DEBUT COLUMN: New Is The New Old

Ken Napzok





New is the new old

            The great, modern day sages from the band Semisonic once sang that “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” Deep words for a pop song, dead on truth for professional wrestling. We’re well on our way into 2011 and one of the big topics continues to be the WWE’s changing of the guard:  Old faces falling or fading away, new personalities taking center stage (and the belts), out of the box creative thinking mandates from Vinnie Mac, and Percy Watson’s glasses.  The time for change has arrived, the new era is in full swing, and The Miz is your WWE champion… still.  And as usual, the fans….errrrrr….  the Universe…. sorry, Vince… are not having any of it.  Which, to be honest, is somewhat of shame.

            Look.  I get it.  Change is hard.  We like what we are accustomed to and what we know.  Like most of you, I didn’t like it either when Hogan dropped the belt to the Ultimate Warrior. But come Royal Rumble ‘91, I was screaming mad when Slaughter took it from the Ultimate Puke, tossing my plush Warrior pillow buddy against the wall in frustration.  Point being: the new will become the old and the very thing you feared will become the very thing you cling to later.  Change has to come and the WWE could not keep throwing out the same product for the masses.  This process, of course, is not easy.  Some things just not might be broken, but they’re going to change. (One more run, Chris Jericho? Please?) Some attempts to break the mold may fall flat. (Winner of the match and nnneeeeeewwww World Heavyweight Champion, Jack Swagger.) And some things may take time. (I’m actually starting to like Michael Cole as the top heel.)  You have to allow for the process to work…. and there is certainly a looooonnnnngggg way to go.  



The product the WWE has become hell bent on changing was the very product we were all tired of… and very vocally so.  Raw, the cornerstone program, had become a lather, rinse, repeat show.  It seemed for a long while that you could go weeks without watching and yet, if asked, you could pretty much guess what happened any given week.  “Let’s see… Cena cut a long winded promo with mildly amusing jokes.  Randy Orton walked to the ring in slow motion and then pretended to be a reptile.  Some Divas pranced around and made us all miss Lingerie Pillow Mud Fight matches. The Bella’s stood next to someone hocking a movie and/ or product.  Batista yawned his way into a title match.  Michael Cole said “vintage” twelve times aaaannnnnnnndddd we’re home.”  It was stale.  It was predictable.  It was boring.  And you can’t blame that on the PG-era.

 

There was a time before the Atittude Era and the worked shoots. There was a time before women wrestled in thongs and champions lovingly flipped off their rabid fans. There was a time when “PG wrestling” was just known as… well… wrestling.  And, guess what, we all loved it.  Did it need to evolve? Absolutely, but, like a lot of sea changes and new movements, it became stale as well.  To sit back and bemoan this new era is to miss out on a lot of interesting and entertaining things.


            2010 saw Wade Barrett start his rise to the top.  While his in-ring workrate leaves some to be desired, he can grab a microphone and tell a story.  The Nexus angle worked and it wasn’t because of Justin Gabriel’s 450 splash or David Otunga’s 1992-era Zubaz print trunks.  It was Barrett leading the charge with the ease of a long time veteran.  Moving him to Smackdown caused me to something I haven’t done in ages… watch Smackdown.  And I didn’t even think about it.  I just thought, “Ooooo… Barrett’s on Smackdown tonight.”  Watching his ascension to the top heel ranks continues to be entertaining.

            Daniel Bryan competing on the big stage was reward enough, but then he took home the U.S. title.  Well over one hundred days later, he still has the belt.  He is still being pushed… by the WWE.  Five years ago would you have predicated this for the American Dragon? Ten years ago? Twenty years ago he’d be tagging with Reno Riggins on Wrestling Challenge to help put over the Orient Express.  Sure they changed his name, sure they put some bird-like thing on his trunks, sure they fired him, but he’s there now with the title, front and (off)center.  That’s progress to be celebrated.

            As is Josh Matthews getting more of a chance to shine on Raw.   He’s worked hard, he’s well-researched, and you know he appreciates his position.  It is very refreshing to listen to a WWE voice that loves this business.  Over time he can improve his story telling abilities and gain a more refined “professional presence.”  And then we can all get angry when Grandpa Vince and Stephanie fire him because he took time off to get married or vote.

            It is also great to see CM Punk being let loose.  While he has received his pushes and title runs, it is becoming clear now that the straight edge star has very little in his path to becoming the top heel and perhaps the next big thing.   With Jericho on tour, Triple H carrying a clipboard and calling the plays, Kane seemingly ready to grow his eyebrows back and blog his way into a political pundit career, Randy Orton a tweener, it is Punk’s time to be The. Bad. Guy.  He seems to have free reign within the PG boundaries.  (Even helping to push the boundaries with the Nexus initiation storyline, ill-conceived as it was.)  For heaven’s sake, he said to Layla and Michelle McCool, “Well, you are Beautiful People.” On WWE TV.  And was allowed back.  Now, of course, you may say, “that’s because WWE doesn’t consider TNA a threat.” While that’s true, keep in mind he basically no sold the top women’s heel team, a project being pushed down our gullets week after week, by stating that the other gals got there first.  He is now been unleashed on Cena, the top face, and is realistically unmasking him as a bully to a generation of kids that view Cena as their Hogan.   And you can bet good money that this could bring out some of Cena’s best work.  

            Then, of course, the biggest change of all is at the top.  You may have heard about it while watching Jimmy Fallon.  Some former MTV kid is now the WWE champion.  I’m a believer.  Your neighbor might not be.  Your old WrestleMania 13 road trip/ bus ride buddy might not be.  Your Dad might still only recognize Pedro Morales as the last true champ.  But, before you render judgment, consider this: Do you find most, if not all, of his promo’s entertaining?  Can he (now) hang with most of the top talent in ring? Do you love rooting against him?  Do you want nothing more than to see him defeated?  Then Mike Mizanin has done his job and deserves his chance at the top… even if it’s just to Elimination Chamber.  And, also, outside of maybe Cena, how many recent WWE champs have had this many promotional appearances outside of the WWE machine or mainstream coverage?  Was it a novelty to some? (“Hey, that Real World kid pinned Hulk Hogan or something.”) Sure.  But, that’s the foothold to bigger acceptance.  I know suit and tie business guys in their mid-forties that quietly admit to me that they still quote The Rock.  When he left, they stopped watching.  Part of the change, part of the building for the future, has to include making new fans outside the normal demographic.  The Miz is the best suited for that role at this time.

            All this is not to say that the change has been executed with perfection.  Many of the big stories and angles have come off as rushed or too short.   Certainly injuries and outside influences play a factor: Kane/ Undertaker, Part 50 would have been a lot more intriguing if Paul Bearer wasn’t in better wrestling condition than ‘Taker.  The hottest angle of the year, the original Nexus versus Super Cena, was going along rather well until Cena was fired from the company, back on later in the show, rehired a scant few weeks later, and then all over when a hail of chairs came crashing down on a covered Barrett.  And John Morrison’s two week main event push lasted less than Jerry Lawler’s.

            The continued lack of a tag team division is a personal disappointment.  There is a great history there: Demolition defending for 478 days, L.O.D. capturing the triple crown (NWA, AWA, WWF), The Hardy Boyz battling Edge and Christian.   All part of the federation’s great legacy.  Now we have… the Santino/ Kozlov comedy act.  And I’m a huge Santino mark.  Seriously.  I own a Cobra T-shirt.  But, Tag Team wrestling is NOT a lost art everywhere else, so why does it have to remain so on the big stage?

            In an effort to quickly promote new talent in a shot gun fashion, ECW was replaced by NXT in what could be argued was a success.  After all the main roster is littered with the first two season’s stars.  Yet the great experiment to introduce new faces gave us the embarrassingly bad “skills” challenges, silly names for KNOWN third generation (super)stars, and, well, Titus O’Neil. (Seriously, kids, if you wanna win, make it a win.)

            And, in one of the biggest misses, Kaval appeared on the same amount of pay-per-views as Max Moon.

            Not a perfect road for sure, but you cannot fault the WWE for recognizing that the time for change is now.   You cannot fault them for breaking the mold, trying something new, and seeing where it takes them.  To sit back with folded arms and a judgmental frown, like some sort of Grandpa still angry at this new fandangled Microwave cooking machine, is to miss out on some fresh and exciting things.   Your Batista T-Shirt will always be there for you and before you know it, you’ll be clearing space for that “Hello, I’m Awesome” Full Zip Hooded Sweatshirt (only $39.99 !!!!) and then the new will become the new old.

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