Thursday, August 10, 2000

Ringside Shadows #139: Exposure (Part I of II: The WWF)

Let's face the facts: if there's any one thing that drives the wrestling world today, more than the merchandising, more than the big money contracts, more than the fringe benefits, it's the exposure. A wrestler could easily use his noteriety in the ring to net some easy cash as a promotional spokesman, an actor or a stuntman. Sometimes the ball swings the other way, and an athlete, actor or other celebrity will take the opportunity presented to them by a professional wrestling match to jump start a lagging career or social stance. Either way, it's all about the exposure, and every worker in the locker room knows it. With men crawling over each other in the crowd of the WWF, backstage politics nearly killing WCW and not enough coverage spiraling ECW to new depths, it's become a crucial element in the do or die structure of things today. With so little of it to go around, you'd figure either Vince (McMahon or Russo) would maximize every moment of available screen time, to spread that precious exposure over as much ground as possible every week on live TV. It doesn't make sense to waste such a valuable commodity, but that's exactly what they're doing.

Now, I won't sit here and tell you things aren't good in the industry today. They are. We're riding the peak of a tidal wave of popularity, one which has shown no signs of slowing down. We're at the all important crossroads, where one generation hands the ball to the next, always fertile ground for some stellar feuds and historic matches. McMahon seems to have elevated the performance to an art, and we're just now reaping the full benefits. If not for a few cracks and flaws along the way, there wouldn't be anything really worthy of commenting upon.. and I wouldn't be here this afternoon, whispering into your ear. To those cracks, I dedicate this column. To those flaws, I devote a short series of two posts.

There are many guilty parties when it comes to the crime of overexposure, and it's not like we can blame them, either. These people are given the forum to broadcast their likenesses across the known world, and are merely taking advantage of a good situation. No matter if the blame lays in the hands of the respective athlete or the booker, over and under exposure is quite the issue in regards to the modern wrestling scene. For every moment misused on a Raw segment, a deserving (or, in some cases, not so deserving) man or woman loses time promised to them when the night began. For every HHH interview that runs long, there's a Perry Saturn match cut from the card. Sometimes the bookers should question themselves, their staff, and the decisions both have made. Running with the example, did Helmsley really need that extra two minutes to get any more over? Not likely. Would a match on Raw have further developed Saturn's character, further familiarizing audiences with him and serving to get him a bit more over? Probably. In such a case, it's often an honest mistake, but it sometimes means life or death for the career of another. Exposure holds that kind of sway.

With that said, I've compiled a short list. Two short lists, actually; a 'good list' and a 'bad list', naming the top five workers we've maybe seen a bit too much of recently, and those that we haven't seen enough. Sometimes a little exposure's just enough to make a career, and sometimes a lot's more than enough to break one.

Overexposed (the bad list)

#5: The Undertaker
That's right, Mark Calloway. The Phenom. The Undertaker. An argument could be made that he's paid his dues for years and earned his spot atop the federation, and you wouldn't hear a word to the contrary here. In his career with the WWF, the Taker has proven his intelligence, willingness to do the job for the betterment of the company, loyalty and credibility. He's a true heavyweight, a champion to the core and I won't pretend otherwise, which is why he's at the bottom of this list. Though his return after months on the shelf generated a tremendous response, his new gimmick has been somewhat lacking. Storylines have spun their wheels, leaving tracks but going nowhere. There's been no substantial development or explanation of why the Taker shifted from a dark mortician to an American bad ass, yet he's been given enough time to explain it threefold. To his credit, the Undertaker has taken a week off and assumed a much more limited role at the bottom of the main event card, but without a significant angle or a strong series of matches in the ring, he'll just be taking up space that another could be using to achieve much more. The phenom's in need of a spark, that's all.

#4: Chyna
With Chyna, there's something less of an excuse. She's done little to build a reputation like the Undertaker's, yet still manages to pop onto the screen on a regular basis... often alongside or opposite the strongest workers in the federation. Her past feuds include clean victories over Jeff Jarrett, Chris Jericho and Eddy Guerrero, three names who will arguably own the main event scene in the years to come. In her early days, she could be written off as the DX bodyguard. Her cold exterior was a perfect foil to the wild antics of Shawn Michaels and Triple H. Nowadays, she's just dead weight, too big to make anything but a mockery of the women's division, but to small and inexperienced to have an impact with the men. Chyna's been in freefall for years, and perhaps it's time to give her a little time off.

