Let Them Eat Raw

The news is all over every site already. WWE has announced that beginning with it’s 1000th episode of Monday Night Raw, airing on July 23rd, Monday Night Raw will permanently switch to a three hour format. Yes, Gilligan, a three hour format.

You’ve got to hand it to Vince McMahon. When demand for his show is slowly sinking, and ratings are mirroring an arythmic heart, he has found the solution: More is more! For all that 12-17 demographic whose attention they can’t hold with a two hour show, add in another hour. If there’s anything people love, it’s three hour television shows.

Facietiousness aside, this could end up being one of the best or one of the worst decisions WWE has made in recent years. Of course there is the argument that moving to three hours was one of the major factors that led to the downfall of WCW, but WCW seriously lacked the ability to support a three hour show and showed no backstage organization in preparation for it. Though we often hear about WWE changing plans the day of the show, it’s rare that Raw looks chaotic and confused like Nitro used to. Ultimately, three hours of Nitro was a drop in the bucket of what was a flooding disaster.

What good could come out of this, you might ask? Well, for one thing, maybe WWE can finally manifest Divas matches that last more than a minute on Raw. Doubtful, as they seem to care as much about the Diva division as I care about Hornswoggle. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Divas matches get an entire two minutes in the future! Wouldn’t that be something. Eight moves instead of four… seriously, though, giving more time to the divas is one thing on a long list of things they should be able to do.

In addition to increasing time for the women, perhaps we could get more wrestling over promos. These seems like a longshot, as there is a fear they’ll want to get people watching so we’ll get promo heavy moments at the beginning and end of each hour, as we typically do. Remember when wrestling shows used to open and close with wrestling matches? Wild idea.

More wrestling, more divas, what more could you want? More talent, perhaps. I’m not talking bringing back guys like Kevin Nash (sorry Kev,) but new, young, rising talent. Something fresh for the WWE. I wouldn’t be opposed to them bringing in some established guys from TNA either, though I consider that doubtful (outside of Matt Morgan, at the moment.)

Granting themselves another hour could give WWE the time and space to make good choices and build a better show. Unfortunately, their track record has shown that three hour Raws are usually total disasters where the first hour is essentially useless. This doesn’t mean it will be like that every week. Hopefully, they’ve got something better in mind.

An interesting thing to consider is the overall effect on the ratings. It seems likely that the first hour of the show will be the lowest, as it typically is during three hour Raws. That being the case, it’s possible that the low rating for hour one could drag down the overall rating for the whole show, which won’t look good for the WWE either.

Ultimately, I find it hard to wrap my head around this one. With attention faltering, ratings wavering and interest depleting, why make this move? Usually you supply a demand, you stock up when you’re selling out. You don’t fill your stock room with more and more of a product that less and less people are buying. Even Nitro went to three hours when they were commanding a massive audience, not when the people started turning away.

This is the same audience that swelled post-Wrestlemania with the entrance of Brock Lesnar, but returned to normal within a few weeks. WWE has the ability to pull those people back on occasions like this, they just can’t seem to keep them. So.. three hours then?

I’d like to see this succeed and I’d like to see a lot of amazing things come out of this. New talent, more matches, a better quality show and an increased probability of success in WWE’s future. Unfortunately, I’m not a look at the bright side type of person, especially when it pertains to WWE who have time and again show the prominent ability to take what is prophesied as great and turn it into total garbage.

So, it remains to be seen. In the end, it comes down to you, the fans, the people who are invested in this business and want to see it improve. Whether or not three hours of Raw keeps you wanting more, or pushes you away. At this point, the ratings remaining the same as they have been would be a success for an additional hour every week. If ratings begin to decrease, however, will WWE stick with it or pull the plug? Figuring that out is figuring out the mind of Vince McMahon and that takes much longer than three hours.

The Rock / Cena Schizophrenia


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Talk about your all-time schizophrenic promo battles. The Rock and Cena angle has been all over the map in recent weeks. Keeping up with what exactly is going on here has led to debate on all sides of the wrestling world about work and shoot, professional and unprofessional, selling and no-selling. All viable arguments, and it’s currently impossible to determine who is right and who is wrong. Ultimately, the answers to all of those questions don’t matter. There are two extremely important elements here, and they are what matters: are Cena and the Rock selling Wrestlemania and will both or either of them have been put into a better position when April 2nd comes around?

