Modern Wrestling: Where Is It Headed?

Pro-Wrestling in 2012 is a mixed bag. On one hand wrestling has never been more accessible. Here in the UK, I can watch TNA Impact (aka Impact Wrestling) on Sunday nights, if I miss this installment then I get it again on Tuesday – at a reasonable hour on Challenge TV. SkyPlus means that even failing to catch Raw live at 2AM is not a problem, nor SmackDown on a Friday night when typically i’m out. This is not to mention the numerous re-runs throughout the week. Furthermore both companies, TNA and WWE, make annual trips to the UK, where instead of ‘house show’ type shows where storylines are suspended to an extent, (which is historically the typical show they would put on over here) we get full, meaningful, Impact and Raw/Smackdown shows .

The days of WWE being the black sheep of Sky TV’s sports roster are well and truly over, with fuller coverage accelerating especially as WWE has become a PG product – you will now often see the talent appear on SkySports News, both in and out of character, just for one example. Even more significantly, the 24/7 Twitter feed from a number of the talent, announcers, officials has made, at least in a sense, the people within the industry more accessible than ever before. WWE have stepped up their efforts significantly to appeal to a broader section of demographic. The use of celebrities, whilest nothing new, certainly has hit a peak over the last few years. Mainstream pop songs are used heavily as is all aspects of social media, including Twitter as previously mentioned.

To focus the main portion of this piece on WWE, (and without going into any of the indies – independent wrestling) this begs the question: Despite the availability of the product, why is viewership in the steady decline that it has been for several years? Why is the Wrestling business in the state that it’s in? Anyone familiar with Pro-Wrestling will be well aware of all the factors, ranging from the lack of anything resembling a territory system, to the over-crowded and under-qualified writing team. I will attempt to answer the question as personally as possible, as a long-time TV viewer who has all but tuned out.

The most important people are the wrestlers, and the roster is stick-thin. Guys are called up to the main roster when still too green in many cases, and what talent is available is hamstrung by a writing committee that is 1) too large and 2) too diverse in background. The show scripts bounce back and forth, being changed a dozen times, often up until show time. Storylines and angles often aren’t executed as originally intended because of arguments/disagreements and generally too many people trying to compromise and find middle ground. (Ultimately Vince McMahon makes the call, but talking about Vince and his complexities and idiosyncracies is another article all together.) The writing team includes a number of TV/soap-opera writers with no previous experience in wrestling who WWE began hiring in the mid-2000′s, and is headed up by McMahon’s daughter Stephanie who is said to be as bad off-screen as she is on-screen. Also at the top of the chain is Executive Vice President and Television Producer Kevin Dunn, who is reportedly ‘embarrassed’ to be considered as being a part of the ‘Pro-Wrestling Industry’ and is known by wrestling fans as an enemy of wrestling. I would encourage anyone not familiar to search through the numerous ‘shoot interview’ archives to hear the stories from the people more in the know. Recent history is littered with examples of WWE ‘dropping the ball’ when pushing a talent and botching hot angles, from Triple H squashing Randy Orton in 2009, through the promising but ultimately underwhelming ‘Summer of Punk’ in 2011 up to what they are currently doing with Brock Lesnar. As always with this company, politics are a factor, but the poor quality of the wrting is also at major fault.

Traditionally TV is used to build to PPV, with compelling angles and wrestling that leaves you wanting more, and ultimately purchasing that PPV. WWE’s attitude has often been to ‘offer something to the non-wrestling fan’ in the product. To paraphrase Jim Cornette – “There is something for the non-wrestling fan. It’s on the other channel”. This is the feeling I get when I tune into WWE. It’s like watching an action/adventure comedy show. The humour is overdone (and rarely funny), there is too much spotlight on celebrity, too many segments promoting the latest WWE film or other extra-curricular activities. They put more into their elaborate, glossy, HD presentation than they do into the actual product. TNA is far from perfect, but certainly in recent months have emerged as the stronger ‘Wrestling’ show. WWE’s PG rating if often blamed for the state of the product, and it does restrict what they can do to an extent, but this does not account for the core problems like a lack of starpower and poor storytelling. Of course, despite an apparant recent resurgence in popularity, John Cena has often been the poster boy for everything that is wrong with Vinnie Mac’s show, when I would argue that he is a huge star and has carried WWE for a long time.

