Austin/Vince analysis and question

Hey Scott,

After watching the Austin/Vince podcast on Monday night, I wrote this little analysis that I think underlines WWE as we know it in a nutshell.

I'm not sure if you saw it, but early on, McMahon was extremely tense and ill at ease, like he was testifying at his own trial. I attributed it to the fact that he had no control (I assume to some degree) over what a straight-shooting Austin was going to ask. We all know what a control freak Vince is.

Do you think this is a microcosm of WWE these days, that McMahon asserts too much control and overcooks the meal, so to speak? The podcast was wildly informative, in spite of some head-shaking responses from Vince (namely on Cesaro's 'lack of connection' with the crowd), and I think that uncomfortable Vince is the best Vince, as proven with the Monday Night Wars.

​Yeah, Austin's turning into a really great interviewer, kind of coaxing stuff out of his subjects because he knows everyone respects and trusts him.  Even Vince seemed to be warming up by the end and letting down his veneer of corporate bullshit.  
I think in a way the problem is that Vince can't exert ENOUGH control these days.  Stuff gets written and re-written by 24 different guys before it ever makes it to the wrestlers, whereas before Vince would get an idea ("Have Bret go out and work on Macho's leg for 15 minutes") and just pass it to the guys directly for them to interpret as they saw fit.  Now everything has to be reworked and stretched out and fit into a three-hour show with Twitter plugs and whatever sponsored double-speak they're shoehorning in that week.  DIET MOUNTAIN DEW IS DELICIOUS, MAGGLE!  

Post Show Analysis: Monday Night Raw 8-25-14

The goal is to supply readers with an alternative to the traditional review style. This column will be an overview of what happened rather than a blow-for-blow. It is intended for those who watched the show already. I would recommend reading Andy PG’s review if you have not watched the show.

Last weeks Raw provided us with a couple things to confabulate about: Paul Heyman cut another money promo. The WWE Champion will now carry around one title. And Dean Ambrose’s face was curb stomped into a stack of cinder blocks. Moreover, we found out later that Ambrose is missing and that Cena would invoke his rematch clause for the WWE title at Night of Champions.

The One to End the One:

Predictability and unpredictability are both important in wrestling. Predictability builds to unpredictably and vice-versa. They support and lean on one another, and would not exist without each other.  The Undertaker’s undefeated streak, for example, ceases to exist without predictability, and thus breaking it would have never seemed to be insurmountable. WWE authenticated something that was fake so much that it seemed to be unbreakable, and they did it so well that people their eyes were deceiving them when Lesnar broke it. It was an archetypal specimen of how the predicable can make the unpredictable seem impossible, and how momentous it can be when it happens as well.

Furthermore, wrestling is an eternal conflict between good vs. evil with protagonists and antagonists, and not much in between. Shades of gray writing complexes the characters and fans can become in a quandary on whom they should like or dislike, so the majority like being told whom they should like/dislike. In most cases, good should always overcome and prevail over evil. Besides, the average person wants to believe that good always conquers evil, and wrestling is a place where they can live out their credence.

The sole purpose of building up a dominant antagonist is to make a protagonist into a savior and hero. In WWE, the best place for the protagonist to give the villain the comeuppance he deserves is at Wrestlemania. It is a show where long feuds are paid off and is where the masses finally get what they want: good triumphing over evil. Therefore, we know when Brock Lesnar’s reign of terror is going to end. However, we do not know who is he going to have to vanquish to get there. It is going to be interesting to see where it goes from here, to say in the least.

They’re That Damn Good: 

Cena has transformed into a more sympathetic babyface, and it is mainly because of Heyman and Lesnar being exquisite heels. Heyman predicted Lesnar to beat the Undertaker and then give Cena the beating of his lifetime. Both of those hypothesizes were on point. Since he accurately two bold predictions, this means Cena is in the most danger he has ever been in yet.