Things have gotten a little out of alignment here. This past Monday, John Cena gave his empty arena promo all about how this match at Wrestlemania means everything to him. He explained how he doesn’t just want to win this match, he has to win this match. It means everything to him. Simultaneously, Rock vignettes were airing with him making jokes and tearing down Cena as he always does. Cut to later in the night, John Cena comes out and begins cutting a silly promo while smirking. The Rock comes out, super serious, and cuts a promo of his own while Cena no-sells it and acts like the quintessential goofball that he has been for years.

What the hell happened there? Both guys completely flipped their scripts. Rock went from funny, silly vignettes to being serious in the ring while Cena went from saying his entire career is riding on Wrestlemania to smirking like a seven year old who is trying to annoy the teacher. Meanwhile, a lot of people are trying to figure out if this is all a work, a shoot or a mix. I love a good promo as much as the next guy, but I do have some problems with worked shoots.

Rock has said he will kick Cena’s ass and make him his “bitch.” Cena has said Rock will have to kill him to beat him. That’s all fine and good, but when you start mixing together work and shoot and you start trying to make the fans believe everything you’re saying is real… you severely undercut that when you then say you’re going to win a predetermined wrestling match.

This has always been my problem with worked shoots. You can’t tell me everything is real, but simultaneously try to convince me you’re going to settle it in a wrestling ring. There is a lack of balance there which has always bothered me. Ultimately, sell your match by selling your match rather than trying to sell who has the better punchlines. What does it matter who is funnier or says the more biting comment when no one is going to be holding a microphone in the middle of that match?

Some argument has been made that John Cena has been unprofessional in this feud while the Rock has been attempting to keep things balanced. No matter which side of that argument you fall on, it does have to be acknowledged that one of the biggest gripes anti-Cena fans have had over the years is John Cena’s failure to sell. In this promo battle with the Rock, Cena has sold nothing.

Imagine if Stone Cold Steve Austin cut promos on Vince McMahon and Vince just smirked the entire time. Imagine CM Punk going off on Chris Jericho and Jericho just laughing about it. You certainly submarine the angle when you fail to show that it actually matters or is important. It is ironic, because as John Cena has said this match means everything to him but Rock doesn’t care if WWE closes down, he is simultaneously undercutting the angle and doing damage to the business aspect of it. If you need proof that fans are getting pushed away all you have to do is look at the ratings over the past two weeks which have both involved face to face meetings between Rock and Cena.

Was John Cena pointing out the writing on Rock’s arm unprofessional, or was it planned? How about this past week where Cena smirked and smiled the entire time the Rock was talking and then began interrupting him while he was just finishing his promo? Nobody knows, and nobody will know for a while. Ultimately, none of this is as important as whether or not this program has made you want to see this match more or less.

I am a massive fan of the Rock, and though I dislike John Cena’s character, there have certainly been times where I have enjoyed his work. Right now the only thing that has me interested in this match is… I don’t know who will win. That’s it. The promos, the threats, the jokes, the undercutting has made me less interested. If I didn’t write columns, there’s a chance I’d just tune out until April 1st because everything between these two is beginning to frustrate me. Oh, and what are they doing next week? These two want to kill each other so much that on Monday’s Raw we get to see Rock signing and Cena rapping. To quote the Miz: “Really? Really? Really? Really?” That’s your Wrestlemania 28 build up.. musical battling. Oh boy.

On April 9th, the Rock will be gone. He will be filming movies until he comes back for the build up to Wrestlemania 29 (in whatever capacity he is participating.) On April 9th, will John Cena be in a position where he can ride the wave of excitement, bring PPV buyrates up and increase ratings or will we be back to the John Cena that the fans boo and the guy who makes silly “poopy” jokes, acts like Superman and continues to pummel his goodie two shoes personality into our brains? If John Cena doesn’t come out of this Wrestlemania either glowing and with a rejuvenated fanbase, or edgier and angrier, than this Wrestlemania could go down in history as the year WWE went to the mat for Cena and it didn’t work.

