Things WWE Should Learn From Raw on April 8th
A week after the last Raw, controversy is still riding the aftershock of Wrestlemania 29, with a huge story being the live audience. Now, the crowd was definitely out for themselves, similar to how TNA Impact Zone fans, or old ECW audiences, seemed to act. And for many, it came off poorly. Maybe it's my general reaction to take things calmly, and understand perspective better, but the crowd didn't bother me in the slightest. I know damn well I would have been a part of almost every chant, because anyone who has attended a WWE event knows the fun being a part of the live audience brings. It's why in 2003, 7 years after the Montreal Screwjob, and 7 years to come to terms with the actions of Bret, Vince, and Shawn Michaels (and understanding that that Shawn has zero fault in the incident), I was still chanting “You Screwed Bret” when he showed up during No Way Out (and several other TV events held in Montreal). Shawn didn't take Montreal crowds very seriously, and I didn't take the Izod Center's reaction too seriously. Smark or mark, there was an arena of people looking to have fun.
The problem is that many of the fans weren't enjoying the WWE product. Not only during Raw, but even more importantly from the night before at Wrestlemania. As someone who has spent the time and money to make the extensive trip to Wrestlemania on two occasions (22 and 24), I can definitely sympathize with fans who were disappointed with not getting their money's worth. I didn't pay to watch Wrestlemania 29, but the event wasn't worth the eventual price of the DVD purchase, nevermind the price of travel, airfare, and event tickets. Mania showcased the finales of 3 feuds that didn't seem to captivate a serious portion of the audience, using only standard crowd pleasing results. It was the type of card that would have passed off as basic in the 80s, with Hogan overcoming the odds against his giant opponent (King Kong Bundy, Andre the Giant, Big Bossman, Earthquake...etc.)
But in 2013, not everyone bought into the 3 faces in the main events to overcome the odds to defeat their rivals. There are several reasons why, but at this point, it doesn't matter. This is because WWE took a beating last Monday from jaded fans who had no problem using volume to get their message across. The question now is if WWE was listening. So, here's a list of things WWE should learn from Raw on April 8th.
The build up to Wrestlemania 29 was met with controversy over the level of surprises we were seeing. One side played the card that the results from Mania 29 were entirely too foreseeable. Meanwhile others said that giving a satisfying ending to these stock storylines, no matter how expected they were, is the right move.
As pretty much always, the answer is/was somewhere in the middle. If every Wrestlemania match led to a shocking result, the excitement would die quickly. The reviews for Wrestlemania 29 in general show that most found it mediocre with no shocks or stand out “Wrestlemania moments.” I think it was planned or at least fitting that when Dolph Ziggler did his post match interview with Josh Matthews, his most prominent line was how this was his Wrestlemania moment.
That is telling, because no matter what WWE thought of their premiere event of the year, the signs show that they feel there wasn't a real Wrestlemania moment to be found on Sunday, and instead attempted to load Raw with a few extra. In my opinion, the Ryback attack on Cena to end Monday's show was not planned out ahead of time. The Mark Henry win over the former Skip Sheffield was a sign that the angle between those two was to continue. No matter why they changed up the script, the sudden shock was needed to shake up the post-Mania season, and they chose the possible heel turn by Ryback (he might still be face or tweener). Had the original plan been to build up Cena vs Ryback, I believe the result from the match with Mark Henry would have been much different on the Pay Per View, giving Ryback some momentum towards a match with the new WWE Champion. For those who haven't noticed, Ryback has not won a PPV match since ending his undefeated streak in October.
Now, in a quick side note, Ryback's poor win/loss record recently proves that you don't need to have a tremendous winning streak to be credible main eventer. He's lost several matches, but the crowd still bought into the fact that Ryback has the potential to destroy John Cena.
Monday succeeded in bringing some excitement to WWE in terms of delivering some shocks. Now, I do think it was an overload of new twists and turns for a standard Raw, but not for a post-Mania Raw (especially Mania 29 which is widely considered to be lacking of startling moments). Expectations are very high for Wrestlemania season, and they delivered (finally) at the last minute. With 2 giant twists last Monday, WWE needs to now concentrate on how to continue the storylines for Dolph Ziggler as World Heavyweight Champion, and for Ryback in his quest for the WWE Title against John Cena. I'm much more excited for tonight's Raw than I was for last Monday's, and it's all thanks to how WWE switched gears when I wasn't expecting it.
