Monday, June 30, 2014

The Champ is Here... Again, And It's Fine

Cena is champ...again
Photo courtesy: WWE
By Kevin Hunsperger
@kevinhunsperger & @my123cents on Twitter

Wow, wrestling fans are upset one day removed from the Money in the Bank pay per view (can we still call them that?).  Unless you've been under a rock for the last 18 hours, you know that John Cena is the new WWE World Heavyweight champion.  It's a scenario I had predicted in my blog over the weekend.  The only difference was I had Seth Rollins cashing in immediately on the new champ.  

That's not what happened, and I'm not planning to boycott the WWE or cancel my subscription to the Network.  I'm surprised at the number of people I've seen post that on social media.  Instead, I'm going to be patient and see what happens from here.  My blogs in the past have been critical of the WWE and wanting the payoff to happen right away.  I've got to remind myself, and you all as well, that this is a never ending story with WWE.  

Look at the slow burn we got with Daniel Bryan and his quest for gold.  In a perfect world, he wouldn't have gotten hurt and needed surgery.  Bryan would have retained the WWE World Title against Kane at Money in the Bank and gone on to face his next contender in Brock Lesnar.  But the reality is, Bryan is hurt, and from what I've read it's still pretty bad.  He's going to need time to heal and that means it's time for Plan B.

Wyatt throwing himself & the ladder around
Photo courtesy: WWE
John Cena is that go to guy.  And through the years, I've come to accept that and quite honestly even like it.  Yeah, it's repetitive, but I don't blame him.  The WWE must continue to build up others to have a deeper pool when it comes to the main event picture.  I don't expect Cena's run this time around to be a long one, and I think that's one of the main reasons they decided against putting the belt on Bray Wyatt, Roman Reigns, or Cesaro.  All three men will have their dates with destiny, I have no doubt about that, but right now is just not the time.

Lesnar is waiting for Cena
Photo courtesy: WWE
The talk is that Lesnar will face the champ at SummerSlam. Given his incredible feat of beating the Undertaker at Wrestlemania XXX, that only makes sense.  One can assume that he'll become the champion again as well.  Some have speculated that he'll keep the gold through 'Mania, when a hungry and better developed Roman Reigns will win it all.  While I like the idea of Reigns taking the glory at Mania, I'm not sure I like the idea of a part time heavyweight champion for that long.  But that being said,  I also wonder sometimes if the champs of the past of been overexposed between Raw, SmackDown!, and pay per view events. (I sound like I'm running for office)

Rollins wins!
Photo courtesy: WWE
There's also the Rollins factor to contend with here too.  I don't think he's ready for a run as champion yet, but I don't think he'll become a failed cash-in guy either.  He has a whole year to do it, but it seems with the tension between Cena and the Authority, it would make sense to do it sooner rather than later, but that then throws a monkey wrench into the Lesnar scenario.  

Orton gets injured
Photo courtesy: WWE
No matter what happens, I like the fact that things that were once predictable have become a bit harder to figure out.  For now, I'm fine with Cena as the champion, but I acknowledge the need to develop others, and perhaps use guys who have been there before as well. One other note, while I'm glad Randy Orton isn't the champion again, I give him props for the injury he sustained at the pay per view.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Money in the Bank Predictions

Who will win?
By Kevin Hunsperger
@kevinhunsperger & @my123cents on Twitter

I usually vlog my pay per view predictions over on my YouTube channel, but time is running out and things have been hectic this past week, so I'm going to just write up some quick thoughts on Money in the Bank.

Photo courtesy: WWE
Diva's Championship Match: Paige vs. Naomi: 
I still think the WWE has some work to do when it comes to Divas division.  There are some very talented women wrestling right now for the company, and they need the opportunity to shine.  I also don't think they've done a whole lot with Paige as the champion. Despite the fact that she's held the title for more than two months, I don't feel like I know much about her.  For that reason alone, I'd like to see her retain and the company do more to develop her character.

Photo courtesy: WWE
Tag Team Title Match: The Usos vs. Harper & Rowan:
This should be a great contest between two terrific tag teams.  The WWE in recent years has lacked solid tag team wrestling.  Every time I get hopeful that that's about to change a monkey wrench is thrown into the plans.  I like both of these teams, but I think Harper and Rowan have the edge here.  But no matter who wins here, I want to see the WWE continue to keep both teams together. No more breakups in 2014!

