I love to take the contrarian view of things, so it should come to no surprise to anyone, including Eric G., that I’m not looking at the Roman Reigns win as a big plus for the WWE.
Now, I’m also of the contrarian view that Reigns is the right guy for the belt, and naysayers to his talent be damned, since his look and his understanding of this business more than trump any concerns about so-called and vaunted “in ring skills”.
Actually, there was a comment recently seen on Facebook about the reality that talent doesn’t draw.
I don’t like it, but its more than just speculation.
If great matches made for profit and PPV buys and attendance and all the things that go into that oft-overused concept called “drawing” then Ring of Honor would have surpassed the WWE during the Brian Danielson/Samoa Joe/CM Punk era.
If great matches were appealing, then All Japan (both men and women versions) of the 1990’s would have made Shohei Baba (and others) very, very wealthy.
If great matches made for a bigger promotion, then the NWA in the mid-eighties would have trounced the circus-like WWF of that era. Notwithstanding the overly hyped Hulk Hogan, the WWF toured incessantly with lots of talent and developed a brand that sold tickets based on ‘names’ established in many, many regional promotions, and didn’t sell tickets based on expectations of great matches, but on displays, entrances and making a lot of kids happy.
Not so surprisingly, those kids are not exactly clamoring for what the WWE is selling these days.
Which is weird, because Roman Reigns has 10 times the talent and an equally good “look” about him as did Mr. Bollea, but booking, proper perspective, situations, accentuating the positive and diminishing the negatives are concepts long forgotten, and almost completely destroyed because WWE style professional wrestling insists on making Neville mostly wrestle the same way as The Big Show and along the way no one gets to shine, no one gets to be different and no one knows those quaint concepts like selling, story-telling and making it look real.
What’s ironic about the WWE of 2015 is that the vision of HHH dominates the “house style”, and the house style is far removed from the five minute matches (20 minutes if you count the entrance and closing round of ear-cupping of Hogan) and far removed from the catch-phrase driven late 1990’s and vastly removed from any sense of reality this sport exuded during the Bruno Sammartino era (1963- 1981).
No, today the WWE is sagging under the weight of its own imposed house style, one that follows what made HHH a very good to great wrestler in his prime (an in-ring technical approach), and removes what HHH wasn’t very good at (doing his own promos, connecting to the fans) and is indifferent to what HHH should have might have learned from Walter “Killer” Kowalski, which includes telling a story, making every match different and being selfish about reputation.
Funny, as HHH is now the corporate bossman that guys like Bruiser Brody, Killer Kowalski and others of the 1950’s-1970’s wouldn’t stick around with to have their careers destroyed.
Funny how HHH has a talent base that he’s molded and shaped, and now the next ‘golden boy’ cannot escape that shadow, gets mauled by indifferent fans and by comparison to the company style, he’s arguably no more fit as Champion than anyone else on the roster.
Or is it that he’s equally as fit?
The WWE of the 2010’s is everything about destroying the careers of guys, unless they can now get the few-matches-a-year contracts, unless they are protected because they just have to be, or unless they … well, it’s not like they can go somewhere else, can they?
The most obvious gripe about the way the WWE presents its product these days, and the gripe that traces back to Vince Russo (yeah, I have access to the Kayfabe Commentaries and want to watch, review and puke, but hey, why should I want to puke?) and his ‘wrasslin’ hating, complete indifference and hypervelocity booking patterns.
That, my friends, is why I have a problem with the Roman Reigns win on Monday Night Raw.
In 24 hours, Reigns “snapped” and destroyed HHH; Reigns took many, many slaps from Stephanie; Mr. McMahon made a re-appearance after a long hiatus, and kicked his soon-to-be Champion in the nuts.
(I can’t wait to ask Bruno about that one!)
Then Roman Reigns won the title in a set up “win or lose” match gimmick so hilariously contrived as to be nonsensical.
The WWE got so desperate it allows it’s Creative to go to the number one rule for promotions that are underperforming: get the owners involved!
But the WWE got away from any sense of being a serialized, episodic entertainment program by refusing to be serialized or episodic, and refusing to capture the imagination and expectations of its fans and stoke momentum and build to a climactic finish.
What’s insane is that the WWE has drifted so far away from professional wrestling and into touting its product as a TV staple, and yet it ignores the reasons for successful TV programming of the past just like it ignores the reasons for successful professional wrestling of the past.
When Vincent Kennedy McMahon and Stone Cold Steve Austin feuded, they were breaking new ground. The boss/employee dynamic was there, but mostly understated and assumed. Of course, the WWE was doing good business. Of course, Austin began to have a more important say. Of course, this concept of boss/employee was not overdone for 15 years at that point.
Since then, there’s not been much added to the concept. So now we have a guy that the WWE on one hand is betting the bank on as the next big superstar, and on the other hand is putting him in so many contrived, numbers-stacked-against-him, why does this make sense, that can’t possibly happen in real sports, why do I care situations.
But really, who would work for an employer that says – go put your health on the line, and either win this Championship or you’re no longer employed by us. (Remember, MMA fans, I’m talking Championship. I know that sort of thing really does happen if someone loses a few matches in a row. Of course, MMA also has contracts and also cycles out guys that are not winning so that fresh faces appear… but now I’m really off on a tangent, ain’t I?)
Apparently no one in WWE Creative cares much for suspensions, fines or “if you lose, you’ll be headlining NXT on its next tour of Antarctica!” No one in WWE Creative considers that Mr. McMahon could say things like “I’ll make your life miserable so you quit” and considers coming up with realistic things like booking the worst motel rooms, providing crappy food or saying “wouldn’t it be terrible if your merchandise checks got lost for a year” or “isn’t it weird that your dolls aren’t selling, but John Cena’s are at a record pace?”
Aside from what Eric G. said about having no credible opponents (or few, if we want to use euphemisms), the problem with the WWE is that there are no real heels (corporate suck-ups) to distinguish the babyfaces, let alone the reality that the entire roster wrestles like HHH and Ric Flair, with less emotion and less technical capability and absolutely no ring psychology.
So who’s Reigns going to fight?
I still remember the time when Vince trotted out The Patriot (after about a year’s absence) and names like Abdullah the Butcher, after a Title change. Setting up new contenders is vastly more important than rehashing stale ones, not establishing a few monsters for upcoming matches or (as the WWE does anymore) just pretending that it all doesn’t matter.
How much lower will the ratings go?
How much longer does everyone pretend that the WWE is just fine?
How much longer does it take for someone to start pointing fingers at the people who are supposed to be guiding a publicly traded company to profitability, when their training facilities aren’t really producing (taking away the impact of numerous indie-experience talent), their Creative aren’t really creative and the mind-set of a century-plus old artform is slowly fading to the point where fans either don’t care or really don’t know what reference to judge it by?
That’s why I think the whole Roman Reigns-finally-wins-the-title is so much of a miss.
Joe Babinsack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org