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  1. You'll likely hear this from others, but Prazak's saga of Ronnie Lottz's restaurant from episode #81 has to be considered one of the crowning zeniths of the show to date.
  2. Parties

    WWE Extreme Rules 2017

    The main is said to be "getting time" and could be tremendous, or just a lackluster TV main event. On paper it's five guys who all have something to prove right now, and it's interesting that not only is this a kayfabe #1 contender's match, it's also a shoot assessment of where RAW's booking is going and of how much variance/novelty they're willing to attempt, if only until Braun returns. A win for Rollins is the dullest option (and a retread of a pairing against Brock that we've already seen in the last two years), but the one that Meltzer thinks most likely, and perhaps if this ends up being a one-and-done defense, it keeps the other four guys from looking weak. Still, I'd rather have Joe, Bray, or Balor go out and have the biggest match of their respective careers at GBOF - in a performance that makes them look like a sustainable main eventer going forward (a la Styles in the Reigns feud) - than a bad Rollins match for the sake of "protecting" guys whose status won't then improve once Braun and Roman emerge as the next real contenders.
  3. Even heavier reliance on HHH, Michaels, Jericho, Van Dam, and Taker as the legends of the company, which hurts them all the more in a post-Attitude slump. They inevitably come to terms with Orton being better suited as a heel than a face, leaving Batista as the man, albeit in the same amount of time circa '05. Edge arguably gets pushed to main event/ace status a year earlier. A huge "What If" in this would be whether WWE feels more inclined to overlook Angle's issues for a longer period, with the feeling that they need him as the workhorse of one of the brands. Maybe they even try to hold on to Rock or Goldberg for longer? The original Cena debut came from that moment in '02 when Vince was openly asking on TV who the next generation were going to be, and one can imagine him getting disenchanted and doubling down even more on aging 90s stars. The other enormous "What If" would be if they feel the need to find a different handsome square-jawed jacked dude with a similar look and end up giving someone like Masters, Matt Morgan, or Rene Dupree an actual run at the top. Cena likely goes to TNA/ROH and becomes a top talent there. I could even see him pulling a Marco Corleone around '02-03 and doing some international dates in Mexico or Japan until TNA becomes a real destination with the Fox Sports deal in '04. In hindsight he seems undeniably superior to anyone they had at the time as a total package, but would it have been appreciated and cultivated, especially if he's coming off a run as a Velocity-level talent who just got fired? To say that TNA recognizes what they have with him would give them credit when they so obviously missed the boat on Danielson, Ki, Okada, Tanahashi, Nakamura, Nigel, KENTA, every luchador on Earth, and everyone else they failed to utilize. In a time dominated by Sting, Jarrett, and eventually Joe, Angle, etc, there's a risk that he becomes an AJ Styles or Christian situation where he's recognized as very talented, but has the taint of TNA on him for so long that fans and bookers alike undervalue him. Even during what's now thought of as the peak of TNA as a viable #2, the best workers in the company were being booked as equal or lesser than Abyss, Sting, Rhyno, Petey Williams, an immobile Scott Steiner, and a highly unmotivated Team 3D.
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    What if... Vince chose Bret over Shawn?

