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   Mon, October 23, 2006



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COMMENT





Wrestling with the Fall Classic
By NICK TYLWALK -- SLAM! Wrestling Columnist


It's funny what connections our brains make sometimes. With the World Series in full swing, I couldn't help but notice a few themes and storylines that inevitably led my mind back to wrestling.

Anyone who follows baseball is familiar with the meteoric rise of this year's American League champion Detroit Tigers. After decades of futility, the Tigers rode a hot start and survived a stumbling finish to make the playoffs. Defying conventional wisdom, they dispatched the heavily favoured New York Yankees and swept the Oakland A's to reach the Fall Classic. Not bad for a team that finished 28 games out of first place just last year.

Detroit's success in the first two rounds changed the public's perception, with a lot of help from the sports media. Once criticized for their late season struggles, the Tigers became the favorites to win it all. And because the core of the team is young, quite a few people began speculating that this would be the first of numerous postseason appearances to come.

This is one of my favourite amusing trends in sports. Successful teams always suddenly look much better on paper, and fans love to think things will just continue down the same road. In truth, a lot of things have to go right for any winning squad, and continued good fortune is never guaranteed. It behooves a team like the Tigers to take advantage of the shot they have this season to win it all, because history suggests they may not get another chance.

That same line of thought applies to everyone's favourite number two wrestling promotion, TNA. Combining a successful pay-per-view just outside Detroit (which the staff here at SLAM! Wrestling covered like no one else, if you'll excuse the plug) with the high profile addition of a certain Olympic hero and an impending move to prime time in the U.S. has fans feeling rosy about the company's future. And why not? Right now, everything is going TNA's way, and the sky seems like the limit.

Things are going so good that it's easy to forecast continued success. It's not hard to imagine more pay-per-view events held in other North American cities or higher ratings for Impact come November. One can easily picture the Kurt Angle-Samoa Joe feud that seems to be building becoming the hottest thing in wrestling over the next few months. Other big industry names -- say, a Chris Jericho, since his Fozzy videos were featured in the build to Bound For Glory and he recently did an interview with the TNA website -- could be lured into the fold by the positive buzz and more sane work schedule.

The powers that be at TNA can hope for, maybe even expect, all of those things to happen. But assuming that they will would be a mistake. All it would take is another injury to Angle or the fickle tastes of TV viewers to derail the gravy train. The convergence of positive events TNA is currently experiencing may not ever occur again, so if the company has aspirations of continued growth, it needs to take advantage of this opportunity.

And since everything in the wrestling industry is connected, there's every reason to believe that same mindset should be taking hold in the WWE. If competition truly is the catalyst that pushes Vince McMahon and his cohorts to be all that they can be, the next few months could prove to be the best time to kickstart a product that seems to be on cruise control.

There aren't as many positives swirling around Stamford as there are Nashville, but some building blocks do appear to be in place. Increasing crossovers between Raw, Smackdown and ECW have brought a de facto end to the brand split (something that's been called for numerous times in this space) if not a concrete one. The upcoming battle between all three of the company's champions at Cyber Sunday may not thrill wrestling purists, but it has potential to be the starting point for any number of storylines.

ECW hasn't even scratched the surface of what it can be, and most of the top superstars are in good health. If the entertaining debut of Cryme Tyme last Monday was any indication, there might even be some new talent on the way who can get over with fans. The ingredients are all there. All that's missing is a spark, and legitimate competition would certainly do the trick. It's been almost a decade since the WWE last had that motivation, so if TNA continues to shine, McMahon's team needs to step it up.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that while the sports world has plenty of heels -- think Terrell Owens -- but Game 2 of the World Series featured one of the most stirring heel turns in recent memory thanks to Tigers pitcher Kenny Rogers. Cameramen around baseball probably never viewed Rogers as a face, it was easy to root for the 41-year-old journeyman as he reversed his previous bad luck in the postseason with a number of stellar outings.

It turns out The Gambler may have been the beneficiary of that staple of heels throughout wrestling history, the foreign object. Or to be more precise, a foreign substance, which may or may not have been dirt, on his pitching hand. Playing his role to a tee, Rogers claimed innocence in his postgame interviews, just like the villainous wrestler who uses a chair or some brass knux when the ref is distracted.

Today's reports have umpire Alfonzo Marquez telling Rogers to wash his hands instead of more harsh disciplinary measures, meaning we could be dealing with a heel ref too, a la Nick Patrick. I didn't think it was that big a deal last night, but sports commentators won't leave it alone today. Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel even went so far as to call MLB's handling of the Rogers controversy a "WWE-in-cleats routine."

That should be all the proof you need right there. Even when it comes to the World Series, everything in the world relates back to wrestling.


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    Nick Tylwalk has been a SLAM! Wrestling contributor since 1998, and his column, Walkin' That Aisle with Nick Tylwalk, appears most Mondays. Comments, compliments and complaints can be sent to ntylwalk7@yahoo.com. If you’d like to see a response to your question or comment in a future column, please include your full name and hometown in your e-mail.