SOMEHOW IT DON’T BOTHER ME
I know you’re sick of hearing it, but I’M SICK AGAIN. I can’t believe it. Nothing serious–a very slight temperature–but this is like the third time this semester. As Charlie Brown would say: Arrrgh! I can’t stand it.
Add to that a certain degree of burnout, mostly from writing this monster of a review (and I mean that in terms of size, not quality) of the 2 Cold Scorpio shoot interview DVD. I think I’ve maxed out on the higher end thought (at least w/r/t/ wrestling) for the week. In addition to summaries of a few choice anecdotes from the interview, there’s also a pretty substantial analysis of the shoot interview as a historical document. And it’s filled with what Gordi calls “mock gravitas” humor (and what those who know me in real life call “Dave being Dave”). Check it out; I put a ton of work into it, and I think it turned out pretty well.
As for this here column, I think this will be another all-STABBING ISSUES edition. (By the way, I’m shocked that I’ve never gotten any feedback telling me what a stupid name that is. I guess I’m underestimating my readers’ sensitivity to my own weird notion of what constitutes “humor.” Ar ar.) But only two issues shall be stabbed today. Issue one!
TWO MORE GUYS WHO WILL HAVE TO COME UP WITH NEW KAYFABE NAMES, GIVEN THAT THEIR REAL NAMES ARE MONTY SOPP AND MATT BLOOM
For once I get a relatively fresh piece of news! Yeah, I’m sure Eric will have something to say about this, but I think of this column as news analysis rather than news reportage anyway, so I hope you’ll bear with me. For those who haven’t heard, Billy Gunn and A-Train got their walking papers on Monday. Neither guy was ever an IWC favorite, to put it rather mildly. In fact, they probably would both place well in a “least favorite over the past five years” contest. But now they’re gone! Are we happy? Or are we in one of those wistful, “we hardly knew ye” moods?
Well, I have little to no sympathy for Billy Gunn. Yeah, he’s got a family to support (I presume), but he’s had over a decade of fat checks from Vince McMahon. If he has any brains whatsoever, he should have invested at least enough of this money safely to get by for the time being. If he did a good job investing, he might never have to work again. If he made piss poor investments, or worse yet didn’t save a cent, then he’s still in okay shape. There are a ton of options for a guy with Gunn’s level of visibility. You know that TNA is salivating at the prospects of reuniting him with Brian James. And who knows–maybe somebody out there actually wants to see a reunited New Age Outlaws. The question remains of what they’ll call him–Matt Billiton, maybe? And when that TNA cash wagon runs dry (either because Dixie Carter realizes that no one cares about Billy Gunn or, more likely, because the company finally fades into oblivion), there are plenty of other folks to scam: foolish indie bookers desperate for a big name; even more foolish marks looking to enroll in a wrestling school with a “name” attached to it; or possibly paid endorsement for the Hair Club for Men, based on what we read in Hyatte’s column.
Billy Gunn was one of those guys who management was really high on, a guy blessed with all the tools necessary to succeed, but who lacked the mental aspect necessary to succeed in pro wrestling (or anything else, for that matter). Watch Gunn’s matches and you’ll see that he just never got it. Quick, what’s Billy Gunn’s most famous in-ring moment? If you said “nearly killing Chris Benoit on a routine move,” you are correct, sir! Out of the ring, Gunn was always dependent on either his gimmick (the Billy & Chuck days) or a more charismatic partner (i.e., Road Dogg). But a decade in the WWF earns you a lot of notoriety. Gunn will be fine–unless he screws things up.
In a bit more precarious of a situation is A-Train (or Albert, as I prefer to call him, if you don’t mind). Five years in the WWF/E is nothing to sneeze at, mind you–it’s just that Gunn’s years were probably worth more than Albert’s. The New Age Outlaws were the defining tag team of their era (this still boggles my mind, by the way) in one of the most successful stables of the era (ditto–I’ve never been much of a DX fan). Furthermore, these were the salad days–big crowds, mainstream attention, high ratings. Gunn was at the very heart of this, and thus he will always have the option of having a job somehow connected to wrestling.
Albert, on the other hand, came in toward the tail end of the glory years. Furthermore, he was never much more than a crouton in these salad days–certainly not in the middle of things like Billy Gunn. Other than that, Gunn and Albert had pretty similar careers. Each would receive a big push about once a year, usually only lasting a couple of months before injury or apathy (on the part of the bookers) struck. And that apathy would trickle down to the fans; we knew that these pushes were only temporary, and a rapid descent back to mid card/B-show hell was inevitable. The IWC in particular came to resent these pushes, especially since neither man was exactly a killer worker.
