Friday, April 30, 2021

Top Ten Things: Worst WWE Champions

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things here at, where I count down the ten best (or in this case, worst) of something.

Today what's on my mind is shitty WWE Champions.  The WWE (formerly WWF, formerly WWWF) Championship is the most celebrated wrestling title in the history of the business.  While it's not currently the most prestigious (as my colleague Joseph Chaplin and I discussed HERE), it has the richest overall lineage and is by definition the most well-known championship.  Just about every luminary to make his mark in North American wrestling the last 40 or so years has won or at least contended for that belt.  When WCW went belly-up in 2001, the WWF Title became the only recognized worldwide championship, and while WWE has had two top belts for most of the the intervening years, it's generally the WWE Title that's been presented as the most important.

But there have been times when a wholly undeserving fellow has been graced with a Title run, much to the chagrin and puzzlement of those of us with logical thought processes.  Then there have been times when a perfectly viable guy has won the belt but the company never really got behind him or presented him as worthy, thus his title reign was a big honkin' flop.  In each of these cases, the value of the Title has taken a nosedive or at least been temporarily damaged.  Below are ten examples of these two scenarios, in chronological order.

1. Stan Stasiak (1973)

The old WWWF was what they called a "babyface territory."  The promotion depended on a heroic, long-running Champion to sell tickets and drive revenue.  Thus whenever a heel won the belt, it was simply as a transition so they could quickly put the belt on a different babyface.  Case in point, the weakest of these early heel champs, Stan "The Man" Stasiak.  In 1973 Pedro Morales was enjoying a nearly three-year run as the face of the company, but fans began clamoring for their former hero Bruno Sammartino to win back the Title he'd held for 7-1/2 years (Still the longest title run in wrestling history).  Not wanting a babyface vs. babyface title change, the company decided at the last minute to book Stasiak in a "banana peel" win over Morales (The ol' spot where the babyface hits a belly-to-back suplex on the heel, but the heel raises his shoulder and the babyface pins himself).  Stasiak was now the unlikeliest of WWWF Champions.  So unlikely in fact that he dropped the belt to Sammartino just nine days later.  When you realize that Killer Kowalski (a major heel draw for the promotion) never held the belt but Stasiak did, it's even more baffling.

2. Sgt. Slaughter (1991)

WrestleMania VI was headlined by the hugely successful Hulk Hogan-Ultimate Warrior match, wherein Warrior scored an ultra-rare clean pin over the company's golden (more like golden-brown) goose.  The match was considered such an epic encounter (For the record I was never a fan of this match but I get why others liked it so much), that it seemed inevitable we'd see it again at WrestleMania VII.  It made perfect sense after all; 'Mania 6 drew a huge stadium crowd and the company wanted to fill an even larger venue (the 100,000-seat LA Coliseum) the following year.  What match could be bigger than the biggest rematch in WWF history?  But instead Vince opted to have perennial midcarder (and only marginally coordinated worker, who incidentally had just returned to the WWF five months earlier) Sgt. Slaughter defeat Warrior for the strap at the Royal Rumble, position him as an Iraqi sympathizer to cash in on the Gulf War, and let Hogan be the conquering American hero.  This booking was totally rushed and contrived, and it was the first time as a fan that I felt they had devalued the WWF Title.  Slaughter wasn't remotely believable enough in the ring to be the company's top champ, the exploitation of the Gulf War felt sleazy and cheap (and by the time 'Mania 7 rolled around the skirmish had been over for a month), and not surprisingly ticket sales for the event tanked, to the point they had to move 'Mania to the much smaller LA Sports Arena.  This was an epic failure that signaled the end of the 80s boom period.

3. Hulk Hogan (1993 & 2002)

This entry is a little different.  Yes I know Hulk Hogan was one of the company's greatest champions, but of his six WWF Title reigns, only three were any good.  The fourth lasted only a few days, as he was stripped of the belt due to a controversial win.  But his fifth and sixth reigns were downright insulting to the intelligence, and thus warrant inclusion on this list (Incidentally this entry pushes JBL off the list - you're welcome John).

In 1992 Hogan walked away from the business to pursue an acting career.  That didn't work out so well, and Vince brought him back in early 1993.  The WrestleMania main event that year was Bret Hart, the WWF's new top babyface vs. Yokozuna, its newest monster heel.  Yokozuna won the belt in cheap fashion, and then Hogan inexplicably ran down to the ring to protest the decision, despite never having interacted with Bret at all leading up to this.  Yokozuna even more inexplicably challenged Hogan to a match on the spot, and Hogan won back the Title in seconds.  Thus WrestleMania IX ended with both main event participants looking like chumps while the increasingly irrelevant Hogan stood tall with the strap.  The plan was for Hogan to face Bret at SummerSlam, but Hogan balked at the idea and aside from a handful of house shows, went home for two months.  Vince had to scramble to get the belt back on a full-time guy, and Hogan vs. Yokozuna II was booked at King of the Ring.  Hogan dropped the belt and left the WWF again for nearly a decade.  The ending to WrestleMania IX stands as the worst, most counterproductive PPV climax of all time.

