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SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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

Friday, August 4, 2000

Talent getting lost in WWF jungle

Eric Benner
By ERIC BENNER
Special to SLAM! Sports


A weekly
SLAM! Wrestling
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Raw sucked this week.

I'm not usually a big fan of one-line openers, but there's no other way to put it. No other way that does it justice, at least. I'm not too terribly impressed with the WWF lately. I enjoyed the triple main event and a couple of other matches from Fully Loaded, but the rest of the card -- and all of the previous month's effort, King of the Ring -- was disappointing.

Lately, I haven't much been lashing out against the World Wrestling Federation. Truth is, it's because they've given me little reason to do so. The Royal Rumble, No Way Out, Wrestlemania, Backlash, and Judgment Day were all stellar pay-per-views, and minus some strange hype for Wrestlemania, the Raws and Smackdown!s in between were pretty good, too. Triple H and Mick Foley carried three months of action by themselves, and The Rock replaced Mick to do the same in the second quarter. Lately, though, it seems the WWF has so much talent they don't know what to do with it.

New stars the WWF has either created, elevated, or acquired since the beginning of the year: Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Tazz, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Saturn, Dean Malenko, Crash Holly, Lita, Trish Stratus, and still others. Yet much of the programming we see each week, twice for two hours, is staler than it was in 1996-97, when the WWF might have traded its entire roster for the folks listed above.

It's almost like they have so much talent, they're not sure what to do with it.

Case in point right here. Let's take a look at this week's Raw. I write Monday night recaps for another website, and I noticed some trends while combing over Raw -- not to mention a whole lot of garbage while watching it the first time. So here's a list of everything that, in my opinion, was wrong with this week's show:

  • There were eight matches on the show. Of those, six were tag team matches. That's just too many. The WWF did the same thing, I recall, at this year's Wrestlemania -- almost every match was a tag team match, or a four corners match, or a four corners tag team match. Back then, I believe it was so that everyone could get a piece of the lucrative pay-per-view bonus pie, which to do one has to appear on the actual show, but there's no excuse now. There are two reasons, I think, that the WWF is overdoing it on the tag matches. One, they have too many wrestlers to get them all over on the show in singles matches or individual segments of any kind. And two, putting singles wrestlers in a tag team match has traditionally been one of the best ways to promote a pay-per-view match without giving it away for free. If you're playing on having Rock face Triple H and Lita face Trish Stratus, for example, you just pair them up and have a match altogether. SummerSlam is still several weeks away, so who knows what'll actually be on the card, but mixed tag matches (mixed singles wrestlers, not mixed genders) is and always has been one of the easiest ways to deliver strong television matches that aren't at the expense of future pay-per-view draws.

    As for the latter reason, I can't really think of a way around it. I guess just have more cross-singles matches, where guys fight other wrestlers who really have nothing to do with their future pay-per-view prospects. If The Rock is taking on Chris Benoit at this coming pay-per-view and Undertaker at the next, for example, then give away short matches versus Kurt Angle, Triple H, or Kane. Singles wrestlers in tag team matches has its place, and it's clearly a necessary promotional tool, but it's getting out of hand in the WWF.

    As far as their roster growth problems go, they have four hours of television to fill. Have The Rock main event Raw, then just appear on Smackdown! and bother the heels. Have Triple H do his interview stuff on Raw and actually wrestle on Smackdown! Doesn't seem too terribly complicated to plan things out so that the talent isn't overexposed.

    Regardless, there's no excuse for filling up a show with (at least some) meaningless tag team matches.

  • I said that six of the eight matches on Raw were tag matches. Well, the other two were problems of their own. First, Tazz jobbed cleanly to Rikishi. Not only that, he actually had Rikishi escape from the Tazzmission with ease. And second, The Big Show fought Kane.

    Right off the bat, The Big Show should never fight Kane. Ever. We've seen it before, too many times. These two can't put on a match together. Neither can compensate for the other's weaknesses.

    Meanwhile, having Tazz job so cleanly to Rikishi is silly. I don't know if he's being punished for something, but it's pointless to build up a character with endless promos and vignettes and the like, only to have them lose to kill their momentum. This isn't about jobbing, folks, it's about saving face here. WCW actually made a similar gaffe this week, having New Blood Rising WCW heavyweight title challenger Jeff Jarrett job to Sting clean, which does nothing to build up his hunt for the title, and plenty to stymie it. Only thing is, Tazz never even got off the ground. Looks like he may never.

  • The whole voting thing. It was kind of a nice gesture, but I don't know if anyone believes the WWF is doing this for any reason other than their own gain. I don't even oppose that, because I think wrestling needs some weapons in its arsenal for the war against the PTC and other nefarious forces. I just think it's silly to plug it over and over again on Raw, like Vince McMahon was actually a candidate for presidency. Hey, you never know.

  • Steve Blackman and Al Snow vs. DX doesn't strike me as a particularly hot way to open a show. That's all I have to say about that.

