Looking (and acting) the part

Given the state of the WWE product today (last Monday’s edition of Raw saw hundreds of thousands of viewers tune out as the broadcast went on, most likely due to the creative decisions), it would be really easy for me to point the finger at the obvious culprits that are usually to blame for a poor wrestling product, and I’ll touch upon these at some point but not today:

– Bad and illogical storylines
– The same players in the main event spots
– Weak and repetitive match finishes

But something that I feel is overlooked – and this sort of plays into point #2 above – is WWE’s apparent inability to scout talent.  The company is not only struggling to elevate new stars to the top of the card, but they’re struggling in their choice of talent to hone for elevation.

In the 80’s and 90’s when wrestling enjoyed two boom periods, you could look at almost any performer working the main events in WWE and WCW/NWA and it wasn’t hard for you to suspend disbelief and truly look at those performers as tough-as-nails, ass kicking fighters.  From Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Andre the Giant, Randy Savage, Ric Flair, Sting, Lex Luger and the Road Warriors from the 80’s, to the likes of Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, Triple H, Kane, Mankind, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, The Giant and Goldberg from the 90’s, all of these performers had the size, the charisma, and the in-ring skill required to make the viewing audience at home believe that they were fully capable of both taking and dishing out a hell of a beating.

Fast forward to 2011, and just look at some of the talent that WWE has invested time and money into believing them to be worthy of any sort of push, and it’s not hard to understand why the company always resorts to putting John Cena or Randy Orton into another title match on PPV:

– Cody Rhodes: A lot of people may not know this, but Cody actually went to Hollywood to try his hand at acting before he utilized his daddy Dusty Rhodes’ clout to get him a spot in WWE.  Clearly he failed as an actor, and he’s failing as a performer despite WWE’s best efforts to push him with feuds against Rey Mysterio and most recently, Randy Orton.  To me, just about everything about this guy says “enhancement talent” and not “main eventer”.  Whether it’s the chicken leg body (put on some damn knee pads already!), the lisp when he talks, or his complete inability to sell himself as an ass-kicking heel (his laugh after beating down Orton on Raw this past week was one of the all time worst performances ever), I just don’t see him ever drawing top level money unless he’s part of a group with a leader (like they’re trying right now with Christian), or he’s part of a tag team and can rely on his partner to carry him like Billy Gunn did for so many years.  Make him the Intercontinental Champion if you want, or give him a PPV match with Randy Orton if you want, and it won’t matter.  He’s just not believable as a fighter.

– Heath Slater: How is this guy even employed?  Just look at him.  He looks like the offspring of Conan O’Brien and Carrot Top.   There is absolutely nothing intimidating about this guy at all.  Add to the fact that he can’t talk, and he’s got a stupid gimmick calling himself the “One Man Rock Band”, and there really should be no place for him on the WWE roster. Cut him loose and give his spot to someone with more upside.

– Zack Ryder: I know I’ll get some heat over this one, but I don’t see why the Internet has fallen in love with Zack Ryder.  When he’s not on Raw, the Internet wrestling fans complain.  When he is on Raw but loses a match, they complain again.  Sure he’s got a funny little YouTube show.  But really, what else do you expect out of this guy aside from an opening match squash loss?  His character is meant to be nothing more than comedy relief, sort of like Santino Marella but not nearly as funny or as entertaining, and so when you put him over another wrestler, it only buries that other wrestler.  Make him somebody’s manager, that’s fine.  But this is a rare case in which WWE is actually booking him the right way, since his character is a joke and so you can’t seriously expect him to make any real noise as far as wins/losses or titles.

– Ted DiBiase, Jr.: This is another example of a worker that the Internet fans think deserves a prime spot, and questions WWE’s decision to not utilize him on television that often.  And again I guess I’m in the minority because I agree with WWE’s decision, and if anything I’d consider cutting him loose as well.  He’s got the look, and he definitely has the genes, but when it comes to charisma and cutting a promo, he simply isn’t worthy of tying his father’s shoelaces.  I thought that putting him with Maryse was a great idea since she is just dripping charisma, but of course WWE is impatient when it comes to angles these days and so it was only a matter of weeks before they teased dissension and eventually split them up.  DiBiase needs a mouthpiece, because his segments crash and burn whenever he’s given the mic.  On his own, he’ll never come close to emulating the success of his Hall of Famer dad.

– Alex Riley: A lot of people raved about Riley when he turned on The Miz, but what they failed to realize is that it was The Miz’s performance that got Riley over.  He bumped all over the place for Riley, took all his big moves, and put him over repeatedly.  But once WWE split them up and matched Riley with different opposition, he started falling down the cards until he no longer appeared regularly on Raw at all.  The problem is that Riley is a prime example of today’s WWE cookie-cutter wrestler prototype: good size, good body, no charisma, no mic skills, and no ring psychology.  It’s the same category that David Otunga, Drew McIntyre, Mason Ryan and Michael McGillicutty all fall into.  You just can’t get by on look alone; you need to have the ability to “talk them into the building” as they say.  Chael Sonnen has 11 losses on his MMA record, yet he’s currently one of the UFC’s most newsworthy performers based mostly on his ability to cut promos on his opponents.  Riley and the others mentioned here lack that skill, and will never draw as a top star because of it.

Wrestling in the 80’s and 90’s was filled with charismatic, entertaining performers of all shapes and sizes that offered dozens of intriguing match pairings.  Today outside of the Cena’s, Punk’s, Orton’s and Del Rio’s, it’s mostly “Boring Cookie-Cutter Prototype #1” vs. “Boring Cookie-Cutter Prototype #2”, week in and week out.  And it’s not for a lack of unique performers.  There are guys like Tyler Reks, Jinder Mahal, Ezekiel Jackson and Brodus Clay that at least look different than the others, not to mention underrated promo men like Wade Barrett just waiting for opportunities.  Maybe… perhaps… hopefully… the powers that be will eventually recognize that numbers are flat, nobody cares about the COO, and the roster will finally get a good shake-up.

About Jimmy Van

Former wrestling journalist and indy promoter turned "regular life guy".
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