EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, May 12, 2000
It's the personalities that make it work
They still have a looooong way to go. And I don't use five o's unless I really mean it.
Let me set up a possible story-line for you. We'll use mid-carders to do it, and then you can tell me what you think of the story.
What if Rikishi Phatu, someone who's never -- in his current persona, at least -- seen any gold, so he's surely a mid-card wrestler, were to be featured in a series of segments. In these segments, wrestlers refused to face him. For whatever reason -- he's big, he's tough, his moves hurt, and one of his signature moves is pretty unpleasant. Forget that last bit, though, because that's unique to him. That aside, the segments would basically feature people coming to the ring for their matches, seeing it's against Rikishi, and fleeing. Or perhaps they'd read it on the sheet of paper with the match list management leaves lying around from time to time. And upon reading it, they'd maybe run out of the building.
Rikishi would have no opponents willing to face him, and he'd have to chase after all his prey. He could be built as a monster, and at the same time, set up humorous situations and great pay-per-view payoffs.
Now tell me, what if we were to run that same storyline in WCW. In fact, I'll give you a list of guys to choose from, guys who fit the persona:
- The Wall
- Scott Steiner
Three guys who are so tough, so stiff, and so off-balance, that no one would ever want to face them.
Now tell me, and don't use your higher reasoning functions here, but imagine the situation and tell me which one you'd enjoy more.
It's the same story, but I'd be willing to bet that more fans would enjoy watching this story with Rikishi than with any of the other listed wrestlers, each of whom have been pushed as much as Rikishi or more.
Let me give you another scenario. This time, it's a tag team, and the problem is that they use so many dangerous moves -- be them high-flying suicide stuff, crippling double-team moves on their foes, whatever -- that management (heels in both feds) tries to get rid of them, making the focus of some serious face heat in their battles with the establishment.
Now pick the team you'd most like to see in that role:
- The Dudley Boyz
- The Hardy Boyz
- Buff Bagwell and Shane Douglas
I'm again willing to wager that more than half of my readers, independently of their federation allegiances, would pick either choice number two, or number three.
But why? Why is that?
Are the WWF wrestlers better? Well, I guess that could be argued, but I don't think so. Both organizations have some very talented wrestlers.
It all has to do with momentum, and it's the reason that the WWF is safe, for the time being, in their position at number one.
Simply, Rikishi and The Hardy Boyz and The Dudley Boyz are more interesting than their largely more experienced counterparts. For years, the WWF has focused on pushing the personalities of their talent over the matches themselves, and in a cyclical sort of way, it's paying off.
Even when we're not talking about a Rock-type character, with infinite charisma, WWF wrestlers are pushed as more than wrestling machines even inside the ring. Each WWF wrestler has their own in-ring personality. Steve Austin is a brawler. The Undertaker is indestructible. The Hardyz are crazy with their stunts. The Dudleyz are, too. Rikishi -- well, let's not go there. The Rock plays the hero, blocking punches and always scoring the punch back.
Time passes, and this all sinks in, and it makes for more interesting people. Their personalities, in and out of the ring, have come through more consistently over the past year or three than their WCW counterparts, and they're reaping the benefits even now.
Simply, and you can disagree with this if you like, for the time being, WWF wrestlers are more interesting. Interest has been built in them, and like a house that's been built, someone now benefits from it. WCW is on the right track, that's for sure -- I'm finding their guys more interesting right now than I have in a year -- but it will take time before they reach the levels achieved by even the lower mid-card in Connecticut. Sorry, New York.
All this to say that even if WCW puts on a better show on paper, some people are still going to like WWF shows. Their characters just do that for people.
I like non-wrestling analogies. Tell me, do you watch Star Trek or Buffy or ER or any drama on television? Would you definitely watch another drama with the same plot but different characters? What if those characters were new, not yet built, or not properly constructed? Yeah, I wouldn't necessarily watch either.
So no matter how good WCW gets over the coming months, WWF fans -- the majority of wrestling fans right now, may still choose not to tune in.
And for the last time, that doesn't make them marks. It just makes them enjoy WWF programming a little more. When WCW hits that level, they'll watch.
Next week: the other reason WCW is at a semi-permanent disadvantage.
Maintenant, c'est le temps pour le mailbag. Voila:
Adam Snow, from email@example.com, writes:
"In your recent column you referred to the "infamous incident" at Madison Square Gardens. I have been watching Raw for years, sporadically in the fake Diesel and Razor days, to habitually from the return of Bret Hart. Somehow I missed out on this whole Clique thing. Could you tell me what happened or point me to an account on the Web. I would greatly appreciate it.
I really enjoy your column and have read it every week since probably '98. Well done."
I knew I should've expected to get responses to my comment about the Madison Square Garden incident in reference to Triple H. There are always new fans to this stuff who haven't yet learned it. The short version of it is that two heels and two faces, real life friends known as the clique (Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash,and Scott Hall) all came together in the ring at MSG to celebrate, or at least commemorate, the departure of Hall and Nash to WCW. WWF officials were most unhappy with that display of breaking kayfabe, and Triple H was buried for a long time to come. Plans to push him to King of the Ring that year were even buried. Shawn Michaels, perennial champ around then, was untouchable.
Maybe I'll just do a column on that one day, so I can point to it later.
Nancy Egelton, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
"I enjoy reading your columns. I would like to ask you a question. My all-time favourite wrestler is King Kong Bundy. The question I have is why doesn't Bundy wrestle in a major federation? Has he been black-balled? Don't the majors want him? Has he caused some sort of riff in the past?
I thank you for your time."
Good question, Nancy. I know for a fact that Bundy still wrestles -- on the indy scene, mostly (except for that Heroes of Wrestling pay-per-view last year). I also know that he makes a good living of it, supplemented by sales of various merchandise.
I ask myself that question too, sometimes. Why doesn't this mammoth wrestle in the big-time?
I can't give you a straight and solid answer, Nancy, but I can open the question to our fellow SLAM! readers. Any thoughts? Maybe a mysterious editor's note will appear here and answer us. [Editor's note: In our Bundy Q&A from Dec. 1998, the Big Man said "I really don't know. If I got the right offer, I'd like to go to WCW, but who knows. If. There's a lot of if's. What if my parents never met, you know. It's one of those what if's."]
If you want speculation from me, I think the big organizations just worry that he's too big, old, and slow to wrestle at a professional pace in the big leagues. Maybe he burned his bridges, but if that's the case, I don't know about it.
And with that, I close up shop. I hope you enjoyed this week's effort. Don't forget to write in and have yourself a great week!
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