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BIG COLUMN O' FUN  
The Difference Between
Right and RAWng... 

September 19, 2002

by Will Parrish  
AltWrestling.net
/OnlineOnslaught.com

 

You want to talk about a time when Vince McMahon was desperate, let’s talk about seven years ago. In late-1995, Vince’s panicky state and tenuous grip on reality seemed to be approaching the levels displayed by William H. Macy’s car salesman character in “Fargo” -- who, notably, wound up going completely insane. The Fed was at the height of its post-steroid-trial creative doldrums, after all, losing about $5 million a year and suddenly feeling the breath of the Nitro-charged WCW on its neck. With his then-33-year-old family-owned business five feet in the grave, McMahon was willing to do anything -- absolutely anything -- to salvage it from dying a violent death.

Including, as it turned out, emphasizing the “sports” element of Sports Hyphen Entertainment more so than at any time in his career.

In the fall of ‘95 came the jaw-dropping news that Vince had hired the ultra-traditionalist Bill Watts, a one-time rival, to serve as the WWF’s head booker. Ultimately, Watts’ brief tenure didn’t pan out, but it was only a couple of months later that a successor emerged: the only man on the planet whose propensity for old-school territorial wrestling might have been even stronger than “Cowboy” Bill’s -- yup, that’s right, the redoubtable Jim Cornette. Incredibly, McMahon seemed this close to promoting -- gasp! -- some good, ol’-fashioned Southern-style rasslin’, mixed together with his more familiar entertainment-oriented output. Soon afterward, that’s exactly what started to happen, before anyone knew just what the hell was going on here: Over-the-top premises for feuds were steadily being replaced with quasi-realistic pretexts, wrestlers were spending the bodies of their matches working over the arms and legs of their opponents (watch the October ‘95 In Your House PPV if you don’t believe me), Vince was giving out his performers’ amateur athletic backgrounds over the air, and all kinds of similar craziness was taking place, all of which was totally novel within the Federation at the time.

To paraphrase Kevin Costner in “JFK,” we were through the looking glass, people: Day was night, black was white, and nobody knew quite what to make of it.

In hindsight, it had to be one of the single greatest departures from one’s established character traits that the business ever saw in the ‘90s, ranking right up there with the time Kevin Nash executed a tope -- and actually cleared the top rope with room to spare -- on Sid at the July ‘95 “In Your House,” or the time on Nitro in late-‘96 when Chris Benoit suddenly transformed into a valley grrrl right before our very eyes, shoving his hand in Steve McMichael’s face during a Four Horsemen interview and cattily saying, “Talk to the hand, ‘cuz the man don’t understand!” For a while, Vincent Kennedy McMahon -- the promotional genius with an affinity for cartoon-style wrestling, who killed off the territories and mass-marketed a gimmick-laden version of the once-exclusionary industry to millions of children worldwide -- actually employed “Cowboy” Bill Watts and Jim Cornette as head bookers, with hopes of presenting a product that tended somewhat toward the ‘70s territorial style. For those of us who could really appreciate it, this turn of events was every bit as astounding as the sight of Vince’s hugging Eric Bischoff on Raw a few months back. In a related story, temperatures in Hell during late-‘95 were hovering in the lower-30 degrees, Fahrenheit.

Oh, sure, Vince still trotted out his fair share of gimmicky vices during this time, such as Goldust, the “Billionaire Ted” skits, and the muck that he made Triple-H flounder around in at a couple of In Your House PPVs. I’m not making some lousy analogy to a bad storyline here, either; I’m talking about the actual muck that Hunter and Henry O. Godwinn (HOG) wallowed in during their “Arkansas Hog Pen Match,” being surrounded by live pigs all the while. But, even so, it was evident that those around Junior McMahon had somehow de-programmed him into believing that the Watts-Cornette philosophy was the one that could best help him escape from his business troubles. It was this environment that begot the Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels Iron Man match, Michaels’ workrate-centric title reign, the first celebrity-free year in the history of the company, a moratorium on the company’s signature goofy diversions, and increasingly fewer of those types of gimmicks that bear no resemblance to actual -- you know? -- people.