Yes, the stuff aimed at kids does nothing for me, as I sit in the somewhat neglected 18-40 demographic. But I can forgive the company for wanting to appeal to children. What I can’t tolerate is an unsophisticated and lazy product that often fails to make sense, frustrates me, often angers me and continues to veer away from too many of the fundamentals of what makes a good wrestling show, and although I can’t claim to be any sort of wrestling historian, I have been watching for the last 20 years, from early 90′s WCW and WWF, through ECW, the Attitude Era, the death of WCW and the ‘Ruthless Agression era’ and transition from WWF to WWE.

To the young, and/or very casual fan, although lacking an array of stars like we have seen in the past, wrestling is very accessible, as mentioned at the top of the piece. To a more long-term, or more more passionate wrestling fan I am scepticle about what mainstream wrestling continues to offer.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Thank you Paul

Reflecting back on the WWF/E career of the Undertaker and his on / off manager Paul Bearer.

As a kid growing up in the UK with WWF TV available on satellite TV, and tape-trading taking place at school, the slightly cartoony world of the WWF and Hulk Hogan, and in particular Undertaker and Paul Bearer caught my attention.

Then in my teens we had ‘Attitude’ – and watching the weekly antics of Taker and Bearer and those around them, Mick Foley, Kane - shaped my imagination like nothing else before or since. Lots of what I do creatively with music, writing, whatever it may be is influenced by this group of men. The characters, the story-telling, the adrenaline that would be pumping for 2 hours straight during an episode of Raw is War.

Nowaday in my late 20′s and slightly disillusioned with the general state of professional wrestling, I take great pleasure watching the ‘shoot’ interview DVD’s, and crack up laughing when I watch Bill ‘Paul Bearer’ Moody and Jim Cornette goofing off, and am thoroughly entertained by watching two legends talking wrestling.

The evolution of the relationship over the years between Undertaker and Paul Bearer, and the way it played out on TV, has been nothing short of enthralling. Organic, legitimate, exciting, forever memorable. A special thank you to these two for the years of entertainment – two iconic, talented individuals, neither who can ever be replaced or replicated, a pair of 100% genuine one-off’s. They are part of my childhood and young adulthood and will never be forgotten.

Between now and their deserved and inevitable H.O.F inductions, whenever that takes place, who is to say there won’t be a final chapter / epilogue in their story?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“getting over”

kofi kingston was put over sheamus at the PPV, but no-one gives a shit, because sheamus has been putting everyone over since some bright spark in the office decided that sheamus needed to be sat on. kofi gets the minimal rub, the sheamus burial goes on.

rewind 13 years. When the rock turned heel following a brief run as a babyface at survivor series 1998, everyone got over. One year on from Montreal, vince was a red-hot heel. the rock shunning the fans and aligning himself with this bastard got him over huge.

Vince endorsing rock as ‘his champion’ the ‘corporate champion’ put steve austin over even further as a babyface because vince had made it his lifes obsession to keep the belt off of austin, because he didn’t want a man like steve austin and what he stood for to represent the WWF as their champion, and the rock on the face of it was the polar opposite of steve austin, so rock’s got huge heat, and now the fans are even more behind austin than ever before because the rock has fucked them over and they want austin to kick his and vince ass.

Vince gets further over as the heel chairman/principle owner/whatever it was he referred to himself as in the late 90′s. Many people are pissed off at him for what he did to bret in 1997, and one year on he’s fucking rubbed it in their faces by pulling the same stunt and taking away the rock from the people as he’s building babyface momentum.

Mankind got ‘screwed’ and in the process got over some more as they moved him away from his deranged persona into a more sympathetic, increasingly babyface figure. He would gather momentum and support culminating in a title win the following year.

Of course it’s not as simple as that. They all needed to be over prior to survivor series for any of it to work, or no-one would care.

So going back to kofi and sheamus. it’s not the best example, it’s not a big angle they’ve built to and it’s not the top stars, but it’s the most recent example, the extreme rules PPV was last night. I’ve not been watching enough WWE to understand what they are doing with kofi, perhaps they’re not trying to get him over at this point, but if they are then going over sheamus just isn’t going to get him over, because in terms of jobbing out (which is what sheamus is mainly doing) if everyone goes over, no-one gets over. If sheamus has been made to look weak, kingstons not gonna look strong for beating him. Another effect is Danielsons been made to look stupid for losing his strap to this jobber in the first place. So who gets over next time they beat Danielson/Daniel Bryan?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mr. Ziggles gets a haircut – right or wrong

No matter who argues against it, it’s extremely likely that part of the reason Dolph Ziggler got (started getting) over was because of his look.

