UNO and Royal Rumble

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

Paragon Fantasy Wrestling ArenaI turned 24 years old a few days ago, but to be quite honest, I still think of myself as 23 (and 22 feels like a long time ago).  My family and I had a little party this past weekend to celebrate.  It was a good get-together: we had some cake and ice cream, played a few hands of UNO, opened some presents, blew out a few candles, and generally had a grand old time.  The next day, I watched the WWE Royal Rumble wrestling pay-per-view with my cousin and best friend.  That show was, in a way, also a great present and a fun way to end my birthday weekend.  A lot of excitement was had by all with plenty of great stories to tell.

The UNO game was a real highlight of the party for me.  It’s a quick game to pick up and play that doesn’t require a whole lot of equipment.  My family and I have played it a lot in the past.  The interesting thing about playing this time for me, though, was figuring out new game-playing strategies for the first time.  The game’s instructions show how to play a simple five-hundred point game where numbered cards are worth the same amount as the number on them (zero to nine, to be precise), cards with words are worth twenty (Draw Two is great for you to have and play, terrible if you’re on the receiving end of it), and wilds are worth fifty (if Wild Draw Four were a military weapon, it would be either an atomic bomb or orbital laser, whichever floats your boat).   This past weekend, I started to look at UNO in a new way and to add a bit more strategy in my approach to this timeless card game, one which my family and I gainfully employed to varying success during the party.

The strategy I gleaned from basic gameplay boils down to two important principles.  The first one: Get rid of your word cards as soon as you can.  These cards are ticking time bombs ready to rain points down on you if another player empties their hand first, and at twenty or fifty points per card, they can add up all too quickly.  During the party, I saw firsthand the devastating results of having several such cards in your hand once the dust settles.  One of my uncles kept getting stuck with hundred-point hands.  After a while, though, we were all numbed from the pain from these types of hands and more often laughing at how the fickle finger of fate dealt these cards to us.  (I do find that word cards have good uses.  If you want to keep other players stuck with lots of cards in their hands, Reverse and Skip make for excellent “traffic controllers.”  The Draw Twos and Wild Draw Fours are great for this, too, but their high point value makes them very risky to keep in your hand for too long.  Be careful how you use them!)

The second principle I gleaned from our UNO games, and this one did come as a bit of a surprise to me, but it does make a good lick of sense: Track the colors!  Depending on what your opponents play/call for when playing a wild, you can get an idea of the colors of the cards in their hands and which ones they want to get rid of.  Once you know this, you can change the color on the discard pile to something they don’t have, forcing them to draw more cards.  The discard color became a serious point of contention during our play time, as it meant being able to free ourselves of a surplus of cards of a dominant color or to switch up the color to break a streak of discards from an opponent about to empty their hand.  It was almost like a boxer switching from one stance to another to confuse their opponent and make a few adjustments; catch them off-guard and then score a KO.  This was a very interesting point to me, one I will have to investigate and practice more during future UNO games.

Speaking of strategy, the one WWE used for putting together this year’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view was one my cousin, my friend, and I spoke about quite a bit while we were watching the show.  The Rumble is one of my favorite shows to watch each year, usually because it’s so hard to predict and brings a lot of surprises.  One undercard bout this year really surprised me and my viewing buddies: scientific wrestling whizzes Tyson Kidd and Cesaro pulling out a major upset victory over Kofi Kingston and Big E of the New Day faction.  It was the first match of the night and a bit of a shocker; normally, Kidd and Cesaro, the bad guys, would be booked to lose the opening contest so the audience could have a feel-good moment to start the show, so seeing them pull off a win was very unexpected.  Good job!

The WWE World Championship match between John Cena, Brock Lesnar, and Seth Rollins was likewise very delightful.  All three men did a great job of bringing intensity to this top-level contest.  Cena played his customary hero role to the hilt, Rollins was a desperate man looking to break through in a big way (I’m not a huge fan of his, but this was certainly his best match to date), and Lesnar steamrolled both opponents like the nearly unstoppable monster he is known to be.  Lesnar won the match in the end, but all three made this one worth watching.  This quickly became my favorite match of the night, and judging from the reactions of my viewing partners, the highlight of their evening as well.

