Thursday, November 24, 2011

My Wrestling Favorites--Part 5 of 5

Traditionally on Thanksgiving I remind you of how this day was once one of the biggest grossing days in the wrestling industry. This year, I instead give you something to be thankful for--the five part "My Wrestling Favorites" series is ending!

I kid, as I'm actually very thankful that so many of you have enjoyed it and that such great and compelling feedback has come out of the series. I've also gotten some great ideas for future features along the same lines.

Going back to Thanksgiving traditions within the industry, it pleases me to say that the subject of our first profile has taken part in both of Turkey Day's most memorable wrestling events--Starrcade and Survivor Series!

1 of 5 All-Time Favorites: Rowdy Roddy Piper

I've met very few wrestling fans over the years who DON'T love Hot Rod. Wrestler. Actor. Pop Culture Icon. All that and a great guy, to boot.

He's not a wrestler in the traditional sense. He's a fighter. In fact, if you've ever listened to a Piper interview, he calls his matches "fights." He never had the wrestler look. He just looks exactly like what a "Rowdy Roddy Piper" should look like.

Just when you think you have the answers, he changes the questions. It's not a skirt, it's a kilt. And just what does a Scotsman wear under his kilt?

His shoes!

I've previously chronicled how Piper should be given much of the credit for the "Rock 'n Wrestling" boom era in the mid-'80s. Hulk Hogan had a plethora of worthy opponents, but who else could have talked the fans into the seats quite like Piper did? He certainly had the appearance of someone that The Hulkster could have disposed of within minutes, yet I don't recall that pinfall ever coming.

Even today, WWE knows that when an angle needs a little extra boost all that is needed is a short trip to Piper's Pit. John Cena, Randy Orton, and Wade Barrett learned this in the build-up for the 2010 Survivor Series in a segment that drew otherwise uninterested fans into the conflict.

From loud-mouthed, kilt-clad fighter to wise, grizzled sage of the mat wars, like many Piper will always have a place in the squared circle. Unlike many, Piper also has a permanent home in the American consciousness as an all-time truly memorable, and loved, personality.

God Bless ya, Roddy!

1 of 5 Current Favorites: Awesome Kong aka Kharma

While I have so many all-time favorite women wrestlers that they get their own list (shall we explore that in the future?), only one cracks the current five. That woman would be Kia Stevens, known in the wrestling word as Amazing Kong, Awesome Kong, or Kharma.

Quite simply, Kong is different. She's not the Barbie doll-type that tries to learn wrestling basics in their three-to-five year shelf life in the industry. She's rough, tough, and could probably legitimately demolish many male stars.

Although an American, like many of the best female stars she is a product of puroresu--Japanese wrestling. With her unique look and amazing skill, it's no wonder that she became a star in the Land of the Rising Sun and subsequently in America.

During her tenure in TNA, Kong seemed to break the doors open as far as creating a legitimate modern women's wrestling division. Her battles with Gail Kim proved so popular (proven to be due nearly all to Kong's talent) that TNA was considering beginning an all-female wrestling show. This ultimately did not come to be, but we still have Kong's run in the company to look back on as proof.

Kong, now known as Kharma, was well on her way to creating the same magic in WWE when she became pregnant. It's the hopes of many fans that following her blessed event Kharma will return to the ring and continue with the same momentum. Collectors are hoping this to be true for purely selfish reasons as a true action figure of the women's star has yet to produced, although a small non-poseable Amazing Kong figure was produced in Japan. Hopefully this is one "Diva" figure that Mattel would not produce less of as is their asinine policy.

I hope that you've enjoyed the "My Wrestling Favorites" series and look forward to hearing even more feedback. As with every Thanksgiving, I'm thankful that each and every one of you take the time to read this blog each week. Have a blessed holiday!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Wrestling Favorites--Part 4 of 5

Rolling on with Part 4 of the five-part "My Wrestling Favorites" series, once again highlighted will be one of my five "current" favorite wrestlers and one "all-time" favorite. Don't forget that you're always encouraged to give feedback via the blog itself, e-mail, or our Facebook Fanpage.

