Friday, August 16, 2013

Summerslam 2013 Preview: Why, Vince? WHY?!

If that poster doesn't scream "the highest level of wrestling put on the biggest stage in the summer outside of Wrestlemania", then you'd be right. Once again, WWE has decided to place their focus on the storylines, and forget what their company was built on: wrestling. Regardless, Summerslam 2013 does have a few intriguing match-ups, a few duds, and one or two matches looking to steal the show. I'll take a look at the buildup to each match, then make a prediction for my favorite fake sport outside of fantasy football.

U.S. Title
Rob Van Dam vs. Dean Ambrose (C)

This match takes place on the pre-show at 7:30 on Youtube. RVD looks to do RVD things, and Ambrose looks to cement his legacy as U.S. Champion. The belt is definitely lacking prestige and has done nothing but gather dust on previous champions' shoulders. Ambrose looks to re-energize the U.S. title scene and place importance on  what should be an important achievement. He is young and hungry, eager to prove his mettle as a singles' wrestler in the WWE.

On the flip side, you have RVD- who since coming back has done his usual move-set, gotten the crowd motivated behind him as a plucky face. Nothing has changed- not any of his moves, not his character or any of his motivations. At this stage in his career he is just an enhancement talent; he does not need the win or the belt to get over with the crowd. Losing to Ambrose cleanly will only make the belt and Ambrose look all the more impressive. RVD will sell the bulldog drive like a figurative champ, and Ambrose will move on to bigger and better things. I do not think the Shield need to get involved here, as it would weaken Ambrose's win.

Winner and STILL United States Champion: Dean Ambrose

*Rumors are swirling that RVD, Mark Henry and Big Show will take on the Shield right after this match, making it all the more likely the Shield will try to do a run-in. That match could go either way. Either the Shield get back on track, or the faces get a show-opening win. Never go against the men in black. BELIEVE in the Shield! ( Although I'd rather just see Rollins and Reign defend the belts against Show and Henry.)

Winners: The Shield

Natalya vs. Brie Bella

This match stems from the two divas' involvement in E!'s Total Divas. So yeah- it's totally a deep, complex and intriguing feud. Ok, I'll turn off my sarcasm machine. This is really just a chance to shoehorn the show into Summerslam (it happens to run against the PPV at 10 p.m.- ironically the two Bellas competing with their respective boyfriends for ratings). I would not be surprised to see Eva Marie, JoJo, Nikki Bella, and the Funkadactyls get involved after a failed attempt at "Twin Magic". WWE might pull the switch-a-roo and have it become one big women's television match to bring more attention to the show. As much as I like my wrestling, that many attractive women on my screen is never a bad thing.

Winners: Every warm-blooded American male

Dolph Ziggler and Kaitlyn vs. Big E. Langston and A.J.

Because it makes sense to have your Divas Champion not defend her belt at Summerslam. Not. This match was thrown together recently, likely because the company is losing faith in Ziggler as a face, and Big E. is sill very green. You'd think the best seller in the business could make one of the morre power-based guys in the company look like a million bucks, but WWE felt a need to throw the women in this match, too. While you can't have Kaitlyn challenge AJ for the title (she's lost around 4,897 times to her), you could have had a women's triple threat (Kaitlyn vs. Layla vs. AJ). I see Ziggler and Kaitlyn regaining some steam with either her spear or his Zig Zag.

Winners: Dolph and Kaitlyn

Cody vs. Damien Sandow

While I see no need for Sandow to lose his briefcase, to have it on the line here would make for a more intriguing match. Regardless, it will be a heck of a match and could quietly steal the show. Sandow has really grown as a performer in the last calendar year or so, and shows he can be a top heel in time. Rhodes is a solid worker in the ring and has his own type of charisma. The basis for this feud is very thin, as Rhodes comes off looking like a bitter person and sore sport. He is mad that Sandow won  the MITB briefcase fair and square. The faces' logic in WWE these days is mind-boggling, but c'est la WWE.

