First off, happy holidays and a great new year to everyone who stumbles across this little piece of writing!
You know my mother always said, “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.” And so in trying to adhere to that advice, I let two months pass without any new posts here. I was getting tired of writing about a lot of negativity, and didn’t exactly have glowing remarks to make about WWE, or even UFC for that matter. And I’m not a TNA watcher, as their creative abilities even make the baboons within WWE look brilliant, plus I tired of the X-Division (which for a long time was one of the few bright spots in that company) and the repetitive, high spot, no psychology, multi-false finish style of matches.
Two months later not much has changed, but I thought I’d just share some random thoughts, some bad and surprisingly enough, some good too!
* Brock Lesnar: I’m a big fan of Brock’s and have a ton of respect for the guy. In fact a couple of years ago, I spoke to one of his more famous friends/managers and would have booked Lesnar for a promotional event in Las Vegas before the company I was representing at the time decided to cut their expense budget. It takes an elite level of athlete to make an NFL practice squad with no football experience outside of high school, then make the UFC with only one professional fight and win the company’s heavyweight championship. Brock has his share of critics who believe that his early UFC opponents were hand-picked to elevate him into a PPV draw, but I hardly look at Frank Mir, Randy Couture or Shane Carwin as a bunch of scrubs. Lesnar faced the best and beat the best, he became the UFC’s #1 draw, and he did it while battling diverticulitis, a disease that almost killed him. Last night, the man that entered the Octagon and lost to Alistair Overeem wasn’t the same Brock Lesnar that had torn up WWE, signed with the Minnesota Vikings and won the UFC Title. Maybe the disease and subsequent surgery took their toll on Brock; maybe he had a bad training camp. But you could see it on his face, and in his game plan – he was a beaten man before the fight even started. He didn’t attempt even one shoot or take-down, and the one single-leg attempt he made was weak and half-ass. Clearly his post-fight retirement announcement had been planned out days, if not weeks in advance. And whether he wasn’t mentally into the fight, or whether diverticulitis had robbed him of some of his physical gifts and he knew it; I guess it’s pure speculation at this point. All signs now seem to point to a return to WWE for a short, high profile run, so long as the UFC lets him (he’s still under contract), and so long as he can financially come to terms with WWE, since I think this loss to Overeem has changed Lesnar’s mystique with a lot of people and so he may not generate the sort of PPV buys for WWE that they’d like for what I’m sure will be a high price tag for his services. But whatever happens, I think Brock has earned the respect of a lot of people – including a lot of his naysayers – for his ability to overcome adversity and hang with the UFC elite.
* WWE’s fear of mainstream stardom: Over the last couple of years, WWE has gone with John Cena and Randy Orton as their two untouchable main event stars week after week, month after month, pay-per-view after pay-per-view. As a fan, I am so tired of both performers, I wish they would just go away for a while (at least they’re teasing a heel turn for Cena now which would be something fresh but likely won’t happen). Cena is their resident Superman, beating all the odds, and all his competitors, single-handedly. He’s jeered more than cheered at every event because the fans are tired of being force-fed the same repetitive garbage every single week. WWE will probably tell you that they continuously go with Cena because he drives television ratings and sells merchandise, and when they’ve tried putting others into the top spot (like CM Punk right now), the numbers fall off. But when it comes right down to it, they are the victims of their own creative decisions. CM Punk lost match after match before getting his latest WWE Title run, and so how can you expect viewers to suddenly treat him like a superstar? Same goes for Alberto Del Rio, same goes for The Miz, same goes for just about everyone else that WWE has devoted some main event time to over the last year. None of those guys were given dominant runs with big-time convincing wins. And so are we to be surprised that they’re not generating the sort of numbers that WWE expects of them?
Times have changed in the world of sports entertainment. It used to be that WWE wielded all the power, and the performers had nowhere else to go to make big money, so they did whatever they were told to do in order to get that almighty contract. But today, WWE is more accepted as an entertainment platform than it was 20 years ago, and so people like The Rock and Brock Lesnar and Trish Stratus and Batista and Chris Jericho and others have been able to leave on top to pursue other interests even as WWE wanted badly to re-sign them. As a result of all that, it seems as if WWE is unwilling to put their marketing machine 100% behind any new performers for fear of losing them after investing in them. They’ll give them some wins and some titles, but they’ll also make sure they lose and stay below that “glass ceiling” so to speak, so that they don’t become big enough that one day they might decide to leave and do something else. This is just a theory of course, but I think it’s a viable one. And if there’s any truth to this at all, Vince and Stephanie McMahon (and Triple H now I suppose) need to look at their roster, look at their numbers, and stop holding back talent for fear of one day losing them.