The Royal Rumble Match itself, however, which came right after the world title match, was somewhat less enjoyable for us.  It started out strong for sure with some big-time returns from the likes of tag team specialist Bubba Ray Dudley (who sadly did not break any tables but did pull off a sweet 3D Driver with an assist for R-Truth standing in for the strangely absent D-Von; where did that other guy go, anyway?), WCW legend Diamond Dallas Page (who pulled off several Diamond Cutter stun maneuvers on everyone he came across; great move that ranks right up there with the DDT and RKO as my go-to moves of choice), and even the worm-chewing creepy-yet-cool Boogeyman (who didn’t seem to have any worms on him this particular evening, sad to say; anyone want to bet his favorite book is How to Eat Fried Worms?).  These special guests, as well as the regular superstars who entered, delivered a lot of great action for a few minutes and had me and my guests feeling confident that this year’s Rumble would be something worth remembering.

All that changed once Daniel Bryan was eliminated about halfway through the match.  You see, Bryan is one of our favorite wrestlers, a real crowd-pleaser who always puts on a memorable show, but who has gotten an astonishing amount of resistance from WWE’s higher-ups both behind the scenes and on camera.  Our hopes were on Bryan to mow through this year’s competition and earn the top spot at Wrestlemania, or at least to come in a close second to our other mutual top pick, Roman Reigns.  Instead, Bryan got tossed out in short order, a very disappointing result to the Philadelphia audience as well as us watching at home.  Why WWE did not let Bryan compete longer than he did, or at least make it to the final four remaining contestants before getting eliminated, I would surely like to know.  After numerous years of following D-Bry, we wanted to see him go far, not trip over a stone miles before the finish line.

After Bryan’s unexpected exit, almost all the energy was sucked out of the match.  I mean no disrespect to the other guys who stayed in the match after Bryan left, but his removal was a sore point not easily healed.   Roman Reigns, of course, won the bout, but the Philly crowd and us home viewers were still a bit too numbed to truly accept him as the next big kahuna of the WWE landscape.  Granted, he entered the Rumble well after Bryan left, but, in my opinion, D-Bry’s is one of the hardest acts to follow in wrestling today.  Reigns did win the match in an impressive fashion by tossing out both Big Show and Kane at the same time (they’re both huge men, so lifting them both up and over the top rope in one fell swoop is an awesome feat indeed).  He also got a big-time assist from his close cousin the Rock (yes, that Rock, the star of all those movies and a legit legend of the squared circle) in fending off a post-match attack from a still-vengeful Show and Kane.  However, because Roman’s ascent came at Daniel Bryan’s expense, neither the crowd nor me and my viewing buddies could really accept the result on that particular night.  I’ve had some time to think about it since then, and I am now willing to accept Roman’s position as WWE’s top good guy if he is ready to fill it.  I have to admit, though, that until this point, I had still been on the fence about whether Roman could ever live up to the hype.  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and hope for the best.

After all was said and done, I’d have to say my 24th birthday was well celebrated!  I’m looking forward to how 2015 plays out for me. I’m still working hard on my various writing projects and will be sharing news on them, as well as anything else I do/come across, with you.  Have a happy and safe new year, and I will see you in the next blog post!