I see a ten minute match with Rhodes going over. While Sandow winning makes sense (he needs to look strong as a MITB winner), WWE loves to weaken their MITB winners (Hi, Dolph). If Sandow loses, it could set up a cash-in later in the show following the Del Rio/Christian match, but that is a pure guess.

Winner: Cody Rhodes

Kane vs. Bray Wyatt (Ring of Fire Match)

This has quietly been one of the better feuds over the last month heading into Summerslam. Kane is a great, veteran wrestler who can help guide the younger up-and-comers. This is similar to RVD/Ambrose (with way more gimmick than flash), as Kane will put over the younger Wyatt. The Wyatt family debuted with a TON of fanfare, and tonight will kick off the start of  a bright future for the trio. It won't be long or a classic by any means, but it will progress the Wyatts while giving Kane a reason to take some time off. At his age, he could use it to re-charge, or even retire. He has peaked as a performer with Team Hell No likely his last prominent storyline in WWE. Follow the buzzards, Kane.

Winner: Bray Wyatt

CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar

The build-up to this match has been nothing short of phenomenal. We already knew Punk and Heyman could go on the mic, so it's no surprise. But it still rules to watch them banter back and forth. The line of this feud goes to (of all people) Brock Lesnar: "Say something stupid, Paul."  This match will likely follow the classic big man/little man schematic. Lesnar is this unstoppable beast and Punk is the smaller, gritty, never-say-die hero who never underestimates himself. This has helped Punk get out of the funk he was in since returning at Payback in June.

Rumors lately have Lesnar not returning again until Wrestlemania in New Orleans, so I suspect he will win here. He'll need the win to build off once he returns, and Punk will be left trying to figure out the puzzle that is Brock Lesnar. Although your casual fan must wonder why Lesnar leaves at the end of the summer, only to appear in the spring again. Hibernation at its finest.

Winner: Brock Lesnar

World Heavyweight Championship:
Christian vs. Alberto Del Rio (C) 

This match is one step above the Natalya and Brie in terms of development or intrigue factor. Alberto's latest title run has been nothing but disastrous, as he struggles to gain any sort of traction as a legitimate main eventer (heel or face). Time after time, WWE puts their eggs in ADR's basket, and he gives them no reason to believe in him. Yet, here we are at Summerslam with Del Rio as champ. Also, he is without his trusty longtime friend and personal ring announcer, Ricardo Rodriguez. Otherwise known as the one thing that separated him from every other superstar. Some compare ADR to a Spanish John Bradshaw Layfield (JBL) circa 2004. He was a rich Texan who rubbed his wealth in everyone's faces, arriving via limousine at every show. JBL reigned as WWE champion until being dethroned by John Cena at Wrestlemania 21.  The difference between the two is JBL knew how to manipulate the crowd, attract real heel heat and not "X-Pac" heat. ADR on the other hand goes for typical, bland bad gyuy heat. He doesn't know how to put the crowd in the palm of his hand like The Rock, Steve Austin. Heck, even Mark Henry or Edge are light years ahead of ADR in the promo department.

His opponent for the evening is the always reliable Christian. Not in regards to his recent healthy history. but as a company guy so to speak. He never gets in trouble, and he has a following of fans from his Edge and Christian days. He is still able to go  in the ring, and honestly I could see these two having a great match despite the feud's lack of substance. I see Christian being rewarded for his constant reliability and a chance to add some juice to the end of a great career.

Winner and NEW World Heavyweight Champion: Christian

WWE Title Match: Daniel Bryan vs. John Cena (C)

Finally we arrive at the match everyone is paying to see. The crafty and cunning cult favorite, Daniel Bryan versus the dynastic John Cena. Their segment from RAW was an incredible way to get people to want to buy the show. Even crappy-face Miz couldn't ruin this segment. (By the way, MizTV can end. They could have done this segment in the ring with no couches or fancy-dressed stammering happy-go-lucky douchebag interrupting them.) But one man could ruin it, and did. His name? HHH.