One thing lacking from the Road to Wrestlemania was fun. I understand we need a no-nonsense side of things, especially when trying to convey how serious these storylines and angles were. But a major reason Raw worked on a level that Wrestlemania didn't was the sense of enjoyment portrayed by everyone: the fans, the commentators, and the performers. John Cena's promo to start the show was one of his better ones in a long time. Usually when he's goofy it's hit or miss, but he was hitting on all cylinders for the first 10 minutes last week. The “heel turn” dance gag was met with not just a strong response, but respect. The audience members who are bored by Cena's antics changed their attitudes on a dime when Cena played to their emotions. I will admit, I didn't get it at first. I was the guy at the comedy club who started laughing after the riot died down, and said to himself “now I get it.” I think a big part of the reason I was slow to the punch was because I wasn't looking for the heel turn as much as others. John Cena can work well as a face, and I'll be fine if WWE makes his run as WWE Champion work. There are a few ways to achieve this, but a prime one is allow him to be fun again.
John Cena's success in 2003-2005 to win over the WWE Universe was brought with a mixture of serious ass kicking attitude, and a sense of fun we hadn't seen since Mick Foley or the Rock. This is a true reason for his ascension, as he can be stern, he can play the goofball, he can wrestle a great match, and he can be the top guy by using all those talents. The problem is that his goofy side became childish, and failed to truly catch on in the same way it used to, similar to how many felt the DX reunion in 2006-2009 failed. It wasn't edgy, nor fun. It all fell flat.
John Cena had fun on Monday. So did Dolph, but in a different way. That all translated to the screen, and obviously to the crowd. Keep it up, WWE. All 3 hours can't be serious, nor can it be over the top. Balance needs to be found, and last week's Raw found it.
Cena needs a Foil
I want to give credit to LOPforums staff member TeamFarrell, A.K.A. COACH, for this one. While it's been on the tip of my tongue for years, he said it succinctly. John Cena always works best when his back is against the wall. He needs an opponent that makes the audience believe he might actually lose. Ryback's turn was believable, because there is doubt that Cena can overcome this machine.
Looking back through Cena's best feuds/angles/periods, it's when we honestly didn't know if he would win or not when we seemed to be the most entertained. Sure, Rock vs Cena II was portrayed around John doing the impossible, but most of us knew better. But it wasn't long ago when we weren't certain of his pending victory, like when he took on the Big Show the first time (2004), Kurt Angle (2005), HHH and RVD/ECW (2006), HBK (2007), Batista the first time (2008), Randy Orton the second time (2009), The Nexus/Wade Barrett (2010), CM Punk (2011), and finally The Rock and Brock Lesnar (2012). No matter what the results of these rivalries, they were entertaining for at least a moment when the certainty of a Cena win was not so certain.
Out of all these successful storylines, the cream of the crop were the extended feuds where the opponent was treated and portrayed as an equal. Or to be more precise, the ones where the WWE Universe bought into the opponent being an equal. Ryback has the potential to allow WWE to work this angle into a major and successful storyline. Cena needs to look vulnerable, and Ryback needs to be threatening. You'd think this would be a simple formula for WWE to figure out, but history shows they've had trouble over the last couple of years getting Cena involved in something fresh.
Rethink how they develop and book Face stars
Many seemed annoyed with the fact that the match where the live Raw audience was at their most raucous was between two of the hottest stars in the company. Sheamus and Randy Orton are 2 men WWE have been hoping to possibly take the John Cena mantle, so many fans think they are above scrutiny. Obviously this is complete bullshit.
I posted this on LOPforums:
The reasons the crowd shit on Sheamus vs Orton are many. First, the setup was confusing. Maybe it was the supposed creative chaos [behind the scenes], but the segments backstage between the two didn't explain why they were angry very well. Then a match was booked last minute in a poor RawActive decision [poll winner vs Big Show]. Then the result of the vote was ignored, and we were given another match entirely [Sheamus vs Orton]. It was a match deserving to be on PPV, but was instead on free TV at the last minute. When you rush something like this, you don't get the power of "oh wow, this is an important main event quality match," you get the feeling "this is a joke, right?” At least I did. I wasn't interested in the match, even though I like both guys.
This is where the smarks come in. Sheamus is [decently] over as a face, but there's a [also] decent sized vocal minority who wish he were still heel, or haven't cared about his silly Irishman face character. Nothing wrong with that. Orton on the other hand has been somewhat poorly booked since his return from suspension [last July]. I am not that smarky, and I didn't care for the match. The setup/build up was poor, and the characters/booking has been poor. These 2 guys are best as vicious angry men, and they have spent the last few months playing to the crowd. It's odd. Add in a Wrestlemania that was mediocre at best.
