Wrestlemania is but a few short days away, which means I can postpone my predictions no longer.  NAIpod this week will be a quick-fire predictions show, so rather than take up valuable airtime that could go to YOU, I’ll stick with the written word to get my guesses for Mania down.

Just to make things interesting, I’ll be selecting who I wish would win and who I predict will win, which are often two separate things.

Tag Title Match: Cesaro and Kidd vs. Uso’s vs. New Day vs. Los Matadores

I wish I could say that New Day had a real chance here.  I wish I could say that despite everyone hating on the bright blue colors and the abundance of energy, the WWE brass sees the potential in this group and wants to give them a shot.  However, I’ve been a wrestling fan long enough to know that even limitless potential, for some people, isn’t enough.

Now might be a good time to plug tomorrow’s “What If Wednesday”, where I look at perhaps the greatest example of wasted potential in the last decade of WWE, Shelton Benjamin

I predict that Cesaro and Kidd retain their titles, and frankly, I’m happy with that.  These two can be division savers if they have the backing to go with it, and right now, defending their titles on the pre-show is as close as we get to backing in the tag team ranks.

I also predict that this match will be one of the more talked about battles from Sunday - KiddAro and the Uso’s have come close to stealing the show before and if we’re adding four other talented individuals, why couldn’t this be a surprise favorite?

Intercontinental Title Ladder Match

I wish that R-Truth would win.  Last week during “Throwback Thursday” I reviewed PWI’s Year End Awards from 2002, and Ron Killings appeared multiple times.  This guy has been a novelty or comedy act for almost his entire career but has proven that when you give him the ball, he can run with it.  Why not let him shock the world, win the IC title and do something with it?

I predict that Ambrose wins, and honestly it’s the best story.  He’s been built as the guy to return prestige to the title, so let him do so.

I also predict that someone’s going to get seriously hurt during this match.  All 7 of these guys want to steal the show and will put their bodies on the line to do so.  The smart money is on Ziggler to do something insane that might also cause injury, but don’t count out Stardust either.

Seth Rollins vs. Randy Orton

First, I predict that this match happens early in the card, if only to keep speculation alive that Rollins could recover in time for a MITB cash-in.

I wish AND I predict that Seth Rollins wins, though I’m not sure it’s the clean victory it should be.  If WWE does something surprising (Why not have Sheamus become Rollins’ new muscle, freeing up Mercury and Noble to dominate the tag team division?  Only being slightly sarcastic there. . . ), I’m OK with a dirty win, but if its just Kane or Big Show interfering, I’ll forego my #PromotingPositivity and criticize them for lack of creative booking.

Andre the Giant Battle Royal

I wish that WWE would make this all about Sandow.  I don’t need him eliminating everyone else, but he should be more dominant than we’ve seen him in the past and shrug Miz off like an annoying gnat.  If WWE played their cards right, Sandow could be a legitimate WHC contender by year’s end - That’s how over he is.

I predict that this is the return, both in terms of appearance and of relevancy, of Sheamus.  He’s the last guy to come out, he takes all the dominance that Sandow should have and re-emerges as a viable contender.  Not sure how they turn him heel, though. . . Unless. . .

I also predict that Adrian Neville wins the NXT tournament and he and Sheamus are the last two members of the Battle Royal.  As much as I’d like it to be Miz and Sandow, I see that split happening earlier in the match - Sandow eliminates Miz who somehow cheats to get Mizdow tossed.

If Neville comes out, pops the crowd with his overall Neville-ness, then gets brutalized and tossed by a now-heel Sheamus, that sets up a lot of things.  Neville is immediately a relevant underdog, Sheamus is a bully and Miz and Mizdow settle their feud lower on the card.

John Cena vs. Rusev

Making match order predictions is hard because of all the top names.  Lesnar’s not going to go in the middle, but neither should Taker or Sting - This is really where Cena and Rusev belong.

I wish that Rusev would win handily.  There’s been discussion. . .Well, long before NAIpod. . .about when Cena would start “heading down the mountain”, and this is a prime moment.  Though so was last year. . .And probably at many points before that. . .  Rusev should pin Cena (no more passing out, that’s old already) and have his day in the Mania sun.  If they wanted to keep going to Extreme Rules and do some sort of submission match where Cena wins the US belt, fine.  Doesn’t need to happen at Mania.

I predict that #CenaWinsLOL.  How can you do anything else?  Cena is 7 for 9 in title matches at Mania, and on Sunday, he’ll be batting .800.

I also predict that many fans will treat this as the popcorn / bathroom break, if only because it’s halfway through the card.

