them defeat Primo and Epico got me thinking. A year ago that would have won them the Tag Team Championships. Why not have it happen now?
It was Mae Young's 90th birthday. I know, right? Only 90. This was used as an excuse to break kayfabe with pals Mark Henry, Great Khali and Ryback standing around singing Happy Birthday. CM Punk interrupting it with his entrance made me audibly laugh.
The Fatal 4-Way was a great match. I especially enjoy seeing Sheamus and The Big Show lock up, and everyone got some good moves in. Then of course, CM Punk and The Undertaker had a good old-fashioned staredown.
What can you say about Raw? Apart from that it was old school, obviously. I think things picked up from The Rock and Cena promo onwards, aside from Triple "damp" H's contribution. All the pieces are being put in place for WrestleMania. We can see what's coming from a mile off, but it can't really be done any other way.
I had a thought after a comment on last week's article, and it's the one thing that I think could rescue the Aces and Eights angle: if Bully Ray, a natural heel if ever there was one, turned heel and betrayed the Hogans and took the TNA Championship to the Aces and Eights. I think that could give the story a shot in the arm.
Impact kicked off with Austin Aries calling out Jeff Hardy and having a match with him. It was good action for the duration and a nice surprise, though I've noticed a trend in recent Hardy performances to play the SuperCena—getting beaten for much of it only to mount a quick comeback. Matt Morgan rushing in and booting Hardy was a surprise, and I'll be interested to see where that goes.
Wes Brisco came out with his hair looking awful to talk about Kurt Angle, and then they had a bit of a brawl. I have to say, based on this I was getting into the feud. Then D-Lo Brown was revealed as a member of Aces and Eights. D-Lo Brown, who we see very rarely and as a backstage character. Not exactly the impact you'd get with Bully Ray.
There would be three matches on Impact to determine who out of Team TNA and Team Aces and Eights would have the man advantage at Lockdown. I don't know what that means and it wasn't sufficiently explained, but we were assured that it's important. First up, Devon defeated Sting because a fan threw a drink in Sting's face and Devon threw Sting into the ring post. Sting bladed quite deeply, which is all the rage these days.
Gail Kim and Bad Influence vs. Velvet Sky, Chavo Guerrero and Hernandez is the kind of match that we're used to being ended quickly on recent Impacts, and pretty much just a way to give talent a showing on the show without doing anything significant with them. It was a pleasant surprise then that this match went on for longer than expected and exhibited some great wrestling, including some unique tag team moves.
Samoa Joe and Magnus defeated Garett Bischoff and Doc. Considering what an ostensibly threatening man Doc is, you'd think he'd be portrayed as a bit stronger. It was a great match ending at least.
The loser of last week's Gut Check match nevertheless won Gut Check. Perhaps they should call it Work Check. Sadly, she's not that comfortable on the mic.
The final, potential-laden match of Mr Anderson vs. James Storm was wasted as it ended after a distraction. The Aces and Eights have their Lockdown advantage then, at the cost of a decent match.
Face vs. Face for the first time in a steel cage doesn't feel right. A cage should be the outlet for high animosity. I'm nothing if not open minded, though, so Impact's closing promo was the last chance to convince me. It gave it the best it could, but I'm still not convinced.
What really grates is the storyline reason behind Bully's selection as contender, and I can't understand why they thought it was a good idea.
Impact's had some terrible shows recently, but this one was pretty decent. It felt a little quieter than the last show before a PPV ought to, but I appreciate the improvement.
I have to say, this week's "Tonight on SmackDown" recap and promo was surprisingly thrilling. The promise of a couple of good matches helps, of course.
SmackDown opened with Alberto Del Rio and Roberto Rodriguez doing a sketch imitating and mocking Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter. It was funnier in concept than in practice, but it was all right.
It's been a matter of ongoing observation for me as to which member of Team Hell No is the more protected—because when they inevitably fall out completely and drop the titles, there'll be two former world champions back in the fray. They came out together to Kane's music, so make of that what you will.
"We like to poke fun at 3MB, but they're very dangerous in the ring," said Michael Cole. When? Oddly, it took the Tag Team Champions far longer to put them away than it took Brodus Clay and Tensai on Raw. The closing reversal of a pin into the No Lock was great.
Ryback defeated Damien Sandow in a fairly good match (for a Ryback squash), with Brad Maddox providing some fun on commentary. I'm as hyped as anyone could be for Ryback vs. Mark Henry, though Ryback's the one who has the most reason to hate The Shield, so for him to be the one put into another storyline makes the least sense to me.
