Sharp Shooting #20 – The Problem with WrestleMania
LoPForums Newcomer Of The Year - Sharp Shooting #20: The Problem With WrestleMania by Sidgwick
Jan 9, 2013 - 1:29:20 PM
[Writer’s Note: I’ve been graciously awarded this one-off main page slot for winning Best Newcomer in the Annual Columns Forum Awards. The year is barely a week old and there is already a plethora of excellent stuff to be read in the Columns Forum. Click
here for some stellar wrestling editorials – Sidgwick.]
As with recent years, the latter half of 2012 saw an inconsistent WWE product. Main event match quality was hampered by the indecisive finishes to CM Punk’s title defences, but The Big Show’s inexplicable career renaissance helped to even things out. Tag team wrestling made a welcome and acclaimed comeback of sorts, too, but the US and Intercontinental scenes hardly set the company alight. While The Shield’s debut and subsequent mega-push was a refreshing masterstroke, booking was mostly a mess elsewhere. To be fair, plans were scuppered for Hell In A Cell and TLC, and WWE found themselves in an injury bind booking each Pay Per View. There is no excusing the unbelievably inept promotion of Survivor Series, though. That was a prime example of WWE’s total lack of long-term planning.
Usually, though, the magic that is WrestleMania season rescues WWE from these end of year doldrums time and time again. The annual extravaganza brings with it star power, unpredictability, intrigue and, crucially, through-the-roof revenue generated from those lapsed fans who only want into tune in when it really matters. Increasingly though, WrestleMania has been afflicted by time management issues and disproportionate use of – or, to put it more accurately, total reliance upon - part-time stars from yesteryear.
The last truly great WrestleMania was WrestleMania XXIV. It was headlined by a career-making Edge performance, but the entire card was a huge commercial and critical success which laid foundations for the future. CM Punk literally climbed the ladder towards main event stardom. Floyd Mayweather’s contribution bettered that of any celebrity before him. The fabled “WrestleMania Moment” even made an appearance when Shawn Michaels “retired” Ric Flair in one of the most emotional moments in the company’s history. From there, as WWE began their struggle to create bona fide superstars – a struggle which continues to this day - WrestleMania began to enter a holding pattern that is both electrifying and infuriating…
The affliction first came to light at WrestleMania XXV, the focal point of which was the now-legendary match between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels. Expectations for the quality of the match and its box office appeal were so high that it was allocated 30 minutes in match time alone; the hype video and entrances ate up a considerable amount of time, too. That match, combined with the similarly lengthy Triple H vs. Randy Orton main event, meant that there was little time for the rest of the roster to shine on the night when the spotlight is brightest. Jeff Hardy and Matt Hardy were given just 13:13 to execute their grudge match, which wasn’t long enough to tell the story they had been building. Even the World Heavyweight title bout wouldn’t have felt out of place on a typical episode of RAW.
WrestleMania XXVI was an improvement on the previous year’s event in terms of the overall card and time allocation, but WWE still managed to make two catastrophic timing errors which adversely affected the quality of the mid card. Bret Hart and Vince McMahon were given eleven excruciating minutes to drag out what was ostensibly an angle masquerading as a wrestling match. The whole debacle could and should have achieved the same end if given even two minutes. Who wanted to watch Hart viciously beat up McMahon for nigh-on nine minutes? Who was meant to be the heel and who was meant to be the face? Why wasn’t this time allocated to what could’ve been a minor classic between Rey Mysterio and CM Punk? Those are questions I still can’t answer 3 years later.
By the time WrestleMania XXVII rolled around, WWE had realised that they’d done a piss-poor job of advancing new talent when Triple H disgustingly stated that only The Undertaker was worthy of facing him at the Granddaddy Of Them All. And face him he did – in another half-hour epic which deflected attention away from the full-time roster. This was the year WWE realised that their roster wasn’t capable of assembling a worthy WrestleMania on their own. Triple H was earmarked to face Sheamus that year, while ‘Taker was slated to face Wade Barrett following the Nexus attack on the “Dead Man” months earlier. Rather than logically building on these feuds, WWE entered panic mode and shelved them indefinitely for the purpose of pulling a mega buy rate. It worked in the short term, sure, but Barrett for one still hasn’t recovered. That Michael Cole was booked in a 13:45 match is a damning statistic which needs no further explanation. Neither for that matter does the fact that Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan was relegated to dark match duties to allow for possibly The Rock’s dullest promo ever.
