Like a farmer slaughtering the spring lambs, World Wrestling Entertainment this week released details of the first batch of performers deemed surplus to requirements – and thus “future endeavoured” – post-Wrestlemania. News of the terminations of long-time peripheral figures Funaki and Jimmy Yang (both gifted cruiserweights) and the nondescript Mike Knox was not surprising in the least. On the contrary: these three did remarkably well to survive the annual culls for as long as they did. Though gifted (to varying degrees) and potentially useful in undercard roles, none of these men were ever able to take their employment for granted, and so it has proved in the wake of their releases.
Almost as typical as the timing of the act itself is management’s propensity for arbitrary and illogical dismissals amongst the typical rank and file cuts. Alongside the aforementioned names were Shelton Benjamin, Katie Lea Burchill and the ever-likable Mickie James; all of whom suddenly found themselves superfluous to the long-term future of WWE. Upon reflection, all three terminations seem impetuous; very much so in the case of Shelton Benjamin. Unlike the cruisers and/or colourless muscle listed above, the gifted and versatile Benjamin still had plenty to offer WWE and his sacking, though not totally surprising, still qualifies as hugely disappointing.
If anything, Shelton Benjamin is a victim of the always-shifting landscape of WWE. Since his powerful introduction in 2003 – alongside the equally underused Charlie Haas, and in association with WWE Champion Kurt Angle – Shelton’s career has resembled the proverbial downward spiral. Pushed strongly at first, in tags and then as a singles performer, Benjamin reigned as IC Champion on several occasions and contested memorable Raw matches with, amongst others, Triple H and Shawn Michaels (which incorporated the legendary “springboard into Sweet Chin Music” finish). Talented, young and seemingly passionate, Benjamin looked for a time to be a world champion in the making.
Sadly for Benjamin (and for fans of proper athletes) the man who once captained a tag-team also featuring Brock Lesnar grew disaffected with WWE and the endless political shenanigans and got lost in the shuffle. Few will fondly recall his stints as “The Gold Standard” or the interminable “mama’s boy” routine he had to endure in one of Vince McMahon’s narrow-minded attempts at comedy. Routinely scolded by the dressing room hierarchy for supposedly “lacking commitment”, Shelton eventually wound up in the purgatory of ECW as a forgotten man.
Depressingly, management remained keenly aware of the value of a motivated Benjamin right up to the end. This is why the previously exiled Shelton suddenly found himself wrestling at this year’s ‘Mania; once again as the preferred enhancement act of “Money In The Bank”, a role he fulfilled with customary vigour. Though arguably lacking in the personality department, Benjamin had a natural aptitude for wrestling unmatched by many of his contemporaries and his termination is a criminal waste that may – or may not – benefit TNA or some such equivalent. Shelton could be a vital asset if sufficiently motivated. As the last few years have aptly demonstrated though, that’s a big if.
It seems no earthly force can halt the descent of the WWE Divas division into plastic infamy. A shoddy in-ring product married to a personality vacuum, the women’s scene is an unsalvageable joke. As such, the decision to sack one of the few genuinely over and vaguely capable performers left in the company only heightens the unavoidable sense of futility. Mickie James was clumsy and awkward but then so was Trish Stratus, until WWE dared her to carry the division on her back. This she accomplished with aplomb; something the even more charismatic and perky Mickie might also have achieved if given the legitimate backing of her superiors.
Alas for the former Alexis Laree, certain unpleasant habits served to hasten her departure. Though rated as a credible wrestler by management she was often her own worst enemy in the ring, with lapses in concentration and extraordinary clumsiness typifying the Mickie James viewing experience. She was trusted as champion on multiple occasions but even this, coupled with the legitimate bond she cultivated with the punters at large, was not enough to save her from dismissal. Naturally, given her popularity (and the equally abrupt exit of Candice Michelle) certain tawdry claims have been made as to perceived ulterior motives behind her departure.
PG-13 hypocrisy notwithstanding, WWE was well aware of her “naughty photo shoots” before they hired her. Lord knows there are enough skeletons in the McMahon’s family closet to occupy (and entertain) archaeologists for centuries to come. Questions have been raised about a supposed attitude problem, stemming from some mild weight gain and Mickie having the gall to (gasp) succeed independently of WWE as a budding country musician.
WWE saw fit to highlight management’s apparent awareness of James’ leotard yo-yoing by scripting a vile and breathtakingly vicious storyline based on the fiction of Mickie apparently being overweight. Setting aside such a nonsensical notion, the supposedly responsible WWE succeeded only in offending every fan it has ever attracted to whom weight represents an issue, not to mention James herself (who detested the storyline). Though she did exact scripted retribution, the callous and vindictive nature of the WWE “Family” was laid bare for the perfectly healthy and attractive Mickie to witness. I have no doubt she had cause to question the origins of such unpleasantness.
In this writer’s opinion, Mickie James upset the apple cart by seeking to better herself outside of the WWE Universe and remaining popular and even beloved without said entity’s continued assistance. A plucky, charming and infectious character, Mickie is arguably better off without the nonsense that embodies the modern WWE and I for one hope she prospers in whatever environment she feels best suit her talents and attention. WWE, for its part, has succeeded only in making me even less inclined to watch WWE TV. Given the dismal state of Raw and Smackdown at the moment, that is quite an achievement when you think about it.
Undoubtedly, James and Benjamin are the most high-profile casualties of the latest Springtime WWE purge, but in many ways Katie Lea Burchill is the most disappointing. Gorgeous, gifted and (best of all) English, the one-time Nikita of FWA fame deserved more than an offensive, incest-themed storyline and a position as the hottest jobber in WWE. She’s been employed by WWE for several years, yet at no point received a sustained (let alone consistent) push or the chance to prove her worth.
In the inverted WWE nexus, her ability to outwrestle the preferred platinum brigade without much effort probably counted against her; as yet another unique and potential-laden performer is cast adrift. What vexes me so is the colossal waste of investment. Why train, promote and pay someone for years if you aren’t even prepared to give him or her even the smallest chance of succeeding? It is arrogance so stark as to be capable of stripping paint, and is indicative of a company once again draining its lifeblood when the heart suffers even a mild flutter.
According to WWE, this is the way of the world. I can tell you right now, this might be the world of Vince McMahon and his band of merry lunatics, but the real world sighs with a resignation bordering on ancient. WWE is a dictatorship, and don’t you forget it. Given the buxom plants, stunted storytelling and crappy television broadcasts, it is the long-suffering WWE fans who should be wishing WWE “all the best in its future endeavours”. As for the unfortunate seven, I wish you all well. The difference being, I mean it…
Daniel R. Browne.