Photo courtesy: WWE
Stardust & Goldust vs. Rybaxel: 
I pick the recharged combo of the 'dust brothers.  I like what they're doing here and am interested to see where it's headed, perhaps another run as champs against the Wyatt Family.

Photo courtesy: WWE
Big E vs. Rusev:
This is a rematch from Extreme Rules.  Rusev has been on such a role.  I don't want to see him lose that momentum to someone he's already beaten.  So for that reason, I say continue the Rusev push.

Photo courtesy: WWE
Layla vs. Summer Rae: 
Lately, all I watch is Raw, so I don't know how this feud has been developing on other WWE programs, and honestly I haven't paid a whole lot of attention to it.  My gut tells me that Fandango, who is the guest referee, will turn on Layla and reunite with Summer. Honestly, I thought they made the better couple anyway.  Did I just say that???

Photo courtesy: WWE
MITB Contract Match: 
Here's where things start getting tough for me.  Part of my thinking is the winner of this match will cash in as soon as a new champ is crowned in the main event.  It seems logical the way the story has been building that Seth Rollins will win this match.  But Dean Ambrose has been such a thorn in his side, I could see him costing Rollins the win.  Does Triple H have something up his sleeve to insure a Rollins victory?  Since I need to pick, I'm gonna go with Rollins...

Photo courtesy: WWE
World Title MITB Match: 
Which leads to picking John Cena to win the championship. Rollins cashes in on a battered and beaten Cena, setting up for a feud with Daniel Bryan when he returns.  I only pick Cena to win this because I don't want someone new to hold the belt for a few seconds before a cash in happens.  I know there are "leaked" images of the SummerSlam poster floating around with Cena and Brock Lesnar, but I think that's all a swerve.  However, that being said, I don't know that the WWE has the faith to do a Rollins-Bryan program for the WWE World Heavyweight title.  I'd love to see Roman Reigns win it all, but I'd rather see him continue to develop and fight for it with a payoff coming at a bigger event, perhaps Wrestlemania.  I like Cesaro too, and if this was just for the contract, he'd be my pick.  

So there are my thoughts.  It's clear as mud when it comes to the two most important matches.  No matter what happens, it's sure to be interesting.  As long as Randy Orton walks out without the title, I'll be happy.  Sorry to all the Orton fans...

Friday, June 27, 2014

My Journey Into Hockey Fandom

A hockey fan is born
By Chad Smart
@chadsmart & @my123cents on Twitter

Growing up near St. Louis, my only interaction with hockey was when I’d turn the channel to KPLR-11 at 6:30 to watch the nightly syndicated original programming. Occasionally there would be a St. Louis Blues game on instead. I would watch just long enough to realize Charles in Charge, or Out of This World wasn’t going to be on and then change the channel. In the ‘90s, I became a “fan” of the Pittsburgh Penguins not because I actually liked hockey, but because Alyssa Milano was dating Rob Brown. I figured if I liked the Penguins that would give us something to talk about when I eventually met Alyssa. Twenty years later I’m still waiting to meet her.  Seeing a University of Arizona vs. Arizona State University hockey game in college was my only other hockey interaction until six years ago.

After living in Los Angeles for a year, my friend Mike and I decided to become roommates. Mike is a hockey super fan. In fact, I’d say during hockey season his television viewing is 85% hockey games, 14% hockey highlights and 1% The Colbert Report.  This meant if I watching TV with him during hockey season, I would be watching hockey games.  I would usually watch maybe one period at most before retreating to my room where I could watch anything besides hockey.  After a year of living together, Mike and I went our separate ways and I was free to avoid hockey for the most part. The only time I’d remember hockey existed was when Mike and I hung out. Life was good.

Hockey Map

In the summer of 2013, Mike told me he was starting a hockey blog and one of his goals was to attend a game in all 30 hockey arenas. The first trip being planned was a weekend to Denver to see the Avalanche on Saturday then watch Peyton Manning and the Broncos play the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. Mike asked if I would be interested in tagging along to the Mile High city. Since I enjoy traveling and felt this would be a chance to use my Peyton Manning voodoo doll, I agreed to go without realizing my life was about to change.

