Not that any of you were scratching your abscessed forearms in withdrawal like Eugene two days without a hit, but I failed to post a Raw column this week. There are two reasons for this. I won’t bore you with the first reason though it did have something to do with lying down and groaning a lot (and I don’t mean a weekend with Lita). The second reason for not posting my Raw thoughts is a bit more ‘on subject’ so I thought I’d address it here.
I don’t know how other reviewers or columnists go about the process of constructing their work, but I favour watching a show with a notepad and pen close to hand and I jot down a few subject ideas on which I can elaborate when I get to the computer keyboard the next day. Nothing with too much detail to it, just a few words that will put a thought in my head which I can kick around and see if it forms a cohesive argument. Failing that, I’ll vomit up some unconnected insults and dick jokes and hope that no one notices that I remember so little about the event that it clearly shows I was watching one of the phone-in smut channels instead. Anyway, looking through my notes from this week’s edition of Monday night raw, I couldn’t help but see a striking similarity to pages I had written for previous shows. It is the nature of the beast that if you take a definite stance on something and the powers that be see things differently then you will find yourself making the same point over and over again. Rather than just rely on reiteration, it is a useful critical tool to try and find different angles from which to approach these issues so that at least the wrapping gets changed occasionally, even if the present inside is the same. But like an artist who’s spent too long working on fine detail, I need to step back from the canvas and look at the bigger picture again or I’ll lose sight of my initial points.
Fans of John Cena must be getting so fed up with his detractors (myself included) complaining about him all the time. There seems very little that he can do that will get him over with the majority of ‘wrestling’ fans and, considering that the man is only doing what his boss asks and what roughly 40% of live crowds want him to do, why should he? Vince is humping this company ethic that the champion needs to be a marketing machine with good mainstream acceptance and an above average level of wrestling ability is preferred, but not essential. The most prevalent annoyance seems to be that Cena has lost his edge since becoming face and champion and his showy mannerisms and clichéd promos are aimed more at the younger fans who wouldn’t recognise ‘real’ if it held them up at an ATM. Ignoring those who wish Cena would die under the wheels of his own bandwagon, the commonly held belief is that he should drop the belt, turn heel and return to the dismissive, selfish character he was when he first adopted the white rapper gimmick. Also, it is apparent from his days as The Prototype in OVW and his original ‘athlete’ run in the WWE that he can wrestle and, if his in-ring focus was shifted from smiling for the marks to putting together solid matches, he would be a shoe-in for the upper mid-card with a view to bringing him back up to the main event scene at some point in time. There is a comparison between the current overriding sentiment towards Cena and that which was accorded to HHH prior to his long lay off earlier this year. A lot of people want him out of the title picture, his on-screen role in the company reduced and his recent championship heat passed on to someone else rather than celebrated on a weekly basis. The worrying difference between the similar situations is that HHH reached this point after years of carrying the company when Austin and The Rock, the other primaries of his generation, had left the face position vacant, only to be filled with new stars that required elevating (Orton, Batista). Conversely, Cena has been in this eminent position for a comparatively short space of time and has been supplied with experienced and relevant opposition (JBL, Jericho, Angle) during his reign. The reason why ‘Cena fatigue’ has set in so quickly is because the duality of his gimmick is untenable. He’s subversive but franchise. Insurrective but honourable. Underground but over-friendly. Even Hogan knew when the time was right to kill off the white knight and expose the black heart (though Hogan made the mistake of thinking he could go back and still be Mr ‘say your prayers and eat your vitamins’ without sounding like a wheezy hypocrite). You think Vince doesn’t hear the “come on Cena/come on Angle” battle chants during their matches? In fact, he’s currently relying on this audience division to keep interest in Cena, both positive and negative, as fresh as possible. Problem is, with the exception of the “what?” chant, wrestling fans don’t hold on to an idea for too long and Cena will have to do more than just dissect popular opinion if he wants to continue as champion. And right now, I don’t think he can.
