Monday, August 3, 2015

Instant Feedback: Importance

This moment made Neville look important
Photo Credit:
Dana White over the weekend threw major shade at pro wrestling, specifically WWE and the Network's price point, saying "...but fake shit should be $9.99." The statement has been parsed to death by everyone from the WWE World Heavyweight Champion down to various fans on the Twitter machine, and I have not come to parse White's intent any further. He can believe what he wants to believe, and honestly, whatever he says has no bearing on what is presented by any wrestling company, to be honest. Those who will defend wrestling will defend it to the end. Those who buy into White's comments probably already dismissed it and were looking for validation.

But the word "fake" conjures up feelings of unimportance, of inauthenticity, of tackiness, and to a point, while I doubt White was offering a stunning insight into the world of WWE, he may have accidentally described how Vince McMahon tends to book his segments from time to time and why that's a problem. How many times over the years have all the wrestlers involved in a certain segment come out of it looking humiliated, depowered, worthless... unimportant? Denigrating one wrestler in a segment might not be considered great business, but at least if one other wrestler came out of it looking shiny and important, than it would have done its job. But the kinds of segments and matches where everyone looks like a fuckin' loser have grown over the years. It's gotten to the point where the only guy who isn't a part-timer who means something is John Cena (and possibly Seth Rollins).

But when the WWE machine decides it wants to protect wrestlers and make them look important for a night, it really does give them shine. King Barrett didn't have to waste time with the screen time-poor Zack Ryder. After a feud where his King of the Ring crown and general momentum was shoved straight up his own rear end for the benefit of continuing the wheel-spinning malaise of a R-Truth character who hasn't meaningfully evolved in nearly three years, it was refreshing to see him get a fish dangled over him. Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Paige got to establish some character, give their stable a name (albeit one that came out to mixed reviews), and were able to showcase why the Submission Sorority is an appropriate handle for the trio. Cesaro and Kevin Owens got prime real estate to continue their feud, and even Miz was able to feel like someone in his wait for Ryback to return and give him an Intercontinental Championship.

But the most important fellow on the show was a man who has been one of the most protected wrestlers whenever he's been allowed to appear on RAW. Neville can go a couple of weeks without having a match on RAW, but he always gets those important slots and has been made to feel important, like he's someone. Remember, he hit the Red Arrow on Cena during the US Championship Open Challenge and has a visual pin over him that was only thrown out from Rusev interference.

On tonight's episode of RAW, he got one even even better. By getting his visual pin on Rollins, he was shown that he's just a stroke of luck away from winning any title he tries to garner. The Red Arrow has been protected. It only failed because of Rollins' reflexes. Fans aren't stupid, and they pick up on those kinds of things. If Neville was featured every week in a showcase spot, he might be ready to get a WWE World Championship opportunity for real on pay-per-view, but the even better sign is that WWE writers and bookers are seeing that the guys who need protection aren't necessarily the ones who are going for titles.

Look at the attention paid to this Stardust/Neville feud. They're getting custom comic book graphics. Stardust is getting cutaways to build his character and send shots across Neville's bow. This match isn't going to be some nothing bullshit thing that is used to pad the junk minutes of a four-hour card. Neither is the eventual Cesaro/Owens match. Neither will whatever the women on the show eventually get involved in. SummerSlam is feeling like a card that will fill out four hours smoothly and easily, and it's not just looking like a show that needs two mega-starpowered main events to get people to watch.

(As an aside, the one thing that troubles me about Stardust/Neville is Stephen Amell's inclusion, and I hope he doesn't just come on next week to punk Stardust or whatever.)

When the character motivations are solid, when the wrestlers are presented as important, when the stories have meat behind them, then the word fake never comes into the conversation. WWE will need to keep what it's doing going not just next week or the week after, but every week in order to create a show worth tuning into 52-53 times a year. Granted, that task will be impossible, as no show is worth tuning into 52-53 times a year on a normal basis; I admit I'm one of those mutants who's there every week without fail, even if I know I need a break. But if the general arc protects wrestlers rather than humiliates, them, maybe even the bad episodes of RAW may seem like a worthwhile effort.