Mike and Marc’s Excellent Wrestling Adventures (Winter Edition)

Mike Holland: Marc and I have been working on a labor of love for quite some time, and while my neighbor to the north and I have plenty of common ground on which to tread (hockey and beer surely near the top of the list), it’s professional wrestling that bridges the gap for us in a major way. We pooled our collective resources and came up with an idea to engage in some lively banter over the biggest and hottest topics of the day concerning the squared circle for your reading pleasure. Think of it as traveling through the news and notes of the wrestling world with two opinionated fellows looking to save the world and possibly attempt to form a Wyld Stallyns cover band. I’m damn good at the xylophone.

If you’re interested in hearing our banter weekly, tune in to the newly refurbished Main Event Madness podcast resuming at the end of this month right after the Royal Rumble and continuing weekly. It’s the equivalent of cheesesteaks and poutine, delicious and nutritious. And as always, feel free to give us your thoughts either here or on social media letting us know where you stand or who you agree with. I’m fully prepared to accept that it will usually be me. In the meantime, we’ve got an adventure to get to. We hope you like it. Most excellent!

What do you think about part-timers headlining a Royal Rumble Match?

Mike: The road to WrestleMania has been marked of late with plenty of off-ramps, each one leading to some esteemed name of the past and rarely delivering on the promises offered. I loved going to the Jersey Shore as a kid, but they just don’t make ’em like they used to. Now that whirlwind of fun and festivity that I knew as the Boardwalk actually looks a lot more like a third world hovel. This kaleidoscopic view reached its peak at last year’s WrestleMania, when the big dance between Shane McMahon and The Undertaker with plenty on the line (none of which actually ended up mattering, but I digress) was a sexy entrée that proved much more sizzle than steak. While I’d never critique either of those guys for the physical battle they put themselves through, it does beg the obvious question: was that the best WWE could do?

This is a particularly salient query because it’s Royal Rumble time, and this year’s iteration dispenses with any doubt that WWE is putting the old guard front and center for the marketing campaign. The selling points this year are a disgraced UFC fighter, the semi-retired WCW stalwart who beat the first guy in a minute and a half, and the aforementioned Undertaker, legendary but reduced to a cameo appearance whenever ticket sales are slow. What does it say about the current state of affairs that those three, no matter how good any or all of them may be, are the reason we should watch the Network at the end of the month?

Nostalgia is important to us all in sports in general, but very particularly the strain of sports that constitutes professional wrestling. The reason is that wrestling feels remarkably temporary and transitory. Many people abandon it after watching it as a child, just about everyone looks fondly upon the glory days of the business, and many of its stars leave this world far too soon. That doesn’t give you a lot of opportunity to celebrate the now, and it certainly leads to amazing moments in time. The problem here is reliance on the past doesn’t just discredit the present, it slows it down even further. Do any of us believe that Goldberg or Taker are capable of putting forth a series of matches like they did in their prime? Doubtful. Featuring them can’t help but reduce the roles of guys who are getting it done night in and night out right now.

I would look at it like a relationship. What does it say to your significant other of five years when you tell them you’re busy on Friday because your old flame that just had enhancement surgery rolled into town? While the “big name” aspect of wrestling shouldn’t and won’t disappear due to the eyeballs that come with it, it’s far more important that WWE demonstrate they can successfully build new talent instead of leaning on the crutch of the familiar. Jury is out on the former. I have zero issue with these big names being part of the story. The main tale, though, is no longer theirs to tell.

Marc: There is more than one way to look at it. If we were part of the active roster, we’d have a gripe with someone coming in and undercutting the work we’ve put in to give ourselves the chance to main event a major WWE event. But the other side concerns the actual promotion itself, and their need to bring in part timers to fill a void. Goldberg, Undertaker and Lesnar are all well-known names that have drawn a lot of money over the years. The mystique of a notable name be part of an event is exactly why the company brings them in. It’s hard to argue why they’d do it.

