Episode 1096 of Monday Night RAW is in the bag and the stage has been set for Payback, this Sunday’s appropriately themed WWE “special event.” Normally the go-home show for any
wrestling sports entertainment pay per view “special event” would create intrigue and excitement among fans in a way that cajoles us to drop the necessary $60 to order the event from our local cable or satellite service provider. Unfortunately times have changed since the 80s and much like Zack Ryder’s Last ReZort, interest has waned severely in “ordering” special events and in the WWE’s product.
It’s easy for us to place the blame solely on WWE for producing a lifeless, lackluster product that resembles a post-recognizable-name episode of Saturday Night Live than a pro wrestling broadcast. Truth be told the promotion has seen better days; the problem is that a lot of us “fans” think of “better days” as being that Attitude Era-ish time period where pro wrestling was on fire for more than the sole reason that it was “great” There were some great things that happened in that era that showcased the skill of some phenomenal superstars, but it was also during a time period where the concept of an iPod would’ve gotten you sentenced to death by firing squad. In effect, the Attitude Era drastically altered our expectations as pro wrestling “fans,” and has transformed us into the insatiable brats we are today.
And yes, I used the word “WE” because WE are all “fans.”
Let’s just be real with one another: yes, RAW for the last few weeks has been slightly underwhelming, something that most diehard fans wouldn’t rush home to see. Then again with the invention of DVR-ing, is there really ever a need to “rush home” to watch anything nowadays? For yours truly, however, RAW has remained a staple on Monday nights since the very first episode in January 1994. YES, I am one of those guys who will watch RAW regardless of how the supposed masses review the “quality” of the show. Some would say fans like myself are mindless and dumb, which seems absolutely ridiculous seeing as the average reading ability of folks living in the United States is at the fourth grade level and strong segment of the population has at least made it to the tenth grade … but I digress.
So yes, RAW has been underwhelming for some time but it is a far cry from being bad or terrible as some have claimed it to be. The problem is that our expectations of what the show should be don’t necessarily match what’s actually produced on the show. We still want Attitude Era-ish shenanigans and when we don’t get them, we immediately pan everything they throw at us and label the product as something horrible. It’s really the equivalent of a temper tantrum from a small league of grown ass fans.
I contend that our expectations are all over the place, relying on our desire to see what we like instead of being specific about what we want, which are two very different things in and of themselves. We want to see more attention given to the Divas Division and its superstars, but we like seeing scantily clad Divas with big boobs parading around the area. We want to see compelling and action-packed storylines with drama, twists and turns, but we like seeing simplified conflicts with certain superstars dominating the main event and three hour broadcasts. We want to see new wrestlers and characters, but we like seeing the same old guys doing the same old stuff. The gray area for pleasing all fans is quite small and tumultuous, and I do not envy those tasked with making RAW or Smackdown or NXT or Main Event or Superstars happen each and every week from a creative direction, because they have to put on a show whether or not we fickle fans like it.
The cool thing about WWE in particular and all promotions in general is that they always provide us with entertainment even as we pick apart the most miniscule of details in the product, and a lot of times they provide us fans with the very thing we want andlike, and we willingly choose to ignore it just to focus on highlighting our opinions and point of views. We can’t truly enjoy the product because we’re too busy enjoying picking it apart; I’ll be the first to admit here that I’ve been guilty of that often and even wrote to defend such a perspective. However, it’s one thing to be a “fan” that turns a blind eye to haphazard writing and terrible booking and it’s a completely different thing to trade in one’s perspective as a “fan” for the false glamor that comes with the emptiness of complaining about a lack of substance without offering an alternative solution.
With these things in mind, here’s what stood out to me during Episode 1096 of Monday Night RAW:
- Wyatt vs. Cena: Missing the Picture
- Adam Rose and Alicia Fox: Missing the Picture
- Payback “special event;” Missing the Picture
The ideological feud between Bray Wyatt and John Cena is one of the three top feuds in the promotion at the moment. I would bet stone cold cash on the fact that most fans have completely missed the fact that John Cena has taken a less prominent roll in the promotion for some time now and has used his energy and charisma to build up younger stars. In this case, his protege Bray Wyatt has benefited greatly from the rub.
