Not too much for me to comment about regarding the Elimination Chamber since I did not watch it and relied on Jake Ziegler’s recap. From the sound of his review, Wyatt/Shield was everything people were hoping for and more. It also appears WWE was justified in their efforts to protect Batista by keeping him away from the public as del Rio was cheered during their match. As for the Chamber match itself, it sounded exciting, but there were some missed opportunities. Cesaro got no eliminations and the final three were rather predictable with Orton, Cena, and Bryan. The interference played out like many people predicted (The Wyatts for Cena and some form of The Authority for Bryan) and we are now looking at Orton/Batista for the main event at Wresltemania. Will they insert Bryan into the match, or are they really going to press their luck and pray the fans do not boo it out of the SuperDome? Only time will tell, but as it stands, I am not making any plans at the moment to buy Wrestlemania.
Last week’s column on keeping Cesaro heel received universal agreement. It appears people are of the mindset that Cesaro should remain heel. Although apparently I am a marked man for expressing how the WWE would screw him up by turning him into a yodeling, Swiss chocolate distributing, midget lederhosen accompanied face.
There was disagreement over how to keep him heel. While Steven Gepp agreed with my plan of breaking Cesaro off from the Real Americans and becoming a powerful, isolated heel who only takes an action when it serves his purpose, Pat Metalhead had a different idea. His suggestion was to build up the Real Americans and use The Shield/The Wyatt Family model where Cesaro is the dominant single’s star of the group and a third member is brought in to be Swagger’s primary tag partner. I had not considered this as a possibility, but I like it. Keeping him associated with a group of heels who look to run roughshod over everyone and espouse questionable attitudes is a great way of keeping his heat. I still think he needs to incorporate a taunt to the crowd by at times setting up, but then not doing the Swing. The big question though is who to add to the Real Americans? Metalhead suggested another mercenary, like Alexander Rusev, but I think one foreign born individual in the Real Americans is enough for the hypocrisy. James Sawyer in a Wrestling Remix article a few months ago suggested the Miz joining up to play the douchebag, narrow-minded, Fox News only watching white guy that feels he is entitled to everything simply because of his race and gender. I think that has possibilities. Dolph Ziggler is another option if they were interested in turning him heel (which may be difficult, but not impossible). Cody Rhodes is a further possibility if they decide his partnership with Goldust has reached an end. They could also dip into the NXT roster to find a pretty-boy white guy that fits the mold. They are in a good position to elevate the Real Americans as a despicable stable by targeting Big E. Langston over the Intercontinental Title, feeling that it is not appropriate for someone of Langston’s…character to be holding such a prestigious honor.
The Silent Authority
Back in 1997, The Montreal Screwjob gave birth to the character of Mr. McMahon. Anybody reading this article knows the story of how Vince McMahon promised Bret Hart he would not lose the WWE Title in his hometown on his final pay per view with the company; only to come out at the end of the match and exclaim “ring the f***ing bell” when Shawn Michaels had Hart in a half-assed version of the Sharpshooter. In the following year, McMahon appeared more and more on camera as a power-drunk, megalomaniacal, villain. He was the man in charge and what he said, went.
The creation of an evil authority figure was not wholly revolutionary for wrestling. WCW had done it to a lesser extent first on a national stage when Eric Bischoff revealed he was aligned with the NWO. I am sure those who are more knowledgeable historians will be able to cite examples from the territory days of management run amok, twisting the rules and situations at the expense of the faces of the company. With the Mr. McMahon character though, it took off like wildfire because of the foils he had. There was of course Stone Cold Steve Austin, the paragon of anti-authority. Austin (as has been noted endlessly) was the avatar for the audience who got to imagine themselves beating up their boss the way he did McMahon. Mick Foley also was a great nemesis for Mr. McMahon as the nice guy, hard working stiff who despite doing everything he is asked, gets passed over for the ass-kissing pretty boy (the Rock). The WWE mined a wealth of storylines and plot twists that centered on McMahon throwing around his weight and the employees who stood up to him.
