Maria, Scott Armstrong among WWE cuts

Maria Kanellis was among four releases Friday.

WWE was busy yesterday, parting ways with Paul Burchill and “Hurricane” Helms in the early afternoon. Then came word of Maria Kanellis being released.

Maria was the last of WWE’s divas to pose in Playboy before they severed ties with the magazine. She was also just recently named Diva of the Year at the Slammy Awards. She has stated a desire to branch out past the WWE, but says that she did not ask to be released.

Scott Armstrong was the final of Friday’s cuts. The referee had been with the company since 2006 and formerly wrestled in WCW. He is the brother of “The Road Dogg.”

Armstrong, whose real name is Joseph James, was also a referee in WCW and TNA, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see him working for Hulk Hogan and Dixie Carter some time soon.

Gregory Shane “Hurricane” Helms also released by WWE

Photo courtesy WWE

Ironically, it was “Hurricane” Helms who banished Paul Burchill from ECW (kayfabe, of course) and they both have been released by WWE on the same day.

WWE’s website announced Helms had been let go just minutes after announcing Burchill’s release.

Helms made a name for himself in WCW as a high-flying cruiserweight. He has been with WWF/E since 2001. Helms was recently in a skirmish involving Chris Jericho and Matt Hardy that resulted in an arrest and TMZ coverage. WWE even used the material on its ECW program before it was canceled.

Because of Helms’ WCW ties, I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up in TNA when his 90-day no-compete clause expires.

Paul Burchill released by WWE

Photo courtesy WWE

WWE has announced on its website that Paul Burchill has been released by the company.

Burchill (real name Paul Birchall) has been with WWE since 2005, when he debuted in then-developmental territory OVW. Burchill and his on-screen sister Katie Lea left ECW before the show was canceled as part of a storyline with Hurricane Helms.

Katie Lea has not been released and, unlike Paul, has been seen on WWE television since the duo’s departure from ECW, as she wrestled in Raw’s women’s division.

2.25.10 TNA iMPACT! thoughts

Logo courtesy TNA

Thursday’s TNA iMPACT! had a few good segments but, for the most part, it was more of the bad that we’ve come to expect since Hulk Hogan arrived.

– The angle with Abyss and Hulk Hogan, where Abyss is getting “power” from Hogan’s WWE Hall of Fame ring is just ridiculously dumb and bad. First, TNA is constantly mentioning and putting over WWE by saying the ring is so important and what it means, being even more important than the TNA World Title. While this is obviously true, TNA probably shouldn’t be telling us that every five minutes.

Aside from constantly referring to the guys “up north,” the angle would be stupid even by 1987 wrestling standards. The ending of iMPACT! where Abyss “struggled” to get free of the handcuffs, only to look at the HoF ring and then suddenly break the cuffs, must have been silly to even the little kids watching.

– Speaking of Abyss… He’s supposed to be “The Monster” again, but they have him come out to a mash-up of his theme with Hulk Hogan’s old WCW “American Made” music? Weak.

– The Nasty Boys wrestled Team 3D in a tables match that was, as you could guess, horrible. The Nasty Boys have no business being on a nationally televised wrestling show. We all know they’re in TNA because of their friendship with The Hulkster, but it just weakens the company even more. As I tweeted last night, Brian Knobbs makes Hacksaw Jim Duggan look like Evan Bourne. The guy can barely cut a promo without running out of gas, and in the ring he’s worthless.

I won’t even get into Jesse Neal’s turn, which has to be his fourth in a month or so.

– I can’t complain about the non-match between Rob Terry and Mr. Anderson, since it was furthering the angle between Anderson and Kurt Angle. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, I’m shocked TNA is doing something slowly and with a plan.

– Desmond Wolfe apparently has joined the Christopher Daniels Club of Jobbers. They did have him join in on the Abyss between with Ric Flair and AJ Styles at the end of the program, so maybe he’ll be aligned with those two and create a new alliance. I doubt it, though, as he’ll likely be a jobber. Sadly, Wolfe’s old ROH buddy Daniel Bryan might be better off in the WWE than Wolfe in TNA.

– I have to rant about the announcing team. We know how terrible Taz is from his WWE days, but at least Jim Ross could give him some direction and when he was with Michael Cole all you could focus on was Cole’s idiocy and cheesiness. But Mike Tenay, as much as he knows the business and is a good wrestling mind, is sometimes just as corny and stupid as Cole is.

