Monday, August 25, 2014

Instant Feedback: The Gatekeeper

Was this necessary?
Roderick Strong is not a name that inspires a lot of excitement anymore. Once upon a time, he was fresh, new, part of the new wave of professional wrestling springing up in the smaller buildings, drawing influence directly from the big puroresu companies and from the distillate collected at the ECW Arena for Paul Heyman's seminal indie promotion. However, as his peers were called to bigger stages in either Connecticut or Florida, he stayed behind.

He was eventually rewarded with a token run with the Ring of Honor World Championship, a way to transition the belt from Tyler Black's long overdue run to the next, American Wolf-heavy era, but for the most part, Strong remained as a supporting player. He had a degree of prominence attached to his name, sure. Like Darrell Hammond or Tim Meadows on Saturday Night Live, he has become the stable veteran, who, even though he cannot find that vehicle to get to the more prominent stage, can still step in, perform at a high level, and provide some kind of name recognition when the other castmembers still need some kind of seasoning.

In a word, Strong has become a gatekeeper, less so in ROH than in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. He provides a name quantity for the younger up-and-comers to test mettle against, but he's still credible enough to get a spot title shot or to provide a storyline mechanism for someone higher up the card than he is. When Davey Richards became flakier than a French croissant, Strong provided a stable tag partner for Eddie "Eddie Edwards" Edwards in the Dojo Bros. When a guy like Willie Mack needed an opponent to build a reputation against, Strong came to the rescue. When someone was needed to make a deep run in a random Battle of Los Angeles, Strong's dance card was ready to be punched.

Wins and losses became irrelevant to him, not because he had this kind of animal magnetism about him like The Rock, but because fans developed some kind of reasonable, complacent expectation. That wording might sound disparaging, but at the same time, all a company needs some time is a rock who can go out and provide some kind of known quantity in order to act as an anchor for another wrestler to take flight.

The reason why Strong is so relevant to this conversation despite the fact that he's about as close to appearing on RAW in a non-Rosebud, non-security guard capacity as I am at this point is that he represents one thing that WWE truly lacks right now. If WWE had a gatekeeper like him, it wouldn't have had to have thrown Bray Wyatt to the Cenation's wolves in order to keep its master replenished and young for his upcoming rubber match against the Beast Incarnate, Brock Lesnar.

John Cena needed a pick-me-up after losing in humiliating fashion at SummerSlam to the now-WWE Champion. The reactivation of his heat furnace could be done in two ways. One, WWE could craft a master story of redemption, a true underdog tale replete with a kick-ass '80s action/sports movie training montage. The other route, the one WWE chose to go, would be to serve up someone close to Cena in stature who could absorb a similar kind of ass-kicking that Cena took at the hands of Lesnar eight days prior. Cena needed to call the gatekeeper home in order to pay his penance to the upper card, but no gatekeeper was to be found.

Wyatt was a terrible choice, and he will remain one until he reaches a point where his act has dried up and he has nowhere else to evolve. Right now, he is perhaps the hottest commodity in the company, and he's got a feud he needs to be protected for against Chris Jericho. Randy Orton has fit that role from time to time, but his career has hit renaissance levels, and he needs some kind of protection for his assumed rematch against Roman Reigns. Mark Henry and Big Show are babyfaces positioned as allies to Cena; otherwise, either one would have filled the role nicely. Miz and Sheamus both needed protection as well. Kane already got himself entangled as a sacrifice in another feud. Ryback's handling has been botched to the level that he might have silenced the crowd even further.

Granted, WWE has been put in this position because of injuries and absences. If Daniel Bryan, Bad News Barrett, Batista, and Dean Ambrose were all around, could someone else have been freed up to take Cena's ass-whipping? WWE is also a dynamic company where everyone could end up serving a purpose at a moment's notice. As noted above, Orton was placed in a staid role as gatekeeper during the near entirety of 2012. Big Show has shiftlessly roamed around the WWE Universe more times than a hobo searching for his next can of beans along the railroad right-of-way. Still, WWE has more writers than some companies have wrestlers. It lost more money last quarter than some companies will have as operating revenue during their existences. It has a dynamic roster despite the injuries. Why should excuses continue to be made for a promotion that has unprecedented resources that it fails to utilize in the most expedient way possible?

A wrestler to act as gatekeeper like Roderick Strong does in PWG is certainly a fallback option WWE should have on tap all the time. If an indie promotion that runs an American Legion hall every other month can plot its course with that character in its budget, why can't WWE? Bray Wyatt had no reason to get offered up like a sacrificial lamb, but on the last RAW in the month of August in 2014, this company is still offering up young stars with high ceilings in feuds that require their protection as sacrifices to a John Cena whose requirements for a burnt offering are different than what Wyatt has to offer.