Howard Finkel’s Greatest Ring Announcements

By Rob Siebert
A NEEEEEEEWWWWW Father

So I’ve had a week to process the death of Howard Finkel. A man who, let’s be honest, was the single greatest ring announcer of all time. This might be an apples to oranges comparison. But to yours truly and many fans who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s as I did, Howard Finkel is to ring announcing what Jim Ross was/is to play-by-play. He was that good.

Over the last several days, WWE has compiled some of Finkel’s greatest moments and pushed them out to YouTube. Let’s take a look…

First of all, there’s no “arguably” about it. “The Fink” was the absolute greatest.

Secondly, the “Dean of WWE Ring Announcing.” I kinda like that…

This next clip is one of my favorites, and quite possibly Finkel’s last truly great announcing moment. If only Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler hadn’t ruined it for the audience at home by being so damn disrespectful. But for the fans in Madison Square Garden that night? It must have been magic…

Frankly, I think that tweet we saw from Vince McMahon said it all…

Rest in peace, Howard, and know that you were loved by a great many.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Undertaker’s Best Promos: The Dead Speak!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

For my money, on Monday the Undertaker cut one of his best promos in years. If you haven’t seen it, you should see it.

So watch it.

In recent years a lot of fans have been clamoring for him to return to his American Bad Ass/Big Evil persona. That’s the closest we’ve gotten to it in a long time. In the right context, this Undertaker is every bit as menacing and intimidating as the Dead Man persona.

Like fine wine, the Undertaker improved with age. Critics, podcasters and “pundits” have talked about his matches with Kurt Angle, Batista, Edge, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, CM Punk, among others. Mind you, the first of those matches took place in February 2006. The real-life Mark Calaway had been wrestling for almost 20 years, and played the Undertaker for about 16 of them.

But what about the Undertaker’s mic work? His “character work,” so to speak. At the start of his run he was given a mouthpiece: Paul Bearer. The formula for an Undertaker/Paul Bearer promo was pretty simple. Paul would do most of the talking in that unsettling high pitched voice, and ‘Taker would chime in with something spooky at the end. But at that point he was playing the character like a zombie, or Frankenstein’s monster.

Below is a perfect example, and actually one of my favorite times we heard the Dead Man speak…

But after years at Paul Bearer’s side, and six years of growing and evolving the character, he clearly became more comfortable on the mic and began to take a more commanding presence in his promos. At times it was almost to the point where Bearer would simply speak to compliment what Undertaker would say.

Case in point, this little gem where he talks about a match on Valentine’s Day…

In 1996, the Undertaker/Paul Bearer tandem was split up. The Dead Man was left to fend for himself on the mic. Some nights were better than others. But on certain shows, he could make absolute magic. Especially when he had the production team behind him. These promos for the Buried Alive pay per view that fall are the stuff of legend.

Holy crap.

The changes continued into 1997 and 1998. The introduction of the Kane character, and the revelation of the Undertaker’s storyline family history would humanize the Dead Man in ways we’d never seen. In rare occasions he’d be in street clothes, albeit still black. As they built to an Undertaker/Kane match at Wrestlemania XIV, he would have to talk about his parents, his childhood, etc. The emotional needs of the story required a kind of acting that would prove challenging for anyone not trained traditional theater.

In the scene below, we see him talking to his deceased parents at their grave site. Y’know, that standard wrestling promo you’ve seen a thousand times…

But pre-produced Undertaker was not the same as arena Undertaker. That’s not to say he was bad. But a spooky, undead character obviously lends itself to more quiet settings. When you’re among screaming fans, it’s obviously very different.

Here we have a fairly famous “worked shoot” promo from 1998. He’s dressed in plain clothes, but allegedly that’s because his gear was lost in transit. It’s not the most polished mic work you’ll ever see. But the substance of it is great. I love the “slayer of dragons” line.

I’m not in love with this next one. But certain elements of it are very strong. Most notably Undertaker not looking into the camera as he’s threatening Vince McMahon. Mind you this is 1999. Years before WWE wrestlers were told not to look into the camera. This was done for effect. Then you’ve got the music, the lighting, the hood. It’s just a great looking piece of television.

Then came the American Bad Ass. In 2000, all the talk about taking souls and eternal damnation was over. After 10 years, the Undertaker was simply a tough-as-nails biker, looking like he might kill somebody at a moment’s notice. We’d seen a humanized Undertaker before. But I’d argue this was the first time we heard the Undertaker talk like Mark Calaway.

