Hey there, wrestling fans, and welcome to the Midweek Miscellany, your crazy concoction of stories from around the wrestling world dissected and dispersed for your reading pleasure. This week in the miscellany, I’m going to shake things up a bit and crank out some random observations from the last few days in wrestling. Extreme Rules time always brings out the edge in your intrepid author, as I’m reminded of how patently ridiculous it is to have such an event in the era of PG. (I will qualify that statement by saying that any event which features the potential of any part of Sheamus being kissed is not only extreme but likely illegal, so well done there, Titan Towersters.) Beware of snark.
Cedric The Unentertained
Ripples were made in the WWE’s pond a few days ago when Ring of Honor talent Cedric Alexander voiced his opinion on a podcast that the New Day faction (Kofi Kingston, Big E & Xavier Woods) was feeding into racial stereotypes due to them singing and dancing. While Alexander is certainly welcome to his point of view, the idea that anybody would be even slightly offended by this presentation is beyond idiotic to me. For starters, we’re talking about a company that’s made a mint off of embarrassing its talent. That includes people that run the company (Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, really all the McMahons), people that the company has a high opinion of (Chris Jericho, Seth Rollins), people the company has had issues with (Dusty Rhodes, Terry Taylor), and people that have embarrassed themselves (a list far too numerous to delineate, but most definitely including Vince Russo and Sid). It’s almost a rite of passage that at some point during your tenure in the company, however brief or unremarkable, you too will be made to look silly in front of millions. This is a promotion where wrestlers from the minor leagues get an opportunity to dress up like a steak sandwich and follow Adam Rose to the ring. I think you get my point.
Considering all of that, the collective fate that has befallen the members of the New Day faction seem trivial at best. Kingston overcame his groan-inducing throwback debut vignettes to carve himself a solid career that includes highlight moments in just about every Royal Rumble and ten championships. Big E suffered the loss of his last name, but achieved success in NXT prior to his callup and a run with the Intercontinental Title. Xavier Woods…well, okay, I guess I’ll spot you that one, but he had a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger gimmick at one point before ever setting foot in a WWE ring, so that’s a push at best. While any and all of these talents have a valid gripe about not getting enough of their share of the spotlight, that’s a common mantra in pro wrestling, and most certainly in World Wrestling Entertainment. Many of the workers are underutilized and underexposed. The key is taking what you’re given and running with it until you force the “powers that be” to admit that maybe, just maybe, you’ve got something there.
If you want to be offended regarding the usage of the New Day, be offended over how bad the gimmick has been since it began. Rumors of a “Nation of Domination” type of group persisted long before we saw the watered-down, slap-happy version of the trio appear. Where the Nation was a child of the time it grew up in, capitalizing on fears and headlines, the New Day is an orphan of its own lifetime, existing just to give the triumvirate something to do. NOD had plenty wrong with it (usually the case when the people writing it have little to no experience with the issues themselves), but it provided a launching pad for The Rock and didn’t rile anyone sane watching the goings-on for what they were, which is to say a parody-filled version of alternate reality. While WWE smartly steered themselves away from a rehash of the past this time around (pity they didn’t follow that up with doing the same for The Ascension), what they came up with instead was perhaps even worse. These same three talented individuals were going to get to the next level by hanging out with a church choir and changing their wardrobe.
WWE’s given Kingston a decent shake, but he’s simply too nice a hand. I don’t know that fans anywhere are even going to buy him as a heel character at this point, but that’s a battle perhaps worth fighting if simply to add dimension to his character. Why do we care about Kofi’s story? He does handstands and smiles a lot. Not the stuff of legends, but nothing’s changed on that front. Big E and Xavier are simply occupants of a space known to us all as “We Don’t Know What to Do With Themville.” Big E looks like he could bench press several weightrooms at a time, which is damned impressive, but wrestling is full of genetic freaks. Woods has been presented as a super intellectual in a business where pretty much anyone who fits that description dresses like The Genius. And yet it’s Big E doing all the talking. Mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore would be a tough sell with this crowd on a good day. Mad as hell and pretty much going to come to the ring and be inspired by it is far worse. It lacks logic and it’s painful to watch. To the surprise of absolutely no one, it didn’t work even a little.
