Sunday, September 14, 2008

Wrestling (F*** Sports Entertainment)

Back a few years ago I was an avid wrestling fan. I’m talking hardcore. I started watching in 2000, but quickly started to travel back through video tapes of the previous few years of WWE and WCW. The hero vs villain aspect of the shows definitely appealed to the superhero fan in me, and the characters and storylines definitely served to inspire my writing over the next few year, even through today. Mean Streets especially owes a lot to ECW from ’97 to about 2000.

I watched WWE with an almost religious fervor for the next few years, even tuning in for the B-shows like Heat and Velocity. My RAW fandom ended in late 2002, with Heat and Velocity to soon follow. I continued watching Smackdown regularly for a year or so past that, but after that my wrestling entertainment turned more to DVD collections and indy show DVDs.

Why did I stop? A lack of faith in wrestling in general, I suppose. I still followed the storylines through message boards and the like, but I stopped watching. The obsession with Shawn Michaels and Triple H on RAW and the general lack of push by WWE of Smackdown burned me out pretty quickly. Wrestling just didn’t hold interest for me when the storylines failed to end properly. When heel (bad guy) champions won cleanly week after week after week. Especially when one of those heel champions was clearly married to one of the controlling families.

Meanwhile another promotion finally started to come together, with the terrible name of TNA Wrestling. (It stands for Total Nonstop Action, but that is obviously not what most viewers would think without seeing the show.) Their rise can be directly attributed to WWE’s mismanagement of some of their midcard to top talents. The likes of first Rhino and Christian Cage, both of which were hugely over with fans but underused by WWE, and then later the arrival of main event talents either hurt by issues with the WWE’s new drug policy or by inproper usage as well. The arrival of Kurt Angle and later Booker T brought TNA to a whole other level. Meanwhile, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, and other Ring of Honor alumni electrified the TNA ring with moves unseen in WWE.

But that still didn’t draw my attention to TNA.

One of my favorite promotions of the last few years has been Shimmer Women Athletes. A talented indy female named Allison Danger teamed up with ROH talent/booker Dave Prazak teamed up to bring together a promotion that featured true women’s wrestling for the first time ever. No bikinis, no evening gowns, no mud, no T & A oriented crap. Just pure wrestling between incredibly talented women. WWE didn’t seem to notice. (They hired a trio of Shimmer talents, only to fire all but one before they debuted on television. Only Beth Phoenix survived the culling.)

It took a few months, but as TNA formed its Knockout division, they quite obviously took Shimmer as their model. With Gail Kim as their lead talent they pulled in Shimmer Athletes Cheerleader Melissa, Talia, Nikki Roxx, Shantelle Taylor, Angel Williams, ODB, Rain, and most importantly the 270+ pound monster known as Awesome Kong. Most gained new identities, but it didn’t matter. These ladies knew how to fight.

Instantly mainstream wrestling regained my interest. And through those Knockouts I began to appreciate the TNA product more and more. It has its flaws in some places, but considering Vince Russo’s hand in the show, it is a thoroughly amazing two hours of television.

Meanwhile a WWE struck again and again by violations of is wellness policy has realized that their focus on over-steroided freaks would continue to lead to negative media attention. Suddenly we had a push for younger, smaller stars. The sudden rise in the last couple months of CM PUnk, Kofi Kingston, Evan Bourne, and The Brian Kendrick drew me back to WWE as well.

Suddenly it feels like 1997 again. Wrestling is becoming something amazing again with a push of talent that actually can bring it week in and week out in the ring. So I’m going to be the first to call it. We are on the advent of a true wrestling renaissance. Get watching or you might just miss it.

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