Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Moments and Context: On Dean Ambrose, Big Show, and WWE's Storytelling Problem

This match and segment should've meant a lot more than it did, but WWE's booking prevented that
Photo Credit: WWE.com
I didn't catch a whole lot of RAW last night; stomach issues possibly from eating less-than-provident gorgonzola cheese for lunch will do that to a human. I did make it as far as the Big Show/Dean Ambrose match, whose layout and execution had a lot to unpack. Firstly, the fact that Ambrose has seemingly been programmed against Show right now instead of his rumored arc joining Roman Reigns against Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper at SummerSlam feels like a letdown. The booking was another disappointment on the surface; Show basically squashed Ambrose in an extended fashion. Then, Ambrose immediately got his heat back by luring Big Show into charging through the barricade. The whole thing encapsulated how shortsighted WWE booking is nowadays.

But it wasn't without merit, or at least it wouldn't have been, in a company that had a more stable narrative. The story that Show and Ambrose told might have been special in other circumstance. Big Show is a 500+ lbs. giant whose offense should look like it could kill a guy Ambrose's size. Yet the scrappy, gutty Ambrose kept getting up and taking Show's biggest and best shots. Nothing Show landed on him seemed to be able to put him down, and attrition was the only reason that he was finally able to score the countout victory. Even in the wake of taking all that damage, Ambrose showed enough wile to lure Show into his trap, taking advantage of Show's bloodlust. In a vacuum, that entire chain of events that unfolded would have been talked about for years to come.

However, WWE's framing of the event is why it indeed elicited a negative reaction from many online. The biggest problem is that Big Show has been maligned and mistreated most of his career, especially in WWE. From the moment he showed up, his giant size was nerfed and tempered until he was just another guy who happened to stand seven feet tall. WWE had short stretches of really selling his giantness in the same way that regional promoters, not the least of which being Vincent J. McMahon and Vince McMahon himself, were able to tap into Andre the Giant's massive frame to make him the greatest special attraction of all-time. However, Show has shown more ass than a room full of strippers, which might be why malaise over him has gotten so bad that he gets "Please retire!" chants on more than a few occasions.

The next biggest problem is that Ambrose didn't necessarily need that rub in order to get to the next level. He remains one of the most surprisingly over characters on the roster despite the fact that his stories tend to get muddled badly and WWE tends to use him as a stepping stone to get other guys over rather than himself. In essence, Ambrose is bulletproof with fans, but in the narrative, he gets lost so easily that it's not necessarily an overreaction to state that within two weeks, the whole thing won't mean anything.

Last but not least, the overuse of the "even Steven" booking trope made the impact of Ambrose oléing Show to end the action nearly zilch. WWE's bookers, writers, and agents seem to be obsessed with the idea that wins need to be gotten back, heat needs to be kept equal at all times, and that no one should look better than anyone else unless that person is in a protected class (read, is John Cena or a part-timer). WWE is so obsessed with trading wins or heat that no one really ever gets over. Any time someone does get that lead, they get squashed back down into the pile in short order. Again, everyone is mostly just another dude in that company unless they're Cena or Brock Lesnar or Undertaker. Even in the case of the latter two, Lesnar ending The Streak is even being used as fodder for 50/50 booking it appears. WWE seems dead-set on giving Undertaker his win back, either at SummerSlam, or, God forbid, WrestleMania 32.

That reason is why Ambrose's last second escape from the barricade spear had such little impact. Fans are conditioned to expect that he was going to get the upper hand eventually and in short order. I'm not sure whether fans have the capacity to absorb longer stories or not, mainly because "fans" is a catch-all term, everyone's different, and crowd psychology is about as useful as herding cats. However, WWE writes stories for goldfish, it seems. I'm absolutely shocked that Dolph Ziggler has remained on the sidelines for this long, but trust me, he'll be back, and he'll probably get all the heat on Rusev he can to equalize their standings for the eventual blowoff match, whether at SummerSlam or whenever.

WWE can present powerful segments, and it has the roster of wrestlers to pull effective, cathartic storytelling off. As much as people slag Big Show, the guy can get a great reaction if he's given the tools to work with. Dean Ambrose is the kind of talent who can take a metaphorical Chopped basket filled with white bread, water, soy sauce packets, and Grade F bologna and turn it into a gourmet meal. But they, like nearly every other WWE employee for the last 13 or so years, have been done dirty by a broken creative process. That is how a segment that should have been considered an all-time thing last night could come off as "business as usual," and not in a good way