A corny Dominos paid spot involving ring announcers trying to order a pizza on camera and then have it magically delivered within the hour. A bunch of big guys doing a tug of war that would make Ken Patera and Brent Musberger roll over in their CBS Strongman graves. (They’re still alive, thankfully.) Greenhorns on camera who act like they pretending to be people who are pretend to be wrestlers. Throw in the Bella Twins & WWE who are partnering with the E! channel for a totally crappy reality TV show called Total Divas (not to be confused with another body-centric reality TV show, Double Divas) and you basically have a company whose philosophy is that the wrestling is secondary to promoting a brand for vapid, low-information entertainment consumers.
As an old-school fan, I’ve seen all kinds of styles of wrestling and Memphis was the king of the absurd in the 70s and 80s. However, Memphis Absurdity by today’s standards looks awfully good through the prism of nostalgia, doesn’t it? During hour of two of RAW last night, you had to be wondering was going through the minds of two Memphis legends — Jerry Lawler and Dutch “Zeb Colter” Mantell. Back in their day, foolishness actually led to a wrestling-based payoff. Take for instance their feud with one “Nature Boy” Buddy Landell and Bill “Superstar” Dundee.
Memphis had their own goofy versions of pro-wrestler talk shows but the payoff was seeing 9,000 people at the Mid-South Coliseum on a Monday night watch the bad guys get their asses kicked. The heels knew every trick in the book. The faces eventually overcame the odds. There’s a reason Jerry Lawler can still work a match today just like he did in 1982.
The lost art of today’s WWE can be summed up by the fact that fans are force fed awful TV-filler segments in weekly three hour blocks where there’s a lot of… nothing. It would be one thing if the ‘nothing’ led to ‘something’ but that’s rarely the case.
Taking ‘nothing’ and turn it into something was a classic staple of Memphis. Jimmy Hart, who was headed out the door to go work for Vince McMahon in 1985, booked an angle in which his exodus would revolve around… a bag of flour. A five pound bag of flour. Hart dumped a five pound bag of flour over the head of the unflappable Lance Russell, who freaked out and promptly suspended Hart for good. Hart at first laughed at Russell and then reality slowly dawned on him that he was really in trouble. It’s the kind of nuance you just never see in today’s WWE product because the script writers have stripped out the reality from the performers. Hart was written out of Memphis after Eddie Gilbert lost a loser-leaves-town match to The King. That is how you turn ‘nothing’ into something. It’s the opposite of WWE’s current philosophy of taking something and turning it into nothing… or using nothingness and repeatedly pushing it without any sort of point.
Last night’s Tug-of-War on RAW featuring Mark Henry vs. Tensai, Brodus Clay, and Sheamus was an old-school idea. Vince McMahon often had scrubs try to body slam Big John Studd and none of them could do it… until Andre the Giant put his career on the line at Wrestlemania I. When he slammed Studd, he got a huge pop. So, when WWE had Henry do a tug of war series on a whim, they ended up making Henry look like a fool by having Sheamus let go of the rope so Henry could fall down. Instead of giving you a payoff at the end of a feud, they do TV filler segments where a babyface gets some payoff during the feud so your desire to see the end of the program is muted, at best.
Throw in wrestlers who are blatantly staring off camera at cue cards while reading promos and it’s enough to make you wish that Austin Idol would come out of retirement and give a promo to the youngsters about how to be The King of the Road, jack.
RAW is the epitome of what wrestling fans have had to endure under Vince McMahon’s watch and will continue to endure once he is out of the business. You’ll get wrestlers who will work their asses off in matches but get nowhere with the fruits of their labor because it’s buried behind layer after layer of mind-numbing crap. It’s the kind of trash-shoveling that you would expect to see on Hoarders, as fans struggle to defend watching a product that people make fun of for supporting. It’s a constant struggle for fans to figure out how to stay motivated while yet maintaining the lowest of all expectations. It’s a tug of war as irritating as the one you saw play out on television.