CALDWELL'S TAKE CORNER CUBE MONDAY: Torch awards - best babyface, reviewing Bret Hart's book, WWE DVDs in '08
Dec 31, 2007 - 4:45:09 PM
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By James Caldwell, Torch columnist
Updated throughout the day from the corner cubicle, Torch columnist James Caldwell's weekday blog focuses on hot topic current events and other items of interest from around wrestling.
From the Cube: Monday, December 31
Torch Year-End Awards - (4) Best Babyface - John Cena. Former WWE champion John Cena was scripted to be silly with potty humor too often, but he managed to overcome the silliness when he turned serious in angles with Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton, and Edge. Although not popular with the vocal group of 18-35 males, John Cena was WWE's top superstar in 2007 until his injury a few months ago.
Cena was in the main event of WrestleMania, headlined countless PPVs, and went to the ends of the earth to promote the WWE brand name on his brutal schedule. In today's marketplace, it's an inexact science to measure the direct impact of certain wrestlers drawing a TV, PPV, or house show audience. It's more about the WWE brand name rather than individual wrestlers, but Cena's presence in the big storylines of 2007 brought plenty of kids and families to WWE events throughout the year.
12:10 p.m. Bret Hart's autobiography is broken into separate parts to identity the different stages of his life and career. Last night, I completed part one, which looks at his childhood in the Hart house, and early years in the wrestling business (Calgary, Japan, Toronto) before his first real break as part of the Hart Foundation in the WWF in the mid-1980s.
There are many books written by wrestlers where the first section includes silly stories from childhood that are skippable. This isn't one of those books. Bret's perspective on his family establishes a foundation for how the Hart family thinks and acts. Considering so many members of the family were deeply involved in the wrestling business at some point, the stories add depth to the people involved in Bret's life who played significant roles later in his career.
The stories run the full range of emotions - crazy, distraught, traumatic, happy, silly, boys being boys, jealousy, anger, distrust, here today and gone tomorrow, competition, loyalty, and more. Bret reflects on all of these emotions - some from four decades ago - as if they happened yesterday, which creates a great narrative for the book. Family members such as Bruce Hart would probably have different opinions on some stories, though, as Bret builds the story around himself as a sympathetic (yet still flawed) figure in the family.
One story in particular reads like something from a 10-minute action sequence in a movie. Bret returns to the Hart house when the family business has torn the family apart. Shouting occurs. The blame game starts. A struggle moves from the house to the driveway. Everyone is blaming Bret for the family falling apart. Bret is taking punches from brothers and sisters alike. And, at the end, the patriarch, Stu, pulls Bret aside and thanks him for showing restraint. That action sequence is a strong piece of foreshadowing, especially the family's verbal behavior following Owen's death.
A theme that Bret develops at the end of part 1 is the role of steroids in the Hart family. Dynamite Kid was on the juice. Davey Boy Smith wanted to be huge, so he followed Dynamite's footsteps. Meanwhile, Bret says he refused to follow that path until he was desperate to recover from a devastating knee injury that was seriously jeopardizing his wrestling career. It captures what the steroid issue is in professional sports, especially wrestling. As I wrote about in last week's Newsletter, it's about getting a slight edge over the competition, or simply being able to compete for spots.
At the time of Bret trying to get his break in the mid-to-late '80s, Vince McMahon was hand-picking who he wanted to bring in to his promotion from various territories he was gobbling up. Bret writes about the backstage atmosphere where wrestlers were desperate to get and keep a spot on Vince's TV shows because Vince was the only game in town. Bret decided that his only way to compete with his peers, especially Dynamite and Davey Boy, was to use steroids for a faster recovery time. Two decades later, that's the fundamental story on the role played by steroids in professional sports.
Heath McCoy's book on Stampede Wrestling and the Harts is a great account of the family relationships from several different angles. In part 1 of Bret Hart's book, Bret fills in the gaps with his detailed, first-hand account of growing up in the Hart family.
