The High Spot: Jake Roberts, TNA, Daniel Bryan, WWE Cuts, and the Top Stories of the Week

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Welcome to the High Spot, Place to Be Nation’s weekly pro wrestling update. Steve Wille (@SteveWille34) will take you through the biggest story of the week in the world of wrestling, adding in a unique view to help put the story in perspective. Glenn Butler (@Glenniebun) then takes a quick look at other important stories of the week. If you have any tips or story ideas, please contact us at info@placetobenation.com!

Greetings, Nationals! That intro blurb is once again A PACK OF LIES, as the glorious Steve Wille has seen fit to abandon The High Spot temporarily for such frivolous ideas as “vacation” and “family.” The impertinence. He will surely be back to dance for your amusement next week, and in the meantime, I have a panoply of wrestling stories that’ve popped up in the last few days:

  • Alert, Klaxon: Jake Roberts was taken to a hospital in Las Vegas on Wednesday when he passed out on a plane on the way to a scheduled appearance. He reportedly has a case of double pneumonia, with fluid filling both of his lungs. He was in a coma for about a day before waking up, and has been in and out of consciousness since. Hopefully he’ll be on the mend soon, as he has been after so many other maladies.
  • A Bit Less of an Impact: TNA has reportedly been offered a deal to extend its televised life on the Velocity Network, which is generally considered a worst-case scenario because it would force the company to adopt even more restrictive slash-and-burn tactics, cutting its budget to the bone even more than it already has. Still, even at that high price, TNA remaining viable as a television show is a more optimistic worst-case scenario than you’ll find from many amateur prognosticators.
  • I Need Your Discipline, I Need Your Help: Plans for another season of Tough Enough have been scrapped for now. This is understandable given the lack of significant buzz following the last season and WWE’s current budget cuts, but still, it’s a little disappointing that we won’t get to see a whole new cast of young, fresh recruits given national exposure via Steve Austin and Bill DeMott yelling at them.
  • Tweet, Delete, Repeat: Ryback has submitted himself to the surgeon’s knife. This signifies another major blow to WWE, as Ryback was surely poised to take the main event scene by storm once again.
  • Curve Ball, Revisited: Steve reported last week that Daniel Bryan would also be submitting himself to the best in modern surgical techniques. This has not yet occurred, as his doctors have called for more tests. Bryan himself, if he has to have the surgery, would like to get it over with as soon as possible given that his apparent return window would be three months afterward. This would place him perilously close to the Royal Rumble…but of course, we know that any sign of Bryan entering and/or winning the Royal Rumble means that we’ve landed in a different universe than we started in, like your typical episode of Sliders. (That’s what happened at SummerSlam — we accidentally picked up the John Cena from one universe over!) Bryan also mentioned in an interview that he’d love a match with Brock Lesnar, and that’s a good thing, because fighting Lesnar is listed in any medical journal worth reading as the first thing you want to do after muptiple neck surgeries.
  • Set Your Mind at Ease: The producer for WWE 2K15 promises that the beard technology used for the new game will be better than ever. I’m always on the lookout for a good beard. Daniel Bryan’s scraggly maw and Mark Henry’s dense thicket will come through in all their vibrant glory. This is ground-breaking stuff here, so if you haven’t upgraded to the latest consoles yet, now’s the time. You do NOT want to see outdated graphics engines trying to render these beards. Also, consider picking up a 4K television.
  • Smack Me Down with a Feather: SmackDown’s move to Thursday nights, as discussed previously, will also have the effect of shifting the WWE Network’s Thursday schedule — NXT, Superstars, and possibly another season of Legends House — to Wednesday nights so as to avoid competing with the offerings on cable television. Adjust your calendars accordingly.
  • There’s Always the Arena League: Shawne Merriman seems to be done with the WWE. He put in a decent appearance (in this writer’s view) during one of the multitudinous WrestleMania pre-shows, and was reportedly preparing to be used as a wrestler or commentator, but apparently both possibilities have evaporated. Considering his perceived name value, he could be another victim of the dreaded budget cuts.
  • Mr. Ninety Days: Rob Van Dam finished up his most recent WWE run at this week’s SmackDown tapings, and what a legendary run it has been. Reportedly his current deal provides for ninety-day bursts of activity, with long layovers inbetween. This is the sign of a man who 1) knows precisely his level of dedication to big-stage wrestling at this point in his life, and b) knows what sort of push he’d be getting at this point anyway. Fare thee well, Mr. WWE Network.
  • Whoooooooooooops: WWE’s Vice President of Venue Merchandising and Operations was fired soon after WrestleMania, for gross mismanagement of the concessions on the biggest night of the year. The VP apparently hired a sketchy vending company that turned out to be understaffed and disorganized — and proceeded to disappear into the night, with quite a lot of money missing once everything was tallied. Presumably they’re trying to limit boondoggles right now. (Also, with Vince McMahon at a local hospital with The Undertaker at the time WrestleMania was wrapping up, does that mean this guy was left to Triple H’s tender mercies?)
  • Announce Me Like One of Your French Girls: Global Force Wrestling, worldwide leader in announcements of announcements of upcoming announcements, is still negotiating for a TV deal. Even though GFW does not yet have a roster less hazily defined than “Y’know every promotion outside the US? Their people,” they had hoped to have a broadcast deal in place by now; as things are moving more slowly than expected, they cannot yet announce any forthcoming announcements.
  • Quick, Someone Leash Him: Batista may not be making his big return to the WWE after all. Such a return was expected now that he’s nearly done promoting the blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy movie film, but if its success gets him bigger & better movie offers, he could split just like The Rock did. (But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Guardians of the Galaxy is a better movie than anything The Rock’s made. Even Doom.)

