Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Cyclical Wrestling Business

So two weeks ago I asked what it is that even makes a superstar? One week ago I talked about professionally wrestling's surprisingly deep free agent market. I got some great responses on a free agent roster that I will share a bit later, but first I want to talk about the cyclical nature of wrestling, because it's an argument that I have heard 1000 times that I am just not buying.

Months ago, Linda McMahon stated that professional wrestling was about to reach another boom period. So what creates these cycles?

Well, the first is simply talent. In the 1980's, Vince McMahon purchased the best superstars from every territory to create his national brand. The chance to see the best of the best from around the world together in something other than a Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine was undoubtedly exciting, and Vince was printing money.

However, Vince seemed to forget something very important along the way. His business is with human beings. Human beings grow older. Human beings have wants and needs. Pretty soon the early nineties appeared, and many of those from the Rock N' Wrestling Generation had retired. Ted Turner purchased those remaining, much the way they were purchased by Vince a decade earlier.

In the meantime, Vince hadn't created any new stars. He had latched his wagon onto workhorses like Hulk Hogan and let them take him as far as they could pull. So when Hogan was gone, Vince had to turn to Bret Hart and Lex Luger to pull the weight. The results were less than thrilling.

In time, Razor Ramon, Diesel, and Shawn Michaels separated themselves from the pack as special talents. Ramon and Diesel were then lured away by the almighty dollar as well, but luckily for Vince, he had recently acquired the underappreciated former WCW talent Steve Austin, and there was a third generation superstar on the horizon.

Initially Vince stuck with his tired formula. The third generation superstar was called Rocky Miavia, and pushed down the throats of fans as an undeniable babyface. Austin was given the gimmick of the Ringmaster and the Million Dollar Belt to boot. Nothing was going to change ratings until Vince McMahon changed his philosophy.

A rumbling was taking place that would shake the core of professional wrestling. Paul Heyman took a group of WWE and WCW rejects, matched them up with guys no one had ever heard of, and created one of the most exciting products in wrestling history. When the cult following started to become a mainstream fanfare, Vince had the answer.

WWE Attitude took the audience back from WCW and created the second significant wrestling boom of the past 30 years. Much like when Vince McMahon had put all his eggs into Hogan's basket in the 80's, he was going to milk Attitude for all it was worth as the late nineties rolled into the new millennium.

If the Attitude Era were a large plentiful orange in 1997, WWE was still squeezing the hell out of it in 2006 in order to quench the fans thirst. Then one day, Vince woke up and looked at the talent around him. Steve Austin had retired. The Rock had left to go do movies. Mick Foley was not going to be flying off any cages. Instead a new crop of talent surrounded him. Bobby Lashley, Ken Kennedy, Umaga…

Vince decided the first thing to do was release Scotty 2 Hotty. After all, nothing screamed hanging on to 1997 like this guy still doing the Too Cool dance and the worm ten years later.

It was time to shake off a half decade of bad investments. Since the WWF became the WWE, Vince and company have put a great deal of time and money into guys that simply didn't pan out. The emergence of the NWO in the WWE didn't work because of injuries to Kevin Nash and the conduct of Scott Hall. Hulkamania was reignited, but only long enough to give him some big wins over guys like Triple H, Shawn Michaels, and Randy Orton, only to see him disappear again with no real benefit to the company.

For a full year Vince pushed Brock Lesnar on Smackdown and Goldberg on Raw. By the time their dream match was scheduled at Wrestlemania, both had decided that they were done with the WWE, and a retired Steve Austin got the rub from stunning them both on their departure.

WWE chose to let go of the Dudley Boyz. While their routine was admittedly tired, shouldn't they have put someone over on their way out for the future viability of the tag division? What about Christian and Chris Jericho? These guys were in the title picture at Summerslam and then gone before the Royal Rumble.

One can't miss prospect that WWE was looking to was Muhammed Hassan. After the time they put into making Hassan a true contender, he was drafted to Smackdown and then had to be removed from TV for a controversial angle.

It wasn't just the men's department where WWE was hurting. In a short period they lost three of their most established divas as well when Stacy Keibler, Trish Stratus, and Lita all said goodbye.