There are many themes from part 1 that I haven't even touched on that give more insight into Bret's early years - Bret's relationship with Stu, hilarious practical jokes by the wrestlers, long car drives in the Stampede territory, Bret's cowboy gimmick, Bad News Allen's uncontrollable behavior, veterans who looked out for him and despised him, being the son of a legend, Bret's vs. Bruce's booking ideas, near-death in Puerto Rico, Bret's encounters with nightlife in Japan, and more. It's a fascinating read thus far, especially given Bret's meticulous attention to detail.
9:45 a.m. Happy New Year's Eve! Buckle up when you're out partying tonight after Raw... WWE has a very interesting line-up of DVDs set for release in 2008. They have two scheduled for first quarter '08, two scheduled for the second quarter, three scheduled for the third quarter, and three scheduled for the fourth quarter. Most surprising are the two DVDs scheduled for release at the end of the year.
First Quarter '08
- Legacy of Steve Austin (Feb. 12): WWE produced an Austin DVD to go with his autobiography that came out in late 2003, which captured the majority of his career. Other than a brief run as Raw GM in 2004, Austin hasn't had a significant role on WWE TV since his story came out, so this will probably be more of a look at Austin's place in history - a bigger picture view of Austin's contributions to the evolution of pro wrestling during the Monday Night Wars era.
- Triple H: King of Kings (Mar. 25): Notice the timing of the release - just a few days before WrestleMania 24. As if there were any doubt, Triple H will be in one of the top matches at Mania, which will allow WWE to plug the DVD every chance possible leading to the biggest show of the year. Ric Flair will certainly be a big part of the story told on the DVD.
Second Quarter '08
- Evolution of the Hardy Boys (May 6): It will be interesting to put this DVD side-by-side with the Ultimate Insider's series and see the changes from 2005 to 2008 for the Hardys. At the time of the UI taping, Matt was on his anti-Lita/Edge tour before signing with WWE. Jeff thought he was wrapping up his career to pursue other ventures. This DVD will be more of a 1997 to 2008 look at the Hardys evolving from TLC matches to Jeff being in World Title matches.
- Legacy of The Rock (June 3): There have been several DVDs on The Rock, but not any recently. Like Austin, this will probably be more of a big-picture look at Rock's place in wrestling history. The tone will be defined by whether Rock participates or not.
Third Quarter '08
- Best of Starrcade (July 8): Starrcade is one PPV that WWE could resurrect to create a fifth major PPV of the year to replace the poor-drawing ECW PPV or Cyber Sunday. Starrcade has name value with older fans, and this DVD could educate newer fans on the important place Starrcade has in history. Unless this DVD is all matches and no story, it will be interesting to see if the debut of Survivor Series to compete directly against Starrcade '87 is even mentioned on a WWE-produced DVD.
- Summerslam Anthology (Aug. 5): Like the Royal Rumble Anthology this year, just a collection of all the Summerslam PPVs with bonus footage.
- Life of Mr. Perfect (Aug. 5): Like the Brian Pillman DVD, this DVD will depend on first-hand accounts of Curt Hennig's life from his closest friends (still alive) in the wrestling business. Have your fact-checker handy.
Fourth Quarter '08
- Edge DVD (Nov. 4): He wrote a book early in his career, and this DVD comes about mid-way through his career. Could be a "current events" look at his career, or a full introspective DVD. It will probably depend on whether he stays healthy and in main events through '08.
- Randy Savage: Macho Madness (Nov. 18): And now for the most surprising DVD scheduled for release this year. I'm picturing a DVD similar to the Ultimate Warrior, where they give Savage a small bit of credit for his success, but focus more on the negatives from his career. If by some small miracle WWE and Savage do business, though, and Savage is interviewed for the DVD, the story might be more about what isn't on the DVD and left on the cutting room floor, rather than what is on the DVD.
- Sting DVD (Dec. 9): And for the second most surprising DVD scheduled for release this year. TNA put together a recent DVD release on Sting, but it was severely lacking WCW footage that WWE owns, and the "documentary" story was bare bones. Considering Sting has signed a contract with TNA for '08, he probably won't be interviewed. Even without Sting, WWE will be able to put together a strong story based on the available footage and interviews with his colleagues from WCW. I don't picture this as a one-sided take by WWE on Sting's career since he doesn't have "enemy status" like Warrior and Savage.
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