At one time or another, all of us have taken a definitive stance on a given subject in an attempt to be the judge, jury and executioner. Whilst I am the kind of person who sees an opinion as a point along the journey rather than the end of the road, it is only natural to take all of the conclusions and opinions that you have acquired and correlate them under one umbrella statement that has some sense of finality. To this end (or just a cheap construct so this article is different from the others) I will put on trial certain people within the wrestling industry and present an argument for the prosecution. Based on my findings I will declare them guilty or not guilty and sentence where necessary. Got the idea? Now, seeing as I’m a ‘British’ judge, I would normally have to be sixty years older, put on a stupid wig and fiddle with teenagers but I have neither the time nor the paedophilic leanings so I’ll get straight on with the trials.
Accused: ‘Old school’ wrestling purists.
Charge: Thinking wrestling would be better if ‘kayfabe’ was still in place.
Before I proceed, I used the ‘k’ word in the title because it would have taken too long to write it any other way but that is the last time you will EVER see me write that word because it is not my word to use. The esoteric world to which it refers is not my home or my life and I see no reason to pretend that it is. I don’t mind other fans or writers using it, but I don’t.
For those of you who want to see a template of how wrestling could have evolved in the US if the competitive nature of wrestling had remained a vociferously guarded secret then look no further than the UK. Whilst there were other contributing factors to the demise of televised wrestling in Britain in the 1980’s, the aggression with which the ‘sport’ was defended confused the casual viewer and disenfranchised many new fans who were contended with the ‘entertainment’ moniker. It is true that, on occasions, reality storylines and wrestling-reality storylines make uncomfortable bedfellows, best highlighted by Vince McMahon’s decision to ring the bell on Bret Hart being the catalyst for his heel turn against Austin, but modern fans are intelligent enough to separate the two (or stupid enough not to know there’s a difference) and the tapestry is all the more colourful for it. It is also the case that back in the ‘old days’ all a wrestler had to do to maintain the enigma was leave the arena by separate doors and not get caught in a car with your arch rival and a collection of narcotics (Duggan and Sheik please take note) but reality-based, edgier storylines have meant that any averred truth can be busted by a non-existent police or hospital report. Plus, the advent of ‘Secrets Revealed’ shows and entertainment gossip channels would have left the wrestling business behind in a state of permanent self-denial, unable to defend itself for fear of breaking its own code.
Verdict: Guiltier than Vince with his hand in a Diva.
Sentence: Watch ‘Beyond the mat’ repeatedly until you enjoy it as much as us ‘marks’ did.
Charge: Not ending the roster split.
I know I’m not exactly putting my head on the chopping block when I say that WWE fans would benefit if the roster split ended tomorrow but it might be worth looking at why it was created and at what cost. Before the split, the WWE was already running two disparate house show tours (A and B) so it was unlikely that you would see all of the top line performers unless you were at a tv taping or a PPV. The way in which the current brand extension falls down is that, unlike before, the tours are not interchangeable and the rotation of possible feuds becomes stale far more quickly than with a full talent pool at their disposal. The argument that a main event group on each show creates twice the opportunity for cream to rise to the surface holds some water but the overall appearance is that the openers still flounder, the mid-card still toils and the few with genuine star quality would have got there if they were appearing once or twice a week no matter what. The main trouble is that the unique branding of the two weekly shows is a concept precipitated by and for the benefit of television alone. When Vince purchased WCW he killed his competition so he has tried to create a pseudo-rivalry between his flagship broadcasts for no better reason than giving the fans the chance to side with one over the other, but he has missed a vital premise that prevents this from working; we know that, either way, Vince is still in charge. It would also be a help if Vince gave Smackdown a fighting chance to compete once in a while. The extension hurts the thing that Vince needs to protect and nurture the most, his live non-televised gate, and the ratings and buy-rates will reflect this until he does something about it.
Verdict: A plea of guilty was accepted before the trial even began.
Sentence: For our sake, put it right.
Accused: Die-hard ECW fans.
Charge: Still fighting battles after the war ended long ago.
