A few weeks back I had a legitimate wrestling “Holy Shit” moment. You know the kind of moment that catches you by surprise and takes your breath away all at the same time? One of those moments in wrestling time when everything you love about the art form crystalizes in one audacious turn of events? You know like when Paul Orndorff turned on Hulk Hogan to join the Heenan Family? Or when CM Punk sat Indian Style atop the ramp on RAW and unleashed his outrageous “Pipebomb” promo. Or you know, anytime Ric Flair strips down to his old man boxers and drops an elbow on his rumpled suit jacket? Well, unfortunately I’m not talking about those kind of tattoo-inked moments that stay lazered into your brain for a lifetime. I’m talking about the other kind. The lesser kind. The kind of moments where your exuberance for what is taking place in the ring is replaced with exasperation over the consequences of what you’re witnessing and how it might affect the future of the entire enterprise known as professional wrestling. Yup, that’s the kind of “Holy Sh*t” moment I had.
During the early build to the first-ever “Money in the Bank” ladder match for the WWE World Heavyweight Title, a spot in the contest was put up for grabs in a 20-man, over-the-top-rope battle royal on RAW. Now, let me just say, I love battle royals. And for the record, I hate people who pronounce it, “Battle Royale”. Like they’re Vincent Vega explaining how cheeseburgers work in France to Jules in Pulp Fiction. Stupid non-wrestling fans and their dumb mispronunciations. They deserve to be leg-dropped from the top rope by Fandango! (Or is it pronounced, Faaaaaaaahn-daaaaaaaaahngo?) Either way, like I said, I love the battle royal concept. Always have. Ever since the Wrestlemania 2 cluster f*ck featuring NFL stars of the day like 2-time pro-bowler Harvey Martin! Chicago Bear legend, William “The Refrigerator” Perry! And you know the incomparable, Bill Fralic! This was the first battle royal I ever witnessed and even more memorable: This battle royal also featured Bret Hart in blue trunks! And you thought Batista looked funny in blue!
Anyway, like I was saying… a battle royal was held to determine one of the participants in the upcoming MITB title match. As I sat, watching the proceedings unfold and the ring fill with superstars it happened! I was slapped in the face by my latest “Holy Sh*t” wrestling moment harder than Stephanie McMahon slapping a sobbing Big Show. Truthfully it was actually more like an incredulous “a-ha” moment but it made me say those two all-important words nonetheless. Here’s why: It hit me that of all the 20 men participating in the battle royal, only one spandex-clad warrior was engineered outside of the WWE developmental assembly line. Only one guy in that ring learned how to wrestle before he learned how to sports-entertain. Only one grappler acquired his skillset by travelling the globe, learning how the rest of the world makes their wrestling sausage – instead of passing thru the WWE meat grinder. Of all the men standing in that battle royal, only Rob Van Dam originated from outside of WWE’s meticulous farm system. Now, in baseball, a batting average like that would be a good thing. Scratch that, it would be a great thing. (Are you listening, Phillies?) But in wrestling, not so much.
(Side note: How amazing is it that the constant f*ck up, stoner, risk taker RVD – covered in original ECW stink is one of the last men standing from the Attitude Era? Dustin Rhodes too? I want what they’re smoking!)
Why? Because it leaves no room for outlaws. And at its core, that’s what professional wrestling is, has, and will always be, an outlaw sport. The WWE can make movies and TV shows, have its superstars show up on Hollywood red carpets and perform for the troops in Iraq… they can start as many wonderful and generous charities as they want… and they can even position Pat Patterson’s sexuality as headline news on TMZ – in the year 2014!!!!… But to steal Hogan’s verbal crutch, “at the end of the day, brother…” wrestling will ALWAYS be an outlier. Operating on the fringe. It will always be the Tyrion Lannister of the family. “The Imp” of mainstream entertainment. Yup, as long as everything they do eventually comes back to that choreographed ballet dance of a fist fight in the middle of a wrestling ring, it’ll always just be RASSLIN’.
