One of the oddest things about being the sort of person who wouldn’t jump if a bomb went off in their laundry basket is trying to understand the passion that a lot of fans have felt at several recent wrestling news stories. I get emails from irate or depressed readers looking for answers or a reciprocal “what the f*ck is Vince thinking?” and, in the majority of cases, the best I can offer them is a fairly quiet “I’ve no idea, but things might work out eventually”. I know I seem to say this on a regular basis but the fact that I don’t have a favourite superstar and the machinery of anything in life will always outlast the usefulness of one of its cogs tends to make me feel like the next-door neighbour of Dr Frankenstein, watching as the riotous villagers ram the gates of his castle.
I’ll start with Taboo Tuesday. Though it’s not important to this paragraph, I quite liked the PPV. Several things didn’t work but the rest of the night more than made up for it and I didn’t feel it was a waste of money (primarily because it was free here in the UK). What did concern me is the emails that I got telling me how bad the show sucked and how it was another nail in the WWE’s coffin. I understand that everyone’s entitled to his or her opinion but, with the exception of only one of these emails, they all finished with the sentence “I’m so glad I didn’t watch it”. Now if you watched it and hated it then fine, at least you’re spitting out the rotten food once you’ve put it in your mouth, but to condemn it without seeing it suggests that you’re basing your opinion having only read the spoilers. More worryingly, some people seem to be judging the PPV not from a review but by the results. Cena wins = bad PPV. I’m hardly the biggest fan of the jogging, corporate slut but the fact that the WWE needs to rip the belt from his hands as soon as possible doesn’t detract from his involvement in a pretty decent match and his second good tv performance in succession. Also, I see that many fans are unhappy with the voting structure and the choices that were offered to them for each contest. The cold, harsh reality is that Taboo Tuesday is as much a work as anything else in pro-wrestling. I’ll stop short of guessing that the voting is rigged (as I have no proof and I personally don’t believe it is) but of course the WWE is going to sweeten one of the choices more than the others just so it can do as much preparation for the booking of the show as possible. Theoretically I dare say an independent wrestling organisation could (if it had the technology and the audience) do a similar event where you pick the wrestlers for each match from the entire roster and a stipulation from a long list of options but the unpredictable nature of the show would make it disorganised and sloppy. Not the desired appearance of a highly-polished ‘sports entertainment’ company. Unfortunately the sheep-like conformity of most WWE followers demonstrates that Vince needn’t have gone to the trouble of making the choice so obvious, as a few mono-syllabic rants from one of the combatants is sufficient to guarantee the fan’s endorsement of the ‘right’ answer. Speaking (yes I said ‘speaking’) as a lifelong surrealist I would have liked some deviancy in the options. That way, the masses could take the easy way out and vote for the vaunted option whilst the mentally slanted could register their unusualness at a safe distance from impressionable drones. For example, I would have forgone the options for ‘lingerie’ and ‘leather and lace’ in the divas match and put my twisted tick in the box for ‘diving suit and welder’s mask’. A vote well used, I trust you’ll agree.
Even in these clouded times of misinformation, it’s difficult to know what’s happening with JR. Common sense would now dictate that he won’t be returning to the Raw announce booth anytime soon, if at all, and a successor needs to be sought. But I’ll come back to that in a minute. I think Ross has been doing a great job over the last year or so. The passion and energy had returned to his commentary and mistakes, which had previously been frequent, were rare and minor. And that’s why this makes it the perfect time for him to stand down. I’ve seen more than a few comments along the lines of ‘why not wait until he’s crap again?’ But by that logic, unless you’re willing to fire him at the event of his first error, we would have to endure bad announcing until he was finally relieved of his tv duties. In coming back from Bell’s Palsy and regaining his ‘A’ game with the microphone Ross has left a healthy legacy of enthusiasm and excellence and a reluctance to accept change shouldn’t be allowed to muddy the memory. JR is NOT the future of WWE Raw announcing and the future starts now. Also, several people have written that they thought being fired by the ‘McManson’ family and kicked in the globes was an undignified and inappropriate way to end his WWE career, made worse by Vince’s ‘colon surgery’ sketch some weeks later. Although not privy to the bumps and dues expected to be paid by the wrestlers on the roster, as a WWE performer it is required of him to leave our screens in a manner that benefits the product from an entertainment point of view. I’m not sure the word ‘benefit’ necessarily applies to having Mae Young’s other hand pulled out of your ass but the principle is the same and he put over Vince, Steph and Linda just like he should.
As for JR’s immediate and potential replacement Joey Styles, it’s no secret that I believe he should be the next voice of Raw. More than that, I think they should build the announcing of the show around him and that means getting rid of the King too. While Lawler is still doing colour commentary on Raw Joey would never be anything more than a surrogate Jim Ross, constantly trying to emulate his predecessor. Styles is more than a different voice. He has the ability to change the tonal feel of WWE’s main broadcast and brand specific PPV’s as long as he is sat next to someone that he knows and trusts. And only Joey can tell you who that might be. It was very noticeable at Taboo Tuesday that Styles was trying his hardest not to step on Lawler’s toes, seeing as he was an invited guest, and that’s understandable considering the amount of popular support for both Ross and The King from the majority of WWE fans. If Styles was to be offered the Raw headset in the near future, my first trial would be to move Lawler over to Smackdown (as he’s worked with Michael Cole before) and bring Tazz over to Raw. Both ex-ECW, both fans of a solid wrestling product it could be the required catalyst to shift WWE’s output away from pure soap opera and back to what the company used to do best – creative storytelling as a platform for good wrestling. Plus, anyone whose MO seems to consist mainly of sarcasm and disposable one-liners has to be the man for the job in my book.
My point (is there one?) in this column is most perfectly demonstrated by the departure of Christian. Depending on who you listen to the WWE has just lost an overrated mid-carder or a possible future champion. For me the truth is neither, both and somewhere in the middle. Seeing as I have no favourites, my likes are based solely on when I see good stuff and it is an undeniable fact that Christian, when given the chance to do something more than jobs, has delivered on more than a few occasions. Whether bumping in gimmick matches or wrestling straight contests, interacting with others or in solo promo, Christian has been athletic and entertaining and has shown that he is a team player, something Vince supposedly views with great importance. I don’t think Christian’s future was destined to arrive at the main event circle but time and circumstance are peculiar authors and every WWE world champion was, at some point in their careers, appearing far from a guaranteed franchise player. But, just like every other departing superstar, my first thought is ‘okay then, impress me with something else’. In the mid/late 90’s when Hogan, Savage, Nash, Hall, Hart, Waltman and others left to go to WCW the general feeling was that Vince was saying goodbye to his domination of US pro-wrestling and, for the eighty-something weeks that Nitro won the ratings, that seemed possible. But while Bischoff was reaping the benefits of WWE’s hard work, Vince was priming Austin, HHH and The Rock to take the company to new levels. I’m not suggesting that case is similar to Christian’s, or even that the current situation with TNA is anywhere near a company or broadcast rivalry, but it does show that the grief period in wrestling is immeasurably short and if your eyes aren’t already dry by the following week then you might miss the next big thing. Or maybe just another ‘could have been’.
Finally, a word on the false reports that Torrie Wilson had been released. Damn.
I know that people who send emails to columnists and like-minded fans aren’t looking for answers, they’re just looking for conversation. Or an argument. Or a copy of that photo that looks like one of Lita’s nipples has fallen out. I will always be astounded and in awe at the willingness of wrestling fans to externalise their thoughts the second they hear of a good rumour or a breaking news story. And as much as Vince hates you for it, even he knows it’s the thing that keeps wrestling going. Why else would he want to own it so badly?