Hello, wrestling faithful, and welcome to another monolithic edition of The Four Corners, where we take four stories floating around the wrestling world and dissect them for your viewing pleasure. Plenty of big information to get to this weekend, so without further ado let's get cracking.
1. Cena Goes Heel
After all the exhortations, pleas, and hand-wringing, WWE World Heavyweight Champion John Cena has finally caved in to all the peer pressure and will be turning heel. In a movie, anyway. Lest you get too excited, or not spent your mornings eating cherry cheese Danish and perusing the latest issue of Variety as I do, Cena missed Monday Night Raw one night after retaining his belt in a so-so Battleground match due to filming commitments he has for The Nest. What makes this movie notable is not that it stars the very funny Tina Fey & Amy Poehler combination, nor the premise of the two titular comediennes playing sisters that throw one last party in their childhood home (which seems like an even worse plot than the Sinbad-helmed Houseguest, and that had Jeffrey Jones!) but that the Dr. of Thuganomics will be embracing his inner thespian and playing a villain. Oh, the humanity!
Recent photos snapped on the set had Cena echoing his original Parappa the Rapper clone character from his salad days in the WWE but covered in fake tattoos to show the churlish bend of his character. He might even ruin the party for John Leguizamo, who still owes me the cost of a large popcorn from sitting through Spawn. The movie itself looks of a slightly questionable nature, ranking somewhere between It's Pat and The Ladies Man in the pantheon of films centered around the Saturday Night Live set, but it's at least an attempt at range by our favorite superhero. It also continues the trend of professional wrestlers throughout history being called upon to exercise their entertainment chops on the silver screen. Below, a partial list of some of those that have trod this ground before:
Wrestler: Andre the Giant
Movie: The Princess Bride
Notable scene(s): Andre gets in a pseudo-match with a masked Cary Elwes, and IS the brute squad
Casting Ranking: Four stars. Despite Andre's physical limitations, he recycles a Survivor Series promo brilliantly. And rhymes! All the times!
Wrestler: Steve Austin
Movie: The Condemned
Notable scene(s): Stone Cold battles Vinnie Jones, Nathan Jones (yowch) and an ankle bomb
Casting Ranking: Two stars. Austin does his level best, but would have been better served as a bad guy. Con Air it ain't, and that's the bottom line.
Wrestler: Kevin Nash
Movie: The Punisher
Notable scene(s): Nash plays a Russian character called, well, the Russian; meets his end courtesy of boiling oil and a staircase fall
Casting Ranking: Three stars. Nash had a great manager in crime boss John Travolta, and took more bumps in five minutes than ten years.
Movie: See No Evil
Notable scene(s): Kane plays Jacob Goodnight, psychopath who rips eyes from their sockets and uses a cell phone as a murder weapon
Casting Ranking: Four stars. The movie was terrible, all the way down to the ending, but Kane was pretty much Kane. And gets a sequel.
Wrestler: Jesse Ventura
Notable scene(s): The Body himself displays a bevy of quotables and plenty of firepower while searching for the titular beast.
Casting Ranking: Three stars. Ventura refers to himself as a "sexual Tyrannosaurus" but ain't got time to bleed. The man got elected governor!
Wrestler: Randy Savage
Notable scene(s): The Macho Man plays Bone Saw McGraw, defeated by Peter Parker for a $3,000 purse and looking like Captain Lou Albano
Casting Ranking: Four stars. Short and sweet, who better to play a wrestler than a wrestler? Also, he turns the word ready into eight syllables.
Wrestler: The Big Show
Movie: The Waterboy
Notable scene(s): Quick run-in where Show's alter ego, Captain Insano, has some less-than-pleasant things to say about Adam Sandler's character
Casting Ranking: Two stars. Show hasn't learned his cinematic lesson, but did some impressive laughing. Way better than the crying gimmick.
Wrestler: Big John Studd
Movie: Harley Davidson and The Marlboro Man
Notable scene(s): Big John is king of the local biker bar, where he arm wrestles and drinks vodka; brawls (and hugs it out) with Mickey Rourke
Casting Ranking: Two and a half stars. Studd gets in some decent wrestling moves. His character is also named Jack Daniels. 'Nuff said.
