The Night WWE Jumped The Shark…Again

Over a year ago, I penned an article that explained how WWE “jumped the shark” during the infamous Seth Rollins/Fiend cell match that saw a giant mallet, The Fiend take a cartoonish level of punishment only to no sell everything, and finally the match end via referee stoppage, despite it being a cell match. In many ways, it continued to taint Seth’s baby face title run at the time, as well as it degrade The Fiend’s status after his initial introduction of the new persona garnered some buzz among the audience.

Regardless of the past year resembling the twilight zone because the world was shutdown because of the corona virus, WWE management “jumped the shark” once again to an even more ridiculous level. Sure, it’s easy and accurate to simply say that the conclusion to last weekend’s TLC pay-per-view was ludicrous, but a look at some of the key points behind it show just how far outside of the limits of logic the WWE is willing to go to try to drum up some interest in its stagnant product.

Listen, we all understand that the limits of logic can be stretched in professional wrestling, and that flexibility allowed for some very memorable moments in the history of the sport. Is it probable that Stone Cold Steve Austin would hijack a zamboni to drive to the ring to confront Vince McMahon? No, but it’s technically possible, and the saw proof of this when Austin literally drove the ice mobile into the apron to dive at Vince with a clothesline. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a fine line between spectacle and hokey stunt show. If things are done well and within some semblance of reality, they can fall between those stretched limits of logic of sports entertainment. For example, the entire Kane/Undertaker storyline might’ve been considered a flop if it wasn’t done so well. We didn’t know how The Undertaker sent lightening bolts through the arena, but the viewers actually saw the effect in the building. There wasn’t some digital effect to take people away from the excitement of the moment. Plus, pyro was used to open every show during that era so it wasn’t totally outside of the box.

The parameters of sports entertainment have evolved, but there’s a basic foundation that makes the product in the ring be considered under the sports entertainment umbrella. The Miz vs. Braun Strowman won’t look anything like Gotch vs. Hackenschmidt, but the fact that there’s a ring and the theoretically competition is to win the match are common denominators of the presentation.

The Firefly Inferno match was essentially an enhanced version of the inferno match that was used during the previously mentioned Undertaker/Kane feud. Is setting the opponent on fire commonly used in most competitive situations? Obviously not, but it’s still technically possible because using the proper safety precautions, Kane actually did have his arm on fire. Plus, flaming tables have been used in wrestling before, and of course, The Sheik and others have used the fire ball throughout the history of wrestling. The key is, the viewers can see the fire so there’s at least a level of plausibility for it. It’s also important to point out that even in reality, people have suffered fire injuries and recovered so if a wrestler was “burned” with a fire ball, it wasn’t impossible for them to return. A famous example of something like this outside of the realm of professional wrestling was when comedy legend, Richard Pryor was accidentally set on fire in 1980 after he used some substances that also might’ve been found in the ECW dressing room in its heyday. A few years after the incident, Pryor recovered and made the tale of the fire mishap a part of his stage show.

When The Fiend was pushed into the flames, it was within some level of reality because the audience could see him actually on fire and as we’ve mentioned, there are examples of people that have been on fire before. The aftermath of Orton setting him on fire is counterproductive to every element that we’ve discussed that allows such gimmicks to work. First of all, murder on a wrestling show can’t be a part of the narrative because of the nature of the sport. This isn’t a TV show where characters can be killed off then reappear, this isn’t something from the Sci-Fi channel. The same way when the Ralph Cifaretto character from the Sopranos was killed off, the character didn’t suddenly reappear in the show later on because the setting of the show was based in reality. Silvo and Paulie Walnuts had to drive a car to make collections because the setting of the show didn’t make it possible for them to fly a space ship.

The major difference between fictional TV and professional wrestling is that pro wrestlers aren’t actors. Despite playing a character on TV, the nature of professional wrestling is that they are that persona on a continuous basis, which is one of the reasons that fans are emotionally invested in their journey. When Ralph got pummeled on the Sopranos, nobody is shocked when Joe Pantoliano is cast in another show because actors are only play a role for a specific time. On the flip side, if a fan meets Roman Reigns and gets an autograph, he doesn’t sign “Joe Anoa’i” because to some extent he is still Roman off screen because pro wrestling characters are portrayed on a continuous basis. The Miz, Braun Strowman, and AJ Styles aren’t going to be cast for new characters at the end of the year.

The Fiend being burned alive and the follow up on Raw saying he was “gone” completely jumps the shark to an entirely new level because most importantly, when Bray Wyatt shows up again, how does the WWE logically explain it? Keep in mind, professional wrestling is a narrative based in reality because the believably and emotional investment into characters is ultimately what draws money. When Bray shows up again, it tells the audience that everything is phony so why should them emotional invest in the product? Furthermore, when the dummy being burned looks faker than Sable’s plastic surgery, it insults the audience’s intelligence. There’s going to be a portion of the audience that just tunes out because it seems too silly that a show is attempting to present a segment where someone gets burned alive. Again, as preposterous as it might sound, someone being on fire is technically possible, but to see a body completely burned in the ring is just too outlandish, even for sports entertainment.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

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