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SLAM! WRESTLING: Guest Columnist

SLAM! Sports
SLAM! Wrestling








Thursday, January 24, 2002

Time for a rankings revolution

By NEIL GRANT -- For SLAM! Wrestling

It's time for a revolution. Or more accurately, it's time for an evolution. Professional Wrestling/Sports Entertainment is stagnant. It has slipped from the lofty perch it had so recently held. The demise of ECW and WCW caused only a ripple that was quickly forgotten, and the Invasion angle that the WWF attempted to hype was doomed from the moment Buff Bagwell took center stage in the first ever WCW match on RAW. The "Attitude" is gone, and the recycled Austin vs. Angle, Angle vs. Rock, Rock vs. Austin, Austin vs. HHH... Well let's just say that it's been done.

  At first they were legendary figures of good vs. evil, then they took on the image of Superstars pushing vitamins and milk, and finally it was the edgy Sports Entertainment era... It's time for an even more radical change this time. The reason why a shock to the wrestling world is desperately needed can be summed up with two names, Tazz and Spike Dudley.

  After teaming up, these two wrestlers immediately earned the right to challenge for the Tag Title because... What was the reason again exactly? And after a mere week of working together as a team they went on to actually win the belts? Tazz and Spike Dudley are the WWF Tag Champions...? As a sports enthusiast, I can honestly say that makes no sense.

  We have a saying in football. On any given Sunday, any given team can win; however, one win does not necessarily give that team the Vince Lombardi trophy. Early in the 2001 NFL season when the Cincinnati Bengals were victorious over the defending champs, the Baltimore Ravens, no one handed Corey Dillon a Superbowl ring. Why then does the WWF let unproven wrestlers have title shots? How did they earn this right? Who did they beat? Who did they climb over? Or more accurately whom did they push down in their rise towards the belt?

  Wrestling purists (if they haven't logged off already) are shaking their heads and saying: " You idiot, the WWF does this..." Well I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but they don't. The WWF has awarded title shots not because of rankings (there- I've used the dirty word) but rather because of inane reasons such as accidentally bumping into the champ in the hallway, calling him (or his spouse/girl) a bad name, or even spraying the champ with a yummy liquid. These reasons seem perfectly logical excuses to award a title shot. Bookers think so. Wrestling purists (usually) agree. But I, a sports enthusiast, do not see the logic, and I am the target audience that is slipping through Vince's fingers.

  Why should I care that Rikishi is taking on Test tonight on UPN's Smackdown? I should tune in because a seemingly arrogant primadona might have his nose rubbed in a large Hawaiian's posterior? I don't think so. Maybe I'd care if the match had some point value, with the winner moving one step closer to a possible title shot while the loser would slip backwards further out of the title picture.

  Why did I care when my beloved Philadelphia Eagles took on the NY Giants in the waning weeks of the NFL season? It was important because it meant that a win kept Donovan McNabb's crew on track for the playoffs and the loss tossed their hated rivals from the Big Apple out of the post-season dance. The WWF needs to adopt this philosophy to their sports Entertainment product. The undecided fan needs to care. The WWF needs a point system that creates believable rankings and logical challengers (and not Nebraska versus Miami Hurricanes believable).

  Here's a breakdown of a possible points scenario:

 WINS & LOSSES

  A wrestler would be awarded +1 for a win via pinfall or submission. Logically a wrestler that loses via pinfall or submission would lose a point -1. A match that ends in a disqualification would result in no points lost or awarded.

  Imagine the humor of having a wrestler (oh let's pick on Al Snow) lose so many matches in a row that he has a point total of -4. The whole reason for people to care about AL's matches would be to enjoy his painfully pathetic attempt to claw back to even par. Al Snow would be the WWF's very own Sisyphus (Greek Mythological character, involving a boulder and a hill)... and like a car accident on the side of the highway, we would be unable to look away.

 CHAMPIONS AND CASUALTIES HELD IN LIMBO

  Holders of belts would have their point total frozen until they lost their respective belt. This would allow for a champion to defend their title for a very long time (hence building a dominant personality and following) without being sent far out of everyone else's reach with an astronomical point total.

