So, I wasn’t quite prepared for what happened on Monday night, following Wrestlemania.
Nothing about the WWE part of the show was really that out of the ordinary; The new WWE Champion celebrated, there was a rematch from the previous night’s Pay-Per-View event, the wrestler with the Money in the Bank contract “Cashed in” for a shot at a championship, which he won, a couple of main eventers fought each other for the sake of putting on a big match, and there was a main event that wasn’t particularly interesting for 50% of the audience. None of these things are too off-base for a night-after-a-PPV show, but there was one thing that was VERY different:
During the John Cena/Mark Henry promo, the audience began chanting “Sexual Chocolate,” referencing Mark Henry’s old persona where he was a fat guy who wrote poetry for women and had a sex addiction. Not too bizarre; He gets a smattering of those chants every few months anyways. But this week it was so loud that the wrestlers had to STOP TALKING, in order to let it pass.
And then during the Miz v Wade Barrett match, the “Let’s go Barrett” chants were so loud, I had to remind my roommate who doesn’t really watch wrestling that “Wade Barrett is, ostensibly, supposed to be the bad guy in this match” (to which he responded, “Anybody who punches The Miz in the face isn’t that bad of a guy in my book”).
During the Alberto Del Rio vs. Jack Swagger & Zeb Colter handicap match, the audience mostly chanted “We Want Ziggler,” referencing the Money in The Bank Contract holder, Dolph Ziggler. “Ziggy” has become something of a fan favorite, even though he plays a bad guy character (known as “heels” in wrestling jargon). And when Ziggler’s music hit, the arena ERUPTED in excitement. And after Dolph hit his finishing move, the Zig-Zag, it seemed as if the entirety of the 16,000+ fans in attendance counted “One…Two…Three!” along with the referee. People in the crowd were so excited for this moment that they actually began crying.
Note that Ziggler is supposed to be a bad guy, and he defeated the guy who’s supposed to be a good guy.
But during the Sheamus v Orton match, the audience expressed how much they did not care about either wrestler by beginning chants for the referee, Mike Chioda, as well as for each of the announcers (JBL, Jerry Lawler, and Michael Cole), the Ice Cream Guy selling treats in the audience, Rob Van Dam (a wrestler who hasn’t worked in WWE in something like six years), ECW, and Cotton Candy.
And during the Kofi Kingston vs. Fandango match, the crowd began singing Fandango’s music. And NEVER STOPPED. For the entire LAST HOUR, the song would randomly start up again, until something would cause an audience-wide “OOOOH!” or “AWWWWH!” And then they’d start singing again.
And at the end of the show, after the John Cena vs. Mark Henry match, Ryback came out. When it looked like Ryback was gonna jump Cena, the audience was excited. When Ryback extended his hand to help Cena up, they booed. And when he DID attack Cena, the place went nuts.
So, what does all of this mean, exactly?
To me, it says that WWE is out of touch with is money-paying audience. The fact that Sheamus, Randy Orton, and Alberto Del Rio, who are supposed to be three of the biggest good guys in the company, were all getting shit all over by the live audience says that, even if WWE management thinks these guys are popular because kids buy their shirts, the kinds of people who would travel around the world to go to Wrestlemania AND the following night’s Raw are not the kind of people who like these characters.
Meanwhile, people who are new and different and constantly keeping the audience entertained, like Fandango and Dolph Ziggler and Ryback, are what the audience wants to see.
So what’s the difference between those six performers?
From what I can observe, it’s what they’re given time to do on TV. Sheamus and Randy Orton and ADR all come out, say the same catch phrases over and over again, and wrestle the same match week-in and week-out, never really adding anything new to their move sets, and only occasionally doing something different with their interviews. They’re all old hat. We’ve seen apparently all that they can do. Even though Alberto just went from being a heel to a babyface, he’s not actually doing anything DIFFERENT. He’s just fighting different opponents, now.
And that’s not saying ANYTHING about John Cena, who’s been the exact same character and using the same move set since 2005.
Fandango is an over-the-top parody of a prima donna dancer (the joke being that, despite how full of himself he is, he absolutely sucks at dancing). Dolph Ziggler has nicknamed himself “The Show Off,” and he lives up to that nickname by doing headstands while he has his opponent in submission holds, or randomly breaking out into sit-ups, or by speaking quickly and making tenuous pop culture references during his interviews. Ryback is a destroying monster reminiscent of WCW’s Goldberg in 1998-1999, who will probably be incredibly old by this time next year. But it’s been a while since we’ve actually seen someone this dominant, so it’s a fun change of pace.
So what’s the solution?
The best answer is to let the wrestlers do something new. Look, Randy Orton is capable of more than dropkicks, headlocks, and his signature moves. Let him do some suplexes and cut a couple of promos. Let him go back to being the slimy, slithering asshole that earned him the nickname “The Viper.”
Sheamus has to be capable of more than punches, headlock takedowns, and his signature moves. He was pretty entertaining when he was telling stories about his extended family in Ireland, and how they tenuously related to what was going on in the ring. Let him go back to doing that for a while.
Alberto Del Rio hasn’t been around long enough for me to have seen him be able to do anything that he’s currently doing, but I’m sure he CAN do more than basic wrestling moves, an enzuigiri, and the Cross Arm Breaker. Give him a non-submission finishing move.
Also, maybe the day for staunchly-defined faces and heels is over. Stop drawing divisive lines between who the “good guys” and “bad guys” are. Dolph Ziggler and John Cena are in great positions to experiment with this, right now. Check it out:
Dolph Ziggler just beat a babyface champion for the World Title. So give Alberto Del Rio his rematch. But after that, who does Ziggler feud against? I suggest putting him up against Jack Swagger, the man who couldn’t beat Del Rio for the title. Swagger and Ziggler were both under the same manager for a while in 2012, and they had an uneasy alliance, with Swagger being a well-trained traditional athlete, and Ziggler constantly berating Swagger, saying that if he was such a good athlete, how come Ziggler was always showing him up? Capitalize on that. Use those exact traits to build a feud based on unresolved business between the two.
And then Ziggler goes on to face either Randy Orton, who’s back to being a slimeball, and let the audience decide who they want to cheer for. Because they’re either cheering for a guy who’s incredibly full of himself, or a sociopath who should be in a mental institution, neither of which is exactly the most likable of traits on paper.
John Cena, meanwhile, is the WWE Champion who keeps trying to do everything right, but just can’t manage to win anybody over. He shakes hands and kisses babies, but the audience hates him for being a goody two-shoes boyscout. They just want to see someone like Ryback, who doesn’t worry about right and wrong, he’s more concentrated on destroying his opponents. So Cena, in retaliation, reverts to his “Doctor of Thuganomics” schtick from 2004, which is what made people like him in the first place. He comes out and starts rapping about how Ryback’s just some big meathead with nothing going on between his ears. And Ryback responds by demolishing Cena in every non-match encounter they have.
I’m not pretending like I have all the answers, and I understand that there’s more going on backstage at WWE that I know, including favoritism, nepotism, stockholders’ interests, injuries, and merchandise sales. But I’d rather have an entire roster full of people that some segments of the audience like than a roster full of people that most of the audience is apathetic towards with a few standouts.
After all, rather than having, say, 100,000 John Cena shirts sell to kids over next year, wouldn’t it be better to have 50,000 John Cena shirts PLUS 50,000 Randy Orton PLUS 50,000 Sheamus PLUS 50,000 Ryback PLUS 50,000 Dolph Ziggler shirts sell to various age demographics all over the country? I mean, I think so.