Friday, March 4, 2016

Pro Wrestling: A Mark's History, part 27 (An-gle! An-gle! An-gle! An-gle!)

Early 2006 saw a couple big shakeups in WWE.  World Champion Dave Batista went down with a torn tricep, forcing him to vacate the Title, and the company held a Battle Royal on Smackdown to determine the new Champ.  In general I find Battle Royals a pretty lame way to fill a Title vacancy but on this occasion I was thrilled to see Kurt Angle jump to Smackdown and claim the Big Gold Belt.  Immediately the SD Title picture became intriguing, until I realized they were proceeding with their original plan of Mark Henry being the top challenger.  Batista vs. Henry was yet another Hogan vs. SuperHeavyweight Heel-type matchup, but Angle and Henry had no chemistry together and their resulting match at the Royal Rumble was a big ol' stinker.

The other shakeup that month was John Cena losing the WWE Title to brand new main eventer Edge, after the latter became the first man to cash in Money in the Bank.  Now, when this concept was invented in 2005 everyone assumed the man holding the briefcase would simply come out on RAW, announce he was challenging for the Title at the next PPV, and there would be your next main event feud.  Instead though, in a stroke of genius rare for this era, Edge waited until after Cena had just won an Elimination Chamber match and cashed in the briefcase then, leaving Cena easy prey.  This fit Edge's "ultimate opportunist" character perfectly, and I was over the moon for a lengthy Honky Tonk Man-esque Title run for Mr. Copeland.  But once again prior plans got in the way.  WWE had long ago penciled in Cena vs. Triple H as the main event of WrestleMania 22, and by God that's what we were gonna get.  Edge was treated as a totally undeserving transitional Champ, and dropped the Title after only three weeks.  Fucking yawn....

This was all kinds of awesome

The 2006 Rumble PPV was pretty goddamn awful, featuring two phoned-in Title matches, both of which took place AFTER the Rumble itself.  The Rumble was of course won by the diminutive Rey Mysterio, who turned in a fantastic record-breaking performance (his 62:12 ring time still holds today).  Unfortunately WWE saddled him with a horribly tasteless "I'm doing this for Eddie" theme, and implied that every stroke of luck Mysterio had on his way to WrestleMania was through Guerrero's mischievous, beyond-the-grave intervention.  I was however psyched that the 'Mania World Title match would pit Angle vs. Mysterio.

But wait, WWE had to ruin that too, by shoehorning Randy Orton into the fold.  After beating Rey Mysterio for his World Title shot at No Way Out (in what was, to be fair, a pretty great little match), Rey was only reinserted after Smackdown GM Teddy Long felt bad for him.  Yeah, there's a great way to get your underdog hero over; he loses his Title shot but gets it back anyway out of pity.  No Way Out also featured a stellar Angle vs. Undertaker main event, that outclassed everything at WrestleMania.

WrestleMania 22 was on paper a cobbled-together mess, with almost nothing that excited me.  Aside from Angle vs. Rey vs. Orton, which got criminally shortchanged at 9 minutes (I'm still baffled by this horseshit), and the remote possibility that Edge and Mick Foley might have a solid outing (which turned out to be an early MOTY candidate - goddamn that match was brutal), I found very little to look forward to about this show.  In reality though it was most certainly watchable, and the Cena vs. Triple H main event was fascinating if underwhelming, due to the rabid Chicago crowd being split down the middle.  Cena had been getting some audible boos for several months, both against Chris Jericho and against Kurt Angle, but 'Mania 22 was on another level.  Easily half that crowd HATED John Cena, and it led to some of the earliest "Let's go Cena," "Cena sucks" chants I can remember.  As it turned out Edge was the only top heel in 2006 able to keep the live crowds in Cena's corner, which in hindsight was quite an accomplishment.

This could've been all kinds of awesome but they fucked it up

By early 2006 I'd already begun losing interest in TNA due to their increasingly frequent practice of sacrificing homegrown stars to whatever WWE/WCW castoffs they could sign (plus co-owner Jeff Jarrett, who'd become TNA's answer to Triple H).  The first of these was Christian (Cage), who to be fair did deserve a main event push, but TNA hotshotted the crap out of it, putting their World Title on him within a few months of his debut.  Meanwhile the undefeated Samoa Joe saw his push cool significantly as he dropped the X-Division Title in a three-way without being pinned.  AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels, the other two cornerstones, were also de-emphasized later in the year as a tag team.  So I more or less tuned out of TNA programming till late in the year.  More on that in a bit.

WWE's big angle over the summer was the relaunch of ECW.  The previous year you'll recall they put on a special One Night Stand PPV, featuring several past ECW stars and even a few current WWE guys who used to frequent Paul Heyman's company.  The show was met with universal praise (I frankly thought it was vastly overrated, but whatever), and so they did another one in 2006.  On the plus side, the '06 version was far superior to its predecessor.  On the minus side, they used the show as a springboard to create an ECW spinoff show on the Syfy Network (because when I think "ECW" I think "spaceships whizzing about the galaxy and three-headed aliens").  The big ECW-themed episode of RAW featured multiple WWE stars turning on their company and joining Paul Heyman's side.  This new ECW would include such "hardcore" legends as The Big Show, Kurt Angle, Mike Knox, and of course the first wrestler to appear on the new show, Zombie.  The weekly show was a watered-down farce shot either before or after Smackdown, and therefore it took place primarily in traditional arenas.  Thus nothing about it felt authentic; it was merely a cheap cash-grab by a company desperately short on new ideas.

