It's been a rough week, ladies and gents. Winter storms are howling (and causing umpteen publication issues), Philly is not getting the next WrestleMania, and Alex Morgan is officially off the market. In addition to those issues, wrestling columnists far and wide were forced by nature of their trade to tune in to last night's Slammy Awards. Oh, the humanity!
I've never been much for any awards shows, in the interests of full disclosure. I can't remember the last time I agreed with the winners of any major media awards, and most of the time I don't even agree with the potential winners. (One of these centuries, I'm quite sure, the rest of the world will see the innate value of Christopher Guest movies, the Hell on Wheels TV show, and new Elvis Costello releases, but I'm not holding my breath.) To have self-contained awards in the world of professional wrestling strikes one as, well, rather silly. And this is in a business not exactly known for its seriousness to begin with.
An example of this was several years ago when Dennis Miller was picked to "host" the Slammy Awards. Miller is an absolutely hysterical and awfully intelligent guy. For my money, he's the best Weekend Update anchor ever on SNL (sorry, Chevy), and he's a great choice to participate in something that requires witty writing and banter. Unfortunately, those awards were a disaster, and Miller looked like he was still waiting for the check to clear while he pretended to be following anything remotely connected to a WWE storyline. This year, the company at least had the good sense to pawn off hosting duties to a couple of guys already committed to the process. (Though I must confess I was somewhat disappointed to not see the duo referred to as Jerry "The King" Lawler and King Book-ah, but I digress.)
The point is, it's highly unlikely that this particular version of Raw is going to be good. In-ring action will be severely reduced to the ceremonies, and constant barrages of requests to download mobile apps and make your voice heard will annoy the viewer even more than in a usual week. The irony of the WWE badgering you with making sure to get your vote in while singularly ignoring Daniel Bryan's title chances would make O. Henry jealous, but it is what it is I suppose. I was pleasantly surprised to see a decent amount of actual wrestling on Monday, though I'd be remiss to say most of it was not particularly captivating. CM Punk vs. Dean Ambrose was, naturally, but that's a fait accompli at this point. A couple of other things most certainly jumped out at me, though, and I thought I'd break away from the doldrums to share them.
I will begin with the "LOL" moment of the year. My personal nomination would have been for the state of creative, but that's just me. I did find it interesting that the winner of this award was the musical performance of The Rock, movie star and very, very part-time WWE legend who hasn't been seen in their ring for quite some time. Rock deserved to win (his music numbers are always hilarious, and generally non-PG), but it says something significant that his work defeated anything WWE themselves scripted out for the whole calendar year. World Wrestling Entertainment is populated by soap opera authors (that's what they go for, check the job openings) and soap operas are not funny. At least, not in the traditional sense. What they do have is plenty of trumped-up drama, returns from the dead, cliffhanger endings that may or may not resolve, and logical fallacies. Sound familiar?
When WWE does comedy, it's Great Khali charming Santino's cobra hand puppet. I don't have an issue with comedy segments on regular TV (as opposed to PPV, where they can be limited to a backstage skit), but I do request that they actually BE humorous. The problem therefore is not that there is comedy involved in wrestling; I'd hope most folks don't take it seriously enough that it would be an issue. The real problem is that the comedy is not intrinsically funny. There are far more things that aren't meant to be funny and yet are. The Rock has great timing, and his humor is mean and hilarious. It's very similar to the Chris Jericho video I posted on Friday's news. Jericho (like Rock) is capable of ad-libbing, just like any comedian worth his salt, and therefore supersedes any lame writing they might do for him. The whole thing just made me miss the Attitude Era.
Moving on to other awards, was I the only one that found it interesting that WWE's biggest betrayal of the year involved another part-time performer in Shawn Michaels? As I mentioned at the time of the swerve, turning the hunting show host into a booster heel for real-life friend Triple H was a mistake, as it prevents most fans from being on his side. That was painfully obvious at the Slammys, as Michaels's usual snarky banter seemed uncomfortably ill-equipped to overcome the resounding chorus of boos that greeted him. Once again, the one-time performance of Michaels turning his well-deserved legend into Triple H feud fodder was the biggest seminal moment of this wrestling year. That can't be a good sign for a company that won't have Shawn around too much to capitalize on that.