After the weekend in Denver, plans started being made for a weekend jaunt to the Great White North. My Australian friend Jackie was working at a ski resort in Banff, Alberta. I wanted to go visit her and it just happened the weekend I was thinking of traveling both the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers were playing home games. Unfortunately the trip never materialized due to work commitments. As a back up plan, Mike and I made the five-hour drive up to San Jose to see the Sharks in action. 

The Sharks!

San Jose was the proverbial religious experience that started my conversion into full-blown hockey fandom. First off, S.J. Sharkie is one of the greatest mascots ever. Second, when the Sharks take the ice, they skate out of a giant shark head. How can you not think that is awesome?  I’ll admit that I have a bad memory when it comes to what actually happened during the games I’ve seen. I seem to recall this being a fun game between the Sharks and the Minnesota Wild. Maybe it was or maybe I was getting my hockey baptism and thus have an altered memory of the game.

A week or two before the San Jose trip, Mike started piecing together a weekend trip to New York in March. The initial plan was to see The New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders.  The weekend for the trip fit nicely into my schedule as I was set to finish up work on (the now last season of) Kitchen Nightmares the week prior and needed a good getaway to decompress from a hectic season.  Before we got to New York, I joined Mike on the second half of his two games in one-day experience by watching the Dallas Stars win on the road against the Anaheim Ducks. A week later a couple other friends accompanied me to the Staples Center to see the Los Angeles Kings battle the Montreal Canadians.

After the Anaheim game, I decided I needed to buy a jersey to wear to games. If I was going to embrace hockey, I felt it was only fitting to look like I actually knew something about the sport. The problem was I wasn’t a fan of a specific team. Sure, I had liked the Penguins twenty years ago but I couldn’t tell you anything about the team now. The more I thought about it, the more I decided I didn’t want an NHL jersey as I would be wearing it to multiple arenas and didn’t want to risk humiliation or jeers for wearing an opposing team’s colors.

A quick web search yielded the discovery of Geeky Jerseys.  This was the perfect solution. Pop culture inspired jerseys. Unfortunately, they only sell two styles at a time and the ones I wanted weren’t available. More searching of the web ensued and finally I decided to get a jersey of a minor league team. Since I am first and foremost a wrestling fan, there really was only one option, a Calgary Hitmen jersey.  The team takes its name from former co-owner, former WWF World Champion, Bret “Hitman” Hart.

The Devils in action
Now that I could pass as a hockey fan at games, it was time to finalize plans for New York.  As mentioned earlier, the plan originally was for a quick weekend trip to take in two games. Digging further into the NHL schedule resulted in the finding the New York Rangers were playing at home on Monday. Since we were already going to be there, why not add a day to the trip and make it three games in three days?  Shortly before the trip my friend Sean surprised me with an Evansville Icemen jersey as an early birthday present. I added a Saginaw Spirit jersey as well so now I had three jerseys for the trip.

Henrik Lundqvist tending goal
First game of the weekend featured a matchup of the two closest teams in the NHL. The New York Rangers hopped on the subway and took the nine-mile trip into Newark to battle the New Jersey Devils. Having two teams as close to each other as these meant the crowd was almost a 50/50 split in terms of who fans were cheering for during the game. The Rangers skated away with 2-0 victory resulting in Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist setting the New York Rangers record for most victories by a goalie and most shut outs.

Lundqvist ceremony
For the New York Islanders game, our friend Matt made the drive up from Baltimore.  This was a good thing as Matt drove to the arena instead of us trying to figure out how to get there using subways and buses. There are only two positives things I can say about the Islanders game. From a wrestling fan perspective, we were in the venue that hosted the New York portion of Wrestlemania 2. That and the fact the Islanders mascot is Sparky the Dragon who may or may not be related to Dragon Dragon makes him one of the best mascots in the league.  Other than those two items, the Nassau Coliseum is completely outdated and probably the worst venue in the league.

Wrestlemania display at MSG

Being in the venue of Wrestlemania 2 may have been a disappointment but the next stop would be a different experience.  Two days after seeing Henrik Lundqvist’s record setting performance, Mike and I went to see what he could do at home. Walking around the concourse of Madison Square Garden, I marked out big time when I found a display commemorating Wrestlemania 1. Who needed a hockey game? I was looking at Roddy Piper’s boots and Hulk Hogan’s tights. Wait, that sounds weird.  Onto the game.  Before the game, Henrik was presented with a few gifts to honor his accomplishments. During the first period, the pre-game celebration seemed a bit of a jinx. The Phoenix Coyotes went up 2-0 after one period. The Rangers would eventually come back and win 4-3 in overtime.

