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Suspended Disbelief

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Scott: Let’s get things rolling. I know we’re both fans of the International Object podcast with K Sawyer Paul and his new co-host Rich Thomas. We both listened to the 50th episode recently, which involved both hosts responding to listener questions. I’m sure you have some thoughts on what you heard, so I’m picking your brain: Which question intrigued you most, and was the answer you heard in line with your own thoughts?

• • •

One of the best wrestling podcasts on the internet.

David: When I was done listening to the podcast, my mind kept going back to one particular question Rich answered. He was asked about why invasion story lines never seem to work in wrestling. His answer was two-fold, and included the idea that invasions never seem to end soon enough, and the idea it’s hard to get the bad guys to work together against the invading force.

I have a third reason invasions never work — wrestling. The best invasions make you question whether what is happening is scripted or not. At some point though, a wrestling match happens… because it’s wrestling. The wrestling match takes away that question, though, because why would a company like WWE or WCW allow wrestlers that don’t work for the organization to wrestle on their show?

Take, for example, the ECW invasion of the WWF in 1996 and ‘97. When Sandman spit beer in Savio Vega’s face during Mind Games, that was interesting, and it worked primarily because as an audience member, I didn’t understand if I was supposed to be seeing this or not. A few months later, ECW “invaded” an episode of Raw at the Manhattan Center… and they put on three matches, with Heyman on commentary. It’s not really an invasion at that point, because it seems fairly obvious Vince McMahon and the WWF are allowing them to be there. If the company being “invaded” is allowing the outside group to be there, then it’s a joint production, not an invasion.

The nWo suffered a similar fate. The initial match at Bash at the Beach made sense to a point, because the wrestlers of WCW were trying to prove something to these Outsiders. Once the nWo officially forms, though, if they’re really an outside force that is invading the arenas, and not on the WCW payroll, why wouldn’t you have them barred from the arenas and arrested on trespassing charges if they showed up? Invasion angles are doomed from the start because, in my opinion, there is no way to make them realistic enough to satisfy. As much as I enjoyed the nWo, it was in a very “that’s just wrestling” sort of mindset.

I saw a tweet from you while you were listening to the podcast that seemed to relate to the question about making a play or movie from a wrestling event. Your tweet involved Savage and Warrior at WrestleMania VII making a good movie plot. Would you care to elaborate?

• • •

Scott: Sure, but first I want to add to your point on invasion angles. Obviously we have to suspend a ton of disbelief to enjoy wrestling — or any form of storytelling, really — but the difficulty comes in realizing we can’t suspend the same disbelief unilaterally.

On the rare occasion when a fan enters the ring, a wrestler or referee subdues him (it’s always a dude) and then security rushes down and takes him away. But when Nash and Hall make their way through the crowd, security is clearing their path. When a wrestler is legitimately, seriously hurt, the show essentially stops while medical personnel flood the ringside area. But when there’s an injury angle, some hapless medic rolls a stretcher down the ramp and takes their sweet time, milking the drama for all it’s worth.

To some extent, we can accept these distinctions. But when the lines are deliberately blurred, it sheds an unfortunate light of confusion on the entire show. At February’s Elimination Chamber, WWE tried portray Chris Jericho’s head injury as legitimate, with the referee giving the “X” sign and so on, then later showing him “recovering” in the back of the arena. Most fans know if they see something on TV it’s intended to be part of the show, but the question remains: why fake something so real when the plot could be advanced the same way without taking that measure?

Likewise, I recall the episode of WCW Monday Nitro discussed during my appearance on the What A Maneuver podcast. It was at the outset of the nWo invasion angle, two weeks before Bash at the Beach. Nash and Hall interrupted a three-way WCW tag team title match, and the show ended with local police officers in the ring, weapons drawn on the Outsiders. You could argue they were merely trying to sell the “realness” of the invasion. But obviously if WCW was that serious about the situation, they’d have kept the men from even entering the arena. You think Ted Turner wanted police officers shooting people on live television? Again, why take the story this specific direction when alternatives were available?

Now if you want to scale it back a bit and get into your primary point, you ask, as Joe Drilling did, why WCW granted Hulk Hogan a title match against The Giant at Road Wild 1996. I suppose you could argue Bischoff was behind it all along, but still, it was far too convenient to play into the invasion story. But I digress.