Unfortunately, the whole thing wound up going to Hell in a hand basket in about as much time as it took you to read that last paragraph.

Maybe you saw the December 1995 “In Your House” PPV, maybe you didn’t -- but, all in all, I’d say the odds are strongly in favor of the latter case-scenario. And therein lies the problem. It just so happens that this show, which marked a culminating point in the period where Vince presented the most traditional product of his career, drew a worst-ever 0.33 buy rate -- that’s right, a 0.33 -- thereby making it the only PPV in WWE history that actually lost money. And that pretty much set the tone for the hapless year to come: By the end of 1996, with Cornette still at the booking helm, the company had plunged to the 5.99-feet-in-the-grave mark, had more or less thrown its hands up by giving the Hvt. title to freaking Sid, and was coming off a December PPV that drew the second worst buy rate in company history. To paraphrase the aforementioned Watts, Vince would either be lying or he’d be dying if he told you that those kinds of results didn’t give him nightmares.

Of course, Cornette and his philosophies were as much a victim of bad luck and circumstances as anything else, but there’s simply no getting around the fact that after Vince Russo assumed the booking mantle in early-’97 and ushered in a more entertainment-y product mix, the WWF immediately rebounded. Therefore, since McMahon obviously never really wanted to promote ‘rasslin to begin with, it’s pretty clear what his perspective on these events is going to be:

He’d stopped dancing with the gal who brung him. And the gal who brung him turned out to be a jealous, conniving bitch who didn’t take kindly to his slight.

The RAW-ng Approach

“OK, Analogy Boy,” you might be saying, “That’s all just fine and dandy. But what in the name of Bill Mulkey does it got to do with the WWE of today?”

Everything, my Bill-Mulkey-loving friends. Everything.

It’s no secret that WWE has struggled recently to find the right balance between sports and entertainment. Since this whole woe-begotten period of plunging profits began after last year’s WrestleMania, the company has changed up the proverbial sizzle-to-steak ratio about as many times as Triple-H has worn a shit-eating grin. And there doesn’t look to be any end in sight, either. Really, watching this tension between the two flanks of the WWE booking committee manifest itself on the air has been one of the most intriguing parts of the brand extension these past several months. In one corner, there’s Paul Heyman, Michael Hayes, and the old-school ‘rasslin sensibilities that they display on Smackdown; in the other corner, there’s Brian Gewirtz, a Bunch of Guys Whose Names I Read in a Sheet a Couple of Months Ago But Can’t Remember And Am Too Lazy To Look Up Now, and their preference for cornball comedy ’n’ such that are evident on Raw every Monday. And I’ll give you one guess as to which side I think embodies Good and which I think embodies Evil.

(Of course, I couldn’t be serious when I say that someone like Paul Heyman, who has a well-established depraved streak, actually represents the forces of Good, could I? To be honest, half of the time I don't even know when I’m being sincere and when I’m not anymore... but I think... I'm being... sarcastic. Kinda.)

Now, let me say right up front that I have no idea how much prior wrestling knowledge Gewirtz and friends possessed when they migrated over from Conan O’Brien and whatever the third-rate sitcoms are (Arli$$, or whatever) that wax their resumes. All I have to go on are the results they’ve produced, which have violated so many basic principles of fan psychology in the past couple of years that it’s become obvious what a terribly flimsy grasp they have on what it’s actually like to be a wrestling fan. That’s the crux of why so many of us fall into the trap of vilifying Gewirtz and his buddies: What business do they have dictating storylines to wrestling fans when, deep down, they don’t even seem to be wrestling fans themselves?

