Did you miss me? Well, reports of my literary demise have been greatly exaggerated, and I am back once again to cast a weary – yet cautiously optimistic – eye over the ebb and flow of the professional wrestling industry. In my absence, the status quo has seemingly endured. The time-tested power players are still in control of their spots, John Cena still throws the lamest-looking blows in all of creation and Hulk Hogan still films himself defecating in a hospital robe… No wait, that’s something entirely new (thankfully) and undeniably despicable.
Gazing simultaneously at selected feuds in WWE and TNA, it is clear that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Mick Foley and Ric Flair are once again engaged in a duel of wits, claret and borderline masochism, as they try once again to transform genuine enmity into storyline viability. Their original feud, masterminded and booked by Foley, was a monumental disappointment. Oxfam Mick arrogantly assumed every wrestling fan on earth had read both his autobiography and Flair’s book, and committed each tome to memory in absolute detail.
The net result of this hubris was the content and tone of the feud was lost on all but twenty percent of the fee-paying audience. With the exception of one astonishing promo, Foley managed to hamstring his own angle via inadequate explanations and references so inside as to be legitimately questionable. In this particular instance, art paled in the glowering form of life and ego so pronounced as to be physically tangible. It was a colossal failure that was soon forgotten.
Naturally then, the world’s most witless wrestling promotion has seen fit to resurrect a feud most people have very little interest in revisiting. To give Foley his due, the early exchanges have been suitably intense, and the more “in-character” approach to the storytelling can only facilitate further progress and enjoyment. With Bound For Glory looming on the horizon, the need for Foley and Flair to justify the exorbitant sums Dixie Carter is paying them has become pressing in the extreme. Pitting them against each other allows Vince Russo to once again partake in his favourite activity i.e. rehashing long forgotten WWE feuds, whilst TNA can promote a so-called marquee match. Alas though, “Foley/Flair II” serves TNA Wrestling precisely zero purpose in the long run.
Switching gears, WWE has recently invested considerable time and effort in re-establishing Kane as a psychotic and credible world champion, in preparation for a new grandstand feud with his storyline brother and raison d’être, The Undertaker. It is difficult to fault the conviction with which WWE has implemented the saga, from the (admittedly contrived) whodunit through to Kane’s ascension to championship status, and finally the return of the fat man himself, Paul Bearer. An enthralling if altogether silly story, the latest chapter in the never-ending odyssey of the brothers grim has been expertly booked and carried by an only too cooperative Undertaker, who apparently has no qualms about showing vulnerability to a perceived equal. It is ‘Taker’s weakness that has driven the feud and given it such impetus, and Uncle Paul’s Hell in the Cell defection from black to red only thickens the plot further.
However, many of the same gripes justifiably levelled in the direction of Foley and Flair also apply to their distinguished WWE counterparts. Tempus Fugit. This feud is absolutely nothing new. It was quite literally done to death in the late nineties, and has been touched upon, referenced and otherwise acknowledged ever since. Though it makes for heavyweight drama and hard-hitting action, it is strictly within the moment and nothing new is accomplished by its telling, which by definition makes it an indulgent exercise. As a longstanding fan of Mark Calaway’s alter ego, I’m thrilled and delighted to embrace the retro frisson of seeing him battle his most persistent foe once more. However, if the recent buyrate information from Summerslam is taken at face value, WWE is desperate and chafing under the weight of its own persistent stubbornness; hence the fraternal reunion.
Sometimes, a little time on the outside looking in lends some genuine perspective. In the interim, this writer has witnessed the sacking of a performer – Serena, of the Straight-Edge Society – for no reason other than her refusal to kayfabe outside her profession. In two-thousand-and-ten, that is preposterous, draconian and so utterly detached from reality that only WWE would’ve dared proffer it as truthful. The reason for her sacking is a shameful insult to the intelligence of every WWE fan. So to is the treatment of the talented and loyal Matt Hardy, who has seemingly lost what little remained of his pro-WWE resolve and taken to airing his true feelings about his increasingly callous treatment at the hands of his masters. Ridiculed for his age and current weight problems, a veteran of Hardy’s standing deserves better than the brutal disregard of his (unworthy) peers. What purpose such internal bullying policies serve is so far beyond my understanding I can barely process it in my mind. It is beyond irrational.
In closing, I reserve my deepest concern for the Linda McMahon situation. Having spent and spent and spent and watched her husband transform WWE into a bland, superficial panderer of childish sensibilities, Linda somehow stands on the precipice of governmental responsibility. If this were England, the woman would be a Sun newspaper headline and shortly thereafter another wretched retiree cashiered into infamy; all in the space of one unsubstantiated phone call. The snide snowflakes of innuendo would fall slowly at first, before becoming an avalanche of dirty laundry. She is so utterly soaked in mendacity and mischief it borders on comical, and yet America may yet have to stomach a McMahon wielding legitimate political clout. And after witnessing the deft and altogether tactful way she dealt with the Lance Cade situation, we all know Linda is a woman of the people. Yeah, right. Glad to be back, boys and girls.
Daniel R. Browne.