What these awards tell you is that it's been a slow news year for WWE. The biggest stories and angles often involved non-full-time contributors, and that's an issue for an organization promoting content 365 days a year. The fact that fans are pointing to these events over any vestige of the current product means it's back to the drawing board in a lot of ways. Barring Stephanie's "award" for her realistic belittling of the Big Show (who, despite that, was nominated for Superstar of the Year in a true "huh?" moment if ever there was one), the entire Authority storyline netted a big fat goose egg when it came to fans giving it any kudos at all. The Daniel Bryan lovefest is shooting fish in a barrel at this point; when fans are selecting him over John Cena in any margin whatsoever, the whole "he's not over enough to be the face of the company" angle just loses its steam entirely.
I could tell you about the Diva of the Year award, of course, but it might be an exercise in futility. If your answer was anything other than AJ Lee, you're seriously overestimating the WWE's ability to build female stars. If your answer was AJ Lee, you'd be wrong in who won the award. It went to one of the interchangeable Bella twins, which I'm quite sure made the brass pushing buttons to build E! network viewership happy, but made me pray that the polls were rigged. If anyone thinks either of the Bellas had any memorable moments other than saying "Say it to my face!" during AJ's incredibly visceral reality show slam (while she was standing there saying it, well, to their face) you're welcome to them. The fact that the Funkadactyls were nominated as a pair for doing umm, well, yeah should tell you all you need to know about this category.
One could get lost in the inanity of these awards, as the real point of this show in theory was to build to the already-upon-us TLC. WWE has had tremendously poor builds for their recent PPVs, and there is no doubt that will be reflected in the final tallies. They did themselves no favors whatsoever for Survivor Series. Royal Rumble and WrestleMania sell themselves to some degree, so this is an important one for WWE to get right. They chose to wait until the final segment, which featured all "available" World Heavyweight and WWE champions gathered in the ring to watch Triple H cut a promo on how amazing he was. Joy.
I personally would have liked the main event promo better if Vince McMahon (former champ himself) was there, along with David Arquette. Right next to The Great Khali would have been fine. This could have been really good had WWE taken the time and effort to collect a lot of the other former champions, including WCW ones, but as it stood it was another opportunity for Randy Orton to look really lame at the expense of another heartfelt-but-ultimately-underwhelming Angry John Cena promo. Since Orton has looked singularly unimpressive tracing back to his feud with Bryan, that's no great shakes in and of itself. The payoff was Michaels superkicking Punk in defense of Trips, and Bryan laying him out (again) in return. Ultimately, the Authority pairing with Cena was teased, but nobody's buying that one. The real win? Punk's background reaction to Stephanie's extolling of her husband.
As wrestling fans, we want storylines we can sink our teeth into. Bryan vs. The Wyatt Family has the potential to be promising, but it's overshadowed (as it was Monday night) by the unfulfilled quest line of him winning the big one. Punk vs. The Shield is equally compelling in theory, but The Shield's internal strife (on full display Monday) has relegated that, too, to the back burner. Two handicap matches on a big PPV do nothing to make those ideas any more compelling. What is compelling fans right now? The Rock playing guitar and Shawn Michaels turning on his former pupil. Neither of those guys will be appearing at TLC, incidentally. That in itself speaks volumes.
The WWE can try to make this unification match a big sell, but they could at least give it the full college try. Piling legends into a ring and once again making it about Trips & Stephanie does not register on most radars. In addition, most wrestling fans are wise by now to the "where there's smoke, the fire's in the other room" twists and turns of the McMahons going out of their way to assure us there will be a unified champion. Color us all with a healthy shade of skepticism by now. If you're committed to the finish of Orton/Cena at this point, at least have an unadvertised Brock Lesnar come out and put both guys through announce tables before fading to black. That might get our attention.
