With the WWE's signature summer qu'est-ce que c'est-per-view (since calling it a PPV is so very yesterday) fast approaching, yesterday's edition of Monday Night Raw needed to deliver on many levels to further peak interest in Sunday's show and hasten the impending next stage or end stage (as the case may be) of this particular set of hostilities. The fact that those events were simultaneously advertised with the birthday party of Hulk Hogan shouldn't strike anyone as strange, especially since he never opened any of those immaculately wrapped red and gold presents that set on the entrance ramp for the whole show. On the whole, the show did a decent job preparing us for what is shaping up on paper to be a pretty solid card. That said, professional wrestling seems overdue for a list of things they really need to not do anymore ever, and last night's Raw had more than a few of them. It is for that public service which I proudly present: The WWE Summer Banned List. Brought to you by whatever those crappy Hot Pockets-esque pizza type objects are that are bringing you SummerSlam.
1. Immediately Going Back to a Bad Gimmick
We get it, Kane. You've come a long way from Isaac Yankem, DDS and those Snitsky teeth and horrible dental puns. You've actually managed to carve out a solid niche in the related-to-Undertaker category, and we're even kind of buying that you rescue him on occasion when you're not trying to burn down the funeral parlor due to your latent family angst. You've parlayed what could have been another really bad Halloween costumed Deadman opponent into a long and profitable career, thus distancing yourself from the Brian Lees and El Gigantes of the world. And you've even had your share of pretty good matches, including some very surprising humorous turns (generally as a tag team) that have showcased your wit. In short, it's been one heck of a ride. The fact that the WWE decides every year or so to thrust you back into the main event picture despite the obvious caveat emptor that you won't be winning isn't your fault, per se. But the corporate Kane shtick? Enough's enough.
Most wrestling gimmicks in the WWE are built from some actual facet of the performer's personality, and that makes total sense. We'd expect a wrestler to embrace his or her character more if they buy into what they are supposed to be doing, and it helps when it's something you're comfortable with or known for. Kane makes no secret of his political interests, even going so far as to promote his views through blogs and podcasts. That's great, as everyone can and should be involved in civic affairs, but it does have the byproduct of making him appear more human, something that his Kane character is not meant to be. There's something off about the same guy who is hanging out in boiler rooms stumping for Ron Paul. Actually, maybe there's not. In any event, Kane went through a phase where he rebuffed his monstrous past and handed his mask to Authority figure Stephanie McMahon before being "repackaged" as an officious bully in a suit and tie. It was clever enough, I suppose, but served as an opportunity to allow the man behind the monster to be himself to some degree, particularly on the microphone. Nobody expects complete sentences when you're a psycho.
The problem, naturally, is that Kane wants to wrestle, so placing him in a pseudo-office role where he sort of wrestles every week anyway becomes a bit maddening. Eventually, this concept was abandoned altogether, with Kane resuming the perch he's occupied rather well for the last couple years, as an asset to The Authority who blindly follows orders and will eventually turn against his newfound creator. I'm actually good with that, even though I think it's happened to Kane at least seven times now. It's one of the few storylines that can work with the type of character he portrays. He actually got a movie out of it! Compare that to the uncomfortable pacing of his "normal" promos, where he botches how long it is until SummerSlam within milliseconds of being handed a live mic. Anyone can make a mistake, but let people do what they're good at and save the stump speeches for post wrestling. Kane should be setting things on fire and impregnating Divas. Preferably not at the same time.
2. The Cost of the WWE Network
This has actually made me refuse to buy anything which costs one penny less than ten dollars, simply due to the sheer amount of times we're hearing it on your average Raw broadcast. It's an excellent way to waste about fifteen minutes of a three-hour-plus broadcast, because who's got time for using the 35 wrestlers who will be busy standing on the stage later for the birthday party? It was novel enough when Triple H trotted it out the first time, and his insistence with it is irritating to a degree that works with the POV he's trying to portray. The interesting part, though, is that we don't actually need a lot of reasons to hate Triple H. Whether you believe the backstage hype about him or not, the fact that he's aware of his place in wrestling history and has married into the most powerful family in wrestling to likely run the show for real for real some day already places him at the top of most fans' hit lists. He actually does worse when he's trying to get heat on the microphone. Remember when everyone thought Triple H was cool when he was inappropriate and combative of the rules? There aren't enough glowsticks on the planet to get back there.
