EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, May 18, 2001
Some steps the WWF should take
Last week's column elicited a larger than average response. As you'll see in the mailbag, not a single wrestling fan wrote in to contradict what I wrote. It's so rare that the outspoken, diverse crowd here at SLAM! agrees completely about anything that I was taken aback. It seems as though it is not a figment of our respective imaginations -- WWF television is getting boring. Normally, this just means we tune in to Nitro or Thunder or ECW on TNN or Battledome or whatever with greater anticipation, hoping to get our fill elsewhere, but now all we've got left is Battledome, if that's even still on the air. No, wrestling fans have nowhere to turn but their VCRs and their tapes of shows gone by, because the World Wrestling Federation is the only game in town.
Bear in mind, my current, seemingly doom-and-gloom opinions are in no way meant to reflect an adverse opinion about the WWF in general. I think they've got a tremendous organization that often produces great television. It just so happens that now isn't such a time. I am criticizing their current television product only, though.
There's something to be said for the lack of effort required to be negative and cynical all the time, but that's hardly fair. What might be fairer would be if I were to actually offer constructive criticism and propose solutions where possible. I don't mean the stuff I want to see, but what I think would make their current product work better for everyone.
I hate to continually interrupt myself, but I have to add here that I don't think I could book the WWF. I don't think I could conceive of their storylines or book their matches any better than most of SLAM!'s fine readership, but everyone can come up with logical, fresh ideas.
The first thing I would do to improve the immediate state of WWF programming, sadly, would be to thin the roster somewhat. For over a year, now, the WWF has had not only its own finely-crafted stable of talented wrestlers, but also several ECW and WCW acquisitions. The consequence of this has not only been that we're watching more six-man, eight-man, three-team, and four-team tag team matches, but also that there has been less focus on individual storylines. One-on-one feuds like Kurt Angle's with Chris Benoit have become the exception to the rule, and even their feud is diluted by the presence of several others. Moving some wrestlers to the new WCW or, again I hate to say this, but letting some go, would help the WWF to focus on the wrestlers they want to elevate and feature.
Of every possible combination of wrestlers in the company, Steve Austin and Undertaker are perhaps the least fresh. Face and heel or heel and face, we've seen this before and it's not a good idea. Bret Hart's heel turn was executed on the back of Austin's rising star. Equally, Austin should be turning heel on the back of another rising star. Neither Undertaker nor Austin are rising stars, that is for sure.
Make some big changes. It's hard to criticize a federation for being stale. At the very least, change can make for compelling television. Turn Triple H face. Give Chris Benoit a heavyweight title run. Just do something, because the worst thing for fans is to be able to see storylines coming a mile away. I would leave it to the people running the WWF to decide exactly how to handle such a change, but something has got to give.
Put some more thought into lower-level stories. Even if no titles are on the line or the fans don't sit on the edge of their seats for a Crash Holly match, his matches still take up as much time as anyone else's. Make them more compelling by adding better undercard stories. Don't throw any two people together, as with Lita and Chyna. Don't cut momentum short as with Raven. Just thinking these things out and not underestimating the fans' intelligence will help in the long run.
There are so many possible solutions, and so many of them probably wouldn't even work. I'm sure these ideas look better in our heads than they do in the ring and on television when they are finally executed. Still, if something isn't working, there's nothing to lose by trying something else, as long as you make an honest effort to have that something else be something great. Going WCW's route of re-inventing the wheel every darn week won't make any more viewers happy than now, either.
There are also a few things the WWF is actually doing right, though. For example, Austin's heel turn. Folks seem kind of turned off by this new, cowardly Austin. Though I don't like the turn at all (and the alliance with Triple H, even less), I think that given they're turning Austin, they have to make him a coward. A bad ass Austin would be hard to retain as a heel, just as Triple H is always on the verge of becoming a burgeoning face. Besides, everyone always longs for the days of Stunning Steve Austin and the Hollywood Blondes, so think of this as being that.
