Man, I love to bitch and moan about a lot of things in professional wrestling.
It’s almost as if I achieve joy through negativity. I enjoy enjoying stuff, but I love to criticize. I’ve been paid through the years both to speak the sludge and write the wrath. I try to use every opportunity to be positive, but last night, in the wake of what I thought was a dull and uninteresting three hours of WWE television, I sent out a few tweets from both my relevant accounts that had their share of zinger and hot take.
Then, I noticed a few tweets from the @cagesideseats handle that gave me a bit of pause. Geno Mrosko can certainly be negative, so can Sean Rueter, so can the rest of the staff, but usually nowhere close to as much as I’ve been recently, and not in any way more negative than the rest of the IWC, an acronym and a reality that I also despise. See, there I go again with the "half empty" view of things.
When I was pondering this week’s Coulda Been Betta, I took note of Geno’s positivity towards the final angle and segment of the show and I began to find a few things I also enjoyed.
For example, I loved Steph dancing and the jerk-heel way she celebrated as the music played. Steph’s awesome. But, I couldn’t rationalize any of it without the balance of just how ticked off I was last Monday when yet another "gravely important" WWE stipulation was tossed aside simply to bring two good characters back to television and lead to the same tired storylines we’ve seen for years with the heel authority figure I wrote about several weeks ago.
But, Geno and some others enjoyed the conclusion to RAW, even though those corresponding with my Nashville show and with me personally were largely unimpressed and hugely disappointed. As I started this piece, I had no idea really where I was going, and I still don’t, so bear with me as I try to discover both purpose and voice in this extended soliloquy.
I also should just title these thoughts "TL:DR" because I’m sure somebody will break that out in the comments, and more power to them. If you don’t have the time to read it, I’m sure there’s a slideshow somewhere with your name all over it. Thanks for checking in for a few paragraphs. But I digress…
Is it possible that the end of RAW, though incredibly predictable, wasn’t inherently wrong for that reason? Just because someone expects a result in a fictionalized setting doesn’t make it the wrong narrative choice. I figured out how Gone Girl was going to end but I still loved both the book and the film. I wasn’t fooled by Primal Fear and actually correctly guessed the conclusion to The Usual Suspects. Those endings didn’t stink just because I cracked an imaginative code ahead of time.
The firing of Team Cena made all the sense in the WWE world because that’s what vindictive pricks and power hungry jagoffs like the Cerebral Assassin and the Billion Dollar Princess would do if given the chance. All night long they beat these people down and put them in hellacious situations as punishment, then at the end of the night all of them were fired and John Cena was placed in the chair of "it’s his fault, blame him." It’s exactly what would really happen on January 5, 2015, even if last week’s finish was indeed annoying because the Survivor Series stipulation was proven null and void in five weeks.
If what happened made sense for the story with those participants involved, all of a sudden "Ugh" turns to, at the very least, "Meh" and removes some of the vitriol. I personally didn’t care for the ending because I saw it coming from 11:10 PM ET LAST Monday night. I expected something bigger, especially since the show that preceded it was so vanilla and so bland.
It was as if the Nexus was coming back to end the abjectly horrid "guest hosted by the stars of the A-Team" RAW in June of 2010. When Chrisley Knows Best hit the screen, the reaction was simple. That’s it? That’s all you got for us? Firing Team Cena? Leaving him frowning in the ring as confetti fell and high-booted Stephanie danced like the millionaire on her yacht that everyone is afraid to laugh at for fear of reprisal? As stated above, I thought the dance was hilarious.
So, that’s what I was thinking about before I read Geno’s tweet from our website’s official account. Now here’s what I’ve been pondering over the past several hours. Did I ever give this show a chance?
I had no excitement today for RAW. I attended Ring of Honor Saturday night, interviewed two of their stars in addition to Jeff Jarrett earlier in the week, and I left that television taping and immediately went home and watched Wrestle Kingdom 9 live.
Eight straight hours of action and my opinion today was WWE meant nothing to me because it wouldn’t be Puroresu or the level of stuff ROH gave me this weekend. Well, of course it wouldn’t be, because it was just TV to set up a PPV, weeks in advance of that show. It wasn’t the finished product and let’s be perfectly honest and open about it, WWE has pretty much blown chunks on television since SummerSlam. The PPVs have been decent, Night of Champions was very good, but TV has sucked.
