Thursday, July 01, 2010

Wrestling: Kayfabe Countdown Mid-Year Review

Professional wrestling: equal parts theatre and sport, it is performance art for the unwashed masses. Wrestling has come a long way in the last thirty years. The course of matches is predetermined to a result, but this curtain revealing fact has never truly been a hinderance for a fan's enjoyment. Appreciating and understanding wrestling is as much about in-ring execution and evocative storytelling as it is any notion of sporting competition. The skill of battling an opponent without crippling them for life is a feat to be admired, as is the time honored language that communicates the highs and lows of vivid characters, who each wield vastly different motivations and fighting styles.

Win/loss records have never been especially important to the life and career of a professional wrestler. Championship belts are an important indication of a wrestler's standing, but on any given card, motivations are just as likely to be personal, focused, and governed by the wisdom of conventional storyarcs, rather than competition rankings. Because of this, it's rare that a promoter or organization would place any emphasis on raw data beyond the occasional undefeated streak, or an important contender match. That said, the sports connection held in wrestling means that the language of competitive ranking is inherent to the way in which fans measure and compare their favourite body slamming superstars.

At the beginning of 2010, I decided to combine my love of statistical rankings and pro wrestling by compiling a list of win/loss records taken from television and pay-per-view matches featured in WWE and TNA programming. The value of this pursuit is highly suspect, but if nothing else, it's added a new perspective for the back-end of my monthly look at each company's special events. Through these deviations into interest-based commentary, I've been able to connect with some of the gamers who were nurtured by the explosion of late nineties wrestling games, and the Monday Night Wars that fuelled the cross-media Attitude Era.

The following list is a mid-year account of some of the rankings as they currently stand [prior to the June 28 episode of WWE RAW] based on pure win/loss data, accompanied by the usual brand of hyperbole that goes with these things. Typically I include the top ten for either WWE or TNA in the comments section of my PPV forecast write-ups. Here is the first opportunity to see how wrestlers from each of the two major companys rate against each other, keeping in mind that WWE has considerably more programming for it's wrestlers to appear on. Results are pulled from WWE RAW, WWE NXT, WWE Superstars, WWE Smackdown, TNA Impact, and monthly Pay-Per-View events, the most recent of which were WWE: Fatal 4-Way and TNA: Slammiversary VIII.

#1 Kofi Kingston (Intercontinental Champion)
(WWE: Smackdown)
It seems to be a given that the most successful wrestler at any given moment will rarely be the top talent. This stems from a variety of different factors, not the least of which is the fact that a great hero needs to overcome adversity. As a promising upper mid-card wrestler with a lot of energy and potential, it stands to reason that Kofi Kingston would appear high on the list. I'm still somewhat surprised by his recent rise to the top of the rankings, making him the first man in either of the top promotions to gain twenty wins in a single year. Win/loss records don't mean a lot in wrestling, but to enjoy that much success on any level is a significant statement about the faith behind them.

Kingston's feud with Randy Orton heading in to Wrestlemania really seemed like the turning point for an otherwise slightly non-descript mid-carder. When that opportunity fell apart, bludgeoning the less seasoned Kingston with it's debris, it seemed like the Ghanese wrestler was doomed to dwell in the lower rankings. A move to Smackdown has turned those fortunes back to the better. After Drew McIntyre's exhausting reign as IC champ, Kingston is a refreshing change of pace, but it remains to be seen if his rise in the rankings will be worth it's weight in gold. I love his energy and some of the wacky moves he brings into a sometimes colourless squared circle, but his execution could do with some practise.

#2 The Big Show
(WWE: Smackdown)
Formerly The Giant of WCW fame; Big Show is said to have been the subject of scowling envy in the mid-nineties when Vince McMahon claimed his opposition didn't know how to do a giant, and he would do better. It's fair to say he made good on his claims when first acquiring Big Show for WWF in 1999, but over the years, the "world's largest athlete" has teetered between dancing monkey and legitimate super-sized monster. These days he loiters somewhere in between, lending his size to the exploits of smaller wrestlers, Chris Jericho and The Miz, in Tag Team championship reigns that reinvigorated that dying division.

