Welcome to Deadspin’s new irregular pro wrestling column, in which Tom Breihan and Ernest Wilkins will comb through the past month of superkicks, lariats, and 450 splashes in search of the greatest things that this most American of artforms has given us.
Tom Breihan: WWE was riding a wave of goodwill after a truly great WrestleMania and a truly fun next-night Raw, but it's already fallen into a sort of stasis. We’re seeing WrestleMania rematches, but with dumb stipulations. We’re seeing promising younger stars shunted into go-nowhere feuds that seem to exist just to fill up space on the TV shows. We’re seeing a program built around a “kiss me arse” match that’s exactly as dumb as it sounds. In short, we’re seeing WWE fall into the post-WrestleMania lull it always falls into this time of year.
The first pay-per-view after WrestleMania, last month’s Extreme Rules, had exactly one great match: A shockingly fun and fast-paced tag team match between The New Day and the team of Cesaro and Tyson Kidd. Everything else was built around the promise of crazy violence, something WWE is just not going to deliver right now unless Brock Lesnar is involved. (He wasn’t involved.) Even NXT, WWE’s usually-exciting developmental show, has gone into a weird inertia mode where only main-eventers Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn seem to have any real direction. I don’t know, man. It’s depressing.
What did you think of Extreme Rules, Ernest? And given that it was in your hometown, what could’ve convinced you to buy a ticket?
Ernest Wilkins: Seeing as CM Punk coming back to WWE is the wrestling equivalent of Roc-A-Fella Records getting back together (read: it ain’t happening), not much else. Tom, you’re right about the post-Mania doldrums. Even worse, you’re right about it being a thing that fans should be used to at this point. Modern-era WWE works like this: The Road to WrestleMania and the event itself (January-March) is the pinnacle of the year’s efforts, then it’s Slump til’ Summerslam (April-August, save for the Money In The Bank PPV in June, which dictates the rest of the year’s title picture) and then a morass of events that always have name recognition but have failed to deliver the past few years (Survivor Series, Hell In A Cell).
Let’s not mince words here: WWE should do away with the Extreme Rules concept on PPV. They already have TLC as its own “OMG moment” pay-per-view and even Money In The Bank has provided bigger moments in recent years than The PPV Formerly Known As Backlash. Just make King of The Ring its own PPV again. (Note: Wade Barrett as the King of the Ring was a good choice; albeit a simple one to make.)
I have to disagree with there only being one good match on the Extreme Rules card, by the way. Roman Reigns and The Big Show had a Last Man Standing match that on paper bores me even now but ended up being a pretty fun garbage brawl. As for NXT, uh...business just picked up a bit.
That basically reinvigorates NXT, don’t you think? I mean, the result of the main event of Unstoppable, the next NXT special is kind of spoiled now, but that means we’re due for new storylines and challengers for Kevin Owens and maybe the debut of Samoa Joe. Everything might be ok in McMahonLand, Tom! In other news, the good folks at Ring of Honor are teaming up with New Japan Pro-Wrestling to deliver two absolutely STACKED shows. Did you see these lineups, man?
Tom: Yeah, I wrote my intro bit before a shockingly good Monday Night Raw, when the company seemed to will itself out of its languor and throw a bunch of cool shit at us. It’s such a weird thing: They’ll fall into a stupor, and then a random show will turn out to be really good. Sometimes they’ll keep the momentum going for a little while, and sometimes it’ll just fart back out again. But yes: Sami Zayn’s official Raw debut, a great and competitive match against John Cena, was a special moment, and it redeemed the entire concept of WWE wrestling, at least for the week. Zayn apparently injured himself in the match, which sucks. But it still meant that the world at large got to see why internet dorks like us think this guy is so special. And knowing about that injury, it’s even more impressive that Zayn gutted it out and came with such a monster effort, hitting that between-the-ropes DDT and everything.
The funny thing is that WWE employs so many amazing people that it could have special moments like that all the time. It doesn’t have to suck for at least half the year! It can achieve greatness whenever it wants! I don’t know if that makes it more frustrating when the show sucks, or if it just matters more in those moments where the company finally puts everything together.
But per your question: Yes, I’ve seen these motherfucking match lineups, and I cannot wait. I’ve entertained notions of driving five hours up to Philly and trying to scheme my way into that one show, even though I’m an adult with kids and responsibilities and whatnot. Ring Of Honor and New Japan came together for two shows last year, and one of those shows—the New York one, the one where guys from both companies actually wrestled each other—was straight-up one of the best wrestling shows of the year. The Kevin Steen/Shinsuke Nakamura match was about as good as an interpromotional wrestling match can be. The whole thing felt special, and now it’s happening again.
Ring of Honor doesn’t have the strongest roster in the world; it feels like a pretty-good indie these days, rather than The Only Indie That Matters. But the ROH guys pair beautifully with the monsters they have over in NJPW. And New Japan also has the Bullet Club, the faction of disrespectful-asshole American bad guys. A lot of those guys are regulars in ROH as well, but when you put them all together, with the bandannas, and the finger-guns, they become something more than the sum of their parts. That show should be an absolute blast.
And speaking of absolute blasts, have you been keeping up with Lucha Underground? I thought April was an awful month for pro wrestling, but that show kept me going.
Ernest: Putting this in bold so we’re clear: Lucha Underground is the best weekly wrestling show in America. In one season, they’ve managed to expertly translate the lucha libre style and passion and bring it stateside, making a lot of fans take notice. They’ve already been greenlit for another season, so it’s safe to say if they keep it going, they’ll keep my interest.
Something worth noting in regards to Lucha Underground and to your point about ROH not feeling like The Only Indie That Matters is that we’re in a weird place in wrestling right that echoes the aesthetics of the territorial era. You see promotions sharing talent, but for the most part, everyone is doing them. House of Hardcore doesn’t look like Chikara which DEFINITELY doesn’t feel like CZW which doesn’t look like PWG who doesn’t feel like AAW, Dreamwave, PROGRESS, ICW, so on and forth. It’s easy to churn out the same stuff but at the same time, a lot of promotions are putting in the work to stand out and get noticed. That’s awesome.
Now, I’d like to address something that happened since our last column:
If you’re a wrestling fan looking for a NBA playoff team to root for, meet the Memphis Grizzlies. Those in the know are already aware that Memphis is traditionally one of the hottest wrestling towns on Earth but mascots doing table spots is a whole new level. Were it not for my beloved Bulls, I’d gladly be cheering on ol’ One-Eyed Conley, Z-Bo,and the Grizz. Tom, have you ever seen a mascot do such a graceful Superfly Splash?
Tom: Gotta admit, I have not seen anything like that on a basketball court before. It’s also worth mentioning that this month, we also got Wilson Fisk chokeslamming Matt Murdock through a drafting table on episode 9 of Daredevil:
So even if pro wrestling did just have a fairly unremarkable month, I guess that’s OK. When the rest of the world is turning into prime-era ECW, who am I to complain?
Tom Breihan is the senior editor at Stereogum. He’s written for Pitchfork, the Village Voice, GQ, Grantland, and the Classical, and he writes the Netflix Action Movie Canon column for Deadspin’s Concourse. He lives in Charlottesville, VA. He is tall, and on Twitter.
Ernest Wilkins is a writer living in Chicago. He’s written for Gawker, Complex, Pitchfork, Noisey, GQ, Rolling Stone and the Chicago Tribune. He’s 5’11 on a good day, and is also on Twitter.