Greetings, wrestling fans, and welcome to another edition of Four Corners, where we take a quartet of disparate wrestling stories and weave them together into a giant tapestry of opinion. Or something like that. Plenty on tap for this week, so let's get started!
The biggest story in wrestling in the last 24 hours is unquestionably the release of Alberto Del Rio by World Wrestling Entertainment for what has been termed "unprofessional conduct and an altercation with an employee" on the WWE website. Apparently, the altercation itself was not unprofessional enough on its own. Details, as often occurs with stories of this nature, have been a bit sketchy to come to the surface, but the generally accepted story of the moment is that ADR had an argument with a WWE employee in their social media department which resulted in Del Rio slapping the unidentified victim. This report has naturally not yet been validated, and potentially never will be. What is completely clear from the company's reaction is hat whatever happened was enough of a big deal that the WWE was willing to immediately terminate Alberto's employment.
As a corporate culture, that should be no surprise. Even in a sport populated by epic amounts of fictitious violent acts (and very real injuries), the specter of authentic violence has no place and should never be tolerated. The WWE has made some strides regarding their acceptance (or lack thereof) of bad behavior by its talent, and often straddles the uncomfortable line between alleged criminal activity and value to the promotion. When the prospect of a lawsuit rears its head, however, one gets the feeling there is no choice. It's all speculation until more is known, but the initial information certainly does not paint a very agreeable picture of Del Rio. That said, his time in the WWE will be remembered for plenty of momentous occasions. Below, a primer:
2010: Del Rio debuts in Florida Championship Wrestling under the ring name Dos, a homburg tip to his lineage as the son of Dos Caras. Further masked identities would proliferate during his time in the WWE's feeder program, culminating with an unmasked run under the ill-fated moniker of Alberto Banderas. Del Rio seesawed between hero and villain frequently during this time, an interesting development considering he had worked most of his career as a face. This time period also marked art mirroring reality as Del Rio claimed a big part of his WWE deal was heading right to the main roster, which in essence turned out to be incorrect. An aristocrat is born.
August 20, 2010: Del Rio, hot off the heels of plenty of promos introducing us to his contemptible character, begins his career on the WWE's big stage by vanquishing fan favorite Rey Mysterio on Smackdown! Several notable facets of the gimmick include his own personal ring announcer, Ricardo Rodriguez, arriving to his match in a bevy of luxury cars to display his immense wealth, and the utilization of a painful cross armbreaker. Think Ted DiBiase meets Mr. Roarke. The submission maneuver is introduced smartly, laying waste to several superstars, including Kane and Christian.
November 2010: Del Rio caps off his impressive freshman run with the WWE by heading a Survivor Series team against one captained by long-standing foe Mysterio. Del Rio's team is unsuccessful and he leaves the match (without technically being defeated) as a result of a Big Show KO. Del Rio's feud with Mysterio would carry through the rest of the year, including ADR's appearance in the King of the Ring tournament, before ending with Alberto's victory in a 2-out-of-3 falls match in the beginning of the new year.
January 2011: Del Rio's magic touch continues, as he is picked to be the winner of that year's Royal Rumble, a super-sized edition featuring 40 wrestlers altogether. Del Rio selects the World Heavyweight Championship as the belt he will challenge for at WrestleMania, thus beginning a program with then-champion Edge and his good friend (and former tag partner) Christian. While Edge wins said match, Del Rio is unable to go through with his promised rematch at Extreme Rules when Edge retires from competition. This would leave Del Rio to battle with Christian over the belt.
July 2011: Del Rio comes up short in his bid to defeat Christian, as the latter wins the title in a ladder match. ADR then feuds with The Big Show after being drafted to the Raw brand. History is made for Del Rio, however, as he defeats seven other men (including Mysterio, natch) to secure a title shot at a time and date of his choosing, thereby becoming the first wrestler to win both the Rumble and Money In the Bank in the same calendar year.
