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War 2.0: Tale of the Tapening, 04/26/10, NOW WITH BONUS NEWSBITES
April 26, 2010

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OOWrestling.com


Part of the column I wrote for this past weekend (which wound up not displaying correctly) was regarding a big of Spring Cleaning done by WWE... they released 7 performers on Thursday, and there are indications a few more stars may be disappearing in the near term


Of the 7 already let go, the big two are Shelton Benjamin and Mickie James.
Shelton is a 4-time singles champ (3 IC and 1 US) and 2-time tag champ, and seemed to teeter on the brink of stardom after his initial singles push (which included multiple clean wins over Triple H), before the "Writer Monkey Regime" began in 2004, and Shelton was relegated to being WWE's most perpetually under-utilized wrestler. 
Mickie is WWE's second-most-decorated female performer of all times, if you count by number of title reigns. Her six singles reigns (5 Women's Titles, 1 Diva Title) trail only Trish Stratus' 7. Although WWE's erratic treatment of the women's division (sometimes taking it seriously, but more recently not even bothering) might cast a bit of a pall over Mickie's accomplishments, the very least you could say about her is that for 5 years, she's been a pretty big fish in a pond-of-varying-size/relevence.
Both Shelton and Mickie are -- indisputably -- also very good at what they do, something that cannot be unilaterally said for all of their WWE co-workers. Ability, it seems, is not something that matters much to WWE, if these two are gone, while the likes of Chris Masters and Kelly Kelly continue to draw paychecks for (mostly) just looking good on TV. 
Shelton, especially, seems to be a victim of WWE's belief that there are things other than talent that one must have to be on the screen. After his initial push/wins over HHH, a new approach to the scripting process took hold, and suddenly it was no longer the old school case of a wrestling "promoter" giving Shelton a capable opponent and letting simple skill shine through in a wrestling match. Now, the wrestling "writers" felt that unless they were giving Shelton ham-handed dialogue and diptarded storylines, Shelton couldn't contribute. The results: garbage like "Mama Benjamin." My long-standing gripes about the creative team's insistance on their own importance (by making their jobs more complicated and difficult than it really needs to be, instead of admitting their work ain't rocket science and that less-is-more when it comes to scripting this genre) are pretty well encapsulated by the rise, fall, and eventually marginalization of Shelton Benjamin.
He'll obviously land on his feet and find plenty of work so long as he wants it. At this point, re-uniting with Charlie Haas in TNA almost seems like a no-brainer; TNA has stocked up on lots of solo acts and WWE re-treads, but the tag ranks are ripe for the pickings. I mean, when the fricking NASTY BOYZ get 3 months of work, you've got an objectively shitty division. Imagine a re-united World's Greatest Tag Team mixing it up with the Motor City Machine Guns and Beer Money. Hell, even the Dudleys could use this as en excuse to get a fire lit under their asses for one more seriously awesome feud.
Mickie is a victim of two different things... one is related to Shelton in that she didn't conform to WWE's new "ideal" of a TV performer. Shelton lacked acting chops, while Mickie lacked an anorexic body type. Who cares that 98% of men would still be fully capable of thinking naughty, naughty thoughts about a women built like Mickie, cuz Vince McMahon is one of the other 2% who subscribes to Male Bodybuilding Magazines and pretends to know what's hot by assuming the laboratory creatures featured in Playboy are actually human females. And Mickie doesn't look like those creatures so: let's put her in storylines where she is mocked for being morbidly obese, and then eventually fire her since we'd rather not have her polluting our TV screens. Whee.
The other thing Mickie had working against her: her own ambition. She wants to try out being a country singer, and set out about doing so WITHOUT WWE's help (i.e. without signing her creative freedom away by doing it under the WWE banner). She got new representation, put together an album on her own, and wants to pursue this to the best of her abilities. And if WWE didn't "own" her outside pursuits, they'd just rather she didn't pursue them at all. I think Jericho's pretty much the only guy on the roster who is really given free reign to do his own thing out from under the WWE banner (his book publishing contract, where he released one book upon his WWE return, and he has another coming out in about a year).
