Welcome back to another edition of Retroactive Reconstruction! Here we break down abortive, not-quite-there, or otherwise abysmal gimmicks that could've gotten over much more so than reality, as well as set things up for a future reconstruction. For the next week, we're looking at teams! Today, we look at a team that could best be described as "spirited."
…Have you ever wondered just what goes on inside the head of Vincent Kennedy McMahon? I mean, sincerely stopped to think about whatever makes the man tick. He's closing in on 70 years old now, and has put forth such a massive quantity of "creative" endeavors that it's hard to keep up. Grand conqueror of the territories, vanquisher of Eric Bischoff and WCW, founder of Wrestlemania and the only remaining game in town, a self-made millionaire or billionaire (depending on the mood of stockholders), and boasting a physique that is not fucking possible at his age without outside help. Whatever goes on between those ears of his, I think that it is safe to say that he's quite proud of his lot in life, and no doubt believes that the things that he has signed off on were great ideas in principle…it was just those morons other than him that caused things to fail.
For example, he fired his dentist for telling him that this was a bad idea.
…So that only makes me puzzle all the greater when I stare at a gimmick like this. I mean, what exactly was he thinking, here? Was this a secret in-joke, all done for his own personal amusement? Did he really think that this was something that was going to get over as a main-event group? Did he just not care anymore, as he was still mourning the retirement of Stone Cold Steve Austin and in turn the end of the Attitude Era and a golden age?
…Or, as I'm starting to think more and more as I dig through these discarded gimmicks throughout wrestling history, had he already started losing it so long ago?
I mean, how else do you sign off on the fucking SPIRIT SQUAD?
The Spirit Squad first started making headway in the WWE back in 2005-2006, mostly through house shows and dark matches. They finally made their TV debut on January 23, 2006, where they helped Jonathan Coachman to defeat Jerry Lawler in a Royal Rumble qualifying match by performing cheers to distract Lawler while encouraging Coachman. From that point on, they would show up from time to time cheering on other wrestlers on the roster.
They were Kenny, Johnny, Mitch, Mikey…and Nicky. Those are some of the most stereotypically white-sounding names that I'm in danger of my eyes rolling so far back into my head I can see my soul. They sound like a bunch of wannabe greasers from the background cast of Jersey Shore who'd be taunting Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons before they made it big. They were like a walking embodiment of an adrenaline shot, mixed with a sugar overdosage. And they were so…fucking…excitable. They treated every match, whether it was the lowest of house matches or the WWE Championship…like it was the WWE Championship. Their theme music sounded like a parody of upbeat marching band themes. Seriously, for god's sake, they were walking cartoon characters.
Shortly afterwards, they were inserted into the ongoing feud between Vince McMahon and Shawn Michaels, taking the side of the chairman McMahon. Naturally, being on the side of the villainous McMahon, they were ordered to take on Michaels in various handicap matches, as well as come up with disrespectful cheers against him. This would require Michaels to get some help to even the odds, but we're not spoiling that just yet, Cagesiders...
WHY IT WAS AWESOME
Somehow, those bastards could go in the ring. On April 3, 2006, Kenny and Mikey defeated Big Show and Kane to win the World Tag Team Championship. I'm still stunned that this happened, considering Kane and Big Show could've just grabbed them by the necks and squeezed until their faces were the same color of their tracksuits. Big deal though, Greco, you might be thinking. The Tag Team division isn't exactly a bastion of stability or prestige these days. What, did they hold it only for some better team to topple them later?
…They held the belts for 216 days. In addition to that tidbit, feast on this one: that was the longest title reign since another team held the belts from 1996-1997 for 241 days. Who were those previous titleholders who are so obviously above and beyond the Spirit Squad in every conceivable way that I know that you all are just waiting for me to show you a picture of them so you can shake your head and mutter "Seriously, Creative?"
Here, I'll do it with you: SERIOUSLY, CREATIVE???
Yep, apparently Vince was so sold on these guys that he felt they were good enough to be in the same discussion as Owen fucking Hart and the goddam British Bulldog for who was a better World Tag Team champion.
