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3 Things I Learned from Ep. 1 of “Rhodes to the Top.”

Tommy Starr breaks down a few things he’s observed from “Rhodes to the Top”.

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*Trigger warning: Controversial opinion coming.*

The pilot episode of “Rhodes to the Top” was eye-opening for many reasons, and while it would be simple enough to piece together some form of a standard review of the show, that alone would not do this show a proper disservice.  While watching this show from start to finish, I was incredibly dumbfounded with recognizing just how low the bar has been set for the standards of the wrestling business in 2021.  Perhaps, it was my ultimate revelation that my perceptions and visions as to how professional wrestling should be conducted are far removed from the reality of what modern wrestling fans crave.  In a bizarre, arbitrary sense, modern wrestling lives in an artificial dual reality where today’s fans will claim that they want “behind-the-curtain” peaks into the personal lives of the individuals behind the wrestling persona, when in actuality, we could not care less about the personal lives of those individuals.  However, this revelation of mine was roughly facilitated after watching this program, not necessarily “learned.”  These are the the three REAL things I learned from Ep. 1 of “Rhodes to the Top:”

1. Cody is the greatest “worker” in wrestling today.  

In other words, Cody has successfully “worked” everyone in the business into buying the propagandist notion that he serves more value to AEW than he truly does.  This includes, not just the fans watching the product and buying the tickets and merchandise to support the company, but also includes the people IN the business itself.  He dresses the part of the executive, he proclaims his love and passion for the wrestling business (kayfabe), but in actuality (real life), his bona fide life does not reflect this in anyway.  His primary focus is to become a TV star, plain and simple.  We see this in the current reflection of AEW’s television shows; his on and off screen absence, his perceived input on the direction of the product vs. actual input on the direction of the product (i.e. Cody’s decisions vs. Tony Khan’s decisions), and the growing fan resentment all paint the picture of what the genuine and authentic Cody Rhodes is– professional wrestling’s modern day grifter or “worker.”

2. Brandi is a product of feminized “blank slate equality.”  

The dynamics of social norms relating to gender differences and race relations in modern western culture have been at war for decades.  So in essence, I can not wholly blame Brandi Rhodes for her adopted ideologies, as her familial upbringing and education probably had a profound impact on the way she views the world.  As the title suggests though, the result of Brandi’s educational fostering is to see the world through the lens of blank slate equality (link to article on this is in the cited sources).  An example of this became apparent right out of the gate within the first two minutes of the show when we hear Cody explain that Brandi is the, “first black female executive in wrestling history.” This is something that we, the audience, are intended to view as a landmark accomplishment in the record books of professional wrestling.  However, at no point in the hour long episode does anyone explain her position as Chief Branding Officer, whether or not she is qualified for this position, or how her position significantly moves the needle of the product.  So in short, it would seem that we are supposed to adopt the notion that Brandi is qualified for this position solely based on her gender and skin tone as opposed to her qualifications and business credentials.

As Martin Luther King Jr. once stated, “There is nothing more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”  And when it comes to this subject matter, Brandi is quite ignorant of the reality she is in.  In fact, her authoritative power over individuals is quite dangerous, particularly the wrestlers.  Why is Brandi better suited or qualified to influence the female wrestlers to act or perform a certain way simply by having an artificial “label” attached to her?  Why is she qualified to govern a female wrestler that has more experience and skill than her?  The final point when it comes to my revelation about Brandi Rhodes is her mission to force women’s wrestling as a focal point of the programming and establish it on a level-playing field as the men (hence the term blank slate equality), despite the lack of fan interest or marketability with the majority of the women’s roster to warrant that decision, as well as the simple truth that historically speaking, women do not draw in wrestling to the level that the men do.  Regardless of the social propagandist notion that this is due to “sexism” or “misogyny,” we can merely pinpoint this fact down to wrestling’s targeted audience and preference for content.  Women are AN attraction in pro wrestling; they will never be THE attraction.

3. Modern wrestling LOATHES Kayfabe.

Kayfabe has been dead for over thirty (arguably forty) years, but the evolution of the internet and insider leaks about the business present modern wresting fans with a natural craving for behind-the-scenes and exclusive content that may have not been as prevalent or accessible during wrestling’s heyday.  Much of the episode is dedicated to this exclusive content realm.  There is blatant and open discussion on how promos work, heels and babyfaces mingling with one another (i.e. Brandi & Jade Cargill being bitter rivals on TV vs. coexisting friends in reality), as well as the flagrant and shameless disclosure as pro wrestling being “fiction-based,” while simultaneously trying to maintain the realness of promos and wrestling bumps.

