Friday, February 26, 2016

The Top 10 Wrestlers of WWE, February 2016

Another pay-per-view and the big Raw after it have both fallen into the past and that means it is time to take a look at the Top 10 Wrestlers in WWE for the month. It has been an interesting month filled with weird pushes and negative reactions, culminating in a Fastlane card with solid in ring action but poor storytelling. Coming from that, here is this writer's choices for the best ranked wrestlers in the company. As a reminder, the rankings are followed by a two number code. The first number is their listing in the last Top 10 while the second number is the number of lists they've been on.

Kevin Owens continues to be a key player in WWE's midcard.
Image credit:

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sean O'Haire and death in professional wrestling

I originally wrote this article about the death of Sean O'Haire in September 2014 shortly after his death. I reprint it today on what would have been his forty-fifth birthday.

Over the last fifteen years, dozens of wrestlers died young whether by suicide, overdose or the after-effects of excessive use of steroids or other drugs. And while WWE has done everything they can to stem the horrible tide with their wellness program and their sponsored rehabilitation, they can’t really stop it. Wrestling is a sport often built around a life of excess on the road. Steve Austin, Roddy Piper and Jim Ross often spend hours talking about it on their podcasts. And while I’m sure it’s fun for all of them, it’s also a hard life to leave.

Steve Austin makes no secrets of his bouts with depression, alcohol and drug use in the wake of ignominious end to his WWE career. He talks about how the loss of that road life can easily change a person and the transition to a life not out and about can wreak dangerous havoc on someone’s mind.

I doubt that was the case with O’Haire. Although we didn’t hear a cause of death in the first few hours since the announcement, I could only guess it is one the three usual reasons for a wrestler’s death. And sadly, the history of Sean O’Haire point out how troubled a soul he was.

He went from a promising young future star in WCW to just another guy in WWE. He was one of several wrestlers to get repackaged (in a great devil’s advocate role) only to have that gimmick thrown away and be released. Just months after working major storylines in his early career, he suddenly was a wrestler without a job.

He made lackluster attempts to transfer into MMA and kickboxing, but he was no Brock Lesnar. His careers in both were underwhelming, while his post-wrestling build made his use of steroids in his wrestling days obvious. He became most well known in the past few years for a series of domestic violence incidents.

I will never excuse the abuse of a spouse or loved one, but it seemed apparent even then that O’Haire was a man at his tipping point. Here’s a guy that wanted nothing more than to be a sports star, but failed at every field he entered. In the end, he was left a relative unknown, a name barely mentioned by anyone until news of his death hit late yesterday.

Sadly for someone like Sean O’Haire, that kind of dark spiral often leads to the choice he took on late Monday or early Tuesday. Maybe suicide should never be a solution, but for so many people it often seems like the only escape from the troubles and tribulations that beat down upon them for years.

Sean O’Haire shouldn’t stand as an example of a missed opportunity or a star never quite allowed to shine. We should remember him as a reason to help those around us facing trials, people that need the kind of mental health help that is so hard to receive in this country. He should shed light on a business that still desperately needs to understand the mental toll it can take on its talent. And maybe, just maybe, he can serve as another in a long list of reminders to the young people of America that the quest for fame has all too dark a side as well.

I cannot say Sean O’Haire deserved better, as many of his demons may very well have been of his own making. But I can say he deserves to be remembered as an example to wrestling and mankind.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Shane's return is a win, but where's the focus on new talent?

Shane O'Mac is back! Image credit: 
Let's get this out of the way first: Shane McMahon making his long awaited comeback to WWE was a huge win for the company last night. Shane puts on great matches whenever he's on WWE television, where he could even make electrocuted testicles something entertaining. (Yes, really.) As Undertaker's Wrestlemania opponent, he's certainly a strange pick but he's got the potential to take the company in a much needed, new direction after the biggest show of the year.

The problem is that his return is simply not enough in the current holding pattern of the WWE roster. With numerous stars on the shelf, it seems like the perfect time to start bringing out fresh new characters, but WWE seems completely unwilling to even use half the stars they have on the main roster in a significant way. Cesaro is healthy but hasn't returned to television yet. Neville seems doomed to six man matches. The Wyatt Family have suddenly lost all direction as the Wyatt-Lesnar feud dissipates into dust.

