SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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

Friday, October 19, 2001

Falling into the same trap

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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When WCW was a force to be reckoned with, it had some unique traits and advantages over the competing WWF product. Nitro was a cutting edge product, with new and different angles going on each week. The cruiserweight division was as strong as any has ever been in an American promotion. Pay-per-views were thoroughly enjoyable products, from start to finish. In fact, it was usually the main events in WCW that scored worst and were the least favoured matches on their cards. Meanwhile, the WWF was offering one-trick-pony pay-per-views with a fantastic, four-star main event but little else.

Two years later, the tables had turned. WCW had become so focused on keeping its main events fresh that it sacrificed everything else. The angles were stale. The cruiserweights were sacrificed to the heavyweights and then buried. Undercards, especially on pay-per-views, were an afterthought at best. The glass ceiling was so bad that it was rumoured that midcard wrestlers were told to keep their matches below a certain level of high-flying, fast-paced threshold so as to avoid showing up the main eventers. Meanwhile, the WWF was flying high on a tight, focused roster. Every match on their cards, from the new hardcore division to the improving tag team scene to the still awesome main events, was worth watching.

If you're thinking what I'm thinking, then you notice a pattern.

Nowadays, the WWF seems to have fallen back into that fateful trap. Or at least, they're starting to fall. The focus has returned squarely onto the main event, as it always is. Now, though, that renewed energy in the lightheavyweight division, the hardcore division, and even the tag team division is gone. The emphasis is all on the major players, at the expense of the other 75% of the their pay-per-view cards.

Take No Mercy, for example. Other than the fact that the WWF has been fairly good about reminding us of the matches, the only ones I really remember are the main events. Rob Van Dam and Kurt Angle and Stone Cold Steve Austin in one match, and Chris Jericho and The Rock in the other. That aside, I think Edge and Christian are still lumped together, Test is taking on Undertaker and Kane or something, Booker T is probably going to job to the other guy, and there's a lingerie match or something. From my perspective, not an especially enthralling card. Oh yeah, and maybe there will be a tag team match.

So far, there are announced matches for less than half of the titles that we see every week on Raw or Smackdown! I think the average television program and house show may actually have more title matches than the upcoming pay-per-view. That's insane. Just as before, the spotlight is back on those last one or two matches on the card, at the expense of everything else.

It's silly to promote a card around two matches, at least for a wrestling show. People don't tune in for one match, as they might in boxing. They tune in for a whole card. Sure, the mainstream crossover appeal of a Rock- or Hogan-type personality might be enough to draw some buys, but most wrestling fans that I know or interact with are interested in the whole three hours of pay-per-view they pay for.

This is not a new situation for wrestling. The big champions and the icons wrestle each other in feuds planned intricately so that no one loses any heat, while no new stars are really built and the rest of the roster is tossed haphazardly into meaningless matches. If the writers can't be bothered to pen an interesting script for the wrestlers, then why should the viewers bother to buy a show.

There's no excuse. The talent's all there. The WWF is a monopoly, meaning it's the only real buyer of talent in North America. They've got everyone. That they can't find anything to do with them is their own fault.

In my opinion, just about every title in the whole federation is devalued compared to one or two years ago. I have never cared less about the United States or Intercontinental titles. In fact, I think the WWF had more prestigious titles last year at this time when they only had their own. Since adding WCW's to the mix, the total value and prestige of the titles has actually declined. They should put some aside, drop some altogether, somehow separate the two federations, or unify them.

If they have too many midcarders and don't know what to do with them, reassign them or something. But they shouldn't waste what they've got. The WWF has perhaps the best collection of North American talent in two decades. Three years from now, we'll be reminiscing about the time a healthy Rock, Steve Austin, Undertaker, Booker T, Kurt Angle, and Rob Van Dam wrestled on the same night, let alone Triple H when he returns. The WWF is spoiled with this roster of fantastically-over heavyweights. If they don't build new stars, they'll be wishing they had even three over superstars to carry their pay-per-views. If they don't work harder on building compelling midcard feuds, they'll be wondering why by the time the champion wrestles on Raw, all the viewers are already gone.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I have seldom been less enthused about a pay-per-view than I am No Mercy, despite the fact that I expect the top two matches to be stellar. I don't like to think I'm wasting my time on the rest of the show, as if they can't be bothered to set up a card ahead of time. Well, if they can't bother, then neither should we.

The WWF has already lost all the new viewers they gained when Nitro went off the air and The Rock returned. They still have lots more to lose, though.

Here's the mailbag. writes:
"Each Montreal fan should show up there with all kinds of 'We haven't forgotten Bret' signs and shout out 'We want Bret' all night long on Tuesday very loud and never stop for two hours.

That would be good. But of course it probably won't happen unless proper organization takes place and people can remember that far back. But it should happen. We still shouldn't give up on Bret. Canada owes Bret."

I'm not surprised that there were a lot of fans wielding Bret- or Survivor Series-related signs (that event, after all, is Montreal's identity in wrestling today), but I am surprised that the WWF didn't confiscate more of them.

On the other hand, I am sort of surprised that fans around here remembered, or wanted to remember. Don't forget, even at the Survivor Series, when Canada was actually represented in the form of the Hart Foundation, Montreal was still cheering Steve Austin over Owen Hart. It hasn't really been about patriotism for awhile here. This is Montreal's first taste of the Attitude-era WWF, and so you can't expect everyone to 'remember' Bret. If it had been he facing Austin at Survivor Series, I'm not even sure Bret would have been the favourite.

Robbie D, from , writes:
"Will there be 'You screwed Bret' chants for Hebner when he comes out in Montreal or possibly 'We Want Bret' chants??

PS: Any idea yet how much WrestleMania tickets will cost when they go on sale?"

Great readers think alike? As I understand it, apparently Earl Hebner didn't referee at Smackdown! Probably a good idea. If you're asking yourself why I don't know first-hand whether Hebner was present or not, also ask yourself how ill I would have had to have been to miss the WWF's first TV show here in four years. That's about half as sick as I was. I am recovering, though.

Wrestlemania tickets will cost a lot. That's about all I'm sure of. With the Canadian exchange rate, it should actually be a lot times 1.6.

That's all for this week. Have a safe and happy weekend.

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CNEWS covers the Attack on America

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