 Similarly a wrestler who is forced out of competing due to injury, like Chris Benoit, would have his points frozen until he's ready to return- thus he hasn't lost his position unfairly.

 RISK VS. REWARD

  Special matches and/or PPV matches would actually have meaning, as a special point value would be awarded at the discretion of the Commissioner. This would have multiple benefits. The WWF Commissioner would finally be a position with substance (Foley come home) and PPV matches would be an essential win for all wrestlers involved.

  Undertaker challenges HHH to a cage match for the next PPV. OK, but let's up the ante. The match is worth an unbelievable 10 points! Doesn't sound like much? Well consider that the winner would be a Heavyweight title contender for weeks to come, while the loser would immediately plummet to the ranks of Raven and Chuck Palumbo. The loser's steady rise back to prominence would be an interesting storyline for weeks to come- a story culminating in his return to the upper echelon with only one thing in mind, revenge. Yes, I'd watch a cage match with something real on the line... and I'd watch the weeks to come as well.

  A wrestler, such as Christian, could humorously constantly weasel out of those risky matches, claiming multiple stomach ailments as the culprit, until finally he is forced to participate.

  Risk vs. reward, are you truly game?

 INDIVIDUAL CAREERS AS WELL TAG TEAMS

  There would be two separate point standings. One of the categories would be for individuals and the other for tag teams. This way an individual's career would not affect his team's tag aspirations. Bradshaw would get his individual push, while at the same time the APA could also gather steam towards WWF gold.

  If there were no tag teams within striking distance of the champions (as it was with the Dudley Boys recently) then the belts would rest like the Holy Grail, and the "fighting champions" would add to their individual point totals as they waited for a worthy successor. In this way we would not have to settle for the hasty assembly of some Superfriends team (Austin and The Rock) or runt rejects (your current Tag Champions, prior to the Rumble, Tazz and Spike) to fill the void and suddenly go for the belt.

  A challenger would have to earn their shot by, imagine this far-out concept, actually winning matches! Billy & Chuck, the Ambiguously Gay Duo, could build credibility by putting a trail of wins together that would lead them right to the champs. And then Vince would probably have the Championship match as a "Feather Boa and Spiked Heel" match, but that's another problem entirely...

 HOUSE SHOWS STAY THE SAME

  House shows, as they already are, would be for retooling and Testing audience reaction. They would not affect points.

 TITLE SHOTS ONLY FOR CREDIBLE CHALLENGERS

  Here's a breakdown of what you'd need to have a shot at a certain belt.

 1) A positive point value is all you need for the right to challenge for the Hardcore Title (oh, that poor Al Snow...).

 2) At least 5 points means you are a legitimate contender for the Light Heavyweight (if you're a guy and you're light) or the Women's Title (if you're not a guy... or at least if you've had the appropriate operations).

 3) At least 7 points mean you could challenge to represent Liechtenstein and Andorra as the European Champion.

 4) You want a shot at the Intercontinental Title? Prove you deserve it, Albert-in-a-can... accumulate at least 10 points and then go get in the champ's face and demand a title shot. Or instead, if you'd prefer to play with your worm, Albert, rise to at least 10 points in the Tag division and you could dance all over the champs for the Tag Team Title.

 5) What does it take to be called the WWF Champ? A simple 15 points is all you need to be considered a legitimate threat. Sounds easy, right? Oops, you just lost to the Rock, Booker T... looks like you've done a spinerooni down to 14 points- you're out of contention right now. And yes, I did just say that!

 The WCW did one correct thing in their final few years. They took a wrestler and logically built him into a superstar (whether he was worthy of that moniker is a topic for another day). Of course I'm talking about Goldberg, and his ascension to the top was logical and made sense to the ordinary wrestling fan. As far as the average fan could tell he earned the right to challenge for a title. The WWF needs to re-evaluate how they are telling their stories and how they can turn the heat up for all of their "Superstars". But more important than that, the WWF needs to make sense of their Sports Entertainment product so that they can attract the sports enthusiast, and not send us away due to incomprehensible booking.
Neil Grant is from New Brunswick and can be emailed at ngrant@nbnet.nb.ca.


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