That Being Said: The WrestleMania Expedition – The Epilogue (The Rock, John Cena, & CM Punk)

Well, another WrestleMania has come and gone. Anyone familiar with my writing knows I don’t often place myself amongst the majority of wrestling fans on many things, but I think, for the most part, it’s pretty universally agreed that it didn’t deliver. I think Punk / Undertaker was a thing of beauty but there’s not much else that I’d ever care to see again.

And then, as it always does after WrestleMania, RAW happened. People seemed genuinely excited about RAW for many reasons, but when I read what happened, I couldn’t really figure out for what reason other than a crowd who seemed so put off by current WWE programming that felt they needed to take matters into their own hands. This has been discussed at length, but I applaud this sort of crowd – a live crowd (or rather a collection of live crowds) is one of the only true mechanisms that exist that could even potentially persuade WWE to change their creative direction as a whole. However, that mechanism exists in probably twenty different cities and possibly even other countries, over the course of just one  given month. Add to that the fact that this mechanism is broken up into as many fragments as however many people whatever arena they’re in can seat, and I really don’t see much of a reason to get excited over something like this. It will only matter if they actually manage to get a trend started among live crowds, and for that, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

I have difficulty seeing what else there is going on in WWE after WrestleMania to even get the least bit excited about. Mark Henry and Ryback struggled to make it onto the WrestleMania card in even a filler-match capacity, and that match made me question whether I had fallen into a Star Trek-style time loop. Now they’re in the main event against John Cena – that’s literally your main event. John Cena, Ryback and Mark Henry. And people are excited at the reaction Ryback got for attacking Cena? My old family dog could have gotten that reaction for peeing on Cena’s leg, and that dog has been dead for 6 years. I will admit that Dolph Ziggler’s World Heavyweight Title cash-in was fun to see, and whlie I don’t have the love affair with the guy that many seem to, you have to be excited for anyone who wins the title and gets that kind of reception.

But even that isn’t much of a change – and really, what else happened? Miz lost the Intercontinental Title that he’d won 24 hours earlier, which would be fine, because The Miz sucks, if it wasn’t for the fact that it was back to Wade Barrett, who sucks even worse. And I wouldn’t be surprised if this happened so Miz could go up the card, not down. That’s certainly not an imrpovement. Randy Orton, Shaemus and Big Show? I think the crowd from Monday pretty much illustrated the general public’s feelings on that developing into some sort of storyline.

Really, the only thing that would hold my interest at this point would be matches between Del Rio and Ziggler – and certainly not for any storyline sort of reason, which makes watching the buildup an exercise in wasting your time. I suppose The Shield going for Undertaker could be interesting, but again – with the way WWE storylines are going these days, what’s the incentive to watch anything leading up to the actual match when the storyline structure never changes?

So I really don’t see much reason to be excited. Remember last year? People were excited because John Cena lost his WrestleMania match to The Rock that he said he must win, which was surprising for some odd reason to a large number of people, and then on RAW he got dominated by a returning Brock Lesnar. The end of that RAW got people excited as well, and what did we get out of that? We got one match out of Brock that was impressive until the last two minutes where all that went down the toilet, followed by two matches that are widely regarded as dull, and those two matches ended with Triple H on top. That’s literally all we got out of something that excited people one year ago. Looking back, you have to wonder if we would have been better off if they just hadn’t bothered with Brock at all.

Whlie I didn’t think it would change anything big-picture-wise, the Brock thing was at least something that it made sense for people to cling on to and get excited about when hoping for change. What is there from RAW, or from WrestleMania for that matter?

 

These types of things really illustrate the lack of pattern recognition that some people seem to have with wrestling. And putting the issue of Brock aside for the moment, let’s look at the unknowns that WWE has brought up over the years. Almost every time one of them debuts, people get excited before they ever see them say a word or wrestle a match. Obviously, Fandango is the latest example of this – now, let it be known that I’ve never seen anything out of Johnny Curtis that I remember. I’ve seen the one match from him at WrestleMania that neither impressed nor offended me. So it may be quite possible that he is indeed very impressive. But many people got excited about Fandango before ever seeing him wrestle or save a word, and there was talk about how he was going to be a big star. Me, I thought “He’s a wrestler with a ballroom dancer gimmick who is concerned with the pronunciation of his name. Yeah, he’ll go far for sure.”

As I say, Fandango isn’t the best example because it’s still early for him and he can still shed the silly gimmick and have a chance to be taken seriously. But there have been countless examples of this type of thing from fans, going back as far as Ken Anderson. Former WWE Champion and Home-Beard-Dye-Kit-Cautionary-Tale Shaemus is obviously the most prominent example of this, and just to remind everyone, I thought Shaemus sucked after his first run, but didn’t really judge him by that – he was pushed too fast and he floundered. It was after the second run as a babyface started that I said it wouldn’t work out. (I was right, by the way.)  And look at the guy now – he couldn’t get arrested. No one gives a rat’s ass whether he’s on the show or not, after over a year of being pushed as unstoppable… hard… for over a year. Wade Barrett? The Miz? Are you fucking kidding me? How many times does something have to NOT work before people give up on a guy?

