The first episode of ECW on SciFi was largely considered a huge failure, but one week later most everyone agreed the show was much better. Why did popular opinion so drastically improve? Did they eliminate the over-the-top science fiction elements? No. Kevin “Seven/Mordecai” Fertig made another appearance as a Vampire, and they added a Tarot Card Reader. Did they cancel the wanna-be stripper/exhibitionist who can’t take her clothes off? No. She was featured prominently. Did they focus solely on ECW talent? No. The main even featured Randy Orton and Edge from RAW vs. RVD and Kurt Angle, the two recent ECW acquisitions who have spent years on WWE programming until about 2 weeks ago. So what was the improvement? One word: WRESTLING.
TODAY’S ISSUE: The name of the game.
The key difference between ECW’s two shows was simple: week two featured mostly solid (or at least entertaining-enough) wrestling action. At the end of the day the majority of wrestling fans tune in to watch this unique form of choreographed, simulated combat. We tune in to see who has the better moves, who’s punches look more real, who can execute the most devastating suplexes and throws. We want death-defying aerial attacks, vicious strikes, crippling submission moves, and signature maneuvers like Petey Williams’ Canadian Destroyer. We want to see two opponents working together, busting their asses to entertain us. We want to cheer the guys we like and boo the ones we hate. We want to be drawn in to the action due to strong selling, beat-downs, hot-tags, and big babyface comebacks.
Bottom line: I watch professional wrestling shows in order to see wrestling. Imaging if you were to plunk down your sawbuck for the new Superman Returns, only to find two short scenes with the big guy in red cape flying around and fighting Lex Luthor. Wouldn’t you feel cheated? That’s the same way I feel when I watch a two-hour wrestling show with the majority of the time spent on bad comedy, cross-dressers, divas throwing junior-high insults back and forth, stale interviews and promo segments, and every other flavor of meaningless backstage crap they come up with.
As for storyline development or angles, give me enough reason for the match to mean something, then get the writers out of the way and let the performers take over. Everything that happens outside the ring should be done in order to provide context to the combat. It should be done to make the fans think, “Man, I can’t wait to see what happens when these two get in the ring!”
But in Vince McMahon’s realm of “sportz entertainment”, the prime motivation behind events and character activities is to entertain the most important person Vince caters to: Vince himself. McMahon does things that he finds funny, sexy, or entertaining, with no regard for what his paying customers might want to see. He gets his steroid-shrunken rocks off on using his authority to make large, muscular men do embarrassing things on national television. Wrestlers who want to work on the big stage have no choice but to do what Vince wants. The only option is to quit and work for the much smaller, lower-paying Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, before a much smaller audience.
During the infamous “Billy and Chuck” storyline, Vince only wanted to make a couple of heavily muscled men pretend to be gay lovers. That’s it. I don’t think he thought things out any further. In point of fact, Monty Sopp and Chuck Palumbo were not the first team Vince tried this type of angle with. They were, however, the only ones to take it so far. The “love affair” between Billy and Chuck garnered national media coverage, and a pro-gay and lesbian group actual presented them with a gift on a TV talk show (a gravy boat, if I remember correctly). McMahon was loving it, no doubt. With such widespread media coverage, and a real pipeline into the mainstream, how did WWE take advantage of the situation? How did Vince craft this delicate and revolutionary storyline?
In a televised same-sex union ceremony, complete with men singing “It’s Raining Men”, pink carpet, and Rico the flaming stylist, Vince made Billy Gunn nervously back out at the very last second, admitting that the whole thing was a publicity stunt, and that both men were actually straight. You can imagine that for all the theatrics, and the heat Vince brought on his company from GLAAD and other organizations, he must have planned an enormous payoff in the form of a big money match. Otherwise, pissing off so many people would be a terrible business decision.
Do you remember the big showdown this match resulted in? No, you don’t. That’s because the match that came out of all this chaos was nothing more than a plot device in the feud between RAW General Manager Eric Bischoff and SmackDown! General Manager Stephanie McMahon. Probably the most important result of the battle at Unforgiven ’02 between Bischoff’s hired guns the Three Minute Warning and Billy and Chuck was that by being on the losing side, Stephanie was now contractually obligated to participate in “Hot Lesbian Action” for our viewing pleasure. And truthfully, there was no better way for Vince to recover from a gay-bashing angle then by forcing his own daughter to bump and grind with a skanky stripper in the middle of a wrestling ring, on national television.
Completing the circle, the “lesbian” Bischoff selected for Stephanie to get all hot with was a large Samoan man (Rikishi) in drag, who of course shoved his gigantic ass in Bischoff’s face. See how it all rhymes? You can predict the next five years of WWE action with reasonable certainty, as long as you mention that men’s asses will somehow come into play. Now THAT’S entertainment, eh Vince? Just try to tell me he’s NOT gay. McMahon must be bisexual, at the very least.
Speaking of asses, how many did we see on the June 19th episode of RAW? DX “decorated” Vince’s office with a few photos of Vince’s exposed buttocks, the Coach had his backside exposed to reveal him wearing a ridiculous thong, and the midget Spirit Squad got to drop their pants and show the phrase “suck it” painted on their tiny booties. Who had the privilege of painting those little keisters? That should certainly earn the production crew a bonus…
As I’ve written before, fans like me endure hours of juvenile, useless, unfunny, unoriginal, insulting garbage to get to the next great match. It takes a solid, entertaining feud like Michaels/Angle to wipe away the grime of the “Kiss My Ass Club” or “Big Show’s Explosive Diarrhea”.
The legendary feuds in professional wrestling’s long and storied history were always about two opponents wanting to defeat each other, to be the better man, or to be called champion. Even in the modern era, where storylines dominated the product, the best feuds have always featured great in-ring action with simple, understandable reasons to fight.
Ric Flair never stole Ricky Steamboat’s child. Mick Foley and Terry Funk never pretended to be gay. Sting didn’t chase Hogan for 17 months to force Hollywood to kiss his ass. Stone Cold Steve Austin didn’t hold a dark secret from the Rock’s past. The Freebirds and the Von Erichs never battled over a turkey, a bottle of viagra, or a piÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â±ata. Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels weren’t aligned with or afraid of a Boogeyman, nor did they have any midgets hiding under the ring.
As DX might say, We’ve got just four words for ya’: SHUT UP AND WRESTLE!
Check out a new column here on InsidePulse: The Acute Angle by Ted VanHouten IV.
How did the staff do with our Vengeance predictions? Find out: Rasslin’ Roundtable.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.
p.s. – Why is “brazier” singular but “panties” is plural?