Even though we were watching one of the best goalies in the league, and saw the Coyotes goalie get carried off the ice after injuring his ankle, the highlight of the game for me was my introduction to Brian Boyle. Since this was my first season of watching hockey, I wasn’t familiar with too many players. I don’t know the reasoning but for some reason whenever Boyle got the puck the Rangers faithful would boo him out of the building. Even though he was on their team, the fans simply didn’t like him.  This led me to making the decision that Brian Boyle is the greatest player in the NHL.  I was rooting for him to be the MVP in the Stanley Cup Finals. Sadly it wasn’t to be for this year. I’ll be curious to see where Boyle ends up next season.

Louie as Darth Vader
The trip to New York came to a close and it was time to move on to the next phase of my cross-country three-week trip. I headed to Illinois to visit family before driving up to Banff, Alberta.  While I was back home, the St. Louis Blues had one home game I could fit into my schedule. For the geek in me this game was perfect as it was Star Wars night. The game also allowed me to hang out with friends who were getting ready to move back to Boston. The highlight of the game, besides seeing Louie the mascot dressed as Darth Vader, was seeing TJ Oshie record his first hat trick. 

After four games in one week, it was time for a hockey break. The next two weeks consisted of driving to Banff to pick up Jackie then driving back to Illinois to pick up Kevin (the creator of this blog for you new readers) and on to New Orleans for Wrestlemania 30.

Once the wrestling weekend was over it was time to head back to Los Angeles. But not before a quick stop in Phoenix. Met back up with Mike and a friend of his from Junior High to take in the final Phoenix Coyotes home game of the season. Normally we would sit in the upper deck of the arenas to get a good view of the ice and because those are the cheap seats. 

Fourth row in Phoenix
For the Coyotes we managed to get fourth row seats for less than what the cheap seats at MSG cost. Being that close to the ice was an interesting vantage point. However, I have to say, I prefer the higher seats. The view from the rafters reminds me of the classic EA Sports hockey games for the Sega Genesis. During first intermission of the game, I was standing outside of the team store just minding my own business. An older gentleman noticed my Calgary Hitmen jersey and felt I would be a good person to discuss Western Hockey League.  He started talking about this player and that player. I wanted to respond with, “I just like the logo of this team. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Thankfully Mike was nearby and since he knows hockey, he was able to converse with the guy who happened to be from Alberta.

The next day we took in an Arizona Diamondbacks game. After seeing five hockey games in three weeks, baseball was like watching life move in slow motion. We flew back to LA that night as the NHL season came to an end. That should have been the end attending games, but I was fortunate to live within thirty miles of two teams who were in the playoffs.

First up on the playoff circuit was a rematch from an earlier game. The Dallas Stars faced the Anaheim Ducks in the opening round.  Because I don’t own a calendar and rarely know the date, I ended up initially buying tickets for the wrong Friday. Luckily by the time I realized the mistake, I could still get tickets for the right date for the same price. Ended up going to Games 2 and 5 in Anaheim. While the Stars had won the regular season game 2-0, during the playoffs the Ducks avenged the loss with 3-2 and 6-2 victories.

Minnesota playoffs
During the second round, I was stuck in Rochester, Minnesota while my dad underwent some tests at the Mayo clinic. Rochester is a nice town. Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot to do there when it came to avoiding cabin fever from being in a hotel room for a week. I kept checking Ticketmaster and was fortunate enough to find a few unsold tickets had been released the day before game three of the series. I got to add another arena to my list and saw the Minnesota Wild defeat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-0.

Having gotten addicted to not just hockey but playoff hockey, while sitting in the St. Louis airport awaiting to fly back to LA, I broke down and bought tickets to Game 4 of the Ducks/Kings series. While I ended up paying more than I would have liked, I was hoping the Kings would have been going for the sweep. The Ducks had other plans and won Game 3 a few hours after I bought tickets. The Ducks went on to win Game 4 by a score of 2-0. The outcome seemed fitting for the final game I would see this season. Visiting teams winning 2-0 had become a running joke throughout the travels.