Fans are often torn, and left to wonder if the company thinks less of the likes of Kevin Owens or AJ Styles’ ability to draw. But that’s not necessarily the case. Styles has competed all over the world, including in front of huge crowds in Japan. Owens is still very young, and needs time before anyone can definitively say that he isn’t a draw. Without question, their time has come, and they deserve every opportunity to become the focal point. In fact that chance should happen sooner rather than later, with another major event post Royal Rumble around the corner.

As someone that attended Survivor Series, it was hard for me to generate any interest in watching a near fifty-year-old face a near forty-year-old in the main event. However, the atmosphere created by that crowd, stunned at the sight of Goldberg completely bulldozing Lesnar in less than a minute and a half, made clear the company put the match on at the right place and the right time. The building was abuzz with Goldberg chants as he walked to, entered and was announced in the ring. A shove, a spear, a second spear and a jackhammer later, fans were certainly of the belief that anything can happen in WWE. Coming in with no interest in watching the match, once I was a part of it, it was easy to be swept up in the enthusiasm of the other fans in attendance.

What if the need isn’t to have them headline here, but to build towards headlining the biggest event of the year? By holding off and not showing all their cards, and then playing Lesnar, Undertaker and Goldberg as a focal point in the Royal Rumble, it could mean that Styles, Owens, Rollins and Balor’s would be given Wrestlemania as a showcase to steal the show. It would be ideal to have the current stars become a focal point, but acknowledging those that helped make the promotion what it is today shouldn’t be seen as a slight to them.

Mike: It’s definitely a fair point about Survivor Series, and I’ve no doubt that Goldberg brought a buzz and energy to the building that was second to none. But I’d argue that that has as much to do with the way it was booked than the folks involved. I can’t help but feel that WWE has turned the occasional “hey, look who showed up!” into “hey, look who we’ve endlessly promoted to show up” in very short order. While I agree with your assessment that it makes good business sense at times, you really risk turning away viewers when those names aren’t on the show. Not to mention that I’d bet you (like me) tend to look more fondly on the past than it may deserve. I really liked Field of Dreams at one point. I try to watch it now and it feels like a tear duct lobotomy. Keep presuming the past will be your savior and you’re straddling the tightrope of disappointment.
Lesnar/Goldberg was booked short and that was the right call. As to your comment about WrestleMania, I would love if it were so. To think that WWE’s biggest event will be built around guys that did the heavy lifting in 2016 like Owens and Styles makes me all warm and fuzzy. But you and I both know that it’s a long shot to say the least given recent history. WrestleMania is exactly WHY Vince and friends started doing this in the first place. It was one thing to have Alice Cooper and Liberace show up and be semi-involved. I’m even okay with Shaq and Show fighting, not because I think it will be a good match, but because of the “pomp and circumstance” element that WM brings. But this ever-increasing fascination with resuscitating nostalgia for its own sake risks disaster. As you say, it’s easy to see the allure but I strongly recommend avoiding the call of the sirens. A talent shipwreck is sure to follow.

Marc: First off, if my significant other knew that my ex-flame was coming to town, it would likely be reason for me not to share her um…attributes. Sorry, what were we talking about? Oh yes, the nostalgic feel that comes with wrestling. It is hard dispute that this year’s entrants in the Royal Rumble read like a bad joke at times. The only difference is, we replace a priest walking into a bar with a semi-retired wrestler walked into a Royal Rumble. It is unfortunate that WWE has this tendency of going back to the well for something from the past that has proven to be successful.

As Mike pointed out, the notable names need to remember that they aren’t part of the main story anymore, regardless of what they were known for. We could argue that they are simply following the directions of McMahon, and are, but lowly foot soldiers. When offers are made to them, they are silly not to jump at an opportunity presented to them, and the money that comes with it. In the smallest of doses we can appreciate having the likes of an Undertaker, Goldberg and Brock Lesnar as part of one of the biggest events that the company puts on, one that brings together both brands. At the end of the day, it’s a business, and the company’s ultimate goal is to generate revenue. It’s easy to lose sight of that, as fans will often criticize the ends, rather than giving credit to the means that got the talent there.

Should the WWE continue to bring in indie stars?

