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What's Wrong With Wrestling

I submit to you, anyone who cares about the WWE, be you a fan or Vince himself, this editorial outlining very clearly what the hell is wrong with pro-wrestling. If you have been asking yourself this question, here are your answers. They are neither complicated nor difficult to solve. So, if you are on the end of the spectrum with the power to correct these things, get up off your ass and DO IT!!! If you are a powerless fan like me, use them to weigh whether you really still want to watch the shitfest that WWE has become.

1) The name. Losing the initials ‘WWF’ really stripped away any sense of identity. From the 80’s with Hogan and superhero wrestlers to the 90’s with Austin and attitude, every highpoint in WWE’s history had at its axis a strong sense of identity. What the hell is WWE? Nobody knows, apparently WWE themselves, because they change their mind and promotional direction every week. By God (and I don’t mean Triple-H), Vince, people flocked to the WWF in the 80’s and stayed for decades because they respected you. You were brave, daring. Where are the grapefruits now? Every TV edit, every hatchet-job DVD, every dumb skit—these are clear signs not of bravery, but of desperation at best, and at worst some deluded sense of gratification to tell yourself you are cutting edge. Courage is timeless, Vince. Have the balls to choose one vision and go with it. Here’s a recommendation: Go back to the beginning. The 80’s. Make wrestling fun again. Forget making a live-action-adventure-TV show. Make it a sport, with rankings, championships, and CHARACTERS rather than caricatures. Abandon ‘WWE’. Keep the name—law says you have to—but give us the flavor of the Federation, the WWF. Bring back the red, white and blue ropes, the big logo above the entrance, the referees having shirts colored to match the show (red shirts for RAW), the wrestlers being competitors, etc. What we have now is thematic chaos.

2) Triple-H. Need I say more? Here’s a guy who is married to the boss’ daughter and head writer. Conflict of interests, anyone? His politics have destroyed countless talents, most namely Kurt Angle, who could have easily carried the torch back into mainstream popularity AND respect. Either put Triple-H firmly in the writing team and OFF the roster, or get rid of him and Stephanie entirely. WWE has an obligation to the stockholders to produce the best product they can, and Paul (Triple-H) has proven for over half a decade that he only chases talent away and adds nothing to the show on his own.

3) The Championship. They need to mean something. First, you actually need a championship—A championship. There needs to be ONE ‘world’ belt, the traditional WWE title, which can be challenged by all three brands, like it was originally with Brock. This will make THE champion special, god-like, and therefore getting a short at him would draw huge interest and create tremendous excitement. In other words, happy fans and happy stockholders.

4) Lesser championships. Yes, you need to have some lesser belts to tell stories and flesh out cards, but there are just too damn many. Title belts are gold, right? Let’s run with that metaphor. What happens where there is too much gold on the market? The price drops. There needs to be one single belt for each brand, say the IC belt for RAW, the US belt for SmackDown, and the ECW/hardcore belt for ECW. After that, move ALL the ‘divas’ to one brand and keep the women’s title there, for the opposite problem of too many belts is not enough challengers for it—a thin division depowers a title. The women’s title on RAW so you can be edge on cable TV with T&A, and the tag belts on SmackDown for its emphasis on wrestling action. Finally, have tag-team matches anywhere, sure, but have only one set of tag-team titles, and keep them on a specific brand. Finally, just lose the damn lightweight belts. There are no weight divisions in wrestling and everybody knows it, so cut the shit.

5) PPV. This one comes from the championships. PPVs need to be worth buying. I don’t mean in terms of in-ring action, but in what is marketed. THE championship should only be allowed to be contested at PPVs. Furthermore, specialty or ‘gimmick’ matches should be reserved for PPVs or used sparingly on TV. Finally, results from PPVs should not be undone the next night on RAW, and rematches should simply not happen (at least until the next PPV). I mean, why pay $40 for a match when not only will its result be meaningless, but you can see it for free the next night? The forced ‘wait’ between PPVs would build excitement and give a sense of consequences or victory, so those high-priced shows would become MUST-see shows, making us feel we got our money’s worth.

6) Returning stars. This one trails off of PPVs. If you have a BIG returning star, save him for a PPV. When the Rock came back in 2001, he had a match on TV a week before SummerSlam. Same with Triple-H in early 2002 before the Rumble. What a waste. Make the return special by saving it for the special events.

7) Surprises. As Biscoff points out in the "Monday Night Wars" DVD, Turner Broadcasting did good research—wrestling fans like surprises, namely spontaneous situations and fights. Given the current format of WWE TV shows, it is clear that everything happens around the framework of the commercials. There is no sense of realism, and thus, no reason to care. When wrestlers go outside the ring, it always goes to a commercial. Why? And instead of the cameramen conveniently capturing things as they happen, it should be done as "earlier today" or "during the break", like in a real sport. If the mad situations inherent in wrestling did not conveniently weave around the commercials and quarter-hours, they would be far more exciting, and because of this new-fangled thing called "recording", they could still be shown all the same, so fans would miss nothing.

8) The Fourth Wall. In regards to the cameramen, has anyone else wanted to hunt down Kevin Dunn and Vince for their 1st-grade storytelling ability? The fact that the cameras are always EVERYWHERE, as if being toted around by invisible flying midgets, makes me want to puke. Good storytelling often relies on suggestion rather than things being in your face, plus there’s the believability issue. WWE programming reminds me of the end of "The Naked Gun", when Leslie Nielson is on the Angeltron—the big TV for the baseball stadium—telling Priscilla how "I wanted to wait until we were alone" to give her the ring. Except WWE tries to make this same situation anything other than a joke. Think of the movie "Jaws", that NOT seeing the shark made for much greater suspense. The WWE should have cameras TRYING to get interviews, or trying go behind closed doors, and having to wait to see whom comes storming out of them and with what news. This is both believable and also just better storytelling in any medium.

9) Writers. Fire them. The wrestlers should tell their own stories in the ring through the medium they know. Writers just straight-jacket talent. It’s the same problem throughout the world: In the military, you have college-made officers trying to tell the grunts how to fight when those R.O.T.C. (college) guys have never spent a day in real combat. Or, as is more commonly said, "People should live in the buildings they design". The writers, not being wrestlers, forget that this is an impromptu performance, which needs to remain fluid and feel natural (like a fight), rather than connecting-the-dots of a script. Maybe have a writer or two on hand to offer story possibilities and ideas to the wrestlers, but there should be no structure towards carrying them out. While writers are mostly a modern problem, a demonchild of the Russo era, WWE’s love affair with a straightjacket-script does back much longer, and has ALWAYS been a problem. For example, in 1992, at the Royal Rumble, Sid threw out Hogan . . . and the crowd loved it!!! I know, I watched it live, and kept the tape for later review. However, when this highlight was shown on WWF TV, the audio was (badly) dubbed, specifically Gorilla’s commentary about it, to make Sid the heel and Hogan the hero. Why? Because they were going to carry on with their story no matter what the fans liked. Enter Russo a few years later, and he tells everyone it’s okay to cripple EVERYTHING in this manner. And so it continues today worse than ever before.

10) Characters. Can’t stress this one enough. This is mostly the problem of SmackDown. Why do we watch wrestling? As in, why watch it instead of any other athletic show or sport? Because we like fantasy. Because of the CHARACTERS that make it a fantasy. SmackDown is populated by bland guys in bland tights which appear, for all intents and purposes, to be real sportsmen. Now, I’m all for making the WWE more ‘believable’ as I have repeatedly said, but since we know it’s fantasy, the characters should still have their appealing gimmicks. And I’m not talking cartoon gimmicks like Doink, but simply that they have CHARACTER. If someone’s gimmick IS to be a real wrestler, such as Bret Hart and Steve Austin, fine. But when everyone in every match looks the same, it just gets boring as hell. Edge, Undertaker, Melina, Hogan—all different extremes of gimmicks, but all equally enjoyable. Um, Mr. Kennedy? Paul London? Where is the ENTERTAINMENT in the WW’E’? Again, I stress not to bring back cartoon crap like Mantaur or Max Moon, but every wrestler should have CHARACTER beyond simply wanting to compete, something we in dramatic storytelling call MOTIVE, which is NOT an angle, however long an angle may last, but a constant driving force. In Austin’s case, it was his his rebellion against the system that held in down for 7 years prior to breaking through the glass ceiling. In Undertaker’s case, his motive is WHAT HE IS, whether psycho or mind-game-player, it’s still a CHARACTER. Think, if every superhero wore the same tights, would we care? How much do we really enjoy movie sequels by the time they get to part 4 and 5? The Hurricane was great! Here’s a gimmick that’s still believable—a comic book fan wants so much to be a superhero he dresses like one. Beautiful! BUT, as soon as he became "Shane Helms", vanished off the planet as far as we were concerned. Hmmm . . .

11) Wrestling. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet, where is it? WWE is wrestling in name, but not in practice. I don’t mean we need pure mat-wrestling here. Hell, I love my dropkicks, backflips, piledrivers and the like. But what seems strangely missing about everything in the ring is that, like the broadcast itself, it is worked around certain spots rather than actually CREATING them. The action does not feel real or natural, but overly choreographed. This used to be covered up by an emphasis on this being a sport. For example, touching the ropes did not magically break a hold, it broke a hold because it was considered to be outside the ring, where pins and holds must be broken. Now, someone can touch the ropes in a cage match where it’s physically impossible to be outside the ring and there’s no countout or DQ anyway. What the hell is going on? An emphasis on the ‘action’ being a sport or competition, with rules, would serve to make more sense to our suspended disbelief as well as add to the excitement, because we’d know when people were straying from the rules and taking risks, rather than simply waiting for the 18th ‘swerve’ of the night at its carefully position-around-the-commercial spot.

12) Hierarchy. Furthering the problem with action, there appears to be no sense of structure to the WWE. Steve Austin made it huge by fighting Vince for reasons totally forgotten today: Steve WAS held back (by wCw), and Vince had held others back for years to favor Hogan. Steve became a sort of champion for us against the corporate politics which held back our enjoyment over the years. Austin’s success was not simply because he was fighting the boss, but his personal reason for doing so. These days, having the ‘evil boss’ is so overdone it hurts business rather than helps it. I mean, who would sign contracts to work for WWE if Biscoff or Coach were really running things? It defies the logic of the fantasy-world we want to believe. Vince and Austin had a great run, but furthering the evil boss scenario is as shallow as trying to make Lex Luger an All-American-Hero simply because he went through the same motions as Hogan had. An evil boss is no substitute for a strong heel in the ring. The WWE fantasy-hierarchy needs to return a neutral state, with enforced rules but a used-sparingly boss, and to let the wrestlers themselves be the villains (and the heroes).

13) Respect. WWE needs to respect people. Currently, all it does is show favoritism to people currently under contract. There is no credit or respect what-so-ever given to those who were there before. Consider Warrior. Regardless of what you think about him personally, he made huge amounts of cash for Vince for years. Now, Vince’s ego is entirely the problem here. He wants things both ways. He wants to say people owe him loyalty forever, but he’s not willing to PAY them forever. Why should Warrior kiss Vince’s ass? Why should he care about WWE at all? Does he own stock in it? Vince is the first person to fire people and cut them off, and yet then complain about how they don’t respect HIM and HIS company legacy. Well, it’s either money or respect, Vince. If you want to use money to justify things, then you live by the sword and die by the sword (or the checkbook). And if money is not your highest priority, prove it by being cool with people you have no financial leverage over. WWE would do very well to be selfless, showing how they care more about the legacy than dollars, by respecting those they do not contractually have to. A nice tribute DVD to Warrior, for example, instead of the "Self-Destruction" one they put out. What did that DVD accomplish, anyway? Did they need the money? Were fans clamoring for Vince to bury the Warrior? Who did it make happy? One person: Vince’s Ego. And why? Warrior was willing to make the DVD, and thus it probably would have been favorable, but Vince said the promoting of it would have benefited Warrior more, so he wouldn’t agree to the equal-advertising Warrior suggested. So, it came down to money, and yet Vince then bitches about people not being loyal. The WWE needs to be ‘cool’ again, and since most fans have been completely turned off by WWE’s transparent, Washington DC-level empty promises and all around bullshit, WWE needs to EARN respect. A good place to start is by respecting others, by making others seem important than themselves at times.

14) Old farts. I was watching a wCw PPV match for free (I wouldn’t pay for it) in 1994. 1994!!! Ric Flair was tossed out of the ring, and a rowdy fan (bless her) shouted out too loud to be censored "Flair! You’re too old! Get out of wrestling!!!" That’s a quote. I remember it 13 years later. Yeah, 13 years, and Flair’s saggy tits are STILL stinking up the ring every week. If you simply can’t wrestle well anymore, get out of the ring. I don’t see what the big deal is about Flair’s legacy, since he himself seems willing to tarnish and trash it more and more each week. If someone can still wrestle, such as Shawn Michaels, fine, tear up the ring and enjoy giving a good show while we enjoy watching a good show. But for the love of God (not Triple-H), have the decency to hang it up when it’s name, and make way for younger stars.

15) John Cena. He’s the champ (how could I forget? He tells us every week), so he deserves a special section. Now, I respect Cena and think he’s a good guy personally. However, his gimmick sucks dead moose balls. He is not Austin because he hasn’t the motivation of being held down, so he should stop pretending to be. He is not the Rock because he doesn’t have a personality we love to hate, he should stop pretending to be. He is not a Marine, either. What is he then? Um, how about John Cena? Ask Cornette or any other genius in wrestling, and they always tell you that the best characters are the person’s real self with the volume turned way up. Now, sure, Cena likes his hip-hop, but does the audience? No. Besides, there is a much, MUCH deeper Cena that is not being allowed to surface, and that is his love for what the WWE used to be—the WWF. He modeled his logo after the classic 80’s logo. He talks with great respect for the guys of the era before him. What Cena should do is drop the wigger gimmick—just as the Rock dropped his dumb "Rocky" persona and became the Rock, and Austin dropped the "Ringmaster" and became "Stone Cold"—Cena should be THE guy, the guy who will bring wrestling back to its roots, to the WWF flavor, to being fun, starting by respecting guys both in and out of good graces with Vince, by bringing back the traditional WWF/E title belt (from 1988-1998), from being the symbol of what the audience seems to know and love. What a little proof-of-concept? Why does Hogan get such a reaction whenever he comes back? Why do people still pay top dollar for Warrior merchandise? Why are names like Sgt. Slaughter and Bret Hart a part of pop culture? Why are names like Triple-H and Randy Orton NOT part of pop-culture? There was an identity to that not-too-bygone era that Cena could easily—and genuinely—incarnate into perhaps the biggest draw for a decade, the center of our collective soul as wrestling fans. Ahh, well, that probably won’t happen now, because I thought of it and Vince didn’t.

16) Hypocrisy. This seems to cover everything, but I’ll focus on one case in particular. Rob Van Dam is stripped of THE belt and suspended for having a popcorn fart’s worth of weed, but the Incredibly Untalented Dipshit Duo of Orton and Masters are caught—multiple times—with drugs far worse (or just shitting in someone’s food) and are pushed to the moon. The fans respect good workers, and they value that above ANY storyline. Vince, forget your oiled-up, musclebound favorites. Give the fans what they want and who THEY like, indeed who they respect. Put the WWE title back on RVD and make him THE Champion. Oh, and fire Orton and Masters, until they learn how to wrestle AND talk.

17) Style. Working in the ring invites a variety of different styles. It’s incredibly hypocritical of Vince to preach (sometimes even on TV) about how people need to be diverse and adapt to survive in business. Hell, he even said this was the reason for ECW’s demise (other than, say, talent-raids and Vince buying their slot on TNN). Yet Vince constantly refuses to allow different styles of in-ring action, condemning such talents as RVD and Eddie because they can’t "work WWE style". More diverse styles would add a lot more excitement to the product, and possibly even teach Vince how to do business better. I guess therein lies the problem—Vince doesn’t like to be told what to do, even if it’s for his own good, or the good of the paying audience, or the good of the stockholders . . .

So, is Vince, or anyone, going to take this rather lengthy rant to heart?

I’m not buying the Rumble and maybe not even WrestleMania for the first time in 17 years (since I learned of wrestling). Why? Well, I’ll just see all the rematches for free the next night on RAW anyway, and the Rumble winner will be switched to someone else in a week, and WrestleMania will be billed as "the greatest event of all time" despite having matches nobody cares about or matches people have already seen numerous times or outcomes we’ve seen COUNTLESS times (if not for that steroid injury, you KNOW Triple-H was walking out with the belt). In addition, Mick Foley will lose another few years of his life trying to give the fans a reason to care (and we will) but Vince won’t give a shit. We’ll get 5 months of "death defying" videos of Triple-H’s surgery to get us to feel sorry for all those steroids he took that caused his injury (twice) while guys who work without the juice (and without Stephanie batting her eyelashes at daddie) are pushed off of TV to make room for said videos at the loss of the stockholders and while the depushed wrestlers themselves have to find some way to feed their families. Yep, I’m excited about the WWE! Bring it on, Vince, you ego-driven dip-shit!

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