 

With Steve out of view for the time being — and I’ve been looking — I’ve felt some pressure to bring the meat this week. Hopefully the wrestling stories have sufficed. Now, here’s a story about wrestling (sort of). That’s right, kiddos, the WWE 2K15 news up above means it’s time for another installment of Glenn’s SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 General Manager Mode Stories! Last time, I covered one of the foundational teams & stables of my brother’s SmackDown brand; this week we have a tale that’s really been the story of my Raw brand over the years. It’s a story of family, of partnership, of strife and struggle, of downfalls and redemptions going ’round and ’round. This, friends, is The Ballad of the Big Fat Guys.

The Big Fat Guys in question are the create-a-wrestler versions of myself and my brother, our Marty Stu authorial self-inserts. Many frown on such things in the realm of modern fiction, but the practice has a long (and debatably relevant) history there; in wrestling video games, it’s all but required that you recreate yourself and your friends, give everyone 700% more muscle definition, and enter the fray. (The added muscle definition is unavoidable for the likes of us, since wrestling video games are not well equipped to create big ol’ fatsos. I’ll not bore you with matters of fat identity politics, fat pride and the like.) Life can be tough for a new recruit in SmackDown vs. Raw, since newly-created wrestlers have quite a mountain to climb as far as stats are concerned. This issue is compounded for tag teams consisting of new recruits; if you pair up a new guy with an established main-eventer, the matches will be better and the new guy can be brought along more quickly, but we were going to sink or swim together. Since we simulate the results of all TV matches we couldn’t manually push ourselves, and because our stats started somewhere below the earth’s crust, we were not winning many matches on Raw. Come the next pay-per-view, things would be different, as I made a match pitting The Big Fat Guys against a two-bit, minor team I threw together just to job to us: The Boogeyman, who had nothing going on, and Super Crazy, who as a cruiserweight wouldn’t even be able to pick either of us up for any moves. Six-man matches are fun and all, but I kept this down to a four-man match so we could pair off and keep a lid on things, and made it a tag team match so we’d both get the credit for winning. I still put it in the cell, though, because some habits die hard.

We lost the match. Badly. It was really something of a spectacle. The team of BoogeyCrazy was born in the ashes of our incompetence, but The Big Fat Guys had to soldier on. We took our many, many lumps, and eventually grew into solid tag champions, distinguished Intercontinental Champions, world title contenders, and umpty-time champions. When four-person stables became de rigueur, we formed The Big Fat Stable with the father & son team of André the Giant and The Big Show. Substitutions for brand-jumpers or fired wrestlers included the oft-mentioned Viscera, Mark Henry, Earthquake, Shrek, and any other men of girth available. (I may have tried to use Bam Bam Bigelow a couple times, but it never really worked out with him.) There were times when the team would split, sometimes when one or the other of us held the WWE Title — Scott would take the opportunity to cut vicious promos about how I was neither big enough, nor fat enough, for the team — but much like the Hardys, we’d find our way back together.

