Professional wrestling is all about self-promotion. It's an inherent and essential part of the act. After all, what fun would it be to watch a guy named Mr. Humble patiently explain how he'll attempt to overcome the forces against him with a schedule of calm pep talks? You get the idea. To know how good Vince McMahon is at doing this is to pick up any book about wrestling history and open it. Chances are you'll land on a page with some reference to the deep intrinsic meaning of a character, match, or storyline that at its heart is, to channel two of my favorite philosophers, Will Shakespeare and Jerry Seinfeld, rage and fury signifying nothing.
I lead off with this having freshly watched last night's episode of Monday Night Raw (and hampered/aided by several doses of cold medication, depending on your POV) and thus unable to operate any farm machinery. WWE has been frustratingly, some might say consistently, inconsistent over the past several months, but their steady supply of PPV intro packages have continued to be epically well done; this, then, is the leading success of this era of wrestling. You might not like the setup, you definitely might not like the result, but it will look very damn sexy anyway. There is something to be said for that, of course: If any of you out there have ever queued up a PPV intro a few months later, particularly for a show you detested, you might be surprised by how expertly you might be fooled watching said event based on that package with no additional information. Said simply: "What happened to THAT show?"
Behind the glitz and gloss, of course, must lie some actual ass-kicking storylines, at least for those of us who don't possess the necessary amount of ADD to leap into our Rip Van Winkle time machine each time a PPV is to commence. The storyline selected to be front and center for everyone, as you are no doubt aware, is the seemingly neverending saga of John Cena vs. Randy Orton. Subtitle: Who Will Be Forcefed Upon The WWE Universe More? That competition ended as soon as JC ditched his rapper gimmick, of course, but here it is nonetheless. What's making it special this time is the anticipated unifying of the titles, because that's clearly what's failed to make the current product as compelling as possible for the last few months. What's not making it special is more silly boxing-esque tales of the tape and contract signings, face-to-face bore-offs and constant reminders that Trips and Steph are in charge.
While that's going on, two of the best workers in "their" (or any other) company, Daniel Bryan and CM Punk, are being cast away from the main event area to deal with one-sided, unfair matches by the evil Authority that Michael Cole continues to be surprised about despite the fact that that's the exact gimmick of every evil corporation (or boss) ever. Seriously, WWE, most of us sentient humans already loathe Michael Cole's commentary. There's no need to script him to be even dumber than our expectation. Many of us that write about wrestling will tell you that it's a damn shame that these two talents are reduced to "angle" handicap matches at a gimmick PPV instead of giving them something far better to chew on. But it's also missing the whole point of their opponents: Both The Shield and The Wyatt Family have bigger fish to fry.
It's almost odd how both of these tandems have mirrored each other. Both contain high-profile prospects, both are trios, both have very evil intentions, both make unannounced entrances into the arena, and both are so gosh darn mysterious, aren't they? While The Shield have taken their glass ceiling intentions and walked all the way to multiple belts with them, The Wyatts are content to lurk in the background. If their motives have never been made clear, that shouldn't shock you. Defining them would be the first step down the very long and dangerous road to making them normal. Monsters cannot be normal, or they lose their power. So we don't know why they do what they do, really, just that they bring a certain aura. The kind of aura that most wrestlers will never inspire. Whether it's The Shield's disrespect of tradition and desire to enforce their rules or The Wyatts' odd sermonizing, it works.
A few weeks ago, when it truly appeared that The Shield and The Wyatt Family might square off, the crowd erupted. Many of them did so because it's always great to see heels fight with each other, but many of them also did so because those two units have been the most compelling for quite some time now. As with far too many things, it seemed to immediately slip off the radar and land into the discarded scrap heap of "things we might come back to later." As anyone that watched a great show like Lost knows, sometimes you don't actually get back to all of those things because you've given yourself way too much to do. As anyone that watched an equally great show like Deadwood knows, sometimes you don't finish it at all.
The point is that you don't have to promote those two groups at each other's throats as great television. It already is. While they'll eventually get around to explaining where the hell they took Daniel Bryan (I really hope it did not involve Mick Foley and an asylum), the Wyatts defy explanation. They are so strange that we can't look away, and so we don't. Fleshing them out in normal wrestling terms would only minimize them. "Feuds," as such, don't exist in their world. Bray wants to preach, and expects us to listen. I for one have no problem with that. This is not to say that they won't grow in the long run, but they've already got the heat right now. That flame becomes a flash fire and eventually reduces to a pile of ash faster than normal in the wrestling world.
As for The Shield, as the nWo before them, one of the great things about a group of fight-the-machine riot squad ne'er-do-wells is that they don't need to have motives to explain their actions. That's good, because explanations are something that pro wrestling does overall a pretty bad job of. They dislike Punk because he's been successful, because the fans like him, because someone told them to; it matters not. Once again, we as fans have been conditioned to know that The Shield are capable of doing what they want to whom they'd like simply because they exist. Sometimes the easiest story to tell also happens to be the best one.
Anyone who recalls the Money In The Bank match for the World Heavyweight title shot knows the reaction that contest received. A major reason for that is that it featured a ring full of heels, and that happens so rarely even these days as to be newsworthy. When executed well, it adds to the excitement and drama of a match that needs the help. When executed poorly, it is Russo-ian, full of twists and turns that make you question whether the person jotting them down actually finished the sentence before downing their next Red Bull. (For a recent example, witness The Miz's much-heralded heel turn that was put on hold due to his horrid movie coming out, just to be sort of re-done last night sandwiched over a Kofi fake turn. Yeah.) The Shield and The Wyatts had that same cachet. In that moment, it was what everyone wanted to see. Way more than maybe putting two belts together in a match that's so set to be another main event faux finish that it boggles the mind.
