An interesting match kicked off last week's Monday Night Raw, and not in a good way. The "match" (for those of you that did not tap fast forward on your DVR) pitted the cornermen of champ Dolph Ziggler, dethroned Alberto Del Rio, and constant contender Jack Swagger against each other with the hook that the winner would get to pick the stipulation for their upcoming Extreme Rules three-way dance. If you're keeping score, that means Big E Langston against a ring announcer and a sixty-year old. Clearly the memo of the Jerry Lawler health scare has been circulated sufficiently and entered the circular file. While all three men are indeed trained wrestlers, the point of this match was that Big E was the heavy favorite to crush the competition but ended up being outdone by a surprise Ricardo Rodriguez rollup of Zeb Colter. Fresh off the victory, we learned that Rodriguez would be selecting a ladder match for the PPV.
This match serves as a perfect example to several things currently plaguing the WWE. The first is simply a matter of content. The writers have to come up with fresh stuff for a whole week that includes a three-hour show, a two-hour show, and several hourlong shows. Making the same feuds interesting can prove very difficult, particularly when you're under the mistaken impression that hooks and gimmicks are all that wrestling fans are interested in. I'll certainly cede that watching Fandango is a hell of a lot more entertaining than Johnny Curtis crying over spilled milk in a backstage promo, but guys like Lance Storm and Jerry Lynn have gotten over purely on the strength of their body of work. Attempts to make them more "character-friendly" have failed miserably. In short, a mix is always good. Too much of the same thing rarely has a positive result. Strong mat technicians are appreciated by plenty of the fanbase, and allow mid-range talents to look better than they should. Unfortunately, the WWE writing room has become enamored with the comedy and oddity matches. The idea that a manager and a ring announcer would be involved in a match to open up a three-hour wrestling show is insane. Watch any TV drama and you'll get the hook within the first few minutes. This is your reason to stay tuned and not change the channel, particularly in an era of 500 plus channels and instant variety. Did anyone in the WWE Universe switch on their HD eye-ripper and clasp their hands in glee at that match selection?
The second problem is plot advancement. It's natural to understand that we need to keep the Ziggler v. Del Rio v. Swagger feud in our minds up until the match itself. The fact that Del Rio and Swagger seem to have had a feud for half a year already is apparently not enough to accomplish this. Involving members of the entourage certainly has the potential to keep the setup from getting overly stale. Unfortunately, the setup itself is what's lacking here. Vickie Guerrero, General Manager of Raw, is a former manager of Dolph Ziggler and has animus towards him. This has been referenced several times and makes sense in the storyline. Looking at this match, however, you'd think the opposite. The result notwithstanding, this seems like a match that was set up to favor the current champion. In addition, the selection of a ladder match is puzzling to me as well. Shouldn't the stipulation have some underlying importance? The angle here is that all three men have won Money In the Bank ladder matches, but doesn't that favor all three of them equally? If I'm champion, I'm picking something that benefits me and me alone. Isn't that the whole idea of gaining an advantage?
One of the major advantages that Monday Night Football will always have over the WWE is that you as a fan know exactly who's playing on any given week. You can plan in advance to enjoy a matchup of your hometown team and a bitter rival, or a great clash between two powerhouses. In wrestling, the ebb and flow of who's hot and who's been forgotten doesn't allow that. You're at the mercy of the fickle winds of change, and that means you have way less time to grab a fan's interest and keep it. The voiceover to start the show is smart, but it's not nearly enough. If I'm a big fan, I already know that all of that happened. I need something new or at least interesting to get me excited about what's to come. The Raws I most look forward to are event driven, like Raw Roulette or the Retro shows. They aren't always good, but they get me interested because I know they're coming and have an expectation due to it. Most Mondays you have no idea what's coming, you just know it's most likely going to be some regurgitation of the week before.
Recent PPV numbers reflect the push that a wrestling idol like The Rock can have on even established events. Both Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber were buoyed by his presence on the card. Wrestlemania was inarguably benefited by the knowledge that Rock vs. Cena was happening. In short, wrestling fans care if he's on the show or not. We're smart enough to know that Brock Lesnar is not going to appear on every Raw, but it doesn't matter if it's not a special occasion. The show should be built around his appearances to give it a unique feel. I doubt anyone changed the channel when he obliterated the 3 Man Band recently. Hearing Paul Heyman answer Triple H's latest non-face-to-face challenge while Lesnar stands there? Yawn. We as fans want to know when the marquee names are attending because we want to witness something special.
Interview segments to open a Raw were hot and heavy for quite a long time, and hopefully that corner has been turned. Setting up the evening's main event makes sense, but needing twenty minutes to do it does not. Do us a favor and save that extra time for the match itself. There have never been an abundance of truly excellent talkers, but the current roster sports less than ever. Captivating a huge crowd (and television audience) for that amount of time is very difficult indeed. In addition, too often this routine becomes someone talking about their current issue to be interrupted by someone else's theme music ad nauseum until ten guys are standing in the ring waiting for someone else to say something. Once again, your casual fan has already gone off to find out what's happening on Bones. Run down the big matches, boxing style, and then get out of the way and let your talent do their thing. Obviously, your main event won't be your open, but a strong second-tier tag match would be a welcome change. Putting a wrestler on commentary is also a better way of furthering this. In addition to giving us a different look at a typical match, it can set up interesting possibilities for later.
