A decade in business is not to be scoffed at in the world of professional wrestling: ECW, as popular as it was at its peak, failed even to reach that milestone. For any artistic endeavour dependent on the successful courtship of an audience to survive and grow in the way that TNA/Impact Wrestling has over the last decade is an achievement to be lauded. To many, it might appear a perversion of reality to state that Impact - a wrestling show roundly ridiculed for its dependence on ageing talent and endlessly meandering angles with little-to-no pay-off - is responsible for some of the strongest wrestling content on television today. Apartment Wrestling was first exposed to what was then just plain TNA at some point about five or six years ago when it used the hexagonal ring and Rhyno was plying his trade there along with Christian. It was nostalgic. Sort of. The TNA product was a familiar one which it didn’t rely on a John Cena no-selling pedigrees; and there were weapons everywhere. A while later Apartment Wrestling forgot all about professional wrestling and especially aboutTNA…for roughly five or six years (reverting to its birth name during this hiatus).
Still, however fresh (or familiar)TNAfelt back then, it was difficult to take the show seriously once the novelty of the hexagonal ring wore off and the reality set in that there was a reason many of these wrestlers weren’t in the big leagues (read:WWE)any more. Fast forward five or six years andApartment Wrestling’sreintroduction toTNA- now rebranded under the name of its flagship show - felt more like a step back in time as Hulk Hogan, Sting and Ric Flair dominated the proceedings. It was familar, granted, but hardly progressive. By contrast, CM Punk was basking in the glow of his worked-shoot ‘pipe bomb’ promo and his threatened exit from the company whilst holding its most prestigious championship. In short,WWEfelt fresh again. It would have been hard to believe that twelve months laterTNA/Impactwould be snapping at the heels of its bigger, older and richer rival with a product spearheaded by home-grown talent.
Whilst Triple H cuts extended promos in the middle of a PPV (No Way Out), Punk’s ‘pipebombs’ have been displaced by schoolyard insults (he called Daniel Bryan “goatface” and it trended on Twitter) and John Cena recently closed Raw by doing an Ace Ventura impression,Impactis cutting back on its use of ageing stars and pushing good old fashioned wrestling feuds. Robert Roode, briefly the company’s top face, is now excelling as an arrogant heel and the most dominant (and lucky) champion in the company’s history. D’Von Dudley, whatever can be said of his entertainment value, is restoring the credibility of the T.V. Title through weekly defences of it. Austin Aries, the most exciting thing about the much lauded X Division, is about to make the jump to the main event and the promotion is probably responsible fro theWWEremembering that there is such a thing as tag-team wrestling.Impact’sfemale stars, known as the ‘Knockouts’, receive more ringtime than the Divas in the ‘Eand treated as an excuse for the viewers to go and put the kettle on.
1.) AJ Styles
2.) Vickie Guerrero
3.) Triple H
5.) Garret Bischoff
6.) Dixie Carter
8.) Jerry Lawler
9.) Randy Orton
10.) Wade Barrett
(dishonourable mentions: Zema Ion, Gut Check, WWE’s disgusting attitudes towards females).
We want to keep the end of year lists as succint as possible: These things are often more than indulgent and, whilst Apartment Wrestling is not the place for mindless gossip or tidbits of news that is everything but newsworthy, this list will be far from comprehensive and wholly subjective (perhaps even illogical). Aoartment Wrestling being concerned with the mainstream, this is not a list of the greatest wrestlers in terms of their technical in-ring output but a list of the greatest performers operating within the ‘Big Two’ of WWE and TNA/Impact. In short, these are the performers who have made us smile, laugh, (almost) cry, and basically wish they were on our television screen for even longer than they already are.*
1.) Robert Roode - the best thing about Impact for most of the year. Roode’s heel turn after Bound For Glory 2011 was initially devastating for those viewers who had really invested in his ascent towards the singles main even scene. It was baffling too but Roode has turned into perhaps the greatest heel in professional wrestling today. Sharp on the microphone and a stellar performer in the ring, Roode can go toe-to-toe with the best of them. His recent interjection in the Aces and Eights debacle as an arrogant rich guy somehow managed to keep that angle alive. More of the same and a reunion with his title in 2013 please.
