AS I SEE IT - 12/05/2001
Some thoughts on the merits of wrestling versus "sports
I just watched a tape from last night's nationally syndicated NWA-Wildside, on which AJ Styles and Jason Cross went over 20 minutes telling a story with their match and pulling out psychotic high spots, unusual suplexes, and solid wrestling... with the heel eventually going over...but in a way that things made sense. The match had been set up over weeks via television and a long-running storyline with heel manager/"Wildside owner" Jeff G. Bailey and his "NWA Elite" faction.
But hours before, I watched a match (that was undoubtedly seen by at 50-100 times people than will see this Styles-Cross match) in which Vince McMahon fought for the right to make Duane Johnson kiss his ass. Sports entertainment though it was said to be...somehow, the three weeks of "asskissing" didn't much resemble sports, nor did I find it to be that entertaining.
Now mind you...I don't think wrestling has to be so serious that it resembles the senior year finals for Harvard Law School; nor is this NOAH or All Japan.
I like silly skits once in a while. God knows we longtime fans remember things even from the pre-sports entertainment era like "Dusty's Gorilla" in Georgia Championship Wrestling.
I don't mind seeing The Rock do his thing...sometimes. I like watching Austin versus McMahon and the craziness that surrounded it, like the various toys that Austin would come in with to torment McMahon, like the Zamboni or the beer truck.
But why do we need, week after week, more skits than work in and around the ring? Why have we had to put up with the 20 minute pointless promos opening up RAW for the better part of the last year? Why did we need to see the McMahon Family Hour each week? Why has it been so easy to count only 2 or 3 matches in the first hour of a RAW telecast?
Didn't Vince McMahon learn anything from the now-departed WCW?
Back when WCW was going through its long spiral downward, WCW management contracted staff to do a survey of why people were tuning out WCW. The main answer that was found was that people wanted to see wrestling. They wanted to see less comedy skits and more storylines and simulated violence. But when the survey was delivered, WCW management didn't like the results, because it told them that what they were doing was wrong.
In the hyper-politicized environment of WCW, such a revelation was unacceptable. The individual who was contracted to do the survey soon resigned, realizing he'd wasted his time.
We all know what happened soon afterwards in March 2001.
I can't believe that Vince McMahon cannot figure out that people want to see a variety of elements in their programming:
They want a little bit of Rock...
They want a little bit of bad-ass Austin (OK, they've figured out that one, finally)....
They want a chance for crowd participation (witness the crowd at Monday's RAW with the "what" chants)...
They want interesting storylines with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
They want a helping of the kind of over-the-top T&A (no, Vince, that doesn't mean Trish kissing your ass) that they saw before the PTC scared the WWF away from it.
They want a healthy portion of the kind of violence they saw before the PTC started documenting each chair shot and table spot.
Finally, they want to be surprised on occasion...but with surprised that are set up via storylines that will reveal themselves after the surprise happens.
With all of the "sports entertainment" we've had to put up with...it bordered on shocking to see the WWF drag out the word "wrestling" when promoting the Vengeance PPV and the supposed first ever "unified champion of wrestling" that will result. Unfortunately, when using it, someone like Jim Ross (who knows better) made the statement Monday night that "not even Lou Thesz was a unified champion".
For purposes of historical correction: Lou Thesz was a unified champion during a large portion of the 1950s, particularly after the merger of the National Wrestling Alliance and the National Wrestling Association, a group that came out of the boxing and wrestling commissions of the time. At that point, the Japanese and Mexican wrestling promotions that we know so well now didn't yet exist (in their present form, anyhow). So Lou Thesz was as close as physically possible to a unified champion within the wrestling business as will likely ever exist.
Wrestling had all of its carny elements back in the day...but at least it acknowledged history...once in a while, anyhow. It could at least properly identify them, even if it forgot about them when convenient.
But it seems that the WWF has grown so far away from so many of elements of the business it came from, that it seems unsure of how to get back there. Despite relative drop-off in business over the last year, it still does well as a business...just not very well as being part of the business.
They likely won't engage in one of the traditions of the wrestling business, doing a 10-bell count on air for the departed longtime Stampede Wrestling (and the original announcer for the Calgary Flames) announcer Ed Whalen, whose death from a heart attack occurred as I was writing this column. The WWF hasn't done it for many WWF, WCW and other wrestling personalities on air (with the notable exceptions of Owen Hart and Brian Pillman), although they will mention the passing of some personalities periodically on WWF.com.
I wish that such a successful businessman as Vince McMahon would remember what business he's really in....wrestling. I wish he'd create a product that resembles it a bit more, and I wish he'd remember some of the more positive traditions of it, too.
Until next time...
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)