Regardless, if John Cena goes back to being the way he was and interest continues to flag while the Rock is out there signing on to do more and more movies, Rock’s words will prove prophetic and Wrestlemania 28 will be remembered as the time when Rock made Cena his bitch. You know what should be frightening about that? The Rock doesn’t even have to win to make Cena look like a bitch. Just ask post-Wrestlemania 18 Hulk Hogan about that.

WWE: Be a Hypocrite

We’ve all seen those promos on WWE television.  Various WWE Superstars gathering and voicing their opinions about the evils of bullies and how important it is for all of us to put a stop to it.  They talk about the “be a STAR” program which is dedicated to creating a “positive and equitable social environment for everyone regardless of age, race, religion or sexual orientation through grassroots efforts beginning with education and awareness.”

The “be a STAR” program asks you to take the “be a STAR Pledge.”  One of the parts of that pledge reads “I pledge to:  Work with others including caring adults, students and friends to create a bully-free environment for everyone.”  It is a nice idea, and a good program.  Who isn’t in favor of stopping bullies from ruining lives and devaluing others?  The problem is that the first sentence on their webapge says “be a STAR is an anti-bullying alliance co-founded by The Creative Coalition and WWE.”

You read that correctly.  WWE is a “co-founder” of an “anti-bullying alliance.”  Apparently, though, that alliance doesn’t apply to their own company or television product, right?  It wasn’t too long ago that WWE faced heat with the “be a STAR” program due to their treatment of Vickie Guerrero.  Remember when they had both superstars and announcers alike calling her fat each and every week?  WWE was at a minimum unaware and at a maximum unconcerned that calling a woman “fat” week in and week out could, by and large, be considered bullying.

So, they stopped.  Now they just make subtle jokes that she’s ugly.  Much better, right?  It doesn’t end with Vickie Guerrero though.  Wrestling is an industry that revolves around bullying, doesn’t it?  A heel comes down, push people around, lies and cheats to get what he or she wants and then it is up to the babyfaces to stand up against the bully.  It’s an age old story, it’s been going on in the industry since its inception and it satisfies the fans.  People like to see a bully “get his.”  There’s nothing wrong with that.  There is, however, something incredibly wrong with the other bullying that goes on behind the scenes and, even sometimes, on our televisions.

There has been a running joke behind the scenes for quite a while in which people say that ring announcer Lillian Garcia has a “horse face.”  Some will remember that last year, when much of the Raw crew was stuck overseas due to the volcano eruption, Lillian Garcia came back for one night to be a guest ring announcer.  Triple H while on the microphone, with all of his tact and class, made the comment “If Lillian wants to come back here for a night to the WWE just to horse around, she can do it.”  This was accompanied by Jerry Lawler making horse sounds on commentary.  Mick Foley, who was in TNA at the time, posted a blog entry asking why Triple H found it necessary to “do something so shallow and mean?”

Lillian, who has now returned to WWE in order to ring announce for Smackdown, was in the dancing with Hornswoggle when Michael Cole made the comment “I wish these two would stop horsing around.”  Once again, WWE showing how amazingly dedicated they are to their anti-bullying campaign show how you’re never too old to make middle school jokes about someone.  Obviously they see nothing wrong with this since no apologies were released afterward and, unlike the Vickie Guerrero situation, we’re more than likely to see this kind of behavior perpetuated again and again.

Keep in stride with their reputation for crass, classless remarks intended to amuse themselves at the expense of others, and on the very same episode of Smackdown, Michael Cole found it necessary (or, in fairness to Cole, was fed the line through his headset) to make a crack about the debilitating medical condition, Bells Palsy, which legendary announce Jim Ross suffers from.  Josh Matthews made the derogatory comment about Cole saying that he “speaks out of both sides of his mouth.”  Cole’s response, which was not only disgustingly ignorant but pointless and delivered only to make light of someone’s serious medical illness, responded “Actually, there is nothing wrong with my mouth, unlike J.R.’s.”  Way to keep it classy and bully-free, WWE.

John Cena is another member of the WWE roster who could easily be called out, and has been, for some of the tasteless remarks he’s been responsible for.  Some may remember GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) targeting Cena for making homophobic remarks on WWE programming.  Among them, Cena said in reference to the Rock “Just don’t go racing to Witch Mountain, Rock, cause your mountain is Brokeback.”

