Monday, January 5, 2015

I Listen So You Don't Have To: Recap Extravaganza

A LOT of WrestleKingdom talk this week
Graphics Credit: NJPW Facebook
If you're new, here's the rundown: I listen to a handful of wrestling podcasts each week. Too many, probably, though certainly not all of them. In the interest of saving you time — in case you have the restraint to skip certain episodes — the plan is to give the bare bones of a given show and let you decide if it’s worth investing the time to hear the whole thing. There are better wrestling podcasts out there, of course, but these are the ones in my regular rotation that I feel best fit the category of hit or miss. If I can save other folks some time, I'm happy to do so.

Show: Steve Austin Show Unleashed
Episode: 180
Run Time: 1:56:40
Guest: Jim Ross

Summary: Austin brings Ross on to start the show discussing the upcoming NJPW WrestleKingdom 9, and they also talk a bit about John Cena and the current WWE product. Then Stone Cold takes phone calls from his listeners, with topics including the inconsistent pushing of young stars, the angle where Austin was hit by a car, the RAW writing staff compared to NXT creative, various ring types, movie work, Redneck Island, the Vince McMahon podcast, Adrian Neville and Rusev, Survivor Series 1996, the dream of working a program with CM Punk, the 1997 Royal Rumble, Dolph Ziggler, how to work as a heel in 2014 and the Nashville Fairgrounds. The match of the week is the recent Paul Heyman documentary.

Quote of the week: Ross: “We both do podcasts here for PodcastOne, and I do a little monologue on mine and I talk about what I like and what I don’t like, and I try not to be too negative, really, but selling, across the board in the business, essentially sucks.”

Why you should listen: Are you hyped for WK9? Unless Ross goes heavy on his own show this week, the 15 minutes he spends with Austin are the best promo work I’ve heard yet for the pay-per-view, and that includes his own lengthy interview with Jeff Jarrett. As for the call-in part, it was one of Austin’s better such efforts. There was considerably less repetition of standard topics than usual, and I really appreciate Austin’s willingness to put a random caller on equal footing and have an honest dialogue, even letting the listener direct the flow.

Why you should skip it: Spoiler alert: Not a single caller prefers the term “sports entertainment” over “professional wrestling,” but they all get to weigh in regardless. That appreciation of Austin willing to put a caller on his level could easily be read as confusion over why Austin lets some nobody rant about what he didn’t like on “Raw” last week — especially when the episode lasts nearly two hours. Personally, I’d be fine if we never again called back to the McMahon podcast, but I don’t see it going away any time soon.

Final thoughts: Having listened to Austin twice a week for nearly two years now, I’m fairly well able to pick up on his rhythms and tendencies. It’s clear his unexpected return to LA (family problems called him home from the Broken Skull Ranch) threw him for a loop, and while in the past that might have seriously hampered his podcast, this time he seems to be able to fight through the challenge. The penultimate episode of 2014 was by no means his best, but it’s also fair to say he’s improved so much in the last several weeks to where he’s almost incapable of producing some of the duds he was delivering near the end of summer. I’m looking forward to seeing how he evolves in the next year.

Show: Steve Austin Show
Episode: 181
Run Time: 1:33:15
Guest: Wade Keller

Summary: There’s no monologue this week as Austin gets right into his interview with the dirtsheet writer and prolific podcast host. He and Keller start with a lengthy look back at Austin’s podcast with Vince McMahon that leads to a good breakdown of the current pay-per-view cycle. Shifting to a “year in review” focus, they look at the WWE Network, the current WWE roster and the future of Daniel Bryan, CM Punk’s controversial Off The Record appearance, WrestleKingdom 9, TNA’s new TV home and the Undertaker, wrapping up with a look ahead to WrestleMania XXXI. Ausitn’s Match of the Week is the Network’s Ultimate Warrior documentary.

Quote of the week: Keller: “It’s about heroes and villains, it’s about protagonists and antagonists, babyfaces and heels, whatever terms you want to use, good guys and bad guys fighting … if everybody isn’t in that ring for some sort of purpose, then it just does become talk radio. Everybody has to be fighting for something.”

