Guys and Divas #6: That Suit and Tie Sh!t (Kane, Eva Marie, Big E Langston, Dolph Ziggler)

Good November to you, dear reader!

Welcome to the second month of “Guys and Divas”; the only column on Inside Pulse Wrestling that opens each edition with the phrase “the only column on Inside Pulse Wrestling…” (as far as I know).

This week, “The Bonus Ball” looks at the art of the face turn in the “PG Era” and in the “Divas” segment, I finally give the people what they want (which is sort of a depressing thought) when I wax grumbly about one of WWE’s most notable up-and-coming ladies.

BUT FIRST(!), it’s the moment from this week’s Monday Night Raw that everyone is talking about. Let’s dive into the buttoned-up madness that is “Corporate Kane”. HEY, YOU…

GUYS

As chronicled in my very first column last month, my first taste of WWE programming came one fateful Saturday morning in the spring of 1998.

I was laying in bed channel surfing when, for whatever reason, I stopped on the USA Network; and the first thing to appear on my screen was a rotund, mustachioed gentleman with a high voice standing on a stage bathed in blue light…and standing next to him: a nearly 7-foot-tall, long-haired creature in red spandex and a mask straight out of a slasher movie.

The girthy fellow gabbed a bit; his words clearly directed at the gothic-looking bearded gentleman with the long black hair in the ring…and then, lo and behold, two caskets were set ablaze.

Paul Bearer and Kane lit the exhumed caskets of the Undertaker’s birth parents on fire…and I fell in love with a TV show.

It wasn’t long after I started watching WWE programming full-time that I realized Kane was one of my favorites. Of all the characters (and, this being the Attitude Era, there were A LOT of characters), he seemed the most fleshed-out, the most elaborate, the most (to continue using a phrase) capital-C CHARACTER on the roster.

Over the years, Kane evolved pretty constantly; from the fire-scarred silent monster I first met to the voice-box-utilizing pseudo member of D-Generation X, to the inexplicably full-throated southern good old boy who still looked like a horror movie killer, to the unmasked psychotic pyromaniac who lived to torture Lita, to the Brother of Destruction, to the re-masked best friend of a goatfaced go-getter…it goes on and on.

(JUST TO SAY: I’m a big fan of Michael Chiappetta and David Stern’s novel Journey Into Darkness. For the uninitiated, it’s a prose-style biographical history of the Kane character. It has a few continuity issues, but beyond that, it’s a really fun read and if you’re a Kane fan, it’s essential. Seek it out.)

Monday night, the evolution continued.

In the final moments of a somewhat lackluster Monday Night Raw, the gothic strains of Kane’s theme rang out over the newly-dubbed Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, SC (where I attended another Raw earlier this year). Excitedly, I glanced up from my Twitter feed…and saw this. (NOTE: The moment in question occurs at 0:35.)

My jaw dropped…and then formed into a big smile. He did it again.

Others’ reactions have been mixed to say the least, but I think the one thing everyone should do is WAIT. We’ve only seen this iteration of Glenn Jacobs’ signature character for–all told–about three minutes; and maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s only going to get more interesting from here.

(Sub-point: Don’t let the lackluster reaction of the Greenville crowd dictate how you feel about this. Having been there before in person, trust me; that city shouldn’t be anyone’s cultural gauge for anything.)

Now, let me get the flimsiest of criticisms aside before I ramble a bit and imagine the possibilities.

Anyone who is comparing this character turn to the Joseph Park character in TNA is a fool, plain and simple. They’re two monsters who suddenly appeared in business suits. THAT’S. IT. Moreover, let’s be thankful that WWE knows (in this particular case, at least) not to insult the intelligence of its audience by pretending at length that this is literally a separate human being from the Big Red Machine we all know and love. Don’t get me wrong; Joseph Park was–for the most part–an entertaining experience, but no one should ever look to it as something to aspire to creatively, and there’s no way in hell that’s what WWE’s done here. So there.

Now, on to the gushing.

