Heroes And Villains 07.29.04: Situations Critical In The Current WWE



Pushes are funny. We the IWC are always pushing for pushes, for certain wrestlers at least. The problem with this is that the WWE can’t just decide to push someone and make it so (at least not without considerable effort). As I’ve discussed repeatedly in this column, Vince McMahon has conditioned his audience to expect wrestlers to portray characters, rather than accepting the match and athletic competition itself as sufficient motivation. So just winning isn’t enough. On the other hand, creating a character isn’t enough to ensure audience interest. Just look at Mark Jindrak—his “narcissist” character is clear and straightforward, but he’s been even less successful with the gimmick than Lex Luger was. Maybe it’s because he never wins, or even wrestles on Smackdown any more.

Still, wins plus character development does not automatically equal a wrestler getting over. With patience, that formula eventually seems to work; Randy Orton and HHH being conspicuous examples of guys who got over due mostly to the sheer will of Vince McMahon and the WWE to make it so. However, in the short term such a push might adversely affect business, as was the case with the recent JBL push. The best scenario, for fan and promotion alike, is to push guys who have some sort of momentum built up already—a model we can associate with the Rock or Eddie Guerrero.

Right now in the WWE, there are numerous wrestlers with skeletal character structures which need greater development. There are, in fact, probably too many for the writers to possibly address at one time. The best use of the limited air time on the two “A” shows (and, to a much lesser extent, on the two “B” shows) is to push a select group of wrestlers. And, it probably goes without saying, these wrestlers should be those whom Vince McMahon and his writing staff think have the best chance of getting over. Many of the guys who get extensive airtime already have established characters. However, since the WWE seems so intent on featuring a new generation of wrestles, there are many guys receiving strong pushes whose characters are still at the skeletal stage. For many wrestlers, now is the critical time to develop characters that will make fans care about them. This is a very tricky process, though; one wrong step, and the WWE could derail an otherwise promising career (such as Big Show’s mourning for his father, or Jericho sharing the IC belt with Chyna). Here’s a look at a few wrestlers at this crucial juncture:

Batista. There are certain moments when wrestlers start to break away from the pack. Some are universally accepted by all (i.e., the original Austin 3:16 speech), and others are more subjective (I became a Randy Orton booster when he and Evolution beat up Mick Foley at backstage catering area). Batista has had two of these moments (for me at least) in recent months. First, in an incident John Haley pointed out in his column, was the confrontation between Kane and Batista in the battle royale leading for the number one contender spot at Bad Blood. Everyone was out but those two, and the crowd went nuts as they stared each other down. The second incident was last week, when Batista beat down Benoit, then later interfered in the Jericho-Kane match. As he did his flex/scream pose, the crowd again went nuts. This guy is going to be huge.

Correction: He will potentially be huge, because developing characters for monsters is one of the hardest of all tricks in wrestling (an entire column on this subject is forthcoming, possibly next week). Further complicating Batista’s ascent up the card is his presence in Evolution. Batista has a clear role in the group—the enforcer. Any additional character development will introduce new and more complex motivation—and chances are that these motivations will be something more than the desire to provide muscle for HHH and Randy Orton. Thus, making Batista a well-rounded character is probably a prelude to his exit from the stable.

Fortunately for DAVE (tm Ross Williams), it looks like we’re starting to enter endgame for Evolution as we know it. If reports of HHH-Orton for Wrestlemania are true, then we can safely assume that one or the other will be leaving the group. This will give Batista much more room to shine. It’s time to put more effort into developing a character for him. Ric Flair hinted at a background as a street fighter for Batista, and his struggle to hold his rage in check. That’s a possibility, though maybe not the best one. The key is to come up with something. Batista has a ton of credibility and will probably get huge pops once his push begins. But the WWE can’t afford to have him remain an undistinguished “monster” role for too long, since the current product just doesn’t allow for monsters (as there are fewer squash matches, the in-ring action is now more realisitic, and there are greater efforts to push smaller guys). If Batista has no character beyond “force of nature,” fans will lose interest once he’s forced to show vulnerability—and he inevitably will have to do so. It’s time to start planning for the future—and that goes for both the writers and for Batista himself.

