It’s been quite a decade for Vince McMahon, hasn’t it?
Wrestling history majors will recall that it was in March of 2001 that ol’ Vinnie Mac bought out WCW, effectively ending the wrestling war between the two promotions.
With the war over, Vince McMahon was the undisputed winner.
Generally, in movies and fiction, the winner of a war is lauded with the spoils of victory, and is cast as a conquering hero, worthy of recitation in campfire tales.
Much like Full Metal Jacket and Platoon, we were about to see the true side of war, that those who live through it aren’t exactly gloriously unscathed.
Those who didn’t understand that the wrestling boom of a decade ago would have to come to an end sooner or later had no idea that Vince McMahon’s victory in the wrestling wars would be fleeting.
Here’s a summary of the ten years since Vince McMahon accepted WCW’s unconditional surrender.
In 2002, the quality of Monday Night Raw plummeted to shocking lows, and the ratings reflected it. In a desperate bid to stay relevant, McMahon littered his shows with dashes of gay weddings, lesbian make-out sessions, Dawn Marie marrying Torrie Wilson’s dad, and, of course, the coup de crap, the wrestling debut of necrophilia.
From there, McMahon further alienated fans as the brand split took shape. This happened by taking his established stars (many of them cruiserweights and/or WCW alumni who fans cared about) and jobbed them haphazardly to generic talents from within his own developmental system. The worst case scenario presented itself, as the established talent who was losing (usually Booker T) would look like a chump, whereas the opponent (the likes of Mark Jindrak, the late Lance Cade, 3 Minute Warning, Basham Brothers, La Resistance, etc) would go over without having a bankable character, and thus the fans had interest in nobody after a while.
After a couple of bounce-back quality years in 2004 and 2005 (generally on the Raw side), WWE slipped further in 2006, as the backlash against WWE Champion John Cena by the hardened fanbase may have been offset by a youthful audience, but it didn’t exactly send ratings into the stratosphere.
Also in 2006, WWE had a chance to win over a large segment of fans it had once turned off, with the dusting off of ECW as the third brand. Sadly, McMahon’s micromanagement sent former ECW honcho Paul Heyman packing, and ECW soon became a glorified development territory.
Things only got worse in 2007, when Chris Benoit did…..well, you know what he did. Since that’s been hashed out enough times, let’s just go over the aftermath. In the wake of Benoit’s public shame, there were enough steroids found in Benoit’s house to meet Jose Canseco’s lifetime needs, and then the world cast an angry eye on McMahonland.
Many a superstar would fail a drug test in the coming months, or perhaps they were found on a customer list for a shady online pharmacy. Suspensions followed, and WWE became a source of mockery from there. I mean, how can you not mock John Morrison for taking hormones that came from a lactating deer?
In all, through this six year time period, King Vince became the embodiment of Metallica’s “King Nothing”, a man who just wanted to rule the world, but it came at the expense of his kingdom crumbling around him.
Though McMahon and WWE have somewhat repaired their image in recent years, thanks to a whitewashing of the company through rebranding as “family-friendly entertainment”, as well as a slightly more involved drug policy, and the concept of cozying up to enough celebrities and athletes as a means of showing the world that it’s still cool to be a wrestling fan.
There is, however, one big issue I have with WWE in 2010 that wasn’t an issue a decade ago.
See, ten years ago, WWE was coolest thing in the world. Does anyone remember “Attitude”? Oh, it was great! The Rock spouting promos, Foley being Foley, TLC matches, Hell in a Cell, Jericho vs. Benoit, Edge and Christian posing for the cameras, and Kurt Angle stealing every show.
They really were the coolest thing going, especially in the world of wrestling, although it’s not the case now.
In recent years, Vince McMahon has developed a horrible Napoleon complex that was nothing like the one he had when he was fighting WCW. Back then, he was fighting to win. Now, he’s fighting to maintain respect.
And what an ugly fight it’s been.
Once upon a time, fans could bring signs to the shows that said anything. Now, if you mention TNA, ROH, UFC, Chris Benoit, steroids, or anything that may detract from McMahon’s psyche, it’s going to be confiscated.
The wrestlers are kept on tighter leashes these days in regards to what they can say publicly. When wrestlers write their autobiographies through WWE, they’re often done with light-hearted stories that will bash certain former WWE stars (especially if they went to TNA), but never have a bad word to say about their current co-workers. Almost every book is thankful to Vince and his family, thanking him several times too many for being so gregarious.
Don’t even get me started on WWE’s DVDs, which may feature great classic matches, but the amount of lies told during the documentary portion in regards to history would make the Nixon Administration proud.
On the mic, WWE performers have to follow a script almost word by word, instead of allowing their instincts to help them win over the crowd. Newcomers usually come off as robotic, whereas youngsters like Jack Swagger, Drew McIntyre, Sheamus, and Ted Dibiase are pushed in spite of their bland delivery, just because WWE decided that they should be pushed, not the fans (though, to be fair, Sheamus has proven to be a formidable heel with natural timing).
What about WWE’s “Did You Know?” campaign? Yeah, knowing that Raw beat Army Wives and Deadliest Catch in the ratings last week makes me wanna sit through Big Show vs. Jack Swagger.