In 2002, after the demise of WCW, Vince decided to resurrect WCW's most successful angle, the nWo.  Hogan, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash returned to the company at No Way Out and ran amok for two months.  This set up Hogan vs. The Rock at WrestleMania X8.  What no one bargained for though was the Toronto crowd giving Hogan a white-hot hero's welcome.  Those damn Canadians came unglued for Hogan, and during the post-match shenanigans the company turned him babyface, thus nullifying the nWo stable.  Vince was so blinded by the 'Mania crowd reaction in fact that he scrapped plans for new champion Triple H to defend against The Undertaker at Backlash, and had him face the 48-year-old Hogan instead (Incidentally, Hogan's win-loss record post-return was 1-1 at that point).  Hogan's sixth title win was wrong on multiple levels.  First, the WWF had redefined itself in the late 90s by showcasing young, edgy, exciting stars to combat WCW's focus on former WWF names from the 80s.  Putting the belt on Hogan in 2002 was completely inappropriate given how far past his prime he was, and how hard he'd tried to put the WWF out of business.  Second, the WWF audience had for years been conditioned to the top champion being a strong in-ring worker.  Bret, Shawn, Austin, Rock, Triple H, Taker, Angle, Jericho, all of the significant champions of the era could deliver restaurant-quality matches on a consistent basis.  Hogan could still entertain, but he was never an accomplished in-ring talent, and this was simply not acceptable for a WWF Champion in 2002.  Third, Triple H was just being established as the company's new top babyface.  Taking the belt off him only four weeks after his big WrestleMania win undermined everything they were trying to do with him.  Hogan's title run was understandably not well-received; he dropped the belt to The Undertaker a month later, and was gone again by August.  It's rare for a star of Hogan's caliber to have two terrible WWF Title runs, but by golly he did it.  

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Top Ten Things: Worst NWA/WCW World Champions

Welcome to another Top Ten Things here at, where I gripe about yet another wrestling championship whose prestige has been sharted on because of nonsensical title reigns.  Christ guys, get it together....

Today I'm talkin' about the granddaddy of them all.  The original holy grail of pro wrestling.  The NWA/WCW World Heavyweight Championship.  It's the one that supposedly dates back to 1905 when wrestling was on the level.  In actuality it can only be traced back to 1948, and the WCW version ceased to be recognized by the National Wrestling Alliance as of 1991.  The actual NWA World Title is still in existence today, after a five-year association with TNA.  But since the NWA's current footprint is quite small nowadays I'll only be discussing the two versions that were truly considered World Titles - the original incarnation from 1948-1991, and the WCW World Title which covered 1991-2001.  For many years this championship was THE most prestigious in wrestling.  Before WWE became the juggernaut it is today, Vince Sr's northeast WWWF promotion was an upstart offshoot of the NWA, and thus their top championship wasn't considered quite as big a deal as the NWA's.  Ditto for the AWA World Title (established in 1960).  For a good twenty years the NWA World Title was the big one.  And then in the mid-90s when WCW surged in popularity, their version of the World Title was viewed as the top belt in the game.  For a little while anyway.  But both versions of the championship had their share of stinker champs.  Here are ten of them..... 

1. Tommy Rich (1981)

For a long time Rich was the youngest-ever World Champion.  A popular mainstay in Georgia Championship Wrestling, Rich upset the legendary Harley Race for the belt at the age of 24.  And then he lost it back to Race four days later.  What the hell was the point you ask?  Apparently the switch was done to gain promoter Jim Barnett power within the NWA.  But Jeezus Christ this was stupid, and given that Rich never attained world championship status again, this ensured his career peaked very early.  If you're gonna give a young, unlikely babyface a run with your top belt, at least give him a chance to see how he does.  Otherwise skip it.

2. Kerry Von Erich (1984)

Ugh, Kerry Von Erich stunk.  Seriously, I never liked this guy, and it still bugs me that of all people he got to beat Ric Flair for the belt, less than six months removed from Flair's epic Starrcade '83 win.  I know the original plan was for Kerry's brother David Von Erich to become the NWA's new top babyface before he died, but did we really need to put the belt on Kerry for 18 days just as a tribute?  The match wasn't even that good, and they had to put the belt back on Flair anyway because he had a big match scheduled against Steamboat.  If making Kerry the Champion is gonna get in the way of the match you're really serious about promoting, what's the point of doing it?

3. Ron Garvin (1987)

Speaking of unworthy dudes getting to defeat Flair, in 1987 the NWA was looking to set up a huge main event for Starrcade, particularly since the WWF had countered the flagship supercard with the inaugural Survivor Series.  The idea was for someone to unseat Flair as the champion so Flair could win the title back in grand fashion at Starrcade.  Problem was, no one wanted to be a transitional champion for two lousy months, but Garvin took the job (for which I don't blame him; he was 42 years old at the time).  So Garvin was booked to win the belt in September, and then didn't defend it for two months.  Don't ask me why - a handful of good title defenses would've at least made him look like he belonged in that spot.  Flair of course regained the title at the big PPV, and on the bright side, the match was pretty great.  But Ronnie Garvin was never really presented as World Champ material and his career never reached anywhere near that level again.  They really should've just let Barry Windham beat Flair at the Crockett Cup in April, have a solid seven-month run, and then lose it back at Starrcade.  That would've been something.