Rene Dupree. Boy, has the IWC ever sour on this guy. I still like him. He had one of those great moments back in May, shortly after winning a rematch with John Cena via count out, when he delivered a vicious beatdown. Dupree showed real fire and great heel charisma. And it was a very promising kind of heel charisma—the type that made him look strong enough to credibly turn face at some point down the line. Unfortunately, he was soon right back with his poodle and baguette routine.

Dupree is in peril of becoming another midcard freak show act. His Churchy LaFemme act ain’t striking fear, or even respect, in anybody’s heart. He’s not getting the high profile wins he needs. His association with Booker T and Kenzo Suzuki is making him look like a chump—another stupid ethnic cliché.

There’s no reason to give up on Dupree. The key is to tap into that vicious side, so that Dupree looks like a formidable opponent. Aspects of the sissy French act could stay, actually. We’ve all seen movies with sadistic yet effete villains (see, for instance, the dude with all the electrified strings in Ninja Scroll). That would probably be a good starting point for Dupree, one which would gibe nicely with his French persona—especially if they try to go in a 17th century direction with it. Might I suggest the writers check out Barry Lyndon for further inspiration? (Yes, I know that Barry Lyndon himself wasn’t French, or even particularly evil, but it’s a good movie.)

Edge. Have you checked out Ross Williams and Iain Burnside’s Top Fifty Wrestlers Countdown yet? Silly question—of course you have, since their British prose is irresistible, and their analysis indubitable. Let me remind you of what they said about Edge in last year’s countdown: he can’t play the “cool guy” forever. To that I might add that any guy whose gimmick is that he’s “cool” is almost certainly not cool in any conventional sense of the word (see Fonzarelli, Arthur). (In case you haven’t checked out this great feature, here is part one and here’s part two.)

So what’s to be done? Edge’s recent actions suggest heel turn, but that’s probably not in his best interests. There’s no more room for another top level heel, barring a HHH or Orton face turn in the next 1-2 months. In the future it might be a good idea, and one that I would like to see, but in the short term it seems ill-advised. So what’s to be done?

Well, they’ve teased the “childhood dream” angle, but that’s not really sustainable as the very essence of a character. At least I don’t think so. In the pre-“Smackdown Six” era, Edge’s character was, more or less, that of a merry prankster, but that was lame. Edge is no Chris Jericho, and he shouldn’t try to be. To me, Edge’s strengths are in his enthusiasm and intensity, which seems to lend itself to a Jeff Hardy type gimmick but I think most of us would rather not see Edge in that role. Maybe the WWE should build on what they’ve been teasing and make Edge into a badass tweener type. Edge’s staredown with Jericho during the battle royale on Monday seems to suggest this as well. Still, there’s something about Edge’s elocution that makes that route seem a bit questionable. The guy is so Canadian. Now I’m no Canuck basher—you guys gave us Neil Young, after all—but his accent doesn’t especially intimidate me. So I’m throwing this one to you guys. Any ideas for Edge?

Undertaker. Yeah, that’s right. Undertaker. What the hell is his character supposed to be now? Is that “Dead Man” shit supposed to be mindgames, or is he a freaky weirdo, or are we just supposed to be good little idiots and think that he’s actually a walking corpse or something? The WWE seems to want to go in all these directions at once.

This is not the time for an unfocused Undertaker. Smackdown isn’t as dire as some people think (you know who I’m talking about), but it’s not great either. They need all the help they can get on Thursday nights, and it looks like Undertaker is going to be a big part of that show, I guess. Meanwhile, although crowds are still erupting for his entrance, Taker’s matches aren’t getting so much reaction. Which probably means that people aren’t so eager to pay to see him wrestler either.

That’s just part of the bigger picture for the Undertaker. He’s drawn money, but more as an attraction than as a main eventer. He was effective earlier in the decade as a role player in the main event scene, but realistically he’s not in position to do even that right now. JBL vs. Evil Demon Taker is not a feud for the ages. It’s not even mildly compelling, except for the single dimension of a loudmouth braggart getting his comeuppance.

At best, Undertaker and JBL will put on a competent, and probably unspectacular match. At worst, it will be plodding and very possibly awkward. I’d say it’s a safe bet that we can expect another garbage-y bloodbath, which seems to be the WWE’s match of choice for hiding both guys’ weaknesses. Still, even if we can’t realistically expect much in the ring, we should be able to expect a feud built on something a bit more dramatic than the Inevitable Comeuppance of the Bully Bradshaw. Despite his other weaknesses, JBL is a well-developed character—it’s Taker who needs the tweaking.

