"Where Is My Mind?"
It's from The Pixies song, by the way. The song that closes the excellent movie Fight Club; I love it. I love the movie. What better a title for a third [slash] edition of the Mindless Rants than that?
First off, I'd like to start with a couple of things. 1, I appreciate the feedback letters from you guys, and the advice/criticism/what have you (I'm trying not to be negative) that I've gotten on the board. It's kind of important to me that these articles create some sort of buzz, whether that be good or bad. 2, I don't want to sound like someone who constantly bashes the WWF. I love the business and the sport, even though I think the nature of the beast is a little more savage than necessary. 3, this is 2 articles in one, and very long. If you don't like to read a lot, you may not enjoy this column so much. I will try and cut down on the length in subsequent articles. :-) Oh yes, and very important, the second part of this contains SMACKDOWN SPOILERS which may not be appropriate for all readers. Nothing huge, but I don't want to not give you prior warning. 4, as proof of my "I-Don't-Bash-The-WWF-Constantly" mantra, here comes some relatively positive feedback:
Rock - Jericho
This Thursday on Smackdown, we were treated to what has quickly become the hottest feud in a very, very long time. Rock and Jericho's tension, and the eventual dam bursting, has been some great television. The most direct parallels I can draw are earlier this year, when Triple H and Austin feuded, going into No Way Out, then the next month with Wrestlemania preparations.
On the Triple H/Austin feud, the lines were pretty clearly drawn. Austin was the mega-babyface, and Triple H was the hated rival. What made the feud interesting was that neither man was allowed to actually fight the other, or risk a 6-month suspension for Triple H, and a loss of Austin's title shot at Wrestlemania. This feud was extremely effective, because it allowed Triple H and Austin to vent, and show each other how much they hated one another, without blowing the feud in any match (mostly because it was impossible). Fans literally BEGGED Austin to just cold-cock Triple H in the nose, title shot or not. But we saw a new layer to Austin's character, which set his heel turn up, in that he was ready to sacrifice anything to win the WWF title back.
Along the same lines, Austin's feud with Rock worked extremely well because it worked on the same tension. This time, though, Rock and Austin wanted to go after one another to prove who was the best. They had no personal animosity (as evidenced by the Rock sparing Austin the Rock Bottom on Smackdown, the first week into their month-long feud) to speak of, but fans were already being divided. However, I thought there were a few points where this feud failed.
First off, it did not establish that either man was going to turn. Yet smarks all over the world figured a turn was coming up, and that it would probably be Austin, considering that Rock was going to be out of commission for so long. But in Rock/Jericho, with a guaranteed way of turning heel (Joining the Alliance), both men have seemingly taken a dip toward it. By being able to question Rock or Jericho's loyalty, fans are able to get it into their heads that, "Hey, one of these guys might be a traitor". In Rock/Austin, there was no real place to defect to, so the question was always "Whom is Austin being disloyal to?" The answer was "The Fans", but the fans are never really a true faction. Angle's heel character worked extremely well because he played to the fans, and they hated him for it (As they should have). Fans are also fickle - Wrestlers, in key storylines, are able to set up a much more solid base for a turn. Austin turning into the hands of Triple H (And becoming his lackey) was, in retrospect, probably a good move, since it allowed fans to know that Austin was truly playing to someone bad. Fans kept trying to cheer Austin, as though they were trained to not hate Austin. Wrestlers, on the other hand, since they tend to be one dimensional until they turn face or heel (and then show a new dimension), do not have this sort of fickleness to them - They are either solidly bad or solidly good until they begin to turn.
Of course, you could argue that the "anti-hero" character that Austin portrayed was not intended to be solidly good, but I'd disagree. Austin's character was carefully crafted and pushed so that, no matter what his actions, he would be cheered. There is a fine degree between beating the living hell out of Vince McMahon because you are a badass and beating the living hell out of a (face) Rock for the same reason. Austin will win no fans for going off, and doing whatever he wants to do to other people the fans adore, but attacking and mangling those who the fans hate will make him a God in their eyes. And it paid off. The way this feud has been set up, it makes sense for either man to turn, and I think even casual fans know that. The questioning of Rock and Jericho's loyalty by the casual fan finally accomplishes what the WWF should have been striving for all along in this Invasion - Internal conflict, division, and dissention. None of those really existed for the vast majority of the angle's existence. They were implied aspects, but never actually seen or felt on television.
The Alliance was trotted out as jokes, of course. Wrestlers who were "stupid enough" to defect to the Alliance were simply that: Stupid enough. It reminds me of the quote from 1984 "WAR is PEACE", in that in a constant state of War, War becomes the norm and is accepted. In a constant state of Peace, such as the near-constant state the United States was in before Sept. 11th, War is the disrupting force. In Afghanistan, where rebel fighters are realizing that the US could be the end to their conflict, the thought of real peace is frightening too. [/social studies lesson] - Point being that before the Invasion, the WWF was in a constant state of "peace", and post Invasion, the WWF was in a constant state of "war", and in both cases, fans had simply adjusted to either norm. Peace is an ideal, however. War is something to be ended.