That said, we all have to understand that it was Vince McMahon who, in a relatively sentient moment, hired these folks for the stated purpose of to write (alleged) comedy and entertainment bits. He knew exactly what he was getting when he brought them onboard -- namely, outsiders who don’t have a clue about the pro wrestling business but instead are well-versed in the finer points of cheesy comedy; sad to say, they’re a lot less likely to own a Best of Ric Flair compilation tape, for instance, than they are a Best of Bob Saget comp (and what a loaded one that would be, eh?). When Gewirtz writes all that entertainment stuff, he’s only doing what the boss expects of him -- it’s his job description, as outlined by those queries WWE posts over at hotjobs.com that didn’t even require any wrestling knowledge from prospective applicants. That’s why you’ll no longer see me breathing his name as one would breath the name of Satan, unlike a lot of other folks online -- even if I do resent what the man represents.

Checking with the judges... Yup, I’m actually being sincere on this one.

So, yeah, Gewirtz and Friends aren’t around to spin elaborate yarns reminiscent of, say, 1984 Mid-South Wrestling; nor could they, even if they wanted to. In fact, I’m pretty sure that they don’t want to, because the moment WWE becomes a wrestling-oriented product is the moment that the whole lot of them becomes expendable. Unless I’m way off base here, that’s why they’ll continue to influence an entertainment-oriented direction as much as possible, and that’s why they’ll continue to channel all their creative energies into devising mostly-crappy backstage skits and pillow fights between lingerie bunnies, with hopes that that kind of thing will somehow resonate with the (dwindling) audience. It’s their job to do so and, correspondingly, their jobs depend on their ability to do so.

And never has that ability come further into question than in the months that have followed Vince McMahon’s decision to divide the writing team along philosophical lines. As Raw has sputtered along since that time -- hitting every once in a while but missing the mark by a wide margin most weeks -- it’s become plain whose creative output it is, exactly, that’s been dragging the product down all this time.

Really, it’s the same kind of realization that came to a lot of us after watching Ric Flair wrestle a series of one- and two-star matches against the Junkyard Dog and El Gigante back in ‘90 and ‘91. Sure, everyone knew that JYD and Giant Gonzalez sucked the big suck-a-roo right then, but as you watched in disbelief as Flair oversold all those gawd-forsaken crawling headbutts, you still couldn’t help but wonder whether the God of Wrestling had, in fact, finally lost his powers. Then, a few months later, when He returned to regularly having great matches with even really mediocre opponents, it was obvious that He was still just about as great as ever; it’s just that his opponents during that previous run had been so incompetent, so execrable, and sucked with so much panache that they were capable of making even Him seem merely decent. Same basic thing applies to Heyman vis-à-vis Gewirtz and Friends (not that Gewirtz is anywhere near as bad a writer as El Gigante was a wrestler, mind you). Now that Paul E.’s turning out great material once again every week, and now that Gewirtz and his like-minded peers have gotten even worse without Heyman and Hayes around, it’s obvious that the former ECW mastermind had simply been a four-star booker trapped on a committee with a bunch of DUDs all that time.

A bunch of DUDs who, left to their own devices, are pretty much clueless when it comes to booking a pro wrestling company.

It would be a whole lot easier to overlook the Raw team’s transgressions if there were some kind of palpable method to their madness. I’m about to criticize the build-up to “Unforgiven,” so let me first qualify what I’m going to say by pointing out that nobody on the rotating ball of water we call Earth knows how to hype a wrestling PPV better than Vince McMahon. I mean, he’s been doing it for seventeen years, and he’s masterminded a slew of brilliant promotions in the past. What’s more, the hype for the upcoming PPV on this week’s Raw was solid from top-to-bottom, getting across most of the key issues involved in each respective match in a deft way. That said, I, for one, have found the build-up to this Sunday’s show to have reams of glaring fallacies -- much like most every other PPV the company’s put on in the recent past.

