This column is going to be a bit of a love letter. It’s come about because of the work that Daniel Bryan is doing in the ring at the moment. I tweeted last week that almost every one of his matches is like a condensed version of a ‘Rocky’ film. The plucky underdog story. It almost brings a tear to my eye watching his stuff. I really hope that the creative team just let him do his thing. Anyway, it got me thinking. Some of his matches remind me of some of the classic Smackdown ones when Raw was the ‘entertainment’ show and Smackdown was the ‘wrestling’ show. It obviously could be argued that they still are that but it’s hard when the blue brand is stock-full of red brand recaps.
Things have changed. The company has moved on. I totally understand that and would rather support a product that does advance and change. In a way, I’ve got no real issue with the PG era as long as the product is still generally good, which I think it is. However, when I look back, there are certain things I miss. I’ve created a top five of things I miss but I also, for a variety of reasons, understand why they’ve gone. Anyway, here we go.
The ‘true’ brand extension
Yes, I know it’s still sort of there. One of my favourite periods of wrestling though was a clear cut divide between the two brands. There was a time when I was a Smackdown guy. Blue through and through. If I missed Raw one week, I didn’t mind. Smackdown was the one I had to watch though. All of my favourite wrestlers were on it. Brock Lesnar. Eddie Guerrero. Kurt Angle. JBL. The Undertaker. It was such a brilliant show at its peak. With the extension though, the WWE could create its own ‘dream matches’. The Royal Rumble was always brilliant for that. Michael’s eliminating Angle? Dream match at Wrestlemania 21. Lesnar and Goldberg face to face? Well, okay, in theory that was huge. Now there is a struggle for ‘dream’ matches because we see most of them interacting on Raw on a weekly basis. Intercontinental v US title matches were a big deal because they were on different brands. Now? Not so much.
I also miss the draft lottery that came with the brand extension. Cena as number one pick? Massive news. Batista going the other way? Bloody hell. We don’t have that now. That excitement. That ‘water cooler’ moment. To be honest, maybe it’s not so much the brand extension I miss but being ‘a Smackdown guy’. I miss that. Moments in the Rumble when the red and blue gangs would stand at opposite ends of the ring staring at each other before going at it. Brilliant moments. In a way, Cena moving to Raw was probably the start of the end of the extension (even though drafts continued) simply because he was clearly the next big thing in wrestling and they needed him on the premiere brand.
I understand why the extension doesn’t really exist anymore. If anything, everything (and everyone) is on Raw now. It makes it easier as a viewer. If you catch that one show, you’ll not really miss much. Say Big E and Del Rio fight on Main Event, well, they’ll have a rematch on Raw anyway. Yes, I know sometimes big things happen like Del Rio beating Big Show and The Shield losing but they are the exception. In this day and age, the WWE needs the premiere product to be just that, premiere. The main deal. I get it. I like it. I do miss the old days though.
Right, first things first for those of you who follow and love Impact, I know he’s over there. I know he is still at the top of his game with that promotion. I know he obviously has Twitter issues. To be honest, one of the only reasons I watch Impact Wrestling is because of Angle. His current run with AJ Styles is brilliant. They are matches that would happily sit on a WWE PPV and no-one would question it. I think that’s my point. I miss Angle on WWE television. Where he is now he can have matches and interaction with Bully Ray, AJ, etc. but I want to see him have matches with Bryan, Punk and Ambrose. There’s a whole host of dream matches right there.
I know why he left (or was he pushed?) the big corporation but I miss his work. The match with Lesnar at Wrestlemania 19. Hell, the match with Eddie at Wrestlemania XX. I miss how he was funny and goofy. I loved how he was intense. In a way, I look at Daniel Bryan and I can see the influence the Olympic Gold Medalist has had. Also, Angle clearly loves TNA and good on him. Loyalty is a hard thing to find. However, he is making a few noises that he would like to come back for a final run in the WWE (possibly ending with a Hall of Fame induction?) and I would love to see that. Again. Bryan v Angle for the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania 31? Hell, yes!