Bray Wyatt vs. The Undertaker

This one is a tricky one to call, mainly because I want both men to win.  2015 HAS to be the year of Wyatt but at the same time, Undertaker has a lot to prove.  I wish this had the possibility of being some sort of non-finish, honestly.  If there were time limit draws in WWE, this would be a great place for one.

Really all that needs to happen is for Bray to. . . Forgive me. . . “look strong” and, ideally, for there to be some symbolic sign of respect between the two.  Having said that, I predict that Undertaker wins, but it takes a whole lot to put Bray down.  Just like when the American Bad Ass fought Jeff Hardy in a ladder match and shook his hand (I think) afterwards, Taker indicates somehow that Bray truly is the future.  That’s all we need.

I also predict that Mark Callaway walks into California with a GIGANTIC chip on his shoulder.  He may turn 50 today (happy birthday, Deadman!) but I expect to see someone moving around like someone 7/10 his age. . .

That means he’ll move like a 35 year old, for those playing at home.  Didn’t your teachers walk you through fractions?

AJ Lee and Paige vs. The Bellas

I wish this match had more of a chance of being anything but a filler.

I predict that’s not going to be the case.  8-10 minutes, tops, with entrances.  This will be a time for fans to reset between Taker and Sting.  That’s all.

I also predict that AJ and Paige win, though I really don’t pay enough attention to tell you why.

Sting vs. Triple H

I wasn’t a fan of Sting speaking before Mania, just like Jason Moltov.  Then I watched him on RAW and remember that he spent a good portion of his career, silent or audible, just dripping with charisma.  So now I’m OK with it, though the whirling baseball bat was a little odd.

I wish this match wasn’t so easy to predict.  I didn’t need to see Sting laid out by a sledgehammer or anything, but Triple H has done NOTHING in this “feud”.  Sure, I might be led to believe in some instances that this is a sign that HHH will do the impossible and achieve victory over The Vigilante, but let’s be serious.

I predict Sting wins, and I also predict it’s not that close.  Sting will be in good shape and the match will be of high quality, but I don’t think Sting overcomes 2-3 Pedigrees before winning.  It’ll be easier than that.

Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns for the WHC

I wish this match would have as much intrigue and excitement as the wrestling community (both IWC and NAI-WC) has given it these last few months.  I think I’ve seen just about every possible ending - Brock squashes, Roman squeaks one out, Roman dominates, here-a-swerve, there-a-swerve, everywhere-a-swerve-swerve.  Heyman’s with Reigns, Heyman’s with Rollins, I think I even saw somewhere that Heyman brings Raven out to wipe the floor with both of them. . .

Ok, I made that last one up.

Still, I think we’re giving this a lot more credit than it should get.  I predict that Brock wins, but not without a fight.  I don’t think the promos from Heyman would have been THAT true to life if Brock hadn’t decided to stick around a while longer.  Plus, its just too good of a deal for him to pass up.

I also predict that Reigns comes closer than any other man to beating the Beast.  Not my greatest “reach” of a prediction here, but it’s true.  Roman Reigns can ascend multiple steps on the WWE career ladder in a losing effort, and that’s what I think happens.

---

What do YOU think?  Am I right?  Wrong?  Completely insane?  Be Heard.

I may have discovered the secret to fully enjoying wrestling again. . .

Well, I can’t say that.  I didn’t discover it.  In fact, the idea has existed for ages.  It’s only been recently that we’ve lost it.

This morning I sat down and watched RAW. . . And did nothing else.

No Twitter.  No Facebook.  No email or other Internet distractions.  Just me, a looseleaf notebook and a pen.  It was a delightful time.

We’ve got a lot of hashtags going these days.  #GiveDivasAChance. . . #PromotingPositivity. . . #CallTheMatch  (This is the new one - More on it later.)  Perhaps, when the dust from Mania settles, we’ll come up with one about Social Media free wrestling.  Send your ideas to me in a self-addressed stamped envelope.

Let’s do a little running diary of last night’s show, now that I managed to find time to finish it.

Opening promos aren’t bad when the right guys are in the ring.

No Triple H. (in fact, was he on the show at all?  Crazy!)  No Stephanie.  No Cena.  Yeah, Big Show and Kane were there, but honestly, they weren’t that bad!  Everyone involved did well in this segment, though the two show-stealers were, as expected, the two most vertically challenged.

If not for Paul Heyman, J & J Security would be in the MVP conversation for WWE.

These two are tremendous.  I was an avid WWF watcher during the Attitude Era, and while I enjoyed Patterson and Brisco, these two have the comedy and the commitment down to a science.  Seriously, why have they not had a tag team title run?

That Daniel Bryan guy. . . He’s pretty good.