I’m comparing WWE to something it can’t possibly top and I’m already thinking in terms of what the company would get wrong on their first show of the new year. At the end of RAW, I tried to think of one guy on that roster I had true emotional investment in and I couldn’t come up with one.
Bear in mind, this has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with ring work or bell to bell performance. It’s the characters. I’m not interested in anything anyone is doing, definitely not interested in anything they’re reading from memory from a script they read earlier in the night, and in truth, nothing could have happened tonight short of Sting returning in that final segment that would have really raised my eyebrows.
In the second hour of the show, with Twitter not updating anyone else’s feed and me feeling like I was opining in a vacuum, I started to work on another piece I’m doing. I would look up and an hour had gone by, with RAW on the screen in front of me, and nothing really made my eyes raise up to see what was happening. I know the Ambulance Match took place and I was pretty sure I remembered hearing Bray Wyatt won it, but I barely even watched it. I vaguely remember Dean Ambrose being thrown into the ambulance and his head hitting the glass window.
I wasn’t even paying attention to much of what WWE provided last night. Most of it came and went and I didn’t bat an eyelash. I did see Cesaro and Tyson Kidd’s assault of New Day and wondered what the purpose could possibly be and I watched the continued embarrassment and burial of The Ascension, both by their own hands and as JBL marginalized them since Vince couldn’t do it himself on the microphone. I saw some of the show, but I wasn’t an active participant.
All of these words I’ve written, I look back on them and I still don’t know what my purpose is here, but I’m going to try and reach some kind of point right now. I’m questioning whether or not I’ve been treating WWE fairly, whether I’m giving them a shot to impress me, or whether I’m looking for a reason to deliver a scathing editorial ripping some part of the business.
My conclusion, at least I think it’s my conclusion, is the following:
Probably not, but I’m not required to give them anything.
People occasionally tell me not to watch if I don’t like it. Well, I do a radio show and I write about the industry and if you do that and don’t focus on WWE, what’s the point? I live in America. It’s not an option.
Let me try to explain both to you and to myself why I’m negative right now. The truth is I don’t want to be and I don’t think I’m nitpicking just to spread hate out of some kind of wrestling Grinch desire. I also don’t just want to tick people off. I'm not trying for quick fame, because if I am, I've made some very poor choices in how to accomplish that feat.
Without question, I want to like this stuff. Actually, that’s not strong enough. I want to love this stuff. In fact, when I find the good stuff, I cling onto it as if it's a magic elixir.
The reason for my criticism, the reason for my vitriol, the reason for my regular disappointment in Vince’s product or TNA’s misguided attempts to compete resides in one incontrovertible fact. It isn’t just a fact that applies to me. It applies to you, and by you I mean nearly everyone reading this piece.
I knew a better time. I watched a better time. I lived through a better time.
I’ve seen this business when it’s firing on all cylinders. It was that professional wrestling business that led me to leave school and follow my own dream. Later, it would be my own arrogance that would cost me a few chances that might have me in a much different place today, but that’s a tale for a different TL:DR article.
As a fan, the first year I remember the angles and even the littlest stories is 1989. I was 11 and I adored wrestling. Luckily for me, it was one of the best years to have become old enough to comprehend the intricacies of the products. I had watched since 1984, but was too young to really "get it." I watched TBS at 6:05 every Saturday and Sunday night for World Championship Wrestling and NWA Main Event with my father and grandfather and also with my friends. I would understand things in broad swaths and loved it then, but now it was different. Now I was in on all the jokes and I could comprehend the motivations for the actions of the larger than life characters in front of me.
It was an excellent time for tag team wrestling, which I still believe to be the purest form of actual wrestling formula imaginable. All five points of a match, everything, it was always there and because of the partner, the most important points of those matches were enhanced. Outside the ring, the babyface wanted his teammate to tag as he watched the beating. He was the embodiment of the fan. You watched that guy, if he was good, and you felt the same pull he did. I wanted Ricky Morton to make that tag to Robert Gibson. I wanted Shawn to get to Marty. I needed Hawk to finally get to Animal. I reached out my own hand when the hero in peril got remotely close to his corner. I got tired of seeing Bobby and Stan tag in to keep a fresh executioner in the ring to beat up my favorite guy. And damn were the Brainbusters incredible. They were the best ever.