Guaranteed that sometime this year, the next guy to follow this pattern will emerge. Let’s call him… Shaemizgger Sandrettback (Shaemus, Miz, Ziggler, Sandow, Barrett, Ryback). Maybe we’ll get some vignettes, and then an interview, and people will start jumping to conclusions. Then he’ll have a match, and good or bad, people will be impressed and start talking about his future. If it’s horrible, they’ll talk about management being high on him despite not being strong in the ring because of his “connection with the fans” or some other such nonsense. I’ll tell everyone he blows, most people will disagree, and then 2 years from now he’ll be where Barrett or Miz is, which is basically floundering, or if they’re lucky, where Shaemus is – which is still floundering, just at a higher level.

MATT HARRAK: Hang on, Blair, back up.

AH!

HARRAK: What?

Sorry Matt, I guess… I guess I didn’t see you there. How did you get in here?

 

HARRAK: Well, I don’t see how you can judge Shaemizgger Sandrettback so harshly this early into his career.

What are you… I don’t… what?

HARRAK: It’s true. Open your eyes and look at the reactions he’s getting. He obviously has the connection with the crowd and the ring presence to be a huge star.

What is this. What are you doing.

HARRAK: I like character-based wrestlers, and that’s what he is. He’s exactly what they need. Shaemizgger Sandrettback is obviously going to be main-eventing WrestleMania one day.

Dude, he’s… he’s not real. I made him up as an example.

JAMES ALSOP: Blair, all that means is you haven’t seen him yet.

How the hell did you get in h… I haven’t seen him because he doesn’t exist.

ALSOP: Exactly. You can’t judge what you haven’t seen, and if it doesn’t exist, you obviously haven’t seen it.

HARRAK: He’s got you there, Blair. 

Okay, enough is enough. Guys, go get me a fucking Pepsi.

HARRAK: Sure! I used to work for Pepsi, so I know all about the right way to get someone a soft drink.

Yeah yeah. Try not to give the vending machine 5 stars while you’re at it.

 

Sorry about that. ANYWAY – Jonah Kue made this point some time ago, and I couldn’t agree with it more – I personally believe that it’s because people want change so badly in WWE that they’ll hitch their wagon to anyone who even has an outside chance of providing it, no matter how unlikely it may be. It’s a proclivity that seems to overwhelm logic, reason, and, as mentioned before, pattern recognition.

Ah, modern-day wrestling fans. I both sympathize with and envy you at the same time, because you do with WWE what I can’t do – live in hope.

And let’s not pretend that my opinion is some “IWC” or “smark” thing, either. The term “IWC” is so incredibly obselete that you end up looking like an idiot for using it. For a time, it used to refer to people who generally preferred smaller wrestlers and / or enjoyed longer matches, more technical matches, or spotfests – even in the beginning it wasn’t specific. Certain wrestlers that came out of environments like Ring Of Honor often had their fans called “IWC”, because obviously that was the only reason anyone could like the product that ROH puts out, or guys like Punk and Bryan. As the indys became increasingly obselete, the term was used more and more often to refer to people that disliked Cena, and then WWE, to the point where anyone who disliked Cena or WWE were often called “IWC”, because obviously that was the only reason anyone could dislike Cena or WWE programming. You didn’t like Mark Henry’s title run or Shaemus’ matches against Big Show? You must be some internet IWC smarky smark then. That’s the only explanation.

It boggles the mind.

These days, the term is used to refer to all of those things and more. It’s become such a blanket that it’s eseentially meaningless, and more of a term that is used as a knee-jerk reaction when someone disagrees with someone else related to professional wrestling. Not a good term to use in that respect, either – many terms that can be applied to people can specifically define the user’s belief about what the subject in question specifically represents – like if someone were to use a pen to circle a single term on a sheet of paper. What the users of the “IWC” term don’t understand is that there’s nothing specific about this term – using it is more like throwing the pen in the garbage before tossing a bottle of ink all over the desk. The term is occasionally used in a less assumptive form, of course – but rarely, and even when it is, it’s still a silly blanket statement.

If you simply MUST use the “IWC” term, then just know that it applies to everyone who watches wrestling in the present day, because pretty much everyone who does so has access to the internet. If you use the term, or even know that it exists, then just by that you fall into that spectrum. And obviously, not all “IWC” people like Punk or Bryan any more than all of them like Shaemus or Miz.