NJPW Wrestling Dontaku Preview & Predictions

It's NJPW Wrestling Dontaku time, and that means two nights of sparsely assembled cards with only a few matches of note each night.  Of course in 2021 that's nearly every NJPW show.  

So yeah, there are essentially three important matches over the two nights, plus a couple bouts related to the Tag Team Titles.  The three big title matches should all be excellent, but I'm longing for the days when New Japan stacked most of their PPV events.  If this year's Dominion isn't a loaded show I'll be very sad.  Let's pick some winners.....

Night 1

Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tanga Loa

Man, how thin is this division when the same two teams just keep meeting up?  New Japan desperately needs to drop the Jr. Tag and Six-Man Tag belts and just move all the tag teams into a single division.  I will never understand why they got rid of the Intercontinental Title but kept three sets of tag belts.  Anyway, ZSJ vs. Tanga should be fun.  Zack's matches always stand out because his style is so different.  The stip here is that if Zack wins, he and Taichi get another shot, if they lose they don't ever get another shot.  Since there are basically no other teams around I'll pick Zack to win here.

Pick: ZSJ

Iron Finger from Hell Ladder Match: Taichi vs. Tama Tonga

I assume the rules here are that if you climb the ladder and grab the Iron Fingers you get to use them?  That's goofy.  Both guys can work, so hopefully it'll be entertaining.  No idea who wins here but since Iron Fingers are Taichi's thing I'll pick him to win I guess.

Pick: Taichi

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Oscar Film Journal: Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

Welcome to another Oscar Film Journal entry, here at!  This here is the first installment that features a film I'd give a full non-recommendation....

We're heading back to the 80s today, with a movie that heads back to the 40s through the early 70s.  The 1989 Best Picture winner was textbook 80s Oscar bait, a light-footed comedy-drama that kinda sorta tackled the issue of race in mid-century America but in a very safe, innocuous fashion.  I'm talking about Driving Miss Daisy, starring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman, and based on the 1987 stage play by Alfred Uhry.  DMD is about a rich southern widow who takes her car out for a spin one day and learns that at her advanced age she's no longer sound behind the wheel, driving it backwards into her neighbors yard and totaling the vehicle.  Her son (played by Dan Aykroyd) insists that he hire her a chauffer, a prospect she resists kicking and screaming.  But gradually Hoke (Freeman) wins her over with his calm demeanor and uncanny ability to handle her excitable, disagreeable nature.  Over the years Hoke becomes her most trusted companion, gradually helping her understand the ugliness of oppression and bigotry (something that as a Jewish woman in the Jim Crow south she begins to experience firsthand); Daisy exhibits some racist behavior early in the film but by the end actually attends a dinner where Martin Luther King speaks (though she fails to extend Hoke a proper invitation).  The pair age into retirement and are forced to separate, only visiting each other once in a while at Daisy's retirement home.  And, well, that's it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Oscar Film Journal: Nomadland (2020)

And now for the second half of today's Oscar Film Journal - I've already talked about the film and performance I think SHOULD have won at the Oscars, here's the movie that DID win.

Based on Jessica Bruder's non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century, director Chloe Zhao's meditative, immersive docudrama stars Frances McDormand as a widow who lost her job at a manufacturing plant, the only major business in her town (which itself shut down once the plant folded), and became a traveling member of the "gig economy."  She takes seasonal work at a nearby Amazon plant and then drives around the country working at various locales such as a Badlands campground, the Wall Drug restaurant, and a sugar beet plant, but spends part of her time in an Arizona community with other nomads who haven't been able to find enough work to keep a permanent residence.  

The film is essentially a series of little episodes and vignettes as Fern (McDormand) develops friendships with her fellow roamers, spends some time with her sister in California, visits another nomad Dave (played by David Strathairn) who's now staying with his family, and just tries to keep her van maintained.  It's more of a non-narrative experience than a traditional film, its uniqueness no doubt the reason it earned so many accolades; Nomadland is about evoking mood and setting, not so much about a story.  

Oscar Film Journal: Promising Young Woman (2020)

The Oscars may be over, but I'm still pluggin' away at the Oscar Film Journal.  Because the Oscars got one award very wrong this year from where I sit....

