Hello, hello, ladies and gents, and welcome to another action-packed edition of Four Corners, where we gather four stories from around the wrestling world and deliver them to you in the comfort of your own home (or wherever you may get your daily dose of TJR). Plenty of information awaits, so let's not waste any time:
1) Logoing, Going, Gone
News has broken that World Wrestling Entertainment will once again be changing the public image of their company, and the date has been set for the day after one of the Big 4 pantheon of PPVs, SummerSlam. The new logo is far less of a surprise than the Amazon Fire phone debut, as it's already prominently featured on the company jet and occupies the top corner of the Network live feed. Notably absent from said logo is the "scratch" look, as it's simply two Ws on top of each other in a Bodyslam Serif font with a flashy red line below. Personally, I find it rather odd that they chose to run with it as the Network logo first, but that's me. I never guessed which team would win the contract on any episode of The Pitch either.
Personally, I grew up during the halcyon days of the "classic" WWF steel logo, which ran from the early 80s to the early 90s. Generally accompanied by a GI Joe voiceover and some most excellent synthesizer music, it looked sort of like a cross between Tron and Contra. (The company logo prior to that was unfamiliar to me until much later, but perhaps that's a good thing: It's a Rorschach test during a game of Pong.) Once the Attitude Era was upon us, however, the logo got extreme and was tilted to the left. The blue hue got deeper and the metallic tones were placed with a solid yellow. Very Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
The remainder of the nineties featured more than a few changes to the company masthead, as Titan Tower decided to get all tie dye on us. 1995's iteration took on some spooky overtones, as the logo remained in the same position but featured prominent blacks and blues with a wispy grayish-white background. That was replaced by the short-lived and retina-piercing orange-and-red number that reminded me of what happens when Arnold ends up on the surface of Mars during Total Recall. As the '90s came to a close, the logo went from blocky to scrawly. The scratched WWF sat inside a red outline which it didn't quite fit inside of, letting us all know that wrestling was officially outside of the box.
Since then, the changes have been supercilious at best. The earlier '00s dropped the silly red outline but retained the red underlining. Jerry McDevitt's loss by submission to The Polar Bears in 2002 forced WWE to get the "F" out (remember that?) but the logo itself remained largely unchanged save that development. It's been that way ever since, all the way up until the end of this summer. Gone is the shaky pencil drawing, sayonara to the Crayola underlining. And we're right back in metallic silver, ready for the stationery. I'll admit it looks pretty spiffy, and it's only the logo after all. But I do wistfully think of the days when that blocky WWF was on my screen, looking apt to turn into a Transformer at any moment. So long, scribbles.
2) Chip Off The Old Brock
To say that the next couple of months are critical for the WWE would be an understatement for the ages. Recent financials have tumbled under the pressure of replacing the PPV model with the Network model, Vince McMahon got way less than he thought he would for the television rights to his programming, and the Daniel Bryan storyline that captured the hearts and minds of just about every wrestling fan in the world reached its peak with his storybook victory and then promptly fell off the rails with a Kane feud and neck injury which required surgery. The show must go on, however, and WWE has done their job reasonably well, elevating a good crop of new talent and offering up two ladder matches (including one to crown a new champion) at Money In The Bank.
With all of that said, though, the enormous elephant in the room is one Brock Lesnar. Should WWE fail to demonstrate an excellent plan for his return, the unexpected victory over The Undertaker at WrestleMania will go down as one of the worst decisions ever in a company that's had their fair share of misses. Critics (including yours truly) lambasted the brass for handing that unprecedented honor to a guy who's a part-time player. I'll be the first to admit that it's possible to have us all eating crow when all's said and done, but most of the scuttlebutt seemed to involve Lesnar challenging fan favorite Bryan for the belt in a battle of the ages. With Bryan's status uncertain to say the very least (reports this week speculate he may not even be ready by Slam), Lesnar's return is imminent. There is no question the WWE wants it that way, as they've had manager Paul Heyman mention him just about every week since 'Mania ended. Talk about pressure for a return.
One would assume that Lesnar has to be booked dominantly upon his return, but that's a bit difficult to do considering he won't be working many dates as per his contract situation. He will in essence be living off his win over Taker. Without Bryan, though, it's a bit unclear what strategy the WWE will take regarding his opponent. John Cena would naturally be the most obvious choice, and in a shock to nobody, he's booked in the title ladder match. Further down the pecking order but still possible would be Roman Reigns, who's had a hell of a push in 2014 but very little singles track record to be confident in. An outside shot would be Heyman's other client, Cesaro, who is very over with plenty of fans regardless of his schtick and has demonstrated excellent prowess in the ring. The end result is that it's pretty clear a face will be coming down with the strap (which likely means a heel takes the title shot match...hello, Seth Rollins!) and they will have a healthy dose of stress on their shoulders for the Slam match with Brock.
I've never been incredibly enamored with Brock Lesnar as a wrestler, but he has an intimidating persona and he performs pretty well in big matches overall. This is a critical juncture for the WWE, as it may very well determine their success going into a new calendar year. Smart money is likely on Cena: WWE is more than comfortable with him in the title picture, he does a good job in big matches, and his promo work would be more than enough to carry Lesnar to what needs to be a match of the year candidate (or series of matches) in order to deliver on the promise. It would also make Lesnar's potential destruction of Cena all the more compelling when Bryan returns and gets his own shot. Should they go in one of those other directions, it would mark a sea change for the state of affairs in Titan Tower and make for some very interesting scenarios indeed. You can guess which one I'd consider more likely.
3) I'm Afraid I've Got Some Bad News...Again
The powers that be at TNA have their own share of problems, many of them well publicized and just about all of them long-term. As wrestling's fanbase scours the earth looking for the next solid #2 option behind the WWE, TNA has taken their opportunity and...well, yeah, not much from there. Fear not, true believers! Dixie Carter and company have figured out the stumbling block to their success and they are going to allow the fans to teach them the error of their ways. I can mean only one thing: the potential return of the six-sided ring!
A recent tweet from TNA asking fans which ring they preferred brought a torrent of opinions, many of them interestingly enough from TNA talent themselves. Both Ethan Carter III and Austin Aries have taken their umbrage to Twitter, the former staying mainly in character while the latter brought up some thought-provoking points regarding safety on the top rope. Those points were furthered by, of all people, Sean Waltman, who woke up long enough to concur that the 6-sided ring presents some very big problems for the wrestlers within it. For those who are not familiar with this entire slice of wrestling history, going to a traditional four-sided ring was one of (admittedly few) excellent propositions made by Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff when THEY were going to save TNA. While Hogan's moved on and made amends with his former haunts, this is simply a marketing gimmick that will have very little "impact" (pun intended) on the action inside the ring.
Whether or not Vince Russo is currently involved in TNA's product, one of their chief issues is the writing. It's certainly not easy and Russo has had his share of very good ideas, but he's always been guilty of overbooking big matches and TNA has taken that ball and run with it quite a bit of late. On top of that, there's a very long list of things I'd rather see return to TNA before the six-sided ring. That list would include, in no particular order: AJ Styles, Chris Sabin, Alex Shelley, Homicide, Kazarian, Jay Lethal, Chris Daniels, Petey Williams, and Awesome Kong. Reading that list should make it very discernible as to why TNA is struggling. The development and growth of tomorrow's stars has to be a focal point for any promotion, but it also has an inherent responsibility to maintain its top talent and book in a sane and understandable manner. Bobby Lashley as champion is likely NOT a good example of this. With Jeff Jarrett's next foray getting closer, expect more competition and less chance to rebound from mistakes. Whether you're for the return to tradition or not, TNA has so many bigger fish to fry at this point they should open a Long John Silver's.
4) Now Hear This!
Lastly, we've reached a true low point with WWE announcing. This is an issue I've vented about before, but it truly has approached a level that makes one wonder how it can be ignored week after week. I'll spare few keystrokes on Jerry Lawler; he's been a company shill for longer than I've been alive, and his material is stuff that Henny Youngman would thumb his nose at. My main source of irritation these days is the constant bitching between Michael Cole and JBL. It's exactly like you remember the bitching between Cole and Lawler when Cole was a heel, except somehow more annoying.
Because Michael Cole is one of those rare souls that can inspire animus whether friend or foe, his over-the-top face drooling has provided an opportunity for JBL to take his bullish heel to new levels. I love Bradshaw, and he's a very smart guy, but his tired "conspiracy theory" and "wah-wah-wah" lines have to go. Some debate from the booth adds to the action and provides interest, to be sure, but this weary back-and-forth bellicosity takes away from what's going on in the ring and adds surprisingly little. Points aren't really made or lost; everyone just settles into their tired tropes and presses play. It's especially infuriating considering that the WWE has never had MORE options to choose from when it comes to announcing. From NXT to the pre- and post- shows on the Network, there's an abundance of talking heads that could be tried in these roles.
I've long since given up pining over the tried-and-true play-by-play wrestling announcer. The current product requires much more of an infomercial host type role, and it's definitely a thankless job. It doesn't matter what the moves or called or what happened yesterday as long as you plug everything right the first time. Similarly, I've gotten over the idea that we'll ever see another excellent heel color guy again. But there has to be something better than this to feature for three to six hours every week on national television. I'd actually take Rob Bartlett back at this point.