SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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

Friday, January 14, 2000

RAW is losing its luster

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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I enjoyed RAW this week. I enjoyed it very much. The Rock and the WWF roster taking over RAW right out of the hands of Triple H and Stephanie made for interesting and watchable television, and I didn't turn away for a second. But goodness, if they keep pulling this same textbook carbon copy method to booking their flagship show, they're going to start to lose steam.

First of all, the whole clipboard booking thing is getting old. It started out as a semi-regular attraction over a year ago, when Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon, Steve Austin, and Shawn Michaels were all power players in atop the WWF. They'd feud over control, and from one week to the next, one or two of those individuals would book the entire show's matches from a clipboard during a lengthy opening sequence. It was good, but like any gimmick, doing it so many times consecutively wore it out.

It was laid to rest for awhile, and now it's back. First Triple H and Stephanie. In fact, they've done it a few times now. Then, The Rock. Then, Triple H and Stephanie again. It's starting to get old quickly. It was at least refreshing to have The Rock book parts of RAW, but having Triple H go and do it again three days later wasn't.

Show quality aside, opening sequence mass-booking, or clipboard booking, is a great (read: easy) way to put together a show when you don't have a sizzling angle. And this week, at least on RAW, it turned out pretty well and did more or less a good job of hyping the Rumble next weekend.

But the luster is going.

The shows that made the WWF the darling (or devil) of the media last year were not the clipboard shows used as filler when lacking a main event angle. Think about what you remember when you think of the WWF's success in 1998 and 1999. I remember Austin dumping concrete into McMahon's car, driving the zamboni to ringside, scuffling with Mike Tyson. I think of the month-long twists and turns it took to bring Austin and Shawn Michaels together for the title, the long feud between The Rock's Nation and Triple H's Degenerates.

What I don't remember, at all, when I think of success, is Austin or Shane or Vince McMahon or Michaels booking two hours' worth of handicap matches.

At the time I didn't care, because it was entertaining, and more importantly, because it was balanced with the monumental RAWs. Now, it seems like this is all we get.

And it's great television. And it's worth watching. And people will watch it, especially with nowhere else to go on Mondays after ten. But it's not in any way the best the WWF can do.

I understand that Vince McMahon is a very busy man. He manages a huge company in a very hands-on way.

Maybe he should have thought about that before he built the company around himself. Because he did, and it was a huge hit, and like it or not, it ain't the same without him. Austin is excused because he's plenty injured. Shane McMahon wasn't that important in the first place.

Whether these are unbreakable constraints or simply lazy misjudgements, I don't know. I'm not pointing a finger at Vince McMahon and telling him it's his fault his company won't keep this status forever. But it won't. Not without the stars he created, and not unless he creates new ones.

If the WWF is going to create new stars -- and when I say stars, I mean Hulk, Austin, McMahon level stars, not popular wrestlers -- he's going to have to do it with compelling stories, not clipboards and sign-up sheets. It's going to take Must See TV, not too many valets and not enough wrestlers to pair them with. It's going to take a great story, some great acting, some great wrestling, and some Vince McMahon touch.

He'll have to be there to oversee it, but he'll also have to be there for the rub, to pass on the torch to the next generation of mainstream WWF stars.

Likely, those stars will be The Rock and Triple H. That's probably for the better, because they're both young, and they're both wrestlers. Neither one nearly broke his neck, and neither one is a fifty-something-year-old company CEO. They're the pair with the perfect shoulders atop which to place the federation and the future of wrestling.

That's a feat that won't accomplish itself. I have a feeling that McMahon hasn't forgotten that he runs a company, though, and he'll be back sooner than later to set things up for Wrestlemania, which could be great if it pits The Rock against Triple H and if they bother promoting the undercard this year.

Here's to hoping the Royal Rumble shapes up as good as it's sounding, that the winner is either deserving or a pleasant surprise, and that we see a little magic again. That's been gone from wrestling for a little too long.

Mailbag! writes:
"What an optomist you are! WCW ratings can only get worse? WCW storylines are better than in years, but wrestling ratings in the past have proven that until the WWF product sinks to a totally new depth WCW wont be able to win. That's how it was for the WWF in 1998. Tell me with a straight face that WCW's current storylines aren't better than the WWF's. They haven't missed their chance, especially when Rock jobs to fricking Kurt Angle on Smackdown!!!"

When I make a point in a conversation -- where people have the luxury of speaking faster than they write -- I like to use analogies. Here's an analogy.

Take the Triple H-Stephane McMahon marriage angle. Some liked it, some hated it, but it was at least an angle, with a start, a middle, and presumedly there will be a finish. Now imagine this marriage were to run over the course of not the next year, not even the next two, but the next three years. That is to say, long after it had worn itself out. At this point, people would perhaps be tired of it, but of course that wouldn't stop it. Then imagine if they brought in a whole bunch of people as new family members, first the McMahons we know, then Linda, then X-Pac, then Macho Man, then The Big Show, then Test, Edge, Val Venis, Steve Blackman, and Kurt Angle.

Now, imagine that at the end of those three years, they don't actually finish the angle -- no, it's been too good to do that -- they just split the group in two. First, the black and white 'Helmsleys', with half of the above group, and the red and black 'McMahons', a splinter group that broke off. Then, imagine no thought was put into the obvious feud that should proceed from the break-up.

Continuing, imagine, after a few more months, the 'Helmsleys' reunited after a screw-job main event that had been hyped for a month but ended in a poking finger for the pin. Now, imagine that failed, and they broke up again, some people disappearing from television.

Finally, imagine that, much to everyone's shock, they were reformed, this time with a different couple, and didn't do much of anything interesting that hadn't been done four years prior, except maybe for feuding with Terry Funk and the Old Age Outlaws.

Tell me, kind sir, would you call that last part of the angle a storyline which is "better than in years"? Gosh, I hope not.

If that whole monologue sounded boring, it was meant to reflect what it was describing -- the WCW nWo angle milking, just in case anyone didn't follow. I'm all for the reformation, but at least have them do something new to capture fans' attention. No, changing to silver doesn't count.

I wouldn't be making such a big deal about this, by the way, if WCW actually had an undercard to speak of anymore. Vince Russo canned that to over-promote the new now and bring in old-timers and destroy the cruiserweight title and such.

Yeah, WCW is on top of the world. I think I miss Eric Bischoff. writes:
"Your theory about the "curse" of wrestling fans is a lot like the "curse" of sports fans. Being from Massachusetts, home of the consistently worst sports teams in history, I have seen this syndrome repeat itself continuously since Larry Bird's retirement from the Celtics. No matter how bad the Celtics/Patriots/Red Sox may suck during a particular season, people around here will continue to root for the teams, stay up all night to watch them blow the game in the final minutes (or hold out hope for a comeback that would require divine intervention), and complain loudly for months on end after the end of the season."

Suliss, as anyone who knows me can attest, despite my Canadian lineage and Montreal home, I'm a huge fan of all teams Boston t- the Sox, Bruins, Celts, and even the Pats.

So trust me, I know the feeling. Boston sports teams are lucky that their fans are so supportive despite having nothing to show for it. Anyone pick the Red Sox for 2000?

That's all for this week. A lot of great feedback this week, thanks. Thanks also for writing. Have a great week, everyone.

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