Let us, now and in the future, refer to the internet mechanism devoted to discussing wrestling entertainment as “The Machine”. There is no value judgment inherent or even implied by this term – it is meant to contain – in a single phrase – the groups and individuals who acquire and disseminate information about this form of entertainment, the assumptions of the meta-entity, and the incredibly complex relationship they have with it.

There is simply no intelligent argument that can be made to support the idea that different parts of the machine don’t all have their own opinions, likes, and dislikes. If an arena cheers Punk when they’re supposed to boo him, it’s because they like Punk and / or don’t like whoever it is that he’s in there with – it’s not because they’re “smark” or “IWC”. They’re fans, who either watch or in some cases have paid to attend the shows, and their arguments, no matter what ridiculous blanket term you want to try and throw on them, are every bit as relevant as yours. If Punk has a match and some people liked it, any opinion along the lines of “of course the IWC smarks liked it, but Punk was his usual botch-tastic self” just doesn’t hold up. People like what they like, and as for you, it just means you don’t like what, in this case, most people liked. And I’m not implying that there’s anything wrong with that – I mean, I can’t understand how anyone can watch Mark Henry and believe that the fat fuck could beat anyone who isn’t a domesticated animal or a parapelegic, but I don’t think my opinion is any more valid than someone who does like Henry.

 

In this day and age, I think we just need to accept that there are types of matches, wrestlers, storylines and even promotions that different parts of The Machine are not meant to assess, and maybe can’t assess, and that’s okay. The Machine is a specialist device, and can be relied upon to express the contours of these experiences with a granularity, but not every match or storyline demands the full sweep. As more and more people that used to be fans of the product tune out, and as newer and younger fans tune in, their expectations of WWE are going to be a lot more lax. That can only be to WWE’s advantage.

All the people that I know who watched wrestling, most who used to be way more into it than I ever was (and I was quite into it), over the last decade, all tuned out… and I mean literally every single one of them. Thanks to the last website I worked for, and now Inside Pulse, I know a lot more “wrestling” fans now – a ridiculous number actually, and occasionally I can even remember who is who. One thing I hear more or less constantly from many of them is the extent to which WWE has pissed away its relationship with its fanbase and how they’re in trouble if they don’t do something. I don’t really understand this thought process when at the same time they’ve simultaneously created a newer business model that relies on more diverse sources of revenue and cross-promotion than ever before, to fill that void. Specifically, they are filling that void with money and love.

While I have no way of knowing if this is true or not, I imagine that making a wrestling show is a fairly difficult endeavor, even without dealing with a fanbase who is partly made up of a ridiculously and notoriously idiosyncratic demographic – many of them actually believe they could make a better wrestling show and that they understand all the variables of what goes into planning thing ranging from a single match, to a TV show, to a PPV, or even to the strategic or creative direction for an entire global conglomerate. Needless to say, the qualifications for them to do so, more often than not, fall quite a bit short.

And that audience puts up with the kind of thing WWE typically puts out when there’s a payoff at the end, or more importantly, the POSSIBILITY of a payoff – which is why WWE retains its stature; people want it to be good because there’s no other reasonable alternative on TV to watch. They think “maybe this time”, or “they have to have a plan here, right?” They can take a single very vocal crowd or the debut of a Brock Lesnar, and hope that THIS is what will turn the product into something they feel like they could enjoy. Until eventually, they give up – if they give up. Many won’t. But even if they do, by then WWE has hooked in more young fans who are less critical and less demanding. Which would you prefer as your fanbase? And keep in mind before you answer – in addition to kids being way easier to please, they buy way more merchandise as well.

 

As far as real innovation to wrestling goes, the well has been dry for a long time in the WWE. And if you’re relying on entities outside the WWE to be the source of that innovation (as it has been the majority of times in the past), then let’s be honest – the next ECW isn’t coming, and it sure as hell isn’t ROH. The next WCW isn’t coming, and it sure as hell isn’t TNA.

And WWE has no motivation to be the source of that innovation when they’re making money hand over fist and control what is almost assuredly over 95% of the market share. I’ve made the argument before, but you think in the face of profit, they give a shit about a small ratings drop? Every time there’s a ratings drop someone will put out a bullshit story about how WWE is “panicking”. WWE has made more profit every single year that ratings have been decreasing aside from one year they had movie losses, which aren’t an issue for them anymore. Last year’s WrestleMania blew the roof of previous records. Take look at their 2012 year-end financials. Of course they don’t care about a small ratings drop. Why the fuck would they?