2.)Christopher Daniels and Kazarian -The former World Tag Team Champions of the World are hilarious. Week after week they genuinely look like they are having fun and it is contagious. There’s little else to be said. Daniels has wrestled some of the finest matches of the year in his protracted series with AJ Styles whilst their tag-team work was fantastic to watch too. Whatever can be said of the dreadful Claire Lynch story is irrelevant, these two managed to make it enjoyable. Hopes for 2013: regain their titles and just keep doing what they’re doing, please, NO BREAK-UP and leave the gay jokes alone.
3.)CM Punk -There is a lot to be said for the lack of follow up to the electrifying Summer of Punk (2011) and certainly Punk deserves some of the blame but his output until Triple H got involved was phenomenal. Even since then, Punk may have been little more than a smarmy and cowardly heel (the less said about his time as a bland crowd-pleasing face the better) but even during the lows of this year he has proven a joy to watch. Punk’s time since becoming allied to Paul Heyman has been intriguing to say the least and the pair of bounced off of one another. Hopes for 2013: Keep the title until Wrestlemania where he loses it to ‘Taker winning it back with a MITB cash-in setting up a title and streak rematch at ‘Mania XXX.
4.) Bully Ray - There’s a lot Apartment Wrestling has enjoyed about Impact this year and Bully has been a major part of that. His face turn hasn’t been appealing but he is still a standout performer in ring and out. Hopes for 2013: returns to his bullying ways of old and gets hold of some gold eventually.
5.)Kane -The Embrace The Hate storyline proved little more than a placeholder and one that was poorly executed but in that brief time Kane reminded us of what made him so captivating back when he first debuted. The rest of his year was decidedly weak but bookended by his feud/friendship with Daniel Bryan as one half of Team Hell No Kane has been a key part of what WWE is doing right as we head towards Wrestlemania season. Hopes for 2013: A final run with his brother but until then more
6.) Daniel Bryan (hopes - more of the same)
7.) Joseph Park (hopes - no more Abyss please)
8.) Damien Sandow (hopes - a genuine storyline and more wins)
9.) Eve Torres (hopes - taken seriously by WWE crowds, a great heel)
10.) Robbie E - (hopes - taken more and less seriously in equal measure)
Honorable Mentions: The Rock, Chris Jericho, Austin Aries, The Shield, Heath Slater, Ric Flair, Gail Kim, John Laurianitis and Big Show.
*Lacking a calendar (and often dipping in and out of televised wrestling) it is entirely possible that preconceptions (and misconceptions) as well as lingering memories of 2011 will come into play here.
It has not escaped the attention of Apartment Wrestling that there has been a tremendous about of chatter on the internet and the social networks since the past Monday Night Raw (17/12/2012) regarding the return of The Undertaker and the fate of his famed Wrestlemania winning streak. ‘The Streak’, as is well-known, stands at 20-0 following the gruelling Hell in a Cell match between ‘Taker and Triple H at Wrestlemania XVIII but with the so-called Dead Man’s career undoubtedly winding down talk has turned to whether or not The Streak should be brought to a halt in 2013 or whether Mark Calloway should be allowed to retire unbeaten at the ‘Grand-daddy of Them All’. Somewhat surprisingly, given the entrenched tradition of the outgoing star going out on a loss in order to ‘put over’ an up-and-comer, advocates for the latter viewpoint has not been insignificant: Jim Ross has basically stated that it is a nonsense to even consider that ‘Taker’s record could be blemished by a loss.
