Thursday, August 25, 2016

He Came To Play, And There's A Price To Pay.

Miz was AWESOME Tuesday
Photo Credit:
Webster’s Dictionary defines a “worked shoot” as... okay, no dictionary actually defines that. But we, as sensible wrestling fans, recognize that wrestling isn’t real, right? Or that it’s worked and that professional wrestling is built on storylines crafted by creative types, whether it’s the wrestlers themselves or a staff of writers or a booker? Many bemoan the era of the smark that we currently live in, where fans have unprecedented access to the behind the scenes workings of the wrestling industry, whether it be intentional, through documentaries or interviews provided by wrestlers and the promotions themselves, or just through interacting with wrestlers online and in real life. The ivory tower that divides the fan from wrestler and those in the know has been broken down. It’s no longer necessary to get a subscription to the Wrestling Observer to get the behind-the-scenes scoop on what’s going on in WWE, TNA, or other promotions, and often those sources (and even direct sources like wrestlers and promoters) can be diluted and distorted to suit needs.

Regardless, pro wrestling is built on the idea of the work. The fan accepts that the action in front of them is predetermined, that competitors are working together to entertain them and any interactions based on hatred or animosity are more likely than not a part of the story and usually doesn’t reflect the true feelings of the people involved. This suspension of disbelief often helps to make wrestling more enjoyable, whether it’s to allow wrestlers to have heated, hate-filled rivalries without the audience being privy to genuine violence, or to allow characters that couldn’t or shouldn’t exist in the real world to entertain us. It’s what’s allowed a mortician-zombie-occultist to become the Best Pure Striker In WWE, and brought about multiple groups of wrestling ants to fight toilet demons and a possible actual Satan.

There is, however, a dark side to that coin. The concept of a shoot. The shoot is real. It breaks the fourth wall of the theater of pro wrestling, looks you in the eye and says, “All this other stuff is fake. It’s an act. But me, I’m real.” Shoots have become a relatively uncommon thing in professional wrestling as an actual performance, but the popularity of shoot interviews with wrestlers has become almost a side business to the performance themselves, where wrestlers let their hair down and tell true stories from behind the scenes or air grievances. While there’s certainly been moments where wrestlers have taken advantage of the worked nature of wrestling to legitimately injure a coworker or write a story arc that relies on real world feelings two workers may have, as professional wrestling has become more main stream and the divide between reality and fiction has become stronger, this has become more of an anomaly than the norm.

And thus we get to the gray area that blends the act of professional wrestling with the real world back stage strife of the wrestling business, the worked shoot. As you might assume from the name, a worked shoot is a shoot-style promo or feud that is entirely controlled by the performers and creative teams behind the scenes. Worked shoots have an interesting, lurid, history in professional wrestling. One of the earliest and most infamous worked shoots involved “The Franchise” Shane Douglas, then National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Champion and face of Eastern Championship Wrestling, trashing said title belt and declaring the promotion’s separation from the NWA, forming Extreme Championship Wrestling under the helm of professional sleazeball/genius Paul Heyman. Other well-known moments fall under the guise of the “worked shoot”, although the level of work to shoot vary from incident to incident, as indicated by Brian Pillman’s rather famous split from World Championship Wrestling, which led to him going to ECW and then finally stopping at WWE, all as a way to get out of his contract with Eric Bischoff with Bischoff being none the wiser.

Perhaps the most notable worked shoot, bridging the old guard with the new Internet-era, would be Bash At The Beach 2000. The main event of this pay-per-view featured wrestling legend Hulk Hogan against WCW champion Jeff Jarrett. At this point in wrestling history most fans were sick and tired of Hogan coming out victorious, and supposedly Vince Russo, Jarrett, and Hogan worked together to play off those feelings. Jarrett laid down for Hogan to take the title, Hogan appeared disgusted and left with title in hand, and Russo cut a passionate promo on Hogan's extensive creative control holding down younger talent, culminating with calling him a "bald bastard". Legend has it that Hogan was game for pretty much everything except the line about being bald, and proceeded to sue WCW for defamation. In proving that history will always repeat itself, Hogan's suit was the first nail in the coffin of inevitable bankruptcy for WCW, but Russo's promo, expressing the fans' real feelings about Hogan. Rather than dealing expressly with the backstage politics of the wrestling industry, Russo pulled the curtain back and showed that the people behind the scenes were similar to the fans, for better or for worse.

While most of these famous moments are entrenched in the history of wrestling, the modern era of wrestling brought us what could be considered the quintessential “worked shoot” promo, CM Punk’s “pipe bomb” promo and subsequent departure of WWE after defeating John Cena for the WWE Title. Punk, weeks away from his contract running out and with no sign (to the audience) of looking to re-sign with WWE, came out in the middle of a main event match on Monday Night RAW, distracting John Cena and allowing R-Truth to score a victory over him in a tables match. Punk proceeded to sit on top of the entrance ramp with a mic and more or less aired his grievances with the company. Most of what he touched on is what the average wrestling fan would agree on, that the company had pushed stale-at-the-time superstars like Cena and part-timers like The Rock into WrestleMania main event feuds while wrestlers like Punk and other well-known indie talents languished in lower card matches. He called his shot, saying he’d beat John Cena for the title at Money In The Bank and leave with the WWE Title, that he’d rather defend it in promotions like New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring Of Honor than at a place that didn’t appreciate him. The promo caused a buzz both inside and outside the wrestling community, with people speculating whether it was real or not and whether he really would leave with the title. He did exactly that. He beat John Cena, left through an electric Chicago crowd with the WWE Title while a shocked Vince McMahon looked on, and didn’t come back.

