KELLER'S TAKE KELLER’S TAKE (w/Reader Poll): WWE owes fans of Daniel Bryan better resolution to his quest to regain WWE Title he won clean from John Cena at SSlam and never lost under fair circumstances
Nov 6, 2013 - 4:47:00 PM
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By Wade Keller, Torch editor
I believe pro wrestling as an entertainment genre is at its strongest and most entertaining (and therefore most profitable) when the product makes sense to viewers and seems as realistic is as possible with minimal tradeoffs for that realism.
Obviously, if wrestlers punched each other for real, the product would be more real, but the tradeoff would be a bunch of swollen faces and injured (ugly) wrestlers. Wrestling would be “more real” if everyone used their real names, I suppose, but what’s the point of that? Stage names are common in rock music and Hollywood, so there’s no harm there. Wrestling would be “more real” if everyone did “shoot-style promos” about “their push” and “backstage polities,” but really, who wants to listen to people bitching about office politics; people get enough of that during the day at their jobs. (Yes, Punk’s Summer 2011 promo is highly regarded, but it only worked because it was the exception to the rule, and an argument can be made he boosted himself at the expense of everyone else “playing by the rules” that are necessary to sustain a storyline-driven weekly TV series.)
There are plenty of ways, though, to make wrestling seem “more real” (i.e. more like it would be if what we were watching was a real sport where the toughest, most skilled, most deserving competitors rose to the top, and where wins and losses dictated who moved up or down the rankings; UFC isn’t perfect in this regard, but it is a model for WWE to follow in terms of the sport that, at its core, it’s more emulating or simulating.)
One of the vital, non-negotiable core aspects of pro wrestling working is wrestlers selling. When they are slammed or suplexed or twisted or punched, they sell. They don’t sell because they think viewers think they are really hurt and that pro wrestling is real. They sell because it makes the simulated fights more enjoyable because you can suspend your disbelief more easily the more the wrestlers make their staged fights look real. It’s the same reason Hollywood movie studios spend top dollar to make special effects more realistic. They don’t do it because people see a Spiderman movie and actually believe Spiderman is real and he can climb buildings. But Hollywood knows the more realistic they make it, the more immersive an experience it is for viewers looking for a fantasy world to escape to for two hours.
Wrestlers work really hard to make their matches as realistic as possible without taking away from the dramatic amazing highspots and fast-paced action that pro wrestling can guarantee that UFC cannot. It would be nice, as a courtesy to the wrestlers if for no other reason, to make the booking as realistic as possible also. We could list more than a dozen glaring logic holes that WWE’s creative team - led by Vince McMahon and heavily steered and overseen by Triple H - carelessly, unprofessionally, lazily let slip through in this seemingly make-it-up-as-they-go Big Show-Triple H/Stephanie McMahon storylines. One of the biggest violations of any dedication to creating a realistic sports-like environment within the boundaries of the WWE Universe is Daniel Bryan’s title quest.
Bryan beat John Cena clean at SummerSlam to win the WWE Championship. Since then Bryan pinned Orton at Night of Champions (but was stripped the next day due a false accusation he conspired to cheat with the referee), Bryan fought Orton to a no contest when Big Show walked out and KO’d Bryan and then Orton, and Bryan got pinned by Orton after referee Shawn Michaels superkicked Bryan.
Bryan, by any reasonable assessment, deserves a title shot at some point before Survivor Series. Big Show, the least sympathetic babyface character I can remember (he’s selfishly interfered in WWE Title matches, punched innocent people including a 67 year old Dusty Rhodes, cried over and over when confronted with his fiscal irresponsibility, and only grew a set after he had a lawyer on his side throwing around threats of a lawsuit), leveraged his way into what should be Bryan’s title shot.
I get that Bryan has had four PPV title shots in a row, but since he was screwed in each of them and has yet to lose in any credible way to Orton, WWE cannot just pretend that Bryan is no longer the top contender and move him to another feud. They need Bryan to address this matter. Every Bryan fan watched Raw this week and was thinking that he was getting screwed over by being ousted from the World Title shot at Survivor Series because Big Show hired a good lawyer and, without beating anybody in a contendership match, leveraged his way to a title shot.
