30 Thoughts with Al Laiman and Mr. Tito II - Electric Bugaloo
By Al Laiman
Nov 24, 2013 - 12:59:46 AM
credit Tom Jenner
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Twitter: @AlLaimanLOP, @JadedHope1
30 Thoughts with Al Laiman and Mr. Tito
1. Alright Al Laiman... You wanted to preach optimism towards WWE in our last column, but where is that optimism now? Complete booking disaster since SummerSlam 2013. We, the fans, wanted Daniel Bryan to become WWE Champion and yet the WWE Management is clinging onto a 2nd generation wrestler in Randy Orton who through 10+ World Title reigns has never been over on his own (see Smackdown 2011). Beatdown after beatdown, disappointing PPV match after match, the WWE Creative staff has gone out of their way to bury Daniel Bryan to push their own favorite. It's just like 2011 when CM Punk was getting naturally over yet WWE management had a hard-on for Alberto Del Rio. Reportedly, Vince McMahon had apprehensions over pushing Steve Austin during 1996 when he didn't understand the whole "Austin 3:16" phenomena but look what happened when he gave into the cheers. WWE has blown a major opportunity to push an over wrestler to the moon and by that, I believe the WWE has impaired itself a few hundred thousand disappointed RAW viewers for the time being. Total booking disaster.
2. Count me among one of them, Tito. Most of my readers know that I do my absolute best to look on the bright side of everything. Granted, I have the select few I hate, and it’s no secret that I’m not the biggest fan of Randy Orton or Alberto Del Rio, not to mention Total Divas as a thing, but the last time we got together for one of these chats, you’re right. I was convinced that we were on the cusp of a new era, or at least the beginning of a change. A few of the first beatdowns, I understood. The heel faction needed to establish themselves. I was convinced that it was all leading to something. Nope. We have the main event that nobody demanded headlining what is supposed to be one of the biggest Pay-Per-View events of the calendar year.
3. The issue remains competition. Until the WWE has a viable competitor to give disgruntled but highly talented wrestlers an option to challenge the WWE, we'll get the same crap. The WWE has such a strong market share that it allows the WWE to keep their product stagnant and allows the McMahons to push who they want. Could you imagine what CM Punk could have done during 2011 if he actually left the WWE with his momentum after that "pipebomb" speech? If only TNA wasn't such a disorganized, poorly booked mess. Sadly, wrestlers don't have options through 2013. WWE has flooded the market with their product that it has helped to diminish demand for pro wrestling in general. For as much as TNA wrestling has spent, they should be a viable #2 promotion instead of a distant one.
4. If there’s one thing that WWE has that TNA seemingly can’t achieve, it’s recognition. I’ll never forget sitting at a Smackdown show in Reading, 2008, and hearing people ask each other where wrestlers like Booker T and Kurt Angle were now. If arguably the biggest name in recent wrestling memory can’t get TNA on the map, I don’t know what else it would take. TNA seems content with where they are in the wrestling market, which doesn’t help us out as wrestling fans because it does nothing to put pressure on WWE. I honestly don’t know what would’ve happened if Punk left, simply because if he’d gone anywhere but back to WWE, I don’t know if anyone but the most hardcore fans would’ve known about it.
5. TNA is run by complete idiots, always has been. The Carter family just can't figure it out. All they have to do is to simply buy a bunch of WWE produced DVD's (which spans from AWA to WCW to ECW, along with WWE stuff) to see a roadmap on how characters are developed, how storylines arc, and how matches are properly done. Better yet, they can see that pushing unique and fresh talent is how promotions grow in the end. They've blown it on several major independent wrestlers that they've brought in and the likes of Vince Russo, Hulk Hogan, and Eric Bischoff - products of the old wrestling guard, have made the promotion much worse. Why would any WWE free agent want to go to that dumpster of a promotion? TNA is basically WCW during 2000 but the difference is that TNA is actually closer in viewership to the WWE than WCW was during 2000.