A week later, Cena said to the Miz in regard to Alex Riley “Do you really want to look back years from now and realize you shared your legacy with another man?  Wait, don’t answer that.”  He made some comments about Miz and Riley buying “one of those tandem bikes to ride to bed bath and beyond to buy some duvets” and ultimately capped it by saying “Tonight, I’m going to train you on how to be a man.”

These are not isolated incidents.  Cena has a history of making homophobic remarks such as these.  It’s ironic for this to come from a guy who spouts off about “Hustle, Loyalty, Respect” and now wears a shirt bearing the phrase “Rise Above the Hate.”  What can you expect from the “face” of a company that pledges to stop bullying while perpetrating it on their broadcasts.  WWE has, for a long time, had a reputation for having a “locker room” mentality and having people, on all levels, who think it is funny to demean others.  This exists everywhere in the world, plenty of organizations and companies are full of ignorance like this, but not all of them are considered the “co-founders” of an “anti-bullying alliance.”

It’s time for WWE to grow up and put away their childish thoughts and comments.  They switched to PG and stick to it pretty firmly, unless it benefits them.  If you’re going to talk about how John Cena is a great example and role model or how your company is dedicated to ending bullying then maybe, the best place to start, is by not tolerating the same behavior you’re rallying against to continue within the walls of your company.  WWE says “be a STAR.”  I say be a STAR, don’t be a hypocrite.

No Selling

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Wrestling was never Shakespeare but at least it made sense once upon a time. Storylines had identifiable beginnings and endings. You knew when you were watching a match that it was going to begin a feud or end one. The wrestlers built up to things, to Pay Per Views, to blow offs, to matches that mattered. The wrestlers themselves sold it. Would anyone have believed that Bob Backlund was a threat to Bret Hart unless Bret made it clear, through promos, that he was? Would anyone have cared about a ladder match for the Intercontinental title at Wrestlemania X if the title changed hands as much as it does these days? Would the Undertaker be perceived as the deadman, as a real threat, if guys like Yokozuna and Shawn Michaels didn’t act like they were nervous to face him? Hell no. Unfortunately, these days, we don’t get any of the great little things which used to make the matches mean something.

Titles change hands at the drop of a dime. Bret Hart was a five time WWE champion and that was an accomplishment back then. How many times has Cena held the title now, twelve? The title doesn’t mean a whole lot when it is won and lost at every Pay Per View or two. The prestige of all of the titles have been in jeopardy for years now. They want the fans to care when a title is defended, and they want you to believe that title could change hands at every moment, but you’d think they’d also want the title to mean a little more than it currently does. Holding the title means about as much as an empty net goal in hockey; sure it counts towards your total but no one ever puts it on a highlight real.

As for building each other up.. WWE has completely lost its way in that department. CM Punk, whom many of the fans love, comes out there and tells everyone that Alberto Del Rio is boring, that people are fast forwarding past him on their DVRs and that they should be. Punk holds a lot of sway, so many people love what this guy is saying and when he tells you that the former (then current) champion is boring and not worth watching.. why would you bother watching? That doesn’t build him up. Also, when did someone being boring or not boring have anything to do with an opponents ability to kick your ass?

Punk didn’t say Del Rio was weak so he’d beat him. He didn’t say he was stupid or skilless. He said he was boring. I never faced a tough fight in a bar or in the school yard where I thought for a moment that I could win because my enemy was boring. Everyone wants to “shoot” so badly and WWE wants so desperately to pull in people that they’re willing to sacrifice the quality of their product. It doesn’t seem to make any sense. Punk talks about how boring Raw is and how he wants to make it cool again. Imagine if your favorite football team’s Quarterback did pregame interviews where he said “Well, we’re boring and we’re not very good and people fast forward through our games but you should watch anyway.” To quote the Miz: Really? Really, WWE?

This brings us to the man who is most responsible for this kind of irrational, counterproductive behavior; John Cena. John Cena and the Rock are going to face one another at Wrestlemania. They teamed up at Survivor Series and at the end of the show the Rock left Cena laid out from a Rock bottom. Does Cena say it hurt, does Cena say he’s mad, does Cena say anything to build up heat? No. The guy walks out to the ring with a smirk on his face and says that people do things in the heat of the moment. So his method by which to build heat is to forgive his opponent for attacking him. Seriously? What the hell is going on here? Cena basically says it is ok that the Rock laid him out, that he isn’t bothered by it, and worse yet, he understands and forgives it. Oh yeah, now I really can’t wait to see these two rip each other apart. Imagine if in the film “The Matrix” that Keanu Reeves’ character, Neo, had said “We shouldn’t dislike the Agents, they’re just doing their job and I can understand that. I mean, we’ll fight them anyway, but let’s not have hard feelings about it.” Sounds like a blockbuster to me.

