Saturday, October 27, 2007

Cyber Sunday 2007

Of all the WWE's pay per views, Cyber Sunday has a strong claim to the worst name of them all. Wrestlemania is corny, but hey, it was the eighties. Cyber Sunday is only in its second year, and still sounds like it was coined over a decade ago. But that's what this show is all about - extremely rudimentary "interactivity."

What this means, in practice, is that there's a three-way vote for each match, and whatever the fans opt for, they get. Incidentally, this is a free vote on the company website, not a premium rate phoneline job, so at least they can't be accused of milking the fans on that element of it.

Obviously this is a risky strategy for a scripted show. It makes it hard to plan. You might assume that, being a wrestling promotion, they would just do the sensible thing and ignore the results. But, surprisingly, that's apparently not the policy. I have serious doubts about at least one of the results from last year, but the credible wrestling journalists insist that the company does indeed run with the real votes, and that unwanted matches have aired at least twice in the past. There have also been some matches that, if not exactly unwanted, seemed a touch underprepared.

Instead of rigging the vote, the WWE's strategy is to write weekly TV that blatantly steers people towards the right answer, or to make sure the options simply don't matter. This year, they also opened the voting several weeks ago for the major matches, which theoretically should give them plenty of warning of any upsets. Still, you never know.

1. World Heavyweight Title: Batista v. The Undertaker. This is the Smackdown title, which Batista won last month. Batista and the Undertaker had an extended feud over the belt earlier this year, so I can't imagine the WWE wants to do it all over again. That storyline ended with Undertaker winning the title at Wrestlemania. The plan was for a lengthy reign, but Undertaker injured himself legitimately and dropped the belt to Edge only a month later so that he could spend a few months recovering.

So the plan might be to get the belt back on Undertaker and return to the originally scheduled story. On the other hand, Edge is due back soon as well, and they might decide they want to go back to his title reign, which was also cut short by injury. (This belt is cursed. Even the WWE has acknowledged it, pointing out that virtually every champion from the last two years has either suffered a major injury or left the company.) Still, this is clearly a match that they felt they had to do, and couldn't leave up to the vote. They've also tried, in the past, to provide at least one title change on this show to push the idea that your votes count. I suspect Undertaker wins in an above-average match.

The vote is to determine which retired wrestler you want as referee - JBL, Mick Foley or Steve Austin. They're obviously assuming it'll be Austin, even though he hasn't appeared on the show to promote the angle at all. Then again, nor has Foley - the entire promotion for this aspect has consisted of JBL, now a commentator, campaigning for your votes. As he's a heel, he won't win.

2. WWE Championship: Randy Orton v. ???. The Raw title. You might recall that the last PPV was thrown into chaos by a last-minute injury to John Cena, who had been champion for over a year. The show turned out to feature some frenzied and chaotic booking, as Cena's scheduled opponent Randy Orton was awarded the title, lost it to Triple H, and won it back again all in the same night. (Triple H also found time to defend the title successfully against Umaga in the middle of the show for good measure.)

With that burst of insanity out of the way, it's back to business as usual, and we can be relatively confident that Orton will be not be losing the title in his first defence. So, you get to vote on who he beats!

The options are Shawn Michaels, Jeff Hardy and Mr Kennedy. Kennedy is a bad guy, so he obviously isn't winning a vote against two beloved babyfaces, and we need say no more about him. Shawn Michaels is obviously the expected winner. He's a former world champion, he's very good, and he has a legitimate reason to fight Orton - in storyline, Orton was responsible for the injury that put Michaels on the shelf for the last few months. Michaels has also reportedly returned to wrestling rather more quickly than his doctors might have recommended, but his matches over the last couple of weeks looked fine.

There is an outside possibility that Jeff Hardy might get it, though. Hardy is the Intercontinental Champion, a title that doesn't generally mean very much at all. But he's been around for years, and the fans adore him. He's never had a shot at the world title, he's never main evented a PPV, and there's a definite possibility that fans might figure this is their chance to send a message. After all, they must realise that if they don't vote for Shawn Michaels, they'll still get the match in a month or two anyway. If they don't vote for Jeff Hardy tomorrow, chances are they won't see it at all. Jeff was being pushed surprisingly hard on Monday night, which makes me wonder whether the early voting was closer than you'd expect.

Orton/Hardy would be a good match, as would Orton/Michaels. Orton/Kennedy would be a bizarre heel/heel mismatch, but it won't happen anyway. The champ retains on any view, and it should be good.

3. ECW World Title: CM Punk v. ???. One of the less predictable votes of the night, because CM Punk is a babyface champion, and so this is a vote between three heels - obese monster Big Daddy V, sixties throwback John Morrison, and (intentionally) irritating reality-show cast-off Mike Mizanin. The fact that a midcarder like Mizanin is even in this vote shows how thin the ECW roster is - a point that they're trying to address by bringing up more wrestlers from development, and unofficially merging ECW and Smackdown with a supposed "talent exchange deal". This was basically a bone thrown to the Sci-Fi Channel to encourage them to renew the ECW weekly show for another year.