Random Top Five: Shows That I Think Need to Be On the WWE Network

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Paragon Fantasy Wrestling ArenaStarting on February 24 at 11:05 P.M., WWE (a.k.a. “The Artist Formerly Known As World Wrestling Entertainment”) will begin broadcasting a new Internet-based television network.  The WWE Network looks promising to me, with a wealth of shows that I am genuinely excited about watching.  From the blow-by-blow account of the epic battles between WWE and WCW that constitute The Monday Night War  to the novelty of a group of wrestling legends living together in a luxurious home on Legends House and even the untold possibilities offered by the prospect of live Super Bowl-esque pre- and post-shows for Monday Night Raw and Friday Night SmackDown, the WWE Network will have a lot of great stuff to offer 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The WWE Network will also have a Netflix-like archive with over 100,000 hours of content, just in case there’s nothing on the main channel that looks good at the moment.  I like the idea of being able to go into wrestling’s past and digging up old shows and pay-per-views to pass the time with, and there are already some shows that I have made a mental note to definitely check out.  Still, there are some shows that I would really like to see that haven’t yet been announced.  My personal vision of what the Network could be has about as good a chance of coming to fruition as Gorgeous George’s ghost has of winning this year’s Royal Rumble.  I can still dream, though, so here’s my wish list of shows which I hope the Network might show one day, whether on the main channel or stored in the archive (but preferably the archive; I don’t have as much time these days to veg out on the couch, so the archive part of the Network is the one I’d probably count on the most for my entertainment).

5. Global Wrestling Federation

WWE recently put out a DVD in which they discussed the content they have in their tape library (which will be heavily drawn from in order to program the Network).  They then showed a graphic of the logos for all of the different wrestling companies and other sources of material in the archive.  At the bottom of that pile of logos were three peculiar initials: GWF.  I had heard of those initials before, but I couldn’t remember what they stood for, so I looked them up on Wikipedia and found they belonged to a short-lived company called the Global Wrestling Federation.  As I read through the description, I couldn’t believe how awesomely weird  the GWF’s product sounded on paper.  Some of the storylines they presented sound incredible to me.  What would you say about a “bungee” match in which the loser is attached to a bungee cord and “launched” all the way to the moon?  How about one of the show’s announcers getting amnesia and believing he’s Elvis Presley (I guess Jerry Lawler’s not the only “King” in wrestling!)?  They even had a storyline in which a psychiatrist evaluated the wrestlers’ mental health (not the kind of “wrestling psychology” I’m used to, but I’ll take it for what it’s worth)!  I sincerely hope some GWF content is included in the WWE Network’s archive so I can watch it at a time that’s convenient to me and see how well these strange storylines hold up today.  Those 2 A.M. ESPN Classic reruns just simply aren’t an option!

4. WWE Saturday Morning Slam

This show actually ended in 2013, but I think there could still be a place for it, or at least a show like it, on the WWE Network.  It was a half-hour show targeted at kids who watched the CW’s Saturday morning cartoon lineup (It shared space on the schedule with the Justice League, Spider-Man, and the Power Rangers; not too shabby!).  Wrestling moves aimed at the neck weren’t allowed to be shown on camera, so the in-ring action tended to skew more toward comedy routines, but that just made the show cooler to watch in my view.  After all, it’s not every day you get to see Santino Marella square off against Heath Slater in an air-guitar contest!  The show ran for only one season on the CW with no indication if it was ever coming back.  I’d like to see a second season with more sensational silliness.  It would definitely bring some of the fun back to wrestling, something I believe it sorely needs these days.

3. WWF(E) LiveWire

During the announcement of the WWE Network, it was stated that it would soon feature a live in-studio broadcast as part of its programming.  I’ve heard rumors that it might be similar to ESPN’s SportsCenter in that they would cover the events of WWE programming and possibly other sports and pop culture topics of the day (which sounds more like ESPN2’s SportsNation, but enough of my kibitzing).  Personally, I think WWE had a show like that already which would be a good example for the new show to follow.  It was called WWF LiveWire.  Back in the days when “the ‘E” still had an F as part of its initials, WWF LiveWire was a live studio show where viewers could make a phone call and talk to their favorite WWF wrestlers.  A show of this nature could be a good way to get viewers more invested in the network, and the myriad methods of communication available to most people today could lead to a wider variety of conversation pieces.  You could still have phone calls, but also e-mails, Twitter posts, Facebook messages, Skype video chats, and all types of other ways to facilitate interaction.  A show like this could be the most well-connected show around.