I’m not saying there are NO aspects of WWE that I enjoy now, because that’s not the case. But they are only occasional and make up for a very tiny fraction of the overall product, and for the most part, it’s pretty dull for me – something that I’m sure The WrestleMania Expedition illustrated in great  (and probably painstaking) detail. And if The WrestleMania Expedition proved anything to me, it’s what I already knew – that I’m not built for full WWE TV shows anymore. The PPV’s were better than I expected, which was surprising to me, although perhaps it shouldn’t have been – it’s mostly due to having a bigger variety of wrestlers on the PPV’s over the last half-year (like Cessaro and The Shield) who can be counted on to deliver a better in-ring product.

The TV shows, though? It’s replays from hell to breakfast, movie promotions for projects that I can’t even believe get greenlit in this economy, and social media. They spent over a minute talking about how many Twitter followers Vince McMahon had an hour and a half after he joined Twitter. And even if you cast all that aside… the storylines and match outcomes are on another level of predictable now, to the point where I can’t possibly get interested on a regular basis in a world where there’s a million other things one could be doing. From the way the WWE TV is put together now, you’d have to wonder if they’d even want me to be in that target audience that enjoys or tolerates the product.

 

In conclusion, I’ll share with you a great quote that my friend Dave made this year. “The WWE PPV’s are the wrestling shows… the WWE TV is a wrestling-themed variety show.” For myself, a storyline can sometimes capture my attention without neccesarily having a great in-ring product (I think the New World Order was the best thing in wrestling for about a year and a half) but WWE hasn’t produced a single decent storyline, let alone one like that, in a long time, aside from the first month of Summer Of Punk and the Shawn Michaels retirement. (Those actually did have great in-ring components as well, my point is only that it didn’t neccesarily have to in order to capture my attention.) The in-ring product on WWE TV is, for the most part, sandpaper, but again, that show isn’t really about the wrestling aside from the odd exception.

The in-ring product on the PPV’s CAN be better – again, thanks to a recent influx of better in-ring talent – but I don’t need to watch the TV to get any of that. I can just watch the PPV when one of the cards catch my attention. It’s not like I’m going to miss anything – more often than not, the build to any match I might want to watch consists of “insult, match interference, attack from behind, pull-apart brawl, insults” anyway, and besides, recaps tell me exactly what’s going on and I can YouTube (or whatever) anything that I’ve missed. And even if I don’t do THAT, WWE has video packages before most matches anyway, that sum up everything from a given match builup in all of sixty seconds.

Much like the esteemed Steven Gepp, although possibly for different reasons – I’ve more than come to terms years ago with the fact that I am no longer wrestling’s target audience. And that’s okay with me.

 

For some great alternating opinions on the current WWE product and what WrestleMania and RAW really mean for the future, check out my buddy, the always under-rated Martin Shaw’s article here, and my man CB’s take on it here. There’s some good discussion about in the comments as well.

Anyway, thanks to all of you who joined me on the Expedition, and thanks to Inside Pulse for letting me come around for another season to do my thing and fill their pages with enough curse words to last a thousand Game Of Thrones-length winters.

I also want to make sure to thank my DDT posse – Dave, Kon, Swayze, Sawyer, Crystal, J-Train, Cam and of course, my man CB. Without you guys to watch the few shows I do watch with, I probably wouldn’t watch at all. Thanks for the laughs and thanks for keeping me company and contributing to my recaps. Also thanks to everyone else who contributed – Chris Sanders, Jonah Kue, and Rhett Davis for controlling the new PUSSbot 3000. Thanks to Chris Sanders (again) and to Joel Leonard for having me on their Classy Ring Attire podcast a couple times, because that was a lot of fun. Hopefully we can do it again a few times while I’m off. Thanks to frequent commenters like Starcade, Cynical Bastard and Zork as well, and to my other fellow Inside Pulse recappers and columnists not already mentioned like the great Scott Keith, Mike Gojira and Ralph Hardin.

And I guess that’s about it. This season has been a fun ride – not sure if / when I’ll be back or what I’ll be doing (although I can guarantee you it will not be recaps, not on a regular basis anyway) but I’m sure I’ll end up doing something down the road, and if not I’m always around the site in simple comment form. I hope your wrestling shows are good to you whether you’re a fan of “methodical” wrestlers like Shaemus, Mark Henry, Miz, Swagger, Barrett, Cody, or Sandow…

… or, you know, good wrestlers. Those are fun too.

So long, Inside Pulse. I know you’ll tell all your friends that it was mutual and that you’re better off without me before deleting all the pictures of us off your Facebook (but not before saving them all to your hard drive), and that you’ll be tempted to text me when you’re drunk or come up and say hi whenever you see me out somewhere with some other website. Just remember, the great thing about never really being together is that we never really have to break up.

 

Take care everyone, and thanks again.

This has been “That Being Said: The WrestleMania Expedition”.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you when I see you.

I’ll be in my trailer.

Yours,
BD

“Thought there’d be time. Turns out there’s only road. Long and paved with potholes”.
– Krull, Californication

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