Monday, April 10, 2017

WWE needs to grow up: JBL and bullying

As of today, all indications are that Mauro Ranallo will sit out the remainder of his WWE contract with no hope of renewal in August. It's a far shot away from the enthusiasm he clearly felt for his WWE run when he joined the Smackdown announce team on its move to USA Network in January of last year.

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Before WWE, Mauro made no secret of his mental health issues. He dealt with them very publicly at times. I was already a fan of Ranallo from his days as the voice of Elite XC and Strikeforce as well as his amazing work as the American play by play commentator of New Japan's World Pro Wrestling (better known in the US as NJPW on AXS.) He was easily the biggest get for WWE on commentary since Joey Styles in 2005.

And it all came to an end weeks ahead of Wrestlemania and all reports were that JBL was the cause.

If this was the first report about John Bradshaw Layfield acting like a bully in the locker room it would be one thing. But JBL makes no secrets of his history with hazing and bullying. He and former tag partner Ron Simmons have even laughed about it at two straight WWE Hall of Fame shows.

Maybe in the 80s and 90s such things were still considered okay, but the world is a very different place in 2017 than it was in the Attitude Era. And let's be honest: for all the greatness of that time in wrestling, the horror stories far outweigh the highs of the ratings. And backstage, JBL was a key figure in torturing several workers, often to the point they quit the company and wrestling entirely.

The rumors of JBL's personal attacks on Ranallo (several of which could be seen on JBL's twitter before the rumors about the situation came to light) have snowballed in recent days as CBS Sports, Mauro's employer as the continued voice of Showtime's combat sports, have went on record that Ranallo would not be returning to WWE.

The release of former WWE announcer Justin Roberts book doubles down on these stories as he discusses frequent bullying from JBL during his twelve years with the company. JBL took to Twitter to say Roberts' claims were false, only for Johnny Mundo to in turn confirm the story as written.

In the heat of this, former WWE commentator and current ESPN Sports Center host Jonathan Coachman, a man that has regularly brought WWE workers onto the world's largest sports network, has announced he will no longer cover WWE product on Sports Center. Even if WWE manages to maintain their relationship with ESPN, the loss of a man so related to the WWE product only makes them look worse in public eyes.

And as I write this, more and more sports sites are picking up on the story.

At this point, WWE pretty much has one way to save face in this situation. It is time to release John Bradshaw Layfield from his contract. In a world where Jim Cornette and Bill DeMott have been excised from developmental for much the same behavior, WWE cannot afford to have an employee like JBL on the roster anymore.

His era is done. This kind of behavior, whether physically or verbally, has no place behind the scenes of WWE. And it is insane that a company that spends millions of dollars on the Be a Star campaign would ever let this continue for so long.

I am but one lonely wrestling blogger in a world of millions of wrestling fans. I have already taken to Twitter to let WWE know my WWE Network subscription is on its last month should JBL remain as a voice of Smackdown Live. I encourage everyone else out there to do the same. Let WWE know this kind of continued behavior will hurt their pocketbooks in the long run.

It's time for them to make the change. Or we will.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Looking back at Wrestlemania XXXIII

It's hard for me to look back objectively at this year's Wrestlemania. Why? Because so much of it seemed to be booked by executive committee rather than through good storytelling or in a lot of cases, even great wrestling.

This is as close as I'll come to mentioning the awful tag line this year.
Image credit: WWE.
Don't get me wrong. The show had great bits. I think it was superb after weeks of weeks of Austin Aries talking about it on commentary that Neville beat Aries through a poke to the eye. Brilliant. Mojo Rawley winning the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal worked wonderfully too. Mojo may be reviled by a lot of smarks but he's really building a following with his pseudo-Warrior gimmick and a chance for him and Gronk to shine together is a true Wrestlemania moment.

That was the pre-show. Unfortunately, the main card didn't deliver nearly as well as the free giveaway across platforms.

AJ Styles and Shane McMahon did what they could with who they were. Owens and Jericho wrestled a decent match, but it seemed wanting from two talents as good as they are, probably because it was meant as just a first match in a series. Neither women's title match was allowed to shine as well as they could, especially with less than twenty minutes on the show devoted to them combined.

Rollins / Triple H and Orton / Wyatt were both pretty much what anyone expected, all though I had held out a vague bit of hope that Bray Wyatt might retain. Brock Lesnar and Goldberg gave exactly the match they needed to give with a initial punch of offense from Goldberg before Lesnar dismantled him with Suplex City.

And for the second year in a row, the main event was absolute crap built to force feed us Roman Reigns. Sure, this time he played the heel a bit more in the lead up, but he's still not a heel in any practical way. The booking was beyond asinine and as a final match for Undertaker, it just felt like an insult. Reigns just isn't capable of putting together a great match with anything less than a true mat genius in their prime and he just wasn't able to give Undertaker the great sendoff he deserved. The final moments of the night were moving, sure, but unlike so many others I could not embrace the somberness of them after the twenty minutes of garbage that came before it.

Instead, the real Wrestlemania moments of the show were nestled right in the middle of the card. The point of the Cena-Nikki and Miz-Maryse feud were made clear when John proposed in the center of the ring. It was a touching moment and truly a unique bit of Wrestlemania history.

But the true highlight was the return of the Hardy Boyz (complete with a Z) in the tag team ladder match. While working as a weird combination of their classic gimmicks and Broken Matt / Brother Nero, they put on a solid showing in what was their second ladder match in as many days. (Jeff Hardy looked exactly as banged up as he should have after the reportedly insane ladder match with the Young Bucks the previous day.) They took home the tag titles that night in a great welcome home. Interestingly, it was the first time the titles changed hands since the best Mania of all time, Wrestlemania X7, where they lost the belts to Edge and Christian in TLC II.

The best description I can give Wrestlemania is a slog. For seven hours of entertainment, it was far from the caliber the biggest company in the world should be able to deliver on their grandest stage ever year. And the sacrifice of great matches made at Takeover the night before just made the weekend feel rather bland.

In almost everything, Wrestlemania 33 felt like paint by numbers WWE, but so has much of the booking since January. Hopefully with the big show of the year out of the way, Vince can fade back into the shadows and the company can return to putting on some of the absolute stellar shows they put on over the last six months of 2016.

Later this week, I'll talk about the actual best show of the weekend, one which is about as far removed from huge WWE extravaganza as you can imagine.