Monday, September 24, 2007

What It Takes To Be A Superstar

For has long as I have been watching professional wrestling, big men with big personalities have dominated sports entertainment.

Occasionally, a unique talent will come through and break the mold. When a man like Dusty Rhodes, Mick Foley, or Rey Mysterio leaves the ring with a World Heavyweight Championship, the fattest, ugliest, and shortest guys find themselves believing that they too could one day realize their wildest dreams.

Now it is undoubtable that Rhodes, Foley, and Mysterio brought their own unique blend of talent and charisma to the ring, and they are all three undoubtedly deserving of their successes. They have shown the world that there is no blueprint to being a professional wrestling World Champion.

Just when we believe that, Vince McMahon puts his foot down and reminds us: professional wrestlers are supposed to be larger than life. In a similar vein to anyone who is a fan of professional wrestling, Vince McMahon views his product and finds certain individuals, which he marks for. In the almost 25 years that McMahon has been in charge of WWE, he seems to have come to a conclusion that the in-ring product itself is not the determining factor in what makes a superstar.

It wasn't always like this however. Superstar Billy Graham, Hulk Hogan, Lex Luger, and others can be credited with the current emphasis on the human body in professional wrestling.

Obviously current WWE superstars feel the pressure, as recently 10 men have been suspended for their association with Signature Pharmacy.

Following the death of Eddie Guerrero, WWE appeared to be taking their Wellness Policy much more seriously.

When Chris Masters arrived on the scene in the WWE, it appeared that the world would be handed to him on a silver platter. The Masterpiece was very reminiscent of Luger in his Narcissist character, and he appeared destined for superstardom based on his tremendous size and serviceable charisma. Masters may indeed have been the future of the business.

That is until the WWE exercised a new Wellness Policy, and Master's push vanished along with his muscles. Masters returned "leaner and meaner," but to folks at home he looked more like a "wiener." WWE had the option of restarting Masters right where he left off. Instead, they gave him a series of losses to Super Crazy. Master's career has been ill fated ever since, as mere technicalities with Ron Simmons and a soldier in Iraq are all that have kept any legitimacy to his "Masterlock Challenge."

Masters became a tool in the building of one of the men that Vince views as a real superstar, Bobby Lashley.

Why do you put anything over for two years to simply toss it aside with no feud, no payoff, nothing. Chris Masters' identity was lost as an accessory of a storyline he is not even involved in.

What does this say to Masters? Well, the answer is apparent, as "The Masterpiece" bulked back up rather quickly. How does this enforce wellness?

At Unforgiven, WWE continued down the path of hypocrisy. Now, I am not trying to insinuate that any of the winners at the most recent PPV are currently on the gas, but it is undeniable that John Cena and Batista are two wrestlers without a lot of technical ability and a whole lot of muscle.

Now the last time that WWE went through a steroid trial, the belt was immediately put on the technically sound, not-so-large Bret "Hitman" Hart. Who in the WWE thinks that Batista is a good figurehead in light of the current scrutiny?

The WWE has no shortage of athletic looking guys. Shelton Benjamin and Elijah Burke are two that uphold the legitimacy of what a pro wrestler should be without carrying an extra 50-100 pounds of unneeded muscle mass. What do they get for it? They get to be jobbers on their respective programs.

Burke got a chance to be a part of the Unforgiven Pay-Per-View, jerking the curtain along with "Straight Edge Superstar" CM Punk. In light of recent goings-on, you'd think these guys would really get a chance to shine. Instead, they are just an afterthought.

Now why aren't agility, technical skill, and charisma elevating these men to the same places that Batista's muscles have taken him? Why isn't a healthy athletic look celebrated, and the body builder look discouraged?

As Batista begins his third title run and Cena begins his second calendar year as WWE champion, it almost makes you wonder where the Ric Flair's and Bret Hart's have gone…

It seems today that only things that Vince cares about are the preservation of sports entertainment, the downplaying of wrestling in his product, and the creation of these beefed-up moneymaking megastars.

The WWE has the ability to do whatever they want at their leisure, until fans show them their decisions are incorrect by tuning out. All of us who disagree with the current product, regardless of the reason, are in Vince McMahon's back pocket.

We are the one's blogging, buying DVDs, and we will be watching "Raw" this Monday and purchasing Pay-Per-View's regardless. Vince is trying to appeal to the ones he hasn't already hooked, and he knows that first and foremost.

As a fan, I believe there is a place for the Undertaker's, John Cena's, Batista's, Big Show's, Hulk Hogan's, Ultimate Warrior's and other larger than life superstars. However, there is room for a great deal more. I am not calling for a drastic change. I would just like to see the wrestling put back into World Wrestling Entertainment.

I touched on WWE's reluctance to push guys who are not extremely large. I suggested how this sends the wrong message, and is a huge contributing factor as to why seemingly can't miss guys like Ken Kennedy, Umaga, John Morrison, King Booker, and others are sitting on the sidelines serving Wellness related suspensions.

Reader Rick Helley wrote in to suggest some other ways WWE could possibly improve the product while ensuring the safety and long-term health of their workers:

"The WWE could become a better alternative to its current incarnation if it banned chair shots, and other sorts of trauma, to the head. I remember Eddie Guerrero's final match, on SmackDown, when he took a wicked chair shot to the head from Mr. Kennedy. Although the cause of Eddie's death was ruled a heart attack, I cannot help but think that that nasty chair shot might have precipitated or hastened his demise.

And now, it's been learned that Chris Benoit, at 40, had brain damage comparable to an 85-year-old man with Alzheimer's disease. I know a great deal about Alzheimer's and dementia; and if Benoit did, in fact, suffer from dementia, then he was in a desperately bad mental condition. Every time I saw Benoit perform his flying head-butt off the top rope -- and plough head-first onto the mat in some cases -- I wondered what all that trauma must have been doing to his brain. And now we know -- as well as the horrible consequences.

I cringe every time I see chair shots and head bumps, and always have, long before the deaths of Guerrero and Benoit. I don't need to see such useless and risky nonsense in order to be entertained.

Some of the most exciting wrestling matches I ever saw were the televised National Wrestling Alliance matches from the San Francisco Cow Palace in the early 1970s, featuring such greats as Ray Stevens, Pat Patterson, Peter Maivia, Rocky Johnson, Pepper Gomez, and Stan Stasiak. These guys put on fantastic matches and exhibited pure professional wrestling skills superior to most of what I see today -- with nary a chair shot or a flying head-butt.

In the wake of the Chris Benoit tragedy, I hope that WWE will come to its senses, and ban chair shots and other moves that induce head trauma -- and tragedy afterwards. In that way, WWE will become a better and more entertaining alternative to itself -- and a safer alternative for its hard-working wrestlers. And maybe, when wrestlers pass away, their obituaries will indicate that they died in their 80s instead of their 30s and 40s."

Thanks for the feedback Rick. Here is a classic match from the 1970's, just for you:

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