Meanwhile, Jericho and Styles are suddenly a tag team for no reason, the New Day are feuding with everyone's least favorite stable, the League of Nations, and I'm still not sure if WWE even knows what it's doing right now with Kevin Owens or Kalisto, the company's secondary champions. Dolph Ziggler, Neville and Tyler Breeze have become little more than afterthoughts. Meanwhile stars like Enzo and Cass, Samoa Joe and Baron Corbin are in a holding pattern until they're called up from NXT.

Amore and Cassady are ready for the big show. 
It seems like a strange time for WWE not to spread the focus on the wealth of talent they have and build stronger stories that will propel interest in the rest of the card, especially when they are pushing as tough a sell in the main event as Roman Reigns versus Triple H (a.k.a. the battle of who we want to see less.)

Hopefully, a Cesaro-Kevin Owens feud is in the making in the coming weeks. Perhaps WWE will expand past the already announced No Holds Barred and Hell in a Cell match to give fans a much needed Tag Team TLC match as well. The New Day, The Dudleys, Sheamus and Del Rio and maybe even the team of Chris Jericho and AJ Styles could do amazing things on that stage. But it is truly time to let the wrestlers of the company shine as more than great technicians, but to use this period leading up to the biggest show of the year to build new stars.

And I don't mean Roman Reigns.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The long path of Daniel Bryan: One final independent match

Daniel Bryan left WWE for about two months shortly after joining the company, fired for being "excessive" during a PG television segment. He was mostly used as a scapegoat for the censors, which became clear when he was quickly re-hired and yanked away from the Nexus angle that cost him his job.

But during those two months away, he had a ton of great independent wrestling matches for companies everywhere and he made a ton of money doing it. Dragon Gate USA, the then-sister company of EVOLVE, was one such company. His first match of that summer was an absolutely spectacular encounter between Bryan and Dragon Gate's amazing Japanese superstar Shingo. But his last match was a brutal but beautiful encounter with one Jon Moxley, who only a few months later would regularly do battle with Bryan when he joined The Shield as Dean Ambrose. This was a much edgier time for Ambrose, which hopefully will be made clear quickly from his explicit language and the weird relationship he had with his valet in the company.

Check out the epic mayhem below.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The long path of Daniel Bryan: Japanese journeyman and indie darling

By 2002, Daniel Bryan was an American independent star, but that did little for his pocket book. He worked a couple early ROH cards before leaving the company for awhile in order to travel to Japan to work more regularly. His work in the California based Inoki Dojo allowed him an entry point into New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he more regularly worked for the next couple years. He would stop in for American matches now and then, like the following Jersey All Pro match with perennial foe Low-Ki.

In 2003 while still working tours with New Japan, he worked a few WWE B-shows and dark matches as he sought a new contract with the company. A personal favorite of mine was a future SummerSlam main event, as a recently debuted John Cena took on the jobber Bryan Danielson on Velocity. They put on a decent little match, though it was marred by awful Ernest Miller commentary.

By 2004, he was regularly working matches against big up and comers and seasoned stars in NJPW, men like Hiroshi Tanahashi, Minoru Suzuki, Shinsuke Nakamura and one Naofumi Yamamoto, better know to WWE and modern NJPW fans as Yoshitatsu.

He would also more regularly take stateside bookings all over the country, such as the following match with AJ Styles.

IWA Mid-South was regularly using big name independent talent at the time as can be seen by the Ted Petty Invitational of that year as well, where Danielson faced off with Samoa Joe and AJ Styles.

By 2005, he would devote himself to ROH again and start a new path for himself as the biggest name on the American indies.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Wrestlemania Predictions

Wow, the injury list in the WWE has grown bigger than the roster. John Cena. Seth Rollins. Cesaro. Daniel Bryan (Retired), Tyson Kidd (probably retired), Sting (probably retired), Randy Orton, Nikki Bella, Sheamus, and I am sure there are a few more I am forgetting here.

Hell, if it wasn't for the remaining members of The Shield, Kevin Owens and AJ Styles, the WWE wouldn't have a show.

So what is left for Wrestlemania?

My guess is, given the current state of the roster, the WWE is going to play it safe. Due to their terrible booking the last few months, they don't have big enough heels to pull off huge matches. This has always been my biggest complaint with the WWE this past year and why I prefer Lucha Underground; the whole concept of babyface and heel is outdated. They can play that role, but the booking should be based on talent, not role. I want to see Del Rio against Sheamus, not Kalisto five times in a row, or Brock Lesnar vs Rusev. These kinds of matches earn respect and build careers, not throwing every heel against Dolph Ziggler repeatedly.

