Issue 17: Creative Control: WWE, the Reboot (WWE, Wrestlemania XXX, Daniel Bryan, The Shield, Triple H, Cesaro, The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, Paige, Bray Wyatt, John Cena, The Ultimate Warrior)

This week’s article comes to you from the patio of my townhouse.  The sun is out, the birds are chirping and I sit in short-sleeves and bare feet.  It appears the last vestiges of a long winter and that evil arctic foreigner “Polar Vortex” has been driven back and the radiant Lady Spring is once again in control.  Here’s to several months of pleasant temperatures and peaceful weather.

Turning our attention to the world of the WWE, all I can say is “wow” regarding the events of the past nine days.  It definitely showed that I am best left to being an armchair creative writer versus an actual member of the writing crew.  When I did my compare and contrast of the Wrestlemania XXX card with my own card two weeks ago, I just about talked myself out of watching.  While there were some elements I was curious about, I did not feel a huge passion for the card on paper or for several of the storylines to be played out.  It felt like the card was too small, and I was worried there would be too many stupid skits and nothing would be allowed to play out to its fullest.  However, the more I thought about it, the more I could not resist actually watching the show.  There was something tugging at me to watch it.  I’m not saying I had a premonition or anything.  In all likelihood, I probably more felt a duty as a wrestling writer to actually watch the biggest show of the year to see how things went rather than just trying to extrapolate material from mere recaps and write-ups.  Ultimately, my wife made a big batch of nachos and we sat down for four hours of wrestling goodness.  And was I ever glad I did.

Wrestlemania this year had the feeling of not just wrapping up several storylines, but felt like the final episode of a long-running television series or comic book.  The show felt like it was wrapping up the past 30 years while promoting the launch of a new spin-off series.  Everyone got to see their favorite old characters while the new characters came to the foreground and received more time and became the central focus.  It’s kind of like how the comic strip Doonesbury has been going for the past 3-4 years.

It started right off with the opening segment with Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and the Rock.  I had my doubts about Hogan as “the host” of Wrestlemanian, mainly because when The Rock held such a position three years earlier, I felt it was a complete waste of time.  It felt more like Sunday Night Live rather than Wrestlemania and that the show made The Rock the central focus (even though he was not in a match).  His intervening in the main event match and making The Miz a third wheel did nobody any favors.  I was fearful something similar would happen with Hogan.

Instead, I thoroughly enjoyed the opening 20 minutes between the three legends.  They not only put themselves over, but also reminisced about the entire history of Wrestlemania. They also created the link between the past and the present; most notably the Rock drawing the link between Hogan and Cena and Austin and Daniel Bryan.  The three of them popped the crowd and got them ready to go almost as if giving everyone the notice this is the final episode and that tonight was one of transition.

The biggest example of this final episode feel came with Lesnar’s unexpected ending of The Streak.  As I discussed in my last column along with everyone else on the Roundtable, no one gave Lesnar any chance of winning. The build-up for the match had been so anemic and lacking with any intensity or purpose.  There was no storyline, no real conflict between the two other than the Undertaker offered up the challenge to Lesnar.  It made me wonder, did the WWE try to be overly clever by intentionally building the match as they did to create the impression Lesnar had no chance?  Were they looking to make it seem almost like a throwaway challenge so that the surprise of Lesnar’s victory was that much more unexpected?  I think that is giving them way too much credit, but one cannot argue with the end result:  75,000+ going dead silent as the referee hit the mat for the third time and called for the bell.  At first, it felt almost like something was botched; like Taker misjudged the count and didn’t kick up in time, or the referee somehow screwed up the rhythm.  The camera shot added to the feel that this was not part of the script, or that the operator and all of production were stunned.  The moments following it were awkwardly filmed and cut, adding to the sense that EVERYONE was surprised.  It was like a long-running, major character was unexpectedly killed off.

With the loss, the show that was the WWE for the past 30-years ended.  The Undertaker was very much the last active member of the roster (even if that activity had only been once a year for the past six years), that had ties back to the beginning of it all.  While Triple H and others have fought the likes of Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and other legends; the Undertaker was the only one who fought them in their primes.  The Streak began at Wrestlemania 7, in 1991.  There were people in the audience who can legally drink that have never known the Undertaker not to be on WWE television or to have lost at Wrestlemania.  He has been the connection to the past and beginning.  It would have been just as fitting for him to be part of the opening with Hogan, Austin, and the Rock; however, he had an actual match.  For as long as The Streak stood, there was always a connection to the past and the sense this was the same show that has been on the air for the past 30 years.  With it gone and with the Undertaker done, the series finally ended.

And I do believe this was Undertaker’s last match.  Much as Shawn Michael’s gave the Undertaker the honor of ending his career, Taker extended that courtesy to Lesnar.  While it may not have been the best storyline, it is an ending.  I feel it sets Lesnar to return later in the summer to challenge Bryan for the WWE Title as the greatest weapon The Authority can use against the upstart hero.  The true monster who defeated a demi-god.

