Mark Twain famously stated that rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated. Not sure if Twain was a wrestling fan, but the same words might apply to the current state of the WWE. Despite the litany of voices beseeching the powers that be to change things up, each time we seemingly turn the corner we head down yet another dark alley. What got me thinking about this as the subject of this week's column were two big stories from this past week in the wild world of professional wrestling. The first has to do with the injury status of current champ John Cena, who suffered an apparent injury during a match with Ryback on their European tour.
The fact that an injury occurred while those two were in the ring should come as a shock to absolutely nobody, but the WWE is making the most of this injury angle in order to add validity to the idea that Ryback might win the strap at Extreme Rules. Of course that won't happen, as Ryback has failed to win just about every big match he's ever had in the company. The idea that someone other than John Cena might be pushed into the top spot, however, is an intriguing one.
On the other side of the scale, I'd point to The Undertaker's match with Dean Ambrose on last week's Smackdown. If you haven't seen it, it's definitely worth checking out. Ambrose, the clear personality man of the Shield's often morose presentation, does a credible job against one of the oldest men on the entire roster. Nobody makes a match a special occasion like the Dead Man, naturally, and this was no exception. Even more newsmaking than Ambrose tapping out was the absolutely excellent beatdown of the ring legend by the Shield post-match. We've certainly seen this type of thing before (and most definitely by this group), but this was different due to the target of their rage. I still marvel at the ability of the Undertaker, whose whole gimmick hinges on his inability to feel mortal pain, to sell the physicality. It's a tired maxim that the Undertaker has never been treated like that before, but I as a viewer did indeed see the makings of something different here. The Shield have already claimed to be ushering in a new era. This was the first time I really felt them making good on that promise.
How do this seemingly disparate stories go together? They both revolve around the idea of the changing of the guard, the departure from something well-known and comfortable to something new and potentially dangerous. All of our favorite musicians and actors have done this at one point or another, from Jim Carrey eschewing comedy for drama to Nirvana playing acoustic. Just because it's new doesn't mean it will go well, of course, but it also means we shouldn't be hesitant to try. Readers of this column since its inception such a short time ago (and I thank you for it) know that I adore the crowning of Dolph Ziggler as World Champion, in large part because it's different. I can only hope the initial booking post-victory is a blip on the radar screen. It's a bit silly to me to always see a face champion presented as indestructible, while a heel champion has to resort to cheating to win every single time. Naturally, you've got to do it a few times to keep up pretenses, but is it so wrong to have a heel champion that can actually win on talent alone on occasion? A guy can dream I suppose.
On the other side of that coin would lie WWE Champion John Cena, who seems to have a far better storyline with himself versus the vocal Cena haters than he generally does with his challenger. Even in this most recent storyline, I'm not sure how well the writers have dealt with the idea that we shouldn't be on the side of Ryback. He has valid points for being abandoned by Cena, and the response from the biggest face in the company is essentially to come down to the ring and jokingly question his manhood. They got a bit more into the swing of things by bringing out crowd favorite Mick Foley to do his usual brilliant work on the stick, just to have Ryback run him down as well, but the point is that we've seen this all before. The notion of an underdog Cena is patently ridiculous at this point. No matter which camp you fall into, both sides know that ultimately JC sells merchandise and merch rules. Therefore any temporary fly in the ointment will be dealt with in short order. Not that I'm expecting miracles, but every drama needs a kick in the rear now and again just to keep it honest.
As for Undertaker, I loved every bit of it. There are few things that can resonate with a viewer, young or old, like seeing a legend brought down. This angle has yet to completely play out, of course, but the WWE would be wise to start putting some eggs in other baskets. The human body can only take so much, and you have to wonder just how many more four-star performances Mr. McCool can manage. This is a character that can make waves even if not actively in the ring, as we've seen many times before. This might just be a perfect time to see what exactly you have in the aforementioned Ambrose, as well as Rollins and Reigns. With CM Punk on hiatus and healing up and Jericho taking yet another music break, the time is ripe to give us something to get excited about again. The WWE wants to get a reaction out of every single person that goes through the curtain, and too often becomes an American Idol clone where decisions are made before anything's even happened. This has the unfortunate consequence of landing solid wrestlers into the "comedy" area. I'm all for a laugh, of course, but Daniel Bryan, Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow are too talented to simply be atrophied in backstage segments and joke bits.