Here’s a tweet that I put out earlier which expresses a part of the confusion surrounding the Wyatt/Cena feud:
It wasn’t that long ago when Vince McMahon shocked the pro wrestling world by reportedly stating that there were no more “faces or heels” in his promotion’s product, effectively saying what Vince Russo had been saying all along: there are no good guys or bad guys, just characters who will fluctuate between the moral and immoral depending on the circumstances they are in. The Wyatt/Cena feud showcases that blurred line of logic to a tee, but its approach seems to be somewhat more cerebral than most can handle.
While it has become slightly inorganic for Wyatt to include his youth-friendly gospel song into each promo or talking segment, his verbal sparring with Cena centers around the notion of one cult of personality battling another. Bray Wyatt is forthright in saying that the Cult of HLR is filled with empty promises and false hope, while John Cena spends more time defaming the Wyatt Family’s system of belief while once again ignoring anyone who supports or opposes his own tried and true beliefs. Both men believe in their own ideals, and yet Wyatt is the one saying “join me” while Cena says “eff all y’all, I’m a bawse!” And somehow, somewhere … we’re being told to believe that Wyatt is the bad guy … at least he has some interest in people believing in him.
All this is to say that the crux of this feud is lost in translation, mired down by the weight of cryptic promos and lofty dialogue. But this is what we fans wanted, right? We want those deep, introspective storylines that push the boundaries of what we’re use to seeing, right? This whole storyline is much more than being about Guy A hating Guy B and wanting to fight; the Wyatt Family has lost a good number of matches against Cena and yet they don’t seem to be bothered with that inasmuch as they are with the fact that they haven’t completely decimated the Cult of HLR …
Look for their match this Sunday to be “bowling shoe ugly” as Jim Ross has said. After years of listening to John Cena’s spiel and praying feverishly to the wrestling gods for his demise, I can only be baffled as to why someone would not want to purchase the special even to see how this turns out. If that isn’t your cup of tea, there’s always Matt Hardy and his ICONIC Championship.
Pro wresting is based on characters, point blank. Characters dominate sports entertainment and sports so much that you’d be hard-pressed nowadays to find athletes in the public square that are just as well-rounded and normal as you or I. Think about it: Tim Tebow made waves not just because he was a standout college athlete but also because his deeply rooted Christian beliefs made him a target of mockery by football fans in our supposed “Christian” nation. All these behind the scenes shows were created for boxers which show the personality of these “characters” outside of two dudes who are punching the hell out of each other for money and a championship. Each UFC fighter is a “character,” NASCAR drivers are “characters;” it just is what it is.
When it comes to pro wrestling, however, there is a need for characters that aren’t necessarily your straight forward, “I’m going to wrestle you to death” types of superstars. This is where Adam Rose comes in to play, a wrestler with a colorful entrance and a wacky entourage that makes you pay attention. The issue is, however, that this campy gimmick doesn’t sit well with those stoic, emotionless fans who watch Frank Gotch matches all day long. The same thing applies to Alicia Fox’s character direction, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
For those of you that don’t know, Ray Leppan South African wrestler that portrays Adam Rose, and prior to receiving this Aldous Snow reminiscent gimmick he successfully brought life and meaning to Leo Kruger, his FCW and NXT persona that went from simply boring (along with Damien Sandow, point of fact) to simply intense and intriguing. The Leo Kruger of NXT is the Kruger I preferred, a creepy South African poacher/big game hunter with a seriously bitchin’ theme song:
When I first heard that Kruger was getting a makeover, the only thing I knew very little about Russell Brand other than the notion that I despised the idea of Kruger being neutered just when he was getting over (with me) as a character. After seeing Adam Rose debut on NXT, my mind was changed when I realized why this character development happened. Leppan began his stint in WWE’s FCW developmental promotion in 2010 and stayed during the promotion’s shift to NXT and Full Sail University. Between 2010 and 2014, the Kruger character was the primary character portrayed by Ray Leppan, which implies that despite development and growth, Leppan had only portrayed one type of character in four years while signed with WWE. The Adam Rose experiment, in my mind, was a way to see if Leppan could do more and be more than just an multifaceted yet one dimensional character.