But the Invasion doesn't look like anything BUT constant war. Battle lines have been drawn, the initial surprise attack (the formation of the Alliance) was over long ago, and fans have acclimated. Fans have become accustomed to the Invasion, and where that happens, the potential for boredom is always present. Fans are "getting back to business", "getting on with their day to day lives". The Alliance has done nothing in a long time that shows that it is capable of "shocking the world" into paying attention. But the WWF has made a move on that rather swiftly.
Rock vs. Jericho has quickly become the buzz around, well, everywhere. Regardless of whether people are arguing over who is turning heel or staying face, or whether it was a good idea to "blow" off the title switch on Raw, people are at least interested. Rock and Jericho have turned up the intensity lately, and have left people wondering aloud what the next move is.
To those who say that having Rock/Jericho's title match and switch was a bad thing, I would argue the opposite. There is no doubt that Rock/Jericho for the WCW title could be a Pay Per View main event. But the main event for Survivor Series is already set in stone (the participants notwithstanding - Survivor Series will be a 5 on 5 match). Rock and Jericho, therefore, would either have to carry over their feud another month - which I don't think would be possible without some sort of title match, as much as they speak about Jericho's tainted win. Also, a title switch heightens tension on team WWF, and continues to create the atmosphere that it should have had from day one: That the WWF is falling apart because they are constantly losing talent to the Alliance. Rock and Jericho will carry their tension all the way to Survivor Series, but they'll have a significant motivating factor to keep from fighting each other. Just as in Triple H/Austin going into No Way Out, where the incentive was a 6-month suspension and loss of the WMX-7 title shot respectively, here, the motivating factor is to keep the WWF alive. If both men truly DO care about the WWF as they say they do, then they will be forced to put their hatred aside to work together. Like all things, it has a tremendous capacity to fall to pieces.
The psychology of this feud is that amazing. Though they may not play it up, the future of the WWF could very well hinge on the backs of Rock and Jericho, and whether their tensions with one another can keep from rising long enough to stay focused on the match at hand. The WWF has finally captured the fans' attention for the first time since before Invasion with their very recent direction. Though I disagree with some aspects of it, I do give a nod to the fact that for the first time in a long time, the WWF isn't seen as a bastion of sensibility, and those wrestlers who leave it, like the moronic rats who run into the sinking ship.
Team WWF/Team ECW/WCW vs. Team WWF/Team Alliance
Months ago, at Invasion, two teams squared off for the rights to claim their dominance in sports-entertainment. The old guard team, destined to fail by a turncoat Steve Austin, was comprised of Austin, Kurt Angle, The Undertaker, Kane and Chris Jericho, fought the ECW/WCW team of Booker T, Diamond Dallas Page, Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley and Rhyno.
A lot has changed since that night. Most notably, the sole returning member from team WCW/ECW, Booker T, has remained the only consistent WCW main-event superstar. Steve Austin, and most recently, Kurt Angle, have also found themselves on the Alliance team. And out-of-nowhere superstar Rob Van Dam has cemented a spot for himself in the Alliance lineup. WCW owner Shane McMahon leads their team. On the WWF side, however, there is much more consistency. Chris Jericho, Undertaker and Kane all return, and the Rock, a newcomer to Team WWF, comes back from his movie shoot (And "suspension"). They are recently joined by 7-foot monster the Big Show, after Vince McMahon put him in his own place, bowing out of the match.
These teams are by no means final, I would suspect. Both Rock and Jericho have been teased as possibly being traitors, and defecting to the other side for either man would be logical. Rob Van Dam also has no real motivation to stay with the Alliance thus far, and since he's become such an underground babyface, his status would only be sealed firmly by hooking up with the WWF.
But the lack of real ECW or WCW star power is quite evident. Of the competitors, only two out of the 10 men have never competed for the WWF. Of the 10 competitors, the 8 others have competed for the WWF this year (the significance being even the ECW workers have worked for the WWF this year). In other words, rather than team ECW/WCW, team Alliance is stacked full with mostly WWF stars. Kurt Angle, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Shane McMahon are all synonymous with WWF, and regardless of their Alliance colors, it is frustrating that the WWF has chosen to once again push their own talent ahead of WCW superstars.
Diamond Dallas Page is perhaps the saddest example. I don't want to get into a 20 page long rant, so I'll just state that DDP's initial treatment in the WWF, and the subsequent gimmick shows that the WWF is not serious about pushing Page. The fact that he was in the Invasion main event shows that the WWF simply felt that at the time, he was a convenience in the top slot. He was quickly placed back on the shelf where he "belonged" right afterward, jobbing to Sara Undertaker shortly outside of a month after Invasion.