It's hard to predict how the fans will vote, given three options, all of whom they're supposed to hate. Big Daddy V is clearly supposed to be the most dominant one, but why would you vote for him? His matches are uniformly awful, and if you're just going by the storyline, wouldn't you support the babyface champion by voting for the weakest challenger, Miz?

The sensible option is to vote for Morrison, which should at least guarantee a decent match. As the writers seem to be decidedly inconsistent about pushing CM Punk, even though he's the champion, I wouldn't be entirely shocked to see either Morrison or Big Daddy V win the title if they get voted in. Miz... well, he's the Miz, and there's no way his running feud with lifetime midcarder Balls Mahoney is suddenly going to turn into a title match. There's a place for somebody like Miz, who's charismatically irritating and can wrestle acceptably, but he's not a headline act.

Most likely, though, CM Punk wins against any of the challengers. If they were that bothered about a title change, they wouldn't be putting it up to a vote. If he fights Morrison, it'll be good. If he fights V, which I suspect is more likely, it'll be atrocious.

4. Triple H v. Umaga. In an act of monumental folly, Triple H pinned Umaga clean at the last PPV in a midcard-style match, thus badly eroding Umaga's unstoppable image. They've been trying to rebuild it over the last month, but, meh. I couldn't care less about this one, to be honest. I'm sure it'll be a fine match technically, but what's the point when the hero already won decisively last month?

The vote, for what it's worth, is between a cage match, a first blood match and a street fight. Two of those, you'll note, allow the match to end without a pinfall, so clearly somebody's figured out that they can't have Umaga lose convincingly two months running, and they're hoping for a back door to avoid Triple H getting pinned either. Ah, politics.

Triple H will win, probably clean, in the most face-saving way they can devise. If you vote for a street fight, though, he'll just pin Umaga clean.

5. Rey Mysterio v. Finlay. This largely random feud rambles into a second month, after a baffling match last month which I'm not even going to try to explain, largely because I'm not entirely convinced any of the writers understood it either. Once again it's a "pick the stipulation" vote - no DQ, stretcher match or (honest) "shillelagh on a pole." I suspect the fans will go for the no-frills no-DQ option, which actually guarantees the best match.

They had a good match last month until the insane finish kicked in, and they're both very reliable wrestlers. This should be good. Rey probably wins - he's the good guy, he got beaten up badly last month, and the story isn't working well enough to justify another rematch.

6. Matt Hardy v MVP. One of Smackdown's more successful storylines. Matt and MVP are the odd couple tag team champions. The idea is that Matt (the hero) and MVP (his rival) are stuck with one another after winning the tag titles, and they're actually turning into a semi-workable team. For once, this has been quite well written. Even though the duo hate each other, they still want to hold onto the tag titles, and so they're actually trying to work together. But Matt still wants to win MVP's United States Title, and MVP is hoping that if he buddies up for long enough, Matt will lose interest and focus on the team instead.

This works because Matt and MVP are reasonably well-defined characters and it's just about plausible that, as written, they could put aside their differences to try and hold onto their titles. MVP isn't a psychotic killer, he's just a bit of a dick, so he's the sort of bad guy that Matt Hardy can at least try to work with.

But the United States Title is not on the line in this match - in fact, it hasn't been defended on television since July, as near as I can make out. Instead, we have the weirdest vote of the night. Do you want a wrestling match, a boxing match, or a mixed martial arts match?

On his own website, Matt Hardy is apparently begging people to vote for a wrestling match. He has a point. Worked boxing matches are invariably terrible. Worked MMA matches just confuse the audience. Most wrestling fans don't know enough about MMA to understand when wrestlers try and do more convincing, modern submission wrestling, and the promotion hasn't really put the effort into educating them. So if they do a "proper" MMA match, it won't work. And if they do a professional wrestling match under MMA rules, well, it won't look anything like an MMA match and people won't get what they voted for. The wrestling match is the best bet - but it's the vanilla option, so you probably won't get it. I suspect it's going to be MMA, and it'll be a mess.

Just to complicate matters further, Hardy suffered a nasty cut to the head during the Smackdown tapings on Tuesday, when he apparently got lacerated by Rey Mysterio's knee brace during a tag match. Apparently it's a pretty bad injury, but Hardy is still planning to work on Sunday - not a very smart idea, from the sound of it. No doubt they'll work around it and turn the injury into the story of the match, but I suspect that'll force them to keep it relatively short. If possible, Matt should probably win, but you can continue the story either way.

Worth buying? Well, it's on Sky Sports 3 over here, so the question doesn't arise. There's certainly the possibility of some good wrestling on this one, but there's also the risk of a horrid Big Daddy V match and Matt Hardy working tentatively around a head injury for ten minutes. Oh, and there's bound to be a lot of filler, with only six matches announced. Definitely a fan show.