Look on the Anti-Bright Side

Hey, yo.

Back on 5/21, Iain Burnside posted a long list of reasons why he was losing faith in the wrestling industry in his Anti-Pulse column. Over that weekend, I emailed him and invited him to partake an email debate about the points he brought up with me, and he agreed. I first announced this in my following Look on the Bright Side column. Well, we exchanged two sets of email back and forth over the Atlantic, and now you all get to share in the result.

What happens when two members of the IWC with severely divergent opinions and outlooks agree to discuss these matters in a rational, respectful manner? Hell if I know – Iain called me “a whiny cunt” in the second email.

No, no – I’m just kidding. Iain is a great guy (and has never, to my knowledge, referred to me in a profane manner). We covered a ton of subjects here: I think this can give you, the audience, a strong insight as to how two columnists can approach the same matter from significantly divergent viewpoints. Honestly, we could have gone back-and-forth several more times on most of these subjects, but we needed to pick an endpoint in order to get it published. (Plus, 9,000 words seemed rather large enough.)

Most of all, we hope you enjoy reading this as much as we enjoyed writing it (even though Iain had to write the last portion with one hand after dislocating his shoulder – this man *suffers for his art*, people!). Please send any feedback to myself and/or Iain.

The format is fairly simple: the sections prefaced with ANTIPULSE came from Iain’s original article, and the email back-and-forth is prefaced with our names. Some sections have just one exchange, some have two — I trust you’ll be able to follow along.

So, without further ado…

ANTIPULSE: Not when WWE persists with John Cena well beyond the point of reason, driven by some fanatical belief in the power of his merchandise sales as champion, and yet sacrifices Rey Mysterio, the second-highest merchandise mover and most substantial draw on Smackdown (officially more than The Undertaker and even Batista), at any given opportunity.

STEVE: I said in my live Wrestlemania recap that keeping the title on Cena was insane, and that WWE could be facing some serious lost business if they persisted with it much longer. But I’m being proven wrong on that point: there’s no reason to take the title off of Cena yet, and his audience reaction has been quite positive the last couple of weeks. Granted, that could be due simply to the locations, and I’m sure when they return to the East Coast, the boos will be a-flyin’. But the audience reaction to Cena at ECW’s show is going to be INSANE – and the purpose behind every single strong wrestling storyline has always been to get the audience somehow.

Plus, we now know that Rey isn’t being sacrified – at least, not yet. His win over JBL was clean, and came despite JBL’s best attempts, including some serious heel antics. We need the next few weeks to ultimately decide how Rey’s title reign is going to be judged. Honestly, I have a bad feeling about Chavo’s involvement – but that’s because I really don’t care for this whole “celebrate Eddie’s death” thing to begin with.

IAIN: The reaction to Cena does tend to be the biggest on the show, one way or another. At the moment it is going okay, with his fans firmly behind him and the rest booing him with a passion. This leads to some good all-round heat for Raw, which I have mentioned numerous times in my column. However, it is a very fine line to walk and I don’t have the confidence in WWE to go very much further without starting to stumble. He’ll be the firm centre of attention in September when his movie is released, which will continue to irk the hate-filled/sensible people in the crowd. If he is still champion by that point then the hatred will be multiplied yet again, with those same people growing increasingly angry at this C-level performer being pushed as an A+ calibre athlete. How long can it possibly last before it backfires? Keeping the title on him for the ECW show was, in my opinion, the right thing to do. As you said, the reaction will be insane. However, come hell or high water, Rob Van Dam is not going to remain the WWE Champion even if he pins Cena that night (and if Cena pins him then they might as well just cut to a shot of Vince ejaculating on the camera). So who could Cena actually drop the title to? Edge? Not without a decent build, which Vengeance won’t get due to their ECW commitments. Triple H? That’s what the rumour mill says will happen (SummerSlam or Unforgiven – bet now!) although the tiredness of such a development would be overwhelming. Flair? If he can’t get a title shot in Charlotte for Vengeance, he certainly won’t get that 17th reign. Who else does that leave? Michaels? Perhaps, though his decreased schedule might further diminish their house show cards. Besides, it would be better if there was a relatively fresher face to get the belt. That leads us back to Edge, which leaves us still waiting, possibly until Survivor Series, which leaves the fans growing ever more disgruntled. The rest might still be buying those Cena shirts, but do you honestly think they would stop all of a sudden if Cena wasn’t the champion?

And I wrote what I did about Rey before Judgement Day happened, when the vast majority were still predicting a JBL victory. If such a title switch hadn’t seemed so obvious to us all then it probably would have happened there rather than taking place at some point in the coming month. Even if it doesn’t, the fact is that he has had the most worthless title reign since Chris Jericho – despite having merchandise sales to rival Cena. Would Cena be getting pinned cleanly by Mark Henry and Great Khali if he was still on Smackdown? Doubtful.

STEVE: Excellent point about the merchandise sales: I’m fairly certain they were high before he was champ, so I don’t understand the fear of what will happen if the title was taken off of him (so long as he doesn’t go through a series of squash losses right after that).

As for the title: Edge and HHH are definitely the most likely. I believe the Vengeance poster has Cena and Edge on it, with the big “D-X” spraypaint, so it looks like they’ll be moving fast on that right after the ECW PPV. And a part of me believes that Michaels will be rewarded with the title as payback for having to deal with Vince’s mid-life crisis for the past few months. And there are other contenders being built up for eventual runs: most noticably Carlito (probably at least 6 months away from serious contention, but it’s coming), and… *shudder* Umaga.

