Welcome to week 57.
First, let me apologize for being a few hours late with this weekâ€™s column. I just got off my cruise this morning and figured it was only fair that I attempt to watch RAW and ECW before I write this weekâ€™s entry. You know, itâ€™s a funny thing about going away on a cruise because youâ€™re kind of cut off from the entire world. No phones. No internet. No television. All youâ€™ve got is CNN International and old people drinking watered down mixed drinks while listening to the 20th rendition of â€œRed, Red Wineâ€ that hour. Seriously, if you get the chance to go on a cruise, take the money and spend it on drugs. At least with the drugs youâ€™ll have a few hours of fun.
I kid, I kid. I had a great time, enjoyed cheap alcohol and blew whatever money I saved in the casino. But on the plus sideâ€¦no law school. The semesterâ€™s over so now itâ€™s a nice quiet summer of working as some attorneyâ€™s bitch and drinking until I forget what I do for a living.
Oh yeah, and turning in columns (maybe even on time).
Alright, enough of this, letâ€™s get down to business.
For Your Considerationâ€¦Anything Can Happen in the WWE
Remember when that phrase used to mean something? Sure, it used to have an F at the end of it the last time it did, but sure enough there wasnâ€™t a truer saying in pro wrestling. Vince honestly believed years ago that throwing curve balls at the audience was going to generate viewership. Of course, some of those curve balls were courtesy of Abe Knuckleball Schwartz, but letâ€™s not go there, okay?
Vinceâ€™s theory of shock the audience was very much akin to Eric Bischoffâ€™s theory of shock the audience. Both companies believed that jaw-dropping moments were the key to ratings success. Now, years after the Monday Night Wars, the surprises are few and far between. The WWE doesnâ€™t need to rely on those shocking moments to pop the ratings, because thereâ€™s no flipping anymore. At least not among wrestling fans. In the 90s it was necessary for the WWE and WCW to fight tooth and nail to get viewers, and to paraphrase the abysmal â€œThe Fast and the Furiousâ€, â€œI live my life a quarter-hour at a time.â€
The best part about being a smart fan during those days were the ratings breakdowns. I remember going to the dirt sheets the day after the RAW/Nitro head-to-head to see just who won and by how much. And the ratings were a tell-tale sign of what gimmicks were working and what gimmicks werenâ€™t. On RAW there was Bret Hart versus Faarooq, while on Nitro it was La Parka versus Rick Steiner. Quarter-hour to RAW. Then on RAW it was The Smokinâ€™ Gunns versus the Blu Brothers going against Nitroâ€™s nWo love-fest. Quarter-hour to Nitro. The flipping phenomenon lead people to call their buddies to tell them what they were missing out on, whether it was a great match or another in an endless stream of nWo promos. Out of this phenomenon came the notion to surprise the audience. Think youâ€™re just watching a Mean Mike Enos match? Well here comes Scott Hall. Believe youâ€™re stuck with a Brian Christopher versus Mideon bout? Cue Steve Austin.
While the surprises got that initial jolt from the audience, it went the way of heroin. A little bit got a big reaction the first time, but by the 20th time you either needed more surprises or one big surprise a night. In fact, segments without surprises just didnâ€™t have the same feel. We demanded a new nWo member every week damnit! We wanted Steve Austin in every segment, not just one and eleven! We, ladies and gentlemen, are who killed linear storytelling in wrestling.
Now, over the past few weeks, Iâ€™ve noticed something on WWE programming. It started off very subtly and has begun to build to the point where-dare I say it-anything can happen in the WWE. That anything? Logical, almost linear storytelling. To quote Tony Schiavone, â€œWhat a swerve! Thatâ€™s no in my programming sheet! Itâ€™s almost like a qualifying match!â€ (You see, kids, Tony Schiavone was a hack of an announcer who makes Mike Adamley look like Joey Styles and he tended to announce loudly whenever we were â€˜swervedâ€™ or misdirected, he would then let us know that what was happening in the ring was not in the script because wrestling was fake but what was happening at that exact minute was real DAMNIT, and lastly he onetime blurted out that something sounded like a qualifying match when-in fact-it was actually a qualifying match.)
In all seriousness, the WWE seems to have stumbled into what can only be called longterm booking. Granted, this isnâ€™t riveting stuff that will change wrestling forever, but itâ€™s oddly refreshing to see storylines that make sense. Look at Judgment Day 2008; almost every match on the card has a storyline that has extended at least to Wrestlemania.