The other 5 release-ees aren't quite as big a deals: Mike Knox, Sho "Kung" Funaki, Jimmy Wang Yang, Slam Master J (or "Jesse" from "Jesse and Festus"), and Katie Lea Burchill.
Yang/Jesse were working as a tag team when last seen on TV, and given how much importance WWE places on tag wrestling, it's no wonder that if one was deemed expendable, the other would be, as well. Katie never quite got to show what she was capable of, but along the same lines: once WWE (stupidly) fired her storyline brother, Paul Burchill, it's not exactly like there was a lot for her to do, so.... duh.
Funaki had a hell of a run for a guy who was mostly brought in as an afterthought when WWE hired TAKA Michinoku to start a light-heavyweight division; he got to stick around past that first run mostly thanks to being for-real friends with Steve Austin, and then KEPT sticking around by being willing to work as an announcer or part-time trainer or whatever WWE needed from him. And so long as I still own and wear my Kaientai EVIL t-shirt (note: I do both of those things), Funaki will always be fondly remembered by The Me. INDEED.
Knox is maybe the only other one on this list that I'd get a LITTLE miffed about, or consider it a misstep by WWE. Other than Festus/Luke Gallows, I don't think any one guy has developed more right in front of our very eyes than Knox did. From his ECW debut as a no-talent stiff with a generic roid-boy look and a desire to keep us from looking at his girlfriend, to the latter-day, barrel-chested Bruiser-Brody-clone who was deceptively sharp in his limited promo work and not-at-all-deceptively ass-kicking in his in-ring brawling... you'd barely know they were the same guy, but that's the metamorphis he underwent in just 3 short years. I don't think WWE ever quite got all out of the "new" Knox that they could have after he made his improvements, and it goes without saying that if the guy stepped it up THAT much in 3 years, he might still be on the upswing. Japan WILL come calling for Mike Knox, who has Monster Gaijin written all over him... if guys like Tomko and Albert/A-Train get steady work in Japan, Knox is a no-brainer.
As far as the "possible future firings/releases" go, people might be wise to select Matt Hardy if you have a "WWE Career Deathpool." He's already made ominous statements about a post-WWE career, and the thought is that if it weren't for Matt's involvement as an NXT Mentor, he'd be gone already... obviously, things are fluid and can change, but that's one folks are talking about already. 
Anytime WWE does housecleaning, it always seems like Carlito is talked about as being on-thin-ice (but then WWE gets smart and decides to keep him around, afterall). We'll see this time around... cuz this time, Carlito (like Matt) has NXT duties to tend to, which might be one thing saving him. The other thing that USED to save him: Shane McMahon being the only member of his family with a real good eye for inate talent. Shane would step in and talk up the need to keep Carlito... but now: Shane is gone, too, leaving only his dad and sister to make calls like this. Neither is thought to be too high on Carlito.
There is also a TON of buzz about Batista, whose contract is expiring very shortly. Word is that Batista really wanted the starring role in the new WWE Films production, and would have re-upped his wrestling contract if he'd gotten the role. But WWE didn't want to give a starring role to a guy whose contract was expiring, and hesitated on making a casting decision until after Batista renewed his deal.
Now: Batista still has no new deal and WWE had to make the call to go with Triple H as the next "movie star" (a decision also aided by the fact that HHH is banged up and needs time away from the ring), and the two things sort of fed into one another, like the proverbial snake eating its own tail, or however that goes. The carrot WWE had to dangle in front of Batista's face to entice him to renew is gone, leaving both sides to play hardball... we'll have to see how this develops, but as of now, it sounds like Batista will be willing to "take his ball and go home" (Austin-style) if he can't get the sort of lucrative deal (with perks like a starring movie role) that he wants. He's still around for at least a month or so, but I know the talk is that WWE is planning on a Batista-less SummerSlam...
