I lied. This actually has very little to do with CM Punk. I was merely taking advantage of a hot-botton issue to get you, the viewer, to click on my article. It’s very similar to what the WWE does, teasing you with the appearances of a wrestling product while there really is no wrestling content to be found. It’s called bait-and-switch, and it’s a tactic you’ve probably fallen for a hundred times by now, so don’t feel too bad…
Do you ever take a time-out and ask yourself why you still watch the WWE’s brand of professional wrestling? I am convinced that somehow Vince McMahon’s group of evil geniuses (and some will debate the use of the word “geniuses”) has finally found a way to inject nicotine straight into their viewers via television screen. My addiction to pro wrestling is akin to that of an alcoholic’s or that old relative who has managed to chain smoke for 40 years and still make it to all the family parties. You start off drinking the good stuff. A little Grey Goose here, a little Spiced Captain there… You drink because you like the taste, experience, and social satisfaction that comes with it. But over time you take in so much that you lose focus of the why, and the quality no longer matters because you’re hooked. Instead of your high-society gin and tonics and those super pretentious Djarum Blacks you find yourself sitting in a dark corner downing Miller Light and putting away a pack of generic menthols. The WWE is like a pack of generic menthols. It gets the job done, but there’s very little enjoyment left in it. Seeing your current favorite star get a much-deserved push is like walking around on the streets and finding the $5 to get your next pack; it keeps you going so you’re disappointment never takes over and causes you to quit.
Clearly I’m a very cynical critic, left jaded by too many years hanging out on dirt sheets and know-it-all forums, but I remember a day when every two hour WWE program was worth watching. When I first got into wrestling it seemed that the cruiserweight style had taken over the business. WCW was over-flowing with talented athletes that could go in the ring for what seemed like hours, telling a story as they went. ECW, while I wasn’t exactly allowed to watch it in its glory days, had some of the greatest cruiserweight matches you’ll ever see. And even the WWE started picking up on the trend after awhile, home-brewing their own mix of classic chain-wrestling with high flying maneuvers. And then WCW went under and all those talents I grew up watching eventually made their way over to Vince’s brand. Rey Mysterio, Juve Guerrera, Dean Malenko, Ultimo Dragon, Eddie and Chavo Guerrero, Psychosis, and Billy Kidman just to name a few… You can make a great case that the Attitude Era was the greatest era of in pro wrestling’s history, but those are the guys that kept me tuning in every single week. Wrestling mattered back then, and not just in the Cruiserweight division. Some of the greatest tag teams and tag team matches in WWE history came out of the post-Attitude Era as well. Hell, some of the greatest WWE title matches came at the hands of Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, Eddie Guerrero, and Chris Benoit during that same time period!
Last week Chavo Guerrero left the WWE, and it made me realize how far his style of wrestling has fallen within the biggest name in the sport. Chavo may have only shown up every few months to do a job spot, or fill in on Superstars, but every match he put on was a great effort, at least on his part. You can’t fault him for the dozens of mediocre athletes that creative put him in the ring with. I applaud Chavo for leaving, because I know how much wrestling actually matters to him and his legendary family. He is not a home-grown WWE talent, and he doesn’t fight the “WWE-style”. An actual feud with Sin Cara could have been the coolest thing we saw all year, but of course they never pulled the trigger. Chavo is getting older, and I don’t think he wanted to end his career with an entertainment business that doesn’t give a damn about actual wrestling.
So who does that leave us with? Rey Mysterio is the old standby that many a fan will use as proof that the WWE still cares about wrestling and their former cruiserweights. I can’t tell you how many people have used Mysterio’s career as an indication that Sin Cara will be the next “big thing.” But for those of you who didn’t watch wrestling in the glory days of the Cruiserweight title, let me tell you how little I care about Sin Cara and Rey Mysterio… Rey used to be one of my favorite talents. The things he came up with in the ring would blow your mind every single week. Rarely did he wrestle a match and perform the same maneuver twice. It was when they gave him the World Heavyweight Championship (and dropped the word “Heavyweight” just for him) that I knew he was in trouble. Soon every match was exactly the same, and his once great arsenal of acrobatic maneuvers was diminished to a few tilt-the-whirl throws and the set-up for an impending 619. And if you actually take time to look at Mysterio’s title runs, they are more of a blemish on his career than an accolade proving he’s among the best. If you’ve spent time watching Sin Cara’s matches down South you know what he’s capable of doing in that ring…against other talented superstars. The problem is, the same thing the WWE trainers did with Mysterio, they will do with one of the greatest wrestlers of his time. Sin Cara will learn how to counter clotheslines and shoulder tackles, pin the opponent after every single move, and slow down his matches to a crawl while he sets up for his finisher. He will become another cog in the machine, and he will make more money than he has ever seen doing it.
As I wind down towards the end of my very angry rant, I bet you’re wondering if I have a solution to any of my misguided ramblings… Here it is: let the wrestlers wrestle the way they know how. The immediate problem with this is half of the roster (if not more) can only do the half dozen moves they were taught in FCW. Why water down guys like Evan Bourne, Sin Cara, Rey Mysterio, CM Punk, Tyson Kidd, and the Usos so that the Miz, John Cena, and Randy Orton don’t look terrible in the ring? If you keep adding water to stretch the Kool-Aid, it’s going to lose flavor fast! Why sacrifice the whole of the product for a few individuals? The honest answer is that John Cena’s face sells better than the idea of great wrestling.
This is why wrestling needs to be reinvented, again. If things continue down the same path, within a few years most of the real talents will have left and the whole product will be cookie-cutter finisher-monkeys with very little charisma. They used Hogan and Savage to reinvent the product for the Golden Age, Austin, Michaels, and Hunter for the Attitude Era, and Guerrero, Jericho and Angle for the era of in-ring ability. The have always adapted their product to make it fresh for new fans, but give the veterans something to tune in for. I’m running out of reasons, and if CM Punk does leave, and the recent Usos push dwindles out, I may spend a lot more time watching Ring of Honor when it comes back to television this fall. I truly believe there is a way that the WWE can keep being entertaining, keep making lots of money, but have a solid wrestling product at the same time. It would involve training their wrestlers in the art of wrestling, and scouting guys who had more than a good look. The current product generally features 4 boring matches and a mediocre bout for every two hour show. It’s gotten to the point that even the mediocre matches look like 5-star classics. Would ratings not increase if the live audience wasn’t visibly and audibly bored during most of the show? Why are Lance Storm, Chris Jericho and Edge not in charge of training the new guys down in FCW? I don’t really have solid solutions, as I’m not privy to the inside workings of the product like Dave Lagana, Kevin Kelly, or Mark Madden. But I do know, as a long-time fan with no political motivation, insider biases, and no product to sell… I am bored. I find myself fast forwarding through most of the match to get to the finish, because that’s basically what the wrestlers are doing as well.
Mike Killam is on Twitter @killeReview and is open to all questions and comments at MikeKillam@gmail.com