This isn’t just a WWE problem, though recent weeks of their television have made it clear that they show no signs of changing. Is this the future of wrestling? There is no future this way. You cannot castrate your product and expect it to produce in the years ahead. Some argue that Vince McMahon is losing it as he ages but the problem runs deeper than that. Stephanie is there and she should know better as well. Triple H should definitely know better but during that whole “walk out” storyline he implied that him wrestling a mop was more entertaining than watching the WWE Superstars perform. There are ways to build up your product, to make your opponents and roster look strong without losing your credibility as a more reality oriented, shooting promotion. WWE doesn’t seem to understand that and, as a result, they’re stuck with basically the same ratings week in and week out. Maybe, just maybe, if you made it seem like your matches mattered, your champions were credible and your show wasn’t “boring” than people would actually watch. This isn’t a solution to all of their problems, but it is a place to start. I love wrestling and they’re even beginning to convince me that it isn’t worth my time.

 

Shawn vs Bret – Reaction and Review

Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, while two amazing competitors who always took it to a new level in the ring together, had one of the most controversial, fiery and public feuds in the history of wrestling.  Their chemistry in the ring was as undeniable as the venomous words they spit at one another in the late 1990s.  Their rises to fame paralleled one another and these two men who shared so much in common, and began as friends, became two of the most bitter rivals in WWE history.  Their feuds, whether works or shoots, are legendary.

Bret and Shawn came into the WWE at the dawn of a new era where the muscle heads of old were on their way out and as the “big” men cleared the way it was both Bret and Shawn who paved the road for the smaller, more technical and talented workers we watch today.  They were innovators in their time whose styles meshed so well together.  During a time when the WWE was battling to stay afloat as ratings hit a low it was these two men who stoked the fire that eventually gave birth to then modern age of wrestling.  Though they would go their separate ways in the early days of the Attitude Era, they were two key components in getting the ball rolling toward that more realistic promo style and hard fought match template.

Their anger, hatred, distrust and distaste for one another ultimately culminated in what has been regarded by many wrestling fans as the most controversial incident in the history of this business:  The Montreal Screwjob.  This moment in time, this Survivor Series match, galvanized the wrestling world, set the plate for Vincent McMahon to become “Mr. McMahon,” saw Bret Hart exit out to WCW and for Shawn Michaels to become the greatest heel throughout the entire country of Canada.  Now, for the first time ever, Bret and Shawn sat down to discuss their history, their feud, their admiration and anger and the Montreal Screwjob.

Never before in the history of WWE DVD releases have they created something as powerful, emotional and amazing as “Shawn vs. Bret.”  In a two hour plus interview, Bret and Shawn pull no punches while discussing their history together.  Jim Ross moderates as Shawn and Bret sit side by side walking us through the ups and downs of their entire relationship.  Through this release we gain a keen insight into that which was taking place behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera.  There are funny anecdotes, poignant moments and emotional discussions which bring both men to tears at different points in time.

Jim Ross does an amazing job asking questions, following up and driving this fantastic dual interview on a collision course toward the Montreal Screwjob much the same as these two men found themselves fourteen years ago.  This is not a DVD about ego and excuses, it is about exploring the ins and outs of how it all happened and why it was unavoidable.  This is about two friends who come to discover that they are both competing for the same spot and as their careers are soaring their relationship is crumbling.  Every sharp word and crushing blow exchanged between the two seems to usher them ever closer to the precipice from which both would eventually tumble over – never to be the same.

Neither man makes excuses nor lays the blame completely at the other’s doorstep.  There is a mutual acceptance of the hand that both of them played in this drama and regrets from each.  Bret speaks vividly about his admiration for Shawn and desire to draw money with him.  He explains his vision of their future which he describes as both of them battling off and on for the next ten years after Wrestlemania 12.  However, this never came to be and both men admit that they could have done some amazing things together if not for their breakdown in communication and trust.  Bret admits that, ultimately, he sought respect from Shawn and Shawn recounts, in touching fashion, his insatiable need to obtain Bret’s approval.