Why you should listen: I enjoyed Keller here a lot more than in his Survivor Series recap appearance on The Ross Report. He and Austin connect well, and Keller seems able to help Austin put finer points on some of the broad strokes he’s been using in the wake of his McMahon interview. Keller also offers needed perspective on the business side (such as the PPV cycle and TNA TV numbers) without it being overbearing. There’s also some (perhaps needed?) good buzz for the NJPW show.

Why you should skip it: This chat does little to help those fatigued with analyzing McMahon’s interview with Austin, and likewise anyone tired of discussing CM Punk. They’re not major focal points of the episode, but a dead horse is a dead horse. Further, the conversation itself seemed sort of flat, especially in regard to Austin’s talks with similar figures such as Dave Meltzer.

Final thoughts: I’m trying not to bag on this one too much. It’s certainly better by considerable measure than the preceding and following attempts. I don’t have any real experience with Keller’s work, so it’s hard to compare it to his usual audio. It is easy to tell, however, when Austin feels he’s on the line with someone capable of matching him for experience and insight, and those shows are when he’s at his best.

Show: Steve Austin Show Unleashed
Episode: 182
Run Time: 1:26:36
Guest: Ted Fowler, Jeff Williams

Summary: Stone Cold is back at the Broken Skull Ranch, which means he’s sitting down with some drinks, microphones and Ted Fowler. After catching up on the state of the deer herd and reviewing Fowler’s 2014, the guys respond to listener emails about working out, darts and other bar games, drinking, Austin’s broken neck, tobacco usage and quitting, podcasts and the country music genre. During the last topic Austin welcomes his younger brother, Jeff Williams, to discuss his take as a music fan and occasional performer.

Quote of the week: “This podcast is a reflection of my brain and how my thought process works. I don’t plan anything in advance. Man, all of a sudden I show up over here and I say, ‘Hey Teddy, we gotta do a podcast.’ Or I call someone on the phone and talk to ’em, the same day. Or if it’s someone that there’s a lot of research to be done, I’ll do all that research. But it fits in with all the other projects that I do. So it is what it is. It ain’t rocket scientists. I just want to be able to use this thing, with all the bullshit that people have going on in their lives, to give you something to be able to occupy your time.”

Why you should listen: If you missed the comfortable vibe Austin found on his ranch shows before his unexpected return to LA, you’ll be glad to have it back. And if you need a little motivation to either hit the gym or quit a destructive habit cold turkey, the guys are a keen source of motivation. And if you’re desperate for wrestling talk, at least Austin explains why he agreed to taking 10 German suplexes in one match on a surgically-repaired neck.

Why you should skip it: If you come for wrestling talk, you’ll be disappointed. You also might be thrown off with the random song clips Austin drops in to break up topics, especially if you’re listening while grocery shopping, as I was. And hey, if you don’t want to give up smoking or dipping, well, you don’t want to hear what the guys have to say about your habit.

Final thoughts: It’s hard to recommend this particular episode in the context of all the other wrestling audio delivered over the holiday season. I do appreciate Austin being back on the ranch, but a little deer herd chat goes a long way. I’m not particularly intrigued with the prospects for part two of this episode, but give the man credit for pumping out the entertainment.

Show: The Ross Report
Episode: 46 (Dec. 31, 2014)
Run Time: 1:42:15
Guests: Bryan Alvarez (23:30), Karl “Machine Gun” Anderson (1:00:51)

Summary: After a lengthy Jim Ross monologue, he welcomes Death of WCW author Alvarez to the show to promote to 10th anniversary edition. They talk about Mick Foley’s role in turning the tide toward WWF, the unusual happenings of 2000 and the failed Invasion angle. They ended by discussing Ross’ return to play-by-play for the upcoming NJPW WrestleKingdom 9. In that vein, JR’s second guest, Anderson, talked about an epic encounter with Hiroshi Tanahashi, training with Les Thatcher, working with Matt “Lord Tensai” Bloom, Anderson’s Tokyo Dome debut, the style that defines NJPW, Luke Gallows and what American fans should expect from WK9.

