Welcome back to the 411 Fact or Fiction – Wrestling Edition, I’m your host, Jake Chambers. Every week, Fact or Fiction poses statements on pro-wrestling history, culture and current events and then challenges writers to explain why they believe each statement is totally factual or completely fiction. No middle ground will be tolerated!
This week’s guest is: Ken Hill.
Long time contributor here at 411, Ken Hill has been absent from writing a regular column recently, but his always fun and complex entries to the Roundtable event preview columns and Fact or Fiction contributions have been sorely missed.
Deft at word play and deep with analysis, Ken always approaches the big news and rumours with fierce opinions. The man has got a lot to say, so let’s see what kind of “Kennection” we can all have today!
Statement #1: You can make the case for Seth Rollins as WWE Wrestler of the Year.
Jake Chambers: FACT – In 2019, being the “Wrestler of the Year” doesn’t require doing a John Cena level of work anymore. The WWE narrative is so fragmented now that there’s no space for one person to be the subject of all TV shows punctuated by monthly PPV main event championship matches. So, therefore, Seth Rollins should be considered the WWE wrestler of the year primarily based on how he got to cleanly defeat Brock Lesnar, an event they’ve been building up to since 2012. Sure, it didn’t stick, but it’s not from Rollins’ lack of effort. Other options, I suppose, would be Lesnar, Kofi Kingston, Becky Lynch and Bray Wyatt, but each of them have had a more awkward year than Rollins.
Ken Hill: FACT – You could make the case for a number of WWE performers to be WWE’s cream of the crop for 2019. Kofi came out of nowhere to capture fans’ attention and hearts with a stellar first half of 2019, including a career-affirming victory over Daniel Bryan at WM 35 and an overall solid six-month run as WWE Champion. Becky firmly established herself at the top of WWE’s Women’s Division by pinning Ronda Rousey at Mania in what would be Rousey’s first shocking pinfall loss in WWE and coming out with both Women’s Championships, and has ruled the roost on RAW since. Wyatt came out strong in the second half of 2019, having completely reinvented and reinvigorated himself into a hilariously horrific character called “The Fiend” and took it all the way (with a couple serious road bumps) to a Universal Title victory.
With all of that in mind, what makes me consider Seth for the honor of WWE’s best of 2019 is his consistency. Rollins has remained consistent from the top of 2019 to now; winning the Royal Rumble, dethroning Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title at WM 26, mowing through Corbin (en route to getting upended by Lesnar and his “boom-box” briefcase), and fighting back a cavalcade of on-screen injuries to pick up an even more affirming win over Lesnar at SummerSlam to erase any suspicion of his Mania victory being some kind of fluke. The only real hiccup was his feud with “The Fiend”, but Rollins himself can hardly be blamed for WWE’s haphazard booking decisions, and he has even managed to parley that malarkey by channeling his “passive-aggressive douchbag” Twitter persona into his on-screen character in recent weeks. Say what you will about his off-screen habits and personality, but the fact that Rollins is still on the map as an effective top-tier talent going into the end of 2019 speaks volumes for his overall longevity as one of WWE’s best and brightest performers.
Statement #2: The NJPW tag team wrestling division is terrible.
Jake Chambers: FACT – Every year at this time, New Japan puts on their monotonous, dragging World Tag League series of shows that oxymoronically highlights how a company that produces mostly tag team matches has no real tag team “division”. Of the 16 teams in the round robin tournament maybe only 4 or 5 are legitimate regular 2-man tag teams. All these other random teams will rarely team again in this division once the tournament is over. The sucking of the IWGP Tag Championships in general isn’t new – NJPW fans have had to suffer through extended championship reigns of GBH, Ten-Koji, Gallows & Anderson and the Killer Elite Squad in recent memory – but it just bears repeating at this time of year.
Ken Hill: FACT – I can’t deny that there is an alarming lack of depth in NJPW’s tag division right now. Outside of G.O.D., EVIL & Sanada, Roppongi 3K, and Bullet Club, there is very little in terms of a proper pool of tag team talent. That’s not to say NJPW doesn’t have the ability to put some solid teams together, like Juice & Finlay and ZBJ & Taichi and Chase Owens & anyone but Fale, but the fact that a company that banks on multi-man matches to further storylines and maintain the promotion’s overall continuity struggles to put together a decent tag division year in and year out is quite paradoxical, to say the least.
Statement #3: Chris Jericho as the first ever AEW Champion was clearly the right decision.
Jake Chambers: FICTION – AEW clearly wanted to attract fans who think the WWE has a great formula for a TV show, but just don’t utilize the fan favourite wrestlers properly. That’s a fair thesis, but arguing it with 2019 Chris Jericho is weak. I think if they’d gone with Cody or Kenny Omega, or even Ambrose, PAC or Page, then the mission statement of the company would have been clearer and/or unique. Instead we’ve got Jericho as a poor man’s Terry Funk in ECW and a roster with about 5-6 wrestlers who could be legit considered the best in the world but are not being put in the position to flex those muscles and show why.
Ken Hill: FACT – I’ll concede the point that putting the title on a 49-year old Chris Jericho wasn’t the BEST way AEW could’ve gone in differentiating themselves from WWE, but it was the smartest move they could have made at the time the AEW World Champion was crowned. Disagree? Let’s look at some of the other options:
Cody? Cody said himself that he and Tony Khan are trying to avoid mistakes of past promotions by going with obvious choices (i.e. owner, owner’s friends, others with complete creative control, etc.) to run with the top championship. Like Goldust leaving for WWE during Dusty’s heyday as WCW booker, Cody wants to avoid the notion of nepotism and ego-centrism, in this case by not putting the title on himself right away, building up to it when the time is truly right. He went out of his way to establish a rule where he can’t ever challenge for the world title (period) if he lost to Jericho at Full Gear, so he seems adamant as such about keeping high-standing members of AEW like himself out of the title picture for the first year or so, which I can appreciate; it gives other AEW talents like Darby Allin and Scorpio Sky the chance to rub elbows with the main event and establish themselves with the live audience and the viewers at home, and Cody can always find a way to ingratiate himself back into the title picture once a solid line of titleholders and title challengers has been established.
Kenny Omega? The whole point of Kenny’s current subplot in AEW is finding himself in unfamiliar territory with the American audience, away from his NJPW family, and struggling to connect with new viewers and make them recognize what truly makes Omega one of the great in-ring technicians of today. Sure, Omega winning the AEW World Title would’ve been a good short-term boost for himself towards that goal, but putting him in that spot right away without him overcoming said strife first leaves it a hollow victory with no foundation, no firmly established character, to build on.
“Hangman” Adam Page? Here’s where things get a little muddled. I had initially hoped Page would overcome Jericho and come away with the AEW Title at ALL OUT, only to be disappointed when he fell just short. I figured at that point he was little more than a stepping stone for Jericho’s rise to bubbly greatness, but after hearing that “Hangman” has formally cut himself off from The Elite, it made me realize that perhaps we are looking at a long-term “coming of age” storyline for Page, where we see him cultivate a legend all his own. Sure, him winning the title then and there over Jericho, with Page’s family at ringside no less, would have been a great feel-good moment for Page and the AEW faithful, but then what? Where does he go from there once the climactic conclusion is reached even before the first proper episode of Dynamite? Point is, I think Page will benefit from a long-term character development where he becomes his own man, not only deepening the bond with his current fans, but gaining a whole new legion of followers in the process. That’s the Page I’d like to see ultimately dethrone Jericho or whomever the AEW World Champion may be at the time, and it’ll certainly be worth the wait.