What makes this story work is that Cena does not alter his modus operandi. He always wants to overcome obstacles, and his never-say-die attitude and resiliency have been his fortes that have allowed him to stay on top. However, he might have veered from being fearless to downright ignorant for evoking his rematch clause, although his tendencies are blinding him from even contemplating that. His biggest strengths for over a decade could become his biggest weaknesses, as his bravery and pride might lead to his biggest downfall ever.

Although it has mostly to do with the heels, this story-arc has been reinvigorating for him. For most of his time on top, he has been booked as an irreverent Superman that had no weaknesses nor feelings of unhappiness (and it got to a point where he would brush off losing his WWE title the following night as if it was nothing). Now –  in contrast to once being a cartoon character who had insufferably passive-aggressive and happy-go-lucky attitude – he is someone that is more relatable, and it has made him, as a whole, more tolerable. After all, a character is more humanized and interesting when it has weaknesses, as opposed to when it’s invincible.

 Hate is a Strong Word:

A sense of hatred and well-defined roles are the two features a heated feud must have. Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins are both well-defined in their roles and their repugnance for one another is essentially unparalleled (well, at least in the no-blood era). Ambrose is a psychopathic antihero, and he is not about moral principles. He’s just a resilient dude and does not care what he has to do to get revenge on Rollins  – and it is a big reason why the fans love him. Conversely, Rollins is a pusillanimous heel who hides behind the Authority and allows them to do most of his dirty work  – and it is a main reason the fans hate him. They are immaculate foils for the other.

Rollins’ promo kept the iron hot by progressing the story while Ambrose films his movie. They also smoothly transitioned the Rollins vs. Ambrose feud to a Reigns vs. Rollins feud. This is something Reigns’ character needed to do. After all, he lost some of his credibility and integrity for not seeking vengeance on the man who turned his back on him. Doing this feud now is better than never.

Swing and a Miss: 

The opening segment bombed. Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and HBK were all sitting in the ring at an announce table to talk about the Lesnar vs Cena rematch. I must give them credit for at least trying something different, but nothing about this felt organic. Instead, it felt too forced, improvised and directionless. And rather than driving the purpose of the segment home, they were too busy talking over each other. Overall, this was a disorganized and muddled segment, and it did not effectually build up the match at all.

Who Booked This Shit? 

When the Bella Twins’ feud started, we just knew bad promos and segments were inevitable. Nobody could have guessed it would be this bad, though. Neither one knows how to cut a convincing heartfelt promo nor how to act. So why the fuck did they do this segment? There are ways WWE could have protected them and not allowed them to expose their weak points. Indisputably, this was not one of them.

The dialog and story were both a mess, and so were their  promos and acting. They had no chemistry together as foes; they were not comfortable in their roles, and nothing they said felt realistic. Nikki’s promo had terrible segues and transitions, as it was long-winded and just meandered. She kept blabbering incessantly about nonsensical things like Brie marrying Daniel Bryan, stealing her boyfriends, and other clichéd reasons why a sister would hate the other. It’s almost as if they googled “reasons a sister would hate other” and “hurtful things they would say”, and then  inserted the top searches into this promo. Laughably, Nikki also did not know whether she should be looking into the camera or at Brie, and Brie’s crying and acting skills were as contrived as it gets.

The acting, talking, booking, and dialog were all cringeworthy and embarrassing to anyone who calls himself or herself a wrestling fan. This company does not deserve anyone’s 9.99 when they have segments like this on their flagship show. This was an ugly amalgam of Jerry Springer and the Jersey Shore: trashy people with no class fighting about nonsense.

This Is What It Has Come Down To:

The Rhodes Family used to be the most over tag team in the company. They were talented, had superb chemistry together, were sympathetic, and the fans wanted to rally behind them. In the midst of one of the worst WWE PPV’s eras in the Fall of 2013, they were one of the few bright spots and stole most of the shows. But after they lost their titles, WWE seemed to just want to bury them. They gave them a losing streak gimmick, they turned Rhodes into Stardust, they had them wrestle Rybaxel a million times, and then they took them off TV. And, they still remained over in spite of that. Instead of WWE realizing they made a mistake, they decided tonight to turn them heel.

