Thursday, March 1, 2001

Ringside Shadows #164: Trimming the Fat

"Roster cuts will begin later this month. Let the rampant speculation begin."
-Jim Ross, in his February 19th Ross Report

As if the second sentence didn't already clue you in, good ol' JR knew what he was doing with this little tidbit. Though this confirmation of future releases didn't exactly set the internet ablaze with potent debate, (those fires had been burning for some time) it did manage to fan the flames just a little bit higher. While you'll run across a newsboard "reporter" every day who claims to have first access to breaking news regarding the next worker to switch feds, ("Scott Hall CONFIRMED for Raw tonight!") their posts are generally easy to spot and without merit... to be taken with a grain of salt. JR's little quip served as motivation, a little taste of reality in an otherwise fictional world.

For such a statement to even begin to be taken seriously, there would have to be good reason. The WWF had it, in the form of a problem that up until one and a half years ago, was owned almost exclusively by their chief competitor. Titan's roster is overflowing; there's too much talent and too little time with which to showcase it. Even with seven weekly programs, (Raw, Smackdown, Heat, Jakked, Metal, Superstars and Livewire) three of which are higher-end, the fed can't put everyone that deserves a high profile angle on television consistently, let alone into the slot they probably deserve. The time has come to trim the fat, to cut the losses and make the tough calls.

The Road Dogg was first on the list and, to be honest, I can't argue with the decision. Since leaving DX almost two years ago, Jesse James has done a great amount of nothing in the WWF. He was eating time that would be better devoted to somebody else, and I believe his firing was the best decision the brass had made in some time.

Following on the Road Dogg's heels, just this week, came the Kat and husband Jerry Lawler. While Lawler wasn't technically fired per se, the release of his wife acted as just as strong a message as any pink slip could have. Without Lawler, the announce crew is left with one big hole, but it's a hole they'll need to work around. Half of their famous Raw commentary crew is now no longer with the company, and the announcers as a whole will need to evolve to make up for his absence. Who knows, in the end it could be a good thing. The announce team was in need of some sort of shake up at this point, anyway.

With these big firings out of the way, the WWF has proven something; popularity makes no difference. Nobody is, quote unquote, "safe." The Road Dogg had amassed quite a following during his run. The Kat had more than her share of fans, as well. Lawler was almost a god. By eliminating all three, the men in charge have shown they're serious about this. They can't afford to devote precious hours every week to a worker if: a) (S)he has no motivation for the team's future, or b) (S)he just can't get over with the fans. It's a cold, hard fact, but it's what's necessary to keep the business healthy.

So, keeping those two basic criteria in mind, I've put together a list of ten WWF Superstars that, for one reason or another, need to be let go. Some of these names may shock the hell out of you... others will come as no surprise. The fact of the matter is they aren't pulling their own weight in the WWF. Some would be better off building the name they deserve in WCW, while others shouldn't even be in the business. Below each, I'll give my reasoning, and maybe (if you're good) a quick word or two about where I think they could go from here.

(The following names appear in alphabetical order)

The Big Show
It's no secret that the Big Show, Paul Wight, hasn't turned out the way the WWF bookers and Vince McMahon imagined he would when they tempted him away from the world of WCW just over two years ago. Looking back, the writing most certainly seemed to be on the wall. Just about everyone on the internet blasted him because of his poor workrate, dull on-air personality and limited moveset. Nevertheless, the WWF plowed on and threw him right into the World Title scene. Brief feuds with the fed's two top faces at the time, Steve Austin and Mick Foley, were met with a decent response from the fans... and then came a series against the Big Bossman.

At what had to have been the least appropriate time, the WWF put their World Title on the Big Show. It all went downhill from there. With the boost of his initial introduction now gone, Wight was left without motivation. He slid back into the lazy habits we'd seen during the end of his WCW tenure, carrying the World Title along for the ride. He's since taken time off and come back a house of fire, only to slump right back into a lazy streak a couple weeks later. It's blatantly obvious that the fed has no idea what to do with him now, as evidenced by his nonsensical run-in during the main event of No Way Out, and it would make the most sense in my eyes for the WWF to just cut their losses now.

As for where he could go, I really haven't the foggiest. He's already done everything there is to do in WCW. And, though a return to his roots would lend a brief spark to both parties initially, the rut he's dug in Connecticut wouldn't wait long before rearing its head yet again.