6. Even when they put on amazing television, which they have, they never seem to get noticed outside of the loyal audience they already have. I can’t tell you how much I would love to see competition push Monday Night Recaps to have even the slightest sense of urgency. Can we just go ahead and say the permanent jump to three hours is a disaster? They have a roster of over 70 wrestlers, and how do they choose to use that time? Demonstrating how to download the App. Recapping what we just saw, coming back from commercial, and then recapping it again, not to mention talking about it through half the match, and then recapping it a few more times just to be sure. WWE Shopzone commercials featuring a low-card wrestler with nothing else to do, plugging John Cena’s merchandise. Arm-wrestling contests. Musical chair segments. Not to mention my favorite, during this Big Show/Orton feud, an episode of RAW a few weeks ago had EIGHT video segments about their feud, including an interview with Triple H and a legal montage that they played twice each. Tito, you’ve been watching longer than I have, and you’ve been covering RAW exponentially longer… Do you ever remember anything quite like this?
7. WWE has become a full fledged corporation. Everything about the WWE is now Public Relations. Furthermore, they've let Executive Producer Kevin Dunn have the keys to the WWE car too often. Much of RAW now is just Kevin Dunn showing off his video packages which appears to be now competing with Stephanie overseeing the internet/social medial part of the WWE. Dunn detests the WWE being a pro wrestling company and thus fewer matches but more video packages and non-wrestling segments. Additionally, the PG Era WWE has made storylines so lame that video packages have now become filler for the lack of creativity that having adult themed storylines could provide. It's the WWE that has been virtually unchallenged by competition for over 10 years along with being a publicly traded corporation for over 10 years. Until competition rises, the WWE doesn't have to try that hard to please the fans. As long as enough still show up, WWE remains profitable with a very marginal product.
8. I don’t understand this… Why would you work for a pro wrestling company if you detest pro wrestling? Yes, I understand that professional wrestling has a negative media image, which the events of Lord Voldemort certainly didn’t help in recent years. However, a family-friendly image can be coupled with product that isn’t watered-down with incessant recaps and App Tutorials. Video packages used to be what I considered to be the one consistent thing about WWE, but now they’re so overdone and so repetitious that I skip right through them when doing 30 Thoughts on RAW. This isn’t the kind of wrestling fan I want to be, and I hate overdosing my readers on cynicism, but that’s what they’ve given me to work with recently. I was so optimistic coming off Summerslam 2013, even with the incredibly predictable ending. I believed they were finally getting the hint that times have changed and that a new generation of fans were coming in, but instead we’ve reverted back to having John Cena and Randy Orton as champions again. Alberto Del Rio is challenging for the title for the 432nd time, and Orton is facing the Big Show. I’m sure they’ll find a way to blame the low buyrates on Bryan and Punk again though.
9. Now now, you are forgetting that Triple H's workout buddy, Sheamus, is on his way back from injury. It's funny to me that guys like Sheamus, Randy Orton, and Alberto Del Rio have ENDLESS World Title shots yet guys like CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, and Dolph Ziggler have to damn near beg for them. In the case of Punk and Bryan, they are actually over and both through their respective SummerSlams 2011 and 2013, were on the cusp of becoming the next big superstars. In each case, the WWE's handpicked guys (Del Rio, Orton) walked away as champions. The McMahons aren't challenged by any competitor right now, so therefore favoritism kicks in. Vince McMahon is a huge fan of Alberto Del Rio and is captivated by the character. Sheamus is Triple H's workout buddy. Randy Orton is a 2nd generation wrestler, which gets him in with Vince, but is also a personal friend of Triple H. WWE Creative (Vince & Triple H) will give those guys an endless stream of World Title shots and reigns. Daniel Bryan and CM Punk, two Ring of Honor products, have to actually get over to get title shots. Then, when they get a taste of the World Title, they are torn down by WWE Creative in favor of Alberto Del Rio, Sheamus, and Randy Orton. Same shit over and over again.
