Tag Archives: Chris Jericho

The Curse of the Attitude Era

"Hello, Ladies!" | WWE Alumni Val Venis; Photo © 2014 WWE.com. All Rights Reserved.
“Hello, Ladies!” | WWE Alumni Val Venis and X-Pac; Photo © 2014 WWE.com. All Rights Reserved.

A very salient and time appropriate point was recently made by L.E.W.D.’s resident truth telling aficionado Corbin Macklin:

You can make an argument that my generation grew up spoiled by seeing The Rock, Stone Cold, HHH, Mick Foley, Kurt Angle, Undertaker, Kane, Big Show, Shawn Michaels, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho etc every week…

One would be hard-pressed to argue with the fact that thousands, if not millions, of today’s most vocal pro wrestling fans today were indeed spoiled by the capers and athleticism of the aforementioned stars from more than seventeen years ago.  These men, along with a bevy of women as well, left an indelible mark on this business we call pro wrestling during the highly acclaimed “Attitude Era,” that legendary and almost mythical time period where it was cool and acceptable to watch and indulge in all things pro wrestling.  This era was defined by brash attitudes and vulgar language, rampant soft core pornography, controversial storylines, and in-ring actual that seemingly always ended with someone profusely bleeding.  The risqué, “too raunchy for prime time” rated-R product of the late nineties provided countless hours of entertainment for viewers; from the middle-finger flipping, boss beating, beer swilling shenanigans of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to the crotch chopping, anti-establishment antics of Degeneration X, the spirit and ethic of the Attitude Era spat in the face of polite society and took no prisoners as it steamrolled over all things pleasing, polished, and polite.

These things alone did not make the Attitude Era what it was; in hindsight along with Brother Corbin’s point, we can see that the Attitude Era was made possible and popular by a unique cast of characters, scores of wrestlers, writers, bookers, producers and owners from three different organizations (WWF/E, WCW and ECW) who were in the right place and right time as the stars aligned to create a legacy that has yet to be duplicated in any form or fashion.  The Attitude Era was truly defined by the brilliance, work ethic, and passion of the men and women who gave their all plus some every time they stepped inside the ring or represented their respective promotion.  The Attitude Era, with it’s politics and the unregulated obsession with blood, boobs, butts and four-letter words, was successful because there existed a communal desire among all vested parties to be the best in the pro wrestling world and within one’s own promotion.  This is to say that any given wrestler during that period of time not only wanted to be the best in their promotion, but was intentionally committed to doing whatever was necessary to make sure their promotion was the best in the world.

The raunchiness, crassness and politically incorrectness was only a tool of the Attitude Era, which ultimately served as a tool used by the WWE during the Monday Night War period against WCW.  Behind those tools, however, was the rich and deep talent pool filled with solid athletes and creative minds.  Speaking specifically of the WWE, not only were the main event stars mentioned earlier (Stone Cold, The Rock, Mankind, Eddie Guerrero, Undertaker, etc.) battling one another for ring supremacy, but lower tiered talent such as Val Venis, Mark Henry and D’Lo Brown, Savio Vega, Luna Vachon, Goldust, Droz, The Big Bossman , Crush, Taka Michinoku, Chyna, Sable and Mark Mero, Ken Shamrock and The Godfather also held their own in the ring, providing just as much entertainment and excitement as those superstars heavily featured in the promotion.  Everybody fired on all four cylinders and did so for their own good, each other, and to keep the competition from stomping them into oblivion.

The Attitude Era effectively died when that desire no longer existed, ushering in subsequent periods where all vested parties became increasingly interested in their own personal goals and desires.  With a communal desire to succeed no longer permeating through the actions of wrestlers or the intentions of the bookers, writers, producers and owners, pro wrestling slowly morphed into the static, spiritless state it is today, where individuals from the bottom to the top appear more concerned with their own varying ambitions and aspirations than anything else.  Today’s product is defined by incessant complaining of individual stars being held back, “buried,” mistreated or disrespected by the system, coupled with the constant criticism against the system’s alleged refusal to kowtow to the desires of “the fans.”  Communal desire has been replaced with persistent protesting, and that  along with a lack of true competition makes a divided roster and hierarchical structure even more uninspired, insipid and lackluster.