Much of this discussion stems from David Hume’s argument that “You can not derive an ought from an is.”  It is equivalent to saying, “Just because things are a certain way, it does not mean that it should be that way.”  In the world of kayfabe, the argument is, “Kayfabe IS dead, therefore we OUGHT to have access to the inner workings of the business (i.e. terminology, character breaking, story/plot explanation, promo breakdowns, etc.).”  The incredible thing when it comes to kayfabe is that the same rule never applies to magicians, carny workers, and politicians, who are among the greatest “workers” we have in society today; they have the capacity to perfectly blur the lines between “fake” and “real” without exploiting the real truth.  It is what makes their art so appealing, and if that art is ever exposed (intentionally or not), it loses its appeal.  It is absolutely mind-boggling to see how this dynamic has drastically shifted in the world of wrestling to the point where now, modern wrestling actually craves the destruction of kayfabe.  Whether it is the dirt sheet sites, the behind-the-scenes access, and even podcasts, both the fans AND the wrestlers themselves actively destroy any and all notion that wrestling can be believable in any way, shape, or form.

Conclusion:

In many ways, “Rhodes to the Top” has given me an authentic, genuine perspective about where we are in society today, not just from the fake world of wrestling, but the real world of how divided our cultural norms and values are.  However, it is my belief that the impact of this “reality-based series” will truly reflect itself on AEW programming in the future.  For a “reality” TV show that tries to portray Cody and Brandi as the two most likable individuals on the planet, the true “reality” is the how their fan reception plays out on the wrestling show.  In essence, the argument will then be centered around Cody and Brandi’s perceived “real world” vs. the fans’ perceived “real world.”  That will probably be the most damning thing about this entire project.

Sources:

  • The Blank Slate: The modern denial of human nature: Forum for the future of Higher Education. Forum for the Future of Higher Education | A community of academic leaders and scholars who explore new thinking and ideas in higher education. (2017, June 9). Retrieved October 6, 2021, from http://forum.mit.edu/articles/the-blank-slate-the-modern-denial-of-human-nature/.
  • Jenkins, S. (2017, July 24). David Hume and deriving an “ought” from an “is”. The Ought. Retrieved October 6, 2021, from https://theought.com/2017/07/10/david-hume-and-deriving-an-ought-from-an-is/.


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News From Cook’s Corner 11.22.21: Happy Eggsgiving

A few shows, some big news, and some more releases. This week had everything! For better or worse… – and Cook gives you the lowdown!

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Hi, hello & welcome to News From Cook’s Corner! This is the week where we think about all of the things we’re thankful for. So I might actually do a Fave Five this week, considering the annual Thanksgiving column was the inspiration for the gimmick anyway! Gonna be a pretty busy week though, so we’ll see how that goes.

Before you gorge yourself on turkey, here’s the latest going on in the rasslin world…

More WWE Releases!

There’s a pretty good chance that this will become a regular section of the ol’ column. Eighty wrestlers have been released by WWE during 2021, with one (Samoa Joe. Remember him?) being rehired. Let’s put this in perspective for a minute, as looking at the numbers can explain a lot of what’s going on here.

Raw currently has forty-three wrestlers. SmackDown has thirty-six. NXT has forty-one male wrestlers & twenty-one female wrestlers. NXT UK has forty-three wrestlers. Wikipedia lists four wrestlers under 205 Live, six wrestlers as free agents, then twenty-two wrestlers as Performance Center trainees. If I had to guess, Wikipedia doesn’t have a complete list of Performance Center trainees, so we really have no idea how many people are still hiding there. I seem to recall Nick Khan talking about signing a bunch of people when he was doing that media tour around SummerSlam.

The point I’m trying to make is that WWE has a ton of people under contract and really doesn’t have that many spots. Most of those people listed under Raw & SmackDown haven’t done much of anything in quite some time. The NXT & NXT UK rosters are freaking immense, and NXT is where a lot of the recent cuts have come from. There are going to be more people coming in, therefore there will be more cuts. It’s just best to accept this now instead of getting all sad & depressed every time it happens over the next few months or however long we have before Nick Khan engineers a sale. Don’t spin this as me being happy about people getting canned, I’m just saying “it is what it is”.