Link1 of 5 All-Time Favorites: Ric Flair

Whooooooo, indeed! It's really hard to have not loved Ric Flair at some point in his career. Even if you don't care for what he's become, Flair has undoubtedly entertained you in some shape or form in the past forty years. Whether it was his portrayal of a cocky heel escaping defeat by the skin of his teeth, brash and eccentric leader of the Four Horsemen, crazy mental home escapee, or pro wrestling's elder statesman, Flair is another of the greats with a firm grasp on how to reinvent himself.

Much is out there about Flair's failures away from the squared circle. No one is basing their love for "The Nature Boy" character on those facts. While Flair himself may not be able to separate the business from real life, any true fan should. The character of Ric Flair garners so much respect that even the referees hold the ropes open for the legend. That is the kind of legacy that Flair carved out for himself in the ring.

Flair's in-ring career may have been more of a roller coaster ride than any other. Fans are still shocked to see photos of 300 pound Flair when he was first starting out. Not much more than enhancement talent, Naitch's early days in the AWA were a far cry from what he would become. A trip to the Carolinas, the region that would eventually become synonymous with Flair, was exactly the ticket to stardom. Teaming with already established talent such as Rip Hawk and Greg Valentine was a mere stepping stone, albeit a star-studded one, for Flair in his quest for greatness...or shall we say...a Flair for the Gold.

The 1980's would arguably be the era in wrestling most associated with Flair. Certainly he and Hulk Hogan would be the two top stars of the decade, each ruling different promotions in very distinct ways. While Hogan was the ultimate hero of the WWF taking on never ending heel challengers, Flair ruled the NWA as the heel champion, generally accepting challenges from all comers. Two different booking styles for two very different fanbases.

After a fun early '90s WWF run, Flair's career seemed to take a downward spiral. Following Hogan's 1994 arrival to WCW, Flair's stature fell greatly. In my opinion, Flair's legacy suffered from this point until his WWF return in late 2001. Flair has stated himself that he lost his usual self-confidence during this time. It's difficult to say whether it was due to backstage power or just bad booking choices, but thankfully Flair's legacy of "The Greatest of All-Time" was well restored by WWF/WWE within the last decade.

While I feel that Flair should still be retired from regular active ring competition, I also feel that he'll always have a place in the business. The Nature Boy makes a very good, and credible, manager/coach type figure and should be used as such. ARE forever...and you know the rest.

1 of 5 Current Favorites: Samoa Joe

I have been a fan of "The Samoan Submission Machine" since long before he ever received that moniker. I mentioned in an earlier entry in this series that there are certain wrestlers that simply LOOK the part--like a wrestler. Joe would certainly qualify there. He's always reminded me of Don The fact is that Joe has the ability to go far beyond the heights Muraco reached.

I've discussed before what I felt to be the "glory" days of indy wrestling. These were the times in which the independent circuit was chock full of top-level talent. CM Punk, Christopher Daniels, and Samoa Joe were hyped as the next big things...and chances were that if you attended enough indy shows you were bound to run into one of them.

I did not get to see Samoa Joe live until he'd already signed with TNA, but I was already a fan. Smaller guys doing the moves that indy guys do is one thing, but to see a big semi-monster doing those things? That was Joe.

Joe also seemed to avoid being sucked into anything too gimmicky. The longstanding story is that Samoa Joe was offered a WWE contract but turned it down due to the WWE creating the Umaga character for him to portray.

After signing with TNA, Joe was initially used perfectly. His feud with Kurt Angle is one of the most underrated stories to come out of the near decade that TNA has been in business. Each of their main event matches had a "big fight feel" and "real sports build" to throw some Internet wrestling buzz phrases out there.

In 2009 TNA decided to almost turn Joe into their own Umaga. Joe began wearing face paint and his wrestling no longer seemed to have the hard hitting realism that it once did. Many feel that Joe is now on the cusp of returning to the main event scene in TNA, and I certainly hope that is in fact the case.

Though I'm not holding my breath for it to happen, I would still love to see what WWE would do with Joe. Although he doesn't have the typical "look" for a star in WWE, it would be an amazingly fresh concept for the company.

Regardless of which company he is with, if Samoa Joe is on the card there is at least one match that I will look forward to. Joe is a great blend of both past and present in-ring styles and one of the few current stars that I believe would've succeeded in any era of the industry.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

My Wrestling Favorites--Part 3 of 5

Back for more? Of course you are! If you're just joining us, "My Wrestling Favorites" is a five-part series where I discuss my five favorite current wrestling stars and my five all-time favorite greats of the game. Controversy and fun have abound in the previous two entries, and I'm sure that will be no different in the third installment. Let's begin...