Bret discusses in detail his feelings of being overlooked by “upper management” while he was WWE Champion and they were busy building Shawn.  He doesn’t hold back as he explains how frustrated he was when Shawn told him his post Wrestlemania 12 plan of defending the title against Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Triple H and Sean Waltman.  Bret admits it was at this point in time he began to doubt the direction Shawn was going and he began to believe that Shawn did not have the right mind for doing what was best for business.  They delve into the Kliq, into “Sunny Days” and how each of them were throwing barbs that they thought were works but the other was taking as a shoot.  Shawn admits he was taking it more personal than Bret and after a segment taped for Raw, which didn’t make the live showing, Shawn began to believe that Bret was out to sabotage him.

Shawn never shies away from his terrible attitude and drive at the time, even at one moment apologizing through tears for being “such a piece of trash.”  Bret also admits that he sometimes pushed things too far and got caught up in their work so much that it became a shoot on both sides.  Shawn makes it clear that he looked up to Bret Hart and wanted more than anything for Bret to put his hand on his shoulder and tell him that he was respected, appreciated and great at what he did.  Bret assures Shawn that he had it at the time, but admits his failure to properly verbalize this.

Their point counterpoint on the Montreal Screwjob and the days leading up to it is absolutely fascinating.  It seems to boil down to this:  Bret Hart never wanted to leave the WWE and felt forced out by Vince McMahon which hurt him greatly.  During a conversation with Shawn, HBK told Bret that he would never put him over.  This conversation caused Bret to decide he would not put Shawn over.  When the idea of Shawn going over Bret in Montreal was pitched, Bret shot it down immediately and said he would never put Shawn over unless Shawn was willing to do it for him.  Bret admits it wasn’t about losing in Canada and that he offered to drop the belt to anyone else that night – except for Shawn.

Shawn discusses his conversations with Vince McMahon and Triple H in regard to the screw job to come in which he claims it was not his decision, nor his idea, but that he made it clear to Vince he would do whatever Vince requested of him.  There was much debate back and forth, Vince continued to try and get Bret agree to put Shawn over but when he could not obtain that agreement, the decision was made to put the screw job into place.  Shawn makes it clear that he did what he was asked to do and what, at the time, he thought was right.  He says that it was extremely difficult to be that guy and to know all of the heat he would get for it.  Bret responds by saying if it was the other way around he would never have done it, he would never have screwed over any of the boys.  However, he ultimately blames Vince for it.

It was Vince who promised him it wouldn’t happen, it was Vince for whom Bret had busted his ass all of those years and the idea of all of his hard work being “thrown out with the crap” that truly broke his heart.  The Montreal discussion is one of the most phenomenal parts of this DVD release and could be bought if for no reason other than that, but the entire interview is absolutely must see.  The interview quickly follows with how their careers turned after Montreal, the tragedies both men faced and their abilities to overcome them.

It is clear that there is a mutual respect between these two and that their reunion is true and complete as they intercut this interview with many different video segments of both men hanging out together in the time since their handshake on the January Raw when Bret returned to WWE.  The DVD rounds itself out and ends on a note of hope, on the idea that these two men who walked such divergent paths could come back together and find the friendship they lost so long ago.  Bret admits that forgiving Shawn not only relieved him of a great burden but also set Shawn “free” from his guilt.  Hope and forgiveness are beautiful things after the emotional rollercoaster of this interview.

Anyone who grew up watching wrestling during the eighties and nineties has been exposed to the magic, controversy and charisma that both Bret and Shawn brought into the ring.  These were two of the greatest wrestlers in the history of this business who clashed harder and more angrily than perhaps any since.  For anyone who loved either man, who watched their matches, who took a side in the Montreal Screwjob, this DVD is an absolute necessity.  In one of the closing moments of the interview, Shawn discusses how this reunion between the two of them is also a reunion for all of the fans who have argued for either man and stood their ground in regard to the Montreal Screwjob.  Bret chimes in by saying that this is a relief for both men because it is a “complete peace” that they can move forward from.  A complete peace twenty years in the making.  Whether you lived it, whether you’ve heard of it or whether you just love a good story, this DVD is one any wrestling fan needs to have in his collection.