For two weeks.

With no interpromotional title defenses under his belt, and returned to face Cena once more, beat him again, and was stuck not main eventing pay-per-views while other feuds took precedence. Which exposes the ultimate flaw of the worked shoot, the follow-through. In order to really work a crowd there has to be some modicum of accomplishment there. Pillman left WCW due to a dispute with then-booker Kevin Sullivan, but due to a car accident never got a chance to make a splash in WWF. And Punk neither got the comeuppance he deserved for being a villain nor did he get the appropriate treatment to really make the shoot aspect of the whole thing feel real. On a side note, TNA attempted a similar thing with AJ Styles due to his contract disputes, however that was all 100% a shoot and Styles actually did defend the title outside of the company, but he also left the company completely. The rest, they say, his history.

So why this long, protracted history lesson on wrestling storytelling? Because Tuesday night, on the award-winning WWE Network’s Smackdown post-show Talking Smack, lightning struck twice and we were privy to an exceptional shoot-style promo from current Intercontinental Champion The Miz. For those not aware, The Miz was a former Real World contestant whose dream since he was a kid was to be a pro wrestler. WWE latched onto this and brought him, trained him, and let him live his dream. He even got the chance to be the WWE Champion, like his heroes before him! Now, you’d assume a wrestling fan who got to achieve his dream and be a wrestler despite everyone telling him he couldn’t do it and was garbage would be the ultimate underdog hero, right? You’d be wrong. The Miz, as a character, is the biggest villain in WWE. He’s smarmy, he turned his back on the fans that turned his back on him just because he didn’t come up through the indies, he uses his “fame” as a direct-to-video action movie actor to claim Hollywood stardom, and most importantly he was once the mentor to current Smackdown general manager Daniel Bryan.

The two have had a storied history. Bryan beat Miz for the US Title, making it the first of many of Daniel Bryan’s title reigns in WWE. Their careers oddly mirrored each other, both vacillating between heel and face on their rise to the top, both with WWE World title reigns culminating in a clash between stars with prestige much greater than their own. But as Bryan became a crowd favorite and true underdog, The Miz floundered, never again really reaching the heights of his early WWE Title run. The Miz began to take credit for Daniel Bryan’s success; I mean, after all, The Miz did mentor Bryan, so why wouldn’t he be responsible for his rise to fame? Daniel Bryan was forced to vacate his World title due to a neck injury, returning briefly to claim the Intercontinental championship (a title The Miz has held the longest out of the two) before leaving again due to a concussion. During this time Bryan wrote a book about his rise through the indies to WWE, and in a segment promoting this book, The Miz foreshadowed something we hadn’t known yet; by writing a tell-all history of his career Bryan had all but committed to quitting, to retiring, to leaving the wrestling world he claimed to love. And it happened, just like The Miz said. In a twist of fate, the cocky superstar who has hated due to his lack of indie cred had outlasted his own, beloved, student. The Miz won. After a while he claimed the Intercontinental Championship for his own, beating out other indie darlings like Kevin Owens and Dean Ambrose. He was hated, but he never cared if you hated him anyway, because he had his dream, he had his title, and he had the girl you never could have.

And then Daniel Bryan came back. Not as a wrestler, of course, but as a GM of Smackdown Live, due to the brand split of WWE that divided the roster onto two live shows, RAW and Smackdown. As the two brands drafted wrestlers, Bryan drafted perhaps his greatest enemy; The Miz. As a title holder, of course, The Miz was required to defend the belt. And he did, beating another underdog, Zack Ryder, and recently facing off against indie darling Apollo Crews. Stated or not, it seemed like Daniel Bryan was fighting a proxy war against The Miz, a war that came to a head last night.

You see, on Talking Smack, during a segment between GM Daniel Bryan and The Miz, Bryan did exactly that; he talked smack. He said he didn’t respect The Miz, that Miz worked a soft, WWE-style that didn’t impress him and certainly didn’t impress the fans, and that while he defeated Apollo Crews, it was Crews who impressed the fans more. He called Miz a coward. And after years of abuse and being talked down to, The Miz shot back.

He aired all his grievances against Bryan, that despite how much Bryan cared to love the fans and love wrestling, it was his strong indie style that kept him from the ring today. Even as Bryan retorted that if he could return he would, The Miz had a comeback; if he really loved wrestling he could quit WWE and go work the indies again, even if it meant putting his body and life on the line. He called Bryan a coward because he wouldn’t take that chance, and stated clearly that his WWE style meant that he was rarely injured and was here every day for the fans. That despite all of Bryan’s claims and the fans standing behind Bryan, at the end of the day it was The Miz who truly loved the fans. It was a hard shot, and personally I think Bryan deserved it.

Twitter has been a buzz since last night because of this promo, most praising it, and some debating whether this was real or not, and where it would lead. While I’d certainly be hyped for ONE MORE MATCH between Bryan and The Miz, I’m skeptical if that could ever happen. Regardless, whether real or scripted, whether a match or some other form of feud is in the cards for The Miz, we were treated to a new era of worked shoot last night, proving that even in the most predictable environment of WWE we can truly be surprised.