At the end of the show after Hogan had announced the Flair/Styles v. Hogan/Abyss tag match for the live TNA iMPACT! on Monday, March 8, Tenay said something about that being the way to take over Monday nights. Come on, Tenay, seriously? I know the casual fan will be interested in seeing Hogan and Flair back in the ring but it will be going up against WWE’s WrestleMania build and many people will turn away once they see how slow Hogan and Flair are in the ring. Then again, they are like luchadores compared to the Nasty Boys.

– Lastly, the focus of the episode was once again on Hogan, Flair, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and Sean Waltman. Ugh.

WWE NXT premiere show thoughts

Logo courtesy WWE

I wouldn’t call WWE’s newest program, NXT, a must-watch piece of television but it certainly looks to be an upgrade over ECW. I don’t think it’s as much of a blend of reality show and wrestling as WWE wants us to believe. In fact, it actually reminds me a little of ROH on HD Net with how they were showing more about the wrestlers before they competed in the ring. NXT will build interest in the rookies like WWE hasn’t done before, but I think this could be done without the “mentor” aspect. It will create some interest storylines, though.

– The internet has been going absolutely crazy about Michael Cole’s snarky remarks about Daniel Bryan a.k.a. Bryan Danielson. While I will never defend Cole, I will say that WWE is trying to create interest. Just as a heel would try to get heat, Cole is doing the same thing, only at the announce table. WWE is going to milk the whole thing to death, which is smart.

– Josh Matthews, Cole’s announcing partner, got in a few lines that I thought were great. One was a mention of how Jim Ross has been giving Cole advice, according to internet reports. He also said Cole could relate to The Miz because, like Mizanin, everyone hates Cole.

– Speaking of the announcing team, I was a little surprised to see Cole at ringside, but it all made sense as the show progressed. Matt Striker irritated me a bit in his backstage segments but Striker is one of those types. Sometimes I love him, others I hate him.

(Please withhold your anger, Internet Wrestling Community, until you read this whole paragraph)
While Bryan Danielson/Daniel Bryan impressed me in the ring, he has a long way to go before he’s a star. His microphone work needs a lot of improvement and he had this look on his face that seemed like he was unsure of himself. Maybe a lot of it was nerves, maybe it’s just his boyish look.

I think he has a lot of potential but ring work is not the only factor to becoming a star in the WWE. Just look at Shelton Benjamin, maybe one of the best in-ring performers there is. He’s never gotten a decent push, though, because he can’t handle the stick. Conversely there is John Cena, who has about seven moves in his repertoire but gets a strong reaction out of the crowd every night.

– The main event match of Bryan v. Chris Jericho was very good. It looked like a bit of a botch when Bryan did a dive outside the ring onto Jericho and Y2J flipped him onto the announce table. Bryan went back-first into the edge of the table. I wonder if the table was supposed to break, or Bryan’s momentum just carried him too far.

While some would say the match weakens Jericho’s credibility, I think WWE was trying to capitalize on Bryan’s reputation as a great worker. I also wonder if they are establishing a Miz-Bryan program, or it’s just for this show only.

Raw thoughts: A great start on the Road to WrestleMania

WWE delivered a very solid show coming off the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, which is to be expected with the Road to WrestleMania now in its home stretch. As with every episode of Raw there were a few low spots, but this was the best we’ve seen in many Monday nights.

– The opening to the show was very strong. First, Chris Jericho came to the ring to gloat about winning the World Heavyweight Title and yelling, “I’m going to WrestleMania.” We all knew Edge would come out and challenge Jericho for the title at ‘Mania but the crowd still popped when his music hit, interrupting Y2J in the process.

Edge came through the crowd and nailed Jericho with a spear, then got on the mic and told Jericho he was coming after his title at WrestleMania. This is the match many of us were hoping to get and thankfully WWE didn’t try to fool the internet smarks and set up a different match. These two should deliver a great bout and their mic interaction over the next few weeks should be fun as well.

Following this we got John Cena, actually selling some injuries from the night before, and then getting on the stick to declare that he – just like Bret Hart – got screwed by Vince McMahon, all in Cena’s new “country and western” twang.

VKM explained why Batista was given the title shot (as if we couldn’t figure that out) and then told Cena he could have his rematch with Batista if he could beat someone tonight. If not, Sheamus would face The Animal at WrestleMania. The man he would have to beat? Batista.

