Richard Penaluna, editor of the Calling Spots Fanzine, was contacted a few weeks ago and asked if he would participate in an interview about wrestling, to be used in a project featuring opinions of dirtsheet writers, fans, bloggers and many other people who like to talk about wrestling. Here is what he said…..
In terms of a consistent body of work, who is your favorite current WWE performer? Who is your favorite of all time?
“Favourite” (British spelling) relates to my personal preference, so in my opinion I cannot look past CM Punk in terms or current WWE performers who work a full schedule. He hit the ground running in when he entered the company after a string of fantastic matches in RoH in 2005. He has had standout matches for years now in WWE, including the only WWE match to get 5 stars in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter since 1997 – his match at MITB 2011 with John Cena.
This transitions nicely into my favourite of all time – a man who was involved in the previously mentioned 1997 5 star match – Shawn Michaels. It has almost become clichéd to say Shawn is the best of all-round performer of all time but, for me, it is true.
Other notable mentions must go to the semi-retired Undertaker and Triple H who both have worked incredible matches at the top of the card, consistently, for decades now.
One of the more widely acclaimed matches of modern times was the 2001 TLC match from WM17. Many would say the match was the pinnacle of tag team wrestling in the company. Do you think tag team wrestling on that big of a stage will ever make a comeback in WWE?
In the modern era, the tag division and the tag titles were certainly hot during this period, although “pinnacle” is more of an opinion. Tag wrestling was hot throughout the 80s, and earlier, thanks to teams like The Hart Foundation, The Freebirds, The Midnight Express, The Rockers, The Road Warriors and even The Mega Powers. During 2001 we has The Hardy Boyz, The Dudley Boyz (people loved a ‘Z’ back in 2001), Edge & Christian, The APA and more. I think the obvious similarity in the boom periods of tag wrestling is having actual teams, not just wrestlers put together while there is nothing happening for them as singles guys.
TNA proved this theory by having a strong tag-division a few years ago with Beer Money, LAX and The Motor City Machine Guns. If a company won’t invest in the guys as a legitimate tag team then either will the fans.
This then leaves the conundrum we have now. Without credible teams fighting to win a company’s tag titles, then the belts mean nothing. If the belts mean nothing, why would a young wrestler strive to be the best tag wrestler they can? To answer your question, I think in mainstream wrestling, tag wrestling is taking a back seat to the plethora of singles titles, storyline feuds, gimmick matches for their counterpart PPVs (HIAC, MITB, etc), attraction matches (Brock, Triple H, The Rock, etc) and even celebrity appearances. For this reason tag wrestling will never be as prominent a feature in mainstream wrestling as it once was.
Punk vs. Jericho (WM) and Lesnar vs. HHH (Summerslam) both stand out as notable PPV matches that featured good builds and were solidly executed, yet came across as far less special than they deserved due to a lack of crowd reaction. Why is that? Are certain crowds generally deader than others or is it something else?
The crowd is the single biggest factor in a wrestling match. Take the Cena/Punk MITB 5 star match I mentioned earlier as a prime example of this – white hot crowd for punk, feeding off his every move, this MADE the match. Stark contrast to this being The Impact Zone – Some high profile TNA PPV matches have came across poorly on TV due to a lacklustre crowd reaction.
With this said however, I do not share your opinion that the build to the match is indicative of the expected crowd reaction. The build to the match will sell tickets, but once bums are in seats the match needs to either continue the story or tell a story in its own. Trying not to get TOO deep into your question (as I would end up talking for pages upon pages), however this is where ring psychology comes in. If a wrestler is good at his art, he should be able to take his the spots he has prepared for a match and adjust them, ad-hoc, to make sure he is controlling the crowd. It is usually the more experienced wrestler who controls this throughout the match. It is a common conception that WWE nowadays encourages its workers to plan out the entire match, sequence for sequence, with the help of the producer. If workers have spent their career working like this, how are they top know how to adapt if a crowd are not into the match?
To piggyback off the previous question, do you think longer and more cohesively booked storylines would make fans in attendance more emotionally invested in the big matches they see on PPV?
As mentioned before, I think in terms of selling tickets and building excitement up to the bell – absolutely. One the bell rings however, it’s down to the work in the ring to suspend the crowd’s disbelief.
What typically kicks a match into high gear for you (what takes it from being good to great to classic)?
Having the crowd on the edge of their seat, cheering, booing, gasping – the clichéd emotional rollercoaster.
What was your favorite year in WWE for pure quality of work?
Almost impossible to say. As with most fans of my generation, I am nostalgic about the attitude era, however the year that Smackdown was seen as “the wrestling show” compared to Raw, with a solid cruiserweight division, tag division and lengthy title runs – that year.
Do you think WWE’s in-ring product is hurt due to a lack of variant styles among their performers (ie. they want everyone to work a similar style, thus making it harder for guys to stand out from the pack)?
In a nutshell – yes! I have actually written an article about this called “Working – WWE Style” a little while ago but have yet to publish it in Calling Spots. I may have to do that in Issue 3 of our Fanzine now.
I would like to know what are your ten favorite WWE matches of the last decade plus (from 2000-present) along with a few sentences as to what made each stand out?
Shawn Michaels v The Undertaker – WM25
Goes without saying that this match makes (and tops) most people’s Top 10 list. An absolute master class.
John Cena v CM Punk – MITB 2011
Everything about this worked, it was one of those rare instances when you didn’t know if the storyline (Punk leaving with the title) was real or a work. Hot crowd, great match.
The Rock v Hulk Hogan – WM18
Much like the Punk Cena match, the crowd made this match, famously turning on The Rock and reigniting Hulkamania. The match told a simple story, with both men playing their parts well and finishing up with passing the torch.
Brock Lesnar v Kurt Angle – WM20
Two legitimate and decorated amateur wrestlers, Brock and Kurt put on a classic at WM 20. Even if Brock did nearly break his neck attempting a shooting star press. How times have changed.
Elimination Chamber #1 – Survivor Series 2002
Triple H (Champ), Booker T, RVD, Shawn Michaels, Kane and Chris Jericho took part in the first even Elimination Chamber match. Yes – the “bullet proof glass chambers” are a bit silly but who honestly expected the still-semi-retired Shawn Michaels to walk out World Heavyweight Champion? Fantastic feel-good moment.
Kurt Angle v Chris Benoit – Royal Rumble 2003
A true technical master class from 2 of the best technicians of all time. Everyone needs to watch this math.
Triple H v The Undertaker – WM 28
Stark contrast to the previously mentioned match, now in the twilight of their career, Hunter and ‘Taker have had to adapt their matches to fit around their limitations – and they did it expertly here.
Triple H v Cactus Jack – HIAC – No Way Out 2000
Still one of the very early HIAC matches – a bloody end to a bitter feud between Hunter and Cactus in what was supposed to be Mick Foleys last match. He came out of retirement at the very next PPV. Hard hitting encounter that isn’t very PG.
The Undertaker v Jeff Hardy – Ladder Match – Raw July 2002
For me, this is the match that MADE Jeff Hardy. At the time Jeff was nowhere near the main event but the match build around the underdog nearly causing the biggest upset of “Big Evil’s” career.
Stone Cold Steve Austin v The Rock – WM19
Arguable the greatest rivalry of all time and unquestionably the most profitable. The 3rd and final instalment of Rock/Austin and WrestleMania was a fitting end of a rivalry between two of the greatest of all time.