Marc: After his performance at Wrestle Kingdom 11, the entire wrestling world was talking about Kenny Omega. His match against Okada has fans talking, and even prompted Dave Meltzer to call the match a six-star classic, one star higher than his popular five-star rating. Leading into the event, Omega was among the most talked about talents in the promotion, so to anticipate anything other than an absolute classic performance on his part would be silly.

However, the event didn’t simply focus on the talent that was a part of New Japan Pro Wrestling; due to NJPW’s collaboration with Ring of Honor, some of the biggest names in the world outside WWE were featured, and became a point of conversation. And since the event, Kyle O’Reilly, Kenny Omega and Adam Cole have all been surrounded by rumors of their departure from their respective companies, to join WWE. I had the opportunity to interview Cole over a year ago, and he shared that he has tried out for the WWE on two separate occasions, neither time being offered a contract. Cole is very young and has a bright future ahead of him. He has a solid moveset, great look and terrific promo skills. These are all qualities that any company would covet. WWE would be silly not to make every effort to pursue him and make him a part of the company. Kyle O’Reilly’s contract is currently up, and it is already being speculated that he will soon join WWE. O’Reilly, much like Cole has been employed by Ring of Honor for a number of years. Should WWE bring in other talents?

As a wrestling fan that likes to support smaller promotions, as much as I like watching WWE, I say no. I’d like these talents to ultimately make the decision that works best for them, but as a fan, I’d like to see them have the chance to showcase their talents on their terms. Often, joining WWE means a complete reinvention of what made you a success before. Fans saw Cedric Alexander stole the show in his match against Kota Ibushi during the WWE Cruiserweight Classic, but now this same competitor is in the ring a fraction of the time. He can hit the same moves he always has, but what seems lost is the company’s ability to incorporate his athleticism into a more prominent role in the Cruiserweight division. He is better than being part of a love story alongside Alicia Fox.

While names such as Tommy End and Big Damo are now a part of the company, the fear is that special quality about them which built their buzz will be obscured.

Mike: First things first: I am in total agreement regarding Adam Cole. AJ Styles went through similar hoops before eventually getting inked, and we can all see how that turned out. WWE’s allergic reaction to guys who haven’t gone through their system has been as silly and it’s been confounding, and that’s a very good example of it. It appears that they’ve completely abandoned that backwards way of thinking, as we’ve seen everything from Austin Aries providing cruiserweight commentary to Finn Balor (briefly) holding the Universal Title. We’re not in Kansas anymore.

But we’re still firmly on both feet in the United States of McMahon, and given his recent remarks that he’s not planning on hanging up the grapefruits anytime soon, it’s a bit shortsighted to imagine that a few inroads means every buzzworthy star from the indies should pack their bags and sell the house. There’s also the very logical point that just because an indie star goes to WWE doesn’t mean they’ll be used correctly or even well, as you intimate in your opening comments Marc. The bare bones of it is that most of them won’t. They are big fish in small ponds, and not everyone will flourish in the raging rapids of WWE. And we’re not naïve enough to imagine that only the best talent will survive. The countless examples of phenomenal workers who didn’t last in the hierarchy of World Wrestling Entertainment are innumerable.

As to whether they should continue to bring in those stars, though, my argument is an unequivocal yes. Most of the best wrestling WWE has offered in 2016 came from NXT, and most of that from talents that made their hay outside of Titan Tower. That’s not a coincidence. While NXT allows wrestlers to develop their style further and get their expectations of what a career with wrestling’s biggest promotion looks like, it doesn’t fundamentally change what brought each guy or girl to the dance to begin with. When we’re in a world where Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe are knocking on the door of the main roster, I’d be hard-pressed to go against the idea of continuing to mine gold from every promotion possible.

Rest assured, it’s not always going to work out. Sometimes it has to do with schedule, as was the case when Ibushi (as you mentioned) reaffirmed he’s not planning on letting anyone send him on the grueling road schedule WWE expects. While Vince has bent his own rules concerning “owning” his talents, he’s only going to let the biggest of the big dictate to him. And that makes sense for everyone. But as a guy that appreciates and supports plenty of indy promotions (including one of the best ever, Philly’s own ECW) you can appreciate the efforts and passion that someone brings while also realizing they deserve the chance to strut their stuff on the main stage. It doesn’t take away from what they’ve done, and it might just make them even more legendary.