    There were actually a lot of things going for Raw this week. Some strong matches, including The Hardyz vs. Edge and Christian, a solid main event that continued to elevate the women, and what I considered to be a well-built, well-developed storyline in Triple H and Stephanie's continuing marriage troubles. Granted, it's even more soap operaish than usual, but I still liked it.

    That doesn't make up for what amounts to a pathetic attempt at putting wrestling on television, though. To take the roster the WWF has right now, the momentum they've got going (that's the one thing I maintain WCW lacks and will continue to lack for the foreseeable future), and the possible stories and matches that could feasibly result, and put on a show that's anything less than adequate has to be seen as a huge disappointment.

    Maybe the folks at the top are falling asleep at the wheel. I wouldn't blame them, what with the XFL and all this political stuff going on. Vince McMahon has been known to get distracted by other ventures, and the wrestling tends to suffer when that happens. I hope that's not the case here. Whoever actually writes television for the WWF has proven that they can put together a focused, enjoyable pair of two-hour shows each week. They have to continue to do that now.

    The WWF should also cut their losses with guys like Road Dogg and Steve Blackman. Send them to their B-shows for awhile.

    Judging by all the unnecessary tag team matches, it's not like they don't have the talent to fill two hours on Monday and Thursday night.

    Side note: I've never met Gordon Solie. I've never seen him in person. Hell, I've never even witnessed him in action, except maybe for a few old NWA/WCW highlight reels. After reading of his unfortunate passing last Friday and the simply unbelievable frequency and quality of tributes since then, the conclusion I find myself reaching is that never hearing Mr. Solie is one of the great disadvantages of my youth.

    Here's the mail.

    Mark Hornblower, from geekboy@netcom.ca, writes:
    "Seeing you mention the moonsault in your SLAM! column this week (letters, Friday, July 28, 2000) jogged a thought that I have been meaning to explore -- specifically, has Your Olympic Hero And Mine, King Kurt Angle, done one of his fabulous moonsaults since the unfortunate incident with Bob Holly? The move suddenly seems absent from his repertoire.

    It would be a shame if he dropped the move because of that incident. While the average jabroni's moonsault is an eye-catcher, and some guys had ones that would pop your optics (the Meaniesault was an all-time favourite), Angle's moonsault may be the best I have ever seen. Somehow he just seem to float in the air -- it was truly a thing of beauty.

    Is the King ever going to bring it back? Your expert opinion is eagerly awaited ..."

    There are a lot of reasons to like Kurt Angle, and the precision, accuracy, and fluidity with which he executes his moves is one of them. I'm thinking hard right now, and I cannot for the life of me recall an Angle moonsault since that fateful breaking of Bob Holly's arm (get well Hardcore!).

    My guess is that he'll bring it back, maybe sometime later. You have to see it from (possibly) Angle's position. He just injured someone. Aside from feeling bad about it, a lot of guys get heat backstage for doing that kind of stuff. I know if I were him, I'd actually be afraid to do it again. I reckon he'll practice the move a whole lot, and let time pass as he regains his confidence in the admittedly difficult move, before we see it again. I have a feeling we will, though!


    Kent Robinson, North Bay, ON, from krobinson75@hotmail.com, writes:
    "Hi Eric. I don't always agree with you but I must compliment you on a great column last week (I personally think Mr. Fuji and Bobby Heenan were great managers in their heyday, almost always playing a huge role in the build-up of a match and the actual matches themselves). Since you discussed managers last week how about discussing the importance of good wrestling commentators in this week's column. A great one sadly just passed away and it has got me thinking about the importance of good wrestling commentators today. Yes, WCW has had many problems in recent years but probably the biggest reason why I watch RAW each week instead of Nitro is because of the HUGE difference in the quality of the commentating. In my opinion, Jerry "the King" Lawler is truly a "King" at what he does and is completely under appreciated. Yes, he can be annoying at times, but his humour almost is always putting a smile on my face and I just love how he always cheers and makes excuses for the heels (he compliments good ol' straight-shooting J.R. beautifully to form a powerful team). Bobby Heenan, when he was commentating for the WWF, was once great at this type of commentating. Heenan then moved to WCW and has now become "soft." He started out great (and can still be heard the odd time sucking up to a heel) but seems to have been muzzled so that annoying loudmouths such as Mark Madden can have their say. I don't watch Sunday Night Heat because of less superior matches, I don't watch it because Lawler and Ross are not commentating. I've enjoyed them for so long that I honestly could not picture watching a pay-per-view or RAW broadcast without them. How about sharing your thoughts on this Eric?"

    I think your words ring true even more with the passing of a legend in Gordon Solie.

    All I can add to what you have to say is that I think Jerry Lawler is the best commentator in the business, knowing just what to do, and when and how to do it. Bobby Heenan is my favourite, all-time -- manager and commentator, I think -- but he's not the same sharp edge he used to be. The commentators call the action, and in some senses dictate how it's received on television, so yeah, the WWF's better announcing team definitely has an impact on that.


    That's all for this week. Thanks for writing, thanks for reading, and have yourself a great week!

    Send email to ebenner@hotmail.com.


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