OK, folks, since most of you are still raging, let's use this as a place to get our thoughts and feelings out.

Overall, I thought the Rumble PPV was . . . just about "good".  Not totally good, nowhere near great, but not as bad as many of you seem to believe, which, I might add, is totally your opinion.

The pre-show match was tremendous.  Cesaro and Kidd really need to be the next contenders to the tag team titles.  Solid back and forth match, unexpected victory for the heels, and those Brass Ring Club shirts were hilarious.  I wonder if they were something those guys "snuck" in, considering Adam Rose had a different shirt on for his Rumble appearance.

New Age Outlaws vs. Ascension was fine.  Billy Gunn looks to me like he could still have a 2-3 month run as IC champ, the Road Dogg really needs some sort of on camera role with WWE or WWE Network, and The Ascension went over.  Again, didn't expect that.  I know it's really how it should have happened, but I was surprised.

I still don't think Konnor and Viktor are any stronger for beating an old retired tag team, but at least they might be moving forward.  If this is the start of a "legend killer" tag storyline, I'm OK with it.

Usos vs. Miz and Mizdow was disappointing.  I really think WWE is running the risk of ruining the Sandow momentum by keeping him away from in-ring action.  There's a fine line between making fans salivate to see you and making them aggravated.  Shockingly, aggravation was a theme of last night's action.

The Diva's Tag Match was. . . . Not something I watched.  Having two matches where one person isn't tagged in doesn't make a lot of sense.  I expected Paige to attack Natalya after the match.  I have no idea what they're doing with the Divas division.

Lesnar vs. Rollins vs. Cena was as good a title match as I've seen in a long, long time.  Seriously, its going to be MOTY candidate at the end of this year.  Lesnar was even more dominant than he was at Summer Slam (in addition, he just looked healthier), Cena did his part as well as you can expect, and Rollins. . .

Seth Rollins is THE MAN in WWE right now, no matter who might have been standing tall at the end of last night.  He had an all-time moment with that dive onto Lesnar, broke out a Phoenix splash just for fun-sies, it seemed, and just generally looked like the best wrestler in the world.

Last night was the moment I officially became a HUGE Rollins fan.  Cash in at Mania, Seth.  Make things right.

As for The Royal Rumble. . . Might be easier to take this a piece at a time.

- Bubba Ray was a great way to spark the crowd.  Using R-Truth as a pseudo- D-Von wasn't necessary.  Dudley getting eliminated rather quickly wasn't necessary either.   This proves to me that this was just to pop the crowd, and Bubba won't be back full time.

- Luke Harper should have been in the Rumble longer.  He had a fun moment with Bubba, and if I'm not mistaken, we're heading towards a Wyatt Triple Threat at Wrestlemania, which I'm not at all opposed with.

- Bray Wyatt was a BEAST.  I don't care that it was mainly lower card guys, he was awesome.  This was the high point of my Rumble.  I really want 2015 to be the year of Bray Wyatt.

-  The Boogeyman. . . Meh.

- I like that Zack Ryder had a little bit of offense.  That's as optimistic as I have been on him in quite some time.

- Daniel Bryan. . . I honestly don't mind that he didn't make it to the Final Four.  I would have liked it (especially since I predicted him to win the whole thing), but the fact that he didn't make it is fine by me.  The crowd in Philly obviously disagreed.

I really think that if they had let Bryan last to the Final Four, then get eliminated, they wouldn't have been so upset.  They made him seem like an afterthought, which makes me worry that this is truly what WWE thinks of him.

Daniel Bryan vs. Fandango?  Could happen.

- I posted this on Twitter earlier, but it bears repeating.  Jack Swagger, Big E and Stardust all had longer Rumble matches than Daniel Bryan.  Scary.

- There's not a whole lot more I really want to say about the Rumble, except for this.

I totally talked myself into a Kane winning storyline.  He turns on the Authority, becomes the demon once again, and sets out to avenge his brother at Mania.  Could even put his career on the line.

Lesnar "retires" Taker one year and Kane the next?  Awesome.

- Overall, the Rumble match was a disappointment, if only because by the time we got to the Final Four it was fait accompli who was going to win.

Plus, The Rock had to help.  How does that make Reigns look strong for Mania?

And what was Triple H and Steph doing out there?  What was that rationale?

A confusing end to what was otherwise a fairly quality show.

OK, your turn.  What'dya think?