This was the first match I’ve seen since DB has been back that really caught my eye.  He seemed to be operating at a different level last night.  Maybe it was having a guy like Barrett to work against instead of Kane or Big Show all the time, but I dug his style.

It’s a shame he really looks like he’s heading for the ATG Battle Royal.

Transitions, transitions, transitions

One of the biggest takeaways from this entire show was how. . .Well. . .utter “NXT-ian” it was in terms of its transitions.  Matches flowed into each other, the combatants interacted during entrances and exits, and while no match was a 15 minute classic, they definitely seemed to fill their time with more action.  I know some people were complaining, but people are going to do that.  It’s the new hip thing to do to trash pro wrestling.  We’ve come a long way with #PromotingPositivity, but as we get closer to Mania, we need to kick it into another gear.

Speaking of hashtags - #CallTheMatch

As I was wrapping up the show an hour or so ago, I tweeted out that someone should sit down and watch a WWE show, keeping track of the number of moves they actually name.  Within minutes, two or three of my favorite NAIbors (and fellow amateur statisticians) had jumped on this idea.  I look forward to seeing the results, but we all know its going to be sad.

I don’t know when the job description of a wrestling announcer changed from talking about the action in the ring to talking about the stories that may or may not (usually not) involve the actual competitors on screen.  Perhaps it was when social media started to take over and WWE realized most people were looking at Twitter and not the television. . . It certainly had something to do with why JR is now hosting a podcast and not RAW.   But Michael Cole, Booker T and JBL aren’t doing what they should be doing.

Announcers should be calling the match - They should be indicating holds, moves, describing the in-ring action.  I should be informed that Daniel Bryan is targeting Bad News Barrett’s arm likely to wear him down for an eventual Yes Lock.   Let me know that when Luke Harper spins for his discus lariat, he is generating much more power and momentum through the move than he would be if he just stood still for it.

You can still tell the story in the ring while addressing the ones taking place outside of it - announcers were doing it for decades before WWE decided to flip the script.  It’s time for that to stop.

#CallTheMatch, people.

Most of the first hour of RAW was devoted to the IC title picture.

I know this series of storylines is starting to wear on people - I get it.  A Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler 20 minute classic would have made a lot of fans, including this one, very happy, but let’s look at the facts.  This is what the storyline leading up to the ladder match has done:

-R-Truth went from an afterthought to one of the most entertaining talents on the roster.

-Dean Ambrose has shown that he can lead a division if you let him.

-Stardust, even with the paint, is a midcard singles player to be reckoned with.

-Despite the losing streak, when Barrett retains the title at Mania (which I’m more and more convinced he will), he’ll have a ton of credibility from beating such “top” talents.

-The IC title matters.  If wrestlers are vying for it, that makes it more important, even if some of this is a little corny.

-Plus, look at the matches.  Bryan vs. Barrett, Ambrose vs. Stardust, Dean vs. BNB, Daniel vs. Harper - Some of the best wrestling in WWE is taking place over this title.

For a long time, we’ve talked about this “next tier” of talents, the one who will main event matches well into the next decade.  Well, this is them, folks, and while they’re not on top of the card, they’re not too far off.  Would we be seeing all this if Lesnar was on TV each week?  Doubt it.  That’s something to definitely be positive about.

The induction of Connor to the Hall of Fame shows that WWE is a classy organization.

Well done, WWE.  Wrestlemania might not have a lot of mainstream appeal with the card, but this gesture will get you some play in the media.

The Roman Reigns video featured more NXT hype than WWE has given them in weeks.

This is very sad.  I don’t know why WWE seems to be going out of its way to hide their diamond in the rough (perhaps because people would see its a diamond and skip the rough altogether?).  It’s not like NXT is a competing organization that is going to steal your money.  You’re all on the same team.   Do the Boston Red Sox try to keep fans from watching the Portland Sea Dogs?  Don’t you want your fans to be invested in the future?

Brock Lesnar is a special talent - even more so because he appears so rarely.

This goes along with my next point.

Wrestling is best when art imitates life.

Paul Heyman, he of the unbelievably good promos, outdid himself yet again, especially by mentioning all the rumors and speculation surrounding Lesnar’s eventual departure.  I imagine the Twitter-verse was exploding with glee during this speech, which is exactly what WWE should be hoping for.

Having Brock there is just icing… Crew-cut, muscled, smirky icing… on the proverbial cake.  He adds quite a bit to the overall flavor, but it’s still pretty damn good even when he’s not there.

Where would WWE be without Paul Heyman?

There’s your hypothetical question for the day.

Damien San / Miz / Wizdow is the master. . . and ruler. . .of the world.