Lo and behold, Adam Rose makes it to the main roster (after 4 years in developmental when tons of stars are lucky to make it to or past two years) after his gimmick does well on house shows and at Full Sail University (*cough cough Hi Emma cough cough*). With barely a full month in on the main roster, why have fans panned the character as “not working” when he hasn’t even seen a real strong feud yet? Worst of all, are you seriously telling me we’d opt to see the wrestling poacher than this quirky character and his cast of crazy cohorts? Seriously, where in the twenty-first century wrestling world is it “okay” for wrestling carnies and not for Adam Rose?
Also of concern is the direction for Alicia Fox, who has taken to post-match fits of confusion to express her happiness or frustration with a win or loss. From Diet Coke soda baths to giving members of the ring crew wedgies, fans have voiced their displeasure with Ms. Foxy’s development as a character because it … well I don’t know exactly why they don’t like the direction she’s headed in.
As one wrestling pundit put it online, it does make you pay attention to the Divas and their division. For years fans have clamored for the division to be paid attention to, and even with the success of the E Network’s Total Divas show, fans still screamed for the division to be more than just a reason to acquire B-Roll for the WWE’s reality show. Alicia Fox gives you just that with the newly crowned and very young Divas Champion Paige … and that’s a bad thing?
Pro wrestling has always had characters; from Ric Flair to the Macho King, Mr. Perfect to Roddy Piper, Sting to Kerry Von Erich, there’s no escaping the necessity of a persona to add flavor to a fight between two individuals. There’s a place for the Daniel Bryans and Gail Kims just as there is a place for the Bad Influences and RD Evans. Everybody can’t be straight forward like Lance Storm and Dean Malenko, and the more we try to pigeonhole our stars into being the next iterations of Stone Cold and Trish Stratus, the more of a disservice we do the superstars who bust their butts to be the first versions of themselves. Just think about it: everybody is nuts about the way Dolph Ziggler is being treated currently, but how many of those same fans talked down about the name “Dolph Ziggler” when he disappeared from The Spirit Squad as Nicky and as Kerwin White’s caddy, Nick Nemeth? Exactly.
I wouldn’t rate the build up to this year’s Payback as something spectacular and worth writing home about, but we must acknowledge that by its name this special event is directly related to the special event that preceded it … in this case, WrestleMania XXX. If it seems like a lot of the matches are simply rematches from the last special event, then hey … maybe that’s by design.
We can’t neglect to consider that most promotions seemed hell bent on pushing their television deals, which is something that even TNA really began doing four years ago when Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan joined the company. If this is true by any stretch of the imagination, it then makes sense for these special events to look and feel like special television broadcasts. Fans and pundits hate this because we’re accustomed to pay per views being climaxes or blow offs to feuds, or at least explosive continuations of on-going storylines and creative directions. From that perspective, the TV shows should drive viewers to order the pay per views, and the pay per views should segue in some form back to the television shows. Such is rarely the case nowadays, as the pay per views (or special events) usually drive people back to the television shows, while the television shows do almost little to hype or push the pay per views (or special events).
The question remains: what is pro wrestling pay per view supposed to be? Four years ago the suits at TNA tried to convince us that the twelve pay per view per year model was asinine and that promoting four major shows while having seven monthly “special events” (because that’s really what the One Night Only pay per views are if you want to be technical about it) was the wave of the future. Hell, they even went as far as to promote pay per view themed episodes of Impact. Other wrestling promotions went the iPPV route, and others are just now walking into the pay per view fray just as WWE settles into its special event format on the WWE Network. With all of these options and changes to the way pro wrestling is presented, what do we expect a pay per view or special even to be?
If you’re paying $9.99 per month for the WWE Network, what should a special event be to be worth your $9.99 that month? If you’re paying $60 a month to watch a special event, what should that special event be to be worth your money? If you’re pirating the special event, what should it be to be worth your time and pirating efforts? If you’re attending a live show and you paid in advance for your tickets, purchased tons of merchandise at the tables and waited in the special VIP lines to get a picture with your favorite superstar or Diva, what would that special event be to be worth all of your efforts?
The best and only answer is … entertaining. How that special event is entertaining will depend on the person you’re talking to, but we all have our own reasons for wanting to watch the show even as we move heaven and earth to try to convince other people not to watch it. If we really thought and believed the special event wasn’t worth our time and money, would I be sitting here writing this post and would you be reading it? Absolutely not.
