Look, here’s the thing. It’s been a while since I’ve opined on the state of professional wrestling in this forum but let’s be honest, with the Earth hurdling toward the end of days (apologies to Baron Corbin and his worst tattoos in the biz and weird lengthwise bellybutton) most of my time this year has been spent stress-listening to “Keeping it 1600” and hoarding non-perishables for my doomsday bunker. As a result, RASSLIN has taken a bit of a backseat as my circle of concern extends wider than Baron Corbin’s weird belly button. Sorry, I just can’t get the sight of his belly button out of my head! Seriously his lower torso looks like Homer Simpson’s upper lip.
That said, as we ring in 2017 and look back at all the ways sports entertainment has moved farther and farther away from anything that remotely resembles professional wrestling in the last year… I’m compelled to update my list of wrestling pet peeves, last seen in 2013. (Link)
So here now are my Top 6 Wrestling Pet Peeves list of 2016.
6. Super Kicks and Enzigiris:
Remember how funny it was the first time you heard Borat say, “Myyyy wiiiiife”? And then remember how infuriating it became once everybody started saying it, over and over, constantly shoe-horning it into conversations where it didn’t belong? Same thing goes with workers today and their over-use of super kicks and enzigiris. Seriously take any given Dolph Ziggler, Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins, Chris Jericho match and then take a drink every time either of them hits a super kick or an enzigiri on their opponent. You’ll find yourself with a blood-alcohol level somewhere between Johnny Manziel and peek Scott Hall. And that’s before the first break spot in the match! Guys, it’s enough. Not every match needs to be Shawn-Taker, ok? It’s unequivocally not believable for a fighter in any legitimate athletic competition to withstand more than one full force kick to the jaw or the back of the head. Let alone 20! But then again, in 2017, nothing about professional wrestling resembles a legitimate athletic competition anymore so…
5. Old gimmicks die hard
Inside my mom’s counter-top toaster oven, right now, you’ll find a piece of aluminum foil so gnarled and charred, that if you carbon dated the crumbs now singed into its core, its origins would date back to the defrosting of a Lender’s bagel in 1992. So if that’s what she does with a piece of tin foil, imagine what she’d do with Jack Swagger’s gimmick! Well, apparently someone with the same dysfunction and dementia as my 70-year-old mother is calling the shots in WWE creative because Jack Swagger is STILL placing his hand over his heart and in a loud, clear voice shouting, “WE THE PEOPLE!” everytime he walks to the ring. Meanwhile that gimmick outlived its usefulness in 2013 (despite multiple half-hearted resuscitations since then to no avail, sorry Mexi-mericans) to the point where now when I see him walk down the aisle in his pledge of allegiance, hand print T, I audibly sigh. It’s a shame because the kid has it all: He’s a former world champion; blue chip college athlete; he’s got them Jake Busey good looks… And yet here he is STILL deadman walking to the ring, forced to play a character that hasn’t been relevant since the Harlem Shake was a thing people did. Look, for every Miz and Chris Jericho who are allowed to constantly go to work with a fresh sheet of tin foil in their toaster… the WWE seems content to let others, with just as much potential, rot like a 7-11 hot dog on the same lukewarm, rolling coil it’s been spinning on for who knows how long. Sure, maybe every once in a while that wiener gets a nibble of interest from a customer… but most of the time it eventually just gets tossed in the garbage. Which is exactly where the remnants of wholly unsuccessful gimmicks belong. Not reworked into the new, more successful gimmicks the talent is assigned. Just ask Heath Slater. Dude is enjoying the most success of his career and yet his ring entrance still calls him a “One-Man-Band!” And Bo Dallas is still trying to get fans to “Bo-Lieve!” Bottom line, the WWE does many things very well… unfortunately one of those things is beating a mediocre gimmick to a bloody pulp.
4. Authority figures
I grew up in the Rock n’ Wrestling era of Hulkamania and Macho Madness… but what really hooked me on RASSLIN was the hour a week of NWA TV I got on WPHL channel 17 on Saturday afternoons. On those shows, the action in the ring, was born out of the heated on-set “sideline” interviews conducted by Bob Caudle, Tony Schiavone, and David Crockett. See exhibit A: Ric Flair taunts Ricky Morton with a training bra.
Now, did you notice something missing from that classic piece of rasslin’ bizness? Besides the scripted, dad joke, zingers (we’ll get to those in a few) I’m talking about the complete and utter lack of any authority figure whatsoever. There was no general manager, commissioner, Director of Operations, Chairman of the Board, CEO, COO, or IBM, laptop that is. Just two guys with a personal issue and a straight man in the middle asking the questions. Sure every once in a while the old man Jimmy Crockett would appear on TV to make a match… but for the most part the inmates ran the asylum and it created seemingly spontaneous electric moments like the one linked above. Here’s the thing. I’m a big boy. I’ve been watching rasslin’ for 30 plus years but even when I was 8 years old watching on weekend afternoons, I didn’t need some flimsy high school principle interrupting the action to alert me to what was already plain to see. Good guy wants to kick bad guy’s ass. Honestly If I see Daniel Bryan walk out from backstage shouting “whoa whoa whoa, what is going on here?” like he’s Mr. Belding one more time, I gonna go Braun Strowman on my living room. Surely somewhere in the three hours of RAW, two hours of Smackdown and 1 hour of NXT we get a week, there’s room for a wrestling show that isn’t bogged down with a McMahon or one of their appointees barking orders at our heroes.