Also, remember, these aren't all NJ/NY natives, but people who paid thousands of dollars to travel watch the biggest weekend of wrestling, and possibly felt disappointed by Mania. They wanted to have fun, so they did. It might have been at the expense of the wrong guys in your eyes, but they didn't do it during the 6 man tag. Think about that. 15-20 thousand people preferred shitting on Orton/Sheamus, rather than 3MB vs Satino/Ryder/Truth. I think it should show WWE to work on what they are doing with Sheamus/Orton.
Now, I want to be clear that I don't have much of a problem with how each guy is being used on WWE TV these days. I don't think each top star needs to be receiving prime focus 100% of the time. The possibility of Orton returning to a title contender position is exciting at this time because it's been so long since we saw him at such a level, especially on Raw over the WWE Championship. The layoff from being in such a peak standing on the roster has killed a lot of what makes other stars stale from overexposure. Sheamus is at a similar point, in that being mostly on Smackdown and fighting over the World Title for over a year is making his possible return to being a challenger for the WWE Title on Raw a fresh option. This is what I am concentrating on, and am therefore interested in this storyline with the Big Show, and where it may go.
But, many fans are losing interest in both stars for a variety of reasons. With Sheamus, the common complaints are how his character has been stripped down to a shell of his former shell. No other star on the WWE roster is being booked as similarly to John Cena as Sheamus. No wonder the same fans who aren't happy with Cena aren't happy with Sheamus.
Too many smiles, not enough limes.
I understand the reasons for WWE doing this, as Sheamus is reaching to a wider market. I can forgive it, because in most cases, he delivers in the departments WWE allows him to. On the other hand, as you could tell from Raw, not every fan is as forgiving. He's been very very bland. He hasn't had any real reason to be cheered in a while, he just takes on heel wrestlers, and disappears.
Meanwhile, Randy Orton can't seem to catch a break. He apparently has been wanting to turn heel for a while, and that hasn't happened. Now, the suspension is obviously a giant reason for his name being removed from anything of importance since being World champion in 2011. It's also delayed his heel turn, most likely. And because we've been hearing these rumors for so long, the predictions for anything Orton is involved in are nothing but “heel turn” discussions. So when he's playing to the crowd like he is Tito Santana from 1988, some people are going to tune out.
All this is to show that WWE have lost touch with what types of fan favorites catch on. John Cena is in a strange position of being a polarizing character getting mixed reactions no matter how popular he is and on top, but there's no sense in having WWE look for the exact same chemistry with other guys. Sheamus was catching on early after turning face in 2011, until he ran into Daniel Bryan. The struggle since then might be the Irishman's fault, though I blame WWE more. It doesn't matter though, because something needs to change. If Kofi Kingston gets a main event push, the same lack of appeal due to being a little too “Rocky Maivia” is going to follow. Rocky sucked, but the Rock was a hit. Let these guys grow on their own, and give them some freedom. Orton works well, even without his mass appeal. He doesn't need to kiss babies to stay over as a face. Rey Mysterio can pull that off, but not 6 and a half foot tall beasts.
I don't think anyone could have predicted the former Johnny Curtis would be the top story after Wrestlemania, reaching mainstream success with online videos of the dance, his theme being a hit on iTunes in the US and UK, and being the newest craze for the live audience at a WWE event. Now that it's a hit, WWE is going to fuck it up.
There's a track record to prove that the next thing Vince will do with Fandango is overdo it. I hope they don't overpush him, because while these acts are catching on, it doesn't mean his character is as over. He's going to benfit from this new attention, no doubt. But it's obviously a fad, so now WWE needs to make sure the dancing craze dies out, but the Fandango character stays relevant. Slow it down, and let the angle with Jericho flesh out however they planned before Wrestlemania (with the Fozzy schedule, I'm not sure what the extended goal is/was). Improper treatment of the Fandango-mania could turn him into Zack Ryder, and no one wants that. Johnny Curtis is a solid worker, and therefore deserves this push more than Ryder ever did.
I think this goes back to the Fun aspect I called for a couple of chapters above, but Fandango seems to be bringing a level of fun that can be decent in the midcard. If this craze continues, he could end up turning face sooner rather than later. If this is the case, both current midcard champions would be tremendous opponents going into the summer. If he stays heel, expect him to gain momentum slowly by following up the Jericho storyline with something against R-Truth or Tons of Funk. All 3 of these men can work the dance side of the angle with their own characters. In the end, Fandango will go over, no doubt. If he is the Vince McMahon pet project that we are told by newswriters online, don't expect his push to peter out anytime soon. My fear is that they overdo it.
And on that note, Peace out
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