On paper, the Triple H vs. Rob Van Dam World title bout had the potential to be a monumental: It’s the story of an age-old struggle between a grizzled veteran and a rising star, and it just so happens that the rising star’s fans have been pining for him to get this opportunity ever since he entered the company last July. Which is great, until you consider that there’s one dimension that’s conspicuously absent from the hype: RVD doesn’t really seem to give a goddamn about winning the title. In all the interviews -- well, okay, the one interview -- he’s had leading up to the big match, he hasn’t so much as addressed the issue of winning the championship. Not once. I mean, would he be fulfilling a childhood dream if he won the match; would it mark the consummation of 12 long years of bleeding, sweating, and paying the price; does carrying around 10 pounds of gold help him earn a special discount on, uh, pharmaceuticals? Apparently not, since the guy never even saw fit to bring those possibilities up. You could argue that it wouldn’t be true to his “grinning stoner” character for him to so much as concern himself with the trivial matter of winning a World championship, but if that’s the case, what’s my incentive for plunking down $34.95 for the expressed purpose of rooting him on toward that objective?

On the surface, that one little oversight may not be that big a deal, but it does rip the lid off the larger problems pervading Raw right now. Whereas there’s a tangible sense of long-term direction involved whenever you watch Smackdown, the Monday show’s writers don’t have the slightest semblance of long-range vision. If they had any idea what they were ultimately attempting to accomplish with any of these shows, who knows: They may not have had to resort to the lesbian-related stunt last week. The thing is, though, that with them, it's all about the instant ego gratification of this week’s rating. Not partially about the instant ego gratification of this week’s ratings, or mostly, or even 90 percent. All. That’s been the case with every writing team since the dawn of the Monday Night Wars seven years ago, really, but now that WWE’s the sole purveyor of sports-entertainment on a national scale, and now that the writing team’s per-capita duties having been eased by the split into two teams, you would think they would have time to figure out in advance roughly where they’re headed a week or two from now. Not so. Remember: This is the same writing team that as often as not doesn’t formulate a single match on the undercard until the final week before a given PPV. The next step in this current progression is for JR to mention in passing during the token Lawler-gets-an-erection-for-the-92-minutes-preceding-it match, “There haven’t been any matches made for this Sunday’s blockbuster yet, folks, but be sure to log onto wwe.com this Sunday at 6:30 pm EST to see whether we’ve bothered to come up with a line-up yet!”

Again, why is this happening? Because Gewirtz and his buddies don’t seem to know anything about pro wrestling, that’s why. And, as good as the promo was that they wrote for RVD on Monday, they’re too consumed with trying to wring chuckles out of the audience to bother with the elements of wrestling cards that actually draw money.

Ultimately, it’s up to VK McMahon to decide whether he wants a bunch of comedy-writing hacks supervising his product, or whether he wants actual wrestling people in charge. But unfortunately, there’s such a shortage of proven bookers out on the market these days that the Gewirtz types have this bad habit of lingering around until long, long after they’ve lost their usefulness -- remember Vince Russo? What? He's still got a job in the business? Jesus, it's worse than I thought.

The Smackdown Approach

And then, on the flip side of the brand-extension coin, you have Smackdown. You know that stuff I mentioned several paragraphs up about the looking glass, the black being white, and the day being night? Well, ditto that for the last three-or-so months of SD programming, which has, in some ways, been the antithesis of everything VK McMahon has promoted for the better part of 19 years; ever since the writing team split, Smackdown has been a bastion for good matches, long and good matches, logical storylines, sound character development, young wrestlers gradually moving up the card, something resembling a long-term vision... the whole kit and kaboodle.

Granted, the show doesn’t feature the kind of product that tends to spark a whole lot of water-cooler chatter 'round my workplace, but wrestling doesn’t necessarily have to be trendy for it to be extremely successful, you know. And, besides that, water-cooler chatter at my workplace usually begins with "Why don’t they just fire the prick, anyhow? Oh, hey, Will! Uh, how long have you been standing here?" So, er, I guess this whole paragraph is pretty much moot now. Going back to my original point: Smackdown rules.

