I’m doing this in two parts because there’s a broader point I felt I needed to make and then a more specific point with regards to what’s gone on the past couple of years leading up to today’s dilemma where the absence of Roman Reigns has now resulted in a situation that a lot of people aren’t too happy with. From where I’m sitting a big reason things are looking real weird and messy right now stems from something the audience has been doing wrong, and that is going along for the ride and not trying to grab the wheel every five minutes. The idea that a wrestling booker, be it Vince McMahon, Gedo, even Dusty Rhodes or Jerry Jarrett or Bill Watts or whoever should take a straw poll or crowdsource who to put on top of their promotion is just nuts. But yet that’s what some of you guys seem to think they should have done, or should do today. Never mind that Vince Sr. chose Bruno Sammartino, Vince chose Hulk Hogan, and Dusty told Ric Flair that ‘we’re gonna have you start wearing robes, dye your hair blond and calling yourself the Nature Boy’ because he saw it would work and that they did so without asking for permission first, in 2018 there’s some sentiment that our minds should be read and that the most vocal of us should simply be given what we demand. Even though what we ‘want’ often isn’t what we respond to and can change like the seasons. And it’s hurting the business as much as any booking decision being made.
Look, there is a role that we play as fans here and that is accepting the structural order of how a wrestling company, any wrestling company is supposed to work. You have your top guy/ace/alpha, and there is an entire lane that he is the head of. He doesn’t always have the top title but he’s almost always in the main event picture and occupies a large chunk of your TV time. If he’s champ then he’s cycling through challengers until it’s time to drop the belt. If he’s not then he gets some major feud that’s worthy of a main event because of who he is. You don’t personally have to be a fan of that guy but if you’re not then you need to respect the position so they can build the rest of the show off of what he’s doing. Whether it was Bruno, Hogan, Austin, Rock, or Cena, they had a thing they were doing and everyone else who wasn’t working with them would be doing something else. And establishing that upfront that allows you to make every part as good as it can be. You have to be able to leave that lane alone a bit in order to flesh out everything else but you can’t do that if you’re constantly having to work on it.
Jake the Snake Roberts was one of their biggest stars, maybe the best midcard guy they had in the 80s, and he never held one title, never had one solo main event on a big card, and never even got a title shot on a big card. All he did was feud with people over random beefs, some incidental and some initiated by he or his enemy. The name Jake the Snake Roberts still lights up faces when it’s uttered some 30 years later. Finn Balor could be doing exactly what Jake did back then, but instead of letting it go that he just isn’t going to be Universal Champion again we have some people who would rather complain about that than enjoying that he’s on TV every week and gets something to do. Back in the 80s we were content that Jake got a match every week, got to talk every week, and do his cool Jake the Snake stuff every week. And he was fighting jobbers! If he was beating guys on the roster that mattered every week like Finn does today that would be so much sweeter. He had a spot and they made it great instead of trying to throw a bone to a few people by teasing him for a title he was never going to win, and we were good with it so long as we got to see Jake do cool stuff. It wasn’t a shame that he never held a title to us.
The more time spent trying to establish someone as the top man, the less time and effort that is put in to everything else. If you’re mad that the tag team division isn’t getting enough shine, or that the secondary titles were all wrapped up in one program, then while you can blame the booking for that you have to look in the mirror, too. Because if you had just said ok to them having Roman (and John Cena before him) where they wanted him (and where he was drawing more than anyone other full timer), then his side could have gone on relative cruise control and they could have focused more on everything else. If you compare Hogan’s main event programs to what else was going on, there were stretches where he faced people who were essentially propped up to lose while guys like Jake, Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat, and the tag teams often got more back and forth feuds that resulted in matches with better workrate, more twists and turns, etc. Why? Because those guys needed that to be more interesting whereas Hogan (and Bruno before him, and Austin after him) were more self sustaining.
