The McMahon Problem
Watching Monday Night Raw this week brought back that old familiar feeling that so many of us know: McMahon Ennui. This clinical condition is caused by the various members of the McMahon family inserting themselves into any and every available plotline in order to remain relevant and, in their minds at least, draw ratings. While I've become accustomed to a certain amount of this chicanery, what particularly frustrated your scribe this week was the fact that there were a lot of other relatively important things going on. Despite the presence of numerous good to very good matches on the card, including Daniel Bryan/Seamus, Chris Jericho/Curtis Axel, and CM Punk/Randy Orton, the lion's share of the time was reserved for everyone's favorite family drama. While the Vickie Guerrero "firing" was the reason for this segment, it's heavily rumored and pretty damn obvious that the McMahon clan is gearing up for another family feud and using whoever is needed as carrion along the way.
Forget for a moment that in this very space I've called for a change in Raw GM/Managing Partner/Director of Events/Etc. Vickie Guerrero did her job and did it well, but her heel act has worn thin (at least as GM) and it's not necessary. The byzantine and convoluted bureaucracy of the WWE board of directors is confusing even in a fictional scenario, and it's time to put someone else in the spotlight and let them give it a shot. Thus far, Brad Maddox has been presented as a Mike Adamle-type clown and kissass, but he's a fresh face and a breath of fresh air, even if it does continue the played-out "heel GM that makes all the matches" angle. Anyone who feels that this segment had anything to do with the leadership of Raw is being more shortsighted than HHH, according to Vinnie Mac. This was laying the groundwork plain and simple for another too-long, overarching McMahon family squabble that will carry to next year's Wrestlemania.
On paper, it would make sense. There is no question that Vince McMahon can continue to appear as an on-screen character for as long as he sees fit. He's earned that as a result of bringing WWE to the globally dominant organization it is now, and he can be entertaining in limited doses. Unfortunately, the McMahon family trait for fame is addictive, and those limited doses grow and grow until you can't get them off your screen. In the case of Stephanie, that's a good thing since she's been absent having the Helmsley babies. In the case of Vince, the standard "drop him off of TV for a few months and then bring him back" is repetitive and lame. He's not The Undertaker. It's not a "special event" when he appears. On the contrary, it's a vicious cycle of checking the ratings and overreacting nearly every single time. I can picture VKM sitting in his Bermuda shorts reading a Variety and putting every writer on speakerphone to berate them Tuesday morning. Being a perfectionist is admirable, but being so arrogant as to feel that you're always the solution is ridiculous.
We've already seen this once, of course. HHH was being weaned off active competition and assuming an on-air role as COO, when all of a sudden he decided he didn't want to retire and feuded with Brock Lesnar for six months. While it does make sense to deploy Lesnar logistically with another part-time performer due to his limited dates, let's not pretend that Hunter didn't want to get that rush of being in a big match with a big name and winning again. I don't think HHH has approached Ric Flair level in the "please, dear God, stay out of the ring" category just yet, but once again, less is definitely more. Having HHH try to balance his business side with his desire to step into the ring is a winning storyline that wasn't fleshed out and now has lost its chance at success. From the Kliq days, Hunter has always had a reputation for being controversial and funny on the microphone, and that is something that Raw does need each and every week. What it doesn't need is someone whose best days are clearly behind him desperately dragging himself into the business of any new talent that comes along. The concussion/Axel plotline that thus far has led absolutely nowhere is a great example of this. Investing money in rebranding a talent and then having him get slapped by your semi-retired COO? Puzzling.
As for Stephanie, as mentioned previously her being back in the WWE in an active on-air way is a good thing. We're led to believe that Stephanie has quite a bit to do with creative behind the scenes, and her surfacing again in support of her husband and father makes sense. What doesn't make sense is her being used in many ways to devalue the already nearly-lifeless Divas division. Stephanie isn't even wrestling, and she's already making AJ Lee look like a midget (one of the most compelling wrestlers in the WWE right now, regardless of gender) and calling Kaitlyn out on the carpet. Instead of these odd and seemingly anachronistic threats, wouldn't it be better for Stephanie to support that division and get more out of it? If the idea is to empower women, wouldn't that make sense? Stephanie is a success story in every sense of the word, and yet once again is in the middle of a debate between two big male egos. She's also placing herself as the dominant woman of the promotion, despite not being an active competitor. That's detrimental to the talent.
The Attitude Era featured plenty of Vinnie Mac and it was stellar. His long-running feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin produced some of the best and funniest moments in WWE history. Vince was the perfect foil for the working-class Rattlesnake, the epitome of the untouchable and egotistical boss that you wanted to flip off. The comedy segments and the buildup was always better than the matches. It's fun to see a non-wrestler get involved, but it loses its luster pretty quickly. VKM beating an active superstar is good for cheap heel heat, but over the long run it makes your money makers seem subpar. Vince's blatant attempts to use money and "Who Shot Mr. Burns?"-style cliffhangers to get ratings bumps should show that he feels he's going to get people to tune in. That might have been true in the '90s, but it's not the case now. His speech after the Vickie firing where he came after the fans shows we're back to Heel Vince once again. As I've already stated, the owner of a company that has done anything and everything on both sides of taste to drive angles telling the fans that they're bloodthirsty makes no sense. Having Vince as an on-air heel is fine, as he's more effective in that role, but these attempts to turn him cartoonishly evil are falling flat.