2. WWF Wrestling Challenge 

A few years back, I was a loyal subscriber to WWE’s old video archive service on-line.  One of my favorite features of this archive was its collection of episodes of WWF Wrestling Challenge.  Each episode was mainly comprised of “squash matches” in which the big boys of the WWF routinely beat various no-name wrestlers as well as a mixture of promotional interviews and recaps of current storylines.  For some strange reason, I found this show incredibly entertaining.  The wrestlers all had colorful personalities which grabbed my attention very quickly, and the witty banter between the show’s commentators, Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, was even better than the matches themselves most of the time.  This was popcorn TV at its finest, and I regret to say that there isn’t really a show like this in WWE’s current TV output.  Sure, Main Event and Superstars come close in terms of format, but my overall opinion of these shows is that they are a little underwhelming.  If the WWE looked back on its rich, colorful history, particularly this show, and applied what worked back then to today’s product, I am sure the shows would be much more exciting.  It would certainly make the Network a lot more fun!

1. Tuesday Night Titans

Now here’s a real gem of a show that needs a reboot, stat!  Before Ted Turner founded Turner Network Television in 1988, this original TNT was blowing viewers’ minds in 1984 and ’85.  Vince McMahon made for a surprisingly witty Johnny Carson wannabe as he made light conversation with all of the movers and shakers in the wrestling world.  This show was full of memorable moments such as the Iron Shiek showing off his pet camel, Hulk Hogan getting his famous “24 inch pythons” (his arms folks, not actual snakes) measured by female wrestler Wendi Richter, and Rowdy Roddy Piper starring in a supremely corny rendition of the Christmas Carol story.  Tuesday Night Titans was the place where the WWF’s stars could unwind in between slugfests and have a grand old time.  I wonder if the talk show format could still work in 2014, in an age where the wrestlers’ personal lives are well-known and broadcast on all different forms of social media.  Maybe there’s some sides of them that have never been shown for whatever reason, and a show like TNT could help them to kickstart their careers in a bold new direction.  The WWE has a new network to fill with lots of original programming; I think a revival of TNT could fit in very nicely in the new program lineup.

The WWE Network will be starting up very soon, and I am looking forward to see what the future holds for it.  WWE has a TV lineage dating back almost a century, and in all that time, it has produced a lot of good television, so I have high hopes that the Network will be a great addition to that legacy.  

If you’re a wrestling fan, are you looking forward to the Network and would you consider subscribing to it?  If you’re still hesitant, is there anything WWE could do in terms of programming that might make you change your mind?  Let me know in the comments, and please give this thing a chance.  It could turn out to be something really special if we support it in the right way!

Pop Culture Haikus: WWE Edition

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Paragon Fantasy Wrestling ArenaPop Culture Haikus are the traditional Japanese poem style (remember the syllable rule: “Five for one, seven for two, five for three”) reworked to fit today’s biggest pop culture icons.  For the first edition of this feature, the characters of Marvel’s Agents of Shield were immortalized in haikus.  For this second installment, I wanted to pay tribute to one of my favorite pastimes (since 2006, anyway).  The following haikus are based on some of my favorite colorful personalities of the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment; at least, that’s what it went by until WWE decided to simply go by its initials in 2011, but who knows with those guys anymore?).  Links to each subject’s Wikipedia page is provided for those interested in learning more about them.  If you want to see them in action, just search their names on YouTube or Google; trust me, you’ll find more than enough information on each person – more than you would have thought possible!

John Cena

The champ’s moral code:/”Hustle, loyalty, respect.”/Not bad for a start!

CM Punk

Chicago’s toughest/Antihero to many/It’s clobbering time!

3MB

Three men in a tub/Claim to be a real rock band/Can’t carry a tune.

Hulk Hogan

The Three Demandments:/”Eat vitamins, say prayers, train.”/Works wonders, bro!

Randy Savage

“Macho Madness” rules./Adrenaline and chaos/Elizabeth loves!

WrestleMania

The grand stage is set./The players combat gladly./Winner: box office.

Monday Night Raw

A three hour tour/Live, free, quality wrestling/Something for nothing.

Vincent Kennedy McMahon

Wrestling mastermind/From commentator to boss/He’s longest-tenured.

