You won’t find female empowerment in a WWE “Cell”

Many of us take great pleasure in bad television. Sure, we all claim to our friends that we have nothing but award-winning programs on our DVR, shows that broaden our minds, move us deeply and inspire us to advance society. That’s all crap. “Maury” and his paternity test shows are on for a reason.

For me, WWE is such a guilty pleasure. I’ve been watching “Monday Night Raw” and “Smackdown Live” for years. I know what I’m watching. Telling me I’m wasting time watching a fake outcome is like me telling a girl at the theater “You know there really isn’t a phantom of the opera, right?” We know. We’re watching to be entertained.

I can even watch when WWE makes attempts at a social conscience. If WWE wants to switch its female performers from Playboy models in R-rated matches to athletic women with regular storylines, I don’t have an issue with that.

Except for this week’s “Hell in a Cell” pay-per-view. I do have a problem with that. Sunday, in the headlining match, Charlotte Flair defeated Sasha Banks to win the WWE Women’s Championship inside a giant enclosed steel cage. It was called “historic,” “epic” and “main-event worthy.” It was called taking women’s athleticism to the next level.

It was too much.

I realize this could make me look incredibly old-fashioned. I take no pleasure in watching women do violent things. And Hell in a Cell is billed as one of WWE’s most violent matches. The bigger the stunt, the more risky the outcome. You can’t fake some of those moves in a “Cell” match being incredibly painful. 

Injuries are enough of a risk in regular matches. Every year, the WWE inducts legends into a Hall of Fame. Many of the inductees are crippled.

I just can’t wrap my brain or my conscience around the idea of women intentionally hurting each other in a steel cage for my entertainment.

Charlotte, who many of you know is the daughter of wrestling legend Ric Flair, has elevated her game so much in the last year to where she is rightfully being considered among the all-time greats in women’s wrestling. She and Banks have put on some highly skilled matches in the last year that do, in fact, make it easier to forget the somewhat sleazy women’s matches from the 1990s.

So this isn’t a question of their abilities. Regular wrestling matches with deft storytelling is a treat. They excel at that.

But Charlotte power-bombing Banks through the announcers’ table? I think that needs to be left to the men. I don’t think that’s chauvinistic.

Put it this way: On every WWE DVD, the company runs a disclaimer that tells viewers that bodies have been broken, careers ended in an instant, and that despite it being just entertainment, the injuries and hazards are real. So put a feminine pronoun in front of that. Her body was broken. Her career ended in an instant. For your entertainment, her injuries are real.

Kinda makes me feel a little uneasy.

The fact that it’s woman-to-woman violence doesn’t lessen that vibe.

Wrestling fans adore Mick Foley, who became a legend for his stunts in Hell in a Cell. His performances were so startling other wrestlers genuinely feared for him. He survived his Hell in a Cell matches. But you can argue the guy hasn’t been able to walk right for at least 15 years.

So the idea that Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks are tempting that fate? Because pro wrestlers love to up the ante for a crowd pop?

I’ll pass on watching.

Because I don’t want to see Charlotte or Sasha Banks enter the WWE Hall of Fame in a wheelchair later.

In Kevin Owens, WWE rewards a consummate professional

They tell you in Hollywood that an amazing motion picture simultaneously surprises the audience and satisfies them at the same time, which is exactly how people in Houston’s Toyota Center reacted when Kevin Owens earned the WWE Universal Championship belt at the end of Monday Night Raw on Monday.

I know this to be true because no matter how loud the amplifiers blared music, what the announcers were yelling or for that matter, how villainous the ending, you could hear the crowd chanting in the background to the company’s top bad guy: “You deserve it.”

Now that’s some respect.

Say what you want about pro wrestling fans such as little ol’ me. You can call me stupid for watching it, but I’m not so stupid to where I don’t want to see a lifetime of dedication go unrewarded.

I’ll try to be brief about Owens’ accomplishments in the sense that I don’t claim to be a wrestling insider as other bloggers do. I do know that, much like stand-up comedy, you have to be a person of uncommon drive to be a pro wrestler. He’s spent half of his life as one, having started at 16. It’s an unusual vocation, solitary, taking you to the oddest places for chump change and golf claps from tiny audiences.

You toil for years under blind faith that your brass ring is within grasp.

Having said that, I remember people telling me stand-up must be the toughest job on the planet. I disagree. I think one of the reasons comics are wrestling fans because we recognize it is a tougher form of entertainment than stand-up. The risk of major injury is real, but you still have to be tell a damn good story in the process.