Why Fire Russo?

Few names in the wrestling business stir up as much anger, foul language, dissension and demands for blood as Vince Russo.  This is a man who has been steeped in controversy behind the scenes as early as his WWE Magazine writing days and publicly from the time he exited WWE to seek brighter prospects (or perhaps just higher bank account numbers) and came into WCW as the prophesied savior and self-professed architect of the WWE attitude.  It was he who was saddled with the responsibility of saving the failing promotion but was quickly swept aside whether due to his own failures or the limitations of an organization which could hardly tell its ass from its elbow.  Following the implosion of WCW and the void it left within the wrestling industry, Russo admitted to being glad to be rid of the job and his general dislike at the idea of working for a wrestling company again.  Sure enough, however, Vince can be found working now for TNA where it is not uncommon to hear angry fans screaming with venomous tones to “Fire Russo.”  However the question which lingers that no one ever seems to seek an honest answer so is why?

Wrestling fans throughout the world have managed to pin their every frustration with Impact Wrestling on what they perceive to be the creative direction, flawed execution and poor writing of Vince Russo.  When their favorite star fails to rise, an interesting angle gets an unnecessary twist (a “Russo swerve” to speak) or the general standing of the company itself seems to be in direct contradiction to their own personal view of where it should be then they band together, vent their rage and direct the anger that is boiling inside them on Vince Russo.  To say he is one of the most hated men in wrestling would be an understatement.  Many feel that his so-called “crash TV” and “worked shoot” style of wrestling writing has lead to a place where what was once a shocking moment has become an expected turn of events and no matter what angle is playing out there is always time to wait for the other shoe to drop and a new twist to be introduced.

Often times it has been said that if Vince Russo came up with fifty good ideas that Vince McMahon used one of them and put his own twist on it.  Whether or not this is the case is irrelevant.  What does matter is that Vince McMahon at the time was fighting to keep his business alive and being someone who knows the wrestling business as well as he did it is hard to conceive of the fact that he would allow someone to run his writing team whom he believed did not have what it took to be up to the task.  Regardless of whether you love him or hate him it is hard to argue that many people hooked into the industry do believe that Vince Russo has something to give.  This isn’t necessarily an endorsement of his style or creative direction but simply an indicator that in a business which has shown no problem firing people without cause in the past, this is a man who has managed not only to keep his jobs but to acquire new ones.

So you hate Russo and no matter what anyone says you firmly believe that it is he who is responsible for the dreadful state of affairs of TNA wrestling.  There is only one flaw in that theory.  He’s not the one responsible.  Vince Russo neither owns nor has command of TNA wrestling.  He is not in a position to decide whether or not what he writes makes it onto television let alone whether or not he remains employed.  The ownership of TNA wrestling, the support from names like Jeff Jarrett and Dixie Carter have provided him with his position and sustain it to this day.  Being a writer myself I can honestly say that we do not always have the best ideas.  Authors have to go through publishers and agents, your novels go through a series of levels of approval and changes are almost always suggested and typically required.  Russo is writing what he believes to be an interesting wrestling show and those with the power to require changes or make adjustments are either too blind to see this necessity or are choosing not to do it.  Or possibly are too unintelligent to recognize what does and does not make a wrestling show worthwhile.

Would firing Vince Russo lead to TNA suddenly changing direction and becoming everything you think it could be?  That seems to be a highly unlikely turn of events because the same names which have fostered an environment for poor writing to make it through would still be there and whatever name next stepped into the creative department would face the same lack of involvement, limitations and intelligence which is allowing Russo to spit all of his words directly onto your television screen.  Russo has become the figurehead for a regime which has failed time and again to deliver and a company whose memory for mistakes seems too short to remember not to duplicate them.  The creative line of TNA has followed a similar path as that of WCW but without the majority of the success that WCW had and lacking the historical background upon which WCW was based.

It is easy enough to point a finger at someone that you dislike to begin with, that has a grating personality and is typically at odds with the fans of wrestling.  It can be difficult to select people you want to believe in and put the necessary responsibility on their shoulders.  Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff came into TNA with a head of steam and broadcasting this new regime which they would set into place that would completely revolutionize the company.  Hogan alone clearly has the political ability and power to make the changes he would find necessary and yet Russo is still sitting there writing.  Bischoff is by no means a stupid man and yet he continues to work side by side with Russo.  Dixie Carter has said time and again that not only does she like Vince Russo but she has absolutely no plans of removing him from his position.