And with Rey – yes, the booking of the last few weeks had been… somewhat confusing. But, at least it makes a bit of sense now: Rey was being set up as the ultimate underdog champ, while Khali is going to be pushed as a near-unstoppable monster. (Of course, there’s a huge difference between it “making sense” in hindsight, and it actually being *good* booking.) As I said above, I think we need a few more weeks to ultimately judge Rey’s title reign: he only has a limited number of contenders, two of which squashed him in successive weeks. If he manages to pull a win over at least one of them in the next month or so (while continuing to hold onto the title), then I think we may have to re-visit the “worthless” judgment.

IAIN: It’s pretty much a given that Rey’s title reign will come to an end not as a result of him being cleanly beaten but as a result of a jealous Chavo Guerrero snapping and beating the crap out of him. Rey can then go off and get his surgery while Chavo can lie, cheat and steal to his heart’s content, lacking any of Los Guerreros old charm and playfulness and thus becoming quite the hated heel along the way. After occupying his time with somebody else – perhaps Lashley, tying up another JBL loose end – he can face the returning Mysterio at No Mercy or Survivor Series to be served his comeuppance. Unfortunately, stepping into WWE’s mindset here, the only way to truly get the fans to turn on Chavo (other than a JBL connection) is to have him insult Eddie. We’ll see what happens, but I’d be very surprised if they went in a different direction. Who holds the WHT in between Rey and the inevitable Batista reclaimation is anybody’s guess. People with taste and sense would say King Booker but, worryingly, Khali seems to have just as much of a chance as anybody else. Personally, I wouldn’t even give Batista the belt back immediately. Transition it to Booker, perhaps at the next SNME, and let Dave chase him for a few months.

So, assuming something like the above happens, what would Rey’s title reign have achieved? Well, it was used to try and further establish Khali and Mark Henry in keeping with the general theme of Smackdown. Unfortunately, even the blindest of the blind can tell what a futile move that was. It may have been used for a memorable WrestleMania Moment, but the title victory came quickly after a rushed and compromised match that left most underwhelmed and quite a few fairly hostile towards the new champion. They went for the fairytale approach in the following weeks but overplayed the underdog card to the point where it did more harm than good, both to Rey and the title. Rey did help to continue drawing Hispanic and younger fans whilst shifting a shitload of merch (best not to think about what Smackdown ratings would have been like without his presence this year) but the company at times seemed to be trying their hardest to push them away. Would John Cena ever be treated as badly during his title reign as Rey has been during his? Doubtful.

Maybe time will change my mind but at the moment the only noticeable worth to Rey’s reign is pointing out the flaws in WWE’s booking style and creative team… again.

ANTIPULSE: Not when being generous enough to watch Raw means having to tolerate the sight of Vince McMahon making out with women almost forty years younger than him, making other men literally kiss his ass in public, and challenge God to a fight. He can’t mark his late-life crisis by buying a sports car, not when he already has his own plane, so this is what happens instead, something that could only be worth watching if you happen to be a world-class psychologist.

STEVE: This one we agree on – Vince’s recent storylines have been my least favorite things about Raw (despite the excellent match with HBK at WM). The only positives about it have been from Shane, who continues to shine despite being saddled in his father’s ego-stroking. (But, once again – the audience is reacting.)

IAIN: The audience reacts to Eugene. Fuck the audience.

STEVE: Well, that strikes me as a bit… near-sighted. You simply *have* to consider the audience in any judgment on storylines and the direction of the company, because ultimately they are the people who spend money, and hence drive the bottom line. How can you write-off a siginificant portion of the viewing audience (including kids, whose parents spend a crap-load of cash on merchandise), simply because you disagree with who they cheer and boo? This is another IWC weakness: insisting that the WWE should act in ways that are detrimental to the company’s own bottom line, simply because they don’t like whoever is making them the most money right now. (Not to
mention that booking solely for the IWC would be near-impossible, since they invariably turn on anybody that gets too popular anyway.)

You can make an analogy to the movie industry: it’s very rare that the most critically-acclaimed movies are also the highest grossing movies. If you were a movie executive, *and your salary depended upon the profit margin*, would you rather make 10 critical success that grossed $100M total, or 10 pieces of crap that grossed $1 billion? (Granted, you’d probably like to have a mix of the two, but with a gun to their head, I think most people will always choose the latter. Somehow, you’d still sleep at night.)

IAIN: Were we not agreeing about Vince’s useless on-air character? Besides, I doubt Eugene’s remaining fans account for a significant portion of the audience, or that parents have spent a crap-load of cash on Eugene merchandise.

Also, most of what you wrote in that first paragraph can be applied to WWE itself and not simply the online fans.

ANTIPULSE: Not when there is no way in hell that marginal and temporary increases in viewing figures could possibly come anywhere close to off-setting Sting’s $500,000 salary – money that would have been better spent on more advertising or on expanding their live shows outside of a theme park. As it stands he’s nearly halfway through his contract and everything is still geared towards Sting/Jarrett via Sting/Steiner, with little chance for anybody younger and untainted to benefit (he had little more than a cup of coffee with Christian, he barely even spoke to Styles, Rhino and Killings, and Project Joe would be at exactly the same level without his employment).

