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Thursday, 25 June 2009

Does Raw need a miracle? No, I'll tell you what they need......

Since Vince McMahon put down the headset and embraced his evil boss persona, some twelve years ago, wrestling has hung an albatross around it’s own neck.

Sure, the original Mr McMahon was a tremendous character, one who shattered the illusion of pastel-wearing, coiffed announcer who bought one-too-many nearfalls and laughed too heartily at the antics of Doink. However, since then, the wrestling industry has become obsessed with the Authority Figure – call them General Manager, Commissioner, CEO or whatever; they have been ubiquitous in wrestling shows for over a decade.

The set up for WWE’s three shows dictates that each show has a General Manager. Prersumably they don’t consider the roles overly important, especially on ECW, where Taryn Terrell’s portrayal of ‘Tiffany’ isn’t the most convincing. Would a board of directors of a multi-multi-multi-million dollar corporation hire a 23-year-old model? Unlikely.

Teddy Long actually does a decent job on Smackdown. He pops up where he needs to, books a match here and there, and generally has an air of genuine authority and common sense.

Raw will likely, to fit the model, soon have a new GM. Donald Trump indicated that he would do away with GMs and instead have celebrity hosts, but he soon got whisked out of the door, so the position is open again.

What Raw needs, and I thought it would come in the shape of Trump, is a figurehead who can take the show by the scruff of the neck, and even if it is simply kayfabe, actually offer a sense that they are in control and dictating their own methods and ideas.

It’s only really been done by a couple of individuals. The original Commissioner Foley deal, which Mick has readily admitted was basically just a slight extension of his real character, was terrific. Entertaining, but acting with a firm hand, he essentially set the ball rolling on the authority figure in its current guise.

Then there was Steven William Regal, on his second run in WWE after the disastrous “real man’s man” gimmick, whose pompous Englishman act coupled with genuinely brilliant comic timing was enterting for the duration of his first tenure.

(I particularly liked his greeting of Tajiri for the first time. “Stop bowing like that. We don’t have racial stereotypes in the WWE. Now run along and get me some tea and crumpets.”)

However, a man who did stamp his authority on Raw, made it feel like his show, but in the meantime created a problem in that a formula became stale, was Eric Bischoff. Many felt Vince washed a lot of money down the drain when he welcomed Uncle Eric with a big hug rather than eyeing him with suspicion. True or not, Bischoff did as good a job as one could expect as GM, but there were two problems.

One was that the heel GM was getting so hackneyed and cliché. Sure, Vince screwing Austin created a ton of money, but Bischoff siding against babyfaces and acting like a jerk just grated after a while. When Vince had his run of acting ‘in the interests of fairness’ he did exactly what he promised – and became a bigger heel for it, because fans hated him for being smug. It was cleverer, more subtle heat, than the obvious holding back of the fans favourite which has been done so often you can see it coming a mile off.

The other problem in Bischoff’s near four-year run was the shows themselves flat-out sucked for most of it. The disastrous run of Goldberg, the ill-advised push of Scott Steiner, the misuse of Steve Austin and various other factors meant that 2002-2005 was hardly a high point in WWE history, even their revisionist version.

Since Bischoff was unceremoniously packed off in a garbage truck (Vince has a loooooong memory) the GM position on Raw has been largely moot. Sometimes Raw is run by members of the McMahon family, sometimes Jonathan Coachman appeared to be in charge. There was another attempt to install Regal as the figurehead until got busted for a lack of Wellness, and of course there as Sir Michael of Adamle, that great orator and wrestling doyen.

Vickie Guerrero was given a brief run, recently, before deciding to call it a day and being treated with the kind of respect that made Bischoff’s farewell ride in a refuse lorry seem like a ride in a gold sedan chair. Now the position is vacant once more, and sorely needs to be filled by someone who has been there, seen it and done it in the ring. It needs to be filled by a fine talker, who can capture the attention of wrestlers and fans alike, and be convincing in an authoritative role. It needs to be filled by someone who would logically want the job, and be trusted to do the job.

Raw needs a wrestling God. It needs John Bradshaw Layfield.

The first item that one should instantly throw up as a roadblock to this idea is that he has his own successful business empire outside of wrestling. An enterprise which he may well be loathe to give up, especially since he only decided to walk away from wrestling two months ago.

That being said, he is an ideal candidate to step into the GM shoes. To follow a path which WWE rarely tread – that of logic – there is plenty to back up his appointment. When brought in his very genuine position as a backer for OVW could be cited, as well as his on-screen association and even friendship with one Vincent Kennedy McMahon. I think in the kayfabe wrestling world, as well as the real one, VKM could readily endorse JBL

Indeed, when McMahon suddenly announced that he had sold Raw for a substantial amount of money, Layfield was the first name whose name danced around the synapses of my mind. I hadn’t genuinely considered Donald Trump to be a viable contender.

The setup would be perfect. Vince would come to the ring, and say that he was perhaps a little hasty paying so much to buy back Monday Night Raw. But he had a plan, and he had a cohort in his buyback scheme. After realising that Trump had no idea how to manage a Wrestling Empire, he turned to a man with sufficient money, morals and with whom he shared an outlook on the world. Cue the man who first turned up in WWE with Uncle Zebekiah (Dutch Mantell) and was called Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw.

The synergy would be perfect. JBL as a character is strong enough to dominate Raw where he needs to. He can back up decisions with genuine examples of experience and success. Exactly what credentials were we supposed to believe that Mike Adamle or Vickie Guerrero had? Bradshaw can list both business success and wrestling titles – a combination which ought to be the perfect blend for a General Manage of a Wrestling show.

Layfield is one of wrestling’s great talkers. His ability with a microphone surpassed, frankly, any skill he may have had with his wrestling boots on. It is a skill few are able to master, and he has it in abundance. But it is still an unappreciated talent. Yes, he can muster a promo at will to generate heat in front of a crowd should a situation necessitate it, but his stint as a colour commentator on Smackdown proved his intelligence and ability to be fair at crucial times. He did not ‘overheel’ his role alongside Michael Cole. Yes he promoted nefarious tactics that he may once have used, but he also praised high-quality wrestlers whose colours happened to be nailed to the babyface mast.

Whether as co-owner, General Manager, or whatever the title, JBL is THE man WWE need to head up their Monday night show. The flagship broadcast no longer has an identity, and it is now miles behind Smackdown in terms of Wrestling action. If ‘sports-entertainment’ is their remit, and getting brand recognition together a goal, then JBL is their man.

The WWE don’t need a miracle – they need a wrestling God.


Delliott said...

that was a great article. should be posted on the sun website

Anonymous said...

This Blog rele is the best wrestling one around.
Great article