Jericho as the inaugural AEW World Champion works on a number of different levels; you have someone in Jericho who’s so deeply rooted in the annals of professional wrestling, who truly knows how the business works on camera and behind the scenes, who can tirelessly reinvent himself time and again, and who can wind up an audience as a cocky, charismatic heel even when he’s at the point in his career where he could simply coast on his popularity and cacophony of catchphrases. All in all, Jericho KNOWS how to be at the top of the business, but more importantly he knows how to make others look like they should be on top too. He constantly plugs the other members of his Inner Circle as big-time commodities when most mainstream fans probably wouldn’t have been familiar with the likes of Sammy Guevara or Santana & Ortiz, as well as reaffirming the kind of wrestling beast Jake Hager can and will be for AEW. He made Adam Page look like a million-buck powerhouse in their title match, provided a star-making platform for Darby Allin when the latter literally had both his arms tied behind his back, and helped to showcase/affirm what made Scorpio Sky such a breakout in AEW’s inaugural Tag Title tournament by letting Sky pin Jericho for the latter’s first recorded loss in AEW and later take him on for the world title.
Fact or Fiction – Quick Hits
– one sentence is all you need for this FoF lightning round!
1. Leaping Lanny Poffo was a great poet.
Jake Chambers: FICTION – Poffo might have been good for some novelty greeting cars or a book of dirty limericks, but I preferred his brother’s rhyme style.
Ken Hill: FACT – Poffo’s words were fraught with hilarity,
inspiring yours truly to rhyme with dexterity.
Though they can be groaners and oft for naught,
rhyming trumps trolling, eh Chamber-pot?
2. The WWE Network is legitimately “award-winning”.
Jake Chambers: FICTION – All these bogus American awards are payola schemes, let me know when they win a Pulitzer.
Ken Hill: FACT – To deride WWE for winning a number of localized awards, facetious or otherwise, would cast an unflattering light on those like myself who have also been honored by American-based institutions; the WWE Network has certainly had its share of technical flops and broadcast bombs, but documentary series such as “Day Of” and “Chronicle” have been highly touted throughout the fandom and even outside of it, and it doesn’t surprise me that high-standing members in the digital media world would honor WWE as such.
(Ed. note: Suspect semi-colon use, but I’ll accept it…)
3. You believe that the fan voting was wrong and that, in fact, you defeated Len Archibald in all those past 411mania Fact or Fiction columns.
Jake Chambers: FACT – I never “lost” a FoF head-to-head with any one; combined vote totals was the only true gauge of victory.
Ken Hill: FICTION – While I find it rather… interesting that Mr. Chambers came up with such a particular question that could pertain to either of us, I’ve gone on record saying that I’ve always relished taking on Len in FoF and have enjoyed the fun, intellectual back-and-forth, regardless of whether I’ve come out on the short end by inches or by miles.
Statement #4: Becky Lynch will never main event another Wrestlemania.
Ken Hill: FICTION – There’s always that old adage in professional wrestling, right? “Never say never.” I agree with that sentiment in regards to this. Becky’s a proven commodity for WWE and has been the hallmark performer of the Women’s Division in 2019. She’s at her best when the lights are on brightest, and WrestleMania, regardless of the waning overall quality in recent years, is still WWE’s biggest and brightest stage. I have no doubt Becky will have a big match for the occasion, hopefully against Shayna Baszler, if the teases stemming from Survivor Series are any indication. A knock-down, drag-out technical war between her and Baszler would certainly be worthy of a big-time spot on the Mania card. Main event? I’m all for it.
Jake Chambers: FACT – Even though we constantly speculate on the creative decision-making process of the WWE, it’s all very much a mystery why they do the things they do. Fans were seemingly rabid for years to get a dominant main event run by both Sasha Banks and Braun Strowman, yet WWE held back. Meanwhile, over the last year or so, when no one was really looking for Becky Lynch or Bray Wyatt, they had an interesting moment and WWE pushed them into marketing overdrive. Why WWE thinks one set of wrestlers is better than the other is often vague and doesn’t necessarily pay off. I don’t think Becky Lynch’s “The Man” run hasn’t produced further interesting moments nor any exceptional matches, rather she’s been awkwardly forced as a character and bombed twice in triple threat main events at marque PPVs. In the history of the WWE, only Triple H himself could persevere through that kind of mainstream mediocrity, so unless Becky Lynch is somehow planning to marry Shane McMahon in the future, I doubt she’ll be main eventing another Wrestlemania.
Statement #5: You have something to say about the Mauro Ranallo/Corey Graves situation.