    FWIW Bret has said that he never would have allowed Owen to do that stunt, which is of course what you'd expect him to say given the circumstances, but it does seem unlikely that the gimmick/angle would have even been in place to ever happen. The Hart Foundation as a whole continues, perhaps turning face against the Nation and whatever DX ends up being under the leadership of Hunter or someone else. Overall it probably hurts WWE more than it helps. With the benefit of hindsight, Bret's departure created a tonal shift in the Creative, inspiring the TV dynamic of management vs. talent that continues 20 years later and leaving the door open for new main eventers to emerge. Even if you argue that the wrestling on the show would be better or that Bret would somehow have a hand in booking/pushes vis a vis Jericho, the Radicalz, etc., there's an aspect of a Bret-driven 1998 in WWE that almost starts to feel like a 1992-94 WCW, where the wrestling is good and booking logical, but ultimately a static product due to a lack of fresh thinking. Bret wasn't a selfish ace, but even if he passes the torch to Austin and moves on to wrestling-minded feuds with guys like Shamrock, Severn, or Waltman, that still feels much emptier than what we got. If you look at WWE's '98 roster, there really aren't too many workers who were gonna suddenly break out the pack. Maybe Edge gets pushed sooner and Christian becomes Owen 2.0? Taker, Austin, HHH, Rock, and maybe Foley remain the guys who feel like main eventers, but the back-to-back departures of Bret and Shawn created a much wider opportunity, as the company was forced to go all in on Stone Cold and got lucky with some extremely clutch players around him. The idea of Shawn and possibly even Hunter joining the NWO at the beginning of '98 completely changes the business. The NWO continues to feel like a true WWF raid and takeover of WCW, getting a needed jumpstart and new blood at a critical moment. God only knows what ego trips go on between Hogan and Michaels, with Nash and Bischoff in the middle of it all. HHH feels like he gets lost in some kind of upper midcard: in terms of status, the first guy who came to mind to compare him to was ironically Scott Steiner. I don't think WCW would have understood his character, and his promos would been even more self-indulgent and juvenile than they ended up being. As others have said, it seems almost likely that the chaos of WCW would cause Michaels' tantrums and other vices to continue. I suspect you get Michaels as leader of the Wolfpac, still aligned in whatever fashion with his old pals Nash and Savage. You may even get Michaels doing a job for Goldberg at some point in 98/99.
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    Unicorn Gimmick Matches

    The greatest match gimmick of all time is Dundee-Koko's "Best Two out of Three Falls" Scaffold Match (also easily the best use of a scaffold in wrestling history). But while I may be misremembering this entirely, I recall a Between the Sheets or some other recent podcast where someone was talking about the Midnights or a different tag team who were subjected to this same stip later on? Either way, it remains the gold standard.
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    Dave Meltzer stuff

    I know this isn't really the debate in question, but Jericho as midcard comedian has been much, much more tolerable than the Jericho of 12-18 months ago who thought he could athletically teach Styles and Neville a thing or two and proceeded to have awful singles outings where he was botching several big moves each match. I mean, he often does, but at least he's modified his role and character somewhat to lower those expectations. As even more of an aside: I quite enjoyed the KUSHIDA interview on WOR last week. There were moments in there where it really felt like WWE should sign him, put him in an immersion school to polish his decent English further, and get at least a few years out of him as a likable junior babyface working from underneath. I say all of this with the full understanding that WWE is clueless about and perhaps even averse to the idea of likable babyfaces right now.
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    [2017-04-22-EVOLVE 82] Keith Lee vs Kyle O'Reilly

