Friday, September 7, 2001

Ringside Shadows #175: The More Things Change...

How's that for a particularly nondescript subject line, eh? The real interesting thing is how many particular subjects I could cover in the world of wrestling, regarding the obvious historical overlaps in its history over the years. Why, everything from the base maneuvers around which the entire sport is based to the complex yet subtle development of identifiable characters is fair game under the broad umbrella of a subject I've chosen here. But no, I'm not here to compare Kurt Angle's moveset to that of Frank Gotch... nor am I here to discuss the similarities between Steve Austin's "Vince huggin'" character and Georgeous George I. All that's certainly very interesting and all, (not to mention possible fodder for a future column, now that I've mentioned it) but I'm here to talk about an angle.

Did that one throw you for a loop? Are you setting before your computer scream, muttering "but drq, the WWF recycles angles every alternating week"? Well for your sake I'd hope not, but I'll explain nonetheless.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the WWF's revisited angles more often than not in the last few years... usually tarnishing the memory of the original feud in the process. Then again, there remain a few memories that truly benefit from being shaken up and revisited once in a while. Take a glimpse at Kurt Angle's ride on the milk truck a couple weeks back on Raw or Austin's disposal of the Olympic Champion's gold medals on Smackdown this past week. Sometimes the old formulas work even better amidst new circumstances, and we all benefit from it in the end. Sure, this wasn't the first time we'd revisited that dark night on a Detroit bridge years and years ago. It was, however, the most memorable.

Similarly, if I put my mind to it, a lot of the so called recycling of angles could be quite open to interpretation. Was Val Venis a shameless Rick Rude ripoff? Rude was never a porn star, nor did he ever work an angle involving the dismemberment of his "little buddy", but his actions were quite similar to those of the young sir Venis years later. Hey, both their theme songs featured a prominent saxophone riff... if that isn't gimmick infringement, I don't know what is. Under that mentality, Mick Foley's last few years were spent as a Stone Cold knockoff, as his new theme song features the sounds of broken glass, (albeit alongside the sounds of a car wreck and twisting metal) clearly ground commonly tread by the mighty Stone Cold. There remain so many silly connections you could make between the world of yesteryear and the world of today that almost anyone can connect any one wrestler with another if they had enough time on their hands. Is Kevin Nash a carbon copy of Bruno Sammartino, because both men won the WWF Title in a match that lasted less than one minute? I honestly don't think so, and I'd wager you don't either. They shared a similar moment during their heydays, maybe two, but for the vast majority of their careers the two were quite different.

And that brings me to the angle I'm here to discuss today. It borrows a bit more from the past than the Nash / Sammartino instance I mentioned above, but the prevelant theme remains the same. You can borrow from the past, sometimes quite heavily, and still succeed with flying colors. However, there's a razor thin line that, when crossed, can bring the entire mountain down upon you. It's that line that William Regal and Yoshihiro Tajiri have been toeing to perfection for the majority of their current angle. Newer fans might be wondering which angle this "master / servant" relationship is a recreation of, but I'd hope that my fellow older fans are beginning to nod their heads and smile. They remember the long-running angle between Ted Dibiase and Virgil.

Now my memory gets a bit foggy about parts of this one, but I believe I've got most of the important details down in the long term banks. If I recall correctly, the Million Dollar Man was among the WWF's premiere heels throughout his active run with the company. Even late in his career, when teaming with IRS against the likes of Earthquake and Typhoon, Dibiase managed to turn the crowd on him with uncanny precision. This guy could walk into an arena filled with friends and relatives and have them screaming for his blood in five minutes flat. He was that good. Remind you of anybody?

Was it really almost a year ago, at the WWF's European PPV spectacular, Rebellion, that William Regal strode before his British countrymen with the European Title firmly around his waist, and was nearly booed out of the arena before he'd finished his pre-match speech? Crash Holly took the gold from Regal on that night, and walked away the unlikely hero.

I'm not sure when Virgil first appeared on the scene alongside the "Million Dollar Man," but I'm quite sure of one thing; Dibiase always had complete mental control over his assistant, and made absolutely sure we knew it. On the occasion that Dibiase lost an important match, Virgil was always held at fault. More often than not, Ted could be found hiding behind his bodyguard rather than instructing him. The important thing, though, is how long this went on. Dibiase berated Virgil, both verbally and physically, for a period of more than a year. MORE THAN A YEAR. In a day and age that sees gold changing hands every other week it's hard to imagine a champion holding their belt more than six months, let alone an angle lasting that long. However, in this instance it was absolutely necessary. With every passing week, Dibiase would somehow manage to step up his abuse just a little further, as fans' pleas for Virgil to stand up for himself grew louder and louder. Finally the young grappler decided he'd had enough, and under the tutelage of Roddy Piper, turned on his tormentor and took his prized possession; the million dollar belt.

Unfortunately, Virgil's story doesn't have a happy ending. Even though he was possibly the WWF's biggest babyface directly after his turn, the bookers dropped the ball and put him in nowhere feuds in the middle of the card. Inexplicably, he remained incredibly over for quite some time before the poor bookings finally took their toll. Virgil slowly faded from the spotlight and wound up in WCW, where his reputation was further tarnished by stupid angles with the nWo, the West Texas Rednecks and the "Powers That Be."

What I saw over the first few months of Tajiri and Regal's association was almost a complete reenactment of those events. Tajiri had the explosive moveset and charisma to really grab the audience's attention, and just as it seemed he was ready to break through, Regal was there to pull him back down again. Whether it was Tajiri or Regal who took the pinfall, the blame was always on the shoulders of the Japanese Buzzsaw. Fans were becoming increasingly sympathetic towards him, and you could already feel the tension mounting.

Unfortunately, something changed along the way... a rival promotion named WCW made their much-anticipated invasion, and suddenly Regal was a face by association. Since then, their big Dibiase / Virgil recreation has been put on the backburner for the time being. Sure, seeds are still being planted to remind fans that the Commissioner's a dick, but it'll be quite some time before they're ready to harvest at this rate. And, looking back, perhaps that's for the best. The last thing the WWF needs to do with this angle is rush it.

Played correctly, this could be interesting in so many ways; to younger fans, it's bound to be a whole new experience from the ground up. For older fans, it'll be a fun ride to see what's altered along the way. The new workers filling the old roles will certainly put a twist of their own into the mix, but the basic premise will more than likely be the same... keep your fingers crossed they handle Tajiri better on the follow through than poor Virgil. Here's hoping that one occasion is the exception to the rule; the more things change, the more they stay the same.
until then, i remain

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