Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Ambition and the Eye of the Beholder

Zack Ryder reached for that brass ring, and look at where it got him.
Photo Credit: WWE.com
"It's a different group of guys and gals. It's millenials. They're not as ambitious quite frankly, and they're not trepidatious at all, I just don't think they really want to reach for that brass ring. The last one to really reach for that brass ring in all likelihood was John Cena." -- Vince McMahon, on the live Steve Austin Show podcast simulcast on the WWE Network, 12/1/14

Ambition is one of those personal qualities that no one can really ultimately gauge for anyone but themselves. Desire for upward mobility doesn't necessarily manifest itself on the surface. Many ambitious souls work behind the scenes, and in a company as large and splintered as WWE, it's possible that some people won't be able to see everything that makes a wrestler show they're willing to go the extra mile to reach for the brass ring. It is a quality that can be shown in very real ways on camera, on screen, in front of everyone who purports to watch RAW every Monday.

It's funny to me that McMahon doesn't see ambition when he looks at his roster. I've missed maybe two episodes of RAW since late '08 when I started watching again. The lack of ambition may have been clear when wrestlers like MVP and Mr. Kennedy were the heirs apparent to the main event scene. But when the NXT initiative started and WWE began poaching wrestlers from the independents, several wrestlers showed drive, reached for the metaphorical brass ring. No one who watched an episode of RAW in 2009 could say that the match quality in 2013 was at the same low baseline. The crowd reactions for beats that happened in the matches, not just for catchphrases or promos or goofy "memorable" moments, but actual spots in matches got louder reactions as well.

Wanting to elevate the game and raise the quality of the company's output shows nothing but ambition. Guys regularly take hard bumps on Monday nights now; where was that tendency before Dolph Ziggler decided he was going to put his body on the line with all the blatant disregard of a stampeding bull? The three hour RAW seemed like a good idea for the first year of its existence because the match quality had risen to such a high level that one could expect at least one pay-per-view quality bout per episode. How many times did a rapt crowd get treated to such a display before Daniel Bryan and The Shield were unleashed and allowed to chew up huge swaths of airtime?

But McMahon made it clear that matches weren't the only thing. Forget that Bryan, the Shield, and everyone who joined in the fray, whether new like Cesaro or established like Randy Orton, made people care about said matches. The character stuff is king. The thing is that guys are reaching for those brass rings that keep moving further away, none more egregious than Zack Ryder. Once WWE's version of ECW went the way of the dinosaur, he was left with a contract but without a place where he could get screentime to develop. He'd shown promise, especially in his mini-feud with Tommy Dreamer, but it was clear he didn't really have a place without ECW. So what did he do? He started a web show, got a million Twitter followers, and had arenas demanding he get a shot. He Reed Richards'd for a brass ring that wasn't ever available to him to begin with. His repayment was two months in the main narrative, being made to look like a horror movie victim, and then being forgotten unless Ryback or Rusev needed someone with name recognition to obliterate in seconds flat.

Ziggler, Bryan, the Shield, and Ryder are only a few examples of guys showing ambition to be something more than a happy WWE employee with a steady paycheck. If those guys don't meet McMahon's example of ambition, whose problem is it really? Furthermore, if McMahon has a bunch of guys who don't show the ambition enough to move his company forward, then what is he doing keeping them around? He should either fire them instead of putting on a show that serially degrades everyone on it not named John Cena, or he should recuse himself from overseeing the main narrative and pass responsibilities along to someone who does see the worth in these wrestlers.

McMahon, by using the lazy crutch of generalizing "millennials," shows that he's either grossly out of touch with his roster and how those wrestlers have connected with his fans, or he's using a hilariously misdirected motivational tactic at the only part of his company that actually does its job with some semblance of competence. Maybe McMahon should look at his writers, his marketers, his announcers, and himself for blame as why his company isn't performing as well as he would like it. Until then, he'd be wise not to place blame on easy scapegoats.