The Common Denominator – How About a Nice, Long Feud? (Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Lord Tensai, Chris Jericho, Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat)

Hello again, and thanks to all of those who got involved in the discussion generated from last week’s “Religion in Wrestling” column. The funny thing is, as much as I ridiculed the industry for never being able to create a straight (not played for laughs or cheap heat) character with religious overtones, I kept thinking of “great” religious characters just waiting to be used, like…

Hank “The Hebrew Hammer” Hedberg (Quadruple H?)
Jacob Cohen (overtly Jewish, finishing move “Jacob’s Ladder”)
Asian tag-team – Yin and Yang (with opposite color-schemed outfits)
The Four Horsemen (No, not THOSE Four Horsemen. Masked guys: War, Famine, Pestilence and Death…or whatever they are)
Johnny Nirvana – A Buddhist monk-type who goes from peaceful and serene to a full-on ass-kicker when the bell rings (kind of like Festus’ old gimmick)
Ezekiel the Plowboy – An Amish Giant!
And one I posted in the comments last week…
Lemuel David Smith (LDS) – A Mormon always looking for new “wives”

Okay, so enough of that…

Random encounter of the week…I’ve mentioned before that I live in the same city as Sid Vicious (the wrestler, not the deceased Sex Pistol). It’s a pretty small town of 20,000 or so just across the Mississippi River from Memphis. So, I’m walking into Wal-Mart last Saturday and I notice this big ol’ dude with a 90s-era perm in front of me walking with some big-breasted lady who’s probably young enough to be (but probably not) his daughter. Yep, it’s Sid…what’s funny is that it was unseasonably cold and Sid was wearing shorts. I didn’t notice this on my own. As we were walking in, he turned to his lady friend and said, “I should have put on some jeans. My nuts is getting cold.”

Sid Rules!

So Brock Lesnar made his much-heralded return to the WWE earlier this month, and immediately targeted the “face of the WWE,” John Cena. In fact, at the very next pay-per-view, Lesnar and Cena will face off in an “Extreme Rules” match.

Well, that was quick.

This had me thinking about the first time Lesnar debuted in the WWE. I may be getting some of the specifics wrong, but basically he did a run-in and attacked Matt and Jeff Hardy. He feuded with them for a few weeks and then moved on, eventually working his way through the ranks. A few months later he won the King of the Ring tournament. He continued working his way up until winning the WWE title from The Rock at SummerSlam. He feuded with Hulk Hogan, Undertaker and Big Show (who won the title, giving Brock his first loss), turned face and then had his WrestleMania Moment, beating Kurt Angle to regain the belt after a shooting star press that could have gone better. And thus Lesnar went from debuting to being a superstar over the course of several months.

This time around, Lesnar was immediately injected into a Main Event feud with the top guy in the company. Now, it is definitely arguable that Lesnar’s previous run with the company and his further stardom in the UFC makes him worthy of his status now that he’s back, but why not get some mileage out of his return?

Couldn’t he be made to “earn” a shot at Cena, or even the WWE Champion, for that matter? I know he’s working a limited schedule, but couldn’t he have come in and destroyed some mow-level guy, then had a pay-per-view match with Mark Henry or Randy Orton or Kane, then get his hands on Cena at SummerSlam. He could then move on to the WWE title (against Punk or whoever) at Survivor Series.

The same thing happened to a lesser degree with the return of Lord Tensai/Albert. They started out right, feeding him jobbers, then suddenly he’s pinning John Cena on Raw in a throwaway match. I get that the win should, at least in theory, give him some credibility, but I don’t know if anyone cares enough about the character yet for that to help (and here lately, who HASN’T beaten Cena?).

I know I’m not the first person to touch on this subject, but can’t we just slow things down a little? I suppose it’s fine when established guys like Jericho come back and get thrown into the main event mix right away, but wouldn’t it be better for the rest of the roster if that didn’t happen. I know Wade Barrett is hurt right now, but if he wasn’t, what if he came out and interrupted Lesnar (who was and is going to get cheered) as Brock came out for his big return? Barrett gets a high-profile feud and even if Lesnar comes out on top, which he should, Barrett’s been elevated by at least hanging with Brock. You could use Del Rio here, too, or Cody Rhodes…in fact, Cody could definitely have been used here.