Big Show's trade to Smackdown has put him back in the hunt for the top singles title, defaulted there by virtue of a lack of headliners. I'm okay with that, but it brings back the old issue of dealing with the balance of keeping Big Show's indomitable reputation intact without decimating potential up and comers that make up the rest of the roster. Couldn't say Big Show's spot at the top isn't deserved, but I wonder if it will be sustained.

#3 Rey Mysterio (World Heavyweight Champion)
(WWE: Smackdown)
Rumor has it WWE's premiere luchadore was hoping for some time off, which bought him a second reign as World Heavyweight champion at the end of this month's Fatal 4-Way PPV. I'm not inclined to be quite so cynical, even if there's truth to the rumor, remembering how impressive Mysterio's six months of wrestling have been as justification for his standing. As if Rey Mysterio Jr ever needed to be justified at this stage of his career. After extracting genius from Batista in the earliest months of 2010, Mysterio went on to enter into a long running feud with CM Punk, providing the most logical main event name to a battle that spawned the Straight Edge Society around Punk.

Adding to the amazement of Mysterio's feats is the length of time he has remained in competition, despite reports of surgery that was supposed to sideline him before or after March's Wrestlemania. Assuming they're true, it's further testament to a wrestler who isn't always the immediate top title contender he deserves to be. As WWE's only televised masked luchadore, he's an invaluable source of differentiation in a company filled with white guys in dark trunks. Breaking Undertaker's face on return with a usually routine splash was a strange footenote for Mysterio's year, but otherwise, he's been one of the best. A worthy contender for top spot come year's end.

#4 R-Truth
Like Kofi Kingston; the recently short-held US champion is a novel talent with a lot of in-ring energy and promise. For me, there are a couple of inescapable sticking points when it comes to Ron "R-Truth" Killings, however. I remain slightly frustrated that we have to pretend his career as "K-Kwik" never happened (circa 2000), rendering his previous reigns as Hardcore champion inadmissable. The other point, also relating to championships, is the fact that he's a former two-time NWA Heavyweight champion via his career with early TNA. I realise that WWE, and a good many fans, don't rate TNA all that high, but I wish that those accolades could count for something more than three months as US champ after a few years. A few years that began with a hot arrival and ripe opportunity against recently departed WWE talent (and then-US champ), Shelton Benjamin.

At times, a lot of innuendo and hyperbole surrounds WWE's treatment of "coloured" athletes. The success of R-Truth and Kingston goes some length to disproving any of the negatives, but it remains to be seen if these are longterm investments. Truth, moved to the perceived A-show of RAW, has managed to escape a fate of being devoured by the bland headlining talent that have dominated the show for the majority of the brand split years. Admittedly, despite wanting his past achievements to hold greater weight, I'm not entirely sure how his character and twisting wrestling style factor in to the upper levels of a WWE card, but hope we get a chance to see. A recent groin strain might hamper his success in the middle part of the year, but let's hope it doesn't worsen.

#5 Tyson Kidd // #6 David Hart-Smith
(Tag Team Champion) (WWE: RAW)
(Tag Team Champion) (WWE: RAW) [16-8-1]
This time last year, the WWE Tag Team championships were just about a write-off! It wasn't so long ago the belts were locked in constant rematches between The Colons (Carlito & Primo) and Miz & John Morrison. It didn't help that there were two sets of belts for RAW and Smackdown both, a set-up borne of a time when men like Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, and Rey Mysterio were injecting the Smackdown tag roster with a rare intensity that demanded new belts be added. The slack was picked up by Chris Jericho and Big Show, who quite simply earned back the credibility of the belts by dispensing with tandem challengers month to month in solid matches.

