From Cheesy To Champion: How To Make a Memorable Title Holder
By James Fernandez
Apr 13, 2007, 13:39
(JG Note: Some of you might know James Fernandez from his postings on the Insanity Message Board or his post-WrestleMania 23 live report. Now James is here with his debut column for our Others Column section. Without further ado, here's Mr. Fernandez, or as he likes to be called...well, we'll just let him tell you.)
Hello, I’m James Fernandez. If the James/James thing with Mr. Guttman and myself is a little too Undertaker v Undertaker for you, you can call me what my friends do:
Dr. Awesome. Hey, it’s better than Red Rooster.
Anyhow, I’m an aspiring writer/director whose done one indie film and is on his second. I’ve watched wrestling since I was 6 years old, and learned it was ‘fake’ (gasp!) when I was playing wrestling with my buddies at age 7 and decided to let my buddy give me a piledriver in the yard.
I faded away from wrestling right around the time Ted DiBiase (“The Greatest World Champion that Never Was”. I got that trademarked, suckas. I owns it!) brought in some bald guy called the Ringmaster.
I came back into wrestling at what was one of the most fun wrestling periods I’ve ever seen: The so-called Summer of Love when Mick Foley would unleash the fury of Dude Love in ‘97. To me, and still to this day, Dude Love was gold. Oh, and that bald guy I last saw with Ted is now running around in a leather vest, with a Texas accent, talking about ass and giving the finger to everything one and everything. Hey, they were feuding too! But these guys were doing some crappy characters not so long ago. How’d did they get there?
As a matter of fact, this leads me to the main topic in my first go-round.. It’s a simple pattern I’ve witnessed that gives me a clue as to how WWE makes champions, and why they can’t seem to get another long term bankable star in the forefront like the arguably platinum-age of Foley, HHH, Austin, and The Rock when they clearly try so desperately hard to make one.
The most brilliant champions in WWE for the last decade+ have one major thing in common:
They had to suck to be awesome.
Think about it. Steve Williams was a silent hatchetman for Ted DiBiase as Ringmaster, and that sucked. Dwayne Johnson was Flex Kavana and super-babyface Rocky Maiavia. One dressed like a gay islander, the other was booed like one. Man, did those both suck. Paul Levesque was blueblood Hunter Hearst Helmsley, who would get caught in a political logjam and be kept on the bottom for a loooong while, losing in pigpen matches and being treated like garbage. Mick Foley was yet another piece in the Taker/Paul Bearer/Kane saga as a self-abusing beast that had to be soothed with a piano and mommy, in a storyline that was clearly only meant to be a tricycle, making poor Mick the fourth wheel.
Then Ringmaster became Steve Austin, started talking biblical smack, and flipping everything off.
Then Rocky Maiavia started talking in the third person and shortened his name while detailing how he would lay something out everynight called “The Smackdown”.
Then Helmsley started telling dirty jokes with The Heartbreak Kid, and when The HBK couldn’t go anymore, he added to the anti-hero team and led the misfits that would help define an era of anti-authority.
Then Mankind started talking less and less about boiler rooms and pulling his own hair out, and started to be a normal guy who was trying to fight for some dignity and was willing to take many, many risks to make us believe that yes, Virginia, the everyman actually can rise above what’s expected of him.
These guys all came from being crap-carders to people no-one can dispute are legendary. And to help prove this point, look at the latest disasters to hold World Titles in the last few years:
Brock Lesnar got to be one of 6 men to hold the Undisputed Title, got it over The Rock clean in Summerslam, and proceeded to drive his attitude into the sewer while his ego reached unknown of heights. He had dominated all of pro-wrestling/sports entertainment in less than a year, and Vince honestly didn’t know what went wrong?
Randy Orton got a title at age 24 (partially to ret-con some of Brock’s history), crashed, burned, was buried, and has since been plagued with tales of his attitude and inability to stifle it when appropriate.
