Sunday, March 20, 2011

So Who Was That Guy Again?

As a rule I prefer house shows to televised events. I think in many situations you will find the ‘truth’ of wrestling fans at these shows. Without the devilish lure of being on TV, and being ‘seen’, fans have this opportunity to just be fans instead of painful attempts at being their own version of the entertainment they enjoy. There are not many human beings that can resist becoming a spectacle when the opportunity presents itself. I cringe weekly when watching Raw, Smackdown! and TNA. Please note that I did not mention Superstars. I’ll get to that, but back to the subject. So when a sign is put up, or a chant is started, it bares the purity of the action. I as a fan would like to show you my appreciation of you as a wrestler.

The energy is completely different because it reminds me of my first experiences watching World Class Championship Wrestling at the Sportatorium in Dallas Texas, and how that spurned a lifelong love for professional wrestling. It is that sense of burgeoning wonder and spontaneity that is usually lost in the televised events as everyone has to be so mindful of the glaring eye of the camera lens. So if you have not attended a house show, I highly recommend them because of this energy. It feels like life; real and upstaged. Even though we all know that everything is, it doesn’t feel like it because of the nature of the show. Everyone is free to respond as they see fit without much penalty. No one has any evidence other than what they thought they saw or heard. The difference is telling in how the fans respond, and how the wrestlers themselves are able to respond back. Then wrestling becomes more of the community that I’ve always felt like it should be. When I go to a wrestling event, I fondly refer to other wrestling fans as my people, and I see them as that. This feeling is even more so at house shows than any other.

During these shows you do meet a different kind of fan than you run across in an average televised event. I’ve had more conversations about wrestling, and why it is enjoyed within these audiences than I do at televised events. The air is calmer, more casual, and people know that they are speaking to someone else that actually loves wrestling, and isn’t there just to be on TV. This creates a bond that cannot be surpassed. So when one of these conversations reveal something about the way wrestling is perceived, I listen because there is an undeniable level of truth here that should be considered.

My best friend and I usually attend wrestling events together, and last night in Roanoke Virginia for a Smackdown! house show was no different. We sat next to a family that we ended up having a conversation with throughout the night, which is our way. We talked shop. Who we like, who we don’t like, and what is going on with this story. You know wrestling fan shop talk. The moment of revelation happened during the Curt Hawkins – Percy Watson match as the family told us that they had no idea who either of these men were, and furthermore why should they care. So my best friend took the hit, and explained the story with a brief history of each performer. Then after a few details they were able to admit that some of this sounded familiar. This is not an uncommon story when you go to wrestling events. Performers are often either well known, or floundering in obscurity before being handed their future endeavors packet. However I’m not entirely sure if this is fair.

Case in point. Normally I would just assume that these people are just not avid fans like my best friend and myself. But this was not the case. After speaking to the husband/father half of this family we learned that he had actually trained to be a wrestler in the feeder federation that was based in the area for WCW before it was bought out. He was being trained to go in as a Piper relative before WCW completely imploded. So this was not a casual fan by any means. He understood the nature of the performance, had some pretty successful matches, and knew the sometimes hidden ins and outs of the business. So this revelation makes me rethink this assumption. If this person who is an avid watcher of most WWE programming has no idea who either participant is in one match of a house show event when this person is not prescreened talent, how does the average fan fair?

Now we talk about Superstars. While Percy Watson is explained by the NXT debacle, Superstars is the show that had been doing Curt Hawkins a grave injustice. This has been the show that has featured performers like Curt Hawkins, Tyler Reks, Chavo Guerrero, the previous tag team champions of Santino and Koslov for months now as the A-listers only made brief appearances during the first month or so of production. So this spurred a logistics conversation between my best friend and I. Does the WWE creative staff consider featuring this level of talent on Superstars ‘pertinent’ TV time? Because if it is, or was as the case may be since it has been cancelled, the fan base may be virtually unaware that they were to use Superstars to discover new talent. While pre-established characters like Guerrero, Santino, and Koslov can survive the Superstars burying, a new and growing character like Hawkins cannot.

I stopped watching Superstars about 2 months ago when it became apparent that all I would be watching was the same series of matches without any additional information. Keep in mind that I have rescheduled dates and events to make sure I catch wrestling. Storylines were not created on Superstars. They weren’t even fleshed out. These were all mostly stand-alone matches that offered the appeal of preteen tennis when none of the kids participating are yours. It’s cute enough, but not able to sustain a wide audience.

Near the end, Superstars was more of a recap show for Raw, which I think was the final nail in its coffin. If the WWE is not careful, Smackdown! will have to deal with the same disturbing distinction as more Raw programming is being featured on Smackdown! because of the ratings it is generating on SyFy. I wonder why the WWE elite have assumed that people who are tuning in to Smackdown! would like more Raw? Why would people watching Superstars really want more Raw? But this seems to be a reoccurring theme that is not doing lower tier performers or other shows any favors.