WWE Superstar Dolph Ziggler | Photo: Prowrestlingpowerhouse.com
WWE Superstar Dolph Ziggler | Photo: Prowrestlingpowerhouse.com

There are some fans whose persistent protesting contains the wish to return to the days of the Attitude Era, explicitly seeking to satiate a craving for a more “adult” themed product from days past.  There exists the notion than the current product has been watered down too much by the politically correct, family-friendly PG politics of the day, rendering the WWE’s content a shell of the ratings juggernaut it once was.  What’s not understood by those clinging to this notion is that the Attitude Era was an anomaly, an aberration of what once was the standard in the world of pro wrestling that coincided perfectly with the culture and circumstances of the time.  A product today saturated with swearing, scantily clad women, and socially unacceptable storylines would not and could not float with today’s generation of pro wrestling consumers.

What fans want, however, is the same level of passion and dedication that was expressed by the populace and the promotion several years ago.  The magic of the Attitude Era cannot be recreated; the type of change that’s needed cannot be found in the endless cycle of recreating what worked seventeen years ago using today’s generation of wrestlers and wrestling minds for a minority within fans that can’t reconcile with the past long enough to truly appreciate the superstars wrestling today.

There within lies the curse of the Attitude Era; the hype and the euphoria found in reminiscing on those violent, angst-filled nights casts quite the looming shadow over today’s pro wrestling landscape.  We want so badly to hear dirty words and to see blood in every match masked as “real wrestling,” all while pretending as if the rosters, creative teams and executives today could carry those principles as a promotion or unit and not as loosely associated entities seeking singular fame and glory.  The Attitude Era had writers with their ears tuned keenly on the pulse of society at the time; it had executives who were hell bent on staying in business and thoroughly crushing their competition in skirmishes that determined whether or not revenue and publicity would flow easily into their own promotion.  The Attitude Era had endless lists of wrestlers who all wanted their own promotion to succeed and, at the time, did their best to lift up their fellow wrestlers as they attempted to climb the ladder of success.  The Attitude Era had fans who were just as passionate about the business as the men and women working in it, and no matter what, would support a promotion and its wrestlers no matter what…especially through their financial support.

Today’s fair weather fans can’t even be bothered to support the WWE Network and feel less inclined to spend their money on anything related to the product no matter whether it’s good or bad.  Only a handful of wrestlers stand out among fans as those who are worthy of a main event push, and those wrestlers change as often as a newborn infant needs a new diaper.  Some of those stars phone in their in ring performances or tend to “play it safe” as a means to avoid rocking the boat or causing too much trouble for themselves.  The writers work with dated material and executives are preoccupied with accounting irregularities and pet projects to truly be focused squarely on the state of the product.  A ridiculously violent and vulgar product under or against these circumstances would barely make a dent in the problem that exists today.

It is without question that the Attitude Era changed the business dramatically and had a profound effect on how we view pro wrestling today.  But to insist that a promotion returns to that era without considering what truly made it spectacular would be a categorical waste of time and energy.  Promotions filled with individuals, from the bottom up, who are willing to work together for the good of the promotion and the passion to succeed as a promotion is what’s needed.  A solid roster of talent giving one hundred percent or more at all times is what’s needed.  Fans who’ll pay for the pay per views and merchandise and who won’t fall off the radar when an episode of RAW doesn’t feature Titus O’Neil in the main event is what’s needed.

Those things are way harder to come by, but there aren’t enough tables, razorblades, swear words and bare boobies in the world to recreate the magic of what happened almost two decades ago.

WWE Payback Preview and Predictions

WWE Payback, LIVE on pay per view TONIGHT! | Photo © 2013 WWE, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
WWE Payback, LIVE on pay per view TONIGHT! | Photo © 2013 WWE, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In less than eight hours World Wrestling Entertainment is poised to present the first ever Payback sports entertainment event LIVE on pay per view!

