Rhodes and Moxley sold me
In my highly informed position as a lower-tier wrestling pundit, one of the greatest character introductions of all time was that of Razor Ramon. The promos that introduced us to “The Bad Guy” were classic pieces that perfectly set the stage for the introduction of Scott Hall’s toothpick-chomping, Cuban-ish street tough. He cruised around with the top down. He bullied waiters. He talked about his gold and wore open shirts, with that manly tuft of chest hair curling over the top. The catchphrase, “Say… hello… to the bad guy!” put it all together and cemented Ramon as a top guy before he ever set foot in the ring.
Fast forward to today, where the character-introducing promo is a bit of a lost art. Sure, you had those weird Bludgeon Brothers deals in the woods with the hammers last year, and whatever it is that they are doing with Aleister Black. But WWE is much more in the habit of dropping guys into the mix by having them interrupt another Superstar or jump someone backstage. What we are meant to know about characters or angles is presented to us by the announce team between excited shouts of each Superstar’s brand-approved nickname by Michael Cole. We know Finn Balor is the “man that does extraordinary things” and that it’s “Boss time!” whenever Sasha enters the arena (although, it seems like it may be a while before we hear that one again).
What we so rarely have revealed to us in the modern era of WWE main roster programming are the motivations of the wrestlers themselves, from themselves. Why are Kairi Sane and Asuka working with Paige and chasing the tag titles? What reason does Baron Corbin have for dressing like a waiter at a wedding? And what forces made the many moves of the neverending Superstar Shakeup take place? Did the wrestlers choose? Was it a lottery?
We don’t know because nobody ever tells us.
Cue the outstanding video promos released by Cody Rhodes on his upcoming match with his brother Dustin “Goldust” Rhodes at Double or Nothing, and the super badass Jon Moxley video teaser, released by Dean Ambrose about five minutes after he pulled out of the parking lot at Titan Towers.
First, the video from the American Nightmare. Goddamn, that was some great work. A simple, four-minute video shot against a black background where Cody delivers a sharp, realistic promo that not only builds hype for the match with his brother but also landed some stiff shots on the WWE and the King of Kings himself, Triple H. “Pissant bodybuilder” isn’t the kind of thing I would want to say to the face of a man of Hunter’s dimensions, but, man, did it feel legit coming from Cody. He seamlessly wove the topic at hand, his match with Dustin, into a larger conversation about what AEW is trying to be in the current pro wrestling landscape. Wanting to “kill the Attitude Era” is a really admirable goal for an upstart company. Quite frankly, it shows some balls. It shows the determination of those involved with AEW to look forward to the future of pro wrestling, rather than live in its past. I don’t know that anyone should expect a five-star match from the Rhodes boys. But, I think we can safely go in knowing that the sons of one of the best storytellers in the history of the business will be working hard to deliver a match with stakes, drama, and realism.
The other promo making the rounds this week featured the former Dean Ambrose in a slickly produced video, escaping from captivity and training for a fight. There was blood, barbed wire and a pair of dice with the numbers “two” and “five” displayed. A reference to Double or Nothing on May 25th? Maybe. But even if not, whoever put this promo together did more for the character of Jon Moxley than I would have thought possible.
— Jon Moxley (@JonMoxley) May 1, 2019
It made me think of my favourite character shift of all time, the moment that Triple H realized he would not be facing Mankind or Dude Love one night on RAW, as his opponent was the third face of Foley: Cactus Jack. It was one of those moments where the fantasy of wrestling transcended the reality, and not in an Undertaker-shooting-lightning-at-people kind of way. It was both Foley’s twisted performance of all three characters interacting on the Titantron (shout out to the Tron, by the way; we miss you) and Hunter’s reaction when he saw who was coming down the aisle. In reality, it was just the same guy with the same skills in a different outfit, but for that moment, we were all ready to believe that facing Cactus Jack was somehow an entirely different situation than facing either of the other two.