The Dudleyz were another "just there" team, that were tossed in to give the Team ECW/WCW side a little more credibility, and were taken out in short order. No biggie here.
The fact that Booker T is the only remaining WCW star still on the main event roster, however, is very unfortunate. Booker T is talented, there's no doubt about it, but to say that he's completely a WCW main eventer is a little hard to swallow. Since he's come in, it's been made pretty clear that his sole motivation is to be the WCW champion. Yet he's been separated from anyone or anything dealing with the WCW title. Not that I'd like to see Booker injected into the Rock/Jericho feud, but I think he was written off far too quickly. We had three months of Austin/Angle, yet we had only two of Booker/Rock. And the point of Austin/Angle was the chase - Once Angle won the title, it was shown all to quickly that he was incapable of carrying the ball. However, the Rock and Booker T was never about the chase. Rock came in, kicked Booker's ass and simply allowed him a title rematch, which he lost. It didn't help that Shane injected himself into the feud either. Shane always seemed to feel the need to leech off of Booker's heat. Notice I didn't say Booker needed to leech off of Shane's heat. Booker T was capable of creating some incredible heat on himself in the early portions of the Rock/Booker feud, such as when he began stealing the Rock's catchphrases and moves. His mic skills were great for his character and he wrestled very well. Rather, it was Shane, who, without any real reason found himself constantly lagging behind Booker, as if Booker was "his man". Yet, Shane always seemed far more interested in keeping himself over than Booker.
Anyway, without a doubt, the bright spot on Team Alliance's record has to be Rob Van Dam. Love him or hate him, it is hard to argue that the fed doesn't listen to its fans in the case of RVD. Survivor Series will be his second PPV in a row where he finds himself in the main event, and most likely he will end up being a very big player in the outcome of Survivor Series. He is also the longest-teased member of the Alliance who could leave to the WWF, and probably the one that makes the most sense, given how he is generally treated by Austin and Angle.
Some have complained that RVD is being de-pushed, given that last week, he fought Edge twice. However, on Raw, he faced Booker T in a non-title match. Granted it went nowhere, and granted, I just argued that Booker's been neutered, but the fact remains that they are both main eventers, and that it was in the advance of a storyline.
Then there's Team WWF from Invasion, from which both Austin and Angle are now derelict, replaced by Rock and The Big Show. Oy. Where to begin. First off, Just about everyone with a computer who cared knew Austin was turning. It was no surprise when he turned on Angle, and perhaps the brightest point of the angle was that it turned Kurt babyface in the process. But Angle's babyface... experiment, was flubbed at best. Frankly, I'm partial to the "Angle is a mole" theory floating around, but that still doesn't excuse the excuse-less turn. "I love my country, but I love my job" doesn't fly. Running to the arms of the weaker company to save your job, because you are paranoid about the focus of the WWF workers? Come on. Not to mention that Austin AND RVD just tried to, y'know, beat the hell out of him, and that Regal and Austin orchestrated a plan to screw him out of his title about a month ago.
The Rock rightfully belongs on the Team WWF lineup for Survivor Series, however. The Rock gives the team the credibility they need, and his feud with Jericho (see above) allows his credibility to fly straight out of the window, because who knows WHAT these guys are going to do come Survivor Series.
Undertaker and Kane are mainstays who may not go anywhere, but are solidly "okay" where they are. It's The Big Show that bothers me. The WWF has a penchant for shoving people whom they, and only they, have faith in, down others' throats. It happens constantly with Billy Gunn. The Big Show is no exception to this rule. I enjoy the Big Show in a tag team role, as when he's running the "big guy, clear the ring, pop the crowd" role, he tends to be very viable. As a wrestler, he stinks. His style (stand there, force people to move me) doesn't mesh well at all. He doesn't sell (although in his case, I'd be willing to make an exception) very well, and is generally boring in the ring. How many giant-killer matches can you stomach before it just gets tiring? I think that question was answered years ago when the Big Show was taken out of the main event, and sent down to OVW to lose weight.
Let's close this with a quick thought.
"At Survivor Series, the WWF or the Alliance will go about of business! For good! Forever! Seriously this time!"
...Riiiiiight. And what other business decision has been handled in a 20 by 20 ring, with a motley crew of assembled wrestlers and company owners (without Don King involved, at least)? The day Bill Gates takes on Steve Jobs in a Brawl for All is the day the world ends. The mere fact that anyone would put the fate of a multimillion-dollar company on the line for one match is enough for the board of directors to forcefully remove that CEO out of office (and probably deport him). And oh boy, wouldn't that just beat all? Now the Evil Board of Directors is forcibly removing Mr. McMahon from his office! He'll be the Babyface to end all Babyfaces! Smell the ratings.
What does all of this mean? I think Vince Russo is back. SWERVES, BABY~!
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