1 of 5 All-Time Favorites: Hulk Hogan

Love him or hate him, I challenge anyone to argue that he isn't the biggest star that the sport has ever seen. I can remember as a child marveling at the fact that even my grandmother knew who Hulk Hogan was.

I've mentioned before that I feel I'm the luckiest kind of wrestling fan. I enjoy both the athletic side and the entertainment side equally, as long as they don't stray too far in one direction. Hulk Hogan definitely plays more toward the entertainment side. Seeing as how Hogan's popularity boom helped to usher more of that entertainment into pro wrestling, it's easy to understand why fans of previous eras aren't fond of the legend. As far as growing up during the "Rock n' Wrestling era," only the most jaded fan who feels that they're "too cool for the room" will completely deny ever being sucked into the Hulkamania magic. Even if you loved his opponents, as I did, at one point or another you felt chills as "Real American" played and The Hulkster lived to fight another day...and another monster heel.

Hogan also does not get enough credit for his in-ring skills. A look at his work in Japan will show you that The Hulkster could in fact wrestle, but didn't incorporate it much as far as his stateside character went. What he did do here worked. It drew money. It made him the biggest star that the industry had ever seen and probably ever will. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

A list of Hogan merchandise may also be second-to-none. Although the stars of the "Attitude Era" such as Steve Austin and The Rock certainly come close, the length of their careers on top are nowhere near that of Hogan's. Shoelaces, lunchboxes, shampoo, shirts, pajamas, hats, shoes, underwear, and even a cartoon--you name it, Hulk had it.

While even I went through a bit of Hogan fatigue around the time he joined WCW in 1995, his captaining of the nWo was a well done reinvention. It also made a return to the red and yellow all the sweeter. Though some feel that he has overstayed his welcome in the business, I feel that there will always be a place for Hulk Hogan. The WWE has tried to market Hogan as "The Babe Ruth of Wrestling." I've always enjoyed that moniker and hope that "The Immortal" continues to go in that direction as long as Father Time will allow.

1 of 5 Current Favorites: Rob Van Dam

Although he's been around for two decades, RVD is indeed a current star. For various reasons, Van Dam is one of the few ECW originals who has been able to remain a star no matter where he goes.

Controversy seems to come natural in my "current" choices and this one will be no different. Despite the nostalgia, ECW doesn't hold up in this fan's eyes. Sure there is some replay value as there is with all wrestling, but the fact is that so much that made ECW innovative is run-of-the-mill in today's product. With WWF and NWA wrestling from years past you have presentation and style that fans long for today. Clones and reintroductions of ECW have been attempted too many times and in turn watered down the original. Chunks of the style and presentation of ECW that have been inserted, albeit terribly, into the current product have in no way helped the matter.

RVD is probably the brightest star to make his name in the promotion. While some would say that his best days are behind him, Van Dam still goes out of his way to give an entertaining match full of innovation in an otherwise stale environment. It's telling that the man still has hoards of admirers, some of whom were not even alive when RVD was first making his mark.

Although names such as Rocca, Snuka, and Savage are often credited for high-flying wrestling innovation in the United States, Van Dam long ago earned his right to be alongside of them. Even today, watching a Rob Van Dam match is different from matches of nearly any other wrestler. As mentioned in some of my other favorite profiles, it's a case of having the complete wrestling package. With RVD, you get a unique style, charisma, and skill that many other wrestlers would love to have all rolled into one.

Due largely in part to his wide array of singlet designs, Van Dam has had a variety of action figures over the years. The favorite of many and even Van Dam himself is the "Limited to 5000" figure produced by Jakks exclusively for Toys "R" Us. The figure is based upon Van Dam's duel reign as ECW and WWE Champion. Both belts, a figure sized ECW shirt, and a "Money in the Bank" briefcase are included as accessories. Van Dam has told me that despite it being his favorite, he himself does not own one. For those of you with one, I have just given you a way to become a "Five Star" friend of the man himself.

Wait. A friend of who?