Just last year The Big Show quit after a lengthy run as ECW champion and a main event program with Degeneration X.

All of these releases as individual instances are not a big deal. All of them together, however, are pretty significant. Figure into that the deaths of Owen Hart and Eddie Guerrero, and you have a recipe for disaster.

It's actually quite impressive that WWE is doing as well as they are right now. With Triple H, Shawn Michaels, and the Undertaker as the corporate backbone, WWE was able to develop John Cena, Batista, Randy Orton, and more into this new crop of superstars.

However, just when things were looking up, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, and the Undertaker go down to injuries. Following suit are Rey Mysterio, King Booker, and Ken Kennedy. Rob Van Dam leaves the company. Chris Benoit kills himself. Edge gets hurt. Bobby Lashley gets hurt. Then after Triple H, Mysterio, and the Undertaker come back, 10-12 superstars get Wellness-related suspensions. When those guys on the Wellness suspensions return, John Cena tears his pectoral muscle.

So John Cena is injured and smarks around the world are rejoicing as if the war in Iraq were finally over. I for one don't see the upside.

Say what you will about John Cena, and wrestling sites have about said it all ad nauseam, but John Cena has proven to be something special. His name on the marquee draws crowds, his image on cotton sells t-shirts, his persona both live and on television stays over, and his programs with Edge, Randy Orton, Triple H, Umaga, and others make for damn good wrestling television.

So what do people have to say about the heir-apparent to the WWE throne? He's no Hulk Hogan. He's no Steve Austin. He's no Rock. You know what? That's completely true.

Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, and The Rock are arguably the three biggest stars in the history of professional wrestling. John Cena has commonalities with all three men, but he certainly is not able to fill their shoes.

Like the Rock, Cena came into the WWE as a bluechipper. Fans didn't accept his babyface character, and he was quickly pushed into being a heel and developed his own personality. Like Steve Austin, John Cena became an ass-kicking anti hero, as his foul mouth and controversial actions only endeared him more to the WWE crowd. Like Hulk Hogan, he captured the imagination of children everywhere and became an almost unstoppable force.

What the Rock, Steve Austin, and Hulk Hogan had going for them is that they were allowed to be themselves with the volume turned way up. What John Cena has working against him is that he is expected to be some type of amalgamation of those who came before him.

When Randy Orton was kicked out of Evolution shortly after winning the WWE title, he suffered a similar fate. For months, Orton had developed his cocky legend killer character to the point that fans began to like it. When the time came to pull the trigger on Orton's inevitable babyface run, they placed him on the stage and gave him a Rock-esque promo to cut. It didn't work. Why? Well for starters, Randy Orton is not the Rock. He is Randy Orton.

When The Rock finally turned babyface, he did not magically turn into a new generation Hulk Hogan. He stayed true to who he was, and the fans ate that up. This was the character that fans had grown to love. No one wanted to hear The Rock telling us to train, say our prayers, and eat our vitamins.

The more over John Cena's rap character became, the more he got pushed in a direction where he had to fit a mold that was created before him. Cena has since abandoned the throwback jerseys, locks, and chains that brought him to the dance and has adopted the persona of being "The Marine," a role that was initially intended for Steve Austin.

When given mic time, Cena is rarely ever the brash arrogant kid we grew to love. He is often simply too goofy to be taken seriously. It's strange how the Rock can call Umaga a shriveled up monkey penis and it works, but when John Cena calls the Big Show poopy pants it doesn't. It's the same type of sophomoric humor, but it just rolls off The Rock's tongue more naturally.

Then again, I was 14 when I loved hearing the Rock say those things. I am now 24, and I would hope my sense of humor has evolved. Still, when the Rock makes his occasional appearance, I expect this from him and welcome it. When I see John Cena, I would prefer not to see a subpar rehash of places I have already been.

John Cena has had some fantastic matches in his career. Of course Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Edge, and Shawn Michaels had the ability to make anyone look like a million bucks, but Cena's recent Summerslam effort against Randy Orton should also serve to silence a lot of critics.