3. Zach Ryder’s beard:
Seriously, what the eff? You all see this, right? Frosted tips aside, his beard is like a million shades darker than the hair on his head. He looks like Giants closer, Brian Wilson, Non from Superman, and James Harden came together to form one, ultra-orthodox black, Voltron-style super beard. I haven’t seen something this unnatural looking in a wrestling ring since Scott Steiner became Big Poppa Pump. In all seriousness, now that Zach is on the shelf with an ill-timed knee injury (get well soon BRO) hopefully he can wean himself off of the Just for Men!
2. If you got it, flaunt it:
There’s no question that wrestlers today are bigger, stronger, faster, and in far better shape than their predecessors. Even plus-sized Bray Wyatt is Mr. Universe today compared to the beer-bellied brawlers of the 70’s and 80’s. But the thing about being badass 30 years ago… You could have a pretty mean dad bod and still get over. Lookin’ at you Arn Anderson! Not so anymore. Now it’s like free swim period at camp. Fat kids wear their t-shirts in the pool… KO, Bray, Nia Jax (if you count whatever the hell she wears in the ring a T Shirt)… And that’s fine. It’s a vanity business. But take the triple threat from the final Smackdown of 2016 between AJ Styles, Dolph Ziggler, and Mr. Bizarro Belly-Button himself, Baron Corbin. All three are in tip top shape, Dolph especially – dude probably has the best physique in the company – and yet there he was wrestling with his shirt on! Corbin too. Now granted that dude has the worst tattoos in the business (have I mentioned this before?) so covering up his torso isn’t the worst idea, but still. WTF? And it’s not just t-shirts, you got wife beaters on Ambrose and Harper, leather tanks on the Uso’s, and a friggin’ tactical chest protector on Roman Reigns like he’s in Jodeci. Meanwhile the dude has the body of a goddam Dothraki warlord. Look, the only people who should ever wear their merch T in the ring are fatties, retired legends working one last angle like early 2000’s Ric Flair and Roddy Piper… or a 10-year-old brought in the ring to dance with the New Day. Why? Because we’re supposed to live vicariously through these guys and that gets harder and harder to do the more they look like the marks they’re wrestling in front of. Let me put it this way… It’s like if instead of tearing off his t-shirt before his matches, the Hulkster threw on a fleece hoodie before he ran wild, BROTHER.
“Well the Jerk Store called and they’re all out of you!” Whenever I watch wrestling lately, this is all I hear – different versions of George Costanza’s iconically lame comeback line. Now in the context of “Seinfeld” that line is LOL funny – mostly because Jason Alexander is an expertly-trained comedic actor, acting in an expertly-written sitcom. But in the context of a wrestling angle, delivered by the farthest thing from an expertly- trained comedic actor – a jock, play-acting on a three-hour-long sports entertainment variety show, camouflaged as a sporting event… a line like “jerk store” would die a slower death than Zsa Zsa Gabor! (Shout out to the former WWE Creative homie, @jensenclan88, I just stole your gimmick!) And why is that? Because the entire conceit of professional wrestling is two people with a personal issue settling that conflict through verbal and physical confrontation. Not lightheartedly zinging each other with Danny Tanner level dad jokes! I’m sorry, yes Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho’s bromance has been entertaining but my God, all KO’s done since winning the Global Championship is yuk it up with Y2J. WWE took the dude who made his name on the indies as a certified badass, who elicited chants of “Kill Steen Kill” from audiences, then moved to NXT and heeled his ass off more than anyone in the business since CM Punk, only to make it to the main roster where he’s become Costello to Jericho’s Abbott. And as a fan I’m supposed to take him seriously as a protagonist? It’s like during the build to Cena/Rock 1 where all they did was bust each other’s balls instead of busting each other in the face. And people have the nerve to call this the “reality” era? Yo, watch any REAL LIFE fight on World Star Hip Hop and tell me if it looks or sounds anything like what is presented on any wrestling TV nowadays. Spoiler alert it doesn’t. And it has nothing to do with a PG Rating and everything to do with modern wrestling’s reliance on scripted trash talk. Canned one-liners and clever comebacks might look good on a show script and might pop the room in a production meeting… but in the ring, under the lights, in front of the people, I don’t care what year it is or what era the internet says we’re in, passion and fire and being in the moment with your words and your actions will always win. And forced comedic banter will always, always lose.
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