For WWE, Monday’s show was the true ‘go home’ show before the upcoming Night of Champions PPV in Detroit. Next week, a lot of eyeballs will be glued to ESPN to watch RG 3 vs. the Eagles and then the Houston Texans get the nightcap game. Some big television markets will be preoccupied with football consumption.
As ‘go home’ shows go, this was a fascinating show to watch if you are intrigued by the logic of the powers-that-be that control wrestling’s biggest promotion.
Most of the online reaction to RAW has been negative, so there’s no need to dwell on the general consensus. What intrigues me the most about Hunter & Stephanie dominating the booking of WWE is their logic and the way they construct (or destruct) programs. A major risk they are taking now is revolving all the top angles in the company around one universal main event angle, one theme — the corporatists vs. the anti-Establishment figures. Every angle in the company, including Punk vs. Heyman, now has been touched by the main angle involving Daniel Bryan & Randy Orton. It’s quite amazing to see Daniel Bryan carry the ball on the microphone as much as he carries the action in the ring. He’s really worked his ass off.
Up until a few weeks ago, Bryan vs. the McMahons and Punk vs. Heyman were two separate programs. They still kind of are, but not so much now. There’s a risk of alienating the hardcore fans that were more into the Punk program, but the risk is that the strongest angle involves Bryan and that the heat from it should be attached to Punk/Heyman.
The introduction of Big Show into the anti-Establishment army, or least the appearance of it (he’s swerved you before and he’ll swerve you again in the future), kind of sucked some oxygen away from Bryan on RAW. The idea is that Show, Dolph Ziggler, Miz, and other wrestlers can’t fight back against The Establishment or their hired goons, The Shield, is pretty straight-forward booking. What’s made it so over-the-top is the insistence or influence by Stephanie McMahon to go with the waterworks for Big Show. Show is a ham at heart today, which is definitely something I didn’t see coming when he was the green giant in WCW in 1996.
The way Show was integrated into the program has people in a tizzy. In a nod to actually acknowledging past stipulations, Hunter and Stephanie mentioned that Show had an ‘iron clad’ contract thanks to Johnny Ace. However, no contract is iron clad if you breach it and don’t follow orders. So, Show has to be Hunter’s muscle and watch Bryan get beat up or get beat down, even if it’s Show doing the punching. And the hook as to Show’s motive by Stephanie is that he’s broke. This drew a lot of heat online as not being realistic. Uh, hello? Welcome to the wrestling business. If Ric Flair, free spender, and Hulk Hogan, noted penny pincher in the past, can lose almost everything, so can Big Show. Divorce, back taxes, and living on the road can wipe our your savings if you aren’t careful. Steph also said that since Show is broke and he’s a giant, he’s going to die an early death and therefore needs to take care of his family for the future. Steph did know of a giant that died early and his name was Andre.
Is Stephanie’s booking too over-the-top, reality-tv-centered, soap-opera-ish? Of course. And the success of Total Divas just reinforces her future influence on the company’s booking. It also helps to have someone like Big Show who just loves to live for the moment and is willing to embarrass himself on television to get an angle over. The guy’s a pro’s pro. You can understand the logic of why Hunter & Stephanie booked the angle the way they did.
The risk they’re taking here is that Bryan is basically a punching bag from week to week. Why risky? Because if he keeps getting beat up, will people just give up on him when he actually makes his come back? I don’t think fans will give up, but there’s a chance they might and thus the program gets colder. Furthermore, with Hunter extending the “what’s best for business” angle into other programs, it makes the corporatists the heels. The issue? Where does the money from the paying customers go? It goes in the pockets of the heels. And the heels are going to be around running WWE for a hell of a lot longer than the wrestlers currently in the main event program who the fans want to see beat up the owners. WWE’s calculation is that fans aren’t going to over-think things. They just want to watch a fantasy world of reality and go to the shows.
In extending the tentacles of the main event program into other angles, there is a risk of suffocating originality and oxygen away from some pretty creative minds (Heyman). There’s also the potential for reward if it means elevating languishing players in mid-level programs to top tier status.
Example one: the Heyman/Punk feud. A week after Heyman beat the hell out of Punk with a cane, Heyman is complaining about the risk of getting in the ring with Punk for a beatdown. Turns out that it was Hunter’s idea. Now, why would a heel throw another heel under the bus? A few months ago, Hunter was a face feuding with Lesnar. Now they’re both heels but they’re snakes who hate each other. Logically, it makes sense. The question is where it does leave Punk once he gets his payback. Will he continue to feud with Lesnar or will he get dragged in the feud against Hunter, Stephanie, and Vince? It’s been curious to see the Heyman/Punk feud basically get second-class status now as a program despite all the hard work from the participants involved.
Example two: Cody Rhodes getting fired, randomly, out of nowhere. Hunter decides to give Randy Orton a pellet to collect and in this case, it’s the kayfabe career of Rhodes. Out of nowhere, this stipulation appears with no build-up. Out of nowhere, there’s talk that Cody is engaged and now has to support his future wife. And we get a good 13 minute match but the ending involves Hunter firing Rhodes.
After he got ‘fired’ on TV, Rhodes let loose in a backstage promo.
“Randy Orton beat me fair and square, that’s what happened! He was the better man! I lost! That happens. It was that damn stipulation, if I lose… I get fired? My job, my dream. I shouldn’t be surprised because for over two decades, for over two decades the McMahons have hated the Rhodes. My Dad set Florida on fire, he was a Hall of Famer, he shows up here and they put him in polka dots and make him dance. My brother was a second generation stud, The Natural, and I loved him. And they put him in gold paint and he has never been the same.”
The great irony about this promo? On camera during the Rhodes/Orton match, there was a fan in the front row wearing a black shirt with yellow polka dots in honor of Dusty Rhodes. Either WWE pulled a (great) fast one by having a plant on television or they got the best example of dumb fan luck for good timing. It was funny.
Cody’s interview was a great promo. It was inspired. It was everything we knew Rhodes could say and pull off when the shackles are unleashed. The question is why he has been leashed by management for so damn long. Consider the fact that he was stuck in a tag team with Damien Sandow that absolutely bombed. They split up after Sandow sabotages him and wins the Money in the Bank briefcase. Rhodes goes on to beat him at Summerslam, beats him the next night on RAW, and then… nothing. The program doesn’t draw heat and you know why it doesn’t draw heat? Because Damien Sandow is a glorified jobber on WWE television. He was on a jobbing streak before the MITB match, he was on a jobbing streak leading into Summerslam, and he’s been jobbing like a carpenter post-Summerslam. And WWE management wonders why neither Rhodes or Sandow got over.
So, Hunter decides to push the reset button by giving Rhodes a new start… by firing him. Eventually, he’ll come back and get his revenge on the McMahon family and get cheered for it. The logic here makes sense in terms of extending the main event program and including a guy like Cody Rhodes in the mix to help revive his career. That’s a way you pull off angle consolidation.
Will the consolidation pay off or back fire? It could go either way, but at least I can understand some of the booking logic behind the moves. Hey, at least WWE remembers past stipulations (on occasion).