After a few changeovers, the arrival of The Hart Dynasty seems like the first shot at giving the tag titles back to traditional tag team wrestling. So far, it hasn't been the greatest decision. I've enjoyed seeing the expected arrival of Tyson Kidd & DH Smith as a top contending tag team, but after being clamorous for a Wrestlemania push against "DX" Triple H & Shawn Michaels, I'm starting to have reservations about contemporary WWE's ability to make use of a conventional tag team. The Hart Dynasty won the belts fair and square, but have been somewhat adrift, washing afoul the Samoan legacy team of The Usos in recent weeks with less than convincing results.

Conventional wisdom doesn't seem to apply to WWE as much, these days, but I like to think they know that there's a right way to build convincing champs. It'll take more than an impressive win/loss rate to establish The Hart Dynasty at the level they've entered, but if booking can insert established talent after quickly disposing of The Usos (who themselves might benefit from earning their place), then the Hart legacy has every opportunity to establish itself as WWE's premiere classic tag team.

#7 Christian
(WWE: Smackdown)
Christian's story seems destined to be one of mixed fortunes. After headlining WWE's version of the ECW brand, he was cheated the opportunity to be the final ECW champion on record when that honor was passed off to short-lived and currently injured, Ezekiel Jackson. He's enjoyed unlikely success on both the RAW and Smackdown brands, always a bouyant personality, if destined to come off second-best against any superstar with a claim to the top spot. Sheamus comes to mind as a prime example of someone he probably deserved to beat, but never stood a chance against.

Like Ron Killings; Christian had far greater championship success during his tenure with TNA, but alas, fame and fortune seems to lure Christian back despite the limits of his promotion prospects. They say Vince McMahon just doesn't buy a guy with that face and that physique as champ. The proof of that is in the pudding of his career, but I guess for a guy the boss supposedly hates, he's doing pretty well for himself!

On Smackdown, his agile style makes a lot more sense, thanks to the steady perspective of in-ring technique that typified the Smackdown brand since the split. It hasn't earned him any higher than a missed opportunity to take the IC championship, but at least he's getting a look in. Or was, before a traded Hornswoggle dragged him into what threatened to be an unflattering spotlight. I like Christian a lot, but I can never shake the thought that he was better off staying in TNA. I certainly got a lot more out of him there, and so did he, presumably, given the value of his still lukewarm stock upon returning to WWE. Stock that took him to an unrivalled win percentage earlier in the year, but as you can see, seems unlikely to finish on top come the end of 2010.

#8 Michelle McCool
(WWE: Smackdown)
Typically, wrestlers compete in segmented divisions defined by their standing in the heirarchy.
Women are generally far fewer in number, so it stands to reason that a few dominant female wrestlers will rise to the top of any rankings system, regardless of their significance or ability. Unfortunately, significant is not one of the words I would use to describe today's incarnation of women's wrestling in WWE. It's never really been a great draw, but in years gone by, three-or-so women made-up a slightly more convincing division of grapplers that occupied much less time. These days, Barbie doll cheerleaders and strippers seem to be the order of the day, usually without any regard for in-ring technique.

Michelle McCool deserves recognition for at least looking something like a wrestler when she's in the ring. I have to admit that a bias against the bulk of these bouts means I don't always get to see what they're capable of, but of McCool, there is some plausible justification for success. The former Women's champion currently claims to co-hold the Diva's title with her LayCool tag team partner, Layla, but is not officially a reigning champ. I wondered if this might be part of an attempt to replicate TNA's glimmer of success with a women's tag division, given that they already have a second women's [Diva's] title that has little or no purpose. It seems more likely now that it's fodder for a break-up feud down the line between LayCool over the belt, but we'll have to wait and see.

#9 The Miz (United States Champion)
If you believe the hype, he's The Miz and he is awesome. Personally, I'm not so convinced.
The Miz has enjoyed a surprising rise through the ranks that included, just a couple of months ago, joint ownership of the United States and Tag Team championships. He's entered into his second reign as US champ after reclaiming his lost belt from R-Truth in under thirty days. All of this, and he was the NXT mentor for former Ring of Honor Heavyweight champion, Bryan Danielson. Not bad for a guy who was supposedly banned from the lockerroom for eating chicken.