So who was it this time?

A few of them were connected to the previous releases. John Morrison would be the longest tenured wrestler of this batch, considering his wife (known as Franky Monet on NXT & Taya Valkyrie elsewhere) was part of the last crop of releases this wasn’t as big of a surprise as one may think. Kind of a dick move from WWE since they’d just moved from California to Florida to facilitate her training at the Performance Center. Other people will have to learn from these events. Johnny has been more entertaining during his stints outside of WWE than he has been in WWE, so I think he’ll do just fine.

Remember when B-Fab was released and everybody thought it was kind of random to get rid of one of Hit Row’s members right after they debuted on SmackDown? Now they’re all gone. Isaiah “Swerve” Scott had been a featured act in NXT and was a top star in the indies before signing with WWE. Ashante thee Adnois was fairly new but had potential, and then there’s Top Dolla. This seems to come down to Top Dolla rubbing people the wrong way, including burying colleagues on social media & complaining to management about B-Fab’s dismissal.

It’s easy to understand why Top Dolla might have gotten a big head & thought his opinions mattered. He was featured on the Most Wanted Treasures show before ever appearing on NXT, so he was obviously a favorite of Paul Levesque’s. He also became the featured member of Hit Row upon their arrival on SmackDown, as his 6’5 330 pound frame played better with main roster decision makers than Swerve Scott’s lack of size. Dude moves pretty well for his size too, so there’s some potential there. Apparently he didn’t show enough potential to make up for whatever headaches he was causing, and the other two guys didn’t have enough appeal without him.

It’s tough, because I like it when people cause trouble backstage & stand up for themselves. Gives me more to write about here. However, I can’t recommend such things in today’s WWE. They’re looking for excuses to fire anybody. Oh, and I also wouldn’t recommend talking smack about the competition’s executive vice presidents like Top Dolla did either. Maybe it’ll impress Tony Khan, who knows.

Tegan Nox’s NXT tenure had more ups & downs than anybody else’s, I’d figure. Whenever she was about to get a push, she tore her knee up. They kept her around though, and finally moved her up to the main roster in July. She was placed in a team with Shotzi and they beat the Women’s Tag Team Champions multiple times, but never got a title shot. Then they got split in the draft, and Nox never even made an appearance on Raw. I don’t have any clue what happened other than somebody wasn’t impressed with Nox for some reason. Seemed like a solid talent to me, but I’m just a dork with a column.

Drake Maverick was released back in April 2020, but was kept around to work the NXT Cruiserweight Championship Tournament and ended up getting his job back due to popular appeal. Of course, he didn’t do a damn thing of note before getting released again, but I think we expected that. Got an extra year & a half of paychecks though, so there’s that. Seems like a nice bloke, he’ll land on his feet.

Shane Thorne disappeared from television once Retribution split up. He did a couple of dark matches recently with a Outback Jack-style Aussie gimmick, but nothing came of it. One would expect him to re-form the TMDK tag team with Mikey Nicholls at the earliest possible opportunity.

Jaxson Ryker was the final name of the list, and was another one that hadn’t done anything notable in awhile. He did outlast his fellow Forgotten Sons in the company, but did not outlast his tag team partner after that group split, Elias. Ryker got some heat back in 2020 when he tweeted political views that his boss agreed with, but it turns out that was the most attention he ever got while working for WWE. How bout that.

We’ll be back with more releases soon enough, I’m guessing. Again, we’re not celebrating these things, but we’re not going to act shocked either. As people have told me, it’s the wrestling “business”.

Did anything interesting happen at Survivor Series?

Becky Lynch beat Charlotte Flair by holding the ropes on a roll-up. In fairness, Charlotte tried to do it first. Also in fairness, it was the same referee that Charlotte took issue with and beat up back in April, so she probably should have seen it coming. Who says WWE doesn’t do long-term storytelling? Prior to the show, Fightful reported the match order, which had this as the main event and everything else in the reverse of which it happened. It’s a good thing Fightful got some egg on their face, as this sure wouldn’t have worked as the finish of the event.

Seth Rollins was the sole survivor in the Men’s Survivor Series Elimination Match, because he needed the win. Of note here was Austin Theory having a pretty long run in the match, Kevin Owens walking out on his team like he was Bad News Brown, and Drew McIntyre & Bobby Lashley doing a double countout spot because they didn’t need to lose.

