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Posted in: In Laiman's Terms
IN LAIMAN'S TERMS #312 - WWE's Missed Opportunities, Almost-Weres, and What Wrestling Can Be
By Marissa Laiman
Aug 10, 2017 - 4:14:24 PM

Posted by Ris Laiman on Tuesday, May 2, 2017


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IN LAIMAN'S TERMS #312 - WWE's Missed Opportunities, Almost-Weres, and What Wrestling Can Be

My husband is seven years younger than I am.

Sometimes that doesn't seem like a lot, and it has never affected us negatively in any grand sense throughout our relationship and marriage. However, over the last few days, I've been realizing just how much context he has missed, in comparison to having twenty years of wrestling fan experience. I'm sure those who have been watching longer feel the exact same way, so I'm hoping this will be a relatable piece. A combination of that and a recent WhatCulture WWE top ten video got me to thinking, as I relive some of these moments where I show Aiden what wrestling can be at times, just how many missed opportunities lay left behind in its wake. I obviously can't speak to any before my time, and these are only my personal choices on which I've reflected as of late, as I've used the WWE Network to introduce Aiden to events that happened even a few years ago that he missed by only getting into wrestling once he started dating me.

If you have any, from any era or promotion, do feel free to share. This is by no means a complete or ranked list.

The End of an Era match at WrestleMania 28 should've ended an era

Triple H, Undertaker, and Shawn Michaels had one of the greatest last hurrahs ever seen, and it went down at WrestleMania, where all three had established reputations of some form or another. The Undertaker won his 20th match at WrestleMania, HBK counted the fall, and Triple H took him to his limit in some of the closest of close falls ever caught on wrestling film.

In retrospect, wouldn't it have been better if it truly was the end of an era here?

The same thing can be said about WrestleMania 30, and that's a different column for a different time. I've written extensively about how at the time it felt like that. I even wrote a column after that show marking what I finally thought was changing of the guard, but it turned out not to be. As I said though, a different column.

The Undertaker, for the two matches with Triple H at 27 and 28 respectively, changed his moniker a bit to resemble "The Last Outlaw." A slight modification from the Deadman, the cowboy hat and John Wayne-like aura he had was that of a different time, where only he remained as a relic. Triple H, as we all know, would soon become involved in creating a brand and experiencing the business from that perspective. Shawn Michaels had been retired at WrestleMania 26.

At the end of the match, the three walked out, arms-in-arms, together. What better sendoff could they have possibly gotten? Would our memories of them have been altered at all if Taker hadn't hung around to make us fear for his safety in matches with Brock Lesnar? Would things be different if Triple H hadn't returned to face Roman Reigns or Crossfit Jesus? Not to take away from any of the matches that have transpired since WrestleMania 28, but at a moment where they had the opportunity to truly mark the end of an era, for whatever reason, they were reluctant to let go.

For one night, The Nexus reminded us what an unpredictable event could feel like

In 2010, all members of the first version of NXT surrounded John Cena and CM Punk in the ring, and resembled an invasion better than anything post-Invasion PPV in the WWE's invasion ever did. For one night, lost wrestling fans were drawn back by something unpredictable, shocking, and exciting. The potential for a bunch of rookies to band together, becoming frustrated with being forced to participate in the joke of a reality show that NXT was, it was squandered by immediately firing Daniel Bryan for a tie, and squashing the aura and presence of the Nexus by having them lose at Summerslam. Things being ruined at Summerslam may or may not be a running theme here, stay tuned.

The angle was ruined within two months, but for one incredibly shocking night, The Nexus took the wrestling world completely by surprise. Rewatching this yesterday, it was not only vicious and shocking, but almost uncomfortable. The Shield managed to carry this idea much longer as a smaller stable several years later, but think of how many stars could've been made with follow-up that didn't disappoint.

Injuries and Katie Vick prevented Kane from finally becoming a true main eventer again

Everyone knows my bias for Kane by now. His run in the late 90s was something of legend, mystique, and catharsis for me.