Billy Gunn
If Billy Gunn had a resumé, his referrals would be absolutely mind-blowing. Everyone from Jim Ross to Steve Austin has praised this guy to no end, and the WWF has understandably responded with several lengthy pushes and a number of key opportunities to make himself a big name in the industry. Unfortunately, the man that JR and Stone Cold think they see has yet to grace the viewing public with his presence. Placed alongside the Road Dogg Jesse James, Billy Gunn was without question the weak link of the New Age Outlaws. Saying that really puts things into perspective, doesn't it?

Gunn has been given more opportunities in the last two years than most men see in their entire career, and he's blown every one of them. His personality stinks like a six month old Chinese meal, and his mic work has been known to frighten small children. In the ring, he's proven that not even HHH or Chris Benoit can carry everyone to a good match. He's absolutely terrible, and there's no doubt in my mind that those "referrals" are the only thing that's kept him in the WWF for this long.

Billy Gunn should be flipping burgers in a McDonald's right now.

D-Lo Brown
A sort of polar opposite to the former Mr. Ass, D-Lo Brown is a man that has all the right tools, but just hasn't had the chance to properly showcase them. More so than anyone else in the industry, D-Lo drips charisma. He's got what it takes in the ring and, with a little polishing, could make a big impact. Unfortunately, it's becoming all too obvious that impact won't be in the WWF.

Stuck with one lame gimmick after another, D-Lo was finally put into a program with Jeff Jarrett near the end of "The Chosen One's" last WWF run. Together the two put on a series of entertaining singles matches, restoring much of the glamour to the once-proud Intercontinental Title in the process. And then, just as things seemed to be nearing a big blowoff, the feud was quietly ended and Brown was sent back to midcard purgatory. Since then he's bounced from tag team to tag team, waiting for lightning to strike once again.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be room in the WWF's schedule for nurturing new talent from within. That doesn't bode well for D-Lo, at least not in Titan. While McMahon has his plate full with new prospects like Benoit, Angle and Jericho, Eric Bischoff has no such leisure. In this instance, the parting of ways would be a mutually helpful thing. The WWF has one less name to juggle with their TV bookings, and Brown has a new chance at life.

Dean Malenko
One of the tougher decisions I made, but one that had to be made, nonetheless. When the Radicals first made their jump from WCW about this time, circa 2000, it was Malenko that I figured would have the most trouble fitting in and getting over with the WWF audiences. Sure enough, about four hundred days later, Malenko holds the Light Heavyweight title but gets little to no fanfare each time he's introduced. It's a shame, but Dean is too much the straight professional wrestling genius and not enough sports entertainer. His potentially white hot angle with Lita now over and done with, the future doesn't look very bright for the man of 1,000 holds.

Where someone like teammate Perry Saturn will always have the possibility of getting over with the right circumstances, I can't see Dean going much further in the WWF no matter how big the break or how intriguing the angle. If crowds didn't call for his blood after the expertly booked angle with Lita, there's little chance they'll do much more in the future, either. I wholeheartedly enjoy watching Dean work, but the WWF is most certainly not the right place for him to be.

Malenko would be better off in Japan, or perhaps even back in WCW. Were ECW still functional, I have no question Paul Heyman could make a marketing behemoth of him in no time flat. Fact is, he'd probably be better off anywhere but the WWF. He just doesn't feel right in that atmosphere.

Like Billy Gunn, Gangrel is a man I've heard quite a bit about but haven't been all that impressed with when he got right down to it. He's mediocre in the ring, and the WWF pretty much shot their load with him right off the bat, introducing, integrating and concluding the Brood storyline in a relatively short period of time. He's mediocre at best in the ring, and he's never been given the opportunity to say more than a few words on the mic. The fed spent a lot of money for the merchandising rights to his name and appearance, and they're getting very little in return. That's the mark of a bad investment.

Do I really need to say much more? The Goodfather and the Road Dogg are effectively one in the same for the purposes of this column. Both are shoddy workers at best, both don't keep their bodies up to the level their peers have set as the standard, both become boring and repetitive on the mic after the second or third listen, and both will soon be floating around the job market, seeking further employment. Had the father of good (Ha! I made a funny!) not been heavily involved with the RTC angle at the time of Jesse James' firing, it would have surprised me if the powers that be didn't let them both go at once.

Honestly, though, the Godfather / Goodfather / Papa Shango / Kama Mustafa has been one of the most consistantly poor workers in the history of the WWF, stinking up McMahon rings for almost a decade now and not learning a thing about the ring in all that time. He's boring, his offense is far from believable, his crowd support depends wholly on cheap heat, and the majority of his maneuvers in the ring expose the industry as a collective. Take the Goodfather away and don't let him come back.

