Tuesday, February 24, 2015

WWE Fastlane, A Disappointment

Sidebar: This was supposed to go up Monday before RAW, so read it with that in mind and do not incorporate Monday's storyline advances

WWE entered last night's Fastlane special event (formerly PPV) in uncharted waters. The only thing we knew for sure going into Wrestlemania 31 this year was that Brock Lesnar would be defending his title in the main event. There was a leak two weeks ago saying that Vince decided to change the Mania main-event to a triple threat match and adding Daniel Bryan, but the company decided against that, it appears.

The show opened with Dolph, Ryback, and Rowan facing off against Big Show, Kane, and Seth Rollins. The end of the match was every bit as the Royal Rumble. Kane and Show teamed up to knock Ziggler stupid and pin him in the middle of the ring... not even letting Seth finish the job. The Authority trio began decimating their opponents after the match and apparently referees cannot reverse their decisions when The Authority decides to do this. But waiting in the wings was Randy Orton, making his long-awaited return as he sprinted out to take out the Authority. Orton was clearly aiming to take out Rollins, who ran through the crowd and all the way out of the building to escape.

While I was ecstatic to see Orton return, I was disappointed that once again the WWE does a one-man run-in to decimate multiple people while superstars in the ring got destroyed almost the entire match and the whole post-match segment. Dolph, Ryback, and Rowan could not look formidable in the match, but Orton--with ease--dismantled the entire Authority + J&J Security to try and get his hands on the coward Rollins. Not exactly the best nod at the legitimacy of the three opponents.

Next up was Goldust vs. Stardust, and the two had a decent-at-best match. However, the finish was a major botch as Goldust got a roll-up pin on Stardust and the referee's hand never hit the mat for a third time, yet he jumped up and called for the bell to declare Goldust the winner.

Then we had The Usos defending against Tyson Kidd and Cesaro. The match was high-paced, very fluid, not a lot of wasted movement. While many fans (including myself) have grown a little tired of The Usos outright dominating the tag division, we were treated with yet another great match by the two with a few new spots added in. One of those spots was a brutal Samoan Drop to Kidd into the barricade. In the end, despite the referee being out of place, slow, and late (without distractions), Kidd and Cesaro picked up the pinfall win after a roller coaster of momentum swings to become the new tag team champions.

Then came the Sting and Triple H face-off. Triple H started talking about himself, then called out Sting. The crowd went nuts, as they have every time he showed up, and the two stood face-to-face in the middle of the ring. Sting didn't say a word. He barely changed his expression. I've begged on Twitter for a month now to not have WWE make Sting talk too early (would prefer he never actually speaks at all, to be honest), and WWE delivered. Sting did not accept Triple H's offer to keep his legacy alive in turn for walking away. Triple H's claims that this is all about removing Trips and the McMahon's from WWE to end the business come off as genuine belief from Trips, but not at all valuable to fans. I'm almost certain that in kayfabe, this feud for Sting is strictly about Trips not giving the young guys a chance... and while that contradicts Sting in much of his should-be-forgotten TNA run... that's the angle I hope it is for Sting if he ever does talk. Triple H went for a cheap-shot, got the upper hand, then grabbed his sledgehammer from under the ring. When he went to strike Sting, there was a bat to his throat and he was shoved to the corner, surrendering the hammer. Tensions flared a few times as Trips got bold, but Sting nudged the bat into his throat more and pointed at the WrestleMania sign. As he turned to leave, Trips tried to strike but sting countered with the bat to the gut. A few minutes later, it was officially revealed the two would face off at Wrestlemania 31.

Nikki vs. Paige... well... it was exactly what the WWE DIVAS division has been for years... a rushed match with no real build or potential to grow. While McMahon believes that his company is more than wrestling, it says something that a feud that brews on a "reality tv" show does not garner any interest in comparison to the WOMEN'S feuds on NXT which develop strictly in, around, and about the ring. People care about the wrestling, Vince, and since you'll never realize that, you will never fully capitalize on the tremendous product and talent you possess. The match was rushed for time that could have been taken from others, and the result was a bunch of botches which further exposed Nikki Bella as a horrible in-ring performer and made yet another legitimate WRESTLING WOMAN look like a steaming pile of shit.