Where might this all go?–Well, I think we’ve already gotten a taste. “Corporate Kane” (as we all seem to have dubbed him) is going to be a lackey; the Patterson and Brisco to Triple H and Stephanie’s Vince. However, unlike those “sterling” characterizations, we’re undoubtedly going to see CK (if you will) face some inner turmoil for this decision.

Let’s face it; we all know how this will end. Eventually, Kane’s destructive nature will consume him once more and–mask or no mask; we shall see–he will be, at the very least, part of the inevitable downfall of the Authority. Along the way, there’s no doubt we’ll see his former friends/partners approach him to ask “Why?”; in fact, I’d bet he’ll cross paths with his little buddy Daniel Bryan within the next two weeks…and be honest with yourself. The moment he and his half-brother The Undertaker find themselves face to face (presumably sometime in the next four months), it’s going to be a hoot and a half and a quarter and a third. (That’s 2 and 1/12 hoots, for those keeping score.)

In short, it should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway): WAIT AND SEE. I feel pretty confident we’ll all be rewarded, no matter how unimpressed the former Bi-Lo Center crowd was. (Seriously, pay them no mind. Let me just throw these six words at you: Yosemite. Sam. Suede. Jacket. With. Fringe. …Yeah. That happened, and he was sitting right in front of me. Enough said.)

…and while the fashion police hops into a time machine and heads off to a seasonable spring night from earlier this year, we move on to this week’s “Divas” segment.

Let me preface what you’re about to read by saying that I have a pit in my stomach just thinking about it…but it needs to be said.

Gird your loins. Here it comes.

DIVAS

I don’t care for Eva Marie.

I’ll give some of you a moment to squeal happily at that statement.

You done?–Okay. Let me explain.

As has been made obnoxiously clear over the past six weeks here at “Guys and Divas”, I love the women of WWE. They are, in many ways, the top reason I tune in to Raw each week. This has been the case for the majority of my 15+ years as a fan of sports entertainment.

During that time, that affection has evolved from a standard heterosexual attraction to a deep-rooted interest in Diva storylines as television writing to–with the advent of social networking–an appreciation for who these women are as people. As we stand, my current feeling is sort of an amalgam of those three (at roughly 20%/30%/50% respectively). This is what guides me as a viewer and dictates the opinions and analyses I bring you each week in this column.

That being the case, you can probably guess that the arrival of E!’s “Total Divas” this past summer was a bit of a gamechanger.

Far too little credit has been given to the series for its surprisingly candid presentation of the lives of these seven women. True, it being a reality show on a cable network not known for its realistic portrayals of human behavior does require the slightest modicum of suspended disbelief at times, but–and I say this with love–most of these girls probably couldn’t pull this off were it a “Hills”-esque fiction; and while some of the situations feel a tad manufactured, there’s no doubt that over the past half-season (which resumes this Sunday at 10pm EST on E!), we’ve gotten closer to–at the risk of being on the nose–the reality of what it means to be a WWE Diva in the current landscape.

To put it simply, I’ve gotten a better feel for who these women really are than bursts of 140 characters or less could have ever provided.

In some cases, this has been a positive experience.

For example, when the Bella Twins returned to WWE this past spring, I audibly groaned in annoyance. When last we’d seen them, their stock in trade had become randomly showing up on the arms of celebrity guests or–I’m holding in some vomit as I say this–Johnny Ace and delivering atrocious lines about the former’s current projects or the latter’s sinister plans. So, needless to say, I was none too pleased to see their (mostly) identical faces again.

Then I tuned in to the premiere of “Total Divas”…and things took a decided turn.

Over those first eight episodes, I came to appreciate these girls for who they are as human beings: Brie, the awkward tomboyish hippie chick and Nikki, the well-meaning but occasionally obliviously shallow girly girl. I thought to myself, “I know them. I’ve known them my whole life.” I began to recognize qualities in these sisters that I know and love in people in my personal day-to-day.

I suppose such a realization was inevitable, what with my repeated comparisons of WWE to a traveling theatre troupe. Having worked in theatre myself, I’ve known plenty of people who can play obnoxious, horrible characters on the stage and then exit stage left as a kind-hearted person of unmistakable value. In short, “Total Divas” has been a revelation.

Unfortunately, some revelations might be best left behind closed doors.

