Hardcore Justice, Summerslam. Neither were terrible PPVs. In fact, both were rather entertaining in their own way. Some nice and welcome surprise wins (TNA had Aries retain, WWE had Bryan defeat Kane). Some good matches (Aries/Roode, Ziggler/Jericho). Some dreck (Knockouts match). Some boredom (HHH/Lesnar). I was less impressed than usual with TNA’s in-ring product – the main event and ladder match were very good, the rest average (or less). Some of WWE’s booking decisions still leave me confused – the booking of the end of Sheamus/Del Rio, where was Ziggler’s cash-in.
But here’s the problem – I felt underwhelmed by both shows. I watched them, enjoyed them for the most part, and then promptly forgot about 90% of each of them. And it’s not just me. Reading comments and tweets through both shows and afterwards, talking to friends who follow wrestling, this seems to be a common feeling nowadays. Main events don’t have that main event “feel” they used to. I couldn’t name the main events of the PPVs this year without looking them up (though I have a feeling that if I said ‘John Cena’ I’d get half marks for most WWE main events). The last match that I really got into was CM Punk v Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania. I enjoyed a lot of the rest of the show, but that match was one I really got into.
I can’t remember a thing about it except the ending.
And yet I can remember three quarters of Bret Hart v Davey Boy Smith from Summerslam 1992, and probably half of Ultimate Warrior v Randy Savage from the same event. I haven’t watched either match in years, but they grabbed me so much better than the wrestling I’ve seen in probably the past five years.
So what is it? Why do so few matches grab us like they used to?
First is, I think, the sheer overdose of wrestling that has to be at the highest level. This is due in no small part to the Monday Night Wars. But what this means is that so few matches have that “big time” feel any more. The big matches are given away for free on the regular programming. In the 1980s would Goldberg have defeated Hogan on Saturday Night’s Main Event? No – it would have headlined one of the four Pay-Per-Views. And then when we do get the big feel matches – Rock v Cena, Brock v HHH – even if the match delivers (and verdicts are certainly mixed), the build-up feels forced, and it seems this reduces the enjoyment of many.
Second leads on from this, and that is too many Pay-Per-View events. Actually, this might not be so much of a problem if they put different people on top for some of the events (and, to be fair, TNA does this with Destination-X focusing on the X-Division guys). But with John Cena headlining every single PPV when he is not allowed to have a moveset out of the mundane is just ridiculous. I thought Roode was a great heel champion, but I am so glad Aries has defeated him because having him main event 7 or so PPVs was probably too much. In 1997 WCW PPVs were the same – show ends, nWo stands triumphant in the ring. Called it a mile away.
This leads to number three. Too many PPVs can be alleviated by having more guys at the top and swapping and changing the main events. Look at 2002; the main events were: Jericho/Rock, Jericho/Austin, HHH/Jericho, Hogan/HHH, HHH/Nash, Undertaker/Hogan, Undertaker/HHH, Rock/Undertaker/Angle, Lesnar/Rock, Lesnar/Undertaker, Lesnar/Undertaker (again), Lesnar/Edge, HHH/Michaels and an Elimination Chamber match (won by Michaels). Ten years later, what have we had so far? Punk/Ziggler, Cena/Kane, Cena/Rock, Cena/Lesnar, Laurianitis/Cena, Cena/Big Show, Cena winning MitB, and Lesnar/HHH. Only two did not have Cena thus far, whereas 10 years ago, at the height of HHHmania, HHH featured in 5 main events for the whole year. Cenoverdose is close.
And finally, the in-ring quality just doesn’t do it for me any more. TNA has some of the best televised wrestling out there at the moment. But in the past three or so years barely a handful of matches are even close to memorable. I am not saying none have been good – in the WWE as well, but TNA moreso – but that none have been classics. Again, look back at SummerSlam 1992 – Hart/Smith is a bona fide classic, and Warrior/Savage is damn close. But, seriously, have any matches in the past three years really been as good as the classics from our youth? My favourite US televised match is from Wrestlemania VII, but I have a number of friends whose favourite match is one of the Rock/Austin matches, a few who like matches featuring the SmackDown 6, and a few more who go crazy for one of the ECW garbage brawls, and at least one who thinks the TNA Unbreakable 2005 3-way main event is the best match he’s ever seen. Notice something? The most recent of these comes from 8 years ago. How many matches can people honestly say from the past few years have been classics that some one would consider the best of all time?
It comes from the world we live in nowadays. People want to play it safe. Heel tactics that would have just garnered heat ten, fifteen, twenty years ago now see people suspended or even fired. There are too many entertainment options out there, and playing it safe is a guarantee of at least some sort of an audience, whereas edgy can fail. Yes, PG-TV bears some of the blame, but not all of that can be put down to :Linda McMahon’s senate run. It’s that by playing it safe the WWE can more easily gain mainstream acceptance. TNA is arguably showing the better wrestling and, AJ/Clair aside, has the better storylines – simple, straight-forward, focused on wrestling. But they cannot get a foot in the door. Why? Sure, WWE have been there longer, but TNA’s been around for a decade now. It’s no longer a new kid on the block; ECW only lasted nine years, remember. It’s because WWE’s safe programming appeals to a wider mass-market and audience. We, the wrestling fans, may decry it, but it clearly works.
So while I sat there and was mildly entertained by the PPVs in the past two weekends, I was not completely impressed. They were just there. Some good matches, some boring matches, some crap. But nothing to grab me and make me think, Wow! It’s all just too dull. But in a world where blandness like the Twilight books and Fifty Shades Of Grey top best-seller lists, where action by the numbers in the latest Bourne film tops box office lists, where disposable pop or bland rip-offs of music popular years ago (see Glee) sell more than anything, where the biggest things on YouTube are cats playing pianos, maybe wrestling is where it should be. It’s nearly always been a follower and not a leader of pop culture, and so today, in a bland world, wrestling has to be bland to maintain its position.
And that there’s the third instalment in “Now And Then.”
This fortnight’s Australiana comes from Shaun Micallef. And have you bought a copy of my book Relick yet? Why not?
PS: Please feel free to comment, but I’m afraid I can’t respond as Disqus has decided I am not allowed to. I even upgraded the browser like it suggested (Google Chrome is better? than what?), and it still says I can’t comment on InsidePulse any more. So don’t think I’m ignoring you; I really do want to hear what you all think.