Puppet Loves Raw!

13051508_493845727473198_1038889222692637872_nIf you’re an embittered old school wrestling fan still longing for the good old days of the Attitude Era, or Memphis, or the pre-WWF takeover, you’ll find plenty of blogs and podcasts to back your feelings on Tuesday. The Internet Wrestling Community is rife with folks who can’t wait for Monday Night Raw – just so they can trash it and tell you how bad it is.

Puppet is not another Raw hater. Puppet is a puppet who simply loves wrestling. Every week, he posts a new video to Youtube, offering his thoughts on the latest edition of the WWE’s flagship show. He also does special episodes to highlight the pay-per-views.

Unlike most of his IWC colleagues, Puppet focuses on the positive. There’s plenty of good out there in wrestling, even in the now Sandow-less WWE, and Puppet isn’t afraid to share how he feels.

I contacted Puppet last week through his Facebook page, and he graciously granted me an interview. Here, in his own words, is Puppet.

How long have you been a wrestling fan? 

I have been a wrestling fan for as long as I’ve been conscious. My dad was fan because his grandmother was a fan. It is sort of a family tradition. Anyway, I started watching very young and I never stopped. Some of my best memories are of watching WWE with my dad, my brother, and my mom. Wrestling is very special to me in that way.

Who are some of your favorite wrestlers?

That’s a really hard question actually. I have a handful and I’m sure I’ll leave someone out that I really like. I really think the WWE roster right now has the best talent, top to bottom, that they’ve ever had. My number 1 guy right now is of course Cesaro. Just a guy that can have a great match with anyone he’s in the ring with. Other than that… again I am leaving people out… I love Kevin Owens, Sami, AJ, Ziggler, Dean, Seth, New Day, Enzo and Cass, Neville, Stardust, Shinsuke, Nattie, Sasha, Charlotte, and the like. I like the wrestlers that ALWAYS look crisp in the ring. Sorry! I always have trouble just picking a few favorites.

What do you think is the match of the year (so far) in 2016? 

Match of the year so far in 2016 is Shinsuke/Sami from Takeover Dallas. I know this is a pretty “safe” choice… but that match is just awesome. Set aside the fact that the action in the ring was relentless, purposeful, and told a great story… Hearing Shinsuke’s music for the first time, his perfectly produced entrance, the circumstances of it likely being Sami’s NXT farewell… it was all just amazing. I was watching with a group of friends and we were all just mesmerized by the spectacle of that match. Spectacle + technically sound wrestling? Doesn’t get any better than that.

Do you see the WWE headed in the right direction? 

Yes. I do think WWE is headed in a great direction. Again, I think top of the card to the bottom of the card they are more stacked with great wrestlers than they’ve ever been. I think more recently they have started to take advantage of that fact. Story is important… story is very, very important… but great wrestler + great wrestler = great TV. Sometimes you can push story aside for matches like that to round out your show. I think we’ve seen that happening recently. Who cares if they are both good fan favorites?! Let the great wrestlers do what they do! Have great matches with each other. The IC title scene right now is a great example of just letting great wrestlers do great work. Anyway, they’ve got great talent right now, I think they are learning this lesson of talent vs. talent trumps forced face vs. heel story any day of the week (probably in large part thanks to how successful this has been for NXT) and I really think the sky is the limit for WWE right now and in the future. I’ve never booked a wrestling show in my life, so i really have no idea what I’m talking about… But as a longtime fan, I’m excited every week for WWE.

Be sure to join the #PuppetClub on Facebook to hear his thoughts on every WWE Raw and Pay-Per-View.

So I Guess This NXT Thing Might Work After All

Enzo and Big Cass made a surprise appearance at a WWE house show in San Jose last night. Listen to the pop they get, and and the chant along. The WWE has come a long way since the days of the cold intros of guys coming up from OVW.

And on a side note… this is really awesome.

Everybody loves Blue Pants!

The best things in professional wrestling are often the things that happen organically. They are not the result of a promoter’s careful planning and execution, but the sum of a dozen or more happy accidents that all fall together. Such is the story of Blue Pants, a woman brought in as enhancement talent at the last minute, who suddenly became a bona fide NXT Superstar.

Like many pro wrestlers, Leva Bates grew up watching wrestling. The daughter of a single mom, she spent a lot of time with the neighbor next door, whose son was a wrestling fan. “We watched it on TV all the time, and we’d occasionally go out to see the matches.” Bates doesn’t recall anyone specific (though her sisters quick to point out one of the highlights was seeing Bill Dundee vs. Jerry Lawler), but she credits those early years will giving her a passion for the sport.

After graduating college with a degree in radio/tv as well as acting, she enrolled at FXC in Florida, where she trained with D-Von Dudley, A.J. Gallant, and Matt Bentley. When D-Von left to start the Team 3D Academy with his tag partner Bubba Ray, Leva followed him. “They both were very hands on and taught everything, but D-Von did a lot of the mat training while Bubba Ray specialized more in match psychology, characters, and mic work.” Bates is a 3-D graduate but still returns to work on things with a personal trainer Dan Carr, who once worked with the American Gladiators.

After leaving school and beginning her wrestling career, Bates did what many wrestlers do: she filled out the application on the WWE’s recruitment page. She got the chance to work a few Raw and Smackdown shows as an extra. Then one day, she got the call that she was going to be on NXT. “It was the day of the show,” she remembers.

Leva showed up in a McChris T-shirt and a pair of blue pants. Prior to the TV taping, they were working out the flow of the show. Enzo and Cass were to come to the ring with Carmella, one of the newest NXT Divas, and when a match with Enzo’s rival Sylvester Lefort didn’t pan out, Enzo would turn to Carmella and ask her if she wanted to wrestle.

“Most of the time, the enhancement workers don’t get an entrance or even their name called. They just appear in the ring after a commercial break, but because of the way this story line was playing out, they had to have a way to bring me out. Triple H was at ringside working with Enzo and Cass. I was backstage with Sara Amato (former indy star Sara Del Ray). Enzo and Cass kept ad libbing different ways of introducing me. I heard Cass say, ‘Hey, you back there with the blue pants! Blue pants, come on down!’ I looked at Sara, and we both laughed. We knew that was it.”

What they did not know was how the fans would respond. “The fans started chanting my name. They started singing the ‘Price is Right’ theme for me. I went along with it and played it up. I was like, ‘Yeah! I wear blue pants! I love my blue pants!’ The fans ate it up, and that was how it took off.”

Blue Pants has become a beloved regular at NXT, facing off with Sasha Banks, Emma, and Dana Brooke. She even got her own theme music – the “Price is Right” theme sung a cappella by Big Cass – and her own Titantron video.

“I was amazed how involved Triple H was, even with that. He was working with the video guy to get just the right image. ‘No, make the pants bigger. No, a little smaller.’ He’s very hands on about everything.”

Being backstage at NXT has been a huge learning and growth experience for Bates. “It’s a completely different level. As a radio/TV grad, it’s really cool seeing the directors and agents and crew who make the show work backstage.”

Bates found the staff at NXT to be especially helpful. She took advantage of every visit to learn from Sara Amato, Albert, Triple H, Michael Hayes, Robby Brookside, and the late Dusty Rhodes.

“The third of fourth time I was there, I was peppering Dusty with questions. I was going on and on, and all of a sudden, Dusty turns and yells, “Shut up, Blue Pants!’ I was like, ‘Dusty??’ He put his arm around me and he said, ‘It’s alright, Blue Pants. It’ll be alright.’”

Bates found a lot in common with Rhodes. “He got yellow polka dots over. I got over with Blue Pants. I don’t know if he ever made the connection, but I did. It was really special.”

Bates is more than just enhancement talent. On the independent scene she is a seasoned veteran and an accomplished main event talent. When I asked her what matches fans should look up to see who Leva Bates is, she pointed to her recent appearance at Resistance Pro Wrestling. “I was against Crazy Mary Dobson, and we were the main event. It was a really great match.”

Bates also talked about her match against Mia Yim during the Shine Women’s Championship. “That was her best,” says her very proud mother.

Bates loves to have fun and has a great sense of humor. That love of fun was especially evident in a match for Shimmer when she faced Marty Bell. Bates is known for cosplay, dressing up as characters from comic books and movies, and on this occasion, she dressed as Pee Wee Herman.

“Before the match, I told the crowd the secret words was Three. Every time the ref would start counting, ‘One, two, three,’ the fans would scream. Marty would twist my arm, the ref would count, and on three, the fans would scream. The coolest thing was the secret word lasted the rest of the night. Any time a ref counted three, the fans screamed!”

Outside the ring, Bates is just as fun-loving and approachable as her in-ring character suggests. After the Girl Fight show in Jeffersonville, Indiana, she was the last of the wrestlers to be at the gimmick tables – no longer selling, but just talking to fans. She only packed up after promoter Madman Pondo fussed at her – three times – to wrap things up. Even then, she delayed Pondo from getting to his post show dinner as she paused to talk and take pictures with fans on her way to the locker room.

As we finished our interview, which took place at a downtown pizza place in Louisville after a show, Crazy Mary Dobson brought a young man over to the table where I was sitting with Bates, her mom, her sister, and nieces. He was an NXT fan, and when he learned who was sitting at the table, he began shouting to the whole restaurant. “It’s Blue Pants! Blue Pants is here! Blue Pants!”

The cheers of Blue Pants led to an “NXT!” chant. Leva blushed at first but began pumping her arms in the air, enjoying the moment just like her alter ego. Yes, she’s an unlikely superstar, but that’s what makes her so darn likable. She’s quirky, she’s fun, and when she hits the ring at NXT, Shimmer, or anywhere else, you’re going to have a good time.