August 4, 2009
Well, I’m back on planet earth after the month that was July. As many of you know, I got married (to the beautiful Emma) on July 1st and a few days later we headed to the Dominican Republic for 2 great relaxing weeks on honeymoon. Now we’re back, settled into our new house and enjoying married life.
I have to admit, and I did mention it once or twice on honeymoon (much to Emma’s dismay) that being on the other side of the world and missing out on all the football (soccer) and wrestling stories was frustrating. I was at least fortunate that the WWE had just recorded their double week of tapings before the international tour, so I knew how Night of Champions was pretty much laid out.
But something was niggling away I the back of my mind. Something that (by today’s time of writing) happened quite a few weeks ago, but I haven’t quite got my head around yet – the buying, then quick re-selling, of Raw by Donald Trump. What purpose did it serve? Or more to the point, what purpose COULD it have served?
It got me thinking about several angles/moments that have failed to deliver in WWE, for a variety of reasons (as you will see), and how they could have affected WWE then and now. (For the benefit of those of you keeping score, I’m only looking at 1995 on).
Before I go on, not that I really need to explain this, but the things we need to remember is this – there are so many varieties of backstage politics in wrestling it isn’t funny (just ask Jeff Jarrett). When the people involved backstage in planning the angle are also on screen performers, it can lead to changes in the angle to suit themselves and not what the audience actually wants to see (yes, Vince & HHH, I’m looking at you – although, admittedly, you’re not the only ones responsible).
So it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that there are so many problems in such a testosterone driven environment. That being said, the people involved are (supposedly) mature adults who, in a business such as wrestling, you would think could see how a successful angle equals money for all involved, especially themselves.
Well, you would think so, but we all know differently.
I’m going to briefly look at 9 angles over the last 14 or so years and analyse them as a fan. Yes, I know there have been others over the years (and feel free to send me in your most frustrating moments) but these are the ones that, for me, have stuck out in my memory.
Jeff Jarrett/The Roadie (1995/6)
This may be wrong of me to say so, but at the time I liked JJ as a character, even if he didn’t. When they released ‘With my baby tonight’ and had him perform at IYH2 it made a lot of people stand up and take notice. It was known that The Roadie (Brian Armstrong/BG James) could sing, but everyone at the time held their hands up and said that JJ had delivered.
Literally that evening, he and Roadie walked out of WWE, the reason for which was unclear (there was talk of him being unhappy at being exposed as a fraud - Armstrong had provided the vocals for the song, JJ had lip synched at IYH2 - or that Roadie had failed a drugs test) but he returned several months later before leaving in 1996 after a contract dispute. Later in 1996, after rehiring Armstrong, WWF exposed Jarrett as a fraud (which served no point other than trying to points score against WCW on TV, which reeked of despair).
What if JJ had stayed in WWE after IYH2 and over a period of months rubbed everyone’s nose in the fact that he could sing before eventually being exposed by the Roadie before, say, WM leading to a match where the public would have seen Jarrett as a smarmy heel and Roadie as the hard done by babyface?
Ok, this would have changed several future storylines (New Age Outlaws), and required JJ & Roadie to have stayed in favour with WWE, but I feel that this angle could have pushed Jarrett towards the top of the WWF in the days when they built people slowly, rather than eventually getting to main events in WCW by being friendly with Vince Russo. Ok, HHH may have done a similar thing in WWE, but at least he had proved himself at upper mid card level beforehand. Definitely a missed opportunity. That’s M I – ha ha ha _ double S – ha ha ha – E D.
Marlena/Pillman /Goldust (1997)
To cut a long story short, Pillman had won Marlena’s “services” from Goldust and they were due to clash at Badd Blood, October 1997, with Marlena again on the line. The public expectation was for Goldust to win the match and win back his (on screen) partner but disaster struck. Brian Pillman, perhaps one of the smartest wrestlers in the industry (and for proof, watch his ‘Loose Cannon’ promos in WCW & ECW) was found dead in his hotel room due to a heart problem.
Not only did it put a huge dampener on the PPV itself, but obviously the angle too. The plan was for Marlena to screw Goldust out of the match and side permanently with Pillman. For me, Pillman could have reverted to a (tweaked) version of ‘The Loose Cannon’ with Marlena by his side. Goldust could have ‘lost his smile’, left WWE for a while, had Pillman mock him for weeks (a la Jericho/Malenko in WCW – now there was a great angle!) before the audience was clamouring for him to return to put Pillman in his place. Or they could have had Pillman mistreat Marlena, with the same end result.
Goldust and Marlena did split later in the year, but it wasn’t the same. Pillman’s untimely death not only denied Goldust what could have been a career defining feud, but also the wrestling world of one of its most entertaining performers. Both Pillman and Goldust’s career could have really benefited from this feud, but ultimately it wasn’t to be.
Higher power (1999)
Oh my word, this one frustrates me so much. Such a great build up, such a poor payoff. Anyone who remembers this will know what I mean.
