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Justin Henry on...Bringing "Mania" Back To WrestleMania

By Justin Henry May 22, 2010 - 8:02 PM print

Two months ago, WWE broadcast their pinnacle event, Wrestlemania, to the world. For four hours, through ten matches, with several extra-curricular segments, I enjoyed myself as I watched the twenty-sixth edition of their flagship card.
I wasn’t alone. Wrestlemania this year was a rather exceptional event, which featured a number of really good matches, and lacked anything horrid (unless you count the ten-diva tag, which was mercifully put out of its misery like a hemorrhaging car crash victim after a scant three minutes).
Yet, according to a recent WWE conference call in which Vince McMahon addressed the investors, he revealed that the buyrate for Wrestlemania XXVI dropped 12% from last year.
This has to be a little bit disheartening for McMahon, as well as WWE loyalists and employees alike. I was more excited for the event this year, what with Shawn Michaels possibly working his last match, Bret Hart returning to the ring, two promising World Title matches, and some enticing midcard matches like Money in the Bank, Rey Mysterio vs. CM Punk, and the Legacy triple threat.
In all, it seemed like WWE had done a masterful job of putting the angles together, as well as getting every major player and young rising star involved.
But yet, a twelve percent drop. Twelve percent.
Rather than offer one of his classic explanations for poor business from years past (“Baseball was on”, “Wrestling is cyclical”, “9/11”, “Congressional conspiracy”, and “It didn’t drop twelve percent, you’re just holding the paper upside down”), Vince seemed to offer some more rational explanations, such as communal viewing, or the possibility that since the milestone of last year’s event was hyped so heavily (the twenty fifth event), that this year’s buyrate may just simply have paled in comparison.
While there’s probably some combination of those reasons, there are other possible explanations, like illegal online feeds, or financial belt-tightening with the poor economy (which Vince wouldn’t buy into, which I believe is him being shockingly modest).
McMahon did, however, put some of the blame on creative, saying that interest in any event, let alone a Wrestlemania, begins with them.
Let’s explore that, shall we?
Yes, Vince is right. To put on a spectacular Wrestlemania, WWE creative writers (as well as administrators) have to work together to assemble the Raws and Smackdowns, weaving the storylines together piece by piece, like a patchwork quilt. Who headlines? Who goes over? What are the plot points to each arc? That’s what they have to decide, and their ideas have to be good enough to entice you and I to plunk down fifty bucks when next month’s cable bill arrives.
So yes, administrators and creative writers are responsible for paving the “Road to Wrestlemania”.
The question is: what if we don’t want to travel down that road?
I don’t know about you, but the thing I love about Wrestlemania is finality. It’s like the end of a movie. While the babyface doesn’t have to go over every year (although our sensibilities seem to prefer it), it has to be something that pays off the last few months of heavy push. Sometimes it’s not even about months.
It’s about years.
The best Wrestlemania moments seem to be when someone achieves something that they had never achieved before. In wrestling, that usually means “winning your first World Title”.
Such examples include:
-Wrestlemania IV: Macho Man Randy Savage staves off exhaustion from having wrestled three matches, as well as interference from Andre the Giant, to defeat Ted Dibiase and win his first WWF Title in a tournament final, celebrating with his teary-eyed lover, Miss Elizabeth.
-Wrestlemania VI: Ultimate Warrior stuns the world by finishing off Hulk Hogan in a hotly contested, down-to-the-wire fight, giving Hogan his first clean loss in nearly a decade, and winning the WWF Title in the process.
-Wrestlemania XII: Shawn Michaels culminates a dream that he had first dreamt twenty years ago, becoming WWF Champion by outlasting Bret Hart in overtime of a sixty minute Iron Man match, shedding very real tears in the aftermath.
-Wrestlemania XIV: Stone Cold Steve Austin kicks off the Attitude Era in full force, by putting WCW’s politics and a life-threatening neck injury behind him, dropping Shawn Michaels to capture the WWF Title in Boston.
-Wrestlemania XX: Chris Benoit (pre-pariah) eliminates all of his labels, including “choke artist”, “too small to be champion”, and “career midcarder” when he makes Triple H tap out in a triple threat match to win the World Heavyweight Title, celebrating with WWE Champion (and former owner of the same labels) Eddie Guerrero, as they cried with confetti falling around them.
Wrestlemania XXI: A new era of WWE begins, with John Cena and Batista each winning their first World Titles, beating two of the most universally hated heels that WWE has seen: JBL and Triple H, respectively.
-Wrestlemania XXII: With the death of best friend Eddie Guerrero looming over his head, Rey Mysterio vowed to make good on his memory, and so (albeit with an outcry over exploitation), Mysterio wins a triple threat match to become the smallest, and perhaps unlikeliest, World Heavyweight Champion in WWE’s annals.
While you may personally have not enjoyed each of those moments, as tastes vary, you probably have one or two in there that make you a bit wistful, if not all seven. The joy of seeing someone make it to the top for the first time is immeasurable, whether they had to defy the odds to do it, or were merely culminating a wondrous body of work.
Mysterio’s victory was the most recent entry on my list, and that was 2006. There was still one other World Title match to be fought that night.
Counting that match, there have been nine World Title matches since then. In each match, every participant had been World Champion at least once in their career to that point.
To illustrate THAT point,  I will list off all nine matches, along with how many World Titles each man had going into the match
-Wrestlemania XXII: John Cena (2) successfully defended over Triple H (10), wherein the big time babyface couldn’t have been booed more had he he beaten an autistic kid with a blackjack.
