Breaking The Circle
Watching professional wrestling, you tend to get the feeling that everything at some point comes full circle. Jobbers get over, tag teams form, break up, and reform, and main event fixtures get relegated to the sidelines only to at some point invariably make their glorious return. This point struck me last night while watching Monday Night Raw, particularly with Shawn Michaels once again returning to the front lines (in some form, anyway) in the shows leading up to the PPV which he will serve as main event referee in, Hell in a Cell.
It's always good to see Shawn, naturally. He's one of (if not) the best ever, certainly one of the best in my lifetime, and extremely charismatic and entertaining on the microphone. He's also been one of the biggest pains in the ass off-camera in the storied history of the WWE. Vince McMahon's consistent willingness to not only extend the olive branch, but perhaps the entire tree, has never been more evident than recently. From the expected (Bret Hart) to the nearly unthinkable (Bruno Sammartino) to the downright impossible (Ultimate Warrior), the WWE's runner has always shown the inherent ability to look past personal grievances for the power of the almighty dollar. That those overtures are regarded as concessions to the fanbase is not a total misnomer. If you want to see any of those gentlemen in a WWE ring again and are willing to pay for the privilege, well step right up.
It takes two sides to tango, however, and unfortunately in the case of some of the biggest legends of the business, they are at equal fault when it comes to their failure to remain in the business they kicked ass at. Ric Flair is one of the most singularly entertaining and bombastic talents in the sport ever. He is also an absolute legend and someone who you'd expect could play a major part in the trajectory and development of the next big talent. Unfortunately, his personal life has nearly always been a disaster, and he's become so infatuated with his own legend and press clippings that he has allowed that back story to become his front page story. Even working as a panelist at a recent WWE symposium proved a bit too much for him to bear. As much as I crave to see Flair in one form or another on my television set each week, reliving those amazing moments from my youth, I am forced to admit this is but a shell of the man who marched into the Royal Rumble, talked trash about the federation I liked the best, and proceeded to win it all.
Rivaling Flair in star power was of course WWE's own Hulk Hogan, and much like Flair, the ego and side issues have combined to form a toxic cocktail that has inebriated a legend to the point of dementia. Hogan bolted out of the WWE for about the sixtieth time, and much was made of the decision, as he brought his considerable star power and legendary status to the fledgling promotion TNA. That alone turned TNA into a rival for your attention. While the continued bungling and mismanagement of that roster can not be solely laid at Hogan's feet, it's very clear his pull extends far beyond his tear-away T-shirts these days. The more he tries to claim he's not involved, the more the gentleman protests too much, to butcher Shakespeare.
This came to a head when it became apparent that TNA and Hogan might be simultaneously done with each other, and perhaps the most popular wrestler ever in the WWE would return to the fold once again in time for WrestleMania XXX. Depending on who or what you believe, that dream was dashed due to the fact that WWE simply doesn't see Hogan as a draw anymore. Between the sex tapes, Miley Cyrus parodies, mayoral arm wrestling matches, and backstage politicking, I for one can't say I blame them. It's even more damning for the Hulkster because never before has the WWE been more open to bringing in anyone and everyone available no matter the cost. From Brock Lesnar to Rob Van Dam, now is the time to make your return and finally work that part-time schedule that the WWE has always resisted so ferociously.
The Attitude Era was so successful due to a confluence of events, but a huge part of it were the guys who headlined that time period in the ring. The fact that just about none of them can go anymore has a lot to do with wrestling's struggles since then, both true and perceived. One of the things professional wrestling has to its advantage over other sports competing for the same viewers, however, is the ability to reinvent itself. When pro football or baseball is having a slow period, they can't reach out and change the rules or manufacture new athletes. Wrestling can, because there are inherently no rules at all. It's not a level playing field. Why, then, are we finding ourselves stuck in a rut of nostalgia when we should be cheering on the next generation of stars? One of the unfortunate truths is that we do it to ourselves.
Movies have become an unfortunate glut of remakes and similar ideas only slightly repackaged. Music, once the last bastion of individual expression, is starting to sound like a whole lot of the same thing over and over again. Television is becoming an endless morass of reality shows showing us the reality of irritating people being just interesting enough that we can't stop tuning in to decry them. And in wrestling, we're content to watch John Cena Five Knuckle Shuffle and plunk the money down when The Rock takes a break from shooting another underwhelming movie to hop back into the business that we're still in love with.
I don't want this to be taken the wrong way. I think certain events, like Brock Lesnar making his return to the WWE after an extended layoff, are amazing things for the business and make for inspirational and emotional television. I look forward to the day we say the same thing about Kurt Angle. I'm glad Bret Hart patched things up with the company he busted his ass for, even if it's just so he can pop up on TV once in a while and remind us he's still around. But there's just too damn much of it. I have renounced the odd booking of talent like Dolph Ziggler, Damien Sandow, The Shield, Antonio Cesaro, Cody Rhodes, and of course Daniel Bryan, just to name a few. While there's nothing we can do about that, we do have the power to sound off on the fact that this new breed of guys that can actually go in the ring are worthy of everyone's attention.
