AS I SEE IT 3/22: Where it all begins... again?!?
by: Bob Magee
Well...how about actually discussing wrestling this week?
OK.... picture that you're a wrestling fan living in Edmonton or Los Angeles. You don't read wrestling news sites (or "newz" sites) online, nor are you a subscriber to the Wrestling Observer or Pro Wrestling Torch.
You live in western Canada, and you've purchased tickets for the RAW-only Backlash PPV in Edmonton next month, expecting to see hometown star Chris Benoit defend his "World" Heavyweight Title, a title win that's only been built up for more than a year.
Perhaps you live on the west coast, and you've purchased tickets for the Smackdown-only Judgement Day in Los Angeles in May, expecting to see Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero.
Suddenly you turn on RAW last Monday night and Vince McMahon drops a bomb on you. He suggests that what you paid your hard-earned money to see...you may well not get to see after all. He claims that the rosters will be "shaken up" on a draft lottery to air on the March 22nd RAW.
Don't you think you might be just the LITTLEST bit pissed off?
How about the fans watching RAW that night (including this writer) who just realized they weren't going to see anything worthwhile the remainder of the evening? How'd you like to have been there live...and have paid for the same privilege?
Or imagine yourself being a smart fan that's purchased tickets the next night for the Smackdown at the Fleet Center in Boston. You've just watched RAW, and you realize that you're not going to see a damned thing worthwhile the whole evening, and that no storylines will be advanced, even if it is the first post-Wrestlemania Smackdown. You realize that you just threw away between $20-$45, plus Ticketmaster charges. Think YOU might be a little unhappy?
Finally, how about being a fan in Grand Rapids, MI attending this week's Smackdown? Any typical fan not following recent events might get the strange idea that they'll get the wrestlers that the Van Andel Arena website advertises as appearing...names like Eddie Guerrero, Kurt Angle, John Cena, Rey Mysterio, and so on. God knows WHO they'll actually get to see....but we can guess how some of them may feel tomorrow when one or more of their favorites aren't on the show that night.
This mess all comes out of the latest inexplicable WWE talent re-set, only a day after a Wrestlemania XX that set a record MSG ticket gross of over $2.4 million, viewed live by 20,000 people from 16 countries, 48 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The next night, Vince McMahon announced this "lottery" with no advance warning to most wrestling fans....or even to many of his workers.
It seems that Vince McMahon took the Wrestlemania XX slogan "Where it all begins...again" just a LITTLE bit too literally.
Since plans for this talent re-set weren't been revealed to most of the workers, the workers aren't very happy either....with a potential for some to soon be forced to change their daily routines... including travel partners, the crew they work with, and more.
There were reports that the Smackdown crew actually found out about this potential change in their lives, not from Jim Ross or other WWE higher-ups, but through cell phone calls from spouses and significant others from the RAW crew (or who were watching at home) as they sat at the Smackdown house show going on in Manchester, NH that night. The workers were told by those calling them that they'd have to make arrangements to be in Detroit for RAW next week...a complete change of plans for these wrestlers.
At least two major websites reported that as of 48 hours ago (Saturday morning), most talent were waiting to get travel schedules from WWE so they would know where they were going to be going.
How would YOU like to be half a world away, part of the Smackdown crew, working a series of shows in England and Scotland (along with enduring what wouldn't be the easiest airline roundtrip under the best of circumstances) and not know what's going on with your life 48 hours later?
What Dave Meltzer has suggested is that the primarily effect of this worked "lottery" will mean that talent from RAW (primarily heels) will be the ones going to Smackdown, given that Smackdown is weak on both sides of the roster.
With a talent situation that has had Brock Lesnar "losing his smile" and trying out for the NFL, Bill Goldberg not under contract, The Rock back in Hollywood, HHH soon to be in Hollywood for a movie, Mick Foley not scheduled to work full-time, and Ron Simmons fired under dubious personal circumstances (fortunately it seems as if Kurt Angle will be back and will not require surgery, which wasn't necessarily the case last Monday)...there is certainly a need for some roster changes.