10. It seems like this is the first era where WWE has gone out of their way to endlessly try to make superstars out of certain wrestlers before they get over, and do everything they can to kill the momentum of others who do get over organically. Isn't this self-defeating? I mean, I wasn't one of those "Punk got buried" guys, until Cena still main-evented while Punk was champion an entire year. I wasn't one of those "Bryan got buried" guys until this angle where it seemed like the logical conclusion was that Bryan somehow would stand up to the Authority, not put over Randy Orton and move on to a stable that, while I do enjoy, is not nearly ready or deserving of working with two world champions. You can say that they're main-eventing RAW, and that would be true, but to what end? If the Wyatts go over, Punk probably stays near the main event, but is Bryan where Ziggler is now?
11. Both Punk in 2011 and Bryan in 2013 were over by the fans. In both cases, their SummerSlam moments were ripped away by a dickhead "special guest referee" in Triple H and then Triple H put roadblock after roadblock up to cease their momentum. Consider what would happen if Punk during 2011 and Bryan during 2013 were allowed to be WWE Champion after their SummerSlam events and hold a reign. Punk was eventually given the WWE Title through Survivor Series 2011 but he was damaged goods by then. Then, as you said, he wasn't allowed to main event as WWE Champion. With Punk, he's done nothing but lay down for the top stars during 2013. He lost to Rock twice, Cena on RAW, Undertaker, Kane, and Brock Lesnar. Can't he get at least ONE of those wins? Bryan in 2013 was completely owned by Randy Orton. Those are burials and if the recently NXT wrestlers, the Wyatt Family, defeat Punk and Bryan at Survivor Series and Bray Wyatt then defeats one or both shortly thereafter, more dirt is being placed on Punk/Bryan's main event drawing potential.
12. Which I think might be their intention. Punk remained incredibly over despite those odds, but you’re right in wondering what could’ve been. I read a lot of arguments, usually from fans bitching about internet fans while being internet fans themselves, that Bryan isn’t really being buried because he’s held the belt and main-evented major Pay-Per-Views. A lot of times, those arguments come from people who don’t care for Bryan in the first place and it’s their attempt to get people to stop talking about it. “He’s main-eventing RAW, what more do you want?” What I wanted before Summerslam, and what I still really wanted was that new star that could stay above the glass ceiling. It’s possible that Bryan can still follow in Punk’s wake and keep the momentum going, but Bryan paid a helluva lot more dearly than Punk did. While both had to deal with Triple H as an on-air authority figure, H wasn’t talking down to the entire roster while keeping himself above everyone who isn’t already established. After Summerslam both years, I was hoping that the treatment was all building toward something, and like then, I’m realizing it was; just not toward anything but more of the same. Do you think Bryan will do all right despite this, or will he be fighting Curtis Axel for the Intercontinental title in a few months?
13. Problem with CM Punk and Daniel Bryan now is that they have to endure a feud with the Wyatt Family, a bunch of wrestlers who were just in NXT earlier this year. Both CM Punk and Daniel Bryan were either WWE Champions or chasing the titles but yet they are the ones putting over new talent? Isn't that what the rest of the roster of midcarders are for? They were buried because the booking put in place for both CM Punk and Daniel Bryan was to slow down their momentum in favor of promoting someone else that the McMahons wanted to push instead (Del Rio in 2011, Orton in 2013). Neither Del Rio or Orton are over and both wrestlers are handed multiple title reigns and title shots. And you don't see either guy being forced to put over recent NXT wrestlers that were just promoted to the main WWE roster.
14. Kofi Kingston is one person who is quite familiar with how a feud with Randy Orton can benefit your career. While Bryan did get some of the wins in the feud, Orton moves on to another veteran, Bryan ends up feuding with the Wyatts. How many up-and-comers has Orton put over ever, let alone recently? Since Del Rio came to the main roster, same thing. He's either holding the title or challenging for it. The hardest part of Orton's career was being away from the title for a whole two years because of being one strike away from termination, per the Wellness Policy. Convenient how it suddenly came out that strikes suddenly are able to go away.
