Definition of Storytelling: the interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listener’s imagination (or, in this case, the viewer).
Definition of Contrived: obviously planned or forced; artificial; strained
Match 5: The Undertaker defeats Triple H in an End of An Era Hell in a Cell Match at 30:54; Special Referee: Shawn Michaels
A constant theme that the WWE pushes to its viewing audience is that they are a company that tells stories, which is what it should be. At the end of the day, wrestling is about storytelling from the characters, the situations and the matches all adding to the storytelling of what it wants to get across to the viewer. Fans will always react very well to good storytelling but everything around the story must click as well. If the characters aren’t believable nor are they credible characters for their parts to play, the story doesn’t work. If the match isn’t very good nor if it’s not sticking to the story that it had been telling, the story doesn’t work. Everything needs to come together to create the perfect story…….but what if you have the perfect characters, the perfect story and a great match……yet you still feel hollow at the end of the experience? What if nothing about it resonated with you as a viewer despite the fact that what you are seeing is pretty intense stuff? That’s the reality of this match and this entire storyline arc between these three characters where what I’m seeing should be the stuff of legends but something about it just leaves me cold and unfilled…….it’s like eating a really good meal but still feeling hungry or unsatisfied with it afterwards. To tell this story, we must go back to the beginning……where this whole thing started. At Wrestlemania 25, in Houston, TX, Shawn Michaels lost an epic wrestling match to the Undertaker and failed to end the Undertaker’s Undefeated Streak at the show. The theme of the story was light vs dark and the story was that Shawn Michaels, while physically out of the league of the Undertaker due to sheer size and strength, knew that he had the greatest chance of all to end the Undertaker’s Streak due to the sole fact that he had God on his size and His will would be stronger than the Undertaker’s darkness…….it was a recipe for an epic match and story and thus, it delivered on both. Both took a hiatus from wrestling for a majority of the year with Shawn leaving in particular because he could not face his colleagues after losing to the Undertaker after talking such a big game and you could logically believe that maybe Shawn Michaels (the character) had his faith tested and he needed to find himself again.
Eventually Shawn came back to reform D-X with his best friend, Triple H, and it seemed that everything was ok…….but it wasn’t. On the night of the Slammys Awards for 2009, Shawn accepted the Slammy for Match of the Year for which Shawn vs Taker won on that night. However, as Shawn started to walk away, he stopped…….almost reliving the match in his mind and his head in that very instant. Shawn then got back on the microphone and challenged the Undertaker for one more match. However, the Undertaker felt that he had nothing to prove to Shawn because Shawn tried……and he failed……he doesn’t get another shot. This drove Shawn Michaels to insanity: he tried to win the Royal Rumble and failed (Taker was World Champion), he and Triple H lost the WWE Tag Team Titles to ShowMiz, Shawn’s friendship with Triple H was being tested week in and week out and it seemed that Shawn had lost his grip on reality due to the unshaking feeling that he believed he could beat the Undertaker if he was given another chance. Shawn went to the lengths of costing the Undertaker his World Title at the Elimination Chamber PPV and got his wish at a rematch but with one stipulation: Shawn would have to retire if he did not succeed. And thus, in Phoenix, AR, Shawn got his wish……and failed once again, thus ending his storied career. It was a heartbreaking end for the Heartbreak End but in a sense, Shawn got the retirement that legends dream about and in that moment, Shawn wasn’t seen as a loser in the eyes of the fans……..he came back to perform for 8 more years after suffering what was considered a career ending injury in 1998 and won back the respect of the fans during that time……he had earned this retirement.
Meanwhile, Triple H takes an extended leave of absence……the kayfabe reason is that Sheamus injured him at the Extreme Rules PPV the next month……the real reason was that Triple H was pretty much taking time off to get more acquainted with his new position in the company. Taker comes back and wrestles throughout the year in 2010, most notably in a three PPV series with Kane that starts off with promising before dissolving into a formulaic D movie plot of zapping powers, betrayal, fathers and sons and all that jazz……by the way, the three matches on PPV sucked. On the 2/21 RAW, the Undertaker and Triple H both returned to the company one week after The Rock made his shocking return to hype up Wrestlemania 27 and on this night, Taker and Triple H, without saying a word, booked their match for Wrestlemania 27. What the WWE failed to do was mention that this was the second time these two were going to be facing off at Wrestlemania when Triple H became victim #9 back at Wrestlemania 17……..but who cares about facts when it interrupts the WWE’s precious storytelling? The match was built up as the two Last Outlaws of an Era Bygone battling each other to see who was truly the supreme being of that era…….but that is different from what we actually got in the buildup. After an amazing start to the build with the two silently challenging each other at Wrestlemania, the build pretty much devolved into useless promos and Triple H beating the crap out of Sheamus and Ted DiBiase Jr. for no reason whatsoever. The two didn’t have another face to face confrontation until the go home show and that was when Shawn Michaels finally showed up to bring some interest into the feud. Triple H’s belief was that Shawn lost because he got soft……he got “used to losing” as Triple H put it……and Triple H is a winner, he will do whatever that is necessary to end the Undertaker’s Streak. He also said that it needed to be done because Undertaker was old and broken down……it was time for him to be put down. Obviously, Undertaker didn’t necessarily agree because it wasn’t his time yet but in all honesty, the best part of the segment didn’t involve Triple H whatsoever……it involved Taker telling Shawn that he didn’t have the same arrogance in his eyes after he “humbled” him the year before and Shawn attempting Sweet Chin Music on him. As much as I respect Triple H in everything he’s accomplished in this business……the one thing he has never been able to do is grab that naturalistic and organic reaction from the crowd on a consistent basis that guys like Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker do and so the WM 27 match was set up.
