“If there’s no blood, then the whole thing is pointless!”
I use to think like that about this particular PPV, and in a way I still do. Unfortunately for me and those who share this similar thought, at some point we have to come to terms with the absence of intentional bloodletting within the WWE. It sucks, it blows, and the matches don’t have that same feeling if someone’s not gushing their precious life-sustaining fluid all over the place. Continue reading WWE Hell in a Cell 2014 Preview and Predictions→
John stared at his cell phone as it sat on the glistening black marble tile of the kitchen counter. He hovered over it, his elbows pressed firmly against the cold marble surface, fretting about having to make the phone call once again. Continue reading “Back to Basics” | S1, Ep. 1→
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:
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!
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?