Forgive me Sid for stealing your line there, but its true.  Seeing Miz and Wiz together was enjoyable for a moment, but I kept watching because I knew Sandow was going to do something, and he did not disappoint.  In fact, I would argue that he’s giving Heyman a run for his money as MVP.   It’s Heyman and Sandow battling for the top spot, with J&J Security holding firmly to third place.

If Curtis Axel is going to run with this Axelmania thing, Real American needs to be his theme.

Or some parody of it.  “I am a real Axel-ian.  Fight for the rights of Curtis Axel!”  . . . Ok, I’m not a songwriter, leave me alone!

Why did anyone think Axel was going to win the US belt?

My one time a column for self-horn-tooting, but I told you. . . I TOLD YOU. . .that this would be a squash.

WWE, when it wants to, can still spin a nice bit of booking.

The Rusev / Cena / Lana story was done very well here.  You see the first glimpses of potential strife with Lana and the Bulgarian, Cena got mean and nasty (and with Cena, anything different is good), Rusev looked mortal, Lana acted like a human.  This also leaves a door open for Lana’s eventual departure to go make a movie post-Mania.

I like New Day.  I can’t help it.

Even if Michael Cole can’t tell one member from another, I still think they’re entertaining.  I like the color, I like the enthusiasm, I like the talents of all 3 men, and mostly, I like how excellent this will all be when they turn heel this summer.

Bray Wyatt is. . . Damn, I need to rework my MVP ballot again.

If this was for 2015 only, Bray Wyatt would be fighting Heyman for the top spot.  Wyatt has been at his best since the Royal Rumble, and win or lose, this program is going to be what makes him the next main event star in WWE.

Last night proved that near-perfection is still possible.

If you have a problem with the Wyatt / Taker segment, you’re obviously just looking for nits to pick.  Bray was excellent, the effects were great, and just the presence. . . the aura of Undertaker was enough to take me back to my childhood.

I became that 11 year old kid who watched Taker get shoved into the casket by Yokozuna and his posse, cut a promo (seemingly) from inside the casket, then ascend through the not-yet-Titan tron and up to the heavens.  It was an amazing moment then, and it was an amazing moment last night.

In case you missed the moment from 21 years ago. . .

http://youtu.be/5WBA9Ol_16g

The problem with the PG era.

Orton gives the double bird, yet it isn’t shown on camera.  What was the point?  Did Orton do it himself, just to mess with people?  Were people supposed to just know what he did and be like “Oh no he didn’t!”

If you’re going to have Cena apply multiple STF’s to Rusev, basically performing an aggravated assault, can’t you show a middle finger for a few seconds?

Orton and Rollins are a great pair.

The chemistry is good.  In fact, outside of probably Trips himself, I don’t know if Orton works as well with anyone else as he does with Seth.  Certainly not with Cena.

These two were excellent all night long, and everyone seemed to enjoy Randy exacting his revenge.  My DVR decided to cut out before the RKO on the table, but I liked what I saw up to that point.

Though I do have to wonder why the rest of the Authority didn’t come out to the ring to save Rollins.

Could it be that HHH and Steph are losing faith in their golden boy?  Or am I just drinking the #ConspiracyKoolAid. . .

Ok, so maybe that’s not the best hashtag ever.

Overall, it was an excellent RAW, the kind you need to see before a Wrestlemania.

Don’t believe the haters, friends.  Sure, its not a perfect set-up, but nothing would be.  I’ve come to the realization that on Twitter, just like life, the whiners and complainers aren’t going anywhere.  Might as well get used to it.

Oh, and #CallTheMatch!

The best part of Monday Night RAW took place in the unlikeliest of settings - the opening segment.  Usually reserved for booking main events or “Weekly Authority Parade”, last night’s opener was about as unexpectedly un-WWE as possible, and the cause came from the most unbelievable of sources. . .  One Randall Keith Orton.

This is, if memory serves, the first time I’ll speak about Randy Orton for more than just a few sentences, mainly because over the last decade no single talent has irritated me more, both on a personal and professional level, than The Viper.  Be it the uber-frat boy looks or the seemingly pointless tattoos, the completely juvenile backstage antics or the reportedly disdainful ways he treats fans and the media, Orton has never done anything for me as a wrestler.  In fact, up until a few weeks ago, I never even gave him the credit he may have deserved for being such a naturally gifted in-ring talent - I couldn’t see past the person to appreciate the persona, as it were.

What changed, you may ask?  The introduction of Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose into the main event picture.  While I would normally fast-forward through any Authority promo or Orton match (for instance, I chose to ignore his entire mini-feud with Roman Reigns), with Seth and Dean in the mix, I suddenly had a reason to pay attention.  And I liked what I saw.

