When Jerry “The King” Lawler appeared on the past Monday’s RAW, he was attacked in no short order by The Fiend. The power went down in the arena, interrupting Lawler’s rambling about the King of the Ring tournament. Lawler, aware of the danger he was in, hightailed it out of the ring. Then, as strobe lights bathed the King, The Fiend arose behind him like a malevolent shadow. In just a few seconds, The Fiend drove Lawler to the ground with a mandible claw. Lawler was in the arena to fill in for Corey Graves on color commentary for the evening. The King had been advertised to interview Sasha Banks, but wasn’t seen for the rest of the evening. The excellent and underrated commentator, Vic Joseph, took the King’s place behind the desk.
Think what you want about that moment. It was either great or it was stupid. But it did one wonderful thing for me: it made Jerry Lawler shut the hell up. I hold the unpopular opinion that Lawler should never talk. He is a leering, walking Dad joke on WWE television. Hearing him fumble his way towards an awkward punchline makes me scramble for the remote control. I can’t push the mute button fast enough. Make him an ambassador for the company. Send him to small media events. Give him a table at Axxess. Just don’t give the man a microphone on television again.
Speaking of Sasha Banks, she has been back on television for two weeks after a four-month-long hiatus. She has blue hair now, which somehow counts as character development. But Banks has also been attacking the hapless Natalya, who showed up with a sling on her arm this week after being rag-dolled by the Boss the previous Monday. I’m sure we’re being set up for an eventual match between Becky Lynch and Banks. But, in my head, Banks has made Natalya her target because she can’t deliver a promo for dammit. Nattie talks about her dead father like she’s explaining a particularly difficult calculus equation to a class of dullards. I have never been a fan of Sasha Banks, but I want to buy her a drink after making Nattie stop talking. It was like having someone turn off a radio that has playing nothing but white noise for hours. The relief! The peace! Thank you, Sasha.
Also on RAW, the venerable Rey Mysterio threatened to retire. Again. We’ve seen this before, haven’t we? This time, he was talked out of hanging up his boots by his son, Dominic. Dom made Rey agree to honor his promise of tagging with him before actually quitting the business. Dominic is still pretty new to this level of wrestling. I know he doesn’t have tons of experience delivering the kinds of high-level promos that make one a memorable performer. But I’m not sure that kid could have talked me into zipping up my pants if my dingus were hanging out. And even though Dominic hasn’t made his WWE in-ring debut yet, I’m ready to never hear him talk again.
If there is an underlying problem with WWE, it isn’t the wrestling. The storylines, even when they’re outlandish, aren’t even the issue. It’s the acting. Performers cannot sell the feuds they’re given because they don’t know how to make an audience believe what they’re saying. While I have a generally positive outlook on WWE, I see this as a difficulty that must be overcome.
Here’s the interesting part about this particular element of the programming. If RAW and SmackDown Live were actually wrestling shows, it would not matter. These men and women are wrestlers. That’s what they do. Expecting them to be terrific on the mic would be like believing I can perform a successful open heart surgery. [Author’s note: I can’t.]
But Vince McMahon has stated repeatedly that WWE is not a wrestling company. They are in the entertainment business. For years, the commentary team eschewed the term, ‘wrestler.’ WWE had competitors, Superstars, entertainers. The main roster shows were demented variety shows with some wrestling matches thrown in for good measure.
That is changing. Within the last two weeks, we’ve seen more, and better, wrestling on RAW and SmackDown Live than we have in quite a while. Matchups are varied and interesting. Stories are shaking out, making sense, and more issues are being settled in the ring instead of pre-taped backstage spots.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t alleviate the issue that there are people who should not be allowed to talk until they learn how. Look at Erick Rowan. He’s huge, an imposing brute of a man with an excellent collection of black metal T-shirts. It seems that he would sooner kill you than look at you and yet, he barely speaks. He doesn’t have to. Rowan has created an intense, believable character out of facial expressions, sheer mass, and the occasional sneer. Talking isn’t Rowan’s strong point. He has managed to get himself to a place where his strength is, well, his strength.
“Well,” they say, “some people just aren’t good on the microphone.” I’m not so sure I believe that, especially when they are employed by a company that offers promo classes. Few employees in the world are given the opportunity to develop their skill sets like performers in WWE. They are taught to run the ropes, take a bump, and deliver a decent message to a crowd of people.
The opportunity for improvement is there. Frankly, there are quite a few performers who need to take advantage of it. Their insincere delivery is harming the storylines they are placed into. If the story isn’t convincing, the in-ring action becomes secondary. All the psychology in the world can’t undo the damage done by bad promos. And I’m easy! I will buy just about any tale you try to sell me as long as you’re a good storyteller.
Everyone has a bad night. I get that. We forget words or get tongue-tied. That’s a human thing. But, as performers playing characters, there is no reason for bad promos to be a consistent issue. All that needs to happen is for the problem to be recognized on a case-by-case basis and fixed. There is already a solution in place within the organization! If WWE can make that happen by getting its performers to the next verbal level, then the rest of WWE’s product will become exponentially better.