Of course, JR could be ‘kayfabing’ that one - more than likely privy to the knowledge that just maybe there is a chance this year could be ‘Taker’s last. Either way, Apartment Wrestling is inclined to take the opposite line ot Good Ol’ JR. Quite simply, it is essential that The Streak is broken (though this does not necessarily have to be in the Undertaker’s final match in the WWE, it could form the first part of a three-act feud for example). The WWE is severely lacking in stars. It does not mater how talented the top-tier is right now, competitors like CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, and Dolph Ziggler may well be some of the most well-rounded performers ever to grace a WWE ring but they are yet to go over the top. The fact that The Rock, Chris Jericho and perhaps even The Undertaker himself (no longer a full-time wrestler) are wheeled out to secure a strong buy-rate and ratings for Wrestlemania season is testament to the fact new stars are needed. Signs are promising: those already mentioned have been joined by The Shield whose initial showing is tantalising to say the least, with their match against Ryback and Team Hell No at TLC standing up against any of the great in-ring debuts. However, the point stands that WWE needs somebody who isn’t John Cena to break through into something resembling mainstream recognition.
The most obvious way of achieving that is to break The Undertaker’s streak. The Streak is something that gets what WWE might call ‘lapsed fans’ talking again - it does every year. Interest in the WWE product peaks with Wrestlemania and the intrigue surrounding The Streak is a mjor determining factor in that. Whoever is chosen to break it, if subsequently utilised correctly by the WWE creative team, will have an unprecedented opportunity to transcend the current crop of stars and possibly spearhead a new mini-boom in the industry. For our money, that person would be CM Punk. Punk is, at the moment, the standout when it comes to asking who could become the next Stone Cold or this generation’s answer to The Rock. He is on the cusp of transcendental greatness but it is difficult to see what else could propel him to the next level other than to be the man who kills that which cannot be killed - The Streak - on the greatest stage of them all.
One. Thousand. Episodes…That is a lot, needless to say. It would require more than three months of one’s life to sit down and watch episodes one to one-thousand - a staggering figure and a testament to the enduring resonance of professional wrestling. Or, at least, the WWE/F’s own brand of ‘sports entertainment’. It was the latter which was showcased at Monday’s landmark broadcast as set-pieces and extended promos dominated the proceedings. From the crowd-pleasing reunion of a D-Generation X pastiche to the explosive return of The Rock to stake his claim for the WWE Title, Raw #1000 played out like a sketch-show or a ‘Best Of…’ montage that served many purposes. Up-and-coming talent like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan (it is absolutely correct to refer to both of these Superstars as if they are yet to be established, whether they are already or not is irrelevant) by the Most Electrifying Man In Hollywood Sports Entertainment whilst The Brothers of Destruction reunited for The Undertaker’s first appearance since Wrestlemania 29 to make some jobbers look like cowards or like jobbers. It was a nostalgia-fest. It was a celebration. Here’s Apartment Wrestling’s take on the best and worst of Raw #1000:
Best:Finally, The Rock Has Come Back…again.
It was an incredible moment when Daniel Bryan went absolutely apoplectic after being ditched at the altar by AJ and losing all enthusiasm for the word “yes” at the same time. It put Robert Roode’s Gollum impression following his loss to Austin Aries at Destination X firmly in the shade. When Bryan roared that he was the greatest of all time, there were few in the crowd or at home expecting to hear “If ya smelllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll….”
Worst:The Rock still gets his jokes from eleven year-old boys.
Best:Damien Sandow Bringing Culture to the Masses
…and promptly getting his arse handed to him. The whole segment did well to flesh-out Sandow’s obnoxious and condescending heel character as he lambasted DX for their alleged (read: actual) crassness. Yes, he had the proverbial shit beaten out of him but he deserved it.
Worst:WWE’s Human Resources department need to have a word with Triple H.
Management should not beat down on employees for airing legitimate grievances, no matter how obnoxious that employee may be. Someone needs to get onto thewrestler’sindependent contractors union.
Best:The Closing Segment
Cena levelled by the Big Show. Failed attempt to cash in the MITB briefcase. Cena levelled by the Big Show. Shirtless Rocky means business. CM Punk was put over. Internet screams “heel turn”.