This Orton was different from the one I remembered.  This one seemed. . . grown up, even if he was involved in a “sibling rivalry” type feud with Rollins over who was the Authority’s golden boy.  Instead of being the young kid punting legends in order to make a name for himself, Randy now stood as the grizzled veteran, irritated at the new stud taking his spotlight.  But that wasn’t all that was different.   I couldn’t really put my finger on it until recently.  Somebody said something on Twitter that struck me.

Orton cared.
For the first time in a long time. . .Hell, maybe even for the first time EVER, I saw passion behind what Randy was doing.  And, as one of my previous lessons indicates, you can’t teach passion.

There was truth behind Randy’s words when he spoke out against Rollins.  When he teased giving Seth the RKO a few weeks back at the end of RAW, he really looked like he wanted to do it.  This wasn’t acting, or pretending, or following a script - Orton seems to genuinely have a problem with Rollins taking over his spot, and his performance has improved because of it.

You can see it in his mic work, you can see it in his ring work (which, I’ll admit, has always been solid, but you have to admit he’s taken it up a notch), but most importantly, you can see it in his interactions with the crowd.

Orton is the quintessential heel - everything about him has always screamed out for people to despise him.  He’d fit right in as the villain in a cheesy 80’s college movie.  Whenever Randy has played the face role, it has always felt forced, as if he can’t wait for this phase to be over and he can go back to being a prick.  But not now.  When he plays to the crowd now, you can tell he’s enjoying it.  He can get them in the palm of his hand, and unlike so many other times before, this time they’re loving the ride.

Again, Orton cares, and shockingly enough, the fans have noticed and responded positively.  Amazing how we can sense passion, isn’t it?

So let’s go back to Monday night’s opening.  The Authority’s music hits, and I immediately groan.  “How can they not be starting the show with Bray Wyatt or Ambrose?” I ask myself, “Why do these guys need to force themselves into being the main story?”  We hear from Stephanie McMahon and Triple H. . . We hear from a freshly-dyed Rollins. (I’m telling you, that hair looks awful.  It’s like Jeff Hardy after wearing his Willow get-up for 6 weeks straight.)  Honestly, if it hadn’t been for J&J Security, I might have stopped watching and just caught up with the MULTIPLE replays they inevitably show during the next three hours.

Then, here comes Orton, and he looks. . . Animalistic.  Seriously, I’ve never seen him so amped up.   He builds himself into a frenzy very quickly (perhaps a little too Ambrosian in nature, but you can’t blame him from using what is so obviously working), and within seconds is nearly apoplectic with rage.  Deep red face, pacing wildly. . . I loved it!   Once more, you could see the underlying truth there.  Rollins won, Orton lost and he is legitimately pissed about it.

Then, the coup de gras.  He attacks Rollins, they’re separated, Triple H looks to be calming down the Viper, and then...

Randy Orton delivers the RKO to Seth Rollins on Monday Night RAW  

A lot of people are wondering on Twitter when the “official” Orton face turn is going to happen.  I’d argue that it happened already over the last few weeks, but if you need a single catalyst for the change, that’s the one.  

In that one moment, he defied The Authority, he attacked the Golden Boy and he did what, at least in Triple H and Stephanie’s mind, was NOT best for business.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Randy Orton, one of the most popular stars in our sport…

(Sorry, I just can’t resist!)

Man, that came out of nowhere!

Ahhh. . .  Nothing like a random stomach virus mixed with a head cold, resulting in a 13 hour sleep session Friday night to totally screw up your grand blogging plans for the weekend.  However, we here at Number Two Contenders are not long swayed.  Fresh off our “restful” few days away from long-form wrestling writing, let’s ease back in with a new segment, in which we take a look at some of the major stories from this world we love so much and break them down in short, poorly thought out paragraphs.

But before we start, a “quick” aside. . .  As previously mentioned, I’m not just called The Teacher; I play one in real life.  In my class last week I was doing an activity with the youngsters I have been charged with educating.  In said activity, I wrote a paragraph with no capital letters or end punctuation on the board and they had to tell me where to put said grammatical notations.

So I wrote, I displayed, I read it to them, and yet they were finding it difficult to do as I had asked.  As I pondered why, a thought overtook me.

“I write ridiculously long sentences.”

Seriously, go look at that first paragraph I just wrote.  Three sentences, but two of them are mighty lengthy.  In fact, one might easily find a home inside a Faulkner novel.  (Note: I have no idea what Faulkner is credited with penning, except that he wrote very long sentences.)