Howard Finkel

Iconic talker/Voice of all the biggest shows/First and still the best!

The haikus are done/What do you think of them, hmm?/Comment below, please!

“Bizarro Worlds” in WWE Video Games

Friday, July 26th, 2013

Paragon Fantasy Wrestling ArenaThe new WWE 2K14 video game is scheduled for release October 29, 2013, and I am waiting with great anticipation to sink my teeth into it.  The announcements so far, from the slight tweaks in the way the game plays to the inclusion of surprising new characters like the Ultimate Warrior, are exciting enough to me.  However, I am most curious about one particular detail the game’s developers have not fully revealed yet: what the story mode will be like.  For me, WWE games provide an escape from the worries of the real world; the over-the-top superstars and storylines of the wrestling world are exaggerated even more when viewed through the prism of a video game.  Of course, sometimes those exaggerations end up creating “bizarro worlds” where the most illogical things can, and often do, happen.  Here are a few of the more outrageous events I have seen go down in WWE games of the past which have made me love to play them even more.  Here’s hoping 2K14 can somehow manage to top them in sheer absurdity and fun while creating its own “bizarro world.”

The “Great One” comes to WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2007… just not that “Great One.”

One night in late 2006/early 2007  – (I cannot quite remember when), I was going through a portion of the absurdly long “24/7” mode in the latest WWE game when all of a sudden one of the game’s announcers proclaimed that a very special guest would be coming back to the world of wrestling soon.  They said he was a former WWE star who had gone on to star in several successful movies.  He had an “electrifying” presence, knew how to raise eyebrows, and most importantly, often called himself “The Great One” (which was, in fact, the name of the storyline I was playing through).  If you were to ask an average wrestling fan what all of those clues might be pointing to, they would likely say that Dwayne Johnson, better known to WWE viewers as The Rock, would be making a once-in-a-lifetime appearance, an event which would indeed happen in a few years in real life, but which was an outcome nearly unthinkable in a 2007 video game!  Alas, it really was too good to be true, for the guy who pulled up in the limosine in the arena parking lot and greeted my character was not the Rock, but he was a movie star and former wrestling great.  Yes, folks, it was none other than star of They Live and Hell Comes to Frogtown, the self-proclaimed master of kicking behind and chewing bubblegum (while at the same time lamenting the sad lack of bubblegum in the near-vicinity), a truly “bizarro” person if there ever was one, the legendary “Rowdy” Roddy Piper!    The following hours of game play were filled with me becoming friends and eventually rivals with the kilted warrior, all the while leaving me stunned that his virtual likeness and signature Scottish/Canadian accent could become a featured part of a video game a full two decades after his 1980s heyday.  Sure, I wouldn’t have minded the Rock doing the near-impossible and showing up unannounced in a video game, but the “Hot Rod” was just as cool and certainly memorable in his own right.

A time machine could lead you back…to the future in WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011.

This one concerns a feature in a recent WWE game I never even knew about until I read the strategy guide for it, and even then, I have never actually tried it for myself, but if you have a copy of the game, try it out and tell me what you think of it!  It seems that, in the “bizarro world” of this game at least, the tag team of Edge and Christian used to have a time machine (well, they always did say they “reeked of awesomeness,” so why wouldn’t they have one of the most totally awesome scientific achievements ever?)  This video explains how Christian puts the machine back together using an old phone booth, a flux capacitor (because those things surely exist in real life, right?) and a couple of wrestling action figures.  Once he’s got the thing built, he gains the ability to bend space and time and travel back and forth to any point of any storyline in the game.  It’s probably a good thing that this type of technology isn’t available to WWE stars in real life.  Who knows what would happen if someone as powerful as WWE Chairman Vince McMahon gained the power to influence history in any way they saw fit?  No, I think this power should stay out of humanity’s hands for the good of all, even if it would be better to have Mickie James side with her friend Natalya instead of her boyfriend Dolph Ziggler (just one example of many, many choices you can make in the game, by the way).