Mark Henry
Probably the Federation's greatest blunder. Greater than the Montreal Incident. Greater than the Hulk Hogan barbell set (with accompanying cassette.) Hell, this was even worse than the Gobbledy Gooker. Why in god's name they thought "The World's Strongest Man" would instantly transform into a good ten year investment is beyond me. He was never expected to be agile in the ring, but he was supposed to look powerful and believable... two things he has, to this day, never managed to display. He's an incredibly strong man, without question, but placed next to a chiseled body like HHH or Chris Benoit, Henry looks like he was molded out of clay. Poorly. By a five year old.

To say Mark Henry never panned out would be an understatement. To say he could still become a worthwhile member of the roster wouldn't be a lie, but it would be a very risky bet. If Henry does return from OVW and kicks a little ass, I'll be the first to eat my words and congratulate him on a job well done. But as of right now, I can't imagine Mark could have made the kind of progress necessary to make the cut.

Taka Michinoku
If you read my last column, regarding my ideal booking for the Wrestlemania X-Seven card, you'll know I'm a strong supporter of Taka. However, truth be told, he serves next to no purpose in the WWF today, aside from setting up Funaki's crowd pleasing line, "Indeed!" He remains an excellent worker and an untapped talent, but his size is a giant obstacle the writers haven't even attempted to overcome. As far as serious contenders go, Vince isn't likely to go much smaller than a Chris Jericho or Chris Benoit, leaving Taka well out of the picture. With the Light Heavyweight division continuing to fail, despite several relaunches, Michinoku's been in a holding pattern for the better part of three years.

In the same situation as D-Lo Brown above, Taka's release would work as a sort of mutual deal, with the WWF opening up a little more time on their programming and Michinoku either heading back to his native Japan or delivering the champ vs. champ match we never got in the late 90s, matching the WWF's longtime light heavy champ against any one of WCW's cruiserweight contenders. No matter where he chose to go, Taka wouldn't have it too rough.

There's little about Tazz that has worked out in the World Wrestling Federation. After his gigantic introduction at the 2000 Royal Rumble and subsequent push into the high midcard, Tazz found himself lost in the shuffle as the Radicals made the jump from WCW and effectively stole his limelight. Though he continued putting forward an admirable effort, there was just too much going on and when an untimely injury put him on reserve, he never managed to recapture the interest he commanded in New York that early 2000 evening.

While emphasizing Tazz as an on-air personality, the WWF has all but disregarded his character as a worker, which is a definite no-no when you realize he's not all that good as a color commentator. More than with anyone else, the federation really dropped the ball with Tazz. They had too many good things going at once, and instead of slowly letting the prospects develop one by one, they shoved them all out at the same time. Tazz (and, to a lesser extent, Chris Jericho) was just a casualty.

The Undertaker
Finally, the roughest decision of the lot. The Undertaker has defined the WWF for the last ten years, supporting his company every step of the way and remaining loyal through thick and thin. He's been a company man in every sense of the word, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for that. However, sooner or later he's going to have to face the facts. He isn't getting any younger, his wounds aren't healing up as effectively as they used to, and the roster is pulling further and further away with every passing day. Like Malenko, he doesn't fit in... but for different reasons. When you see Kurt Angle sprint to the ring, skid under the ropes, nail the Rock with a chair and slide out, it delivers a certain sense of energy. When it comes time for the Undertaker to make the run-in, he hobbles down the entryway, slowly slips under the bottom rope, hits the chair shot and collapses on his way out to the concrete. There's something missing, and I don't think it's something the 'Taker can control.

With that said, I'd have no problem at all putting the Undertaker in an important role behind the curtains, be it scouting talent, booking finishes, managing an aspect of the business or just keeping the locker rooms in order. After all his dedicated service, he deserves to be commended. He deserves anything he wants, but his aging image is slowly starting to affect the feel of the programming. He needs to be taken off the active roster, and soon.

So is my list 100% accurate? Not bloody likely. Will we see one or more of the names I listed above released from their contract(s) before the year is through? I'd be willing to bet on it. What you've just read is, in my opinion, the fat of the WWF's roster. The unmotivated and the underutilized. These are names that the WWF would function without, workers that are clogging up the entertainment machine. These are guys that aren't necessary for the WWF's future success, and are therefore needless.

There's a lot about this situation (and the individual situations of the men listed above) I don't know, things that would have likely affected my opinion. This list is by no means perfect. But then again, what is?

Questions? Agree? Disagree? Let me know. I love feedback.
until then, i remain

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