GOLDEN AGE OF WRESTLING
Post WrestleMania WWF
First, let me apologize for not having a GAoW recap this week. Basically, I am an idiot, and simply cannot remember to set the silly digital cable box to channel 333 (ESPN Classic) before I turn in on Friday night. Since I normally am not awake at 5:00am on Saturday mornings, there's no way that I'll actually watch the show when it airs. I depend on my VCR; my VCR faithfully records whatever channel the digital cable box is tuned to.
This week, I found out that WGN-TV2 airs some pretty stupid shows at 5:00am. I wish I could've seen what was happening on GAoW!
So, in place of a recap this week, I want to address the direction the WWF will be moving in this year. As everyone should know by now, Wrestlemania is the capstone of the WWF's year. Most storylines are wrapped up at Wrestlemania; the post-Wrestlemania Raw signals the start of new storylines for the year. Now that the post-Wrestlemania Raw has come and gone, I think it is safe to pull out the crystal ball and try to see what is around the corner for WWFE.
One last thing I should say before I get to the meat of this article: I didn't like Wrestlemania very much. It was a weak show that seemed more like a 4-hour long edition of Raw or Smackdown than the Crown Jewel of Sports Entertainment. But 2001 was mostly a weak year for the WWF, so maybe that is apropos.
So now, let's look forward to 2002!
I can only hope that the rest of the year is *not* going to feature over an hour of promos on every show. I realize just how important it is toward getting a wrestler over to allow the wrestler to give a promo. But there should be no reason (after the draft on 3/25/02, anyway) to have any of the McMahon's cutting 20 minute promos. Enough of the talk. We are tired of it! (Or, perhaps, have a whole lot of talking on Thursday nights, and leave the wrestling on Monday nights. That'd work for me, and it would free up a couple of hours on Thursday nights that I usually spend in front of the television.)
Raw made it pretty clear that the main storyline for a while is going to be the Brand extension. Instead of there being the WWF, there will now be WWF-Raw and WWF-Smackdown. (Can I just note here how stupid the "brands" are? I can understand not wanting to use the WCW name, after how badly Russo and Sullivan damaged that name. But ECW is still available, fans still want to see ECW, and fans would respond to ECW. So why not have ECW Raw and WWF Smackdown?)
Unforunately, the "brand extension" leads itself to some major problems. It'll be interesting to see how the writers write themselves out of these corners. Are tag teams split up, or kept together? (My suggestion: consider tag-teams a unit, much like McMahon will do with the nWo.) Does McMahon draft mainly heels, since these are the wrestlers he has most often been associated with. And, by that logic, should Flair choose only faces? And what about the lesser champs? Who gets the Intercontinental Champion? The European? And the big question in my mind (I'm a big tag-team guy): Does one brand end up *without* a tag-team champion?
Raw did set up a couple of feuds, which will probably gives a hint to what we can expect to see in the draft. Raw and Smackdown set up a Hogan/Rock -vs- nWo feud, and it seemed HOT. (In Canada, anyway.) It would make no sense to chop this feud off at the knees just as it is building momentum. That means that Hogan, Rock and the nWo all need to be drafted by WWF-Smackdown.
While I am talking about this feud, let me just say how disappointed I am that the WWF didn't turn the Rock on Monday night. The crowd was just ACHING to turn on the Rock. Hell, they were jeering the Rock during his normal "FINALLY..." schtick. A Rock heel turn would've gone WAY over, and would've gotten Hogan even more over as a face (as sad as that is to say). But the WWF still isn't sure how American fans are going to react to Hogan, so they chose to play it safe. In the end, that was probably a good choice. But I am still disappointed!
Anyway, we also got to see Brock Lesnar debut, with Paul Heyman by his side. Obviously, Lesnar is going to be a force. And Heyman can get ANYONE over with his skills on the mic. I think it is VERY interesting that Lesnar has targeted only smaller opponents at this point. If conventional wisdom holds and most of the cruiserweights end up on Raw, then I think it is safe to assume Lesnar will end up there, too.
