These Are the Good Times
This past Sunday, there was a whole plethora of wrestling available for viewing. The most widely known of these was TNAs 11th annual Slammiversary event, featuring a main event of Bully Ray vs. Sting. I was working a night shift here in Belgrade, and a picture of the crowd was posted online. I was keeping a close eye on the comments, and noticed on a number of occasions people mentioning something towards the wrestling industry dying. Is the wrestling industry dying?
Obviously, no, it is not. If you have the viewpoint that the wrestling industry is dying, you have an incorrect viewpoint. There are currently more companies running shows, more companies running pay per views and online shows that you can watch anywhere in the world. The talent pool, and the talent pool with a visible presence, is growing all the time. The way I see it, wrestling is in a very healthy state. Even so, these are really quite confusing and interesting times to be a wrestling fan. Each show you watch seems to be a combination of a lot of stuff you have been clamoring for, mixed with a lot of stuff that you are really tired of seeing.
WWE is completely symbolic of this right now. The last few weeks of RAW really feel like they have been dominated by Triple H stroking his ego with his incredibly badly timed concussion storyline. It has been mentioned on a number of occasions, but going forward with a concussion storyline when your world champion is currently out with a concussion? Not to mention that Ziggler being out for a month from a kick as opposed to Triple H being cleared to wrestle this Monday after sledgehammer shots not 3 weeks ago? Weak. Triple H is back to being forced down the throats of the viewer, almost completely in order to belittle the recently repackaged Curtis Axel, who seemingly only wins matches on RAW the way The Berzerker did. As I said a few weeks back prior to Extreme Rules, there is absolutely no reason for Triple H to still be positioned as a top guy on WWE Television, unless it is to put over new talent. With Triple H coming out to desperately attempt to be seen as an underdog once again (an impossible position for him) and John Cena back on top, you'd be forgiven for feeling apathetic towards WWE at the moment, to lament the product.
But then you step back, and think about it. Who was the star of this past RAW? Without question, it was Daniel Bryan. Rumour has it he is in line to be pushed back up to main event level, and there isn't a single professional wrestler in the world that deserves that position more. He is consistently getting the biggest face reactions on the show, and all this despite spending a large chunk of the last 9 months as almost a comedy performer. We can also look to the example of The Shield for joy. When was the last time performers of such undeniable quality made their debuts and received such sustained consistent pushes? You can argue Ryback, but he is as WWE as they come. The Shield is comprised of 2 guys who worked on the independent scene for a long time, the sort of wrestlers who usually have to go through an immensely frustrating due-paying period. Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins are now title holders on WWE television, and have been pushed stronger than anyone else since they made their debuts. Add to this the performances of guys like Dolph Ziggler and Big E Langston plus the imminent unveiling of the Wyatt Family, and you have more than enough interesting and well, great wrestling television to keep the fans happy.
TNA are another strange television product right now. More so than most things, they frequently show signs of turning the corner, only to take equivalent steps backwards. Just this past Sunday, their Slammiversary PPV was a great example of this. For every exciting moment in the Ultimate X opener, there was the realisation that it was the 30th such match in 10 years. For a signature match, that is ridiculous. For every great Bad Influence promo, there was a Jay Bradley vs. Sam Shaw. The second half of the PPV was genuinely great though, in my opinion. Never in my life did I imagine I would fear that AJ Styles and Kurt Angle would struggle to follow a match featuring Tiffany from ECW, but there we go. The Taryn/Gail Kim Last Knockout Standing affair was the match of the evening, to the shock of everyone. In fact, it was as exciting as any women's match from the company and WWE in a very long time.
Of course, AJ and Kurt were able to follow that, as performers of their capability should. There are complaints obviously. The fact that they are still trying to add flesh to the AJ Styles character after 11 years is slightly worrying. Just let the man wrestle, he doesn't need emotional layers as much as lesser performers may do, he is and always will be a total joy to watch in the ring. Also, despite being twitter insane, Kurt Angle can still wrestle as well as anyone. Frustratingly though, TNA followed this with a main event featuring a 50+ year old guy kicking out of 83848 pile drivers. 2 steps forward, 2 steps back. The Bound for Glory series is about to start, and that is usually the strongest part of TNAs year, so here's hoping. Your opinion on TNA however, sits firmly on whether you focus on the good stuff (Mickie being used finally, Aries, Roode, Bad Influence, Magnus) or the bad (Hogan sucking up everyones lives, Aces and Eights going nowhere). It is a frustrating company to follow.
