Cubed Circle Newsletter 169 – More on the Road to Royal Rumble 2015
After a few delays that will be further explained later in this issue for those who are interested we (mostly Ben) are back this week with another fun issue looking at another bad RAW on the Road to the Royal Rumble, a SmackDown that wasn’t match better, NXT, which unsurprisingly stood in stark contrast to both of those shows, NXT spoilers, the ratings, and something a little different with some general Lucha Underground coverage.
– Ryan Clingman, Cubed Circle Newsletter Editor
Raw Ramblings – January 12th 2015
Smoothie King Centre: New Orleans, LA.
Terrible promos? Check. Failure at attempted comedy? Check. Boring matches and bad finishes? Check. Lazy booking? Double check. Yep, it was the same old insufferable three hours of Monday Night Raw we have been subjected to for months. Thankfully Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman were on the show, so it wasn’t all bad and the main event angle was decent… for a contract signing deal we have seen a million times.
Some of the stupidity on this show had to be seen to be believed: John Cena opened the show with a promo and threatened to do a CM Punk if he won the WWE title at the Royal Rumble. That’s right, Cena’s master plan to get back at the Authority was to, “Go home” with the belt and leave Raw and SmackDown without a champion. I’m amazed Vince OK’d this line since, and I’m sure only the most eagle-eyed viewers may have noticed this, they went from September to the middle of December without having the WWE Champion on any TV shows. It was laughably inept booking. HHH & Steph came out for their weekly burial of anything in their sight and HHH told Cena he could win Ryback, Dolph Ziggler & Rowan’s jobs back if he could beat Seth Rollins in a Lumberjack Match, which was the first match of the night. All the lumberjacks were heels, but instead of them all logically just kicking Cena’s ass, they did barely anything until it was time for the finish when everyone attacked Cena and Big Show gave him the KO punch, allowing Rollins to get the pin at 13:05 of a so-so match. Later, Heyman & Lesnar came out for segment that would not have made the show if it were only two hours, but it was still great because, Heyman. Paul put Brock over like a killer and basically said they would be back for the contract signing. Rollins and Lesnar had a brief backstage face-off and Heyman suggested that they should work together to take Cena out of the three-way and fight it out themselves. Main event segment was long, but Heyman and Rollins were good on the mic and Cena wasn’t bad either since they miraculously refrained from giving him any comedy lines. You know the deal: a brawl broke out after they all signed the contract. Lesnar gave both of them Germans, but Cena AA’d him through the table and Rollins hit both of them with a curb-stomp. I don’t know why Rollins didn’t just cash in the briefcase after he gave Lesnar his finish, probably because the cretins in Creative didn’t think that far ahead. Show closed with Rollins celebrating with the Authority on the stage. I will say that they did a good job of elevating Rollins to tippy-top heel status by having him interact with Brock, who even broke his usual silence and told Seth he would have no problem conquering him too.
There was another segment that didn’t completely suck and at least got the intended people over, so you may be asking why this show was so terrible; well we’ll get to that shortly. Daniel Bryan came out and talked about winning the WWE title at WrestleMania XXX. Stephanie interrupted him and was a fantastic troll, even offering Bryan her new workout DVD as a gift. Bryan did a great face promo about fighting for everything he had worked for while Steph was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. She then booked him against Kane in his first match back on SmackDown and he showed up for a brawl with Bryan, who threw a dropkick on the floor then drilled Kane with a tope. Bryan got a great reaction and was way more over than Roman Reigns, so they are seriously going to have to rethink the Mania plans unless they want a repeat of last year.
Speaking of Reigns, and this is where the absolutely idiocy begins, he cut an horrendous promo, possibly his worst yet, before beating Luke Harper with the spear in 10:40. Prior to the match, Big Show cut a dull promo then Reigns proceeded to recite the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk as an analogy for his feud with Big Show. If awful, Vince McMahon comedy lines weren’t bad enough, Reigns is now pulling out fairy-tales during a supposed heated feud. The scripting of Reigns has become unbelievably inept it is almost like they want him to fail at getting over. Either that or Vince McMahon has completely lost his mind and all the writers are too scared to tell him that they are killing Reigns every week that goes by with this tripe. Big Show KO’d Reigns after his match, nobody really cared.