Alberto Del Rio vs. Dolph Ziggler paused for what felt like an hour for some unfunny shenanigans involving their relative stables on the outside. I suppose we've seen this match so often recently that they may as well try to add something different, but it was rubbish.
It's a credit to Del Rio and Ziggler then that, despite being sullied by that and the fact that we've seen the match so many times already, it became something great.
Sheamus and The Big Show are magic every time they lock up. I wasn't too bothered by the inevitability that was The Shield's interference, though it's maybe not a great sign that I'm resigned to the obvious.
SmackDown was a pretty sound show. It may not be earth-shattering stuff, but it's consistent every week and I appreciate that.
Last week's edition provoked some disgruntled comments from readers who were bothered by my professing to not care about various aspects of the week's wrestling shows. Doesn't that defeat the object of an opinion article? What's the point of reading someone not caring?
Well, as ever, I was surprised by what aspect people picked up on—as was the case when numerous people once took exception to a throwaway comment calling The Rock the worst professional wrestler ever.
Regular readers will hopefully be aware that indifference is not a natural state for me, and I do occasionally find it in myself to summon opinions stronger than "yeah, whatever." So why then? Why this disconnected apathy with many aspects of both the WWE and TNA recently?
A major aspect is the inevitability of the current situations. We're currently building up to WrestleMania, and we know what's going to happen. Triple H will face Brock Lesnar (and probably win), John Cena will face The Rock (and definitely win), for example.
The issue is that we've seen both already, and they were already as big, high-profile one-offs. It's also pretty obvious we could be seeing Antonio Cesaro vs. The Miz (which we've seen numerous times recently) and the latest minor variant on Three Superstars vs. The Shield.
It's not just the inevitability, though, it's the long wait before it finally comes about. There's seven weeks of Raw and SmackDown between Elimination Chamber and WrestleMania, and still three to go. With two of the most hyped angles being repeats, it's hard to kindle any interest.
But why passive uncaring and not active anger? Well, anger's really brought about when things could be different and fall short. Realistically though, things can't be different.
Once the dust settles on WrestleMania, we'll have a brighter future of unpredictability when the draws of The Rock, Triple H and Lesnar go away until the next time the WWE wants to milk some PPV buys out of Attitude Era nostalgics. It's at this point that there'll be real cause for joy or anger, and until then it's just something to ride out.
Not caring about what's going on in TNA stems from something else though. Last week (that is to say, Impact of Feb. 28) it was all so listless and out of steam, and so it had been for several Impacts before that. The Aces and Eights continued to drag on beyond the point of being interesting, and if it's not interesting, I therefore don't care.
Similarly, the Hulk Hogan/Brooke/Bully Ray storyline drags on. I've nothing against the idea of Bully Ray defeating Jeff Hardy for the TNA Championship, though this is the worst way of bringing the match about. And as with the gap before WrestleMania, TNA's new PPV schedule means there's been a long gap without much in the way of developments before finally getting to Lockdown.
Really though, not caring is even more damning than anger over something being bad. Actively disliking something for being bad necessarily means one is invested and interested in what happens. And, while I may not be uninvested in a long-term sense, for much of the shows last week's article covered, I couldn't summon any passion.
This week, though, (this week being the shows covered in this article, which is really now last week, but you catch my drift), there was a marked improvement all around. Maybe it'll last, and I hope it does. But as Pink Floyd didn't sing in "Breathe:" "Don't be afraid not to care."
Show of the Week: WWE SmackDown
It was close between Impact and SmackDown this week, with both being quite reasonable offerings, but I think SmackDown had a slight edge. The thing with SmackDown is, with it already being an hour shorter than Raw and an irritatingly high amount of it being given over to recapping the A show, it should be the easiest show to get right. There's less space to fill.
Whatever the reason though, the current formula for the show has been working well recently.
Match of the Week: Gail Kim and Bad Influence vs. Velvet Sky, Chavo Guerrero and Hernandez
There were a lot of good matches this week in terms of action, though frustratingly few with satisfying conclusions. I imagine most people will have preferred Raw's Fatal 4-Way, but I really enjoyed the unique action that this mixed tag match from Impact offered.
The Fatal 4-Way was a close second though, and a big part of the thrill in my view was seeing CM Punk, having been at the top for so long, back to going up against multiple competitors in this kind of match.
This article usually falls on one of the days of the weekend rather than Mondays, though it's not been an issue when I've published it on a Monday before. This week however, there's the TNA PPV that's just aired and hasn't featured in this recap.
In the UK where I live, it doesn't air until Wednesday—so even though some will have already seen it, I haven't. It'll be covered in next week's edition. So, until then, thank you for reading and I welcome and appreciate all comments.