We also got Ambrose and Barrett in one of the worst-booked finishes I have ever seen. Before the show, there was an interview with Ambrose talking about the title and its relevance and people who fail to make the most of the title, the opportunity, or themselves. WWE is clearly who he was talking about as they booked Ambrose to get disqualified for not listening to the referee (yes, one of the same idiots that botched the entire show up to this point anyways, not giving any of the superstars a 5-count in the corner), and then Ambrose walked away with the title anyways. Even with the idea that you can set up a rematch at Wrestlemania... it was still a shitty idea. While I'd love to see something like Dean vs. Wade in an IC ladder match at WM31... it's still not a good set up. Disqualify the heel so he doesn't lose his title while losing the match and making the crowd invest a little more... don't DQ the face and have him steal the title.

Rusev vs. Cena followed, and the match was OUTSTANDING. Cena got some good momentum, Rusev dominated plenty of the match. It felt even for a majority. Rusev would not break to Cena's finishers. Cena fought as hard as he could through Rusev's onslaught. In the end, Rusev used some cheap heel tactics to get the upper hand, and I'm all for it as it further establishes him the heel, but he also got the in-ring victory. A rematch is clearly in order for Wrestlemania, and hopefully WWE are intelligent enough to know that Cena does not gain much to beat Rusev, it does not truly legitimize the US Title if Cena wins it, and Rusev stands to gain the world if he does defeat Cena clean to retain. Hell, if you REALLY want to make Rusev a bona fide badass, you might even want to make Cena TAP.

Then comes the main event. All of my emotions aside about wanting the match we truly deserve (and I did blog that I was a fan of Reigns vs. Brock 1-on-1), this match was as good a match as I've seen in a while. There was brutal violence, stiff punches, forearms, elbows, knees, and kicks. Both men played up their recent injuries and attacked the other. Reigns fought through the adversity, as did Bryan. The two literally put everything they had into every strike, and you could see it. Bryan worked as good a match as a quick, smaller, more-experienced wrestler could work, and Reigns used more than just his size, power, and toughness to make the most of his opportunity in this match. While part of me feels Bryan showed more that he COULD indeed hang in a legitimate-looking contest with Brock than Reigns showed he could persevere... we did see Reigns fight Bryan in the way you would expect Brock to fight... more of an MMA-style approach with ground-and-pound. The only thing I disliked about the match is that it ended when and how it did. Reigns became the first man to kick out of Bryan's Knee Plus... something even Super-Cena was not booked to do. My problem isn't with the fact that Reigns kicked out... it's with the fact that Bryan was not booked to kick out of the Spear. It almost felt like the booking was to veto Bryan's toughness as much as it was to enforce Reigns'. Still, Reigns walked out of a hard-fought match looking strong. And while I will forever parallel this match in my head to CM Punk vs. Cena on RAW for Cena's opportunity to go face Rock, I stand by that it was a tremendous match and Reigns does deserve this opportunity and looks more and more ready for it every week. I was never a Reigns hater... I just wanted to see more out of him. Have we seen enough yet? I don't know... but he is showing more with every match and he looked forreal against Bryan.

Overall, the show was a major disappointment that could have done so much more. Once again, WWE delivers a HORRIBLE event immediately following an NXT Takeover. By that trend, it's a damn-good thing that WWE moved Takeover to the month before Mania and not the week of...

Friday, February 13, 2015

Vince McMahon Has Lost It

According to F4WOnline.com, Vince McMahon earlier this week held a meeting to announce that he was going to change the Wrestlemania 31 main event previously slated to be between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns into a triple threat match, adding Daniel Bryan into the mix. The report states that Vince is making this change because fans have been outspoken in their displeasure of WWE forcing Roman Reigns on us before all parties are ready.

Roman Reigns won the January 2015 Royal Rumble match in order to ensure his placement into the main event with WWE World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 31. The problem, however, is that this was long-reported to be the case, and Reigns has yet to show enough growth in his character and on the microphone to be deserving of the top spot. Fans booed Reigns out of the building, but it wasn't so much a dislike of Reigns, but rather of the booking of the entire Rumble match as well as the decision of Vince & co. to spearhead "the next John Cena."

While most fans (myself included) were pissed that Bryan was not the hand-picked winner (and furthermore how he was eliminated), I think it's safe to assume that fans would have been fine with a number of outcomes--including Reigns--had WWE known how to book their spectacle battle royal. Bryan was eliminated from the match by Bray Wyatt very early on, and it left us with no direction for Bryan going forward. Then we watched as Big Show and Kane teamed up to dump everyone over the top rope, including Dolph Ziggler and Dean Ambrose, all the way up until Reigns, when Kane and Show decided to try and fight each other. There was no sense of urgency to get Reigns out of the match. Barely an attempt. Why? Because WWE got lazy in their booking of the finish, like they always do.