Because the acting gig was so key to how this story has played out so far, most assume Batista would NOT be all that interested in continuing wrestling as his primary career (meaning: no TNA). He wants to make a go of Hollywood, if at all possible, probably in no small part because he *IS* on the high side of 40 and isn't sure how much longer he wants to put his body through the rigors of a full time wrestling schedule. At most, I think you'd see Batista fit a few matches in over in Japan or on other overseas tours, where he could work a half-dozen times per year, and get maximum cash for minimum work (sort of how Goldberg and Lesnar did things in their post-WCW/WWE days).
Anyway, so that's the news you missed over the weekend, now re-presented for your edification.... now: let's move on to the usual business of the day. Talking about the Monday Night WWE vs. TNA Rasslin' War....
WWE RAW Rating: 3.1 (hours of 3.0 and 3.1, overrun of 3.5)
TNA Impact Rating: 1.0 (hours of 1.0 and 0.9, overrun of 1.0)
Analysis: Obviously, TNA can't be upset with how their number has bounced back from three weeks ago. A 1.0 ain't lighting the world on fire, but that slow steady decline to the 0.6 was bad news. I mean, MTV axed that one WSX show for doing prime time ratings around 0.5 or 0.6, and SpikeTV actually aspires to be more of a General Interest Network than the largely-teen-targeted MTV, so you'd assume their standards for prime time ratings are even stricter... but a 1.0 is solid, and combined with the 0.7 Impact did for its Thursday replay, their overall "wrestling footprint" seems to be gaining in size.
WWE, however, can't be happy with how their numbers continue to dwindle. The company's desire to present itself as a more "mainstream" and not-niche product means that their marginal viewers are no longer the "casual wrestling fan," but are instead "just any random moron watching TV on Mondays." And TV on Mondays is big business, with "Dancing with the Stars" as the biggest show on TV, along with CBS sitcoms and FOX's dramas. WWE doesn't want to be a wrestling show catering to wrestling fans, they want to be an "entertainment" show.... well: good for you, WWE, cuz America has spoken, and you're not very entertaining. They'd rather watch True American Hero Buzz Aldrin be humiliated and reduced to a mincing trick-monkey, dancing for nickels, than sit through 2 hours of your dreck. The 3.1 for RAW is their lowest rating of the year, and is once again in the range where we start talking about pre-Austin Era ratings for the last time WWE did this poorly on Mondays.... just bad.
The lesson: trying to be all things to all viewers almost always fails. ESPN has taught us that, as they are no almost wholly unwatchable outside of Actual Live Sporting Events. SportsCenter and their other coverage/analysis is presented in so bland and inept a manner (trying to cater to the lowest common denominator, instead of catering to knowledgeable sports fans) that it's insulting. ESPN should care about ME, a sports-minded male in the highly prized 18-34 demographic, and NOT CARE about idiots/children/women who think that the cast of "3 and a Half Men" have valuable insights on sports. WWE is doing the same thing, most weeks: trying to appeal to the largest possible audience, and in so doing, appealing to no one. Just be a damned GOOD WRESTLING SHOW. There's more than enough of a market for that to be a profitable enterprise. More profitable than being a Shitty Entertainment Show.
TNA IMPACT (SpikeTV, 8pm)
What's Been Promised: It's a pre-taped show, but TNA is openly hyping a few big matches... one is a "ring vs. ring" match where Ric Flair will face Abyss; Flair's WWE HoF ring and Hogan's HoF ring (which was bestowed upon Abyss) are up for grabs. Whee?
There are also two title matches on tap, as Matt Morgan and His Rotating Partner Of His Choosing will defend against the Dudleys, and Kazarian puts his X Title on the line against Shannon Moore.
What Other Stuff's Expected: Though TNA hasn't been hyping it, I think it's a "teaser" and not a "spoiler" if I tell you that match *I* am most interested in seeing as a tag match between AJ Styles/Sting and RVD/Jeff Hardy... RVD is also the new TNA champ, and will be cutting a promo that'll more than likely have a few guest appearances/interruptions... and both Ken "Kennedy" Anderson and Pope Dinero sort of need new stuff to do after losing at the last PPV, so look for them to hit the reset button and embark upon new missions starting tonight...