#3: The Road Dogg
Another DX convert, the Road Dogg's owned a popular collection of catch phrases, gimmick moves and postured stances for years. Unfortunately, he's relied on the same match, from introduction to pinfall, since about 1998. Any sort of grasp for the sport he may have inherited from his fabled family has long since been lost amidst his goofy knee drops, dancing punch combos and X-Chops. His matches are all flash and no substance, and the same holds true when it comes time to do an interview. Aside from Sid, I don't think I've ever seen a man talk for five minutes without a point quite like the Road Dogg. He doesn't just use air time, he kills it. You can watch a Jesse James match and accompanying promo for over fifteen minutes, all the while gaining absolutely no story development, character advancement or useful knowledge. While he had a couple good runs in the late 90s with Billy Gunn, he's just chewing cud in the modern WWF. The New Age Outlaws ran their course, and James never really figured out where he could go from there. Unfortunately, we've been along for the ride. Every agonizing minute of it.

#2: The Big Show
If I were to liken these wrestlers to an accompanying animal, the Big Show would without a doubt be a sloth. Only this sloth would be the mother of all sloths, when it comes to size. Seriously, though, aside from a funny moment or two on SNL and the occasional big spot / chokeslam, the man's not even a shadow of his former self. Back in his youth he was greener than grass, but at least he'd try something new and original for a 500 pounder. He'd deliver a missle dropkick, because he didn't know he wasn't supposed to. He'd take flight, earning comparisons to a 747 all around. His chokeslam looked like it actually could put the match away. Nowadays about the best we'll get is the gimmicked-but-cool chokeslam he delivered to Kane through the stage last week. He's slower than slow in the ring (which means he can't keep up with the faster-paced youth movement), he's lost his ingenuity, he blows up rather easily, and his promos are the things that scar children for life. I often figure he's there for name value alone, and then I remember how much he's being paid for his troubles. Without question, Paul Wight is the definition of a man pushed on overall value, rather than overall worth.

#1: The Godfather
Need I say more? The Godfather is Jesse James to the nth degree. If you've seen one of his "matches", you've seen them all, and they all blow. Every one of his interviews is the same, word for word, and he cries if time constraints force him to cut one of his pre-match love fests short. Though the gimmicks may change, the man remains the same. Through Kama, through Papa Shango, through the Nation of Domination and through the RTC, he'll always be the same worthless man underneath, and he'll always get TV time.

Underexposed (the good list)

#5: Ivory
While Tori and Stephanie have both been met with relative success in the Federation alongside DX, Terri's busied herself beside Perry Saturn and Trish has created her own stable, Ivory has since drifted off into the woodwork somewhere. Without question, she shouldn't find work as a full time announcer, (from what I've heard, her "WrestleMania all day" performance was atrocious) but she can more than hold her own for a couple minutes in the ring. She knows how to tell a story, both with the mic and on the mat, and she isn't afraid to do it. Though many might argue she can't even rate with Trish or the Kat in terms of looks, I'd give her credit over many of the other women who have gone far in the WWF. That, and her work between the ropes would give both aforementioned women more than a run for their money each and every time. If she's got all the skills, why aren't we seeing more of her? It couldn't hurt to try.

#4: Dean Malenko
I know, his demeanor just doesn't fit in the WWF. That's a case I argued from the very first day he stepped foot in a McMahon-owned ring. Thing is, they actually had a chance with this one. After his series with Scotty Too Hotty over the Light-Heavy strap, fans were starting to come around to Malenko's no-nonsense, highly technical style. Don't believe me? Take a look at his match at Backlash 2000, paying particular attention to the finisher DDT from the top and the crowd's reaction to it. Vince had a chance to run with it, but instead went with the old Jeff Jarrett "I hate women" angle, effectively killing his character and his heat with one fell swoop. Since then, it's been quite a while since Malenko surfaced on a Raw. My solution? Give Jericho the ball again. He ran with it, scored a touchdown and spiked it over in WCW, effectively giving Malenko one of the biggest pops of his career (after Y2J submitted to the Texas cloverleaf, dropping his Cruiserweight title.) Why couldn't he do it in the WWF?

