With WrestleMania 31 only a few weeks away, I figured it would be about time to see what results people are believing are going to come of “The Granddaddy of Them ALL!”
Please vote on who you think will win each match!
“Wrestling doesn’t have great characters anymore. There’s lots of young guys but no characters. Not ones you believe anyway. You look at Triple H and he just LOOKS mean.”
Mr. Quinn Gammon’s Dad (who’s NOT a wrestling fan) in reference to Triple H vs. Undertaker at Insurrection 2002
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:
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?
There are some pundits in the wide world of pro wrestling commentary that feel as if the current WWE World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan is on the fast track to obscurity. These pundits have cited that Bryan’s feud with Kane is eerily reminiscent of the same feud that derailed Zack Ryder’s momentum some years ago. Most fans can remember fondly how Ryder only served as the pawn in Kane’s twisted desire to force John Cena to turn to “the dark side,” and how the leader of the Ryder Revolution was essentially demoted back to his obscure position on the main roster.
Truthfully speaking, Daniel Bryan is no where near being in the same position as Zack Ryder was during the Kane/Cena/Eve Torres storyline. At that time, Zack Ryder was not the WWE World Heavyweight Champion, the WWE Champion or the World Heavyweight Champion; at that time, Zack Ryder was not dating or married to Eve Torres or one of the Bella Twins. Most assuredly, Zack Ryder was not the focus of the feud or storyline that was essentially designed to benefit John Cena and Eve Torres. Needless to say but very important to mention is the fact that any similarities between Zack Ryder then and Daniel Bryan now are figurative at worst and superficial at best.
There is one small thing, however, that Bryan shares with Zack Ryder in his current feud … something that the pundits are indeed saying but are quite judicious in mentioning while in the presence of polite company. To say it frankly, Daniel Bryan (the character) is simply b*tchmade. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, please allow the good folks at Urban Dictionary to provide us with a more than appropriate explanation of this term:
One would be hard-pressed to deny the fact that Bryan isn’t displaying some b*tchmade qualities as he attempts to evade the evil machinations of Kane, but to compare him to Zack Ryder is just plain disrespectful on so many levels. By doing so, wrestling fans and pundits are once again proving how poorly the educational system in this country is, and that our level of fair-weather fandom does more damage to a wrestler’s credibility and the stability business than any ill-conceived storyline or plot device ever could.
For starters, Daniel Bryan IS NOT Zack Ryder.
Zack Ryder is practically the crown prince of the mid-card, second only to the promotion’s most dominating secondary title holder Kofi Kingston. No one in their right or wrong mind can regale anyone with tales of Ryder’s superb athleticism subduing the likes of Triple H, Randy Orton, Batista and John Cena in main event and pay per view matches. Zack Ryder never had the smoking hot girlfriend and never had the chance to wife her down, was never best friends (or even a potential brother-in-law for that matter) with the promotion’s top star, and to this day we can rest assured that if Kane ran across Zack Ryder he’d successfully toss him into a lake of molten lava for no reason other than it being a day of the week that started with a consonant.
Zack Ryder’s b*tchmadeness was epic in a classy way that made you not only feel sorry for him, but also made you not particularly give a damn about him after seeing him constantly owned by everyone around him. Eve Torres used him to get to Cena and used Cena to get to the top of the Divas division. Kane used him in order to play at Cena’s heartstrings as a means to manipulate him towards accepting a lifestyle that was not conducive to his beliefs and ethics. John Cena was the only person to own Ryder by not using him, because he never cared about Ryder enough to use him in the first place; and even Cena had to physically tell Ryder to “sit his @$$ back down” when he began to get out of pocket.
We must give Matthew Cardona and his acting skills due respect for taking Ryder’s “punk @SS simp” to a whole new level. No matter how terrible things got for Ryder, he continued to show moxie and trudged forward each and every time he was knocked backwards … and I personally began to tune in each week looking forward to seeing just how Kane intended to toss Ryder from here to there just because. Ryder was a tool; the more he tried not to be a tool, the more of a tool he became. Despite how many people cheered for him, rallied behind him, he was still a prop in the three way battle between Eve, John Cena, and Kane.
That type of b*tchmade is completely different from what is being displayed by Daniel Bryan.
Kane was essentially the pawn of The Authority, coerced into suppressing the dark part of himself to fit in with the devious and corporate structure he felt could advance his agenda … whatever that agenda was. When Kane found it difficult to suppress the antics and meteoric rise of Daniel Bryan, he began to incur the wrath of Stephanie McMahon and Triple H, both of whom soured on his presence similar to the way they did with former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton. Kane began to lose control, began to feel the pressure of his responsibilities press upon him from all sides. When The Shield turned against him and The Authority, and Daniel Bryan made it to the top of the mountain, Kane was left wallowing in near squalor and definitely a shell of his former self.