Even the Rock wasn’t safe.

The American Bad Ass would morph into Big Evil. The difference? As Bruce Prichard once said, “Semantics.” Although I suppose you could argue the American Bad Ass was a babyface, and Big Evil a heel.

By the time Wrestlemania XIX rolled around, ‘Taker wanted a match with Ric Flair. And he was going to get it. By any means necessary…

In hindsight, the really bone-chilling thing about this segment is that he references not only the future Charlotte Flair, but the late Reid Fliehr.

This next one from April of 2002 was special. Not just because of its delivery, but because they put the Undertaker with the recently-returned Hulk Hogan, and they let him talk about the elephant in the room. They let him talk about his first WWF Championship win in 1991 and say, “I beat you.” For so long, it had been taboo to reference Hogan unless it was some kind of joke or parody. But now he was back. And as you’ll see, he was fair game.

Big Evil was around until the end of 2003. By Wrestlemania the following year, the Dead Man was back. And yes, he would wear gold again. Specifically, the World Heavyweight Championship, a.k.a. the “Big Gold Belt.” He wore it three times between 2007 and 2009.

Here he is on Smackdown in 2009 after taking it CM Punk in a Hell in a Cell Match the previous Sunday. My favorite part of this promo is that he puts the belt over, and explains why he wanted it so badly. He even calls it “the Holy Grail of everyone who steps foot in this ring.”

At this point, what we were getting was a Dead Man/Big Evil hybrid. Lots of talk about souls, graves, etc. But at times, we’d see flashes of Big Evil.

Earlier that year, Wrestlemania XXV had taken place. The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels had that classic match, and started what would ultimately be a four-year saga that in time would include Triple H.

Once Triple H got involved in 2011, we started to see in-ring segments between all three. What resulted were some of the best, if not the best back-and-forth promos of all their iconic careers. There’s a tension in the air that you can’t script. It has to come from the performers and their chemistry.

I present to you, Exhibit A.

A year later, Triple H and the Undertaker would face off again. This time inside Hell in a Cell, with HBK as the guest referee. But initially, Hunter refused to face the Dead Man again.

What’s interesting about this segment is that it’s one of the rare times we see Undertaker come from a place of vulnerability. He’s been waiting a year for this opportunity, and he needs Triple H to say yes.

You wanna talk tension? That line about Shawn being better isn’t remotely as effective out of context. But with these characters and this dynamic, it’s huge.

Fast-forward to 2015, and we’ve got the Undertaker coming for Brock Lesnar after the Streak was broken at Wrestlemania XXX. I was so dissatisfied with that initial promo ‘Taker cut on Brock. It made him look like a sore loser. If they’d simply done something like the promo below, and included something about revenge and ‘Taker having nothing left to lose, it would have been perfect.

This next segment contains, in my opinion, the Undertaker’s last really good promo. Until last Monday, of course.

There’s not much to it, really. It’s ‘Taker declaring himself for the Royal Rumble Match. But it’s always stood out to me for two reasons. First, I love the “29 holes for 29 souls” line. Secondly, and more importantly, look at how he acts toward Stephanie McMahon. At this point (and perhaps to this day), nobody stood up to Stephanie like that.

But what could she do? He’s the Undertaker.

Email Rob at at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Astonishing Art: Hulk Hogan/Ultimate Warrior by Matt Ryan Tobin

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Ah, the blessed naivete of childhood. When we were all blissfully unaware of what racist comments and family scandals would do to Hulk Hogan’s career. And while we may have had some idea that the Ultimate Warrior was raving lunatic, we couldn’t know just how weird it would get, or how low he would stoop.

But for ’80s kids the world over, Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior were, and to a large extent still are, childhood icons. So when they went head to head at Wrestlemania VI, it was like two superheroes facing off. And at some point, you had to make a choice. Which hero do you root for? Hogan or Warrior?

Everything great about the epic and flamboyant collision that was Hogan vs. Warrior is captured in the above piece by Matt Ryan Tobin. Is he the first artist to do the whole “Hulk’s opponent as the tearing shirt” thing? If so, I’m amazed it’s taken more than 30 years to make it happen. But even if he’s not, he’s clearly eclipsed any of his predecessors.