The same thing with Jericho. When he came back, he jumped right into the WWE title scene. If they’re serious about elevating someone, like Kofi or Zack Ryder, or whoever, why not let Y2J work a program with one of them, and put them over. You know Jericho has moved into that Ric Flair-like realm of perpetually over no matter how many times he loses. It really just seems like a lot of wasted potential.
I don’t mean to harp on how much better it used to be, ‘cause believe me I realize you had to sift through a lot of crap to be fully entertained by wrestling shows in the 80s and 90s. I mean for every Savage-Steamboat, there are 100 Larry Zbyszko-Buck Zumhoffe matches from my childhood. But I think the WWE could take more than a pay-per-view cycle of shows to build programs and still hold our attention.

By the time I was “smart” enough to get how a lot of things worked in pro wrestling, the WWF had established the “Big 4″ pay-per-views. The NWA was getting there (sort of), but let’s focus on the company that still exists. You had in “logical” order: SummerSlam, the Survivor Series, the Royal Rumble and finally, the big blow-off at WrestleMania. Then the next several months would be used to build up new programs for the next SummerSlam (lather, rinse, repeat). Now, of course not every feud went for a year, but there was time to position everyone on the roster, take time getting them where you wanted them to be, and build toward a resolution. I could very well be giving someone more credit than they deserve here, but storylines seemed to be pretty well timed and given a chance to develop, especially compared to today’s situation where it seems like every other pay-per-view has an air of “hey, there’s a ppv in two weeks…do we have anything besides a main event planned?” to it.

I’ve heard the whole “reduced attention span” argument before, and I guess there is some truth to it, but we as viewers still manage to follow months-long storylines on other TV shows. I haven’t given up on “Fringe” or “Game of Thrones” (or “Glee”) because everything doesn’t get resolved by the end of the episode. I mentioned Steamboat-Savage earlier. That program was nearly flawless in its execution and lasted like eight months. Also, it consisted of exactly TWO matches – the Saturday Night’s Main Event match where Savage used the ring bell on Ricky’s throat to set up the angle and the Wrestlemania III blow-off where Steamboat got his revenge. And never mind that the ‘Mania match was a 5-star classic. It could have been an exact replica of the Sheamus-Bryan match or a complete suck-fest, as long as Steamboat got the win, everyone was satisfied. The key there was stretching the story out. Steamboat was off TV for a while being “injured,” Savage had a surrogate feud with George “The Animal” Steele, during which Steamboat made a surprise out-of-the-ring return, and drama was built, with Savage looking like an unbeatable super-dick heel, while plucky underdog Steamboat plotted his revenge.

So, how about this? If the WWE wants to keep their regular monthly ppv schedule, that’s fine. But for the sake of building storylines, why not treat them like a place to end short-term feuds and have showcase matches. There was a WWF ppv back in the day where Bret Hart defended the title against The Patriot. It wasn’t the main event, and it wasn’t part of a major storyline. It was just a WWF title match. Let’s have some of those. The champ is traditionally supposed to have to defend a title every 30 days, so do that. Have a list of contenders or hold some kind of match for a title shot, and then build your major storylines and angles around the Big 4 ppvs. Use the minor pay-per-views to showcase the secondary titles, give the “workers” a 20-minute slot to cut loose without the constraints of TV time or commercials, and pay off minor undercard angles.

Here’s another WMIII match that was the blow-off to a feud that was nearly a year in the making and had exactly ZERO one-on-one matches leading up to it. Roddy Piper had been gone off to Hollywood to make either “Body Slam” or “They Live,” I forget which. Anyway, in his absence, Vince gave Adrian Adonis his “Adorable” gimmick and replaced “Piper’s Pit” with “The Flower Shop.” Once Piper came back, all hell broke loose and Piper destroyed the Shop’s set. In return, Adonis attacked Piper and covered him in make-up. The war of words and confrontations eventually led to Piper vs. Adonis in a “Hair Match” at WMIII. Not only did the face go over in convincing fashion, in a way I won’t get into here, it helped Brutus Beefcake’s face-turn, gave him his “Barber” gimmick, gave him an instant feud and put him on the road to semi-main-event stardom.

Now, that’s how you “do” a feud. Anyway, thanks for reading.

 

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