Ringside Shadows #149: Getting Over
If there's one certainty I've realized in the world of wrestling, aside from the occasional presence of obnoxious fans, an overabundance of signs in the audience, the failure of poor gimmicks and the fact that Hulk Hogan's hairline just ain't coming back, it's this: every once in a while, somebody who deserves to be monster over with the crowd just... isn't. There's a number of things that could be to blame for this; he could be working a gimmick that's headed nowhere, his head could be in the wrong place, he could be playing the role incorrectly, hell, even a pair of mismatched socks could be the culprit. The one fact of the matter is that something needs to change. In a hurry.
With the world of wrestling bursting at the seams in recent years, a couple weeks' worth of non-reaction from the fans could easily bring about the doom of someone who deserves the World Title. Case in point: Kurt Angle. If he hadn't been half as over as he was upon his debut in the federation, he'd likely be working as a member of the RTC. If the WWF had introduced him as a weak face instead of the heel we've come to adore, perhaps he'd find himself coasting through a feud with Mideon rather than holding the most respected gold in the land. In that same vein, just what point would be the limit for similarly gifted athletes like Raven or Mike Awesome? Though both are really floating with little direction right now, a good push, decisive gimmick, high impact feuds and a solid personality could land them at the top of the card for years to come.
The same couldn't be said for guys that don't "have it" like the two I mentioned... though that doesn't seem to stop McMahon or Russo from trying. Given individual pushes comparable to Angle's, Billy Gunn and General Rection have fallen flat on their faces in the past couple years, as have several others. Gunn was awarded the push of a lifetime, catapulting from the breakup of the New Age Outlaws (and, in the longrun, DX) to a monster heel push. He took a PPV slot opposite the Rock, a role which nearly guarantees you instant heat, and still managed to screw up. His matches were weak, his promos were weaker and in the end he found himself kicked off the train to stardom faster than he'd climbed aboard. It's just a visible way of illustrating the proven theory that the cream will rise to the top (if you allow it), while the waste will always find itself disintegrating at the bottom. It's no accident Angle, HHH and Benoit are headlining card after card while the Big Show and Mark Henry have stepped out to "refine their game."
So this week I've put together a short list of deserving talents. We'll go over the positives, negatives and possibilities of Steven "William" Regal, Raven, Billy Kidman and Mike Awesome, and I'll try to come up with an idea of what's been done wrong with them, as well as an angle, feud or personality shift that could land them near the top, where I believe they should be. After all, I'd much rather see any combination of these four try to crack the main event and fail than I would another Road Dogg, Godfather or Sid Vicious success.
I don't see what ECW was doing wrong with him in the first place. By giving Awesome and Masato Tanaka match after back breaking match in their early TNN days, Paul Heyman's fed was building two solid, well-regarded heavyweight contendors. Trading the belt a couple times and spending a little time in unrelated feuds, these two always seemed to come back to that one central conflict. They were heavyweight workers and they delivered heavyweight blows, giving fans aches of their own after only seeing the stuff they delivered. When Awesome came to WCW, it was head-on into a feud with then-returning Kevin Nash. He was still ECW's champion, but he was appearing on WCW's programming. It was a big deal, and WCW just let the whole thing sizzle out. After a light hearted "feud" with Horace and Hulk Hogan, Awesome adopted the persona that's all but destroyed his credibility since: "That 70s Guy."
