Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic

With World Wrestling Entertainment running more than one pay-per-view show each month (now including ECW shows), and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling promoting monthly shows as well, wrestling fans could spend a lot of money on 25-30 of these “special” shows in any given year. What do the companies offer at these shows that’s worth $30 or $40, and is so much better than their regular weekly broadcasts?

TODAY’S ISSUE: A look at Pay-Per-View

Sometimes the allure of the pay-per-view card is about an important match, a rare meeting of two big-name stars who haven’t wrestled each other much before (if ever). The mere fact that these two grapplers are locking horns makes for a unique attraction, and entices fans to buy the show, just to see it happen live.

Loath as I am to admit it, the Orange Goblin has been featured in many of the epic battles in the history of the business. Here are a few such notable matches.

BIG MATCHES:

Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant, WWF WrestleMania III

Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior, WWF WrestleMania VI

Bret the Hitman Hart vs. Shawn Michaels, WWF WrestleMania XII (Iron-Man Match)

Hulk Hogan vs. Sting, WCW Starrcade 1997

Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock, WWF WrestleMania XVIII

Hulk Hogan vs. Shawn Michaels, WWE SummerSlam 2005

For many of the above matches, the rareness of the two men facing each other (especially in the case of Hogan/Andre and Hogan/Warrior) was easy to accomplish. A top name like Hogan could get through an entire year with only one major feud. He’d win weekly or bi-weekly squashes for the television product, then battle his current nemesis in all sorts of ways (tag team matches, stable-mates, et cetera) without wasting the blow-off match until the WWF was ready to put the feud to bed. Therefore, there were many big-time grapplers that never faced each other at that time.

In the case of Ric Flair and the NWA, it was even easier. All he had to do was travel from town to town, facing the biggest names in the local promotions, and use the same tried-and-true formula of making the local hero look great against the world champion in a few matches, then narrowly escape the region with his title belt barely intact.

But in this modern era, the regular weekly product almost always features well-known wrestlers facing each other in the ring, and squashes against jobbers are far more rare. That means that all the top draws have battled all the other top draws, and most mid-carders have wrestled all the other mid-carders on every roster.

So the pay-per-view sales pitch of “For the First Time Ever” is not readily available. The Angle vs. Michaels feud was one of the few “never before” match-ups WWE had to offer, and now it’s gone just like that.

When you think about the fact that between WWE and TNA there are now six hours of original wrestling television shows each week competing against prime-time powerhouses, they can’t afford not to deliver quality matches. The obvious drawback is that there are very few match-ups we fans have never seen in the bag for ppv cards. TNA especially suffers from this symptom, since many of their pay-per-views feature matches we’ve seen over and over again, and with the size of their roster, it’s difficult to keep wrestlers apart for long. After all, they can’t bring in Jushin “Thunder” Liger every month.

At least WWE can attempt the illusion of inter-promotional matches between RAW, SmackDown!, and ECW wrestlers. They claim an event is special in that way, but since the roster split the lines between these three “brands” have become so blurred that it really doesn’t seem like anything other than WWE versus WWE. A performer like Chris Benoit, for example, was assigned to the RAW and SmackDown! rosters several different times, and in the real world he once wrestled for ECW as well.

Then what else can promoters do other than highlighting fresh matches, to snare your ppv dollar? How about special events?

One thing I enjoy about some ppv shows is the chance to witness a rare happening. Some well-known matches carry (or used to carry) an entire pay-per-view card based on the special events themselves, such as the Royal Rumble, the King of the Ring, World War 3, and the Survivor Series. These shows presented matches outside the norm, which often carried monumental stipulations. A few of my favorite unique events are listed below.

SPECIAL EVENTS:

War Games, the match beyond

The Ultimate X match

The Royal Rumble match

Survivor Series elimination tag team matches

The World War 3 match

The King of the Ring tournament

The King of the Mountain match

The Elimination Chamber match

These types of matches are only effective in small doses, or else the company risks overexposing the match, therefore destroying the unique rareness and spectacle of the event. So promoters must use them sparingly.

A third choice wrestling companies have when attempting to convince you to purchase a ppv card is a hook, such as a special celebrity guest, a returning fan favorite gone from a long absence, or the debut of a well-known performer who is joining their roster for the first time.

HOOKS:

Christian Cage’s debut in TNA at Genesis 2005 was one such hook. TNA fans were excited for the arrival of such a great performer, and Captain Charisma’s WWE fans thought for sure that by moving to the smaller organization, he would finally get the world title push we felt he deserved. And he did.

At WrestleMania XIV Mike Tyson was assigned as the “Special Enforcer” or second referee outside the ring for the main event featuring WWF Champion Shawn Michaels defending against Stone Cold Steve Austin. The fact that Tyson was a major media persona in 1998, coupled with his apparent allegiance to Michaels and his DX stable, ensured plenty of attention for the show and no doubt helped some folks decide to order it on pay-per-view.

But when they have no fresh marquee match-ups, they’re not due for a “special event”, and there’s no hook, there is one sure-fire way to please a pay-per-view audience. Put on a great show with the talent you already have in a straight-up wrestling contest. Let two competent athletes tell a story in the ring. Give them enough time to tear it up, and stay out of the way while they entertain us.

The opening match at the RAW-only ppv Backlash 2005 was Shelton Benjamin defending the Intercontinental Championship against Chris Jericho. While the match was neither unique (one fall to a finish) nor fresh (they had been feuding on-and-off for months since Benjamin defeated Y2J for the IC belt at Taboo Tuesday) it did live up to pay-per-view expectations. Benjamin and Jericho were given plenty of time to tell a story, therefore the match featured better psychology and more exciting action than a standard Monday Night RAW 10-minute contest. The near-falls sequence at the end was innovative and certainly not what you see on a normal cable broadcast. I watched this match for the first time on July 8th, 2006, and knew for a fact that Benjamin would retain his title. Yet, the two athletes were still able to draw me into the action, as I found myself on the edge of my seat, enjoying the drama of the match and hanging on every hold and counter-hold. THAT is what pay-per-view quality action is all about.

Is pay-per-view worth it when it DOESN’T deliver a big match, a special event, a hook, or a killer contest like Benjamin vs. Jericho at Backlash 2005? E-mail me to let me know what you think.

Speaking of pay-per-view, check out Michael Fitzgerald’s review of WWF In Your House 15: A Cold Day in Hell, and PK’s Vengeance Report.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – Can you cry under water? If you did, would you be able to tell?