If WWE wants wrestling matches that are used to fill time on Raw to matter, for viewers to care enough to watch them, one of the reasons viewers can be conditioned to care is that the outcomes have ramifications on the rankings and future title opportunities. In at least a macro sense, there has to be a sense of fairness. If fans are conditioned to believe that title shots are handed out by a devious, evil, awful family who run the WWE empire, overseen by a Board that only gets involved when there’s a legal threat of some kind, what’s the point of cheering on their next favorite wrestler to win if that win doesn’t ever lead to a fair shot at earning a championship.
This might seem unimportant to Vince, Stephanie, Hunter, and Kevin Dunn, but if they talked to their fans about what they invest in when they watch their program, whether they could articulate their thoughts about this particular subject specifically, there’d be a vague notion at the very least that all fans have that they watch more for the simulated sports aspect of what WWE presents than they do to hear Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler, and JBL banter about pop culture and history or to hear Cena make lame jokes taken from “Back to the Future.”
WWE needs to give Bryan, one way or another, the title shot he deserves, on Raw one of the next couple of weeks. Or they need to promise him a shot at the winner of the Orton vs. Show match at Survivor Series. They can’t just drop this and move on. It’s lazy, irresponsible, shoddy TV writing. It doesn’t cost WWE any money to have a greater attention to this type of detail. It’s vital for the entire pro wrestling genre, as a form of serial entertainment, to work. The wrestlers work hard to make their matches both realistic and exciting. It’d be easier on them if wrestlers stopped caring and pretended fans didn’t care if their moves looked more fake or they never sold punches or slams. But they do, and they pay a physical price to tell their story in the ring as realistically as possible. Even though fans "know it's fake," wrestling works best when pro wrestlers do all they can within reason to hide that fact during the actual matches.
So the least Triple H, Dunn, Steph, and Vince could do in return is make sure they and their Creative team put in a little extra mental effort to close those loopholes and address these gaping logic holes in their storytelling. It matters. It’s good for business to care, and bad for business not to. And there’s absolutely zero downside to putting in the mental energy to make sure their storylines make sense and that fans who invest in situations such as Bryan’s quest for a title get a satisfactory reward. Bryan getting pinned by Orton next week on Raw in a title match would be more satisfying and respectful to Bryan fans than pretending that he got enough title chances and it’s time to move on. Especially since the guy they’re moving on to doesn’t deserve the shot, basically bought it with a lawsuit threat, and is even stealing Bryan’s “Yes! Yes” chant while Bryan is shuffled over to the mid-card with a feud with the Wyatt Family.
Fans have a reason to be disgusted with WWE’s lack of respect for their faith in telling a story with a reasonable, satisfying, logical beginning, middle, and end.
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PWTorch editor Wade Keller has covered pro wrestling full time since 1987 starting with the Pro Wrestling Torch print newsletter. PWTorch.com launched in 1999 and the PWTorch Apps launched in 2008.
He has conducted "Torch Talk" insider interviews with Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Steve Austin, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Eric Bischoff, Jesse Ventura, Lou Thesz, Jerry Lawler, Mick Foley, Jim Ross, Paul Heyman, Bruno Sammartino, Goldberg, more.
He has interviewed big-name players in person incluiding Vince McMahon (at WWE Headquarters), Dana White (in Las Vegas), Eric Bischoff (at the first Nitro at Mall of America), Brock Lesnar (after his first UFC win).
He hosted the weekly Pro Wrestling Focus radio show on KFAN in the early 1990s and hosted the Ultimate Insiders DVD series distributed in retail stories internationally in the mid-2000s including interviews filmed in Los Angeles with Vince Russo & Ed Ferrara and Matt & Jeff Hardy. He currently hosts the most listened to pro wrestling audio show in the world, (the PWTorch Livecast, top ranked in iTunes)
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