Cena's reputation as a hard worker is well documented. Often I think the criticism he gets for no-selling moves and having a tired predicatable offense is unwarranted, because I believe this is what he is instructed to do by the WWE higher-ups. If Vince McMahon wanted Cena to deliver a consistently better and more diverse in-ring product, I am sure he could step to the plate.

Case and Point: John Cena's injury is not a positive for professional wrestling. It is very much a negative. What Linda McMahon predicted to be a "boom" period for professional wrestling has become a period where the product is really suffering. Those who have enjoyed the most success due to circumstance thus far? The Great Khali and Hornswaggle. There is something wrong with that picture.

Every move that WWE makes right now is critical. Every signing, every release and every push is essential to sustaining the momentum the company had been building over the past year. Every booking, every storyline and every angle needs to be carefully constructed to maintain the relationships with fans who have tuned in over the past seven years to see people who may or may not be on their televisions due to a number of circumstances.

So in this sensitive time period that requires a great deal of focus, what is the WWE doing? A Teddy Long Viagra-induced heart attack and a Hornswaggle/Melina love story. These are two angles that take TV time, and don't build anyone with the ability to draw a dime or even result in a match.

They are building Santino Marella into one of the most interesting superstars on Raw. The problem? On the way there, they are going to further devalue their most underrated talent in Val Venis. Venis has the look, the charisma, and the in-ring ability, yet he is saddled with eternal job duty. What is Marella's ultimate destiny after getting the rub from Val? That's quite simple. He will receive kick-wham-stunner from an inactive Steve Austin. How does this elevate a new superstar? It doesn't.

Triple H gets to destroy Umaga, Carlito, Cade, and Murdoch. Who's next? Well most likely with Cena getting hurt, Orton will be thrown into this match at the pay-per-view and it will be made for the vacant WWE title. It is likely good ole' Trips will bury Orton too on the way to another long meaningless title run, and heck, while he has the belt, let him destroy Ken Kennedy too. What's the point of having something new to look forward to? Right WWE?

Speaking of something new to look forward to, how about Cody Rhodes. Oh yeah, that's right. He is jobbing to Bob Holly. The fans have never accepted Holly as more than a weak midcarder, so Rhodes losing to him on a weekly basis is especially damaging. You think Cody would get a better deal because of his daddy. I guess this is supposed to end with Rhodes earning Holly's respect. Whoopdee shit. I'd rather see Rhodes spit in his face and ask him why in the 15 years he's been in the WWE he hasn't had any real success. Then ask him why he's still going around calling himself Hardcore. In the last WWE Smackdown vs. Raw game, Lawler exclaims, "1998 called, they want their word back." Amen.

Even when Brock Lesnar legit injured Bob Holly, his return to get revenge garnered him no fan support. I am happy Holly beat his terrible staph infection, but that doesn't make him any less boring. Bob Holly never was a star and never will be one. I wish that WWE would wish him the best on his future endeavors, or throw him back on ECW where nothing matters anyways.

If those viral marketing promos are actually for Chris Jericho and not for the new and improved WWE.com featuring old school pics of Dusty Rhodes' valet Sweet Sapphire, wrestling fans around the world need to realize something. I said last week that no one man is going to save the WWE. I take that back. There actually is one guy that has that power. His name is Vince McMahon.

It is up to Vince McMahon and the WWE creative team to build intriguing storylines that make sense, attract viewers, and lead to an even bigger payoff. Until they get that process down, even a returning Chris Jericho is likely to be nothing to get excited about. In fact, he's just another guy for Triple H to run over while we all wait patiently for wrestling's next big boom period.

Chris O offered up his 30 man roster alternative to the WWE

World Championship Division
CW Anderson
Rob Van Dam
The Sandman
Steve Corino
Bryan Danielson
Brent Albright
Marcus Cor Von
The Human Tornado

Lightweight Championship Division
Too Cold Scorpio
Austin Starr
Sean Waltman
Jushin Liger
TAKA Michinoku
Ultimo Dragon
Matt Bentley
Jack Evans

Tag Team Championship Division
Kings of Wrestling: Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnoli
Jay Briscoe and Mark Briscoe
Joey Mercury and Christian York
The Mexicools: Psicosis and Juventud Guerrera
The Naturals: Chase Stevens and Andy Douglas
Cryme Tyme: JTG and Shad