I'll be reviewing the other side of this particular issue a bit later, but right now I'm focused on what I felt was the best of the Best Picture nominees, Emerald Fennell's explosive directorial debut, Promising Young Woman, starring Carey Mulligan in a career performance that, goddammit, should've won her the Best Actress award.  I've been a low-key fan of Mulligan's for about a decade now, after her dripping-with-sadness turn as Sissy in Steve McQueen's Shame, and again after her venom-spitting supporting role in Inside Llewyn Davis (I still often quote the phrase "Because you are SHIT!").  Mulligan is a veritable chameleon, as evidenced by the fact that until this past week I'd never heard her speak in her native English accent (which is as proper as that of Sherlock Holmes).  But her performance as Cassie in Promising Young Woman is a force of nature; she absolutely commands the screen in every frame, seething with righteous anger beneath a veneer of dark sarcasm.

If you're not familiar with the premise by now, Promising Young Woman is about a former med school student who dropped out after her best friend Nina was sexually assaulted by a classmate, and now roams bars and nightclubs pretending to be fall-down drunk so men will take her home.  But once she gets there she hits them with the truth, hoping to hold a mirror up to their complicity in perpetuating rape culture.  She reconnects with another classmate who seems to actually be a decent fellow, but when he mentions that Nina's rapist is now getting married, she hatches a plan to punish everyone involved.  

Saturday, April 24, 2021

The 93rd Academy Awards Preview & Predictions

Welcome to the 6th Annual Academy Awards Predictions column here at, where my colleague Mike Drinan (@mdrinan380) and I compete for bragging rights, prognosticating the Oscars!

As we all know, 2020 was the weirdest year ever for movies.  Thanks to COVID, very few films were actually released in theaters and the ones that were only saw modest-at-best box office receipts.  Many films were of course pushed back to avoid such financial disappointment, while others were made exclusive to streaming services or simultaneously released in theaters and at home.  The qualifying window was extended for this year's ceremony to include any film released between January 1, 2020 and February 28, 2021.  For the first time since the 1930s the Oscars include films released during two different calendar years.

As of this moment I've only seen four of the Best Pic nominees but I'm hoping to bang through a couple more this weekend before the show.  We shall see.  Mr. Drinan is ahead of me I think, and he's also been trouncing me in the predictions the past few years.  Come on, Ballard, get it together!

Best Picture

The Father
Judas and the Black Messiah
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7

Justin:  Of the eight films this year I've seen Judas, Mank, Sound of Metal, and Chicago 7.  I admired a great deal the performances in Judas, I loved the noir atmosphere and score of Mank, I related to the personal connection to sound and music in Sound of Metal, and I found Chicago 7 yet another gripping screenplay by the master Aaron Sorkin.  Of the four I think Chicago 7 was my favorite in fact, but I know it's not taking home the statue, at least not in this category.  Of the four films I have yet to watch I'm really looking forward to Promising Young Woman, as I've heard glowing things about it.  But my pick for the gold this year is Nomadland, the story of a woman who loses her job and decides to, in the words of Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction, "walk the Earth."  I've heard mixed things about this one but it sounds like one of those fascinating character studies that's all about establishing mood and setting.  I think Nomadland will take home the trophy.

Prediction: Nomadland

Mike: I have seen all but Mank, Sound of Metal and The Father. Out of all that I've seen, Promising Young Woman is my favorite and I hope you get to see it this weekend because it's really good. I really enjoyed Chicago 7 and I'm not surprised it got nominated but it felt like an actor's film. You know, not Best Picture worthy but could nab some acting awards. I felt the same about Judas. Really great seeing Sacha Baron Cohen take on a serious role. He was good. Before awards season began, my frontrunner pick for Best Picture was Minari. Such a well-crafted story with a lot of heart and humility to the characters. I loved it. Buuuuut, you have to keep the thunder rolling throughout awards season and right now Nomadland seems to be a freight train that might be unstoppable. I am picking it to win but hoping for Minari with the upset.

Prediction: Nomadland

JB Update: I watched PYW last night and it's superb, I think I agree it's my favorite of the nominees. 

Best Director

Thomas Vinterberg - Another Round
David Fincher - Mank
Lee Isaac Chung - Minari
Chloe Zhao - Nomadland
Emerald Fennell - Promising Young Woman

Justin: Quite a diverse group of directors this year, two of whom are women (which I think is a record for this category), and two of whom are Asian-American (which I'm 99% sure is a record for this category).  Last year of course Bong Joon Ho became the first Asian director to take home the statue.  I think we'll see a streak formed this year, as Chloe Zhao is my pick to win for Nomadland, also making her the first female director since Kathryn Bigelow to win this award.  Side note, it's good to see David Fincher get his third Best Director nomination; hopefully one of these years he'll win one.

Prediction: Chloe Zhao

Mike: Chloe Zhao has been absolutely cleaning up in this category this awards season and I think the Academy will keep it going for her. 

Prediction: Chloe Zhao

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Oscar Film Journal: Fatal Attraction (1987)

Welcome to another Oscar Film Journal entry, here at  The awards are coming up fast....