Tonight’s event, emanating from the Allstate Arena in Chicago, Illinois, looks to give fans the signature action that only WWE can provide.  How fans actually feel about that action is up for debate, but breathe easy and be confident that whatever happens tonight fans from all over will find a way to be entertained by the action in the ring or in the Twitterverse.

The card tonight is robust enough to hold our attention even though the name of the pay per view is less than thrilling or energetic.  With the exception of two or three matches, everything scheduled for tonight meshes well with the “retribution” theme of the event.  

A part of me feels that this “retribution” theme is a tad bit weak, but who nowadays sits at home and complains about the theme of a pay per view?  I get the feeling that this event will simply serve as a capable and sturdy bridge to next month’s Money in the Bank pay per view, where the real excitement will energize us as we launch into the big summer angles headed towards Summerslam in August.

With all that being said, let’s launch into some predictions:

Pre-show – Damien Sandow vs. Sheamus | Photo © 2013 WWE, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Pre-show – Damien Sandow vs. Sheamus | Photo © 2013 WWE, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Business between these two superstars picked up when Sheamus volunteered to participate in Sandow’s intellectual challenges.  Frustrated at his inability to solve the challenges, Sheamus did what any normal bully would do and physically attacked Sandow.  Does anyone else out there notice that John Cena tends to do the exact same thing when he’s verbally bested by an opponent?  I digress…

I suppose the intent here is for Sheamus to silence Sandow and his self-righteous pseudo-intellectual pretentiousness, the goal being to punish Sandow for assuming that everyone else is his intellectual subordinate.  It is slightly concerning that the Sheamus character chooses to solve complex brain games by beating a man senseless; keep in mind that Sheamus is the face of this match.  What the hell kind of message is that sending to the kids? Be a star, why don’t you?

I would be surprised if this pre-show match up was a precursor for a long rivalry between the two men.  I can’t imagine a feud built on such a silly premise would turn into something serious between these particular competitors.  This isn’t to say that it can’t happen, it’s just that the thought of it has yet to materialize in my head.  I also don’t get the picture that fans yearn to see Sheamus fumble at solving a Rubic’s Cube or understanding the intricacies of the Devils Fork anytime soon.

What is more concerning is that Sheamus’ last few feuds have been superficial at most, which makes me believe that the investment moving forward is (or should be) in Sandow.  The “Irish John Cena” has flip-flopped around the upper mid card for some time without solid direction and seems to work best when he’s just as much in danger of a massive beating as the person he’s facing.  The only behemoth left for him to face is Big E Langston, which again would benefit his opponent more so than himself.

I expect Sheamus to win this feud and move on to something else while the company figures out what to do next with Damien Sandow.

Prediction: Sheamus wins

Triple Threat Match for the Intercontinental Championship: The Miz vs.Wade Barrett  (c) vs. Curtis Axel | Photo © 2013 WWE, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Triple Threat Match for the Intercontinental Championship: Curtis Axel vs. Wade Barrett (c) vs. The Miz | Photo © 2013 WWE, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Look at the three men in the graphic above and answer two simple questions: do you really care who wins this match, and if that Photoshopped Intercontinental Championship wasn’t present in the picture, would you still care who wins the match?

I’m not saying this to poo-poo entirely on the match; my concern is that the importance of the title has been tossed so far over the horizon that it doesn’t bring a “big fight feel” to the match.  Unfortunately the participants in this match don’t do much to make the title at least appear like it’s worthy of attention.  What we have here is an unholy circle of mediocrity.

Curtis Axel, the “it factor” of this match, replaced the recently concussed superstar Fandango in this trio of turmoil.  Even with the brilliance of Paul Heyman at his side the Axel character is technically still a newborn in the grand scheme of things, lacking the charisma and established persona that would add an element of electricity to the match in the same way that Fandango would have.  That electricity is absolutely needed in a bout featuring two great athletes and The Miz.

Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett, in all due respect, has essentially carried the title around as an accessory.  The title is Barrett’s large, white and garish purse which he never sits on the floor and keeps others from scrounging around in it without his permission.  He gets pissed if it’s taken from him, but could just as easily opt to leave it at home and take a wallet instead if he wants to travel lightly.  The Miz doesn’t deserve a paragraph of his own.

There’s just no reason to invest in this match at all.  The bout is no where near being deficient in wrestling talent and ability, but as we’ve discussed several times on this site a WWE match is much more than just showcasing great wrestling; that’s what TNA is for.  There’s nothing remotely distinguishable about these three men and the significance of the title was lost long before this match, making it unnecessary for anyone to emotionally invest in the action other than to see two of the three competitors wrestle well.

I’m giving the win to Curtis Axel, as a win here would only add to the roll he’s been on with his high-profile victories…although it would make sense for him to fail at winning the title seeing as those high-profile “victories” are questionable.  Then again if the man can beat John Cena but fail at beating The Miz…

Prediction: Curtis Axel wins the Intercontinental Title

Dolph Ziggler (c) vs. Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Championship | Photo © 2013 WWE, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Dolph Ziggler (c) vs. Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Championship | Photo © 2013 WWE, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Tonight will be Dolph Ziggler’s return to pay per view action after being shelved from a concussion.  Since stepping back into active competition, Ziggler has been used sparingly in matches as WWE is treading water lightly when it comes to concussed superstars.  This is a good thing; it does have some effect on the match and the World Heavyweight Title, but when it concerns a wrestler’s mental health and stability we fans should be understanding enough to allow the company to utilize precautionary methods and booking to ensure the wrestler’s longevity in life and not just in the business.

Ziggler and Del Rio are both accomplished athletes and wrestlers, so the match should deliver for as long as Ziggler sees in-ring time.  I sincerely doubt this match will go the distance even though Ziggler has been medically cleared to perform.  The company thus far has erred on the side of safely with Ziggler. who’s first real championship reign (not counting his wet fart reign during his time as Vickie Guerrero’s cabana boy) hasn’t been all that spectacular or memorable.

The other side of the coin is that Del Rio as champion is far more lifeless than Ziggler’s reign.  The main and major redeeming fact in placing the belt on Del Rio is that you can get longer and more intense matches from a healthy champion than you can the one you’re keeping safe.

Del Rio will win the title in a relatively short match while the company plays it safe with Ziggler.

Prediction: Alberto Del Rio wins the World Heavyweight Championship

Kane vs. Dean Ambrose (c) for the United States Championship | Photo © 2013 WWE, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Dean Ambrose (c) vs Kane for the United States Championship | Photo © 2013 WWE, Inc. All Rights Reserved

To put it mildly, the match between Dean Ambrose and Kane will be great.

The Kane character has seen a revitalization similar to that of Dave Batista’s final run in the company.  Ironically enough Kane is also building a WWE legacy that will be remembered as fondly as that of his “brother’s,” The Undertaker.  The man behind the mask is a consummate professional and his love for what he does can be easily seen by fans every time he steps through the ropes.

That being said Ambrose is fortunate to share the squared circle with a star of Kane’s magnitude.  Ambrose is definitely deserving, having been given this opportunity after surviving his stint in Florida Championship Wrestling and NXT.  He easily stands out in The Shield primarily for his mic skills, while his wrestling style is the epitome of the “unorthodox” style that other wrestlers attempt to pass off as a controlled form of flailing all over the place.

The fight between Kane and Ambrose will be ugly in the sense that the passion both men exhibit will easily permeate through their actions.  It won’t be hard for fans to become invested in the ebb and flow of the match, as Ambrose’s facial expressions and body language make it simple for fans to say “Damn, I bet that hurt!”

I see Ambrose retaining the title with a little help from his Shield brethren.

Prediction: Dean Ambrose retains

Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins of The Shield (c) vs Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan for the Tag Team Championships | Photo © 2013 WWE, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins of The Shield (c) vs Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan for the Tag Team Championships | Photo © 2013 WWE, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Seth Rollins and Daniel Bryan are the stars of this match, which leaves Randy Orton and Roman Reigns as finger cymbals in this symphony of kicks and bodyslams.

