Back in 1998, the then-World Wrestling Federation had a brilliant idea. In order to really make their burgeoning new superstar, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, resonate with the fans, they decided that he would feud not just with wrestlers but with his “boss”, Vince McMahon. Formerly known to the kayfabe world as only a bombastic and prone-to-hyperbole announcer until Survivor Series in 1997, all those who weren’t in on the secret found out McMahon was indeed the chairman of the WWF when he came down to ringside and screwed Bret Hart out of the Championship. From that point on, Mr. McMahon as a character was born, and he immediately was one of the most hated villains in the company.
[adinserter block=”2″]The WWF caught lightning in a bottle, and Austin became its most important superstar perhaps of all-time thanks in no small part to the role McMahon played as his foil. In wrestling, if something works really well, the general consensus is that it will always work and that the same lightning can strike more than once if they try really hard or get the right combination. Common sense will dictate however that the converse is true. That’s why no wrestler-vs.-boss feud has ever resonated with the same success as Austin vs. McMahon.
Of course, the now-WWE hasn’t stopped trying. It seems almost every top superstar in the company has to feud with management in some capacity. That attitude has bled into other companies as well. While WWE was trying to get CM Punk over huge by having him go from John Cena to Triple H and John Laurinaitis, TNA was finishing up their 2387483rd attempt at doing the boss vs. wrestler angle with Immortal finally losing its grip. Even Ring of Honor hasn’t been immune to this line of thinking, as Kevin Steen right now is embroiled in as much of a feud with Executive Producer Jim Cornette as he is with former Champion Davey Richards.
Yet, when people think about who the critical leaders in pro wrestling are today, none of those three companies will come to mind for people who really have a great view of the wrestling world in total. Most people who follow everything will cite promotions such as Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Chikara and Anarchy Championship Wrestling as the ones doing the best in terms of content. Chikara is the only one of the three that has an in-character authority figure, and their Director of Fun is more used as a storyline device rather than a feud participant. Both PWG and ACW have no discernible authority figures on camera, and PWG has only brought in their nebulous “Championship Committee” as a joke to put an extra note of personality on a match featuring Steen defending his Championship against Brien Cage, an up-and-comer who in any other situation would have just been fodder for destruction.
Meanwhile, stories in the other promotions suffered when they were tethered to authority figure angles. TNA has wised up, as their new general manager, Hulk Hogan, has managed to use his spotlighted time to do things other than feuding with heels for the most part. ROH has seen better days in booking, although it could be argued that a lot of their current downturn has to do with WWE poaching their talent and Cornette and the rest of the braintrust at Sinclair alienating or refusing to book other talented indie wrestlers who might give them a shot in the arm.
Most disconcerting, WWE right now is stuck in a mire where for the better part of the year, the biggest brass ring in the company was the employment of the now-former GM John Laurinaitis. John Cena has been tied up in that morass to the point where he has main evented every event since Elimination Chamber and managed not to wrestle for the WWE Championship in any one of them. Meanwhile, there is still a lot of ground a feud between him and Punk could cover. Even moreso, Punk himself hasn’t gone on last on PPV since last year’s TLC event. To me, that’s not that big a deal except that the World Championship hasn’t been the last match either. Everything seems to revolve around the emo crises of Cena, and outside of WrestleMania and Extreme Rules, where he was in dream match territory, it severely demeans the title’s standing in the company.
The last couple of events have been the hardest to stomach, mainly because of the John Laurinaitis-as-boss story and its seeming running of its course. Furthermore, it has drawn the WWE’s biggest bargaining chip in terms of star power away from where he could be used the best, in feuds with actual wrestlers who could use the rub from him. Why can’t we go back to the days when the boss was a guy like Jack Tunney or Gorilla Monsoon, someone who only stepped out of the shadows to issue important decrees? Why does someone ALWAYS have to be entangled with an authority figure who may or may not be able to provide results in the ring that would be able to resolve a story satisfactorily?
[adinserter block=”1″]Oh, I know why. It’s because it worked once in wrestling. WWE is notorious for only coming up with something game-changing or different from its SOP when its back is against the wall. Right now, there is no wall in sight. WWE dominates the wrestling landscape, and the only thing that could threaten it is losing its fanbase, which regardless of what ratings and buyrates might appear to be telling us is not in danger of happening anytime soon.
So now, we’re tasked with trying to watch a company make lightning strike twice, something that is not very common at all when it comes to successes in the industry. WWE still puts out a product worth watching, don’t get me wrong, but when they can’t think outside the box or do something different, the results can be mind-numbing. The continued use of authority figures as major angle players is pretty much the most mind-numbing example to date.
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.
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