15. Again, it's the favoritism pushed by the WWE. I've said it for years. Randy Orton has the benefit of his dad, Cowboy Bob Orton, famously jumping off the top rope with a cast on his arm at Wrestlemania 1. Vince McMahon is forever grateful to any wrestler who helped him build his company during the 1980's and Randy benefits from this. Randy Orton is a 11 time champion! Think about that and that's ever since SummerSlam 2004. 9 years, 11 reigns. That's hilarious to me and maybe just one of those reigns was worthwhile. Otherwise, even the WWE bookers who adore his family legacy get bored with him as World Champion. And you're right... Who has Randy Orton actually put over himself, besides Triple H who seems to pretty much own him in matches? Secondly, can you point to a signature match of Orton's? I can't... I can already point to a few of Daniel Bryan's and WWE doesn't push him in the main event as often as Orton.
16. Even taking out of account my personal dislike for him that has nothing to do with the aforementioned, I can't either. I can admit when a wrestler I hate has an amazing match. The only matches I remember of his are recent. I barely remember he won the Rumble. He's not a bad worker, far from it, but he seldom comes across like he gives a shit, and why should he have to? He started the game on the one-yard line. Meanwhile, even someone like The Miz goes from a joke to headlining WrestleMania, then gets an inexplicable face turn, does nothing, then has an unheralded heel turn. Another great benefactor of a feud with Orton.
17. As a pure athlete, Randy Orton is as good as it gets. His moves are crisp and the guy has a ton of endurance to wrestle a long match. Problem with Randy Orton, however, is that he's a dick to his opponents in the ring. He lacks any in-ring psychology. Just zero emotion in the ring and rarely sells any convincing pain of his opponents. Fans aren't emotionally attached to Randy and part of it is that he's emotionless in the ring. He is void of personality, lacks psychology, and clearly has the impression given to fans that he's been entitled to everything he's received in the WWE. He should NOT be WWE Champion right now. Before Money in the Bank 2013, Orton was not talked about for being a WWE Title contender for SummerSlam and afterward. Then, it was just given to him. While Randy is getting favorable booking, he's dogging it in the ring against certain opponents. Why aren't any of the multiple Orton vs. Bryan matches even considered "Match of the Year" candidates? Because Randy Orton is not a generous wrestler and the McMahons have probably told him to "dog it" against Bryan.
18. It’s an interesting phenomenon, isn’t it? WWE gives the illusion of the fans having more control and access than they ever have. The App, running Twitter feeds, a more interactive website, more Axxess events, more media appearances, and yet… They have less of a voice than ever. Daniel Bryan got over despite the best efforts to make him an embarrassment. He got over organically and got the loudest, most consistent reactions for a long time. CM Punk broke out of a perpetual slump and shocked the Universe with finally being himself. I suppose that happens when you’re the only game in town. Say what you want about John Cena, but he dogs it against nobody. That being said though, a good eight years ago, as someone pointed out… John Cena, Randy Orton, and Triple H were dominating with the Big Show lurking around. Boy how things have changed! If the superstars the Universe becomes attached to keep having their momentum thrashed, and those with lethargic attachment keep getting unlimited title shots, what does the future hold for viewership? Is WWE always going to have that built-in audience? Is there a point where even the most diehard fans start losing interest?
19. The danger of the WWE is when the late 20 year old, 30 somethings stop watching and don't introduce their kids to pro wrestling. Fans who were kids during the Hulkamania years, teenagers during Monday Night Wars, and college students during the initial brand split. I believe that since 2005 in particular, many of the die hard fans have turned away. WWE has been unable to captivate them with newer stars after Austin, Rock, and Brock Lesnar left during 2004. While someone like John Cena draws well with younger fans, his fans are getting older too. I believe that once many younger fans hit High School, they trade in their Cena gear for something Mixed Martial Arts related. When stars like CM Punk during 2011 or Daniel Bryan this year get over naturally, the WWE has to push them. Otherwise, pushing other guys who aren't over like Del Rio or Orton causes no growth. Just look at how many times each guy has been champion and no results. When Punk won the WWE Title during 2011, viewership went up. After he got screwed at SummerSlam 2011, viewership dropped. Lost opportunity. With Daniel Bryan, they won't even let him hold the damn title for 24 hours.
20. The ratings system is completely outdated as it is. It's possible that more people may be watching than ever, but the measuring hasn't caught up with the technology. Personally, I catch some of the PPVs at a Buffalo Wild Wings, and there are a good 100 viewing the show, but that counts as one buy. Internet streamers don't help things, but with the cost of a show, can you really blame them? But they're more concerned about their social media score, especially when they can scapegoat someone for low ratings instead of consider changes. Now that we've covered where we are, let's spend the last third here establishing what needs to happen. How do they regain this lost generation, beyond Triple H picking favorites?
21. There were sports bars during the 1990's and WWE/WCW was especially strong among college campuses which would watch shows together. At peak levels, WWE was pulling about 7-8 million for RAW from the numbers I've seen, maybe more (counting wasn't as precise back then without digital boxes of today). At the very least, the WWE lost half of its audience. Streaming, legal or illegal, has minimal impact on the shows but has more of an effect on Pay Per Views due to cost. More homes, by far, have Cable television in them than they did during the peak 2000 year. Aside from the WWE's quality itself, it's Mixed Martial Arts as a viable alternative for teenage male viewers is what's killing the WWE long-term. WWE being stuck in the same Attitude Era business model of a live soap opera and the inability to replace Rock/Austin/Lesnar with more stars other than John Cena has harmed them. WWE currently has no real replacement for John Cena as the top drawing star. If he's hurt, they're screwed... But more than that, if the WWE can't make their product compelling or hip for teenage male viewers to watch in droves, WWE is in serious financial trouble in 10 years.
22. Is the way to go to treat it more like a legitimate sporting event? To me, one of the biggest things missing from that era is the sense of realism, no matter how ridiculous the storyline. That's why taking commercial breaks during matches destroys the suspension of disbelief. Imagine a football game going to commercial during a snap count. Most of us know it's not real, but I do miss letting myself forget that for a while.
23. I've said that for years now. The WWE especially needs to start portraying themselves more like a sport than entertainment. When they piss on the World Titles, US/IC Titles, and Tag Titles, they harm the product. After all, the WWE makes much of their money from Pay Per View events and live Houseshows. Those mostly contain straight up matches without any soap opera storylines you see on RAW or Smackdown. Unlike MMA, the WWE can control the finishes and how the matches flow. If they can improve the "sense of urgency" to win Titles in the WWE among all of the wrestlers, they have half of it figured out. The other half is cutting out the corny backstage segments. I actually liked what TNA was doing in making the camera appear as if it were snuck in... With the WWE backstage segments, it's quite blatant that everyone is playing along as if the camera man is not in there. If the WWE would actually announce RAW matches at least 1 week in advance, it could give fans something to look forward to. Agreed on the commercials thing, but the WWE is dependent on that money. One way they could lessen that is by allowing wrestlers to wear sponsors on their tights and putting sponsorships on the ring. Otherwise, the commercials interrupting matches must remain.
24. Dignity would be something that could counteract the negativity from the PG ERA. I'm definitely not one of those guys begging for the return of blood everywhere and the Attitude Era in general. Fans of that time have to understand the difference in the culture as a whole and why that television just had perfect timing. That's a great point about TNA and the camera. I think they could learn something from Ring of a Honor, not to mention other countries like Japan, about testing not only the titles but the matches themselves with a sense of class.
25. If the WWE just restored SOME credibility to their titles, they could be on their way... It's embarrassing what the WWE has done to the United States and Intercontinental Titles. The way Antonio Cesaro and Wade Barrett were jobbed out in many non-title matches were a joke. In the WWE today, everybody is treated as if they are a World Title contender even if you joined the WWE. The midcard titles are there for wrestlers to prove that they can be a viable champion before they even begin chasing a World Title. Rock, Austin, Cena, Triple H, and other top main eventers were midcard champions at least 1 year before they became champion. Once the WWE saw how over and respected they were as champion, they began the World Title chase. If you can draw as a midcard champion, then the World Title push begins. It's incredibly simple and the WWE has years upon years of video footage in their library to prove it. Oh, and finally... Either end the Brand Split by merging the titles or firmly put the Brand Split WALL back up. One combined roster or two separate rosters that never mix. This RAW Supershow stuff has been a complete disaster.
