Tuesday, November 26, 2013
The first was a young buck out of Ohio Valley Wrestling. His name was Prototype, but would later be known by his real name: John Cena. He had the look of a bodybuilder, similar to the current day version. His biceps and torso seemed almost Herculean and unreal. He came out (in his colored trunks) after Kurt Angle issued a challenge to "anyone in the back". Cena grabbed the mic, delivered McMahon's new phrase with all the vitriol he could muster, and took Angle to his limits before succumbing to the savvy ring veteran. There was an "L" in the books for Cena, but everyone watching whether fans or fellow wrestlers new one thing: a star was born.
The second star to arrive was Randall Keith Orton, or as he is known today: Randy Orton. His shtick at first was simply being a third-generation wrestler- a rarity in the business, but also thought of as a leg up on the competition. Curtis Axel (a.k.a. Joe Hennig) is currently trying to help disprove the notion. Soon after, Orton would team up with HHH, Ric Flair and another massive young superstar- Dave Bautista, a.k.a Batista. He was young by industry standards but past the age of 30 when he made his debut. Orton would become the "Legend Killer", attacking former wrestlers in an effort to gain respect. He had his immature moments, and at times management would come to question if he could be the future after a horrible initial title reign- but it changed at Backlash 2004. Orton would face the Hardcore Legend, Mick Foley. There he would be taken to hell and back, even being decorated with thousands of thumbtacks and a barbed-wire baseball bat to the head. That was when Orton's star was cemented, one that has evolved (and plateaued since).
This past Sunday at Survivor Series, WWE Champion Orton defeated the Big Show in a snoozer of a contest. John Cena had an even more by-the-numbers World Heavyweight title defense against one Alberto Del Rio. After Orton's match, Cena came out to the ring to raise his belt. An all-too familiar match-up was unofficially set for at least the next month's pay-per view; possibly beyond. Then on RAW this past Monday, Cena and Orton officially sealed the deal and made a dual-title match for Tables, Ladders and Chairs (TLC) in December. The night ended when Orton laid out Cena with his title belt -and picked up Cena's- posing with both, his foot atop the fallen Massachusetts native. Orton's foot might have well been WWE's dependence on their two top stars, while Cena's prone body represented the younger stars looking to become a fixture in the company's top tier.
After a month which saw the previously "unemployed" Big Show contend against Orton, is this match-up supposed to get fans excited for a potential title unification?
I put unemployed in quotes, because any time a wrestler is fired in a storyline, they end up either taking a week or two off...or they are booked on every show thereafter. Sometimes it is by buying a ticket and becoming a member of the crowd, or other times (like this one) it is simply a seven-foot two giant's wish to enter the ring and obliterate anything in his way. Or the time he commandeered a company camera and satellite feed (seemingly in front of a Pizza Hut) to get the attention of HHH and Stephanie McMahon.
Don't get me wrong. Cena and Orton do represent dollar signs for the WWE as they have been their anchors for over a decade now. But the problem is- no one aside from the children decked out in Cena's gear- wish to see the two matched up again. In 2009 alone, the duo had no less than five title matches together. But in 2013, the rivalry is a little played out- especially when they have a roster which features CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler and Cody Rhodes. Any of those young stars could be a title contender.
The notion that WWE wishes to feature these two after such a disastrous pair of title matches at Survivor Series (buy rates pending) is especially odd after Monday's show. During the setup to the eventual title match, the crowd broke out in chants of "YES! YES! YES!" and "Dan-iel Bry-an *clap clap clap clap clap* repeatedly. The YES chant may have caught on like Austin's "WHAT?" back in 2001, but saying a performer's name during a segment he is not even involved in- that as some would say, is rich. This wasn't a crowd bent on attention, yelling random things for the heck of it. No, this was a crowd that was a microcosm of the WWE Universe. No one wanted to see Big Show against Orton at Survivor Series. The RAW the night after Hell in a Cell was essentially a three hour process of the WWE taking a pin to the Daniel Bryan balloon. Now all of a sudden he had forgotten about being wronged multiple times during his quest for the WWE title and just wanted to beat up the Wyatts? While the Wyatts are not pushovers by any means, Bryan's short term memory and sudden shift in his agenda's course seemed jarring.
The WWE is famous for its love of nostalgia. That is why they continue to bring legends back on special legends contracts. That is why they continue to bring back the Rock, Brock Lesnar and the Undertaker for prominent matches on the biggest shows of the year. There is a niche for the market, but not one that would hog the spotlight from present-day stars trying to make a name for themselves.