Everything about this just screams ’80s cinematic glory. From the way the figures are drawn and lit, to the lightning, even down to some of the typography. It actually looks like the art for a VHS tape box. Except old school WWF fans never had it this good back in the day!

More of Matt Ryan Tobin’s art, including a pair of epic TMNT movie posters, can be found on his official site. He can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com!

Samoa Joe Finally Arrives, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Samoa Joe, WWE Raw, January 30, 2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Not much use in leading with anything but Samoa Joe, is there?

What we saw on Raw was over a decade in the making. After so many years of speculation as to whether he’d even be considered by WWE, Samoa Joe finally arrives on the main roster. What’s more, he’s going into a program with one of their top stars in Seth Rollins. I can’t even tell you how surreal it was just to hear Michael Cole say Joe’s name.

Many were disappointed that we didn’t see Joe in the Royal Rumble Match on Sunday. Would I have put him in there? Sure. That way the mainstream audience has a better idea of who he is before he shows up here. But then again, does that chip away at the surprise element? If Joe is in the Rumble, maybe this moment isn’t quite as special.

Either way, this was about as good a debut as we could have wanted for Samoa Joe. After years of stealing the show elsewhere, he finally gets to do it on wrestling’s biggest stage. Congratulations, good sir. You deserve it.

Ponderings From Raw:

Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho open the show. Braun Strowman demands a title shot. Mick Foley announces Owens will defend against Strowman later in the show. Decent opener. The best part of this segment was Strowman demanding his shot, “or I’ll break you in half.” You know what? I believe him.

Sami Zayn, Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, January 20, 2017Interesting that Mick Foley came to Raw dressed as the Riddler. Where exactly does one get a suit like that?

Sami Zayn def. Chris Jericho. Supposedly Jericho’s current run will wrap up in May so he can go back on tour with Fozzy. Some have said this has been the best run of Jericho’s career. I wouldn’t go that far. But it’s definitely up there. He’s consistently been one of the best parts of Raw, and the show will miss him when he’s gone. The guy is 46 and he can still hit Sami Zayn with a Frankensteiner (shown right). Amazing.

This was good stuff. For the second consecutive week, Zayn is in the best match on the show. Really dug the exploder duplex into the corner. I still wish he’d start beating people with the Blue Thunder Bomb. It’s his best move.

Mustafa Ali def. Tony Nese. Raw needs more of both these guys. I adore Ali’s reverse 450 splash. It’s a damn shame we didn’t get to see it this week. It’s also a damn shame that the fans still don’t give a damn about the Cruiserweight Division. Maybe one of the reasons Neville’s run in the division has worked so well is that we’ve known him the longest. Most of these other guys are still working to establish themselves in front of the national audience. Rich Swann and Jack Gallagher have started to do it. But that’s it.

Seth Rollins calls out Stephanie McMahon, who announces Triple H is on his way to RawThis seemed very choreographed and scripted, as these talking segments often do. Still, I love how irreverent Rollins is toward Stephanie. While much of his dialogue still comes off contrived, it’s refreshing. No one has talked to her this way in so long.

Stephanie McMahon, Seth Rollins, WWE Raw, January 30, 2017Having him mention coming to her front door and having one of their kids answer was a little edgy. I get why they did it. It makes the whole thing more personal. But I’d avoid approaching that topic again. Even Stone Cold never talked about going after little kids…

Bayley, Cesaro, and Sheamus def. Charlotte Flair, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. This one didn’t do anything for me. Once again, Bayley pins Charlotte. She’s somehow unbeatable on pay per view, but extremely beatable on television.

The new Cruiserweight Champion Neville addresses the crowd. Rich Swann interrupts. Scripted promos can work if you present them believably. You forget they’re saying lines. Neville did that here. Where the hell has this guy been? Pissed off Neville is the best Neville.

In contrast, any time somebody says “WWE Universe,” any integrity the scene has is lost because no one would actually say that in the heat of the moment. Sorry Rich.

Last night at the Rumble, they showed some pictures of Neville and Swann earlier in their careers. I guess they came up together? Why not go that route for this promo and make things a little more relatable?

Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, January 30, 2017Braun Strowman def. Kevin Owens via disqualification after Roman Reigns interferes. After Strowman’s interference in last night’s Universal Title Match, the finish to this one was obvious. I’m happy Owens was able to be a little competitive here, while Strowman was still kept strong against both of them.