I don’t understand this. It makes sense in the grand scheme of things, especially in how the night ended, but the booking is just a little confusing. In the kayfabe sense, why would Sheamus not even get the chance to be involved in determining his WrestleMania fate?

Either way, it’s the right move to put Cena up against Batista, as it’s been built for a few weeks already and then Hart and McMahon can take part.

– Another WrestleMania match was set up in the form of Shawn Michaels v. The Undertaker. This time, though, it will be The Streak v. Shawn Michaels’ career. We’ve all seen retirement matches that don’t mean anything, and I think this could be another one of those, where HBK takes a few months off and shows up again. It certainly does add a new wrinkle to the matchup that many think can’t top last year’s performance, though. I thought maybe they would go with a Hell in the Cell or some other kind of gimmick match, but this should be fun as well.
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WWE Elimination Chamber thoughts

WWE delivered a pretty good show with Sunday’s Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, with a few surprises and proper booking. I say proper, of course, as an opinion but I think the situations are right as we head down the stretch towards WrestleMania XXVI.

Below are some thoughts on the event, match-by-match.

World Heavyweight Title Elimination Chamber Match: The Undertaker (C) v. Chris Jericho v. John Morrison v. Rey Mysterio v. CM Punk v. R-Truth
Chris Jericho pins The Undertaker to become the new champion after interference from Shawn Michaels

There was a lot to like about this match and how it was booked. CM Punk continued his mid-match mic time and was on point, as usual. We saw another tease of the much-rumored Rey v. Punk program as those two put on some great ring work while alone inside the chamber. Morrison looked great and was elevated a bit in defeat.

The best booking revolved around the ending, though. After a series of counters of each other’s finishing maneuvers, The Undertaker had just delivered a powerbomb to Jericho and was setting up for the Tombstone when Shawn Michaels appeared from underneath the grating in the floor of the chamber, entered the ring and superkicked the Dead Man. A stunned Chris Jericho then made the cover as HBK stood over both men, staring down on ‘Taker.

This likely sets up the HBK-Taker rematch at WM26 and also, hopefully, Jericho defending his title against Edge.

WWE Title Elimination Chamber Match: Sheamus (C) v. John Cena v. Randy Orton v. Triple H v. Ted DiBiase v. Kofi Kingston
John Cena makes Triple H submit via STF to become the new champion

All six men were in the chamber together before there were any eliminations in this matchup that opened the event. Everyone looked strong and, surprisingly, Randy Orton was the first to be eliminated. What wasn’t surprising was the way it was booked.

Cody Rhodes came down to ringside and slipped a pipe through the cage for one of his Legacy brethren to use. DiBiase grabbed the pipe and, while Orton was on Cena’s shoulders for an Attitude Adjustment, hit Orton then Cena. The way it was done made it seem like striking Orton could have been accidental but as Orton lay on the mat, DiBiase covered him and eliminated the Viper.

This hopefully sets up another rumored WM match, Orton v. DiBiase. Although it could also be a three-way dance with Rhodes involved. We then got some rapid-fire pinfalls, with Cena and Triple H as the last two men. Cena locked in the STFU and, after some struggle, Trips tapped out.

At this point I thought it was a horrible decision, but it all would make sense soon.

WWE Title Match: Batista v. John Cena (C)
Batista defeats John Cena to become the new champion

Vince McMahon ordered this impromptu match, obviously as payment to Batista for roughing up Bret Hart, and likely furthering the Cena-McMahon-Hart storyline. The Animal made quick work of Cena, hitting a nasty looking spear and Batista Bomb after Cena landed one punch.

My guess is that we’ll see Batista defend the title against Cena at WrestleMania with McMahon and Hart in their corners. Cena is much better in the “face chasing the title” role and Batista has been awesome in his heel role.

Intercontinental Title Match: Kane v. Drew McIntyre (C)
Drew McIntyre defeats Kane to retain the IC Title

This match was very, very flat. The ring work was decent but the crowd just didn’t care. Coming off the WWE Title elimination chamber match and the surprise of Batista winning the title, there wasn’t a lot of energy left for a guy few care about in McIntyre and Kane, who no one really sees as a potential title holder.

The result was obvious and was certainly the right booking decision, but the match felt more like filler than anything else.

