All In On Calling An Audible

Phil Gordon here. Thank you so much for your feedback and support in the initial response to The Grand Slam and The Magnificent Mind. In my previous writing I listed that one of the matches I was looking forward to the most at Wrestlemania was the Last Man Standing match between Edge & Randy Orton. I certainly did not foresee this match becoming much maligned as well as becoming a lightning rod of controversy. The wrestling fans and media all have the right to their own opinions. They can like or dislike whatever they want and this match was no different. However I want to examine why I think the backlash for this particular match went a little bit too far and that a lot of the criticism was neither fair nor balanced.

I want to make something perfectly clear before I continue. I am in no way shape or form employed or affiliated with WWE. I have been a fan most of my life and it’s no secret to those that know me well will say that I am a huge fan of both competitors. In fact Adam Copeland (aka Edge) is from my hometown of Orangeville, ON. In December of 2004 I met the man and had him sign a copy of his book Adam Copeland: On Edge…..and honestly he couldn’t have been any nicer to myself and the other people in line in front of me. So what I am getting at here is that I have a little bit of a bias. Imagine that, someone is writing about wrestling having a bias….it happens all of the time. However, what I am about to put into this week’s edition of The Grand Slam is a fair and honest look at how this match played out while maintaining said bias. I listened to Edge’s defense of the match on the Corey Graves podcast After The Bell (more on that later) and I listened to the tandem of Dave Meltzer & Bryan Alvarez along with Jim Cornette & Brian Last tear this thing to shreds. Like most narratives on any subject I believe the truth lies in the middle and the difference I feel I bring to the table compared to a lot of the other names previously mentioned is that I will freely admit to having a bias instead of blindly pounding it into the psyche of others branding it as ‘the truth’.

Before I run out of space to print all of my thoughts within The Grand Slam in a reasonable manner I just want to take a second to tee you up for what you will expect in this edition.

  • Three negatives and three positives about the match
  • How Edge spoke about it publicly after the likes of Meltzer & Corentte reported on it
  • Examine an amazing quote from Jim Ross on ‘social media wrestling fans’
  • A study of fan backlash between wrestling and Star Wars…stay with me….it’ll be good

I would like to start with my three negatives and positives of this match. Before I break down specifics I will say that given my bias towards the performers in this match and how hyped I was to see it in good conscience I cannot give the end result a thumbs up. To get technical…like I know how some of you internet geeks like to do….I give the match halfway between a thumbs in the middle and a thumbs down….so with that being said here are my three biggest negatives of the match

  1. The pace
    It boggles my mind that this was the second longest match in Wrestlemania history behind Bret & Shawn’s Iron Man Match. With the pace it moved at it didn’t need to be quite so long and night two of Wrestlemania went way longer than the first night probably because of this match alone.
  2. The stipulation
    While it fit within the confines of the story buildup I don’t think Last Man Standing was the appropriate stipulation with no crowd. A Falls Count Anywhere or even an “I Quit” Match would have been better served in these circumstances. You may ask why? See point number one.
  1. The commentary
    Phillips & Saxton just aren’t used to calling matches with this much high stakes drama and emotion. They were widely criticized for hurting the match with their ‘golf-game’ voices…however would it have been any more improved with those two had they tried to shout and sell the drama? Methinks probably not

Here are three positives…which oddly enough no one publicly seems to want to discuss:

  1. The match opening….spectacular

Orton posing as a camera operator to deliver the sneak attack RKO….outstanding! Great way to set the pace….most other spots lacke this fire

  1. The physicality showing the condition of both competitors

    While the pace of this match dragged on with quiet commentary I enjoyed listening to the sounds of a physical fight. Hearing them lay in shots and maintain their breath without getting blown up was impressive to me….I may be alone on this one
  1. Albeit a slow pace…still some good old-fashioned storytelling in a feud

Once again….the slow pace…however some good things came out of this. Edge constantly looks around at his surroundings before climbing onto something. Also reluctantly delivers the final shot to Orton with serious emotion. However more vocal taunting between Edge & Orton could have broken up some of the gaps

From there you should now get the idea about what I liked about the match and what I didn’t. Adam Copeland appeared on Corey Graves’ After The Bell podcast and stated he was proud of the match. He went out of his way to mention that Bret Hart (who had about as fine of attention to detail in his in-ring career as anybody who’s ever wrestled) called to compliment the match for making it look like a real fight. After all the goal of wrestling is to make it look like a real fight as much as possible is it not? Another interesting note is that Copeland went on to say that they had many more ideas for filming the match (including going to the roof and the possible use of….drones??!!) but couldn’t pull them off so they had to call an ‘audible’. 

