All things considered, it has been a slow week in the grappling world. Dixie Carter – alongside her gruesome twosome – is busy consolidating what little remains of TNA Wrestling’s overall momentum, as the company returns to Thursday nights with its tail tucked firmly between its legs. Over in Stamford, the WWE hierarchy were apparently left stunned by the incredible heat Vickie Guerrero generated as a one-shot RAW General Manager, and are apparently thinking of employing her in the position on a full-time basis. Putting one and one together and reaching two is a novelty occurrence in WWE, so I suppose we should all be grateful. Oh, and Bret Hart was booked in another match, apparently without his prior knowledge. That would be funny if it wasn’t so damn silly.
Yes indeed, it’s been an arduous trudge this week. Therefore, pinched for something to focus on, I’m going to look at the Smackdown “chosen one”, Drew McIntyre. Well, not strictly “look”, rather “use as segue into a more exciting subject”. This writer has encountered various dullards who think the height of intellectual standing is to disagree with conventional wisdom in the name of attention seeking.
As tactics go, it’s neither original nor especially clever, and no amount of dim-witted posturing can change the fact that McIntyre really isn’t very good. He’s average in the ring, possesses neither heat nor charisma and has a very generic look. The cherry on this particularly tart cake is his lack of definable interview skills, and that ladies an gentleman is what we shall start talking about today: cutting a promo on somebody’s ass.
In WWE, the promo has become a lost art. The fundamental quality of any truly great promo is spontaneity. The brilliance of Duane “The Rock” Johnson’s stick work was not just the world-class delivery; it was the audience interaction and the topical references. It was a complete and mesmeric package that had the people hanging off his every word. To be fair, The Great One possessed a natural and inimitable charisma and was arguably the best interview in the history of the game. As such, it is not a fair comparison to make between him and the ordinary folk of the wrestling world. Nevertheless, listening to him today only underlines the gulf in class between him and the modern WWE.
The sad truth of this world is that nobody can accomplish everything. I have long been a vocal and outspoken opponent of the “cookie-cutter” mentality that has permeated WWE management and the creative department. In the modern WWE, every wrestler dresses the same way, wrestles the same style and reads from an often times wooden and otherwise awful script. The one sacred commodity that elevated Austin, Rock and even Triple H – spontaneity – has been eradicated. Instead of personal promos central to the relevant issue, WWE utilises writers noted film hack Uwe Boll would think twice about hiring, and together they pen identikit dross that means nothing and prohibits a wrestler’s personality from growing and imagination from flourishing. If Austin and Rock had arrived in this sort of unflinching, uniform environment, the destiny of mainstream wrestling may have been very, very different.
The issue of standardisation has been a burgeoning concern in WWE for some time now. Arguably of greater moral (and legal) concern is the company’s new “youthful image” drive. In the old days, Vince McMahon efficiently managed the ebb and flow of young and old stars, and rigidly adhered to the boys’ coda of “can he still go?” There is something altogether spiteful about the way an unwritten rule of the business has been turned into a public policy debate. Once again, the dark alleys and “behind closed doors” mentality of the business – rather than the legally-endorsed legislation of other sporting industries – has granted WWE the means to justify ramming all its ill-prepared greenhorns down our collective throats, ready or not.
I’d be very interested to hear Linda McMahon’s views on this frankly ageist policy. Mind you, as a would-be part of America’s ruling establishment, she’d probably behave in exactly the same manner as the Professional Wrestling Congressional Investigation Committee: craven denial and a criminal lack of interest bordering on negligence. If the scrubbing of the Congressional report proved anything, it’s that the American legislature can’t be bothered to address an unregulated and autocratic industry, controlled in the mainstream by a dictatorial empire and the highest death rate of any sport – real of otherwise – in the history of humankind. In the grand scheme of things, I guess it just isn’t very important to them…
I digress. We were talking about promo skills, or a lack there of, and in WWE unless you were naturally blessed with the gift of the gab, you are handed your script and hurled to the habitually apathetic lions. The situation is more agreeable outside of WWE, where common sense and originality can still be located. Alas, the always-struggling TNA has a different concern. The overriding materials and Vince Russo-penned storylines generally suck, and no amount of ad-libbing and Shakespearean poise can salvage the unsalvageable. Nevertheless, at least one can distinguish one TNA promo from the other. The only way the viewer can manage that extraordinary feat, when listening to a WWE promo, is listening out for when “the guy” talks about “the other guy” in an unconvincingly hostile manner.
Prior to Wrestlemania XXVI, I dwelt upon the awkward truth of how jarringly the Undertaker/Michaels II conflict meshed with the rest of the WWE product. The various confrontations and tit-for-tat verbal duels and gradual escalation seemed alarmingly at odds with the banal content found everywhere else. If ever proof was required of the power of allowing personality and measured freedom to shine forth, this was it. The intensity and professionalism on display – before, during and after their match – was like a breath of fresh air, or perhaps a reminder of when one WWE wrestler was distinguishable from another.
Honestly, if the future of WWE is the trunks-wearing robots with tans, suits and nothing else of note, count this writer – and fan – out. To paraphrase one of the more risible instances of Americana: WWE, love it or leave it. At this very moment, I’m sorely tempted to leave it. Mainstream wrestling is a dank and altogether alien place to be at the moment. The business is growing in ways it shouldn’t and failing to learn at the rate it should. In the end that equation seldom spells anything other than total boredom (at best) and utter disaster at worst. As always, we shall see.
Daniel R. Browne.