The No Holds Barred stipulation, the same match stipulation added to their Wrestlemania 17 match, allowed these two to get creative and allowed them to go balls out. The first 10 minutes of the match are electric as these two just beat the unholy hell out of each other, taking vicious shots, taking big moves and the pace, especially for two men well into their 40s, was phenomenal…….it felt like a legitimate war. However, about 15 minutes into the match, the pace slowed down as both men began tiring……more specifically, the Undertaker began tiring, especially after kicking out of THREE Pedigrees. However…….we then get to the second half of the match, the part where the storytelling enters the fray, which I would normally be happy for but this is where the match REALLY begins to lose its luster for me. Triple H continuously hits the Undertaker with a steel chair, including going against the rules and giving Taker a head shot with the chair, but instead of going for the cover, Triple H decides to just…..stand there. He was demanding for Taker to stay down, to die and to give Triple H the satisfaction of being the man to not only end the Streak but to end the Undertaker’s career. I’m twofold on this because it’s a great character moment for Triple H because it goes along with the character he’s portrayed all along: he’s egotistical, even as the hero. He wants to not just end the Streak but to end Taker’s career……only Triple H, after everything we know about him, pulls this off as believably as he does……the best part of the entire match is Triple H hitting the Tombstone Piledriver in one of the greatest near falls in the history of professional wrestling and it only works with a guy like Triple H. However, my problem comes with the structure of the match of how these two just come charging out of the gate, guns blazing, for 10-12 minutes and then the remaining 17 minutes is just a bunch of lying around, Triple H yelling at Taker, some chair shots and stuff of that nature…….I’m completely fine with the story being told and it is very compelling stuff watching it in the moment but years have taken off the luster of this match and now it just seems obvious that they are stretching the match out to that 30 minute mark……but it’s even MORE glaring nowadays than it was 5 years ago. Eventually, the Undertaker makes Triple H tap out to Hell’s Gate so he gets the victory and increases his Wrestlemania record to 19-0…….but at the cost of his body and his well-being……the Undertaker leaves Wrestlemania 27 a broken and beaten man despite being victorious.
The next night on RAW, Triple H accepted the moral victory of his actions: he lost the match but won the war……the Undertaker was recovering in a hospital, Triple H was there on the show. And for an entire year, Triple H, every now and then, would constantly remind us of this. Once again, it’s great character work by Triple H because he believably pulls it off and we buy it: this guy is so goddamn full of himself that despite tapping out last year, he still gloats like he actually ended the Streak and ended Taker’s career!! The WM 27 match would be only one of two highlights for me when it comes to Triple H in 2011: the other is him taking over for Vince McMahon the RAW after Money in the Bank because there was an outlook of hope that things were going to start turning around. However……having just watched the year unfold……I particularly loathed a majority of Triple H’s involvement in the product onscreen in 2011. I am not a fan of how the company mismanaged the CM Punk storyline and Triple H, sadly, was at the forefront of it all and it completely derailed one of the hottest wrestlers in the WORLD at that point. I did not like Triple H beating CM Punk at Vengeance in a match that Triple H had no business in winning but still did it anyway. I am not a fan of Triple H’s masturbatory retread of a feud with Kevin Nash in the latter part of the year because it completely made no sense and once again, it served as a detriment to the actual compelling story: CM Punk. I feel that Triple H, as a whole, was a massive detriment to the company in an attempt to make himself look like the star of the show when, in reality, he should have just been a background character……but since, in his mind, he was the guy who ended the Undertaker’s career…..he should be front and center, I suppose. However, into the year of 2012 we go, Triple H made his onscreen return the night after the Elimination Chamber PPV with the sole purpose of firing John Laurinaitis (remember him as an authority figure?)……however, the Undertaker made his shocking return to the company (sporting a very fake looking wig to cover up his new haircut). The Undertaker’s intentions were clear (again, without saying a word): he wanted a rematch. This was something different and unique for the Undertaker: most people end up trying to challenge him and his Streak…….never the other way around, but because of Triple H’s gloating and taunting, the Undertaker just couldn’t take it anymore and decided to fight Triple H once again to prove that he’s not broken down and he wants his revenge.