Yes, Cena and Orton are future WWE Hall of Famers, but that does not mean they need to hold both belts hostage in an effort to sell merchandise or pay-per-views. The last time both titles were held by one man was in 2001, when an up-and-coming Chris Jericho defeated both Austin and the Rock. It was a monumental occasion. Both belts would later become the Undisputed WWE Title, and it had that much more meaning when put on the line. Since then, many a fan has wondered when they would unite both belts again.
For the record, the unification was never officially announced. HHH and Stephanie only made it clear that the winner at TLC would have possession over both belts. The unification was simply implied.
Now fans can assume it will be at TLC- a show with such a rich tradition of history and long lineage of epic title matches. Oh, wait....that's right. The show has only been around since 2009. It's most famous title match was an upset of Cena by Sheamus; one in which Cena literally succumbed to gravity and crashed through a table, losing his WWE title to the young Irishman in the blink of an eye.
Recent rumors have Daniel Bryan not being at fault for the low Summerslam buyrates, as the company believes there is a market for the "smart" wrestling community- or the geeks like me who invest time and emotion in how storylines play out from a booking standpoint. The rumor insinuates Bryan will be in the title picture by year's end, but with the recent turn of events it is not a definite thing.
For now, though, WWE fans are now entrenched in a match-up we have seen many a time before. What is different this time? How will WWE make us care to invest time and emotion into a feud outside of the "Hey, it's our two top guys!" argument? If recent history proves anything, they won't- and they'll let the two names sell the shows. When the numbers don't reach their lofty expectations, WWE will be left wondering how they let themselves slip into 2013's ruthless regression.
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Thursday, November 14, 2013
With the recent resurgence of Jeremy Lin as a game changer (32.5 ppg in his two games and 18.1 on the season), the third year NBA guard looks to rekindle the magic that was on display in 2012. Is this just simply two games linked together? Can Lin become not just a serviceable point guard- but a star one? To answer those questions, one must delve back into when it all began.
On December 27th, 2011 Jeremy Lin was signed by the New York Knicks after bouncing around the league with stops at Golden State and Houston (both of whom had to make room for other signings, but would later regret their decision to cut the future phenom). It wasn't until January 20th, 2012 that Lin became more than just a face in the crowd. That day, Lin had a triple double for the Erie Bayhawks in a 122-118 win. He was called up a few days later by the struggling Knickerbockers in an effort to energize the line up.
He first garnered attention by lighting up the Nets. Soon after he would have to go up against the Kobe Bryant-led Lakers, a surefire test of his abilities indeed. Lin would score a career-high 38 points against them and "Linsanity" grew from there. It was the new "Tebowmania". In the span of 35 games, he started 25 to help carry the Knicks into the playoffs, a run that would ultimately see him play limited time due to a knee injury At the time, Lin was questioned about his toughness by some and if he was just in it for the money.
But Lin's run was thought to be a fluke and a small sample-size. He couldn't keep up the pace for a full 82-game schedule, right? Obviously it would be hard for any player heading into their second year under the national spotlight to keep that pace of scoring going. He would sign a poison pill contract with the Houston Rockets, ending Linsanity in NYC.
There are two periods of time in Houston Rockets basketball: BH and AH- Before Harden and After Harden. It was BH, and Lin was signed along with former Bull Omer Asik in the summer of 2012. They were expected to be a lottery team and noting more. Then right before the season began, the Rockets miraculously traded for former Thunder guard and sixth man of the year James Harden. Lin didn't have to be "the man", but his style was similar to Harden's. Each had their shining moments, but the team belonged to James. Once again, Lin's season would end with an injury that limited his playing time as he collided with Kevin Durant in their first round series against who else? The Thunder. OKC would win 4-2.
The knock on Lin was that he was turnover prone and not a starting point guard in the NBA. Maybe he was valuable off the bench as an energy guy but nothing more, some thought. Even so, he finished the season playing in all 82 games with averages of 13.4 and 6.2- respectable, but nothing groundbreaking.
Heading into 2013, Lin was thought to be pushed further down the Rockets' totem pole when the emergence of backup Patrick Beverley threatened Lin's starting status. The defensive dynamo was quick and feisty, and more capable than the offensive-minded Lin. Also added to the mix was Dwight Howard, who would only take more touches away from Lin and make him more of an afterthought. While they are continuing to find their chemistry on the court, Houston has struggled to keep leads and find a rhythm so far in 2013. Injuries to Harden and Chandler Parsons have already affected the team, but they march on- and as of late, to the beat of Lin's drum.