United States Title Match: MVP v. The Miz (C)
The Miz defeats MVP to retain the US Title

This match was pretty good but, again, the crowd wasn’t really into it. My main problem was that for the second pay-per-view in a row, these two squared off with absolutely no hype coming into the event. This was another surprise announcement and it makes very little sense. The Miz is one of WWE’s rising stars and some people were probably turned away from ordering the PPV with only four advertised matches.

Divas Title Match: Gail Kim v. Maryse (Vacant title)
Bait and switch: Michelle McCool and Layla defeat Gail Kim and Maryse when McCool pins Kim

Normally I would be angry with a switcheroo like this but who really cared about this match coming into the show? We got to see Maryse and Kim anyway, and had the added treat of McCool and Layla looking great. I don’t understand the delay in declaring a Divas champ, unless WWE is waiting for someone. Maybe they have a woman signed or are about to sign someone and want to put the strap on them?

FINAL THOUGHTS

* A pretty good show as a whole. Starting with a chamber match was good to get the crowd going, but they lost all of that steam until the final chamber match.

* I thought having Batista come out of the show as champ was the right move. It gets the belt off Sheamus heading into ‘Mania and sets up Tista-Cena (or maybe someone else but I don’t know who makes sense) for the title. Putting the strap on Jericho was also smart because we’ll hopefully get the Jericho-Edge match at ‘Mania that everyone wants to see, unless WWE tries a swerve to fool the internet smarks.

TNA iMPACT! moving to Monday nights starting March 8

As has long been rumored and expected, TNA announced that iMPACTt! will move to Monday nights beginning March 8 and go head-to-head with WWE Raw.

TNA President Dixie Carter said the move will be permanent, with the show airing live every other week. The taped shows will be filmed Tuesday to be aired the following Monday. While this is a renewal of the “Monday Night Wars” of the late 1990’s, Carter is remaining reasonable and hoping to continue ratings growth with the eventual goal of knocking off the ‘E.

Whether you are a fan of TNA or not this is good news for the industry. Hopefully it will force WWE to put forth a strong product every Monday and encourage TNA to step its game up as well, after they fell a little flat coming off the success of the live iMPACT! on January 4. One would think they will benefit from the fans who may not have tuned in on Thursday nights switching over during commercials of Raw.

The full press conference of the announcment is below.

WWE 2010 Royal Rumble thoughts

The Road to WrestleMania kicked off last night with the Royal Rumble, traditionally one of the more special WWE pay-per-views on the calendar. Unlike last year’s Rumble, where Randy Orton was clearly going to win the 30-man melee, this year’s winner wasn’t as obvious. There were four other title contests on the card and a few surprises. Let¹s go match-by-match and take a look.

ECW Championship Match: Ezekiel Jackson v. Christian (C)

The crowd was pretty hot for this one, not that it’s really surprising for Christian but Jackson got a lot better heat than I expected. Christian could have a good match with a mannequin so it was not surprise that this was a good showing. You have to give credit to Jackson, though, for stepping up on his first pay-per-view match and looking great. They had a few nice near-falls and one spot that I especially liked with Christian ducking under a back-elbow by Zeke, only to clobbered in the back of the head seconds later.

It probably would have been too early for Jackson to win the strap, so it made sense to build him up and have Christian come up on top. I think Jackson elevated himself a bit in defeat, showing that he can work a lot better than some of the other big men in the company.

The ending to this match was good as well. With Jackson in control, Christian slipped off his shoulders and hit the Killswitch for the pin.

US Championship Match: MVP v. The Miz (C)

This match came about after a mildly amusing backstage segment that involved Teddy Long, Tiffany, Cryme Tyme, The Miz and The Great Khali, as well as a rendition of “Pants on the Ground” (which is already incredibly played out) and “Who Let the Dogs Out?” Long ordered Miz to defend his title in an impromptu matchup with MVP.

I can’t say this was a great match but it also wasn’t terrible. I kept wondering, though, why they didn’t just announce this match last week on Raw and give us one more contest to look forward to. There had been some great Miz-MVP mic interaction the last few weeks and this looked like a heated feud already, so to not promote it was a silly booking decision on WWE’s part.

Nonetheless, this was one of those “beginning of something more” matches as The Miz won with a rollup out of nowhere after about seven minutes. After the match he taunted MVP, who retaliated with a playmaker. Later in the night, The Miz attacked MVP as he made his way to the ring for the Rumble match, and then MVP knocked himself out while eliminating Miz.