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman challenge Goldberg to a match at WrestlemaniaA very predictable outcome. But yet another masterful promo by Paul Heyman. The “Yeah, but…” lines worked well.

The mentioning of Hulk Hogan beating Andre the Giant is yet another indicator that Hogan is likely on his way back. They’re planting the seeds.

Nia Jax def. Sasha Banks via referee stoppage. Byron Saxton: “How scary a sight is that? To have Nia Jax smiling, knowing that she’s gonna have her way with you.” That’s not the verbiage I would have used, Saxton…

What happened with the bell here? It rang, but the ref clearly didn’t call for it. Still, Sasha did a fine job putting Nia over, both tonight and on the Rumble pre-show. The full nelson swings into the ring post looked good.

Triple H, WWE Raw, January 30, 2017Enzo and Cass def. Rusev and Jinder Mahal in a Tornado Tag Team Match. I’ve got no use for this program anymore. Now that Enzo and Cass won this match, can we please move on?

Triple H: “Seth Rollins was a failure.” Samoa Joe ambushes Rollins. Awesome promo. I actually preferred this one to the Heyman stuff. The spinning of the narrative to where Seth owes him an apology. Hunter calling Seth an abject failure. The stuff about not being “that guy” anymore, and wearing the suit. Awesome. When Hunter is on, he’s on. I just wish we’d gotten this promo months ago, so the whole story didn’t cool off so much.

By and large, this was a strong show. Literally the best they’ve put on in months. Now we have a new face on Raw, and we’ll be seeing some of the bigger stars more regularly. Raw has been tough to watch lately. They didn’t so much fall into an autumn slump this year as a winter slump. But as always, things are picking up as we get closer to Wrestlemania.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

Hulk Hogan’s Win, Sting’s Retirement, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Hulk Hogan, 2016, trialBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We’ve got a lot to get to this week before we even touch Raw. So let’s dive in…

Hulk Hogan wins $115 million in lawsuit against Gawker, plus $25 million in punitive damages. I’m pleased Hogan won. While he is a jackass, nobody deserves to have their privacy violated so horribly. Particularly by people you think are your friends. Maybe all of this is karma coming back to bite the Hulkster after all these years. But here’s hoping he can finally find some peace.

TMZ reports Sting is retiring from in-ring competition, “The Icon” disputes report. I’m inclined to think Sting’s rebuttal is him wanting to go out on his own terms. Even when the injury happened, Sting was talking about coming back for one more match. If Sting does get back for one more outing, that’s fantastic. But if he doesn’t, that’s fine. Sting has nothing left to prove. At this point his health is what’s important.

Drew Galloway, TNA title winDrew Galloway wins TNA Heavyweight Title. I’m not sure Drew Galloway was ever going to be a big money ball player in WWE (though that’s not to say he couldn’t be), but he was certainly better than the comedy role he had at the end of his run. So seeing him take the TNA Title is a big feel-good moment, and very much deserved.

Bobby Roode and Eric Young leave TNA. This is a big blow for TNA, but obviously they’ve survived worse. In a perfect world, this means two big spots open for guys to elevate themselves. As for Roode and Young, NXT seems to be a likely destination. Particularly for Roode, who I think would really fit in well there.

Pondering From WWE Raw:

Stephanie McMahon and Roman Reigns open the show. I realized something when Stephanie walked out at the top of the show: She has what some call “channel changing heat” with me. She’s been opening the show, and saying the same kind of BS for so long now, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything when I fast-forward through her mic time.

Roman Reigns, Stephanie McMahon, Raw, March 21, 2016I will say, however, that it was that same heat that allowed Roman Reigns to have a good outing here. See him cover the mic while Steph was holding it, and then block her dreaded slap of disdain, was satisfying. Now if only they could get people to cheer him…

Kevin Owens def. AJ Styles after a Chris Jericho distraction. Really good match. These two got about three segments, which by WWE standards is a big time investment. And wouldn’t you know it, the Intercontinental Champion keeps some momentum heading into Wrestlemania. Imagine that!