We know no allegiances or groups last forever, so it's important to strike while the iron is hot. Those who portend to read the tea leaves in this industry say that WWE officials have identified Roman Reigns as a breakout face. Having his unit take on The Wyatts makes that way more of a natural reality. Imagine the intensity of an unhinged Dean Ambrose turning his back on his two partners to side with the Wyatts. That's just one of many obvious ways it could play out that would equal more compelling television from the most compelling characters. I am as big a fan of Bryan and Punk as anyone, but they aren't the ones losing most here. It's the guys who haven't made it yet and could potentially never do so. You could have either Punk or Bryan wrestle just about anybody and have it be a good show, but time and momentum are being lost. Why not dispense with the good guys vs. bad guys for a bit and go with something far more modern and interesting, two groups of outside-the-lines antisocial rejects doing battle for supremacy of the WWE?
The interplay and dramatic differences between this disparate triumvirates is something that has legs well into WrestleMania season. It also gives a bunch of promising young workers something meaty to sink their teeth into as they await the eventual result of the Cena/Orton "been there, done that"-a-thon. Failure to do so adds another notch to the rapidly-expanding belt of occasions where WWE brass have singlehandedly failed to heed their customer's pleas. It's been seen enough times that it's almost a trope by now. This time, though, the stakes are greater, because the opportunity is so clearly present and involves so many potential company headliners. (Sorry, Brodus Clay, not counting you.) Punk and Bryan will have many more bites at the apple. These two groups need to get the opportunity to wow us right now. And they sure would.
*Ladies and gentlemen, I have some bad news for you. The Bad News Barrett gimmick has surfaced on TV. For those of you that have not followed the JBL & Cole show, I urge you to do it. It's pretty good and often times very funny. That said, if you found yourself wondering why Barrett was suddenly back on TV without explanation doing his poor man's Rick Rude, you're likely not alone. While the WWE likes to think that everyone who's anyone watches anything they put their impressive imprimatur on, what succeeds on the internet doesn't always (or just about ever) have the same effect in front of a mass audience. Grumpy Cat sure is entertaining, but what are the chances you'll remember it next year? Probably about the same that you'll be performing a duet of "What Does The Fox Say" with the crying Britney Spears fan while doing the Harlem Shake. BNB works great in that milieu, but not as well on the main stage. In addition, it had no setup whatsoever and wasn't even referenced to the source material until after the second skit. As Ron Simmons would indubitably point out, "Damn!" Adding humor works really well for some people in wrestling. Barrett's always been a badass and they need to run with that. Have him get in the ring and lay out Xavier Woods and R. Truth, citing that they get on TV and he doesn't. It's not that complicated.
*While we're on the subject of wasted opportunity, let's take a look at the Prime Time Players. The much-reported desire of Triple H to restructure and improve the tag team division showed up in a big way on Monday, as luchadores hawked iPhone cases and PTP was in danger of having one of its members vomit. Again. This also led to several of the more inscrutable and hilarious moments of the evening, such as inviting us to choose an embarrassing moment for a Slammy before later "tossing" it to Michael Cole to explain (for what felt like the third time) about his encounter with Titus O'Neil's cookie tossing the Friday before. (And, naturally, telling us it was the most embarrassing thing in his life before happily showing us the video.) The sheer enormity and gravity of that statement can't be taken out of context. It's coming from an announcer who's danced with a towel, locked himself in a box, been given a beer shower, discussed anal bleeding, and had a foot growth. And THIS is the most embarrassing moment of his career. In any case, good to see that Darren Young's announcement hasn't led to an outrageous angle. He can just watch his partner do his best Droz impression.
*One match I was excited to see announced was Damien Sandow going up against freshly minted Intercontinental champ Big E Langston. Anybody familiar with Langston's background knows that he has the ability to be a real force, and Sandow has been doing universally excellent work under more than challenging circumstances for the last year or so at least. Remember when the argument was made that Sandow's cash-in failure was going to propel him to bigger and better things? If those things included fighting in a ring of musical instruments with fellow outcast Dolph Ziggler, then by Jove, it was spot on. That said, Sandow has been more aggressive at least, and I like this matchup on paper. It feels fresh enough, and gives both guys a chance to show their stuff and hopefully build a bit of a lasting feud. Part of the issue with the IC Title, in my view, has been the transient nature of the champion vs. challenger feuds. It was relegated to a prop during Axel's too-long run as running buddy for Ryback, and hopefully now can be the focal point of a fresh feud or two to elevate it. I'd love a knock-down, drag-out between the two that ends with a controversial Langston win and rematch down the line. Book the champion strongly but give the heel some material to work with.
*Funniest person on last night's show? I'm going with Kane. The former Big Red Machine was in fine form, quoting legalese like a deranged HR representative to CM Punk and parodying Daniel Bryan's "Yes!" in a backstage segment while subtly nodding at their shared history. Since Kane in the ring hasn't done much for me in the last three years at least, I actually like him as a figurehead type who can occasionally go. Kane is in reality an eloquent and politically-minded guy (no doubt that's where part of the idea to dress him in a suit and have him talk like a civics professor came from), and he has an outstanding sense of humor. His character has been responsible for some of the most hilarious (intentionally or otherwise) moments in WWE history. I'm high on his new role and would like to see where it goes.