All of which brings us to the most exciting story to come out of professional wrestling this past weekend, and possibly the most intriguing storyline in pro graps in forever. The situation in Chikara right now is incredibly difficult to explain to the casual fan. Heck, I'm not entirely sure if I really understand it myself. One way to view the story, and the company on the whole, is that they are probably closer to comic books than pro wrestling in terms of story. This is a company where the current huge story may or may not centre around the time travelling antics of the member of a marching band.
What is clear though, is that over the past few months the stories in Chikara have been stories of decaying alliances. The Throwbacks were splintered when Sugar Dunkerton was moved to F.I.S.T. F.I.S.T then imploded when Icarus, heel extraordinaire, started to sympathise and side with the babyface Dunkerton over his long time F.I.S.T buddies, Chuck Taylor and Johnny Gargano, This led to Gargano and Taylor leaving, and Dunkerton abandoning Icarus when Icarus kept his cheating ways up in matches. The Colony, often the backbone of Chikara, were messed up during King of Trios last year, when members of the evil Swarm mimic stable were put into their trio. Soldier Ant was moved to team with the evil ants, and assailANT moved to the heroic ones. The chasm here was made greater when assailANT began to see the light and turned face, joining Green Ant and Fire Ant in their good guy ways full time. Soldier Ant has since disappeared. Colony life was disrupted even more when The Colony Xtreme Force were introduced, who were subsequently awarded the King of Trios 2011 title that The Colony had won. And all of this without mentioning the abusive one way friendship of Tim Donst and Jakob Hammermeier or possibly the biggest split of all, that of Jigsaw's heel turn on Mike Quackenbush.
All of this way to come to a head at Aniversario, and for a while it seemed good was winning over evil. The Colony beat the Devastation Corporation, an old school hoss-tastic trio with the single purpose of wiping out the Colony. Tim Donst was beaten by ring announcer Gavin Loudspeaker in a hair vs hair match after Jakob finally broke out of Donsts abusive grasp. The main event was the centrepiece, the redemption of Icarus. Over the years, no bad guy in independent wrestling has been as comprehensively hated as Icarus. Amazingly though, he had started to show good guy tendencies, and as the crowd willed him on against Grand Champion Eddie Kingston, it looked as though redemption was his. The Chikara Special was locked in, the championship was in his grasp, and then all turds hit the nearest fans. Condor Security came out and cleared the arena as authority figure Wink Vavasseur sat eating an apple on the stage. The fans were forced out, everything ended suddenly. All future shows were cancelled. What?!
There are two ways to look at this storyline. Either way you do, it is an incredibly risky move by Chikara. They had built up a significant brand name, one that had made them arguably the 4th or 5th most popular wrestling company in America, and they have without doubt the most dedicated fan base. By ending Chikara and possibly branching into the different Wrestling is... promotions, they are risking all the years of work that has been put into building up the brand name. They also cancelled all shows after Aniversario, a move which will understandably peeve a lot of the people planning on visiting. A lot of these shows were in new areas for Chikara as well, and the cancelling will turn a lot of fans straight off.
Despite the negatives however, you need to remember that Chikara has an incredibly dedicated fan base. More so than being annoyed at the non ending and subsequent faux-end of the company, the majority of Chikara fans are rabidly searching the internet for clues, conspiracy theories abound about who was behind Condor security and the abrupt ending of the PPV. For their part, Chikara are encouraging all of this. Fake blogs have been set up, fake voice mails, the lot. They are going all in on this storyline, as they should for such a big thing. Chikara has also received more exposure from this than ever before. There is a buzz around what is coming next, and the story line is unrivalled in its depth and intrigue. It is a good time to be a fan of Chikara and its performers, without doubt.
I'd also argue that it's a very good time to be a wrestling fan full stop. Sure, I could do without HHH still trying to be the underdog, and I don't need to see Hulk Hogan on my TV ever again. What I do need however, is Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose, AJ Styles, Austin Aries, and intriguing storylines that keep me on the edge of my seat in anticipation. Professional wrestling has all of this right now. We're in a lucky time.
And that's that. What do you think? Are these good times to be a professional wrestling fan, or is the industry in trouble? What do you make of the Chikara story? If you aren't a fan already, does it intrigue you enough to look into the company? Do you think its mega dumb? Where in the world is Archibald Peck? All this and more, lets discuss on twitter, where you'll find me with the handle @pingvinorkestra. You can also email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm off to meet a Norwegian in a Belgrade park. Fact.