Want more stupidity? – You got it! How about Dean Ambrose undergoing a comedy psychiatric evaluation, ordered by Stephanie McMahon, to see if he was of sound mind to compete in the Royal Rumble. The humourless scenario played out over a series of skits with the payoff being that Ambrose drove the doctor crazy and was sat in the shrink’s chair while he sobbed on the sofa. Mental Health comedy is something that WWE should NEVER touch. They simply don’t have the skill to pull this kind of stuff off. It wasn’t intellectually sound or empathetic like the sit-com, Frasier, nor was it introspective or warm-hearted like Ricky Gervais’, Derick. All it did was, expose the writers even more as hapless saps and make the WWE look like the low-brow form of entertainment they so desperately want to avoid. It didn’t even do anything for Ambrose, who did his best with the God-awful material that was written for him.
Assorted Crapola: Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods w/Big E beat Tyson Kidd & Cesaro w/Natalya & Adam Rose in 3:50 because nobody can get over, EVER. Rose did nothing expect teasing a distraction finish; oh the excitement! New Day pinned Kidd with a Demolition-style double stomp. Naomi was booked to wrestle Alicia Fox with one arm tied behind her back by Steph, because the Usos said some mean things about the Authority on SmackDown. Fox won in 3:30 and it was dreadful. Miz w/Mizdow downed Jey Uso w/Jimmy in 2:10 of a completely useless waste of time match. Brie Bella w/Nikki over Paige w/Nattie & Tyson Kidd. Finish saw Kidd distract Paige by accident, so she slapped him afterwards and Nattie smiled. – Dreadful. The Ascension squashed two jobbers in 1:10; nobody cared at all. I still demand Animal and Sasuke! Lana & Rusev cut promos on Ryback and mocked him for being fired. Rusev then beat the freshly cleared to wrestle, Dean Ambrose via TKO when the ref stopped the match due to Rusev working over Ambrose’s leg too much. I’m all for establishing new finishes, but it felt like they were just weaseling out of a match without anyone getting pinned rather than getting over ref stoppages.
The Royal Rumble is next Sunday and the hype for the show, and the match itself, has been pathetically weak to say the least. I recently watched an old episode of Prime Time Wrestling from December 16, 1991 and I swear that I’m not exaggerating when I say they did more to hype the Rumble, which was over a month away, on that single episode than WWE has done over the last three weeks. You have to work pretty damn hard to make people not care about the Royal Rumble, but through their sheer incompetence and buffoonery WWE has made me completely apathetic towards what is usually their second most anticipated show of the year.
RAW Ratings for 01/05 & 01/12
Unfortunately, due to holiday and yearbook delays we do not have complete 18-49 viewership information for the 01/12 RAW, and the ratings for the 01/05 edition of the program was obviously delayed several weeks.
The 01/05 RAW, the first non-football competition Monday in months, drew 3.75 million viewers and a 2.79 rating with 4.095 (1.27 rating and 1.616 million viewers in the 18-49 demo), 3.897 (1.29 rating and 1.634 million viewers in the 18-49 demo), and 3,722 hours (1.24 rating and 1.580 million viewers in the 18-49 demo) with a 12 minute overrun .
The 01/12 RAW went up against an incredibly strong college football game in the Ohio State/Oregon final, which drew an astonishing 33.25 million viewers – the most watched program in the history of American cable television. Despite this, RAW still managed to pull a strong number, an improvement over most shows over recent weeks in fact, with 3.89 million viewers, and hours of 1.35, 1.28 and 1.35 ratings in the 18-49 demo. This was most likely a result of a combination of a Randy Savage Hall of Fame announcement, Brock Lesnar appearance, and Daniel Bryan angle, although I don’t know how much weight a teased Hall of Fame announcement for Randy Savage would carry, but with no segment by segment data only the most shaky of arguments canbe formed on either side. The show had only a five minute overrun, shorter than usual. We will hopefully have more 18-49 data in next week’s issue alongside 01/19 details.