In fairness, Team Heyman does hold several advantages over Team Gewirtz. For instance, it’s a lot easier to promote a quality WRESTLING show -- to steal a phrase from Rick -- when you have a talent pool including Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, and the mighty Kurt Angle to draw from. (Note that if I refer to a wrestler as “mighty,” it automatically means he/she is one of my all-time favorites. As examples, there’s the “mighty” Rick Steamboat and the “mighty” Shawn Michaels... along with the “mighty” Mulkeys and the “mighty” Tommy Dreamer.) But, as we’ve already established, the Raw creative team denizens don’t have the first clue how to properly utilize Angle, Benoit, Rey Mysterio, and all the rest. The Smackdown guys and gal, on the other hand, do.

Which is exactly what I mean when I say some members of the WWE writing team have lost their usefulness.

What Are We Left With?

What we’re left with, then, is the delicate balance between the two diametrically opposed philosophies. And, whether Vince McMahon agrees with me or not, I think the Smackdown approach has already proven its mettle.

Take the contrast between WWE’s two biggest PPVs of the year, WrestleMania and Summer Slam... perfect example.

In preparation for WM X-8, WWE uncorked some of the most sports-entertainment-ish angles in its history -- which, coming from a company that brought us the 1987 Slammy Awards, is quite a statement. From the NWO’s running over The Rock’s ambulance with an eighteen-wheeler, to the NWO’s shattering a cinder-block across Steve Austin’s knee, to Steve Austin’s ensnaring Kevin Nash with a net gun, to Steve Austin’s abducting Scott Hall with rope, duct tape, and a knife, to -- I’d better write this one as succinctly as possible, or else the medication’s gonna start kicking in here -- Lucy the Dog’s doing stuff, those three-or-so weeks contained more “entertainment” than you could shake a dog-crap-scooping stick at. The upshot? The PPV drew a huge buy rate, of course, but it actually turned out to be the lowest one since WrestleMania 13 (source: Wrestling Observer). And, lest anyone’s forgotten, the ratings crashed across the board during this period.

At that point, business was decidedly on the downswing.

Conversely, Summer Slam may have been a co-branded show, but clearly, it was the Smackdown approach that diffused the card more so than the Raw approach. To wit: The Rock vs. Brock Lesnar was, with the possible exception of the can’t-miss Rock vs. Hulk Hogan program, the hottest feud in WWE so far this year. And, aside from the Taz(z)-vs.-Sabu-at-Barely-Legal-esque build-up and the name value of the principals involves, the main reason for that was that the typically-excellent work from the production team focused on each guy’s respective amateur sports background. To long-time fans, the premise of two guys’ amateur exploits being used to build a feud is about as novel as an MD’s getting splattered with barf is for an episode of “ER,” or Hugo Savinovich’s heading for higher ground at 10:40 PM EST is for a WWE PPV; to the Crash TV generation of fans, though, it’s something fresh and compelling, which is why, by all indications, it did monstrous business. Moreover, the rest of the SS card may well have been the most pure-wrestling-intensive fair that Vince, Jr. has ever endorsed. As I recall, there was less than five minutes worth of backstage soap opera segments on the entire show -- it had to have set some kind of modern-day record in that record in that regard. And the in-ring content itself was, for the most part, very old-school (for lack of a better term) in nature.

Yes indeed, at that point, business was decidedly on the upswing.

So, naturally, coming out of Summer Slam, I’ll be goddamned if I wasn’t more excited about WWE’s product than I have been at any other time in the past year -- if not longer. I was reveling in the disparate awesomeness of the show itself, I was excited that the company finally seemed to have created a new mass-appeal star (Brock Lesnar), and I was already eagerly anticipating a Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle and Rock vs. Bill Goldberg double main event at WrestleMania (not that I was getting ahead of myself or anything). The wrestling columnist in me was even formulating extended thoughts like “How ironic that WWE’s protracted struggles of the past eighteen months were bookended by their two best PPVs of the period -- WrestleMania X-7, which ushered in those struggles, and Summer Slam, which marked the end of those struggles.” I’m not making this up -- that’s the kind of internal dialogue I have from time to time.