Stone Cold Steve Austin got over because he had fire in the ring and he wore the un-marketables that Bischoff thought wouldn’t draw money but which respresented who he was in the WWF – No thrills, no colourful gimmicks, just black boots and trunks and attitude.

Ziggler was the opposite, he had the long blonde hair, flashy ring gear, but above all of that he looked like Mr. Perfect, even down to the way his hair puffed out by the end of the match. Perhaps not to a younger audience, but to those who remember Mr. Perfect, Ziggler arguably got a rub and a credibility just by looking like him.

It was working for him.

The Miz had credibility as the ‘chick magnet’ with the hats, bandanas, baggy shorts etc. Then they push him with the Jericho serious-heel gig and his look is gone, to be replaced with suit and generic set of ring gear. I’m not down with it, I don’t buy him as a tough guy or straight-shooter no matter how you dress him and present him, but that’s another blog.

What impact would John Morrison have if he lost the colourful ring pants, the big jackets, the slow-mo entrance and his long hair, and came out to wrestle in a singlet?

For a company that pumps as much money and puts so much emphasis on presentation – the over-the-top raw and smackdown sets, the incredible video packages, the very high all-round production values – it’s surprising and irritating when they hamstring a talent by taking away his unique look, ‘plain him down’ and send him out looking more like a local jobber.

I’d say it works when they are working an angle and are trying to convey that a wrestler has been under-achieving and he’s going back to basics – see Ravens last match on Raw before he joined Tits N Ass Rasslin – but actually I don’t think it does.

So Zigglers got a haircut and thrown out the bleach. Nothing wrong with freshening up your look, but not before the old one’s got tired. Now he looks like just another guy on the roster.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Retro-booking the Nexus

Wrestlemania was less than a week ago and I’m struggling to remember what Wade Barrett did that night. It’s some fall from the rumoured Taker/Barrett match I was sort of expecting for Mania at one point, and I bet it was what the company had planned. It wouldn’t have been the right thing to do, that’s pretty obvious looking at it now.

Nexus was a unique stable, largely a bunch of unknowns before NXT, who made a massive impact that night they filled in Cena and Punk and trashed the arena. That was a great angle and executed well, that’s including the announcer getting choked out with his own tie. They were intelligent and methodical in their attacks. Stables of yesterday often stormed the ring, Nexus played it smarter than that, Barrett pulling the strings like a general. It wasn’t a gimmick or catchphrase-heavy set of guys, just youth, brains and numbers.

It faded pretty quick, Otunga did too much talking, Barrett did too much telling off, I thought the whole angle with Cena having to join Nexus was pretty botched as well. What made Nexus fresh and interesting just took a back seat to bad booking.

I’d have run with plan A. You’ve got a set of guys who don’t want to pay dues and don’t respect the veterans. They’ve got a common goal, prominence on the roster. This is a time when stables are generally a thing of the past and there’s a sense that Nexus are taking advantage of it. There aren’t any rival stables or cliques or alliances to band together and fight ‘em fairly. This is the case, so sell it on TV. Course, don’t use wrestling talk like that, talk about a gang running roughshod on a patch where there are no rival gangs, or something to that effect.

Barrett wants a big singles title, perhaps 2 other guys want the tag belts. They all want to get noticed. No catch-phrases, no gimmicks, no backstage skits and dramas, Barrett talks in the ring and the others stand there nodding. When they all hit the ring to kick someones ass it’s dramatic – they surround the ring, pair off, cover the aisle, take their time. It’s cagey and tactical. Let’s say Cena is in the ring. There’s so much mileage to be had from this scenario, Cenas rushing from one side of the ring to the next, trying to take the head off whoevers attempting to roll in. They back off, waiting for the right moment to strike. The Nexus are all talking to each other, pointing, yelling, working like a team to get in there and take Cena down without casualties. Cena’s seriously spinning plates until the inevitable, they make it inside and the beatdown takes place.

A beat down that ends with Justin Gabriels splash off the top. And yeah he hesitates, looks nervous, stalls, then nails it. Booked properly Gabriel ought to have been the break-out babyface of the group. While Barrett is pushed for the top title, and another pair chase the tag belts, Gabriel could have been pushed very subtley as the more likely to rebel, perhaps the most sympathetic as he’s told to hit the splash on people perhaps he’d rather not, maybe even a woman, and over time looks more sickened and pissed off at what he’s being asked to do. With the right booking it could have lead to a great spot where Barrett and an opponent is down, Gabriel hits the ring and gets up top, and teases he’s gonna hit Barrett. It would be a great way to complete the babyface turn and elevate Gabriel. Grabriel intially shines for the first few weeks, Barrett eventually gets the upper hand and dominates like a big fucking bully, you get a blowoff at a decent PPV. It might be an off-shoot to Barretts persuit of the title, perhaps Gabriels going after a midcard championship. There’d be lots of room to play it.