Omos won the Rock 25th Anniversary battle royal, eliminating twelve people in the process. My takeaway from the match was they were trying to make Omos a star. Then I realized the the match was for Pizza Hut pizza, like how kids read books in school so they can win the Book It contest and get a class pizza party, I guess. I’m confused. How does The Rock feel about Pizza Hut? Never mind, one of the few things worse than political conversation is pizza conversation. If we go down this road we have to talk about pineapples and various cities’ styles of pizza, and I just don’t care about all that.

RK-Bro beat the Usos, and I think I’m the only person that doesn’t go completely crazy whenever Randy Orton does an RKO. We know he’s going to do it in a weird spot. It’s been a thing for like a decade now. Maybe I’m just jealous of these people that are able to react like they saw something for the first time evry time. In any event, Randy Orton has now wrestled more WWE PPV matches than anybody in the history of the universe.

Bianca Belair was the sole survivor of the Women’s Survivor Series Elimination Match. I thought the crowd was a little harsh, but it was a pretty sloppy piece of business & the booking was hella questionable. At least Bianca got to win.

Roman Reigns beat Big E to become the Universal Ultra Mega Champion of the Galaxy. Dude needs a few more nicknames so I’m trying to help him out. Big E got to do a big things, but we all knew what was going down here. Seems to hurt the drama factor to me. I may be wrong though, saw a bunch of people online calling it the best thing they ever saw. So what do I know?

The Rock didn’t show up. Apparently I was supposed to expect him to? People sure seemed mad about it.

The big tease for Monday night? Oh, this is one for the books. Vince McMahon got a Cleopatra Egg from The Rock, apparently part of his Netflix movie. Allegedly worth $100 million. Somebody stole it. All the WWE Superstars get to go to Raw tomorrow night so Adam Pearce can question them about it. If this doesn’t equal a record rating, I don’t know what will.

To answer my question of whether or not anything interesting happened at Survivor Series…I’d lean towards no, but it wasn’t an awful show or anything.

Kenny off of TripleMania Regia?

Kenny Omega might have lost his AEW & Impact Championships fairly recently, but he still has the AAA Megachampionship to his name. Omega was scheduled to defend that title against El Hijo del Vikingo at the upcoming TripleMania Regia event in Monterrey, but Dave Meltzer reports that the champion will be pulling out of the event due to upcoming surgeries.

Yep, surgeries. Kenny has a torn labrum, an abdominal hernia, a bad knee, and a septum issue as well. He’s been working through the pain for awhile now, and is expected to be out at least through February. Seriously though, if anybody deserves some time off it’s Kenny Omega. Dude has put the work in, whether you like him or not. It’ll also give him some added time to focus on the AEW video games division.

New Japan & NOAH Working Together

Last week in this column, I wondered why New Japan was holding three different Wrestle Kingdom events, including one in Yokohama on January 8 that didn’t have a fun IWGP Heavyweight Championship match announced for it yet. Turns out that the January 8 show will be a cross-promotional effort also involving Pro Wrestling NOAH. New Japan is reportedly planning on running a number of cross-promotional events in 2021 as part of celebrating the company’s 50th anniversary. DDT, All Japan & Dragon Gate have apparently talked with NJPW about participating.

These reports indicate to me that NJPW isn’t exactly bullish on the idea of borders being opened up anytime soon. It’s good news for Japanese wrestling fans though, and will help New Japan fill some cards. It’ll be fun to see Keiji Mutoh back in a New Japan ring, won’t it?

Well, that’s all we have time for this week. Thanks for reading, and until next time, keep your stick on the ice.


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Cook’s WWE Survivor Series 2021 Gambling Picks

Survivor Series is coming up, so that means Cook has some betting lines! Anyone looking to make money this Sunday, check out the odds!

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If you’re a WWE Superstar and have made it to Survivor Series, you kinda have to feel like a survivor already, right? Lots of budget cuts lately, to the point where it’s tough to keep track of who’s still employed by WWE and who isn’t. As far as I know, the people listed in the matches below and the twenty-five people in The Rock 25th Anniversary Battle Royal are still employed. For now.

It looks like a fun card on paper. The build has been pretty blah, but isn’t that par for the course with WWE these days? There’s some really good matches going on, you just gotta ignore everything going on around it. BetOnline has some odds on these matches, so we’ll take a look at them for entertainment purposes.