However, with one promo involving The Rock and Triple H, as well as a few Chef Boyardee and Stacker 2 commercials and an appearance on Deal or No Deal, the character of Kane evolved into an entertaining, comedic presence without taking away from his ring character or abilities. Busting out in Hulk Hogan impressions, singing karaoke and chasing a Happy Gilmore-like heckler, a Kane-aroonie... Complete with a legendary return in 2002 to save an American flag from being burned, Kane was insanely over going into his feud with Triple H as Intercontinental and tag team champion. He'd gone from the silent, morbid demon to a big red machine that caught on with the crowds and gave Glen Jacobs the opportunity to use some of that charisma that was hidden under the mask for so long.

Then, a certain segment involving a teenage love interest reared its head. Combined with the injury that killed the momentum in its tracks earlier that year, it saw the Big Red Freak (and freaks are cool!) return to being an upper midcarder, putting over younger talents, and never quite recapturing what once was. It's hard, as a Kane supermark, to not wonder what could've been if an idea that was DOA at best and incredibly offensive and humiliating at worst was stopped before it aired.

The Summer of Punk can't avoid staying the course

Much like the previous year with the Nexus invasion taking everyone by surprise, CM Punk's Pipebomb promo was six minutes of going from main eventer to true star with some well-placed, real-feeling words. For the next few weeks, Punk would speak of the business, Vince McMahon, John Cena, and others like no one had for years. When he left after winning the title, it felt legitimate, as he appeared on the independent circuit with the title belt and WWE seemed to move on by having a title tournament.

First, Punk returned after only about two weeks... to a massive and amazing pop with the WWE debut of "Cult of Personality" in its own respect... But then, WWE showed what can happen when you don't adapt to what the crowd responds to and stay the course. WWE went through with having Kevin Nash attack CM Punk for reasons that were never really clear, and insist on having Alberto Del Rio cash in because Tour of Mexico and all. That moment where CM Punk won at Summerslam over John Cena, before anyone else got involved, saw a moment where a new star was made. At a time where John Cena seemed unequaled and omnipresent at the top of the card, the fans were desperate for an alternative.

WWE stayed the course instead of going with what was working, and that similar mindset prevailed for several years as of late, insistent on making Roman Reigns that star, even if they have to alienate every last one of the fans to do it. An interview with Triple H about NXT speaks volumes, where he explained that he doesn't necessarily get why certain things don't work, but they just go with it. I'm paraphrasing on memory, of course, but the main shows seem relatively insistent on doing what they've had planned, no matter what the response is. They'd rather mute the microphones to keep Roman from being booed out of the building than call an audible. Is it fair? Maybe, maybe not, but it doesn't change a good three years of staying the course any more than it did in 2011. Sacrificing an incredible angle that nobody saw coming in order to perhaps draw better on a tour simmered what had been an amazing few months of wrestling television.

But what is it we didn't already know, Sean?

Remember when Sean O'Haire suddenly changed his appearance and started speaking in strange vignettes about things we didn't already know? A Devil's Advocate persona, he seemed to adopt, convincing Brian Kendrick to streak to the ring, among other things. For some reason, almost immediately, he was relegated to pairing with a returning Roddy Piper in the Mr. America angle, and everything in that ridiculous nonsense died almost immediately.

There are so many characters that had a presence upon their debut, but were immediately pushed aside, run off, altered, or otherwise disappeared for various reasons. Then, there are other characters that get eyes rolling almost immediately and don't seem to go away ever. I used to base my thoughts on the IWC much more than I do now, but even if that was an unfair representation of wrestling thoughts and opinions, the crowd response seemed to mirror it.

But for a few weeks at least, Sean O'Haire seemed to go from somewhat-forgettable half of a tag team brought in from WCW to something unique, different, and entertaining. Then it was forgotten almost immediately.

WCW, ECW, NXT, and the creation of separate brands

Perhaps ECW being the most notable of the three, WWE has made many attempts to create a marketable third brand that gave an alternative style within the same company. I was there in Philadelphia when that was going on, and the potential of bringing back a Paul Heyman-run ECW under their watch had a ton of potential. Having an alternative that gave the same fanbase different options isn't a bad idea, as the second-coming of NXT has proven sufficiently, but the appearance of the Zombie and other nonsense on the first episode gave us all the impression of what the brass really thought of ECW.

Within weeks, Paul's segments produced on the show were all but gone, and the abomination that would make a Shockmaster/Yeti WrestleMania headlining main event seem good by comparison debuted called December to Dismember. That remains unforgettable in all the worst ways.

