Take up thy wrestling boots and walk - Now and Then
Submitted by Pt2 on Tuesday, October 30, 2007 at 2:33 PM EST
Welcome once again to the column that is strictly for the thousands in attendance, Take up thy wrestling boots and walk. I’m the columnist that doesn’t give a shit about the millions watching around the world on Pay per view for the simple reason that they don’t exist, Pt2, back once again to talk about the myriad of treasures that exist within the realm of professional wrestling.
I’ve often tried to put into words why I, and many other people, have developed a growing antipathy towards wrestling over the past few years. To be honest, it’s really been since Wrestlemania X-7, which I acknowledge as being the end of the attitude era, that things really set in. While the mishandling of the Invasion angle certainly explained the antipathy at the time, we are now 7 years down the line – why has nothing really changed in the past seven years?
Some of you will be reading this thinking “I’m not negative on the product, I don’t have any antipathy towards it”, but even if you are not one of the huge WWE/TNA detractors recently, I bet you still don’t enjoy the product quite as much as you did in the past – talking specifically to people who, like me, have been long term fans now, I will put money on 90% of you preferring either the Hogan/Flair era, the Next Generation era, or the attitude era (both in WWF and WCW), to the current shows, and I’d also say that for most of you that would apply whether your wrestling drug of choice is the WWE or TNA.
Newer fans to the product will almost certainly be getting the feeling right about now that this column will have very little in it for them. They are absolutely right. If you’ve only really been watching wrestling for a couple of years, you won’t have too much of an opinion either way on this column, I shouldn’t think. Sorry about that.
It is one thing to say that the work of Vince McMahon goes downhill when he doesn’t have competition. That is fair enough, and I think most people would agree with that, but it doesn’t really answer the question; it is a sweeping statement rather than answer, and the answer regarding our antipathy could be gained from the real question - why does Vince McMahon’s work go downhill when there is no competition?
I have been thinking about this for some time. Star power often jumps out at me – the lack of a Hogan or Steve Austin figure to latch on to, because lets face it, Cena isn’t anywhere near those guys in terms of popularity or draw power. Personally, I have to dismiss this though. One of my favourite years in the WWE was 1997, a year in which they were getting absolutely slammed in the ratings by WCW – and the WWE wasn’t exactly overwhelmed with star power then.
The three biggest stars for the first 7-8 months of that year were Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and The Undertaker. All very good wrestlers, and all absolute legends – and all of them have their own highly dedicated fanbases. There is a good chance that whoever is reading this right now has at least one, and very possibly all three, in amongst their favourite wrestlers. But one thing that they have all been criticized for is lacking in star power. They were on top of the WWE at a time in which WCW caught up and overtook the New York company in the ratings. Not only that, but two of those three can still be seen on WWE TV today, so if there is a star power issue now, and those guys were on top then… well, you can finish that thought for me, I’m sure.
No, star power isn’t a massive deal for me – or rather, as long as the company can make them seem like stars, and make them seem important, I am willing to go along with it regardless of how many casual fans that person attracts. Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker will always be high on my list, regardless of their poor draw value when compared with Hulk Hogan, The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
The technical ability of the wrestlers is something else that I occasionally think about – after all, to take 1997 as an example again, look at the talent on display. Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker were all supported by Steve Austin (prior to his neck injury), Owen Hart, The British Bulldog, HHH, Mankind, an improving Rock, and several other lesser known talents with tremendous in ring ability in one form or another. You decide to flick over the channel to the top promotion at the time? WCW had Jericho, Malenko, Eddie and Chavo Guerrero, Benoit, Randy Savage, Steve Regal, and a host of talented Cruiserweights including future WWE World Champion Rey Mysterio jnr.
How could the wrestlers of today compare with such an amazing array of talent?
Well, quite simply because that is a highly nostalgic view of it all. Kevin Nash is one of the most important figures of the mid nineties in wrestling, as the WWE’s top dog through 1995 and a member of the outsiders and founder of the NWO in 1996. Let’s be honest though, as great a character as Diesel/Nash is/was, for all his time at the top he only passed average in ring quality with a handful of other, supremely talented wrestlers – it does all come back to that list of Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker, when it comes to Big Daddy Cool. Can I honestly say, hand on my heart, that Kevin Nash had better in ring skills than say, Dave Batista? I don’t think I can. In his prime, I would have taken Nash over Batista for his charisma, but in terms of in ring ability they are all a bit of a muchness. I may criticize the current era for the likes of Cena and Batista being at the top when their in ring skills don’t ‘deserve’ it but every era has had that. Ultimate Warrior, anyone? Lex Luger?