Common sense almost went out the window as I debated buying a ticket for game 5 of the Rangers vs. Kings Finals. As much as I tried to justify it, I couldn’t pull the plug since I was unemployed and didn’t have a solid lead for a job. Watching the game on TV, I have never felt more disappointed in listening to reason and not doing something crazy. Oh well, there’s always next season.

During a seven month journey the NHL cultivated a new fan. I still don’t know a lot of the players and can’t give you stats or even tell you the outcome of games I saw without taking time to think about them. Yet, for the first time ever, I was eager for the NHL schedule to be released this past weekend. There are already plans in place for trips during the season. If all goes according to plan, I will get to add Chicago, Miami, Tampa, Boston and possibly Dallas to the list of venues visited. The only issue remaining is do I pick a team to root for during the season or do I simply enjoy the sport for what it is and cheer the home teams?  We’ll save that discussion for another day.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Soothing the Savage Beasts

Steele, Bushwhackers, & Kamala
By Kevin Hunsperger
@kevinhunsperger & @my123cents on Twitter

In recent years we've seen monsters like Kane, Big Show, and The Great Khali toned down and turned into lovable or at least likable baby faces.  It's not a new trend by any means (even though Kane has returned to his demonic ways), and to illustrate the point, I'm going to talk about a few of my favorite examples of soothing the savage beasts of wrestling in the 1980's.
George "The Animal" Steele
Photo courtesy: WWE
George "The Animal" Steele lived up to his name through his career.  When I started watching wrestling in 1983, George was still wrestling as a bad guy.  He tore his opponents apart as his manager at the time, Mr. Fuji watched with that sly smile on his face.  During the summer of 1984, he and Fuji teamed up to take on Hulk Hogan and announcer "Mean" Gene Okerlund.  This match is my first real memory of Steele wrestling.  He would flail his arms around and groan like a madman in ring.  It was a site to behold and worked well at psyching out his opponents and leaving fans to wonder just how crazy the guy was.  I know prior to all that he had had some intense matches with then WWF Champion Bruno Sammartino as well.

Right after the first Wrestlemania and on what I believe was the first Saturday Night's Main Event, The Animal was abandoned by his tag team partners The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff along with manager "Classy" Freddie Blassie.  The trio left George to get beaten in a six man tag team match against Barry Windham, Mike Rotunda, and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat.  The abandonment lead George to the wildly popular baby face manager Captain Lou Albano.  Over time, The Captain did his best to tame the Animal.  He underwent shock treatment, but alas, once an animal always an animal.  After Albano retired, George went it alone, but toted around a stuffed version of himself, called Mine.  I always wanted one of those plush toys, but never got one.

"George's manager! Win! Lizabeth!"
Photo courtesy: WWE
He feuded with "Macho Man" Randy Savage over the hand of the lovely Miss Elizabeth, as well as the Intercontinental championship.  The Animal came up short against Savage at Wrestlemania II for the belt.  Later, the two had a match on SNME, in which the winner "got" Liz.  As a preteen fan, and a mark for George, I thought for sure that night he'd win and a new era for the Beauty and the Beast would be underway.  It didn't happen though. But his turn, along with his love for turnbuckles, his green tongue, and his hairy torso landed him on ice cream bars, tshirts, and action figures (I still have my George LJN figure).  He also joined forces with the likes of Junkyard Dog and Steamboat.

The bloody and battered Sheepherders
Before The Bushwhackers became the beloved and dimwitted duo of the WWF, they were the brutally dangerous Sheepherders in the Midsouth and other wrestling territories.  As the Sheepherders, I can remember some of their bloody and brutal matches against the Fantastics.  Luke Williams and Butch Miller would go back and forth with Tommy Rogers and Bobby Fulton.  Before I'd started watching them on TV though, the Sheepherders (also known as the Kiwis) had spilled a lot of blood around the world.  
The Bushwhackers
Photo courtesy: WWE
I was shocked in 1989, when they surfaced on WWF television as a couple of arm waving cousins.  Their look hadn't really changed, but their attitude certainly did.  The fans took to them like a fish takes to water.  And speaking of fish, the Bushwhackers loved eating sardines.  Luke and Butch never achieved WWF gold, but their run was successful none-the-less as they secured a place in the hearts of wrestling fans around the world.  The popular duo also appeared on the TV show Family Matters.