And Owens has surely been entertaining, honing his traditional heel routine for more than a decade around the world. The man is incapable of not talking trash, as if — like a great white shark has to keep swimming — stopping to be nice meant he would sink and die.

Consider how the WWE for the last 18 months has forced Roman Reigns on its fans, despite his lack of ability to connect with an audience. (Side note: Reigns can still learn to connect. Making eye contact with the audience is a good start when delivering a promo.)

Owens, conversely, smashed that fourth wall between performer and audience as the seasoned veteran he is. It also doesn’t matter if the show is televised or a WWE house show. I know this having seen Owens perform away from the cameras.

What made the result even more eye-popping was that the in-house crowd knew in advance they would see something major in that episode. Typically, championship belts change hands during pay-per view events. To have its most-important belt awarded on basic cable is almost groundbreaking for wrestling fans.

Four wrestlers competed for the belt, with Owens deemed lest likely to succeed by those bloggers who are allegedly in the know. Among the remaining three included two former champs — Reigns and Seth Rollins — with crowd favorite Big Cass.

Having chosen one of those three to win would have been the safe route for the company. It was so safe as to be expected, predictable. Like another push for Reigns.

Allowing Owens to ascend to the top of the heap, though, opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities for future episodes of “Raw,” which is going to be a must-see this upcoming week. How will Rollins react to betrayal from former allies? Does Cass consider turning on his tag team partner for more solo title shots? Will Reigns learn a move other than a punch?

But that’s a few days away for the writers to think of a good plot twist. For now, the bad guy in red and black has a matching championship belt to sling over his shoulder.

For those of us who admire work ethic, you’re damn right he deserved it.

That wasn’t fun while it lasted, or, a review of WWE Summerslam

The WWE will be coming to my town for Wrestlemania next year and truth be told, I am looking forward to it. But when the larger pro wrestling events come, it’s described as “the WWE invades your town.” And that’s exactly what Summerslam last night felt like — despite two new champions crowned in Finn Balor and Charlotte Flair — something that lasted so long it was almost against your will.

Summerslam was like a luau. It sounds cool, but the food and decor doesn’t fit your lifestyle and who gives a damn about the hula dancers, my joints are stiff from sitting with my legs crossed for six hours and there’s sand in my butt.

Consider that the WWE extended its programming for Summerslam to Wrestlemania length, up to four hours for the event, plus a two-hour kickoff show, and that doesn’t even count Saturday’s NXT Takeover (consider that something like a Triple-A baseball game), and a Friday WWE-themed concert. Even for a town that bathes in its own excess such as New York, it was far too much. That’s nine hours of wrestling, plus who knows how much music I don’t listen to?

By the time Summerslam actually kicked off, the audience was on its final can of Red Bull because they had nothing. For that matter, it felt as if the bookers for the show and many of the wrestlers had little left in the tank, too.

They need a day off. Only they won’t get one because Raw is on tonight — three more hours to consume in Brooklyn. And those three hours won’t even address the two most-pressing questions I have:

  1. What was the deal with John Cena’s post-loss reaction to A.J. Styles?
  2. Does Randy Orton have any blood left in his body?

Because those are Smackdown brand wrestlers. That show comes about Tuesday.

Let’s get the good out of the way first:

1) Styles-Cena. Two consummate professionals performed a match of about 40 minutes with lots of high spots, believable near falls, excellent storytelling and a clean finish win for Styles, a nice reminder that the guy is more than a traditional cowardly heel.

2) Chris Jericho-Kevin Owens def. Enzo-Big Cass. I’m in the minority when I say I don’t particularly care for a lot of NXT call ups, especially Enzo-Cass. Don’t get me wrong, if Roman Reigns had one-third of the mic ability of Enzo Amore, he’d be worth that two-year push WWE has forced on us all. But the majority of their matches have been about Cass steamrolling other teams for two minutes and Enzo running his mouth for 15.

Jericho and Owens? Man, I can’t say enough about them. We often talk about somebody being a man’s man, a doctor’s doctor, a mechanic’s mechanic, etc. Either of those two are a wrestler’s wrestler. Their versitiliy makes them valuable and entertaining in any type of match. And this combination finishing move was outstanding.

3) Charlotte def. Sasha Banks. Even if Banks weren’t injured, I think this is the right call. Owens and Charlotte have been the two best NXT promotions by far. Banks, she’s a strong worker but I still don’t get why people see her as a face when she talks like a self-absorbed heel. At least Charlotte embraces that role, and she excels at it. She gets some of the loudest boos I’ve ever heard.

