The long cold night of the WWE might be coming to an end, so as dawn breaks on what we all hope is a rebirth for WWE’s TV product, I’m going to write about what everyone else is talking about after a stellar TLC and a great Raw.
That’s right; I’m going to talk about Kalisto.
TLC felt a bit like a sunrise for WWE and as Kalisto hit his own Salida Del Sol off the top off the ladder on Sunday, it seemed to me, looking back, to symbolise that new day’s dawn. That one move combined risk with both a visual and a very real physical impact on Kalisto and Jey Uso.
I sat there watching the replays of that move, and I realised that it summed up what I love about wrestling. I like a lot of other things about the sports entertainment product as well, whether that’s stories or over the top melodrama, but it has to boil down to the actual in-ring wrestling in the end and I like wrestling best when it looks real. It looks best when it looks like it hurts.
I also want it to surprise me – that’s when WWE really brightens my day, when I’m thinking about next week’s Raw on a Tuesday morning and I’m wondering all week about what’s coming next. Wrestling is at it best when anything truly can happen.
What I like isn’t what everyone likes, though. Take TJR Wrestling as an example. Sometimes, not a lot of the time, but frequently enough to notice, the match ratings that I work out in my head differ quite a lot from those our illustrious editor gives in the Raw Deal. That’s not because either John or I are wrong, it’s because we’re sometimes looking at the match with different types of glasses.
The glasses I was seeing TLC through on Sunday enabled me to see Kalisto in some of his own new light, because I normally don’t particularly like either Kalisto or the Lucha Dragons as a pair. I don’t think they’re bad, or that they’re not fun to watch. It’s just that some of the things they do don’t look like they hurt the other guy. They are impressive feats of athleticism and choreography, but they don’t look like they are intended to win a wrestling match by beating another guy up and doing what you need to do to get the W.
It’s the opposite of what makes Ziggler one of my favourites to watch (when he’s allowed enough of a sniff of a storyline to get me to buy in to the matches in the first place). He is a very athletic guy who bumps all over the ring but even while he’s selling his ass off, he’s looking to hurt the other guy and what he tries looks believable. I really bought into Ziggler vs. John Cena a few weeks back because Dolph really made me think he was really, really trying to win the match and had to try his best to hurt Cena to do it.
On Sunday though, everything the Lucha Dragons did looked pinpoint in precision and devastating in execution and it all made me cry inside “that’s more like it!” They looked totally different through those Sunday spectacles.
Being different makes something special. I don’t mind the over-gimmicked nature of TLC like some do, because I don’t see it every day. Because I don’t see it every day, it stands out. Because it stands out, I watch it with a keener eye. Because I watch it with a keener eye, I notice the good and the bad in more detail and what I saw on Sunday was a lot of good.
But I don’t want to see these perfectly choreographed spot fests on a weekly basis. What gave the tag title ladder match and the other gimmick matches at TLC the edge was the punishment it looked like the wrestlers took. I don’t want to see someone landing on a ladder every week, but I do want to see someone landing blows and moves that seem realistic because some of what I see wrestlers do on a daily basis in WWE doesn’t look like it hurts their opponent. Worse still, sometimes you can easily see where the supposed victim of the move is actively participating in the successful carrying out of that move.
Del Rio’s foot stomp finisher is a perfect case in point. It ticks one box in that it looks like it would hurt someone, but it needs the opponent to actually lift himself up and hold on to the ropes for it to work. It’s awful. Similarly the Miz’s backbreaker, neckbreaker combo is so nice and gentle it looks like it should be in a geriatric match.
TLC was full of the complete opposite of Del Rio’s finisher and Miz’s knees and back. The Dudleys and the Wyatts brought it in a really physical match (although I preferred the match on Raw). Everyone brought it in the tag title match. Sheamus and Reigns was beautifully brutal and I thought was worthy of 4 stars. It was a hard-hitting show with a hard-hitting message – WWE can still do it and if Reigns can learn anything from Sheamus by working with him, it’s to keep that stiff-looking style. Sheamus brought a great match out of Big Show by making it physical – by making it a match that looked tough. If more of the wrestlers did that, more people would buy in.
If I saw a crazy Salida Del Sol off a ladder every week, I’d get bored, just like I’m a little bored of seeing Dean Ambrose do that spring off the middle rope ‘surprise’ clothesline. When it’s rare, when I haven’t seen it before or I haven’t seen it in a while, it keeps my eyes on the screen and when my eyes are on the screen, I want to be left with the illusion that I’m watching a fight. I don’t want to see pretty athletic moves that have the impact of a flannel, I want to see tough athletic moves that look realistic and look like they could really hurt someone. I loved all the chair shots, tables breaking, ladders cracking and all the crazy bumps.
After Sunday, I am starting to be a believer in the Lucha Dragons. If they can add that pinpoint brutality to their non-gimmick matches – if they can make me believe that they really want to hurt the opposition to win and not just leap about in a spot-fest – then never mind Roman Reigns, we have a new rising star in Kalisto to look out for as well.
If they replicate the edge Sunday had. If.
I loved TLC and I love where the WWE went after it because Raw was hardly any less brutal. Reigns and Sheamus had another physical match, Owens brought the hell out of it on Ziggler and Ambrose and Stephanie slapped Roman a new face.
It felt fresh and it felt a little more edgy, and it could be because of the edge around the product right now, but it feels like a conscious decision to ramp it up a bit.
There’s one more bit of context to this and that’s the place WWE was in going into TLC.
Look at WWE’s position with the crowd and its audience just before the PPV and what it had changed to just after Raw. This isn’t a small change – it’s almost seismic.
Maybe this is WWE coming out fighting and I really hope they are. I hope they take Kalisto with them while they do it because if they can work some extreme brutality into their lucha style rather than just high flying athleticism, they could be the most impactful tag team since the Hardyz. I think they’d get there quicker and better as a heel team, but we’ll see what happens with that.
Kalisto might well have stolen the show with that one move, but that move might also have unwittingly become the symbol of the WWE’s own sunrise and the Lucha Dragons are certainly walking out blinking into the light for me – if they play it right, this is their making as well as Roman’s.
As I said though, I’m wearing a particular set of glasses. Do you guys want to see the Lucha Dragons get more physical or are they fine as they are?