The Verdict: When Flair/Abyss is your main event, you're selling a shoddy product... there's some good/promising stuff happening tonight, but with WWE expanding to 3 hours, the "unopposed hour" doesn't exist, and you can't even really tune in to give TNA a try for said "good stuff" before bailing on the show in the second hour (where you know a 60-year-old man vs. a hardcore Eugene is the main event). Really tough sell to make TNA sound like the better choice over the big-ass 3-hour RAW Draft Special...
WWE Monday Night RAW (USA, 8pm)
What's Been Promised: No Guest Host. YAY~!
Instead of mainstream/hollywood/crossover crap, this IS gonna be a show more focused on the internal/core WWE product, as they re-shuffle the rosters as part of the annual Draft Lottery. There should be about 10 re-assignments made as part of tonight's show (if tradition holds, RAW vs. SD matches will take place, with the winning brand getting a randomly-assigned Draft Pick), with another 20-or-so taking place Wednesday as part of a "supplemental draft."
In addition to the Draft Goodness, there is one other big time feature match we know of: after last night's PPV, the Hart Dynasty will get a tag title shot against ShowMiz... as part of that, Bret Hart is still obligated to declare that ShowMiz are the greatest tag team in WWE history (a stipulation that would have played out last week, except for the angry volcano). My guess: Uncle Bret grudgingly makes said proclamation, but then the new kids upstage ShowMiz and allow Uncle Bret to take it back after new champs are crowned.
What Other Stuff's Expected: Like I said: should be a night of RAW vs. SD matches to determine the Draft picks... those matches will obvious range in value from scrubs-vs.-scrubs (yes, it's quite possible that Chavo vs. JTG will determine the future roster assigment of Chris Jericho) to stars-vs.-stars (if the writing-out-of-HHH hadn't been so decisive last night, HHH vs. Punk would have been a cool thing to do tonight), and might even include multi-way matches or a Battle Royale in order to determine multiple picks at once (rather than each match equalling one pick).
As far as who gets moved in the Draft? I'd originally thought Orton would both win the SD Title and get drafted to SD (to thin out the face-heavy RAW roster), with Jericho being the top star coming back the other way (since Jericho's just so good and so versatile that they need him showcasing his "entertainment" skills on the "entertainment" brand).... that could still happen, though now I'm less certain (especially since we don't know how long HHH will stay away from RAW). There are also signs that WWE still considers Batista a SD Wrestler and Swagger a RAW Wrestler, so those are situations that could be "fixed" by officially drafting them to the other show.
I also get a feeling that both Kofi Kingston and Johnny Morrison might benefit from a change of scenery. Kofi's push has fizzled on RAW, so why not start fresh on SD? And Morrison's two non-title wins over Swagger could be the basis for him getting a mega-push on RAW (if Orton goes to SD, Morrison is blocked from a title feud with Jack; even if Orton stays on RAW, you'd think Morrison would be behind Edge in terms of #1 Contender status).
But in addition to genuinely intriguing big name moves, yeah: we also must be honest and admit that a large amount of tonight's hoopla (and almost ALL of Wednesday's supplemental hoopla) will be akin to re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic... still: it oughta be a fun way to spend a few hours.
The Verdict: This is basically WWE's biggest reset button of the year. What happens tonight will affect the next 12 months of TV and storytelling.... if WWE gets it right, we'll have lots to titter about tomorrow and for the short-term. And hell, even if WWE gets it WRONG tonight, we can raise a stink, and last year proves that WWE is just fine hitting a NEW reset button 2 months from now if they have to. Oh, last year: a Draft that went so badly they just up and randomly made a 10-person "trade" in June. Either way things break tonight, it's appointment viewing for any wrestling fan who wants to stay on top of what to praise and what to bitch about. Big things are afoot this evening....

See you back here tomorrow, for full recaps/coverage of Impact and RAW, courtesy of Danny and Pyro. Later on, kids...

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Rick Scaia is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.



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