MINNEAPOLIS – I think everyone knows Curtis Axel is really Joe Hennig, son of Curt, and grandson of legendary AWA star Larry “The Axe” Hennig. What should have been even more obvious was Larry’s ringside appearance at Sunday night’s Elimination Chamber pay-per-view at the Minneapolis Target Center in support of his grandson.
Axel he teamed with Ryback, Eater of Planets, against the Rhodes Brothers. WWE seems to have some kind of a problem with young Curtis Axel, because tonight, he put Cody Rhodes over cleanly, in the middle of the ring 1-2-3. No one seemed to care, as the crowd response was positive for the Rhodes victory. Nor did anyone seem to recognize Larry, as I overheard a woman, old enough to know better, call him “their dad, Dusty Rhodes.” Ouch. I know a large majority of the fans of today’s product are newcomers but for Larry Hennig to go unrecognised here in AWA Country was a surprising.
Strangely enough, there was plenty of nostalgia in the air on Sunday Night. I saw a number of fans carrying Stone Cold signs, and bunches of people wearing retro Rick Rude t-shirts and a few with Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Cool to see, of course, but I didn’t see anyone who had turned him or herself into a walking billboard for John Cena’s latest caps, shirts, wristbands, beads and baubles. Oh wait … that’s John Cena’s job. There were a lot of Daniel Bryan swag owners, proudly displaying their possessions, though.
Another bit of nostalgic energy was numerous chants for CM Punk, the recently departed superstar who is rumored to be mulling over a return, according to public comments of Vincent K. McMahon, in which he referred to Punk’s absence as a “sabbatical.” At least five strong “CM Punk” chants punctuated the card and the fans I talked to have high hopes that he’ll be back in time for Wrestlemania.
There was an Intercontinental Title bout, Big “E” being challenged by Jack Swagger. Swagger entered the ring area with his Uncle Zeb Coutler, who made a few pronouncements about illegal immigrants causing a polar vortex. These had to have been intended to be tongue-in-cheek comedy, being so ludicrous. But then, the same could be said about the pronouncements of the Tea Party which Uncle Zeb is parodying here. I am personally alarmed to see just how rotund Uncle Zeb has become. Unless it’s just that thick vest he’s wearing, they might want to get him to run sprints at ringside to drop a few pounds. Hey, if Paul Heyman can get on his bicycle, so can Uncle Zeb. Once-promising blue chipper Swagger’s been in this same xenophobic Tea Partier gimmick for sooo long, I’m starting to wonder if it’s extended payback for his marijuana arrest just before last year’s Wrestlemania.
Judging by a few “We want Ziggler” chants, the crowd wasn’t into the plodding match, and neither was I. Nor was my eight year-old nephew, Jayden, who was starting to wiggle around in his seat. We took a break during the Intercontinental match to get a snow cone. We could still sort of hear the match, and it still sounded as if it was in the doldrums. Up in the concession area, I still didn’t see anyone wearing Cena gear. I saw a lot of Daniel Bryan stuff, some Shield shirts, and a Wyatt Family shirt, and a couple of fans wearing retro CM Punk shirts. Hmm. We went back to our seats.
There were a few Bad News Barrett video vignettes hosted by the man himself. They began with intro wrestling footage proving to us that Wade Barrett is The Master of The Devastating Forearm Shiver before he himself appeared on-screen remonstrating we Minnesotans for our awful football team (agreed) and even more awful weather (again, agreed). Barrett added a bit about “Mother Russia” showing her superiority in the Olympics. I haven’t heard the term “Mother Russia” used at a wrestling show since I was standing, per the request of Nikolai Volkoff, to show respect for his singing of the anthem. Barrett explained that the new WWE network would be so popular, that people would lose their jobs and children would be expelled from school. I guess because no one would want to leave their home. Yes, it’s just that good, Barrett promised us. It’s strange. I know that Barrett really is, in actuality, from England, but for whatever reason, his accent seemed forced. I suppose he could have been emphasizing it for theatrics. What definitely sounded farcical was the gravelly voice he used. Not since Ray “The Crippler” Stevens has the city of Minneapolis been subjected to such a cement mixer of a voice. Wade Barrett, you sir are no Ray Stevens!
Speaking of nostalgia and The Good Old Days, I was thrilled to see one of my favorite old tag teams, The Apple Dumpling Gang, erm, pardon me … The New Age Outlaws! These guys are actually the tag team champs. At the “SUCK IT!” chant the guy sitting next to me actually guffawed, “That’s SO over.” Yeah, well, you shoulda been there in 1998, kid. They were challenged by the Usos. The crowd popped for the Outlaw’s entrance and the Road Dogg’s schtick, and the match was good in the way that the Usos had opponents who could work with them, and be there for them in the ring. I watched this really short match wondering just how much the Usos have to slow down so the Apple Dumpling Boyz can keep up, and if the match ending quickly is so they could get to the back and have their achy joints iced. Billy Gunn is cool and can still go in the ring, but with his super shiny tights, tanned and toned physique, and bleach blonde hair, he looks like the male stripper your aunt’s friends might hire for her 55th birthday party. But Triple H hired him first, so, sorry ladies!
Things were getting a bit more lively in the arena now, with the CM Punk chants erupting out of nowhere. I saw a “WHY PUNK WHY?” sign. Quite a few Daniel Bryan signs and a few Yes! chants were heard.
From where we sat, my nephew Jayden and I were near Josh Matthews, Mark Henry, The Miz, and Rey Mysterio Jr. as they provided commentary for parts of the show. It gets boring watching guys talk with no sound, but when the lights went down I was able to see Mark Henry eat not one, but two Styrofoam clamshells of delicious food! I was jealous because it looked like shawarma from Wally’s down the street.
The Shield took on The Wyatt Family in a fantastic match. All of these guys are great. There were competing chants for both teams, and people were on their feet a number of times. Nephew Jayden was way into it as well, watching with wide-eyed rapt attention. He did have a comment and a question, however. When Bray Wyatt did a type of backsplash on a member of the Shield, Jayden, very impressed, said, “Wow! He has some good pounds to him!” Jayden also asked if Luke Harper and Erick Rowan were “regular wrestlers,” because he explained, “with their beards they look like ZZ Top.” I was stunned. I had no idea the kid even knew ZZ Top existed. He’s eight. How is that possible? Must be the internet.
A few thoughts on The Shield. Roman Reigns is THE Next Big Thing, no question. He has the looks, the ability, and his portion of the audience response had a lot more female screams than any of the others’, even Erick Rowan. How is he on interviews, though? And I wonder what will happen to Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins if they split? With situations like these, you always hope the WWE does it right. But I won’t hold my breath for that to happen. Disco Dean Ambrose, anyone?
I almost forgot to mention that Batista had a match. I mean, literally. A lot of questions seem to be on fans minds. One question is, “Why is Batista back?” Another question is, “What does Batista want?” But the most important question regarding Batista’s return is, “Who cares?” I’ll be honest, Batista’s entrance with all the pyro and so forth got a good reaction from the crowd, my nephew included. And I thought it was a nice touch to have his father precede him to the ring, until I realized it wasn’t Batista’s father, it was actually The Man Himself, The Animal, Batista! Oops. Batista looks more Konnan than Leviathan these days (major props and love to Konnan, one of my favorites). I don’t know if Batista used to wear giant lifts in his boots before, but he appears much shorter. Alberto Del Rio came out on crutches, which must be used only in conjunction with a neck brace, as taught in pro wrestling medical school. The match was what you’d expect, with Batista winning with a mediocre-looking powerbomb, to an underwhelming response from the crowd. For whatever reason, probably best known to Triple H, Batista is in the main event at Wrestlemania. I’m not an avid viewer by any stretch, but I’ve been watching WWE programming, and I still don’t understand how this came about. Nephew Jayden had no idea who Batista was. But fans will be seeing a lot more of him, whether they like it or don’t. It’s what’s best for business, apparently.
In the weeks leading up to this event, I was thrilled. To be able to take my nephew to a pay-per-view, just before Wrestlemania is the kind of thing that could put me in The Pantheon of Uncledom! That said, I didn’t grasp the concept of the Elimination Chamber at first. A friend who works as a plumber made an obvious joke I won’t repeat here (shame on you Phil). It’s a giant cage with little inner cages. And tonight six men were fighting for their opportunity to win the championships from Randy Orton and go on to defend them against Batista at Wrestlemania. There. Whew. I finally understand.
Christian was participating in the chamber match. Christian’s had a great career, but when he came out tonight to enter the chamber, there was noticeable laughter from some quarters of the audience. I’ve always liked Christian, but he just couldn’t shake the look of being one of the guys who showed up with his gear looking to wrestle. I could buy him as a special referee, or as one of the veterans brought in to work with a green youngster, but as a serious threat in the chamber, not so much.
John Cena emerged to the typical Cena Patois, of love and hate. No surprise. He stayed off the mike at least, so we didn’t need to listen to any of his usual, “Look I know not all y’all like me, and that’s OK, but blah blah blah and go buy some of my shirts and caps for your friends who do.”
Big response for Sheamus, whose name I haven’t seen for a while, in connection to any major angles, at least.
Cesaro came out to a huge reaction, especially after the great match he had against Cena last week, I think the fans are really starting to appreciate how good he really is. He has a great look and immense athletic skill. How long before Uncle Zeb and His pet Okie cut him loose. (Wait, he’s from where? What’s a foreigner doing with Team Xenophobia?)
As I look around the internet, I’ve read where a lot of people question how popular Daniel Bryan is. They ask, “Gee, I wonder if Daniel Bryan is really over? Or is it his chant?” I would ask them, “Is there a difference?” Only with Austin’s “What?” chants which metastasized over the years have I ever wondered whether a chant indicated anything other than adoration for its recipient. Maybe there’s a new school of thought on this, but it feels like Bryan could stand out there and get the fans to chant “Yes!” all night long. Plus, in addition to his personality and charisma, he’s a tremendous in-ring performer. No one wonders, “Is Ric Flair really over, or is it just the WOOO chant?”
So at the Elimination Chamber, Bryan was over, huge. Has there been a time in recent memory where he hasn’t been?
Bryan was eliminated, by the way, when Kane, now disguised as an insurance adjuster, helped Orton beat him.
Which leads us to Wrestlemania, where Orton will defend his belts against Batista. That match-up just doesn’t leap off the paper, does it?
Who knows maybe Punk will return from his sabbatical and save us all.