Is the Hardy’s to the WWE good or no?

Mike: With the recent revelation that Kurt Angle will indeed be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, the list of big known quantities performing outside the confines of Titan Tower becomes even smaller. Whether Angle actually wrestles for Vince McMahon again is unknown, but many fans’ desire to see him participate in a WWE-sponsored event is clearly not. The dilemma of Hulk Hogan aside (because we all know THAT’S happening) it really leaves the Hardys as the only big names of the past that fans are clamoring for to get back into a WWE ring before their careers are over. But will they?

I assume this as a package deal because of the abundance of their work together and the fact that their best-known times in the company were as a tag team, but it’s sort of funny to consider how the roles have reversed. Jeff left the friendly Connecticut confines as a certain future main eventer, having the look and creativity the powers that be coveted and sporting a flashy repertoire that still has its place in the WWE right now. He eventually attained that main event spot in TNA and elsewhere, but unfortunately the personal demons that plagued him at the end of his Stamford run reared their heads in the most public and destructive way possible. The opposite is true of Matt, who was a bit of an also-ran toward the end in WWE, the less featured and more expendable brother. He didn’t seem to have as much personality as Jeff, and came across as less interesting and less multi-faceted as a result.

To say that’s a thing of the past would be a giant understatement. Matt has brought his unique vision and most importantly a sense of humor to TNA, and in turn has provided them such an influx of creativity and energy that people started remembering they existed. While not everything has worked, and his reliance on in-jokes and one-off spots have recalled the insider Kliq gags that missed more than they hit once they got popular, there is zero doubt that he’s presented a unique viewpoint that people are clamoring for in this age of homogenized product. Is it for everyone? Absolutely not. But there shouldn’t be rules about whether wrestling is more sport or show, as it’s always been a mix of both at its core. We leave it to the viewing audience to decide what rules in the Colosseum, and you’re free to opt for lions or gladiators as you see fit.

Perhaps in some way, what both brothers have achieved outside of WWE is something they never would have within the friendly confines. Jeff, the golden boy and perennial insider, became his alter ego and the outsider. In contrast, Matt, the almost-there contender unable to grasp the brass ring, created his own universe where he ruled completely. There is no chance WWE would allow the type of free-minded thinking that’s made it so popular to run rampant in their corporate structure unless it was a work, and there’s no way the brothers (particularly Matt) will allow it otherwise. It costs Matt nothing to hint and intimate that it will one day happen, and it keeps the wheel turning. That’s all that matters at the end of the day.

Marc: For as long as they have been away from WWE, fans have speculated when they will ultimately return. Despite achieving success within the company both as a team and individually, it felt as though the tandem had worn out their welcome and the promotion decided to move on from them. Since departing WWE, Matt and Jeff have needed to find themselves. A sense of professional rediscovery best describes what has happened for both Hardy brothers.

After departing WWE, Matt became known mostly for what he was producing on Youtube rather than what he was doing in the ring. He released a number of rather strange videos, and fans often questioned his state of mind, and weren’t sure if he was in character, trying to generate buzz on his own terms. He also gained weight, and wasn’t the fit looking Matt Hardy that fans from WWE. Eventually, Hardy joined Ring of Honor, and there he was aligned with the S.C.U.M faction first, and then with Adam Cole and Mike Bennett as part of the early incarnation of The Kingdom. He was still remarkably creative as told by anyone that had worked with him, but something was missing during his time away and it was his brother that appeared to be more in demand with where he was.

As part of TNA, Jeff Hardy was a must see attraction, both in and out of the ring. Hardy was given creative carte blanche, as he was even provided with the opportunity to perform his own theme song. It seemed as all was going well for Hardy, but then he was given the okay to compete while clearly under the influence, endangering both himself and the person he was facing, Sting. For all the strides it seems Jeff was making professionally, personally he needed rehabilitation.

It wasn’t until Matt Hardy reinvented himself recently that the buzz around the Hardys once again grew. When Matt became Broken Matt Hardy and named his brother as Brother Nero (which is Jeff’s actual middle name,) these two became the two hottest stars in Impact Wrestling.