Sure, I realize WCW has a tradition of pitiful gimmicks to keep up, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. If Mike Awesome wants to be anywhere near the main event, he's got to be taken seriously. And to be taken seriously, he needs to drop that gimmick. Awesome, like Kidman, could benefit greatly from a monster heel turn. Unfortunately, unlike the former Flock member, Awesome's already been there, done that. He'll need an extra kick to get his big turn off and running on the right foot. Enter Diamond Dallas Page. I'd send Awesome out to the ring with a mic and a purpose, tearing a hole in the fed, the athletes that have "made it" in WCW (specifically Booker T, Scott Steiner, Kevin Nash and DDP) and his shabby treatment there. Interrupting his tirade, Page would strut out to the entryway amidst an explosion from the fans. He'd climb into the ring with a smug grin on his face and start in on Awesome. "Hold on a second there, jerky." DDP gets up in his face for a second, then looks down at the mat. "You come out here tonight, standing in this WCW ring... with your big money contract and your big money aspirations, stepping on the backs of the guys that killed themselves to get here..." mid sentence, DDP's cut off by a cheap shot from Awesome, bending him over at the hips. Faster than lightning, Mike picks him up and throws him down with a vicious powerbomb right in the center of the ring. Bluntly, he spits right in Page's face and purposefully steps back to the locker rooms. It'll be another couple months before Page resurfaces, selling the ferocity of Awesome's attack. Plenty of time for him to erase the "70's guy" embarassment and use the springboard of his heel turn to invade the main event.
More of a cult icon than many would give him credit for, Raven's debut in the WWF has been a subject whispered in the backgrounds for nearly a year now. After leaving WCW and spending a rocky year in ECW, he finally made his appearance in the WWF alongside Tazz, and was pretty well forgotten soon after. The two have become an on and off tag team since, but have yet to do anything noteworthy almost two months later. Given next to no time to familiarize fans with himself, Raven has hurriedly shouted "What about Raven!" a couple times, hoping against hope that audiences will remember him from WCW. Quite a shout from the cool, collected, downright evil character he played in his prime.
The air around Raven right now is a frantic one. He seems frantic to get recognized, frantic to get his career back onto the right track. Fans notice things like that, and I don't mean in a good way. They see somebody who's lost their touch, who's trying too hard to be cool. When given the chance, (not to mention the motivation) Raven can build a solid feud around anybody in the business. He could weave an intricate plotline around a match with the Brooklyn Brawler, but he'd have to do things his way. His promos are softly spoken, and a bit drawn out, and his matches need to last longer than a couple minutes. Sometimes good things come to those who wait, and that's definately the case with Raven. He'll give you gold, but you'll have to wait for it. Half of what makes his work stand out is the way he slows things down while others are barking out catchphrase after catchphrase. He's the kind of guy that could soothe a puppy into his arms, only to calmly twist its head off.
...that's how I'd build him in the WWF. I wouldn't rush him in, give him a DDT to deliver, and then rush him out. I'd make his appearances sporadic, completely random. He might show up in a ringside seat during the curtain jerker or the main event. Maybe Y2J will come down to shout out an interview and Raven will be slumped in the corner of the ring, sliding underneath the ropes before Jericho gets to the ring. He'll get an occasional vignette, (an art that seems to have been lost) but if you blink you might miss it. I'd make his appearances more and more frequent over time, building to his first real encounter with a WWF superstar and piquing fans' curiosity. Finally, I'd cue the Rock's music near the end of a big Raw is War broadcast, prompting the entire arena to rise to their feet... paying no attention to the fact Raven's snuck into the ring and set himself down in a corner again. Rocky plays to the crowd, only noticing Raven when he attempts to go up the corner that's already occupied. The music would cease, the Rock would raise the eyebrow and Raven wouldn't even bother to make eye contact. Rocky would unleash the verbal assault, all to no response from the man in the corner. Fed up, the Rock would move on to "more important issues" and direct his attention to HHH, whose cowardly attack cost the Rock his title not long ago. Seconds into this attention shift, while the Rock's back is turned, Raven would rise to his feet in a flash, deliver a kick to the unsuspecting Rock and nail the evenflow, breaking Rock's sunglasses in the process. Rocky would lay face down in the ring, motionless, for about a minute before getting to his feet... and by that time, Raven would be long gone.