Anyway, the next day I retaught the lesson with shorter sentences and lo, the children had a much easier time with their task.

Why do I mention this, dear readers?  Well, I’m curious if you have the same troubles or frustrations that my 7 year olds do.  Dost my sentences of depth dismay ye?  Let me know.

Alright, on to the rapid reflections. . . Hey, that’s a good title. . . I might stick with that.

The NXT Week: Thoughts on Thursday’s episode

Since I was in no real condition to react on Friday morning (unless you wanted deep insight as to the living conditions of my bathroom), we’ll keep this to one topic only, and it is thus.

Tyson Kidd is the most improved WWE talent in 2014.

We all knew Mr. Neidhart could go in the ring, there is no doubt.  It was the persona and the promo skills that were always Tyson’s downfall. . . Well, that and the potential “Calgary Curse” . . . (Seriously, how much bad luck can one family get?) Cut to last week’s episode and there is Tyson, easily the biggest heel in NXT (until Neville finally turns and takes that spot for himself).

I had once thought that there was no way Tyson would get another shot in the big-time of WWE.   Having seen him over the last few months, though, I have to believe he’ll get there, and probably sooner than later.

He has much better mic skills. . . FACT!

His heelish persona would fit right in among the IC and US title contenders. . . FACT!

He has a tagline now. . .One that could sell a lot of T-shirts. . . FACT!

We’re nearing the end of the year, so it is soon to be predictions season.  Here’s an early one for you.  Tyson Kidd wears WWE gold in 2015. . . Hopefully FACT!

Oh, and because no NXT review of mine is complete without it, Charlotte is the best women’s wrestler on the planet. . . FACT!

Hell’s Cells

If I haven’t blogged about it, I’ve certainly Tweeted it to death - I see no reason why there needs to be multiple Cell matches this Sunday.  It makes little sense to me.  Look, I KNOW the PPV is called HIAC.  I get that.  Doesn’t mean we need to turn this into Lockdown 2.0.  Do we have 2 Rumbles every January?  We do not.   It’s not necessary.

There’s just not enough creative things to do in a PG world inside a Cell, and yes, the more I think about it, the more I am sure I DID blog about this at some point.  So I’ll rest my case.  Cena and Orton could do just as well in a regular match, or with some other stipulation.

Speaking of John and Randy…

The Hate for CenOrton

From what I’ve seen, nobody is excited for this match on Sunday, and even fewer people want it to be the main event.  While I totally agree with that premise (Ambrose and Rollins have been building for months, Cena and Orton are just the guys left over), I’m not sure why people hate them so mu. . .

Actually, I am absolutely sure why, and I said as such to our good friends @NewAgeInsiders just today on the Twitter.   Cena and Orton have a curious irony of hate.

Orton is generally considered to be one of the better in-ring performers of his generation.

Cena is generally considered to be Mr. Five Moves of Doom.

Cena is generally considered to be a great person outside the ring - total humanitarian.

Orton is generally considered to be a great big prick outside the ring - total jackass.

So we dislike Orton the person and Cena the wrestler, while we enjoy Orton the competitor and Cena the man.

And everyone agrees that both characters are in need of some tweaking.  No denying that.

So I do understand why people are just tossing their hands up in frustrations at this match on Sunday.   Just remember a couple quick points.

  1. It’s not like these two are setting records for singles matches.  Each of the top feuds in history had similar timelines.  This is, if memory and Pro Fight DB serves, Cena and Orton’s 9th singles match at a PPV.  That puts them right in line with Undertaker vs. Kane or  Sting vs.  Flair, perhaps slightly ahead of Rock / Austin or Foley / HHH.  And remember, with the Attitude Era, you had a lot more depth.
  2. Like it or not, this is THE feud of the generation of wrestling we are currently watching.  Cena vs. Orton will, in time, be spoken in the same breath as some of the feuds I mentioned earlier.  These are THE guys of their time, even if it pains you to hear it.
  3. One reason why they are THE guys?  All the other guys are gone.  I don’t want to play another round of “Punk and Bryan screwed everything up”, although it is a favorite game of mine, but let’s not be blaming John and Randy for something out of their control.  When you’re given the ball, you run with it and you don’t ask questions.

A Bloody Shame

My apologies to UK fans who must hate every time someone Tweets or blogs about how awesome the Network is - you’ve been given an absolute horror show of treatment from WWE and it is my sincere hope that when the Network is available to you, they offer multiple ways of making up their shoddy excuse for customer service to you.  6 months of Free Network, Vince McMahon on your voicemail, a back massage from the Diva of your choice. . . Something!