Explaining why he suddenly cares about winning the belt would be a good start. Actually, just a few words about why he came back in the first place would be nice as well. If we look at his two feuds since returning, we have one for revenge (Kane) and two in response to provocation (Booker T and the Dudleys). So one is basically Taker resolving unfinished business, and the other two are him reluctant responses to guys who were portrayed as something like insects in relation to the Undertaker. Both suggest that Taker isn’t a dedicated full-time wrestler, but a grizzled old timer—like Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven. His new Western themed ring attire seems to suggest this too. This still doesn’t sufficiently explain why he’d go after JBL, but I’m sure that one good promo could solve this. Actually, I think that we’ll probably get just that before Summerslam.


In last week’s column I asked for your thoughts on which gimmicks could survive having a new wrestler playing the part. And, for the most part, there was one overwhelming answer: none of them. Well, not exactly, as there were a few suggestions. Like this one from Jarkota:

Honestly, I think there were really only two characters so strong and well-loved that they could survive substitution: Kane and The Undertaker.

‘Taker has been in the WWE since 1991. His famous feuds with Hulk Hogan, Ted DiBiase, and various other big-name superstars has made hima wrestling legend, and though substitution would be a slap in the face to the audience, the eventual return of the real Undertaker (as would be inevitible if Vince wanted to keep his arse out of the fire) would go over very well with the fans. The Brian Lee gimmick proved this without a doubt.

Kane is the monster; the destroyer (though he was much better with the mask than he is without). I have heard rumors that several people (ranging from Kevin Nash to Sid Vicious to Chyna) have worn the mask and suit of Kane. Now, I doubt most of these are true. Chyna almost definitely could not have done it, but Nash and Vicious are likely candidates if substitution ever took place. Now, though, the idea of a fake Kane is simply ridiculous (unless they bring in someone like X-Pac and have him dress like Kane, mask and all, on SmackDown!, mocking Kane every week which leads up to an interpromotional match at a joinly-produced Pay-Per-View event). And I don’t think it would go over that well, either. It’d probably end up like the ill-fated Fake Deisel and Fake Ramon gags.

Never heard those rumors. Those weird, weird rumors. I was thinking Kane myself, actually, but this column tends to be a bit on the long side as it is. So I left it out.

Here’s a question from Patrick (aka BigPoppaPat):

About Nash’s clever comment regarding Big Show bein Andre’s son..what did Nash say?

“So, are you really Andre’s son?” Or something like that. Maybe it wasn’t that clever, but it was pretty funny at the time.

Jason Fleigel offers more insight on the multiple Ultimate Warrior urban legend:

I live in Chicago and sometime in 1990 or 1991 (can’t really remember exactly when), the local NBC affiliate news broadcast announced that the WWF champion Ultimate Warrior was dead. I don’t recall the news ever indicating how he died, but I do know that they never retracted the story. This was the big talk on the playgrounds for all of us kids who were wrestling fans. For weeks everyone swore Ultimate Warrior was dead, but there was no mention of his passing on WWF Superstars or WWF Challenge. That alone made me realize he hadn’t died, and sure enough he didn’t….

Interesting. Anyone else remember this? I have a very vague memory of something in the Weekly World News on this subject (no, seriously), but I can’t remember what.

Russell Good agreed that characters with masks would have an easier time:

If they’d market more luchadores, maybe it’d work well enough so that were in injury to happen, another wrestler with a similar style could just pop on the mask and be done with it.

Good point. Here’s an idea I’ve been kicking around for a (relatively) low-cost national promotion start-up, in three easy steps. (1) Acquire the rights to a fair amount of junior heavyweight puroresu and whatever lucha libre is available (though I would imagine that EMLL and AAA might be reluctant to embark on this scheme). Don’t bother with any promotion that won’t offer the rights to lease the American rights to any gimmick included in the footage. (2) Re-dub it into English, with an emphasis on building up the guys in masks as the centerpieces of the promotion. Orient the commentary and overall tone to make it as appealing as possible to kids 8-10. (3) Show it on television, on weekday afternoons or Saturday mornings. (4) If it gets popular, start a house show circuit (built as model of Sesame Street on Ice more than WWE). If you can get the original guys to play the characters, then go with that. Otherwise, hire whatever indy talent best fits the gimmicks.