As always, credit goes to @STD_85 for all of the 18-49 ratings data – follow him on Twitter, as he is your number one source for all 18-49 related RAW ratings information.
WWE NXT – January 14th 2015
Full Sail University: Winter Park, FL.
Finn Balor vs. Tyson Kidd – Balor via pinfall at 8:00. Balor started off hot but Kidd sent him into the barricade for the cut-off. Kidd played a great arrogant heel during the heat. Balor hit a slingblade during his comeback and hapless clowns Rich Brennan and Alex Riley embarrassingly stumbled all over the place trying to figure out what it was. Balor did a tope-con-giro over the top but Kidd came back with a dragon-screw in the ropes to set up the sharpshooter and Balor crawled to the ropes to brake the hold. Finish saw Balor hit a reverse Bloody Sunday and a double-stomp off the top. – Really fun TV match and much better than their first outing. Balor doesn’t need to be on the main roster now, tomorrow, or in a few weeks, he needed to be called up yesterday. Kidd also showed that he is worth a lot more than his jobber status on Raw with his cocky heel body language. First match in and this show already blew Raw out of the water.
They aired a tremendous recap package of Sami Zayn winning the NXT championship and hyped the rematch for the main event. Bull Dempsey cut a promo in the back; said he was the last of a dying breed and that last thing Baron Corbin would hear was, “Bull, Bull, Bull.” – Decent effort at a promo from Dempsey. His delivery was good, he got his point across and also managed to get a couple of catchphrases in there.
Baron Corbin vs. Bull Dempsey – Corbin over in 1:40. They brawled on the outside; Bull got a tiny bit of heat and went for the diving headbutt, but Corbin moved and won with his flat-liner. – I loved the build for this but I was dreading this match, but they kept it short and smashed Corbin over big time. When was the last time anyone was built up so much like Bull, just to be fed to the up and coming babyface? Great booking decision, however Corbin is going to have to start working longer matches eventually and I don’t know if his gimmick will hold up when the time comes.
Sasha Banks & Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte (NXT Women’s Champion) & Natalya – Banks & Lynch over in 4:50. Decent stuff. Nattie & Charlotte shone and easily disposed of the heels early on. Sasha cut Nattie off with her double knee in the corner; I would have liked some overt cheating from the heels to start the heat, but whatever, it’s not 1984 anymore. Charlotte ran wild briefly but Sasha hit her with the straitjacket neckbreaker for essentially a clean pin, although she did hold the tights.
NXT Championship: Sami Zayn (C) vs. Adrian Neville – Zayn retained in 11:42. Absolutely great TV main event. Pacing and story-telling was excellent. It was a total babyface match early, with both guys winning some of the early exchanges; Neville got hot and shoved Sami but quickly apologised, however the shove angered Sami and he nailed Neville with the first strike of the match with a big forearm. Neville took over with a big plancha and got a near-fall with a beautiful Frankensteiner. Sami landed the blue-thunder bomb and did two rolling Germans then went for a half-and-half but Neville landed on his feet and came close with another Frankensteiner which Sami took right on his head and sold like death. He told the ref not to stop the match and landed the half-and-half, but Neville countered the tope DDT on the floor with a superkick for one hell of a spot. Neville got a nice near-fall with a bridging O’Connor roll then Sami hit an exploder into the corner and the Yakuza-kick for the finish. It wasn’t as good as their TakeOver match, but it is still very much worth checking out. (*** ¾ )
Kevin Owens hit the ring and interrupted Sami celebration again. He planted Sami with a powerbomb then disrespectfully kicked the NXT title, which ended up hitting Zayn in the head, but it wasn’t carless or anything like that as the belt only grazed Sami.
A fantastic edition of NXT. The November 13th episode from last year is still probably the best show they have ever done, but the two bookended matches here brought this show very closed to that level. Go watch this immediately.
NXT TV Tapings – January 15th 2015.
Full Sail University: Winter Park, FL.
Only three episodes were taped this past Thursday and according to reports from in the building it helped the flow of the show and prevented the crowd from getting burnout, which had been a problem in the past. These shows build to the next Takeover show on February 11th and three matches are set for that live Network special. Finn Balor vs. Hideo Itami face each other on the third show, which should be good if they get more than 5 minutes and there was also a shock Tag title switch that seemingly came out of nowhere.
William Regal announced the next live special would be on February 11th and booked tournament for the #1 contender for the NXT title. Sami Zayn vs. Tye Dillinger never got started because Sami attacked him before the match and called out Kevin Owens. Regal showed up instead and booked Zayn vs. Owens at the February 11th Takeover. Finn Balor downed Curtis Axel in the 1st round of the #1 Contenders tourney. Charlotte over Sasha Banks via DQ when Becky Lynch interfered. Bayley made the save but ended up giving Charlotte a belly-to-belly. Regal came out again to book a 4-Way for the Women’s title at Takeover. Wesley Blake & Buddy Murphy beat the Vaudevillains. Hideo Itami over Tyler Breeze in the 1st round of the tourney.
Taped for January 28th
Adrian Neville downed Tyson Kidd in the 1st round of the tourney. Bayley & Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks & Becky Lynch went to a no-contest when everyone started brawling. Wesley Blake & Buddy Murphy beat the Lucha Dragons for the NXT Tag Team Championships [sic]. Baron Corbin over Bull Dempsey in the 1st round of the tourney. Sami Zayn & Kevin Owens had a contract signing. Owens noticed that the contract was for a non-title match and said he only fights for the prize, so Sami agreed to put the belt on the line and Regal OK’d it.
Taped for February 4th
Carmella downed Emma. Adrian Neville over Baron Corbin in the 2nd round of the tourney. Bayley beat Becky Lynch. Finn Balor over Hideo Itami in a 2nd round tourney match. Sami Zayn & Adrian Neville beat Kevins Owens & Tyson Kidd via DQ and Owens laid out Zayn with his powerbomb as the final hype for the Takeover live special.
Takeover IV – February 11th.
NXT Championship: Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens.
NXT Women’s Championship: Charlotte vs. Bayley vs. Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks.
#1 Contender Tournament Final: Adrian Neville vs. Finn Balor.
WWE SmackDown – January 15th 2015.
Baton Rouge River Centre: Baton Rouge, LA.
The story of SmackDown this week was the in-ring return of Daniel Bryan, who opened the show with a solid promo about being ready to fight and going on to win the Royal Rumble. The entire Authority, sans Stephanie, I guess she doesn’t work Tuesdays, accompanied Kane to the ring for the first match. Predictably, Bryan vs. Kane went to a DQ in 7:49 (TV time) when Noble & Mercury interfered. The match wasn’t horrible and Bryan looked pretty good, although he had noticeably lost a lot of muscle mass. The very first thing he did was a running dropkick where he landed right on his neck and I cringed. There was also one spot where he went up top and I thought he was going for the missile dropkick like a madman but thankfully he did a much safer high crossbody. Bryan fought off the Authority and escaped up the ramp, where Dean Ambrose & Roman Reigns came out to even the odds. HHH then booked the three faces against Seth Rollins, Big Show & Kane in the main event, which begs the old question, what the hell was the main event going to be before the show started? Reigns, Ambrose & Bryan beat Rollins, Big Show & Kane at 9:37 (TV Time); match was typical WWE formula. Basic stuff until Bryan made the comeback; Reigns speared Show over the announce table and Ambrose took out all the goons with a dive off the post. Bryan pinned Kane clean with the busaiku knee. Post-match, HHH cut the celebration short and booked Bryan against Kane for next Thursday with the stip being that if Bryan loses, he is out of the Royal Rumble. Granted it was only the first night, but the Bryan vs. the Authority stuff didn’t seem nearly as over as last year. It may take time for the fans to get behind Bryan again, or maybe they want something new like Bryan going after Lesnar and not some old re-tread. I don’t expect that to happen by the way; clearly any rational person would look at the story and conclude that Bryan winning the Rumble and going on to Mania is the ONLY thing they should do, however it is painfully clear that the WWE is run by a completely irrational, senile fool that will likely stick to his plan of shoving Roman Reigns down our throats.