I mean, I know that last statement comes off as catty, but it’s shocking just how far south WWE and McMahon have gone in terms of their attitude. They went from lax to uptight, fun to paranoid, holistic to plastic so subtly that we almost didn’t notice.
One man, however, did notice.
The same Matt Hardy who learned about WWE’s corporate retooling the hard way when his then-girlfriend (Lita) cheated on him with his best friend (Edge) for months on end, until he publically disavowed them both. As his rants continued, he found himself jobless while Edge and Lita enjoyed reinvigorated runs in WWE, culminating with Edge winning about 37 world titles.
Matt did return to the company months later, though TNA was an option. Hardy likely regrets the decision, as he was jobbed out to Edge in a matter of three months (spoiling another possible money-drawing angle, as Hardy had become the scorned internet darling that the fans who knew the real story got behind). Despite some high-profile feuds, as well as a run as ECW Champion, Hardy’s second run in WWE has been a bit disappointing.
Though I was once a huge fan of Matt’s, particularly in the V1 days, I’ve soured upon him in the last year or two.
Between defending his drug-addled brother, gaining over thirty pounds of abdominal mass, looking like a tool on Smackdown as he plugged his brother’s DVD at every turn (though I’m sure he had little control over that), and becoming embroiled in a petty real-life feud with Paul London, Hardy became a parody of himself: a thirty-five year old with the mentality of an insecure high-school bully.
Are there any emo bullies out there?
Recently, Hardy’s apparently been trying to get fired from WWE, so that he can join brother Jeff and protégé Shannon Moore in TNA.
His method of doing this is to post videos of himself online criticizing the way he’s been handled by WWE, and vaguely hinting about jumping ship to the #2 promotion.
WWE has taken heed, going as far as to remove Matt from Smackdown’s opening montage.
Now, at this point, I would generally just roll my eyes and continue to view Matt as some deluded joke who’s probably, as we speak, watching My Own Private Idaho on Blu-Ray while sprawled out on his couch in tattered boxers, seconds away from leaping to his feet in agony as he accidentally drips Hot Pocket cheese on his equally-cheesy thigh….
But that’s when I realized that I’m on Matt’s side.
In the war between Matt Hardy’s egotistical machinations vs. WWE’s colorless, lifeless presentation for the sake of looking professional, I actually find myself on Hardy’s side.
As far as his time in WWE is concerned, Hardy’s anywhere from days to months away from being Vee-One-Uh-Non-Grata. But he’s demonstrated something that has caught my attention.
It’s the fact that he caught my attention.
There’s nothing organic in WWE anymore. With the exception of Bret Hart returning, Shawn Michaels retiring, and the Daniel Bryan saga, WWE has been running the same boring ideas on loop for several years, because they know that as long as TNA is a laughingstock, that they can get away with it.
Matt Hardy’s demented, psychotic ramblings stand out in a field of commonality, because, simply, nobody else in WWE has the balls to come out and say “WWE has dropped the ball on me”.
It’s not until people leave like Carlito or Gregory Helms or Maria or even Batista do we hear about what a “rotten” place WWE is to work.
Who was the last person before Matt Hardy to do this as a career-suicide attempt?
Just like in the movie Bulworth, people were shocked to see a politician not tow the same smooching lines to the public, and instead tell the honest truth about things.
Now, I realize that Hardy’s stock has dropped over the years thanks to his whining and pettiness and weight gain, but it’s time to look at what he’s doing as a positive.
What would WWE do if fifteen or twenty of their performers dropped their façade and began telling the truth about WWE? Can they really bury all twenty?
Though I’m against unions, this mentality could actually get wrestlers the benefits they need. WWE seems to encourage a back-biting atmosphere where the wrestlers are divided and can’t all come together.
What if they could?
What if they just opened their mouths collectively and didn’t back down?
Matt Hardy’s sure not backing down, even though he won’t be main eventing on Smackdown anytime soon.
Forgetting benefits and talking about a performance element, having wrestlers organically connect with the fans instead of reciting scripted words that some comic book geek scrawled out for them would be an incredible breakthrough, because it’s been years since we’ve seen it.
Matt Hardy, like you and I, grew up a wrestling fan.
He knows when wrestling feels real and when it doesn’t.
Matt Hardy is the most real thing about WWE today.
While I worry about the man’s mental state, and while I’m sincerely hoping that this doesn’t lead to him becoming another chewed-up casualty of this oftentimes scummy business, I do applaud him for taking a very novel approach to trying to gain freedom that has had some unintended consequences.
Matt Hardy has everyone talking. His videos are out every few days, and they spark feedback, both good and bad from wrestling fans the world over.
Matt Hardy has wrestling fans talking.
If Vince McMahon wants to have the wrestling crown hoisted back upon his head, and if he wants to be heralded as the emperor of sports entertainment, then he’ll take heed from Matt and do his part to get wrestling fans talking.
In the war vs. boring wrestling, Vince McMahon needs to take a stand and fight the real enemy.
We know how much Vince loves to win wars.
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