Such is the case with Natalie Nelson, or as we have come to know her, Eva Marie.

This Monday night the striking newcomer with the Kool-Aid crimson hair got the pin on Tamina Snuka in a Six-Diva Tag Team Match that saw Eva Marie teaming with the Bellas to face (my spirit animal) AJ Lee, the aforementioned daughter of the Superfly and Aksana.

Seconds later, this happened on Twitter.

Seriously. Who let this happen?

You see, dear reader, for all my continuous defending of the Divas division with all its flaws, we do share an opinion on one thing: some people just shouldn’t be allowed to wrestle.

Such is the case with Eva Marie.

Don’t get me wrong. The lady is bloody gorgeous. I’ve felt compelled to pause and swoon every time I’ve seen this post-match victory photo when it’s popped up on WWE’s various online areas these past 48 hours; and truth be told, I’m always glad to see a new face making waves in this division.

Just not this one.

For the uninitiated, here are a few (bullet-pointed!) choice Eva Marie moments from the first eight episodes of “Total Divas” that have led to this unsavory opinion.

  • Episode one. Eva Marie is ordered to dye her hair blonde in order to help her stand out in the Diva crowd. (I know. It doesn’t make any sense because Natalya, Summer Rae, (at the time) Kaitlyn, etc. were already cornering the market on chlorinated follicles…but I digress.) At the salon, she decides to risk reprimand and get her now-signature Jessica Rabbit red. She narrowly escapes said reprimand; arguably because there are cameras following the whole shenanigan and WWE probably wouldn’t want to react how they normally would in such a situation and kick the girl to the curb on national reality television.
  • Episode two. Eva Marie auditions to be Fandango’s permanent ringside dance partner, citing many years of dance experience. FUN FACT: This turns out to be a lie, and she embarrasses herself, Fandango and the WWE officials making the decision and even faces the wrath of Stephanie McMahon.
  • Episodes seven and eight. While her fellow newbie and quote-unquote “best friend” JoJo looks into using her vocal and musical talents to her advantage (leading to her one-night stint as an auxiliary Funkadactyl and singing the national anthem before this year’s SummerSlam), Eva Marie has a photo shoot with Maxim. When JoJo’s first on-screen performance (the aforementioned Funkadactyl fiasco) goes less than stellar, Eva Marie is more concerned that her 19-year-old counterpart isn’t fawning over her (arguably) far less substantial “achievement” than she is with her distraught roommate and friend’s earnest attempt and failure at making good.

I’ll admit. As I typed that, I realized how catty my complaints are and that most of this has a real “you had to be there” quality…but my point remains the same.

What happened in our ostensible main event match Monday night was bothersome, to say the least. I shall keep my fingers crossed that it was merely a moment of half-hearted triumph for the “Total Divas” cameras to catch, and that this isn’t the beginning of Eva Marie’s road to the Divas Championship. (Let’s face it. We’ve seen #1 Contenders born out of much, much less.)

What can I say?–I can’t stand deceitfulness, selfishness and hypocrisy; and unfortunately, the visually-stunning “Total Divas” newbie with the Little Mermaid hairdo has those (for lack of a better term) qualities in wholesale supply.

To answer your question, yes; it hurt like hell writing that. However, I felt it needed to be said.

Moving on. With our last few moments together this week, let’s take a look at the rise and fall of some WWE faces in the latest edition of…

THE BONUS BALL

One of the highlights of this week’s somewhat disappointing Monday Night Raw was a match featuring current WWE Champion Randy Orton.

I know. I was shocked, too.

In this case, the Viper was to go one-on-one with one of three possible opponents, as chosen by the fans on the overly-promoted WWE App. Our choices: Dolph Ziggler, Big E Langston and The Miz.

I made my vote and waited through the ensuing preliminary segments, and then…with a whopping 75%(!!!) of the vote, the newest face of the trio, Big E Langston took to the ring and put up one hell of a fight against the so-called “face of WWE”. Having voted for my beloved AJ Lee’s former ringside bestie, I was certainly pleased with the results; but more than that, I was unquestionably wowed.