Kamala battles Hulk Hogan
Photo courtesy: WWE
The one transition from savage beast to gentle giant that I don't think worked so well was Kamala.  As the Ugandan Headhunter, Kamala struck fear in the hearts of his opponents and wrestling fans.  He was a huge attraction in companies like World Class Championship Wrestling, WWF, and WCW.  He was a crazed lunatic in that ring, often ignoring his handlers Friday or Kim Chee.  He threw caution into the wind as he would splash his already beaten opponent.  Kamala would gnaw on his foe's forehead, appearing to the cannibal fans worried he might be.  And I loved every minute of it.

Slick & Kamala go bowling
Photo courtesy: WWE
By late 1992 or early 1993, the WWF decided to pair the Ugandan with the newly saved Slick.  The Doctor of Style had become a reverend and began preaching to Kamala.  He tried in vain to integrate the beast into society.  One of the memorable vignettes came when the two went bowling.  I didn't like the conversion and was thankful they never gave Kamala a speaking role, as I really enjoyed his brutal, headhunter gimmick.  

All three of these examples bring back fond memories for me.  They're just a few of the savage beasts who became soothed along the way.  They're all legendary and have earned their spots in wrestling history.  Thank you gentlemen.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Soccer vs. Wrestling

By Kevin Hunsperger
@kevinhunsperger & @my123cents on Twitter

My goal (pun intended) with this post isn't to rile up soccer fans or wrestling fans, but instead to bring about awareness for both professions.  It all stems from a conversation I had with some co-workers earlier today.  Each side was arguing over the global reach of their respective sport. (Yes, I know there are those who will argue the use of the word "sport" when talking about wrestling, but work with me here.)

Team USA
Photo courtesy: The Telegraph
I actually did some research for this post and I think that if you're a fan of either, this will be good information for you.  I am not a sports fan in general. But I respect athletes who go out there and perform, whether on the field, on the ice, or on the court.  It should come as no surprise, I have tremendous respect for the men and women who step through the ropes of a wrestling ring.

I think in general, Americans do not fully understand the reach that soccer has globally.  According a CNN report,  FIFA is working with more than 700 television, radio, and Internet outlets on providing coverage of the 2014 World Cup.  In this country alone, more than 11 million people tuned in for the USA vs. Ghana match.  That number went up to more than 18 million who watched USA tied Portugal on ESPN.  I can't find worldwide stats, but some more examples: 14.2 million people watched the England-Italy match in the UK.  That's just in the United Kingdom.  Thirty-five point one million fans watched in Japan as that country's team lost to the Ivory Coast.  That's more than double the next highest sporting event on Japanese television.  Very impressive.

WWE Stars Daniel Bryan & John Cena
Photo courtesy: WWE
The point was I trying to make with my colleagues is that the WWE is more than just a wrestling company in North America.  The Superstars and Divas perform all over the world.  According to their website, WWE has offices in several cities, including London, Mumbai, and Tokyo.  The programming is broadcasted in 150 countries, 30 different languages, and reaches 650 million homes worldwide.

Facebook numbers
These are just a few examples of the global reach of each.  I'm impressed with the numbers for both.  Something else to consider these days is the reach via social media.  As of June 25, 2014, there are 33.2 million likes on the official FIFA Facebook page.  Compare that to the WWE's Facebook page with just over 20.2 million likes.  It's a different story with Twitter though.  The WWE's page has 4.41 million followers with FIFA's account garnering 2.29 million.

Twitter followers

I guess the point of it all is that both of these forms of entertainment are wildly popular around the world.  Until recently, I hadn't taken into account the popularity of soccer.  I hope soccer fans consider the worldwide appeal of the WWE and wrestling as well.  It's big business in places like Japan, Mexico, and Europe.  Plus, the only time our guys bite one another is when it's in the script.  I'm looking at you Luis Suarez.  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Wrestling with Regrets

Chikara's big return on May 25, 2014
By Kevin Hunsperger
@kevinhunsperger & @my123cents on Twitter

When asking for questions for the latest episode of Mailbag Monday on my YouTube channel, I was asked a couple of questions I didn't have time to get to.  I decided to address one of them in a blog today.  