In WWE ’12, Jacob Cass is, to quote from the Dave the Barbarian theme song, “a hero but a wimp.”

When the WWE video game series dropped the Smackdown vs. Raw name from the box cover, I took that as a signal that a lot of changes were coming, and boy was I right!  The game play received a huge overhaul and the graphics for the wrestlers and arenas looked even nicer than they had ever been before.  Even the story got a big boost as it was greatly expanded and divided into three huge parts.  The first two parts displayed some solid storytelling, but the third part was very disappointing to me.  In this last leg of the journey, you get to create your own version of a character written especially for the game named Jacob Cass, a wrestler who graduates from the WWE NXT show for developing wrestlers and competes on the main branded shows, Raw and SmackDown, for roughly a year of game time.  Along the way, he becomes subject to a surprising number of ambushes and unfair situations, first from fellow rookies and veteran stars who want a piece of his hide before he has even had a chance to step out of the blocks, then from a group of returning stars who want to revive the old WWE competitor World Championship Wrestling (WCW) but have to get rid of Cass first to accomplish their goal. 

Like any good hero, Cass is more than capable of handling these situations, especially since you, the player, have direct control over him and have to win to survive.  The story, however, makes a lot of your efforts seem useless.  Whenever you win a match, the story somehow turns it into something of a loss by adding more guys to the opposition or jumping to a cutscene where Cass is bamboozled by the bad guys and loses the match.  This happens with astonishing regularity and often Cass does not have any friends or allies who could help him to turn the tide, making things feel even more unfair.  I don’t have any complaints about this kind of story because setting up overwhelming odds and finding ways to overcome them are the whole point of wrestling storylines in the first place, but the constant barrage of such obstacles that Cass is confronted with and the amazing lack of defense the main story imbues him with seem just ridiculous to me.  I’m playing a good guy the game doesn’t even trust with saving his own life.  He’s beaten up like a pinata up until the very last cutscene when he finally wins a match fair and square and celebrates with all of his new “friends” in the ring with a new title belt.  This last vingette plays for all of 20 seconds before it cuts away to the developers’ credits.  Definitely not worth the near-month I put into it, but darn it if I didn’t enjoy the game anyway.

There’s plenty of other bizarro moments I could think of in these games, but those three stick out the most in my mind whenever I think of WWE and video games.  Ever had a strange moment happen during a movie or TV show that made you think twice?  Tell me about it in the comments, even if it is a bit too bizzarre for belief.

Random Thoughts: WrestleMania 29 Edition

Friday, April 5th, 2013

WrestleMania 29, the WWE’s biggest production of the year, airs on pay-per-view this Sunday from MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.  I know fairly well that this event has been subject to endless debate and discussion just about everywhere else on the Internet already, but I wanted to contribute a few thoughts of my own.  I’m not going to make any predictions about who’s going to win, lose, or draw here.  Instead, I’d like to talk about a few details about this year’s show that are just a little bit unsettling to me.

For instance, I thought it was unusual this past Monday night when it was announced on WWE Raw that the Intercontinental Championship match between Wade Barrett and The Miz, a match between two athletically gifted wrestlers that had been continuously hyped on WWE programming and which I was looking forward to with enthusiasm, has been scheduled to appear not on the pay-per-view card itself as one might expect, but instead as part of the hour-long pre-show which will air online prior to the big event.  Even though it is typical for at least one match to be included in the pre-show, I thought a different kind of match or two, perhaps a couple of matches with some lesser-known wrestlers, would be placed in that spot instead of this one. 

The part that irks me, though, is that this particular match will be contested for the Intercontinental Title, which, in my opinion, is not exactly a great honor in itself anymore (having your champion, Wade Barrett, lose important matches right and left on your TV shows for months on end doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in me that the belt really matters in the long run), but still holds enough interest that it could warrant a fairly exciting match if it were presented on the WrestleMania card itself.  Barrett and Miz have been debating on television for months about who among them is the bigger movie star; their rivalry has become so heated that they were bound to compete for the title on the “Grandest Stage of Them All,” which I believe they rightly should.  However, now that the match is part of the pre-show, it will only be seen by people watching on YouTube, Facebook, the WWE’s mobile app, and a few other places online.  That leaves a lot of people without Internet access who won’t be able to see what I believe will be a fantastic match, unless WWE decides to air highlights of it during the pay-per-view show.  I’m glad that the match will be featured somewhere, but why not do it on the main show?  WWE has hyped this contest to the moon and the main show is four hours long.  Surely, they could’ve devoted a little bit of that time to the Barrett/Miz match for the entire viewing audience to enjoy.