But wasn't there a better way to do this? Wasn't there ANY better storyline justification that could have been created for these potential changes?
How hard would it have been to come up with a storyline where certain major name wrestlers became free agents following Wrestlemania each year? It could even have been added ahead of time into the booking for Wrestlemania to make it seem like there is some storyline continuity, and allow for some potential storyline twists intentionally built into booking plans.
Another way would have been to come up with a plan where, say, ten different wrestlers have contracts "expire" on a rotating basis each year...again, integrated into storylines so fans can see what's going on. Under this plan, most years they'd just be re-signed to their brand. But this year, since the real-life situation requires restocking of Smackdown's roster, Smackdown could "sign" six or more of the "free agents" to fill out their rosters.
Perhaps you can think of a better way to do it than I've suggested. But one thing's for sure...blowing up storylines out of nowhere is senseless.
Even though wrestling is "just" entertainment, people put emotional investment into the wrestling storylines they watch live or on TV. They have favorite wrestlers that they enjoy watching each week.
Just blowing up storylines out of nowhere isn't the way to do things, no matter how much change is needed.
You can see what people think when it's happened on mainstream television by going back to the most famous example in the history of nighttime TV... on May 16, 1986, when Dallas's Pam Ewing woke up to see her late husband Bobby Ewing in the shower, who fans had seen killed months before. This was then followed by the entire previous season's storylines and events dismissed as a "dream" of Pam Ewing. Many fans of the nighttime drama never forgave the show's producers for this "dream season" gimmick, even though the show lasted another five years.
Recent wrestling history had its equivalent, the infamous April 2000 WCW talent reset, when the promotion stripped all titles from all wrestlers for no other storyline reason than... they wanted to. Talent was largely divided for storyline purposes by Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff into the "New Blood" and "Millionaires' Club".
Forget the storylines that had been airing and developed (for better or worse). Forget the episodes of Nitro and Thunder fans had been watching.
In one moment, Bobby...er...Vince...er...Eric just stepped out of the shower...or something. Fans just watched the last year or so of PPVs and live TV they'd spent their time and money viewing rendered meaningless in a matter of moments.
We all know what happened to WCW after this bright idea. Less than a year later, on March 26, 2001, WCW shut its doors as the last Monday Nitro aired on TNT.
God knows wrestling fans hope a better fate awaits WWE after their own version of the same sort of process.
Storylines and fans aside....most importantly, didn't WWE talent deserve to be treated better in terms of notification? Would it have been THAT difficult to inform the Smackdown crew beforehand...or at least by someone from WWE at their show in Manchester, NH? Is WWE really THAT afraid of one of their wrestlers leaking a storyline and most importantly, a major real life change for some workers?
At a time when morale seems to be low and payoffs lower than many wrestlers expected, is this the way to treat your talent?
WWE may be the only national touring company out there...but it's clear that this isn't even enough to keep its talent on its roster. Brian "Spanky" Kendrick left to go back to working Japan and US independents. Brock Lesnar left to a totally uncertain future due to overall dissatisfaction and weariness with travel. Bill Goldberg left because he couldn't get together with WWE on contract terms, and will be working PRIDE dates.
With the way this situation was handled, one has to wonder if they'll be the last people to leave.
On a more serious note, thoughts and prayers go out to 3PW promoter Jasmin St. Claire, who suffered a burst appendix this past week, resulting in a blood infection at one point. She was in and out of consciousness a few times and had to receive a blood transfusion. She is now recovering and resting at home.
Brian "Blue Meanie" Heffron wanted to share the following with fans regarding the incident:
"...Thank you all for the calls, prayers and blood offers. We are deeply appreciative and moved. Things were looking good with this show and plus our other projects and something like this pops up and scares the wits out of you. Just goes to show anything can happen at any time."
Amen to that.
Until next time...
If you have comments/questions, or if you'd like to add the AS I SEE IT
column to your website, I can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)