    I attended the show live and can say that this felt like MOTN in the room. They actually managed to tell a surprising, compelling story with O'Reilly (who I've criticized as bland and character-avoidant in recent years), and Lee continues to be an exception to the typical super-heavyweight who is exceptional in the ways he defies expectations as a verbose, humorous juggernaut. In person he comes off like a comic book character in the best way possible. The action was stiff as well - each guy putting a lot into their strikes - and give O'Reilly credit for taking some wild bumps in the way Lee threw him around. On the card this felt like an afterthought, yet it completely stole the show. The Keith Lee hype is real, and O'Reilly went from being kind of a nerd to feeling like a credible challenger for Sabre or Riddle.
  8. Despite all the talk of devaluing titles, I swear that the most common question I'm asked by casual fans is, "Who's the champ these days?" Literally every time. In that context I'm using "casual" to describe someone who'll watch a few minutes of RAW/SD or even TNA/ROH while flipping channels, but aren't following any shows or storylines week to week. They'll go to a live arena show or watch a big PPV with friends, but they treat it as a lark, where it's akin to going to a comedy show, sporting event, or concert of an act that they don't follow intently. For a lot of people, wrestling is still the circus coming to town. They'll go to see the elephants and acrobats, and they have a good time, but they don't miss it when it's gone, and they sure aren't reading about the circus in their spare time, or YouTubing great ringmasters, or using trade lingo in conversation. One sad irony of WWE's attempts to validate and normalize wrestling into sports entertainment for a discerning public is that most of the "casual fans" seem to find watered-down wrestling to be not boring and not wrestlingish enough. Casual fans watch when they want a taste of the absurd, not the absurd masquerading as a bad sketch that gets cut from the ESPYs. And for all that, and for all that the McMahons resist, and for all the investor calls and brand extensions and Universes, it's still: "Who's the champ these days?"
  9. If anyone doesn't yet think 1989 is the greatest year in wrestling history, listen to this.
  10. People have said that Forbes salary list for 2016 is highly specious and to be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s still interesting that Rollins, Ambrose, Reigns, and Styles are said to have passed Orton by on there. Orton is still younger than Brock, Samoa Joe, Sheamus, Harper, and Cena. He’s essentially the same age as Balor, Cesaro, Danielson, Ziggler, Rowan, and Dillinger, all of which seems suggest that much of how we view whether someone is toward the end of a career or the beginning of one is relative to how long they’ve been on the main roster and have often you've seen them in inconsequential matches and segments. Orton is among the most overexposed guys in company history, having come in so young during a creative nadir. One thing about him is that WWE pretty much abandoned any idea of developing his character or even giving him discernible storylines by… 2009? Whenever he DDTed Steph and stopped punting people? He’s had so little to work with (or less than nothing in the case of MaggotRing2K17) that people forget that he seemed over as a slimy heel in the early Legend Killer days, or even as the Secondary Edge in Rated RKO. His standout matches for me were the stuff when he was a bearded babyface doing jumping leg splits and teaming with Bryan. I also saw him live in a house show match with Jericho a few years ago that was much, much better than you’d expect a 2014 Orton-Jericho house show match to be, to the point that it made me briefly think more of both guys. I don’t think Orton’s had a bad or lackluster career so much as a weird one. He’ll be remembered as an above-average worker who didn’t pan out as the Earth-2 Rock to Cena’s Earth-2 Austin, as Vince seemingly hoped. He doesn’t strike me as a guy who flopped so much as a solid, generally well-regarded performer who was never as over as his push. He’s had times where he was boring or put in bad programs, but crowds tend to actually like him in-ring, and his peers speak more highly of him than the fans do, with a lot of WWE alums and current roster guys considering him to be the best or at least “smoothest” worker in the company (though in guys like AJ he now has stiffer competition there). The biggest and most obvious thing that kept him from being what he was projected to be was that he never became a good promo or a truly beloved character. He doesn’t have the sing-a-long catchphrases or memorable moments that made Austin, Angle, Rock, Taker, Foley, or even Cena who they are. (He’s actually a lot like his mentor HHH in that way.) The closest he seemed to ever come to it was the RKO meme, which WWE didn't capitalize upon well.
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    Mauro and JBL

    "You're either this or that" arguments are oversimplified: there are shades of gray in where folks land on the issue and matters like it. But we do seem to be at a moment in American life where two pervasive mindsets have emerged. In the first are those making the argument that we've become excessively touchy-feely, apologetic, weak-willed, and remorseful: with it comes an idea that success is a zero sum game - inherently competitive and toward survival-of-the-fittest - and that toughening people up through punishment and domineering authority is beneficial to all. JBL (and those in power who utilize him) seems to fall into this camp: consider his repeated mentions of hazing as a cycle that he endured, and that others should endure in order to validate his past hardship. He repeatedly prioritizes "the business" over select colleagues in said business, because he deems them undeserving of its greatness. There is then a counter-argument which suggests that such regimes are not only cruel, but ineffective. That the outcome is only more hostility, more resentment, more division. That such mindsets only perpetuate harmful, unnecessary roles of despots, groveling apparatchiks, and angry, humiliated dupes. Such thinking might suggest that in the case of Vince/HHH/WWE, their urge to intimidate and control everyone in the organization ultimately turns off customers (or makes them less inclined to actively follow the product), dissuades employees, and costs ownership money. We all know who's in power in WWE, and how they behave in order to (in their own minds) preserve and enhance that power: whether you find that exacting hierarchy justifiable (simply inevitable human nature, even) - or instead as something that can and should change - depends on your own mindset, likely formed long ago and apart from this story.
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    WWE TV 4/4/17 Post-Mania Week

    I was actually just listening to the Cabana interview with Cody from a few months back where they talk about how Dillinger is one of the most beloved workers amongst peers in the business (and someone they both view as a unique and underrated talent), so I gather there's a lot of backstage feeling that this run sincerely couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
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    WWE TV 4/4/17 Post-Mania Week

    Is Emma the best wrestler in the world today? No. Is she my favorite wrestler in the world today? Without question.
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    WWE TV 4/4/17 Post-Mania Week

    At last, all four of Hunter's kids settle this.