In wrestling, a good gimmick can net you a good career. Hacksaw Jim Duggan spent most of his time in the ring as a slightly mentally disabled hardhead with a passionate love for his country. Fans pop for him wherever he goes.
Outside of an ill-advised heel turn where he betrayed America for the siren call of Lance Storm and his Canadian coalition in WCW, he was basically the same guy his whole career. Someone can make money that way, but notice that once he got past the regional level, he only won one championship, a secondary title in WCW when Hulk Hogan was giving all his cronies perks. He was a novelty act, one that got diminishing returns and a nice place as a diversion, an amusement.
[adinserter block=”1″]The characters that made the main event level and stayed there all had growth. They all showed that they had the ability to tell a greater story. Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin and even Hogan himself all were fundamentally different as characters at the end of their runs than they were at the beginning of them. It’s about being able to be something more than a gimmick. That goes for authority figure characters too. It’s not a surprise that Teddy Long always got tepid reactions and spent time bouncing around between brands in attempts to keep him fresh. He was always the same guy, making tag matches or punishing the bad guy with the Undertaker.
That’s why I can appreciate the character growth shown by John Laurinaitis. Since his debut at Money in the Bank last year, he has developed by leaps and bounds, more so than any non-wrestling character in WWE that I can remember. When he came in, he was literally an intermediary character. He took a fist to the jaw from John Cena in place of Vince McMahon, and from there, his growth from stooge to power-mad despot has been nothing short of impressive.
When he began as the guy in charge on RAW, his actions were mostly innocuous. While CM Punk and Triple H accused him of being a sinister agent, he really wasn’t doing anything evil. He was just being an incompetent middle manager type. That ineptitude over malice was the rule of the day for him, often at the bereft of storytelling. We were often left wondering why Punk or Cena would be angry at him, as if they were just used to dealing with asses in the general manager position. As the months rolled by though, some out-and-out dickish things filtered through, like making Zack Ryder defend his United States Championship when he probably shouldn’t have been medically cleared. Still, the floodgates didn’t open until after he gained total control of the WWE Universe at WrestleMania.
In a way, isn’t that what happens when a ne’er-do-well middle manager gets a promotion? He thinks the world is his oyster, and the power that he has is infinite. That leads to things like bringing in a ringer to hurt Cena and hurt him bad or to fire people willy-nilly or to publicly humiliate Big Show the way that Laurinaitis did on Monday. Some might call it obvious, but WWE sometimes even gets obvious wrong. Here is where they’ve gotten it right, big time. Because of it, Laurinaitis is both critically the best as well as the most effective authority figure since McMahon himself.
But in the interest of evolution, that means that it would be a mistake for Laurinaitis to stick around forever. Every good story needs to come to an end, to provide catharsis. For wrestlers, they change alignment or shift their carefully crafted characters drastically. Hogan joined the nWo. Michaels founded Degeneration X. Austin sold out. Hart turned his back on America. For authority figures though, their shelf-lives are far shorter. As we’ve seen with Long, nothing is worse than a stale character on a show who can’t give anything else to said show (read, wrestle). While Laurinaitis CAN give that payoff in the ring (and Sunday’s match against Cena may prove that he has more in the tank than anyone may realize), his current position precludes him from a schedule that would allow him to stick around past his logical end.
That logical end is going to be him getting his. It has to be, or else WWE would be repeating the same mistakes that Eric Bischoff’s WCW made. It has to end, but that won’t make the time that Laurinaitis spent as the interim general manager of RAW (and the general manager of both RAW and Smackdown) any less memorable. Wrestling doesn’t deal well with endings, so that’s why we want things to last forever.
Evolution can’t happen if things live forever in wrestling. People get ingrained in their old ways, and Laurinaitis’ character isn’t exactly one that has a lot of range. So it has to end, or else he’ll become Hacksaw Jim Duggan.
[adinserter block=”1″]Or even worse. He’ll become Teddy Long. John Laurinaitis’ run as an on-screen character has made him deserving of a fate far better than becoming Teddy Long.
Tom Holzerman is a lifelong wrestling fan and connoisseur of all things Chikara Pro, among other feds. When he’s not writing for the Camel Clutch Blog, you can find him on his own blog, The Wrestling Blog.