Both Goldust and Cody Rhodes are talented wrestlers. Therefore, they could be effective in their new roles given the opportunity. However, they were an incredibly over and sympathetic tag team who consistently delivered. The way they have been booked has been illogical from a business standpoint, ever since they lost the tag team titles.

Going Home: 
This was a completely phoned-in show. Since they are one month away from Night of Champions, they apparently saved all of the important stuff for the shows closer to the PPV. That is when good and long wrestling matches come in handy, though. As a whole, this Raw sucked. Just a lackluster reinforcing show, with boring matches, lots of filter, and one godawful segment. On the bright side of things, Night of Champions is shaping up to be a good-looking card on paper.

This is a work-in-process experiment, so leave any constructive feedback if you have any.

The Postgame Analysis: Monday Night Raw, 8-26-13

What’s My Motivation Here?

I don’t remember who it was that told him this. Probably Terry Funk. I don’t even remember which of his books it was in. Probably his first. But I distinctly remember a point made by Mick Foley that’s stuck out with me more than anything else I’ve ever learned about the psychology of professional wrestling (and we’re obviously paraphrasing here): it doesn’t matter if the heel is right. It doesn’t matter if his motivation makes sense. It just matters that THEY think it makes sense.
That seemed to be a running theme tonight: establishing motivation, albeit to greatly different extents.

In some cases, it’s OK if the heel has a pretty good point, because…they’re a fucking heel. I don’t care if you have a good point, I still want to see your head get kicked off your goddamn shoulders. Yes, Triple H makes a valid point: Daniel Bryan did insult him personally. And Bryan did insult his wife. A lot. And his father-in-law. But while the fist shot fired- Triple H stealing the title from Bryan- might be “just business” to Triple H, but it’s extremely personal to Daniel Bryan. And it should be. That’s why the heel is still an asshole, even though he makes a technically valid point: he started it. 
Triple H, in one quick line, also reminded us of The Shield’s motivation: in setting up the handicap match between Bryan and The Shield, Hunter told Bryan, “I’m gonna give you the gift of justice.” Let’s not forget that The Shield’s ethos has always been twisted. All that matters if that THEY think it makes sense, remember? Who’s to say their idea of justice doesn’t align with who Triple H wants to be champion? Besides, they’ve had their personal issues with Bryan many times already. This is working for me. They strayed from having a motivation for too long. This has refocused them, as well as reinvigorated their push.
Meanwhile, we didn’t really learn anything new about the motivations for CM Punk and Paul Heyman in their blood feud. But it was still somehow furthered: Heyman’s screams at a shackled Punk as he savaged him with the kendo stick bordered on the homoerotic (no, I don’t mean that as a bad thing; given their backstories a part of Heyman feeling like a jilted lover makes some sense): “I loved you!” “I murdered myself for you!” In another instance of the heel having a valid point, Heyman did everything for Punk, only to be put on the sideline. Punk gives no fucks, he just wants as much of Heyman’s blood as he can get. 
And that’s why we love him.

Avatar 3

In a weird twist, nominally the top three storylines right now all (nominally, I say, because there’s really a top two and then everything else, but the third one is for the World Heavyweight title, so that’s…something) feature the wrestler on one side acting as an avatar for whom the feud is really with.
Orton as HHH’s avatar makes a lot of sense: Orton fits the profile of what a WWE champion is supposed to look like, both in storyline and in that weird amalgam of backstage realities and our (often very wrong) perceptions of them. I’m sure many are thinking this is yet another way for Hunter to get himself over and on top, and really, do yourself a favor and lose that thought. Triple H is perfect in this role because he represents the face of the corporate structure that Daniel Bryan’s star-making fight is truly against. Orton is perfect in this role because he’s just vapid enough to represent the in-ring realization of that corporate imagery. 
Curtis Axel is an odd, shoe-horned fit into the Punk/Heyman feud. Lesnar worked perfectly in that role because despite his one-time desire to star in “Raw: The Brock Lesnar Show,” his ego has nothing to do with having the spotlight on him, in and of itself. As long the spotlight is on him slaughtering someone, he doesn’t care if it’s on Heyman’s behalf. But in the understatement of the summer, Curtis Axel is not Brock Lesnar. He’s just kind of…..there. Axel is, however, improving if nothing else than by virtue of spending so much time around CM Punk. 
The most nonsensical of these, however, is Rob Van Dam as the wrestling representation of Ricardo in his feud against Alberto Del Rio. As I said last week, I like it. It’s goofy, it makes no sense, and sometimes that’s fine. It’s just interesting in how it gives us yet another example at the same time of a high-profile wrestler (though Axel is a stretch to be considered as such) merely representing a non-wrestling person of interest.