Get over it; watch the special event and enjoy the spectacle as it directs our attention back to next Monday night and the road to July’s Money In the Bank special event.
But those are just my thoughts; what do YOU think?
Pro wrestling in the 21st Century most assuredly falls under the “entertainment” genre, and while this particular categorization of “the business” by no means negates or diminishes the athleticism, sacrifices, and dedication of the wrestlers, it does create a certain atmosphere that determines by and large how the business functions.
Despite our insistence that pro wrestling is solely about athleticism and abilities, the business as a form of entertainment is also about presentation. The way in which the product is presented in this day in age can make or break a promotion rather easily and quickly.
If the way the product is presented has an important and specific effect on the business, then the actual product being presented has to look and feel a certain way as well. Imagine a roster filled with Bastion Boogers or Rosie Lottaloves invading your airwaves five nights a week …
The entertainment business, therefore, is dominated by image; how someone or something looks is important, and consumers are conditioned to buy into those things they find visually and aesthetically pleasing. In many ways consumers can’t help being vain or superficial, as most things that dominate our lives appeal to our sight first and everything else afterwards. Pro wrestling is a form of entertainment, and its fans are consumers; even though we consistently pay a promotion to entertain us in many different ways we also subconsciously pay them to see a product that features talent that looks and performs in a way that is visually pleasing to us on the whole, and fans (consumers) on the whole want to see wrestlers that look good while exhibiting their in-ring talents and skills.
This is the reason why WWE continues to hire males that “look” like wrestlers (because there is a specific image that comes to mind when one thinks of a pro wrestler) and women that are/were models or have model-esque looks as a professional athlete. This is the reason why some TNA fans make casual references to how “hot” a Knockout looks while detailing their pro wrestling curriculum vitae. This is the reason why some fans can’t be bothered to discuss Jeff Jarrett’s GFW promotion until they first see the promotion in action. The harsh reality of life in these United States, and perhaps in other parts of the world as well, is that we are completely obsessed with looks.
The problem with being so obsessed with looks, particularly in the pro wrestling industry, is that it limits the possibilities of having greatness displayed on a much larger level. There are endless stories of great wrestlers—women and men—who have had their abilities and potential dismissed because they didn’t have a certain “look.” Fans will often rally behind the women and men, making video blogs and creating message board discussions about a promotion’s misguided direction for not hiring or pushing a wrestler because they don’t have that “look.” Within that fervor, however, there still exists some subjectivity as fans will throw their support behind some of these neglected and denied stars and not others.
Hence building a case for Jay and Mark Briscoe, two twenty-something brothers currently wrestling as a tag team in Ring of Honor Wrestling. The Briscoes are exceptional athletes and wrestlers, gaining kudos for their work in ROH from several pundits and analysts including Jim Ross. Why is it, then, that the Briscoes have yet to be picked up by WWE or TNA?
There could be all sorts of reasons as to why neither promotion has bothered to extend a contract to the Briscoe brothers, but a YouTube video posted in 2011 on the Ring of Honor Wrestling YouTube account shows the Briscoes recalling a story from 2009 of their experience with a WWE tryout. Long story short, the Briscoes were not offered a developmental contract with the promotion because they were not “cosmetically pleasing to suit the WWE’s programming.” One can only imagine how disrespected and insulted the brothers must have felt to be essentially told that they weren’t “cosmetically pleasing” for WWE’s fans.
As much as such an occurrence serves as fodder for those who despise all things WWE, it remains to be seen why TNA—the unofficial “alternative” to WWE programming—has yet to offer a contract to the brothers or why TNA fans have decided against rallying for the signing of this team to help boost the promotions lackluster tag team division. Could it be possible that even TNA and its fans find a team such as The Wolves more “cosmetically pleasing” than the Briscoes while some of the best tag team matches in ROH took place between the American Wolves and the Briscoe Brothers? It’s very possible that the Briscoes were offered a TNA contract and turned it down (and they had at least one match in TNA’s early days), but news of such an occurrence is scarce on the internet and (to my recollection) received no where near the same amount of press as the reports of tryouts and (re-)signings of other stars.