Daniel Bryan is a win for everyone that's a wrestling fan, title or otherwise. I don't agree with the arc that story has taken, but it's secondary to me. Fans filling up blogs and social media with anger and venom are missing the point. Bryan went from who cares to way, way over and he's never turning back. The fact that his relationship with Brie Bella is now admitted page one material for the WWE and their marketing machine proves it beyond a shadow of a doubt. Now it's time to turn our focus and our dollars to the rest of this talented group, to demonstrate to the WWE brass that their penchant for loading up on stale talent to get a few more measly PPV buys is not the right decision. Now is the time. The legends of our past have proven to be more concerned with personal accomplishments than making it better. I don't want to watch HIAC because Shawn Michaels is showing up. I'm glad he's there, but I want to watch it because I want to see Daniel Bryan win the title in a moment that will be second only to another WrestleMania a decade ago.
In that WrestleMania, two men won belts and celebrated in a moment that could not have made this wrestling fan living in Philadelphia any happier than if I had reached through the television and clutched championship gold myself. No matter what sadness followed, nobody will ever take that moment away. I will always think of Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit, defying the odds and defining the moment, proving to wrestling fans all over the world that sometimes wrestling does, in fact, out. If we want to see and feel that again, the time is now to act. This is not a criticism of the big names of the past and what they mean to the business. This is the realization that sometimes we as fans need to step out of that circle and create a new shape. The front office will be dragged along, kicking and screaming. The ball is in our court.
*The Rhodes family storyline, amazingly, has been the best thing that has come out of the HHH Corporate scenario. It remains to be seen what will happen with The Big Show, but there have been enough about-faces in his career that I'm not holding out high hopes. Having Cody and Goldust defeat The Shield for the Tag Team Titles right after news broke that The Shield had climbed to #5 all-time in total days with the belts was inspired and did what a title change should do, namely, elevate the belt. The Shield will remain in the thick of the main event matches, but have been buoyed by those belts to attain their current level. As for Cody, heat with the boss and getting back to the family roots is perfect and opens up a whole slew of future possibilities. Will he have his long-awaited match against his brother under the spotlight at the big dance? It remains to be seen, and this IS the company that put a belt and a manager in the corner of Curtis Axel and then did....nothing, but let's appreciate the moment. Incidentally, the #1 reigning longest-tenured tag team champions in WWE history? How about Paul London and Brian Kendrick. Who'd have thunk it?
*I've never claimed to be a major fan of Randy Orton, as readers in this space know all too well. I think his ring work is fine, but he has always bored me to tears during promos and I just don't get what others are excited about. It's one big reason why I feel the past few months have been a collective yawn. I was hoping that HHH/Stephanie pushing Orton to return to his psycho heel roots would make for some entertaining television, but weekly beatdowns of The Miz just aren't doing it for me. Orton had his chance last night, as he fiendishly waltzed into the training room to perform some sadistic activities on Bryan's bride-to-be. It was reminiscent of some of the best over-the-top evil stuff we've seen from him. Unfortunately, the end result was underwhelming to me. Bryan kicked out of the Alberto Del Rio distraction rollup (a feat which ADR himself failed to accomplish when taunted with the name of John Cena), performed another minute or two of in-ring action, then raced off and broke into the locked room only to find...the Bellas and the trainer, all unable to explain where Orton was. That led to the sneak attack where Bryan was launched into a tub. And then some staring. There was a chance to do something far more memorable here in my view. It's all about the build.
*News of Bray Wyatt sustaining a reasonably serious leg injury during this past weekend's live events continues what's been an absolutely brutal string of problems for the WWE on the injury front. The good news in this situation, however, is that the WWE scribes weren't doing much with Wyatt anyway. The best thing about him other than his facial reactions have been his interviews, and his vocal cords (and ability to rock menacingly, no small talent that) remain undisturbed. Until the return of Kane, it appears that Wyatt's ravage through the midcard may be continuing with The Miz. Expected to miss up to a month, he will remain a presence on TV and thanks to the unique and inimitable tag team of Rowan and Harper, we may not miss a beat. Speaking of R&H, how about some character development for them? Let's get into their back story and what they are doing with Wyatt, shall we? No time like the present.
*In a final bit of injury news, WWE will get some assistance with the returns of Divas champion AJ Lee and Rey Mysterio. Mysterio's return to the ring has already happened, but his TV date is still TBA. It would be nice to see Rey get a run with some gold again before the end of his storied career, but with the frequent injuries it might have to be tag team belts or nothing. As for AJ, what more evidence do you need that she was right about the division? There is simply nothing interesting going on with the rest of that group. I completely forgot about Tamina Snuka until this week's Raw, and was intrigued by her improved offense. This division needs an infusion of outside talent in a hurry.
That's all I have for this week. As always, I welcome your comments in the space below or via Twitter @DharmanRockwell. I shall return on Friday with the latest news from the wrestling world. Until then, this is Mike Holland saying thanks for reading and have a good one!