Spencer Gordon’s first book of fiction is called Cosmo, and it’s dropping in the fall of 2012 with Coach House Books. His fiction, poetry, and other articles have been published (or will be published) in magazines and anthologies like Joyland, Event, The Windsor Review, and a lot more. He’s a co-editor/founder of the online magazine The Puritan and the micro-press Ferno House, which dropped his poetry chapbook Feel Good! Look Great! Have a Blast! in fall 2011. He teaches at Humber and (soon) at OCAD U and holds an MA from the University of Toronto. He blogs here: dangerousliterature.blogspot.
JULY 15, 2012. US AIRWAYS CENTER, PHOENIX ARIZONA.
Pre-Show: Tag-Team Match
Kofi Kingston & R-Truth vs. Hunico & Camacho
DEAR CREATIVE: what is the point of re-invigorating your long atrophied tag-team division if you refuse to have your tag team champions compete as part of the main event? Relegating Kofi and Truth to the pre-show makes little sense—especially considering we were subject to the non-title, nearly irrelevant tag-team bout later in the evening (though it did help to prove that Darren Young is indeed botchy and the loud-mouthed AW confuses wrestling moves with making money—but more on that later).
The unlikely pairing of Kingston and Truth further complicates matters. Ever since dropping his fake Jamaican stereotype, Kofi has had no real gimmick, other than speaking earnestly, clapping, and saying “boom;” he seems caught in that nice-guy face limbo, with mediocre crowd support, amazing abilities, but little hope for a push. Truth, on the other hand, has seen his often amusing Little Jimmy gimmick (and 2011 main-event status—remember Capitol Punishment?) devolve into a kind of pathetic pantomime—Truth is now big smiles and little brains, reinforcing WWE’s strict racist pigeonholing of black competitors as criminals, villains, lunatics, agitators, or simply (as is the case with Kofi) non-entities.
As jobbers, Hunico and Camacho look good, and Kofi and Truth always bring stellar performances, but no drama, no heat, and most importantly, no television time means that this eight-and-a-half minute match was utterly meaningless.
Money in the Bank Match for the World Heavyweight Championship Contract:
Damien Sandow vs. Tyson Kidd vs. Christian vs. Santino Marella vs. Tensai vs. Cody Rhodes vs. Sin Cara vs. Dolph Ziggler
Opening up the show with a Money in the Bank match is great idea; I can’t recall a shitty race to the briefcase, and last night’s race to a World Heavyweight Championship contract was no exception. A lot of highlights from the match: Tensai’s aggressive beatdown of Tyson Kidd, providing some of the only real heat in the match; Damien Sandow’s big rush of the ladder and the ensuing spills onto the floor; Christian’s leaping spears into and off of ladders, channeling that still-fresh Edge hysteria; Cody Rhodes and Dolph Ziggler providing loads of high spot moves (especially Cody’s beautiful disaster kicks); Tyson Kidd’s balancing act on the ropes holding half of a ladder, only to flip into a bizarre and devastating move that got the crowd chanting “holy shit!”; Tensai powerbombing Sin Cara onto the elevated ladder near the announce table in a hilarious repeat of last year’s event, when Cara went into the ladder from a similar move from Sheamus; and finally, Dolph Ziggler’s spinning, inverted, and insane bump into the announce chairs. All in all, a fun bout, and Ziggler’s victory (while fairly predictable) was exactly what needed to happen.
This was a great match for certain competitors and fairly useless for others. Tensai continues to build a kind of reckless, incensed persona, throwing debris at Sakamoto and resembling an enormous diapered baby rampaging through an S&M dungeon. While he doesn’t have the mystique and danger of his initial push, he could easily be rescued and moved up the heel ladder (though this ball may be, disappointingly, dropped). While Tyson Kidd was indeed a wild card—and, indeed, the only interesting storyline going into the match—a loss here doesn’t stomp out his sudden push. If he could only get his mic skills up to snuff, Kidd could be one of the hottest properties on the SmackDown roster in the latter half of 2012. While kind of stale of late, Christian and Cody Rhodes showcased why they’re go-to guys for highflying, high impact matches. Cody Rhodes simply needs a new direction for his gimmick. As he’s dropped his “Dashing” character and lost all the menace of the mask, it’s hard to know how Rhodes will distinguish himself as a heel, especially considering that as arrogant, show-offy, and delusional superstars go, he’s basically a duplicate of Dolph Ziggler. Finally, Ziggler got his reward for being one of the best in-ring guys in the WWE, proving again and again that he can make almost anyone look amazing (even Brodus Clay!) with his super bumps. And as a star that’s showing signs of tweening from heel to face (with ever-increasing crowd support and chants), it’s exciting to see how and when this guy’ll cash in the briefcase.