A mere two weeks after aligning himself with CM Punk in his ongoing quest to take down the Paul Heyman Guys, the former NXT Champion had overtaken the former World Heavyweight Champion AND a former WWE Champion–both of whom had been in much higher-profile situations of late than he–in a court of public opinion.

Let’s be clear here. I really like Big E. A lot. That’s not what this is about. This is just another clear illustration of how WWE has really lost its touch when it comes to crafting new faces in this, the dreaded “PG Era”.

Remember 2012?–For personal reasons, I try not to (up to late October…but I digress); but if you’re a fan of Dolph Ziggler (and I am), I’d imagine it’s damned near impossible to forget.

2012 was arguably the year of Ziggler. After about half a decade in the mid-card, Dolph was finally on his way to the top; and to be fair, we all knew he had it in him. As a top-tier heel, Dolph Ziggler was a charismatic throwback to the heyday of The Rock with a dash of Mr. Perfect (something the latter’s own son Curtis Axel can’t even claim). He was a dyed-in-the-wool villain, but by God, we loved him. How could you not? To top it all off, at the conclusion of the year, he was placed in an on-screen relationship with my adorable spirit animal AJ Lee, with whom he had an electric chemistry; and both of their proverbial stocks soared right through Wrestlemania XXIX in April of 2013.

The next night, Dolph cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase on a prone then-face Alberto Del Rio, and to the delight of an unforgettably raucous crowd, captured the World Heavyweight Championship…and weirdly, that’s sort of where the trouble began.

In the course of the inevitable Dolph/Del Rio rematch at Payback in June, both men’s alignments changed; with Dolph becoming a tenacious face and new champion Del Rio a relentless heel. Shortly thereafter, the onscreen Dolph/AJ romance came to an end and the World Heavyweight Championship soon moved on to other men.

Since then, Dolph’s appearances have grown more sporadic and much lower-profile, with a feud with US Champion Dean Ambrose being the most notable happening.

So…what happened?–The same thing that has happened to countless heels (including Dolph’s fellow poll loser The Miz) over the past few years: they turned face, and in the process, lost everything that made them who they are.

For Dolph, this is more tragic than most. As a heel, we already adored him. His charisma, his in-ring work and his dynamite promoing skills already had crowds cheering, even as he took on some of their most beloved characters. As a face, he’s squeaky-clean, markedly less cocky, just…bland.

It’s similar to the way heels and faces were denoted within the Divas division for an unfortunate number of years: if they come to the ring smiling, they’re a face; if they scowl, they’re a heel…and Dolph has certainly been smiling an awful lot these past few months.

What is it about a face turn that the creative team feels requires a character to lose all their signature facets? Honestly, was Heel Dolph’s cocksure attitude too risqué for him to be portrayed as heroic? Seriously, what’s the deal here?

Usually, this would be the part where I explain said deal…but in this case, it truly makes no sense.

Sorry about that downer ending, folks. With luck, next week’s column will be the cavalcade of optimism that’s become a hallmark of “Guys and Divas”…but if it makes you feel any better, I’m feeling alright. It’s just…Chinatown, I guess.

In the meantime, your homework assignments:

  • “Corporate Kane” seems to have taken the IWC by storm. Tell me your thoughts on the Big Red Businessman, and where this could all be leading.
  • Eva Marie may be nice to look at, but backstage (to quote the immortal Bell Biv Devoe), that girl is poison. Have your perceptions of a wrestler ever been changed by their real-life behavior/attitudes?–Sound off on two-faced title fighters.
  • Big E Langston’s star is on the rise, while Dolph Ziggler is almost forgotten. What do you see as the benefits–if any–of the new squeaky-clean Show-off? Is it possible to execute a face turn in the “PG Era” without losing your proverbial street cred?–Your thoughts on such questions would be greatly appreciated.

Don’t forget to join me this coming Monday for my weekly Raw live-tweet (@biscuitman18; #GuysAndDivas), and stay tuned in the coming weeks for some intriguing news about my return to one of my favorite media. (Mysterious, no?)

Until next week, I’m Jeff Heatherly saying…well, THIS. Good day, all!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,