Among the usual bevy of rumours and speculation typical of a week in professional wrestling came a curious revelation from WWE Chairman Vince McMahon concerning the fate of a longstanding WWE tradition. Vince has apparently elected to interpret the box office gains of the themed view pay-per-views as definitive evidence that the old-school format of puns, quips and jazzy references should be retired. The likes of Unforgiven, No Mercy and Judgement Day have already been replaced and to be perfectly honest, the loss is of no great consequence. Nevertheless, the change represents another example of a creatively exhausted company attempting to solve all its problems via a sort of ?quick-fix? osmosis.
It is folly to deem an experimental process successful without fully testing the concept. The new PPV format may have drawn well in two-thousand-and-nine but the real litmus test will be in two-thousand-and-ten. If the events retain their newfound lustre then maybe the powerbrokers are correct in their assertions. If, however, they recede then the success of last year will qualify as little more than a blip powered by an obviously appealing feud and/or match type and a helping of curiosity. It is for this reason I decry the decision to apparently bin the Survivor Series brand as myopic, misguided and endemic of a company that has abandoned reason in favour of corporate ?think tanks?. We?ve definitely been here before.
There is a very good reason why fans boo John Cena and his absurd attempts at offence. Wrestling fans participate and invest emotionally despite knowing every aspect of what they are witnessing is predetermined. This phenomenon is known as ‘suspension of disbelief?. They have extended the courtesy of a wink and a nod; the very least a performer can do is not aggressively drive home the mendacious truth of it all. Wrestling fans are, to varying degrees, embarrassed to be wrestling fans. This is a perfectly natural reaction to an expression that is part sport, part entertainment and an entirely flamboyant lie. Nevertheless, a love of wrestling is not dissimilar to an appreciation of film. It works on the brain in essentially the same way. To not respect this truth is insulting to the people who have powered the growth of the industry with their emotional ? and financial ? investment.
Some of you may recall an interview Mike Tenay conducted with Vince Russo in the early days of TNA. As you may have gathered from his various interviews and book releases, Russo is obsessed with portraying himself as a victim of the downfall of WCW. In truth, his arrogance, ignorance and gross stupidity anchored another hundred tonnes of dead weight to a carcass that was already fading quickly. The interview with Tenay was a hopeless attempt on his part to cast his WCW ?accomplishments? in a different light. Unfortunately for Russo, the intelligent and well-informed Tenay utilised the potent combination of memory and facts to crushingly refute all of his nonsensical claims. Humiliated and defeated, he stormed off mid-sentence.
Amongst the myriad drivel that Russo offered in defence of his own shortcomings was a catty little aside to the infamous David Arquette/World Title debacle. As Tenay pressed Russo on the damage this mess wrought on the WCW Championship, Russo referred to the belt as a ?prop?. Though essentially true, it was still a crass little observation that cut far too close to the quick for many. Vince Russo is apparently oblivious to the need for emotional investment and the value such a connection can have when it comes to making money. The amount of money Wrestlemania makes on a yearly basis underscores this. Certain wrestling fans will watch virtually no wrestling on a weekly basis yet still watch ?Mania every year. They do this on the strength of the near three decades-old name value and tradition of ?Wrestlemania?.
This absence of understanding is precisely why Russo thought placing the WCW Championship on David Arquette was such a clever idea. He believed the long-suffering WCW fans wouldn?t care that the once mighty heavyweight championship was to be used as a pawn in a hopeless attempt to garner mainstream publicity. Despite the appalling damage inflicted on the ratings and credibility of WCW, Russo still felt the heavyweight title was irrelevant to the greater needs of WCW. It’s not like every successful promotion in the history of wrestling built their success around their premier championship, was it? Sarcasm aside, Russo learnt nothing from the vitriolic condemnation of his actions. He italicised this hateful state of affairs several months later by making himself WCW Champion in another foolish publicity stunt that did nothing for WCW.
The decision to summarily dispense with the Survivor Series name and legacy is bewildering and short sighted, and the latest example of a worrying trend that has arisen in WWE over the last year or so. It began with the publicity-driven move to eliminate blood from WWE television. This was done in a laughable attempt to ?distinguish? the WWE sports-entertainment product from UFC, illogical as that sounds. Truth is, all it has done is short change the WWE loyalists; all of whom deserve better.
The next major occurrence was the elevation of Sheamus to the position of WWE Champion. The decision to place the most coveted belt in the company around the waist of a glorified rookie was done out of desperation and for sheer shock and awe, ala Russo and the Goldberg heel turn in two-thousand. In the process, WWE ignored the conventions of championship elevations and once again insulted their loyal fans. It will take more than an ass-kissing Irishman to kick-start the momentum needed to drag the company out of its creative malaise. The reaction from the fans in Georgia, at the Royal Rumble, to the so-called champ was a complete embarrassment. I had no idea silence could be so loud.
The loss of Survivor Series is the latest example of WWE auctioning the family silver in the name of immediate success. Rather than revitalising an existing concept – that is already established as a major calendar event and is synonymous with many major historical occurences – Vince McMahon has bizarrely wielded the axe in favour of who knows what. It is definitely true that Survivors has struggled for identity in the last couple of years, but that is entirely the fault of WWE. The company has failed dismally it its attempts to take advantage of the inter-brand feud that supposedly exists between Raw and Smackdown; a natural fit for the classic eliminations Survivors format. WWE then pointlessly created the Bragging Rights event, which presented the feud that should have been reserved for Survivors, but for less interest and money. Make sense of all that if you can, because I can?t?
It makes no sense to abandon the history and tradition of Survivor Series in favour of a new event. Rather than staging an event that is relevant historically, WWE will now have to start from scratch and convince its precious universe that the new event is bigger than Survivors. This is easier said than accomplished and mark my words, if the new concept fails at the box-office then Survivors will be resurrected with eye-watering alacrity. Until that day, this writer bemoans the loss of the name that gave us the debut of The Undertaker; the elevation of The Rock and a certain night in Montreal that will never be forgotten. The name will linger on, just like the neglect, idiocy and selfishness that prompted it’s demise.
Daniel R. Browne.