This counterproductive, instant-gratification booking method plunged to a nadir at WrestleMania XXVIII. The Rock was asked to perform for 30 minutes in his first singles match in almost a decade and, to the surprise of nobody except those purported to know best (!), was gassed in the early going. If the crowd didn’t go nuts for everything they did, the match would have been totally average. I’ve no doubt about that. Triple H vs. The Undertaker was a triumph, admittedly, but as fantastic as it was, my lasting memory of the night wasn’t the sight of ‘Taker, HHH and Shawn Michaels walking each other up the entrance ramp. It was the bad taste left in my mouth following the callous burial administered to Daniel Bryan an hour earlier. The sight of seeing Dolph Ziggler, after tirelessly working to propel himself to respect and relevance, lost in a sea of garish t-shirts, was just as depressing…
To use a music analogy, WrestleMania used to be Nirvana’s Nevermind. It used to be the platform on which a major breakthrough was made. Its success was used to catapult the talent involved into the wider wrestling – and sometimes mainstream – consciousness. Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, John Cena and Batista all had their Nevermind moments on the biggest stage by clinching a major title after a long and storied chase. Though some became bigger draws and some took longer than others to reach that mega-star echelon, the event became known as the place where stars were born. These breakthrough moments used to encapsulate the magic of WrestleMania; in the modern era, however, WrestleMania has become The Best of Nirvana. Smells Like Teen Spirit is on there, of course, but though the song still retains its power and its magic, it has lost, through overexposure and the passing of time, that inimitable buzz one feels on first listen.
The dream match, the greatest hit, has replaced the meaningful title win, the breakthrough single, as the overriding selling point of WrestleMania. The former is a thrill which lasts just half an hour. In the case of Steve Austin, the latter thrill lasted for several years...
WrestleMania is considered by most fans to be the time when WWE is at its best, but I’d argue that the rest of the year is adversely affected by the emphasis placed on the Granddaddy of Them All. Which wrestlers were the focus of WrestleMania XXVII and WrestleMania XXVIII, and were the true winners of the biggest match on each card? The Undertaker and The Rock – two wrestlers who will never again work a full-time schedule. WWE for the past two years in particular has presented the likes of Dolph Ziggler, Kofi Kingston – even prototypical WWE headliner-elect Sheamus – as support acts on the Legends of Wrestling bill. Extras, even. Is it any wonder that fans don’t receive them as true stars during those post-‘Mania summer months? Given their lowly WrestleMania billing, is there any incentive whatsoever for the casual fan to watch this inferior “1B roster” fill 3 hours of RAW on a weekly basis? Absolutely not.
I’m not that much of a romantic fool. I am aware of the fact that The Rock is a far bigger draw than Dolph Ziggler will likely ever be. I’m aware that Joe Public is more interested, as things stand, in seeing five John Cena vs. The Rock matches than one Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler match. Still, even WWE must realise that this short-term fix has a limited shelf life. The appeal of the dream match concept is being more and more diluted with each passing year, and will inevitably lose its lustre the more it is plundered. The contrivances WWE employ to promote such dream matches are becoming ever more desperate, too. Look no further than the WrestleMania XXVII ‘Taker/HHH match. Triple H more or less said that they were fighting because the event wasn’t big enough without them. Sadly, he was right…
So what’s the solution? If I was at the WWE helm – and thank Christ I’m not – I’d immediately reinstate the Money In The Bank ladder match as a ‘Mania staple. It’s a thrilling spectacle which also serves the purpose of showcasing midcard talent and thrusting the winner into a higher position on the card. I’d then cease and desist with the philosophy that these mega matches need to be half an hour in length. One only needs to re-watch The Rock vs. John Cena to realise that less is so much often more. Proper time management is required. When Bret Hart – a man who cannot take a bump - is booked in a longer ‘Mania match than Randy Orton and CM Punk, there must be a problem. From there, I'd mix up the 1A ('Taker, Brock et al) and 1B ( Bryan , Sheamus et al) rosters. That the 1A roster is seemingly only bothered about fighting amongst themselves does as much to widen the gulf than anything else. It furthers the idea that they are a cut above when WWE should be doing everything possible to present the likes of Dolph Ziggler, a man who actually appears on house shows, as a legitimate star. I'm not suggesting that every WrestleMania card should resemble Fully Loaded 2000 – nor do I want a return to the WrestleMania events of old where everybody got a spot on an oversaturated card - but a middle ground needs to be reached somehow. WWE may take a hit in the short term, but the short term is precisely that - short.
Talk is rife that WrestleMania XXIX will be headlined by re-treads of 2012 dream matches between The Rock and John Cena and Triple H and Brock Lesnar. Of course, these rumoured matches aren't set in stone, but how uninspiring are they? Dream matches by design are a little lazy. Sequels to dream matches...well. I for one remember No Way Out 2003. At this rate, with the lack of time available to the mid card, The Shield will be reduced to a 6-man with 3MB and Daniel Bryan will be booked to continue a 'hilarious' streak of losing in under a minute. I'm being facetious, of course. At least, I hope I am...
WWE has been taking the old “Showcase of the Immortals” tagline much too literally in recent years. It’s time to showcase the mortals and give them the opportunity to become immortal.
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