The team of Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan is just as volatile, if not more, than Team Hell No.  Fans have been screaming for a more edgy Randy Orton, or at least an Orton character that isn’t floating around as aimlessly as Sheamus.  I’ve read a lot of commentary that’s placed the blame on Orton for being what amounts to the green or red practice dummies in the Create-A-Move Set option on WWE video games.  I myself don’t fault Orton, but creatively it is quite possible that the character has gone as far as it can as a face.

There’s also a concern among fans and pundits that the company won’t go the distance with Daniel Bryan.  It’s no secret that WWE has a storied track record of neglecting superstars that are fantastically over with fans, particularly ones that aren’t huge and larger than life.  I’m not clear on our expectations for the company regarding Daniel Bryan; do we want him to be handed the WWE Championship now or have him kick his way to the top of the roster within a month?

The perception is that the company won’t do right by the character, but if the character makes money I cannot see them doing anything wrong with it.  I’d rather let the company show me they’re going to abuse the character and the wrestler rather than assume the worst from the jump.  Keep in mind that many didn’t believe Bryan would make it this far in the company; our expectations can be just as restrictive and condemning as the reality they exist in.

With Jimmy and Jey Uso receiving a renewed push of sorts I expect The Shield will retain due to friction between Orton and Bryan.  Reigns and Rollins will move on to defend their belts against established tag teams while Orton and Bryan duke it out in a rivalry concluding at the Money in the Bank pay per view a month away.

Prediction: Rollins and Reigns retain

Kaitlyn (c) and AJ Lee for the Divas Championship | Photo © 2013 WWE, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Kaitlyn (c) and AJ Lee for the Divas Championship | Photo © 2013 WWE, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Last Monday’s episode of RAW saw AJ Lee revealed as Kaitlyn’s secret admirer, which was the result of a cruel joke played on the Divas Champion by Dolph Ziggler’s questionably sane girlfriend.  Enraged after being publicly humiliated by AJ Lee, Kaitlyn has gone on rage-filled rampage that Lee will have to contend with tonight if she hopes to win the Divas title.

Kaitlyn won’t be thinking clearly, however; a large part of Lee’s offense includes mind games, similar to that of Goldust during his first run in WWE.  With Kaitlyn’s unfocused anger present, Lee with more than likely capitalize on mistakes Kaitlyn will make throughout the match.

What surprised most fans about this match up is the fact that WWE actually devoted energy into giving the Divas a specific storyline.  Some fans even commented how AJ Lee’s “crazy chick” persona is a weak version of Mickie James’ initial WWE character.  I think this opinion does a disservice to Lee, James and Kaitlyn, however.  Mickie James’ character was crazy from an odd infatuation with Trish Stratus, while Lee’s character tends to be a calculated insane, crazy with a purpose and goal … and just plain nuts from the get go.

By comparing Lee to James fans are intentionally disabling themselves from investing in Lee’s character as Lee’s character.  By conjuring up the Mickie James character of old, fans negate anything done by James after that and currently.  Kaitlyn also suffers because fans will think of her in terms of Trish Stratus even there is no comparing the two whatsoever.  The end result is back to square one, looking at the Divas division as something that it once was some 15 years ago; even then our understanding of that era is somewhat stained by inaccurate perceptions and bias.

AJ Lee will win the title, creating a rivalry and furthering the storyline between the two.

Prediction: AJ Lee wins the Divas Championship

Chris Jericho vs CM Punk | Photo © 2013 WWE, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Chris Jericho vs CM Punk | Photo © 2013 WWE, Inc. All Rights Reserved

CM Punk will hopefully make his triumphant WWE return tonight in Chicago as he looks forward to facing WWE veteran Chris Jericho.

Jericho and Punk have had excellent matches in the past and will not disappoint tonight.  The match between them was booked due to Paul Heyman, which could be the foundation for an eventual split between the Straight Edge Superstar and the maniacal mastermind behind the original ECW.