Today's subject is a lurid piece of rather trashy pulp that not only made a fortune but somehow grabbed the Academy's attention, Fatal Attraction, starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close.  You all know the story by now - Douglas stars as Danny Gallagher, a high-powered New York lawyer who has a torrid weekend fling with a work associate, who then becomes a maniacal stalker looking to turn the affair into a relationship at all costs.  Played with complexity and legitimately frightening eroticism by Glenn Close, the character of Alex Forrest is one of the legendary cinematic femme fatales, and the role launched Close's career while earning her a well-deserved Oscar nod.  Douglas's performance is quite strong as well; he's made a career of playing very flawed protagonists desperately slipping to the end of their pitiful rope.  The unsung performance in the film (though she did also get a Supporting Actress nomination) is from Anne Archer as Danny's devoted wife, who doesn't suspect a thing until Alex begins to turn the Gallaghers' lives upside down.  Poor Beth Gallagher thinks her marriage is on solid ground until this whackjob boils her daughter's new rabbit (That's just uncalled for, Alex).  

Watching this film for the first time (I had seen bits and pieces and knew the major beats of the plot), I found myself thinking "THIS got a Best Picture nomination??"  It's obviously a well-made erotic thriller with strong performances by all three leads, and Close became something of a pop culture icon in the process, but let's take an honest look at this thing.  Fatal Attraction is an over-the-top film noir crossed with a checkout line romance novel (even the title evokes it).  Had the filmmakers been a little more daring they could've seriously explored the Alex Forrest character and her terrifying psychological issues, instead of just making her a full-on horror film maniac.  We get glimpses of nuance during the second-act fallout of the affair, as Alex manipulates Danny in different ways to get him to stay in her life.  But the producers changed the climax of the movie from a disturbing but believable suicide/murder frame-job ending to something resembling a slasher film denoument, complete with a "killer's not really dead" moment.  I get why they reshot this; it's a crowd-pleasing Hollywood finish, but it lowers the material from a sophisticated grown-up thriller to popcorn schlock.  They weren't even all that imaginative in the execution either; there are shovel-to-the-face obvious suspense tropes, like the killer popping up in the bathroom mirror behind one of the good guys, or a shot of the married couple sleeping and a slow pan over to the phone just before it suddenly rings at 2am, or a water-level shot of the full bathtub just before the killer pops out of the water.  This stuff is B-movie cheeseball, and simply has no place in a supposedly Oscar-worthy film.

Monday, April 12, 2021

WWE WrestleMania 37, Night 2: The Bad Guys Win Everything

WrestleMania 37, Night 2 was a pretty good show overall, by my estimation a small step down from Night 1, but with plenty to enjoy, including another stellar main event.  I will say it was refreshing to have two WrestleMania shows where the main event outshined everything else - that doesn't happen often; it's been six years since the last time.  Maybe the weirdest thing about Night 2 was the fact that of the seven matches, six were won by heels.  What a downer.

WWE got the worst crap out of the way early, with Randy Orton vs. The Fiend as the opening match.  There was a bunch of stupid visual effects-related stuff leading to Bray Wyatt's entrance, including his morphing from the burnt Friday the 13th Part 6 version of The Fiend back to the regular one.  He emerged from a giant jack-in-the-box and hit Orton with a diving clothesline, and we were off (complete with the headache-inducing red lighting that by all rights should've long ago lost someone their job).  These two did a competently worked five-minute match that ended with Wyatt about to hit Sister Abigail on Orton, only to be distracted by Alexa Bliss leaking black ooze all over her face.  Orton took advantage to hit Wyatt with the RKO for the pin, the lights went out, and when they came back up everyone was gone.  Ummm, what?  So Orton burned this guy alive, he disappeared for three months, returned at Fastlane to set up his great revenge at WrestleMania, and lost in five minutes?  Seriously, kill this character off.  He sucks.  Go back to swamp-dwelling Bray Wyatt with the whole world in his hands.  This Fiend shit is early-90s WWF terrible.  Fuck this feud.  *

The second-worst match of the night was next as Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax defended against Tag Team Turmoil winners Natalya and Tamina, and while clunky and sloppy in spots, this was decent.  Shayna and Nattie worked well together, Nia and Tamina did big power moves on each other.  Shayna at one point hit a knee lift that apparently caused Nattie to bite right through her lip - sweet jeezus that had to hurt.  The finish came at 14 minutes when Nattie locked Nia in a sharpshooter, unaware that Nia had blind-tagged Shayna in.  Shayna came up from behind and locked in the kirafuda clutch, causing Nattie to pass out.  This was pretty good but insanely got more time than anything except the main event.  That's fucking mental.  **

WWE WrestleMania 37, Night 1: Sasha & Bianca Deliver Big

WrestleMania 37 is in the books, the first WWE shows in front of a proper audience in 13 months, and the second WrestleMania to be split across two nights.  Overall each night was an enjoyable affair with some good to very good matches, two excellent main events, some questionable booking (par for the course in this company), and the crowning of a couple of new stars.  Night 1 was the more successful show, more consistent and with better time management, but Night 2 was a solid outing in its own right.  But we'll get to that....

