Professional Wrestling’s “creative departments” have been reaching into the past quite often lately, rather than coming up with new characters, new angles, or new ways to explain why two people or groups want to wrestle each other.
TODAY’S ISSUE: Everything old is… still old.
There are only so many reasonable, interesting justifications wrestling fans will accept in order to bring some purpose to the in-ring action. Some time-tested, classic examples include: career advancement (championships; slots in tournaments or important matches; non-title matches with reigning champions to move up the ladder), personal issues (team fights over manager/woman; family matters; “it’s your fault I/we lost the title”; racial tension; perceived differences in class or social standing; determining who’s better), and miscellaneous monster heels who just want to destroy everyone placed before them.
It’s not necessary for “creative” to come up with brand new reasons for people to fight. In fact, all they have to do is rearrange the wrestlers and the classic motivations in new combinations, and adjust slightly to fit an appropriate context in this day and age. The heel faction Evolution, for instance, was nothing more than one more homage to the legendary Four Horsemen. In fact, Ric Flair himself was the cornerstone of the Horsemen in the 1980s, so his membership in Evolution was quite an appropriate echo of his former stable. Because it WASN’T simply another group called the Four Horsemen, Evolution had it’s own flavor and identity, while still following a similar theme, as many other successful heel contingents have in the past.
By and large, this approach will work. It doesn’t take a creative genius to suggest putting one or two young lions together with established, proven commodities to form a new group. All you have to do is decide upon the correct group of guys, and let things flow naturally. I’m not expecting brilliance from these writing teams. I only ask that they let enough time pass before reusing a storyline or angle (I believe Jim Cornette’s rule of thumb is seven years), and ensure the guys mimicking the past be allowed to infuse sufficient amounts of their own personality to ensure things feel a little different.
Team Angle was another good copycat of the Four Horsemen philosophy who didn’t come across like imitators, but more like a team using a tried-and-true formula for success. Carlito is pretty close to a Razor Ramon knock-off, but his character has plenty of his own identity. Randy Orton is the same arrogant, cocky, cowardly heel wrestling fans have been seeing for years, but his “Legend Killer” deal was really working for him at one point, helping to establish his own unique style. Shelton Benjamin is blatantly copying the Rock’s look and attitude from around 1999, but for Benjamin, it’s a welcome addition of spice to his somewhat bland recipe. Umaga is, of course, every scary, aggressive, large foreigner who doesn’t speak much. Think of Kamala, The Islanders, The Headshrinkers, and Yokozuna. Trevor Murdoch is obviously a tip of the hat to “Captain Redneck” himself, Dick Murdoch.
For each of the above examples, enough time has gone by or enough adjustments have been made to ensure these characters are as close to original as they need to be. However, both WWE and TNA have recently re-introduced names and gimmicks from the past or featured older wrestlers in high profile storylines, even with younger, more agile, more athletic men on each active roster.
WWE’s blasts from the past include:
D-Generation X. The last time HBK and HHH were on the same side was at WrestleMania XIV in 1998. Since that time, their feud has been so violent and aggressive that in Michaels’ return to WWE action after a four-year hiatus following a severe back injury, Triple H attempted to confine HBK to a wheelchair by nailing him in the back with his signature sledgehammer. The two of them have traded championships and cost each other titles and title shots, and have brutally attacked each other all over the world. And now, simply because they both have problems with Vince McMahon and his personal task force, the Spirit Squad, Michaels and Helmsley are putting the band back together?
Consider how different the characters of Shawn Michaels and Triple H are today, compared to when they ran roughshod over the entire roster in 1997-1998. Shawn is supposed to be a born-again, God-fearing Christian, so sexual references and foul language should not be in his repertoire. Triple H is the Cerebral Assassin, the King of Kings, and a 10-time heavyweight champion. He’s not a second banana or European Champion anymore. What does either of the two gain at this stage of their careers by crotch-chopping and demanding people to “suck it”? The sophomoric antics of the original DX simply don’t fit their current personas. Plus, the last time it seemed DX was reunited, Triple H attacked Michaels from behind and inflamed their feud once more. It simply seems Michaels should be too smart, and too wary of Triple H to trust him yet again.
DX was a great counter-attack to WCW’s nWo, and it came at the exact right time to help move Vince McMahon’s company out of the cartoon era and into the infamous “WWF Attitude” era. Along with Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Rock, and a handful of others, DX shaped a new direction for WWE. That’s exactly the point: DX had their big run, and even returned to wear out their welcome during the McMahon/Helmsley Era.