Performers like Curt Hawkins can no more be repacked as a new range Triple H no more than Superstars can be used solely to advertise for Raw. You see you already have viewers for Raw, and it will grow, or recede based on its own merit. The idea is to create viewers for that show through that show’s programming that may one day decide to watch other WWE programming as well. Superstars never had a chance because the name of the show implied something that the show could not deliver, and the fan base was never really told what to expect.

As a romance novelist I have been accused of designing covers that don’t let the reader know that this is a romance novel. I maintain this is for a reason. I have a niche audience. I am looking for readers who don’t want your average formulaic romance novel so that I can avoid the customary ‘romance’ stigma.

Unfortunately the WWE has not endeavored to do the same for some of their burgeoning talent. The packaging after all is very important. I understand that wrestling is a form of entertainment, and like any other form, there are levels of self-making that have to be created by the performer themselves. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about sheer exposure so that the performer can ‘make’ themselves. Being featured weekly on Superstars turned into a death keel for many of the burgeoning talents. So I’m not sorry to see it go. I’m just afraid that it will not send the proper message to WWE higher ups in regards to handling programming, and how it effects talent development in the future.

I suppose I’m thinking that maybe with different goals that are more based on individual shows, and what they would like to achieve, something else can happen besides shows that all seem to try to lead the viewer back to the same show that just happened. With these shows not being used as baldy wielded marketing tools, things may feel a lot less like production. If it feels a lot less like production, maybe it will feel more like community. Then the truth that fans experience at house shows will be broadened, and perhaps that will increase the fan base as fans feel included instead of exploited. Then maybe every show can feel like a house show.

Curt Hawkins and Percy Watson had a good match last night, and people will be looking for them when they tune in. It’s a shame that they won’t find them.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

In the Distance WRESTLEMANIA!!!!

Long time no blog for me and wrestling. While I haven't had much I've wanted to talk about it, this hiatus had a lot more to do with finishing my Bachelor's, and finally self publishing a couple of my novels. Now that this is done I can once again concentrate on what I really like to hash about, professional wrestling. No wonder my first published novel features one.

So what has changed since I last blogged? Quite a bit actually. What are the highlights of the Pay Per Views from Survivor Series to the Elimination Chamber? Number one for me is how much fun The Miz as champion has become.

I was one of the people that thought it was too soon. I must now call myself a liar because I think The Miz is becoming a fine WWE Heel Champion. Now if we can only figure out a way to keep Alex Riley from constantly botching in ring work, and saying the lamest things, we could have an evil two some that would do the world proud. Honestly A-Ri could get away with the ultra lame scripting if he could manage to do the physical part of the job without such obvious screw-ups. Even people that don’t know what to look for can tell that something is not quite right with what they saw. While the 'internship' angle is a nice updated homage to the champ with a bodyguard days, it seems to have the exact same shelf life as all of those did then. End result is you have a great heel champ that seems to be being dragged down by his deadweight staff. Which within itself is pretty entertaining in an earned bad karma kind of way. It just seems to be a hard sell with Riley being the avatar.

I was pretty unhappy when Alberto Del Rio won the Royal Rumble mostly because I'm still waiting for him to wow me. Yes I am one of those people who felt that he was not going to benefit from what is thought of as his current designation as the new JBL. While there are character differences between the two, it is difficult for the average fan to separate the similarities. We are human beings, and our main functionality is in pattern forming. From a wrestling family, nice car driving, self-promoting Mexican athlete should've pinged more like an obnoxious royal Eddie Guerrero, but instead it registers like 'JBL En Espanol'. This pattern is too difficult to ignore because of the timeliness of JBL’s departure to Del Rio's arrival. Quick fix I thought, he just has to establish himself as his own viable character. So I want more meat to the character before moving him into the title scene. I think putting the strap on an up and coming new star before he's actually ready to bear the weight of it has become a WWE staple, and the World Heavyweight Championship has earned a tarnished legacy for it.