When HHH came out, in his head he had to be thinking, "Wait are Bryan and Cena having a hell of a go-home segment? WELL BY GOLLY LET ME COME OUT AND STAND BETWEEN THEM WHILE ORTON RANDOMLY STANDS AT THE TOP OF THE RAMP BECAUSE MONEY." 

The other person who has to inject himself in this feud? None other than Vince McMahon. His role, along with Stephanie's and HHH's has been overdone, and hurt not only the feud, but the WWE in general. We don't need them to take up 3-5 segments a show. Having McMahon doubt Bryan is fine, but harping on it is a whole different thing. He's small, he says he is a wrestler- get over it.  

Their need to be involved has me remembering the summer of 2011- the summer of Punk. CM Punk gave one of the most intriguing, genuine promos of all time and made Cena the heel by default. It also helped the match was in Chicago. But who had to be involved? HHH. Towards the end of that summer, he and his buddy, Kevin Nash decided Punk shouldn't be champion anymore. And that was that. 

Fast forward to summer 2013. Cena has been typical Cena, but during Monday's RAW, he was passionate and on point. He, along with Bryan, made this match a must-watch in that segment alone. Their "feud" had been dragging, as there was no tension or obvious conflict. The lines were drawn when Cena admitted that he did not respect Bryan. It's the wrestler versus the superstar. Bryan conveyed his struggle and desire to be the best wrestler alive, and Cena was able to let Bryan and the audience know how he is always game to defend his title. 

I see Bryan winning this match, no matter how much Cena throws at him or what Vince and HHH do. Recent rumors suggest HHH will pull a heel turn or be a major factor in the outcome of the match, leading to a bigger picture feud ending at 'Mania. I don't think this match needed a special ref of any kind. All it needs is two wrestlers fighting for the ultimate prize: the WWE Title. 

Bryan winning would cement him as a main eventer, but one other thing could cement him as a legend: beating another top tier WWE star. I propose that Orton should come out and cash in his briefcase, hit an RKO. The crowd thinks it's over, but low and behold- Bryan kicks out and taps out the Viper to end the show. This would bring back visions of Jericho downing Rock and Austin in the same night back in 2001. 

Don't overbook it, Vince. Just have faith in your current product and wrestlers to bring in the eyeballs and the money. K.I.S.S:  Keep it simple, stupid. Or you can kiss the momentum Bryan has been working on all summer good-bye. 

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Contact me on Twitter @SeanNeutron.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Cut From a Different Cloth

Years ago on Nickelodeon, there was a show known as "All That". It spawned many different characters. You had Pierre Escargot, the bath-taking Frenchman. You had Repairman Man, who ironically broke everything. But the one that stands out to me the most as of late is a series of sketches known as "Pete and Flem". The sketches compared a model citizen (Pete) with a complete slob (Flem).

Right now, there could be a similar series of sketches in the SEC called "A.J and Johnny." After you get past the fact that both are SEC college quarterbacks with tattoos and very attractive girlfriends, the similarities end.

Google, like Twitter, is a very powerful thing. It is the most well-known search engine on the internet. If you type in "AJ McCarron", the first link you see after his Wikipedia is "AJ McCarron: Most consistent QB in FBS". If you type in "Johnny Manziel", the first link you see is "Attorney predicts Manziel will start against Rice". You see where this is going?

In the two years McCarron has been the Tide's starter, he has led his team to a 25-2 record along with two BCS National Championships and a BCS Championship MVP award. He's passed for 5,567 yards, 46 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. If you type the phrase "A.J. McCarron controversy", multiple stories pop up about a so-called controversial tweet McCarron had after no-showing the Espys:

"Your right I'm not at the espys! I don't have to be at an award show to know what my team did. I'm back at school working to get another #16." - @10AJMcCarron

Personally, I don't see what's wrong with it. So the senior signal-caller didn't take advantage of a free trip to L.A. to schmooze with other athletes and celebrities. He simply expressed that he needs no affirmations of what he and his team accomplished from anyone outside the "Roll Tide" world. And what was so important that he couldn't make it? Oh that's right. He was busy working towards a possible third BCS Championship in a row.