Legit, I had a Smackdown Create-A-Wrestler called Zombie,
and he looked way better than this asshole

Initially Rob Van Dam was to be the centerpiece of this recycled brand, as he won the WWE Title from John Cena at One Night Stand (about four years too late), and announced on the debut ECW broadcast that he was resurrecting the ECW Championship.  Unfortunately Van Dam and Sabu were arrested about a week later for driving under the influence of pot.  Smart move guys.  So Van Dam was hastily booked to lose both Titles - the WWE strap to Edge and the ECW belt to Big Show.  

The one good thing to come out of ECW was the introduction of CM Punk, who was amazingly presented well and immediately caught on with fans.  Of course because he didn't "look like a star," he was kept solidly in the midcard and passed over for a main event push in favor of yet another "looks great but doesn't connect with fans" kinda guy, Bobby Lashley.  At the next ECW PPV, December to Dismember, the main event (one of only two matches announced ahead of time) was an Elimination Chamber for the ECW Title, with Big Show defending against RVD, Punk, Test, Hardcore Holly, and Lashley.  Punk and RVD, the two abundantly clear crowd favorites, were both eliminated in the first half of the match so as to not distract from the big push for Lashley (Hmm, sweeping aside the guys fans actually like so they won't take away from the reaction for WWE's favorite guy?  That sounds familiar...).  Not surpisingly it didn't work and Lashley's Title win was met with an apathetic-at-best reaction.  The PPV was unanimously considered a trainwreck, and Paul Heyman was sent home (as though it's his fault this brand sucked out loud).

I miss you Punk!

Within a year most fans knew the brand's days were numbered (though it actually limped on until early 2010).

Back on the two big brands, John Cena and Edge carried the summer months into fall with a highly entertaining feud, which included a stop in Boston for SummerSlam (I attended this dud of a show and Cena vs. Edge was about the only good thing on it).  But on Smackdown they booked World Champ Rey Mysterio to lose literally every non-title match, making his title reign one of the worst in history.  The bad decisions this company made in 2006 piled up like a mountain of llama shit.  Strangely though, 2006 saw three new top champions who really should've been given their respective belts years earlier.  Rey was the first, RVD was the second, and Booker T (now King Booker after winning the King of the Ring tourney), was the third.  Booker somehow made a horribly fake English accent actually pretty entertaining, but spent most of his run feuding with the returning Batista, with whom he had zero in-ring chemistry.

The last four months of WWE's calendar year were almost non-stop tripe, including a dreadful Survivor Series show where nearly all the talent seemed like they didn't want to be there.  Then there was the aforementioned December to Dismember which, if I didn't know any better, I'd say was deliberately booked to kill the revived ECW brand.

My interest in wrestling was somehow even lower by the end of 2006 than it had been a year earlier, but two things kept me around.

The first was a renewed interest in Ring of Honor.  I'd been reading since 2004 about the dozens of great matches they'd been showcasing, such as Samoa Joe vs. CM Punk, Samoa Joe vs. Kenta Kobashi, and several efforts by their current Champion, a youngster by the name of "American Dragon" Bryan Danielson.  I decided it was time to take the plunge and sample some of what I'd missed since the last ROH show I attended in 2003.  By March 2007 Ring of Honor would be my favorite wrestling promotion and I'd view both WWE and TNA as second-class, largely obsolete products.

But the big news toward the end of 2006 was Kurt Angle's sudden departure from WWE.....and his even more surprising arrival in TNA!  Burned out by WWE's relentless touring schedule and nursing several injuries, Angle convinced management to let him out of his contract in September, explaining that he'd need to go home and rest indefinitely.  But only two months later TNA announced they'd acquired Angle's services, and his first match would be against one of their cornerstones, Samoa Joe.  My brain exploded at this news.  At this point Joe and Angle were two of my three favorites in the business (along with AJ Styles).  I did have reservations about such a huge match happening so quickly (and in hindsight this was a terrible mistake on TNA's part), but at the same time I couldn't wait to see this dream contest.

TNA's booking sure sucked but this feud was great

Their first encounter at November's Genesis PPV was a bit underwhelming, at only 13 or so minutes long.  Plus Kurt Angle handed Joe his first defeat in the company, from which Joe never fully recovered ("Undefeated" angles almost always end badly, and I've never understood why).  But their rematch a month later blew that one out of the water and ended up a strong Match of the Year contender, plus Joe avenged his loss to even the series.  A rubber match was announced for January of 2007, and despite being far from a great overall product, TNA once again became the wrestling show people were talking about.  In fact, Angle vs. Joe brought them their highest PPV buyrate (which I'm pretty sure still stands).  So Kurt Angle began and ended 2006 with a bang, in two different promotions.  If my WWE outlook was downright rotten in 2006, my excitement for TNA was back, temporarily at least.  Their work in 2007 would completely undo that, but as I said, Ring of Honor was about to fill a huge void....

Part 26

No comments:

Post a Comment