Still, for all they're doing right, it's sure not much fun to watch it right now. Hopefully, we can just get this Judgment Day pay-per-view over with and start over with some better storylines or something.
Here's the mailbag.
Doug Carlson, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
"Eric: I agree with you about the WWF and their problems. It seems to me their matches are all the same. However, here is a killer angle, at least for Canadians, and I would suspect for a lot of people: There are rumors of Bret Hart's return. What better angle than for him to come back with the WCW, aligned with Shane, going against Vince and his 'gang'? Talk about a real life angle, even, dare we say it, an old time 'shoot'. I don't know if the rumours are true, but in looking at Hart's website, and seeing as how he is still doing appearances in the U.S., maybe something is cooking there. Anyway, that would be one sure way to get me, and I am sure many more Canadians tuning back in. Probably not going to happen, but just imagine."
Actually, I don't know that that would be such a good idea. First of all, I don't really see Bret ever working in the WWF again. I don't think he's bluffing, and if nothing else, he's a man who has always stuck to his guns. Vince McMahon has been known to have his share of pride, as well. Even if we were to agree that this would be a money angle, I still think that there are some things -- at least to some people -- that are more important than money. There is a lot of bad blood between McMahon and Hart, and I can't imagine having a lot of fun watching these two feud on Raw, pretending that their feud is just a wrestling act. It would just seem kind of sad to me. In fact, any other incarnation of a Hart Foundation would just remind me of that. I can't say I agree with you here, Doug.
Bill, from email@example.com, writes:
"I was watching Smackdown! last week and was watching Austin and Triple H I have to say they work great together and that your just biased against the WWF because you post Bret Hart stories all the time. I'm sorry but the WWF only continues to make headliners although its not as fast as say WCW with some of their superstars. I do think you guys are right about Undertaker though as he is overweight and not as clean in the ring as he once was. I think that you have to pass the torch to Kane. The only problem with Kane is that he has been involved with angles with X-Pac and Chyna and in the fans eyes they see him as a mid-card. Personally, I think they should try and make Price Albert a main eventer -- all they need to do is freshen his mic skills. The other person that I think could be main event could be Billy Gunn. All you have to do is make him a heel. Just my thoughts!"
Philosophical question: Can a man be both biased against WCW and the WWF at the same time? If so, what does that make me, a member of the PTC? Al Gore's running mate? Seriously, any time I express a negative opinion, no matter whom I direct it toward, I get accusations of bias. Why don't you just draw me up a list of opinions I can have without being biased and I'll just stick to them. Equally, just because I disagree with some of Bret Hart's actions doesn't mean I'm biased in favour of the WWF. There's no connection there, unless you think I disagreed with Bret Hart because of my so-called WWF bias, which is a brand of logic some call 'circular'.
Addressing your actual issues, I absolutely agree that the WWF makes headliners. They're better at that than anyone. They're just not doing it right now. They made Kurt Angle a terrific headliner, but he's not headlining at the moment.
Undertaker is a great talent and he always will be, but if there were two Undertakers that doesn't mean I'd want to see them fight. Undertaker has to feud with a guy who is different from him to have a good feud. Some of his favourite feuds, in my opinion, have been with guys who are totally different from him. Steve Austin, at this point, probably has more in common with Undertaker than he does differences.
Meanwhile, Kane is damaged goods because of some of his less-than-compelling feuds this past year. He needs a long run of wins and domination before he's really championship material again.
I am fans of neither Prince Albert nor Billy Gunn. They do share many traits in common, but chief among them is that neither man is a born performer. Both of them come off as cardboard on the mic, and neither has a particularly distinctive look. Well, Billy Gunn looks manufactured and Prince Albert looks strange.
Of course, everyone has a right to their opinions.
That's all for this week. I hope you have a terrific weekend. Enjoy Judgment Day if you can.
Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.