In an interesting development, Triple H turned the Undertaker down……the same way the Undertaker turned down Shawn Michaels’ multiple requests for rematches back in 2010. Once again, it’s more great character work by Triple H: this smug bastard lost but he’s so full of himself that he’s actually turning down another shot at the Streak!! The Undertaker, like Shawn, goes crazy and as we see in vignettes, he’s been obsessing about the WM 27 match for a year because it’s been all he could think about. The fact of the matter is that the Undertaker looked…….weak. He looked defenseless, he looked old, he looked broken down……he looked defeated. After almost 22 years of wrestling for the company and everything he’s done in this company, the last thing the Undertaker wanted to do was to end his career looking the way he did at Wrestlemania 27. Shawn Michaels even decided to make his return in an attempt to goad Triple H into fighting the Undertaker again but Triple H, this time, used a more business-like approach to justify his reasons as to why he’s not going to fight the Undertaker. Basically, in Triple H’s words, he’s going to be the future owner of this company, the Undertaker is a big part of this company, he does not want to end the career of his one of his most successful brands in the company and lose out on revenue that the brand brings in. This is no longer the anti-authority D-X Triple H or even the Cerebral Assassin……this is the new Corporate Triple H. While Shawn is still rebellious in his own way, Triple H decided to get all corporate on him and now he has a business reason to justify not fighting Taker again. Another reason he gives, although one not as good, is that he feels pity for the Undertaker now, no longer respect, because of how bad he looks so he basically states that he doesn’t want to fight some broken down old man again…….this would be fine if, just a few months earlier, he wasn’t fighting the 50+ year old Kevin Nash in a Sledgehammer Ladder Match and I never heard him utter that Nash was some broken down old man. I loved Shawn’s desperation, calling Triple H a coward and demanding that Triple H look him in the eye and tell him that he doesn’t want to end the Streak and Triple H emphatically tells him “No”…….Shawn reminds me of that dad who can’t play sports anymore so he’s trying to live his live vicariously through his son’s accomplishments.
Then, the next week, it was the Undertaker’s turn to try, one more time, to goad Triple H into the match. The first half of the promo was long, rambling and boring…….it’s not I’ll harp on too much since Taker hadn’t cut a promo in over a year and has never been the greatest promo cutter at all in his entire career. Once again, Triple H was defiant…….no matter what Taker said, Triple H would not budge on his stance but he was growing more and more angry by the second. Triple H still held firm in his belief that Taker wants Triple H to be the guy to end his career (something that I honestly have a hard time in buying) and he continued to use the business defense to justify his reasons. But then…….Taker decided to go…….there. He decided to say the one thing to Triple H that is, in all honesty, the equivalent of talking about Hulk Hogan’s bald spot during the 80s and 90s:
“You know that you can’t do what your buddy, Shawn Michaels, couldn’t do…….because you know Shawn was always better…..than you.”
This was it……this was what set Triple H off. After a very long and rambling promo, Triple H finally accepted the match and made it a Hell in a Cell match. So the question was……what was Shawn’s response to this going to be? The next week, he made his return to apologize to Triple H but it was also apparent that Shawn may or may not have watched the previous week’s episode of RAW. However, he did hear that Triple H finally accepted the match so he wanted to know what the Undertaker said to him to get him to accept the match……..Shawn, obviously, was not happy. Triple H’s spin on this was that it’s not because Shawn is better than him or whatever, he’s just tired of hearing everybody talk shit about Shawn behind his back after his career was ended by Taker two years prior but this is also when Shawn revealed that he was going to be the Special Guest Referee for the match. This promo added an extra layer to the whole thing through the work of characteristics and how it binds these three together: all three men respect each other but all three men believe they are better than one another and it has, in fact, ripped them apart and now, it was time to settle the score and to finally see who the dominant male of this trio was. However…….this does lead me to my least favorite aspect of the Triple H/Undertaker matches: the whole talk of “End of An Era”. A lot of the hype around the WM 27 match was not that Triple H wanted to get revenge for his buddy being forced to retire at the hands of Taker, which is what we all thought was going to happen, but to be the man to end the Streak so he could be the true dominant figure of the Era of Old. It was truly a battle of the Last Outlaws of a time when wrestling was at its highest popularity and highest peak and Taker and Triple H were the last two men standing…….the problem I have with this is that it didn’t feel organic. It’s true: these two are the last two major active Attitude Era stars (Kane and Big Show notwithstanding) and they did help to usher in that Attitude Era and were a major part of it……..but it feel shoehorned in to take precedence over the more interesting story of these three characters and their personal relationships to each other. The whole “End of An Era” tagline felt like a marketing tool, which is exactly what it ended it up being, especially after all these years. It felt like it was added to add even MORE importance to the match because not only is it Triple H vs Undertaker, not only is Shawn the Guest Referee, not only is it a Hell in a Cell match between the two men who have competed in and won the most Hell in a Cell matches in company history but it’s also this so-called “End of An Era”……forgive me, but I’m not buying it.