#3: Faarooq
Actually, Faarooq does get quite a bit of exposure, more than anyone else on the 'good list.' It's just that his exposure is pretty mediocre. He's been in limbo for some time now. As a former WCW World Champ, I figured Faarooq would get a bit more clout in the WWF. Scratch that, he's got plenty of clout. So much, in fact, that then-champion HHH actually ran from him on a Raw several months ago. He's ferocious in the ring, and his promos aren't half bad. His gimmick with Bradshaw works flawlessly, and they've been accepted as the monsters of the tag division. Maybe a little singles experimentation is in order? I'd love to see Faarooq given one last chance to shine as a single before heading off into the sunset, but if they're going to do it, the time needs to be now. In a main event scene that's oversaturated with faces, he could make one helluva dent as a heel. Fans are sick of HHH vs. Rocky. They aren't ready to accept Benoit just yet. Angle is otherwise occupied. Faarooq and the Rock have the history to make it work. Chew on it for a bit.

#2: Al Snow
Poor, maligned Al Snow. He's been close enough to touch it more than once, but success just keeps running away from him. Things were all set up for a feud between he and the Rock nearly a year ago, in a realistically set series of confrontations that gave both men a reasonable point of view. Often, turns happen without rhyme or reason and little explanation (ie the gimmick changes of the Godfather and Undertaker.) In this case, not only was there a believable, true to life subject, (Snow's friend, Foley, was hanging out with Rocky more than Al) but you could actually see Al's point of view and sympathize with him. Unfortunately, the angle was soon dropped. Al sunk to the depths of the lower card, while the Rock continued along, unhindered by his little sidetrack. The angle wouldn't have slowed down the Rock, it would've elevated Al Snow. In a time when they were scrambling for main eventers, this was just what the WWF needed. When properly motivated, Snow's among the best talkers in the game and has the skills to keep up with anything thrown at him in the ring. He won't be around forever, though, and it's time to make the move with him.

#1: X-Pac
The man that drove me to compile this column. Watching him job to Rikishi on Raw one night, I finally realized something. The WWF's had this guy for nearly a decade, collectively. He's been busting his ass for them since day one, making everybody he's opposed look like a million bucks in the process. He was the only part of the infamous Clique to never receive a significant push. His big return to Raw the night after Wrestlemania XIV signaled two great turning points in wrestling history; the WWF's return to the #1 slot in the Monday Night Wars, and the resucitation of DX. Still, Waltman's never gone higher than an Intercontinental contender. Vince has had this guy almost ten years, and he still doesn't get it. He doesn't see it. Guys like X-Pac aren't a dime a dozen. They don't come around every day, looking for a job. He knows the game, inside and out. He knows how to make something look good, how to make a crowd pop huge and how to properly build a strong match. The only thing he doesn't have is mass, and that's the killer. In another ten years, Waltman could've been a World Champ. Instead, he'll be remembered as a midcarder for life, the guy who carried the video camera for the nWo. It's a sorry thing to see such an athlete given such a shaft, but that's just what's happened with X-Pac. If his tag team with the Road Dogg isn't put to a finish really soon, I figure he'll never amount to anything more. Once again, now's the time to make the move with him. I wish I could say I was confident in the WWF's ability to make it happen.

On the Verge..

#1: Steph
"Daddy's little girl" is becoming quite a waste of space lately. While some are quick to dub her the heir apparant to her father's throne, I just don't see it. Her performances are shaky at best, with her facial expressions and vocal intonations only a pale imitations of her father's. If the center stage angle that focuses on her marital struggles with HHH eats up any more time, I think I'll scream. It's that... damn... bad.

#2: Too Cool
The "fun dancin' guys" gimmick has fallen into the same kind of monotony I described with the Road Dogg and the Godfather. Both are superb workers when they want to be, but their recent matches have seemed to be just set-ups for the worm / hip hop drop and dancing. If they must stagnate to please the masses, I'd rather not see it on Monday night.

#3: Lita
Uh oh... here it comes. I can feel the mail piling in before I've even posted this. To answer the questions before they've been asked; no, I don't hate Lita. I don't think she's a waste of time at all, and her placement here is through no fault of her own, it's through the bookers'. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and I worry that too much of Lita too fast will only harm her growing popularity. She's a good match with the Hardys, and the main event with the Rock was fun, for a one time thing. If it becomes a regular portion of our Raw broadcast, it'll get stale, fast, as will she. Just this once, let's let good things come to those who wait, ok guys?

And that should wrap it up for me today. Unfortunately, I was without cable this past Monday, so I missed Raw and Nitro. Shouldn't be an issue next week, though I'll likely be back to wrap up this series, instead of covering the events of the night before. John and I will be around this weekend with your New Blood Rising preview, so keep your eyes peeled for that. As always, thanks for taking the time to read, and I'll see you this weekend.
until then, i remain

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