Wrestler: Paul Heyman
Notable scene(s): Paul E. is the announcer for Rollerball, which appears to be a cross between American Gladiators and a Japanese game show
Casting Ranking: One star. One of the best talkers in the business tries to be overly excited about something even he can't save.
Wrestler: Diamond Dallas Page
Movie: The Devil's Rejects
Notable scene(s): Playing bounty hunter Billy Ray Snapper, DDP teams with Danny Trejo to help find the title characters for William Forsythe
Casting Ranking: Three stars. DDP gets more screen time than expected and hangs out in a trailer with Machete himself. It's a good thing!
Movie: The Fifth Element
Notable scene(s): Zeus is President of Earth! Yes, you read that right. He also has a comedic relationship with his mother.
Casting Ranking: Four stars. One of the strangest decisions that worked out in a movie full of them. Unexpectedly well played.
Wrestler: Bam Bam Bigelow
Movie: Major Payne
Notable scene(s): Bam Bam is hired to take out the Major during drills; he is dispatched with the epic throat punch/kick to crotch combination
Casting Ranking: Two stars. Bigelow deserved better. Losing to Lawrence Taylor AND Damon Wayans? Ouch.
Wrestler: Triple H
Movie: Blade: Trinity
Notable scene(s): Trips's robo-vampire sports some old-school fangs and plenty of punches against Ryan Reynolds
Casting Ranking: One star. Triple H uses his normal promo cadence and has to endure a submission hold, which he'd never allow in reality.
We'll see where evil Cena falls on this cinematic list. Hey, it can't be any worse than Legendary.
2. Cartoon Blanche
WWE's Twitter account went with some guerilla marketing this week, sending out a cryptic tweet claiming "Something is coming...can you guess what? #WWETransformed." Various thoughts and observations flowed henceforth, debating the potential options for what that something was. This was certainly a good thing for World Wrestling Entertainment, who loves to get the buzz and trumpets their social media standing more than Donald Trump. Was it a reveal of the new logo, discussed recently here in the Four Corners? How about the new belts featuring said logo, set to replace the existing ones imminently? Or perhaps something to do with the expansion of the WWE Network, soon to reach around the world? The possibilities, it seemed, were endless.
The following day, WWE took things to a whole new level, plastering another tweet into the feed which featured a strange silhouette of a person with the caption "He walks in darkness..." underneath. Who was this mystery man? Another newcomer to the promotion? One of the talented members of NXT ready to hit the big time? A currently contracted talent repackaged under a new gimmick? David Otunga? Or could it have to do with all of the buzz these past couple weeks concerning Sting, who not only was a part of Monday Night Raw (albeit in a commercial recently) but is all of a sudden finding plenty of things to do with the WWE outside of the ring? The plot, and interest, thickened.
As it turned out, the questions were way more exciting than the answers. #WWETransformed was revealed to be transformations of our "favorite" WWE superstars by a couple of artists into cartoon clip art characters sporting new looks and ring gear. Exactly what you were hoping, right? Should you choose to peruse this topic on the company's website, you'll be treated to Bray Wyatt looking like ECW's Roadkill in full-on Amish preacher gear and Kofi Kingston resembling something that Max Moon might have vomited up. As for who walks in darkness, it's none other than Kane, whose reimagining is essentially adding a Vincent Pricey cape. No offense to the attempts at artistic merit, but it's not exactly thrilling to see John Cena as even more of a walking GI Joe. The WWE and other wrestling promotions are certainly smart to utilize social media to generate excitement and curiosity over various angles and characters. They, more than just about any other field, have to hire personnel exclusively for this purpose to check the daily pulse of the internet and apply it to their ends. This has the unfortunate opposite effect of disappointing most eager fans and reminding them that anything coming from the company's own PR department is questionable at best and time-wasting at worst. Perhaps it's undermined when their on-screen COO takes any opportunity to bash those who follow and report on his company through social media outlets? You decide. I'm busy envisioning a reality where they effectively repackage actual personnel.
3. The Artist Formerly Known As Fergal
Hot off the heels of news that WWE had indeed inked KENTA to a contract and was sending him to get started in NXT came another long-rumored bit of information that Prince Devitt of New Japan Pro Wrestling fame had also signed and would eventually be relocating to Orlando and the Performance Center as well. While that news has not been officially acknowledged by either party as of this printing, one would surmise there's enough smoke to a fire make with this story, and that's excellent news for wrestling fans everywhere.