There has to be room for personalities in professional wrestling, so I reluctantly submit that perhaps a guy like this really does deserve a spot on the card. He certainly showed how that could work when departing from obnoxious-kid long enough to play the voice of a good portion of fans, myself included, who think John Cena kinda sucks. A brief partnership with Big Show also wasn't entirely fruitless, and his feud with Bryan Danielson turned out to be one of the missed opportunities of the year, resulting in only a match on RAW, rather than what could've been a strong grudge match on PPV. A legit battle like that could've gone a long way to establishing credibility that would elevate the flagging US title. It's hard to imagine this guy going any higher than he already is.

#10 Rob Van Dam (World Heavyweight Champion)
I hate to say it, but there's something very tired about the in-ring style of "The Whole F'n Show," Rob Van Dam. It's been a long time since the highs of ECW in the mid-to-late nineties, but that's not to disqualify everything a guy like RVD did to earn his place among the stars of wrestling that dominated the nineties boom period. The rolling and leaping that once set crowds alight seems slightly pre-programmed as Van Dam takes to the top rope these days, but there's something to be said for the classics. I was definitely one of the fans keen to see him hit TNA when rumors first broke of a possible return to wrestling, and his reign as Heavyweight champion seems like a debt the industry should've paid a decade ago. Sure, he had that WWE reign and was ECW champ, but that was a pretty wishy-washy period.

Having just dispatched Sting in the main event of TNA's annual Slammiversary, RVD makes a strong case as the man on top of TNA, but the only way is down for a guy with such an unblemished record. You would have to think the near future promises an encounter with Kurt Angle, who is working his way through TNA's ranking system for a chance meeting with the champ. It's a bout that might promise defeat for Mr. Pay-Per-View, but if you ask me, it's been a good and genuine run! I'm not sure I'd like to see him go two-time, but I appreciate the return.