As for Hunter, it's time to make a decision. I'm not saying he can't ever wrestle again (if you can go, go for it), but he needs to realize that his efforts in developmental and bringing talents like Axel to the forefront are where he's most needed. Vince McMahon definitely knows how to find talent and comes up with angles and characters that work, but as he's gotten older he's become a slightly better Vince Russo, scouring the newspapers and net to throw everything at the wall at once and find out what sticks. HHH's approach seems different, and WWE will need that if they are going to adapt with the times and fend off more and more challenges from sports like MMA and UFC. Placing himself into high-profile matches on the card or dominating the backstage segments every week is the same kind of quick-fix patchwork thinking that got Vince into trouble. Placing him opposite Vince and thereby on the fan's side is fine, but the whole concept of someone running the show every week and being subject to your whims is silly. I'm sure it's tough to step away from the limelight, but it's for the good of the business and he should realize it.
The only way this ends satisfactorily for me is if Stephanie assumes control when all is said and done. I think it's unexpected enough that the fans would appreciate it, I think she's likable enough that fans will be on board, and I think it's important to position strong female characters in wrestling as much as possible. Stephanie's previous stint running the show was overshadowed by her on-screen relationship with HHH, and she's certainly able to stand on her own at this point.
My ultimate preference, of course, would be that all three take a backseat to the next generation of talent and look at their role as more of a steward. Absence tends to make the heart grow fonder, and anyone that's a fan of the WWE has to appreciate at some level what the McMahons have done. Unfortunately, they seem to consistently be unable to accept that admiration and push the envelope further. I'm already tiring of this angle and it's barely even begun. I'm worried it will carry on far too long (as usual) and we'll be back where we started. Someone please tell this family it's okay to let go, just a little.
* As much as I enjoyed the Wyatt Family vignettes and Kane beatdown, a troubling moment occurred as it relates to Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler's booking since his concussion has been brutally awful, and this week might have been a new low. We got Dolph patching things up with AJ (sort of) despite exhibiting major face tendencies, and he followed that up by interrupting the Alberto Del Rio/Sin Cara match to cut a promo that was, to put it kindly, not great. Ziggler is pretty good on the microphone, but I'm beginning to worry that he's far better on it as a heel, because this was the sort of John Cena-like "hilarity" that sends me to the fridge. We even got a dick joke, so you know it's serious! Following the interruption, Ziggler was booked to be attacked by Del Rio outside the ring and essentially not fight back at all. The crowd understandably reacted to all of this like a fart in church. I don't know who is responsible for this stuff, but Ziggler is rapidly falling off the radar after that excellent moment where he won the belt not so long ago. He's hovering between face and heel without truly choosing a side, and when he's not outright losing matches he's participating in bad segments like this. Losing the momentum on this guy would be a critical mistake for the WWE. He has everything necessary to help carry this company into its next iteration. Give him something decent to do, and start building him up again. Having him win the belt back from Alberto does nothing by itself if it's not carried forward with a great angle. Line him up against The Shield and let it fly.
* Sunday's PPV should be pretty good. The ladder matches are substantially better than the rest of the card, but that's as it should be. I fully expect my hometown crowd to be the "sixth man" and deliver with the atmosphere. I love the concept of all good guys in one match and all bad guys in the other, as it gives the fans multiple options for the win. Daniel Bryan is being booked so excellently and dominantly that it would be a shock if he did not come down with a briefcase, but nobody should be surprised by a swerve. I think RVD will be utilized in a big way to make it look like he's going to win it, but ultimately I wouldn't be stunned if it was Orton. He's been stuck in limbo so long that this would be a big deal for him. They can then feel free to heel turn him, which is what they should have done in the first place instead of wasting time with the Ryback thing. In the other Money in the Bank match, I couldn't be more excited. It's pretty amazing going into a match like that having no idea who's going to win and not caring because you're fine with anybody doing so. Ambrose would be the obvious choice, I think, but I'd love for it to be Antonio Cesaro. I assume there will be friction between him and Jack Swagger and that will lead to his downfall, but a guy can dream, right?
* Lots of talk about Sting coming over to the WWE at some point before his retirement, and that's all well and good, but not really necessary. As nice as it would have been to have him on the roster even five years ago, at this point it's pretty much just a retro wistful idea than something relevant. Sting has already built up a big legend for himself in the sport, and is more than deserving of getting into the WWE Hall of Fame without ever wrestling a match for the promotion. If there's a desire to do some one-off thing, good for him, but it doesn't do anything for me as a fan. It's certainly not on the level of another TNA stalwart, Kurt Angle, whose return would make for some truly epic matches before the walk off into the sunset. The other big factor for me is personality. Angle is a bit unhinged to be sure but hilarious on the microphone, and has always had that skill set that makes for an excellent pro wrestler by being able to back up his excellent matches with comedic segments and personality to spare. Sting, on the other hand, has always been very vanilla, even in the highest-profile type angles. His best work involved him saying nothing and pointing a baseball bat at people. It's always nice to sit back and think about what might have been, but this seems a case to me where Sting should retire from TNA sooner rather than later and wait for a Hall of Fame weekend to be warmly received.
That's all I have for this week. I'd like to thank you for taking the time to read the article, and encourage you to sound off below on the boards or via Twitter @coffeyfan77 or via email at email@example.com. I can safely say that should you follow me on Twitter, you will be entertained, at least as much as watching some of Tugboat's greatest matches. I will endeavor to not be arrested at this weekend's big event, but no promises. Either way, there will be a story to tell. Until next time, this is Mike Holland saying thanks for reading, don't tell mom the babysitter's dead, and have a great week!