Last night's episode of Monday Night Raw featured everything we've come to know (and loathe) about television written from the perspective of what WWE honcho Vince McMahon thinks his viewing audience appreciates. While I did enjoy the majority of the in-ring activity, and a battle royal is naturally always welcomed, the backstage skits had plenty of the B-grade movie effects and humor that WWE was working into segments back in the salad days of the Attitude Era. While much of this was apparently due to the fact that Vince was involved more heavily in the drafting of the script than he has been of late, it was also the typical WWE sendoff to talent that I've never quite understood.
Whenever people leave the WWE, you see, they do what any major company does when personnel depart for potentially greener pastures: they completely and utterly humiliate them. From getting tossed into a trash truck to getting all manner of substances dumped on them to having their personal backstories and characteristics mocked, nothing is sacrosanct in the McMahon empire. Since all opposition is the enemy, they have a wide berth to let loose early and often. While this might have been somewhat necessary in the Monday Night Wars time period when WCW and Eric Bischoff took aim at Titan Tower, the WWE has since clearly and completely dominated the business and become the only perceived game in town. That unfortunately has not stopped some of the more grating tendencies of the McMahon regime, namely their need to seemingly re-exert their authority by disparaging those that are no longer in the fold.
While backstage ribs and pranks have always been part of the wrestling industry, very often these things come out from behind closed doors and into the public eye. It's a risky proposition, particularly now, when wrestling fans have never been more connected and had more awareness about the sport they enjoy. When these angles are played right, they can pique fans' interest and lead to major storylines and drama. More often than not, however, they simply are the brainchild of someone who desperately wants to put out product that they find compelling or entertaining regardless of hiw the audience feels about it. It's perhaps a natural inclination of someone in power who's putting out a decent amount of content (some of it live) every week, and it's certainly not unique to Vince. But it hasn't changed in 40-odd years and it's not likely to now.
Last night's target was Vickie Guerrero, which in itself is not a surprise. She may lead the way in embarrassing angles for our collective enjoyment since her first days in WWE, and she nobly took it in stride as a performer and a person. Having your (possibly) last moments on television consist of stagehands tossing fake vomit on you might be outlandish to some, but they've probably not watched very much wrestling. It did get me to thinking of the various and sundry ways that I will miss Vickie when she moves on, however. As fellow wrestling fans, you should miss her too. It's amazing to me to think that someone who was never even trained as a wrestler or performer could make such a significant impact over the years in the business. So, without further ado, let's get to the list of reasons the cougar will be missed.
1. She Turns Negatives Into Positives
I won't even begin to understand how it must feel to lose your loved one in the prime of their lives, but few remember that when Eddie Guerrero passed away, Vickie had already been appearing on WWE television in an angle Eddie had with good friend and onscreen rival Rey Mysterio. The angle itself (Rey's son Dominick was "revealed" to be Eddie's biological son) would have been better on an episode of Maury Povich, but certainly added a level of intrigue to the storyline. Vickie was presented as a sympathetic character, pleading with her husband to not go through with the ladder match for custody and eventually costing Eddie the match at its dramatic acme. To have Eddie depart not just those storylines but the business itself was crushing to us as fans. One can only imagine how it would feel to his wife, particularly in the midst of their relationship being all over television.
Following the grieving process, Vickie returned to the screen and the ring by involving herself in the feud between Eddie's brother Chavo and the aforementioned Mysterio. In true wrestling fashion, Vickie presented herself as a mediator and was actually a true antagonist. A very big moment in her career occurred when she betrayed Mysterio by hitting him with a chair and becoming Chavo's heel manager. Doing so went a long way toward silencing critics who felt that WWE was "giving" her a job due to Gurerro's untimely passing and complaints that someone who was not a wrestler was getting major screen time. It also showed that she was willing to not only face down difficult chapters in her life, but come out ahead.
2. She's Comfortable With Herself
As someone who didn't start out intending to be in the business, Vickie doesn't look like your average WWE Diva. In these days where the company scours every modeling agency on the planet looking for their next darling, Vickie does not fit the mold. And that's a good thing, because there shouldn't BE a mold. While physical looks are certainly a factor in someone being successful in the television industry, that alone will not make or break the career of a potential superstar. Vickie is older, heavier, and more plain than your generic WWE performer..and she is not just okay with that, she loves it. Even in the semi-toxic environment of the WWE (particularly the Women's ranks) where weight and attractiveness are the obvious and most frequently used barbs, she takes it and comes back for more.
Vickie has had all manner of food dumped, tossed, and otherwise deposited on her; so much so, it's become a bit of a running gag on WWE programming. She's been verbally called just about every name in the book (nothing new there for anyone), but with a decided bend focusing on her looks. It has allowed everyone in the audience and in the back to laugh along, but most importantly she's laughed along with it. You must possess a tremendous amount of self-confidence to do that. In so doing, she has overcome some of her own concerns about performing in front of so many, and she's given us glimpses of her. She's also allowed true women of every age and form to relate more to what they are seeing on screen. That's no easy feat in the current climate of wrestling, and she's to be applauded for it. It's bravery all over again.