That’s why you need outlaws! Think about the most prolific and well-traveled names in the history of the business. Abdullah the Butcher, Bruiser Brody, The Road Warriors… They didn’t achieve their vaunted reputations, notoriety, and consistent value to a wrestling company’s bottom line by looking, talking, and working the same way everyone else did? Just the opposite. Moreover, they didn’t pop territories or save towns when the top guy got hurt or no-showed or OD’d because they were they next guy up to bat in a stale, homogenized line-up. No sir! They were hired guns, who served a very important purpose – who looked and talked and worked differently and distracted fans attention away from whatever shitty hand the promoter was dealt that day, week, month or year with his roster. And just in case you’re reading this and thinking I’m living in the past and the territories are dead, gone and buried, and wrestling has evolved and will never be the way it was – which is all true… I give you Brock Lesnar. What do you think he is? That’s right, he’s a modern-day outlaw – waiting in the wings, far out of sight, resting in the weeds until that call comes to come save the territory! Then he jumps on his horse and shows up at just the right or most opportune time to get his… and help the company get theirs. And therein lies his undeniable value to this day. That’s what wrestling needs more of. Outlaws!
And that’s why that battle royal made me say, “Holy Shit”… because I realized pretty soon the RVDs, HHHs, Goldusts, and Brocks will be gone and all we’ll be left with is a cookie sheet full of fresh baked, perfectly constructed, and expertly decorated superstars that all taste the same but none of whom stand out in any remarkable way. And then what? What happens when the guy you just invested a year into making your ultimate, conquering, babyface hero breaks his neck and has to walk away and relinquish the title and a year’s worth of booking is flushed down the toilet? What then? Who does the sheriff deputize then? The next guy off the assembly line like Jack Swagger? The Miz? Or Dolph? We saw how that worked out. Or an outlaw, fresh on the scene with guns blazin’ and just enough sizzle to distract the townsfolk for a month or two or three while the sheriff figures out who his new deputy should be?
The answer is simple – just like the job of a outlaw. Swoop in, turn the town on its head, and leave it better than you found it. Just like Brody and Abby, Hawk and Animal used to do. And just like Brock does so aptly today.
So while the new batch of wrestler cookies readies in the NXT Easy-
Bake oven… maybe send a few of your over-exposed, burnt out, stale veteran cookies home or over to Japan or the UK or India for some extra seasoning to hide the bad taste they’ve been leaving in customers mouths lately. That way next time there’s a cookie shortage in the cupboard, you still have something exciting and sweet and fresh tasting to serve to your fans. And maybe, just maybe give them the right reason to say, “Holy Sh*t!”
Just to clarify the point I was trying to make above: I’m not down on NXT or the talent it’s producing. In fact I applaud WWE for investing in the future. All I’m saying is, it’s not enough to simply produce a new generation of superstars and then release them into the wild. They can’t just give a talent a gimmick in NXT, watch it get over in front of a couple hundred people in Florida each week and a few thousand watching online and expect for that talent to seamlessly replicate that success in the big leagues. Case in point: Adam Rose. He and his Rosebuds set NXT on fire with their traveling party conga line entrance… But RAW has millions of viewers on a weekly basis, only a few of whom have any knowledge of what’s happening in NXT. For WWE to think that someone who was hot in NXT can just instantly equal their success on the main roster is wishful thinking. The Shield and the Wyatt’s took time to REALLY mean something once they got their call up. And for every Bray and Reigns, there’s far too many Adam Roses and Brodus Clays. So here’s what I’m proposing. It’s my opinion that WWE would be well-served to steal a page from the NBA and begin stashing talent oversees and/or up in Canada or down in Mexico. For example. When WWE announced that ADR would be the first entrant into the MITB ladder match for the WWE World Heavyweight title, it produced a collective eye roll from the WWE Universe. But imagine if ADR suddenly appeared on the scene after six months tearing up Mexico? We’d all pop huge for that, wouldn’t we? At least his inclusion in the match would matter. We can all dig that story, right? An international star coming back stateside to seize a once in a lifetime opportunity to steal the most prestigious wrestling crown in the world. In essence, he’d be an outlaw, returning to town just in time for one more giant heist. That’s all I’m saying. It’s not enough just to simply produce the next generation of superstars…. But it’s my belief that they must also devote some of their vast resources to how they position those in their talent pool. Most importantly of which is creating an environment where the legacy of the wrestling outlaw is preserved and can prosper. Make sense? Let me know what you think? Hit me @angegold on Twitter. Thanks for reading. AG
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
About Andrew Goldstein: Andrew is a former WWE creative writer who is now a morning TV producer and comedy writer.