Over in NXT there are a ton of great stars ready to make the jump to prime time. But the WWE can't push new wrestlers this close to Wrestlemania, it is too risky. We'll be lucky if they put AJ Styles in.
Instead they are going to have to go with what they got now, I doubt they'll bring anyone up for the big show. Some great wrestlers include Samoa Joe, Apollo Crews and Baron Corbin. Corbin against Bray Wyatt would be one hell of a match, but since the WWE doesn't put heels against heels, there is almost no chance of that happening. We were lucky to get Finn Balor VS Apollo Crews on an episode of NXT.

I believe they'll play it safe and have Brock Lesnar beat Triple H for the WWE title at Wrestlemania. Crowds love Brock and he's a guaranteed sell. This is the safest and most logical route for the WWE to take. Even though we've seen these two go at each other in passed, they are, like it or not, the two top dogs in the WWE.

Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns will end up facing off against each other, with perhaps one of them turning heel (because the WWE is obsessed with the heel/babyface concept). I'd love to see a clean rematch between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar and it might happen, but then they would have to build a new storyline for Ambrose, which I don't think they have the ability to do this close to Wrestlemania.

And where is the Undertaker?

Do they even have enough wrestlers to fill the show? Do guys like Chris Jericho still have the star power for one more Wrestlemania? Will Vince give a guy like Kevin Owens a main event spot?
I am sure we'll get Calisto against someone, or maybe Del Rio, if he takes back the belt at Fastlane. Or maybe they'll just face each other again, a match we've already seen five times.
Having Ambrose carry the Intercontinental title is a waste at this point since he doesn't need it to make the main event. Would have been better to let Ryback keep it and give him a good match at WM, but Ryback seems to be falling hard.

Strange as it may sound, it appears that one of the Social Outcasts might actually get a WM match. Thanks to injuries the guys who six months ago were looking at unemployment might have a shot at the mid-card slot, if the mid-carders have to main event. Interesting times, either way.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The long path of Daniel Bryan: the early years

Daniel Bryan ended his career in front of WWE fans. Image credit:
Earlier this week, Daniel Bryan a.k.a. “The American Dragon” Bryan Danielson announced his retirement from the WWE ring. It is a sad moment when any wrestler's career ends, but at 34, Bryan seemed to have several years ahead of him. But years of taking too many risks on the indie circuit shortened his career in WWE, a company under severe pressure to protect its workers from frequent concussions.

But while we may never see Bryan wrestle again and almost certainly not in a WWE ring, he still has a career that stretches back 18 years. With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to look back at some matches that spanned his career.

Trained by the Texas Wrestling Academy under Shawn Michaels and Rudy Gonzalez, Bryan's pedigree immediately got him attention internationally. As the masked American Dragon, he was in Japan with no more than a dozen matches under his belt. Here he is with the late Lance Cade in FMW, working a slightly less dangerous style than what Mick Foley and Terry Funk received in the same company.

Of course, he also wrestling for the Texas Wrestling Alliance, his school's home promotion Here he is in an early match with Brian “Spanky” Kendrick, featuring awful choices for entrance music for both men.

His training pedigree made him a hot commodity though, and along with pretty much every other trainee, he was signed to a WWE developmental contract in 2000. Sent to Memphis, which then served as a development territory for the company, he had a few matches with a man that became his mentor: William Regal. The two formed a friendship that would stretch for years to come, even if I suspect Regal might have given him a few more lessons on how to lengthen his career.

By the end of the year, he was back as an independent star. He was one of numerous talented competitors to wrestle in California promotion's APW as they held their King of the Indies event. These events were hot commodities for tape traders and would lead directly to the rise of Ring of Honor a few short months later. Here is an epic encounter between the young Bryan and another amazing breakout talent of the era: Low-Ki.

Less than three years into his career and Bryan was already on his path to stardom. Pretty impressive for a young wrestler in the days after the territories and before the rise of internet video.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Wrestling Weekday wants you!

I looked everywhere for a Jack Swagger finger point image but couldn't find
it. Help a blogger out, man! Image credit: 411 Mania.

The Wrestling Weekday was built around the idea that I would be able to bring five day a week content to readers of the site, but it was also built around the idea that I wouldn't always have to do that alone. Ten months into its existence, I have a few guest posts by the always talented Richard Evans, but it is not enough to keep up with the demands for the site as I focus on catching up on all my other projects I have piling up on me.