It would have run it’s course as does everything and at that point i’d have no problem with CM Punk becoming leader and adding a fresh dynamic before the stable disbands completely. Admittedly in reality the company were also unlucky with Skip Sheffields injury and the Danielson situation wasn’t ideal either, although DanyBryanial has recovered to a degree.

Interesting how we’ve got an Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman and a Welshman on the main roster, never thought I’d see the day. Speaking of the Irishman, it’s fucking criminal how they’ve pooped on Sheamus. He was a badass mofo, but someone somewhere decided to dim the lights by making him run from the Nexus screaming for his big nemesis Cena. Didn’t much care for the King get-up either. Not surprising that the big fella was blackballed from the Mania card, just a fucking shame that WWE have dropped the ball with him, in fact it’s another nail in their coffin. There is such a shortage of credible main-event level stars, your lucky to get a talent like Sheamus and he lets nobody down, then you fucking hamstring him when you should be protecting him and pushing him to the moon. Makes no sense to me

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Rights and Wrongs of Professional Wrestling

is a term sort of borrowed from Rick Rude circa 1997.

I’m watching Raw after Mania 27 and i’m thinking ‘Rock – Cena at Mania 28′ – fair play to them for resisting the idea to do it at Summerslam. Why not let the feud build over the best part of a year, Rock won’t be around much in all likelihood and Cena is free to fight elsewhere, and from time to time they can add little bits and pieces to it.

I always felt WWE misses a trick in not having their top guys have little off-shoots to their main feuds, much like what they did around the late 90′s era, it keeps the main feud fresh without having to put the 2 guys in the ring together in tags and 6-mans and all kinds of variations. I mean if you’re trying to sell a PPV around 2 guys having a fight, why would you build up to it by having them fight? As Raven put it on one of his secrets of the ring series, you wouldn’t build to a Boxing PPV match between 2 fighters by having them box, it doesn’t work too well in Pro-Wrestling either.

So good idea, Cena-Rock in Miami, terrible execution. They shook hands twice, buried the Corre some more, probably had a hearty laugh and high fived for the live crowd after the cameras stopped rolling. Maybe they should have had a kiss. Word on the street (net) is that WWE sees Mania as a season finale in fitting with the whole emphasis on Entertainment in big neon letters. That’s their deal, but they are shitting on pro-wrestling. Listen, the hardcore that watch every show and PPV aren’t going anywhere. They are often the most vocal but they are also taken for granted. Some of them bitch and moan about the product, but the only way you’ll get through is to stop watching the TV shows and stop buying PPV’s. The celebrities and mainstream stuff brings in another audience, and if the business is hot or in a boom period with lots of stars on the roster there’ll be yet another audience. Well there’s a lack of star power in WWE no doubt. And there’s not celebrities and hollywood stuff every week, so the people that are keeping them ticking along are often the people who dislike the product the most, plus the infants and the females.

I was convinced a couple of months back or so that Taker was going 19 and 0 against Trips, then was gonna get the big match with Cena @ 28, go 20 and 0, and retire. Seems out the question now, so let’s do Taker-Trips at Summerslam and not Mania shall we ? I’m thinking now I fancy Undertaker vs CM Punk for 28. (Don’t rule out the possibility that Taker COULD sit out 28 if they really want to do the Cena thing, which was apparantly the plan at one point, although the ramifications of no Taker at Mania could be not good)

At this point I guess they can’t plan too far ahead with Taker, who I gotta say is an unbelievable man, my fav of all time and i’ve been watching him for 20 years, but what with age/injuries they just have to play it by ear, and although 20 and 0 has a nice ring to it who knows. (Taker-HBK III is a vicious, vicious rumour !)

Speaking of Vicious, I watched that film with the STARS of TNA Kurt Angle, Kevin Nash and Psycho Sid Vicious (think it’s called Edge of Darkness) and it was fucking shocking, even though I was expecting it to be bad, but well worth a chuckle to see Nash and Sid all zombie eyed

word

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment