The go-home Raw for WrestleMania XXX was about three hours and eight minutes, with the first three-plus hours functioning as the best kind of tumor: benign. If the course of the television programs is truly “The Road to WrestleMania”, then this leg of travel was navigated on cruise control. Nothing wrong with that per se; sometimes Raw’s an information overload: too many hours, too many characters, too many continuity errors to process and cross reference in our brains.
Here’s Piper, one of the cornerstones of the first WrestleMania, who famously asked years after that magical era if the fans had paid to see Hogan, or to see Piper get beaten up, relegated to one of the deadest parts of the show: the bit before the main event. Making matters worse was the mondo nature of Monday’s tapings, as they overstuffed the schedule with Smackdown, Main Event, and Superstars shoots to boot.
In other words, past 10:30 Eastern time, the crowd was burnt out. Here’s poor Piper, standing in Piper’s Pit before an audience with the collective energy level of Steve Wozniak after a spin class, and he’s running through his grunty dialogue with more echoes than usual. He may as well have been talking into a canyon.
Worse yet, Piper’s purpose was to sell the crowd on the fifth most important match of WrestleMania: the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. That’s like the NFL asking John Elway to do a commercial on the excitement of the Scouting Combine. The only difference is, the athletes at the Combine will eventually have meaningful plans drawn up for them.
As Piper traded semi-boiled bon mots with The Miz and Sheamus, I couldn’t help but think about just how played out “yesterday” is in WWE.
Self-reverential to its own history book, it’s a given that WWE will decorate the WrestleMania ballroom with portraits of the past. That’s why they’ve run the Hall of Fame for eleven straight years. It’s why the stars of Generation Y’s youth like Undertaker and Rock and Lesnar and Helmsley get dusted off and put in ‘money matches’. It’s why Hulk Hogan’s hosting this year. It’s why there’s a match named for Andre!
It’d be one thing if WrestleMania was the season, and the season alone, of conjuring up the flickering visages of wrestling’s past in one unforgettable time frame, but WWE got greedy. They always get greedy, don’t they?
First, it was the Gimmick Battle Royal at WrestleMania X7, merely a chortle at the harmless inanity of wrestling’s past. We laughed, we beamed, and then we shook it off in time for Undertaker vs. Triple H, and Rock vs. Austin, two bloody brawls that defined WWE in 2001.
That battle royal faded away, like most memories, and WWE resumed its breakneck storytelling and emboldened style for the next year, until Hogan outpopped The Rock in Toronto. Then the foundering nWo angle went bye-bye for Hulkamania Reborn, which went away by summer’s end. Not to worry, here’s an unretired Shawn Michaels to carry PPVs like it’s 1996. Oh, and here’s Ric Flair being a devious sneak, like it’s 1985.
Money in the past led to DVD retrospectives, indisputably a great idea (even if my bank account disagrees). Yesterday-worship led to the Hall of Fame, which led to Hogan and Piper’s 2005 inductions, which led to them taking on part-time roles over the next couple years.
That led to Raw returning to the USA Network, and putting together a comeback show with three or four eras of stars. Ted Dibiase was hired as a writer shortly thereafter, while old Hacksaw Jim Duggan became a semi-regular. Then Tatanka came back for some reason.
Then the nostalgia Raws became bi-annual, and then tri-annual. Sgt. Slaughter’s bound to make appearances, as is Dusty Rhodes. Here’s Mick Foley to plug a charity and get a cheap pop. Uh oh, Mae Young and The Fabulous Moolah are up to no good! Those wacky scamps!
Got to the point where overdosing on yesterday meant that today’s product, particularly the unprovens, packed little pop. You’re not getting over the hangover of a classic Piper promo with Bobby Lashley vs. Test, heaven rest Test’s soul. But WWE found a workaround: they began hiring the KIDS of their TV-generation icons. Dibiase Jr, Cody Rhodes, Duece, Manu, Natalya, Camacho, Tamina, Curtis Axel, DH Smith, Bray Wyatt (a success story without over-force). Now you’ve got Charlotte (Ric Flair’s daughter Ashley) in NXT, while Demolition Smash’s kid, Dakota Darsow, was once a developmental hanger-on.
Don’t even get me started on Bo Dallas.
WWE On Demand was one thing in terms of feeding our wrestling fix, but now the Network? Forget it, man. Every PPV ever is there, along with, as we speak, just about about every Raw from 1993, a handful of significant Raws since then, and MSG and Boston Garden shows out the ears. Content isn’t even replaced, it stays there. I can stop writing right now and summon hours of yesterday at the touch of a PS3 controller button.
WWE has made it clear how special their past is, and yet their absolute fixation on it leads to incidences like Monday night, where a cornerstone like Piper is an afterthought discussing a one-note concept.
The irony in all of this is that legends like Piper get royal treatment at the expense of guys like Miz and Sheamus, and the others in the battle royal. None of those guys have a story right now, save for, “I wanna win the trophy.” That is their sole purpose right now. The days of WrestleMania having six to eight stories paid off are long over, especially when you can cram thirty directionless wrestlers, many of whom with value and potential, into one match over a meaningless (sorry Andre) trophy.
Legends are benign now. Whatever killed their specialness was certainly malignant.
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.
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