* Enough of the force feeding: Just as John Cena’s reign of supremacy has grown stale due to years of shoving him down our throats, the same can be said now for certain buzz words that the company chooses to push constantly. For one, “WWE Universe”. I am so tired of that stupid piece of marketing, I wish I could shoot it, kill it and bury it myself. Last week of Raw, CM Punk and John Laurinaitis must have said it 10 times just in the first segment of the show. Punk at first tried of make fun of it, but eventually was using the term himself (which is no surprise since his character now is completely corporate and watered down even though his initial rebellion is what got him over). I find it sad whenever a legend returns for a promo like a Bret Hart or a Roddy Piper, and even they repeatedly will say “WWE Universe” because clearly they were prepped to do so. It’s stupid, it’s irritating, and if I could program my cable box to censor it out during a Raw telecast I would.
And as if “WWE Universe” isn’t bad enough, what about the constant Twitter references? I read before a WWE PPV a couple of months back that someone had calculated how many times Twitter was mentioned in some form on the air, and it equated to something like a mention every three minutes. That is ridiculous. Michael Cole is the absolute worst offender, but I realize that he is mainly just saying and doing what he’s being told, so I can’t lay too much blame on him. The fact is, Twitter trending doesn’t really mean anything; it hasn’t proven to be of any significance in terms of increased ratings, PPV buys or anything else. When you “trend worldwide”, you are only trending among the users on the Twitter network. And some people may try to put a positive spin on it by saying that Twitter has something like 200 million registered users, but a lot of those accounts are inactive, and about half of them only follow one or two people. I’m not sold on Twitter as a bankable form of marketing, and I don’t think it’s done anything for WWE in terms of generating new dollars. I chalk it up to Vince McMahon being completely out of touch with his audience and thinking it’s what they’re interested in when they’re really not, especially not to the degree he’s throwing it at us.
* Easy on the distraction finishes: I recently read JJ Dillon’s autobiography, and in it he talks about how WWE was so detail oriented in the 80’s and 90’s, they always made sure not to utilize the same finish on a show twice. So in other words, if one guy was going to use a piledriver, nobody else on the same show could use a piledriver. In fact, they were *so* on the ball back then, they even made sure not to book back-to-back matches on a show using the same manager. So if Bobby Heenan was involved in match #1, they would make sure he wasn’t back out there for match #2. They wanted to keep the crowd interested and keep things different. In 2011, that theory was completely out the window in WWE. The writing staff (many of which are “Hollywood” people and not wrestling people and therefore don’t know any better) is lazy and doesn’t understand how insignificant matches look with distraction finishes, not to mention how disinterested and tuned-out the fans become when they see the same finish play out continuously. The same thing happened with Dusty Rhodes in the 80’s when he booked too many “Dusty finishes” and started killing towns. But in WWE, things became laughable in the second half of 2011. There were some Raw episodes when you would see the same distraction finish 3-4 times over 5-6 matches. And in some instances, they even played the distractor’s freakin’ entrance music when he came out. And yet WWE can’t seem to understand why numbers are down across the board, and why no one outside of Cena can draw a rating on Raw?
* I’m ending this one with my “good and bad list” for 2011. First, the good:
– Sheamus: He’s one of the few guys that has managed to elevate himself despite the creative inefficiencies within WWE. He’s got a great look, he’s got charisma, he can talk, and he’s also proven to be a good go-to man for the media. We should see big things from him in 2012.
– Zack Ryder: I still think that his goofy character is best suited for a bottom-feeder or at best, middle of the road type of performer rather than a top level star. But here’s a guy who stepped up and got himself noticed after realizing that relying solely on WWE creative (which most performers do) wouldn’t get it done. He took full advantage of social media, created a YouTube show that got a decent following, had his own Internet Title designed, came up with a character and catchphrases, made believers out of people like John Cena who got on board with what he was trying to do, and ultimately left WWE with no choice but to showcase him. He’s still a victim of bad creative decisions and poor match booking which is out of his control, but he’s busted his ass to do about as much as any one person can do to get noticed.
– Jon “Bones” Jones: This kid had perhaps the biggest year of anyone in the history of the UFC. He steamrolled the competition and won the Light Heavyweight Title, and he did it with ease, utilizing his reach and striking so well that he came out of every fight with not a mark on him. And he didn’t exactly face chumps this year; he beat high caliber fighters like Rampage Jackson, Shogun Rua and Lyoto Machida, and he beat them all in dominant fashion. He’s also a very intelligent, articulate speaker, and he has charisma. This time next year, he’ll probably be the face of the company, especially now that Brock is done and GSP (the company’s #2 PPV draw behind Brock) is injured and has a questionable future.
– WWE tag team division: For the first time in a long time, it appears that WWE is actually going to put more emphasis on the tag team ranks. I miss the “Attitude” days when phenomenal teams like the Hardys, Edge & Christian and the Dudleys were putting on exciting, action-packed matches every week. And don’t even get me started on the mid-80’s, which might have been the best time ever for tag team wrestling. The division really fell into a lull when the belts were put on David Otunga and Michael McGillicutty, who were then treated like jobbers. But now, the company seems firmly behind Air Boom (who at first looked like another short-lived team comprised of singles stars), plus they have the Colons and the Usos working as full-time teams. The division is improving and I’m all for it.