United States Champion vs. Intercontinental Champion
Damian Priest (-240) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (+165)

I like how Nakamura has a championship, yet is still in the role of putting people over on big shows. He lost to Roman Reigns on the Tribute to the Troops event, and now he’s here to lose to Damian Priest. Which, don’t get me wrong, is the right thing to do. Priest is on his way up, and Shinsuke is what he is at this point. It just strikes me as kinda funny, you know? At least Nakamura does a good job. No reason to bet on the underdog here though, unless Priest pisses somebody off backstage.

Raw Tag Team Champions vs. SmackDown Tag Team Champions
RK-Bro (-220) vs. The Usos (+155)

One of these teams has been pretty active in WWE’s tag team division for what feels like decades now. The other just recently formed and features Randy Orton, who always turns against his friends in the end. And somehow Randy Orton & Riddle are the favorites? Come on now. I know they’re the new freshness & all that, but the Usos have been here since Day One Ish and can do the damn thing.

Women’s Survivor Series Elimination Match
Team Raw (Bianca Belair, Rhea Ripley, Liv Morgan, Carmella & Queen Zelina) (-130) vs. Team SmackDown (Sasha Banks, Shayna Baszler, Shotzi, Natalya & Toni Storm) (-110)

We all love Survivor Series elimination matches, right? Especially when they deal with BRAND SUPREMACY instead of, you know, personal issues between wrestlers. OK, so some of these wrestlers do have personal issues with each other, but we’re expected to buy them as part of cohesive units. It’s bass-ackwards, I’ve mentioned this ever since they started doing it and I’ll probably keep mentioning it until they stop doing it.

On the bright side, most of the people involved in this match are good to competent in the ring, or at least are interesting. So it should be a decent enough show. I’m guessing either Bianca or Sasha will be part of the surviving crop of talent…Sasha & Toni Storm? Toni needs a win if we’re meant to take her seriously against Charlotte Flair. I’m leaning towards Team SmackDown here.

Men’s Survivor Series Elimination Match
Team Raw (Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, Bobby Lashley & Austin Theory) (+150) vs. Team SmackDown (Drew McIntyre, Jeff Hardy, King Woods, Happy Corbin & Sheamus) (-200)

Team SmackDown seems like the smart pick here too, mostly because Drew McIntyre is on that team and will likely be going over since they like to keep him strong. I could see him as a sole survivor here. If Raw wins, expect Seth Rollins or Kevin Owens to be victorious since they’re in line to challenge Big E. More likely that there’s a miscommunication with the Raw bunch though.

Raw Women’s Champion vs. SmackDown Women’s Champion
Becky Lynch (-400) vs. Charlotte Flair (+250)

This is the kind of feud I would have really sunk my teeth into when I was a teenager just getting started learning about all the backstage wrestling gossip. It was always so interesting to read about wrestlers that *really* hated each other, or when something was a SHOOT. Oh, I totally bought into that kind of stuff when I was a youngster. Now I’m old and really don’t give a crap about how any of these people feel about each other. I couldn’t care less whether or not Becky & Charlotte are still BFFs, or if they’ve grown apart, or whose side the locker room is taking in the matter.

I’m also smart enough to know that people like Young Me are who WWE is trying to appeal to with this sort of thing. Hopefully for their sake there are plenty of teenage wrestling nerds learning about the business on the Internet that can buy the idea of “Everything you’re watching is fake, but THIS is real, brother!” This should be a damn good match considering who’s involved, I just hope they don’t do some lame shoot-work thing as the finish. We still don’t need another ode to Montreal.

But, Charlotte Flair at +250 might be a good bet if they’re doing something fishy. I’m just saying.

WWE Champion vs. Universal Champion
Big E (+300) vs. Roman Reigns (-500)

It says something about how much people like Big E that the odds here are this close. Roman’s typically a much bigger favorite than this, and for good reason. He’s been trucking fools for over 400 days as Universal Champion, and there isn’t a soul on the SmackDown roster that looks like a threat to take that title off of him. You might tell me “Drew McIntyre”, but even that seems like a bit of a pipe dream at this point.

Big E at least has something of a chance. He’s been all over the media making appearances on various programs leading into this show. Comes off well, like a good dude. You could see him in the top guy role for some time. Doesn’t mean he’s going to beat Roman Reigns, but Big E’s future seems bright. He should at least remain employed for the rest of 2021. As for Roman Reigns, one wonders if this #Rock25 tease is leading anywhere for him.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the PPV! Or the football or whatever else you plan on doing Sunday night.


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