Historical Context

When WWE acquired both ECW and WCW in the early 2000’s, they were flush with talent from all 3 of the major companies, though in some cases, “talent” is a word I use relatively loosely.  As time went on, the invasion angle faded away and only a handful of stars from Atlanta or Philadelphia remained, having been fully incorporated into WWE storylines.
No Way Out 2003 was the table-setter leading up to Wrestlemania XIX, famous for McMahon vs. Hogan and infamous for the botched shooting star press from Brock Lesnar.

Rather than give you the traditional 5 lessons today, we will instead focus on a single one from this era, using No Way Out 2003 as an example.

Lesson: The Post-Invasion WWE had the greatest collection of wrestling talent ever.


To start, I will just give you a list of the superstars who wrestled on this single card, in order of appearance. Note:  There are two competitors we will not discuss.  One is Eric Bischoff, since he is not an actual wrestler.  The other is Scott Steiner, since Big Poppa Pump deserves his own individual lesson.  I’m waiting for a specific PPV moment to give it, and if you watched WWE in this era then you are well aware of which moment I’m referring to.

Chris Jericho.  Jeff Hardy. Rob Van Dam.  Kane.  Lance Storm.  William Regal.  Billy Kidman.  Matt Hardy.  The Undertaker.  Big Show.  Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin.  Kurt Angle.  Brock Lesnar.  Chris Benoit.  Triple H.  Stone Cold Steve Austin.  The Rock.  Hulk Hogan.  Also featured on the card but not wrestling are Edge, Christian, Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair, Randy Orton and Batista.

Again, I must reiterate that those are the wrestlers from a single WWE PPV card.  If you were to poll the average WWE fan and asked for the 10 best wrestlers of the last decade, likely the vast majority of those names would be on the list I just gave you.

Let me go further.  If you asked the average fan for the 10 best wrestlers in history, I’d expect the vast majority of the names you received would be on the list I just gave you.

If we could fast forward to the year 2024, I’ll venture that at least 80% of the roster for No Way Out 2003 will be members of the WWE Hall of Fame.  (The only ones likely not HoF bound are Kidman, Lance Storm, Haas and Benjamin and Chris Benoit, though if time causes us to separate the wrestler from the man, The Crippler would be in as well.)

Take a look at that list again.  Look at the sheer wrestling talent that was on that card.  You can count on a good-to-great match from just about anyone, and a show-stopping match from most.  In our previous two lessons, we’ve dealt with The Colossal Kongs, The Equalizer and Butterbean.  Nowhere to be seen on No Way Out.

So how did this happen?  

Part of it is just sheer luck, of course.  We were all blessed to witness such an amazing depth of talent performing at high levels at the same time.  We must also thank the worst actual ‘wrestler’ on the No Way Out card not named Scott Steiner; Hulk Hogan.  Had it not been for Hogan helping to make professional wrestling a world-wide phenomenon in the 80’s, the generation of superstars that were in their prime in 2003 may have chosen other athletic pursuits.

To get to the larger answers, however, we must use our historical eye.  The first, of course, is ECW.  Paul Heyman, as we all saw Monday night on RAW, is a creative genius. When he took over the former Eastern Championship Wrestling and decided to go Extreme in the early 90’s, he knew that he was going to have to find the best talent in the world in order to even have a shot at competing with the WWF and WCW.  It was Heyman who introduced the luchadors to “major” American wrestling, and Paul also was the first to give guys like Benoit, Storm and Jericho a chance to shine.

With the birth of the Monday Night Wars in the middle of that decade, the “big two” promotions also needed to step up their game.  Not only were they focused on pushing the envelope with “real” characters and the era of Attitude, which gave us Austin, The Rock as well as renewed interest in “Hollywood” Hogan, but they also needed to find the best wrestlers. (Though that often meant pulling out their wallets and luring ECW talent away from Philadelphia.)

When WWE won the war, taking over ECW and WCW, they were able to pick out the best of the best talent from ECW and WCW, adding them to the elite group of guys from WWE, and voila!: You have the greatest roster of wrestlers ever assembled.  The Avengers of wrestling, if you will.

So what?

Well, first of all, if you’re a fan of wrestling history (which I would assume you are if you read Lessons from the Network), or if you just appreciate a good wrestling match, you should be chomping at the bit to see not only No Way Out, but as much programming as possible from this era.  For example, if you have never seen a Chris Benoit / Kurt Angle match, consider that a mandatory homework assignment.

Second, we’ll likely never see a collection of talent like that again.  Without the competition aspect, WWE has no reason to scour the globe or the independent scene looking for the best and the brightest, though they still do from time to time.  Instead, they seem to be more interested in growing their own superstars from within.  Don’t get me wrong; I applaud everything they are doing with their developmental system, but there’s no way NXT or an odd WWE international tour can replace the years of world-traveling experience many of the elite 2003 wrestlers had, wrestling for a variety of companies and learning myriad styles and techniques.

I don’t impart this lesson to cause you to lose hope.  In fact, I actually think we might be on the cusp of something very special.  We might not ever see a PPV filled with eventual Hall of Famers again, but we are seeing an influx of pure wrestling talent that we may not have seen since the beginning of this century.

Cesaro.  Ambrose.  Rollins.  Ziggler.  Del Rio. Brock Lesnar.  Kofi.  Rusev.  Luke Harper.  Even, dare I say it, Fandango.  (Said it before on Twitter, but its worth repeating; we need to get #FreeJohnnyCurtis trending. )

Add to that guys like Sami Zayn, Adrian Neville and Kalisto from NXT, plus the signing of international stars like KENTA and Prince Devitt, and suddenly we’ve got over a dozen guys who can be counted on for an excellent wrestling match week after week, and that’s something to be excited about.

So go back and enjoy some of the best wrestling WWE has ever had to offer with PPV’s like No Way Out 2003.  Don’t be surprised, however, if the superstars of 2014-2015 give them a run for their money.

Class dismissed.

Historical Context


When I began watching wrestling in the early 1990’s, there were four WWF Pay-Per-Views a year; Wrestlemania, SummerSlam, Survivor Series and Royal Rumble.  That’s it.  Now to some new wrestling fans that might seem insane.  To some, it might border on sacrilege.  To others, it might seem like a very good idea, considering the Battleground hate I’ve read on Twitter this last week, but I’ll save that for a separate column.

In 1993, Vince McMahon expanded by adding King of the Ring, the 5th “major”, as it were.  In the years that followed, whether it was in response to the growing popularity of the competition in WCW or just as an experiment to try to earn more money, Vince added “In Your House”.  Originally designed as a shorter, cheaper PPV, the In Your House series would be the ‘minor’ spectacles to fill the monthly gaps between larger events.

For our next Lessons from the Network, we take a trip to the IYH event from December of 1997.  WCW has taken over the lead in the Monday Night Wars, and at this point, WWE is on the ropes.  This is also the first PPV after Survivor Series ‘97, also known as the Montreal Screwjob.  On the cusp of the Attitude Era, we now sit under the learning tree known as Degeneration X: In Your House.

Lesson 1:  Proper planning prevents poor performance.

Unfortunately, this lesson is learned by what the then-WWF DIDN’T do, as In Your House is a very thrown together event filled with various forms of killing time to try to fill three hours.  Almost every talent on the card has an interview segment, matches that would barely make the pre-show of any real PPV get 10+ minutes, and there are a lot of crowd shots and announcer back-and-forth.

Just before the Tag Team title match (Legion of Doom vs. Road Dogg and Billy Gunn), Road Dogg is blatantly stalling for time, though at least he does so in an entertaining way, but more on that later.  Also, Jeff Jarrett faces The Undertaker in a match that has no other purpose than to waste multiple minutes before Kane makes his entrance.  (Historical note: Kane had recently made his debut and was trying to goad ‘Taker into a fight, which wouldn’t happen until ‘Mania the following spring.)

To completely illustrate the lesson, at least 5 minutes of screen time is filled by Goldust (clad in pink spandex, barefoot and on a leash held by Luna Vachon) reading from Green Eggs and Ham.  Did this do anything other than to fill airtime?  I can’t honestly imagine so.

Which brings us, oddly enough, to Lesson #2:

Lesson #2: Goldust is a Hall of Famer.

I know that seems a. . . excuse me, but bizarre thing to say considering the shell of a man we see on this PPV, but I mean it.  Dustin Runnels was on the card for our first Lesson from the Network (Battlebowl 1993), he is part (in his own way) of IYH, and he was on RAW this past week.  That’s over a 20 year career, and there is absolutely no argument that the Goldust of 2014 is in the best physical condition of likely any point in said career.

Not only counting the historic lineage of the Rhodes’ family, but Goldust absolutely changed the wrestling world when he made his debut in the mid-90’s.  There had been unusual characters who had tiptoed on the feminine side before (Adrian Adonis comes to mind), but Goldust blatantly and feverishly crossed the line as often as possible.   In an age where homosexuality was not nearly as publicly acceptable as it is today, he pushed the envelope big-time.

While he had his own demons to fight (and the character of Seven to answer for), Dustin turned his life around and is now both an active wrestler and backstage presence in WWE.  Looking at his career in its entirety, he has to be inducted into the Hall of Fame someday, though I doubt his appearance on this particular card is one that will be included in his promo package.

Lesson #3: Don’t judge a book by its cover. 

Obviously, Goldust would be one example of this, though I am specifically referring to two talents on the card who, if you took them at face value, wouldn’t seem to be that impressive, but showed surprising amounts of talent and toughness.

The first is one of the members of Los Boricuas, the Puerto Rican gang led by Savio Vega who battled with the Nation of Domination and the Disciples of Apocalypse.  While I like Savio (and expect we’ll have an entire lesson or two about the Kwang character at some point), I’m actually referring to his comrade Miguel for this lesson.

Miguel is. . . how shall I put this delicately. . . He’s the hairy one.  The “Shave your Back” chants you hear at IYH?   Those are for him.  He does not look like your modern day vision of a wrestler, and one would expect him to be a brawler through and through.  That’s before Miguel pulls off an incredibly impressive standing moonsault that was nowhere in the vicinity of anything I had seen coming.  He also, at the end of the match, does a rather nice somersault leg drop.   I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw with Miguel, which is good, because the rest of the match was terrible.

Our second example of not judging a book by its cover is Sgt. Slaughter.  Now, I’m not denying his earlier successes; the man was WWE champion at a point when he was arguably already past his prime.  I’ll also go on record and profess my love for the Cobra Clutch, as my cousins and childhood friends can attest, though I’m sure they would have preferred I learn how to do it right first.

The reason I bring up the Sarge is that in 1997, he is 49 years old and wrestles in a Boot Camp match with Triple H, back before HHH was a member of The Authority and back when he had incredibly silky hair.  As with Miguel, one would expect this match to be a slow-paced brawl, and while that’s a lot of what happened, at one point, HHH whips Slaughter into the turnbuckle, who launches himself into the air, over the buckle and down to the arena floor.  Again, let me point out that he is 49 years old.

A few minutes later, he takes another bump over the top rope.  Now I’m not shocking the world here when I say that former members of the military are tough, but you have to be impressed by the commitment Slaughter gave to this match.  He hadn’t been an active wrestler in years, but Sarge took some risks that many everyday competitors would hesitate at.  Didn’t see that coming.

Speaking of things you didn’t see coming...

 

Lesson #4:  The WWE Network, and hindsight in general, requires perspective.

The second to last match of the night features blossoming Nation of Domination member Rocky Maivia, who is trying to get a new name to catch on. . . I think it was “The Rock” or something. . . battling Intercontinental champion “Stunning” Steve Austin. . . No wait, that’s “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.   Now this match,up until this point on the PPV had not been mentioned once.

Think about that for a second.  The Rock and Steve Austin.  Two wrestlers who headlined 3 Wrestlemania’s battling each other and countless more in their own matches.  The two men who arguably stole the show at Wrestlemania XXX by taking turns making fun of Hulk Hogan for not knowing where he was.  Easily two of the most successful professional wrestlers in the history of the world… And their match is almost a throw-in at Degeneration X: In Your House.  When I saw that, I was flummoxed.  I couldn’t understand why this match wasn't the most hyped one of the evening, especially considering that the main event was Shawn Michaels defending his title against Ken Shamrock, of all people. As the lesson states, however, you need perspective.

In December of 1997, Austin and Rocky weren’t crazy huge stars yet.  Austin had his 3:16 moment the year before, but remember that the evil Mr. McMahon character comes as a direct result of the Montreal Screwjob, which had only recently just happened, and Austin needs McMahon in order to become uber-famous.  As for Maivia, he was still trying to fix his hair and get his catch phrases down.  So while the unheralded match might seem absolutely insane to the 2014 viewer, we need to treat the WWE Network with the right amount of historical perspective in order to fully appreciate its lessons, because. . .

Lesson #5: The WWE Network is a great teacher.

If you are a true fan of wrestling, the Network is a must-have.  Watching this single card gives you an incredible appreciation for the evolution of talent, character building and the WWE as a whole.

Example 1:  Watching Slaughter’s entrance, I said to myself, “Self, why is he entering to Kurt Angle’s music?”  Now, of course, Angle hadn’t made his debut yet, so technically all this time, Angle was using Slaughter’s music, which was very cool to learn.