A Punch to the Heart

I was sad to learn of the passing of Ox Baker, a guy who, if you’ve ever seen a picture of him in his heyday, was exactly what kids should imagine when picturing a wrestling villain.

To be honest, I’ve never seen a match of Ox’s, so why am I said about his death?  Well, outside the cliche answer of finding every life to be precious, 2 main reasons stick out.

  1. I’ve met Ox.  Well, at least, I’ve seen him a few times.  He lived in the same region of Connecticut that I did as a kid and so, at random events or around the town my aunt and Baker shared, I’d see him here or there.  This was the first wrestler I had ever laid eyes on in real life, and he sure lived up to the billing, even if he had pretty much retired by that point.  Huge guy, still had the outlandish facial hair, and on the rare times that he knew he was being recognized by a little kid with glasses, still could scare the bejesus out of you with a heel-ish scowl.
  2. Ox was, as the title of this section implies, a user of The Heart Punch as his finisher, which is a move I’ve always enjoyed.  You bend your opponent’s right arm behind his head, punch him once in the chest - seemingly temporarily stopping his heart, then pin him as he’s struggling to. . . you know. . . live.

As trendy as Baron Corbin’s finisher might be, how is The Heart Punch not a part of his repertoire?   Or, if Reigns comes back as a heel, which he should, why doesn’t that become his new “evil” version of the Superman punch?  He can even cock his wrist and everything!

Rest well, Ox Baker.  The epic PPV in the sky just booked another villain.

Ways to Join the Conversation 

Doc Manson: Glad to see you, Teach. I’ve asked you here today to discuss an ongoing problem in the WWE product. I’m not sure how to articulate this exactly, some people might say that some superstars, like John Cena or Randy Orton, are overexposed, but that’s not really the problem that I’ve having. I don’t really care if John Cena or Randy Orton are featured on television every week.

The issue is more that, by including this regular stable of recognized stars in the top-level feud, the upwards mobility of the mid-card talent is lessened. How can Cesaro or Ziggler go on to be main event players when they can’t even edge into the race for the heavyweight title?

The Teacher:  For the purposes of helping you articulate your point, one which I will freely admit to agreeing with on most levels, allow me to the play the Devil’s Advocate.

Isn’t it just Cena and Orton that you have problems with?  Are you against Kane getting a WHC push, even though it’s highly unlikely he’ll ever wind up with the strap?  Do you dislike Lesnar’s appearance last night on RAW?

DM: Honestly, no. Cena is a workhorse, and I appreciate his contributions to the program. Kane, well, the man is due for a lengthy title run. I’m even glad to see Lesnar back, this guy is a legitimate bad-ass that brings some serious credibility to whichever feud he is a part of.

Again, I don’t think the issue is that these are recognizable stars. I’m actually stand-offish about Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins at this point. It’s not that I don’t want to see these specific individuals succeed, I guess I’m just lamenting that storylines seem to be so predictable.

I don’t mean predictable on the short term, either. I got a lot wrong on the Battleground Predictions discussion we had. However, long term, we seem to know that Cena v. Lesnar is the feud right now. Smart money places Lesnar v. Reigns at Wrestlemania 31. Where does this leave Seth Rollins? Is he going to cash in on Lesnar? Seems unlikely. What about all the other guys waiting for their shot? If the Money in the Bank winner is being crowded out of the title picture for the next six months, where does this leave all the other guys that are ready to be elevated?

T:  Now I think we’ve stumbled onto the main problem.  We have a small top tier of wrestlers, as you just mentioned, and then we have a much larger second tier of talent who could easily make their way to the highest echelon if given the proper chance.  Yet there is only one Heavyweight title right now, and with the current state of the WWE, that’s not enough.

I’m a proponent of either doing another RAW / Smackdown brand extension or creating a new “company” entirely.  Call it ECW 3.0, call it NXT Plus, I don’t really care, but the only way you are going to maximize the potential of the talent in this company is if you have multiple titles for them to vie for.

DM: That’s certainly one solution, but honestly they ought to be able to do more with their talent on the existing television program. RAW is 3 hours long, and has a lot of replays and other filler. They have time to tell other stories or to feature other titles. Hell, just bring back a Television Title and call it a day.

T:  You have my undying support for the return of a TV title.  Truthfully, that is how the US or IC title should be used.  While I still support The Miz winning Sunday’s battle royal, I would also have had no qualms with them giving the belt to Cesaro and letting him have 15-20 minute matches with the likes of Ziggler, Kofi, Big E and Bray Wyatt for the next 3 months.