It was through Stephanie McMahon’s continued manipulation that led Kane to return to his dark side, embracing the fire and hatred inside of him as a means of controlling what he thought could not be contained. He tapped into his anger, his frustration and rage, and was led to direct all of his maniacal energy towards the bane of The Authority’s existence … Daniel Bryan.
In response, Daniel Bryan has become fearful of this monster that is way more sinister than the guy he hugged it out with some time ago. It’s not that Daniel Bryan is afraid of Kane, but rather is afraid of what Kane can and will do to his new wife. This has caused Bryan to act out of character, almost irrationally given what we know of him, because his primary concern is that of his wife. When it comes to someone you love, you’ll think of their protection and safety first before you think of anything else (See: Zack Ryder).
Bryan’s actions come off as something odd to fans and pundits that have grown accustomed to seeing him rise above all challenges and challengers. The difference between pre-and-post marriage Daniel Bryan is his wife, Brie Bella-Bryan. Prior to any of this, no one actually physically threatened his wife or did so with the exact same intent and malice as Kane. Daniel Bryan has resorted to the better part of valor for the most part, choosing to retreat with his wife intact than leave her to her own devices as Kane wanders the WWE Universe seeking to eviscerate her.
By retreating from Kane’s ominous advances, fans and pundits immediately label Bryan as “weak,” a b*tchmade character that has been emasculated by the system whom we all truly want to believe wants to keep him under thumb because of his looks. One long glance around the landscape gives us a different picture; John Cena is masterfully putting over Bray Wyatt, while Evolution (Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista) are giving main event credibility to all three members of The Shield with a keen laser-like focus on Roman Reigns. Even Sheamus and Wade Barrett are doubly busy making the mid-card division worth a damn. Which top-tier talent is available at the moment to give Daniel Bryan more credibility and attention at the moment?
With so much going on, Daniel Bryan remains the focus of the feud he’s in. His reluctance and back-peddling only occurs when he’s attempting to protect his wife, and the writers are doing an okay job of at least trying to explain why a contracted talent (Brie Bella-Bryan) is forced to stick around in such hazardous and life-threatening work conditions. All this is to say that apparently, for some, Daniel Bryan is b*tchmade because he can’t (or chooses not to) neutralize the threat of Kane … or hasn’t had the opportunity to do so just yet … Or is that Daniel Bryan is b*tchmade because he wants to protect his wife, and that’s apparently a bad thing in the eyes of fans and pundits …
Please remind us again why Bryan’s storyline is similar to Zack Ryder’s …
One glaringly garish fact is that no matter how much we fancy ourselves as being progressive thinkers, we’re all conditioned in one way or another to accept mediocrity as the standard. This is to say that when a promotion gives us something slightly different than what we’re accustomed to, we immediately dismiss it and pitch a fit; such is the business of pro wrestling writing/ranting. What’s curious in this instance is our insistence to witness a one dimensional Daniel Bryan run rampant through the roster with no rhyme or reason. We complain about his weak mic skills but balk at the storyline that will give him a chance to develop this weakness into a strength. We scoff at his wife’s terrible acting but turn a blind eye to the character development that will happen by her being placed in a prominent role along with one of the company’s top stars (for the record, has anybody seen Trinity “Naomi” Fatu recently …?).
As the WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Daniel Bryan is expected to represent the promotion as it’s top talent. He is expected to be able to defend his title against all competitors and to do so in a way that does not detract from the dynamic character that is the Daniel Bryan brand. However, when that same dynamic character is placed in a situation that in all of its simplicity exposes a character flaw in Bryan that suggests a depth we’ve yet to really see from him, the worst that can happen is for us to cast him aside because we’re not willing to follow him along this portion of the ride. Abandoning Bryan by comparing him to Ryder only succeeds in creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the Bryan character will fail much like Ryder because fans stopped giving a damn long before the feud had a real chance to develop.
I think a quote from the song “We Made It” by Drake is very appropriate right now:
“Kinda makes me wonder why the hell so many people are trying to tell me to slow down; seems like [expletive] should be shuttin’ the hell up and enjoying the show.”
Before I fill this post with reasons and excuses, I invite you to listen to my thoughts on the 2014 edition of the Royal Rumble as well as the prospect of the upcoming WrestleMania XXX.
Feel free to post your thoughts and reactions in the comment section below.
It has been said that a picture is worth one thousand words. Seeing as I really can’t wrap my thinking around my frustration with the heavyweight title scene in either TNA or WWE at this moment, I figured it’d be better to at least set the stage using pictures instead of words.
Shout out to Mr. Christopher Lamb for inspiring the follow simple, easy-to-understand graphics. Disclaimer: HOWEVER you feel about either wrestling promotion—good, bad, or indifferent—please do not enter into ANY conversation regarding their storylines regarding their own heavyweight championships without EXPLICITLY highlighting the following points: