SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, April 7, 2000

We're all marks at heart

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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Wow. That's all I can say. Wow. I've had (counting in my head: one ... two ... three ...) four days to ponder it now, to let the wonder of Wrestlemania sink in. I've also had time to go over most of the reviews for the show. I'm incredibly surprised at the reaction to this show.

To say that the reviews have been polarized would be to put it lightly. Some folks are praising this show for its high number of very strong matches, including at least one match of the year candidate, while others are chiding it for its heelish ending and alleged lack of special moments that make Wrestlemania, well, Wrestlemania.

Man, what a slanted point of view.

SLAM! Wrestling's very own John Powell didn't mince words in his review of the show, "Wrestlemania 2000, a flop". Out of ten, he scored the show a three, and the highest individual match score he allotted was an eight, for both the ladder match and the two-title match.

Aside from gripes I have with those two individual grades, like the fact that the ladder match actually had above average psychology for that kind of gimmick match and that the second of the two was anti-climactic and oddly booked, I have to say, John's being really harsh.

I don't think anyone disagrees that barring something pretty weird happening over the next two hundred and something days, that ladder match will receive strong consideration for match of the year honours. A lot of those stunts were creative, they were all well-performed, and the performers in question didn't stumble from stunt to stunt.

Regardless, the point is that I think Mr. Powell was more than a little bit over-critical in his judgement of Wrestlemania. I don't mean to pick his review apart, though, it's not like it's anomalous or something. Everyone seems to think the same thing, everyone except the seemingly minority group which just loved the show. Count me in there.

Maybe you wonder how it's possible, how I could think such a lacklustre show could possibly warrant better than a three-point-oh out of ten grade.

Simple: I liked it.

First of all, lots of the matches were good. The triple threat two-title match was strong, the Too Cool/Chyna vs. The Radicalz match wasn't bad, even the Kane/Rikishi vs. X-Pac/Road Dogg match wasn't as bad as I expected it to be. Everyone in the Godfather/D'Lo vs. Bull Buchanan/Big Bossman match performed well, and aside from the women's match -- which was, admittedly, a waste of my time -- the same can be said for everyone else. That's excluding the ladder match, too, which was easily great. And then there was the main event.

I think this is one of those sticking points that's dividing the optimists and the nay-sayers here. I enjoyed the main event. I thought it was well-booked, built up The Big Show and yet still eliminated him early, sent out Mick Foley but didn't give him the seemingly-obvious title win in his last match (and how much would that title have been devalued with another title tourney?), and allowed the heel to go over and retain the title. That's a Wrestlemania first. And why not?

I'm tired of knowing what's going to happen in advance. It makes the time I spend watching this stuff seem wasted. And yet for the past thirteen years, I've watched every single Wrestlemania. And every time, I knew what would happen. As a young child, I knew in a good way, I just hoped and prayed and trusted that the face, often Hulk Hogan, would take home the gold. Eventually, it got repetitive in such a way that me as a mark understood that the face always won at Wrestlemania. This year, it seemed like a foregone conclusion.

We damn the WWF when they deliver the expected, the obvious. Take the Greater Power storyline, or Vince's fifteenth heel turn, or whatever. If we see it coming, we complain. Did anybody see the Triple H win coming from a mile away? I didn't, and no one I know did. So when he won the belt and I was surprised, I was happy - happy to be surprised. And it stands to reason that if we're unhappy when not surprised, that we'd be happy when surprised, but that hasn't really been the case.

I have a theory. Want to hear it?

We're all marks at heart. You are, I am -- even the smartest of smarts, the insidest of insiders is a mark at heart. And that's a good thing. That means we're all fans, deep inside our cores. It also means, unfortunately for us this weekend, that we wanted either The Rock or Mick Foley to walk out the champion, because that's what a fan is supposed to do -- cheer the faces.

After all, we've had to put up with Triple H lugging around that belt for months now, and we're tired of it -- as fans. So no matter how much we acknowledged him as a strong heel, no matter how much we praised his willingness to work and to job and to encourage boos, we still wanted him to lose. At least I did. That's because he's been doing his job, and proficiently at that.

So when he won the belt at Wrestlemania, it was like a blow to our respective beings, and some people, I think, let that cloud their judgement as reviewers.