You’re right in that the only way to get this group of talent over is to give them screen time.  But, to pick up my Devil’s Advocate hat once more, what about the people who have bought into the Authority storylines?  Those who absolutely adore Roman Reigns and want to see him in 2-3 segments a night?  The ones who are glad we had more Diva action on RAW than I think we may have ever had in WWE history?  Do those people have to lose what might be attracting them on Monday Night’s just so we can see Zack Ryder featured for the first time in months?

DM: Something for everyone, no doubt. It’s not just a matter of screen time, but doing something meaningful with that time. Take Dean Ambrose for instance. Months ago he held the US Championship for months on end - a great move to really help solidify his status as Championship material, right? Wrong. He never defended that belt. The US Championship itself was devalued and weak at the end of Ambrose’s run.

There’s no reason why Roman Reigns can’t be featured in the main event. There’s no reason why the divas can’t have their segments too. They are finally using Paige, the Stephanie arrest was no doubt designed to tickle the fancy of viewers everywhere. Good things are happening, but still there is continual stagnation. Cesaro losing to Kofi multiple weeks in a row, never capitalizing on his association with Paul Heyman is but one example.

No one wanted to see Cesaro as a Heyman guy after Wrestlemania, and while I don’t begrudge them for telling their own story, where is the long term vision? They took a guy on the cusp and deflated his momentum. Now, they need to rebuild Cesaro instead of utilizing what they had built before.

T:  In truth, you just want Cesaro to have Roman Reign’s spot.

DM: Tell me right now what happens to Seth Rollins over the course of the Lesnar v. Reigns feud.

T:  I can’t.  But then again, I doubt the WWE writers can either.

There is a lack of long-term planning right now, and to be honest, I’m not quite sure that’s not Daniel Bryan and CM Punk’s fault.   Both of them were supposed to be leading the company right now.  When Punk and Bryan were around, Cena was doing what Cena should be doing at this point in his career; he was building up stars like Bray Wyatt.  Randy Orton was part of Evolution fighting with The Shield.

Then, Punk goes AWOL and Bryan gets hurt.  All of the long-term planning WWE might have done goes right out the window.  Suddenly, John Cena seems like the best option for the WWE title, and Roman Reigns is the homegrown star they can build as, excuse me Mr. Lesnar, but the Next Big Thing.   Would any of that have happened if Punk or Bryan were still around?  Not a chance.   The main event picture took a giant hit and they’re floundering around trying to put it back together.  I also imagine they are a little gun-shy on building long term around new talent, when who knows where they’ll be in a year.

DM: And that’s why we call you The Teacher. I feel like I was just taken back to school. You’re right, of course. This is the result of creative scrambling to restructure whatever long-term plans they previously had in place. As I sit here lamenting the fate of the mid-card, I should be taking solace in knowing that there is so much capable talent ready to take over should the need arise.

T:  That doesn’t mean there still can’t be improvements made in the overall product.  Last night’s RAW was the most enjoyable one I’ve seen since I resumed regular viewing and a lot of that had to do with the talent on screen.  Cesaro and Dean Ambrose was our main event match!  We didn’t need to see John Cena and the rest of the main event crowd for more than a minute or two at the end of the night; we knew what their stories were and what was going on, which let us sit back and enjoy actual wrestling.

So we’ve established that the next wave of WWE main event talent is ready and waiting, and it is the firm belief of the Number Two Contenders that they should be getting their chance to shine, ideally with one of the secondary belts being elevated to a higher standard.  Anything else you would recommend, Doc?

DM: Put some emphasis back on the titles. It lessens the need for strong supporting stories, because everyone understand the competitive aspects of sports entertainment. This has the benefit of freeing creative to cook up truly compelling stories that are NOT centered around the belts as well. That’s where the majority of attention needs to be focused, on those situations which don’t have the championship as a prop.

I’m a big proponent of the Jim Ross school of story-telling, I guess. There’s no reason to divorce sports entertainment from the sports aspects. Utilize time limits and count out finishes in smart ways.

T:  Would you be a fan of re-instituting a Top 10 rankings system for the title?

DM: Yes, and no. I do think that emphasizing the worth of the titles is smart, easy story-telling, but an overly complicated ranking system can get in the way of the dumb fun I’ve come to appreciate from professional wrestling. I’m all about the storylines, I don’t want those to go away or else I’d be watching Ring of Honor exclusively.

T:  Fair enough.  The folks on Twitter tend to agree with you.  Too much thinking during a wrestling program is generally seen as a bad idea.

Well, Doc, I don’t know if we necessarily solved anything here today, but I at least hope you feel better getting a chance to express your feelings.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from all this, is it “If you don’t like the WWE main event scene right now, blame Punk and Bryan?”

DM: Finally, a lesson we can all agree upon.

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