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SLAM! Wrestling Editorial: When the soap opera becomes too much
By ALEX RISTIC -- SLAM! Wrestling

For those that didn't see the most recent ECW PPV, Guilty As Charged, outside of some stellar matches you probably also missed some disturbing commentary that really has no place in wrestling, and are just items to try and get people into tuning in. Commentary and promos are usually the set-ups for feuds, giving a backdrop and a reason for in-ring confrontations. Well, this time, in my opinion, the soap opera factor went too far.

RHINO After threatening his family, Rhino took the ECW World title away from The Sandman at the Guilty As Charged PPV.
If you need some illustrations, here are a few, paraphrased to the best of my abilities, as close to the particular person's comments as possible.

Missy Hyatt to Francine backstage in-between matches:
"Would you f--- him already (motioning to Justin Credible)."

Missy Hyatt to Steve Corino and Jack Victory
"Did I f--- you?" (asked of Victory after he asked if Hyatt remembered him).

Rhino to Sandman, after Sandman's title victory:
"People are dying in the ring for that title, so it's one I'll kill for. If you won't die Sandman, your family's right over there, they'll die instead." (Rhino was coercing Sandman into a title match right after his win, which Rhino subsequently won).

Doesn't anybody else see anything wrong with this? How far can one company go to further its fanbase and storylines? The line has to be drawn somewhere.

Let's start with Rhino's comments. Besides insulting our intelligence (as soon as the threat was uttered, and if was a true threat I'm sure Sandman would have beat the living crap out of him or at the very least called the cops -- uttering death threats is a serious offence in the U.S.), were they really necessary? Hell no! In trying to elevate a star, and perhaps a feud, ECW allowed its performers to not only cross a line of good taste, but put the soap opera element at the forefront -- not the four-star match that had just previously ended with Credible, Corino and Sandman.

Fact is wrestling is violent, we know this, it's not a new, enlightening factor. The very nature of the sport is one-upmanship through physical altercations to prove who is the best wrestler (although we know outcomes are based on popularity). But death threats?

There are two big problems with this. One is the ever important believability factor, which we will look at now.

Look at the recent real backstage feud between Scott Steiner and Diamond Dallas Page in WCW. Steiner made unflattering comments to Page and his wife, which heated up DDP and a brawl ensued backstage. Apparently, only light punishments were handed out, but they were punishments nonetheless. Luna Vachon also had an altercation in the WWF with one of the backstage personnel, for which she was released, and Buff Bagwell, also of WCW, was in a similar situation and received a one-month suspension.

So, in real life, these kinds of actions are punishable, the precedent has been set. If Rhino made those comments backstage, ECW owner Paul Heyman would have had to step in and quell or quash what would have happened. Therefore, if you know it's not tolerated backstage, how can you, the fan, believe it when it's presented in front of you in the ring?

In an effort to make a match-up sizzle, ECW relied too much upon a heat-of-the-moment situation (planned at least days in advance, so therefore there's no heat in the actual moment), and ruined it. Fact is, if someone threatened your family, whether you had just finished a match or not, you're seeing red and you go after the persons responsible.

But you know what? That doesn't even bother me as much as the other negative factor that has to do with this -- the angle was unfit for public consumption. Yes, that's right, unfit for public consumption.

Yes, parents should monitor what their kids watch, but as we often know, it's not enough. ECW should take some responsibility and realize that maybe death threats are going too far. Let's be realistic -- wrestling is hugely popular, whether the TV ratings always reflect that or not, and a large portion of that audience, I would estimate as high as 35 per cent, is under 16 years of age. ECW knows parents aren't doing their jobs. In this case, lack of parental interference is just an excuse to hide behind. Kids are going to see it, either taped from a friend later, or when their parents go out to dinner or whatever. Are "death threats to get your way" really the message you want to send?

And let's look at it from another point of view. Commercialism. As extreme and underground as ECW is, it does want to garner a mainstream following. Now, while the WWF and WCW wrestlers have said they'll "retire" people or put them in hospitals, I can honestly say I've never heard someone say in either fed that they'll kill someone. How do they expect to be picked up by a network with comments like the one Rhino made. I don't know about you, but after that I wouldn't touch them.

Now let's get to Hyatt's comments. What the hell did she say them for? While I have no proof, it seems to me they were just for sensationalistic reactions. She didn't make her presence known during the matches on the evening, hadn't appeared on ECW TV or PPV in almost two years (possibly more), and there's no indication that she'll be back anytime soon.

For those that haven't seen Guilty As Charged, Credible exited the bathroom in a mixed state of euphoria and sexual frustration, half-dressed. Hyatt came out after him wrapped in only a towel. If it were part of an angle, like say Hyatt trying to steal Credible away from Francine, then it at least would be plausible, and make some sort of sense. But it seems that ECW was only doing it for the T&A factor -- "Hey watch us -- we have hot chicks that can disrobe at any second." Puh-lease.

I am a fan of ECW wrestling, but if they think their product isn't good enough for people to follow the matches and have to resort to women spouting off sexually promiscuous commentary, then that says something. How does that translate to the fans? To me, it says they're so worried that people won't watch the wrestling, so they bring in the explicit content. Hardly a ringing endorsement for your company Mr. Heyman.

And no, I won't only pick on ECW. The heads of the WWF and WCW need to stop taking non-prescription drugs and see what they're doing as well.

From the WWF -- a divorce angle? With someone who doesn't even wrestle? What's up with that? I guess Vince McMahon thinks he's more important than the product he's pushing. This angle is pure soap opera with no redeeming in-ring qualities whatsoever. If McMahon wasn't so lazy he could have found a way for Trish Stratus to manage Kurt Angle without having to have a faux affair with her. Now that's putting the soap opera before wrestling.

Then there's WCW -- while nothing recently sticks out, there was the Stacy Kiebler/Ms. Hancock pregnancy angle. Now let's see, David Flair hasn't fully completed wrestling training yet. He's not good enough to put in a high profile feud with the large stars, and because he doesn't yet possess the talent, he's also not over with the crowd. Wow, ingenious. Set him up with a pregnancy angle where's he's not the father -- yeah, the ratings will sky rocket (insert dripping sarcasm here).

Let's get one thing straight. The soap opera development for storylines are just that, factors to help develop the in-ring confrontations. Once the ring wars take a back seat to the outside going-ons, then the message you're sending is that your wrestling product isn't good enough. The two need to go hand-in-hand, and while plot developments are important, once they overshadow the ring confrontations, what you're basically saying is that wrestling is not needed.

Well, I tune into wrestling to watch the actual matches. Yes, I enjoy storylines, when done well, and you do need reasons to spark feuds. But ultimately, the final story needs to be told in the ring.

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