Perhaps the more appropriate question would be what have they done right with Kidman. Poor Billy Kidman's had so many chances to up and go, so many close calls and so many aborted angles that it's become something of a trademark. Fans see him facing a heavyweight and assume he's going to lose, or facing a lightweight and assume he's going to win. Seeing his record in both situations, it's hard to disagree. He worked as a part of Raven's flock, jobbing more often than not until taking the first big step out of the group, winning the cruiserweight title on the same night that he left Raven's stable. After passing on a chance to depart WCW with the aforementioned Raven, he picked up Torrie Wilson and joined the Filthy Animals, a group that, like Kidman, deserved much more than they received. The group started hot, but were never given a distinct role as face or heel, which led to their eventual demise. He again found himself given an opportunity to leave the company with Chris Benoit, Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko and Eddy Guerrero, but passed in favor of an ongoing feud with Hulk Hogan. Kidman was thoroughly trounced every step of the way, never winning a match or gaining any sort of offense against the bald beast. He recently rejoined the Filthy Animals, a move that many would read as acceptance of defeat.
The only way for Kidman to escape his stigma is to become someone else. Perhaps someone with more of a killer instinct. A heel. I'd rekindle his old tag team with Rey Mysterio, Jr. and work a Strike Force / Rockers angle with it. Give them the tag titles, with a clean win over Kronik, (who have both become whining wastes with big heads) and a reign of a couple months before the seams of their team begin to show. A little miscommunication here, a poorly placed blow there, and you've got the necessary tension for something big. I'd give them a big title defense on Nitro one night, where Rey takes the clean fall and Kidman lets it get to him, throwing a tantrum and stomping away from the ring in disgust. The next night, Kidman would apologize and the two would go their separate ways, each entering a tournament to determine the number one contender for the US title as singles, wishing each other luck. As fate would have it, they'd end up in the finals against each other, shaking hands before the bell sounds. I'd give Kidman a decided early advantage, maintaining the friendly atmosphere, which all changes when Rey tries a schoolboy midway through the match. Kidman, visibly upset, asks Mysterio "what was that?!", before continuing the match a little pissy. They lock up and Rey eventually tries to roll him up again, prompting Kidman to slap him full in the face. This would get Tygress up on the apron, distracting the ref while Kidman kicks his former friend in the nuts and finishes him off with the ring bell. A week later, he's the US champ and on the road to recovering his rep.
As the pale, rigid Englishman, Regal is a perfect fit... and that's probably why he's been playing that role off and on for over six years now. Though he's nailed the part after all those years of experience, he's also falling into a lot of the same ruts that plagued earlier incarnations of his character, saying a lot of the same things and enacting many of the same personality flaws that we've all seen before. It's become a little stale, and I think that's part of the reason why fans are so hesitant to give their full attention to him. The "proper gentleman" role has been played several times throughout the WWF's history, most recently by Bob Backlund a couple years back. Though Regal's portrayal is much more realistic and entertaining than Backlund's, the similarities are there... and if I can make the connection, so can the throngs of diehard fans out there as well.
No, Regal needs something that sticks out, an extra nudge, something that drives the point home. And I think I've got it. Everything from his physique to his mannerisms are classical. His build isn't the chiseled look of a Greek God, but more likely that of the bouncer that could kick your ass six ways from Tuesday if you gave him the reason. He presents himself a bit more timidly in the ring, less likely to initiate the offense but more likely to come out with the upper hand. Not as flamboyant as we've become accustomed to today, but every bit as believable. What I'd do is exploit that aspect of his game. I'd send Regal to the tape room, along with boxes upon boxes of old tapes from the 30s, 40s and well before. The sport's roots, stuff from Lou Thesz, Frank Gotch, George Hackenschmidt, Tom Jenkins, anybody who was anybody. Regal would be creating an amalgamation of them all.
Instead of the prim and proper Englishman who wrestles a modern style, he'd become the prim and proper Englishman who's convinced things have gone downhill since the beginning of the century. Everything from his wardrobe to his stance in the ring would be early 20th century, (with enough of a twist to be acceptable in modern times) and he'd kick everybody who got in his way, effectively proving his point. He'd hold both the Intercontinental and European titles, and would defend them separately and regularly. He'd appear unstoppable, destroying the midcard until the day Helmsley's had enough. I'd build a feud for the ages around Regal and HHH, hitting all the important generation issues in their promos and giving the fans a giant collision of styles in the ring. So, who walks out with the title...? Not my department. Regal's at the top of the cards, and he'll be there for quite a while.
..as will they all, I'd hope.
until next time, i remain