This week’s Raw became cannon fodder for the other patients at the asylum to rib me something fierce. I can’t say I blame them. For those of you who are regular listeners to the A1-Wrestling.com podcast, you might see where I am headed with this. Now for those of you who are NOT regular listeners to the A1-Wrestling.com podcast I say: WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH YOU?! Get on Stitcher, iTunes, or go to the podcast tab on this website and start listening NOW! It drops once a week, every week, and is one of the best ways to kill 1-2 hours a week.
Just a refresher for all, listeners and SOON TO BE regular listeners alike, back on Episode 183 “WWE Payback and NXT Takeover” I was graciously invited to be a guest panelist. When the subject of the Rusev vs. Big E match from Payback came up, I spent a very large amount of time decrying Rusev in particular, and the foreign monster heel gimmick in general, as definitely past its time. This week’s Raw showed, as have the last month’s worth of Rusev’s current program with Jack Swagger, that I was quite wrong in my assessment of the situation.
As we are all aware, things are quite different today in a post-9/11 world. Certain topics, buzzwords, and images are simply taboo now. These things are the epitome of “off-limits”. My heart felt, gut feeling was the emotions (and if you read my last blog entry you’d know my feelings on the importance of real emotion in professional wrestling) that a foreign menace gimmick will stir up in the fans’ souls was too real, too deep seeded. Then the Rusev/Swagger chemistry came along. Let me correct myself: the LANA/ZEB dynamic came along.
I did my typical analysis of this and I came to a few conclusions and/or was reminded of things I already knew:
-Good promos are always money: Lana is great as the smarmy Russian heel. Dutch is awesome as a American vet talking about things he truly has convictions about. Talking fans into the building is almost always easier than wrestling them into the building. Don’t believe me? See Hogan, Flair, Piper, Dusty, Austin, Rock, Superstar, etc.
-We have never seen Jack Swagger as a face: The “All-American” gimmick is uncharted territory for Swagger. So is a babyface Swagger. New is sometimes all that is needed to get a guy over. Coolest thing here is, Swagger and Zeb haven’t changed anything about their work or promos, only the opponent they are facing.
-Wrestling is a work; you don’t have to cross the line when touching on sensitive subjects: Even with all the flak that creative got over the “recent current events” line, there was only an allusion there. Alfred Hitchcock was a master of psychologically terrifying people. This master of the macabre always avoided directly showing horrific things on screen. He relied on the imagination of his viewers to go wild. He implied, never showing and removing any question. If you feel crossing that line is good business in wrestling go look at the Gangstas run in Smoky Mountain or Iraqi sympathizer Sgt. Slaughter or Muhammad Hassan using “terrorists” as accomplices against the Undertaker. I think you get my point.
-National pride is always strong: As much as the divide in America seems to grow daily, when backed into a corner, almost all Americans feel a sense of pride when their freedoms are threatened or made fun of. This little fact seems to not take into consideration where you stand on current policies or politics. America is your homeland. Even with all her faults and foibles, she is still your mother and protector. ‘Murica! These colors don’t run!
-Wrestling fans love to see a “hoss” fight: All puns aside about Jack Swagger, you cannot deny he and Rusev are two very large, muscular men. They both have a work style and move set that are based on and presented as coming from the world of legitimate combat sports. (amateur wrestling, kickboxing, Sambo, judo, ju-jitsu, Sumo, MMA) This does lend an ability from the jump for fans to suspend disbelief. Also, whether fans admit it or not, they always love to see two big dudes smash into each other at top speed. This angle is giving them just that. Before you say I am nuts because small guys like Eddie and Rey drew money, I will cut you off. Yes they did. They were awesome athletes. Still, largest house for an indoor wrestling show in North America…Andre vs. Hogan.
-Timing is everything: You always hear on the internet how tired folks are of seeing John Cena and Randy Orton. I am a big fan of both these brothers, but I see the fans’ point here. Too much of anything makes you hate said thing. I love blueberry pie. If I ate it everyday I am quite sure I would tire of it after too long. Well it has been awhile since the U.S.A. vs. foreign menace has been done correctly. Perhaps it was just the right time again. Absence truly can make the heart grow fonder.
-Heels acting like heels gets heat: Rusev and Lana have gone beyond promos in this program to establish themselves as heels. Rusev has truly been tested for the first time in his main roster run during this angle. To combat this fact, he has done prototypical heel things. He has run away when he is losing. Cowardice always gets boos. As much as people loved Flair, the fact he would be a coward when outclassed drew major heat. Even Lana has gotten physical. She had to pull Jack by the hair to get him off Rusev when this whole thing started. How much does it scream chickens**t to be a 300 lb. man that needs a 125 lb woman to pull a guy’s hair to save you? Then there is the whole blindsiding of Swagger with a flagpole. Lastly, the threatened physicality against a 60 something, Vietnam vet by a 20 something, monster is as low as it gets. Simple heel tactics. Always good stuff.
So I will re-iterate, I was wrong. Never have I been happier to be wrong about something. I am loving this angle. It is fresh, getting four people over, and a solid mid-card angle. It has gotten two new workers over. It has re-invigorated a guy that I personally like, but had never clicked in anything they had tried with him. From a very personal perspective it has introduced a whole new generation to the greatness of my friend, Dutch Mantell. Dutch is a vast wealth of untapped knowledge in the wrestling business. Having a vet like Dutch around is so vital in my opinion. There aren’t many of these brothers left. I wish Vince utilized more of them and more effectively, but he doesn’t. Dutch is a good start, and I am tickled he is getting this chance, and shining through it all.
Well Teddy is looking lonely. I need to give him some attention before he gets mad at me. I will be back soon with more of my musings and random rants. Any suggestions or ideas for topics, please let me know. I’m on Twitter @CrazyTrain_jb. Or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Of course you can always comment below or on the A1 forums. The nurse is hollering it is time for meds, so until next time, ALL ABOARD….