Like in pro football an audible is called to either confuse the opposing defense or the quarterback hates the play call from the coaches and changes it based on his read of the defense. Only a few of the all time great quarterbacks would dare do the second version like Brady, Manning, and Marino to name a few. In wrestling calling an audible means adjusting the flow of a match with little time to prepare or on the fly. At least that’s how I understand it from my perspective and like those QBs I would put Edge and Orton in that All Time Great category. So to quickly explain a man who did the impossible by returning to the ring in great shape after a nine year hiatus was set to wrestle a shoe-in HOFer in an empty arena and they had to call an ‘audible’….given the circumstances of the entire situation the end result was not great…but not that bad in my opinion. Man alive, is that an opinion that is going to ruffle some feathers in the industry. In fact it already has as what I am writing below are adjectives used to describe this match from the like of Jim Cornette, Brian Last, Dave Meltzer, Bryan Alvarez and other Youtubers…I’m paraphrasing for this piece but you intelligent wrestling fans know where to find the actual clips if you need them:

“F***ing awful”
“Absolutely rotten”
“40 mnutes felt like 40 years”
“Completely redundant”
“Mind numbing”
“The most boring match in Wrestlemania history”

That last statement came straight from the mouth of Bryan Alvarez. Bryan has been in the ring and I feel is a good reporter with a killer sense of humour a lot of the time. Him and Meltzer went completely berserk to the likes which I have never heard. As a fan I have seen some good matches and some really bad matches but I don’t think I heard members of the wrestling media go this crazy and get this riled up over a match they didn’t like before. I didn’t expect Cornette to enjoy it because he has pretty well given up on modern wrestling and he’s entitled to that opinion. He did bring up one legit criticism that I strongly agree with and that’s in these types of matches it’s hard to get interested when one wrestler grabs the other by the head and drags them to where they are ‘supposed’ to be fighting. Instead of organically ending up in certain locations it did look painfully obvious they were dragging each other to certain locations to do things…he is right about that.

But take a good look at those adjectives….now take a look at my own analysis as a fan with a bias and does anything remotely resemble this smear campaign? I didn’t expect you to look….you should already know. One other point that I have to talk about (but rather would not want to) is the elephant in the gym. Yes, you know that dreadful weight spot that got certain people up in arms. When I watched it I thought this was a dangerous and awkward looking spot that they could have done without. While members of the wrestling media (Ie: Meltzer and Alvarez) lost their minds and automatically pointed to the close likeliness of Chris Benoit’s death. Just so I don’t waste anymore time on this I talked to some fans who watched the show and didn’t make that connection and Brian Last pointed it out to Cornette in the review and his exact words were ‘I never even thought of that’….I like how the Whatculture Wrestling crew summed it up by simply saying ‘it was a bad look’ and the wrestling media who was all up in arms about this simply saw something to get outraged about, period.

That part of the match was not talked about on After The Bell. Let’s face it as outspoken as Graves can get this is still a podcast under the WWE umbrella and they won’t draw any attention on that whatsoever. But the outrage seems more embellished than it probably should be, which brings me to my major thesis of all of this. Earlier in the week the legendary Jim Ross conducted an interview talking about a past opioid addiction. While in that interview he made a point (paraphrasing here again) about how overly critical wrestling fans on social media are not true wrestling fans but just ‘fans of their own ego’. All I could say to that was wow! Good Ol’ JR truly could not have nailed that more squarely on the head. That statement can be made towards the aforementioned wrestling ‘journalists’ and some people I saw on Youtube who declared Edge a ‘WWE shill’ and was talking smack about him because he lashed out at some fans who criticized his match. It is extremely apparent in these times that fans are the lifeblood of the wrestling business. But Holy Toledo if I came back from a crippling injury, almost had my big match cancelled and changed on the fly, ended up being proud of the end result anyway and have to listen to this baised and mean-spirited criticism….yeah I think I’d flip out on some people too!