STEVE: Again – agreed. This was a terrible decision, especially when you consider that Sting had no real desire to go to WWE, so TNA was basically bidding against themselves for his services.

IAIN: With the bartering skills of the mute.

ANTIPULSE: Not when the only possible match for WrestleMania XXIII that could conceivably draw any outside interest or raise buyrates beyond the recently established standards of the WrestleMania brand name is Austin/Hogan. In 2007. 17 years after Hogan first “retired” and 6 years after Austin became more of a hindrance than a help.

STEVE: Honestly, making a judgment NOW about a show that’s 10 months away strikes me as rather pre-mature. No one has any idea what could happen in the coming year. Could you have predicted Mike Tyson’s involvement 10 months in advance? The invasion of the NWO? The Austin/Hart “I Quit” match?

IAIN: Mike Tyson? I was talking about a match between two WWE performers, not the inclusion of a ‘special guest enforcer’. Buyrates for No Way Out 2002 were down on the previous year’s event, despite the nWo making their return on the show. Similarly, Hogan’s title win at Backlash that year drew less than the event had done in 2001. His ‘dream match’ with The Rock at WrestleMania XVIII saw a substantial decrease in buyrates from XVII. The mention of Austin/Hart is very bizarre considering it was on the least financially successful WrestleMania of all time. It was a brilliant match, my favourite of all time, but it didn’t exactly raise much outside interest at the time considering the pounding that the WWF would continue to take from WCW throughout 1997. All in all, though it might usually seem somewhat ridiculous to make a judgement about the show 10 months before it happens, bear in mind that we are talking about WrestleMania here and not No Way Out or the Great American Bash or the third Smackdown of February. Time was that the company would already know next year’s main event by this point, yet now they’re seemingly not even sure what to do for SummerSlam. Really, outside of Austin/Hogan, what other options could they possibly have to headline WrestleMania with that patented ‘special’ feel?

STEVE: Yeah, we went in two different directions on this one. I was making less of a point about what specifically could happen at WM, and more about what could happen in the 10 months leading up which could significantly change the WWE, or even the wrestling world itself. The (original, WCW) nWo invasion certainly did that; and I posit that the Austin/Hart match did the same, since it was responsible for Austin’s career going through the roof (and taking the rest of the WWE with him). By “outside interest”, I assume you mean “non-wrestling fans”, or “mainstream media attention”. And yes, there are very few events that could cause that right now: it would probably involve the return of past superstars like Hogan, Austin and/or Rock, or involvement from non-wrestling celebrities in a meaningful manner. But honestly — so what? I haven’t read anything that says the buyrate for this year’s WM was poor, and they didn’t have any spcial interest outside of wrestling fans who wanted to see several of the matches.

IAIN: This year’s buyrate wasn’t poor but it did fall below expectations. They were hoping to crack the million mark with the initial buyrate, instead it was around 920,000. By the time the final figure comes in the event almost certainly will have surpassed one million purchases, but they still would have been hoping for a larger buyrate all-in-all. I wonder how many people are doing what they do with new movie releases and just waiting for the DVD release instead? It’s cheaper, has additional extras, and you get to keep it forever on a decent format. Makes sense to me, since I wouldn’t pay for a wrestling PPV unless it was showing in a movie theatre. Anyway, the fact that WM is now capable of delivering three to four times the buyrate of any other WWE PPV says as much about the strength of the WrestleMania brand name (still stronger than Raw or Smackdown or even WWE) as it does about the sheer quantity of PPVs on offer. Unfortunately, the quantity issue is probably the main reason for the lack of marquee WM matches that don’t rely on nostalgia. The regular old guard have been seen far too many times, while the newbies have all their flaws overexposed. Maybe something will miraculously appear in time for WM23, but I doubt it. Once again, those WrestleMania fans will leave unconvinced of becoming WWE fans.

ANTIPULSE: Not when Randy Orton will return and, sooner or later, be given yet another World Heavyweight Title. And fail to change as a person, as everybody does. And mess it up again. And in twenty years time turn into a bigger waster than Lex Luger did, without even having a Sting to help him out from time-to-time. And meanwhile the audience suffers.

STEVE: Nobody ever changes as a person? Wait – don’t you call out HBK below for no longer fitting into D-X because of his “change” into a bible-thumper? Doesn’t that very point contradict what you just wrote here? And if that doesn’t work, attend an AA meeting sometime, and listen to someone talk about the time they hit bottom, and what it took to get them into that room. (Do they have AA in Scotland?) Sure, many people don’t change much between, say, 21 and 26. But between, say, 26 and 36? Believe me – quite a few big changes tend to come in that time. (I speak from experience.)

IAIN: There’s an AA over here for roads. I don’t really want to get into a vaguely philosophical discussion about the perverseness of man here, but I do respectfully disagree with you on the ‘people do change’ front. Surroundings, circumstances, fashions, opinions… these can all change. People? No, not truly. No, I don’t think Shawn Michaels has truly changed. However, that doesn’t matter with regards to the DX reunion because he has formed a public image of himself on-air as a bible-thumper. To expect him to suddenly revert to the strung-out degenerate role for no reason other than to piss off Vince is foolish, yet that’s what’ll happen and that’s what the foolish fans will lap up. Pity those with a bit more sense. And don’t start on Triple H. We all know what his real-life role is, we all know how much it crosses over into his on-air role, and we all should know that it does not fit in well with DX. Occasionally, certain performers reach a point where their personality obscures the character. That’s why I just can’t buy Tom Cruise as a construction worker trying to protect his kids during a Martian invasion.