26. Agreed, and implementing one world champion again would be a good idea too. When you have two world champions on the same show, not only is it silly, not only does it diminish the meaning if the titles, but it makes no sense whatsoever. Two world champions were implemented when they were only on the same show on major Pay-Per-Views. It's a shame too... The size of their roster could benefit from some split exposure.
27. WWE has to do either one. Merge the titles and brands or get back into the Brand Split mode and honor it. Looking back on 2002-2005, that was a decent period of business for the WWE. Both brands were credible and they barely interacted with each other. Then, during 2005, John Cena was moved to RAW with the WWE Title. Smackdown has been the lesser brand (or farm system for RAW) ever since. Now with RAW Supershow, it's a joke. If you merge the rosters, you run the risk of Friday Smackdown becoming WCW Thunder, which it essentially is now with the rosters loosely merged. If they merged the rosters officially, WWE should just make Smackdown focused on wrestlers chasing the Intercontinental and World Tag Titles given SyFy Channel's lower amount of homes. What would you do with the Smackdown show if the rosters were merged to reduce fan burn out?
28. The last time I watched Smackdown, it was when The Rock appeared, and that was because I had free tickets. Besides that, I haven't watched it since about the time Cena came over. That's when it became RAW Rebound. If I could do something with the roster? I think making it a midcard show would be a Superstars-level disaster. It needs an exclusive roster, but also something that makes it unique, so that it isn't just RAW's bastard child. Not something silly like zombies, but maybe exclusive match types. I always loved the roster feuds too. That would at least breathe some life into a show cursed since being moved to Friday nights.
29. With RAW having 3 hours each week, it's quite brutal to watch an additional 2 and worse yet of you purchase the Pay Per Views. When you're working or have a family and Smackdown being on Friday night, it's difficult to watch. Alright Al Laiman... The last column, you attempted to be optimistic about the WWE based on SummerSlam. How are you feeling now with Daniel Bryan never receiving a WWE Title reign longer than 24 hours? With the WWE beginning to see regular viewership below 4 million, lower Pay Per View numbers, the failure to get WWE Network off the ground, and the rise in other entertainment competition like MMA fighting or many things available to watch on Cable TV or streamed internet... Where do you see the WWE and/or the pro wrestling industry in 10 years? Think about that in terms of the high probability that Vince McMahon is no longer running the WWE and anyone you see on the WWE or NXT roster who could replace John Cena or other current WWE wrestlers as the top draws.
30. I think there will always be a market for professional wrestling. It has a unique concept that combines different viewing experiences that can't really be duplicated. That's why I became a wrestling fan in the first place. That's why I wanted to become a wrestler. I wanted so desperately to remain optimistic, but recently I've just had such a hard time getting through big portions of the episodes. The stuff that's been good has been really good, but as I mentioned in most of this column, the other stuff has been driving me insane. I didn't even think about the generations that aren't being raised with it as the ones before it were. I never got into MMA, but I know that's a bigger thing than ever now and it can't be denied. The WWE has to figure out how to make their product worth buying, not just something to stream. They have to make it worth it to drop that kind of cash, and constantly relying on part-timers from the Attitude Era is not sustainable. The new generation has to emerge, and a company has to challenge WWE for prominence. Wrestling has been at its best with competition. I'd rather see a sense of urgency out of the business competition as opposed to a company in even more decline thinking that voting on the WWE App is the solution to their problems. So where do I see the future? I'm at a point where I really can't tell where it's going right now. I want pro wrestling to have a resurgence. I want matches that make me forget I'm watching something staged again and make me get lost in the suspension of disbelief. Who can the next big star be? I really don't know when the next Pipebomb is going to happen, but whoever does it in 2015, I sincerely hope Triple H doesn't become the guest referee for the main event. I've never gone from so hopeful to so jaded in such an amount of time. I once again reiterate that I want to enjoy this as much as I enjoy covering it, because I don't enjoy getting plagued into rants during a show. WrestleMania XXX is the last milestone event for a while. If they phone it in like they did for XXIX, who knows? Thank you Tito, for joining me once again. Maybe we'll have the trilogy in a few months.