I’ve followed WWE off and on since around 1991, when I was but an 8 year old. The business now, nearly 22 years later, is totally different, and yet exactly the same as it always was. Whilst the look and feel of the product has evolved over time, WWE has always had the ability to enthral, captivate and frustrate in equal measure, and in that regard some things never change.
A good example of this is the way in which matches and storylines are booked. Every once in a while an event transpires that genuinely surprises – like Edge cashing in his Money In The Bank contract in 2006 against a broken John Cena, who had seemingly once again demonstrated his invulnerability – until Mr. Copeland cashed in with ruthlessness and opportunistic timing. Likewise, Eddie Guerrero snatching the WWE title at No Way Out 2004 took me by surprise. Marty Jannetty answering Shawn Michaels’ challenge to the locker room on May 17 1993, bursting out of the crowd to snatch the Intercontinental Championship – that was a genuine surprise.
Sometimes, a degree of predictability is in itself rewarding. That’s why the angle is written that way. It’s the (hopefully) satisfying pay-off to weeks and months of feuding and story telling. The wrong is righted. The villain is vanquished. The hero rides off into the sunset.
Sometimes, however – far too often, in fact – the expected outcome is so blatantly obvious that as a fan, we are less inclined to invest emotionally and fully in the story we are being presented. The end result was so expected that it becomes difficult to even feign an interest in the story being played out. I appreciate this is often the result of Vince McMahon and his creative team trying to give the people what they want to see. In the 80′s, at the height of Hulkamania, what the people wanted to see was, invariably, a Hogan victory. Hulk Hogan overcoming the gargantuan opponent(s) and pulling off an “unlikely” victory. In the 90′s, it was Bret Hart overcoming the overwhelming odds to win the title/King of The Ring/The Royal Rumble, and later, Shawn Michaels had to overcome his constant concussion problems, fulfil his boyhood dream, and do it all for his “Kliq”. It’s been the same since 2005 with John Cena. As a formula, it’s been successful for the company, and to that end, why should they change it?
The fan has always been in on the poorly kept secret. With almost a wink from the commentary position, J.R, McMahon, Lawler – they let us know who is going to win with that most brilliant of reverse-psychology efforts. I was watching the 1996 Royal Rumble and as a case in point, Curt “Mr Perfect” Hennig on commentary declared “Michaels can’t win this. There’s just too much beef in that ring for him to overcome.” That, combined with the mentioning of the words “Shawn”, “Michaels”, “Heartbreak Kid” and “Dr. Unger” at every conceivable (and inconceivable) opportunity was a bit of a give away. Conversely, hardly a word was said about Davey Boy Smith, Yokozuna, the PPV debuting Steve Austin (under his “Ringmaster” moniker) or 1995 King of The Ring, Mabel, and their chances or lack thereof.
My point, I suppose, is this; WWE historically could have done some really interesting things had they taken a chance on the lottery that should be The Royal Rumble battle royal, for example. There haven’t been many genuine shock outcomes – the first two apart. Pretty much every winner has been an established main eventer or the guy obviously being primed for a main event push. It would have made for great drama had Hawk or Typhoon or Headshrinker Samu won when they were full-time tag team stars. The ramifications for the surprise ‘mania main event and the future relationship of the tag team partners. Or even a Greg Valentine or Rick Martel. A Bob Holly or a Paul London… I could go on.
With the next addition of the Royal Rumble just a month away… could we see David Otunga, Epico or Tensai win the Rumble? Now wouldn’t that be something we wouldn’t see coming.
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