It takes a bold, bold man to call himself The Best in the World without any hint of showmanship to it. CM Punk was nothing if not bold. The self-appointed heir apparent to Cena as the face of professional wrestling, Punk’s agitation over being passed over festered into an earth-shattering “pipe bomb” that took Cena, the McMahons, and the institution of sports-entertainment itself to task. He then promptly won Cena’s WWE Title and gallivanted off into retirement, but you probably don’t need Wikipedia to know The Straight Edge Superstar couldn’t stay away for long. He eventually came back to further challenge Cena’s dominance and beat him more often than not. These two were having classic matches for years after that initial clash. Perhaps the greatest disappointment in Punk’s untimely departure is knowing they definitely had a few more in them.
Somehow, this is the first time WWE has actually acknowledged CM Punk in the past tense.
Allison Eden, assistant professor of media psychology at the VU University, Amsterdam, has done a lot of research into the appeal and effects of soap operas. According to Eden, all academic study into the genre of soap operas has basically pointed to three motivations for why we tune in: the first being a mere need to pass the time. “They are always on at the same time every day,” Eden says. “You can turn a show on, tune in, fold your laundry or whatever, and get your fix, your bite of entertainment. It’s what we call ritualized viewing. It’s a pretty reliable source of low-level hedonic pleasure.”
Regarding the progress that’s being made for GFW, it’s being said that the overall process is taking much longer than Jarrett had originally hoped. He is still working on everything though and trying to get everything in place for GFW’s eventual debut.
Show me on Jeff Jarrett’s resume where he’s worth anyone’s investment. I just don’t see it.
These concepts are from 2011, which is around the time WWE All Stars came out. It was equally over the top in its animation style, but this takes it even farther. I wonder if we would have seen something like this if All Stars had performed better.
But that’s the heart of it right there, isn’t it? If over time we are separating these women from their accomplishments and willfully accepting the attribution of their innovations to other people, it becomes easier and easier to erase them from the conversation entirely….The obvious answer to many of these questions is that women are still not viewed on the same physical or intellectual level as their peers. If you are constantly presented with the idea that women are weak, easily emotionally compromised, subservient sexual props, then it’s easy to nod your head and agree when people make brash statements with no evidence to back it up.
I talked to Danielle only yesterday about my frustrations with male journalists in wrestling. Little did I know she was sitting on one of the coolest articles I’ve read this year.
With nXt special events, WWE has brought back two things from the 90s that I’ve sorely missed: ridiculous event names, and 2-hour PPVs. Maybe I’m just old, but I always thought that one hour for televised events and 2 hours for PPVs were perfect. Where does it state that wrestling deserves more of our time and attention than prime time dramas or films?
The name is ridiculous for including not only hyperbolic nonsense (what are they taking over, exactly? This is their time slot), two numbers that don’t correspond, a hint of violence that simply isn’t prevalent, and a sexual innuendo nobody asked for. For pro wrestling, you can’t do much better. Still, I wonder if nXt special events aren’t a great opportunity to co-opt UFC’s super-simple number system. How much easier would it have been to tweet #nxt3?
WWE still has a way of filling even a short amount of time with filler, as this very easily could have been a three-match show. Did either non-title matches matter?
As for the title matches themselves, only the main event disappointed, because four-way matches simply can’t become greater than the sum of their parts. I’ve never seen one that lives up to its promise. For my money, Charlotte vs Bailey crushed, and for three special events in a row, it’s felt like the men shouldn’t have closed.
nXt has an interesting end-point for wrestlers: they graduate. If they’re a title-holder, that can sometimes mean that they have to drop them before moving on. This isn’t always the case (certainly, Paige was on both rosters for a brief time, holding both women’s titles), but I would assume that nXt is essentially done with the Ascension, and we may be seeing them on regular WWE tv before long.
I’m not seeing this advertised anywhere, but if you go to the CM Punk section of the WWE shop (linked above), everything is slashed way down. The most insane reduction is on Punk’s bluray: $2.99. Cheap.
But, to the people who send email, to me or to any blogger: please consider publishing what you write instead of emailing it. Not because email sucks, but because more people than just me should be able to read what you wrote. You have something to add to the discussion.
This is how I’ve done it for years. I love making links to other stories, and I’d like to think my audience appreciates a nice curation of subjects. However, an issue arises: how do I let the original author know that I’ve made a blog post essentially out of their blog post? Do I tweet them? Email? Why not just include the comment there?