People refuse to stop cheering for Daniel Bryan

Summerslam, once again we see you involved here.

After Daniel Bryan lost in 18 seconds at WrestleMania to Sheamus, the post-WrestleMania crowd drowned the man out in YES! chants as he stared down Kofi Kingston. WWE then did all they could to get those chants to go away, to get Daniel Bryan's popularity to alter, but nobody would listen. They refused to accept a Royal Rumble that saw a blown-up Batista heave his way to a finish, and booed Rey Mysterio like he'd been solely responsible for having the nerve to enter number 30 and not be named Daniel Bryan. The next year, after some of this was of course rectified, Bryan got tossed out unceremoniously in a Rumble that seemed like a 30-man middle finger to fans, and as Bryan stared back into the ring, Goldust entered with his "shattered dreams" Titan Tron on full display behind him.

WWE changed their plans this time, and it seems like they've regretted it since. The Bryan/Wyatt angle was rushed through as Bryan's attack of Wyatt in the cell brought about crowd reactions that were long since thought left to the Attitude Era. His triumph at WrestleMania, and the subsequent story of Connor the Crusher, cemented Bryan as one of the most unforgettable stars and moments in recent wrestling history.

Then he got hurt. Then he was relegated to the Intercontinental title. Then he had to retire. Now, still as Smackdown GM, he gets a better reaction than 95 percent of the roster at least. There's still a part of me that hopes Miz's angle with him and his lifting of Bryan's kicks and taunts will lead to something, and we'll get a chance to relive that magic.

Summerslam prior to that Rumble, Daniel Bryan went over John Cena cleanly, and then Triple H turned on him and had Randy Orton cash in. Thus began a systematic attempted destruction of the character, calling him a B-plus wrestler, having Triple H and Stephanie berate him publicly and constantly, and all the attempts to do everything they could to derail what the fans wanted to see. Granted, it got us the amazing run post-Rumble that Bryan got that truly paid off, but what is it about the last few years that reeks of rejection of what the fans like for the best laid plans?

I don't pretend to know what the best laid plans are, or have inside knowledge of what caused these events. What I do know is that reliving some of them through my husband's eyes has led me to wonder how many great things could've been if they hadn't been screwed up or crushed by what they already wanted to do? Tito has written about that a lot, and the numbers speak for themselves. The periods where interest was captured beyond the loyal fanbase, WWE's booking and programming seems almost resentful of whatever that is, because it's not the one they wanted.

I can't tell you how many comments I get that "WWE is trolling the fans" with Roman Reigns or other moments that have occurred, and it's hard to argue. Like someone pulling the strings is going, "Oh, here's something you might like. is that what you want? Here it is... nope, psych! What, you don't actually believe that rhetoric about the show being for and about the WWE Universe, do you?"

This isn't also to blanket NXT with praise, as it has its own issues, but being in touch with what the fans want and going with it seems to be better than trolling them and telling them what it is they really want. But, that could be just me. I love wrestling, and I especially love what it can be when it is at its absolute best. That's why we're here, right?

But so often, I get comments like "if you don't like it, why watch?" Because I want to like it. Because I want it to be better. Because there's nothing like it when it's executed to perfection on the highest level. I don't hate the WWE, I love it, obviously. Even my attempts to watch alternative products haven't led me astray for any significant amount of time. I want this to succeed, and I want to see upticks in wrestling interest, not the continued dissolution of it. My hopes aren't high though, and I think Tito agrees with me on that. We'll be posting our somewhat-annual State of the WWE column sometime before Summerslam, and I hope we see a change in the way things are going.

I can't say I have my hopes too high though. At least the Network, YouTube, and Blumpy's videos allow me to remember why I have them in the first place though. And that's something. Perhaps I'm like comedian Mike Polk, Jr, standing outside Cleveland Browns Stadium over five years ago and yelling at the dumpster fire of a franchise in hopes of change. A "Factory of Sadness" if you will. Thankfully, that brand righted itself and has seen nothing but growth and success since... right? Aye, at least dumpster fire became a chant on Smackdown this week. That's almost the same thing.

See ya Monday.

Marissa Laiman, In Laiman’s Terms, and Inciting Incident are owned by It’s a Shameful Thing, Lobsterhead, LLC. Copyright 2016. All rights reserved. For media or inquiries, please contact patorrez@patorrez.com.

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