In addition to that, they dug up the old "Freebird Rule" and announced that the Spirit Squad would be able to defend their belts using any combination of two guys from the squad, so long as they were both part of the squad. (As a quick aside: I fucking love this rule and think that there should be more situations where this could be used. It gives an element of excitement and unpredictability to a match, as well as a cerebral quality. Do you overplan on two of the guys, skim the next two, and pray to god that the fifth one isn't in the ring against you? Or another combination? See? Endless possibilities!)
Their tag team run was, as much as I hate to say it, pretty darn competitive. If nothing else, the Spirit Squad put their belts on the line (C'mon, Dean Ambrose. Get on their level! But, ah, don't rearrange my face please…)
They beat teams like Jim Duggan and Eugene (don't make an intelligence joke, folks.), Charlie Haas and Viscera, and Snitsky and Val Venis. They had an actual feud with the Highlanders, and beat those Scotsmen at the Unforgiven Pay-per-View in 2006.
The only other real awesome moment related to the Spirit Squad isn't even something that they did. Rather, it is something that they forced someone else to do.
Yup, they (along with Jerry Lawler being ridiculously heelish) pushed Joey Styles to the breaking point with their inanity, and in response he gave us his legendary worked shoot promo. Say what you will, but you have to acknowledge everyone's role in the launching of a moment that will be remembered for a long time. Hell, if it wasn't for Jake Roberts' conversion to Christianity (nothing to be mocked about in real life, he seems to be serious about it), Austin 3:16 wouldn't have happened. If it wasn't for, glad-handed, nonsensical, yes-men douchebags like John Laurinaitis, the Pipe Bomb would never have happened. By that same token, if it wasn't for the Spirit Squad going heel and threatening Joey Styles to call matches with more "spirit" or else they'd make him wear a female cheerleading uniform when he called RAW matches, we wouldn't have gotten this promo.
But those successes were only tepid, compared to the beatdown that this team received and that I'm about to deliver with this next segment. Remember when I said that they were feuding with Shawn Michaels? Well, what on earth would Shawn Michaels do if he were faced with impossible odds and needed to call a few friends?
WHAT KILLED THE GIMMICK
Based on my "expert" analysis, there were three major things that killed the gimmick.
First, their attitude.
See, watching Spirit Squad interactions are really, really hokey. Like, completely and totally insincere-sounding. An act, if you will. They're Bo Dallas before he became BO DALLAS.
Even he looks unsure about whether they can succeed by Bolieving.
The main problem here is that they're taking this way too seriously, and this is not a gimmick to be taken seriously. Especially not in the 21st century, when we started getting interested in more complex characters in our fiction. (Though we were a few years away from craving and demanding it a la Mad Men and Breaking Bad, among other things.) Therefore, if you act like an old-school hokey PSA on friendship and don't make an effort to at least wink-wink-nudge-nudge the audience to what you're doing…well, this is a crowd that's only just removed from the Attitude Era and still appreciates the Ruthless Aggression Era. They'll boo your ass out of the building.
Second, poorly thought-out future plans.
Okay, so it's a fair thought for the WWE to try pulling a Rockers and break up the Spirit Squad so that they can push a bunch of singles stars.
Here's the problem, though. The Spirit Squad is a gimmick that can't be washed away by a superstar that doesn't go for a repackaged gimmick.
As time went on, one could sense that the Spirit Squad was an effort to push their leader, Kenny, as a future singles competitor. The only problem was that nobody wanted to see "Kenny" in the main event. I put "Kenny" in quotation marks because the worker behind it was pretty good, and probably would've had a better shot if he went back down to developmental afterwards for some tinkering. Remember: this guy...
…turned himself into this guy.
Sure, the smirk is there and the general air of "I'm totally stealing and doing your girlfriend tonight and there isn't a damned thing you can do to stop me" is thick with this guy, but the difference between Nicky and DOLPH ZIGGLER are quite apparent. Nicky is a comedy jobber. Dolph Ziggler could be a main event player and you wouldn't bat an eye. (*Ahem*, Creative?)