Eventually, deeper cracks formed in The Big Fat Guys as Scott truly started to slip. He got sloppy. (Okay. Sloppier.) He’d show up to arenas late, doze off in the corner, try to tag the wrong people, get in horrible arguments with fans at ringside, forget match stipulations. Where he’d previously used Hulk Hogan’s entrance, with all the vibrancy and fan-friendly posing of the man himself, he switched to Psicosis’ entrance, riding a lawn mower because he couldn’t be arsed to walk to the ring like a normal wrestler. His technique went down the tubes, and with it went many matches, and with them went our tag team titles. It was soon revealed that Scott’s ongoing issues were rooted in the demon rum and assorted other spirits. He became obsessed with getting “jusht one more li’l drinky-poo” before matches, and took to making orders at bars and asking other people for nips from their glasses “just to tide me over till the waitress gets my drink.” My brother’s video game avatar had fallen to the sorry depths of alcoholism.

For a time he was effective in bar-room brawls in a Drunken Master sort of way, but things went from bad to worse for him and for the family. There may come a time when you have to simply cut off an addict, no matter how close they are to you; there comes a time when the stealing, and the broken promises, and the abandoned rehab, hurt more than the prospects of not seeing your loved one again. When Scott reached that point, I had to let him go to keep The Big Fat Stable going. He drifted into D-Generation X for a while, but was later drummed out of that stable as well — and when a group that includes Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair decides you’re too screwed up to ride with them, you know you’ve got problems. Things came to a head at the Survivor Series, when Scott’s incompetence sabotaged DX’s elimination match. After that, theorizing that one could drink his problems away, Scott stumbled into a bar and vanished.

While these events unfolded, the Big Fat Stable began to change, with myself and the team of Big Show & Viscera moving in a more heelish and less fat-centric direction, admitting a new wrestler who was lighting Raw on fire just to watch it burn: The Incredible Hulk. Hulk had come in like a bigger, greener Brock Lesnar, squashing all who stood in his path. In the fall he beat the living hell out of Scott for the Intercontinental Title (Scott was circling the drain as a member of DX at this time, gaining the title in a fluke occurence one week and blundering it away the next), then in January he went on to win the Royal Rumble in convincing fashion. At WrestleMania (by which time Scott had disappeared entirely from television) The Incredible Hulk faced WWE Champion Silent Bob — not every idea is a winner, folks — and almost literally pounded him into the mat. The reign of terror was on: the age of The Hulk had begun.

The Incredible Hulk proceeded to put down all challengers using his bruising style — month after month, the best Raw had to offer would he chokeslammed off of the cell, Angleslammed off of the cell, driven through tables, and made to submit to the most bear-like and least hug-like of bearhugs. I fell victim to him. Hulk Hogan fell victim to him. He-Man, Ric Flair, Booker T, The Rock…all were felled by his might like tall grasses by the scythe.

Raw looked to the next year’s Royal Rumble for some hope, any hope, that a savior might come. If someone could outlast twenty-nine other wrestlers, including the best that SmackDown had to offer (including John Cena, Batista, The Miz, and a brand-switched Shawn Michaels), maybe he could march into WrestleMania with a chance of ending The Incredible Hulk’s absolute dominance. Late in the Rumble match, a piece of music hit that was not associated with anyone signed to either roster:

I’ve been defeated and brought down
Dropped to my knees when hope ran out
The time has come to change my ways

On this day, I see clearly
Everything has come to life
Another chance to chase a dream
And we’ll leave it all behind

Scott was back, with the fire in his breath replaced by a fire in his eyes. He no longer posed or rode to the ring: he strode with purpose, and would not be denied. One by one he tossed the remaining Rumble participants until he was left as the winner and number-one contender for The Incredible Hulk. In February and March he cut passionate promos about hitting rock bottom the previous year, about confronting the abyss and finally committing to rehab and a life of sobriety, about remembering the titles and respect lost to The Incredible Hulk and about how he’d returned to take it all back, to take it all away from the terror of Monday Night Raw. (“You think you’re fearsome? Try wanting something more than you have ever wanted anything else in your life, and squashing that desire every moment of every day. I’m afraid of myself; I’m not afraid of you.”) At WrestleMania The Hulk threw everything he had at Scott, everything that had taken down so many challengers in the previous year. Scott outlasted him, and eventually triumphed in the name of redemption, and in the name of all the fallen.

