EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, November 30, 2001
Going where we've gone before
Unfortunately, as innovative as their recent efforts have been, the WWF is heading down an already-trodden path. If one were to extrapolate the payoffs of these angles seemingly new angles, one would find conclusions we've already seen before. The World Wrestling Federation has saved itself through repetition, only it doesn't know it yet.
Most fans seem to have agreed so far that the decision by the WWF to hire Ric Flair was a good one. He's certainly popular. Unlike other high-ranking superstars, he has few detractors, so long as he keeps his shirt on. Still, there's nothing new about his appearance. He's playing a role opposite Vince McMahon that has been played out. Vince has struggled for power within the WWF against countless people now. He's feuded against his own children, Shane and Stephanie, several times in different combinations. He's feuded with his wife for power. He's feuded with various wrestlers where stakes in the company were an issue.
We have seen this before. Ric Flair could have added a new dimension to this angle but he simply has not so far. Even if he does, the payoff will be one we have seen many times before: somebody representing Flair fights someone representing Vince McMahon for control of the company. Worse, McMahon may challenge Flair himself. I wonder if he'll last longer in a figure four leg lock than did Vince Russo.
I think it's great that Austin is a face again. Not because he's better as a face than as a heel, as he's strong in both roles. Not because we haven't seen him as a face before, obviously. Not for any reasons relating to Austin so much as my desire to see others play the heel role. Kurt Angle is doing an excellent job right now, and I'm hoping any number of WWF talents will get to feud with Austin. At least, maybe Triple H will be able to continue his heel role.
No matter who does, though, we've already seen almost every imaginable feud with Austin on the face side. He's feuded with Vince McMahon. He's feuded with entire stables, like Degeneration-X. He's feuded with other top superstars, like Triple H or The Rock or Kane or Undertaker. There isn't much left for him to do as a face of this type. If there is, it doesn't look like the WWF is searching for it. They seem comfortable letting him go where he's gone before.
If you scroll down the WWF's current list of programs, you'll probably find that most of them follow similar logic. They seem fresh and interesting now, but unless the folks in Connecticut have some big surprises for us, it seems fairly obvious how these stories will play out. I hope the World Wrestling Federation proves me wrong.
Here's the mailbag.
Bruce Baird, from email@example.com, writes:
"How in the hell can you people say that the WWF is going in the right direction? We have a man pulling down his pants in the ring and wanting another man to kiss his ass. Monday was even worse, having a man force another to do so. Come on guys, do you want to watch wrestling or this? What Vince is doing now is a disgrace to wrestling. At least with the WCW we NEVER had crap like this!! Goodbye WWF!"
Though I can see why you might not enjoy this kind of programming, I think it's sort of strange to be surprised at seeing it coming from the WWF. Most of the folks who recently came on-board as wrestling fans did so during the WWF Attitude era, in which they pulled tricks just like that any many others. The emphasis wasn't so much on wrestling as it was on shock value. We've seen this before, so it shouldn't surprise anyone.
Alan Koslowski, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
"First, at the risk of ingratiating myself, let me compliment you for being the most astute pro-wrestling observer (with the possible exception of Dave Meltzer). As always, in your recent column re: The blessing/curse of Ric Flair's return, you brought up several great points. However, what you didn't mention (or did so briefly) was WWF's failure to maintain the interest of non-traditional wrestling viewers. As one, I'm not interested in wrestling or "sports entertainment" per se, I'm interested in surprising, creative television. I strongly agree with something Meltzer said in a recent interview (paraphrase): Flair's return isn't intrinsically good or bad, it depends on if he's used in compelling stories. Apparently, McMahon hasn't learned from the former WCW's mistakes; you can have abundant talent, but if it isn't used well, a talented roster along isn't enough to captivate viewers (at least TV viewers in general). To be honest, I haven't been able to watch an entire Raw/Smackdown for months. I think wrestling needs a major transformation, just as drastic as WWF created in the late '90s. It's been a long time since I've been truly surprised by a show (at least in a good way). With all the lazy, recycled ideas, it seems McMahon is under-estimating the intelligence of his audience."
I agree with much of what you have to say. The recycling of ideas, the lack of compelling storylines, and the saturation of television are all plaguing the WWF.
Many of these problems may be challenged when the WWF splits itself into two rosters (hopefully with two creative teams), starting apparently as early as January. Certainly, this should help with the watchability of the shows and ideally, it will make for innovative programming. We shall see.
That's all for this week. Have a fantastic weekend. We just had our first snowfall in Montreal. It quickly turned to slush. May yours stay white and fluffy.
Send email to email@example.com.