****I have to interrupt this blog for a rant. If you would like to avoid this rant please continue to the other side of the * designations to continue this blog reading rant free. This is a rant that is of my own personal opinion, and should not be used as a legitimate reference when arguing this point to anyone. This is only a rant.****

I've spent the past few years disappointed at the path the World Heavyweight title has taken. This is a title who's legacy is over a 100 years old. In my mind it means more than the WWE Championship because it is what has enabled the other to exist. I know the story. Technically this is not that championship. When Jericho became the first Undisputed (GREAT book by the way), it was discontinued, and then blah, blah, blah, Triple H, blah blah, new title formed by brand, blah. Too me it’s PR mumbo jumbo to try and deny the history of it, and the history of wrestling before Vince McMahon. Ask any political campaign manager, the truth is in what it is perceived as, and not what people are being told it is. It still looks like the belt that Flair wore in WCW, and most fans still see the legacy behind it, and that cannot be denied. SO they want to change to look of it. It won't change what the older fans know and think of it. Honestly I don’t think it should be changed. Doing that is the same beast as trying to take the N word out of Huckleberry Finn because we don’t like to admit our nation’s ignorance. It doesn’t make it actually disappear. We are being na├»ve in assuming that letting people forget it is better for us all. It’s not when you consider that analogy about not knowing your history, and repeating it and all. This is not a chicken and egg analogy. You can’t philosophize origin when it has been given. This is now simply history. Bottom line is I'm personally picky about who should have it, and I've been upset with the WWE for using it from time to time as a 'superstar' builder. I think it is a title that should always be in the hands of an established superstar out of respect for its implied heritage. But I was also against discontinuing the Women's title in favor or the Diva's title. I understand the math. Like any ruler, the WWE would like to rebuild the world of wrestling in it's own image, but losing the history that was a part of making the company so successful isn't going to accomplish it. This is something that older companies are now discovering as many are trying to go back to their roots to try and foster some of the product loyalty they lost by trying to keep up with the times. Re-branding is a lie, and eventually everyone catches on.

****This concludes this rant. Please continue with your normally scheduled blog reading.****

I'm not sure what is next for Randy Orton, and I'm not sure anyone else is either. It seems from WM26 to now the hottest star in the business has been losing steam, and through no fault of his own. I think it's the need to push his face turn. Randy Orton is a heel, plain and simple, and no amount of built up "face" time is going to change that. Which is what I think is backfiring on the CM Punk-New Nexus angle. The storyline with him and Punk is missing something. In a way it looks like two heels facing off, and yet not. There is a definite lack of heat, which I suppose is the real issue. I don't believe that Randy really wants to hurt Punk. I don't believe Punk is really serious about getting to Randy. However I do admit that even I cringe when he refers to him as Randall Keith Orton. Ahh, gratuitous use of mommy krytonite is effective and annoying, but it doesn't inspire that sense of true hate that Punk has been able to inspire in the past. Unfortunately Punk and company are going to have to do something truly heinous to put them on the map as the 'more brutal and hardcore' version of the Nexus. Randy is always good, its just that right now it seems over blown because the other end is not meeting his intensity. So it comes off as battling a squirt gun with a water hose. People still need to believe that the match is somewhat even. We all know that Randy is willing to do whatever it takes. Now Punk and the New Nexus need to show him the same. Beating each other up in the back just doesn't cut it.

I could talk about H and Taker. I could talk about Rock and Cena. I could talk about Divas. I could even talk about how truly annoying Michael Cole has gotten. However I think that is all hashed. People are beating it into the ground. In the meantime something truly spectacular happened during the Smackdown! Elimination Chamber match, and no one has even spoken a peep about it. (That is a cheap Christian plug.) The match itself was wonderful; solid with big spots, and some really nice moments. When it got down to the final two and only Edge and Mysterio lay in the ring panting, I looked over at my best friend and said, "They're resting because they are about to GO!" Even with this expectation, I could not imagine how much GO! they had left in them. Gentlemen, if no one else told you, that was an amazing performance, and it has been years, literally, since I have seen such a magnificent culmination to a rough match. The Raw side tried to keep up, and normally it would've ranked as a valiant effort. Had I been them I would've cut my losses and tried for another pay per view to steal because you can't take what's already gone.

So I look to Wrestlemania and the way it is building with a resurgence of Tough Enough in the wings, and I feel good about the direction one of my favorite forms of entertainment is going. Hopefully people will begin to understand that Rock-Cena isn't the main event of WM27. Miz-Cena is the main event, and I've been cheering on the WWE champ as he has been petulantly trying to remind everyone of that simple fact. I hope Del Rio can calm down his nerves, and actually get through the Mania match with Edge with a good showing proving me wrong about it being too soon. However his showing on Smackdown! this past week makes me real nervous for the current World Heavyweight champ. Cody is showing us visions of heel greatness, and I highly anticipate the culmination of his feud with Rey Mysterio. Hopefully the New Nexus can truly horrify before April and give the Orton-Punk match the teeth it's currently missing. Maybe we'll all get that knockout that Michael Cole deserves for actually being classless enough to reference Jerry Lawler's mother for cheap heat, may she rest in peace. Oh, has anyone put an APB out on Ted DiBiase Jr., just wondering? And 'Taker and H will be, well 'Taker and H. We all know what it means, and there is no need to elaborate.

See you on the other side of Atlanta.