Sunday afternoon I went to Ring of Honor’s Final Battle show at the Manhattan Center before heading to Brooklyn for WWE’s TLC pay-per-view. All told, I watched about seven hours of wrestling ? most of it great and all of it brutal. There were more staged calamities than I could count, and almost as many real-life near catastrophes. I wouldn’t have missed either show live, but seeing them back-to-back left me wandering out of the Barclays Center at 11 p.m. with a sort of ladder-match PTSD. When I went to get a drink and the bar I stepped into had a ladder leaning against the wall in front of me, I wondered if I might be having flashbacks.
Then, Monday night, WWE held its Slammy Awards, the annual high point of fourth-wall-shattering ridiculousness, when WWE takes itself not seriously at all. They invite odd-couple pairings to present awards and give out honoraries with studiously unhip titles like “LOL Moment of the Year.” The night normally isn’t a favorite of mine, but after Sunday’s savage action, the Slammys were a welcome reprieve. And so in honor of those awards, I decided to recap my Sunday marathon of carnage by giving out my own accolades. Let’s call them the Maskies.
Least Likely to Stick a Tricky Landing
To Sin Cara, who gets hurt so often he probably needs breathing insurance. TLC opened with a tag-team match between the luchador tandem of Sin Cara and Rey Mysterio against the brilliantly smarmy heel duo of Damien Sandow and Cody Rhodes. It ended when Sin Cara bounced off the top rope and was shoved backward by Rhodes onto two tables outside the ring. He only hit one of them. Luckily, he landed butt-first and avoided any crippling injuries, although the crowd wasn’t so much worried for Sin Cara’s health as they were confused about the decision to have him do that. I heard one fan ask, “What was WWE thinking?” A guy in another row answered, “I have no idea, man.” Asking Sin Cara to perform a move like that at such a high-profile moment is like Mike D’Antoni picking Dwight Howard to shoot a pair of technical-foul free throws with time expired and the Lakers down one. I like Sin Cara, honestly, but he needs an injury-free year before I can support maneuvers like this. Maybe this’ll be the year. Oh wait, never mind.
The Portlandia Award for Best Hipster-on-Hipster Trash Talk
To Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow. While CM Punk used his promo later that night to insult more antiquated Brooklyn stereotypes ? punctuated by Paul Heyman’s sarcastic “Fuggedaboutit” ? the Rhodes Scholars opened the show with an anti-hipster tirade. It would have been funny enough on its own terms, but the humor was elevated because Rhodes, with his crowd-riling, wispy mustache,1 and Sandow, with his greasy hair and grizzled beard, looked like they stepped straight out of Willliamsburg’s Brooklyn Barbell Club and into the Barclays Center.2
The “You People Shut Up” Award for Most Blatant Audience Baiting
I think I can unofficially proclaim that mustache as the most “over heel” attribute in the WWE, meaning that it’s enormously popular and equally loved and hated by fans. Rhodes’s ‘stache on its own might be the most effective heel in wrestling.
My roommate, who accompanied me to TLC and who keeps her potential star athlete baby daddies assiduously ranked, says that Cody is now officially no. 1.
To sideline reporter Matt Striker, for climbing into the ring after a victory by baddie Antonio Cesaro and asking, “Antonio, what is your response to the negative reaction from the crowd?” This, of course, made the until-then silent crowd erupt in a chorus of boos.
Most Unexpectedly Relevant Member of the Audience
To the guy over in Section 23 who brought a Mexican flag. Hey, national pride is great, but who would have guessed that an in-show plot point would revolve around Mexican pride? When the delightfully terrible 3 Man Band was being interviewed in the ring, their ire suddenly and illogically became focused on the Spanish-language announcers’ table. This was a thinly veiled WWE narrative ploy to facilitate the intervention of Mexican Alberto Del Rio and set up a match later that night. The crowd went wild, as they do anytime a member of 3MB gets punched, and among the pleased fans was the guy holding the Mexican flag, who was joy-drunk with validation and jumping more wildly than the rest.
Best Call-and-Response Chant
“Let’s go Cena!” and “Ce-na sucks!” have officially dropped to second place in the dueling chant rankings behind “Feed me more!” and “Goldberg!” which accompany every Ryback appearance. This is not to say that “Let’s go Cena!”/”Ce-na sucks!” did not happen. They did. Speaking of which, honorable mention in this category goes to a small army of 5-year-olds in the skybox behind me who responded to the wave of Cena resentment with both halves of a “Let’s go Cena!”/”Zigg-ler sucks!” chant of their own.
The Nate Silver Award for Most Unnecessary Claim of Prescience
To the guy sitting behind me, who, when The Shield powerbombed Ryback through the Spanish-language announcers’ table (which gets shattered under the weight of a wrestler at approximately 99.9 percent of WWE pay-per-views), said to his buddies: “Spanish announce table! I called it!”