It’s hard to believe that creative can drop the ball that is Kurt Angle. He’s the joint best wrestler in America (with Benoit), he’s not afraid to go along with outlandish storyline ideas (fiddling with his nips before surprising Joy in the shower proves that) and he’s an experienced team player. With the aforementioned absence of Austin and The Rock and HHH and HBK currently showing no title aspirations (though that’s short-term with the former) it seems inconceivable that such an accomplished performer gets shunted from one character tweak to another and finally ends up as a bolster to an unproven champion’s portfolio. As if confused and diluted wasn’t enough to kill off Kurt’s title chances, management seemed obsessed with making him totally reliant on others to advance his career goals. Bischoff, Tomko, Carlito, Snitsky, Daivari and now Chris Masters have all been drafted in to make up for some sort of heel deficiency that as far as I can see only exists in the minds of the bookers and only serves to make Angle appear incapable of dethroning Cena single-handedly. Add to that his liking for sneak attacks, whiny dribble-fuelled ranting, cheap victories, biased referees, low-blows and running away and you’re left with a feeling that Vince is trying to promote the idea that ‘Cena must be a great champion if someone who used to be as good as Kurt now acts like a mental, cheating, cowardly little girl around him’. As far as I’m concerned, there is only one way to save Kurt now, title or no title, and that’s overload. You can’t add to or adjust his gimmick because all the shoddy writing and poor ideas will still be there underneath. He needs to go over the edge. Not in a sitcom, straight-jacket, thinking you’re Napoleon kind of way, but like the calm after the storm. That everlasting note at the end of Sgt Pepper’s when the orchestra swirl has reached its crescendo. I’d like to see Kurt quiet, serious, uninterested in arguing or antagonising and totally focussed on winning the title in the spirit of pure wrestling; not because he’s a ‘goody’ but because that’s when he knows he’s most effective and devastating. From this solid but understated foundation you could gradually rebuild Kurt’s gimmick in any number of directions and, handled correctly, each possibility would seem fresh and consistent. As for Kurt’s title reign, with the possible exception of HHH, he is the WWE’s utility wrestler who is as comfortable working technical matches as he is doing promos or sketches. There isn’t a decent competitor on the roster that wouldn’t work well with Angle and he could seamlessly switch between technical classics with Benjamin or Benoit and heated rivalries with HBK or HHH. I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t got a damn clue why Angle’s not heading the company right now. Maybe he’s difficult to work with? Maybe he’s closer to retirement than we think? Just maybe he bites his toenails in bed and hogs all the covers? Nothing accounts for why the WWE is underplaying a legend in his prime and I hope they pick the ball back up before Kurt thinks it’s not worth the risk anymore.
Back in early 2005 I tried my best not to join in the popular trend of proclaiming the WWE (and specifically the Raw) tag team division dead and buried. To my surprise, things soon looked up with the emergence of Cade and Murdoch who seemed the perfect blend of new talent and old school idealism. Fast forward to today and Hurricane and Rosey are no more, the Heart-throbs are missing presumed drowned in a gay cruise-liner accident and Cade and Murdoch have just been brushed aside by Kane and Big Show as if they weren’t there. I’ve always been against singles wrestlers holding the tag titles unless the are willing to devote at least half of their time to the tag ranks. But with Show fighting Mysterio on Smackdown and now starting what I can only hope to be a mini-feud with HHH it looks increasingly unlikely that the belts will be returned to the division anytime soon. Wait a minute … what about if they put two strong, reasonably talented singles wrestlers together and have them challenge as a team for the titles? Oh that’s right, they did that with Snitsky/Tomko this week on Raw and had them squashed harder than the Big Show’s wife on her wedding night (she must have a massive head and feet by now). With that in mind, I hereby cede to community thinking and mourn the passing of Raw’s tag team division. Thank god it didn’t drive a low-rider or Orton would have crashed it by now. Okay, grief period over, we need a solution. Release Rosey and the Heart-throbs, leave Helms in singles and maybe move him to Smackdown into the cruiserweight division and take those damn belts away from Kane and Show before he eats them. That would leave the WWE tag titles as the only tag belts in the WWE and Cade/Murdoch could switch to Smackdown and mix with MNM, Mexicools and Burchill/Regal. If you think I accidentally omitted to mention Animal and Heidenreich, you obviously don’t know what the word ‘accidentally’ means.
Finally, Shelton Benjamin. I don’t think anyone’s kidding themselves that in not pushing Shelton the WWE is missing out on a future possible franchise player. Just like Benoit, Benjamin isn’t as bland on the mic as people think he is but it is safe to say that he will never command a crowd’s attention in the same way that the Rock could. In fact, if the prerequisite of being a WWE wrestler were that you have to demonstrate the potential to be the World champion at some point then Shelton probably would be in TNA right now, diving off of six sides of steel. But not every WWE star needs to be able to carry the company of his back. Not every WWE star needs to be that master of all trades like Kurt Angle undoubtedly is. The WWE needs to have people that specialise in one aspect or another and while they are still vaguely clinging onto the idea that their product should be about exciting wrestling matches then there should be a decent spot on the card for a gifted athlete like Benjamin.
Despite my usual complaining, I quite enjoyed Raw. The segment with HHH/Show was powerful stuff and the best thing on the night, HBK and Carlito put together a good match with a well-told story and Bischoff/Vince/Shane added to the main event without directly ruining it. Oh and look, Torrie Wilson’s back (damn, I had five pounds on her being shaved and lobotomised by the end of the year). I would write a nice, neat ending to this column (I knew I had a ‘get out of conclusion free’ card around here somewhere) but, as I said earlier, these issues aren’t going to go away, especially if the WWE doesn’t think there’s a problem. Same time next week then?