As it stands, the Slammys are another pointless exercise in frustration, advertising the fun of WWE but underscoring thoroughly that the organization hasn't really "listened" to its fans at all, a lament I'm sure my readers are quite used to me expressing. For a bunch of people who can't even make it through the first segment of their seminal show without bludgeoning you with the concept of voting, it doesn't seem those votes carry very much weight at all. Whatever the cause of the rationale behind Bryan's stall in the main event scene, it's a large mistake. That we're talking about that (and not TLC's dance card) doesn't inspire me too much for next year's ceremony.
* It appears AJ Styles is going to be done with TNA, and that came as a surprise to me. Regardless of their financial issues and general instability, I really felt like they'd get it together enough to realize they can't afford him walking out the door. Barring this being a bit of a red herring, I can only imagine they feel chances are slim to none that WWE is at all interested in him. That is probably true, and that is a very big mistake for both companies. Styles is one hell of a worker that can make any federation better, and WWE shouldn't let its desire to mint new workers in its Willy Wonka Performance Center cloud its judgment here. Taking a main event player out of the picture to make your theoretical competition weaker is a move many pro sports teams have made, and a solid strategy. The fresh matchup possibilities are excellent, and I think his look and mic skills are good enough to render him effective at Titan Tower. Should WWE sit on their hands for this and allow Styles to be an independent contractor, it will show that their thought process hasn't changed since the '80s.
* Dean Ambrose for president! Ambrose was great in just about every way Monday night, from his vocal work during the awards presentation to his exaggerated reaction to Roman Reigns cutting in to his actual ring work against Punk and behavior during that match. Ambrose was the first official breakout star of The Shield, and has remained US champion during a very long stretch while not really receiving too many kudos for it, generally because his faction has been involved in bigger storylines throughout. Now that Reigns has potentially supplanted him as the one to push, one thing many aren't talking about is how well it potentially benefits Dean. Of the three, he's always been the most heelish, and there's no question he's the best on the stick. Having someone break away from that mold to forge a babyface career places him in an excellent position to get even nastier. I, for one, completely and utterly support it. Ambrose is on my short list for one of the major players in the future of the WWE. Monday night is just another reason why. Don't change a thing.
* For all the talk of tag team resurgence, I found it odd that "Tag Team of the Year" wasn't considered a major category to be featured on Raw. Something Triple H is supposedly heavily investing in takes a back seat to insults and crowd participation? Had there been one, there could be little doubt that The Rhodes Brothers would be the established winners. This has been one of the biggest stories of the entire year, both from the excellent reality-turned-fakery angle of McMahon/Rhodes friction and the fact that Goldust returned from the sidelines to become hands down one of the best workers in the company of late. If you saw this coming, you should be at the casino making bets instead of reading this column. Cody is unquestionably a breakout star to come, and this team brings energy and excitement to just about every match they've been a part of. If the WWE truly wants to invest in this division (and I'm all for that), find a way to clone that pair. What the crowd will participate most to (beyond dancing and millions of dollars chanting), is excellent wrestling. Need proof? Check RVD's reaction when he returned at MITB.
* There are a ton of people with axes to grind in the world of professional wrestling, and that's fairly common knowledge. What's not as common is a guy like Mick Foley, who put his heart and soul in the business and honestly sacrifices himself in almost every appearance for the betterment of the next generation. Foley is finally getting recognition for being as talented as he is, and the truth of the matter is that his achievements outside of the ring are in many ways even more impressive than what he did inside of it. Foley's speech Monday was the most heartfelt, and there was no question he believed every word of it. Allowing himself to be shamed (again) a bit in the hoary collection of champions at the end of the night made it even more clear. There aren't many good guys in wrestling or the world, but Mick Foley is both. If you get the chance to buy a book from him or go to one of his shows, do it. He makes wrestling human. And he leaves it all in the ring and always has. What more can we as fans ever ask for?