Aug 1 - Reflections on WWF 2000
Reflections on WWF 2000
Midcard Gimmick Matches + Creative Complaints
In my continuing saga of rewatching old WWF events in chronological order, I’ve come to late 2000. I’ve blasted through No Mercy, and I noticed something from this era that is lacking from today’s superior WWE.
First, the PPV name No Mercy inevitably rings memories of the original international edition of the event (not the UK only one) where we had the Tag Team ladder match that catapulted Edge+Christian and the Hardy Boys. A throwaway angle between 2 teams that weren’t really in the mix of the tag titles had their 5th and last match booked for the PPV after 4 other TV bouts. Creative must have found a ladder backstage at a house show, and decided that it would fit in the penultimate match. WWE revisionist history would incorrectly educate you that t his match was well booked and developed. Nothing could be further from the truth. They had 2 teams without anything to do, so they had them do a best-of-5 series. It’s as simple as that. The legacy that follows this event is entirely dependent on the performance of the 4 men in the ring. Had these 2 teams faced off in a standard tag match, they may have never developed into the legends they became. Ladders may have been a contribution to ending Edge’s career, but they also made it, along with the 3 others sharing the ring that night.
The point is that during the Attitude Era, WWF was able to find several feuds to run at the same time, and even non-main event angles included some decent gimmick matches. It helped establish the participants as a bigger piece of the WWF puzzle.
The example that made me write this column was from the 2000 No Mercy, where X-Pac faced Chris Jericho. No titles were involved in this feud. Retrospectively, it’s easier to see that this was obviously another feud developed out of a creative team without ideas (“these two guys have nothing, let them feud again.”) At this time, Jericho was absolutely on the rise, and while X-Pac never had another truly memorable angle, it was during the time period when he was delivering in the ring more often than not. The matches these two had in the fall of 2000 weren’t mind blowing, but the encounter at Unforgiven of that year was strong enough that there was a rematch set for No Mercy inside of a Steel Cage.
This match isn’t ever going to be included in any Best-of collections - not Jericho’s, Waltman’s, a Steel Cage DVD, or No Mercy’s greatest hits. But a gimmick match is a subtle method for a wrestling promoter to draw your attention towards whatever is happening in the ring with those involved. The cage was a spotlight for Chris Jericho. Sure, he’d made impressions during his debut year in WWF, but it was really after the cage win where he was situated in the ring against true top talent.
Looking at today’s midcard, we can’t deny that there are not many angles that are developed into needing a cage. The closest would have been Wade Barrett vs The Miz from the Wrestlemania time frame, and that had a title to fight over. Sure, a steel cage IC title match on Raw would be been nice, or on PPV. But the end goal of that rivalry was to have Curtis Axel sneak away as new champion. Currently, Rhodes vs Sandow is being contested over the Money in the Bank contract, so there’s that gimmick added to the rivalry already.
It just feels like WWE keeps so many titles (including the briefcases) around because they don’t have the ability to create a feud for any other reason. There wasn’t much to Edge/Christian vs Hardys (at the time) or X-Pac vs Jericho, but somehow they made it work, and fit on PPV. Barring main event talent, we aren’t seeing too many matches on those monthly Sunday events where there is a simple grudge to settle. It’s for this reason I don’t mind the amount of titles. If I felt WWE had the ability to book without them, my story would be different. But having too many titles is the lesser of evils compared to having only 3 feuds going at any time on the minimum 5 hours of WWE TV I watch weekly.
The list of issues I can share with you concerning my complaints about the WWE creative team would last longer than a Mr. Tito rant to get obvious reads. I can tell from the emails and comments from my blogs that I am not alone. It’s very rare I hear “WWE creative is on top of their game 100%.” For every hot angle that kickstarts their momentum, there’s apparently 17 negatives to drag it down. In fact, I’m pretty sure the ratio of hot to cold angles is very much similar to the ratio of main event matches on a card to the midcard matches. Basically, WWE has lost touch on developing their midcard.
Tito made a few interesting points about how NXT rookies are presented on WWE TV. I am not going to agree or disagree. What I will say is that any problems that may or may not exist are in direct consequence of WWE Creative dropping the ball.
In my blogs and columns, I bring up how tag wrestling should be more prominent in WWE too much for my own liking. Sadly, it still bears repeating because tag teams have such a strong history of incorporating themselves into the midcard. While Bret and Shawn are the top names mentioned in terms of singles careers stemmed from a successful tag team, the list is even longer when considering any sort of singles impression. The Hardys won singles titles before they ever broke up, and it meld into their tag team dynamic. Or, consider how the Hardcore title helped tag members display more personality, like Crash Holly. The creative team would benefit from booking their guys in teams, because it gives someone they normally would have nothing for an opportunity to perform and display some personality. Once Crash showed his tenacity, he was a perfect fit for the Hardcore Title. He got over.
When WWE is listing the potential future superstars, I’m sure they are running out of space on the card for them. Wade Barrett is a tremendous example of someone you just know WWE is dying to get over. So why waste him to put over Cody Rhodes, when they could tag him up with someone? If Zeb Colter is welcoming of Antonio Cesaro into his stable, Barrett would be an even more important fit in the group, as he can do some talking on his own. He’s already pompous enough to fit in. And I can’t deny that his accent saying “we the people” would be funny on so many levels. I still say he and Cesaro as a team would have been a much better combination, but it’s never too late to move in that direction. Then again, another heel 3 man stable?
Back to the original point, the WWE attitude era was a period where they were much more able to develop face midcard stars. They weren’t afraid to let guys go out there and develop themselves. They paid more attention to reading the audience in this period, and I think they’ve suffered from ignoring some of the obvious cries since then. This isn’t about John Cena being turned heel. That might have in fact been the smartest time for WWE to ignore the fans. I will say “might”, because we’ll never be sure. But whenever someone starts to get over today, WWE are slow to ride the wave.
Take Fandango for instance. He was getting cheered, mostly as a fad from his theme song going huge. I understand the injury changed things up, but the fans were getting behind him. He had a woman with him who seems like the type that would be considered hot (I’m not a fan of her nose/face, but great body) which makes it easier for the males to cheer for. So why was he kept heel? He wasn’t even that well established as a villain, despite his antics with Jericho. It easily could have turned into Jericho giving the dancer respect, and giving him a rub in some tag matches.
Consider how Chris Benoit was treated at the tail end of 2000. After various main event matches, he was firmly wearing a black hat. Then when he won the Intercontinental Championship from Billy Gunn, he was cheered more than the defending champion. He worked a beautiful match against Jericho at Rumble 2001 in a performance that was aimed to keep the cheers going. By Wrestlemania, he was face. Vince heard the response the Crippler was earning, and worked with it. It led to a main event baby face run at the now heel Steve Austin only a few months later, and then ended due to injury. Who knows if Benoit would have been champion before Mania XX had his neck held up in 2001? The fans sure seemed to be pushing for it.
That’s why it’s so important that we take advantage of the opportunity Daniel Bryan is receiving at SummerSlam. It’s been too long since WWE took the voice of the Universe into consideration. They seem to feel that if they do huge moments like a Daniel Bryan title shot, or CM Punk’s WWE title reign, that we will forgive them for the pushes of Del Rio and Sheamus when the crowds are losing interest. Sorry WWE, it doesn’t work that way. Stop pushing these guys on Smackdown where you can pipe in reactions, and instead work on them so that they EARN reactions. They aren’t terrible or bad in any way, but they need work to reach the level WWE expects us to accept them.
There are ready made feuds available: Fandango vs R-Truth (dance off), Sheamus vs the Real Americans (US vs immigrant), Cody Rhodes vs Curtis Axel (2nd gen). Keep the titles out of it. People mock Edge vs Booker T starting over shampoo, but Jericho vs Kane from late 2000 was based off a cup of coffee, and it escalated into a real grudge. In fact, the story of their 2 PPVs matches that these two faced off in is how I suspect Punk vs Brock will be setup: heel beast wins clean, but the smaller face defies the odds in the rematch with more on the line in a brutal gimmick match.
The WWE has a stacked roster. That isn’t a problem. It’s what WWE is doing with them that causes the delays in finding new superstars.
And on that note, Peace out
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