Right on cue, that’s when something really horrible started happening. Not only did Raw go on a three-week sucking streak starting the night after SS, but a really disturbing trend started to take hold... First the Undertaker defected from Raw to Smackdown and, once there, manhandled Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle... then SD! became built around a gay commitment ceremony for two weeks running... then a pregnant Sara Calloway appeared on the show, involving herself in the Lesnar vs. UT feud... and then I read in the Wrestling Observer that they’ve been contemplating moving the Big Show over to SD.

(Brief memo to the WWE think-tank, before I go on: Please, for the love of God, don’t move the Big Show over to Smackdown. Keep him on Raw. Come on, I’m begging you. Do you hear me? Do you hear me? Why must you take the most wholesome thing you have and twist it and tarnish it and make it impure?! DAMMIT! JUST KEEP THE $@*&@ BIG SHOW ON RAW, WHERE HE BELONGS, OR THERE’S GONNA BE SOME %#&^# HELL TO PAY! DO YOU FREAKING HEAR ME?!!! HELL TO PAY!!!!!!!

I'm sorry. I blanked out there for a second. Where was I before I got on all that Big Show stuff? Oh, right...)

I’ll be the first to admit that the wedding angle was excellent -- really, it couldn’t have been executed any better. And, hey, it could very well be that Heyman himself is the mastermind behind all this pregnancy business -- he’s the one who gave us that whole saga leading up to the Lesbian Kiss back in 1996ish ECW, after all. But, by virtue of their very presence, these storylines indicate that, for some reason, WWE is trying to tinker with the winning Smackdown formula.

And I’d be lying or I’d be dying if I said that doesn’t give me nightmares.

Back to the Future

It’s clear that, once the Bischoff-Stephanie McMahon feud runs its course, WWE will have a very consequential decision to make. Should it continue to try to differentiate the two product types of the two franchise shows; should it return to its entertainment-oriented ways of old; or should it take a hard, honest look at the lay of the land and decide that promoting a WRESTLING product is the way to go?

Really, Vince can’t be faulted for his aversion to ‘rasslin and what that term connotes, for wanting to cast his net wider and lure in more viewers than just the straightforward-wrestling-fan demo and the dorks-who-come-up-with-lines-to-use-in-their-wrestling- columns- while-they- watch-pay-per-views demo. For close to 19 years, he’s made his keep by doing exactly that -- distancing himself from traditional wrestling, to the point that he’s openly made a mockery of it at times. What’s more, Vince has always had a complex whereby he dreads being pigeonholed as just a wrestling promoter; obviously, he’s always craved a broader legacy. Thus, it’s possible that returning to promoting a product where actual wrestling is overriding would, in his mind, be equivalent to taking a huge step back. What’s more, given that WWE turned more of a profit in a single three-year span (1998-2000) than every other domestic promotion has in history, combined, it’s awfully hard to dispute the approach he’s taken thus far.

Also, let’s not forget that when Vince gave Jim Cornette relatively free reign in 1996, it resulted in one of the most dismal years at the box office in company history.

With that being said, let’s face it: After the blow-out success of Brock-Rock -- and Summer Slam as a whole -- WWE made a crucial mistake by immediately re-upping the entertainment- and shock-value-quotient of its product mix. Everybody’s burned out on the old formula, whether they know it or not; we all covet a new, overarching approach ushered in by fresh stars. In short, the company’s problem isn’t just a matter of poorly-written TV, it’s a matter of the type of poor TV that’s being written. We’ve all heard that said before, of course, and until it actually happens, it'll be said again time after time.

Moreover, it’s no secret that wrestling is a star-driven business. For instance, the two biggest stars in the WWF of the ‘80s and early-’90s were Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior; the company was structured accordingly at that time, emphasizing showmanship and gimmickry. In 1998, it was Steve Austin and DX who emerged as the big draws; they were crude and “attitudinal,” so the entire face of the company began to reflect their personalities. By the same token, who are the two wrestlers on the company’s current roster who have the best chances of being enduring main eventers for the next 5 years? For my money, they’re Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar, both of whose primary gimmicks are, notably, that they’re amateur wrestlers -- amateur wrestlers with few frills, throwbacks to another era. Beyond that, the company’s likeliest headliners -to-be include Edge, RVD, Chris Benoit, Batista, and John Cena (if you could’ve seen his work in OVW, you’d believe me), while Triple-H is the only current main eventer who will, barring injury, almost surely remain in a top spot a half-decade from now. Arguably, one attribute that all of those guys share in common is that, with the exception of Cena, most of their success thus far is attributable to the abilities they display in the ring. Partly for that reason, it’s obvious to me that WRESTLING is enjoying an organic revival.