STEVE: So, if HBK’s Christianity is just a “public image”, can’t he simply drop that image with one simple in-ring promo where he says the equivalent of “Screw that, WWE asked me to do this, but now this is who I really am?”

I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on both the “people can/can’t change”, as well as whether HBK actually has. Let me just state: I’m 36, and I have changed significantly in the past 10 years (marriage, a mortgage, children, and various other life-changing events will do that). It often takes outside influences – but it *can* happen.

IAIN: So if Michaels does that, what happens to him after DX is done and dusted once more? And quite apart from his personality, why would anybody want to see a forty-two year old man with an ever-more-noticeable receeding hairline and a gammy back act like a drunken fratboy again?

ANTIPULSE: Not when the powers that be remain so deeply afraid of change that they can’t even bear the thought of any voices other than those belonging to Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler commentating on Raw, despite both having long since turned into living adverts for the benefits of deafness.

STEVE: Who do they have to replace them? Michael Cole? Tony Shiavone? Eric Bischoff? (HA!) Yes, Joey has been pulled off the air for now – to push the ECW storyline. He still has a job, and he will be back on everyone’s TV soon enough. Personally, I found Ross and Lawler to be suprisingly NOT irritating for the past two weeks on Raw. And again – who would you replace them with?

IAIN: You say that like Cole is a worse announcer than Ross these days. Also, I’m actually quite curious to hear how Schiavone would get on as a commentator these days without the over-eager WCW shill-jobs blunting his sharpness and stomping on the corpse of his morale. Bischoff? Well, why not? They ought to use the guy for *something* rather than paying him to sit at home and conjure up energy drinks in his basement or whatever. As for the rest, I just don’t know. I’m not exactly up to date on sports announcers. WWE don’t seem to be either, which is rather a shame.

STEVE: Personally, I’d take Ross over Cole or Bischoff – but yes, I wouldn’t mind seeing Schiavone, but I haven’t heard one serious rumor about him coming back.

ANTIPULSE: Not when WWE has declared “Wellness” to be their new favourite buzzword whilst simultaneously continuing to employ Ric Flair and Kurt Angle as full-time active in-ring competitors.

STEVE: These were surprising choices. I thought you’d go for some obvious roid users, like Batista or Lashley. I know Angle has multiple injuries: the rumors have been that he’s taking more time off because the Wellness program has forced him to take less painkillers, and he’s actually feeling the pain more acutely now. (We had this posted on IP itself recently.) As for Flair – umm??

IAIN: Umm what? You don’t think Flair’s body has been through enough? You don’t think it is ever-so-slightly questionable to allow a man of his advanced years to continue to work matches on such a regular scale rather than saving them for the odd special occasion while allowing him to perform a regular non-wrestling role so that he can keep those paychecks coming in?

STEVE: Well, A) I have to believe the backstage position would be there for Flair if he wanted it, and B) I believe the paychecks for wrestling and non-wrestling roles are significantly different. So, I have to assume that the decision to stay in his current role was *Flair’s* decision. Hence, using that fact to slam the WWE or their Wellness program strikes me.. disingenuous at best.

IAIN: Since when do wrestlers, or any non-McMahon employee, get to dictate company policy? If they are serious about wanting to protect their wrestlers then they should at the very least restrict Flair, not put him in ladder matches. By supporting his current way of life they are just helping him into an early grave and, whether by accident or design, making a mockery of the Wellness Program. Considering that he is good friends with Vince and HHH, it seems even more peculiar.

ANTIPULSE: Not when TNA remains so hopelessly insecure that they will sign up any available talent they can lay their hands on, especially anybody that ever appeared in WWE or WCW, then try to cram in various guest stars, non-wrestling figures, random women and a bunch of strangers from Japan and Mexico, and then attempt to blur them all into a single hourly show and fail to realise that no new viewers could possibly be tempted to care about any of them whatsoever. It is so rushed now that even guys like Christopher Daniels are being whitewashed by the pacing. Two steps forward, two steps back, then fall on your arse.

STEVE: TNA is still building their audience and their product, so there are definitely growing pains. They want to be a direct competitor with WWE, but let’s face it – they’re not even close. 99% of the non-wrestling fans on the planet don’t even know they exist, and have no idea who the hell Samoa Joe is. Right now, they NEED any mainstream attention they can get – and that’s more likely to come from name guest stars than it is from anything that Christopher Daniels can do. (Who, I should remind you, is currently involved in a feud for the World tag titles – which I don’t think can necessarily be counted as “whitewashed”.)

IAIN: With regards to Daniels, I didn’t mean ‘whitewashed’ as in ‘Elix Skipper’, more that he doesn’t seem to have any discernible character or any interesting storyline or any particular point to him. All this despite being one of the most popular and long-serving members of the roster (and Bubba calling Daniels “the future of the business” when Daniels is two years older than him is quite something). If he can’t get that, what chance do the rest of them have when everything is so condensed and rushed? Also, what do you mean by ‘name guest stars’? I hope you aren’t referring to the current batch, because they are as likely to catch mainstream attention as I am to catch the menopause.