His 31 point outburst Monday against the Raptors brought everyone back to the times of Linsanity. But Wednesday in a 123-117 loss to the 76ers, Lin brought the magic again with 34 points and nine- yes nine- three pointers. It only helped his case as a starting guard in the league, and kept the Rockets in the game (which saw Harden sit due to his bruised feet). While they came up short, Lin has put himself on the NBA radar in 2013 and looks to establish himself as a factor in the Rockets' rotation.
It is impossible that he can be the man on a team that features a trio of Harden, Howard and Parsons, this week he has proved he can carry a team in crunch time. His innate ability to mix it up inside and draw contact while still making shots and getting to the line makes him a threat on any possession. When he's not inside, he can drain them from deep (a scorching 51% from three point land in 2013). He can push the break for Houston, one which has struggled mightily with Howard and Asik on the court together. But when they are on, Lin is a playmaker with an eye for the assist.
Tonight Lin returns to where it all began: MSG. Houston looks to bounce back from a loss, while the Knicks try to win without Tyson Chandler. Can Lin bring back a little New York Nostalgia in the form of "Linsanity"? Carmelo and company hope not, as they are trying to find their footing in a muddled Eastern Conference.
It's early in the season and this hubbub could all be for nothing, but the chance of catching lighting in a bottle twice is always intriguing- especially under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.
Like it? Love it? Hate it? Contact me on Twitter @SeanNeutron.
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Now that the doldrums of the summer are over, basketball is in full swing. NBA Free agency being a hot topic is now more than just discussion points- it’s a reality you can watch unfold via ESPN, TNT and NBA League Pass. Normally I’d say this is where the talking stops and the playing starts- but NBA pundits need to keep talking, since stances can change at the drop of a hat (or basketball). Time to see what there is to make of the first week of the 2013 NBA season. Let’s have a look, shall we?
Disappointment is the New York State of Mind
The Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks wanted to remain relevant in the offseason, but how much of it made sense? So far both teams are a combined 3-5 and combine to average 94 points per game. What’s the hold up, exactly?
First and foremost- most of the moves were more window dressing than changing anything on the interior. Joe Johnson is another year older and slower, as is Kevin Garnett. Williams and Pierce will be productive but worn by season’s end. Brook Lopez has yet to have more than 7 rebounds in a game. So much for that 82 million dollar cap penalty being worth it, Nets fans. Granted this is only the beginning, but losing to Orlando by 21 and shooting 38% is not a promising sign at all. The Nets -like the Rockets in the West- have to build chemistry in order to succeed. The difference is that the Nets are supposed to be in “contend now” mode, and don’t have the luxury of time to figure out the identity of their team.
The Knicks seem to view themselves as the “Lakers of the East”: a storied franchise who thinks it is a premiere destination for star players. That couldn’t be further from the truth, as no one is willing to join such a disheveled franchise. Amare Stoudemire continues to struggle through his injury woes along with Kenyon Martin. Tyson Chandler is not the same center who helped the Mavericks hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in 2011. JR Smith was inexplicably resigned, even amidst reports he had just had a knee surgery that would set him back. Carmelo Anthony is still Carmelo Anthony which is good for the Knicks, and bad. Anthony has seemed content in recent years to plateau and be nothing more than a premiere scorer. His defense is average at best, and he still grinds the Knicks offense to a halt when he gets the ball. Case in point: his 32 point effort against Charlotte still wasn’t enough as the Knicks lost, 102-97. They’ll be lucky to make the playoffs. If they do- it’s almost a certain first round exit.
Battle for L.A….What Battle?
Ever since the Clippers turned the corner and began attracting new fans with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul, the narrative each time they faced the Lakers was that they were fighting for control of basketball supremacy in Hollywood. While the Kobe-less Lakers surprisingly won by 13 opening night, the Clippers have since gone 3-0, their most recent win a dominating 137-118 rout of the 4-1 Houston Rockets. The Lakers have gone 1-3 since. Chris Paul after a handful of games has poll position in the MVP race, weaving in and out of defenses to create shots and find teammates. With Kobe out for an unknown length of time, L.A. officially belongs to the Clippers in 2013.
