This week has seen quite a buzz in the world of professional wrestling. And it has certainly gotten fans of sports-entertainment, in the words of The Rock, “electrified.”
This past episode of Monday Night Raw on October 8, 2012 saw a (nowadays) rare appearance by WWE Chairman Vince McMahon, better known to WWE fans as simply Mr. McMahon. McMahon, back in the late 90s and early 2000s was known to make his way onto WWE programming and exercise his “evil” authority over crowd favorites such as Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, etc by robbing them of championship opportunities, interfering in their matches, competing in matches against them himself or even ending their careers with two words he would say in a throaty fashion: “You’re fired!”
Tonight, however, Mr. McMahon’s intentions were to give a “State of the WWE Address.” According to popular inside sources such as PWInsider.com and PWMania.com, ever since Raw moved to a three hour format in July after celebrating their 1000th episode, ratings for the show have plummeted. Last week Raw was at a 2.5 rating, with the show having the fewest viewers in over five years. With that being said, it was reported that McMahon (the person, not the character) was furious that he removed RAW writer and Senior Creative Vice President Brian Gerwitz from his position. Furthermore, PWInsider.com reported that “A number of top talents have approached Vince McMahon in recent weeks, with one of them having a back-and-forth with McMahon in front of everyone, saying McMahon does not have his finger on WWE’s pulse anymore and that when WWE goes to ‘hell in a handbasket,’ it will be all Vince’s fault…”
So, Mr. McMahon’s State of the WWE Address segment was more than just an appearance by the “evil Chairman.” When McMahon entered the ring and began the segment, he was cut short by the appearance of WWE Champion CM Punk, the company’s top “heel” (bad guy), as he walked down the ring making mocking gestures towards McMahon. Punk made his way towards the ring with his manager Paul Heyman, a man notorious for creating the underground promotion ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) back in the 1990s and for managing other wrestlers such as Brock Lesnar.
Punk grabbed a microphone and started telling McMahon that he thought his “State of the WWE Address” was a shot at Punk and that McMahon was slapping him in the face by doing so. Punk then quickly responded to McMahon’s metaphorical slap with a physical slap in McMahon’s face which shocked the WWE fans as the Chairman fell to the mat. Punk and Heyman exited the ring taunting McMahon, who got back on his feet and exclaimed, “I’ll fire you if you don’t fight me in this ring tonight!” Punk accepted McMahon’s challenge, which became the main event of the evening.
When the time came for the match, Punk and McMahon engaged in a brawl of a style not seen on Raw programming for quite some time. What made the crowd erupt was when McMahon and Punk each reached under the ring and found kendo sticks to use on one another. Now weapon use is rare nowadays due to WWE’s approach of family friendly entertainment. But once those two brandished those kendo sticks, the fans cheered loudly; there were even some scattered “ECW” chants, because ECW was known for incorporating weapons such as kendo sticks in their matches. The crowd became absolutely unglued when both men smacked each other with the sticks until Punk gained the upper hand and was preparing to hit his finishing maneuver called The GTS on McMahon. But, before he could execute the maneuver, rising WWE star Ryback, who had been eyeing CM Punk in weeks prior, made his entrance to the ring, much to the crowd’s delight. However, Punk escaped the ring and made his way into the crowd before Ryback could do any damage to the WWE Champion. While Punk stood amongst the fans, McMahon took a microphone and demanded that by the next Raw, he will either face Ryback at the next Pay-Per-View event called Hell In a Cell or face the man he has been ducking for weeks: John Cena.
The Punk/McMahon segment and match proved to be quite successful for Raw, as the program garnered a 2.80 rating, according to Yardbarker.com.
However, it was not just this part of the show that got attention. An incident occurred in the audience that was not a part of the entertainment. While CM Punk was in the crowd, there was an altercation in which Punk was struck in the back of the head, and Punk retaliated by turning around and punching a fan in the face. There are numerous fan-made videos circulating the Internet showing the incident. Before Punk punched the fan, many of the fans that were near him were heckling him, as it is natural to boo the bad guy in professional wrestling. However, some fans took it a step further and attempted to push Punk down the stairs. But, when one fan’s hand grazed the back of Punk’s head, that fan got knocked to the ground. It was later revealed via Twitter that the fan accidentally had hit Punk and that one of the other fans had deliberately shoved Punk and bragged about it on Twitter, saying “I punched his kidney and slapped his back hella hard.” As of now, it is not known whether WWE will take action against the fan who bragged about hitting Punk. Yet, it has been reported that the fan who was hit by Punk is not going to file charges.