Looks like a quirky upper-midcarder. But not a main event star. I don't know what Vince McMahon was thinking, really. And I really don't know what Creative was thinking when they decided...
Third, they feuded with D-Generation X.
Do I even have to make fun of this?
Seriously? You're seriously going to send a bunch of newbie wrestlers against one of the most famous stables of all time, a legendary stable known for their Jackass-style pranks, a phenomenal group that features two of the greatest singles stars of all time in Shawn Michaels and yes even Triple H…and you don't expect the newbies to get fucking annihilated? For Mick Foley's sake, just watch this clip!
In less than one minute, Shawn Michaels and Triple H reduced the Spirit Squad to a doddering bunch of Saturday Morning cartoon villains; the kind that aren't even interesting enough to be the main villain of the show. I laughed so hard at this, because it's legitimately slapstick hilarity, but I'd be lying if I said this wasn't a burial.
Because in one fell swoop, you're being told "See? These pansy-ass male cheerleaders aren't to be taken seriously. Shawn and Trips have this down pat."
It doesn't matter that the Spirit Squad might have gotten the upper hand on Trips or Shawn a few times in the past: D-X is going to not just beat them, but humiliate them in the process.
In fact, what the fuck am I doing here talking about it? Let me just show you what I mean. You all KNOW what's coming.
Unless you've got some damn popular heels that aren't hated for their filthy rotten guts, or new Faces that are capable of getting over with the crowd…if you throw them to D-X, they're gonna get ripped apart. It's the law of the jungle.
Maybe it shouldn't be considered too much of a surprise that the Spirit Squad disappeared after a year, and that of everyone on that stable the only one remaining in the WWE is Nicky, aka Dolph Ziggler.
This is a surprisingly easy one, considering the takedown I've thrown at this stable. But the fix is pretty manageable.
If you were going to bring this gimmick back, you'd have to bring in all of the stable members beforehand and tell them "For God's sake, don't take this seriously. Be hokey, be insincere, but do not act like you really mean what you're saying you mean."
It is through willpower not known to the gods that I resist the urge to punch his face in.
Think about it. A bunch of teamwork-approving, hard work-oriented, and all-around goody-goodies dithering around, without the level of seriousness that the original Spirit Squad had? Who you just know are completely insincere about it? You might actually enjoy seeing them on your TV screen. With that in mind, the futures of those guys are protected if they ever decide to break it out on their own, because the whole "I want to show the world who I really am!" mentality is always good television, and you could use that as a catalyst to get away from the Spirit Squad.
What I'm saying is keep them as insincere Heels, like Bo Dallas or Dude Love's faux-face actions. That way they generate a safe kind of heat that keeps them entertaining and not something to be banished to the pits of WWE purgatory like poor JTG.
We'll keep the Freebird Rule in effect for them, because that adds interest. Try to mix up their styles, though. Not all flying and leaping guys; maybe a submission expert here or a big bruiser there. So opponents are flummoxed and the Spirit Squad actually can win matches. That way, they avoid the dreaded 3MB knock-off accusations.
Finally, for fuck's sake keep them away from a powerhouse faction until you can see that they are able to hang with the big boys. That means no initial run with D-X. Have them exist as a long-term team for hire, and then let Mr. McMahon hire them. Besides, what's so bad about Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon stretching out a feud?
You do this, and maybe we have ourselves a legit guilty pleasure heel team that traipses around the mid-card, and who can provide us some serious mid card humor without resorting to shaving the hair of a dwarf because Vince McMahon, in addition to possessing a multitude of poor ideas, has a terrible fucking sense of humor.
What do you guys think? Is the Spirit Squad savable? Or are they just too silly to come back? Think that I missed something, or have a better suggestion? Let me know in the comments below! In addition, here are the other RR posts in the series.
Stop by for the next one, where we analyze a team that really knows how to do their…JOB.
See you next time!