Terry Funk featured in a pre-tape with Dean Ambrose. This was a really nice surprise. Terry Funk is truly one of a kind. He’s 71 years old, but I’m pretty sure that if they gave him enough money he’d fight Brock Lesnar himself. Hell, a few months ago he had a match with Jerry Lawler, and Lawler threw a damn fireball in his face. Actually, Ambrose might want to buzz Lawler and see if he can get him some fire…

Rusev, Big. E, WWE Raw, March 21, 2016Big E. def. Rusev after dueling promos from the League of Nations and The New Day. None of this was bad. It beat the hell out of the five minute beatdown the League gave New day last week. I won’t lie, I got a chuckle out of that shame him/Sheamus line. I don’t see this match being anything special at Wrestlemania. But The New Day will get to be on Wrestlemania. So I’ll tolerate it.

The Big Show cuts a promo about the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. A fight erupts with Kane and The Social Outcasts. Not a bad promo from The Big Show. I don’t know whether this was scripted or not, but it came off very genuine. The big guy made me believe. Sadly, that doesn’t happen too often these days.

Byron Saxton said on commentary that whoever wins this thing has the chance to change the course of their career. If that’s true, then it’s not a change for the better. Cesaro win this match two years ago, and wound up shoehorned into a heel turn that killed his momentum. Then last year Big Show won it, and it was forgotten two weeks later. If they want this match to be more than just a time killer, someone has to win it and then go on to bigger and better things.

AJ Styles, WWE Raw, March 21, 2016Chris Jericho def. Fandango. My God! Fandango is alive! It’s been so long since we’ve seen him that I just assumed he’s was dead and buried! Well, he was buried to an extent, wasn’t he?

Very happy to see they’re going with Chris Jericho vs. AJ Styles one more time at Wrestlemania. For awhile it was rumored they’d be stuck in the multi-man Intercontinental Title Match (more on that in a moment). But this is the match they deserve, and frankly it’s a match Wrestlemania deserves.

Kevin Owens to defend the Intercontinental Title at Wrestlemania in a ladder match against Dolph Ziggler, Sami Zayn, The Miz, Stardust, Sin Cara, and Zack Ryder. When this match was made official, I immediately thought of Neville. The poor guy broke his ankle last week, but he kept popping up in segments with Owens. The smart bet is that he was supposed to be in this match.

Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, March 21, 2016I’m really not a fan of these multi-man ladder matches anymore. I find them lazy from a storytelling standpoint. Plus, WWE relies far too much on these ladder matches nowadays. They all blend together. We’ve already got a big battle royal on this show. What’s so tough about putting two, or even three or four guys together in an Intercontinental Title Match, and putting the others in the battle royal?

Roman Reigns attacks Triple H backstage. They’re being very frugal about sending Roman into arenas. For the past two weeks, he’s been out there for small stretches, only to end up in a backstage fight. And he hasn’t wrestled on television in quite awhile. Not exactly ideal for your lead babyface heading into Wrestlemania. But at least the fights have been decent.

Bubba Ray Dudley def. R-Truth. Goldust and The Usos emerge to back Truth up. A shorter segment, but I can’t complain much about what I see here. I’m actually looking forward to seeing the Dudleys and the Usos go at it. I hope to see these two feud for at least another month after Wrestlemania. For that matter, I’m even looking forward to seeing what Goldust and R-Truth do as a tag team.

Vince McMahon, WWE Raw, March 21, 2016Vince McMahon announces that if The Undertaker loses to Shane McMahon at Wrestlemania, this will be his final Wrestemania. Did Vince actually say Shane would be ‘Taker’s “most formidable opponent” at Wrestlemania? Let’s hope Brock Lesnar didn’t hear that…

They’re late on this one. This really should have come the week after Shane came back. The Undertaker and Vince should have had an in-ring segment where ‘Taker refuses to do Vince’s dirty work, then we get this announcement. This has significantly less impact. But better late than never.

Also, those video packages they put together about Shane and his training were really good. Why they don’t do that kind of thing more often is beyond me. It’s not like they don’t have the production capabilities to do so. And they were able to add to the story without having either Shane or ‘Taker in the building.

Dean Ambrose, Paul Heyman, WWE Raw, March 21, 2016Braun Strowman def. Dean Ambrose via disqualification. I understand what they were trying to do here. They put Ambrose out there with another giant, and in the same arena with Paul Heyman. But despite those typically intriguing elements, this was a lame duck main event. Case in point: The “this is boring” chants. The upside? They didn’t book Undertaker vs. Strowman at Wrestlemania.

At this point, I can only assume The Wyatt Family will be in the Andre Battle Royal. Having Bray win wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, I suppose.

Image 1 from ABC News. Image 2 from pwmania.com.

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