Random Thoughts from the Office: December 3, 2010

Not that wrestling makes their belts mean anything either, but that's a whole other column.

- The end to my column last week

Leave it to the WWE to screw up the Miz's first title defense and totally prove my point. Okay, I understand it was Jerry "The King" Lawler's birthday. I understand that he can still put on a believable and in fact very entertaining match pretty much on the fly like he did on Monday night. But you know what?


It doesn't matter because just when Miz needed to have a strong and sustained push to make him look like a credible champion and not someone who just "lucked out" with Money in the Bank (See Swagger, Jack), he's left looking like a paper champion who couldn't even beat Raw's color announcer without Michael Cole's help.

Why is it so hard these days for wrestling to get what seems to be a very simple premise correct? The World Champion is the face of your brand, the face of your company, the image you want to portray to the viewing audience to say "This is why you should watch us". If the World Champion looks weak then by osmosis your brand looks weak. Because if your World Champion is constantly losing in non title matches and tag matches and being made to look like a jobber (Hello once again Mr. Swagger), then what does that say about the other guys who can't get the belt off him in title matches?

Look at the NWA for an example. Their World Champion had to not only represent his territory but ALL the NWA Territories around the world and he had a very tough line to tread. He couldn't make himself look good at the expense of the opponent he was facing that night because that guy, usually the top star of the particular territory he was in, would still have to draw a crowd the next week when the Champion wasn't there. But at the same time he had to make sure to keep himself looking good enough that the NWA Board of Directors didn't start wondering "Why the hell do we have the belt on him in the first place?"

Ric Flair was of course the golden child when it came to this. His gimmick of the "Nature Boy" was just perfect for getting heat from the fans and getting them most importantly to pay money to see their guy beat him up, just like it did for Buddy Rogers all those years ago. Hey, one of the biggest things ever in wrestling was the day Bruno Sammartino beat Buddy Rogers. And that wasn't even for the NWA World Title, it was for the WWWF (Now WWE) title. The crowd was so hot, the atmosphere so electric that the fact the match only lasted 48 seconds before Bruno put Buddy away with the backbreaker is usually forgotten because it meant so much for the fans. But Flair was the expert at riling up the fans, making their guy look like he might just beat him and yet somehow always escaping with either a draw or a tainted win. The babyface was always a bigger star in his own territory because the fans believed he was robbed. Flair was able to continue saying "I've still got the belt. I make more money than you. I'm better than you." and the whole cycle would start anew until finally there came a night where Flair would falter, like the first match of his legendary 1989 series against Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. Steamboat got the rub from Flair that pushed him into the stratosphere and he wasn't on the same level battling anyone else as he did in his wars against the "Nature Boy"

Which brings me to my second point, which I've made before but it bears mentioning again.

Babyfaces sell MERCHANDISE
Heels sell TICKETS

Don't think for a second I'm just a heel backer and I'm totally dismissing the work of guys like Hulk Hogan, John Cena, Rob Van Dam and Goldberg. I'm not. But a babyface is always disadvantaged in wrestling, it's a sad but true fact. A babyface cannot be anything without a strong heel backing him up. [You're only as good as your strongest opponent, or so they say.] Would Hulk Hogan's resume look as good without him beating Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III? Would Goldberg have been half the star he became without beating Hulk Hogan in the Georgia Dome? I think not.

Go back to TNA earlier this year and the live Impact where Rob Van Dam become World Heavyweight Champion: It was the greatest current wrestling show put on by ANY company this year (Note I said Current: So I don't include Old School Raw, although I could even argue Impact's case then). What opened the show? Don't remember? The Hulk Hogan promo about what it was like being the champion and what it meant to be the top dog in the business. Now don't get me wrong, if after that promo RVD and Jeff Hardy and then RVD and AJ Styles had gone out and had either 4 minute TV matches like the Desmond Wolfe debacle or 20 minute snoozefests then it wouldn't have helped TNA as much; but they laid everything on the line, pulled out all the stops and in the back of your mind Hulk Hogan's words rang in your head and you knew WHY they were doing it. Then you wanted your guy to win or retain so he could BE that top guy Hulk Hogan was talking about. From there, the results speak for themselves: the best Impact of the year, arguably the best television show put out by any of the wrestling companies in the year. I would even argue it might have been the best show of the year period. Because for the first time in a long time the World Championship MEANT something and by connection the guys fighting for it meant something.

Turn that to the WWE. Does anyone REALLY think Kane is a credible World Champion? Really? They've had three chances to make a really huge new star this year. And so far twice they've blown it and the other is still undecided. The first chance was of course the man we've been dancing around all column: Jack Swagger, who was buried as champion so far you might has well have him carry a sign to the ring that says "Midcarder for life". Blown chance number two? Wade Barrett. Wade was the leader of the hottest heel group the WWE has had in years, all of them uniting together on a common goal. And Barrett made you believe he would do anything, take out anyone to get what he wanted, which was the WWE championship from Randy Orton, so finally Wade gets his shot at Survivor Series. Finally you have your chance to make a huge star, a heel that can make your babyfaces look like a million dollars for years to come and what does the WWE do? They turn it into a game of "Let's Make a Deal" starring John Cena. The opportunity was lost and Barrett will probably NEVER get that chance again.

Which brings us to opportunity number three: The Miz. He's been building ever higher for a year, getting slowly more and more over till the point came where they were finally ready to give him the ball and tell him to run with it. Then came Monday Night. Have they blown it? Well the jury is still out on that one. It can be retrieved but if it balloons off into something with Michael Cole I'm not exactly confident.

Over the past two columns I've taken a look at stipulations and titles. Are they the be all and end all of wrestling? No. If you can make the audience believe in them, the superstars and characters can still get fans coming through the gate and buying your pay per views. But they do form the foundation on which the whole thing is built, and like any good building when the foundation goes, when the fans start thinking stipulations and titles are meaningless you're well on the way to seeing the whole house of cards come tumbling down. But if you make them mean something and make them believable and let the fans suspend their disbelief while making those foundations strong...Then the sky is the limit.

Clarence "Showstealer" Mason

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