Chicago will go bat sh*t crazy over Punk’s return, fueling rampant speculation around whether or not Punk will be a face or heel moving forward.  Plans are always subject to change and I personally have no other reason to look to this match to indicative of where the Punk character is moving next.  Instead fans should simply enjoy what will be a near five-star match between two top-tier competitors and allow the story to unfold before our eyes.

The only wildcard in this match is Punk’s status in the company.  The superstar has talked very little about the match on the various social media outlets available and has only openly stated his enjoyment of life while not wrestling.  There is a slight chance that Punk may not show up tonight, giving us a “surprise” match between Jericho and someone from the Heyman Family.  The only other feasible option in the event of a Punk no show would be the debut of the Wyatt Family … but that’s not going to happen.

If Punk wrestles he won’t lose in his hometown and Jericho won’t fall into mediocrity by losing here.

Prediction: Punk wins

Three Stages of Hell Match for the WWE Championship: John Cena (c) vs Ryback | Photo © 2013 WWE, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Three Stages of Hell Match for the WWE Championship: John Cena (c) vs Ryback | Photo © 2013 WWE, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Last month’s Ambulance Match between John Cena and Ryback revealed a few things that most older fans either missed or cared very little about.

For one a John Cena WWE Champion has officially done as much as it can and will do creatively.  Cena holding the title seems forced, uninspired, and plain flat.  He’s rarely booed anymore because his detractors don’t even care enough to boo him.  Every time Cena steps into the ring, armed with his killer work ethic and never-say-die attitude, the end result is the same wash-rinse-repeat cycle we’ve seen of him for what seems like centuries.  He’s always presented as the underdog even while being the champion, and there’s nothing dynamic about the psychology of his matches or character.  Franky he’s just there like a pair of shoes that you really should’ve gotten rid of months ago.

Secondly, Ryback was positioned to be the Doomsday to John Cena’s Superman.  The fallout from their stalemate at Extreme Rules, however, has turned Ryback into a tool being used to make fans give a damn about Cena again.  This isn’t very different from a number of feuds Cena has been involved in, but it is rather unfortunate that Ryback was forced to become a heel for no other reason than to get fans to organically support Cena as an underdog … even though he’s the champion.

Thirdly, the fact that a gimmick match was used in their first official singles match as well as their second foray against each other is concerning.  I find it concerning because most gimmick matches are used when a fight escalates to certain levels and to mask certain deficiencies a wrestler or wrestlers may have.  From that perspective what does it say when Cena and Ryback’s first match needed a stipulation?

John Cena will retain his title.  There’s nothing else that can really be said or done about that.  I expect Cena and Ryback to go at it at least one more time at Money in the Bank, maybe even with a final match in August at Summerslam.  Other than that … whatever.

Prediction: John Cena retains

Payback looks good on paper but will only serve as a competent segue to the next pay per view and summer storylines pointing directly at Summerslam.  The pay per view won’t be a total bust, but if you choose to spend today doing something else, the WWE Universe will continue to roll on without a hitch.  For those of us actually watching the pay per view, here’s to hoping we’ll get some enjoyment out of the action!

WWE Opens “Hall of Doom” Performance Center in Orlando, Florida

"Actual" photo of WWE's Performance Center in Orlando, Florida, slated to open this summer.
“Actual” photo of WWE’s Performance Center in Orlando, Florida, slated to open this summer.

On Thursday, April 18, 2013 a press conference was held in Orlando, Florida by World Wrestling Entertainment.

It was at this press conference that WWE Executive Vice President of Talent and Live Events Paul “Triple H” Levesque, along with Florida Governor Rick Scott, Full Sail University President Garry Jones, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orange County Commissioner Peter Clarke, announced the opening of the WWE’s state-of-the-art Performance Center.  The Performance Center will serve as the home to WWE’s talent developmental system and will also create at least 100 new jobs in Orlando.