Ken Hill: FACT – This whole debacle just lends more credence to the age-old notion of “think before you speak”, otherwise known in today’s technological age as “read before you hit send.” Corey’s apology to Mauro feels more like someone who got their hand caught in the proverbial cookie jar rather than a truly sincere apology. I can understand Corey was merely trying to stir things up for Survivor Series and his show, but as a professional who’s known Mauro for a number of years, he should’ve known to tread lightly when tossing criticisms at someone in Mauro who’s career and life is a constant emotional and mental balancing act.
On a separate note, I felt like the whole thing was rather pointless in terms of the buildup to Survivor Series anyway; my least favorite aspect of the November PPV is when the different announce teams “feud”, as it takes away from the matches on the PPV with all the bluster, bickering and catcalls. 2005 is a glaring example, with Tazz and Michael Cole versus Coach, Joey Styles and Jerry Lawler and both announce teams being too busy bickering with each other to properly call any part of the main event.
Jake Chambers: FICTION – I feel like the supposed Mauro/JBL situation that turned out to be nothing, along with some recent hyperbolic fan analysis of real life situations being completely off base (Sasha Banks, Kylie Rae), it’s probably best to not bother talking about something that has nothing to do with wrestling and that we don’t know any real facts about.
On the other hand, middle-aged white guys doing monotone hip-hop references in their pro-wrestling commentary is super lame. When Mauro does it’s just as lame as when Ian Riccaboni does it on ROH or Brian Campbell on his CBS Sports wrestling and MMA shows. All these guys should stop, it’s not funny and they don’t look “cool” throwing that in. It feels like when you see a rapping granny or some like local used car dealership commercial from the ’90s with an old guy in a backwards hat and a clock around his neck doing the Red Hot Chili Pepper arms while rapping couplets like “Shaq” and “attack”. This is not a delicate issue, that shit sucks and they should all be shamed until they stop.
Statement #6: Watching pro-wrestling makes you feel happy most of the time.
Ken Hill: FACT – It’s certainly hard to remain optimistic after 18+ years as a wrestling fan, but I find a way. In this case, stepping away from doing “The Wrestling Kennection” for the past year has given me the chance to really step back and rekindle the “casual fun” aspect of wrestling, enjoying PPVs without having to worry about recaps and analysis, as well as gathering around the proverbial water cooler with some of my fellow DHL workers to discuss the latest happenings on WWE and AEW shows (and bearing witness to some of the most off-key Ric Flair and Randy Savage impressions ever). I think the key is balance. It’s about making wrestling a small part of your life rather than let it dominate your mindset like I did for the past 5+ years.
Jake Chambers: FICTION – I’m going full circle today and blaming my general unhappy feeling when watching wrestling to the end of John Cena’s career. In the absentee-Brock championship era, the WWE (and by influence all mainstream wrestling) is now like watching HBO’s The Deuce as if it was written by people behind The Big Bang Theory. I suppose this is an attempt to keep up with a multi-tasking, attention-span-less younger generation, except the WWE’s core audience is probably little kids and old fucks like me who want everything to be like it was in the ’80s. This is why I was happiest watching story-first, business-later Lucha Underground, or when NJPW, Beyond or NXT UK just focus on pure wrestling matches. However, the WWE still gets most of my attention, and I’d feel a lot happier if they could find one clear star to focus the whole promotion around.
However, I’m glad for one thing that Ken Hill has “found his smile” again as a wrestling fan, and it was a true pleasure to have him back at 411 for another Fact or Fiction column!
Let’s hope Ken finds some time to dust off his quill and calligraphy up some new content for us over here sometime soon! In the meantime, I’m sure he’d also appreciate it if you’d check out his award-winning legacy YouTube series “The Wrestling Kennection”, even if he’s no longer the host.
Message from Ken: While I’ve stepped away from hosting “The Wrestling Kennection” in the past year, I still do my best to support both the show and its current host, my hard-working best friend Dan Kaufman as we fast approach 300 episodes! You can do the same by subscribing to The Wrestling Kennection’s Official YouTube Channel!