Dennis asked "You seem to frequent a lot of wrestling events from Indies to WrestleMania...Is there one show you regret missing out on?"

He's right, I've been to a lot of wrestling shows through the years.  I truly am blessed as a wrestling fan that I've been able to attend eight of the nine last Wrestlemanias.  I've been to the Royal Rumble, Monday Night Raw, Thursday Night Thunder (remember that?), and countless independent wrestling shows (as a fan and as an employee).

Our Raw 1000 Party at home
Love the hats

I'd say if I had to pick regrets on shows I've missed it would be Raw 1,000 which was in St. Louis, a two hour drive from my home in southern Illinois.  I missed out on that one though because my wife was on a business trip and I was home with my children.  I don't regret the time we spent together watching the big anniversary in the comfort of our own home though.  We had a little party here and it was a blast.

The return of Marchie Archie 

An even bigger regret for me was missing out on the Chikara return back in May.  I still consider myself a new fan to the product, still learning the last 13 or 14 years of storylines and characters.  My friends Chad, Adam, and Greg all traveled to Pennsylvania for the return.  My wife was on another trip and quite honestly after dropping some coin at Wrestlemania 30 in New Orleans, another wrestling trip that soon wasn't in the budget.

Mr. Touchdown & Me
I have seen three Chikara shows in person and the very last Wrestling Is Intense show.  My goal one of these days is to make it to one of the company's iPayPerView events.  If you've never experienced Chikara live and in person, I'd highly recommend it.  Not only is the action always top notch, but many of the wrestlers take time to interact with the fans, signing autographs and posing for pictures.  It makes for a truly memorable experience.

And before it even comes up, I'll be missing the Survivor Series this year too.  It's coming to St. Louis, but because it's in November and I work in TV news and can't take time off during "sweeps", I'll miss out.  I get up at 1:30 in the morning, and would be rolling back into town just in time to head to work.  I've tried that before, after the Chikara shows I attended in Indiana and it's too rough on this old fan.  

Thanks for the question Dennis.  Anyone else who ever wants to participate, post a question here or on the YouTube channel.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

You're Fired

WOWL in February 1999
By Kevin Hunsperger
@kevinhunsperger & @my123cents on Twitter

It's hard to believe that 15 years have passed since I lost my first on-air job.  I was working at WOWL-TV in Florence, Alabama and had been there for about 18 months when the station's co-owner and acting general manager, Bruce Lumpkin, was killed in a car accident.  We all knew that the station would eventually be switching from an NBC affiliate to UPN, thus ending the local newscast.  Bruce had asked us all to stay on board until the transition, which was scheduled for September 1999, and he'd keep those of us who couldn't find reporting jobs elsewhere on staff as sales and production members.

Bruce's accident happened in May.  That's when Bruce's business partner, who was in Atlanta, informed all of us that the promises made by Bruce went to heaven with him the day he died. That statement was made on a Thursday evening in late June. Friday morning there were memos in all the news employees mailboxes that there was a mandatory meeting at 11 a.m. Monday.

Hanging out in the newsroom
At that point, I was not only running the newsroom, but I was also producing, reporting, and anchoring the 6 p.m. newscast.  So I showed up Monday morning, knowing in my heart that we were all about to be fired, but went ahead and started setting up the stories for the day.  Zero hour finally arrived, and we headed to the conference room.  

The owner sat there and talked to us about all the changes that were coming to the station.  Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he said "Friday was your last show."  (We didn't have weekend or morning newscasts).  I think he wanted us to all start crying and carrying on at him, but we all sat silently. He finally looked at me and said, "Kevin, please say something."  My response, "I have nothing to say.  I have a wife who is four months pregnant.  I need to find a job now."  

He promised us all two weeks severance and any vacation pay that was owed to us.  So we all headed back to the newsroom and started packing our personal belonging as the HR supervisor wrote out our checks.  One of my coworkers noted that the check was just one week's pay.  So we all waited patiently as new checks were cut.

