The Iron Jung

Iron Jung #6: WWE – Deja Vu All Over Again

After my last column on TNA, I thought I’d focus on their superior. The company synonymous with the word wrestling. The WWE. Now I had a variety of people from all over the globe and one person who sounded like he was from Saturn, ask me about my comment from my TNA post in relation to the confusion surrounding WWE’s identity. Well this week I shall discuss my likes and dislikes with regards to current WWE and explain why financially they are in the best shape but creatively; I just can’t get into their programming…

After my last column on TNA, I thought I’d focus on their superior. The company synonymous with the word wrestling. The WWE. Now I had a variety of people from all over the globe and one person who sounded like he was from Saturn, ask me about my comment from my TNA post in relation to the confusion surrounding WWE’s identity. Well this week I shall discuss my likes and dislikes with regards to current WWE and explain why financially they are in the best shape but creatively; I just can’t get into their programming.

From previous columns discussing my criticisms levelled at Flair, Jeff Hardy and Triple H, you may think I highly dislike WWE. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I actually like a lot of today’s modern WWE. Randy Orton has been excellent in portraying what feels like a contemporary Jake Roberts. The King Of The Ring tournament was very entertaining and had a clever storyline throughout. The Ric Flair retirement angle and HBK/Batista initial follow-up have had moments of sheer brilliance, in fact the first show detailing Flair’s retirement and his win against Randy Orton late last year was one of the best Raw shows I’d seen in a long while.

However within all that comes my problem. I can’t find any consistency with the WWE. Now to explain this I really have to use the benefit of hindsight. In 1998 and early 1999, the WWE was at a creative peak. We were seeing fresh, groundbreaking angles such as Austin/Vince, the dumpster being pushed off the ramp, Foley trying to kill himself jumping off the cell, DX invading WCW and mocking The Nation etc. It was all very entertaining and fit with the times perfectly. Yet if you actually look at some of the talent and some of the matches, you’ll find that they were pretty ropey. When mentioning 1998 does anyone talk about The Oddities? The Brawl For All tournament that ruined their grand idea for “Dr Death” Steve Williams? Jim Ross’ heel turn? The collection of rubbish tag teams like The Headbangers, Southern Justice and DOA?

Course not, you remember the great stuff and in the main event WWE had some of the biggest names and workers you’re ever likely to see. So in 1998 the truth actually was, we saw lots of terrific angles yet not much wrestling and when there was, it was shortcut city brawls and/or screw-job finishes for the majority of the good stuff. I mean look at the average PPV. The top matches were all very good, but were there better matches across each show overall than now? Probably not.

So how come in 1998 they were on fire but now the ratings certainly suggest that in 2008 they aren’t? In my opinion it boils down to one thing. Freshness. Sure we can talk about the absence of competition in WCW, or the loss in big names, but that shouldn’t affect any of the booking. Yet the booking is my main problem with the WWE. But here’s the weird part. Generally the booking is actually not bad at all. I mean it’s a million miles better than TNA, but a blind deaf kangaroo that only speaks Turkish could probably make a more logical show than Russo ever could. My problem with WWE booking is…haven’t I seen this before?

When I said I wasn’t sure WWE had an identity, I truly believe they don’t know what there identity is. Yes they are a multi-million super brand with more fingers in pies than a family of lepers at a church fete. But what is their actual wrestling show? It has many angles similar to that of the attitude era, so is it that? Well no because the wrestling is very different and its more work rate oriented. So like the new generation of the mid to late 90’s then? Well no, there is more star power; Cena’s like the modern day Hulk Hogan. So its back to the days of super faces whom the children like? Well no, because while more kids watch it, the young adults are still there, judging by popularity for the likes of Triple H, Batista and others not to mention some bloody brawls and controversial angles. Right………so what is it then?

I honestly don’t know.

And that’s what frustrates me because I get the impression that they don’t know either. Clearly they aren’t happy with the ratings so they try lots of things from bringing in boxing celebs to turning out the lights in the main event and now offering 1 million dollars to a lucky viewer. Yet I get the feeling that while they are worried, there’s no panic long-term. WrestleMania last year was a gigantic success and this year’s wasn’t too far behind. I didn’t think either of them were particularly great shows yet that didn’t matter, because they made a fortune. So clearly they aren’t short of a few million or billion here and there and will always make huge sums of money from international tours and those monster super-cards each year.