The question you referenced, as worded on the podcast, was “Which real-life wrestling event would you fictionalize to bring to stage or screen?” After listening to it again, I think the actual intent of the question was to look outside the ring, or to come up with a story where in-ring wrestling is secondary. Think of a 90-minute movie showing all the drama surrounding Rey Mysterio’s WWE Title win that honored Eddie Guerrero. That could be a compelling narrative, especially if told with full disclosure that Rey is an actor playing a part, if that makes sense.

The reason Warrior-Savage sprang to my mind, however, was based entirely on what fans saw on camera. The story is all about Randy Savage, and it ultimately proved not to be a finale at all. But his entire WWF run remains my favorite performance ever because the continuity and evolution of his character spans years, and his actual wrestling matches both defined and enhanced the story. Say what you will about Ric Flair, but for my money Randy Savage is the greatest of all time.

• • •

David: I am not the Randy Savage fan you are, but I certainly give him consideration in the upper echelon of professional wrestlers. That being said, I can’t put him ahead of Ric Flair. When I was growing up, watching Jim Crockett Promotions, Flair was the consummate bad guy. His promos were consistently great, and everything he did in the ring had a purpose. Of course, the two are forever linked due to their great feuds in both the WWF and WCW. As our friends on the What A Maneuver podcast have discovered, their feud was one of the only interesting things happening in WCW in the early part of 1996.

• • •

Scott: I’ll give you this much — Flair blows Savage out of the water in terms of career length and relevance. But at their absolute peaks, both men reliably delivered some of the greatest performances in the history of the art form. I also think Savage’s best stuff holds up a hair better than the Nature Boy’s, but I don’t want to be accused of heresy.

It’s easy to talk about the best of the best, but let’s flip that on its ear a bit. Who would you say is the most overrated of the “top” guys who are now retired?

• • •

David:This is going to be a controversial answer, because I know this person

Retired WWE wrestler, Edge

Is Edge Overrated?

has a lot of fans and is beloved by a lot of people. That being said, my answer is Edge.

He had a good career, and he won a lot of titles, but I think he benefited from a roster that wasn’t as strong as it has been at other times. I think he reaped the benefits from the retirement of The Rock, Austin and others. I also think he gained a bit of renown because of the fans’ apathy toward John Cena.

I like Edge, but I don’t think he would be a legitimate first ballot hall of famer in an independent wrestling hall of fame. Who do you think is overrated?

• • •

Scott: You’re not the first person to rain on the Edge parade, and you won’t be the last. I’m fairly indifferent since I missed a large part of the peak of his career, but I definitely think you’re on to something when you mention how much he benefited from his specific era.

While I know I put you on the spot, I hesitate to get too much into who is overrated because I always feel I have blind spots. For example, I never had much interest in Paul Orndorff, but I think that’s more a function of what I saw of him live (hardly anything) and what I’ve had access to since then. Paul Orndorff might be awesome for all I know, but I just haven’t taken the time to dig into his career. I’ve not seen enough of a lot of older stars — Terry Funk, the von Erichs, the Freebirds … the list is embarrassingly long.

Likewise, if I think about the guys I did see a ton during their primes (Jake Roberts, Big Boss Man, basically anyone who was on WWF TV from 1988 to 1992) and start to wonder if maybe they weren’t really the stars I thought they were as a kid, a couple of minutes on YouTube reminds me quickly why I thought they were great. And ultimately, just because a particular performer doesn’t inspire me doesn’t mean they’re not doing good work. That’s one of the great things about wrestling, how there’s something for everyone if you stick around long enough.

And now I’m going to totally change directions again. This post will be going up before SummerSlam, so let’s spend a little time discussing that show. What’s your excitement level? Do you have any thoughts about how certain stories might progress? Has the lead-in so far met your expectations?

• • •

David: I am looking forward to SummerSlam… somewhat. There are certain matches I’m excited about, but my enthusiasm has been tempered by a few things.

The match I’m most excited about is Ziggler vs. Jericho. I’ve been a Jericho fan since we were watching Monday Nitro in the basement of Stewart Memorial Library on the campus of Coe College. He’s been a consistently great performer for the last decade and a half, and I love watching him wrestle. I’ve also been really high on Ziggler for the last year or so, and I love the story that they’ve been telling so far. However, I’m kind of bummed this match is likely to be a one-off. If you follow Jericho on Twitter, you know he is scheduled to take some time off for some Fozzy engagements. I guess they could revisit the feud when he comes back, but I’d prefer a long feud that doesn’t get interrupted.