On the downside, some of the superstars featured seemed to fade to the backdrop. Damien Sandow (otherwise known as the reincarnation of Lanny Poffo’s The Genius) was a ghost for most of the match. Santino continued to thrill people under the age of eight and under an IQ of 80; that bit about his fear of heights was gloriously stupid, but totally irrelevant (how does this man have the US Championship?). And Sin Cara continues to prove absolutely nothing in the ring. A silent and masked luchador had potential in 1996 in WCW, but not in today’s climate. What, exactly, is Sin Cara’s draw? Merchandise? Main events? Buy rates? This entire year has been a botch for Sin Cara and his creative direction. Add to this his wellness violations and countless in-ring botches (which seem to almost kill people) and you’ve got a major disappointment on your hands. Cara just goes to show how much of an entertainer Mysterio is, and how nuts the kids will be when he returns.
The question on everyone’s lips after this match was whether Dolph Ziggler would cash in his contract that night. There was something magical in the air. It seemed all too certain … and all too shitty that it wouldn’t work out …
Singles Match for the World Heavyweight Championship
Sheamus (c) vs. Alberto Del Rio
Here we’re still dealing with the fallout of Chris Jericho and Randy Orton’s separate, simultaneous suspensions. The race between Ziggler and Del Rio to grab number-one contender status for the World Heavyweight Championship was overshadowed by the dull certainty of Sheamus’s victory over either competitor. With Sheamus being pushed so hard lately, was there any question in anyone’s mind that Ziggler would actually clean up at No Way Out, or that Del Rio would emerge victorious last night at Money in the Bank? Again, while predictability can actually work in the WWE’s favour (no one likes a stupid-headed surprise), this match had little of the drama of Ziggler’s match with Sheamus at the last pay-per-view (which was also predictable, but still enthralling due to Ziggler’s theatrics). We can’t care about a bitter feud if there’s absolutely no question about the victor.
To make matter worse, the Del Rio of 2012 is a far cry from his win-streak and accolade-heavy run in 2011. Winning the Royal Rumble, the RAW Money in the Bank Ladder Match, and the WWE Championship, Del Rio seemed to be one of the WWE’s most important stars. Fast-forward a year later, and we arrive at his half-hearted feud with Sheamus. Strangely, the most interesting thing about Del Rio is personal assistant, ring announcer, and Eddie Munster-stand-in Ricardo Rodriguez, who provides enough distractions, bumps, and jokes to carry the two-man package into cartoon perpetuity. As a cartoon and racist caricature, Del Rio seems like a good pairing with Sheamus, himself an embarrassing stereotype, but without chemistry the feud just falls (and fell) flat.
I don’t really like Sheamus. I think his finisher is garbage. I think he looks winded and awkward in the ring. I think his promos veer from cheesy and feel-good to utterly brain dead (one more reference to some old uncle Angus in Ireland and I’m going to start believing that all Irish are hooligan drunks). As most fans know, Sheamus’s push is a direct result of his friendly relationship with Triple-H; if he wasn’t so buddy-buddy with the C.O.O., I could see the Celtic Warrior languishing as a US Champ heel, or worse.
So Sheamus beat Del Rio in about fourteen minutes, pinning him clean in the ring after a (yawn) Brogue Kick. We all knew this was going to happen, so let’s move on. The real intrigue was going to happen after the match. In perfect form, Del Rio and Rodriguez kick and stomp a celebrating Sheamus, presumably outraged that he would continue his run as champion. Then—yes!—Ziggler’s music! Ziggler charges down to the ring with the blue briefcase in hand and demands that the ref begin a championship match with the injured Sheamus. A jealous Del Rio runs interference, but hope stays afloat when Ziggler nails him with the briefcase. But just as we might assume the match is to begin, Sheamus rises and hits Ziggler with a (barf) Brogue Kick. Sheamus is still champ, and because the match never actually got started, Ziggler still has his chance to cash in later in the year. So, back to normal. I’m getting tired at this point.
Primo & Epico vs. The Prime Time Players (Titus O’Neil & Darren Young)
About a year ago, I thought that Primo had been let go. I figured Darren Young (after the Nexus disaster) was another casualty. But here we are in 2012 watching these two no-reaction superstars square off in dragging tag-team competition. As The Prime Time Players, O’Neil and Young are number one contenders for the tag-team straps held by Kofi and R-Truth. So mid-way through the pay-per-view, we have the number-one contenders square off against … Primo and Epico? And here’s the kicker—Primo and Epico win the match, making O’Neil and Young … still the number one contenders? Why is this happening?