Also, what if they have a comment section? I’ve had bloggers be a little miffed that I’ve somehow moved the conversation over to my blog (even though there’s no comments) instead of just leaving a comment. It’s a tough thing to explain, and I’m sure there’s quite a divide on this.
“There is only one success — to be able to spend your life in your own way.” — Christopher Morley
There’s this podcast out there that used to be called Quit. It’s run by Dan Benjamin, and for 50+ episodes he’s talked to his co-host Haddie Cook and guests about the subject of quitting their crummy, corporate-stooge jobs. Well, not quitting exactly, but that moment when one has had enough of their current situation. It’s often about the difficulties in reaching potential at work and life. Sometimes, it’s about celebrating the moment of moving on. Recently, Dan changed the name of the show to Grit, as it perhaps better describes what he’s trying to do. I like the name change, because Grit is a character trait that isn’t talked about enough. Grit is the trait This American Life attributed to personal and professional success in life. Grit is that thing heroes have.
I want to talk about how I feel about my favorite pro wrestler of the modern era, CM Punk, since he quit his crummy, corporate-stooge job.
The great wrestling announcer and personality Gorilla Monsoon used to describe grit as “intestinal fortitude,” which is just about the chewiest way to put it I can think of. I’d like to think I’ve got a good bit of it. But the term “fortitude” works just as well as grit. I’ve struggled with depression, professional failures, and personal setbacks. These things define me by experience, and they don’t drag me down because I know I can get through it. I’ve always been able to find a new job. I’ve always been able to find a new way to get through the day. I can look back on history to find where I’ve had the guile and wit to overcome my own problems, as well as those set by others. And after 31 years of struggle in one way or another, I’m at a place in my life where I feel like I’ve won. And while I know better than to think that things ever get easier, I feel like I have a weapon on my back for whatever comes next. I’ve done this largely by relying on certain crutches that have helped fortify me. One of them is podcasting. The other is pro wrestling.
One of the things I’ve used as a way to puts terrible day behind me is with pro wrestling. Yeah, it’s stupid. I’ve been writing about it for nine years, and I know it’s stupid. Pro wrestling doesn’t fit in modern culture. It’s this weird fluke. But I get it. I’ve always gotten it. And while it’s gone in and out of vogue, it’s always been this thing that made me feel better. I don’t need to see a specific guy win or lose. I don’t need the stories to be strong, or the acting to be good. Wrestling is better when everyone cares, but it works just fine when it’s terrible. Sometimes terrible wrestling is what the doctor ordered. Sometimes you watch wrestling and think “If these fuckups can make it through this garbage, I can make it through my garbage.”
Wrestling was there when I got bullied and beat up at school. It was there when my parents divorced, and when girls would dump me, when I’d feel like shit for dumping them, when I couldn’t be bothered to go to school, and for everything else that’s happened since I finally graduated from university, good and bad. It’s not a coincidence: Wrestling is one of the few forms of entertainment that never shuts the valve. New wrestling is constantly happening. And because it’s all one big soap opera about a weird fucking job, you can jump in and out, catch up later, whatever. You can miss two years and get right back on, because the performers work the same way. Characters come and go, but they almost always come back.
I wrote an article called Left and Leaving in 2011 the week after CM Punk won the WWE Championship, blew a kiss to the owner of WWE, and ran off into the warm Chicago night. Three years later, there still hasn’t been a more crystalizing moment in professional wrestling. There have been moments of excellence and adulation, but none stopped time quite like that one. That was the night a great character finally won, and it’s taken me this long—and Punk’s actual exit—to figure out why it was so special. It has to do with the quote that opened the article, which is the same quote I used back in the original article. It was right there, staring me in the face. Did I mention I’m a total idiot fuckup? I pasted the quote myself and didn’t fully understand why.
In the original article, I commended Punk for pinpointing a prescient goal in the modern time: to simply go home, without the need to work for someone you don’t want to. There was something innocent and wonderful about a character’s goal to simply spend time on their couch, watch TV with their partner, hang out and just be a person. I still think that’s as good a goal as any, but that wasn’t Punk’s real intention. His character never wanted to just go home. His character wanted to not ever have to answer to anybody.