ECW. If the very first edition of ECW on SciFi is any indication, then DX might have just two words for the New Breed Unleashed: bad idea. If Vince brought back the ECW name in order to capitalize on its still-hungry cult of die hard fans and allow performers like Kurt Angle to work a less demanding road schedule, and reprogram Big Show as a legitimate monster (after Vince himself destroyed Show’s chance to be taken seriously), while at the same time providing a somewhat smaller stage for some of his rookies to learn the business, then it might be a good idea. Instead, on ECW’s debut on SciFi, we were treated to Sandman caning the Zombie for three minutes, an exhibitionist who fumbled with her bra clasp like a nervous 15-year old boy in the back seat of his father’s car, and former ECW Champion Justin Credible being destroyed by Kurt Angle in less than two minutes.
I’m not suggesting Angle should have lost, but at least let a former world champion get in a little offense and last for 6-8 minutes. I don’t know who they think Angle will have interesting matches against in the new ECW. You have to build someone up to his level folks, otherwise, he’s just a squash machine, and that gets old quickly.
Speaking of squashes, did we really need to see the entire Tazz/Lawler match from the ppv? Perhaps that time could have been used to make Angle’s victory over Credible seem like an accomplishment, rather than a joke. Oh, and there was also a Vampire lurking outside the arena. Fun!
I can’t image guys like Balls Mahoney, Danny Doring, and Roadkill lighting a fire under the viewing audience, especially in summertime. Jazz and Trinity might be a good START to a legitimate women’s division, but they need at least four more competent female grapplers to dare think about featuring them even semi-fulltime. I will say RVD, Sabu, Sandman, Tommy Dreamer, and an occasionally un-retired Tazz could still be entertaining in the right combinations, but only if ECW starts featuring only two matches per show, and give them 15-20 minutes each. This would still give Vince plenty of time for his strippers and supernatural appearances, but it would allow ECW to gain a reputation as a wrestling promotion. Otherwise, it’s just another hour of the dreaded Sportz Entertainment each week on a different channel.
Too bad Vince didn’t get guys like Raven, the Dudleyz, and Rhino from TNA. Then it might start to resemble the Extreme days of yore.
WWE “Legends”. Rowdy Roddy Piper comes around once or twice a year, looking like crap, waddling on his artificial hips. His most recent appearance was hosting Piper’s Pit with the Great Khali as his guest. Any number of other announcing folks (Funaki, the Miz, Michael Cole, JBL, et cetera) could have taken that beat down from Khali in Piper’s place, and it didn’t exactly legitimize Khali to beat up an old man. Hell, he had just dominated the Undertaker and sent him packing! Nothing Hot Rod could have done would have served a higher purpose than Mean Mark Callous looking at the lights for Khali.
And will somebody, anybody, PLEASE get Hacksaw Jim Duggan off my television? If you can’t make him disappear, at least get him to wear a t-shirt or a singlet from now on. Jeez, he looks bad!
Ric Flair and Mick Foley are not technically members of the Legends Division, but they’ve both seen better days, and I am not expecting a 5-star classic out of them at Vengeance. It’s amazing to me that with so much young talent in pro wrestling, these two elder statesmen are being featured in a big feud. At this point, these two men would be far more valuable working with a younger wrestler, as Foley did with Edge recently, to give him the rub. Why pair them now, because of some shoot comments in their autobiographies?
IP’s own Iain Burnside summed it up quite nicely: “Other than that, we have a rematch from ECW’s last PPV and a Flair/Foley match based around comments they made on one another in their respective books. Even worse than assuming the audience has read both books and cares enough about their disagreement is the fact that their disagreement stems from events that happened in WCW over a decade ago.
TNA is just as guilty, attempting to recreate the old WCW:
Some of the top guys on TNA’s roster at the moment are Sting, Scott Steiner, Jeff Jarrett, and Kevin Nash. Wow. Doesn’t that combination add up to nWo Wolfpac 2000 or something? They also recently paraded out Lex Luger, Buff Bagwell, and Rick Steiner like creatures in a horror movie that you can’t quite kill, even when they should stay dead.
With guys like Samoa Joe, Styles, Daniels, Sabin, Williams, Shelley, and Dutt on the roster, I can’t image why TNA wants to live in the past, especially in a part of the past that wasn’t particularly entertaining, profitable, or fun for wrestling fans. I’ve written this many times before, TNA needs to let the X Division shine, not bury it like they did under Kevin Nash’s jackknife at Slammiversary. At least the way TNA is using Shane Douglas makes sense. That’s a great example of how to use a guy’s name and microphone skills to help get somebody younger over.
I’d never wish ill will on any pro wrestlers, but some of these old-timers need a knee injury or something that won’t ruin their quality of life, but will ensure they either stay out of the ring and in managerial roles, or simply stay away from the product all together.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.
p.s. – If the Professor on Gilligan’s Island can make a functioning radio out of a coconut, why can’t he fix a hole in a boat?