Friday, December 22, 2017

The Airing of Grievances: The Oldest Tag

Oh god, the grievances with him are a mile long
Photo Credit:
"I got a lot of problems with you people!" — Frank Costanza (as played by Jerry Stiller in Seinfeld season nine, episode ten, "The Strike")

Festivus is technically tomorrow, but I'm not posting on a Saturday, so you get your grievances today. It's really just one grievance, and it's not even with everyone this time around. It may not even be with "you" people. It might only just be with one person who doesn't even read this blog and isn't concerned with my happiness as long as he can snow enough of, well, "you" people into buying his shit and glorifying his name. I'm talking about Paul Levesque, better known to the wrestling world at large as Triple H.

For those who don't know, I have a longstanding beef with Triple H. The only time I've ever really liked him as a performer was in the sweet spot right after Shawn Michaels went on his two year sabbatical for "back injuries" and he was left in charge of D-Generation X. Before then, who cares, he was just some piddling dude who usually ended up getting some kind of comeuppance, whether it be thrown into slop or squashed in under a minute at WrestleMania. Afterwards, when he got his earnest push to the main event, he got boring and plodding and annoying. I admit that I bought into the political shit way too hard, not that he wasn't a politicker, but that I cared too much about it with him when nearly everyone else did it. Don't hate the player, hate the game, right? (I swear, pun not intended.)

But it was like, Triple H playing the game led to dreadfully banal stories and matches at best and out and out gross shit at worst. I mean, why should anyone who willingly went along with racisming Booker T into temporary oblivion at WrestleMania XIX or doing the Katie Vick angle with Kane be considered an all-time great? But hey, he not only got into Vince McMahon's ear, but he managed to marry into the family. He got infinite lives to be boring and self-serving, and that pretty much drove me away from WWE and wrestling for a good five years. When I came back, he was still jizzing all over the place, but his spotlight had been diminished thanks to John Cena, who was still in the mold of a WWE ubermensch but at the same time, oddly more likable and talented.

So he began the process of going away, and then when he resurfaced, it was as the face of NXT, not as a competitor, but as the McMahon-figure, the boss, or more accurately according to the decidedly soft focus-friendly public relations push, the benefactor. And you know what, it almost started to work with me. When NXT got to the Network, it was mother's milk, and this was even at a time when the main roster product was cooking at its height, right before WrestleMania XXX. It cut through the bullshit and gave people hope that maybe something better was in store for the main roster once Vince McMahon died or lost his mind or got bored with wrestling and decided to do something stupid like, oh, I don't know, resurrect the goddamn XFL.

Choice number three is the one that has come up just now. The patriarch of WWE just created the most Vince McMahon company name ever (Alpha Entertainment, LLC) and is filing trademarks for XFL-related terms and names. It's getting people way too excited for a Triple H and Stephanie McMahon takeover of the company. I should be excited, right? Well, no, I'm not. NXT and all the signings couldn't get me over the hump to like Triple H. Well, the residual hate over the years was hard to wash away, and a person's gotta face down to the fact that he also kept in lockstep with the family on Donald Trump and all that other happy fash horseshit. But the answers to my disillusionment came in NXT itself.

When the Network run started, the live Takeover events would air on either Thursday or Wednesday, depending on which night of the week NXT was at the time. They'd run two hours instead of one, and it'd be the perfect sort of oasis in the middle of the week, usually a week that didn't coincide with a main roster pay-per-view. It was the littlest but most perfect slice of heaven that a plodding corporate entity could have put out. Then, somewhere along the way, Triple H showed he was the same as his father-in-law, the same as any other greedy piece-of-shit wrestling promoter who placed dollar amounts over vision, aping already successful models with diminishing returns over staying a course and trying something different. He tethered Takeovers to the Big Four main roster shows and moved them to Saturday. His spots weren't the same as McMahon's. He just did a better job of hiding them, but make no mistake, those spots are those of a craven little man who strains to garner the attention of the popular kids instead of making those popular kids pay attention to him on his own fucking terms.

You can see it with how he treats the roster too. I'm laying it out there that Trips has never shied away from using bigtime indie stars as his basis. Sami Zayn, Cesaro, Neville, and Paige all attained stardom outside of WWE to varying levels (Paige maybe being the most tenuous one, but still, she was a name), and all were at the foundation of NXT's transition from the Seth Rollins-Big E Langston-Bo Dallas era into the one that led the charge. However, these wrestlers all were built up anew from their indie days, most notably and successfully Zayn, who went from El Generico, a lovable babyface that was also, in retrospect, a hella racist caricature, to someone a little more wholesome and less problematic without the mask. Basically, that crucial era of NXT was built upon a mix of wrestlers and gimmicks that, even if they weren't defined as people wanted them to be, had some kind of purpose and were able to stand as characters instead of just names.

That all ended after the culmination of what was the pinnacle angle and title chase, at least on the male side, when Zayn finally won the NXT Championship and was rewarded with a Kevin Owens powerbomb onto the apron. When Triple H decided he was just going to steal a decade's worth of build from the indies and rehash the big twist of Final Battle '09 with a fraction of the setup, he sold out what he had built for trying to throw flashbang grenades at indie fans signaling he was just going to coast. Hell, the fuse had been lit before when the big introductions of KENTA and Prince Devitt to the roster as big free agent signings, but at least they got NXT names and were given purposes beyond "they were famous elsewhere." NXT never extended that courtesy to Uhaa Nation when he was let loose into the narrative. It even stopped attempting to rebrand established stars in some cases, not all, but some, like with Austin Aries or Shinsuke Nakamura or all of the Undisputed Era. NXT went from quaint but quality two hour shows on Wednesday night featuring a well-molded cast of characters to trying to be some fucking hybrid of main roster WWE and the amalgamated idea of every super indie and New Japan Pro Wrestling smushed through the hopper and shoved out as sausage by a dude who can't help but make it the same way they did in Georgia in 1986.

Don't get me wrong. NXT is still enjoyable, the most consistently enjoyable product WWE puts out, pending how one might feel about 205 Live. That being said, consistent enjoyability in relative terms for WWE isn't a high bar to clear. I miss my old NXT (and I'm sure people more hipster-y than I will say they missed when you had to watch NXT on rips from Brighthouse Network on YouTube or with a Hulu sub), and the reason why it went from that halcyon era to what it is now, an in-your-face mash up of wrestlers who were famous elsewhere descending upon Full Sail or Center Stage or wherever they're taping, and oh, a couple of Performance Center trainees will be there too, is because Triple H isn't interested in being your savior for your benefit. He's not in it for the art either. He's in it for his own sainthood. He's always been in it for himself. If he wasn't, Takeovers would still be on Wednesday, and he'd have given half these motherfuckers on the roster a gimmick or character motivation better than "uh, I dunno."

That's why I still bristle when people say "All hail!" unironically. The oldest tag on this blog still works, because Triple H sucks. He's always sucked, and he always will suck. WWE will not be saved when he takes over. Oh, it might improve, but instead of Hero of the Day narratives featuring John Cena or Roman Reigns or whoever succeeds them, it'll be rehashing of Trips' salad days as an overbearing heel who did a poor Ric Flair cosplay and whose comeuppances were never really permanent anyway. Time is a flat circle, and one that has a yin and a yang. Neither one are good, they're just bad in their own way, it seems.

I have an announcement. Feats of Strength will be postponed until 2018, when Katsuya Kitamura arrives in America for his excursion. Thank you for your consideration.