After leaving our now former employer, we all decided a drink or two was in order. So the entire news crew sat at one of the local establishments in town, drinking, laughing, and reminiscing.  It was 2 o'clock in the afternoon.  I can only imagine what the other patrons were thinking as everyone they usually saw on the news was getting lit up like a Christmas tree hours before the news was to start.  As Tom Brokaw signed off the NBC Nightly News and said stay tuned for the local news, the station rolled an infomerical. 
Some WOWL alum from way back when
Even though I wasn't fired for being a bad employee, my departure from WOWL still hurt.  I learned to stay positive and persistent, as I spent the next six weeks looking for work.  My wife, who as I mentioned was pregnant, was working at the time and had insurance.  She'd come home everyday for lunch and dinner was always on the table when she got home.  I'd watch Mama's Family reruns as I searched the web for jobs.  I was becoming quite the house husband, but then in mid-August I got an offer from WLFI in West Lafayette, Indiana.  

I still look back fondly on my days at the Owl and miss the friends I made while I was there.  It's been nearly 15 years since we lived there, and we've never been back.  I'd love to return one day and show the kids the area that helped mold me into the journalist I've become.  

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Imitation Is The Sincerest Form of Flattery

The Renegade
Photo Courtesy: WWE
By Kevin Hunsperger
@kevinhunsperger & @my123cents on Twitter

It seems in all forms of entertainment there are always pretenders to the throne.  There are very few original ideas, but wrestlers, writers, and promoters come up with new ways to present those storylines and characters.  In the 1980's and 90's it seemed when a major player left a company, there was some sort of need to recreate the character.   Sometimes it works, but usually it doesn't.  Here are a few of my favorites.

The Renegade
Photo Courtesy: WWE
I don't usually speak ill of the dead, but when The Renegade was introduced to us in 1995, I (along with just about all other wrestling fans) thought he was a poor man's Ultimate Warrior.  Renegade was hired by WCW to be Hulk Hogan's "ultimate surprise."  Rick Walker (RIP), who played the character, had long brown hair, face paint, and rambled in his promos, just like the originator: Ultimate Warrior.

This was before WCW had even really started the Monday Night Wars, but with signing guys like Hogan, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, and "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, I guess Eric Bischoff thought it made sense to get a Warrior look-a-like.  We learned quickly though that the Renegade couldn't compare, even after beating Arn Anderson for the WCW TV title (which I still consider a major upset in the business)  It was a nice try, but at the end of the day Renegade never connected with the fans and he tried being something he was not.  The Ultimate Warrior stood the test of time because Jim Hellwig BECAME that character.  It was his life, and that's why nearly 30 years later, we're still talking about and praising this legend.

Cpl. Kirchner
Photo Courtesy: WWE
Sargent Slaughter had a solid following of patriotic fans when he stood up to the Russian Nikolai Volkoff and his Iranian sidekick the Iron Sheik.  They had bloody battles and fans loudly chanted USA! as Sarge got the best of the anti-Americans.  But when he left WWF in 1985, the company replaced him with a lower ranking officer.  Corporal Kirchner burst onto the scene and tried to pick up where Slaughter had left off, but just fell flat.  Even as a tween and teenager, I could tell this wasn't going to work.  I think the corporal's WWF highlight included a flag match victory over Volkoff at Wrestlemania II and an LJN action figure in his likeness. I still have mine.  It didn't take long for him to tumble into obscurity, before leaving WWF and finding success with a new gimmick, Leatherface.

Sivi Afi
Photo Courtesy: WWE
Finally, I think it's safe to say "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka was one of the most popular wrestlers in the world back in the early and mid-80's.  He was right behind Hogan and Andre the Giant for a long time in the WWF.  Snuka was voted Pro Wrestling Illustrated's most popular wrestler in 1983.  The Superfly eventually flew away though, leaving the WWF in 1985.  Snuka's "cousin" "Superfly" Afi was brought in to take over.  I liked him, I really did.  He reminded me of a younger version of Snuka, but never quite enough to make you forget about Jimmy.  Eventually Afi dropped the nickname and became Sivi Afi.  It wasn't long before he was enhancement talent and wrestling on Superstars putting over the likes of Savage, Ted DiBiase, and Harley Race.  

Of the three mentioned talents here, I really thought Afi would go the furtherest, but it was never meant to be.  I don't blame these men for signing up to take on these roles, in some cases (maybe all) they had no choice in the matter and were given the gimmick by the powers that be and told to make it work.  Nonetheless, they have provided many memories for me, and deserve some credit for at least getting into the ring and entertaining (or trying to entertain) the audience.