I felt the same way about the Moxley promo.
Here was the Shield guy, the Lunatic Fringe, literally escaping captivity (nothing to read into there, of course) and returning to a dark place, wrapping his fist in barbed wire, and preparing to fight. This guy isn’t here for triple power bombs, fist bumps, and t-shirt sales. This guy is here to kick ass.
How low can the ratings go?
I wouldn’t be much of a wrasslin’ writer if I didn’t at least make a note of the fact that this week’s RAW had one of the lowest non-holiday ratings in the storied history of the show. Some will point out that even bad RAW numbers are still better than most weekly shows good numbers. But that, coupled with a financial report that saw literally all measures of success down from last year, should be cause for concern.
It is easy to play armchair billion dollar sports entertainment company owner. It’s much easier, I suspect, than actually having the job, but it seems like something has to give right now.
If talents like Sasha Banks, Luke Harper, The Revival, and others are unhappy enough working there that they are turning down money in order to get out, while at the same time indie darlings like Joey Ryan are turning down money to come in, then there are chinks in the WWE armor.
Speaking only for myself, as both a fan of the business and the brand, I have come to find RAW and, to a lesser extent, SmackDown Live, unwatchable. Feuds are rushed. Characters are inconsistent. Champions lose non-title matches every week. Roster members appear and disappear without explanation. Fresh talents are relegated to lower positions on the card. Generally speaking, it seems like things are getting worse, not better.
The five hours of combined viewing time for RAW and SmackDown Live is a huge ask in a world that includes a historically unprecedented amount of entertainment choices at your fingertips. Would I rather binge watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or watch the Major Brothers score another roll-up win on one of the best tag teams in the world? Gotta tell ya, its not really any choice at all.
Saudi Arabia heat
I have previously stated that I support the WWE’s choice to go to Saudi Arabia. I asterisk this support with the acknowledgment that the people that run that country are not good folks to be doing business with. Culturally, Saudi Arabia is about as far from the values WWE claims to represent as can be. That said, I stand by the idea that sticking our heads in the sand and pretending people over there don’t exist is not helpful. Maybe, just maybe, some of the good stuff about WWE will rub off on those in attendance. Moreover though, if a few thousand kids get to spend an evening cheering, laughing, and enjoying the spectacle that only a pro-wrestling show can be, then something good has to be happening.
All that said…. Goldberg? Really? Man, that is a tough one to swallow. Not as tough as the HBK match, but still. We said goodbye to this character. We got behind him for that last run and instead of a WrestleMania match, or even just a spear to Elias (because obviously), he is going to pop up on a card that exists by and large in a parallel universe to the rest of WWE programming? That seems like bad PR.
Don’t even get me started on Taker going after not being at Mania. People fly from around the world to go to the “Granddaddy of Them All” and the Phenom doesn’t even do a walk-on. But, he’s going to fly to Saudi Arabia and perform there? I get it. The money is massive, and I don’t begrudge Mr. Calaway for taking one penny of it. But, the WWE should have had a better handle on how this would be perceived by the fans that helped build them into the international juggernaut they are today.
Robert Roode’s mustache = money
One of the few bright spots in recent weeks for me has been the heel turn of Bobby, now Robert, Roode and his outstanding facial hair. Roode is a natural heel, as we all saw in NXT, with a fantastic physique, great in-ring work, solid promo skills, and entrance music so bad, it’s good.
Now he also has a killer stache.
Should he have gotten a win over Ricochet in his first solo heel outing? Well, no, of course not. That’s what Apollo Crews and the Lucha House Party are for. But, he should be out getting wins, being cocky, and taking a run at a title. How good would Roode look if he added the Money in the Bank briefcase to his look? Pretty damn good, if you ask me, but let’s go with VIP line security guard Baron Corbin instead. Nothing like that “go away” heat to put butts in the seats.
Till we figure out the location of those parts unknown, I’ll see you marks around the loop.