So in closing I want to do a comparison and I know some of you reading this love the Star Wars franchise and some of you could care less, but bear with me. I have been an avid fan of the Talk Is Jericho podcast for almost five years now. On one particular episode Jericho himself said something along the lines about how wrestling fans and Star Wars fans are one and the same. They are crazy passionate, loyal and can never be pleased because they complain about absolutely everything. You know what? Being a fan of both like Mr. Jericho I can say he is absolutely right and I will close with a comparison of this Edge / Orton match to the Rise of Skywalker film from 2019.

Long story short, Disney’s Star Wars has made money hand over fist and I would say most of the fan base enjoyed it. However The Last Jedi film from 2017 left fans extremely divided and the minority who hated the film were extremely vocal. In the midst of this backlash the 2019 film had to deliver to close out the series on a high note. In this writer’s opinion it did. It was not perfect and had its flaws but man it was fun. But for some of those same ‘vocal’ fans their vitriol and sometimes ludicrous views on the film were spewed out all over social media. Regardless if you liked or hated the film you had to respect how they put it together. With the backlash of the 2017 film, in-fighting and drama behind the scenes and Carrie Fisher passing away before Episode IX was fully conceived provided some major problems. Fisher’s character Princess Leia was going to have a major role in this movie. After her passing the filmmakers had to take outtakes from the previous film and build a full script around those clips. This process is unheard of and considering a major obstacle to overcome the film couldn’t have been delivered much better and I knew going in that the final product wasn’t going to resemble the original vision of the film because logistically it wasn’t possible.

As of this writing I am fresh off watching the WWE Network’s 24 special on Edge called The Second Mountain. Not only is it a fantastic watch but it really takes the viewer inside the crazy decade long journey for Edge to get back into the ring. In this special he states that he just can’t do the crazy stunts of yesteryear and that he has to rely on more nuances in his matches. Randy Orton to me has become this odd anti-hero in today’s pro wrestling environment. While most are trying to outdo each other with the stunts and flips and whatnot Orton has taken a 180 degree turn and slowed down his matches heavily relying on impact moves and storytelling. I love this while some do not and declare his style boring. So mix these two working styles, the crazy backstory of Adam Copeland’s return, the pandemic’s effect on the wrestling business (and the world), they fact they called an ‘audible’ when they realized they couldn’t quite pull the match off that they wanted. The same way the Star Wars crew called an ‘audible’ when they realized they couldn’t film any new footage of a major character and would have to get creative to move the overall story forward. I’m not going to lie, out of the two I enjoyed the Star Wars flick better. But I will say that knowing the stories and crazy situations that affected both the film and the match they do deserve a decent amount of respect, warts and all.

In his interview with Corey Graves Edge stated that Bret Hart’s opinion was the only one that truly mattered to him on the situation and that some people would find ways to complain about a pro wrestling match during a pandemic. To me that is not being a shill, that is telling the truth. It seems to me that everyone who attacked this match as viciously as they did seemed to bottle up all of their frustrations of the pandemic, missing their usual ways of life, missing sports, missing wrestling with live crowds and just threw it all at this match because it didn’t turn out the way ‘they envisioned’ as fans or writers. I will never say that people aren’t entitled to their opinion or have to like everything they see. But this excessive critiquing and vitriol against people who truly don’t deserve it in these crazy times needs to die down for the sake of our own sanity. I feel my criticisms and complaints were valid yet respectful unlike most others take on this match. I mean life is never going to be 100% perfect, especially in these crazy times now. But I will close with a question that should only be answered rhetorically…when we are allowed to go out and enjoy each other’s company at restaurants again and you eat what you feel may be the best meal of your life are you going to share that experience with gratitude and savor it for what it was? Or are you going to go scream to whatever online forum you think is going to listen about how crappy your first meal out in a long time was because the cutlery was set up on the wrong side of your plate and ruined the entire experience? The choice is yours my friends….the choice is yours.

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