Best Crowd Interaction
To the tag team of Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas, who have wrestled in Ring of Honor intermittently since getting laid off by WWE, and who hear tons of snarling sass from the crowd because of their WWE tenure (you might remember them as Kurt Angle’s cronies). They indulge the boos by copiously flipping off the crowd. The fans’ hatred of them felt especially virulent because Benjamin and Haas’s opponents were indie regulars Rhett Titus and B.J. Whitmer. The match had been billed as an “NYC Street Fight,” and in honor of the holiday season, it included a Santa bag full of weaponized candy canes and a plastic Christmas tree along with the usual supply of kendo sticks and tables. At one point in the match, Benjamin was on the verge of striking one of his opponents with a kendo stick, but the crowd intervened. “Use the tree! Use the tree!” they chanted. Benjamin flashed an evil grin, picked up the tree, and seemed to ponder what it would be like to bash somebody with it. Then he went stone-faced, tossed the tree onto the floor outside the ring, and flipped off the now-apoplectic crowd.
Runner-up: To John Cena, who answered a “You can’t wrestle” chant with a relatively stunning minute or so of unexpected chain wrestling, including a monkey flip. He also busted out a Frankensteiner later in the match.
The Scariest Thing I’ve Ever Seen in Person Award
To B.J. Whitmer (with an assist from Charlie Haas). The end of the tag match came when Haas belly-to-belly superplexed Whitmer off the top rope, three-quarters of the way across the ring, and (accidentally) headfirst through a table and onto the mat. Haas quickly covered Whitmer, who was tangled in a mess of table remnants, and then left the ring snickering at the damage he’d done as the training staff checked to see how hurt Whitmer actually was. Apparently, he survived, but my nightmares persist.
Best Exit of the Night
To Kane, who, toward the end of his match (alongside Daniel Bryan and Ryback) against The Shield, was tackled through the guardrail and then buried under everything the Shield guys could get their hands on. The match went on for another 10 minutes, with Kane presumably relaxing under the garbage pile the whole time. Only one guy in my section even noticed when he was exhumed and led to the back.
Best Finishing Move
To Eddie Edwards, who finished Kyle O’Reilly3 after a grueling tag-team match that appeared to consist almost entirely of real, painful-looking kicks to each other’s heads and chests. The end sequence saw Edwards hold down O’Reilly while Edwards’s partner, Davey Richards, jumped off the top rope and onto O’Reilly’s chest. Then Richards turned him over and put him in an Achilles Lock (think the Lion Tamer, but with a second pressure point), and finally he stomped on O’Reilly’s head for about 30 seconds until the ref called the match.
My irrational pick for Guy Who Will Become An Unlikely Superstar, which is such as indefensible position that I’m burying it in this footnote.
Runner-up: The Brooklyn Brawler, famous jobber of the 1980s and early ’90s WWF, made a triumphant return to his home borough as the surprise partner of The Miz and Alberto Del Rio. Brawler finished the match for the nominal good guys, defeating 3MB member Jinder Mahal with a Brooklyn Crab, which is the same as a Boston Crab, except ? obviously ? fuck you, Boston.4
Best Non-Finishing Move
But let us never forget that after the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, The Brawler turned an NYC crowd against him by pulling off a Yankees jersey to reveal a Boston one.
To Mark Briscoe of the spectacular Briscoe Brothers, who climbed to the second rope, scooted to the midway point between the turnbuckles (he got there by doing a hilarious hayseed version of the Charleston that I’m pretty sure was cribbed directly from the “In the Jailhouse Now” sequence at the end of O Brother, Where Art Thou), and then hit a vicious elbow drop onto his opponent. I don’t know if it has a name, but I’m calling it the Soggy Bottom Elbow Drop until further notice.5
The “I Can’t Believe I’m Cheering for This Guy” Award
When he did the move a few months back, announcer Nigel McGuiness remarked, “Everyone has a right to be stupid, but let’s be honest, he’s kind of abusing the privilege.”
To R.D. Evans, a turtlenecked manager, who looks precisely nothing like a wrestler, even in (pink) tights. He overcame the crowd’s chorus of “Go go Power Rangers!” and then unleashed some nice technical moves and convincing aerial maneuvers.
Best WWE Moment at Final Battle
To Matt Hardy, who has been more or less unceremoniously dumped from mainstream wrestling, but who has had a minor resurgence by playing himself in ROH. Himself, of course, being The Most Reviled Wrestler of the Decade.6 Hardy hit his Side Effect finisher so many times it had to have been ironic.
