The WWE and the conundrum of rebranding wrestlers in 2012:
Recently the WWE has decided to bring back A-train Albert as Lord Tensai and Nexus injury castoff Skip Sheffield as Goldberg knockoff Ryback. Now rebranding wrestlers is as old as pro wrestling, however in the modern era it is much more difficult. Fans of old would just accept character changes no questions asked. It was common for one guy to have three or four names/gimmicks until one stuck or they gave up on him. Today’s wrestling fans are savvy and in a lot of ways kind of ummm, how do I put this nicely, dickish. They love nothing more than to feel like they know better than Creative. They relish the chance to rub it into Creative’s face by chanting Albert at Lord Tensai and mocking Goldberg chants directed at Ryback. Ryback and Tensai aren’t just throw back character changes but also throw back killing machines. Unfortunately the WWE hasn’t caught on that the WWE Universe no longer wants unbeatable one dimensional character. Watching Ryback (god damn I hate that name) be fed pathetic jobbers as other WWE superstars “watch” and praise him from the back only makes us hate him. In the old days you fed jobbers to these big monsters and the crowd reacted accordingly. They ooed and awed, booed and cheered like they were supposed to. Jobbers have no place in today’s wrestling; seeing someone get destroyed with little effort is boring. Wrestling fans don’t want to waste their time; we have too much other stuff going on. Smart phones, iPads, Wi-Fi, 1000 channels are all working against wrestling ratings. So to put a boring match on to get someone over no longer works, because we’ll just do something else.
The other character who recently was rebranded is Brodus Clay. Now I was on board at first with his hip hop dancing character but now it’s pretty clear that he is just a joke. Teaming him up with Hornswoggle, the “smallest” joke in the WWE only furthered Brodus’ decent into “joke zone”. Joke zone is the WWE equivalent of the “friend zone” in high school. If you aren’t unfortunate enough to have experienced this phenomenon I’ll explain it to you. Friend zone is where you have the hots for a girl so you buddy up to her. However you only have so long to be a buddy before you make your move. If you wait too long to make your move though she’ll never see you as someone she can date. You’ll know too much about her and you become one of “the girls” in her eyes. Brodus has gone from being a viable threat in the WWE to a joke like Hornswoggle. We’ve seen him do too many stupid, dorky things to be a real threat. Brodus can beat Swagger and Ziggler every day but it only hurts those two to be beaten by the joke that is Funkasaurus. I generally try not to snipe at creative because lord knows they have a very tough job. However, whoever came up with Funkasaurus needs their head examined. Brodus is big enough and strong enough though that if he took time off he’d be able to come back as a viable threat.
In the WWE like in life you only get one shot at a first impression. That’s why guys like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan are so over now. They have been the same guys for a decade. Neither changed their name (Bryan Danielson/Daniel Bryan close enough) and both are so good on the mic but more importantly in the ring that they can’t be ignored. The WWE did a great job of letting Punk and Daniel develop their characters organically. It doesn’t matter how good you are in the ring if you are saddled with a shitty gimmick you are going nowhere. Case and point Mike Awesome in WCW. I was a huge ECW Mike Awesome fan, and thought he had everything it took to be huge. Then he got to WCW and they purposely stopped his upward trajectory, like they did so many up and coming stars. They saddled him with a terrible gimmick and he never got over with the WCW crowd. He was wasted and eventually Mike Awesome lost his fastball and couldn’t be counted on to put on good matches. Dolph Ziggler’s gimmick would have had him way over fifteen years ago, but today the cocky yet one dimensional heel struggles. That’s not to say he won’t get over and be a huge star. His in ring product is so much better than 90% of everyone else that I just know he’ll be great. He just needs to find his niche and that probably won’t happen until he parts ways with Vickie and Swagger. My prediction is this; Tensai will never be a world champion in the WWE. He’ll be a good mid card heel, and help some young baby face down the line. Brodus Clay will one day find his niche as a big and very dangerous heel. He has the potential to be a Mark Henry type champion. It won’t be anything to write home about but a good solid career as a heel. Ryback however, it’s hard to look past all that power and a lot of talent. I don’t know if he has the charisma to carry himself into the upper stratosphere, but of the three that have been recently rebranded he has the best shot.
Well that’s all for me this week, thanks again for reading and as always if you want to get a hold of me to call me an idiot, tell me I’m smart, or ask a question you can do so by following me on twitter @JaredGebhardt or via email firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also check out my entertainment column at filmonair.com.