For the foreseeable future, The Wrestling Weekday will move to three updates a week from me. They won't be on a set Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule, but when I have watched or learned something I feel needs to be covered here, I will talk about it. Just like before, I won't cover every bit of wrestling news. But I will stop in commentary on the sport of kings when I feel commentary is necessary.

Of course, daily content can easily be restored with your help. If you have interest in writing about wrestling, let me know by contacting me either on social media or directly through my email: nick {at} superpoweredfiction {dot} com. I don't have any requirements for how often you write, nor do I have any finances to provide. But I can give you the same thing the Wrestling Weekday is for me: a platform to discuss wrestling in easy to digest snippets that hopefully will provoke discussion as well as entertain.

In the mean time, let's watch some great wrestling!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

AJ needs opponents!

AJ certainly is Phenomenal, but his list of opponents so far hasn't been.
Image credit:
With a severely depleted roster, I think the lack of star talent is visible nowhere as much as it is in the first two weeks of AJ Styles' run with the company. By Thursday night, he will have had three televised matches and none of them are against talents he should be facing. An aging veteran, a jobber with friends and now a former champion turned lower midcarder are just not the stars AJ needs to get over big in WWE.

But the problem right now is there is no one to fit that bill on the heel side. Triple H is the top heel, but isn't wrestling. With three quarters of the League of Nations on the injured list, only Rusev and Kevin Owens fill any kind of top heel push of any kind. WWE has a few lower midcard heels that could easily be elevated into an AJ feud as well as a few face stars that could also turn heel to fit that bill: people like Stardust, Goldust, R-Truth or even Neville.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

NXT has a midcard problem

So having been almost a month behind on NXT viewing, I've been playing catch up on the post Takeover: London editions of the show. And watching the roster in action, I have to say WWE's second brand has a huge problem in the middle of the roster.

For the last few months, WWE has lost the men and women that filled the middle of the roster, whether to call ups, removals from television or outright poor booking. Talents like Tye Dillinger and Bull Dempsey that once could be considered micarders have long ago become jobbers.

Sasmson is racking up wins but it remains to be seen how far he can go.
Image credit: 
With a solid main event picture featuring Baron Corbin, Samoa Joe, Sami Zayn, NXT Champion Finn Balor and NXT newcomer Austin Aries, once you move under that spot, WWE doesn't have many non-tag team talent to fill out any cards. Apollo Crews and the recently debuted Elias Samson are the only real talent WWE has to fill the card, although unsigned wrestler Tommaso Ciampa seems to be getting some wins actual signed talents like Dempsey can't seem to receive. And while Crews has tons of potential, both Ciampa and Samson have a lot to prove before they can be regularly taking seriously on the NXT roster.

Outside those three men however, the company seems to bank on a few main eventers and a few too many jobbers. It makes the company read a bit too much like WWE's main roster instead of teh solid across the card booking that once made NXT work so well.

The women's roster had a much wider hole in their roster after Takeover: Respect, but the company started to rebuild that roster at the end of the year. But while folks like Nia Jax, Carmella, Eva Marie and even Peyton Royce and Billie Kay are starting to get booked with wins, the women's division is still clearly built around only two figures. Asuka and Bayley are the only actual stories of the women's division with their opponents only getting time against them or against others to prepare them to face the two top stars. With the two women seemingly on a collision course for the NXT Women's championship, it could put the rest of the women's division on perilous footing.

Billie Kay and Peyton Royce looked dangerous earlier this month, but more
consistent booking could turn them into huge stars. Image credit:
NXT can certainly fix these issues. The women's division has all the talent it needs (with Adrienne Reese also now filtering in) while the men's ranks desperately need a few new talents to start picking up wins. Rich Swann and Chris Girard can both fill those roles, but only if they reach television as more than just job talent.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The past of Bullet Club vs. the future of Bullet Club

Image credit: @SenorLARIATO on Twitter.
Kenny Omega cemented his place as leader of Bullet Club over the weekend, even as he found out his opponent for the vacant IWGP Intercontinental Championship would be Hiroshi Tanahashi. While that will be one of the biggest tests of Omega's entire career, it certainly isn't the first time he has had a big match in New Japan Pro Wrestling.

Five years ago, Omega challenged NXT's Finn Balor, then known as Prince Devitt, for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight title. Just a couple years later, Devitt would turn heel and team with Karl Anderson, Tama Tonga and Bad Luck Fale to form the first incarnation of the Bullet Club, with him as the leader.

Check out this classic match up between two true international superstars.