Russell Westbrook returned ahead of schedule in a Thunder win last week, as they are now 2-1. There is more doubt than in recent years in OKC, and it has almost zilch to do with 0’s meniscus. Some are wondering the lingering effects of last season’s James Harden trade, while also trying to figure out OKC’s draft strategy. No one is exactly sure what to make of the Thunder so far, so for now let’s go with “Ask Again Later”.
The Dwight Stuff
Dwight Howard opened up his season with an eye-opening 17 pt, 26 rebound performance against the Charlotte Bobcats last Wednesday. Since then, he is averaging 15 per game along with 14.5 points. His work with Olajuwon and Kevin McChale is very apparent, as he his faster and nimbler. His go to is a spin move he loses defenders with, and before they can catch up, his shot is in the air and they more often than not end up fouling him. In their most recent win over Portland, Howard finished with 29 pts, 13 rebounds and went 8-10 from the charity stripe. Howard is healthier than he has been in years, and looks to put it to good use with his new team as they sit at 4-1.
Raise your hand if you had the 76ers starting 3-0 with a win over the defending champion Heat? Put your hands down, liars. The Warriors brought the Sixer back to Earth on Monday with a 110-90 throttling, but for a team without any playoff expectations- the Sixers will be fun to watch this year with rookie Michael Carter-Williams and veteran Thaddeus Young. Rumble, young men, rumble.
Also random but fun- the Suns’ 3-1 start. Rookie Miles Plumlee looks to make a dent in the rotation, compiling 13 boards and 13 points the other night. Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic will run the show, but they may not be as bad as I and others predicted.
The Wizards are 0-3 and second to last in the East (in front of 0-4 Boston). I don’t see them beating the 76ers Wednesday night, but I do see a chance for a W against Brooklyn this coming Friday. If not then, the Wizards have a tough road ahead of them and a realistic chance to start 0-11, snapping the skid on November 22nd to Toronto.
Week 2 Big Game Spotlight:
Chicago vs Indiana- a possible ECF preview.
Golden State vs. Minnesota- two of the new era’s brightest teams face off.
Lakers vs. Rockets (TNT)- It’s more sizzle than steak. Unless Kobe rushes on court to attack Dwight, Houston should be favored in this anti-climactic primetime showdown.
Clippers vs. Heat (TNT)- A possible NBA Finals preview. Doc Rivers and Chris Paul battle LeBron James and, well….everyone else on the Heat not named LeBron James.
Friday, November 8th
Warriors vs. Spurs: A rematch from last season’s playoffs, except this time Golden State is favored. On a side note, where is Danny Green? (3.3 ppg, 25% from the field)
Saturday, November 9th
Clippers vs. Rockets: Two times in less than a week. Can the addition of Patrick Beverley help disrupt Chris Paul’s dominance? Will the Clippers run over Houston again? Only time will tell.
Pacers vs. Nets: Likely a lopsided affair, but will be played up as a battle of two EC titans.
Celtics vs Heat: Just kidding.
Warriors vs. Grizzlies: Can the Warriors’ uptempo shooting style outdo the Grizzlie’s powerful bigs physical presence?
Like it? Love it? Hate it? Contact me on Twitter @SeanNeutron.
Monday, November 4, 2013
what's best for business". HHH and Stephanie McMahon played a 2013 dual version of the evil WWE chairman Vince McMahon. While not as menacing, they still had enough to be a believable force bent on oppressing the good guys- those good guys being mainly Daniel Bryan, the Big Show, the Rhodes and Dolph Ziggler. WWE was using a perceived notion from fans over the years in which they thought HHH and Stephanie held down certain stars- and made it into an angle. While it seemed very promising and could be used to build multiple stars, last week all but cemented the WWE's lack of big picture booking and/or faith in their young crop of talent.
While the booking of the angle had its moments of doubt, it felt important. The roster was brought on to the stage to watch Bryan wage his war against the new regime. Stars looked to be made: the Rhodes, Dolph Ziggler- heck, even the Miz for one fleeting moment looked positioned to get back at HHH and Steph. It had all the ingredients to create new storylines and new rivalries: underhanded agendas (HHH's), a handpicked corporate golden boy (Orton), henchmen (The Shield) and the classic story of the rebel looking to overthrow the dictator.
Opposing him would be Bryan, as many believed the bearded one could be this era's Austin. Some scoff at that notion such as when people mention a player's name alongside Michael Jordan, and those people currently seem to be right. While the regime's reign of terror began suddenly and swiftly at the conclusion of SummerSlam in August, Bryan never turned the tide for more than a week or so at a time. Some around me clamored that HHH and company had too much momentum each week, to which I would tell them to wait patiently. Rome wasn't built over night, after all.