The following is taken from the press release about the facility:

“With 26,000 square-feet, seven training rings, a world-class strength and conditioning program and cutting-edge edit and production facilities, the new Performance Center will give WWE the ability to train more potential performers than ever before through a comprehensive program including in-ring training, physical preparedness and character development.

The new center will be the training ground for talent that includes former professional and collegiate athletes, Olympians and entertainers, and will offer a best-in-class sports medicine program creating a central location for all WWE talent to receive the best care both in and out of the ring.”

Among other things this announcement also furthers WWE’s relationship with Full Sail University, which serves as the current home for the WWE NXT taping series and also allows students (such as our very own THE Nic Johnson) of the university to gain “real-world experience” alongside WWE production team members.

The creation and announcement of WWE’s Performance Center is rife with irony, the incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result.

The irony of the whole Performance Center project is that most people expect the facility to produce top-notch WWE Superstars when the actual result will more than likely resemble the same crop of superstars already present in the company.  Effectively it appears that WWE has partnered with several entities in Orlando to create more modern and efficient methods of producing crap.

That assessment of the situation is a tad bit unfair, particularly seeing as the fruits of the Performance Center won’t be truly seen for at least another year or two from today.  As nifty as the bells and whistles sound, however, all the wrestling rings and hi-tech equipment in the world cannot and will not replace some of the most fundamental and rudimentary realities that are necessary for the development of a “true” wrestling superstar.

ivandrago01The phrase “Performance Center” is oddly reminiscent of the same cold and mechanical training regimen used by Ivan Drago in the blockbuster film Rocky IV.  Despite the flashing lights, the new age equipment, the meter readings and steroid vitamin enhancement injections, there was no machine or drug vitamin in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics that could develop the one muscle Drago needed to defeat Rocky Balboa…heart.

WWE’s hi-tech Performance Center will undoubtedly provide wrestling hopefuls the tools and opportunities necessary to become a WWE superstar, but it will most assuredly lack the proverbial heart needed for athletes to excel as wrestlers with the total package.  The skills and tools needed to have the total package cannot be found or taught in a fancy facility in one of the country’s most well-known hot spots for tourists and alcoholic college students.

This facility will not “train” men and women wrestlers to become WWE Superstars; it will eventually breed WWE Superstars flat out, and a WWE Superstar is something very different than a wrestler looking to become a WWE Superstar.

On April 5, a pre-WrestleManiaXXIX interview with WWE Superstar Daniel Bryan was featured in The Washington Post.  In the interview, journalist David Malitz had the following to say about Bryan’s journey thus far in his career:

“Bryan’s path to WWE was built on giving his best showing night after night on stages microscopic compared to the scale of that on which he’ll perform Sunday.  Over a decade, he has worked for dozens of companies on the sprawling independent wrestling circuit, from Pennsylvania to Japan, and earned a reputation as one of the best technical wrestlers in the world.  This means he is someone who can make any move in the ring look devastating, graceful and believable, whether he is on the giving or receiving end — an essential skill for a wrestler.”

According to Malitz’s piece, Bryan—formerly known to wrestling fans by his real name Bryan Danielson—honed his craft for ten years prior to arriving in WWE.  In those ten years Bryan traveled extensively all over the United States and even wrestled in Japan on numerous occasions; Malitz implies that it was during this time and not upon his arrival in WWE that Bryan gained a reputation for being one of “the best technical wrestlers in the world.”

What’s missing from the Performance Center is a focus on talent developing their skills as wrestlers before landing a developmental contract with WWE.  More telling is the idea, the notion that these men and women (or professional/collegiate athletes, Olympians and entertainers) would have gained this experience on their own which would ultimately lead WWE to giving them a developmental contract.  That idea is not necessarily a given, as has been made painfully obvious with certain Superstars and Divas in the past (Kelly Kelly for example).

Fans paying attention to this are witnessing a distinct difference in the execution of a developmental territory as opposed to a developmental system.  Wrestlers today looking to make it big in the WWE enter into its developmental territory and spend 2-4 years translating their craft into an easy-to-swallow WWE-esque style, not necessarily gaining any experience from working around the world by being a part of a network of territories in a full-fledged developmental system.