It almost seems as if the company just can’t help themselves and it’s a recurring theme throughout over the past couple of years: the company cannot resist patting themselves on the bat for the creation of the Attitude Era and for the amount of success it had. The stars of today are good…….but they aren’t NEARLY as good as the stars of the Attitude Era……nobody today can compare to the success that the Attitude Era stars had. This was basically a gigantic ode to the Attitude Era……a reminder of an era that we never truly forgot about because the WWE constantly reminds us of its success and the superstars from that time period frequently remind us of how awesome they were. That element is my least favorite thing about this match and this buildup…….I wouldn’t have had a problem with it if it wasn’t continuously thrown in to remind us constantly……I know how big these two were in the Attitude Era, I get it, I understand……I don’t need multiple upon multiple 20 minute promos to remind us of that. Plus, once the characters were introduced and the dynamics were established, the build focused solely on the End of An Era aspect and that’s another problem: it felt shoehorned in because they had already run out of their more compelling material and they were not coasting on their legacies and Attitude Era fandom. And I get why this was done: one of the biggest Attitude Era stars ever, The Rock, was wrestling in his first Wrestlemania since Wrestlemania 20 so, in an attempt to nab more buys, they put these two together, called it “End of An Era” and hyped them up as two of the biggest Attitude Era stars ever…….AND…….they booked Kane and Big Show, two other Attitude Era stalwarts, to pick up big victories on this night (Jericho winning the WWE Title would have truly cemented the Attitude Era appeal)……..it was truly ATTITUDE ERA NOSTALGIAMANIA!!!!!!! And for those of you out there who have read many of my previous columns out there, I’m sick to death of it and the fact is, at last year’s Wrestlemania, we got MORE Attitude Era nonsense (in a match involving Triple H, of course) so that even goes to show that the tagline, “End of An Era”, was nothing more than a cheap marketing tool to get people to tune in and watched the show………it was CONTRIVED. I bet that a majority of the WWE superstars today just wish that they could be given the free reign of trying to succeed in a way that the Attitude Era stars were able to succeed back in their day…….the Attitude Era stars were not constantly reminded of their predecessors, they were allowed to become their own entity and that is where the WWE is failing to this very day. How can fans appreciate the present if the company continues to celebrate its past?
I put this match at #2 on my favorite Wrestlemania matches of all-time list for the time period between WM 21-30……..I have since changed my mind and would honestly move it down. The actual match structuring is MUCH better than that of Wrestlemania 27 and it fits with the story. Taker wants revenge so he dominates the first 10 minutes with slow, methodical offense against a Triple H who just can’t seem to get out of the blocks……despite the fact that he’s wrestled more matches than Taker in 2011 but whatever. I also liked Taker’s shaved head look……it was a much-needed changeup to his appearance and one that Triple H would actually follow up on later in the year as well. Shawn was consistently the wild card in the match, feeling genuinely bad for his best friend getting assaulted but also fearing for his life because Taker promised to murder him if he didn’t call the match right down the middle. Once Triple H finally gains control with the Double A Spinebuster on the steps and a mini-powerbomb on the steps, the match essentially becomes what the match was the year before at around this point: Triple H demanding the referee to stop the match. However…….this time around…….it makes perfect sense. Triple H is not just demanding any old referee to stop the match, he’s demanding that HIS BEST FRIEND stop the match and take the decision out of Taker’s hands…….it shows that Triple H honestly believes that he cannot beat Taker straight up and needs Shawn’s help to do it. No matter how many vicious chair shots Triple H gives him, no matter how many sledgehammer shots and no matter how much taunting and vicious intent Triple H has……..Taker just won’t die. Another great moment is Taker catching Shawn in the Hell’s Gate to pretty much take the decision out of Shawn’s hands in a very similar fashion and Taker makes the fatal mistake of taking out the replacement referee out of anger to Triple H kicking out. The Sweet Chin Music/Pedigree Combo was the best near fall of the match and I could see why everybody bought it years ago……however, the near fall doesn’t age well because it just happens way too early. I think that should have been a last ditch effort sort of thing……..I think that it should have come after Triple H unloaded everything on the Undertaker and as a last ditch effort, Shawn finally gives in and helps his friend out. However, in retrospect, the combo happens at about the 20-22 minute mark……..Taker hadn’t even hit a single Tombstone yet……Triple H hadn’t hit a Pedigree yet……it wasn’t the end and I feel that’s because we’ve become so used to countless finisher reversals and kicking out of finishers that I immediately caught that Taker had not hit one Tombstone yet in the match so I knew this couldn’t have been the end. In the moment, I can understand why people bought it…….in retrospect, I think it was a spot that they needed to hold off on for a few more minutes and let the fans stew a little more.
After that, in all honesty, the result was a given. There was nothing Triple H could do after that: he failed at everything and it was pretty much it for Triple H in this match. Sure, he hit a desperation Pedigree but that combo literally took the wind out of his sails and Triple H just couldn’t recover from it. Taker physically beat him down, overpowered him and was telling Triple H to stay down this time around……..Taker was now the dominant presence and Triple H was the weak and frail opponent. Taker finally won the match with a sledgehammer shot to the head and the Tombstone Piledriver……we were then treated to these three individuals hugging each other and leaving the ring together with their heads held high as three of the most respected wrestlers in the locker room and by fans. It was a sight that all three had earned and in all honesty, this should have been it for all three of them. Shawn was already retired……that much is clear……but this should have been the end of the in-ring careers for the Undertaker and Triple H. There isn’t much of a case you can make for Taker: this victory made him 20-0 at Wrestlemania but two years later, he lost to Brock Lesnar at WM 30 and outside of his match with Punk at WM 29, his matches with Brock and Bray Wyatt were underwhelming at WM. His matches with Brock in 2015 were good for what they were but in all honesty, Taker has done really nothing in my eyes to justify him sticking around for as long as he has and I get that the company wanted to milk the Streak for two more years……I just think that if there was a chance for a legitimate stopping point to the Undertaker’s career, this would have been in. The same could said for Triple H since people did not enjoy his underwhelming feud with Brock Lesnar and his underwhelming match and feud with Sting in 2015……..however, Daniel Bryan beating him at WM 30 and Evolution losing two straight PPV matches to the Shield were such major moments that Triple H just had to be apart of so this could have been a stopping point now but he could have come back two years later. So basically…….this match ended no era. The Attitude Era was already ended. The Ruthless Aggression Era was already ended. The TV-PG Era was still in flux. Taker’s career is still currently going on. Triple H’s career is still currently going on (hell, HE’S THE FUCKING WWE CHAMPION AS OF THIS WRITING!!!). Shawn Michaels is still retired. It was just another reminder that the stars from the Attitude Era and the era in general are still awesome and better than anything going today.
You take away the End of An Era nonsense and this is a great story of three men, the obsession of gaining that defining victory and essentially, increasing their legacy. Yes, it is very convoluted and forced that Triple H essentially lost three times to the Undertaker at Wrestlemania but at least they did a good job of tying the WM 25-28 matches together in a beautiful self-contained story. That was the highlight of this entire thing: this interpersonal story between these three men…….not some cockamamie End of An Era nonsense. It makes sense for Triple H and Taker, the two champions of the Hell in a Cell match, battle one more time inside Hell in a Cell to prove who really was the superior athlete inside Hell in a Cell and then they could end that era so to speak as well (which did not happen since Taker fought Brock in 2015 inside Hell in a Cell so it didn’t even end the era of Triple H and Taker’s massive runs inside Hell in a Cell either)……..however, the Cell isn’t there to be used as a weapon, it’s a way to lock these three men inside and let them work out their issues away from the outside world…..which I can behind but I also wished they would have used the Cell more especially since this was between two guys who revolutionized the match and made it what it is today. The End of An Era tagline accomplished its goal of getting more eyes on the show since it was just as essential to the buyrates as was Cena vs Rock (although moreso Cena/Rock) but it’s one of those forced additions to the narrative that does not hold up well for future evaluations. This match received unanimous praise from everyone and still does to this day…….it’s considered to be one of the greatest Wrestlemania matches of all time and has received countless ***** reviews. I have no problem putting this match in the category of “One of the Greatest Wrestlemania matches of all-time” but I do have a problem with the ***** rating because I do not believe this match is perfect. When I first watched it, I loved it……the second time around, it didn’t hold up as well…….I was sucked into the match by the characters and the match as well but there was something off this time around and that’s not a good thing. This match reminds me a lot of the Warrior/Savage match from VII, one of my personal favorite wrestling matches ever, and you can make a case that both matches work in very similar manners.
However, the biggest reason as to why Savage/Warrior works as well as it does for me is that it just….feels…..organic, everything about it does…….a compliment I cannot give THIS match. If this company was not so much in love with its past accomplishments and beating us over the head with it, I’d be kinder to this match. I understand why the company consistently harps on it but it’s made me jaded over the years and I realize that it’s nothing more than a marketing tool to get Attitude Era loving saps to tune in and watch. It feels like the company didn’t trust the narrative that they had before and just decided to run out with the “Attitude Era praise” or the “Greatest Hell in a Cell workers ever” to pad out the weeks……it went back to the explanations that these three are the greatest wrestlers of their time and we have to tell you about it over…….and over…….and over…..and over again. Take away that big, glaring element…….this is almost storytelling perfection and the match is equally as good. It’s amazing that the company was able to tie together four years worth of stories with the same characters at play and make it all make sense until we get to the logical conclusion of all three standing tall at what many believed to be the end of their runs…….it felt like the perfect season finale to a great show……until the show gets another season added and the show just isn’t as good as it was because they got to a logical stopping point and just kept on going. It makes me appreciate that these guys are given the free reign to go out there and tell THEIR story without being interrupted or hindered by a script because the company trusts them…….once again, a privilege not given to the wrestlers of today and thus, we are stuck in the endless cycle of bland feuds and bland promos that fill the void of Monday Night RAW, Smackdown and PPV each and every week. Hell…..even by request, Jim Ross got to call this match…..to put over how important it truly was. I give this match a 9.0 out of 10 and it is really a fantastic match and fantastic ride all the way to the end, despite my selfish qualms about the storytelling.
Match 6: Team Johnny (The Miz, Mark Henry, Drew McIntyre, Jack Swagger, Dolph Ziggler & David Otunga) defeats Team Teddy (Santino Marella, Zack Ryder, Kofi Kingston, The Great Khali, R-Truth & Booker T) at 10:37
And now we get to the annual “let’s throw as many people into a match as humanly possible so that they can all get on the card and get paid” match!! Ever since September 22, 1997, the night Vince McMahon took his very first of many Stone Cold Stunners, the WWE has consistently relied on an Authority figure. Sure, there were people like President Jack Tunney or Gorilla Monsoon……guys who made matches and made decisions but they weren’t the focal points of the show and usually let the wrestlers handle their own business. If they felt that the wrestlers couldn’t settle things, they usually stepped in……that is a complete contrast from where we are today where wrestlers can’t even take shits without an Authority figure telling them to do so! Out of the constant Authority figures that we’ve gotten over the years, the most consistent of them all was Theodore Long, who was the GM of Smackdown for, give or take, 9 years and he was the authoritative face of Smackdown throughout that entire time for the most part. It was comfortable having a guy run the show for as long as he did and sure, Long made a lot of head scratching decisions during his tenure on Smackdown and we all know the running joke when it comes to Teddy Long (he either makes tag matches or he forces people to go ONE ON ONE WITH DA UNDERTAKA!!!) but he was consistent in an inconsistent company. John Laurinaitis, the former Senior Vice President of Talent Operations, was first introduced on camera to the WWE audience during the CM Punk storyline of 2011…….the original reason as to why he was brought onscreen and the character was created was due to the fact that Vince McMahon, at his age, shouldn’t have been taking major bumps and that’s why they brought in Laurinaitis. However, and you’ve heard many stories about him, Laurinaitis has always been perceived as a tool……a guy who has no talent whatsoever at his job, is just a massive yes man and was one of the many reasons as to why the talent pool was so weak in the company for so many years. That’s all fine and dandy but then……that’s the way the character was perceived onscreen as well. He was Vince’s right hand man, he was Triple H’s right hand man, CM Punk constantly ripped him for being a tool bag and a right hand man…….he was basically a walking punchline, a consistently funny joke that I’m not supposed to be taking seriously and thus he has no real “authority” whatsoever.