But the big man isn’t self sustaining on his own, there is an acceptance of his role that is required to make it all work. Everyone was not a fan of Hogan, or Bruno, or Austin, or Rock, or Ric Flair in the NWA, or Jerry Lawler in Memphis, or Antonio Inoki in Japan. Everyone wasn’t a fan of Tanahashi in New Japan and isn’t a fan of Okada there now. There are always going to be people who prefer someone else. And that’s fine! But engaging in open revolt does not get you what you want, which is your guy or guys or gal(s) at the top, it only begats a doubling down by the bookers so long as the box office receipts are in the right place. Everybody good gets a turn booking may sound great but in reality that doesn’t historically line up with the most successful periods of the business. More people getting a turn at the top actually means none of them is doing well enough to stay there. Just like in a movie, even when you have an ensemble cast where everyone gets a moment, there is a single person’s journey driving the story who’s success is mandatory.
Batman has to stop the Joker, no matter how well the Gotham City police and his sidekicks deal with the henchmen. Luke Skywalker had to stop Darth Vader in order for what Han Solo, Princess Leia, and the rest did to have any real weight. Captain America has to stop the Red Skull for total victory over Hydra. And Frodo had to take the ring to Mordor or else everyone else’s efforts would have eventually been in vain, even Aragorn who was on his quest to realize who he was and become King. We as the audience have to accept these established positions in order for the story to work. We can’t spend the entire two hours and change of a movie complaining that someone cooler didn’t get to carry the ring, that Robin didn’t get to fight the Joker in the big scene or that Han didn’t get to take on Vader. We can’t get mad that when one of those characters does get a chance with the big villain it usually doesn’t go well. The secondary players have their roles, and when allowed to flourish in them then that gives the entire story a chance to be great and not just a bunch of set pieces on top with little depth. But we don’t get to pick who does what; that’s the storytellers job, not ours, and if they did well enough to get you in then you have to trust them to do well enough after you’ve come. Because otherwise why did you bother in the first place?
I think that ultimately you should want to see and be told a story, not dictate it in real time while telling them they’re doing it wrong. When I want to speak I do it here but when I want to watch, listen, or read I leave the speaking or writing to someone else. I want to watch Batman beat up bad guys, not tell Scott Snyder or Tom King or whoever gets to write him next who they should be elevating in each story arc they create. As uneven as the Star Wars prequels were I never felt the urge to tell George Lucas what to do as I figure that even what I considered a so so movie from him was better than anything I’d ever do. No, you’re not going to like all the choices they make be it in protagonists or plotlines or resolutions. But taking a dump on something before it even gets going, sitting through it in disdain, and then taking another dump on it afterwards…….is that really how you want to do this fan thing? Is that fun to you? It must be because in way too many brands of entertainment that’s what way too many of y’all do. If you look at any of this stuff too critically you’re going to find something to pick at, even in the things you deem to be superior.
So going back to the whole wrestling thing, now we’re in a space where Vince has gone back to his safety blanket as Universal Champion when a lot of us who opine on the internet would rather see someone else, anyone else in that spot. Is a lot of that on him? Of course! He made the choices that landed him there. But some of those choices were driven by his need to somehow square the circle and to get his pick for the top man the acceptance of a vocal minority who would not see the forest for the trees, that there was a good choice there even if he was not your personal favorite guy. The same guy you complain about for picking Roman Reigns also picked Steve Austin who many of you love so much. And he picked him before the wave got behind him because he knew the wave would get behind him once he was on the surfboard. Imagine if, once it became obvious during 1997 that Austin was going to be the next guy, a bunch of people got mad online about it and started booing him at every turn because it wasn’t ‘their’ choice anymore? No Attitude Era, no big comeback in the Monday Night Wars, maybe even no more WWE.
But let’s not stop there. What if a similar crowd did the same with Hogan because they felt putting the belt on someone immediately after bringing them back was unfair and that the deserving champion Bob Backlund should have gotten to keep it? What if a vocal contingent of NWA fans decided to loudly oppose taking an old Buddy Rogers gimmick and cranking it up to 11 because it just wasn’t right to change Ric Flair’s existing character to try and make some money? Hell, what if a bunch of music fans got loud and upset because they felt the youngest Jackson brother shouldn’t be the front man for a singing group no matter how captivating and talented he is? That last example is exactly the kind of logic that some of you guys are applying here. And as long as you do, what we got is what we’re going to keep getting and you’re never going to be happy.