STEVE: “Name guest stars” = non-wrestling celebrities. Yes, I know I also mentioned them above, so let me make it clear: I, personally, am not in favor of using them, but it has been shown to get some serious attention on occasion, such as Tyson’s involvement (of course, it also occasionally gets us “David Arquette, World Champion”).

As for Daniels, I agree: I’ve only been watching TNA serious for about 5 weeks, and I’ve been trying to figure out what the big deal is about him. But, I’ve read through some past PPV and TV reports, and obviously he has had a number of serious storylines previously. In this case, the business truly is cyclical: there’s only a handful of wrestlers that are constantly in the spotlight (and the IWC tends to despise all of them), and everyone else gets at least 3 months out of the year where they sort of flounder about, waiting for a spot near the top of the card to open up. Honestly, I’m okay with this: it’s never really a bad thing to have more talent than you have spotlights. (And yes, it is irritating that Scott Steiner is taking up one of those now, and Jarrett takes up one so often: but at least one of those is cyclical.)

ANTIPULSE: Not when people accept nostalgia as development and think that having the husband of Vince McMahon’s daughter and a clean-living bible-basher suddenly and inexplicably revert to the DX personas they fitted a decade ago could possibly be a good idea. If they really want to bring back the DX name then they can do it with younger and more suited people, then have the old guard get upset about it, then proceed with the feud – and for the love of the preservation of space and time please do not let this storyline involve any more HHH/HBK ego-wank matches.

STEVE: Again, you are judging something that HASN’T HAPPENED YET. How can you know that this won’t somehow involved newer wrestlers, who get pulled into D/X with HBK and HHH? We haven’t even had the phrase “D/X” uttered on-screen by anybody in WWE yet, let along an inkling of how exactly the storyline is going to develop. This is the IWC habit that drives me the most crazy: making conclusions about how something is going to done BEFORE WE KNOW ANYTHING, and then bitching about your own conclusion. Yes, I know – Invasion was handled terribly, and the Katie Vick storyline was a travesty. But for Pete’s sake, that doesn’t mean EVERY storyline is going to be that way!

IAIN: Oh, DX has been mentioned plenty times, they just haven’t come out and said anything like “maybe DX will return”. Going by everything we’ve heard from all the usual sources, they don’t want any new members of DX. Hell, they even made tentative contact with the Outlaws before realising they were under contract to TNA. I expect that they’ll reunite, beat the Spirit Squad at Vengeance, Michaels will take some time off and Triple H will challenge Cena at SummerSlam as an out-and-out face.

STEVE: Well, sadly enough, that does appear to be what’s being predicted. Of course, these were the same people that predicted JBL would beat Rey, and Khali would be sent down to OVW after being squashed by UT: so I’m keeping a fair sized hunk of salt around, just in case.

ANTIPULSE: Not when the unwashed masses seem so willing to line up and throw themselves at Ken Kennedy’s feet, for no discernible reason other than that he has a loud voice and the ability to use it to say his name. Rush me my replacement interest, the original was lost in the mail.

STEVE: We’re agreed again. I’m mystified by the hype this guy is getting.

IAIN: Well… good.

ANTIPULSE: Not when Triple H continues to dominate whatever show he happens to be on. Look at last week’s Raw. Their would-be saviour, John Cena, and the guy most closely associated with the quickly returning ECW brand, Rob Van Dam, and the Intercontinental Title switch to Shelton Benjamin, were all quickly dispersed with at the top of the show. The rest was based around Triple H and an incestuous storyline involving his father-in-law, his brother-in-law, and his best mate. Important Safety Tip: you can’t expand inwards without imploding.

STEVE: Oh, come on – not the “HHH rules everything” stuff again. His actual on-camera time the past two weeks, outside of the handicap Texas Tornado match, has hardly been obscene. For crying out loud, freaking *Viscera* had more lines this past Monday than HHH did. Yes, he’s involved in a major storyline: the reformation of D/X (which, I should remind you, the crowd is absolutely eating up with a spoon). And since he was half of that group, it would be a bit difficult to do this without him. But “dominate”? C’mon – seriously.

IAIN: Okay, maybe I was ranting a little by using the word “dominate” – though with regards to that particular Raw, he certainly did dominate it. In any event, he continues to be positioned as the undeniable top dog on Raw. Even in the midst of Cena’s reign, Triple H is the one guy who is made to look like a champion at all times whilst Cena comes out and calls him things like “the greatest of all time”. Triple H gets a ring entrance at WrestleMania XXII that is nearly as long as the entire World Heavyweight Title match. He now has two entrance themes. He has so many nicknames that Jim Ross won’t be able to say anything else by the time he gets to the retirement home. I’ll give him credit for his work with Batista – despite it being a direct response to the shambles of Orton and it only lasting because Batista left Raw – and so far he has put Cena over during their PPV matches… but the DX match will be the focal point of Vengeance, not the title match… and then where do we go and how different could it be…

STEVE: Well, yes – he’s involved in the top storyline on Raw currently. But do you consider him the focal point of the show back when he was feuding with Flair, and then The Big Show? The Raw title went about 9 months without any involvement from HHH whatsoever, while he was busy with mid-upper card storylines, just like everybody else does on occasion. Really, all I want you to acknowledge is the fact that Raw does not rotate around HHH on a 24/7/365 basis.