In fact, I think Barrett/Miz would be a better fit for ‘Mania than the musical performance from Diddy (also known as Sean Combs, P. Diddy, Puff Daddy, etc.) that is scheduled for the show.  Musical acts have been regularly featured at ‘Mania alongside wrestling matches.  They usually come in the form of someone like Aretha Franklin singing “America the Beautiful” to start the show or bands such as Motorhead playing live entrance music for the wrestlers to walk out to.  I have seen and heard most of these performances and appreciated the talent of the artists who performed them.  I liked it even more that they usually did not distract from the main attraction of WrestleMania, the wrestling matches.  I’m not sure why Diddy is on the card for this year, though.  The song he will be performing, “Coming Home,” has been a regularly featured part of WWE programming for most of this past year, and I do think it is a very nice song.  However, I don’t see any reason why it should be performed live on pay-per-view.  For me, on a ten-match wrestling show, Diddy sticks out like a sore thumb.

Despite my disappointment in the slight given to Barrett/Miz, I do feel that this year’s ‘Mania show will still be a fun one.  I’m most looking forward to seeing two of my absolute favorite wrestlers, the Undertaker and C.M. Punk, face off against each other in what I think will be the best match of the night.  The Rock and John Cena rematch should be nice as well, and I hope the undercard will have some standout moments.  I’ll hope for the best and have a good time regardless of what happens.

Paul Bearer: A Tribute

Friday, March 8th, 2013

This past Monday’s episode of WWE Raw had an “old school” theme.  The arena, ring, and entranceway were given special one-night-only makeovers to recreate their appearances from the distant past, and the graphics used on the show looked like they had been ripped out from old wrestling TV shows.  There were even some old wrestling personalities who returned to have a good time with the current roster of top talents.  It was a fun show, and I enjoyed seeing some of the old-timers the WWE had brought back.  The next day, I got a mild shock when I saw that another old wrestling personality had made the news.  William Moody, better known to me and millions of wrestling fanatics the world over as Paul Bearer , had died at 58 years of age.  A flood of memories of Moody and the wrestling moments I had seen with him involved came to my mind as I tried to take this in.  A lot of those memories were given further clarity by a tribute video WWE posted on its YouTube page a few days after Moody’s death.  He was one of my favorite wrestling personalities, so to hear that he had died so young was very upsetting to me.

I first became familiar with Moody’s claim to fame, Paul Bearer, through archival footage of him with his most famous wrestling client, the Undertaker, on various DVD collections.  Bearer’s act in the WWF was basically a mortician turned wrestling manager (Moody was also a mortician and embalmer in real life so he obviously knew what he was talking about).  He had slick black hair and ghostly-white skin, almost always looking like a more respectable cousin of Uncle Fester from The Addams Family.  During interviews he would comment on the mortality of the Undertaker’s opponents and vow that the “Deadman” would claim their souls.  His facial features would contort into all sorts of weird positions which, combined with his signature high-pitched voice, made him seem to me like he hailed from a decidedly strange realm.  While Bearer was hamming it up for the camera, ‘Taker would mostly stay silent, brooding in the background or carrying out a mundane mortuary task like repairing a coffin or doing some smithing work.  During matches, ‘Taker wowed the crowds with fantastic offensive maneuvers while Bearer lurked around ringside, continuing with the strange faces and pawing at a “magical” urn that looked like it was made out of papier mache.  When the time came for the match to end, Bearer would raise the urn to the heavens giving the signal for ‘Taker to perform his always well-executed tombstone piledriver.  Bearer and ‘Taker were awe-inspiring people individually, but whenever they came together, it seemed like they were tailor-made for each other.  I think this was probably intentional since Moody had been brought in specifically to manage the Undertaker in the first place, but I also feel that the two of them together had a spectacular chemistry that made their act much more appealing and awe-inspiring than just about anything else before or since in wrestling.