The Undertaker had been creating havoc with ‘The Ministry’ in WWF, opposing the babyface ‘Corporation’, but someone known as ‘The Higher Power’ was credited with actually running things for the Undertaker. This resulted with Steve Austin, just as Raw was going off the air, seeing under the hood of this ‘Higher Power’ and looking unbelievably shocked. Who was it? Who knew?
There were several names talked about at the time, one of the strongest being Jake Roberts. There was always the opportunity to bring in a new name, probably a huge wrester, with charisma and interview skills who could end up being physically involved. Who would it be?
Well, as you know, the next week on Raw the hood was pulled back and with a cry of ‘It’s me!’ Vince revealed himself as the aforementioned ‘Higher Power’. There was a genuine collective groan in the arena, a groan showing the people couldn’t believe McMahon could be that short sighted. Here was a golden opportunity to stir things up but instead the egotistical, easy route was taken. The more things change, the more they stay the same….
I always thought that this had a lot of potential, as with the next angle/gimmick. GTV, for those of you who missed it, were a series of backstage videos filmed by a ‘secret camera’. Who was filming them? No-one knew. Well, we did really – most people knew it was originally intended for Goldust, but when Dustin Runnels left WWE they continued to air them. Obviously, the fans thought that they had found someone else to give this rub to. They cold have had someone film the divas over and over, revealing someone to be a stalker (and I don’t mean Barry Windham or even DDP). They could have had GTV film the main eventers planning their strategy for their match, allowing their opponents to eke out a victory, maybe introducing an intelligent heel manager, a la Heyman or Cornette. There were several great possibilities for this angle. Instead of that, they just dropped it.
Hey, if it was people listening in on people backstage they were looking for maybe they could have given Shawn Stasiak a call.
Just Joe (2000)
I always found this admittedly short gimmick very underrated. This character was played by long-time friend of Edge, Christian & Rhyno, Joe. E. Legend. When he introduced himself to anyone he would call himself Joe. When they asked him ‘Joe who?’ he would reply ‘Just Joe’. To me this gave him a sense of intrigue – why would he refuse to give anyone his surname? (And did his pay cheque just have the name Joe, more to the point?) The point of his character was to stir things up – he would be talking about things the boys were saying in the back, etc, just to purposely get people & management upset with each other. Again, this seems like a decent scenario for a smarmy heel, right?
Well, you’d think so. But as it was obvious they had about as much confidence in him on screen as they had in ZZ Top recently, and the gimmick was quietly dropped. It’s a shame as I honestly think it’s a gimmick that would have worked and to be honest still could. It would have to be a proper slow build, maybe by using someone at first as a backstage interviewer or referee. Shane Sewell could fit that role perfectly in WWE (and I do mean that) but they’d probably want someone bigger. Still, remember where you read it should it work its way on screen!
Possibly the biggest disappointment of that year (and surpassing most other wrestling disappointments afterwards). What had happened was that slowly (note the word) Stephanie McMahon had begun to flirt with Kurt Angle whilst she & HHH were the on screen owners of WWE (they had begun dating in real life not long before this). This built slowly and innocently with a smile here and a hug there, and all the while HHH was getting increasingly unhappy.
It ended up with Kurt, on an episode of SmackDown, kissing Stephanie as she lay backstage on a settee. She was ‘unconscious’ but came round mid kiss, struggled, but then gave up her struggle and kissed Kurt passionately. HHH was irate – the game was up (so to speak). It had built so slowly and so well that fans were longing to see HHH & Angle square off and see where the on screen angles would go next.
The answer to that was nowhere. HHH beat Angle at Unforgiven when Stephanie turned on Kurt, effectively ending the love triangle. I’m reliably informed that it was HHH’s pushing that got it changed to this happening and the angle ending. Great call HHH.
Mr America/Hulk Hogan (2003)
We fast forward to 2003 for this one. McMahon sent Hogan home to sit out his contract rather than have him wrestle after WM XIX (for storyline purposes, although several people have done it for real over the years in WWE). Soon, though, vignettes appeared for the mysterious ‘Mr. America’. This seemed like an updated version of Del Wilkes’ Patriot (well, I say Del Wilkes……..) and led to some interest. It got even more interesting when Mr. America debuted – it was obviously Hulk Hogan.
Let’s get it straight – they were making it obvious that it was him; they weren’t trying to pretend otherwise. McMahon was running around trying to prove it was Hulk & it was funny when Mr. America did interviews because he just cut ordinary Hulk Hogan promos, except for calling himself Mr. America. McMahon was vowing to unmask him and prove it once and for all. In arenas, after they stopped taping, Hulk would slide the mask up showing it was him (like we didn’t know!), the crowd would pop, he would put his finger to his lips to tell them to be quiet/keep it a secret, he would slip the mask back up & then head backstage. Cheesy but good fun.
Except only a few weeks later at the end of June, Hulk got frustrated with creative (who doesn’t?) and walked out WWE for real. The next week on SmackDown McMahon, in an act of spite, showed a clip of Hogan unmasking after the show the previous week and proclaimed that as he had discovered it was Hogan hat he was fired, for real, and would never work for the WWE again. Or for two years, anyway.