What we're looking for as fans is a little bit of truth in a business that is all about illusion. We respect the right of the WWE to not tell us everything, because after all, what's the fun in that? We get genuinely thrilled when a true moment happens, like Chris Jericho's recent return. Too many wrestlers and backstage workers get all wound up over what's happening on the internet. TV has spoilers, and wrestling does too. It doesn't mean you have to read them. A few years back, there were a series of specials concerning how magicians do the classic tricks. Your natural curiosity is balanced by your respect of the business. Telling us who's coming and laying out some of the key plot points is not only a good idea, it's becoming a necessity. Social media and on demand content make any attempt at old-school blindfolding irrelevant at best and insulting at worst. Not one major corporation in our times has been able to stay the same and succeed. Apple didn't make a computer and stop inventing. It's no different for the WWE. Reluctance to spill "secrets" definitely causes fans to seek their entertainment elsewhere.
This forward thinking can also lead to some development in other areas. The divas would be the first one that comes to mind for me. As mentioned before, there will always be a certain level of personality over talent that lends itself to an over-the-top arena like professional wrestling. The style over substance rule is nowhere more obvious than in this division. It's ridiculous to me that the WWE fails to provide any reason whatsoever for fans of women's wrestling to tune in week after week. Writing their characters should in theory be no different. The "secret admirer" and "locker room gossip" plotlines would be ridiculous for the guys in the locker room, and so should they be here. Never before have female characters been so well-rounded and well-crafted than now, but you wouldn't know it from the weekly lineup. Give each diva a chance to make a match. Pick a night on the calendar and let fans know it's coming. You certainly can't tell me that there's too much else going on for that to work. A third of each week's Raw is a rehash of what's happened previously, including in the last half hour of the show. Either get rid of it completely and turn some of these great performers back into valets or embrace it and give fans a reason to do the same.
When wrestling abandoned the concept of good vs. evil in favor of the cooler, hipper antiheroes, it marked a major shift in how we'd watch the sport we love. This was a direct response to the backlash against the pre-packaged cartoon silliness and an endorsement of the gritty realism that marked promotions like ECW. Now, though, even that may not be enough. While still a big necessity to reach as many fans across the spectrum as possible, the WWE finds itself as its own worst enemy. Doing something different than the competition becomes a moot point when you ARE the competition. This is a concept that transcends the PG rating; sprinkling a few swear words and middle fingers doesn't even get you an HBO show at this point. What it's about, then, is in a way what it always should be about: the truth of the product and the consequences of how well it's presented. The recent arrival of more "rookies" into the ranks than ever before should serve as evidence of what needs to be a complete sea change. Overproduction and hype will no longer earn you anything but ridicule. Keep throwing new faces at us, and don't presume that the first reaction will be the final one. The truth will out in the end. Let's just hope this stewardship is brave enough to get there.
And for heaven's sake, no more Zeb Colter matches.
*If Brock Lesnar vs. The Rock does happen, you can count my money as spent. This is a match worth hyping. These are two big names inside and outside the squared circle, and they couldn't be more different in approach or character. There are quite a few different ways to go with this, and all of them are extremely interesting. Should it be The Rock's last match (a likely possibility), what better way to get Lesnar back on track as the monster he is? Brock is one of the best examples of a talent being utilized in the wrong way and far too inconsistently. There is no need to put a title on him when he's part-time. Wind him up and let him go. This feels fresh, it feels different, and I am all for it. We can hope.
*Having complained bitterly about the complete erosion of Antonio Cesaro's character over recent weeks, I enjoyed his attempt to win the US Title back against Kofi Kingston on last week's Main Event. The match itself was good, as usual, but we finally saw an outside the ring aggression that's been lacking when he ambushed Kingston later in the show. Discussion of whether Kofi will turn heel misses the boat in my mind; he's one of those guys that I just don't ever see in that mold. Cesaro, though, was born to play a heel. I'm hoping for some more traction on this angle because the yodeling Nikolai Volkoff impression is not working for me. With the sorry state of the tag division, I can't imagine the purpose of delaying Chris Hero's arrival to the big time one day longer. Cesaro has already proven himself as an excellent tag team wrestler in the past. This would give him an opportunity to continue getting more aggressive while adding dimension to his character. And imagine what happens when THAT team breaks up.
*Kurt Angle is once again dropping hints that he might finish up what has been an illustrious career in the WWE before calling it a career. Quite frankly, he should. Regardless of the past history, Angle is responsible for some of the best moments and matches in the promotion. He still has some gas left in the tank, even with those nagging injuries, and can certainly elevate some of those talents to new heights with his arsenal of moves. The man definitely has some well-publicized issues, but that's no reason to not explore the possibilities. I am quite sure the WWE is open to it, as the almighty dollar outweighs just about any sin in the book. Angle of course has been known to play the field in an attempt to generate controversy, so I'm not necessarily getting my hopes up. But the proper thing for him to do at this stage is to get back into a WWE ring and let us send him off properly. It's true, it's true.
That is all I have for this week. I'd of course like to dedicate this column to mom, wishing her a happy mother's day weekend. That goes for yours as well! As always, feel free to leave any comments, criticism or double entendres in the space below. You can also reach me @coffeyfan77 on Twitter and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next week, this is Mike Holland saying thanks for reading and enjoy the veal.