I’ve never been a huge Brock Lesnar fan, and I can take or leave Triple H, so that match hasn’t truly captured my imagination. However, I have enjoyed what Paul Heyman has brought to the table over the last few months, and I’m always up for Shawn Michaels’ involvement in a WWE pay-per-view.

That brings us to the WWE championship match. I would be looking forward to this match a lot more if it were just a singles match between Punk and Cena. They’ve had good matches in the past, and I’d look forward to another one. The involvement of the Big Show changes things, obviously. His matches tend to be on the slow, lumbering side, and not necessarily exciting. There is some hope, though. As Brandon Stroud pointed out this week, WWE three-way dances tend to be one-on-one matches with an extra guy laying around at ringside. I can only hope Big Show is the one laying around for most of the match. Honestly, I’m far more interested in what comes after this match as we head into the fall and get closer and closer to the Rock’s title shot at the Royal Rumble.

There is one other match I’m excited about, and it’s possibly the one I’m most anticipating: Santino Marella vs. Antonio Cesaro. I’ve been a huge Cesaro fan since he was wrestling in Ring of Honor under his real name, Claudio Castagnoli, and I’m excited about him having a shot at any title. I don’t think he will win, as the “free for all” type shows very rarely carry a title switch, but I’m glad he’s getting the opportunity. Hopefully it will not be very long before he’s in an actual pay-per-view match instead of pre-show entertainment.

How are you feeling about this weekend’s card?

• • •

Scott: To me the reason I’m not all that jazzed for SummerSlam is it lacks the air of unpredictability of the more recent high profile events. Even Raw 1000 seemed to have more advance excitement as it related to the leading stories.

I suppose I should further refine that point: with other shows (Extreme Rules, No Way Out, Money in the Bank, etc.), I was not only unsure how the plots would develop, I was also excited for multiple outcomes. Looking at the SummerSlam card, if there’s a match I am invested in, there’s really only one thing I want to see happen. For example, I want Punk and Miz to retain their titles, I want Sheamus to lose and I don’t especially care how it shakes out. I wouldn’t mind seeing Ziggler cash in his briefcase over Sheamus or Del Rio, but actually seeing that happen is not something I’d lose sleep over.

I imagine we could easily see the Rock interject himself into the triple threat, though I wonder if the fact Lesnar-HHH will go on last means Rock won’t be around. It seems to me Rock either has to be central to the main story or he isn’t around. I also think it’s unlikely he’d be used for a surprise appearance since there would be no effect on the buy rate.

I’m indifferent to Kane and Bryan. While I enjoy and respect Bryan’s ring work, this story doesn’t motivate me. Same with HHH and Lesnar. Even if Brock murders HHH, is he going to come out on Raw the next night and demand a title shot? Or is he going to disappear until Survivor Series?

As much as I campaign for less pay-per-view shows on the calendar, it seems like it’s been forever since Money in the Bank, and the crescendo to Raw 1000 meant the PPV to PPV storytelling didn’t flow as well as usual. I’m not saying the show won’t be exciting, and there is always potential for “anything can happen” moments. But there’s a reason I’ve had to remind myself three or four times this week that SummerSlam is on Sunday. That’s probably not a good thing.

• • •

David: You’re right. The build to this show has been strange. Not only does MITB feel like forever ago, but to me, Raw 1000 seems like a distant memory. I also agree with your idea of what would be definitively satisfactory endings. I think that’s why I’m looking forward to the aftermath of SummerSlam, because it could be more interesting than the actual event itself.

• • •

Scott: I hear you there. I also feel that’s an important distinction — I’m not bored with the company right now. I’m actually very intrigued by a lot of big-picture stuff, especially all I’m hearing about how talent development is evolving and we could start seeing a whole slew of new faces who are strong workers in all aspects. That might not bode well for the Jack Swaggers of the world, but the three-hour Raw, the new Saturday morning show, the subtle Smackdown changes and more — not to mention the in-ring stuff on the main shows — has me much more invested in the product than I was shortly after SummerSlam last year, which is when the wheels on the Summer of Punk all seemed to fall of at once.

I think that does it for us for now — we need to get this posted before SummerSlam. But taking it back to the beginning of this post, I would love to get some questions from our readers to see what types of things they might like to have us discuss. Breaking down the current product is fun and all, but I’d love to tear into some meaty debates about the past.

• • •

Thanks for reading — please feel free to contact us via Twitter or the comments section. Your feedback is appreciated!

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