In fairness, Vince has already made numerous concessions toward actual wrestling over the years. When he first started promoting, it’s pretty obvious that workrate didn’t really make no nevermind to him. That’s changed a great deal in the last two decades; hell, in 2000 and early-2001, the quality of workrate in his main events was as consistently good as any that the business has ever seen. But WWE still carries an entertainment-first mentality, every bit as much as it did in the ‘80s. The over-the-top gimmicks that were indomitable then may be all but gone, but in their place have emerged all the backstage hijinx, the shock-value-centric material, and the adaptations of daytime soap opera storylines that we’ve come to know and love.

I’m not suggesting that WWE revert back to a strictly ‘70s-style of promoting, by any means. That would be even more absurd than continuing with the Crash TV formula.

I’m also not suggesting that Vince clean house of all the Gewirtz types entirely. They deserve credit for coming up with a lot of creative stuff, even in recent months. Ideas like, say, having three lounge singers warble “It’s Raining Men” at the Billy & Chuck wedding, which was a really clever touch. And while I could most definitely be wrong on this, I doubt that Paul Heyman was the one who conceived that one.

However, all the empirical evidence that I can think of suggests that allowing good matches, well-protected and all-important title belts, and logical adaptations of old-school themes (read: Brock vs. Rock) should be the rule of thumb right now. That huge Summer Slam buy rate speaks more strongly for that point of view than any sentence I'm capable of crafting.

On a final note, if you’ll indulge me (and since you have up to this point, I don’t see why you wouldn’t), I’d like to share with you what may have been the most telling experience I’ve had as a wrestling fan in the last six months. It happened four months ago when, as I’m often wont to do, I was watching a compilation tape of OVW TV shows.

At the time, Jim Cornette and company were building toward a special appearance Ric Flair would be making to team with his son against The Prototype (John Cena) and Sean O’Haire at a major house show. To hype the match, James E. aired a video of what he said “many experts feel is the greatest match of all-time,” Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat at WrestleWar ‘89, which was set to the strains of Sammy Hagar’s cheesy early-’80s “Winner Takes It All” track (now playing on an MP3 player near me -- and I’m not ashamed to admit it). Now, I’ve watched that match approximately 1,947 times on tape by this point, but seeing a clipped version of it in a music video format somehow made it seem fresh all over again. Well, needless to say, this little episode marked the first time that I’ve ever voluntarily listened to Sammy Hagar for two straight hours: Since it was late at night, since I had nothing better to do, and since I obviously have no life (witness the amount of time I’ve spent on this column), I ended up rewinding that damn thing over and over again. After I’d finally watched it something like 30 times, I finally nodded off some time in the 4 a.m. range. You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not: It was easily one of the most pathetic 120 minutes of my life that didn’t involve the phrases “hardcore porn,” “as I watched,” and “trying to get my zipper un-stuck.” Still and all, though, it led me to take stock of one indisputable fact:

I had Vince McMahon to thank for that moment; in a round-about way, he’s the one who’s letting Jim Cornette book right now with such a traditional flavor.

Because along with WWE’s wrestling product, this column has also had to come full-circle.

E-MAIL WILL PARRISH  
BROWSE WILL'S ARCHIVES

Who is Will Parrish? Assuming you like OVW and the members of the “Mighty
Club,” he is you.  Otherwise, he isn’t you -- but he should be.  Keep
reading his columns -- which will usually be a whole lot shorter than this
one -- and pretty soon, he thinks you’ll be he.


  
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