IAIN: Well the show is only on two hours a week. If you watch those two hours with a critical eye, you should clearly see that Triple H is positioned as the real star, regardless of his position on the card. He can take little soujorns to feud with Flair or Show or get Punk’d or whatever, but we all know it is inevitable that, barring any serious injury, he will retire having won a bare minimum of 16 world titles. As a fan, it does tend to take the wind out of my sails.

ANTIPULSE: Not when the worst part of the above is that we all know there are still six more title reigns to go. At least.

STEVE: So, going by this, which would be worse: keeping the title on Cena, or letting HHH get another title reign by beating him at WM?

IAIN: The answer is the same as the number of surrealists it takes to change a lightbulb.

ANTIPULSE: Not when Mark Henry is eagerly awaiting his contract renewal around about the same time as the thoroughly useless Great Khali was debuted, proving that they still haven’t learned their lesson about the outdated benefits of the Wow He’s Big theory, which haven’t done a damn thing since Andre’s time – and not even he would have drawn that much in this day and age.

STEVE: Agreed. I just wish they would sign big guys that can either wrestle *or* cut a good promo (let alone both).

IAIN: That would indeed be a step in the right direction. Maybe they should start a Wellness Program for the fans.

ANTIPULSE: Not when WWE continues to run its talent into the ground for a fairly worthless house show circuit. Though it could benefit TNA (who therefore don’t use it), WWE must surely begin to realise how much of a drain these things are. Don’t scrap them altogether, since there is some benefit to be had in additional merchandise sales, gaining experience for the younger performers, and generally spreading the name, but certainly cut down on them. The costs of organising, promoting and running these shows for very little in return apart from injuries, particularly in the saturated national market, are beginning to seem rather foolish. They could make far more impact, reach far more people, and gain far more revenue by working on their internet presence instead.

STEVE: Honestly, you’re the first person I’ve ever seen push this opinion, and I have to say: yeah, you make an excellent point, especially about wear-and-tear and injuries. But I have to imagine it would be met with resistance from the wrestlers themselves, since the house circuit brings them in quite a bit of extra $$$. Oh, and the concept that the Internet could somehow make more money than a house show? Gotta disagree with that one pretty vehemently. How, exactly, would they generate that much on the web?

IAIN: I didn’t mean by running internet-only shows or anything like that, just that an overall tighter focus on their internet presence would offset any money lost should they decrease their house show schedule. They have started to pay more attention to their website over the past year or so, which is a positive. I wonder what would happen if they put Vince Russo in charge of it rather than Michael Cole…

STEVE: Isn’t Russo now a born-again Christian? If so, I imagine the site would take on a significantly different look and feel.

And I still fail to see how their internet presence could, in all honesty, make them any significant money. Maybe they could sell some kind of video-on-demand (which would require a significant amount of work converting all of their tape library to digital format), or have a special paid membership area: but what content would they push? People now pay to get backstage dirt: outside of unusual circumstances like the Booker/Batista fight, WWE is simply not going to volunteer that kind of information on their own. Do you have specific ideas on how they can make money on the internet?

[Consider this is a question for you, the readers: any ideas?]

ANTIPULSE: Not when Triple H, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Kurt Angle, Kane, Vince McMahon, Mick Foley and others on their level have been around for so long that they have nothing new to show us at all and have failed time and time again to establish anybody to take their place, or even to move out the way when that happens. Orton’s a joke, Cena’s being laughed at and not with, Lesnar wasn’t even listening, and Batista just wants his laughing gas back.

STEVE: I noticed you conveniently ignored Edge. I’ve heard the audience reaction to Orton – if he matures (which is possible – the kid is still in his early 20’s; I was an idiot back then too) he has the potential to be huge. Cena has cleanly beaten half the guys you just named – most of them multiple times. Lesnar was a mistake, but it’s not WWE’s fault that he decided he was more important than the company itself. I’m failing to see where they’ve gone with Batista, outside of his injury (which I don’t think can actually be BLAMED on anyone). Trip and Shawn have pushed Kenny Doane to the upper-mid card in the past 3 weeks. Carlito and Matt Stryker are working their way up the good chain. Ken Kennedy, by your own admission, is being set up for big things. Efforts are being made.

IAIN: I didn’t conveniently ignore Edge, I just don’t find him to be on the same level as the others. I covered Orton above. I’m not sure what else I can say about Cena other than that he will be filed under “What Were They Thinking?” by future generations, much like The Da Vinci Code. Lesnar…yeah, well, he certainly is that. Batista hasn’t really gone wrong. But do you not find it a little off-putting that Batista is the only true positive one there? It would have been so easy for the likes of Booker, Jericho, RVD or Christian to have joined him. Now we’ll either have guys like Kennedy or Lashley pushed far too far too fast, probably burning out as a result, or face an even longer stretch of the aforementioned old guard until such time as they are forced to stand down once, hopefully, the new lot are truly ready for the headlines.

STEVE: Edge isn’t ‘on the same level’? He was the WWE champ a few months ago, he was in the midst of the title picture a few weeks ago, and he is now firmly planted at the very top of the Raw card: how much higher can he get? If anyone is ready to take over from the old guard, it’s him.