For those who weren’t there, here’s the story. After years of perceived misuse, CM Punk found his way into a fortuitous situation: a number one contender’s spot, with the match for the WWE Championship occurring the evening before his contract came up. What gave this story juice was that Punk didn’t seem to want anything. He declared he would win the title, then leave. He threatened to defend the title in other wrestling companies, but mainly inferred he’d simply take his ball and go home. Wrestlers have held the company up for ransom before, but it’s mostly been for power or gold. Punk held WWE up, but wanted nothing.
Punk was the villain in this story, but the crowd quickly came around to his line of thinking. His claim that John Cena, the incumbent champion, had become the New York Yankees of wrestling fortified the view that Punk was the change wrestling fans regularly desired. Wrestling journalists confirmed for savvy fans that Punk’s contract actually was coming up, and whether or not this was ever true, it added legitimacy to the narrative. Punk’s entrance to the match—taking place in his namesake city of Chicago—was electric. It’s still one of the best entrance reactions of all time. And the match holds up, three years later, as one brimming with intrigue, unique spots neither used again, and a finishing sequence so well done even veteran fans sat on the edge of their seats.
In the end, Punk defeated Cena. Vince McMahon stood at ringside, his plans to keep the title in WWE failed, and he stood helpless as Punk straddled the railing between the stage and the fans, blew a kiss at him, and left the arena, hopping into a car, and disappearing. It was a season finale-quality moment, almost too good for pro wrestling. In two weeks, Punk returned, but like the spiritual opposite of frosty the snowman, he seemed to say, “I will go away again someday.” His reasons were leaving were too strong, his reasons for returning too vague. I still don’t believe Punk “left” WWE during this period. His contract may have been up, but there’s simply no logic to the idea that WWE let him hold their championship without first finalizing a new deal. Nevertheless, enough people believed it for the story to stay strong, and Punk’s character fully realized.
When you watch wrestling on a regular basis, you see patterns. You see a cast of archetypes. Over time, their actions become somewhat predictable (though never more predictable than when trying to explain something surprising to people who could not care less). This predictability becomes comforting. This is the basis of soap, and shouldn’t surprise anyone. The viewing itself becomes habit, often left as an unconscious action. How often do you decide to stop watching a show you’ve been watching your whole life? Here’s the thing: you should watch wrestling if you get something out of it, but “I get something out of it” shouldn’t be the reason. It should be more. You should be able to communicate it. Defend it. And if you can’t defend it, even to yourself, you should consider doing something else with your time. Wrestling will not miss you. It loses fans every day.
CM Punk wrestled almost the entire 2014 Royal Rumble match. He was unceremoniously taken out of the match by Kane. Then, he disappeared. We heard that he’d quit. We didn’t believe it. For months, it became a guessing game. Then, it became just a stone cold fact, with an opinion from everyone about the why’s and how’s. But here’s the fact of the matter: CM Punk, a wrestler many of us had gotten very, very used to, finally did the thing he’d promised for years: go home. We should have seen it coming, but we didn’t believe him. He’s a wrestler, after all. Wrestler’s never really leave. Wrestlers with no financial or emotional incentive to return eventually do. And while we still don’t know what “really” happened, it almost doesn’t matter. CM Punk won. He gets to live his life his way. And I’m happy for him, even if it makes it a touch harder for me. CM Punk made my life a little easier, but it’s selfish of me (and frankly, everyone), to expect him to do anything more than whatever the hell he wants.
And while yes, there is a lesson here to appreciate people for what they do, and not take them for granted, the real lesson is to try not to depend on the lives of others to help yours out. I take things like wrestling and podcasts for granted. I expect them to show up. But if Dan Benjamin quit his entire network tomorrow, I should be strong enough to not need to find another crutch. It can suck (and it would), but he’s a person, like CM Punk is a person. Our crutches are people, too. CM Punk did what he had to succeed. Success is a subject continually studied on Quit. Why ever quit? It’s about potential, happiness, and a greater chance of actual happiness. It’s about getting more out of life. But as cool an idea as quitting is, grit is actually a better one to study. The grit is the thing. Study Punk’s grit, and you’ll actually get the lesson of his career. Study Dan’s grit, and you’ll actually get the point of all those podcasts. Study your own, and you’ll find what you need to spend your life in your way.
