The art of the swerve has been along pretty much as long as professional wrestling in its entirety has. When used correctly, it can add a completely new dimension to an angle or character that has lost its luster. The reason why is very simple: As fans, we pride ourselves on staying one step ahead of the story. We want to figure out where the action is going before it gets there. Some might assume this is due to fans losing their innocence, so to speak, but it's a natural development in the process of growing to love professional wrestling. And I think it's tremendous.
Anyone who's ever read a great book or watched a great movie can speak to this same basic reasoning. It's not long before beginning a mystery that we're hoping to get to the solution before it's spelled out for us. And how many times are we sitting back staring at the screen in front of us and widely grinning while uttering that oft-used phrase: "I KNEW that was going to happen!" It's part of the magic and the fun of participation in media. And, when authors or directors get really good at it, they can use it against the audience. And that's when things really get interesting.
What adds another dimension to the fun when it comes to professional wrestling is that unlike a book release, the story is constantly updating. That's an issue that James Patterson (or whoever writes his books for him) never has to deal with. And unlike a movie sequel, you don't have to wait four years to find out what's in store for your favorite characters. Sometimes, many times, you don't even have to wait a week. It's nearly instant gratification, and, like it or not, it's here to stay. Wrestling is ahead of the curve in that they are dealing with an issue that many other entertainment forms haven't even scratched the surface of.
Anyone following performance-enhancing drugs (in any sport, wrestling included) will know that part of the difficulty of that battle is trying to stay one step ahead of the cheaters. Cheaters employ doctors, the sports themselves employ doctors to catch those doctors, and no sooner do they get cracking on that then a whole new slew of drugs crop up to start the process all over again. This process is very similar to the lot in life drawn by those attempting to craft creative storylines for World Wrestling Entertainment or any other wrestling company. How can you stay one step ahead in a business fortified and very nearly defined by a quest for inside information? The answer, my friend, is the swerve.
Like just about anything else in pro wrestling, the swerve is most effective when applied conservatively and with caution so as to maximize effectiveness. Too rarely and you lose any element of surprise; too often and you have the obtuse absurdity of the Vince-Russo-in-WCW days. Too much back and forth and you risk demoting a character to ridiculousness. But, at its best, it does what very few things in this sport we love seem to truly do: subject you to the shock and awe that you had in those days long before the internet.
Just so we're clear, everyone back then tried to do exactly the same thing as now. We bought magazines, we called wrestling hotlines, we tried anything we could think of to know what would happen next. The internet just made it way more immediate and accessible. Next time anyone honestly stands there and gives you the argument that video killed the radio star/internet killed the wrestling industry, just let them know in the nicest way you can that they are full of crap. Although some of that might have killed The Buggles.
As I watched Monday Night Raw last night, despite a couple of very good matches for a change, I had a chance to wax philosophic again. The subject of said waxing was the ongoing subplot of CM Punk vs. Paul Heyman. I have mentioned before in this space that while many of the high-profile feuds currently featured on WWE programming have gone on far too long, this particular one has by and large been a gem. Despite not boasting top-of-the-show leadoff momentum, it's steadily built and built into a crescendo of drama. This is in no small part due to the presence in it of two of the most charismatic and ingenious competitors in the business working on it every step of the way.
Even with the downturn of Curtis Axel (despite having a championship, which is scary), this feud has lived and breathed and excited because of the talent involved. Most folks would expect this feud to finally reach its terminus at Hell in a Cell, and rightly so. Heyman secured a surprising win over Punk due to the interference of his new pet project Ryback, and now will be trapped in a cage for his comeuppance. Punk can finely put the nail in the evil manager's coffin, and send the fans home happy. Perfect time for a swerve.
The best swerves not only surprise (and irritate) an abundance of viewers, it also elevates the talent. That is a concept too few wrestling writers seem to grasp these days. Even with all the advances in technology, the ability to generate heat and excitement continues to be more of a problem in the business now than it was then. All the Performance Centers and mobile apps in the world can't help you with that, because it's not strictly the job of the talent. One way to do it would be to take someone on the periphery who shows flashes of greatness and give them a heat-seeking missile to get them on their way.