The reaction to the announcement last week on Raw that John Cena would be facing off against John Laurinaitis (Executive Vice-President of Talent Relations and General Manager of Monday Night Raw and Friday Night Smackdown) at the Over The Limit Pay-Per-View this May has been decidedly mixed in some quarters. Apartment Wrestling is unequivocal in seeing this move as a master-stroke by WWE creative. Forget that it could be Austin-McMahon Version 2.0 or that it will most likely lead to a brutal feud between Cena, the beleaguered underdog, and Lord Tensai in the Summer. For one, the moment Laurinaitis unveiled his true-colours (if unveiled is the right word) and proceeded to beat down the injured Cena was one of the standout moments of 2012 so far. If only Kane had set his sights on him instead of our hero upon his return! More importantly though, these superhero verus super-villain feuds keep Cena out of the title chase and, therefore, keep rising stars like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan firmly in it. Cena’s star is cemented, his power to draw remains unmatched amongst the current roster, and by keeping him away from the championship scene the WWE is shrewdly enabling future stars to grow unimpeded by the necessary protection of Cena.
You’ve all seen this by now but it hopefully enhances your understanding of how Apartment Wrestling views professional wrestling, that is, as part of a wider cultural pantheon. More here.
Adding to the previous post, Apartment Wrestling stumbled upon a gallery of incredible prints by a Kansas City artist named Rob Schamberger. These prints demonstrate exactly the level of artistry which wrestling can inspire and should aspire to beyond the boundaries of the squared-circle. Aside from this print featuring the Ultimate Warrior, highlights are Brock Lesnar, CM Punk and Harley Race. Click here to see the rest.
The existence of Apartment Wrestling is motivated, in part, by a desire to highlight the glaring absence of aesthetical quality in the field of professional wrestling and sources of coverage and criticism. Wrestling does not have to be synonomous with bad taste and over-the-top vulgarity when it comes to its choice of complimentary visual components (i.e., sartorial merchandise) and soundtracking. This Hulk Hogan t-shirt, for example, is typical of Impact’s lacklustre clothing output and has more in line with the garish garb worn by ageing ex-goths than that put out by contemporary streetwear brands such as Stussy or Obey (inextricably linked to Hogan’s eminent nemesis Andre the Giant). It is difficult even to relate such a design to the essential elements of Hulkamania brand. Jerry Lawler, similarly, appears constantly decked-out in gross and ostentacious Ed Hardy-esque t-shirts completly unbefitting of his ‘King’ character. Things need to change in this regard.
Lawler’s example is a potent one of where the WWE, in particular, has gone wrong by forcing its wrestlers to simply wear merchandise rather than to dress them in a unique aesthetic which furthers their character. There are shining exceptions, of course, John Cena’s ‘8-bit’ t-shirt was an interesting visual that is not a million miles apart from the sort of ‘retro’ tees one may find on the shelves of Urban Outfitters or somewhere equally ‘relevant’. The benchmark should always be real-world ‘wearability’ - can somebody walk the streets in wrestling merchandise without inviting mockery and derision?
Back to the question of character though, from a creative standpoint it is indisputable that a wrestler’s attire can propel his character to new heights whilst at the very least complementing it in some subtle fashion. Would Hulkamania have run so wild had Terry Bollea’s in-ring rig-out consisted of a snot-green body suit? What if the Undertaker had been dressed like Paul Bearer? The Rock’s (allegedly) ‘thousand-dollar’ shirts no doubt helped cement his status as an arrogant heel in his post-Nation days, to name just one example. Today wrestlers are acting as baby-oiled mannequins, furthering only the agenda of the company’s merchandising arm.
The problem goes further into the realm of the so-called ‘Internet Wrestling Community’, where aesthetically-pleasing graphic design appears to be considered some sort of taboo. Thinking of blogs, magazines and Tumblrs which are testament to the power of layouts which simply look good (try Novh, Inventory, Sneeze, Apartamento); only International Object remotely stands out as an easy read in the realm of wrestling coverage. It certainly wouldn’t hurt if somebody at WWE (or TNA, or Ring of Honour even) used these sites and publications as inspiration. Maybe someone could even log on to Tumblr and search “#menswear” next time they’re making a decision on which grey suit Triple H or Bobby Roode is going to wear today.