If this is the beginning of an MVP meanstreak that leads to a push, I think it’s a nice booking decision. He isn’t ready to take the strap from Miz yet but will be with some more buildup. When that happens, I’d also look for The Miz to get another push.

WWE Championship Match: Randy Orton v. Sheamus (C)

As always, Randy Orton delivered in this match. Even though his matches are usually slow and plodding, RKO finds a way to make it interesting. He sold the effects of Sheamus working over his arm throughout the match, had his usual classic facial expressions, and was being cheered by the crowd. That was to be expected when WWE decided to pit one of their most popular heels against a heel that no one really cares about.

I’m not going to jump on the “Bash Sheamus” bandwagon because, frankly, I don’t think he’s that bad. I think it was probably a little early to put the strap on him, when other young stars like Ted DiBiase and Kofi Kingston had already established themselves, but he’s slowly getting better. I think it was the right move to keep the title on Sheamus, although I thought Orton would win it before the match.

WWE’s Creative Team is doing a very nice slow burn Legacy breakup. It could go a number of different ways after last night, when Cody Rhodes cost Orton the match and then Orton beat up Rhodes and DiBiase. Either Rhodes and DiBiase can become faces, or Orton could. I doubt that WWE would want to take their top heel and make him face, though, especially with Edge seemingly a face now.

I thought it was a good enough match and told a good story, as well as furthering the Legacy angle.

Women’s Championship Match: Mickie James v. Michelle McCool (C)

Mercifully this was a short match. In fact, it was under 30 seconds. After McCool and Layla did their usually Piggy James routine, Mickie came out and quickly won the Women’s Title. Call me crazy but I just don’t see James as the athletic worker that everyone else does, so I was happy this was a non-match.

They did the right thing for the kiddies, having James win and then humiliate McCool and Layla. In doing so, they also found a way to get the babyface Divas on the show, which I was very happy with especially considering how great Kelly Kelly looked.

World Heavyweight Championship Match: Rey Mysterio v. The Undertaker (C)

This was a good match and a typical “Rey v. big guy” affair. There were a lot of spots with Rey getting thrown around until he finally used his quickness to get an advantage. After two consecutive 619’s, Rey went for the West Coast Pop when Undertaker caught him and delivered a hellacious Last Ride for the pin.

Undertaker had a bloody nose throughout the match but no one ran down to quickly stop the bleeding like during the Christian-Benjamin match from the TLC pay-per-view. Either WWE considers nosebleeds okay or they realized how stupid it looked when they attended to Christian during the ladder match.

This was likely the end of Rey and ‘Taker’s short feud, but I think Rey will be involved in the Elimination Chamber match at the next pay-per-view, as well as Batista.

30-Man Royal Rumble Match

I really liked the beginning of this one, with CM Punk tossing guys out and then delivering promos while in the empty ring waiting for the next entrant. During that, I thought maybe Punk was going to win the whole thing but, alas, it wasn¹t meant to be as Triple H soon entered and eventually Punk was gone.

There wasn’t much to rave about in this Rumble but there were a few nice spots. HBK kicking Trips over the top and eliminating him furthers the DX tension and sets up a possible HBK-HHH ‘Mania match if HBK can’t find
another route to Undertaker.

Obviously the biggest news of the night was Edge entering at number 29. You pretty much knew he was going to win it at that point, a la Cena in 2008. Edge went right after Chris Jericho, setting up a potential future bout between the two.

The final four saw Cena with Shawn Michaels, Edge and Batista. Batista eliminated HBK after he and Edge were tussling on the ring apron. Michaels snapped and superkicked one of the referees before eventually leaving. I like where this is going and it leaves open the door for a Batista-HBK feud.

The last two were Cena and Edge and thankfully Edge tossed Cena over the top. Now there are even more questions. One of the popular WrestleMania scenarios had a matchup of Edge and Chris Jericho. So will Y2J somehow win the strap and defend it against Edge at ‘Mania? Or will Edge go after ‘Taker again? An Edge-Sheamus matchup seems unlikely, so there could also be a possibility of Orton winning the gold before WrestleMania and defending it against Edge.

The sad part about the whole thing is that, while Edge has been gone for a while, he still isn’t really a fresh face in the main event scene. I’ll take it, though, since it¹s better than another Triple H-Orton main event.