-Wrestlemania XXIII: Undertaker (4) won the World Heavyweight Title from Batista (2), which was a great match, but all you really were rooting for was for Roidzilla to not beat the streak. Later that night, John Cena (3) successfully defended the WWE Title over Shawn Michaels (4), with the same crowd effect for Mr. Cena.
-Wrestlemania XXIV: Randy Orton (3) miraculously retains over John Cena (3) and Triple H (11), while Undertaker (5) defeated Edge (4) to win his sixth.
-Wrestlemania XXV: Almost the same participants, with John Cena (4) beating Edge (8) and Big Show (3, counting WCW), while Triple H (13) holds off Randy Orton (3).
-Wrestlemania XXVI: Chris Jericho (6, counting WCW) retains over Edge (9), and John Cena (8) wins it from Batista (6).
That last one is really staggering. At least six reigns each for the participants? That’s like having a golf tournament for a $500,000 prize, but oh, you can’t enter unless you have a net worth of at least $10 million dollars.
As much as I’m a fan of many of these guys, like Jericho and Michaels and Undertaker and Orton, it’s tiring watching them add titles to their career total. If Jericho wins the belt tomorrow, what sense of elation am I supposed to feel? Am I supposed to lose my mind and run around screaming? I’ve watched him win it six times already! I marked out when he beat Rock and Austin in the same night, but that was nine years ago, when it was fresh!
If you’re like me, your interest is strong for Wrestlemania, but weakens quickly as soon as the show’s over, because it’s back to “business as usual”. Ratings drop and buyrates diminish when it’s not “Wrestlemania Season” anymore, and the same people clog the upper card, with the surprising exception of Jack Swagger.
Maybe that “business as usual” feeling hit us earlier this year, because we’ve had four years to get used to it, and prepare for it.
In real sports, seeing someone finally make it is special. The New Orleans Saints, longtime losers turned beacon of social hope after Hurricane Katrina, beating the Indianapolis Colts felt special, even to me, an Eagles fan. Watching the Boston Red Sox defeat an 86-year old curse to win the World Series in 2004 was magical, and I’m a Phillies fan. Seeing hard working athletes like Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce, none of whom had been champion, band together on the Boston Celtics to completely dismantle the Lakers two years ago was markworthy, and I root for the Bulls.
Kevin Garnett’s incoherent post-game interview, when he screamed “Anything is possible!” was real. You could feel for this man, who had spent 13 years playing for a do-nothing Minnesota Timberwolves franchise, and now he’s conquered the world all of a sudden.
As great as that felt, do you know what the sad thing is?
That’s real sport, which is mostly dictated by the players and coaches working diligently to outperform the opposing team.
In other words, it’s less rigged than the action and drama of WWE.
So World Wrestling Entertainment has no excuse. If a team in the NFL, MLB, or NBA wins ten straight titles, the fans can’t blame the office for such a predictable product. It’s just happenstance and effort by the winning team.
In wrestling, Vince McMahon has the power of the pen and his own imagination.
So maybe this Wrestlemania buyrate dropped off because we as fans have nothing to gain by seeing Cena or Edge add another World Title to their collection.
So, what to do?
Well, the obvious answer is that you take someone who HASN’T won the big one, give him a push based on hard work and overcoming long odds, and you turn him into a champion.
Maybe he overcomes real life grief like Mysterio, and there’s fans who’ll indentify with that. Maybe he works hard for a long time and is finally rewarded like Benoit, and anyone can connect with him there. Maybe you’re just realizing a life-long dream like Michaels, and it’s always good to see somebody fulfill that.
So, what babyfaces are in WWE now that could benefit from such a push?
The best choice might be Christian, who may be 36 years old, but he’s got natural charisma, works hard, and is great at what he does, but yet he seems to always fall short against the likes of Edge, Jericho, and others.
What about Kofi Kingston? He’s got personality to spare, and he’s a likeable guy. The crowd was way behind him when he stood up to Orton and Legacy, and he’s young and energetic enough to build a following with younger fans (which he seems to have done). He’s a great candidate.
What about a member of the Hart Dynasty? It’s easy to back them, because they have the bloodline of a respected champion in Bret Hart. The next generation comes to make good on the family name, and you can easily have David Hart Smith dedicate his run to his late father, and he can do it by winning a belt that he was never able to win.
Then you have Daniel Bryan or Bryan Danielson, whatever his name is today. This current run of his will go a long way in deciding his future, since he’s trying to prove everyone wrong with his hard work. Just gotta see if he catches on.
In the end, the WWE star-making machine is tasked with making somebody into a main eventer, and they can use Wrestlemania as just such a platform.
It goes back to the old criticism that it’s the same people winning all the time. If you give us somebody new, and you make a serious effort to push them and push them hard, perhaps we’ll buy into the new vision you have.
Then at Wrestlemania XXVII, if you have Edge or Batista or Chris Jericho or whatever lead heel du jour defending against Kingston or Christian or somebody fresh, we can get behind them. We’d love to see someone break the glass ceiling, to join the main event elite and begin their first reign as WWE or World Heavyweight Champion.
Twelve percent drop in buyrate? How can we fix that?
Give us a reason to care in 2011, Vince. A new reason, that is.
Justin Henry is a freelance writer who enjoys putting his thoughts and opinions into text. His love of professional wrestling, as well as enjoyment of writing, has led to the creation of the Cynical Examination, his personal writing haven. Justin can be found on Facebook ( http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Cynical-Examination/257452252539?ref=ts ), Twitter ( http://twitter.com/cynnerjrh ), his website portfolio ( http://cynex.webs.com/apps/links/ ), or he can be e-mailed at  cynnerjrh@gmail.com

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