Monday, September 22, 2014

Instant Feedback: All Ambrose Everything

He's your god now
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The dirtiest little secret about Attitude Era RAW was that the shows really weren't written well at all. The maze of swerves often made little to no sense, and the failed attempts at worked shoots only really exposed the business in chintzy, tawdry ways. The "adult" edge was basically done to pop Vince McMahon, whose sense of humor is about as refined as bauxite, and it mainly drove kids away while catering to a bunch of gross manchildren, the majority of whom were about five years at the very most from abandoning "fake" wrestling for mixed-martial arts. The era's popularity had nothing to do with booking and even less to do with bookers.

The above isn't so much to say that nothing was good about those days. I mean, people loved wrestling, "The Big Three," and watching on Mondays for a reason. When people say they want the halcyon days of 1998 back, what they really seem to want is a show buoyed by electric, unpredictable personalities. Without guys like The Rock, Triple H, McMahon, Undertaker, Mick Foley, and especially Steve Austin, the then-World Wrestling Federation would have been a Tommy Wiseau movie with sub-SyFy original movie casting. Wrestling, no matter what the era or the motif of the promotion, needs stars.

With CM Punk living as a "private" citizen, Daniel Bryan recuperating indefinitely, and Bray Wyatt currently hanging on by a thread by barely any fault of his own, WWE has been bereft of a star, an electric personality. Then again, each one of those wrestlers has had a limiting niche to them. Punk and Bryan both were favorites of wrestling fans. OF course, no fault should be found by those appeals, but it's hard for someone like Punk to get a foothold when his appeal is mostly to negative emotions. Conversely, Bryan is great for energizing the base, and he's a perfect wrestler to be on top during lean years or as a foil to someone more marketable. That isn't to say Bryan isn't a star or isn't marketable. He's just the guy who keeps the fans who are already here excited until a cult of personality can come along and join him on the top of the roster to attract the casual fans that Vince McMahon values over life itself.

Wyatt, conversely, has that kind of cult appeal, but his character requires a lot of unpacking and a lot of risks needing to be taken with him that a conservative, safe company like WWE just would refuse to take. Wyatt would be the King of ECW if he came up 20 years earlier. He'd rule Chikara with an iron fist. But WWE? Nope. Brandon Stroud writes almost ad nauseam about Wyatt's need to fundamentally change people being essential to him working out, but WWE refuses to do that.

But with Dean Ambrose, well, he's both well-worn territory and he brings an unknown, unquantifiable aura to the proceedings. To say he's the "next Stone Cold" discounts what makes his niche, his angle so unique. He combines some of that unpredictability, some of that anti-authoritarian ethic with him, but he's not a beer-drinking redneck who wants nothing more than to beat up his boss. He's part James Dean, part Charlie Kelly, and part something totally new. But instead of trying to figure out his ingredient list, the important thing would be to note about how different the show was from week to week with basically taking out Brock Lesnar and subbing in Ambrose.

Which again is not to say Lesnar is the problem, either. I'd imagine the reigning, defending WWE Champion would have added to any show of which he was a part. But Ambrose's addition injected life into the show. I have no idea what the writing process is like, but empirical evidence seems to suggest that the script tends to be more inspired with him around, and the difference showed. WWE trotted out a fairly similar show to last week's, and yet the idea of Ambrose and, ugh I guess, John Cena wanting to get revenge on Seth Rollins energized the rest of the similar stuff surrounding it better than Cena trying to schedule his rendezvous with Lesnar around halftime of a game from a league under the most intense public scrutiny in its history.

But even if the script's focus changed, would the show have felt as vibrant with anyone else in Ambrose's role? When he stands up to Cena, you get the feeling he's not going to back down. Dolph Ziggler? He'd totally cower if Cena pulled an ace card. Could anyone have imagined even Roman Reigns bringing as much life to getting beaten down and dragged away by security as Ambrose did? Damien Sandow definitely wasn't popping the crowd THAT hard by cowering in a box waiting for a chance to spring up.

Whether it's the crazy look in his eyes, the stern conviction in his voice, or especially the willingness to jump onto a moving vehicle, Ambrose has the bona fides and the animal charisma to move the needle, to make any show appear better than it has any right to be. The evidence is in the last two weeks, and it will continue to manifest every time Ambrose is allowed to create, allowed to be destroyed, allowed to make an impossibly crazy comeback in the ring and hit the Jawbreaker Lariat on fools left and right.

Basically, as long as Dean Ambrose is allowed to do his thing, WWE will be in a good spot. RAW will be watchable. Puppies will bring you blooming flowers, and gorgeous people of your desired sexual orientation will make you breakfast in the morning. Stars drive the quality, and Ambrose is something special and unique. Pray that WWE doesn't make him just another guy. Because man, how depressing would the late '90s have been if Steve Fucking Austin had to job to Al Snow a week after he was made at WrestleMania 13?