On the other hand, you have Johnny "Football" Manziel. After being the first college football player to ever win the Heisman award as a freshman, he has been nothing short of polarizing. You either admire his unpredictable nature or look down on it. There is no "in-between" when it comes to Manziel. After stories of bar fights, court-side seats, no-showing NFL quarterback passing camps and tweeting about his anticipation of leaving College Station, the rising sophomore QB's latest situation has seen him accused of accepting money for signing autographed helmets. Didn't he learn from Ohio State and Terell Pryor?

About the only thing Manziel can claim over McCarron is A&M's win over 'Bama last year, and the fact he ran for 1,410 yards in one season to AJ's career total of -42 yards. Yes, the dash before the four is supposed to be there.

ESPN has dedicated Tim Tebow/Dwight Howard levels of attention to this story, and rightfully so. From June to now, the college football scene outside of respective conference media days is rather slow. Everyone wants to know if Manziel will play at all this season. To which I say- they're missing the point.

It's been speculated by some that it would be very hard to find hard evidence that Manziel expected to be reimbursed financially for his services. Once you get past that, even if "Johnny Football" were to start against Rice (and the rest of the season for that matter), how effective would he be? Could he block out the media circus and negative connotations fans have about him currently and look as dominant as he did last season? While repeating as Heisman winner is nearly impossible (what's up, Archie Griffin?), doing so as a sophomore would be even more of a stretch. To bring in all this negative attention and expect the same, if not better results? Get real.

One argument being made for Johnny is that "he's just a college kid". I won't condemn him from taking advantage of the attention he has received at such a young age. If he and his family have the money to pay for court-side NBA seats and other perks, then so be it. But if the money used to finance these extravagant outings is from illegal autograph signings, that's where it differs for me. While I would not be opposed to athletes being reimbursed if the rules are changed at some point in the future, the fact remains at this current time a player can not accept money while still in school.

There is no Heisman Contract. Nothing in writing says one has to be a role model or do things the right way just because they won the sport's most prized individual award. It's not a humanitarian award, after all. But if one does manage to take home that accolade, regardless of their age, they are held to higher standards and expectations- and, like Kirk Herbstreit pointed out recently- they should realize the microscope their every move (and tweet) is under.

While Johnny and his camp focus on getting the Autograph-Gate mess untangled in time for him to focus solely on football, McCarron and Alabama will be in full swing, having been working towards a Three-Peat all summer long.

Manziel can't hide behind the "just a college kid" excuse for long- especially while another college kid in A.J. McCarron is quietly winning consecutive championships and cementing his legacy at Alabama.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Contact me on Twitter @SeanNeutron.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Warriors are the Latest Example of Big Picture Thinking

Classy move, Chris.
"Sometimes change is inevitable."

These were some of the words spoken from former Warrior great Chris Mullin to the raucous Oakland crowd on March 16, 2012. Then-new owner Joseph Lacob was trying to introduce Mullin at halftime to celebrate the retirement of his jersey.

Mullin ended up being right for the most part, except that change is not inevitable sometimes. It is inevitable at all times. It's the one constant in life aside from death, and it is all in how you adapt to it that shows your true colors.

On a night where he was to be celebrated for his on-the-court heroics, Mullin came to the rescue again. We have all been there- in front of others, freezing up and wondering when the ordeal would be over. Mullin could have sat back and and idly watched while the new guy in town took one on the chin from thousands of passionate and loyal fans. But the former St. John's standout is not one to sit by and watch things happen. On that night, he was the only one who could bail out Lacob. Former great Rick Barry admirably tried and failed, one step away from challenging the crowd to a fight outside the arena.

The game was the first since trading away fan favorite Monta Ellis. I remember at the time thinking "Where is this franchise headed?" Either Lacob and his crew had just made a franchise-crippling move for the sake of publicity, or the owner knew exactly what he was doing in order to make Golden State a contender.