So weeks went by, and we all waited. And waited. And kept waiting. The RAW after Night of Champions, HHH would hold the belt in abeyance, due to referee Scott Armstrong's admittance of a fast count the night before. Neither Orton or Bryan would have the title for a month- which helped no one. (If HHH paid off Armstrong to ruin Bryan's win in favor of Orton as champion, why not just give RKO the belt instead of delaying the inevitable?)
Hell in a Cell finally saw the Viper defeat Bryan (via an HBK superkick) to regain the WWE's big belt. The funnier part? A fully healthy Dolph Ziggler on the sidelines as an "expert analyst" for the pay-per-view's panel used before, during and after the show like regular sporting events. So much for including everyone and creating stars, Vince.
The next night on RAW, Bryan got revenge on HBK with a crossface. Soon after he was with backstage interviewer Renee Young who saw the Wyatt attack coming from a mile away, while Bryan stood there clueless and oblivious before getting his head slammed into by Bray Wyatt- courtesy of a storage creight on wheels. The news after this attack being that Bryan (and CM Punk) are now set to be embroiled in a feud with the Wyatts for the time being. Also coming out of this is the fact that Bryan is now out of the title scene. Management is reportedly happy with the fact that Bryan can be seen to hang with their top tier players, and now shift their focus to an Orton/Big Show title feud. But that same reason is why they have it so wrong and have had it so wrong for some time now.
running down Cena, balancing his act for the show with real-life grievances. It was a breath of fresh air, something that wasn't normal. It came straight from the heart and was not rehearsed. Punk eventually had his mic cut, and would later admit that was not planned. That promo kicked off Punk's rebellious summer which had intentions of winning the WWE title and changing the culture of the then-current landscape. Punk's promos would come to be known as "pipe-bombs", designed to shock the viewers and have them wondering what he'd say next- and it worked. The fact that this coincided with Punk's real life WWE contract negotiations only made it better. Would he return to the WWE if he beat Cena at Money in the Bank 2011? Was it part of the storyline? Was there a line anymore?
Punk would end up capturing the belt at MITB 2011 in his hometown of Chicago. The crowd was hot all night, and was one of the loudest I remember witnessing in my fifteen years of watching professional wrestling. He beat Cena in a 45 minute classic, and left the arena- but not before blowing a kiss to who else? Vinnie Mac. That was the exact moment everyone wondered "what's next?" That is the reaction and mindset any wrestling promoter wants his fan to have- but those opportunities come few and far between.Two RAWS later, Cena was crowned interim WWE Champion. Punk came out onstage to challenge Cena for sole possession of the title. It was not weeks, or even months WWE strung it out. In a matter of ten days, Punk was back in WWE. He would defeat Cena again at Summerslam, but would not make it out of the arena as champion. WWE legend Kevin Nash would mysteriously return to powerbomb Punk, allowing newcomer Alberto Del Rio to seize the belt. That one powerbomb would end up as the nail in the coffin for the "Summer of Punk".
Last week not only saw the straw that broke the Ryback, but also the impossible loss of Damien Sandow's MITB opportunity as well. After decimating an already injured Cena, Sandow lost in typical fashion to the same man, albeit an essentially one-armed version. While he may not have been ready for the title picture, one has to wonder why it was necessary for him to challenge and lose the night after Cena had won it? (Sources say Vince thought it would help ratings against Monday Night Football.) Another prime example of a wasted opportunity.
So where are we now? WWE is going with Orton and Big Show at 2013's Survivor Series. Somehow fans are supposed to care about a notoriously bland wrestler matched-up against a big, slow and aging veteran whose character (after fifteen years) cannot save his hundreds of thousands of dollars he makes annually. Bryan looked to be matched up with CM Punk against the Wyatts. Dolph Ziggler is in the midst of a nap most likely, and Cena is intending to add some shine to the World Heavyweight Championship.
If WWE is complacent in that they proved to themselves and a small number of people outside the company that they could help Bryan be a star, then why not let him go all the way? Why hold up the title just for the sake of going back to the old guard in Orton? That sense of dependance on the old generation is what will end up costing WWE in the big picture.While good things come to those who wait, WWE cannot keep holding off on creating new stars. Before they know it, the old guard ready to retire and the younger stars won't be taken seriously as draws.
And that's NOT what's best for business.
Like it? Love it? Hate it? Contact me on Twitter @SeanNeutron.