Reality TV, Meet “Reality Era”

So, is AJ on the long list of divas that Punk has banged? If so, has any research been done on whether or not the ability to cut scathing, grievance-airing promos an STD? Because AJ basically just cut the Diva division version of the “pipe bomb” promo. In a show in which the main storyline features the real-life corporate power structure keeping the little indy darling from being the top guy, somehow the storyline most borrowing from reality/”reality” this week was AJ hijacking the weekly Total Divas commercial/segment to tell them, and all of us, what we already know: what a load of shit this is. 
Too bad the Bellas completely ruined it by acting like obnoxious cunts through the entire thing (yes….”acting”….sure). Seriously, one of you- no, I don’t care enough to remember which one- is dating John Cena, who was the in-ring target of the “pipe bomb” promo. He sold it like a champ. By doing the same, the Bellas could have taken a brainless reality show that’s shockingly getting respectable ratings could have actually led to something. But they no-sold it because they’re awful, and it’s dead on arrival.

Back to Basics

Last but not least, this week’s Raw featured a return to what’s been one of the bright spots of the three-hour Raw: multiple good, long matches, now paired with a handful of shorter matches that were pointless in and of themselves, but at least are giving midcarders some direction even if it’s silly. By my count, we got about 45 minutes of aired wrestling tonight, a marked departure from last week’s episode that was very light on in-ring action. 
Cody Rhodes and Miz v. Damien Sandow and Fandango was a pointless, nothing match that at least continued Fandango’s now-correct direction as a vapid, Zoolander-meets-Dancing with the Stars direction. Same with Titus O’Neil v. Swagger: they’re continuing to give us a reason to cheer the PTPers and thus allow them to capitalize on the mainstream attention surrounding Darren Young (what little there may still be after those first few days) without being obnoxiously obvious about it, by giving us a reason to cheer them. 
Though the trend of giving away World Heavyweight title PPV matches on free TV in the preceding weeks is obnoxious, it’s not like anyone’s buying the show to see that title defended, anyway. I’m torn between hating the horribly overused “distraction leads to heel getting rolled up” finish and liking that RVD and Del Rio gave us a solid match without really giving the match away seeing as how it lacked a conclusive finish.
As discussed earlier, Axel is improving just by virtue of proximity to Punk. Their match was a little dry, but it was about 8 aired minutes of solid, with a clean finish before the appropriate post-match screwiness. 
We also saw two pairings that rarely, if ever don’t produce. Randy Orton and Christian is pretty much an automatic three stars, and this was no exception. I’m not much of a match rater, but I’d put the 13 minutes we saw of roughly 16 minutes at about ***1/2. The face/heel roles reversing did nothing to negatively affect their excellent in-ring chemistry.

 Orton has improved as a worker; I enjoyed the way he worked his babyface moveset into his heel style in a way that downplayed his weaknesses. He’s always been technically and athletically proficient, but concerns about his boring in-ring heel work can wait another week after a good match with Christian in which, yes, he slowed down from his fast-paced, fired-up babyface style but didn’t keep going to the headlocks after the first couple minutes. 

Finally, I’m not crazy about three straight episodes (Smackdown included) ending with Orton getting the upper hand on Bryan with an RKO, but the preceding Bryan/Rollins…well, essentially singles affair before the immediate beatdown by itself warranted a near 4-star rating, highlighted by a fucking absurd top-rope release German suplex. 
See you next week for the Postgame Analysis.