Then came National Pro Wrestling Day, an annual January event in Philadelphia that aims to bring together the fractured and scattered indie wrestling world under one roof. Near the end of the show, a vast battalion of bad guys—some Chikara affiliated, some not—filled up the ring and threatened to shut the show down. That’s when Icarus led a crew of good guys to fight them off and announce the return of Chikara. Some of the good guys were already in the arena, in disguise. A few others showed up in a DeLorean. It was a whole thing. And a few months later—in May, nearly a year after the company shut down in the first place—Chikara made its return. It had been a storyline the whole time—a vast, complicated one that was nearly impossible for a casual fan to follow, but a storyline nonetheless. Chikara willingly shut itself down for 11 months, and it had done so for the sake of narrative.
Solid write-up of a story that really, really needed one.
On August 12, WWE released its Network to a litany of countries. In most cases, the feature set remained identical: access to a website and tablet apps that showed not only a live curated channel but also a back catalogue of on-demand content. Whatever criticisms there are about the WWE Network itself, at least it’s the same product just about everything.
I say just about, because the WWE Network isn’t the same thing in Canada.
Since the Network launched, I’ve been accessing it using unblockme.us and a Paypal account. It’s been ludicrously easy and it works across all my devices. My Xbox 360 plays the Network just fine (at least as well as Americans, anyway). But I wanted to try out the WWE Network in Canada, to both compare differences and see if it was worth switching plans.
Due to a deal with Rogers, the WWE Network is a very different product in Canada. Instead of a website, it is available exclusively through Rogers cable. It is not, in any way, “over the top” as it is everywhere else. It is in fact, the old way of doing things: a content provider has a deal with a content distributor.
In other words, it’s not so much The WWE Network as The WWE Channel.
The WWE Network in Canada is two channels on Rogers cable. For me in Toronto, it’s channel 512 and 397. It may be different in other markets. Channel 512 is the “live” feed, which so far as I’ve seen is identical to the live stream in the US and everywhere else. Channel 397 (which is where WWE 24/7 used to reside) is the “on demand” portion. This is where the content amount really splits. Currently, the on-demand content is abysmal, with only a handful of Summerslam’s, ECW shows, and a tiny smattering of WCW PPVs. It is a smaller amount of content than any month on WWE 24/7, and it totally pitiful compared to the real WWE Network.
The sad part of this is that the website doesn’t work. We don’t get the Network and this channel. We only get this. The Canadian WWE Channel has nothing to do with your WWE Account, only your Rogers subscription. That I’m paying for the WWE Network means nothing to Rogers. Rogers has stated that content will eventually appear on Rogers Anyplace, their on-demand app, so the gap between content may shift over time. Still, this is a bad deal for the consumer overall, a move even worse than Netflix’s Canadian/US catalogue difference.
And yet I don’t hate it.
The Canadian WWE Channel has two things going for it that the WWE Network doesn’t. That’s not to say it’s better. It really, really isn’t. But I’ve been watching channel 512 far more often than I’ve been heading to the website. I haven’t launched the Xbox 360 app once since I signed up as a Canadian. It is on TV in the most literal sense, and even in 2014 that carries a weight that no internet channel can match. I turn my TV on, and wrestling is there. Even the Network can’t do that, yet.
And because it’s coming through cable and not the internet, there is no stuttering or loading. I don’t have to load up the (mostly poor) apps on game consoles to watch it. It’s literally a button press away. During the first six months of the Network, whole weeks would go by without me once hitting the bookmark on my browser, but the Network has been on every day on my TV, if only for a moment before I realize I’ve already seen what’s airing.
That’s the major downside of only seeing the live stream: boy, do they replay stuff a lot. For a Network with tens of thousands of hours of content, they seem to be working in rolling 6 hour segments. If you watch the Network live stream for 48 hours straight, you’ll likely see the same thing at least three times. You can see the schedule here. I don’t have a DVR, but I’d imagine this is where that functionality would come in handy (another thing you can’t do with the regular Network).
Canadians have a choice, then: continue to use tactics like VPN to attain access to the US WWE Network, accept the (mostly) inferior Rogers cable solution, or, if you don’t mind paying twice, do both. It likely comes down to how you like to consume wrestling. Casual viewer? Just sign up with Rogers. Hardcore? Stick with the hack solution for now.
