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Protect The Business

I was sucked into Paul Heyman’s interaction with John Cena… until Cena started talking about ‘popping’ people. My brain instantly processed that was insider terminology, best used by the IWC or dirtsheet writers or former talents pushing podcasts. On The Steve Austin show, he often says his lines were getting cut from tv, because he was ‘popping the truck’. To explain… WWE wasn’t interested in getting Stone Cold over as a cool, funny guy. They would cut his lines to keep the lines from being blurred and a heel got over as a cool heel. In my opinion, WWE needs to stop having talents using such terminology on TV. Protect the gotdamn biness.

I’m tired of WWE using ‘John Cena is popular with the kids and troops’ as the excuse for lack of creativity and stagnation with his character failing to adapt. That’s also something exposing the business. In one fell swoop, they’re telling us “You investing money in the merchandise for this character keeps us from tweaking it even slightly”. Character development is essential to the growth of your business, especially when it is ongoing and episodic in nature. It’s not good for business when your most marketable character is polarizing. Half the audience hates him. Half the audience loves him. You look at guys on Cena’s level, like Steve Austin, The Rock and Hulk Hogan… once they found that character, you always gonna have haters, but the majority of the audience loved those characters. Steve Austin brought an attitude that encapsulated the attitude era. Then he added comedic bits. The Rock could make an audience chant things whether he was heel or face. Hulk Hogan was beloved for many years as a face, then he was loved as a heel. Then loved some more as a babyface.

It’s WWE’s own fault that they’re so thin on marketable name talent. They wait too damn long to pull the trigger on making new stars and often go halfway with it. I think it’s funny that when you look at the Total Divas reality show, that’s something else sort of exposing the business. All these documentaries on people exposing how they got into the business and backstage things. The reason the expression ‘protect the business’ exists is the same reason magicians guard the secrets of how their tricks work. No one goes to a magic show knowing that everything they’re seeing is fake and HOW they faked it and leaves, satisfied that they were entertained to the max. Also brings up the old “no one wants to see how a sausage is made”. These days, fans are privy to every creative direction. Scripts are leaked. I once saw someone tweet @WWE: “Stop letting your plans leak so we’re not surprised!” and I’m POSITIVE that person is on every dirt sheet trying to find out the spoilers.

I have had to stop reading the SmackDown spoilers because they were taking away my enjoyment of the show. Nowadays, the ‘boys’ and too many people exist backstage that don’t seem to care about how the more the fans are let in on the tricks of the trade, the more unsatisfied they are with the performances. Imagine if every time Stone Cold drove a vehicle into the arena and wreaked havoc we all knew ahead of time. Not the same. Wrasslin gets a hell of a lot more exciting if we watched it having no idea that someone is returning that night. If we didn’t know that two guys are slated to fight two or three pay per views into the future.

What I Learned from Watching Nitro, Pt. 1

If you get this reference, consider yourself special.

If you get this reference, consider yourself special.

After watching about a month of programming from WCW Monday Nitro (specifically episodes 141 – 144, from November – December 1996, and a few others prior to those), here’s what I learned so far and why it’s important for us to consider today:

The Wrestlers Didn’t All Look the Same

Somewhere we all got caught up in the niceties of seeing six-foot plus, two hundred fifty plus pound behemoths traipse the pro wrestling landscape hither and thither. While we relished in the Bacchanalian revelry of barking like seals at wrestlers that “looked like” wrestlers, the powers that be consistently gave us what we cheered for, all the while conditioning us to become lukewarm to the different styles and abilities of wrestlers that could … you know … wrestle.

Take a look across the WWE’s roster or TNA’s roster at that; everybody looks alike … period. John Cena can be exchanged for Sheamus, Ryback, Mojo Rawley, Titus O’Neil, and whoever else. Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, Miz, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger … they’re all cut from the same cloth and manufactured from the same fabric that brought us “Hustle, Loyalty, Respect.” They all wrestle alike, they pretty much sound like one another, and are honestly easily replaceable. If Zack Ryder was released today, would you (a) even realize it and (b) even care?

WCW’s roster towards the end of 1996 was literally chock-filled with wrestlers who didn’t fit into one homogenous mold or style. Each “character” was unique from the next, and had a skill set that expressed that their uniqueness. There were wrestlers of all shapes, sizes, and abilities, and while the action at times may have been choppy and suspect, these characters were irreplaceable. Lord Stephen Regal put on one hell of a losing effort to Chris Benoit one week while Juventud Guerrera was getting owned by Miguel Pérez, Jr. Dean Malenko was cleaning house left and right, and Marcus Bagwell, Scotty Riggs, Brad Armstrong, Tony “Villano IV” Peña, Jeff Jarrett, The Taskmaster Kevin Sullivan, the Faces of Fear, Big Bubba Rogers, Psicosis, Ultimo Dragon, Squire Dave Taylor, Sgt. Craig Pittman, the Nasty Boys, the French Canadians, Madusa, Masa Hiro Chono (as it was displayed on the screen), Chris Jericho, Hardbody Harrison, Jim Powers, Bobby Eaton, Rey Mysterio, Jr., Eddie Guerrero, Hector Guerrero, Chavo Guerrero, Jr., La Parka, Alex Wright, Juventud Guerrera, Mike Wallstreet, The Renegade and Joe Gomez, “Crow” Sting, the Steiner Brothers, and the many members of the nWo filled out the television program nightly. And those are just the people I can remember without watching those four particular episodes of Nitro again.

We can’t even look at the past month of RAW episodes and pretend with a straight face as if the roster is that deep or diverse.

Watching two hours of wrestling didn’t feel like watching two hours of wrestling.

Some time ago I wrote that TNA’s move to live broadcasts was far more tantalizing than three hours of plodding through WWE TV. Two whole damn years later, I can justifiably say this about that:

IWasRight

When watching WCW’s product from the end of 1996, multiple stories unfolded over the course of two hours with an intentionally subtle focus on one main story that wasn’t too overbearing or understated. The ebb and flow of the episodes, however, didn’t drag on or cram storylines down our throats. Everything felt organic, moved naturally from one segment to the next, and I eventually found myself wanting to see how things would culminate at the pay per view at the end of the month (Starrcade ’96).

It was interesting to witness WCW create must-see TV without forcing the issue, which led me to saying more than a few times, “Wait…that’s it? That couldn’t have been two hours.” In reality it wasn’t, as the absence of commercial breaks makes the episodes about an hour and a half long…but still…

At times it feels as if one main story on RAW takes precedence over all things, and that main story gets shoved into our faces constantly by the announcers, backstage segments, in-ring talking segments, and even recaps on completely different shows (SmackDown is pretty much RAW V2.5 at this point…and so is Main Event and Superstars…). There’s nothing subtle about the main storylines and most of the time we end up responding to these segments for what they were at the moment and not for what they are in the overarching storyline. Thus, three hours of isolated segments begin to wear on us mentally, especially if the entire three hours focuses hard on one storyline with everything else being comical afterthoughts.

The World Heavyweight Champion didn’t appear on EVERY episode…and I was okay.

The major storyline at this point in time was a pending match between the WCW World Heavyweight Champion Hollywood Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper, and for at least two straight episodes neither wrestler appeared on television as they hyped the possibility of these two facing each other. When Hollywood Hogan finally appeared, he didn’t even wrestle on the show and, in the grand scheme of things, managed not to overshadow the rest of the episode with his presence. Nowadays we complain of part-time wrestlers holding titles and not being in our faces every week, giving us no real reason to salivate over seeing them when they do make a rare appearance on the weekly televised product. When they do appear weekly, they’re so all in our faces that they might as well be sitting next to us in our living rooms.

The clichéd statement is that “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and I felt like I truly wanted to see Hogan face Piper because their interactions on TV were limited to a few spots here and there, even after their first initial face off.

The secondary stories were simple, exciting, and “real.”

While rehabbing a rotator cuff injury after surgery, Ric Flair christened Jeff Jarrett as his heir apparent in The Four Horsemen. Steve ‘Mongo” McMichael and “The Crippler” Chris Benoit vehemently disagreed with this appointment, and ultimately didn’t allow Jarrett to dabble in Horsemen business. Meanwhile Jarrett, along with other members of the roster, were embroiled in a single-elimination tournament to crown a new U.S. Heavyweight Champion after nWo member The Giant commandeered the title.

Chris Benoit was engaged in a bitter rivalry with The Taskmaster over his valet Woman, who at one point was aligned with The Taskmaster. Eric Bischoff, the most senior executive of WCW, was revealed to be a member of the nWo and gave all of WCW’s talent one month to convert their contracts to nWo contracts. While wrestlers began to slowly defect to the nWo, the remaining pro-WCW wrestlers attempted to gain support amongst each other. Caught in the middle of this fight were Sting and Diamond Dallas Page, both straddling the fence for their own very different reasons; Dean Malenko was crushing talent left and right in the Cruiserweight Division while preparing to face Ultimo Dragon, who at this point returned from Japan after successfully unifying eight different junior heavyweight championships.

What’s going on right now in WWE? Exactly.

I was okay with people losing.

I watched at least three episodes before I realized that Juventud Guerrera was being beat by almost everybody he faced, and Juventud was at that point a recognizable name in the Cruiserweight Division. And guess what…I didn’t pitch a fit.

Lord Stephen Regal lost one hell of a match to Chris Benoit after going on a winning streak, and guess what…I didn’t pitch a fit.

This is to say that tons of wrestlers lost matches and I didn’t feel inclined to write scathing commentary about how they were being buried because of a loss or multiple losses. When it comes to pro wrestling, somebody has to lose the match if we expect somebody to win. But in today’s era of trading victories, everybody becomes a fan favorite deserving of an indefinite win streak.

It’s impossible to push everyone as unbeatable Mongols, and if one desires to see a particular wrestler tear through the roster, one has to be able to (a) identify several stars for that wrestler to defeat and (b) craft a believable story to justify why said wrestler is able to tear through the roster like Kleenex at a snot party. Then again, when your main show roster looks like s**t and is ultimately stretched thinly across five hours (three for RAW and two for SmackDown), what can we expect?

Those are just my thoughts so far; perhaps you too should check out WCW Monday Nitro on the WWE Network. Think about all the fun you can have arguing with us here at L.E.W.D. all for the low low cost of $9.99!

Return of Kayfabe

In case you are somehow reading this and not knowing what ‘kayfabe’ is: Kayfabe is a word used to describe how wrasslin is fake. And back in the day, they would never ‘break kayfabe’ which essentially means they wouldn’t do things to let you know what you’re watching is some ol bullshit. If you listen to podcasts like ‘The Steve Austin Show’ you’ll hear him use the phrase ‘protect the business’. I think the business does need to protect itself and give up on trying to be multimedia and just do what it does best.

The business is exposed by little things like Dolph Ziggler tweeting under the handle “Heel Ziggler” and even though he is a fucking babyface (and not a very good one) he is STILL “Heel Ziggler”. He has worn the word ‘heel’ on his ass as he worked. This is breaking kayfabe. This is a reminder that you’re watching some fake shit. Let me explain why this MATTERS: In rap, we know that ‘Rick Ross’ stole his name from an actual gangster. That he is no drug kingpin like he raps about, but used to be a correctional officer. However, talking about that doesn’t sell one record. Him reminding us all the time the life he raps about is fake… isn’t best for business. When you watch a movie… you know that these characters are actors and actresses, that more often than not, the bigger their name is, the more money the film is likely to draw. And a movie is only good if you are able to suspend your disbelief and get sucked into the performance and the story being told.

How can I get sucked into the story when they’re jerking me back into reality… BY PLUGGING THE WWE NETWORK DURING PROMOS!?! The best salesmen in the world will work you so good that you’ll go home and feel GOOD that you went in to get one thing and left with something else altogether, most likely far more expensive. You go in knowing you will be sold a bill of goods and yet… still get GOT. Vince and them have forgotten this important rule of entertainment.

Speaking of the WWE Network, watching The Monday Night Wars makes me acutely aware that Vince is repeating the SAME exact mistakes he made when the business was down in the 90s, having these cartoonish, goofy, colorful gimmicks. On RAW, Heath Slater got WORKED by a fucking bunny. If WWE had competition now as they did then, that competition would just go more ‘realistic’ and kill them in the ratings because a lot of the things they’re doing break kayfabe. Like the many times they come up with intentionally bad segments and bury them by telling us how bad they are.

I was hanging with one of my exes Monday night and had to talk her into ‘letting’ me watch wrasslin. Because she thinks it’s stupid. I could stop right there but I need to point out that the only times she cared or commented about anything was when the Bellas, Stephanie, AJ and Paige came out. Which told ME that’s the only program in the fucking company drawing a dime. The so called piss breaks are the only thing popping anyone. Then… of course she thought Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns were attractive. And “Oh that’s John Cena.” LMAO

A lot of people are complaining that AJ/Paige is NO Stratus/James. Because they’re not. It’s similar but slightly different. More people are complaining that the sibling rivalry is being overdone and the acting is terrible. And the acting IS terrible. AND IT’S STILL THE BEST PROGRAM GOING IN THE COMPANY AT THE MOMENT! WWE has nothing for anyone else, so… let’s invite Michael Sam to TOTALLY not talk about how being gay is why he was drafted so late and may or may not get signed before the season on a practice squad.

Because the kayfabe is struggling let’s break kayfabe and dedicate TV time to real life struggle.

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