But here’s the thing: I actually kinda liked Albert. He wasn’t my favorite by any means; the guy was clearly never going to be a world class technician. But at least Albert cared. Every time I saw him wrestle he went out there with great intensity. He was clumsy, sure, but plenty of other big guys are too. And he had a distinctive look to him too–he definitely wasn’t the generic big “hoss.” Internet writers/posters often found Albert’s charisma to be wanting, but I thought he was perfectly fine as the big monster heel. I certainly found him to be more menacing than the Big Show, whose mannerisms I find more comical than intimidating.
So it’s with some deal of regret that I see Albert moving on. I think there was a lot of potential in old A-Train. He worked hard and he had a unique look. And his charisma was certainly up to the standard the WWE had set for their big men. If you want to know what I think (and you must if you’re reading this), I think Albert was a victim of the WWE’s idiotic yo-yo pushes. The fans reacted to Albert the same way that they reacted to Billy Gunn–as a temporary visitor to the upper card who would soon be off the radar as soon as McMahon and his writers got bored and moved on to someone else. The difference between the two is that while Billy Gunn put forth less effort with every new push, Albert continued to put 100% into his matches. And in spite of the half-assery in the WWE’s pushes of him, Albert still managed to get over–“shave your back” was a common chant during his matches. You can’t say the same for Gunn.
Albert’s future is a little less certain than Gunn’s. He doesn’t have the same name or face recognition as the Ass Man, but he is younger, hungrier, and arguably more talented. I presume that TNA would be interested in him (he meets their minimal requirement of having received a check signed by Vince McMahon at some point in his life). But I think (and hope) that he has a brighter future in Japan. I think Japanese bookers would love a veteran gaijin like Albert, who would probably be pushed as the monster he always could have been. And who knows–maybe a few years in Japan would give Albert the experience he needs to come back and be a player in the WWE. At the very least, Albert can at least take comfort in his real name being less embarrassing than Billy Gunn’s.
I THINK WE’RE ALONE NOW
The new Tough Enough is in the news here lately, isn’t it? Over in the motherland (i.e., 411), Stephen Randle has a typically excellent column on that very subject. But what’s getting the most attention is the tiny little war between Stephanie and Vince over the potential breaks of kayfabe in last week’s segment (which, I must admit, I missed). This is itself part of a larger debate in the IWC over the appropriateness of Tough Enough as part of Smackdown to begin with–to what extent does a weekly segment about training in pro wrestling detract from the show at large? I’ve got a lot to say about this subject–in fact, I’ll probably devote next week’s column to this larger issue of how kayfabe is broken in today’s wrestling world. For now, though, I’ll limit myself to a few words on how this season stacks up to the previous three.
Randle says that he doesn’t like this year’s season so far. I haven’t seen much of it so yet (research takes precedence over the opening minutes of Smackdown, I’m afraid), but from what I’ve seen I agree with him. I totally agree that 15 minutes a week isn’t nearly enough time to sink our teeth into these characters. However, I differ from my former colleague in that I don’t see any problem with the show spotlighting a bunch of muscleheads–in fact, I think there may be some enjoyment to be had in seeing a bunch of testosterone fueled goons suffer at the hands of much less muscular trainers (one of my favorite moments from the second season came when Al Snow told muscular Jake that he looked like crap, but still had succeeded because he, unlike Jake, actually knew how to wrestle).
Tough Enough was at its most popular when it combined the soap opera aspects of reality television with the actual training that goes into being a pro wrestler. That’s probably why the first season made such compelling television (whenever I went out on a Thursday night, I usually chose to record it rather than Smackdown). The three male finalists, in particular, had personalities that perfectly fit what they were accomplishing in their training. Josh was exuberant, maybe a bit immature; it was no surprise that he was so eager to get to the highspots. Chris was cocky and a little grating, so it was fitting that his success in training frustrated the other contestants. And Maven (who’s certainly gained a lot of weight in all the right places, hasn’t he?), the golden boy of the bunch, was the best overall contestant, persevering even in the face of personal tragedy. We got a great story out of this bunch–and I think our attachment to them as contestants has more to do with their subsequent employment by the WWF/E than their raw talent.