Given the current state of affairs where the WWE recognizes things it doesn’t like but eventually gives in to anyway, the decision was mercifully made way late to sort of turn them heel. Well, sort of. The reason that you know they are now bad guys is that the clapping has become much more menacing and the announcers are actively making fun of them. It’s gotten so out of hand that they are headed into another PPV pre-show as the unpopulars, opposed by a guy accused by the head of the company of not being interesting enough and another guy who’s been really rude to his real-life missus. Whether the issue is the fact that they can’t make the main show or that they can’t gain enough traction to surpass those worthies in popularity is a moot point, since they are connected anyway. What it isn’t is racist. If you’re looking for racist tag teams, try the hillbillies or the matadors with the midget in a bull costume.
New Day didn’t work in their original incarnation and it won’t work when they become Long Day or Green Day or Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It won’t work because the personas have nothing to do with the people portraying them. As fans, we’ll react when you give us a reason to. The long-term success or failure of that angle will then have far more to do with the individuals tasked with getting it over than it does with the initial concept. That’s why Dusty Rhodes no longer wears polka dots, Ricky Steamboat doesn’t breathe fire, and The Undertaker still buries people alive while dressed like an MMA fighter browsing through a Hot Topic. The WWE can be accused of many things. Find something else.
The best kind of inside joke is one where much of the substance is widely considered true. Wrestling has always been full of such internal hilarity, from its earliest moments as carny pastime to its long and storied history of ribs. That’s why the absolute furor over the usage of Neville has eluded me. Neville, for anyone who did not have the good fortune to witness his work in NXT, held that promotion’s title for close to one year and tore up plenty of other promotions over his career, including ROH and PWG. His credentials are excellent, his arsenal of moves is above reproach, and he’s exciting as hell to watch. He’s also small, which in the WWE is the equivalent of being a leper. You might eventually get into the rest of society and be allowed to shop and wash your car, but nobody’s going to associate with you. None of this is likely a shock to anyone who’s watched the product in the last, say, fifty years.
All of this is why the revelation that WWE brass were pondering saddling Mr. Anti-Gravity with a Mighty Mouse gimmick was predictably irritating. Naturally, taking a proven commodity and labeling it with an odd, cartoonish retread gimmick is the way to go for sure success. It was one of those stories where even as you laughed it off, you worried that it might be true. When Neville actually did show up, it was fortunately without any type of superhero attire. Instead, he was launched right into matches against top-tier talent like Seth Rollins and Sheamus. Neville may not have walked out of those matches with wins, but since when is it the goal of any wrestler to be undefeated? That gimmick is perfect for some dominant brawler like Goldberg or Rusev, but too much of it risks overkill and frankly smacks of fraudulence. Neville’s calling card is that he is guaranteed to do at least two things in each match that will make you stop and gawk, and that happened. That’s always going to happen when he’s in the ring because he’s in the ring. No amount of overbooking and heavy-handed tinkering will fix that, fortunately. He also will put on a hell of a match, win or lose, a quality that has pervaded NXT’s acquisitions of late, to Triple H’s credit. That’s enough for me. It’s certainly enough for now.
Rebranding is a word tossed about plenty these days, and it’s overused of course. Wrestlers have way less time to try something before it’s on to the next something, likely with or without their consent. Rebranding is so frequent that right now on WWE television, John Cena is being rebranded as a fighting champion who’s supposed to be getting massive credit for taking on (and defeating) all comers when that’s pretty much exactly what he did before the rebranding. But now he’s doing it with the GI Joe championship! Neville was never going to be rebranded as a main event level player, most certainly not when one need only scour the top of the roster to find plenty of equally talented hands with plenty of ring experience who don’t fit the dominant prototype of the WWE wrestler. When Chris Jericho interviewed John Cena and showed that still of the OVW days, did you see a lot of small guys in it? Me neither. Things like that take decades to change, if they ever will. The inroads that have been made to contain a roster where so many champions made their hay elsewhere before hitting Connecticut should count for something.
All of that said, Sheamus has been rebranded from his big guy who doesn’t like bullies to big guy who is a bully. He is showing how much of a bully by openly attacking “smaller” ordinary Joes with crowd support, like the aforementioned Neville, Daniel Bryan, and Dolph Ziggler. If it sounds familiar to you, that’s because Ryback did it about an hour ago. Even though there’s nothing new or scintillating about this approach, it’s smart and effective. What’s the best way to get plenty of people to hate you in a hurry? Attack the guys they admire. If, while you’re doing it, you can subtly toss out barbs at them that mimic your actual feelings as a company, well, all the better.
Neville will be fine, in part because some of the doors have already been kicked down. The larger part is because he’s too talented to not get his time in the spotlight. If your only goal is to see him with the World Championship around his waist, sorry to say but you may have to lower your expectations. The mere fact that I can envision a scenario where that might happen is catnip enough for me, thank you. In the meantime, whether you believe WWE’s bias against the smaller guys is legitimate or speculative, there can be just about zero doubt that it makes for mighty fine storytelling, especially in an environment where what you see is rarely what you believe. He might be Underdog, but that’s far better than Mighty Mouse.
The internet was awash in mass hysteria this week over the fact that Seth Rollins apparently had his Curb Stomp finisher banned. Evidence included the fact that it was not used this past Monday on Raw, or referred to in any way. For their part, the WWE has not officially commented, but various reports have stated that the move is not in fact banned but being phased out in favor of a new finishing move. While I personally am always saddened to see a really great finisher go away (piledriver, I hardly knew ye!), I wouldn’t even mount an argument that I’m way more morose over guys and girls I’ve enjoyed watching over the years unable to ply their craft because of head and neck injuries. Like any other sport, wrestling has faced a crossroads when it comes to the way they handle injuries. In wrestling’s case, it’s perhaps even more critical since they don’t have a union to represent them and they’ve been the subject of many recent headlines about their medical practices. When it’s head injuries you’re talking about, it’s not even a question. The consequences of failing to respond to the epidemic of injuries are obvious, but that doesn’t make them any less sobering. Chances are someone in your Top Five isn’t wrestling anymore because of an injury, and chances are only slightly less that said injury has to do with neck, spine, or head. (Unless your Top Five is the Spirit Squad, in which case you’re in good shape. Well, not really, but in the context of this topic.)
That’s why it’s a no-brainer (pun intended) to not risk life-threatening injury when it can be avoided. WWE has many masters to answer to, from the parents of children emulating moves at home to the irate media furious over their decision to give Michael Cole a fake incapacitating injury instead of a real one at the hands of Brock Lesnar. It’s a bit of a lose-lose situation in that way, really. Even larger than that, though, is that the Curb Stomp is not really that great of a finisher anyway. Lost in all this shock and horror at the failure of WWE to acknowledge banning it is the idea that it’s kind of goofy and laborious anyway. For a guy with the talent level and athleticism of Rollins, wrestling’s equivalent of Charlie Brown running to kick the football is a bit underwhelming. Unlike truly stellar closing moves like the RKO and F5, you can’t just perform it out of nowhere. It requires lots of setup, and that’s generally not a good thing.
In addition, perhaps we’ve all become desensitized, but in wrestling it doesn’t seem like a really big deal when a guy stomps you in the head. Certainly not in a place where getting thrown by your neck through a table or getting your cranium smashed between dueling chairs is the order of the day. The payoff, then, might not have been worth the setup anyway, other than to cement Seth as the guy who likes to have other people do the dirty work and hold someone down for the coup de gras. Maybe it can head off to the Maneuver Retirement Home, where it can be dusted off and implemented on special occasions, like The Tombstone, The Atomic Drop, and The Schoolboy. Maybe it will lead to a way more wicked finisher from a guy who brings it every time he’s in the ring anyway. Can’t we all be happy for that? I’ll save my venom for more pressing matters. Like the WWE still not bringing back those ice cream cookie bars.