Right. This is a bit of a controversial one so I’m going to qualify it straight away. I miss blood but I also don’t miss blood. When I first started watching wrestling, the blood made it real. It made it graphic. It made it adult. I remember when WWF videos got 15 and 18 ratings on their video releases in the UK. However, I understand why WWE changed. Actually, why they had to change. Do I want to see wrestlers ‘blade’ themselves? No. It doesn’t really make the actual match any better. I’ve used the photo of Eddie as, not only proof of when blading goes wrong, but also the lengths the superstars will go to for us, the fans. I’ve also read enough and see enough documentaries to know that, in the long term, it doesn’t really help. I keep going back to him in this article but, does Daniel Bryan need to blade himself to make the matches any better? No. Did Jericho and Punk need to on Sunday night to get their brilliant, four-star match? No! It’s not the Attitude era anymore. The company has moved on. I’d rather see the story being told in the ring to be about the story not about the amount of red stuff spilled.
However, when blood does make an ‘appearance’ in the WWE it makes it seem more, I hate the word but, edgier. When Lesnar punched Cena in the face at Raw and bust his lip, all of sudden everyone stood up. Everyone watched. Also, three weeks later when Cena got an elbow to the head early on, the match took a different direction. In a way, it was probably my favourite Cena feud of recent years because he took several stiff shots from The Beast. The small amount of blood worked far more than the blade jobs of old. Less is, indeed, more. So, yeah. I miss blood but I don’t miss it at the same time.
The corporate wars.
The Monday night wars were great for wrestling fans. When the companies had to fight for our approval. Our viewing figures. It made for some great television. In a way, I can go back to my Kurt Angle idea in that you always wondered what an Austin v Goldberg match would be like. A Sting v Undertaker. A Jericho versus, well, anyone. When the big debuts did eventually happen (like Jericho’s amazing initial arrival in the WWE) it was a big deal. The same way it was when Hall and Nash turned up in WCW. It was a big deal.
I like the fact that Impact exists. I like the fact that Ring of Honour is the independent darling. I like that WWE hasn’t tried to put them out of business. It’s not the same though. I watch Impact but it largely infuriates me. I want to write about Aces and Eights at some point so will leave my detailed thoughts there for another time but, just when they’re going somewhere, Hogan or Sting get involved and, in the long term, okay, it might make sense, but it keeps happening and it keeps derailing the stable. The fact that I’m infuriated makes me want to see some of these wrestlers in the WWE. Now, again, I know the WWE doesn’t always get it right. I know that. I do, however, prefer it and it has some of the top workers in the world. Do I want to see AJ versus Rollins? Yep. Abyss versus Kane? It’d be an interesting match. Samoa Joe versus Punk (again)? Yes. Hell, I’d like to see Joe just get used well for the first time in years.
The corporate wars were exciting for us but ended with one promotions going out of business. Do I want to see that happen to TNA or ROH? No. Not at all. Do I want to see some of those wrestlers on other brands? Yes. To that end, workers like Shelton Benjamin, John Morrison and MVP, I’d happily watch them on Impact just so I could watch them again.
I hope it’s obvious to all why I miss Eddie. Alongside Jericho and Taker, Eddie will always be my favourite. He made wrestling both fun and serious. In fact, there’s a pattern here when you look at Bryan and Angle too. I loved his low-riders. His ‘lying, cheating and stealing’. I loved the Wrestlemania XX untied boot. He just ‘had it’. To be honest, he was the main reason I was a ‘blue guy’. I wanted to see where he went next. His title win against Brock had me in tears. Now we get wrestlers celebrating with fans all the time. Hell, bully-boy Sheamus did it at Payback after defeating Damien Sandow in the bloody ‘kick off pre-show’. Really?!?!?!? When Eddie celebrated with the fans though, it felt real because, well, it was real. The passion with which he worked was unbelievable. When the PPV buys took a dip when he was champion, Eddie took it personally and worked harder. When he was given the Rey Mysterio/Dominic storyline, he made it work brilliantly. I will always remember one of my favourite promos ever with "the mask" in hand.
I will do a column about Eddie soon. It’ll be gushing. It’ll be a fan article of the truest nature simply because he fought his demons and became such a fan favourite that his name is still chanted eight years since his passing.
I miss a lot of things about wrestling, most I can deal with. Eddie not being around is still hard to take and, hell, I miss him as much as I did eight years ago. The truth is…I miss him.
Please follow me on twitter @HughFirth or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org All constructive criticism is appreciated.
Ta ta for now and hopefully see you next week.