Devitt is an Irish wrestler best known for his work in NJPW and considered to be one of, if not THE, top cruiserweight talents in the country during his lengthy run there. He's put together quite a resume while in the company, landing the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship three times and the Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships six times overall. Devitt's ring work is not in question; he's been compared to both Jushin Liger and Daniel Bryan (what more needs be said?) and combines great speed, submission wrestling, high-flying moves, and the hard-hitting style that most wrestlers who have been in Japan for some length of time bring to the table. What had been in question is the flip side of the coin that WWE so loves, namely the ability to work a microphone and a room. Fortunately for all, Devitt's put in some toil in that direction as well, turning heel in a much-publicized angle and forming the Bullet Club, a group of outsiders who have taken NJPW by storm and now feature former TNA hand AJ Styles in that role. That heel turn allowed Devitt to work on his ability to generate heat, and was extremely successful. That positions him well for this move.
Devitt has already gone up against many international stars, including those who have already found their way to Titan Tower, most notably Adrian Neville, the current NXT champ. Checking out a match or two on YouTube will show you exactly what the fuss is about. Considering that NXT already boasts Sami Zayn and now KENTA, it's entirely possible NXT will have the main roster beat on overall match quality before the year is out. Devitt has plenty of Bryan-like tendencies, particularly given his comparatively small size, and everyone knows how that story played out over the last year. Without getting too far ahead of myself, there is little doubt in my mind Devitt is a WWE main eventer in sheep's clothing. If you've not had a chance to familiarize yourself with his work, take a look. I'm fairly certain you'll like what you see.
4. People vs. CM Punk
From the "truth is stranger than fiction" file comes the rumors this week that the WWE might be considering filing some sort of breach of contract lawsuit against CM Punk. Punk's contract recently officially expired, allowing him to negotiate outside of the WWE umbrella and causing him to begin reappearing in society at large without eschewing microphones. Punk, who even in the best of times has been difficult to pin down concerning his next project, has thrown out a series of comments about what he might be doing now that he's free of wrestling. He also retains the right to his name due to using it prior to signing up with the WWE, which most definitely is something that Vince McMahon and company in general do not like. This affords him the rare luxury of being able to associate himself with his past fame in a very clear way while moving forward in an equally clear way.
Punk recently attended the AP Music Awards in Cleveland and gave a trademark tongue-in-cheek interview where he claimed he would "never ever" go back to the WWE. I'm quite sure that made some waves with all the wrong people at Titan Tower, who have done their standard ignore and degrade blitz session since Punk took his ball and went home. While Punk's status is still a topic of hot discussion with their current talent, the company at large has removed him from existing merchandising and gone about pretending he didn't exist except when absolutely necessary. These are all normal things to expect in any type of long-term relationship when things go sour: they have their friends, you have yours, and everybody acts like a jerk to each other for a bit until things settle down. Eventually, perhaps, the couple gets back together. Or they don't. Life goes on either way.
What's important here is mainly the idea that if anyone in WWE is truly considering this move, they should get their head examined. Punk has fun with his status and his legacy, and he's always seemed the type that wants to enjoy his life in a variety of ways. We were fortunate as fans to get our time with him, and if he chooses to finish that for now or forever, it's to be respected. While I personally think it's important to honor your commitments to a signed contract, the WWE has a long history of creative interpretation of those deals and as I discussed when it occurred, if Punk felt the need to get out when he did it's ultimately his decision and his alone. Any type of sour grapes activity by the WWE at this point just strikes me as desperate and unnecessary. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as the saying goes, and it would be foolish to assume that Punk means everything he says on live television. He's still shooting, only this time since the company didn't script it, they aren't on the in. Taking the high road and letting Punk distance himself as much or as little as he sees fit is the right move at this point. The WWE will of course never replace a guy like Punk. But they don't have to. CM's legacy and contributions to the business can stand on their own, and WWE can turn the page and allow the next generation of wrestlers to potentially eclipse it. I doubt Punk would want it any other way.