#1 Kofi Kingston (20-10-0) (WWE) [Intercontinental]
#2 The Big Show (19-10-0) (WWE) [Tag Team]
#3 Rey Mysterio (18-7-2) (WWE) [World Heavyweight]
#4 R-Truth (17-14-2) (WWE) [United States]
#5 Tyson Kidd (16-7-1) (WWE) [Tag Team]
#6 David Hart Smith (16-8-1) (WWE) [Tag Team]
#7 Christian (16-14-1) (WWE)
#8 Michelle McCool (15-9-0) (WWE)
#9 The Miz (14-17-1) (WWE) [United States; Tag Team]
#10 Rob Van Dam (13-1-0) (TNA) [World Heavyweight]
#11 AJ Styles (13-6-4) (TNA)
#12 John Cena (13-10-4) (WWE) [WWE x2]
#13 Kane (13-13-3) (WWE)
#14 John Morrison (13-17-1) (WWE)
#15 Abyss (12-6-3) (TNA)
#16 Layla (12-9-0) (WWE) [Womens]
#17 Randy Orton (12-10-4) (WWE)
#18 Evan Bourne (12-10-1) (WWE)
#19 Maryse (12-11-0) (WWE) [Divas]
#20 Gail Kim (12-11-0) (WWE)
#21 Dolph Ziggler (12-13-1) (WWE)
#22 MVP (12-15-0) (WWE)
#23 CM Punk (12-16-2) (WWE)
#24 Jack Swagger (12-19-0) (WWE) [World Heavyweight]
#25 Chris Jericho (12-20-1) (WWE) [World Heavyweight]
#26 Velvet Sky (11-1-0) (TNA) [Knockouts Tag]
#27 Sheamus (11-8-2) (WWE) [WWE]
#28 Eve Torres (11-9-0) (WWE) [Divas]
#29 Drew McIntyre (11-17-2) (WWE)
#30 Kurt Angle (10-5-0) (TNA)
#31 Yoshitatsu (10-9-0) (WWE)
#32 Ted Dibiase Jr (10-13-1) (WWE)
#33 Matt Hardy (10-15-1) (WWE)
#34 Madison Rayne (9-4-0) (TNA) [Knockouts; Knockouts Tag]
#35 Matt Morgan (9-5-4) (TNA) [Tag Team]
#36 Wade Barrett (9-7-0) (WWE)
#37 Robert Roode (9-10-2) (TNA)
#38 Rob Terry (8-1-1) (TNA)
#39 Jeff Hardy (8-5-1) (TNA)
#40 Justin Gabriel (8-5-0) (WWE)
#41 Triple H (8-6-2) (WWE)
#42 Frankie Kazarian (8-6-1) (TNA) [X-Division]
#43 Darren Young (8-6-0) (WWE)
#44 Cody Rhodes (8-8-0) (WWE)
#45 Tara (8-9-0) (TNA) [Knockouts]
#46 Beth Phoenix (8-9-0) (WWE) [Womens]
#47 JTG (8-10-2) (WWE)
#48 Ken Anderson (8-11-0) (TNA)
#49 Luke Gallows (8-11-0) (WWE)
#50 James Storm (8-12-2) (TNA)
#51 D'Angelo Dinero (7-5-1) (TNA)
#52 The Great Khali (7-6-0) (WWE)
#53 Edge (7-7-4) (WWE) [Royal Rumble]
#54 Douglas Williams (7-7-0) (TNA) [X-Division x2]
#55 David Otunga (7-8-0) (WWE)
#56 Kelly Kelly (7-10-1) (WWE)
#57 Alicia Fox (7-10-0) (WWE) [Divas]
#58 Zack Ryder (7-14-1) (WWE)
#59 Ezekiel Jackson (6-1-0) (WWE) [ECW]
#60 The Undertaker (6-2-0) (WWE)
#61 Jay Lethal (6-4-1) (TNA)
#62 Shawn Michaels (6-5-1) (WWE)
#63 Kevin Nash (6-5-0) (TNA) [Tag Team]
#64 Hernandez (6-6-2) (TNA) [Tag Team]
#65 Shelton Benjamin (6-6-0) (WWE)
#66 Heath Slater (6-7-0) (WWE)
#67 Mark Henry (6-11-2) (WWE)
#68 Desmond Wolfe (6-14-1) (TNA)
#69 Lacey Von Erich (5-1-1) (TNA)
#70 Mickie James (5-6-0) (WWE) [Womens]
#71 Scott Hall (4-3-0) (TNA) [Tag Team]
#72 Eric Young (4-4-0) (TNA)
#73 Jesse Neal (4-5-1) (TNA)
#74 Vance Archer (4-5-0) (WWE)
#75 Vladimir Kozlov (4-5-0) (WWE)
#76 Brie Bella (4-5-0) (WWE)
#77 Shad Gaspard (4-6-2) (WWE)
#78 Primo Colon (4-6-1) (WWE)
#79 Jeff Jarrett (4-6-1) (TNA)
#80 Shannon Moore (4-7-1) (TNA)