As to the timing of this potential sea change, well it couldn't be better right now. As the WWE Network continues to sputter and false start all over the place, it can be tempting to think it's going to go the way of the XFL or Kwang. But simply put, there are whole networks on television this very minute whose fanbase is a lot less rabid than wrestling. A wrestling channel will happen, and it will be sooner rather than later. The WWE has done a tremendous job of acquiring content from just about every promotion under the sun, but even better than that are the relationships they have with former wrestlers and wrestling personalities. The "throwback" DVDs always seem to do very well, and having so many names of yesteryear available for a variety of programming is exciting to any fan. I picture something akin to a director's commentary on a movie, where the two wrestlers pitted against each other walk us through exactly what happened. The possibilities here are endless, and there's no doubt it will be big business for the WWE. Never a better time, then, to take some of the more established (read: stale) members of the roster and put them to work in a new and exciting direction.
In addition to that, there's the matter of social media. As has already been discussed on this site by some of my skilled colleagues, we are just scratching the surface of what this means to the sport we love. As is generally true with any technology, the younger you are the better equipped you are to deal with it. In the same way that many of the folks reading this column have demonstrated a computer or cell phone for a relative, we too will be wowed when our digital niece or nephew replicates us a Holo-Ramen bowl and sends it over to us via jetpack. This is the future of wrestling and every other pursuit, knocking down doors to build a true community. The most successful wrestlers, then, will be the ones who can effectively harness that power and put it to work as their own marketing machine. It didn't work for our dear Zack Ryder, as we know, but consider that the first show across the bow of the old guard. Our heroes and villains alike are expected to be accessible 24/7, and that's another area that comes naturally to the names of the future. WWE has a well-chronicled history of shoving social media connectivity down our throats, and this is actually just the beginning. Integrating that into wrestlers' personalities and characters is just a far easier task with the new breed.
We've seen this sort of thing before, of course, where the brash young whippersnappers vandalize the halls of fame and are thoroughly rebuked. The difference now is that the sport itself needs the young guys to be successful and carry that torch more than ever before. Like it or not, the time is quickly approaching where the masters of the trade will be forced (through choice or injury) to step aside. Why wait for the inevitable a day longer? There's of course no need to cut ties with everything that's been done for the last five to ten years, but a concerted effort to turn the page would make a welcome change. Utilize the skills of The Undertaker and HHH to establish who the stars of tomorrow will be, while they are still capable of delivering high-caliber performances. Allow the standard bearer John Cena to approach his story from a slightly different angle. Don't abandon your next big thing at the first sign of trouble. Shake things up! You might find that an acquired taste can grow on you after a while.
* I'd be remiss not to mention Jake "The Snake" Roberts in my quick hits this week. News broke that Jake is looking to enter (and win!) the next Royal Rumble as he continues down his long and inspiring road to sobriety. The work that Diamond Dallas Page is doing for guys like Roberts and Hall is amazing. I appreciate and respect the WWE always offering their performers the resources to get clean and healthy before it's too late, but DDP taking a ground-level approach and changing lifestyles is eye-opening. While people make their own choices and need to deal with the consequences, I think we as fans owe a debt of gratitude to these great athletes as they try to win their hardest fight. How many matches will we never see because of an overdose? How many more won't we see this year? Thanks to DDP and the work he is doing, the answer is less than we might once have thought. See you at the Rumble, JR!
* I'm not sure what is taking Christian so long to get back into the ring, but if it's due to the writers' room not having anything for him, the only thing I can say is give me a break. It's been far too long since the Peeps got to check out one of the more underrated guys ever to step into a wrestling ring. A great way to build excitement for the three-hour Raws is to actually feature some lengthy mat contests. I understand that some viewers will tune out, but if you've ever attempted to decipher the fickle remote buttons of an ADD-nation, you'll know that quality will win out in the end. Christian has always been capable of bringing out great efforts in his opponents, and has more than enough experience and personality to make at least a segment of that third hour enjoyable. Captain Charisma, where art thou?
* If anyone can explain the fascination with the GM angles on both big shows, do me a favor and let me know in comments below. We've been treated to simultaneous dud storylines in this department lately, and it needs to end. On Smackdown, we once more have the "Is Teddy Long a heel or not?" storyline that absolutely nobody cared about last time. It follows the "Is Eve a heel or not?" storyline that also ceased to be interesting ten seconds after inception. Teddy had a well-deserved run as GM, and got plenty of mileage out of it. I was okay with the idea of him assisting Booker T, if only for the dancing. Pitting him against Booker is inane. Have him accompany Hornswoggle and Khali instead and give Nattie Neidhart something to do. Preferably something that doesn't involve gas jokes. As for Raw, the "Brickie" storyline is equally odd. What is the point of Brad Maddox? The booking on his character is confusing at best. Vickie plays an incredibly good heel, and there is zero charisma between the two of them. I'm not sold on the GM idea anymore anyway, but let's have one person run the show and be done with it.
That's all I have for this week. As always, I thank you very much for reading and encourage your comments and limericks. You can reach me at @coffeyfan77 on Twitter or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great week everyone!