At this point and time, Lacob looks like the smartest man in the room. Chris Mullin's unwavering confidence combined with then-first year head coach Marc Jackson's endorsement in the owner only makes everyone involved coming out smelling like roses.

Mullin continued his sermon that night, preaching patience and that "everything would work out just fine." Looking back, those words almost seem prophetic.

Lacob has put together a talented trio. 
The following summer, the Warriors would draft Harrison Barnes with the seventh overall pick, then select former Michigan State Spartan Draymond Greene in the second round at thirty-five (an absolute steal). This helped push forward with their youth movement. The season saw Stephon Curry take the reigns in a trial-by-fire, sink-or-swim kind of season. Not just for the young man from Davidson, but for the franchise as a whole. Lacob was making moves- but would they make sense?

Fast forward to present time. It's August 2013. The Warriors upset the second seeded Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs, ultimately succumbing to the Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs in six games. For a team not even expected to make the playoffs much less take out a team that had the Coach and Executive of the Year....not too shabby.

The Warriors did not stay quiet during the summer, either. They helped their immediate picture by bringing in Andre Iguodala for four years and forty-eight million dollars. The casualties were solid backup point guard Jarrett Jack and savvy veteran power forward Carl Landry. These two losses were offset by the additions of future draft picks from the Jazz. Utah, in turn, took the albatross made up by the contracts of Andres Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush off Golden State's hands.

Iggy will shine in Oakland. Ellis will struggle in Dallas.
Ellis ended up signing as a free agent with the Dallas Mavericks after a truly uneventful run with the rudderless Milwaukee Bucks. After whiffing on Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard, Dallas is hoping Ellis can be that extra spark they need to attract a free agent in 2014. But if you are pinning your hopes on an aging Dirk Nowitzki and a streaky Ellis- well then it's a very tough time to be a Mavericks fan. 

Those series of moves helped solidify the Warriors' bench, as Barnes will be in sixth man of the year talks all season, and Iggy will help push a break and get more shots for Curry (who can easily create shots by himself) and Klay Thompson. With David Lee and Andrew Bogut on the boards, this team is going to be in playoff contention for the majority of the season, barring injuries.

We fear what we do not know. The abyss of uncertainty when it comes to peering into the future can seem endless. But if you have management that makes moves with a firm direction and always takes the big picture into account, then  you are in good hands. Teams like the Thunder (Sam Presti), Rockets (Daryl Morey) and Spurs (R.C Buford) have adopted that way of thinking.

When thinking big picture, one cannot afford to cripple their teams with bad contracts or make moves that lack purpose. One cannot become attached to players so much that they cannot be seen as expendable. Unless you are a franchise cornerstone under a maximum contract, everyone is expendable. It's not personal- it's business.

 This is what separates these organizations from one such as the Knicks, Nets and Pelicans. New York would give anything to get rid of Amare Stoudemire's burden of a contract. The new Brooklyn Nets have yet to take the court, but if things do not work out with their highly paid roster, I might say the same about them next year. The Pelicans have a young team, but a lot of money wrapped up in three guards (Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon).

Gilbert wonders where it all went wrong.
Learn from the Wizards, who finally have seemed to turn a corner after almost eight years without any progression because of bad contracts and moves for the sake of moves. The old big three (Arenas, Butler, Jamison) has been replaced by a new, much younger one (Wall, Beal, Porter).

I also find it interesting how the Nuggets- poised for tons of success and a deep playoff run- have gone in the exact opposite direction following their early exit. George Karl was fired (that's what Coach of the Year gets you) and GM Masai Ujiri bolted for the Toronto Raptors. What a difference a year makes.

In retrospect, I do not blame Warriors fans for acting like they did- it's human nature. I would assume that the majority of people fear change. Golden State fans' passion and loyalty to their team is met by the organization's cohesiveness. This cohesiveness with Lacob at the helm allows them to make moves that matter and set the Warriors up for years of competitive basketball.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Contact me on Twitter @SeanNeutron .