Seriously, do you guys have any idea how much kids love masked wrestlers? Look at Saturday morning cartoons—Mucha Lucha and Ultimate Muscle for starters. There’s that guy on Nickelodeon. And a personal (sort of) anecdote. My brother was in the grocery store in Columbia, SC one day, wearing an Ultimo Guerrero t-shirt when a woman came up to him and asked where he got it. She said that her son loved Japanese and Mexican wrestling, but not the American style stuff.

I’m telling you, it’s an untapped market. Ted Turner, if you really want to make money off of pro wrestling, this (and not Hogan) is the way to go. Hell, any millionaire can take this idea, free of charge. Just hook me up with some tickets and merchandise, especially toys. Cause, uh, maybe I’ll have some kids by then. (cough, cough)

On a slightly different note, here’s Huw (Huw?) Davis:

You seem to have missed one of the best examples of changing actors with
the same character “Doctor Who” – which even made a feature of this
ability – kept it going to 26 years :D

(I think Eric S is a big fan isn’t he :D)

I don’t know. I always read Eric’s columns, but I must confess that I skip past the stuff on golf and sci fi shows. I’m sure that he’ll do the same to me when I finally get around to adding my “research notes” section to my column, which will consist of a weekly update on how my dissertation research is going.

I’m ribbing you of course.

Back to the subject at hand. In last week’s column, I said that guys who the audience cares about would be impossible to replace. Matthew Moss elaborates on this:

My theory on the whole subject is pretty much “How well do we know the guy?” I bet that certain people, like Moredicai for example, could go on to be missing for a few months and then show back up as a different guy (though similar in physical nature of course) and replace him. Another example of someone who could come back under a different identity playing them is obviously Ulitmo Dragon (thanks to the mask of course). We could never replace The Rock, Steve Austin, Triple H, or anybody with any face value and actually think it might suceed.

It always comes back to Mordecai, doesn’t it?

Here’s a great, great insight from Kyle McCowin:

I have a thought on this that you didn’t touch on but that I think would weigh heavily in real life and that’s fearing for one’s job. Imagine that you were in the WWF during the fake Taker/Diesel/RR angels. If the replacements had worked that would set a frightening precedent. Suddenly Vince would realize that he could get away with replacing trouble-makers, contract hold outs, or even injured workers. What would’ve happened to Edge after a year on the shelf if Vince had just stuck another Edge in his role. Not only has he lost a character he’d been building but suddenly you have two very similar looking guys on the roster. Does one get fired? Is there suddenly another “brother”? This would turn replacements into scabs. I wouldn’t be surprised if the rest of the locker room put pressure on the replacements to fail.

That’s such a good point. Kind of makes me feel a little bad about my “Puro/Lucha for kids” idea from up above.

We’ll close this rather lengthy mailbag with a reminiscence from my fellow newbie columnist Jon David:

I was in Hershey the night the fake Razor and fake Deisel debuted.
My head still hurts from the fan behind me, who was convinced Hall and Nash had made a triumphant return.
“It’s not them,” I said. “They’re under contract to WCW.”
“It is to them,” he said. “Look at them. They walk the same. It’s them.”
We were in the nosebleed section. I tried to tell him about copyrights and contracts and all the stuff most people with a computer knew.
“Copyrights,” he slurred. “What do you know?”
Like I said, my head still hurts.


See, more reason for me to be a hermit and never leave the apartment. I get to avoid these sorts of situations.

Anyway, I’m still enjoying the lovely weather in scenic Columbia, SC, conveniently located about ten feet beneath the surface of the sun. I’m still working with weird and intermittent internet connections (read: free AOL via a free trial account which I will cancel as soon as I get home), so you may see your emails answered in this column rather than by personal reply. More incentive to write, I’d say (and by the way, if you don’t want me to publish your email, please let me know).

Next week: I’m not sure yet. I’m leaning toward doing that column on the problems with creating a character for the “monster” type wrestler. Anyway, I’ll be here at the usual time and place. Thanks as always for reading, mes amis.