#81 Angelina Love (4-8-1) (TNA) [Knockouts]
#82 Goldust (4-8-0) (WWE)
#83 Batista (4-11-6) (WWE) [WWE]
#84 Brian Knobbs (3-1-0) (TNA)
#85 Jerry Saggs (3-1-0) (TNA)
#86 Curt Hawkins (3-2-0) (WWE)
#87 Orlando Jordan (3-4-1) (TNA)
#88 Samoa Joe (3-4-0) (TNA)
#89 Tiffany (3-5-0) (WWE)
#90 Nikki Bella (3-5-0) (WWE)
#91 Skip Sheffield (3-6-0) (WWE)
#92 Brother Devon (3-7-3) (TNA)
#93 Amazing Red (3-7-0) (TNA)
#94 Brother Ray (3-8-3) (TNA)
#95 Alex Shelley (3-8-2) (TNA)
#96 Chris Sabin (3-8-2) (TNA)
#97 Chris Masters (3-9-0) (WWE)
#98 Brian Kendrick (3-9-0) (WWE)
#99 William Regal (3-15-0) (WWE)
#100 Natalya Neidhart (2-0-1) (WWE)
#101 Bret Hart (2-0-0) (WWE) [United States]
#102 Alex Riley (2-0-0) (WWE)
#103 Michael McGillicutty (2-0-0) (WWE)
#104 Eli Cottonwood (2-0-0) (WWE)
#105 Awesome Kong (2-1-0) (TNA) [Knockouts Tag]
#106 Roxxi (2-1-0) (TNA)
#107 Hornswoggle (2-1-0) (WWE)
#108 Fit Finlay (2-1-0) (WWE)
#109 Vickie Guerrero (2-1-0) (WWE)
#110 Sean Morley (2-1-0) (TNA)
#111 Hamada (2-2-0) (TNA) [Knockouts Tag]
#112 ODB (2-3-0) (TNA) [Knockouts]
#113 Sean Waltman (2-3-0) (TNA)
#114 Homicide (2-4-0) (TNA)
#115 Sting (2-5-1) (TNA)
#116 Max Buck (2-5-1) (TNA)
#117 Jeremy Buck (2-5-1) (TNA)
#118 Daffney (2-6-0) (TNA)
#119 Michael Tarver (2-8-0) (WWE)
#120 Santino Marella (2-8-0) (WWE)
#121 Trent Baretta (2-10-0) (WWE)
#122 Daniel Bryan (2-12-0) (WWE)
#123 Hulk Hogan (1-0-1) (TNA)
#124 Jimmy Hart (1-0-0) (TNA)
#125 Slam Master J (1-0-0) (WWE)
#126 MacGruber (1-0-0) (WWE)
#127 Mark Feuerstein (1-0-0) (WWE)
#128 Percy Watson (1-1-0) (WWE)
#129 Jimmy Uso (1-1-0) (WWE)
#130 Jey Uso (1-1-0) (WWE)
#131 Vince McMahon (1-1-0) (WWE)
#132 Jimmy Wang Yang (1-1-0) (WWE)
#133 The Hurricane (1-1-0) (WWE)
#134 Katie Lee Burchill (1-6-0) (WWE)
#135 Caylen Croft (1-12-0) (WWE)
#136 Jillian (1-13-0) (WWE)
#137 Chavo Guerrero (1-13-0) (WWE)
#138 Tamina (0-0-1) (WWE)
#139 Charlie Haas (0-1-1) (WWE)
#140 Raven (0-1-0) (TNA)
#141 Dr. Stevie Richards (0-1-0) (TNA)
#142 Kiyoshi (0-1-0) (TNA)
#143 Brother Runt (0-1-0) (TNA)
#144 Mike Tyson (0-1-0) (WWE)
#145 John Heder (0-1-0) (WWE)
#146 Rosie Lottalove (0-1-0) (TNA)
#147 Husky Harris (0-1-0) (WWE)
#148 Virgil (0-1-0) (WWE)
#149 Teddy Long (0-1-0) (WWE)
#150 Ric Flair (0-2-1) (TNA)
#151 Lucky Cannon (0-2-0) (WWE)
#152 Kaval (0-2-0) (WWE)
#153 Titus O'Neil (0-2-0) (WWE)
#154 Maria (0-2-0) (WWE)
#155 Suicide (0-2-0) (TNA)
#156 Consequences Creed (0-2-0) (TNA)
#157 Mick Foley (0-3-0) (TNA)
#158 Tomko (0-5-0) (TNA)
#159 Brutus Magnus (0-5-0) (TNA)
#160 Christopher Daniels (0-5-0) (TNA)
#161 Rosa Mendes (0-6-0) (WWE)
#162 Sarita (0-6-0) (TNA)
#163 Taylor Wilde (0-6-0) (TNA)
#164 Mike Knox (0-7-1) (WWE)
#165 Carlito Colon (0-15-2) (WWE)

Include cumulative win/loss/draw stats taken from WWE and TNA televised programming and Pay-Per-View events. Stats include championships won in 2010.

No comments: