Sonnen Set to Return; Will Fight on UFC 136 Card

It was reported earlier this week that the captivating Chael Sonnen is finally free of all suspensions (and most legal troubles) and will return to fight Brian Stann at UFC 136 in Houston, Texas. For those that may not recall, Sonnen’s last fight was a Middleweight Title shot against Anderson Silva in August of last year in which he thumped the champion for 4 1/2 rounds before being lured into a triangle submission. Not only was Sonnen regarded as having had the fight won on points up to that moment, but he also quickly asserted himself as a budding superstar by dominating Silva in a manner no one had seen before in the octagon.

The video embedded above is an interview done by MMA weekly with Dana White regarding Sonnen’s issues with the California State Athletic Commission. In regards to this report, the main commentary to focus on comes from about the 2:50 mark onward. At that point of the interview White discusses the window of opportunity that Sonnen had presented to him by his performance against Silva and how the punishments imposed by the CSAC cut Sonnen’s chances to become a star and to make a hefty income. The point is actually two-fold as not only would Sonnen had benefitted personally, but the UFC itself would’ve had a budding Middleweight feud at a time when the division was in dire need of a threat to Silva’s reign. With Yushin Okami next on deck for Silva as a serviceable opponent, Nate Marquardt chased from the division after poor performances, and an elite level GSP still refusing to move up 15 pounds, a dominant returning performance from Sonnen could hopefully ignite interest in both the division and in a feud with Silva.

Psych 101: Hulk Hogan vs. Sting, Starrcade 1997 (Part Two)

The latter part of 1997 was an epic turning point in the world of professional wrestling. WWF mainstay Bret Hart had defected to “greener” pastures, deciding to take on a large contract rather than remain under the wing of Vince McMahon. Bret, who was WWF Champion at the time, had hoped to leave on his terms without having to put over and drop the belt to Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series in November. Instead, Bret would retain the title through some manner of schmoz finish and then drop the belt the following evening on Monday Night Raw. Vince McMahon had allegedly reluctantly agreed to this behind closed doors.

As the main event unfolded, Bret was put into a Sharpshooter submission hold by Shawn Michaels, which was Bret’s own finish, and cited much ire from the Montreal crowd. As the Hitman went to continue the spot as devised and reverse the hold, Vince McMahon came running to the ring, ordering the match to be called and for Shawn Michaels to be given the title. Bret stared in amazement and shock as Michaels fled from the ring in an aggravated and perplexed demeanor. With garbage beginning to flood the ring with a chorus of boos, Hart would spit on Vince McMahon and spell out “WCW” in the air towards the hard camera. In a highly debated “shoot,” Bret Hart’s legacy in the WWF was effectively put on hold and he would be mocked in the WWF/E for nearly a decade following.

Both the WWF and WCW would use this event to change the course of their companies. In the WWF, the “Mr. McMahon” character was ignited versus the rising “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and the Shawn Michaels-led DeGeneration-X would gain more momentum heading into WrestleMania 14. In WCW, the tarnished image of Bret Hart would be used as a tool interjected into the nWo vs. Sting storyline. One company would grow stronger from their creative take on the situation, the other would begin a slippery slope that it would never quite recover from.

Starrcade 1997 was meant to be a turning point for the battle between the nWo and the WCW roster. With Sting returning to assert himself as the necessary combatant to Hulk Hogan, the remaining talent that hadn’t crossed to the dark side used The Stinger as a rallying point. If Sting can get past his demons to return to glory, then certainly the other talent can do the same. The two important clashes between nWo and WCW on the undercard to Hogan-Sting were Diamond Dallas Page versus Curt Hennig for the United States Title, and an encounter between Eric Bischoff and Larry Zbyszko with control of Monday Nitro on the line. Bret Hart would make his first impact on the show as special referee for that match.

From the in-ring standpoint, DDP defeated Hennig to bring the US title back into the realm of WCW. In the worked-shoot world, Zbyszko scored a disqualification victory over Bischoff (via ruling of Bret Hart) and earned WCW control once again of their flagship program. Momentum was clearly gaining on the WCW side and the tyranny of the nWo was heavily reeling. All that remained in their favor was the World Heavyweight Title that Hulk Hogan still had in his possession.

WCW certainly made a spectacle of Sting’s return to the ring. Following the typical entrance of Hogan, fans were met with a lightning show depicting a scorpion crawling its way around the skies of the MCI Center in Washington, DC. No longer an outcast to his home, Sting would enter to the ring through the entrance way, almost as if he had granted himself the privilege to finally exist among the rest of the wrestlers. In grand fashion and to much enthusiasm from the crowd, Sting entered the ring and finally stood face-to-face with the man that helped orchestrate the destruction of his character and the destruction of the only wrestling company he had ever known. It was in this moment that loyalty had to shrine through on either side of the coin. Whether it be from the man to the company, or the company to the man, Sting was owed his retribution, and the company owed it to themselves to let him have it.

Somewhere along the road, however, the company lost sight of what it was trying to accomplish. Whether it is attributed to the politics of Hogan, the naivety of the creative team, or the cockiness of Eric Bischoff as a competitor to Vince McMahon’s WWF, the conclusion of the Hogan-Sting contest would be nothing more than a let down to anyone who followed the masterful angle to that point.

The body of the match went along as typically would’ve been expected, even with the usual heel referee of Nick Patrick governing over it. With the limitations of a worker like Hogan up against the time off Sting had for the sake of the angle, there was really never any expectation of a knock down-drag out war that could really embody the nature of the angle. Hogan worked with his usual eye pokes and back rakes, and Sting worked in flares of emotion and babyface excitement to briefly burst out of the self-loathing character he was portraying. If anything, Sting’s subtle bursts were very well done by situating himself still within the context of his character, but also exposing glimpses of the old Sting to those that wanted to see him burst from his shell.

The build of the match fell apart following one of Sting’s only true hope spots. After hitting Sting with a vertical suplex, Hogan attempted to heel up the crowd and rile them by turning his back to the babyface and giving them a double bicep flex. Sting, meanwhile, had no-sold the move, returned to his feet, gave the icon a crotch chop gesture and proceeded to beat Hollywood down in the corner. As the fans rallied behind Sting, Hogan would end the barrage with a simple eye poke, followed by dumping Sting outside the ring.

Hogan would then take Sting around the ring and put more and more heat on the situation. He whipped Sting into the post, mocked him with his own t-shirt, beat him with his own bat, sent him reeling over and over again. In one shining moment, Sting reversed an irish whip, sending Hogan into the steel barrier. With a running start, Sting took flight to attempt a Stinger Splash on the champion, but was instead met with the cold steel as Hogan ducked away at the last second. The beating continued on the floor until Hogan decided to bring the match back into the ring.

Here was the moment for the tables to turn. Here, after over a year away from the ring and after over a year of the nWo crushing the WCW roster, here was the moment for Sting to break free from the pit he was stuck in. After being beaten down and mocked all the way around the ring for the past 5 minutes, a journey that summed up the character’s journey over the past year, now was the time to fire back. This was the moment for WCW’s savior, for its’ conquering hero, to return to form, howl at the rafters and once again assume his role as WCW Champion and for WCW to assume its role as the dominant faction.

Just as the moment was right to allow the crowd to become unglued and cheer on the man they had wanted to see destroy Hogan for 14 months, Hogan would hit Sting with a big boot. Hogan cupped his ear at each side of the ring as Sting was motionless on the mat. As Hogan bounced off the ropes, everyone assumed Sting would move out of the way and then begin the epic comeback that was due. Instead, he was met with the same leg drop that other competitors to Hogan had met metaphorically in the past. Hogan went for the cover as the crowd awaited the gigantic kickout that Sting was sure to do. Nick Patrick went down for his patented fast three count, except this time it wasn’t fast at all.

1 …2 …3. Hulk Hogan had just pinned Sting or, the company man that was due his title run was sabotaged, or the damned babyface that was to the conquer the unstoppable evil was silenced. The crowd was confused, as was anyone else who understood how effective story telling should unfold.

With Bret Hart still at ringside, the Hitman interjected once again to stop the time keeper from ringing the bell. Audibly screaming “I’m not gonna let it happen again” in reference to both Nick Patrick’s fast counts and his own Montreal Screw job, the Hitman laid waste to Patrick and threw Hogan back in the ring for the match to restart with himself as the new referee. Two minutes behind schedule and finally occurring at a time where whatever happened was essentially worthless, Sting roared with a Stinger Splash on Hogan in the corner. Buff Bagwell and Scott Norton of the nWo ran out to intervene, with Sting dropping both with hard right hands, and Norton having noticeably no enthusiasm to be featured for a brief appearance.

With the henchmen done with, Sting hit Hogan with another Stinger Splash, then followed with a Scorpion Deadlock, seemingly in ode to Bret. Bret quickly checked on Hogan who then submitted in rather quick fashion. Sting was crowned the new WCW Heavyweight Champion as the entire WCW locker room made their way to the ring to celebrate their hero.

WCW caught a lot of grief back then for the booking of the match just as they continue to today. In context of the story, the obvious route was for Sting to return and overcome the oppression that Hogan and the nWo had been pushing on WCW for the past year. After a year of waiting, of zipping down from the rafters, of taking out the nWo during their beatdowns of others performers, this was the moment for the Sting character to finally win in an “official” standing in the world of professional wrestling. This was the epic, climactic battle that rather than assert Sting as the worthy victor, instead condemned him further as just another guy that couldn’t get the job done.

Imagine, if you will, that Rocky doesn’t win versus Apollo Creed. The underdog, spit on his entire way through, given grief from everybody and from all angles, comes to the climax of the biggest boxing match of his life, and fails to overcome the odds. This was WCW’s “Rocky,” and rather than put the crown on the character in the most logical manner, they instead opted to screw the character over and deny both that character of his proper retribution, and the fans of the ending that they couldn’t wait to see happen.

Assuming the finish was done at the behest of Hogan, either for his own political propaganda or the fear of his character looking weak, everything that occured after the first pinfall could’ve happened logically without needing that first pinfall to occur.

– Bret Hart had no reason to be involved in the match, period. He was useful for the Bischoff-Zbyszko match to help WCW reclaim Nitro, but the only purpose he served in the Sting-Hogan match was to simply be used as a reminder of what occurred in Montreal a month earlier. He offered no real advantage to the WCW side of things in that context. Any WCW talent could’ve been appointed in the role that he was if they had really believed in working that into the finish of the match. In fact, in context of the year-long story arc, it would’ve made more sense to have a “true” WCW talent as Bret should theoretically have no moral interest in either side of the battle at this point.

– The run-in from nWo talent would’ve been logical and expected before Sting would get his pinfall. That was the M.O. of the faction from day one. Sting could’ve easily thwarted their attempts on him during a comeback on Hogan, in fact it would’ve added to Sting’s prowess as a Super Babyface that was finally going to save WCW and himself. Furthermore, the laziness of the run-in is quite unsettling to watch. Scott Norton in particular is very clearly uninterested with playing his role for the run-in. He strolls slowly to the ring, enters extremely slowly through the ropes, takes one punch, bumps, rolls out, then is noticeably fine on the outside of the ring as he walks at an agonizingly slow pace and clearly watched Sting continue to finish off his faction’s leader. If this was done on purpose as a jab to WCW for his dislike of the match and angle, so be it, but there needs to be commitment to the story you’re telling, no matter how small your role is in it.

– The crowd erupts in a massive pop after Sting is declared champion. It could be pure speculation, but the pop seemed to be in reaction to the expectation that Sting was expected to beat Hogan anyhow. It doesn’t appear the crowd was going nuts for that entire finish sequence, but rather going nuts because they finally saw what they were waiting all night for: Sting to defeat his demons, defeat Hogan, and defeated the nWo.

The holes in the match and the story weren’t just noticeable to a keen eye, but also noticeable to the average fan. It was following Starrcade 1997, and also in conjunction with a number of other questionable booking moves, that WCW would start to lose its superiority over the WWF. While it would be unjust to purely peg the booking of this match as the sole reason for WCW’s decline, it did strike a major blow to their progress. From this point, the nWo just continued to exist in a limbo state, Sting’s character moved in an undefinable direction, and Bret Hart just existed on a roster of guys where a good percentage did exactly the same – just existed. The failure to progress led WCW into stagnation and stagnation was a trait that would cling to them until 2001.

– Nick

And It’s Off to Toronto

Last night, Jon Jones continued his domination of the Light Heavyweight division by defeating champion Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua to claim the title. Jones was entering the match as a highly touted favorite, with some feeling he was even over-hyped. However, a little over a minute into the first round, Jones executed a beautiful takedown that seemed to instantly break the spirit of the champion. For the remaining two rounds Jones enjoyed some target practice before landing a knee and punches that took Rua out for good. The moment will surely be a lasting memory for Jones, the match itself, however, may be quickly forgotten as the UFC moves forward to the big showdown on April 30th in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, between welterweight titan Georges St. Pierre and the only remaining threat in the division, former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Jake Shields.

Mid-way through the show last night was the debut of the vignette for the match, which you’ll find embedded above. The piece is quite masterfully done, as have been the vignettes for previous GSP fights, most notably his recent destruction of Josh Koscheck months ago. Whether it’s the influence of GSP’s people, or just the brilliance of the UFC production staff, or both, these videos wonderfully sum up the story of both men leading to their battle.

The opening for Shields reveals his accomplishments through his career to date. There are titles, medals, and headlines, all summing up what Shields has accomplsihed in his career to date. He rolls with a partner on the mat, applying an armbar amidst shadows. Small steaks of light allow a clear enough vision to witness Shields transition over into a rear naked choke. He quietly emerges victor in a “smaller” promotion over the likes of Jason Miller, Yushin Okami, Robbie Lawler and Dan Henderson. They are certainly no cast of characters to sneeze at, yet Shields remains in the background to a larger MMA athlete.

St. Pierre enters in grand fashion with an almost flamboyant display, executing a jumping spin kick. No partner to roll with, no grind on the mat, but rather a kip up off the mat in a further exhibition of athleticism. A shot of Josh Koscheck’s battered face floods the screen, and then a witness to the dismantling of the man who chirped endlessly of ending the reign of GSP. The crowd stands and roars, but Shields only casually stands up and exits the stands to the tunnels of the arena. Once there, yet again alone and unnoticed, Shields passes by St. Pierre and the cameras and media that surround the victorious Welterweight Champion. Each man glances at the other, neither breaking stride, and continue on their paths.

In one minute and one second, the UFC was quickly able to capture the essence of both men as they head towards their climax on April 30th. One man, GSP, is the highly regarded champion. He’s has accomplished all he can and dominated all that have challenged him. He has earned attention and glorification for what he has done in the past several years in the UFC. Arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, St. Pierre is on another level that seems virtually unattainable just as his skills leave him almost untouchable.

The other man, the challenger Jake Shields, watches from the shadows as he accumulates victories and trophies, none of which matter or compare when going up against GSP for a UFC title. He trains and continues to grind, waiting for his moment to shine on the ultimate stage for the ultimate belt (no pun intended).

The fight, and both characters involved in it, are captured so well in that one little minute, that it’s almost unnecessary to even know anything else of either fighter. Something even more impressive, especially given the purchase of Strikeforce last week, is the ability for the vignette to subtlely send a message that “Accomplishing anything here in UFC is the pinnacle, no other promotion matters” without burying any other promotion. The video is an impressive microchasm of Dana White’s ability as a promoter. Hopefully the fight itself will live up to the polish of the vignette that promotes it so well.

– Nick

UFC Snapshot: Jones Title Shot, Faber Makes UFC Debut

Jon Jones is arguably the fastest rising and improving star that the UFC has under its banner. After beginning his UFC career with decision victories over Andre Gusmao and Ultimate Fighter I alum Stephan Bonnar, “Bones” would go on a tear through the UFC Light Heavyweight Division. Jake O’Brien would fall to Jones in two rounds at UFC 100, followed by a hiccup of a disqualification loss to Matt Hamill, which remains the only tarnish on his record. The Hamill fight wasn’t even a loss in the true sense of the word, as Jones was dominating the accomplished wrestler before throwing a “12-6” elbow to the head which had been recently dubbed illegal. Hamill was unable to continue after the blow and thus the fight was called. Jones, however, as respectful and humble as he is skilled, took the loss in stride and promised to work harder for his next fight.

The next contest for Jones was UFC vet Brandon Vera on the UFC debut on the Versus network. All the experience in the world, however, wouldn’t stop Vera’s obrital bone from crushing under the force of a Jones elbow. Bones only let the man last half a round. A short four-and-a-half months later, Jones would make similiar work of Vladimir Matyushenko: Round one, elbows. Jones was drawing quick comparisons to the domination of Anderson Silva in the Middleweight Division with fans speculating that he should earn a title shot to match his rising status. Dana White understood this quite well and chose to refrain from injecting Jones into the title picture too quickly. Instead, White made a point to mention that he would hold off on Jones for another year and see where his progression was then.

Perhaps regarded as the first “true” test of his career, Jones was pitted against the undefeated Ultimate Fighter winner, Ryan Bader, at UFC 126 back in February. Bader had recently defeated the former PRIDE fighter Antonio Rogerio Nogueira by using his superior wrestling techniques and improved striking. Where Bader had dominated with his strength and size in the past, he met his match with an equally strong and incredibly elusive Jon Jones. Jones used Bader’s own game plan against him, controlling Bader’s body and eventually submitting him in the 2nd round.

Dana White at the moment was facing a light heavyweight dilemma. The champion, Shogun Rua, was set to defend the belt against perennial contender and former champion Rashad Evans. Evans, however, was forced to withdraw due to an injury in training. Having seen Jones dominate another title contender, White jumped at the oppurtunity in the post-fight interview and asked Jones if he would take the title shot in March against Shogun. Jones excitedly accepted.

Mauricio “Shogun” Rua’s entrance into the UFC wasn’t quite as regarded as that of Jones. A highly toutued acquisition from the purchase of Pride: Fighting Championships, Rua was a top performer than many UFC fans were excited to see finally compete in the States. With victories in Pride over such fighters as “Rampage” Jackson, Alistair Overeem and the aforementioned Nogueira, many fans were expecting a light heavyweight title shot rather quickly. Instead, Shogun was given a fight with Ultimate Fighter I winner Forrest Griffin at UFC 76. Meant to be a “test” fight, Rua went from title contention to stepping stone as Griffin shocked the MMA world and submitted Rua late in the 3rd round.

As Griffin went on to defeat Rampage Jackson and become the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, Rua found himself removed from the title picture and having to claw his way back up. It would be a little over a year before he would get an oppurtunity to prove himself worthy of the title. To achieve his high status once again, Shogun had to fight his way through two UFC veterans and hall of famers, and he did so in impressive fashion.

Fans would be privileged to see Rua defeat Mark Coleman by TKO at UFC 93. He would make even quicker work of former Light Heavyweight Champion Chuck Liddell, TKO’ing the Iceman in round one of UFC 97. Now back to form, Rua was awarded a title shot against Champion Lyoto Machida at UFC 104. It was a long 25 months since the defeat at the hands of Forrest Griffin. The two waged war for five full rounds, each round closer than the previous. When the dust cleared and the score cards were turned in, a chorus of boos flooded the arena as Lyoto Machida was declared the winner and still champion.

All the work Rua put in would not be lost, though. Dana White realized the severity of the situation and the potential draw of another Machida-Rua contest and decided to book a rematch for the title. Much like his first three UFC fights, Rua’s two against Machida would move in the same progression. Fight one – Go the distance, reach defeat. Fight two – One round, one winner. At UFC 133 on May 8, 2010, Mauricio Rua finally achieved the title that could’ve been his two years prior as he defeated Lyoto Machida by KO midway through the first round.

To perhaps put the Light Heavyweight Title fight tonight in a tag line, you could say it’s “Adversity vs. Domination.” The borderline unstoppable Jon Jones seems heir apparent to the throne. He’s made short work of every fighter he has come across, and done so in absolutely dominating fashion. The most impressive thing to note in Jones’ fights are that he doesn’t simply strike his way to victory, he dominates his opponents physically, imposes his will, and then strikes the death blows while in a superior position. Jones has incredible striking ability, but he wins his fights by using overwhelming ground and pound and forcing his opponents into a defensive position that they can’t escape. He’s quick, powerful, smart, and getting better with each passing day, a hard combination to overcome for any fighter.

Rua’s biggest advantage could be that he is both very experienced and legitimately the toughest opponent yet for Jones. As noted, he’s struggled through his UFC career, having both moments of sheer domination, and moments of catastrophy. What it may boil down to for Rua’s camp is which Shogun comes to fight tonight. While absolutely deserving of the title he currently holds, his wins over aging stars like Mark Coleman and Chuck Liddell seem more foregone conclusion rather than absolute assertion that he is capable of handling a young buck like Jones.

We here at DBB endorse victory of Jon ‘Bones’ Jones.

Urijah Faber Makes UFC Debut

Another draw for the card is the official UFC debut of “The California Kid” Urijah Faber. Faber had been a dominate fighter at 135, and a poster boy for the WEC. Up until the purchase of WEC by Zuffa, it seemed unfortunate that a fighter like Faber wouldn’t have a big league outlet like UFC to compete in. He’s always had all the elements of being a major star to promote: Dominate fighter, great hair, great look – he’s made to be a central figure to promote around. Now, with the absorbing of the WEC promotion, Faber will compete on his first UFC card against Eddie Wineland. The California Kid is carrying some momentum, coming off a first round submission victory over Takeya Mizugaki from back in November. Wineland, by contrast, is barreling through with a freight train, riding a four match winning streak, with most recently a first round knockout via body slam. Faber’s recent losses have only been to the like of elite talent such as Mike Brown and Jose Aldo, so one would assume he could outclass the rising Wineland to victory.

Fights To Watch

Nate Marquardt is still wandering around in the Middleweight title picture. After his 21 second knockout of Damien Maia in 2009, Marquardt was lobbying pretty hard for Anderson Silva’s head, claiming himself the proverbial giant killer. His ability didn’t quite match his hype as Chael Sonnen defeated him by decision to swipe the title shot away from him. Since then, Nate earned a questionable TKO victory over Rousimar Palhares back in September, followed by a coma-inducing split decision loss to Yushin Okami in November. Tonight he faces the 13-4 Dan Miller, who is riding a two-fight win streak. Miller is on the rise, but Marquardt needs to pick up a victory here to even dream of getting back into the Middleweight title picture.

Mirko CroCop takes on Brendan Schaub in a heavyweight bout. Since the Pride merger years ago, CroCop never lived up to the reputation his built himself over in Japan. His last fight was an excurciating romp with Frank Mir, where Mir chose to find a way to out-strike the KO legend to prove a point, rather than possibly finish him quickly on the ground. It’s hard to say whether it’s CroCop’s age that’s slowing him down or his motivation to continue to fight, but either way Brendan Schaub seems a perfect fit as an opponent. The Ultimate Fighter runner-up will either be made a spectacle of, in hopes that the old Mirko will come out to shine, or will pull out a win over the former PRIDE Champion and give himself a small space to stand amongst the heavyweight title contenders.

View the remaining card here:

We will be live tweeting during the event, so be sure to check us out on twitter @donnybrookboys

– Nick

Dana White on UFC Purchasing Strikeforce; Wears Disgustingly Awesome T-Shirt

Click Here For Ariel Helwani’s Interview with Dana White

Ariel Helwani once agains nabs an interview that gets the world buzzing. This guy is trying to be some kind of MMA Geraldo or something. First he gets the infamous Undertaker-Brock exchange following Brock’s loss to Cain Velasquez, where everybody and their brother was talking about Brock abandoning MMA for a short period to work WrestleMania this year. Now, he’s the first to interview Dana and break the major news that Strikeforce has been gobbled up by the constantly growing empire that Dana and Zuffa are building.

The incredible interview has been linked or embedded above, so there’s no need to recap what Dana’s saying word-for-word. However, the most repeated phrase that Dana kept going back to is that, “It’s business as usual.”

Dana White and Vince McMahon draw constant comparisons within the pro wrestling fanbase. Dana often appears the prototypical model of what a perfect business man in the world of combat entertainment should be, whereas Vince tends to catch much wrath for the direction he chooses to take his WWE brand in. Arguably not as earth-shaking as the purchase of Pride: Fighting Championships, the acquisition of Strikeforce still amounts to another vast talent pool that could potentially be used in the UFC. If anyone reading this news didn’t instantly think “Fedor vs. Brock,” then it’s likely best you’re not booking any kind of promotion. Dana, however, has chosen to make it clear that this is a “purchase” in the truest sense of the word and not a merger of brands.

The news of this breaks almost exactly 10 years to the day that World Championship Wrestling was purchased by Vince McMahon and the WWF. Back at that time, there were several rumors floating around about what would happen with the merger. There was talk of WCW having its own timeslot on another channel, as well as buzzing about when or where the big clash of WCW “stars” versus WWF “superstars” would take place. As it would turn out, the WCW talent would be rushed onto WWF television, be featured amidst controversy for the talent selected, the major names were unavailable to be involved because of Time Warner contracts, and ultimately the entire WCW brand and legacy was quickly buried within 6 months of the greatest purchase in pro wrestling history.

Perhaps it’s a difference in finanacial standings at the time, or perhaps it’s just a difference of business strategy in general, but rather than execute a full-on absorbing of Strikeforce-contracted talent and instantly mesh divisions of both organizations, Dana has instead decided to allow Strikeforce to continue “business as usual.” Strikeforce will maintain their television contracts and deals, Strikeforce talent will be booked as they are within the context of Strikeforce events, and all business dealings will remain at the hands of Scott Coker. Strikeforce will remain Strikeforce, plain and simple.

What Dana realizes, which may have been a gigantic err in the ways of Vince McMahon with WCW, is that the Strikeforce brand has its own following and does a respectable amount of positive business by itself. It would be seem ill-advised to take a rival company, purchase it, and then instantly revoke any money-making ability it has had or could continue to have. Granted at the time of the WCW purchase the company was doing subpar television ratings and making horrid revenue off pay-per-view, but it was been well stated and theorized that whatever audience WCW did have in its final days, that those that watched Nitro and Thunder didn’t flip over to the WWF product and add to those ratings. They just disappeared, perhaps never to watch wrestling, or Vince McMahon’s version of wrestling, ever again.

There is potentially a degree of the Strikeforce fanbase that loves that brand of MMA and may not take any interest in the UFC’s brand of MMA. There may be Fedor or Overeem fans that only care to watch their matches and no one else. Rather than risk alienating that fan base, or restructuring the Showtime television deal, or re-negotiate the working relationship with K-1, Strikeforce will remain intact to make money as it has. Two entities are entirely maintained and allowed to live on their own merit. If perhaps down the road Strikeforce begins to fall apart, then I’m sure Dana would adjust the situation to best benefit all parties involved. At the moment, however, there is no reason to act in haste and destroy what Strikeforce has built itself into.

Still, this is some big, big news. Dana just continues to make major moves. He’s like Bradley Cooper, just popping them pills, banging fine hunnies, and telling the world of MMA what’s up. And wearing the sickest T-Shirts this side of Hot Topic. I mean, seriously, this dude doesn’t need fine threats. He just needs an 8×10 of Lennox Lewis, an iron, and a fresh shave and he’s ready to buy up half the United States.

– Nick

Psych 101: Hulk Hogan vs. Sting, Starrcade 1997 (Part One)

The internet had been abuzz lately about the 2.21.11 vignettes that had been running on WWE TV the past month. Realists had assumed it was for the promotion of a returning Undertaker, while wishful-thinkers were hoping it to be the long awaited WWE debut for NWA-WCW loyalist, Sting. The timing would’ve seemed to make sense for the latter.

WWE is creeping up on WrestleMania, which is being held this year in Atlanta, Georgia. If Calgary, Alberta is the wrestling capitol of the world, then ATL is its second city. It’s the old stomping grounds for legendary names of the nitty-gritty style of hard-working wrestling. Performers like Ric Flair, Lex Luger, Arn Anderson, Great Muta, Vader, Steve Austin, the Steiners, Ricky Steamboat, Steven Regal and yes, Sting, made a name for themselves by being showcased for the NWA, Jim Crockett Promotions, and eventually Ted Turner’s WCW.

The glitz and glam of Vince McMahon’s north eastern product didn’t resonate as well in the heart of Georgia. While WCW did have its’ fair share of outrageous characters and crazy storylines, the mainstays of the promotion were those on the roster that threw on the solid-color tights, laced up the boots, and put on as good of an in-ring product as they could muster. Legendary altercations and acclaimed matches soon developed between Ric Flair and Sting, Sting and Vader, Austin and Steamboat. It wasn’t too long before the WWF began making moves and swooning various talent away from Ted Turner.

The earliest get for Vince McMahon was the acquisition of WCW’s World Champion Ric Flair. Flair had been having creative and financial differences with WCW President Jim Herd, which ultimately led to his departure in 1991, as well as Flair’s appearance on WWF programming with the WCW World Title. Lex Luger was soon to follow as were the Steiners Brothers, and previous to them the Road Warriors of Hawk and Animal. Despite the mass exodus, Sting remained on the WCW roster.

As time passed into the mid-90s, WCW began to fire back by acquiring aging WWF talent. Former WrestleMania headliners in Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage were signed to deals, Ric Flair was also recovered from enemy territory. The WWF would sign up Vader, Steve Regal, Mick Foley, and a budding superstar named Steve Austin. WCW, though, in a very radical move, would sign up WWF headliners Kevin “Diesel” Nash and Scott “Razor Ramon” Hall in 1996. Sting, as noted previously, remained Sting under the WCW banner.

The injection of Hall and Nash would breakground for the risky concept of these two talents “invading” WCW, as if to presume they were both still under a WWF banner. This would move into an epic heel turn for the iconic Hulk hogan babyface character and launch a brand name, the nWo, that would catapult WCW out of the shadow of WWF and into its own limelight.