Wrestling is undeniably a business where backstage politics can sometimes work to the detriment of a proven worker. In this instance, there were legs to this gimmick, but it was obvious that if Hogan left before Mr. McMahon (the character) unmasked him then Vince McMahon (the boss) would publicly crucify him. So often ego stands in the way of entertainment and, in turn, making the people involved money. How stupid is that?
Donald Trump (2009)
This was going to be the one I closed the article with, but after having watched Raw last night (August 3rd) I decided to leave a different one until last.
The gimmick of Vince selling Raw to Donald Trump, which Vince managed to keep under his hat so no-one knew (not easy to do in this day and age), was an interesting idea. This wasn’t selling stock to Flair or having Austin be part owner, this was a bone fide billionaire buying into a company (in the storyline). Not that Wall Street realised it was make believe, but that’s another story for another time.
Trump promised great things and could have been the benevolent owner who simply appeared from time to time to check in on how his appointed GM (or GM’s as the case may have been) were getting on. It could have led to another Vince/Donald gimmick match at WrestleMania – hey, the previous one drew money! It could have led to Vince having to sell ECW back to Heyman to get enough money to buy back Raw.
But no, a week after he sold it Vince bought Raw back for twice the amount he sold it for. Eh, if he had the ability to put the same amount of money Trump paid with it in order to pay double then why did he cry poverty the week before and say he had to sell? But then again, why should we be surprised that the WWE of today has holes in its plotlines?
This could have been strung out EASILY until next years WM but Vince, as he sometimes can do, got cold feet and ran away from it after a week. Now we’re led to believe that the only reason the guest GM’s are on Raw is because of Trump. Well, if that was the case why isn’t Vince on screen more complaining that he doesn’t like the hosts, which in each case should turn them all face no matter who they are? Not that I want Vince back on TV loads, but you know what I mean?
Now, what did I just write about hoes in plotlines?
A good while ago in a column, I wrote how I felt Miz had potential to be a truly annoying top level heel. I got emails agreeing with me, but I got more disagreeing with me and detailing how John Morrison was much better. If you see what I wrote at the time, I never once tried to say that Miz was a better in ring competitor than Morrison, far from it (how could I?) – but what I did say was that Miz had all the attributes needed to succeed. All he needed was, when they split, a sustained push.
Then the strangest thing happened. They split on the WWE draft show and Miz ended being drafted to Raw. Step 1 in the plan, I thought. The he began grandstanding about facing Cena (a la Jericho & Goldberg in WCW). Step 2. This is great, I thought.
And the crowd caught on to it and wanted to see Cena beat Miz up. Step 3. Game, set and match Miz. Or not quite……
After claiming several (bogus) victories over John Cena they finally squared off at The Great Amer….sorry, The Bash. All things considered, Miz was reckoned to be the winner of the match (somehow) or at least lose it after looking strong and come back after Cena. But no, Miz was squashed like no other. There was no mistaking who was the main eventer (Cena) and who was the wannabe (Miz).
WHAT A WASTE VINCE! CAN YOU SEE THIS CLEARLY ENOUGH?
Why when someone starts to connect with the masses would you cut him off at the knees? Why when it looks like we could get a fresh face at the top of the card is he sent packing? Why give us the same old, same old over and over? Why not plan for the future? Why?
When no one gets behind any of your wrestlers don’t blame them, blame the useless booking they’ve faced!
To make it worse, over the weeks since The Bash, Miz has been on Cena’s case several more times, and with what result? Getting treated like the red headed step child. Even on this week’s Raw, with a stipulation that made it blindingly obvious that Miz would win due (probably) to Orton’s interference, as he was at ringside, what happens? He loses, with all of the heels standing watching him! Miz is therefore banned from Raw, the Staples Centre and SummerFest. WHAT?
If this was to show how everyone on Raw hated Miz then it would make sense, but it wasn’t. All it did was lead to a Piven/Dr. Ken angle with Cena.
I’m hoping that Miz ends up feuding with Morrison on SmackDown but what message does it send to the rest of the roster? Work hard, develop a character that connects with the audience and for what reason? None. Because the main eventers that have been seemingly main eventing since 1976 will make sure that they make the money while you scrimp and save. Yea, the WWE really is one big happy family.
I don’t know, maybe all of the wasted angles were mistakes. Or maybe egos dictated that things happen a certain way.
Vince, when your buy rates are down and you wonder why, don’t look too far. When you (or heaven help us, HHH or Stephanie) give the roster another pep talk about creating an opportunity and talking to creative, forget it. When you wonder why audiences generally don’t give new comers a chance, don’t.
As I said above, the more things change the more they stay the same. And people say TNA rely on recycled WWE talent……….
Like I said at the start, I’ve by no means covered all of the angles that I think were a shame to be ended for whatever reason, so feel free to email me any that you think deserved a mention.
And if you agree, disagree or just plain want to vent your own frustration, feel free to email me – email@example.com.