Example 2:  If you’re like me ( a super wrestling nerd), you love seeing the history of wrestling moves.  The first match of the night was Taka Michinoku vs. Brian Christopher in the finals of the Light Heavyweight title tournament.  At one point, Christopher uses the leaping legdrop, then known as the Rocker Dropper.  Marty Jannetty used it, Christopher used it, Billy Gunn would ‘fame-ass”-ly use it, and now Dolph Ziggler uses it.  Heck, even John Cena uses it, though to his credit, he does it from the top rope.

Christopher then uses a full nelson face plant, which became known as “The Stroke” when Jeff Jarrett had it as his finisher, and was the “Skull-Crushing Finale” when Miz had it.

(Note:  I understand many of you are, in fact, not like me, so these little bits of trivia aren’t as exciting to you.  However, since this is my column, I’m sharing the dorky.)

Example 3:  The catch phrases.  I mentioned Road Dogg and Billy Gunn before, and some may have noticed that I didn’t call them the New Age Outlaws.  That’s because at this point, they weren’t the Outlaws yet; in fact, they had just begun to team up.  Watching IYH, you can see Road Dogg working on his entrance hype.  It’s not anywhere near DX quality yet, but the seeds are there.  The Rock does his “Finally” line, kind of, and also does the People’s Elbow, though it wasn’t a named signature move yet.

The WWE Network allows us to watch, sometimes week to week, and learn how these supremely talented individuals tweaked, fine-tuned and finessed all the facets of their personas, making them into the successes (or in some cases, the failures) we know them as today, and there’s no better lesson than that.

In Your House as a whole was not the best PPV chain in history, and soon after this card, WWE moved on to individually naming their events.  However, the lessons learned here will serve us well as we continue our exploration of the wonders of the WWE Network.

Class dismissed.

Contrary to the opinion of my fellow number 2 contender, The Teacher, I don’t like Bo Dallas.

I don’t like Bo Dallas, and not in the way that I’m supposed to not like Bo Dallas.

I get it, I get the gimmick; Bo Dallas is the antithesis of what wrestling fans like. The attention to detail is there, from the smarmy look, the too-toothy grin, the constant state of wet – everything on this guy is hosed down before he heads to the ring, from hair to shirt. Someone probably should have told Bo that being constantly wet was the Shield’s gimmick, but with that group disbanded I guess the theft is acceptable.

So, Bo Dallas plays the character well. For me, the Bo Dallas character works best when he is oblivious of the hate coming from the audience and the other performers. For me, the illusion breaks when Bo does something heelish in a clearly premeditated manner, like his attacks on El Torito. If Bo really is a bad dude under the exterior, then the character is a façade and the cracks are showing. I was a bigger fan of his match against Damien Sandow on RAW this past Monday night. Sandow gave Bo a proverbial shellacking prior to the match, and I was entertained by the way Bo kept shaking his head, as if to say, “Oh, Damien, you kidder!”

The greater problem here is two-fold: One; The best characters are often those in which the performer sees some reflection of themselves.  The most successful characters, like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, CM Punk, or, dare I say it, Brock Lesnar, all have some foundation in reality. This is a problem for Bo Dallas; no one in this world acts like Bo Dallas’ acts. He’s a cartoon character. Cartoon characters have worked in the past, but that was a different era. Hulk Hogan or Ultimate Warrior, Bo Dallas is not.

Two; Where does this gimmick go? As a quirky comedy act, the Bo Dallas character has the potential to languish in the mid-card forever. Once his undefeated streak ends, where does Bo end up? This Bo Dallas could eventually hold the Intercontinental or U.S. Championship, but that day isn’t soon as he still hasn’t been tested against anyone in the running for either of those titles. What about the day when he drops that hypothetical mid-card title? As is, this character never climbs the card to compete for the world heavyweight championship. More likely, he ends up as enhancement talent.

The silver lining here? Bo Dallas, the performer, is talented. I think the current character does a lot to obscure how green he is on the microphone, but that is a skill that will continue to develop over time. His in-ring work is decidedly solid, even at this early stage. Moreover, I can see the WWE tweaking his character on a weekly basis. The matchup against Damien Sandow this week is proof that they are not wed to the idea of Bo Dallas as a heel. The character is not stagnant, and they are continuing to evolve the concept.

Give it six months. Does Bo fizzle out, or does he evolve into something greater than the character they are offering us now? Time will tell the story of Bo Dallas.

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