In conjunction with the emerging nWo, an angle was set in place to question the loyalty that Sting had towards the brand of WCW. The nWo procured an imposter Sting that would turn on fellow WCW roster members and leave both the talent and the fans to question Sting’s loyalty to the company. Sting, deeply bothered that his character and moral would come into question after his years of allegiance, retreated into himself. It was an added aspect of the story that displayed an amazing attention to detail. An invading entity threatens your company, those inside the company begin to question who bares allegiance and who will flee, then said invading entity toys with the company by making them believe their strongest remaining asset will be the next to jump. Indeed, in a rare instance, WCW Creative had developed an impressive web of subplots.

After a brief period of reclusiveness, Sting would return once again, this time a visibly changed and broken character. The colorful outfits were gone, traded in for a black and white color scheme. The two colors that were shared by the nWo, yet not proudly worn in the same manner. Sting was accused of being one of the nWo, therefore he would wear the colors that the WCW locker room assumed he would, but they would be adorned as shameful markings of both who he isn’t and who he friends thought he was. The colorful facepaint was gone as well. In its place was a solemn white face with black streaks. Where the former Sting wore colorful combinations with sleek points and sharp edges, the “Crow” face paint had only slim black strokes weaving around the contours of his face. The representation of ever-present tears of sadness for his self-imposed damnation. Compelting the change was a black trench coat and an emotionless demeanor. He was outcast from his friends, yet unclaimed by his enemies. He stood alone as a character looking for redemption from either side of the battle.

Slowly Sting would re-enter the fold from 1996 through 1997. Voiceless and expressionless, he’d often appear by either assaulting nWo members or questioning WCW members of their belief in him. The road to his return began by taking out the imposter Sting that tricked others into damning him. He used a trademark black baseball beat to proceed in either punishing the nWo or seeking acceptance from his former allies. He’d offer the bat to his friends to strike him if they believed him to be of the other’s persuasion, usually they would not go through with the act. Soon a campaign would develop from his actions, as Sting sought a single person to do battle with to relclaim both his own glory and that of WCW: The WCW champion himself, Hulk Hogan.

Week after week, wrestling fans were glued to their TV sets to watch Monday Nitro. What was Sting going to do next? Who was he going to attack to send a message? What’s Hogan and the nWo going to do? The “debut” of the new Sting was a rallying point for WCW to further stake their claim in the ratings war with Monday Night Raw. Turning the tradional idea of heel vs. babyface on its head, your heel was the most iconic and biggest drawing wrestling character up to that point, and your babyface was a self-deprecating lost soul. No “high fives” to the ring, no smiles, no colors. Just a single determination to face a new villian and reclaim personal stature.

Sting would silently campaign for a match with Hogan for well over a year. The slow build to the moment was excruciating. Fans were pining to finally know when and where the two characters would clash in an ultimate moment of defining conflict. They would get their wish in December of 1997, at WCW’s Starrcade pay-per-view event. The betrayal of Hulk Hogan would go to war against the damnation of Sting. This would be a peak in business that would drastically change the progression of the story, as well as strike a blow into WCW’s (up to that point) untarnished booking of the main event angle.

— End Part One —

– Nick

Dear Vic Venom,

Almost a week ago Pro Wrestling Illustrated was kind enough to post a fantastic interview with Chris Jericho on their very free and very public blog. I was very happy about this because I don’t even read Pro Wrestling Illustrated anymore. I didn’t even know that it’s still around. I just figured it stopped publishing when everyone got on the internet.

There is a lot of interesting insight about his depature from WWE and future endeavors, but the best points Jericho makes are related to TNA’s product. Here at DBB, we’re likely going to be very TNA-centric. Now, that isn’t because we like to complain or nitpick, but rather because we, as pro wrestling fans, are more disturbed by the amount of talent TNA has versus the show they actually perform every week.

There has been and continues to be a great deal of hope that TNA can provide a legitimate alternative to WWE’s programming. Since its incarnation in 2002, however, TNA has never quite been able to reach that mark. As a performance show in itself, it has grown from weekly pay-per-views to purchase, to Fox Sports, to Spike TV. The company gobbled up every top independent worker on the circuit that it could, even going to far as to forcing top tier  indies like Ring of Honor to have to contract workers and tie them down.

With a surplus of “smaller” and more athletic wrestlers flooding the market, TNA incorporated the “X Division” title, which promoted a faster paced, high flying style to fit both the typical cruiserweight performers and the mid-size workers who worked a similiar style. Although not as widely acclaimed as the “X Division,” a six-sided, lucha libre-style ring was used to further diferrentiate itself from the traditional idea of American Wrestling, or WWE’s product. The name itself, “Total Nonstop Action,” was devised on the basis that unlike the soap opera and gimmicks in WWE, TNA will provide a show based primarily on the in-ring performance. 

Following an inaugural World Title run by Ken Shamrock, Ex-WCW/WWE worker Jeff Jarrett was essentially self-booked in late 2002 to get the World Title spot he felt he never adequately received, but many others were finally given a chance to take the ball and run. Guys like AJ Styles, Chris Daniels, Jerry Lynn, America’s Most Wanted, Chris Sabin, Petey Williams, Monty Brown and Samoa Joe, were all given an opportunity to shine.