That rise in popularity leads to the demand for them to leave Impact and rejoin WWE. But what has been so successful for the Hardys is the creative direction they have taken their characters. In the event Matt didn’t have the creative autonomy to move the Broken characters where he did, we wouldn’t be seeing this. Unless the Hardys have assurances that they will have complete control over their characters, then there is no need for them to join the WWE.

Mike: I think you hit the nail on the head with the creative point. As I mentioned before, that’s a tough spot for WWE. While active involvement in the storylines and character development is considered a must in the business, it seems restrictive to say the least for all but a few within Titan Tower. I don’t know that the level of success the brothers achieved outside of WWE will necessarily work in their favor either. Despite their overtures to the contrary, I’m skeptical on whether the powers that be have truly gotten over their long-standing belief that it’s only work in WWE that matters. It’s silly and very old school, but that’s wrestling for you. I’d think it more likely that it’s seen as them doing as they wish for a promotion with very little left to lose. And there may be some truth in that.
All of that said, maybe the better question is when it will happen. The election of Kurt Angle to the Hall of Fame shows there are very few talents left to “come home,” and it’s always a good sell when someone makes that move. The Hardys are still in good shape with some years left in the tank, so the allure of some dream matches or renewed rivalries coming together makes it even more appealing I’m sure. We would be led to believe that full creative control would be needed in order to make this happen, but I have a sneaky suspicion that Matt is playing both sides toward the middle. Maybe he’s looking to show Anthem that he’s the driving force to build behind as they pick up the pieces left by Dixie Carter. Should that be the case, we’ll be having this conversation all over again before too long. And this time he won’t have to convince anyone.

Marc: With the success that the Hardys have reacquired during their time away from the WWE, they have been a talking point in the industry, as Mike so succinctly pointed out. Mike and I are essentially on the same page with this. What is interesting to note is Matt’s frequent teasing online abouthis and Jeff’s potential return to WWE. As it stands, they both stand to earn a lot of money, being able to compete in various promotions, even Ring of Honor (albeit via pre-recorded video.) That wouldn’t be possible with WWE’s exclusive contracts that confine the creativity of their talent. Also, both Matt and Jeff aren’t tied to TNA, as they have had the opportunity to earn money using the Broken characters on independent shows.

We acknowledged earlier that the business of wrestling is ultimately a dollars and cents entity. The brothers toiled for a number of years without much notoriety until this all came about. What are the chances would we see King Maxel in the ring? That wouldn’t work as well, and fans who are exclusive to WWE wouldn’t have a semblance of understanding of what it is all about. Plus, this generation of WWE fan may not be familiar with the Hardys, especially if they are only watching the current product. To introduce the Broken character to fans that aren’t aware of the man who screams ‘DELETE’ moniker seems like a rather challenging exercise.

What storyline are you mostlooking forward to post Royal Rumble?

Marc: With a number of feuds being hinted at as the Royal Rumble approaches, there are a number of likely ones I am looking forward too. If all the predictions are true, a Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho feud is something that could really get the attention of the fans. For the most part, the two best friends have been inseparable during Owens’ reign as WWE Universal champion. Fans have been teased with a potential rift between the two, as they often are believed to either be betraying each other, but then are revealed to be fooling the viewing audience. Jericho has stated his friendship with Owens was over, and Owens has pled with Jericho to believe him that what has happened to Y2J at the hands of Owens was completely accidental. But time and again, it has been revealed as a ruse. Their friendship couldn’t have been more united than during their triple threat WWE United States championship match against Roman Reigns. Owens celebrated Jericho’s win, as both are currently singles champions. It was a culmination of a friendship that has seen its ups and downs.

What will be the end result, though, with the Royal Rumble set to take place? Some early speculation is that the two Canadians will feud, and the focus being whether or not the Winnipeg Jets or Montreal Canadians are the better team doesn’t seem likely. If the predictions are correct and Kevin Owens does lose the title, we could see a bit of jealousy develop. We aren’t talking a friendly rivalry; it could be a no holds barred face turn on the part of Jericho, as Owens will be left behind as Jericho continues to carry a title. Will it end bitterly between the two, or will cooler heads prevail? It’s unlikely that they two don’t eventually come to blows.