As for the rest: yes, I also wish there were a few more obvious younger guys waiting to take that leap (although I firmly believe Cena can be re-packaged somehow and still stay in the upper card (yes, I know – another ‘agree to disagree’ with us)). But I think the title reigns of Beniot and Eddie show that the right people will (often) be pushed, at the right time.

IAIN: And on the day that Edge *does* take over from the old guard, I will consider him to be on their level. At the moment, he’s just another pretender. Hopefully HHH and HBK can stand to let him overtake them in the grand scheme of things, for the greater good and all that, but the fact that they blotted out Cena and Edge on the Vengeance poster with a DX sign says plenty about how the next few months will go, for Edge in particular. Perhaps he can sustain his momentum beyond the summer. Perhaps he can challenge a face Triple H for the belt at WM23 and win. Perhaps not. Perhaps I just realised that I missed Space Camp on the telly this morning. Bugger.

ANTIPULSE: Not when the best full-time, healthy, active and viable wrestler in WWE, Shelton Benjamin, has not been progressed at all in the past year and will continue to be squandered until the cows come home. Have The Coach be his mouthpiece by all means, but even if they do manage to ape the nonchalant/irritating tandem of RVD/Fonzie from back in the day, the company still won’t get behind them as anything more than Jericho-level career also-rans.

STEVE: So, he gets to be Unified World Champion, beating The Rock and Austin on the same night? Wow – I hope he doesn’t end up crying himself to sleep after that travesty. Not everybody gets to be Hogan – there are less than a dozen true immortals who have trascended wrestling itself, and there are thousands upon thousands of wanna-bes that never even get a sniff of the WWE. I can think of worse outcomes than a Jericho- or Benoit-level career for a guy who’s amazing in the ring but just can’t cut a good promo.

IAIN: I’m not naive enough to expect everybody to reach Hogan’s level. I hope you’re not naive enough to think that Jericho’s title reign actually mattered. The main point here was Benjamin’s lack of progression. I’d love it if things were different for him by this time next year.

STEVE: Well, compare and contrast Jericho’s time in WCW with his run in WWE: in the latter, he spent 5 or 6 years as a serious contender for the heavyweight title, and got to carry the belt for a bit. Did it “matter”? Well, I certainly think it was better for him than never winning the belt at all.

IAIN: If only they had gone ahead and given him the belt in 2000 instead. Ah, well.

ANTIPULSE: Not when Matt Hardy goes from zero to hero to zero in the space of a year, meaning that we’ll have to listen to him rant on about this Edge/Lita “will… not… die” crap in every single interview he does for the rest of his life.

STEVE: Trust me – he’s still no zero. I’ve seen his entrance in person as recently as two months ago, when he was rotating tag partners in and out in a feud with MNM: his crowd reaction is in the top 3 of the Smackdown brand. The crowd absolutely loves this guy. True, he doesn’t have much going on right now, but he will eventually.

IAIN: If there is any realistic reason to believe that Matt Hardy will ever have anything substantial going on in WWE ever again then, please, let me know. And don’t use the crowd as an example. Refer to my Eugene comment up above to see how much they matter in this instance.

STEVE: I’ve already covered why I think the audience has to be considered, so no need to get back into that again.

ANTIPULSE: Not when people are now taking thumbtacks and barbed-wire baseball bats as bog-standard weapons to use during a match. Perhaps in ten year’s time we’ll have to progress to hyperdermic needles and sawn-off shotguns.

STEVE: Well, yes – they are standard: in hardcore and weapons matches. And they have been for 10+ years now. The only person with a barbed-wire bat is Foley, and the thumbtacks came from Foley, and Christian at Sacrifice. Two guys using them, in two different organizations, is hardly a “trend”. In fact, they’re much LESS common than they were in the heydey of ECW and the WWE’s Hardcore title.

IAIN: Once upon a time it was rare to use a chair. Now they’re too passe, so more dangerous weapons have come about. Hell, Abyss uses thumbtacks more often than he uses soap. So what will the future bring? Is it a positive to gradually introduce more and more outlandish violence to wrestling? Is this some sort of Charlton Heston thing?

STEVE: But you’re ignoring my point: the high point of violence was in ECW and during the Attitude era in WWE. There are less tables, ladders and chairs used now then there were as recently as 5 years ago. Yes, it’s certainly more than 10-15 years ago – but that’s because the industry changed, and it’s most likely never going back to 1994 again. So to argue about a constant gradual increase is counter to the evidence that we actually see in front of us.

IAIN: Well even if there are fewer weapons used right now, the ones that do still turn up seem to be treated with more nonchalance by the audience than they previously were. I was just thinking about how certain wrestlers and promoters might want to continue raising the bar in order to try and jolt the audience into reacting (and the same goes for the women’s outfits too).

ANTIPULSE: Not when there is no reason not to believe that whenever TNA finally gets around to having Joe kill Jarrett for the ‘proper’ title that they won’t f*ck it up in grander fashion than WCW f*cked up Sting/Hogan. Expect Joe to get a cheap victory following some kind of interference backfiring, promptly lose the title back to him after being pinned cleanly, spend a few months chasing him for the title, and then getting lost in the shuffle when the latest new signing turns up and jumps the queue (no matter how old they may actually be). Just ask Raven, Monty, Rhino, Killings, Styles, Abyss and in due time Christian about the benefits package of contracted work on the boggy surface of Planet Jarrett.