It is easy to pin the blame on Vince Russo, and it is entirely possible that he is in part responsible for all that which makes your stomach turn on Thursday nights at 9pm.  However, he does not carry this alone and although it is a wonderful fantasy to imagine that his termination would result in some kind of golden age, creative revolution that would bring TNA to the forefront of the wrestling world it is, at the end of the day, a fantasy.  The problems do not run one person deep and the correction of the issues would require a systematic reconstruction of the upper levels of TNA management in general.  Perhaps take the focus off Hogan, Bischoff and Dixie and put it, I don’t know, on the wrestlers?  What a novel idea.

Old School

The first time I ever sat down to watch a wrestling pay per view I had no idea what I was in for.  I’d never watched before, I’d never been interested before.  Frankly I went along because my friend was having a viewing party and when you’re eleven years old you don’t want to be left out.  I was drawn in almost immediately.  By the second match of the night I found myself wondering just how I’d managed to make it eleven years without seeing this before.  All of those Saturday and Sunday afternoons spent toiling around, bored and aimless with nothing to entertain me meanwhile this was airing and I hadn’t even the slightest clue about it.  I’d heard about it.  I’d heard it was fake and I’d heard it was stupid and at eleven I considered the opinions of other eleven year old’s to be pretty valuable.  A lesson was learned though, a lesson which remains true today in so many different areas of life:  most of the time the thing that everyone loves can stink, and the think that everyone hates can be awesome.  Either way, from that day forward, I was hooked on wrestling and it is an affair that has lasted for the past eighteen years of my life.

Wrestling today would be almost unrecognizable to my eleven year old eyes.  So much has changed, the industry has rapidly moved away from the strong, long matched which told a story, worked a pace and kept you hooked and waiting to see what would happen.  Promos took place backstage and lasted one to two minutes and were usually just about the match at hand.  The matches themselves were slower paced, building towards the big finish unless of course they were PPV but there was only four or five a year so they felt special and instead of deciding if you wanted to watch you knew that you had to watch.  Who wanted to miss the big showdown?  You never saw the major names clashing on free television unless it was a very special night and in keeping things that way it made those PPV matches all the more necessary to witness.

Your commentators were invested in the show.  These guys made it seem like every match you were watching was the most important thing you’d ever see in your life.  They threw in some humor, some wit and layered everything with a deep field of knowledge on wrestling psychology.  You knew it was fake but it all felt so real when everyone was playing their part properly.  The great commentators of their day have mostly gone now, or are no longer involved in the business.  Gorilla Monsoon was a personal favorite of mine.  I loved his time with Bobby Heenan, and even his perhaps lesser known time with Johnny Polo (Raven.)  It all seemed so special back then.

Maybe things change with age, perhaps wrestling is now just the result of the same course it was always on but these days that feeling has gone from me.  I don’t sit down to watch a PPV with those butterflies in my stomach, I don’t tune into Raw wondering what exactly is going to happen.  In most cases you can predict the outcome because it is the same as it usually is.  There are moment that feel special.  Incidents which occur like flashes of greatness in an otherwise dark arena.  CM Punk has reminded us of the way wrestling could matter if the interest existed to perpetuate this cycle.  Of course the fear looms on the horizon and while WWE delivers us something we seek so desperately there is the worry of waiting for the other shoe to drop.. more about this in my column later this week.  So is wrestling still special, does it still awaken that excitement inside of you?

Sometimes I miss the old days, the old school of wrestling.  So many of the great names of those days have left us now by one tragic way or another.  Vince McMahon has transformed himself from the mogul of a wrestling company into the CEO of an entertainment company that seems to be ashamed of the very business that brought him all of his fortunes.  Twelve or thirteen PPVs a year seem almost as commonplace as Raw every Monday.  So why do I keep watching, and why do you?  Perhaps because when we fell in love with wrestling it showed us something and from time to time it shows us a little glimmer that it still exists as pristine as it comes to us in our memories and that someday, maybe soon, it could erupt once again and remind us why we started watching in the first place.  One can always hope.

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