Night 1 opened, after a 30-minute rain delay (kinda shocking that this is the first time this has ever happened for an outdoor WrestleMania) during which numerous stars cut actual unscripted promos for the first time in forever, with the WWE Title match.  Bobby Lashley and Drew McIntyre were given 18 minutes and made the most of it, with a hard-hitting hoss battle.  Drew got all of his big moves in and went for the Claymore but MVP pulled Lashley out of the ring to save him.  Drew dove over the ropes onto both guys, broke out a kimura lock (homage to Brock Lesnar?), and eventually set up for the Claymore again, but MVP yelled from ringside to Bobby, which distracted Drew long enough for Bobby to duck the kick and apply the Hurt Lock.  Drew fought it for a while and tried to fall back on top of him for a pin, but Lashley rolled through and held on, pulling Drew to the mat and wrapping his leg over.  The ref checked on Drew and called the match for Lashley due to a pass-out.  This seemed like the wrong finish for the first match in a year in front of fans - if Lashley was going to retain they should've put this match somewhere else on the card.  Just a really odd, decisive finish for the heel champion if McIntyre is getting a rematch later (which I assume he is).  It was almost like The Rock losing to Triple H at WrestleMania 2000.  Plus it made Miz's brief title run utterly pointless.  But anyway the match was very good.  ***3/4

Match #2 was not so good, and it was the Tag Team Turmoil match.  I was fully expecting the surprise return of Becky Lynch with Charlotte Flair as her partner, but that didn't happen so we were stuck with the five announced teams.  Carmella and Billie Kaye beat Naomi and Lana with an assisted rollup, then tried the same tactic on the Riott Squad but the ref broke it up.  Ruby Riott pinned Billie Kay after a senton.  The Riott Squad also beat Mandy Rose and Dana Brooke after a rollup.  Then Tamina and Natalya won the whole match after Tamina hit a Superfly splash off the top rope.  Not much to this.  *1/2

Friday, April 9, 2021

The History of NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver Night 2

At the end of my Stand & Deliver Night 1 review I said "Let's see if Night 2 can top it."  And the answer is no.  No it can't.  S&D Night 2 was a pretty good show made to look not so great trying to follow such a fantastic Night 1.  In fact I would say the best match on Night 2 was behind the three or four best matches on Night 1.  Maybe NXT is better reigned in at around two hours.  Maybe Night 1 just had the better roster of talent.  Regardless, I was underwhelmed by Night 2 and in a perfect world I could actually see either night of WrestleMania besting this show.

The show opened with the Cruiserweight Unification match between Santos Escobar and Jordan Devlin.  These two worked pretty hard for the bout's 18 minutes but didn't do anything we haven't seen before in one of these ladder matches (I've said this before but I think it's time for a long moratorium on ladder matches - they just aren't special anymore).  There were plenty of big spots but it's simply not safe to do anything that comes close to the danger of the TLC matches of 20 years ago.  And without that level of danger there's not much point to a ladder match (There was a nice Devlin moonsault off the top of the ladder - pretty spectacular).  What made things worse is the late-match interference of Legado Del Fantasma, who knocked the ladder over as Devlin was climbing, and then just left.  So first off, why did they wait so long to show up, and second, why did they voluntarily leave afterwards?  Their involvement made no sense at all; what is this, RAW?  The finish came when both men were climbing but Escobar pushed Devlin backwards off the ladder, through a ladder propped up against the turnbuckle, before retrieving both belts to become the Undisputed Cruiserweight Champion.  Side note: Vic Joseph needs to stop acknowledging the "This is awesome" chants - he did it twice in this match alone, and his response is always "This is indeed awesome."  Stop it.  This was fine but nothing more.  ***1/4

Next up was a free TV-quality Women's Tag Title match, as Ember Moon and Shotzi Blackheart faced Candice LaRae and Indi Hartwell.  They got ten minutes, which was plenty to do what they needed to do.  The most memorable spot was Shotzi almost killing herself with a tope onto both opponents, who somehow BOTH missed catching her - that's pretty inexcusable.  Fortunately Shotzi hit the dasherboards back-first and seemed to be fine.  And then Ember did a top rope moonsault onto both opponents, who succeeded in catching her.  Back in the ring, Ember hit her Eclipse finisher (still a marvelous-looking move) on both challengers, and Shotzi hit her top rope senton on Indi to retain the belts.  Again, this was fine.  ***

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The History of NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver Night 1

Well, Night 1 of NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver, um, delivered.  Big time.  Of the five matches, I'd call four pretty great.  And, unlike a lot of WWE-related shows, they were all very different.  Maybe now that NXT is moving to Tuesdays and thus isn't head-to-head with AEW anymore, Vince lost interest and is going to let the one good WWE brand run more or less on its own again.