Big E Langston is one such case. Relegated on his arrival to be the "bodyguard" of both Dolph Ziggler and AJ Lee (and how often can we trot that out? Oh, right, currently again, with Tamina) he could be safely despised by proxy. Anyone watching NXT over the past several years knows that Big E can portray a face effectively; naturally, then, aligning him with Punk against Heyman, Ryback, et al. would be the natural thing to do. You could see it coming from a mile away. While I can understand the desire to move Punk along to his next feud and have Ryback start a series of matches with Langston, I offer a different, more enticing, proposition.
What if at Hell in a Cell the general chicanery ensues to potentially allow Heyman to escape the cell unscathed? What if, on a heroic quest to even the odds, Big E comes down to ringside? And then, at the penultimate revenge moment, disaster strikes. Big E aligns himself with the devious Heyman and plunges another knife into the back of Punk, right when he needs it most. In a single, defining moment, Langston becomes a top heel in a way that Ryback failed to do because of previous creative bungling. Punk/Heyman takes on a new dimension. Focus potentially shifts from the underwhelming Axel to Big E. Or, equally interesting, Langston pairs with Ryback to chase the tag titles and bring more gold to Heyman. Most importantly, though, it gives us a moment. A moment on a PPV schedule that hasn't had nearly enough of them.
There's no reason for creative to listen to me. Perhaps they have their own bigger, badder swerve in mind. Perhaps you have one of your own. I'm a fan of it as long as it impacts the sport I love in a positive way. One of my favorite moments of this wrestling year was the Mark Henry Mock Retirement Speech. It made me respect a performer I haven't always been a big fan of in a completely new way. And then it quickly went the way of the dodo, replaced by a gaggle of same-old, same-old. Embrace the swerve. It's good for you.
*Some random musings from Raw: Paul Heyman stole the show again with his backstage speech, full of harkening back to '80s nostalgia while retaining that perfect amount of venom. I hope heels the world over were taking note. I also was quite pleased to see R. Truth finally doing something mildly entertaining on my television screen. Not sure that his merch selling skit will carry over like Saturday Night Live, but he does have some comic strengths. As to Antonio Cesaro, turning him face due to the Cesaro Swing might be the dumbest thing I've heard in a week where I sat through an entire episode of TMZ. Just because a move is over even more than "What Does the Fox Say?" does not equal the need for a full paradigm shift. I don't care what they do with Antonio as long as they let him have some decent length matches, but I still think his alliance with Swagger should get a bit more time before its eventual end.
*I've been totally bummed by how lousy Shawn Michaels has been utilized the last couple of weeks. I've previously ranted about not letting nostalgia take over too often, but having him confront Triple H makes sense and would be more than a Kodak moment. Michaels is one of the most entertaining characters ever in a ring, and has participated in some of the most controversial (and hilarious) moments in WWE history. So, naturally, we had him involved in the ever-entertaining...contract signing. When will that played-out angle be retired already? It's bad enough it's endured in boxing. I'm not saying it should never happen, but less is more and by less I mean maybe twice a year. If Brock Lesnar is wrestling The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXX, THAT'S a contract signing worth TV time. This was an excuse for Trips to crap all over Bryan again while Michaels sort of took the other side. Then it all got lost in The Big Show, who is getting way more exposure as a "terminated" employee than he got during the last three months. We get that the big moment will be on PPV, but they should have done more with this chance.
*It was refreshing to get two exciting contests this week on Raw. Both Daniel Bryan vs. Dean Ambrose (no surprise there) and Randy Orton vs. Dolph Ziggler (mildly surprising, considering the Ziggy burial) were delights. This should be the mantra going forward. No episode of Raw can possibly be as brutal as some in recent memory when you at least get a couple of well-paced, hard-fought matches. I'm willing to endure the Santino comedy sketch and the recaps of what just happened a half hour ago as long as you make some of my invested three hours electric.
*I'm not even sure what to say about TNA or its latest abomination, Bound for Glory. I will merely state that glory did not appear to be the destination it reached. I'd read quite a bit of reaction lashing out against the many title changes. I'm less concerned with that than the continued over-booking of the main event. Even when they reach a conclusion the preponderance of fans will like, they do it in such an outdated and overdone fashion as to be self-defeating. Kurt Angle's turning down of the TNA Hall of Fame might have been more wryly ironic than anyone in creative realized. The empty seats stand testament to the desperation wafting down the halls. Might be clearer than ever why they want Hogan back in the fold.
That's all I have for this week. As always, I welcome your comments in the space below or via Twitter @DharmanRockwell. I'll be back 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!