The Briscoes obviously don’t fit the stereotypical mold of what we envision of pro wrestlers; they do, however, have a unique and intentionally different persona that, coupled with their abilities, would make them immediately stand out in the tag division of any promotion they work for. With tons of model-esque and “polished” wrestlers dominating the industry at this point, it would be more refreshing to see an upstart tag team rampaging through the system as something very different from the norm. In this sense, hiring the Briscoes would mean much more than meets the eye (pun intended).
It is quite possible that the top two promotions are intimidated by what the Briscoes represent: an obvious and deliberate departure from the established standard in the entertainment business and pro wrestling industry. This established standard, a crippling adherence to looks and style over substance, makes the industry slaves to a consumerist’s illogical perception of beauty and looks. The business as a form of entertainment, ruled by finances and revenue, will only present those things consumers are willing to pay to see. Fans will not pay to see anything that isn’t “cosmetically pleasing,” and the desire to deviate from that standard is about as enthralling as a prostate exam from an agitated Wolverine …
In the end (pun intended), the Briscoes and us fans lose out on so much simply because major promotions aren’t ballsy enough to buck the system, a system that depends our our dollars; unfortunately, when it comes to the entertainment industry, we will notpay for anything we don’t like … and people in this country do not likethings that aren’t deemed pretty.
There is nothing “pretty” about what the Briscoes do in the squared circle.
These two blue-collar brothers hail from Laurel, Delaware and are billed as being from Sandy Fork, both of which are located in Sussex County. According to the Sussex County website, Western Sussex County (in which Laurel is located) is notable for being “the backbone of Delaware’s agriculture industry with more acres of arable land under cultivation than anywhere else in the state.” Both Jay and Mark make no bones about growing up and living on a farm (a chicken farm at that, of which Sussex County is also known for being “the birthplace of the broiler chicken industry”), and the promos from these two tattooed, Confederate flag waving rebels are often laced with profanity and the type of drawl you’d expect from two country boys that grew up in the pre-integrated South:
What’s most refreshing about the Briscoes is that they are authentically being themselves; the “characters” they portray as wrestlers are not drastically different from who they are in real life … which could potentially be a PR nightmare for any promotion dealing with family-friendly investors. While their rough-around-the-edges persona could be “difficult” for business, their work ethic and in-ring abilities speak for themselves and the possibilities for fresh match-ups against other teams in TNA and WWE warrant some consideration of investment from both promotions. Their no-frills, get-er-done mentality, coupled with their surprisingly finessed and incredibly crisp ring work, could easily remind fans of the Dudley Boyz from ECW, two also not-ready-for-prime-time wrestlers who prior to their time in the WWE were also far from being “cosmetically pleasing.” It also doesn’t hurt that both of the brothers are only peeking at 30 years old.
The issue is whether or not there’s anyone in either promotion that is willing to invest on a long shot in the way they did with other stars (CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Orlando Jordan … ). A bigger issue is whether or not we fans can collectively stand behind and support the signing of two wrestlers who’ve earned the opportunity to showcase their skills on a bigger stage. Fans proudly fancy themselves as being decidedly against the superficial politics of pro wrestling (such as in the case of WWE’s alleged issue with Mickie James’ “weight gain” five years ago); we must be aware that we feed into that same superficiality when our support for wrestlers is unequally yoked from our own superficial subjectivity.
The entertainment business and much of our U.S. society focuses too much on looking good, often times at the expense of substance and quality. Our spending power and dollars feed the machines that promote the importance of how something looks over how it functions. If we ever desire for real change to occur in pro wrestling, we have got to have change our priorities which will significantly change how and where we spend our money. The moment that change occurs, the promotions will see and acknowledge that the quality of the product and the athletes who sacrifice their lives to entertain us are far more important than whether or not they are “cosmetically pleasing.” That change, however, has to happen inside of us fans … and unfortunately it’s a change that will take some time to happen, unless the promotions themselves choose to buck the system and truly be different in what they do and offer us for entertainment. Hiring the Briscoes, be it in WWE or TNA, would be one huge step in that direction.
To quote Jay and Mark Briscoe, perhaps is far past time for these major promotions and us fans to “Man Up” and truly clamor for something different than the cookie cutter standard that’s loosing viewers and revenue as we speak.