So, what does this mean for WWE? This type of segment involving Punk and McMahon has not been utilized in a while. In the past, some fans have argued against WWE’s preference for being family oriented, claiming that the edginess and rash bravado of the WWE in the 1990s rendered such programming antiquated. According to BleacherReport.com, the author of an online article believes that “WWE’s perception that extreme matches along with copious amounts of blood will affect kids is flawed.” Could this recent creative change be an attempt to appeal to some fans that may not be interested in what the current product offers, and thus achieve higher ratings for Raw?
Of course, this was not the only occurrence to rock the wrestling world. Current TNA Wrestling (WWE’s main competition) star and wrestling icon Hulk Hogan was put in the national spotlight recently not for an in-ring accomplishment, but for an in-bed accomplishment. Recently released via an as of yet unknown source was a sex tape involving Hogan and Heather Clem, estranged wife of radio talk show host Bubba the Love Sponge, who was also a former employee of TNA Wrestling. According to PWMania.com, Hogan explained that the tape was made six years ago when Bubba gave Hogan permission to sleep with Clem, as Hogan’s own marriage to former wife Linda was tumultuous at the time. Hogan “vows to press charges against the perpetrator and is working to block the tape’s sale/release.”
So what does this mean for Hogan? Is his image as a wrestling hero forever tarnished? Many fans have expressed their disapproval of Hogan continuing to be a factor in the wrestling business, and this may be a deciding factor for TNA as to whether to let Hogan continue working for them in the role that he is in or consider other options so as not to hurt the credibility of their company.
Aside from the controversies, there are two new small, but sizeable independent wrestling promotions that have debuted this year, one of which was last Saturday, October 6.
The first promotion that debuted back in April of 2012 is Extreme Rising. Created from the ashes of defunct promotion ECW by ECW alumnus Shane Douglas, the promotion features wrestlers from the original ECW company such as Sabu, The Sandman, Jerry Lynn, and New Jack, and includes well-known independent competitors like Homicide, BLK-Out, and Luke Hawx. I attended an Extreme Rising Event inPhiladelphiawhere the company holds a majority of their shows, and I was impressed that the legacy of ECW has not been forgotten and is still going strong. Throughout that event, the fans never lost their energy as they chanted “ECW!” and cheered on their favorites. Most recently, they announced on their website that they will be doing shows on the weekend of Wrestlemania (the one big pay-per-view event that WWE does every year, comparable to the Super Bowl), which will no doubt satisfy fans of hardcore wrestling with some great action.
The second promotion is the one that opened last Saturday, October 6th. Former ECW and WWE wrestler Tommy Dreamer established his own independent promotion called House of Hardcore. They had their first show at theMid-HudsonCivicCenter inPoughkeepsie,New York last Saturday, which had an attendance rate that almost hit 2000. The event featured former WWE stars Brian Kendrick, Paul London, Carlos Colon, The Steiner Brothers and Rhino as well as independent wrestlers who showed a strong showing. One notable match that I heard good things about was Tony Neise vs Alex Reynolds. These are two guys that are relatively unknown, and they had a match that stole the show. From the many tweets I read, some fans called it one of the best wrestling shows that they have ever attended. And by the end of the night, it was reported that fans were not just chanting “ECW!” but were chanting “HOH!” as well. Dreamer then stated that there will be a second event in the near future.
With these new promotions entering in the fold and the recent controversies surrounding WWE and TNA stars and management, there is much to be said about professional wrestling. There is speculation on whether WWE’s recent creative changes will continued, the future of Hulk Hogan and whether Extreme Rising and particularly House of Hardcore will make a long-lasting impact on sports-entertainment. I am very excited to be a pro wrestling fan now. I believe that competition is healthy and will make the business better. Plus, it is good to know that there are options for wrestling fans so that they are not limited to what they watch. Overall, I am ecstatic to see what kind of product House of Hardcore brings to the table, how Extreme Rising will do Wrestlemania weekend, and I am most certainly excited to watch Raw next Monday!