4) Finn Balor def. Seth Rollins. A strong match in front of a crowd that kind of wanted to go home but hung on in case anything really great happened. But it wasn’t particularly great. It was just really good, so the crowd amused itself by booing the hideous new “universal title” belt.

There were five other matches aside from these 3 1/2 good ones, which means a lot of crap that just didn’t justify 4-6 hours staring at your tablet. And the final two matches never quite materialized, leaving the crowd angry and confused. Fortunately, I was drunk by then and could walk 12 steps to my bed. Those poor people in Brooklyn had to take their respective subways home.

Nobody can figure out why Roman Reigns vs. Rusev was booked after all title matches were held. Even worse, I don’t think anyone can explain why technically the match never happened, as Reigns simply attacked Rusev before the bell and was “ejected” from the ring.

That couldn’t have happened before Balor-Rollins?

Also, we’re left wondering why a match that was billed as more than a decade in the making — Brock Lesnar-Orton — was stopped when Lesnar opened an impressive gash in Orton’s head. I know I can’t be too old-school when I say this: Wrestlers used to bleed profusely all the time in my day. Now it’s a TKO?

I feel bad about speculating, because apparently Orton needed 10 staples to his head to close the gash. But consider the importance of this match to the company.

This match was billed as a bragging rights match over which of WWE’s shows has superior talent. WWE has tried to revive Smackdown after more than a year of irrelevancy, and now one of its biggest names loses by TKO? That’s a horrible ending.

The less said about Dean Ambrose successfully defending his title against Dolph Ziggler, the better. Nobody will remember to say anything about The Miz defending his title against Apollo Crews. Maybe we’ll remember that Nikki Bella returned from a major spine injury for a six-woman tag-team match that had no stakes to it other than it featured a lot of pretty athletic women. (Now that I think of it, why was a nondescript match like this also held after a women’s championship match?)

Also, now is a good time to admit we want Jon Stewart to tell jokes from behind a desk, not muddying up a tag-team match between The New Day and Gallows & Anderson.

The entire show was a confused pile of stuff, much like what I feel like I’m writing now.

If Wrestlemania in Orlando is anything like this, I’m going to swear off wrestling. It was that bad.

The future of masculinity is in serious peril

Before anyone jumps to conclusions, the following opinion has nothing to do with “Pride month,” rainbow flags or where you go to the bathroom in the Deep South.

That shiny thing over my shoulder is the WWE World Heavyweight title belt. I’d love to tell you what’s on my bookshelf are among my most-prized possessions, but none of them compares to this ridiculous accoutrement. Perhaps I’m an idiot for liking pro wrestling, but let it be known I’m an idiot with a taste for bling.

As are many other men. People like this belt. People like this belt more than they do me. If this belt had a mouth, people would buy it drinks.

The WWE came to Orlando last night — the city will also host Wrestlemania next year — and I came out to see Dean Ambrose defend the title he actually earned, unlike me, against Seth Rollins.

You shouldn’t have to apologize to anyone for enjoying pro wrestling. When I take a girlfriend to a Broadway play, we’re well aware there really isn’t a phantom living in an opera house or giant singing cats. Same difference, only the WWE pyrotechnics are better.

Anyway, back to masculinity…

I’m pretty much peacocking around Amway Center and inevitably other men ask to have a photo with the belt. I get it. The belt is an icebreaker. I’d want a photo with it, too, if I didn’t have one.

Only they don’t realize this isn’t for kids — the toy one you get for 15 bucks in a Walmart. It’s made of leather and metal.

We should be afraid for the future of manhood when four of seven men who took pictures of the belt had extreme difficulty lifting the belt and even worse, complained.

Bro, you mean to tell me you have no problem letting a tweaker with a needle full of ink use your arm for a doodle pad, but that same arm can’t hoist that belt up without you curling into the fetal position and rubbing your AC joint? Even with two arms? 

Is that what’s up, tough guy? Do you need a hydraulic jack to gently lower that over your shoulder or is that too much strain? Part of me started to think you had to fight me in a steel cage for the privilege of taking a photo with the thing.

Nobody’s asking you to be Henry Cavill and be so muscle bound that the Batmobile bounces off your legs and people are so overwhelmed by your physique that you no longer have to act. But if you can’t clean and jerk a leather strap with a hub cap taped to it over yourself, then you probably would weep over how to change a tire.

Which means ISIS is winning.

And I’m hitting the gym daily because if that’s the case, the apocalypse is nigh.