– Going with workrate: The pushes might be short-lived, but it’s at least nice to see WWE changing their old mindset about size, and elevating guys like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan to title status. In terms of in-ring skill, they might be the best in the business today, and they’re finally getting their due. Dolph Ziggler (who really needs a new, better ring name) has also upped his game and is one of the best workers around.
– Michael Cole: Again, I know he’s doing what he’s being told to do. But whoever decided to turn the play-by-play man on WWE’s flagship show (who most fans already disliked and viewed as inferior to Jim Ross) into an obnoxious, over-bearing heel, needs to have their head examined. Cole was a channel changing heel, not a “I want to pay to see him get beat up” heel. And to make matters worse, he would constantly go in and out of character during each broadcast, one minute ripping Jerry Lawler and the fans and the wrestlers, and the next minute smiling and joking with Lawler and trying to sell the next PPV. The entire idea was horrible, and fortunately Cole’s character was toned down a lot on Raw last week so hopefully the light bulb has gone off in somebody’s head and they’ve realized just how terrible and counter-productive the whole thing was.
– Nick Diaz: This guy may someday wear the UFC Welterweight Title. But for the sake of his future, he needs to wake up and realize that he’s been blessed with great opportunities and not take things for granted before he winds up fighting for $1,000 in a small town casino somewhere. In 2011 Diaz was almost fired by the UFC before he even fought his first fight back, after he no-showed press conferences to promote his fight with GSP. The UFC pulled him from the fight because of his actions, but kept him on the card and put him in a match with BJ Penn, which he won. So now with GSP on the shelf, Diaz has a shot at the interim title. All the while, he’s had this “everybody’s against me” attitude, claiming he doesn’t get paid enough, his team doesn’t get paid enough, and maybe he should jump to boxing in order to get better paydays. Of course what isn’t mentioned is the fact that he made $200,000 for the Penn fight, plus an additional $75,000 “Fight of the Night” bonus. That’s not exactly chump change. Diaz’s younger brother Nate seems to get it, as he shows up for all appearances, is good and gracious with the media, and seems grateful for his UFC opportunities. Big brother needs to learn from little brother’s example.
– John Laurinaitis: I praise WWE for trying to find a fresh face to play the on-camera corporate executive heel rather than always going with someone named, or related to a McMahon. But for the love of God, has the company ever lost their touch with respect to picking television personalities. Laurinaitis was by far the worst on-air performer of anyone in WWE this year. He can’t talk, he has no personality, he forgets his lines, stumbles over his words and then stands there with that “deer in the headlights” look; he is so terrible, the fact that he has lasted this long on television is indicative of the state of the company behind-the-scenes. CM Punk has tried his best to make chicken salad out of the crap he’s being given, but simply put WWE should have booted JL off TV ala Mike Adamle ages ago. He might be great at his day job handling talent relations, but a television star he is not.
– UFC schedule: Is it a shock that UFC PPV numbers were way down this year, and they weren’t even selling out shows in new markets like Toronto that they infrequently visit? Exorbitant prices for tickets are a factor as well but simply put, the UFC is scheduling too many events between their PPVs and “Fight Night” cards, and now with their Fox obligations things will probably only get worse in 2012. UFC nights used to be big “boys nights” at my house but now unless the card includes a big money fight like the Lesnar fight last night, I’m more likely to skip the show these days, and that’s typical of the viewing patterns that UFC is experiencing now.
– Cody Rhodes: I’ve written about him before so no use going into great detail but I’ll just say it again – he’ll never draw as a main eventer. They can keep trying but it won’t work, he’s missing that “it” factor, and he’s a terrible actor with awful facials and awkward mannerisms. They did finally give him knee pads though so kudos on that.
– The Divas: Every week, there seems to be no purpose to the matches with the WWE Divas. They always last a minute or less on Raw (they’re given more time on PPV but nobody’s watching) which just emphasizes that wrestling is fake, and every month WWE just seems to pick their next interchangeable Barbie Doll to push for the upcoming PPV before moving on to the next one. I like the idea of pushing women like Beth Phoenix and Natalya as being different, but the girls aren’t really over, the matches are sloppy, and nobody cares. To think that years ago, the women’s division included Trish Stratus, Lita, Victoria and Molly Holly! Those girls were incredibly talented and worked hard to hone their skills. Today, the Divas are mostly bubble-heads that John Laurinaitis recruits through modeling agencies or photo catalogs.
– David Otunga: If he didn’t have a celebrity wife, he wouldn’t even have a job in WWE, and that’s the bottom line. He’s got a Harvard degree, he needs to start practicing law and forget about wrestling because he’ll never draw a dime unless he’s a roadie at a Jennifer Hudson concert.
Enough rambling for one day, have a safe and healthy new year!