We also saw more development in the ladies division on Raw and Smackdown. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of ladies actually competing right now. It would make no sense to split up the division, with two of the women competing one night, and the other two on the other night. I am guessing that all of the ladies will end up on Raw, with the only exceptions being Torrie and Stacy, who don't actually wrestle anyway. Lita, Trish, Molly and Ivory should all end up on one side of the fence, however, all chasing Jazz.
Raw also set up HHH -vs- Jericho part 2. Smackdown changed this to HHH -vs- Jericho -vs- Steph. What this match should REALLY be called is "get Steph off of our television." There is no way that Steph will win this match. And, unfortunately, the WWF is not going to put the belt around Jericho's waist again (or, at least not this quickly). So we'll see HHH get the win (probably over Steph after hitting Yet Another Pedigree On Steph, or YAPOS). That leaves Jericho all by his lonesome, with a new bad attitude. I hope Chris ends up on Monday nights, where he can continue to be one of the top heels in the WWF.
Most everything else in the WWF in the near future revolves around the draft and the "brand extension." And it all starts tonight, with the talent draft. I would be remiss to not give at least a few more predictions for who will get drafted by whom. As I stated above, I see Rock, Hogan and the nWo all going to WWF-Smackdown, while all the women wrestlers end up on WWF-Raw. My other predictions include:
Steve Austin should end up where the Rock doesn't; expect to see Stone Cold on RAW. Kurt Angle is boasting that Vince will draft Angle, which means Vince won't. Angle ends up on Raw. Undertaker/Flair had the hottest feud going into Wrestlemania, as well as THE best match at Wrestlemania. It makes sense to continue that heat; pencil the Dead Man in on Raw. RVD is too cool to hang around with the nWo, so he'll be on Raw. And Jericho left WCW to avoid the nWo, surely that can be worked into storylines to justify Mr. Jericho staying on Monday nights.
Steve Regal has a long history with Mr. McMahon. No reason to screw up that continuity, so Regal goes to Smackdown. APA (as a unit) move to Thursday nights, as do Chuck and Billy (so the Outsiders have a shot at tag-team gold). Hardyz end up on Monday nights, as well as long-time nemesis the Dudleyz. Taijiri goes to Monday nights, as well as most of the other cruiserweights in the company (Spike, Billy Kidman, Hurricane, etc). And, as I said above, Lesnar stalks the cruiserweights on Monday nights.
I also expect to see a bit of a shakeup in announcing duties. I expect JR to stay on Monday nights, but I have a feeling that Lawler will end up on Thursdays only. I'd move Tazz in for color with JR personally. Or, perhaps, Arn Anderson? After all, Ric Flair is the person doing the drafting!
I have a hard time being optimistic about the upcoming year. I love the WWF; I actually did a little dance of joy when WCW folded. But the WWF had a HORRIBLE 2001. They screwed up the WCW invasion. They screwed up the ECW reinforcements. They screwed up the Kurt Angle face run, and they screwed Chris Jericho and Jericho's title run. The WWF even managed to bungle the nWo introduction. Add in the failure of the XFL, and you may be able to understand why I am not optimistic.
However, I am interested. I want to see what happens with the draft. I want to see who ends up on what night. I hope that RAW ends up being a show which features more wrestling, and Smackdown features more "Sports Entertainment" (as I said above, that would free up my Thursday nights). The WWF has an amazing opportunity in front of them. If they can pull off the brand split successfully, they will create two cannot-miss wrestling shows, appealing to two different types of wrestling fans. The WWF has a chance to keep us fans forever loyal. The split could allow the WWF to better concentrate on storylines, increasing the drama and comedy while reducing the amount of suckitude in their broadcasts.
If WWFE takes the ball and run with it, this could be a great year for wrestling fans. I am hoping for a touchdown, but I really do expect a fumble. WWFE, I hope you prove me wrong!