As the babyface locker room streamed to the ring to hoist Scott on their shoulders while his new music played — Another chance to chase a dream / Another chance to feel alive — one person appeared in the aisle with no smile on his lips, no applause in his hands, no happiness in his bearing: me. I wasn’t about to let my arrogant, self-righteous older brother hog the glory for himself, again, on my brand no less.

This rivalry would define us both, and Raw, for a long time as we each put together stables of people who shared our perspectives. The face version of The Straight-Edge Society consisted of Scott, CM Punk, Joseph Mercury, and Art Barr, who took some proselytizing before he became a true believer. My stable of drug-friendly misfits consisted of myself and a rotating cast of notorious drug fiends in wrestling, of which there are plenty: Jake Roberts, Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, Ric Flair, the Hardys, Mr. Perfect, Rob Van Dam, disgraced former champion Silent Bob (RVD and Silent Bob were a particularly effective tag team), on and on it went.

Eventually there was a lull. Scott jumped to SmackDown, and I made common cause with any available maniacs. While Scott joined SmackDown’s We Can Be Heroes stable, joining with Kane (as We Can Beat You Up) and the team of John Cena & Aquaman (We Can Talk to Fish), I brought to Raw the unpredictable Jeff Hardy, the uncontrollable Mickie James, and the demented Ronald McDonald. Ronald and Mickie James were a particularly strong pair of anarchist terrors in their respective divisions — Mickie James was reprising her maniacal run against Trish Stratus, and you should be imagining Ronald McDonald as a cross between heel Doink and early Mankind. When Kane turned on Scott on SmackDown, and both of them wound up being drafted to Raw, I allied with the demon in a new team (We Can Beat Scott Up), Scott reformed the Straight-Edge Society with CM Punk, and we went to war.

But over the years, my hatred waned. I no longer wanted to spend years destroying my own family. I no longer wanted to look over my shoulder in case Ronald got some idea that only he thought was funny. I no longer wanted to team up with Kane. When a new class of created wrestlers and another draft (drafts occur immediately after WrestleMania, and are semi-random) forced us both to reorganize our shows, I decided to put The Big Fat Guys back together for good. I made amends, telling Scott and Punk that while I’ll never be converted to their Straight-Edge cause, I’ll not persecute them for it. Kane tried to use his supernatural powers to burn me alive but, finding no success, brought in a newly-created wrestler to be his new master: Satan, the Deceiver, the Beast Incarnate. The devil and his favorite demon sought to make life hell for us, but we’ve outlasted them so far.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been any tension in the reformed Big Fat Guys. Shortly after Scott regained the WWE Championship at New Year’s Revolution, I won the Royal Rumble (somewhat against my wishes; I wanted SmackDown’s Daniel Bryan to win, but…you know, parallel universes and multidimensional monsters and all that) and won the title in a six-man match at WrestleMania. We’ve maintained our truce in the spirit of face-versus-face friendly competition, but sometimes that veneer wears thin. Scott insists that my winning the title — and retaining it at the following WrestleMania, after he won the Royal Rumble (also against my wishes; I really wish we’d stop winning those) — are sure signs of my betrayal. I think he’s just getting jealous.

This all may be incredibly self-indulgent. (If you’re reading the fourth extended essay about my video-game fantasy booking, you’ll know we’re already down the rabbit hole of self-indulgence, but I nonetheless thank you for your patronage.) The truth is that one of the main reasons we push ourselves so much, maybe too much, is that we’ve honed our movesets over the years and made them the most fun to use in matches…but that’s a story for another time. My time is up, your time is now. Catch you next week, same High Spot time, same High Spot channel!

Author: Glenn Butler

Glenn is not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be. He goes forward, he goes back. The Glenn that you know, he had some second thoughts. Glenn has come back to reclaim some infinitude of silence, the unspeaking of his name. At PTBN he's most often seen walking the web, covering the Star Trek beat, and podcasting about various manifestations of life and popular culture. Find him elsewhere on the Twitter, the Instam and/or the Tumblr. Tamp 'em up solid.