With the Royal Rumble set to take place, another point of discussion is what will happen between John Cena and AJ Styles. As it stands right now, Cena is the early favorite to walk away as the sixteen-time WWE champion. We can be assured that both men will strive to make the most of their time together, despite periodic interruptions due to Cena taking a break to pursue other endeavours. Each time they have faced each other, their matches have been nothing short of spectacular. It would be great to see what happens between the two, and hopefully this match doesn’t end up as a one and done, with Styles left to move onto the next program while Cena once again headlines Wrestlemania. It will be interesting to see how the match ends up, and what the effect of their battle against one another will end up being.

Mike: Of the two you mentioned, I’m very much with you on the Owens/Jericho chemistry and the feud that would involve them. Jericho can play both sides of the fence, and it makes total sense to get the fans back on his side before he leaves to work on his music. While unfortunately that necessitates Roman Reigns defeating KO for the Universal Title, at least I can console myself by knowing two of the best workers on the roster will get to square off for our viewing entertainment. And I’d be remiss not to say again that Jericho’s work in this latest run has been second to none. He can literally get anything over. Even IT.

Cena versus Styles will be good, no doubt, but it’s not ringing my bell. Styles can be good with anyone on the roster, and I’d hope they don’t derail him just to let Cena break Ric Flair’s somewhat apocryphal record as he moonlights in Hollywood. Cena has a few more main event level runs in him, to be sure, but it doesn’t feel as special to me for some reason. I don’t know that I see that title change happening just yet, particularly if Reigns does win his half of the ledger. But we’ll see.

Speaking of Reigns, while I can’t admit to being a fan of his run to the belt, his work in the Shield is great. It makes me wonder when we’ll see the official reunion of one of the more energizing trifectas to ever perform in the WWE. Seth Rollins has been largely ill-used since making his tweener transition, and comes out every week with some funny commentary but not much direction for a guy who worked his ass off as a heel champion. That sob story is comparable to Dean Ambrose’s, defanged and removed of his venom since dropping the World Title and now reduced to a feud with Miz that is entertaining to watch but centered around a Total Divas-like storyline of Miz’s actual wife Maryse and Ambrose’s actual romantic paramour Renee Young. I’m not averse to getting either lady more screen time, but where’s the nutty and Pillman-esque Ambrose we all knew and loved? The charismatic mouthpiece of The Shield badly needs a little redecoration. What better way to address these issues than getting the band back together for a bit?

I’m also perhaps morbidly curious to see what direction the Braun Strowman story goes in, and whether the Wyatt Family plays a part in it. Strowman has gotten a massive push since being drafted to Raw, and he’s done acceptably in his monster role where not much is expected. Can there be any question he’s a fundamental linchpin to the Rumble match? I’d wager he’s going to rack up quite a few eliminations. His next opponent will be an interesting choice, particularly if you listen to the scuttlebutt that it won’t be the assumed Undertaker. He’s been a focal point on Monday nights lately, and the end game of that should be interesting to watch.

This ends the debut edition of Mike and Marc’s Excellent wrestling adventures. While both our opinions are similar, we’d like to think we won’t be thrown into the Iron Maiden in the event that we offended anyone. (Those over the age of thirty should hopefully get that reference, linked to the fellows in our swank banner above.) We covered a few topics, and hope you enjoyed the read. This was our winter edition, and is simply a popcorn approach to today’s events, unlike the entire premise of the banner which was a look at history! (Well, sort of.) Will the Hardy’s return? Will Roman Reigns capture the Universal championship? Should indie wrestlers pledge allegiance of all things McMahon? We aren’t sure, but time will tell. Maybe in the future? Hopefully it won’t be anything like a Bogus journey, as that film blew.

For Mike Holland, this is Marc Madison saying. Stay safe and be Excellent to each other!

…and Party On!

Check out Mike and I along with Jon Curry, and TJR’s Brandon Lasher on TheMemNetwork. We will be relaunching after Royal Rumble as a post-show. We will normally be airing on Thursdays @ 8pm ET.

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