Primo and Epico are sensational workers, but narcolepsy-inducing as performers. The Prime Time Players have been fun to watch, but mostly because of Darren Young’s growing Botchamania footage (no wonder he was sidelined!) and AW’s ring-side promos, heckles, and jeers (seriously: what is “#millionsofdollars”? is this going to be trending on Twitter, ever? In pure WWE-world logic, it just might, as the dumbest of expressions and phrases seem to have the most lasting cache (read: Austin’s “What?” or Bryan’s “Yes!”)). I also enjoy Young and O’Neil’s in-ring dance routines and afro-pick sessions, but only if I pretend that black people are depicted as fairly as white people and I smash my head against the wall.
The bout ended with a lame roll-up after a thoroughly surprising nine-and-a-half minutes (one imagines these matches lasting half as long), leading to a post-match confrontation between The Prime Time Players and Kofi and Truth, who provided a kind of bored and sleepy commentary alongside the regular announcers throughout. Truth seemed to shoot water from his hand, AW said what is probably going to be his catchphrase beyond hash-tag millions of dollars (“ah hell no”), and that was that.
No Disqualification Singles Match for the WWE Championship (with AJ as special guest referee)
CM Punk (c) vs. Daniel Bryan
Without question, AJ was the most interesting phenomenon in the WWE over the last month and a half. I say was because whatever mystery surrounded her involvement in this match and its competitors was completely wasted. Ah, WWE creative: able to lead us along with amazing builds, but so dependable at spoiling things at the payoff.
When AJ was skipping out to the ring in cut-off Punk shirts or Kane masks, she held the universe in the palm of her hand. This has been certainly the most misogynistic storyline in recent memory, but there was something so gleeful about AJ’s interactions with Punk, Kane, and Bryan that the narrative became almost post-gendered. So many amazing lines from the conflict: Punk’s chant-and-sign inducing admission that he “digs crazy chicks;” Kane refusing a romantic relationship with AJ because she was “too mentally unstable;” AJ’s almost mind-bogglingly self-aware statement of “I like it when men look at me,” as if suddenly the male gaze was being treated as a serious critical weapon. There was something special about AJ’s skipping, her pouting, her tiny malevolence; and, most importantly, her mercurial ties to Punk and Bryan.
But by the time Money in the Bank rolled around, the uncertainty of her allegiances required solving: was she there to screw over ex-boyfriend Bryan for dumping her after his eighteen second title loss from WrestleMania, or was she working with Bryan the entire time, conspiring with him to pull the plug on Punk’s title run and assist Bryan in a victory? Either way, revenge or conspiracy would have brought a satisfying end to this bizarre three-way, and potentially led to even weirder shit.
As it played out, AJ’s early bump and removal from the match was all too predictable. When she returned to the ring (as everyone knew she would), she seemed torn between Bryan and Punk, helping the former in one instance before assisting the latter in the next. As we reached the end of the match, AJ simply counted down Bryan like a sane and professional referee. As nothing has changed—Punk retains the belt, Bryan loses another pay-per-view, and AJ reveals nothing—this, I fear, spells the end of AJ’s brief and glorious involvements in high profile matches. I will certainly miss her.
In terms of the actual fight, this was another great showing from Punk and Bryan, who prove that they cannot have a bad match together. While not quite as technical (or mat-centric) as previous showings, the addition of the chair shots, table smashes, and kendo sticks was a welcome hardcore addition to their feud. Some particularly vicious kicks to Punk’s chest and knees to his head; Punk’s amazing body slam that utilized a chair in its execution; the satisfying ending that saw both men flying backwards from the top rope through a table. All in all, a very decent encounter and possibly the end to Bryan and Punk’s campaign—and besides, it was crucial for Punk to retain his title now going toward SummerSlam, as whoever wins the Money in the Bank for the WWE Championship contract is almost certain to cash in and end Punk’s formidable reign as champ. As all signs point to Cena as the winner, this will mean interesting things for Punk’s character. What do you do with a face Punk against a back-to-glory, post-Rock Cena? Is a heel turn in the works for the voice of the voiceless?
Only one question remains: what was that jacket that Bryan wore to the ring? What were those symbols on the back? And why is #jacket not trending on Twitter?!
Ryback vs. Curt Hawkins & Tyler Reks
I have little to say about this match as, again, predictability ruled. Ryback is the 2012 Goldberg and half as charismatic. In fact, Ryback seems mentally incompetent. His weird arm swings and half-time head bobs speak volumes about his sense of rhythm and timing. Dirt sheet rumours abound about Ryback’s stiff work style; some smarks babbled on about various wrestlers being reluctant to face him in the ring, thinking him still too green for safety. Whether these are planted works or the imaginative daydreaming of Internet gremlins doesn’t really change the fact that Ryback sucks. All I know is that these monster-pushes seem like throwbacks to another era, a slap in the faces of today’s wrestling fans (people who look to subvert the standard storytelling techniques and see something new). They did the same goddamned thing with Brodus Clay and Lord Tensai. Now both of these dudes are losing matches and losing their unbeatable allure.