Batista was a little better, in that he started with a lame gimmick and less of a push, but he then grew hair out, and was pushed too hard, too quickly. His title victory was most impressive as he got it over Triple H and defended it twice in a row after that. A HHHat Trick. But again, attitude and ego clashes, along with injuries that hit from starting his career so late causing WWE to push him at top speed to get the most out of him, have plagued him greatly and left his titles runs less than memorable.
The point is the guys Vince rockets to the top and gives World Title gold have, in short order, had unmemorable, or almost infamous, title runs or self-destructs backstage. The guys Vince is chasing in star-power were guys that were built from the bottom and tempered with the experience of not being expected to go anywhere. Vince didn’t expect the modern-day legends to amount to anything, (including Rocky after Kavana and Maiavia both failed miserably to spark interest) and in having such low expectation, would spark these guys to try something different.
Right now, look at the guys that fit this pattern, and you will see the potentials for long lasting, memorable champions, either in WWE or wherever they leave to:
Edge, former silent vampire, got a taste of gold, but clearly has potential to be long term star with long titles runs, face or heel.
“JBL”. a cheesy cowboy who had a wacky angle with a Japanese tag team and ran around with a lasso, moving onto being a beer swilling brawler, and into the most unlikely title reign of recent memory- if you didn’t notice he still fit the pattern. I personally liked his run, because if was fresh, and he could actually work the mic quite well after he got the rust, and goose-steps-out. I bring this up because he’s a recent champion who fits the bill perfectly.
Carlito, political crap-talking puts him in the dumper now, but clearly has the skills to run strong on top in a few years. Very similar vibes to HHH back in the day, in my opinion.
Christian Cage, another silent-vampire, who would go on to become a world class whiner-heel, but would be stuck in mid-card hell, only to job to face Main Eventers. Would go to another company to become a champion who can help mold the TNA Brand into competition, and flourish when no one thought he was capable.
And lastly, of all people: John Cena. Wait, wait. Hold on, hear me out!
At WM 23, I was booing that guy just as hard as everyone, including little kids, were in my section. I can’t stand the poopy raps, the melting away of his personality piece by piece into generic face/flagship of WWE, and the rapid-clip feeding of every major heel to him to force us to ‘recognize’ his reign on top. He’s becoming Triple Face.
But I wasn’t booing because of what Cena is, I was booing because of what Cena was. When I see John, I keep saying “Is there a doctor in the house?” because THAT was the character/personality that I felt was going to take him to Austin heights, and I still do.
Cena came from the crapper. He was a robot Prototype in WWE developmental. He was a tweener guy who slapped people and jobbed to everyone. He spit a rap in a feud with 2 Cool/Rikishi during that “Ruthless Aggression-persona” that made him look even more crappy. They discovered he was able to freestyle and Vince, cause he loves him some funnies mister, decided to bring out John Cena as a Marky Mark parable and sling Grandmaster B(ull Buchanan) to him to make the wackiness more complete. He was a punch line heel, who was to get owned all the time after trying to act like a silly urban badass.
Then an odd thing happened. Those raps on his opponents were getting better, and more brutal. He would end a rap with an obscenity that he would never say, but would get the crowd to yell at the end. And they did! Happily as it turned out, even waiting to see what he would end a rap with.
For me, I saw that Cena could go all the way after a particularly brutal, mind-blowing rap I remember to this day. For me, I was a Cena mark when he asked Brock Lesnar if the tattoo on Brock’s back was a picture of Brock’s mother, named his move as a personal attack on Lesnar, and became a brutal killer on the mic cutting merciless raps on opponents before simplistically beating down the fool.
I miss the Doctor of Thuganomics. If Cena could get re-aligned just a LITTLE to that acidic persona, he has the tools to walk a path similar to Austin. Cena could be another proud part of the WWE tradition of Curtain Jerk to Champion, if they would only let him go back to what he’s best at.
Foley, Austin, Rock, HHH, Edge, Carlito, Cena: From Garbage to Gold in my opinion. Thanks for your time!
Dr. Awe…James Fernandez, sorry.
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