3. She's An Excellent Heel
You can count on one hand the number of women who have made truly excellent heels in North American professional wrestling, the type that last long after their careers are over and are still capable of producing those emotions of displeasure and disdain even now. Vickie, to her credit, is and will be one of those women. From forming La Familia to managing Dolph Ziggler, Vickie has shown a propensity for being a heat-seeking missile and getting the crowd involved to the point of absurdity. One of my favorite moments in recent memory was her and Ziggler's promo with John Cena where the live audience would absolutely not let Vickie get a word in edgewise (pun intended?). Vickie played her part capably, feeding off the crowd's reaction and allowing them to think they were getting to her. It's a classic comedy move, and it's deadly effective.
The current (and previous) storylines involving Stephanie McMahon are a clear demonstration of just how effective placing a woman in unfamiliar heel terrain can be. Once the gloves come off and it's okay to revile and boo them, they are in a true position of power. It's also territory that hasn't been explored fifty times before, a rarity in the industry. Unlike Stephanie, though, Vickie did not grow up within the business and have every opportunity to be successful in it. By the time Vicki was working in her excellently annoying "Excuse Me!" catchphrase, the fans were already eating out of her hands. She found a way to be irritating and ubiquitous at the same time, leading to...
4. She Was Everywhere
Barring Stephanie, Vickie has been the most visible WWE female performer on television since her "debut" in 2005. Being the general manager of both flagship programs has afforded Guerrero near-unfettered access to the rosters of both shows, allowing her to interact with fans and superstars on a weekly basis. While the general manager idea has ebbed and flowed, and Vickie's character has not changed that perceptibly over the years, the mere fact that she retains relevance while very rarely wrestling and sporadically managing gives you some sense of just how important she's been to the organization. GM positions are generally reserved for well-known wrestling bureaucrats, former ring hands of some renown, or those with experience working the crowd. Vickie's landing of multiple high-profile positions within the company is further evidence of how much she brought to the roster. While I have found the general manager angles as interminable as others at times, her work has been largely underrated and extremely important.
Vickie's high-level positioning continued to very recent times. Even as she transitioned out of her TV-heavy, full-time GM role, she was still being used in angles with the McMahons themselves and then-Divas champion AJ Lee. That in itself illustrates the simple fact that Guerrero has done as much for the women's ranks as any active competitor, and in many cases more so. I'm not sure if she's set the record for being fired in the WWE, but she's got to be close to the top. Each time, she finds a way to tweak it just enough to come back and have things feel (relatively) fresh. That's rare ground to cover indeed for someone with as little wrestling experience as Vickie has. It's even rarer that she's been able to retain a high profile spot in the biggest wrestling company in the world pretty much since her introduction to it.
5. She Made Romance Interesting
Eddie's wife allowing herself to be inserted into romantic storyline after romantic storyline after his death? Inconceivable! And much like Princess Bride, I do not think that word means what you think it means, at least in wrestling terms. Much like Paul Bearer's ashes, using personal loss to further plot ends is nothing new, but you've got to hand it to Vickie that she's used it to such devastatingly excellent effect. Linked with male talents from Edge to Ziggler to The Big Show (!), Vickie has been part and parcel to many of the best storylines serializing wrestling relationships. While anyone working for a pro wrestling company invariably commits themselves to sagas that otherwise might be accused of poor taste, Vickie's made a career of it, and nobody's done it better. Plenty have played the Bridezilla or the cheating fiancée, but not many have done both. Vickie's consistent pattern of seeming ignorance while male wrestlers use her for her "power" is balanced out by her doing precisely the same thing to them. Her cougar persona might be old and trite in the days of Real Housewives, but at the time it was groundbreaking. Elder women wrestlers existed for comic relief and backstage bits with Gene Okerlund. They didn't actually DO stuff. That all changed with VG, and for the better.
She's taken a Tombstone. She's used a wheelchair as a plot device. She's been "Miss WrestleMania" and competed inside a hogpen. She's performed a frog splash in tribute to her dearly departed husband. She's been involved in NXT. She's done just about everything that someone not associated with wrestling for most of her life can do, and then some. But, equally importantly, she has sent a far more real message that most of what is paraded around as "reality" on television these days; namely, that anyone with the drive, determination, and ability to laugh at themselves and their flaws can be successful no matter what the stage. The wrestling world, that odd collection of strangeness and outcasts, may have embraced Vickie at first due to her relationships. But she amazingly earned that initial trust back and then some by giving herself over fully to being a performer in the same business that her husband excelled in. One could never argue that she has achieved anything close to what her husband did inside the ring itself. But I can and will argue that she has meant ever more to the sport outside of it. Eddie was a joy to watch, an inspiration in the way he overcame the worst of himself to main event the sport he loved. I have no doubt that he remains equally inspired by his wife's dedication to that same craft and refusal to disappear just because the vocal majority thought it was best. Those Guerreros are a tough breed, indeed.
So here's to you, Vickie Guerrero. You never got the credit you truly deserved for being one of the most effective wrestling heels of the last twenty years, but one day you will. Hopefully the final moments of her wrestling career won't be what we saw Monday, but in some ways perhaps it would be fitting. The butt of every joke is a no-doubt Hall of Famer in my book for her work for World Wrestling Entertainment. She has played her role so well that it's now impossible to separate the character from the woman. The WWE, and we, are the worse for her departure.