Much respect to Hawkins and Reks for actually scoring some moves on Ryback, and for doing their jobs and putting the “8-10 large meals a day” monster over. But c’mon—was there any doubt that Ryback wouldn’t strut away the victor? Wake me up when Ryback’s fired.
Money in the Bank Match for the WWE Championship Contract:
Kane vs. Chris Jericho vs. The Big Show vs. John Cena vs. The Miz
The Miz’s re-appearance and last-minute announcement that he would be returning to action and joining the all-ex-WWE-champion Money in the Bank bout added some necessary spice and vitality to this strangely depopulated ladder match. While his involvement in the fight didn’t create any explosive pairings, simply having another body in the ring allowed other competitors to shine.
All viewers over a certain mental high-bar could foresee the end to this match. It would make no sense for Kane to have another Money in the Bank briefcase, as he’s now face and his last monster-heel push fizzled at the hands of Cena (and he recently lost to Punk). Having recently been beaten repeatedly by Punk, Jericho isn’t in any real position to feud with the champ, and it’d be surprising to see the WWE push Y2J to the top spot in the wake of his suspension, Fozzy tours, and general utility as a guy who makes other guys look great. The Big Show will probably never win the Money in the Bank match and will probably never win the WWE Championship again; he’s just too old, too slow, and not enough of a draw. Finally, The Miz could have made this pay-per-view extremely interesting by winning the briefcase, but as Punk fairly recently quashed his attempts to win the strap and he’s only just come back, it seemed unlikely that he’d pull it off.
That leaves us with Cena: a man who’s been bereft of a belt since last summer, caught up in giant main-event feuds with The Rock and Brock Lesnar, and who’s never won a Money in the Bank contract. You don’t have to be Lanny Poffo (or Damien Sandow, for that matter) to add it up. Cena was walking away with the briefcase—which is exactly what happened.
As matches go, this was all right—no highflyers meant a more grounded ladder-fest than what we’re used to, but there were enough high spots to keep it interesting. Hats off to Cena for giving the Attitude Adjustment to The Big Show through the Spanish announce table fairly early in the match; this allowed Miz, Kane, Cena, and Jericho to bury the giant in a huge pile of ladders in possibly the funniest sequence I’ve seen in a while (Big Show was invisible beneath a titanic pile of steel, dazed or unconscious atop a collapsed table—genius, both for the marks and kiddies). Hats off, too, to Jericho for really creating some drama in the final minutes, crawling atop Cena’s back and employing a devastating sleeper hold from fifteen feet in the air, or dangling from the cable above the action in beautifully dramatic form. It was nice to hear the Y2J chants throughout—it seems like the WWE Universe will never tire of yearning for Jericho to turn face and once again become the Ayatollah of Rock n’ Rolla. Unfortunately for the marks in us all, Big Show finally emerged from his duvet of ladders and knocked out Y2J and The Miz in the final seconds of the match, only to attempt the same with Cena and accidentally crash his frying pan-sized fist against the swaying briefcase.
With Cena and Show together above the ring, it was obvious that this was the end. Cena used the briefcase to smash Show’s skull, resulting in what looked like a botch—the suitcase ripped from the cable and wound up in Cena’s mitts without him having to unhook it as normal. Although Cena’s victory was obviously intentional, you could see the surprise in his face as the case became free and suddenly the match was over, with Show still hanging on and in need of a few more head smashes to be dislodged. Cue the celebrations.
I was curious to see if Punk would have emerged at this point to have a stare-off with John Boy, but Cena was allowed his time to ham it up and give his end-zone dance. And with that—and as we move to Monday Night RAW’s historic 1000th episode—it looks like we’re going to get Punk vs. Cena part two (or three, if you’re being accurate). As all fans know, these two have extraordinary chemistry together, creating two of the best matches in 2011 at last year’s Money in the Bank and Summerslam (in fact, the Money in the Bank WWE-title match from last year is perhaps one of the best matches of the decade, with Punk bringing home the strap in his hometown of Chicago (going absolutely bananas) and then promptly leaving the company in the best storyline of the year). As a Punk mark, it’ll be sad for me to see Cena cash in the case, but Punk desperately needs to feud with top guys—defeating Ziggler, Miz, Del Rio, Bryan, Jericho, and other mid-carders has made his title run seem somewhat, well, stale. And, as always, we live in the hope that this Punk/Cena pairing will create some unanticipated swerves, potential heel turns, and some grandiose matches.