To show the flip side of the coin, Bobby Lashley is more technically gifted than Ahmed Johnson or Butch Reed, Mr. Kennedy is better than the Honky Tonk Man or Billy Gunn, and you also have the likes of Edge and Randy Orton – who, on everything but crowd reaction, have either surpassed or are catching up to people like The Rock in the ring. There are also guys like MVP working for the WWE and Christian Cage in TNA that defy the point that people in the main event and upper mid-card used to be better than they are now.
You can do the same things with mic skills. OK, Randy Orton may have one of the best attitudes to the defensive aspect of wrestling in the major leagues, but when he picks up a microphone it often results in comas. The same thing can be said of Bobby Lashley. But by the same token, the likes of Bret Hart, Davey Boy Smith, Sting and others don’t really compare on the microphone to the likes of John Cena or TNA, who have some of the pick of the stick men in Raven and Kurt Angle.
And then, out of nowhere, the answer came to me from the most unlikely of sources. It came from the WWE’s own website, in their preview for the upcoming RAW.
“DX will be back together for one night only Monday on Raw when HHH & HBK battle Umaga and Randy Orton.”
This innocent looking sentence pushed a word back into my head that I thought was long buried. A word that people reading internet wrestling columns back in 2002-3 will remember all too well. That word, my friends, is continuity.
Yes, that old chestnut. I don’t care how sad this makes me, it matters to me, and I think it’s a huge reason a lot of people don’t look at wrestling in exactly the same why.
In the good old days, D-X wouldn’t have split when one of the guys got injured. They wouldn’t just split up as soon as HHH quad gave out. When HHH returned (or in this case, when Michaels returned) they would still be a unit – or at the very least, one of them would turn on the other, there would be some reason given for the two best friends parting ways. It wouldn’t just happen.
It’s the one night only thing that really gets me, though. Why would they make it a one night only thing? Once again, in the good old days wrestlers had alliances and enemies that lasted more than 3 weeks. Why restrict yourself by saying one night only? Do you think Vince would have done that with WCW breathing down his neck? I know I don’t. Even if D-X isn’t in the foreground on your shows, they can still exist as a loose affiliation – they can be acknowledged as D-X, and play the saving game for each other, without them having to be down our throats every week.
It’s like the Dudes with Attitude, Shawn Michaels and Diesel, back in 1995. They were hardly the focus of every show. They spent most of their time as singles wrestlers. They weren’t a stable, hell they were barely even a tag team in the traditional sense of the word. But they were affiliated, and that gave every storyline in which either was involved a whole new depth – the fact that this other main event talent could get involved at any time really opened up the possibilities not only for the creative teams, but also in the minds of the fans – we could be kept guessing, and there was also potential for matches with fan interest that was almost pre-generated by other feuds.
But instead of doing that, they split DX without any explanation, and then announce they are getting back together for “one show only”, removing all of that and making them sound like a dinosaur band desperate for one last pay cheque.
This isn’t exactly the only time they’ve been lacking in continuity recently. Let’s not forget HHH congratulating Batista, when the last time we saw them on the same screen they were at each other’s throats. It’s OK if you explain it, but if you don’t then you look stupid to anyone who can see the long term picture.
You’ll notice that the examples I’ve given here are WWE-specific. I could list some TNA examples. I could, but I won’t simply because if you watch their show for 3 weeks, you can probably spot 5-6 moments that make you think “hang on… this doesn’t...gah!” and want to throw your remote control in disgust. Some nice wrestling mixed in amongst all the clusterfuck, but if your booking contains more than 50% clusterfuck you are never going to move forward. TNA is, if this is possible, even more frustrating than the WWE in this regard.
I’ll finish by sending out a message to wrestling’s big guns the world over. To paraphrase William Shakespeare:
‘This above all: to thine own story be true, and it must follow, as the night to day, Thou can’st not be false to any man.’
Hamlet, Act I sc III
Many thanks for reading. If you’d like to leave feedback I can be reached at email@example.com, and I’ll make every endeavour to reply to any mails sent to me.
Until next time,
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