Welcome to Number 7 of these articles about wrestling infamy! Today we look at why announcers should be heard and not seen.
If one was to point at a time after the Monday Night Wars that the WWE looked to be in the most trouble, you'd have to be hard pressed to go past Late 2010 to Early 2011. Don't get me wrong- the WWE was not going to fold or anything, but compared to the excitement that is around the company now there seemed to be a distinct lack of up and comers. The prospects of NXT were still not quite bearing fruit, the Summer of Punk had not occurred, and guys like Sheamus and Del Rio were not seen as proper main eventers. Add to that the removal of HBK, the Undertaker and Triple H from the full time roster as well as the growing hostility towards John Cena and one could understand if Vince was a little indecisive about his card.
So why did he throw caution to the wind and allow the following to happen is anyone's guess...
Throughout late 2010, Michael Cole had begun to move towards a heel turn, showing disdain for internet darlings like Daniel Bryan while sucking up to heel wrestlers- in particular WWE Champion the Miz. I won't go into the perils of having a heel play by play commentator but suffice to say it made for awful television- with Cole burying the babyfaces and making the heels seem less legit by having a non-wrestler who knew very little about wrestling manoeuvres toadying up to them.
Cole's announcing colleague, Jerry Lawler, on the other hand had always been pining for his Wrestlemania moment. A great of the territory days, 'the King' never had the chance to show what he could do on the Grandest Stage of Them All. The Anonymous General Manager at the time (this in itself shows how little trust Vince had in his current roster- his on air authority figure was, in essence, a laptop) granted him a match on WWE Championship Match on Raw in November 2010, to which Cole interfered in. After Lawler failed to get the job done at the 2011 Elimination Chamber, Cole mocked Lawler for failing to achieve his Wrestlemania dream as well as mocking the fact that Lawler's mother had died. Lawler then challenged Cole to a match- to which Cole accepted with the condition that he got to choose the referee and have his trainer Jack Swagger in his corner. Cole's trainer made it but his ref did not. Instead the match would be officiated by Stone Cold Steve Austin.
While the Hart/McMahon match suffered from being too long because the WWE believed that its audience cared so much about events of 13 years ago, Lawler vs Michael Cole never really stood a chance. For a start before the entrances Michael Cole attempted to cut a heel promo in the middle of the ring to gain some heat for the event. However Cole is an average announcer at best, and as a straight out promo worker he is hardly Bray Wyatt. Any oxygen that was in the arena to see Cole's butt get kicked was immediately sucked out of it.
This was followed by Swagger coming out before Austin raced around the arena in a quad bike in a nice moment to a big pop. However, having Austin come out before Lawler only made Lawler's entrance seem totally dead too. If they were smarter, the order would have been Lawler first so that he could have got a nice babyface pop, then Cole, then Swagger, then Austin to pump the crowd for the match. As it was the crowd was not 'prepped' for the match.
Furthermore the beginning is very tedious. I realise what they were trying to do with the 'Cole Mine' but it just took a really long time to get into the spot and so for a good three or four minutes, the live crowd is literally bewildered- wondering if there's anything going on. Then, rather than let Cole gain the ascendency for a minute or two, they have Cole act like he's dominating the match for at least 6 mins. I mean, I would understand if it was CM Punk but Michael Cole?! Lawler does his best to sell Cole's moves but he can only do so much with what he has been given.
The crowd actually picks up substantially after Stone Cold gets involved (as you'd expect) and after that they are quite happy to ride the wave of the match home. Which leads me to my next complaint. After the match has finished, and the crowd is happy and Stone Cold has kicked ass, why would you have Mr Laptop reverse the decision? And don't tell me it's because they needed to give Josh Matthews the Stunner because you could have done that anyway. Instead you had Jerry Lawler's feel good moment snatched away from him as well as all that nice closure.
Instead we got two more matches.
The feud got sadder after WWE made JR- the most respected play-by-play announcer in wrestling history- kiss Michael Cole's foot. Why was this supposed to make compelling viewing? No idea. All it did was reinforce the notion that Vince McMahon seemed to have little to no respect for JR- a notion that has been bandied about by both wrestlers and crew. This incident led to Lawler and JR facing Swagger and Cole in a Country Style whipping match in which Cole and Swagger won.
However, Lawler decided that his pride demanded satisfaction and challenged Cole to a match where if Lawler lost, the King would relinquish his Hall of Fame ring and induct Cole in personally. The match would also be a Kiss My Foot Match in which Lawler (in addition to JR, Bret Hart and Eve- who was representing the Divas who were being insulted by Cole on commentary) humiliated Cole and ended the feud.
So a feud that could have so easily become Jerry Lawler's Wrestlemania moment- which nobody would have begrudged him- was squandered because the WWE creative team thought they could have humiliated Lawler, Cole, JR, some Divas and others some more? Furthermore, was Vince so concerned about the talent he had that he thought that this needed to constitute a three PPV feud? Was he not trusting of any young talent?
But the worst part about this whole feud, like the Hart/McMahon feud was how they involved the WWE Title in their little spat.
Why was Lawler the Miz's opponent for Elimination Chamber? Were they trying to make the Miz seem less than credible? I know kayfabe is helpful for things in this regard but if a 60 year old looks like a legitimate threat to a 30 year old champion something is definitely wrong. The Miz seemed pathetic, the WWE Title looked like a prop in a feud between two commentators and the whole of the WWE roster looked like a bunch of chumps who clearly were not worthy. Even kayfabe needs logic after all.
The Lawler/Cole feud was the last of its kind that smacked of a booking type where the story was supposed to carry the matches rather than the matches working hand in hand with the story in order to elevate the angle. Thanks to a push for the WWE Title to be re-legitimised and the feuds to be able to stand up on their own, the WWE began to invest more in superstars who could wrestle and captivate the audience again. This, in conjunction with the Summer of Punk and the blossoming of NXT stars has seen the WWE product use the matches as much as anything else to help convey the tales woven by their wrestlers.
That concludes article 7 in this series. Next time we look at when a PDA goes too far. See you all then!