Hooray! Roll out the red carpet! Yes, I’m back, and I know it’s been difficult, but your guide has returned. Now you can give up that vow of silence-I’ll tell you what to say.
I’ve just spent the last 2 months without wrestling. Of course I had access to the net, but no Sky! And in a four star hotel too! It’s terrible to have to live in sumptuous surroundings, with only my enormous bank balance and talent to keep me warm at night, but I survived. And just as I return, something extraordinary has happened.
That very same red carpet should be rolled out for the WWE, because, for the first time in eons, they’ve made a correct decision! They’ve bitten the bullet, grasped the nettle and shrugged their shoulders in a “might as well”-type way, and given the ball to Chris Benoit.
Yes, “pound for pound, the best wrestler in the world today” (copyright any magazine/website you care to mention), has won the Royal Rumble. But he didn’t just win it, he was accorded an honour very few have enjoyed; he has the kudos of “first in, last out”. Yes, entering as number one and actively participating in the action throughout have affirmed his toughness and wrestling skills. He’s been given the nod by WWE management. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was being groomed for a push to the top.
Now, don’t scoff (in fact, you with the stretch marks-definitely don’t scoff!). I know this has happened before-a push can last from 10 years down to a week. And I do call myself The Cynic; I like to think that I fulfil that description, and firmly believe that it’s only proper way to react to the effluent of life. But here, I can smell a sea change.
You see, there’s money in them light heavyweights. The fans generally prefer fast-paced matches. Yes, they may like performers who are bigger than the norm, but they tend to ignore their matches. The quick, super-bump, innovative offence grabs their imagination, and as the behemoths are getting older, so the Fed is in the perfect position to move into the future-all they have to do is to make the smaller men popular; they don’t even have to have a stunning personality-look at the Undertaker-they just need to be pushed by the WWE machine.
And the WWE finds itself in the perfect to place to do it-whilst I’ve been grousing about those big men getting all the shots, they’ve been putting the smaller wrestlers in places of influence, and have done it so stealthily as not to upset the horses. Look at the most high profile wrestlers in both brands: Angle, Benoit, Guerrero, John Cena, Michaels, Orton, the Bashams, Van Dam, Jericho-I could go on. And the big guys? HHH and Big Show losing impetus, Goldberg lost in the shuffle, Steiner and Test unheralded, Kane played out, Rhyno Heyman’s puppet-again, there are a lot more examples.
Raw and Smackdown now seem to run on the smaller guys-they feature in the majority of matches, and are now beginning to regularly appear in main events. Angle blazed the trail and the returning HBK has strengthened it-these guys are important in the change of attitude, Angle is a bankable commodity and Michaels is regarded by management as a legend. Most importantly, they can actually wrestle.
Vince and his mates must have looked at the competition too-NWA:TNA basing their success on lighter guys like AJ Styles and Jarrett himself, Ring Of Honor with the now departed Lo Ki and the Backseat Boyz. And let’s not forget the attention-grabbing Teddy Hart. All smaller guys, all marquee players.
The Cruiserweight division is being well handled at the moment too, and although the Rey, Tajiri, Noble triangle may get stale if no new blood is introduced (may I suggest Ultimo Dragon?), the matches are being given the proper treatment and are proving themselves worthy (with the exception of Nidia’s offensive blind shtick).
So now Benoit is to get a big push. The “smaller men by stealth” policy appears to be over. The WWE may be about to step out of the closet as a born-again WRESTLING federation. This is really is extraordinary-when you think of how many years Vince has devoted to the behemoths; it’s very big news.
Dare we hope? Will this last? Well, it’s been done quietly for the past six months-the smaller men are now a fixture on WWE programming. It’s as if that period was a successful experiment and the WWE are now willing to give it a bit of time. They’ve been so sneaky about it, even I didn’t realise until the Benoit’s Royal Rumble win gave it the prominence of an official policy-it was an announcement by stealth too. Of course, this is still something Vince is trying out, I don’t think for a minute that he’s changed his core philosophy, and if it doesn’t bring those buy rates up, he’ll revert to what he knows best-which will mean a lot more Big Show, Lesnar and Undertaker wandering through unmemorable matches.
It’s a golden era for the WWE-enjoy it while it lasts; because I fear that it could be over soon if it’s badly handled. You see, the matches may be good, but if the writing isn’t, fans will not see much difference in the programming as a whole. And if Benoit is to lead the charge, the writers need to pull their fingers out to overcome his charisma problem. I can’t help thinking that he’ll hobble this race to permanence, and that there’s a much better candidate on his shoulder. I’m sick of saying it, but that man is John Cena. His time is now, but by giving it all to Benoit they’re stuck with him. He’s not bad, but he’s just not brilliant; and the torch carrier certainly needs to be that.
Still, you can’t knock Vinnie for trying. He’s done something we never thought possible. Watching the WWE is making me smile at the moment, and that hasn’t happened for a LONG time.