I used to love ECW, still do, but I never attended a home event (I would have if it was a 20-minute bus ride from Scotland to Viking Hall) and I loved the WWE at the same time. What does that make me, friend or foe? You bayed like wild dogs while Tommy Dreamer was kicking the corporate ass of Jerry Lawler but you hated that your beloved company was shaking hands with the devil. This ambivalence was the suicidal shot in the foot that ultimately rendered the progressiveness of the company unworkable and consigned ECW to the small halls until other matters put the old dog out of its misery. Whatever happened to those hardcore icons you loved so much? That’s right, they moved on. They wanted to carry the torch for the extreme era but they also wanted to earn money and provide security and comfort for their families. A while ago, ex-ECW staffers waxed lyrical about the old days at the expense of WWE on ‘Byte This’ but it lacked any genuine insurrective zeal and appeared more like naughty schoolboys slagging off the Principal behind his back. And now we have the spectre of an ECW reunion PPV under the banner of WWE and the ECW loyalists are professing that it can be done whilst still cocking a finger up at the WWE hierarchy. Right now, Vince owns ECW. I’m not talking about the poor ‘Invasion’ version, YOUR ECW. He owns the matches, the images and the words. You’re right though, he doesn’t own its soul. He doesn’t own the reason for every “Oh my god” from Joey or every ounce of heart that Heyman left in that company, but that was never his to buy. I for one will watch the PPV with great interest and a tinge of nostalgia but I will know that the ring, the lights and the bell that tolls for each match belongs to Vince, but the memories belong to me. And I’m okay with that.
Verdict: ECW Guilty as charged (see what I did there?).
Sentence: Take a deep breath and let it all out.
Charge: Not learning from WCW’s mistakes.
Getting a rub from WWE in any shameless way possible might be as underhanded as it gets but, just like Hogan’s arrival or the NWO in WCW, it surely can’t be perceived as bad business. What will hurt TNA is when the short-term fix of drafting in former WWE has-beens has failed to work for the second time in wrestling history and a void will be left that the under-pushed, under-utilised TNA mid-card will be ill equipped to fill. Styles, Daniels, Harris, Shane and the like add so much to the show and far out-perform the older, slower ex-WWE wrestlers but it cannot be ignored that they are medium-sized fish in a currently medium-sized pond and their inability to draw without Nash, Hall, etc above them would be exposed. At this time, I don’t count Jarrett as one of the has-beens, more a never-was, and Jeff Hardy is still young but living off his past more than anyone else in the company. I’m not saying that TNA can’t benefit from these guys being around, I just feel that their main goal should be to help elevate the younger talent and give these guys a colourful platform from which to create real contenders. You can’t do that if you’re fighting eachother (Jarrett v Nash) or recreating glory days that didn’t involve them (‘DX’ reformation).
Verdict: Unable to stand trial due to mental incompetence.
Sentence: Guitar shot to the head (another one?!).
Accused: WWE fans.
Charge: Impatience and over-expectation.
Yeah I know, people have the right to say what they want blah blah blah but I find it amazing that seemingly hundreds of people have made a negative conclusion about Chris Masters, one that they’ll carry through his next five or six matches, based on the strength of one squash performance against a lower-card wrestler. I’m not going to try to convince you that the ‘Masterpiece’ is the next Rock or Austin because I’ve not even begun to make my mind up about him yet but his basic work was good and he seems to have some charisma and presence, but I’ll need to see more. It appears as though thesedays you are expected to be the finished article ready for a major push by the time they give you an entrance video and this atmosphere is not conducive to improvement. If new talent is so afraid of making mistakes and receiving the ‘You f*cked up’ chant or wrestling a solid but unspectacular match and receiving the ‘Boring’ chant then they’ll stick with the routine they came in with and never stretch themselves as performers. This ‘low effort- high gain’ society in which we live is well documented and it seems perfectly consistent that WWE fans see no reason to invest time in the creation of their future wrestlers. But you have to accept that if you’re not going to allow people the chance to develop in front of you then you’ll end up going the Diva Search route for all aspects of wrestling; picking ten to twelve newcomers, ramming them down our throats and hoping that one of them sticks for ANY reason at all. Of course, if Chris Masters headlines Wrestlemania 24, Man am I a good guesser!
Verdict: Not guilty, rush to judgement.
Sentence: Free to go, but take it easy eh?
Accused: Lee Vox UK.
Charge: Opinionated and garrulous.
Verdict: No contest, guilty on all counts.
Sentence: Death by Candice Michelle (worth a try!).