But let's go back a couple years to Royal Rumble 2013, when CM Punk's historic championship reign ended to The Rock leading to Cena's Rumble victory to set up the "epic" rematch of Once in a Lifetime. Fans knew ahead of time what the case was. WWE had an opportunity then to find a way to write Punk into the matchup instead of feeding him to The Undertaker. Even at RAW when Punk challenged Cena for his position, WWE could have done then what they've now seemingly done the two consecutive years following, and righted their wrong. But Punk was written out, because Vince & co. felt it was "best for business" to go with Cena vs. Rock II.

Punk eventually went on to have arguably the best match of the night--and maybe the best Undertaker has ever had at Mania--while Cena and Rock more or less stunk the place up for a second year in a row, saved only by the spectacle that is The Rock wrestling.

Fast forward to January 2014 when Batista was set to make his big return and CM Punk was booked at #1 to enter the Royal Rumble match. Batista entered the match to cheers. He got blown up, fans had no reason to care. Meanwhile, a younger Roman Reigns bullied the entire roster to set the single-match record for eliminations. Punk was tossed unceremoniously over the top rope. Entrant 30 showed up on the screen, and fans were ready to erupt for the hottest star in the company--Daniel Bryan--only to be presented with Rey Mysterio. Mysterio took on the role of top heel for the night... his first tenure as a heel in WWE. Fans revolted. Fans wanted so badly for anyone other than Dave Bautista to win the Rumble that they booed Mysterio because he wasn't Daniel Bryan, and cheered Roman Reigns because he wasn't The Animal (this year they cheered for super athlete villain Rusev because he was the last surviving non-Reigns guy).

Batista won, got booed out of the building (starting the trendy name Bootista) and set up his date with Randy Orton and WrestleMania XXX. Obviously, the wise choice would have been Bryan vs. Orton to culminate their 8-month feud which started at SummerSlam when Bryan beat Cena cleanly only to have Orton cash in after Triple H hit Bryan with a Pedigree. WWE's reasoning for Bryan not being in the Rumble match was that he was concussed the previous monday night on RAW, yet he still had a grueling match with Bray Wyatt which all-but-stole the show at the Rumble. Having Bryan come in at 30 and get a couple quick, easy eliminations surely would not have been more brutal than what he went through with Bray Wyatt.

The Yes! Movement kicked off and WWE re-wrote their plans after fans voiced their displeasure, and Bryan was added to the Mania main-event, capping off a long, emotional road. Bryan went on to victory in the main event over Orton and Batista and fans gathered from all over the world to participate as Bryan celebrated. All too suddenly it was over, as Bryan's demanding in-ring work had worsened his condition, forcing him to the sideline for surgery on his neck. Bryan was out for most of the year while Cena was forced back into the title picture before Brock Lesnar capped off the most dominant performances we had ever witnessed as wrestling fans.

On the December 29th episode of RAW to close out 2014, Daniel Bryan announced his intentions to return to the ring and compete in the 2015 Royal Rumble. The Verizon Center in Washington D.C. exploded with Yes! chants, unlike anything I have ever heard. I would know, because I was there in the building that night.

Now, after fans voiced their displeasure with Reigns winning and Bryan not even having a fighting chance at the end of the Royal Rumble match, Vince has back-tracked. Even in what I called the most fortunate circumstance in WWE history with a blizzard cancelling RAW from an arena the following night, Heyman and Reigns went on to set up the main event perfectly. Paul Heyman made Reigns vs. Lesnar the perfect main event. It also helped that Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler engaged in setting up their own match on Twitter.

Now, Vince has pulled a 180 because fans did not take to Reigns, who appears to be turning heel now because of the booking change and Vince thinking that the heat is on Reigns, and not the company or himself.

I am ecstatic that Bryan is now included in the main event, because he should be. This is Bryan's position in the company. Every week, he gets the biggest reactions. It is not just the YES! chants... it is a cheer for the guy. When he is in a rest-hold, the crowd gets more hype for Bryan than it does anyone else. The only guy who comes as close is Dolph Ziggler. Brock Lesnar was as over at Royal Rumble; Seth Rollins was when he crashed through Lesnar and the Spanish announce table. Nobody else really comes close.