My fed's roster kinda resembles the original ECW. In the World Title Division there are Originals such as Sabu, Sandman, and RVD. I have guys with technical prowess such as Danielson and Albright. I have a monster in Cor Von, and have Anderson and Tornado in there as heavyweight jobbers. My lightweights are stacked and should provide exciting matches like lightweights in the old ECW. My tag team division is a mix of indy teams like the Kings of Wrestling and the Briscoes, and ex-WWE or TNA teams like Cryme Tyme and the Naturals. If Heyman booked for this fed, it would be able to create a cult following. While it probably wouldn't compete with WWE, it can still be popular on a national stage.

Stephen Straka also gave his 30 man roster
A roster of 30 based on the free agents? Hoo boy.

The first thing I'm gonna do is divide the 30 into groups. 10 slots will be set aside for 5 established tag teams. 6 slots will be for the "devlopers", the type of guys you see winning tons on Heat but jobbing almost everywhere else. Hacksaw and Val Venis for example. Their primary role is to both test the incoming rookies and take under their wings the signed contract that still need some freshening up on the B-show. 1 of the tag team slots will be for this purpose as well. 7 slots will be for the upper-card wrestlers while 7 will be for an X-division.

Tag teams:
- La Resistence; I personally liked their gimmick and they're able to draw heat better than a lot of heels.
- Briscoe Bros.; duh. The only proviso is that they dress up as Mario and Luigi during Halloween episodes. Why? Why not?
- Cryme Tyme; sadly, I never got to see them in any matches aside from squashes but their skits are good for comedy value. Probably most liekly to be the B-show team but again, I haven't seen enough of them to tell.
- Basham Bros.; whatever you're gonna call them, they can be great in the ring if you let them be. Unfortunately, they were used as enforcers, which is never good for your in-ring work.
- Gymini is your "big" team.

- Scotty! Even though he's at the tail end of his career, the fans still love the worm and I can see him tearing up the B-show in my promotion.
- Ace Steel; again, getting along in years but still more than capable of main-eventing the B-show. He can also double as a trainer/manager for someone who has a boxing/MMA gimmick given his training ofthe Second City Saints.
- Eugene; it's sad that he never got a chance outside the retard gimmick. I'd probably let him go back to being Mr. Wrestling and make him the heel developer.

- Essa Rios!
- TAKA Michinoku!
- Human Tornado!
- Ultimo Dragon!
- Jushin "Thuder" Liger!
- Yuji Nagata!
- Zach Gowen!
In case you haven't figured it out, this will probably be the equivilent of WCW's cruiserweight scene. Lower in the card and don't expect much for English promos but damn if the matches aren't gonna be exciting! Human Tornado gets to be Ken Masters for Halloween. SHOOOORYUKEN!

Upper card:
- Bryan Danielson; DUH
- RVD; ALSO DUH. Robbie V can also do double-duty in the X-division if there's injury or he's not doing anything.
- Mistico; can also slide into the X-division if neccessary
- Big Show and
- Giant Bernard are your monster heels. They can also do double-duty as a monster heel tag team if neccessary.
- Sylvester Terkay; is most likely to have Ace Steel as his trainer/manager
- Brent Albright and
- Monty Brown to round things out

Ideally my promotion would have a Raw/Heat deal with the A and B-shows. The A-show would be two ohurs long so as to give everyone enough exposure.

Karl Belanger checked in with this note on Pierre-Carl Ouellet
Just a quick note on Pierre-Carl Ouellet. He is now a color commentator for the TNA shows on RDS (Quebec's equivalent to ESPN or TSN). He's actually not too bad and way more tolereable than Lawler.

Last week, to my surprise, there was actually a 3 way match shown with him, Christopher Daniels and AJ Styles on the TNA broadcast that took place in Ottawa (not shown on TNA's regular boradcast obviously). He still looks great despite his age and can still work a crowd quite well. I always really liked him in the Quebecers and was always amazed at how well he could move for a big man. WWE wants their version of Samoa Joe? He'd be the perfect guy (much more so than Umaga I feel).

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