About a month ago, rumors started circulating that WWE had interest in El Generico, which is simultaneously the most ridiculous and most obvious idea I’ve heard in forever. Ridiculous because Generico is exactly the kind of indie wrestler that WWE avoids — too silly, too limited, too diminutive — and obvious because he’s a much better version of Sin Cara, at least in terms of what WWE wants to get out of him. The idea with Sin Cara, as with Rey Mysterio before him, is that kids love him because he’s almost as small as them. He’s like a living superhero, but kids don’t like Spider-Man; they like that a kid named Peter Parker is going around as Spider-Man, and that’s precisely Generico’s appeal. His ring entrance — “Ole” by The Bouncing Souls — which is accompanied by masses of fan-hurled streamers, ranks right behind those of Hulk Hogan and The New Age Outlaws on my list of all-time entrances. (To be fair, ROH fans throw streamers for every entrance, but it’s more intrinsic to Generico’s entrance than any other.) I’m confident that if WWE signed Generico and kept him exactly the same (well, they should maybe make him shave his back) he could be a huge star. But the likelihood of them actually signing him and then, if they do, keeping him the same, seems disappointingly low.
Runner-up: To the Diamond Cutter, known best for being Randy Orton’s finishing move, which was used in so many different ways at Final Battle ? and considering that Orton was sidelined from the WWE card with a shoulder injury ? Orton’s street cred actually went up without his participation.
Best ROH Moment at TLC
To Seth Rollins, former ROH champion, who (after a shove from Ryback) took a nasty tumble off a super-high ladder and missed one of the two tables he was supposed to crash through with every part of his body but his head. It was a nasty sight, but at least it resulted in this hilarious victory photo after The Shield’s win.
Biggest Winner of the Night
The ladder lobby. With the exception of one ladder that turned into shrapnel at the ROH show, the ladders held up under the weight of some enormous wrestlers. Way to go, ladders!
Biggest Loser of the Night
The folding-table industry. Either Sunday’s bevy of tables were more gimmicked than The Honky Tonk Man’s guitar or they’re just not making particleboard like they used to.
Most Warranted Instance of Insane Violence
To Kevin Steen and El Generico, who went out of their way to make anything that happened a few hours later at TLC seem insignificant. Their match ? dubbed “Ladder War IV” ? was the culmination of a years-long partnership-cum-feud that spread over several independent wrestling organizations. For Ring of Honor purposes, both men debuted in 2007 and both were summarily despised by ROH’s notoriously opinionated fans. They formed a tag team, started getting really good, and after splitting up they embarked on singles careers that have helped define the modern ROH style of wrestling.
ROH champion Steen is like CM Punk meets Mick Foley, a chubby hard-core exhibitionist with great mic skills and anti-authoritarian brashness. These qualities made him a fan favorite when he feuded with ROH official Jim Cornette earlier this year, and they also made him a delectable asshole when he beefed with beloved good guys, none more famously than El Generico. Generico is ? well, he’s every nerd in the world who dreamed of ironically putting on a luchador mask and making a go of it in the ring, except he actually did it. He’s a white guy with a slight build and a goatee who ascended the ranks of Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, CHIKARA, and ROH to become perhaps the most beloved wrestler on the indie scene. He can lose matches without losing heat because he wins just by being there.7
Cameron, North Carolina — hometown of Matt and his brother, current TNA champ Jeff — got louder boos than any city in any ring announcement I’ve ever heard, including Tehran and Moscow.
“Ladder War” was everything it promised to be, a brutal contest between two guys whose arsenals lean heavily on convincingly dropping opponents on their necks. The end sequence occurred when Steen was ascending an Eiffel Tower of ladders to retrieve his championship belt and a thoroughly demolished Generico made one last attempt to stop him. Steen looked at him with something approaching tenderness, then put Generico in a cradle pile driver through two ladders that were bridged horizontally across two standing ladders. Often in indie wrestling, the violence is superfluous and unearned in terms of story line development, but in this case, everything felt reasonable ? as far as brawls involving fake Mexican wrestlers go, I mean.
Most Warranted Instance of Cartoon Violence
To The Big Show, who ended his chairs match with Sheamus by unveiling a giant folding chair and smacking him with it with the implicit force of a nuclear bomb.
Most Awesomely Superheroic Feat
To John Cena, who lifted a ladder while Dolph Ziggler was climbing it, pressed it over his head, and then threw it outside the ring. (Ziggler jumped off in the nick of time.) People often lament Cena’s Superman routine, how he frequently shrugs off beatings to come back and dispatch any foe, and in narrative terms I often agree. But there’s nothing to complain about when Cena actually performs a Superman-style feat of strength, and this had to be the coolest thing he has ever done. At Final Battle, ROH went out of its way to show us all the things their wrestlers do better than WWE’s talent, but when Cena hoisted that ladder, I thought, Well, Kevin Steen sure couldn’t do that. It’s a small thing, but it was emblematic of the whole Cena-Ziggler match, which was every bit as good as “Ladder War,” even if it existed in a totally different wrestling dimension.
Best Line of the Night
To Jerry Lynn, onetime ECW star and a living legend to many of today’s younger, more aerially inclined wrestlers. Lynn had his ROH farewell match Sunday, as he’s steering toward retirement. He closed his heartfelt good-bye speech with this: “The more you raise hell the more we want to come out here and kill ourselves.” As the night went on, Lynn’s words felt more and more true.
This article has been updated to correct information on “Ladder War.”