From this example though, we have had over 15 years of evil authority figures. We have been bombarded by Commissioners, General Managers, Executive Vice-Presidents, Chiefs of Operations, Directors of Operations, Chief Operating Officer, Senior Executive Associate Vice-President Branch Mangers speaking on behalf of the leadership division of the Board of Directors…you get the point. The idea of leadership that is around to screw over the faces has been done to death. While it is a relatable paradigm for the audience in that everyone has at one point or another felt like their management is out to get them; it has gone from stale to rotting. It has become lazy booking. It has actually gone beyond lazy booking as everything now seems to have to be tied back to management. Rather than sometimes having a match between two individuals (which is the primary job of wrestlers), there has to be an authority figure looking to punish or undermine another wrestler. Instead of a feud developing between two competitors, it is now the face fighting the proxy of management. While this later example is a variation of the wrestler versus manager dynamic (such as CM Punk/Paul Heyman), it has been twisted out of proportion. Wrestler versus manger used to be just one feud in a federation. With the ownership of the federation now filling the manager role, somehow it permeates the entire company. WWE isn’t the only one guilty of such actions. WCW actually had matches of Commissioner versus General Manager to determine leadership, only for someone with an even fancier title to come along. TNA right now has their main storyline being Dixie Carter versus new primary investor MVP. Before that, it was Carter versus Hogan. Before that, Hogan was the power-hungry heel general manager with his Immortal stable, dictating who was champion.
By my approximation, WWE has no fewer than five on-screen authority figures (six if you count Vince, but he has not appeared regularly for several months). We have “The Authority” in Executive Vice-President Stephanie McMahon and Chief Operating Officer Triple H. There is Director of Operations Kane. Lastly, we have the General Mangers of Raw (Brad Maddox) and Smackdown (Vickie Guerrero). The general managers appear to be the most redundant positions currently. They were originally created to be the authority figures during the brand split era. However, since the shows are now unified, what function do they serve? They make matches for the shows? Why do we need to see that? Further, why do we need to see their authority undermined by those who are higher up the corporate ladder? What entertainment value is there in seeing a heel middle manager (Vickie) getting overturned by a heel upper manager (Kane), who may get further countermanded by a heel executive manager (Triple H)? Are we supposed to believe that Creative is trying to tell some allegory about corporate bureaucracy with all of these authority figures usurping positions? Maybe they are recycling their failed The Office test scripts.
Another problem with the current authoritarian overuse is that it has felt completely one sided with those in power almost always coming out on top. While Mr. McMahon regularly screwed over Austin and others who would stand against him, there were plenty of moments where he got his comeuppance. Vince ate many a Stunner, suffered excessive property damage, or was just at times made to look the fool. What about the current Authority? Since Triple H “turned heel” at SummerSlam when he Pedigreed Daniel Bryan to give Randy Orton the victory, he has only had three moments where he has “suffered.” Big Show’s KO punch, Daniel Bryan’s running knee at the end of Hell in the Cell, and a stray shot during the big melee on the Raw just before TLC. That’s it; three “moments of retribution” in seven months. The money may be in the chase, but at this point, it appears like Triple H is living up to his reputation that he cannot accept being made to look weak by anyone. The fact that Bryan’s struggle with the Authority was pushed to the side for a part of this period combined with his lack of Royal Rumble appearance and clear Wrestelmania hero quest further emphasizes The Authority is not contributing to storylines, save for making the focus of the programming be about them.
Scott Keith in his weekly recaps points out another issue. The Authority has not established a clear position. While they are generally heels, there are plenty of times where they are undermining/questioning those supposedly closest to them, or pander to the audience. In the past seven months, we have seen a repetitive pattern of The Authority endorse Orton, question Orton, contemplate replacing Orton, only to once again endorse Orton. At times, they look to screw over heels as well as faces. The only thing that has been consistent is their never ending presence on television both in person and the constant reference to them by wrestlers and announcers.
Therefore, I think it is time for wrestling to have a period where there are no prominent authority figures in storylines. I talked about this in my debut column, and I think it is time to go back to a period where company executives were unnamed individuals with the occasional appearance by a figurehead for only the most significant announcements (a la former WWF Presidents Jack Tunney and Gorilla Monsoon). By having a reduction of business suits on the show, the focus moves away from performance reviews, executive decisions, and board room antics. Instead, we try the novel concept of concentrating on the wrestlers and what they do in the ring. Heels like Orton can still brag about how they are better suited as being “the face of the WWE,” or that they know management is high on them, but the focus centers on the wrestler’s themselves, not the never-ending physical presence of executives. The lack of authority could give rise to a new era of managers. They already have a start with Heyman and Zeb Coulter as mouthpieces for their clients who are less than stellar on the mic and can just reference any backstage wheeling and dealing that is significant in promos rather than playing them out in segments.