Eventually, these two men proceeded to clash with each other in the weeks leading up to Wrestlemania and at the Elimination Chamber PPV, it seemed like Laurinaitis had a pretty good team lined up in the form of Alberto Del Rio, Mark Henry and the returning Christian. However, Christian got hurt…..again, Del Rio was kept off of Wrestlemania and that means that only Mark Henry was the one who stuck around. Over the next few weeks, they pretty much had to throw a bunch of teams together until the team captain of Team Johnny, The Miz, was pretty much picked at the very last minute because of all the disarray. Battles during authority figures really can be interesting and even entertaining but this match, in particular, really didn’t capture my attention whatsoever…….and that’s talking about the buildup and the match itself but this thing dominated TV screens for a good long while until we got to the blow-off here. I also see a bunch of talent in this match that honestly deserves much better than to be in this throwaway spot on the card. I’m fine with guys like Kofi Kingston and R-Truth being here…….this is where they were at this point in their careers, they had dropped the ball on Kofi and I’m fine with them here. I’m fine with Santino Marella in this spot (although, I wasn’t fine with his long reign as US Champion during this time period) because this is a spot like him should be in….same thing goes for Great Khali and the retired Booker T. David Otunga is fine in this spot because he, quite honestly, sucks as a wrestler and the same thing goes for Jack Swagger, who was a jobber at this point, and Mark Henry, who was battling injuries. Dolph Ziggler should not be in this match by this point……for the second year in a row, he got a WWE or World Title shot at the Rumble, lost and was placed in a throwaway match at Mania instead of being given a major platform for himself to shine on the grandest stage. It sucks that Drew McIntyre, a once massively promising prospect, could barely even buy a win on Smackdown throughout 2012 and this was the luckiest he was ever going to be. It sucks that The Miz, who ended the previous year’s Wrestlemania as the WWE World Champion, is now nothing more than a joke and an annoying one at them……he and Laurinaitis make a perfect couple.
And then there’s this guy…….
Ah yes, the tragic rise and fall of Zack Ryder…….how one man took all of the “keep busting your ass and you’ll eventually succeed” speeches just a little too seriously and it turned out to actually come back around and…..well……actually bust him in the ass. The story of Zack Ryder goes back to a year prior when he decided to start up his own Youtube show to give himself something to do in his off-time. The “Long Island Iced Z” gimmick was completely ridiculous and in all honesty, I thought someone was playing a joke on this poor guy and maybe they were……the first time I saw Ryder as this gimmick, it was a Superstars match against Evan Bourne and I was like “THIS IS FUCKING STUPID!!” Well, apparently, Ryder thought so too but instead of bitching and moaning about it…….he embraced the gimmick, created his own Youtube show with the gimmick and decided to use this to shoot his way to the top. One thing wrestling fans always seem to appreciate is when a wrestler throws themselves into the gimmick……it may not be a very good gimmick but seeing a wrestler’s commitment to the gimmick is really an enduring thing. Mickie James threw herself into the role of the crazy psycho lesbian chick back in 2006 and that’s why she got cheered at Wrestlemania 22 in Chicago instead of Trish Stratus. Marty Wright threw himself big time into the role of The Boogeyman and while fans didn’t like the character and thought he was just a mid-card gimmick, at least fans appreciated Wright’s commitment to the role. Dustin Runnels threw himself into the portrayal of Goldust because it was a way for him to be his own man and not just continue to live in the shadow of his father…….the Goldust character is still fondly remembered today. There are numerous cases of this happening and Ryder is a great example of it. I think a lot of people honestly thought that so-called “Internet fans” wanted Zack Ryder to become the next WWE Champion or at least the World Champion…….to me, that’s a massive assumption because I don’t think the character itself has the appeal to go past the mid-card and I think a lot of fans knew that as well. However, what they were calling for in reality, was to give the guy a chance: put him on TV, let him get some wins, let him connect with the audience, let him become an important part of the show and use this guy to make some money…….should be simple, right? Ryder winning the US Title was one of the best moments of 2011 because fans were genuinely excited to see this guy succeed and win a mid-card title……that’s all people were asking for.