The common point of all these breakout performers? None of them were ever under contract with WWE, or in the case of Jerry Lynn, were never heavily featured on WWE programming while they were with the company. Sure, there would be a few ex-WWE (or recently ex-WWE) workers coming over that could be used for their name value and ability in the business, but for the first few years there was a core of talented, young workers that could define the company. As the years moved on, however, TNA began to sign more and more performers that were not only clearly defined as being WWE talent, but were also aging and incapable of putting on a competitive, athletic portrayal of a fight.

 To become a true alternative to another brand a company needs something that clearly distinguishes itself from the competition. Pepsi and Coke come in different color cans, Windows and Mac runs on different systems, McDonald’s burgers are round and Wendy’s are square. Part of what made the original Monday Night Wars so intriguing and the “jumps” that much more exciting was because there already were two definable rosters and styles. Even so, aside from the major name performers, if someone signed and switched companies, they would often debut with a new image or tweaked character as a means to differentiate that, “This is OUR wrestler now.” 

Old names and old characters incapable of still performing at a high level began to flood the TNA roster and become focal points of the show that ultimately detracted from any sort of meaningful progression. Performers like Kevin Nash, Sean Waltman, Jeff Hardy, Scott Steiner, Scott Hall, Kip James/Billy Gunn and others were seemingly signed up and put on display as soon as possible. A series of actions that would return when Hogan & Bischoff came as a combo deal to TNA in late 2009, featuring the likes of a returning Nasty Boys team and putting them over any tag team they could sacrifice.

This, finally, brings us to the point Jericho made in the PWI interview. When asked about Kevin Nash making negative comments regarding WWE’s youth movement and being in favor of older, established names, Jericho noted:

“There’s still a place for guys who are older and it’s not necessary to just take care of the young guys. You are who you are. There are guys who are better in their 40s than in their 30s. There are guys who are done by the time they’re 25, 26, 27 years old… Everybody’s got a certain shelf life. Some guy’s shelf life is longer than others. That’s why you always have to have young guys come in. You always have to have big drafts come in. And you can’t keep guys on top just because they have name value. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. You have to be able to entertain and you have to be able to provide the certain quality of work that they’re you’re always used to. Just because a certain somebody had name value in 1999 when wrestling was quote-unquote hot, doesn’t mean they necessarily should be on top in 2010. It’s a case-by-case basis.”

There are two cleary definable attributes that Jericho points out. One is name value, the other is shelf life. Let’s consider “shelf life” as being more a reference of actual working ability than of still having a name that will draw interest in a product. To first estsblish itself apart from WWE, TNA promoted the fact that they were based on in-ring performance and emphasized their creative X Division performers. Since that point they have caved into the concept that these “name” performers need to be around and need to be made the focal point of the shows to attract an audience. However, just because a performer is signed to attach their name to your product, doesn’t mean that that “name” then needs to be maintained as a strong character over your young crop of capable performers.

When Hogan & Bischoff were brought in, so was Ric Flair. Both Hogan and Flair are very old and self-admittedly broken down performers, so logically the two should instantly be in conflict with each other and be featured in matches against each other in television and pay-per-view. Valuable time that could be spent on showcasing a match involving a younger and capable performer like Doug Williams, or an interesting reinvented character like The Pope, is instead focused on two aging stars that can’t accomplish much more than waddle a few punches and bump once or twice. In theory, TNA sacrifices ring performance for characters of legendary status in order to draw interest to make money. In practice, this idea is entirely flawed because of the growth of UFC.

The UFC for the past several years has been providing a highly viable form of Sport Entertainment that provides legitimate fighting between two competitors. Young fighters of all shapes and sizes and going at it in a caged setting and are executing impactful strikes and immobilizing submissions. The casual viewer enjoys this style and latches onto it instantly. Really, what more do you need to convince them to watch a UFC fight? However, when that same viewer then tunes in to watch TNA and sees a couple 40 or 50-somethings waddle around a ring and stand tall over over a pack or highly athletic 20 or 30-somethings, any kind of suspension of disbelief is immediately lost.

This is purely speculation, but one would imagine that the casual viewer of today is not the same casual viewer of the mid-90s, regardless of age or maturity in understanding and accepting the pro wrestling product. Chances are the average child that’s allowed to watch professional wrestling is also watching UFC fights. The level of physical execution needs to be set to a higher standard in order for someone outside of the pro wrestling fan community to legitimately sit down and be able to get into a match. Showcasing old, slow, incapable performers, merely because they have a  previous track record from over a decade ago, doesn’t make the show believable or enjoyable and it doesn’t convince anybody to continue to watch.

As Jericho had stated, just because a worker was a name during the hot period in the late 90s, doesn’t make them necessary or adequate to be on top of a promotion now. TNA’s weekly television ratings have remained exactly the same for 3 years. It’s not as if featuring these older talents are actually creating a beneficial progression. It’s fascinating how TNA began its existence on a premise of featuring the X Division and athletic performers, yet now faced with a shift in perception of the business caused by an increased interest in legitimate fighting, is adapting to that by reverting to using old wrestlers who become less and less capable to put on an exciting match with each passing year.

– Nick