Most folks found the second and third seasons to be inferior products. None of the male contestants from the second season seemed like future stars–Jake was a stiff, Hawk was a spazz, and Kenny was okay, but nothing special. And the women really weren’t much better, honestly; even if they were, however, we wrestling fans realize that even the most successful female wrestlers don’t make much of an impact in the WWF/E (unfortunately). In contrast, the third season had several good candidates for WWE contracts. I liked this season a lot, but I understand why some folks found it less compelling than the first season. Jonah’s goofball personality and Matt’s run-in with Bob Holly made the show interesting. I don’t buy that the contestants from TE3 were really that much worse than the ones from season one–John wasn’t any worse than Nidia, and we have yet to see what Matt has to offer. I suspect he won’t be any worse than Maven was when he was added to the roster despite being greener than certain species of amphibian.
This is really the big problem with the current season–they’re pretty much an anonymous group of people. To tell you the truth, I never really got a handle on the contestants in any of the previous seasons until they were whittled down to around seven contestants. I won’t miss the soap opera stuff–there’s a reason I don’t watch reality television–but I really liked the in-ring training. Over the course of the season you really got to see these kids developing as wrestlers. Sometimes they struggled to clear hurdles; sometimes they failed to do so, and were subsequently cut. Best of all, I gained a new appreciation of how tough professional wrestling is. I’m pretty sure, having watched three seasons of Tough Enough, that I’m nowhere near as tough as these contestants. So I can only imagine how tough the wrestlers are that we see on TV every week–the ones who had a much tougher climb into the big leagues.
And that brings us to the thing about the current Tough Enough that bothers me so much. To me, the worst part of any given episode was when a famous superstar would visit the training center. It was the same crap every week: “I couldn’t believe my eyes–there was Rikishi right in front of us!” “It finally hit me that, you know, this is for real when Stevie Richards came and talked to us.” “It’s like, oh my God! It’s Funaki! I occasionally watch you on Velocity, when I can remember that it’s on and I happen to be at home!” Yes, all of these visitors deserved respect, but none of them deserved this enforced groveling that the WWE seems to demand of their new wrestlers. I’m all for respect–I just think that respect is better shown through actions than words. And if you have a system in which every wrestler must show extreme deference to the likes of Billy Gunn or Bob Holly, then genuine, heartfelt expressions of respect are cheapened.
And that’s what this year’s Tough Enough is all about–this sort of bullshit enforced deference which is apparently the rule of law backstage. I really don’t want to see a bunch of green wannabe wrestlers bow and scrape to every man on the Smackdown locker room–I want to see how their training is progressing. I don’t give a rat’s ass what the kayfabe Luther Reigns thinks of them. There will be plenty of time for that later on, when the winner is chosen. For right now, let the contestants have their day in the sun.
QUICK THOUGHTS ON RAW AND SMACKDOWN
Eric Bischoff’s character is changing at just the right time. And that haircut actually makes him look much classier–kind of like when Burt Reynolds switched from a brown to a grey toupee a few years ago….This Muslim gimmick is going to be a total embarrassment. There is absolutely nothing good that can come out of this….What happened to the Basham Brothers? I think I might have been the only writer here who liked them–well Doug at least. I really liked what I saw of him, way more than Rob Conway (who was getting a lot more attention at the time)….Shelton Benjamin needs some promo time, ASAP….So far so good on the Booker T/JBL feud. They halfway have me believing that a title switch is somewhere in the realm of possibility….I like the current direction with Edge. But here’s hoping that they don’t try to make this 2000 all over again–Edge will never get over as a serious contender that way, plus I don’t think he can pull it off without Christian.
Oh yes, about the titles this week….I don’t know, occasionally I get the urge to drag out the old pop punk records. Consider it a sort of musical recidivism (or atavism). For those of you who get these references–is any of Snuff’s post-1995 material any good?
KEEP THE BEAT
My name pops up in this week’s Nygotha. Yes, I am a vegetarian. Good to know that my eating habits will probably keep vampires away, by the way. I usually triple the amount of garlic that recipes recommend.
Gordi claims that knowledge of Skip James will help you “score with sad people.” I wish that he was using the normal column title this week, since my girlfriend (sadly still in California) likes Skip James and is smart. Great choice in illustration, though.
Well, I plugged Matt Morrison’s column last week, and this week’s is on essentially the same material. So I guess I’m morally obligated to plug him again.
The forums! Now featuring 100% more Goforth! Yeah, I know, big deal.
I really want to do that column on the nature of kayfabe. I guess it depends on how quickly I try to review that other DVD Widro sent me (it’s a Ring of Honor show from Chicago, if memory serves). Until then, I trust that you will exercise your right to vote, or that you already have done so as you read this. Here’s hoping for a clean and fair election.