August 2011: After an aborted attempt or two to cash in his briefcase, Del Rio does so (successfully) against champion CM Punk at SummerSlam. Punk had defeated John Cena to become Undisputed champion, but was attacked by Kevin Nash (remember that?!) following the victory, setting him up perfectly for Del Rio's win. Alberto Del Rio therefore becomes the first WWE Champion born in Mexico. ADR would drop the strap to Cena a mere month later, before recapturing it again from him only to lose it once more to Punk. Del Rio closes out an amazingly successful year failing to win the title a third time in subsequent rematches and suffering an injury.
September 2012: Del Rio spends most of the year as a championship contender, receiving no less than six shots at the World titles as number one contender, the large majority of them coming against new rival Sheamus. Despite Del Rio never capturing the belt during this period, his ramped-up heelish tactics are on display, pressing assault charges against the Irishman and having the Brogue Kick temporarily banned. Sheamus would wrap up the feud with said move at Night of Champions.
December 2012: After spending his entire run thus far as a heel, Del Rio switches over to the face side of the ledger, saving his longtime abuse target and ring announcer Ricardo Rodriguez from imminent destruction by...3MB. This time around, Alberto was presented as the hero chasing The Big Show. Don't worry, though: he still kept the trendy JBL-like neck towel.
January 2013: Alberto Del Rio captures the World Heavyweight Championship in impressive fashion, defeating Show in a Last Man Standing tilt (no duct tape needed, well yet anyway). Following the ending of that feud, ADR would have a series of matches with Jack Swagger before dropping the belt to fellow MITB winner Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler's concussion would put the breaks on that feud's continuation, leaving Del Rio and Swags to keep battling it out into the summer months.
June 2013: Del Rio heads back to familiar heel territory in impressive fashion, defeating Dolph Ziggler at Payback by targeting his head brutally. In doing so, he once again becomes World Heavyweight Champion. This would lead to another period of dominance for Del Rio that would carry through until the fall. During this time, challengers Ziggler, Christian, and Rob Van Dam (with Rodriguez as his cornerman) would all fail to unseat the champ. Alberto finally coughs up the belt to John Cena at October's Hell in a Cell after a 133-day reign.
June 2014: Following his time in the limelight, Del Rio slipped a bit. After a drawn-out feud being fed to the returning Batista, ADR qualifies for the Money In The Bank ladder match for the vacant World Heavyweight Championship. That match is won by Cena, and Del Rio then participates in a series of losses to consistent rival (and US champion) Sheamus.
So there you have it. At the end of the day, Del Rio can claim one of the better gimmicks of this decade, and a trophy case of accolades from the WWE, including four title runs, the MITB win and a Royal Rumble victory. Will all of those achievements be enough to get him back into World Wrestling Entertainment someday? Perhaps.
Unfair to Flair?
Rumors have abounded seemingly for months now regarding legend Ric Flair's return to the WWE in some sort of active television role. Other than a one-off appearance on Raw shilling for John Cena (and an even-briefer turn against his former Evolution mates that was rather well-received), though, he's been kept off TV completely. The reason for this is reportedly due to the always-popular mantra that creative lacks anything for him. If this is true, there's little more that can be said. One would reasonably assume that a legendary character with a list of accomplishments who ranks as one of the best-known names in the sport could be squeezed onto a three-hour-plus TV show once in a while. But I digress. After all, it's going to be Hulk Hogan's birthday soon!
Originally, it was thought Flair would be the manager for The Miz, who would be returning from filming another cinematic masterstroke to active duty. That angle was begun on the Raw 20th Anniversary special, when Flair granted Miz use of his figure-four leglock against his opponent Cesaro. That inspired start did not lead to the end game one would have hoped, however, and nothing more has been mentioned regarding that interaction since. With Miz now back in full throttle heel mode, a partnership with Flair wouldn't work anyway. While Flair is more than comfortable portraying one hell of a heel, he is a huge fan favorite in his current "Legends" capacity. This seemingly leaves Flair in flux as a managerial candidate.
But who's to say the Nature Boy should be a manager anyway? The only way I see it working would be a repeat of the incredible and amazing moment where he stood in the corner of his daughter, current NXT Women's Champion Charlotte. The amount of emotion and gravitas in that match brought a different dimension to a guy that's seen (and done) it all in this business. Anyone else would risk the enormity of Flair's character overtaking the charge he was assigned to. Whether it's an on-screen authority role, an announcer, or something else entirely, Ric Flair is far too important to wrestling's history to be invisible every week. Letting him preside over the potential dominance of his offspring would be one excellent start.
Ask Not For Whom The Bella Tolls
Other than the obvious John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar fait accompli, the major hubbub for this month's SummerSlam is, believe it or not, the feud between the Authority's Stephanie McMahon and the formerly "unemployed" Brie Bella. Much of that interest has been generated as a result of Stephanie's masterful throwback heel work over the recent months, a role which she has found herself perfectly suited for and has reminded this correspondent of her father, one of the best heels in the business, wrestler or otherwise. The fact that both have played off their real (or presumed) eccentricities and foibles have strengthened the presentation, to an equal degree as the personal nature of this conflict and the part that Brie's injured and uber-popular hubby Daniel Bryan plays in it. It's been a great ride thus far.
Reports have surfaced that Triple H (who has already gotten physically involved via the ever-dramatic contract signing) will be playing some sort of role in this match, perhaps as guest referee. That shouldn't surprise anyone, as Trips certainly never shies from the spotlight. What's also been rumored (far more surprisingly) is that Brie's sister Nikki will apparently be taking a heel turn at some point during this conflict, whether it ends at the Slam or not. While the Bellas have portrayed catty beyotches before, the timing of this move would be far more fascinating given Nikki's well-documented relationship with uber-hero John Cena and their roles on WWE's successful Total Divas reality show.
It might be difficult to keep this all straight, but one has to admire the intricacy of a situation where Nikki Bella (playing a trumped-up good girl on weekly television) reverses that role and goes down the rabbit hole of heeldom, while simultaneously (one supposes) maintaining her "normal" persona on WWE's "reality" show in its new season. Given that Total Divas has skirted the issue of heelish behavior thus far (and no, I'm not counting Eva Marie, because I'm not sure what she does other than Maxim), this puts the WWE in a bit of a delicious and ironic predicament. Perhaps they can begin next season with Sister Abigail.
Finally, as mentioned before in this very space, one presumed reason for Spike TV's rumored decision not to renew TNA Impact was the fact that Vince Russo was still on the payroll, albeit in some sort of consultant role. Russo denied those accusations when they first came to light, but is now telling a very different tale indeed. In case you missed it, I'll summarize: Everyone else did him wrong, and he honorably decided to end their arrangement when the opportunity arose. I'm not here to criticize Russo's version of events, as he was there and I was not, but I propose a different sequence entirely.
Russo was hired by John "Big Bottom Badass" Gaburick, as a creative consultant with the potential to becoming a full-fledged employee of TNA again. The only way Russo would earn that contract was to conduct his affairs in absolute secrecy, but that plan was foiled when the evil Spike employee Scott "Smells Like" Fishman tore off his corporate suit to reveal that he was actually a secret TNA Team Red insider who was against Russo all along. That dastardly deed forced Russo to battle for his honor against Fishman in a "Yankees Cap On a Flaming Pole" match, where the winner was the first combatant to both secure the Yankees cap and put it into official rally style on his opponent's head while simultaneously spraying Dixie Carter with a fire extinguisher in her thigh-high referee skirt.
Things looked good for Russo as he won the bout and his full-time contract, but he was inexplicably blindsided by Gaburick, who turned on Vinnie Ru immediately after the match and started his own third insurgent group of Biggest Loser tryout models. Things were further complicated when Fishman was revealed to be Russo's half-brother.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Have a great weekend.