You can’t really say that Ryder wasn’t popular…….his Youtube show amassed 12 million views and he was one of the first people who really garnered the WWE mainstream attention through Youtube. He was a hero in the locker room to a lot of the younger talent for his ability to actually try and force the WWE to notice him because if this guy could succeed doing this then surely everybody else could! Plus, it makes sense, right? Vince McMahon constantly wants wrestlers to climb and grab that imaginary brass ring that he covets so much…….something no wrestler has ever done since John Cena in 2005, according to Vince McMahon. He also likes to be challenged and likes it when guys show guts in front of him, the wrestlers usually gain McMahon’s respect if they stand up to him or stay steadfast with something despite the fact that Vince wants to end it. So……in all honesty………HOW COULD THIS POSSIBLY FAIL?!!! Well, apparently the WWE didn’t see dollar signs in Zack Ryder or his character and proceeded to spend a majority of 2011 making Ryder look like the biggest goofball to have ever existed in a wrestling ring. He was given a Pedigree by (one of the top babyfaces of the company at the time) Triple H on an episode of RAW when Ryder tried to stand up to him, he was consistently assaulted by Kane in the early weeks of 2012, he lost his US Title to perennial jobber Jack Swagger, he was best friends with John Cena (and no…….that’s not a good thing whatsoever), he caught his best friend (Cena) and his love interest (Eve Torres) making out on Valentine’s Day, he gets back with Eve because reasons and here, he gets pinned in this match here, he gets dumped by Eve again AND gets kicked in the nuts for millions of fans around the world to see……….what a morale booster right? Think of it this way: think of all of the young talent in the locker room, hoping and praying to work hard and get a chance to succeed in the company. Sure, most of them might not be World Champion or even work in the main event of Wrestlemania, but they want to succeed, they want to have a lot of fans and they want to contribute to the company in helping them make millions of dollars and maybe earn a little bit of respect along the way as well……..and then this happens……
Somebody might ask me why I’m so tired of the old guard or the Attitude Era guys or the “Class of 2002” guys as many call it……it’s because their time has passed and the company just can’t move forward anymore. This company is unwilling to accept that things are just not what they were years ago and a lot of fans are just unwilling to accept that the superstars of yesterday need to hang up the boots for the superstars of today to shine. It would also help if the company would open up and let these guys cut loose a little bit, let them speak their minds, let them have great feuds, let them tell great stories and let them have great matches……..instead, we seem to be seeing a lot more Zack Ryder stories than successful ones….a lot of guys with a ton of promise killed by the WWE machine because they didn’t “fit into their plans”. It’s sad really and it shows why it’s hard to be a wrestling fan today. I mean look at Wrestlemania 32, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!!! The two big matches on the card are Triple H defending the WWE Title against Roman Reigns and the Undertaker vs Shane McMahon in a Hell in a Cell match!! That proves my point right there that either this company cannot draw fans to their Wrestlemania shows without bringing out Attitude Era stars or they just don’t just trust the younger stars to do it and just bring back Attitude Era stars just because they are scared…….either point works. But on a night filled with Big Show, Kane, Rock and Undertaker all winning their matches and even losers like Triple H and Chris Jericho are still treated like big deals even defeat, Ryder is the guy with the egg on his face by the end of the night and it was to the point that the character has since been killed off by both the WWE and by Ryder himself…….his Youtube show no longer exists on Youtube (videos are still there but they are all old), his show got moved to the WWE’s Youtube show and the popularity sagged and now it’s to the point where anything “Long Island Iced Z” related is pretty much dead and gone. The match itself was about two GMs fighting for control but it’s a battle we’ve seen many times and one that I honestly could care less about………the real story was seeing the youth in the WWE trying to succeed and ultimately getting a big kick in the nuts and a “Thank you, fuck you, bye!” for their efforts…….it really is disgusting to watch and it really does make me want to puke……and this is coming from a guy who really wasn’t that much of a fan of Ryder at all!!!
He wasn’t great in the ring, I didn’t really like his character but I liked his energy and I liked what he was representing! THAT’S what I liked…….a guy like this represented hope for the boys in the back and when his character was pretty much emasculated onscreen and killed off the way it was, it killed the locker room’s morale. After that, why bother? They can try to get themselves over but the company just might kill their pushes worse if they do that…….it just goes to show that it’s either “wait for your turn, it’ll happen” and it never happens or you create an opening for your turn…..and you get slapped back down for jumping in line. A lot of people wanted out of the company after this……Curt Hawkins had no problem in revealing that the way Ryder (who is his real-life friend) was treated “broke the spirit of the locker room” and it also kind of proves that Vince McMahon’s brass rings are a complete fabrication and something he dangles above the heads of the roster to get them to work harder but in reality, he decides who he wants to push at the end of the day and the people have to like it…….it’s not about who can draw and who can make money, it’s about who Vince wants because he knows what draws and makes money. Despite my long rambling on Ryder (I literally just watched in a match on Smackdown from 2012 with Santino against the Prime Time Players and he literally does nothing but get knocked down once in the whole match and Santino is the one who wins……my, how the mighty fell very quickly), the match itself is nothing amazing whatsoever and I’m pretty sure nobody really cared about the match anyway. It was just there to get some guys some nice paychecks and to be done with it. The GM storyline didn’t even really matter in about 3 months, most of these guys just continued to hang around the lower mid-card for the next few years and nobody was really pushed due to this. It was just there to kill some time and give the fans a minute to breath after the Hell in a Cell match and before we got to the main event and the WWE Title match. I give the whole thing a 5.5 out of 10 because I don’t think it’s horrible whatsoever, just bland and uninteresting.
That does it for Part 2 and in all honesty, I said a lot during the Taker/HHH match that I actually to make a third part for the Punk/Jericho match and the Rock/Cena match because I will have a lot to say in those two matches as well. I will be back with Part 3 hopefully by this weekend so we can wrap this baby up.
Tags: wrestlemania 28