The show started with a rather short but technically excellent grapple-fest between Pete Dunne and Kushida, which was all about stringing together great chain wrestling sequences.  I love these kinds of matches and in 2021 we don't see enough of them.  From grappling and submissions, the match progressed to striking, before moving on to the big moves.  Kushida nearly had the match won with the Hoverboard Lock but Dunne reached the ropes twice, tweaked Kushida's fingers to the point that Kushida couldn't throw his signature punch without hurting himself, and hit the Bitter End to take the match.  Damn good stuff in the opener.  ****

My least favorite bout, though it was enjoyable, was the Gauntlet Eliminator, basically an Elimination Chamber without the Chamber.  Leon Ruff and Isaiah Scott started things out with fast-paced exchanges before Bronson Reed entered.  Reed dominated both guys, using his superior size and strength.  Next in was Cameron Grimes, who paid Scott to form an alliance, and the two heels double teamed Ruff, resulting in his quick elimination as Dexter Lumis joined the fray.  Lumis hit moves on everyone, looking like a monster.  The final entrant was LA Knight, who cut a promo on everyone and proceeded to hit a bunch of big moves including a Kurt Angle-style superplex after quickly scaling the ropes.  Knight pinned Lumis with a quick cradle but was quickly eliminated by Reed.  Isaiah Scott turned on Grimes, pinning him with a rollup, and Reed and Grimes had a strong final sequence full of high impact offense.  Reed eventually won with his big splash off the top rope to punch his ticket against Johnny Gargano.  Good match but it went kinda long.  ***1/2

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

WWE WrestleMania 37 Preview & Predictions

It's that time of year again, when WWE throws a whole buncha shit at the wall and calls it WrestleMania!

Actually this year's show looks pretty strong overall.  Yes, the buildup has been atrocious as always, which is why I don't watch the weekly shows - imagine how fucked your booking has to be for RAW and Smackdown to make people care LESS about your upcoming PPVs.  But if the company gets out of the way and just lets these people work, WrestleMania 37 might actually be good.  For one thing this will be the first WWE show in front of a live audience in over a year.  That fact alone ought to make for a red-hot crowd; unlike most years the fans will actually seem happy to be there.  Like Mania 36, the theme is pirates and skull flags, and we're also getting two nights of WrestleMania.  Unlike 36, the shows are in a proper stadium with the bells and whistles one associates with the show of shows.  Plus, and this has me pretty stoked, no Triple H and no Undertaker.  It's the first WrestleMania since number 11 with neither guy wrestling on the card.  That's amazing.  In their place though are Edge (absurdly in one of the main events, but at least he hasn't been around every year stealing top spots), and Shane McMahon (zero defense for this, get him off these 'Mania shows).  Oh and Bad Bunny.  Whatever.  Also absent from WrestleMania are Shinsuke Nakamura (inexcusable), Jey Uso (who will probably be in Roman's corner?), Ricochet (why is this guy still in the company at this point?), and a host of other poor saps.  On the bright side though, each night of 'Mania should be well under four hours.  I'm all for that.  The phenomenon of the live crowd being totally burned out by the time the main event arrives got old real fast.

So let's dive in.  We have two nights and 14 matches to cover....

Night 1

Tag Team Turmoil: Lana & Naomi vs. Dana Brooke & Mandy Rose vs. The Riott Squad vs. Natalya & Tamina

The winners of this match get a shot at Nia Jax & Shayna Bazsler on Night 2.  Yeah, I'm thinkin' this can't be it.  There has to be a surprise last-minute team that swoops in and wins this.  I'm thinking probably Charlotte Flair and Bayley, or better yet, Charlotte and the returning Becky Lynch.  Why not?  It's in front of a live crowd, the pop will be huge.  That seems the likely scenario actually; it's a perfect "WrestleMania moment" kinda thing.  If I'm wrong and there's no surprise team, I guess I'll go with The Riott Squad?

Pick: TBA, or Riott Squad

RAW Tag Team Championship: New Day vs. AJ Styles & Omos

Between Kofi, Xavier and AJ this match should be quite good.  Omos is a big 7-foot question mark, but a match like this is ideal to hide his weaknesses.  Hey, remember when Kofi was the WWE Champ?  Good times.  Anyway, I can't see AJ and his monster heel bodyguard losing here.

Pick: AJ/Omos

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver Preview & Predictions

Welp, WWE has attempted to corner the market on everyone's television viewing this week, with nine straight days of programming.  Last night it was RAW, tonight it's the Hall of Fame ceremony, and this Wednesday and Thursday it's the first two-night NXT TakeOver special, Stand & Deliver (followed by Smackdown, two nights of 'Mania, RAW and NXT).  

We have ourselves some pretty great-looking matchups on tap for this pair of shows.  I'm not up on all of NXT's goings-on (perhaps I'll watch the weekly show more often now that it will no longer be head-to-head with AEW), but I'll be damned if NXT hasn't put together a pretty stacked lineup.  Let's get started....

Night 1

Pete Dunne vs. Kushida

This might be the one I'm most interested in.  Both guys are fantastic, both guys killed it at the last TakeOver show, both guys deserve to be NXT headliners.  This should be a tremendous, hard-hitting match with lots of grappling as well.