Don't get me wrong -- people have the right to dislike a show, even if you or I like it. No one's right or wrong. But this just isn't consistent with the grades that they've been giving shows up to now, including, from most, strong thumbs up for No Way Out and The Royal Rumble. Heck, John Powell even gave last year's year-ending Armageddon a five out of ten, and I don't think that the show headlined by Vince McMahon vs. Triple H and Big Show vs. Big Bossman was almost twice as good as Wrestlemania.

Granted, it's a sliding scale, and granted, it's Wrestlemania. We should expect more, because that's what the WWF tells us we're going to get, but come on, it was a good show. It ran a little long, but it was full of quality matches. It may not have been the ultimate card as far as feud payoffs go, but hey, something like fifteen guys debuted here in their first Wrestlemania, many of whom were acquired within the last few months. There was no time to develop feuds.

Each year, Wrestlemania has set the tone for the coming year, on top of capping off the previous one. This year's tone is clear -- it's a bar so high that I don't think the WWF will ever be able to please us again the way it did in 1998 and 1999. Not if we continue to judge it the way some of us did this past week.

Here's that mailbag thing. writes:
"ECW is doing well, I've been a fan of all 3 since the explosion of wrestling several years back. But, even if more ridiculous and bad decisions of WCW happen, they won't ever disband and be no more WCW. Sure, it would fizzle into a minor league Indy fed but to say WCW may 'end' is being a bit bold for anyone to say. I have my gripes with all feds, WWF with their switch several years back from family morals to immoral world of such types as Jerry Springer and ECW much of the same but I have grown to look over that to get to storylines and new innovative ways Vince McMahon brings to the table on his shows to keep fans interested. WCW, I will agree, has lost most of their talent and has continued to struggle for the past year or two. For a while it looked like WCW was not even worth peoples time but, with all the management changes and turmoil, it actually could work to their favor because people want to see each and every time how they would cover their ass next in finding a way to divert the fact that employees are going for work to the competition. Let's not forget WWF was in a similar spot not that long ago!"

Your point is good, in and of itself, but you miss two things. First, even if WCW still remains, as a real minor league thing, it will have to give up a good chunk of its business to do so and that business will be free to go elsewhere. Point being, whether they die or get so sick that they may as well be dead, they still lose and someone else can still win.

And you can't completely compare their position to the WWF's a few years back. I think everyone agrees now that Vince McMahon is something of an at least part-time genius, and that if nothing else, he has great organizational control. Neither of those elements exist in WCW, so we have no idea what their bounce-back capabilities are.

Terry Niebuhr, from, writes:
"You make a valid point about the future of wrestling IF WCW dies out. BUT then wouldn't the WWF be considered a monopoly? At least in the government's eyes? I mean look at the whole Microsoft mess going on. Will the feds decide the WWF is too powerful and decide to distribute the "pie" evenly?? Would the government give grants to people who want to start up a wrestling promotion? (Nah, probably not) but I am pretty sure the U.S government is not 100% pleased with the WWF or wrestling for that matter in general. So odds are they may do what they are doing to the "Big tobacco" companies now. Find ways to "punish" them until they are broke by either having the WWF break up into smaller federations (like Microsoft) or have the lawsuit floodgates open and every 'jabroni' will file lawsuits claiming my kid did this because of your show made him or maybe the feds would tax every ticket to a WWF event (like what's happening to the tobacco companies)."

I can only say so much about American monopoly regulation without getting out of my league, but I am studying economics so I know a thing or two about it. Traditionally, the government regulates important monopolies. There's a reason monopolies are regulated, and that's that in a monopoly situation, prices increase and, more important, supply decreases, creating overall worsened conditions for the public. If we're talking about energy, or automotive, or commodity industries, then fine, I think the government would step in in two seconds flat to regulate everything.

But this is wrestling we're talking about. I don't even think it's an industry. The industry is entertainment, and the WWF doesn't have anything resembling a monopoly there. Will the government step in to stop the WWF if they become too big? Only if they violate the predatory pricing and behaviour laws, I think. Otherwise, I can't see the Bill Gates/Microsoft debacle happening to Vince McMahon and WWFE.

That's all for this week. Have a great weekend, don't suffer too much from post-Wrestlemania withdrawal (referring more to the all-day coverage last weekend than the show itself), and thanks for reading. And writing. Ciao.

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