We expect the announce desk to be a QVC panel at this point, responsible for occasionally interjecting actual goings-on into their canned patter for whatever it is the WWE wishes them to plug. And it's understandable that anything you enjoy will be interrupted by the folks that provide it trying to sell you something else. But it does make one wonder what the marketing team is coming up with, particularly when they are laying off folks by the dozens. When Hulk Hogan, about as central a figure to the WWE brand as anyone, is joking about receiving enough money to buy the Network subscription himself, it's not a selling point. It doesn't matter if it's blather or hyperbole, it's just not good. Of course everyone famous has it already, it's THE coolest thing ever, right? As to the price itself, I appreciated Dean Ambrose making reference to it as a shot at how overdone it is, but during the middle of his blood feud with Seth Rollins seems a tad out of place. Air a couple commercials during your show and call it a day. Those of us who are already subscribing know how much it is. Those who don't are likely not objecting to it due to price.
3. Fake Arrests
The late great Gorilla Monsoon made a career out of telling us viewers that someone "went to the well one too many times." That's sage advice. When Stephanie McMahon was "arrested" during her current most excellent feud with the sisters Bella, it wasn't so much the arrest itself that worked as what accompanied it. Seeing a character that prides herself on her ego debased and humiliated is always something that will go a long way with wrestling fans. Her husband's reaction to it sold it even better, placing cracks in The Authority that could be exploited later. It's a sound strategy that's worked for the McMahons for decades now. Since a fake arrest worked so well the first time, why not do it again? Probably for the same reason that you stopped watching the Matrix movies.
For starters, suspending your disbelief is a prerequisite for most wrestling shows. That doesn't mean they shouldn't try to earn it all the same. Watching pretend cops read Miranda rights is exciting and all, but since we're fairly sure nobody is actually being booked, it's not as effective when it's done more than once a fortnight. Stephanie's earlier segment with Bryan's "trainer" was painful enough, mainly due to the fact that the woman involved was not a very good actress, but it did a solid job of adding more personal fuel to the fire and allowing for an intense moment where Brie applied her husband's hold to Mrs. McH. Following that up with a fakeout "match" that we all knew would not take place was expected, but Steph turning the tables on her adversary in the same way just made me scratch my head and rendered the first less effective. I would certainly advise police departments to hang out near wrestling events all over the country moving forward. There will certainly be ample opportunities for them to haul away every competitor that goes outside the law to gain a drop on their opponent.
4. One Minute Diva Matches
How many times must we endure this? One would think that there is very little talent on the women's side in WWE, judging by how infrequently they appear and how rarely in a memorable way. Most of the aforementioned Stephanie/Brie feud has been without actual wrestling, and that leaves the AJ Lee/Paige feud to carry the ball. I'm still not quite clear on what I'm supposed to make of it anyway. Paige was presented as an underdog face champion when she defeated AJ, and made the most of Lee's hiatus defending her built against all comers. She was a scrappy, hard-nosed champion who had plenty of heart to compensate for her perceived lack of experience. She also didn't look or sound like anyone else on the roster, and the importance of that can't be overstated, particularly in this division. Once Lee returned, however, the odd decision was made to make her the face in this conflict and send Paige over to the heel side of things. The motivation for this is unclear; Lee makes for an excellent villain and Paige was just finding her footing and support on the main roster. But so it went.