TH takes on one of my favorite topics on improving the show: Removing the announcers entirely:
Maybe if WWE fans at home had tranquil silence from everyone who wasn’t a fan, a wrestler, or a NPC within the story, then maybe they would get the chance to love those characters too without getting a heaping load of bullshit to go on top of the narrative they hear with their own ears.
With new insight from Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman, The Best vs The Beast Revisited looks back at CM Punk vs Lesnar from SummerSlam 2013.
Back a few years ago, before there was a Network, I wrote an article about what I’d like to see, what form the Network might take if it were to be really, really awesome. The product as we’ve seen thus far has been on the one hand phenomenal (in that it exists at all, price, and distribution on devices, if not regions) and disappointing (content, curation, and discoverability). WWE has quietly launched what could be considered a “new” show on the Network in Video Vault, which appears to be a curated set of matches. These include three Summerslam highlights, an Undertaker vs Angle match from Smackdown in 2003, Cena vs Lesnar from Extreme Rules, Cena vs Punk from Raw last year, and this: Lesnar vs Punk from Summerslam 2013.
What sets this episode apart from the others is that it has an intro. It’s in-character, but it’s still an intro. It’s contextual information that helps the viewer understand why this is worth watching. It’s a baby step, but it’s an important one.
I’m going to do a run of 13 Heart is Raw articles starting in September. They’ll make up the second half of 2014’s collection, which will then be available as a book in January (called Season 2). Season One is, of course, still available.
The menu is worse than it was for WWE 24/7. At least there were some visual guides with that, a grid, you know? It’s slow and clunky. Rogers has good on demand channel UI’s now (it took them forever, but still). It looks like it was made in 20 minutes by one guy who wasn’t even paying attention.
And why is it two channels? 512 and 397. It doesn’t make any goddamn sense.
Instead of a giant Netflix-style thing, WWE could have absolutely done the browsing section like a curated experience. Not necessarily chronologically, but by quality. Did you like this show? You’ll really like this show, which would then unlock for viewing. Have the viewer watch a specific match before getting to see another match in the same vein. Educate wrestling fans to be better.
The main event of Summerslam 2014, between Brock Lesnar and John Cena, was one of the most unique pro wrestling matches I’ve ever seen. It was almost not a wrestling match by historical structure. Nearly all wrestling matches have a balanced pacing, allowing both performers time to exhibit their moves and personality. This is opposed to more traditional forms of combat theatre like boxing or MMA, where there is not only no predetermined winner, but also no guarantee of what will occur. Pro wrestling matches aren’t just fixed; they’re choreographed, and they are for the purpose of entertainment. It is entertaining to watch pro wrestlers do their signature moves. It is entertaining to watch them over and over, often in the same order. Repetition allows for familiarity, and John Cena is familiar. We know everything he can and will do during a performance.
Traditionally, a well-designed wrestling match contains two somewhat equally-skilled performers, thereby making the outcome a mystery. You can’t guess who will win simply by knowing the better wrestler, because the story leading up to the match nullifies the equation. One week, wrestler A gets the upper hand. The next week, Wrestler B does something sneaky and gets the hand back. Performers are rarely shown as identical, instead with complimentary attributes. The victor is a mystery until we know which attribute proves key.
In a one-sided contest, however, no such logic persists. Real sports make an effort to limit imbalance, but pro wrestling uses it as a trope. This was, however, not what WWE communicated to us in the narrative leading up to Summerslam. They played it as they often do: Both sides had quality points. Lesnar was on the streak of a lifetime, having defeated HHH, CM Punk and the Undertaker in the span of a year. Cena, conversely, defeated Lesnar not long before all that, and he did it with aplomb. This match was billed as an even contest between two of the best.
WWE certainly exhibits one-sided contests from time to time, but it is almost always a comedy. A real star will compete against someone far below rank, and the match will be a farce. Ryback vs Brad Maddox was one of these, and it was paced in a way to make us shake our collective heads, enjoying the slimy villain get his. Uneven matches where the villain is outmatched is comedy; flip the roles and it becomes inspirational. Can the plucky hero with no chance of winning defy the odds? Certainly. WWE is very much in that business.
But what business does WWE have by feeding John Cena to Brock Lesnar? Certainly, this story isn’t over. They have a rematch coming, but the outcome of that match will never matter as much as Summerslam. And what Summerslam showed us is that WWE may be in a completely new kind of business.