Quote of the week: Alvarez on the infamous Tony Schiavone pronouncement about Mick Foley’s WWF Title victory: “It was such an amazing moment. And in the middle of a show that isn’t really very good, to alert the fans that there’s something on the other channel that you say is stupid and sucks, and people switch the channel and, in fact, it’s awesome — that to be is even more mind-boggling. It was one thing when they were doing the invasion and they actually were really, really hot and the other channel is presenting bad stuff. But when you’re down, and you’re making fun of the other promotion, which is doing things better, I mean, that to me is an even bigger mistake.”

Why you should listen: I’m a big fan of the two-guest format. Listeners are well served by Ross focusing on a specific reason for a guest being on the show, and Alvarez’s book and Anderson’s involvement in WK9 are perfect pegs. Alvarez does a good job of focusing on the nature of his book without being awash in the dreaded Attitude Era nostalgia, and Anderson serves the purpose of helping spike interest in the NJPW show among fans who need an extra push to order the show.

Why you should skip it: Yes, Alvarez released an updated version of his book, but JR hasn’t read it, and as such it seems the interview is going to be old news to anyone who’s read the book or been paying attention to wrestling writing over the past decade or so. Further, JR takes a few chances during this chat to shine the spotlight on himself, and Alvarez willingly complies. While Anderson’s input was valuable, vis-à-vis promoting the PPV, he wasn’t a particularly fascinating figure in his own right. That’s not to say it’s a bad interview, but for those folks already fully hyped for the show, it’s hard to imagine this segment offering much in the way of additional buzz.

Final thoughts: Though it probably goes without saying, skip the monologue. I didn’t mind most of the Alvarez bit — JR is always at his most tolerable with a guest who is used to podcasts and control his own half of the conversation — but I wouldn’t consider it essential listening. Since Anderson also appeared on Art Of Wrestling this week, it will be interesting to directly compare and contrast his presence and charisma based on the host as well as the guest. Mostly I’m excited the NJPW show will be over by next week so we can be done hearing Ross talking about his plans to wet himself in his dark suit at ringside.

Show: Cheap Heat
Episode: Dec. 30, 2014
Run Time: 1:13:12
Guest: None

Summary: Peter Rosenberg and David Shoemaker are in studio this week (apparently the previous episode was recorded then digitally disappeared) to discuss the final RAW of 2014. With the 1988 Royal Rumble playing in the background, and drawing focus from the main conversation, the guys look at the in-ring speeches of Daniel Bryan and Ryback, the closing segment and Authority return, ads on the WWE Network and the future prospects for Roman Reigns and the Ascension. There’s a tangent for a Rosenberg story about LL Cool J and Canibus, and the show ends with listener questions.

Quote of the week: Rosenberg: “It never ceases to amaze me how dumb wrestling fans are. Because you guys listen to this podcast. That means you’re a super mark nerd.”

Why you should listen: An upper of a RAW always leads to a more positive vibe from the hosts. The guys are predictably enthused about Bryan, pragmatic about Ryback and bemused about the Raw finale with Edge, Christian, etc., that brought back the Authority. The perspective on Reigns is a welcome change from simple in the moment reactions that populate Twitter and weekly recaps, and I suppose if you like LL Cool J you’ll dig the story.

Why you should skip it: As usual, the chat left me wishing for more depth and less breadth. Rosenberg is not as full-on heelish as usual, but neither is he as straight-up (read: tolerable) as he’d been during some recent shows. Many listeners may be put off when the conversation simply stops so the guys can react to something they’re watching on the Rumble, and ultimately it’s likely you’ll end the episode wondering if you actually learned anything or were forced to think critically about something in a new way.

Final thoughts: I actually enjoyed this episode, but I’m struggling to find a compelling reason why. Maybe it was absence making the heart grow fonder, or maybe I really enjoyed the conceit of the 88 Rumble playing in the background. (It helps I can envision that match with very little prompting, had it been, say the 2009 match I might have been lost.) I’m generally more down on the “Hey, we watched RAW this week…” episodes, but like “Raw” itself, they might just be more enjoyable with the Rumble/WrestleMania season. We’ll see what next week brings, but I’d encourage the guys to continually seek ways to implement more time-insensitive components to each episode.