When I first started watching wrestling as a young boy, WWF’s on-air authority figure was President Jack Tunney. Tunney was primarily utilized as a background character that showed up on rare occasions to make major announcements. He was never used as the focal point of the show and was never presented in a way that took the spotlight off of any wrestlers. Tunney was the on-air president during the WWF’s initial popularity boom back in the 80’s. What did the Tunney character do to help propel the company during this period? Simple…he stayed out of the way.
Today’s on-air authority figures are presented very differently, then that of the Tunney era. In many cases, they are presented as a focal point of the show. A very recent example is this year’s Survivor Series. The majority of the shows build up focused Raw Commissioner Stephanie McMahon and SmackDown Commissioner Shane McMahon trying to prove that they had the superior rosters.
This type of storyline basically positions the wrestlers as pawns in a power struggle between two seemingly more important characters. The Wrestlers were essentially the foot soldiers, with Stephanie and Shane playing the role of the generals. Before that, we had “The Authority” which was Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. The Authority started just about every show with a twenty-minute promo’s, which often focused on Triple H and Stephanie.
The authority storyline even resulted in a world title reign and WrestleMania main event for the already established mega star (who seldom wrestles these days) Triple H. True, it was supposed to help Roman Reigns get over as a top babyface, but fans had already soured on Reigns as a main event star at that point. The WrestleMania main event could have been used as an opportunity to showcase someone else besides Triple H. Instead, it served as another example of an authority figure monopolizing the spotlight. However, the McMahon’s aren’t the only example of the over utilization of authority figures.
General Manager John Laurinaitis was also the Centerpiece of Raw for over a year, utilizing large portions of television time, with long-winded and often self-serving promos. Laurinaitis even went on to headline Over the Limit (a pay per view) in a dreadful match against John Cena. I could go through nearly every authority figure in the last decade and sight similar examples of overutilization. The fact is, the authority figure storyline is played out and hasn’t really worked well since Austin Versus McMahon. How many times do we need to see the main event babyface try and overcome the heel general manager’s treachery? Besides making for redundant storylines, the prominence of the authority figure has been detrimental in working toward developing new stars.
Hulk Hogan versus Andre the Giant at WrestleMania 3, is arguably the most famous match in the history of professional wrestling. It was a feud between two former friends, both of whom seemed unbeatable, for the World Championship. They were both mega stars who the WWF made us feel were important, by how they were booked and portrayed. Now imagine if Jack Tunney had aligned himself with Hogan against Andre and (Andre’s manager) Bobby Heenan. Moreover, imagine if they created a stipulation stating that if Andre won Heenan would become president of the (then) WWF.
This would have to take the focus off the feud, off the title, and emphasized a separate feud with no payoff. Unless of course, Tunney was going to wrestle Heenan at a later date, in a match no one would have wanted to see. It would have made the fans feel that Hogan and Andre’s feud was secondary, to who would ultimately wind up with the presidency. This is the problem with the wrestling authority figure. WWE spends countless hours of television building up feuds with little to no payoff. In the current WWE SmackDown versus Raw storyline, is Shane going to wrestle Stephanie? Is Daniel Bryan going to wrestle Mick Foley?
The answer is (hopefully) no, in both cases. Yet, this feud between the brands is still one of (if not the)the major storylines. When John Cena was injured during last year’s WrestleMania, why did WWE management feel forced to bring back Shane McMahon to face the Undertaker? It was because they failed to establish that any of the members of the current roster were important enough to warrant the match. They needed a McMahon, an authority figure, someone who actually seemed important. In 2016, who the biggest star in WWE right now?
That would be forty-nine year old Bill Goldberg, who had previously been off of WWE television for twelve years. The WWE has had twelve years of television time to create a star bigger than Bill Goldberg and they haven’t. Instead, we’ve been focused on the McMahons, Teddy Long, John Laurinaitis and a host of other non-wrestling personalities. Brock Lesnar, Goldberg, and The Undertaker are all in the twilight of their careers. The WWE will need members of the current roster to step forward and fill the void left by these stars in the coming years. However, for the future stars of the WWE to be able to move forward, the authority figures may need to move out of the way.