Pick: I think Dunne wins this one.

Gauntlet Match: Leon Ruff vs. Isaiah Scott vs. Bronson Reed vs. Cameron Grimes vs. Dexter Lumis vs. LA Knight

I'm generally not a fan of gauntlet matches; what a stupidly arbitrary way to determine a #1 contender.  They tend to be overly long sequences of overly short singles matches.  Not sure who wins here to challenge Johnny Gargano on Night 2, but I'll pick Dexter Lumis I guess.

Pick: The guy with the nerdiest name

Oscar Film Journal: The Hustler (1961)

Welcome to another Oscar Film Journal review, here at!

Today's subject is the 1961 billiards-related classic, The Hustler, starring Paul Newman, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott and Jackie Gleason.  This gritty saga of gambling, winning and losing, and unlikely romance centers around "Fast" Eddie Felson, a prodigious pool hall hustler who along with his manager Charlie, travels town to town playing for money.  His ultimate quarry is pool legend Minnesota Fats (Gleason), whom he challenges to a series of games.  Eddie dominates most of the 25-hour session but can't bring himself to quit while he's ahead, and Fats cleans him out by the end.  Financially ruined and now "outed" as a hustler, Eddie plans to move on but meets Sarah (Piper Laurie), a part-time college student and full-time alcoholic, at the bus terminal.  The two connect instantly and Eddie moves in with her, breaking his partnership with Charlie.  Facing a choice between resuming his life as a hustler and going all-in with Sarah, Eddie strikes up a business arrangement with Fats' associate Bert (an austere George C. Scott) to get him back in a game against Fats.  Under Bert's cruel tutelage, Eddie learns the true nature of hustling, sacrificing his humanity and more to become a "winner."

Directed by Robert Rossen, a former Communist who sold out over 50 associates during the HUAC hearings in the 1950s, The Hustler is steeped in guilt and regret, now read almost as a parable for Rossen's McCarthy-era betrayals.  The Eddie character doesn't realize his dream of becoming the best pool player until after he's destroyed the two relationships he cared about, first his partnership with Charlie, then his romance with Sarah.  That inner conflict, career ambition at all costs vs. personal happiness, is central to the story, and The Hustler was one of few American films at the time to directly address such a theme.  

Thursday, April 1, 2021

The Great PPVs: WrestleMania X-Seven

Welcome to the sixth edition of The Great PPVs, here at and!  For those of you just joining us, this series takes a closer look at some of the all-time great wrestling shows while evaluating their place in history.

Today I'll be talking about what is widely considered one of the best two or three WrestleManias of all time, WrestleMania X-Seven (Yeah, that name still comes off as goofy and I'm not sure what's wrong with the number 17, or XVII, but whatever).  Emanating from the Reliant Astrodome in Houston, TX on April 1st, 2001, the seventeenth annual WrestleMania is generally accepted as the climax of the wildly successful Attitude Era, when the company showcased all the big stars they'd spent the last four years building, plus an influx of new talent from either WCW or developmental.  It was the perfect storm of new and established talent, and offered a wide variety of matches to enjoy.  'Mania 17 was also the first edition in nine years to be held in a stadium, which added to its splendor, and it was the first in a decade to run a full four hours.

The show was built around the biggest rematch of the era, between the company's two biggest stars.  Two years earlier The Rock and Steve Austin delivered a chaotic main event that served as a perfect illustration of where the WWF was at the time.  Vince Russo's "crash TV" booking was in full force, and the PPV for better or worse reflected the short attention span philosophy of booking, with numerous week-to-week swerves, watered down hardcore wrestling, and an overly storyline-heavy product.  Still the WrestleMania 15 main event was a very entertaining, if underwhelming match between the two mainstream superstars.  Two years later Rock and Austin had the chance to truly tear the house down in front of a rabid Texas crowd, and this match met those expectations and then some.  This brutal, bloody No DQ Title match ran 28 minutes, incorporated spots from other Austin matches, and ended with one of the biggest swerves in history, as Austin's mortal enemy Vince McMahon helped him defeat The Rock for his fifth WWF Title.  Austin had done the unthinkable and turned heel, joining Vince in a move that would drastically alter his onscreen persona.

Sadly this would also hurt the WWF's bottom line, as their biggest star and merch seller was now far less appealing to casual viewers who had no desire to boo him.  Getting the right audience response was an uphill battle that took several weeks and required Austin aligning himself with Triple H and beating up Jim Ross, the Hardy Boyz and Lita.  Still, from a critical standpoint this heel run led to some of Austin's best work, both in-ring and on the mic.  The babyface anti-hero persona had become very stale by 2001 and after his heel turn it was quite evident that Steve Austin was having the time of his life antagonizing both the audience and his fellow wrestlers with his new "What?" gimmick, and exploring more comedic elements of his character.  I personally always found Steve Austin effortlessly funny, and his 2001 Title run turned the volume way up on that aspect.  Regardless, this match was an incredible main event; arguably the best 'Mania headliner up to this point.