The only other segment of note was an in-ring promo by Paul Heyman, which turned into an uncomfortable back-and-forth with Seth Rollins. Heyman schooled the entire roster on how to cut a realistic promo and said Lesnar was pissed off and all he wanted to do was F5 Rollins back into the past. Rollins hit the ring and claimed he wasn’t scared of Lesnar then got in Heyman’s face in the corner and climbed the ropes so he was virtually straddling Paul. Rollins threatened to cash in the briefcase, but since Brock wasn’t there he said he would curb-stomp Heyman instead. Paul talked his way out of a beating and convinced Rollins that the Authority may not always be in power and when that day comes Seth would need protection, which Heyman could offer him in the form of Brock Lesnar. Paul walked away while Rollins contemplated what he had heard. More hints at Rollins become a Heyman Guy, which hopefully they follow up on more and more. It would be nice to get Lesnar’s views on Paul scouting for talent while he is still around.
Vanilla Filler: Miz, Mizdow & Alicia Fox beat The Usos & Naomi in 5:14 when Miz pinned Jimmy with his finish. They are doing Usos vs Mizes for the straps at the Rumble, so they might get trigger happy and have Naomi turn of Jimmy if they are desperate. Roman Reigns did a backstage promo and thankfully it was only bland instead of the usual humiliating monstrosity. Natalya tapped-out Nikki Bella with the Sharpshooter at 3:03, presumably to set up a Divas title match for the Rumble. Big Show did a promo about nobody being able to eliminate him from the Rumble; I guess he forgot about all those times he actually was eliminated from the Rumble. Kane showed up and said he would win the Rumble. Bad News Barrett retained the IC title over Sin Cara at 4:22 of a nothing match. So, Barrett lost to Sin Cara in 3 minutes last week, just so he could defend the IC title in a match nobody cared about and get his win back? This is one of the things I hate most about WWE and it seems they will never, EVER learn that booking champions like geeks is in fact going to make them look like geeks! Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt also cut backstage promos about wanting to win the Rumble; neither was anything special.
General Post-Operative Pro-Wres Meanderings with Ryan Clingman
As some may be aware, I had a wisdom teeth issue that needed correction this week, and as a result underwent surgery to have four of them removed, in the process delaying the newsletter. The most positive aspect of this story, however, is that I was granted the opportunity during my few days of recovery to enjoy, alongside a bowl of ice-cream and a hearty helping of raspberry jelly, some wrestling-related content I most often times fail to during the week. Pro-wrestling, anime, manga, and video games – as long as one of them isn’t entirely mediocre, which of course is worse than deplorably bad a lot of the time as far as pure entertainment value is concerned – always makes for a fun occasion, even with holes in one’s face. Clearly, consuming copious amounts of pro-wres and sugary treats isn’t the fast ticket to fulfillment when done all day, everyday, however, if this format proves popular perhaps we will return with some other pro-wres meanderings during slower news weeks – there certainly isn’t a lack of content in my backlog.
This overview should be prefaced by the fact that due to the usual technological difficulties, this evaluation is purely based on the first seven episodes of the series, perhaps more will come in the next few weeks.
To say that Lucha Underground was “better than RAW” would be as nondescript a back-handed cliche as any, and most reading this, if not coming to that conclusion independently, have certainly heard it a number of times. What is an important note however, is that tickets for the second set of Lucha Underground tapings are, according to wrestlingobserver.com, close to selling out, which is an accomplishment for a newer company without major television exposure. In short, there is a lot, at least from the first seven or so episodes, to love about Lucha Underground, and as someone who has followed the weekly happenings of the TV show through podcasts, newsletters, blogs and such, the overall direction of the product seems to be a positive one. What is restricting the product on a presentation front, apart from the set, which has been subject to some criticism over recent weeks, and the television coverage of the El Rey Network, is the commentary team of Matt Striker an Vampiro.
From a charisma and likability standpoint, Striker and Vampiro are more than an adequate pairing, but when evaluating key aspects of pro-wrestling announcing such as timing, instinct, ability to get the product over, and conveyance of emotion, the team is far from adequate. Vampiro, whilst incredibly likable as a television character, is very much akin to Booker T in most aspects of his announcing. He recites one tried cliche after another and any attempted showing of emotion comes across as insincere, underplayed, or both. There are some former or current performers like a Nigel McGuiness, Chris Hero, William Regal, or CM Punk, who are able to bring forth much of what they presented in the ring to he announce booth, but Vampiro simply isn’t a member of that grouping,
Matt Striker shows glimmers of promise, but lacks the innate instinct of a lead announcer – saying “I know another famous wrestler from Venice Beach” during the entrance of a jobber set to fall at the hands of Mil Muertes, or putting over, as a babyface announcer, Catrina’s interference simply due it looking aesthetically different from what he had seen before. Striker possesses an abundant wrestling general knowledge, but when he overestimates that knowledge and begins to generate blatantly farcical or unbelievable factoids purely with the intent of getting himself over, it ends up hurting the product. Given the very concentrated and deliberate presentation of Lucha Underground I would look to avoid a three-man booth, but at the same time the announce team isn’t quite up to carrying new or returning viewers through the product in its current form. Some have suggested the likes of Jim Ross to accompany the current team, but as good as Ross is, I don’t believe that he is a personality fit to call the style, nor do I believe that a Mauro Ranallo or Josh Barnett from AXS (which we will be looking at next week) would fit the product. Konnan, had he not been an on-screen character, may have been good for the role, or he could have been but another Vampiro.
Aside from the commentary, Lucha Underground, in its first seven episodes, has been impressive. Its presentation, particularly backstage, is different from most everything we have seen in a wrestling product as of yet; however, its story progression seems to be quite conventional, which is wholly positive when comparing it with other major pro-wrestling programming on TV. This isn’t to say that I have been a fan of the majority of the show’s backstage segments, which for my eyes come across as largely cheesy and not overly entertaining for their intended purpose. However, due to the overall presentation of the show, being that of a pro-wrestling show in the mold of a conventional soap-opera or TV drama, the segments don’t come across as embarrassingly bad as some of WWE’s or TNA’s. Part of this is due to the manner in which the segment are shot, similar to your standard television drama, although most of the promo spots simply aren’t as bad as those seen on WWE or TNA TV. Apart from a couple of overtly kitsch fight scenes none of the backstage promos have been worse than a C-level television series.
I believe that with the scramble match, Aztec Rumble, and other matches, there are some potentially good in-ring performances scheduled for my playlist within the next week or so, but for the show’s first seven episode run I was largely underwhelmed by much of its in-ring content. The promotion’s predominant style, many many flips with little direction, whilst spectacular, doesn’t resonate with me on any meaningful level – and I was someone who very much enjoyed the outlandish nature of the original ROH Dragon Gate six-man. Similar statements may be made about some of the show’s major angles, with the single most memorable spot of the entire first seven episode run being Johnny Mundo’s spectacular parkour leap from the balcony when assisting Prince Puma.
Lucha Underground is a program that has potential, and discounting the AXS NJPW show which I have yet seen, the best on North American Television. Still, it does harbour a need for improvement, particularly in terms of announcing. From the point I am currently at in the show they have made some progress in the realms of thematic and character progression, even if the Aztec theme is entirely overblown. Lucha Underground may feature some in-ring and out-of-ring qualities that I don’t find all too appealing, but its unique charm and fast-flowing nature is such that any wrestling fan with a mind all but entirely shut from non-WWE content should give it a try and observe how it plays out over the coming weeks and months.
Next week we may very well be looking at the Paul Heyman documentary and Andre the Giant comic, amongst other things.
Bits & Pieces
Next Week’s Issue
Next week Ben Carass and I return with our preview of the Royal Rumble, New Japan’s FantasticaMania shows, and more!
General Questions/Feedback/Suggestions: Ryan@cubedcirclewrestling.com
Ben Carass’s Twitter: @BenCarass
Bryan Rose’ Twitter: @br26
Ryan Clingman’s Twitter : @RyanClingman