It was a tremendous era for singles wrestling as well. Flair had his iconic feud with Steamboat and his greatly underrated feud with Funk. Sting worked alongside Ric and against Muta. Hogan dealt with Savage in the wake of their disagreement. Rick Rude carried Warrior to the best program of his career. All titles mattered and the rosters were full of workers I deeply cared about.
For many reading this, maybe it was the Attitude Era and the WCW boom of 1996-1998 that pushed Vince to his new direction. That wasn’t what brought me to the dance, but it is the redhead that brought me BACK to the prom. I checked out, as did many, during the early to mid-90s and came back with Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, DX, Steve Austin, and the first Hell in a Cell match. By 1999, I was so obsessed with it all that I started writing about it. By late 1999, I decided, after a chance meeting, to get involved officially. I wasn’t just a fan. I was a fan who wanted in, and I bullied my way into it and found a home for 10 years in various roles with many different organizations.
I don’t know your story. I don’t know why you’re the fan you are or why Cageside is a daily destination for you. I’d love to hear it. I’d love for you to share it in the comments or write something brief to me @GuyNamedJason about your own fandom. But I mentioned a little of my own childhood growth as a wrestling fan simply again to hammer down on this one point:
I’ve witnessed things working so much better than they do today.
Because I’ve seen it done in the past, my mind works in a different manner as I watch the product of 2015. I demand more because I know it can be done. I know how to book successfully. I know how to make the mid-card important. I know how titles can be used as more than props and how secondary Championships can help "make" a guy. I know how Flair and Dusty and Arn and Austin and Rock and Foley and Stephanie and Punk and Jericho and yes, Cena, can talk. When I see Reigns being forced to say such stupid and robotic things, I shudder for him. I know what a compelling angle looks like. Hell, we all saw one last year as Daniel Bryan battled the Authority and also for a short time as Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose had their issue in the wake of the Shield dissolution.
At the end of the day, I’m just a guy, no more important than any of you. I write and hopefully you enjoy what I have to say or it spurs on some debate or at the very least, it makes you think a little, but I have no distorted visions of grandeur. What I’m writing today is personal because I wanted to finally put on paper an explanation for my own pessimism. I don’t want to become a cynic, and I fear I have to some extent. I also know not everything in my brain is brilliance personified or that the world is better because I shared my gems of truth. I’m this dude with a little platform and I was in the mood to say a lot today, that’s it.
Geno and I disagree on many things in the business, including Cesaro, though listening to him when he was a guest on my show a few months ago, I see his argument and cede him several points he made about the Swiss Superman. He enjoyed that final segment last night and, because I respect his opinion greatly, I wondered if I was overly harsh. I have come to the realization that I don’t think I was. Maybe I went in expecting things to be somewhat boring, but for that to be all we got, it isn’t that it was predictable, it’s that there was nothing else to go along with it. It had nothing to do with Cena being used the way he was or because it was John Cena. I don’t go out of my way to hate Cena, not at all. He’s just the prime face in an era of the average, not the lasting image from a generation of excellence.
But last night, that ending was vanilla ice cream (which I do enjoy quite a bit), in a room where the wall is transparent and behind it is a shelf with fudge, strawberries, peaches, chopped nuts, and everything else that could top off the treat.
Then, all of us in that room look around and realize there’s no door to get behind the wall.
But, we’ve been in that place before, and there were doors on all sides.
It’s absolutely fair to question why the doors are gone. Then, later on, it’s fair to question why we’re in the room in the first place. And if you love that vanilla, that's terrific.
Did any of that make sense? Or did the eggs just start to sizzle in the pan at the end of that "This is your brain" commercial. No drugs of course, but maybe it's also your brain at 4:38 AM.
Follow me @GuyNamedJason and either praise me or troll me forever. I'm an adult. I can take it. Follow my radio program @ZoneWrestling. Our guests last week were Ring of Honor's Mike Bennett and Maria Kanellis and our good friend Jeff Jarrett of Global Force Wrestling. It's free. Geno's been on. He'll be on again soon...we'll get Sean out of the basement to jump in the fray sometime as well.