The question is how to get the current executives off our television. For that, I borrow a little from my column where I discussed the possible avenues to take with Bryan following his apparent membership with the Wyatt Family. Let events unfold sometime just after Extreme Rules in May. Triple H makes an appearance, frustrated over the way things have played out following Wrestlemania (either Bryan became champion, or Triple H lost to him and things have continued to go south for management). In the midst of his ranting at the opening of Raw, Bray Wyatt and family make their way down to ringside and Wyatt demands that “the Devil” now pay him for what he’s done. The story unfolds that Triple H actually recruited Wyatt to target Bryan specifically to keep him away from Orton and the title. That he wanted the Family to go after Cena as well to be a distraction so that Wrestlemania could be all about two Authority approved wrestlers in the main event. Triple H scoffs at the demands for payment, noting that Wyatt did not break Bryan and went too far in antagonizing the Shield, leading to their demise as the Shield were a useful tool for The Authority. Wyatt just smiles and laughs and talks about how he knew the Devil would try to back out on his deal, that’s why he had a back-up. This leads to Kane coming out onto the stage, holding Stephanie McMahon by the throat. Bray then outlines how prior to Kane becoming the corporate figurehead, he was last seen at SummerSlam, being dragged off by the Wyatt’s. He mocks The Authority, asking, weren’t they surprised how they got the gift of a monster out of nowhere. Did it never occur to them that it was not them who tamed the monster? Triple H begs for Stephanie’s safety, and promises to give Wyatt whatever he wants. Bray however says it’s too late and that the Devil’s word can never be trusted. Kane chokeslams Stephanie on the stage as Harper, Rowan, and Bray deliver an epic beatdown on Triple H in the ring. The return from commercial break should feature both members of The Authority being stretchered out of the arena and loaded into an ambulance. In a backstage segment later that evening, Brad Maddox gets into Kane’s face, only to be put into a handicapped match against the Wyatt family and he suffers a similar beating. That Friday on Smackdown, it is announced that Vickie Guerrero resigned from her position as General Manager earlier in the week and is looking into renewing her manager’s license.
The next week on Raw, Vince McMahon makes an appearance, fuming at the chaos the Wyatt Family has unleashed onto his company. He screams at Kane, berating him and saying he should know better with his business acumen to not trust someone as insane as Wyatt. This of course falls on deaf ears and Vince himself is subject to an attack by the Wyatts.
From there, things play out as I outlined in Option B where referees, cameramen, and make-up attendants randomly attack people. The mysterious figures in robes and sheep masks are seen and paranoia is pumped up within the WWE as everyone wonders who is a member of the Family, and who they can trust. Wyatt controls all within the company as through clever contracting, Kane is now in control as Director of Operations as all other members senior to him are incapable of performing their duties. This leads to a targeting of the WWE Champion, who I would prefer to be Bryan given his history with both Kane and the Wyatts. He is put in grueling matches, forced to face impossible odds, and tortured to inhuman levels. The point is that Wyatt want him at a certain level so that he can eventually break him, take the last symbol of the old regime (the WWE title) and become the ultimate power within the WWE Universe (a little over the top I know, but hey, this is a psychotic cult leader). While Bryan has a couple of allies who back him up when need be, many shy away, hoping to be as low on the Wyatt radar as possible.
The showdown occurs at SummerSlam: Bray Wyatt vs. Daniel Bryan for the WWE Title. In booking the match, Bryan extracts an agreement from Wyatt that Kane’s power and position of Director of Operations is on the line, so it is truly an all or nothing affair. And this battle for power is to take place inside a Hell in the Cell. Wyatt and Bryan outdo themselves from their Rumble match and given the stakes and storylines, I would want some blood during this match. Ultimately, Bryan is victorious as he not only retains the WWE Title, but secures the soul of the company.
From there, Kane is stripped of his authority position and is returned to his status as just a member of the roster. Wyatt tries to cling to his members and power, but it dwindles as Bryan and his allies are now empowered and warn all of the unnamed members they will be hunted down and crushed, causing the faceless to flee.
And what about the apparent on-air power vacuum? It is left unfilled. Let the announcers talk about WWE management setting matches or booking certain events. Managers can discuss how they negotiated things with the board of directors or executives. I do not have a problem with Vince, Stephanie, or Triple H appearing in video segments from press conferences or junkets talking about the latest major announcements because that’s what you expect from executives. I just do not want them on-screen every week dictating the storylines and being the main focus.
This gives the WWE a compelling multi-month storyline that carries them through the summer and into the fall, where they can pull back a little with the start of football season and look to lay the groundwork for possible events for next Wrestlemania season. At the same time, it cleanly gets all executive characters off our screens and brings the focus solely onto the wrestlers for the foreseeable future.