Paul Bearer and the Undertaker stayed together from 1991 to 1996.  The act basically stayed the same throughout this time; the only thing that really changed was that the urn soon had a light built into it that would emit an unearthly glow once ‘Taker won the match and all of the arena lights dimmed.  In 1996, however, at that year’s Summerslam pay-per-view, Bearer betrayed his buddy, helping ‘Taker’s rival, Mankind, win their grudge match.  This began a long trend of Bearer managing rivals of the Undertaker, which over the years included Mankind, Vader, ‘Taker’s storyline “brother” Kane, and even some guy named the Executioner (he attacked ‘Taker at a pay-per-view, but was defeated by the “Deadman” at the next month’s show and left the WWF shortly after, so I don’t think he really left much of an impression).  Quite frankly, I don’t think Bearer’s act was as effective with these other guys as it was with the Undertaker; sure, they were monsters, but they just didn’t seem as intimidating or credible to me.  Luckily, Bearer and ‘Taker had an on-again, off-again relationship throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s which only ended on a seemingly permanent basis when ‘Taker buried Bearer in a block of cement at a 2004 pay-per-view (Don’t worry, folks, Bearer got out.  Also, I’ve seen the footage and, quite frankly, it’s incredibly cheesy).

All of this happened before I actually started watching wrestling full-time.  By the time I started watching, the Undertaker had become entirely capable of handling his own affairs, leaving the Paul Bearer character almost completely behind.  Moody stuck around the WWE, though, signing autographs and making rare TV and live event appearances.  The Bearer character also stuck around, too, but in a virtual form.  He appeared in the WWE Legends of Wrestlemania videogame as one of the managers your character could hire.  I never used him as a manager in this particular game, though, so I couldn’t tell you if he is as effective a manager as he was in the “real” wrestling world, but he does look just as bombastic.  He also played a prominent role in one of the storylines for the WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 game, tormenting me with various “mind games” and his trademark abnormal behavior until I beat his virtual body up so badly during a backstage confrontation that he was no longer a problem.  For the record, I did feel pretty bad for Bearer during that moment, but I had to get past him in order to win the game.  He took all the punishment in stride (Sorry about throwing your videogame counterpart into that TV on the back wall so many times!), and I did use him as a manager afterwards, so I guess it wasn’t all bad.

I was surprised when Paul Bearer returned alongside the Undertaker during a late 2010 episode of WWE Smackdown, but I was delighted to see he hadn’t changed a bit.  Before long, he betrayed ‘Taker again (What are the chances?) and started prepping Kane to finish off his brother, which he did do effectively at three consecutive pay-per-views.  He continued to manage Kane for a while, seeing him through rivalries with the Big Show, Edge, and Randy Orton, but those feuds quickly took on increasing levels of absurdity (Orton even locked him in a freezer at one point).  Bearer left WWE television during April of last year.  A part of me is sad that he won’t be back to see if Undertaker wins again at Wrestlemania this April.  There’s been a lot of talk lately that ‘Taker’s career will end soon, and I’ve often thought that it might be poetic if Paul Bearer could appear alongside him for his last match whenever it came.  Now I’ll be forever denied that sight, but at least I was able to see him on live TV before he passed away.

William Moody played a character who was at times comic, tragic, and menacing, but always colorful, over the top, and with a level of believability you don’t usually find in the world of professional wrestling.  Paul Bearer was one of the most interesting wrestling characters I have ever seen, and truly one without equal anywhere in the world.  He is going up to that big mortuary in the sky now, but down here on Earth, the memory of his fantastic times in wrestling will remain.  In the words of his most noted colleague, all I have left to say is, Rest in peace, Moody.  Rest in peace.