Triple H/Randy Orton: This was the match that probably should have headlined Wrestlemania (and would have had John Cena not wellness policied himself back onto the card) and is now finally going to headline a PPV. Unfortunately itâ€™s Judgment Day, but what the hell do we care? Itâ€™s Hunter in a cage so you know itâ€™s going to be at least mildly entertaining, and the insertion of a gimmick in the match (i.e. the big giant cage) means that Ortonâ€™s limited wrestling skill can be easily masked. This storyline started all the way back at No Mercy last year, with Hunter winning and losing the title several times over the course of a night. That show meant that inevitably we were going to see Orton/Hunter one-on-one again. Did we get it the next month? Nope. Not even in that calendar year. While Hunter made himself busy doing whatever the hell it was that he was doing for all those months, Orton entered insta-feuds with Jeff Hardy, Chris Jericho and John Cena. Now, finally, the WWE is going to give us the â€œlong-awaitedâ€ (by some, Iâ€™m guessing) one-on-one match between the two former Evolution members. The storyline with these guys started out simple enough, but the Wrestlemania wrinkle of Orton retaining tweaked the normally rote formula of â€œface loses then wins at Mania and gets a new heel foeâ€ that has dominated wrestling. Then, rather than give these guys a straight-up match at Backlash, we got the fatal 4-way. Why?
Well first off, it gave JBL his big main event match upon his return. You see, folks, JBL wanted to come back for three reasons; 1) get a Wrestlemania pay-day 2) get to work a main event title match and 3) get the hell away from Michael Cole and Smackdown for a while. By putting him in the Backlash main event, it made his long road to recovery worthwhile and let him take a slot at the top without wasting an entire PPV.
Second, it let John Cena be in the main event and not simply regurgitate the subpar triple threat match from Mania. Since Cenaâ€™s making this movie and not doing house shows, you canâ€™t exactly pack a crowd in Peoria without advertising the presence of the WWE Champion. This ainâ€™t the 80â€™s. Seeing Koko B. Ware and Mister Wonderful in the main event doesnâ€™t draw anymore no matter how many sequins you throw on them. By allowing Cena to appear in the match, it added another level of intrigue to the bout. Would Hunter win or would Cena win? Could the WWE double-swerve us and have Orton go over both guys? Madness, I say, madness!
Lastly, the four-way match allowed the WWE to give us Orton/Hunter in the end without sacrificing any other top tier talent. Four main eventers in one match means less guys they have to water down for the rest of the card and opens slots up for other superstars to work.
So, we get this straight-up match for the title. Mano-a-mano. The WWE has allowed both guys to get their licks in, and itâ€™s a match that actually has logical storytelling.
Best of all, it made use of the insanely entertaining William Regal powertrip storyline. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the single strongest piece of storytelling that the WWE has done in quite some time. They brought back King of the Ring to burn off a 3-hour slot that they promised USA and thankfully didnâ€™t waste on another useless draft. Instead, the WWE gave us an old-school Clash of the Champions feel, like we were getting a free pay-per-view. Then, in an odd piece of booking, William Regal was listed as a combatant. Rather than give the fans another dose of CM Punk and probably burn him out for good, they chose to let him make it to the finals and lose to the odd-man-out Regal. Did the WWE just do this to send yet another â€œmessageâ€ to Punk? Nope. They actually did this to bolster a storyline. In the course of one week, William Regal went from backstage GM prop like the Coach, Teddy Long, Stephanie McMahon, Eric Bischoff and Armando Estrada have been and instead made him a Vince McMahon who could actually work in the ring.
Regalâ€™s reign as GM has brought about some interesting and polarizing moments, but since his coronation as King, heâ€™s helped facilitate a Mister Kennedy face-turn, shone a spotlight onto the womenâ€™s division, turned the crowd pro-Cena and advanced the Orton/Hunter feud by making Randy look more like a sycophant. Now, that â€œsurpriseâ€ factor is back because in any segment, William (and that ridiculous haircut) can pop up and throw things in a tizzy. Take the Jeff Hardy segment, for instance. His interrupting Jeffâ€™s tired (and repetitive) mia culpa was brilliant and allowed the show to get back to some action for once. Having a central bad guy drunk with power works when that guy isnâ€™t Vince McMahon, but rather a guy who can out-promo most of the superstars and out-wrestle the rest. Plus heâ€™s Hunterâ€™s boy so theoretically he could be around for as long as Triple H is. Damn, thatâ€™s a long time.
The Cena/JBL feud is quite simple; JBL got knocked out of Backlash by Cena and wants revenge. But look deeper. JBL said he wants â€œhis damn torch back.â€ That torch was passed to John Cena at Wrestlemania 21, and JBLâ€™s actions and promos have been dynamite to build this thing up as anything more than just a placeholder match. Nope, we actually almost sorta maybe care thanks to logical, linear storytelling.
Jericho/Michaels stems all the way back to before Mania with the whole Shawn/Flair storyline. When that match culminated, it opened the door for Michaels/Batista, which quickly became Michaels/Batista/Jericho. This feud has finally given Chris Jericho something to do since heâ€™s been treading water since January (as I predicted he would last year), and their match this Sunday will hopefully be as good as Wrestlemania XIX. Again, masterful, longterm storytelling between two guys who are golden on the stick and in the ring. It really isnâ€™t that hard (thatâ€™s what she said).
Edge/Taker is something Iâ€™ll save for the Roundtable because I donâ€™t wanna get into Smackdown spoilers, but all I will say is that this feud started late last year and the WWE has done a brilliant job bringing up their history and even using lame sports entertainment booking to enhance this story. Why? Because it contained (say it with me now) logical, linear storytelling.
Agree? Disagree? Bored at work? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.
This has been for your consideration.