Bryan vs. Brock was the perfect main event on paper. Bryan is the underdog who never lost his title. Brock is the beast who has conquered all, almost in ease, at will. Bryan defeating Brock cleanly one-on-one would have been the ultimate booked victory. It would have allowed us to suspend disbelief. We know if Reigns wins that it was the creative decision the entire time. There are ways to book in the reality era, no matter what Triple H tells Steve Austin. Booking the underdog that everyone loves is one of those ways. And despite what the WWE thinks, we're fans of the wrestling... the movies barely mean anything to anyone in this world. If the movies were that important, the triple threat match at Mania this year would be Mizdow vs. Orton vs. Santino.

Vince McMahon could have just stuck to his guns and given us Brock vs. Reigns and Bryan vs. Ziggler (preferably an hour-long match, if not an iron man match). Instead, he has decided we are best off getting Brock vs. Reigns vs. Bryan (even though he introduced a stipulation of Bryan vs. Reigns for that shot). We all know Reigns still wins this match. Bryan is only there to appease us for one more night. Yet another hero of the fans buried because he is not the guy that was made by Vince McMahon. He no longer has fortitude... testicular or intestinal. Vince McMahon is out of touch. Word to CM Punk.

I am a Roman Reigns fan. He has a lot of potential and clearly could be the top dog for a long time. But right now, Daniel Bryan is organically over with the crowd, live and at home, and WWE has missed on every opportunity with the guy on their own behalf. Going forward, WWE is in horrible territory with the Royal Rumble. Splitting the titles again and going with two brands would not be a wise decision, either. And if Vince or Triple H think that those "heel crowds" or "smart towns" are rare, I caution them to consider that Wrestlemania and the following night on RAW both qualify as "smart, heel crowds." Not the best way to label your feature audience going into your version of the Super Bowl. Bash the NFL all you want, WWE... you're in for a flat-tire ride if you keep at it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Marvel and Sony Reach Agreement For Spiderman

A quick glimpse into our archive would reveal we here at Don't Laugh, People are fans of comic books and their respective movies. I do not often divulge into a battle of DC vs. Marvel vs. the others, because I typically enjoy plenty from all (but yes, I do think Marvel is the best for art and for stories). However, "the last 24 hours have been really exciting."* Kudos to you if you didn't need to look up that quote... damn you if you did. *Dr. Okun - Independence Day

It was announced by many sources late last night/early this morning, that Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures had finally reached an agreement for their partnership in order to introduce Spiderman into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (where The Avengers live). Marvel will reportedly allow Sony to retain Spiderman's rights to let Amy Pascal produce films in the title, but she will be aided by Marvel's top man, Kevin Feige, in her endeavors. Feige will be involved in Spiderman's 2017 standalone film (presumably without Andrew Garfield), but several outlets are reporting that Spiderman will be in one of Marvel's films before then... and the likely, obvious, rumored choice is Captain America: Civil War.

Marvel will then be able to use Spiderman going forward based on his story with Sony, which Feige will have a hand in crafting. In other words, if Marvel can not have Spiderman to themselves 100%, this is as good an option as there is.

It was rumored for years that Pascal had been willing to work with Sony in this venture, while hemorrhoid-anal-warts Avi Arad had long been blocking the deal. When Sony was hacked late last year, there were chains of emails in which Pascal seemed to be in favor of a deal. It was noted throughout all of the emails that Arad and Raimi seemed very reluctant to play ball with Marvel (for some obvious reasons to any with common sense). Arad has long tried to take all of the credit for Marvel, slander Feige's name, and spill the beans on any negotiations going on between Marvel and Sony about the webslinger.

Perhaps Arad got himself in over his head when he last made comments that Sony would be stupid to consider allowing Feige some creative control, as that appears to be the case with the new deal. Marvel states explicitly: "Sony Pictures will continue to finance, distribute, own and have final creative control of the Spider-Man films." I am certain Pascal is more than willing to allow Feige to tinker in the creative process as she has long-shown her respect for Feige's ideas.

Needless to say, we're excited that Spiderman is coming home to Marvel in some form! Congratulations, Sony... you've made a wise decision after all. And congratulations, Marvel! Thanks for bringing Spidey back where he belongs!