The feeling of Wresltemania XXX being a final episode extended to several other moments and matches throughout the night.  The Shield’s quick destruction of the New Age Outlaws and Kane sent the definitive statement that there was a new guard in charge and that the old tricks did not work anymore.  Cesaro’s effortless bodyslam and elimination of the Big Show in the ARMBAR demonstrated that strength and not size was the criteria for defining a top player.  And for me, it was Bryan using the sledgehammer on Triple H during the title match and not his victory earlier in the night that was his crowning moment against The Authority.  It was another example of the new cast showing that “the old bits” no longer work with the new cast, and it was Bryan (literally) beating Triple H at his own “game.”

If Wrestlemania XXX was the final episode of WWE, then the next night of Raw certainly was the premiere episode of the new spinoff series.  We had the new plucky hero on top of the world Daniel Bryan, who finally found that he was not alone in his fight against the evil empire as the still fairly new Shield demonstrated their solidarity with the champion and against The Authority.  The alliance was strengthened on Smackdown when at one point Bryan saved the Shield from being hit from behind with a chair.  We premiered a new Diva’s Champion in Paige.  Although, it was a shame she was so nervous and that they did not let her come out in her NXT character (tough, aggressive, willing to take on anyone).  Cesaro established a new dynamic by throwing his lot in as a Paul Heyman Guy.  It will be interesting to see if they will have Cesaro’s brief face run against Swagger continue, or if he will stay a heel with Heyman.  We also had the clips for soon to debut characters Bo Dallas and Adam Rose.

There was another major storyline that carried over from Wrestlemania (other than Bryan versus The Authority) and that was Bray Wyatt and John Cena.  This was the one part of Wrestlemania where I felt they got the narrative wrong.  While I do not think Cena should have become the monster Wyatt wanted to turn him into; he should have lost, to create the doubt that maybe he needed to become one.  By having Cena lose the match, but not the war, it keeps the motivation for both parties to continue going after one another:  Cena to prove he is strong enough to beat Wyatt without “turning to the dark side” and Wyatt continuing his efforts to break Cena and ruin his legacy.  With Wyatt losing, his continued fixation on Cena feels less like the master manipulator trying to destroy him and more a bitter loser refusing to accept the outcome.

WWE has made my job a lot harder with Wrestlemania XXX and the aftermath.  I started writing this column as a place to vent my ideas that I felt were better than a lot of what they were giving us.  After everything that has played out, I am actually looking forward to watching and seeing what stories are going to be told.  I feel a sense of creativity and newness.  This may be optimistic thinking, but I feel the WWE is shaking off the last vestiges of building a lot of their shows around nostalgia and relying on former stars to try to promote their product.  Things are far from perfect as I feel it was wrong for Big E. to take the pin in the six-man on Raw (Sheamus was the better choice), and I feel the Usos should not have been made to look quite so vulnerable against Batista and Orton (the old adage of a well-functioning tag team should handle two guys who do not get along).  That aside, I am hopeful.  It has just been three shows; but in those shows, I really feel like it is a new program, and I cannot wait to see what happens.  It also makes it a greater challenge to flex my creative muscles and come up with new and engaging storylines to compete with their ideas.

Lastly, I share my thoughts on the passing of the Ultimate Warrior.  In My recollection and knowledge of wrestling from childhood is very scattered.  Professional wrestling was the one thing that my parents prohibited me from watching.  I never understood that.  They had no problem with seven-year-old me watching Hill Street Blues, Dallas, or any other kind of programming that was not age appropriate, but for some reason wrestling got under their skin and they declared a complete ban on it.  Naturally it made me want to watch it all the more.  I started figuring out when it was on when I knew they would either be asleep or out of the house.  I got excellent at changing channels to cover my tracks.  I would spend the night over at a friend’s house for a Saturday Night Main Event.  Occasionally I could even sneak over on a Sunday for a big Pay Per View.  Still, there were times when I could go extended periods missing something due to this clandestine viewing.

Still through all this cloak and mirror fandom, I remember Warrior.  I remember the growling, the racing to the ring, and his seeming invulnerability.  That’s the thing I remember the most, of all the characters in professional wrestling, he was one of the few who truly appeared invincible.  The only one who came close to matching this superhuman stature was the Undertaker. In fact, it is his feud with Taker I remember the most.  More than the war with Savage, or his battle over the title with Rick Rude.  I remember the episode of the Funeral Parlor, with the Warrior themed casket and Taker locking Warrior inside, trying to suffocate him.  I remember Warrior seeking out Jake The Snake Roberts for help in finding a way to defeat Taker.  There was the graveyard scene with Warrior buried up to his neck, staring into a skull, growling.  His freaking out in the room full of snakes, and the eventual betrayal by Roberts, meaning he had to face even greater odds.  It was the one time I remember that Warrior truly looked vulnerable.

His appearance on Raw was enjoyable and will forever be all the more memorable due to the timing of his death.  It was great that he made peace with the WWE and several other wrestlers over the weekend.  It was wonderful that we got one last “Warrior” promo in a WWE ring, devoid of any controversy or bad blood.  A farewell by the character to the fans.  One final sign that we have a brand new show on our hands.

 

Until next time, I relinquish creative control.

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