STEVE: Once again: complaining about something that hasn’t come to pass yet. Honestly, this wouldn’t be so annoying if the people who made these kind of prediction/judgment/complaining combos would take the time to admit later on if they were totally WRONG on any of these: but you know as well as I that it won’t happen.

IAIN: You’re focusing on the ‘complaining about the future’ part again but, really, so what? Why is it wrong to look at the past to try and determine what’s most likely to happen in the future? Besides, the main point was about the way Jarrett has been presented on-air in TNA and not what his feud with Joe will be like. How can they be the new face of professional wrestling when their entire roster is subjected to Mister “With My Baby Tonight”? As a worker, I actually rate Jarrett higher than most do. However, he must surely begin to realise that he needs to change his status now.

ANTIPULSE: Not when Carlito is nothing but a haircut.

STEVE: Oh, please. He’s a natural on the mic, and the guy was pulling out a new move in the ring every week for over a month on Raw. My opinion of Carlito has done a complete 180 in just the past 3 months, because he’s obviously putting in an effort to get better. The guy attacked a mentally-handicapped wrestler from behind — and got CHEERED. That doesn’t tell you anything?

IAIN: It tells me that some of the audience might just be okay after all (and I bet you the guys cheering that were the same ones jeering Cena). I agree that Carlito has improved in the past few months, which I have mentioned in my column many times. However, it is going to be hard to get people to take him seriously. Maybe he can manage it, maybe he can’t. Maybe he won’t even get the chance because they can’t see past the haircut. Maybe that glass is just plain empty. Bottom line – they need new stars that are ready to step up to the next level and are allowed to do so.

ANTIPULSE: Not when so many people still cling to the myth of the cyclical nature of the business. Let’s look at things since the dawn of the PPV age, since any business models before then were an entirely different kettle of fish. Things progressed quite nicely through the boom of Rock & Wrestling, with the NWA managing to flourish briefly too due to new technology allowing them to reach an audience that just wanted some wrestling and usually found it difficult to get the product. Then that phase passed, the WWF tried very
hard to regenerate it yet did not update it enough to grow alongside the audience, while WCW just flat-out wanted to copy it and learned all about diminishing returns. The post-grunge, post-Playstation, post-Lollapalooza days had moved pop culture on in a loud enough manner to make even wrestling promoters pay attention and, via ECW, they took a walk on the wild side to pander to the bad guys for a change. The new world order that was established made a lot of money yet eventually the bubble burst. This was mainly due to complacency, even among the audience since viewing figures have levelled off at a fairly respectable mark, all things considered, with little chance for growth or shrinkage in sight. Sticking your fingers in your ears, closing your eyes and yodelling about the “cyclical nature of the business” in an out-of-tune voice is essentially admitting the defeat of imagination. So why do so many of them seem happy enough to do this?

STEVE: It’s not cyclical: it’s just a simple fact that wrestling gets big when the right talent comes along. The first big boom was due to Hogan’s charisma and Piper’s ability to be a heel; the second was due to Austin and the Rock both peaking at the same time, and bringing everyone else along with them. And remember: all three of these guys were in the business for years and years, in decent but not great careers, when their popularity suddenly exploded. Look around the WWE: do you see anybody out there with that kind of potential? Maybe not: but did you ever look at Stunning Steve Austin in his Hollywood Blondes days, and think to yourself, “Someday, that guy is going to become the biggest name in the wrestling world”? I know *I* didn’t.

IAIN: Right, so you agree with this point?

STEVE: Hmm – I guess I do. The only difference is that while reading your original paragraph, I got the feeling that you were saying it’s possible the business will never have an “upswing” again. However, I feel it’s basically inevitable – it’s just that no one can predict when and how it might happen. (Semantics? Maybe, maybe not.)

IAIN: I can’t see it *never* having an upswing, but I don’t see it as inevitable either. An increase in business requires a shitload of work, plenty of trial and error, and just the right amount of good luck to boot. The people that say the business is just cyclical and it will all somehow get better again someday are just being lazy. If they want it to be better, then go and make it better. That’s all.

STEVE: Well, we could argue the definition of “inevitable”, but that seems rather silly. You make an excellent point, though: doing nothing and just waiting for the industry to rise to its previous levels all on its own is indeed foolish.

ANTIPULSE: Not when I haven’t the spare funds to go and start collecting the Ring of Honour DVDs, where I could safely avoid these things I hate and start to reconnect with those things I once loved.

STEVE: So, wait – it’s the wrestling industry’s fault that you’re not flush with cash? (yeah – j/k)

IAIN: I probably could buy them, but then I’d not be able to buy beer… or I’d buy them and beer and just not pay council tax and get the sheriffs chasing me again… grr…

STEVE: Well, if it’s a choice involving beer – ya gotta have priorities. If I try to go through an entire Monday evening without Guiness and single malt, I get the shakes.

IAIN: Wow, that’s an impressive drink for an American 🙂

STEVE: HA! Actually, I don’t mix those two – but I do usually throw a shot of Jameson into a pint of Guinness. Single malt I drink all by its lonesome, with just some water. (If I did any differently, they’d take away my membership in the Scotch Malt Whisky Society).