Rob...Van...Dam! (I couldn't resist.)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My Wrestling Favorites--Part 2 of 5

So, you've come back for more? Here we go with round two of "My Wrestling Favorites." As I explained previously, each entry in this series will highlight two wrestlers--one from my five "All-Time" favorites and one from my five "current" favorites. These are not in order, but their inclusion is explained both in word and in, of course, memorabilia. Comment and argument are both welcome!

1 of 5 All-Time Favorites: Dusty Rhodes

If you've read this blog for any amount of time, the inclusion of The American Dream should come as no surprise.

While he is indeed "The Dream," it's his other nickname of "The Common Man" that sums up his entire appeal. He didn't look like a superstar by any stretch of the imagination. Instead it was his boat loads of charisma that projected him into superstardom.

It was the same charisma that made you believe that Big Dust could defeat wrestling's supermen. While The Dream had strength, the large stomach and self-proclaimed "big booty" would've looked off-center against the muscle definition of Superstar Billy Graham, Lex Luger, and Nikita Koloff. Because of his gift for gab and absolute magnetism for drawing in a crowd, Rhodes' girth was lost in the "Stardust" magic.

Although many fondly remember Dusty's days in the WWF and '80s NWA, his peak in popularity may have actually been in the late 1970's. Paging through virtually any '70s wrestling magazine will showcase just how far his reach went. Pictures of Rhodes' being mobbed by fans, topping popularity lists, and dropping the "Bionic Elbow" on the era's top heels is living proof that Dustymania ran wild a few years before Hulkamania was on the radar.

While some fans have decried Dusty's "polka dot" WWF run from 1989 to 1991, most have come to accept it as a charming extension of his career. It has been erroneously reported over the years that "The Common Man" moniker replaced "The American Dream" during this run. In fact, this claim was repeated in the WWE-produced Rhodes' DVD documentary by a certain top WWE star that you "can't see." This claim is 100% false, as Dusty's WWF/WWE theme includes both names as did the WWF frequently on commentary and in print. Flip through the aforementioned '70s magazines and you'll even see Dusty occasionally wearing polka dots years earlier. There were only two changes noticeable to fans during this run: he was a bit more fun-loving and danced a little funkier. Dusty, himself, would point out a few more: he had more fun (he was not involved in the WWF booking process) and made more money for less work. Everyone wins.

My attraction to the Dusty Rhodes phenomenon is like everyone else who's ever counted him among their favorites. He's simply larger than life. If he had the body, he would be Hulk Hogan. He has just as much charisma as The Hulkster, but came a bit earlier and in a bit plumper package.

Two of the greatest experiences in my life as a wrestling fan was getting to sit ringside for two Dusty Rhodes matches. Although both were long past his prime years, Dusty could still captivate an audience and prove that "The Dream" is still alive and well.

1 of 5 Current Favorites: CM Punk

I'm sure that many fans would include CM Punk on their list of favorites. The fact of the matter is that Punk has been on my list for the better part of ten years.

As I've discussed in past entries, I had the opportunity to see Punk from his very beginnings thanks to the IWC promotion here in Pittsburgh. From scarfing down steak and eggs at Denny's to asking my friend to buy him "The Simpsons" on DVD to having one of the best matches I've ever seen live (against Christopher Daniels), I have enough personal Punk memories to last me a lifetime.

Truthfully, I hemmed and hawed against including him on this "current" list. Since the WWE botched his recent persona and angle late this past summer, his rebellious "shoot" attitude is out of place and I no longer enjoy his current character. In the minds of myself and many other fans, Punk should only be returning just about now.

The fact that he has been one of my "current" favorites since 2002 retains his place here. Like most of my other favorites, Punk has it "all." He can wrestle circles around just about any other wrestler out there, can talk anyone into wanting to see a match, and has a respect for the industry that all wrestlers should be required to possess.

I don't feel that I can end this passage without a controversial statement or two. Part of me wants to say that Punk needs to show that he is Although I was not a fan of Edge, there's no denying that he has accomplished a lot in his short career. Everything that Edge could do or did can be done better by Punk. Punk should also steer clear of a rumored feud with Chris Jericho. While the promos and matches would be great, such a feud would be a giant step backward with how far Punk has come. Taking nothing away from Jericho, I just don't feel the feud would benefit either man. Punk also needs to go back to his heel "cult leader" persona, mixing his "quasi-shoot" promos with his maniacal leader character.

Cult of Personality, indeed.