But coming from a fan’s point of view and not a financial analyst, my frustrations lie firmly with the lack of momentum and the lack of something different.

When William Regal first turned the lights out on Raw, I thought, wow that was clever, I wonder where this will go. Regal is a very talented wrestler and talker yet had unfortunately been bandied with the GM tag for a fair while, meaning those skills had been criminally under-utilised. After winning a really enjoyable King Of The Ring tournament, I thought, brilliant a chance for him to escape those GM shackles and get a push as a talent. Even with the lights out debut, I still thought well maybe he could use it in his matches. For instance he looks in trouble against an opponent, lights go out, they come on, he has them in the Regal stretch. By being a wrestling GM, he could use that ability within his matches. Get fast counts to win, have the timekeeper ring the bell randomly, and have people get counted out quickly, anything. And low and behold he finally does this on Raw, yet a minute later he’s GM no more and back in Rehab. A little too late perhaps?

So instead of having a fresh idea with Regal as a fighting GM we had the lights out thing a few more times (which by now was just annoying) and then booking the top faces in a match where the odds are heavily stacked against them. Now where have I seen this before? Just incase you’ve forgotten, about 900 times with a variety of different workers since Austin/Vince 10 years ago. To make matters worse that same week we actually had virtually the same angle running on 3 separate shows! Power mad figures try to screw the champ by putting them in situations in which they surely can’t escape from. It was as if there was a belief that the wrestling world was founded on this idea, thus it has to be implemented at all times.

But the sad thing is amongst all this is some really good stuff. The wrestling between the likes of Jericho, MVP, Matt Hardy, CM Punk, Finlay, Orton, HHH etc etc is usually pretty good, Santino provides excellent light relief and the women are actually having some decent matches. Well-done Finlay. Certainly the average Raw now has not only more matches, but also more match quality than it did 10 years ago.

But 10 years ago the angles were cutting edge, they were new, they were something you couldn’t miss. Today I could happily miss Smackdown every week. I’ve seen Austin/Vince do it 10 times better why should I watch Vickie Guerrero and Edge do it to The Undertaker? And I’m not saying that their angle isn’t done well or the wrestling isn’t good, it usually is. But I’ve seen it before and the matches aren’t going anywhere 9 times out of 10, so who cares?

To sum it up bluntly, does anyone remember Slamboree 2000? If you’re sensible you probably don’t. If you do, I’m sorry, how is your counselling going? It wasn’t a great show and with a main event involving David Arquette it was never going to be. However the major story was Kanyon taking a somersault bump from the top of a triple deck cage onto the rampway. Yes it was padded (much like Shane McMahon’s elbow onto Steve Blackman from the titantron a year later) but it looked pretty cool. What was the crowd reaction like? Awful. Did they pop like The Beatles were there? Or gasp in astonishment at this dangerous and fairly spectacular fall that Kanyon had risked his life doing? Course they didn’t. And why? Because Mick Foley had taken one 2 years earlier that looked 10 times better. So why care about something, that while is very good, is ultimately a poor copy?

And that’s my overall point. The reason Shane McMahon’s went over well was because he was higher, he was somewhere different, and it looked different. And that is what I wish the WWE would realise. Build upon what you’ve done. You don’t have to necessarily surpass it, just move sideways from it.

They have a load of really good things. There’s no problem with rehashing angles, but instead of just changing the people, change the dynamics. Try something different; try something potentially intriguing or risky. The Regal lights out started off with potential and his last act as GM had more freshness than anything else he’d done in that role but their main focus still remained on something which went stale a long time ago. Even if something fresh and intriguing, doesn’t quite work, hell I’d take it over now. I watch a stale GM versus top face angle for what seems like the billionth time and I find it so boring. And that’s a shame because everyone involved is talented and doing a good job. They deserve to be given better material and something to truly get their teeth into.

But what I said last week is probably going to be the answer to my problem. They don’t need to change so why would they? They are number 1, TNA couldn’t catch them even if they featured a show with Santino just reading WWE Magazine for 2 hours. They are making an absolute fortune from merchandise, house shows, DVD sales, and International tours. Who cares if the ratings and buyrates are on average underperforming? Vince cares on the short term, which is why we get the major angle or announcement every now and then, but what is any different in the long run?

Much like when I see Triple H, when I watch WWE, I feel a disappointment. The matches are good; the interviews are good, the actual performance of the angles and storylines are good. But haven’t I seen this show already?

Iron Jung