But in those 2-4 years these men and women are picking up the habits, traits and skills that will define their careers in terms specific WWE.  These wrestlers will learn one particular style that is honestly suitable for that specific company and its specific audience.  As a result the wrestler will only have limited resources to pull from when it comes to putting together a match that energizes and entertains fans.

In the WWE’s case, that is a simplistic style that tends to look and operate like the pro wrestling equivalent to a color-by-the-numbers activity book.  This, of course, does not sit well with older fans or those fans that prefer “wrestling” over “sports entertainment.”  In the same breath it positions the company to consistently churn out more and more individuals will simply provide the WWE with the same results they’ve been garnering for the past 10-11 years.

Consider Bryan’s words towards the end of the Washington Post interview:

“I don’t consider it wrestling…I’ve done wrestling.  Everywhere.  And just by being a good wrestler you can become popular.  But not here.  It’s more important to be entertaining than it is to be a great wrestler.  It’s fascinating to me…”

The new WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida is perhaps best equipped to produce entertainers.  The problem is that wrestlers can be very entertaining if they’re given the opportunity to add new dimensions and layers to their already vast repertoire (i.e. Bryan Danielson).

On the other hand it is not set in stone that an entertainer will be able to be a convincing wrestler, “someone who can make any move in the ring look devastating, graceful and believable, whether he is on the giving or receiving end — an essential skill for a wrestler.”  That’s not something than can be trained or gained in 2-4 years in a stint in a facility in Orlando.

Chris Jericho’s amazing story as a professional wrestler serves as a perfect example of this point.  Although Jericho’s journey has been extensively covered in his books A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex and Undisputed: How to Become the World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps, his path in wrestling was most succinctly described in his DVD “Breaking the Code: Behind the Walls of Chris Jericho.”

chris jericho in mexicoJericho began his trek with two goals: to become a rock star and a wrestler.  This started with Jericho getting a degree in communications at 19, wrestling at the Hart Brothers School of Wrestling in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in 1989.  In 1992 he traveled and wrestled in Mexico City until 1994, where he learned how to “work a crowd.”  It was in Mexico where he also learned and adopted elements of the Lucha Libre style.

For six weeks after his stint in Mexico City he worked in Hamburg, Germany where he learned how perform mentally a different match every night (as he performed in front of the same crowd every night for six weeks straight).  From that point Jericho found himself in Japan, where he learned how to become a technically gifted wrestler and gained the respect of several key figures and wrestlers in the industry.  Jericho also learned the Strong style and adopted that to his repertoire.

Also in 1994 Jericho worked for Smoky Mountain Wrestling in Tennessee, where he learned the Southern style of cutting great promos.  In 1996 Jericho was able to land a job with Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), where he wrestled in front of the country’s most rabid and diehard wrestling fans.  From 1996-1999 Jericho worked for Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and New Japan Pro Wrestling.

Finally in August of 1999, Chris Jericho debuted in the WWF, bringing altogether 10 years of experience from organizations spread across five different countries in Asia, North America and Europe.  To this day Chris Jericho is one of the most well respected wrestlers and veterans still able to entertain fans as a wrestler…and a rock star.

Is it feasible or possible for those same skills to be taught to a young wrestler coming into the Performance Center for a 2-4 year stint before being brought up to the main roster?  Even with the guidance and tutelage of veterans in the business, nothing can replace the real life experience of having to perform for different crowds around the world or even the country.

That being said, the WWE’s state-of-the-art facility can only exist to help future superstars add one more element to their skill sets as wrestlers.  The real issue, an issue WWE will have to respond to eventually, is whether or not they’re open to hiring wrestlers that have honed their skills over a solid period of time in promotions outside of the United States.   Better still, will WWE have the gumption to send all of its developmental stars around the world (or even the country) to adequately hone their skills and talents?

It’s exciting to have a facility in Orlando with seven rings and a team of nutritionists,  but all the fancy pants flash in the world can’t make up for a wrestler’s experience in putting on an entertaining and captivating story.