A brief flirtation with patching up the differences has led to Paige exploring a more "vicious" side while trying to regain the gold she lost to her former idol. That in itself is all well and good, but Paige is still learning how to cut a solid promo and the heel generally has to do more work in that regard. I'm not quite sure whether we'll ever truly understand the motivation she was supposed to have, but the upshot of it this week was that she provided enough distraction for AJ to be defeated by Eva Marie. There certainly was no way for AJ to counter the dreaded skipping around the ring. One would presume that Lee would be able to overcome that since she's used it herself in the past, but no matter. As a build for a match we've already seen quite a few times and with very little buzz, you could do worse than some Lanny Poffo-like poetry. As an indicator of why anyone should give a damn about women's wrestling in the WWE right now, though, it's dismal to say the least.
5. Non-Defended Belts
If the WWE has too many belts, they should get rid of some. I'm fine with the concept of bringing back a TV Title, for example, but not in the current climate since the promotion can't manage the ones they have. It's a mantra many have repeated before now, but it's time to ban the practice of not bringing every belt into play in some way at these events, especially the seminal ones. I am not saying that every title must necessarily be defended at the event, but the champions have to appear. If you must farm them out to the preshow, I suppose that can work, but it should be a rarity. There's almost always at least one "filler" match that could head to the intro to make room for titles to be important on your show. If the audience is not bought in on the value, it doesn't matter who the champion is.
Sunday (to this point) does not feature the current Tag Team champions nor does it feature the United States champion. Considering that The Usos have been involved in one of the best matches on each of the last couple events, that makes very little sense to me. There's only so many times that you can have Usos v. Wyatts, naturally, but how much forethought would it have taken to line up some new opposition? I'm glad the "New Nation" angle has already gone the way of the dodo, but Big E & Kingston would have made a nice choice. Or perhaps Slater Gator, or Big Show and Mark Henry, or anyone. As for the Irish Darth Vader, I'm not averse to him losing a well-contested match against Randy Orton, who needs to be booked solidly going into his tete-a-tete with Roman Reigns, but not appearing on this big card devalues him and his gold even further. Bo Dallas might be a potential candidate to tango, or you could always find an excuse to get Cesaro onto the marquee. The bottom line is that wrestling titles exist to be defended. If you're not going to bother, eliminate them and concern yourself with the ones you retain.
6. Lack of Help
It sort of made sense when The Authority were at their worst that nobody on the roster wanted to face them down, except of course John Cena. It further cements Cena's role as superhero without straining too much credulity. While I appreciate that Hogan's birthday party essentially existed to (A) shill the Network, (B) show off Paul Orndorff's entrance music and handlebar, and (C) give Portland the opportunity to not particularly care whether it was Hollywood Hogan or not, undoubtedly the best moment of the evening came when Brock Lesnar made his reappearance and uttered the instant hashtag-worthy line of "Party's over, grandpa." He also failed to make Ric Flair flinch, because the best ever in the business never really goes with the game plan and that's why we love him. What wasn't so great was that the ridiculous amount of superstars who gathered on the ramp to supervise the festivities all stood around and waited for Cena to come to the ring and force Lesnar's retreat. It's like they all appreciated being invited to the party so much that they wanted to watch the Beast ravage an old folks' home.
I'm not suggesting the WWE ban the practice of not having people run down to other's defense, but how about varying it up some? How about some guys making a move down to the ring and other guys stopping them, causing a brawl through the presents? One of the most dastardly things you can do in wrestling is disrespect the legends. Careers have been made and cheap heat galore has been generated by simply doing that effectively. People should be made to care when that happens, not wait for the cavalry to roll in and breathe a sigh of relief. Cena being the only guy on the roster not scared of Lesnar is fine, if that's what you're going for, but it's not likely to be as effective when he's taking half of each month off.
So there you have it. Six things that the WWE needs to ban in time for next summer, and that cause more damage than piledrivers and camel clutches. Feel free to add your choices in the comments below. Finally, as a postscript and a fan of humor everywhere, it's with a heavy heart that I add my RIP to the sentiments over the untimely passing of Robin Williams. To say that the man was a comedy genius would be an understatement. The amount of passion and energy he brought to his roles over the years is second to none, and he ranks up there with the all-time greats in my book. The fact that he was able to turn his comic background into well-done serious roles just underscores the void he leaves behind him. He'll be missed.