Thoughts from the Top Rope 2.28.14: Standing Out from the Crowd
Posted by Daniel Wilcox on 02.28.2014
As WWE prepares for a raucous crowd Monday night in Chicago, join me as I examine how WWE crowds have changed in recent years and how it effects the television product in the latest Thoughts from the Top Rope! Plus, a look at potential WrestleMania XXX main events worse than Orton/Batista and more!
This week I submitted my 1,000th article for 411Mania. My first feeling upon reaching this milestone was one of pride. The second was one of feeling old. Albeit with a two-year hiatus in the middle, I've been here eight years now and I've dabbled in most areas of the site but this is my baby, this is Thoughts from the Top Rope, and I'm pleased to have you join me for another edition.
It's WrestleMania season and that means many things. It means the television product is beginning to pick up steam for one, which creates much discussion and debate. It also means us journalistswriters independent bloggers are hard at work putting together a bunch of sweet features for you reading pleasure. Well, your reading pleasure and to capitalise on the increased traffic, but that's neither here nor there. It also means there's plenty of topics worth writing about and as such today we'll be discussing the impact the live audience is having on the current television product and whether it's a good or a bad thing for the business.
I'm pushed for column space, and it was a slow week last week so we're going to skip the feedback this week. Make sure you leave any comments, criticisms and suggestions in the comments section below. Main feature commences after some plugs!
Social Media Propaganda and Shameless Plugs
411Mania is not just a website, it's a revolution. Join the revolution, and more importantly, follow it on TWITTER and like it FAECBOOK!
And what about me? I don't TWEET MUCH but I might if I had more followers. I am, however, all over that FACEBOOKIZZLE so be my friend on that and then like all my statuses so all my real life friends think I'm funny.
I'm also a prominent reviewer over in the 411 Music zone, and if you're a music fan of any genre and want to know what's worth listening to these days, do yourself a favour and check out the following;
Nina Nesbitt - Peroxide: Peroxide is the most essential debut record of the year to date, without doubt. You could argue all you like about her path to success, but the proof is in the pudding. Peroxide is an on-point, confident debut from a girl who is primed and ready to be Britain's true sweetheart, filling a Taylor Swift-size void that's been presence since Lily Allen grew up and went off to have babies.
Indica - Shine: Shine is an album of schizophrenic proportions. On the one hand Indica look to write dark, melancholy tracks that dozens of other acts in the Scandinavian countries have considerable success with. And maybe it's because every member of the band is a young, attractive female, but they also swerve off and look to capture lightning in a bottle with sickly sweet pop shenanigans.
Grand Magus - Triumph and Power: Grand Magus has a formula that works so well from them that it is pretty hard to expect them to stray from it. It's a formula that has worked for years and will continue to work. This genre may never be in fashion any time soon, but it's never going to fade away either and as long as the band continues to put out records like Triumph and Power, then Grand Magus will have no trouble succeeding.
The Chain Gang of 1974 - Daydream Forever: The Chain Gang of 1974's major label debut, Daydream Forever is an album of unlimited potential that is never realised. Lots of songs start promisingly and then trail off, much like the record itself, which starts with the tantalizing "Ordinary Fools," the only track that really succeeds in grabbing the listener's attention and maintaining it for the duration of the song.
Fanfarlo - Let's Go Extinct: Fanfarlo's Let's Get Extinct sets a high bar for itself . It's ambitious, it experiments with a wide range of sounds and instruments that often make for an interesting listen, but all too often the record loses itself in its complex but paradoxically boring themes.
Issues - Issues: Issues is by no means a flawless record, nor is it likely to achieve the commercial success it deserves for its addictive choruses. It is, however, a template for a promising future. The mishmash of styles isn't flawlessly executed, and at times it's head-scratching, but it's deniably fun, catchy and bold.
Beck - Morning Phase: Two decades after breakthrough single "Loser," Beck has stripped everything back to basics and come out with his most soulful album to date. Regardless of comparison to his 2002 genius, Morning Phase can and will stand alone as an accomplished almost unparalleled in 2014, and I feel confident saying that even though we're a mere two months into the year.
Behemoth - The Satanist: The Satanist is Behemoth's tenth full length album in 23 years and it's also their most accessible no doubt in part to the fact that it's the band's best produced album as well. Where The Satanist excels in these melancholy and anarchaic ensembles, it fails by attempting to push the envelope a little too far on occasion.
Wild Beasts - Present Tense: The most essential indie album since Alt J's An Awesome Wave. It's difficult to fully describe what an achievement Present Tense is. The title is an accurate one, as the album sounds exactly what an indie pop record should sound like in 2014.
This Week's Feature
This coming Monday, Raw will emanate from Chicago, Illinois. This means a number of things. Firstly, Chicago is a big enough city that the program will actually mention its location by name. Secondly, we're in for an interesting evening of a fan interaction, particularly as Chicago is the very vocal, often "smarky" hometown of one CM Punk, who has been absent from the company for the past month. But with more eyes on the product than ever before and with WrestleMania looming, are the raucous crowds of recent times an improvement to the production or a distraction? Thoughts from the Top Rope investigates.
Standing Out from the Crowd
Chicago has always stuck by their hometown hero, CM Punk.
Eight years ago, John Cena was preparing to defend his WWE Championship against Triple H at WrestleMania 22. Cena was less than a year removed from winning his first world championship, but rivalries with much-respected performers such as Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle had led a portion of the audience to jeer the defending champion on an alarming scale. Losing the title to Edge only to regain weeks later didn't help Cena's cause, and even heading into a title defence against one of the company's most-hated individuals in Triple H, John Cena found himself an underdog and public enemy number one by the time WrestleMania 22 rolled around. John Cena wasn't the only individual who received both barrels from the anti-establishment crowd that night(fan favourites Trish Stratus and Rey Mysterio were on the receiving end), but he was certainly the main target. The host of that WrestleMania? Chicago, Illinois.
John Cena made an elaborate entrance that night, arriving following a video paying homage to city's history, accompanied by a group of "gangsters" complete with Tommy guns and 1940s-style vehicle. One of the independent wrestlers who was brought in to act as a gangster on that night was none other than Chicago's own CM Punk, months before he made his main roster debut as part of the new ECW brand. But fast forward five years and the company was back in Chicago for a pay-per-view for Money in the Bank 2011, headlined by John Cena once again defending the WWE Championship, this time against CM Punk, who was threatening to leave the company with its top prize. Never, ever, in nearly twenty years as a wrestling fan, have I seen such a one-sided audience in all my life. The ovation CM Punk received that night was on par with any ovation for a wrestler's entrance you can recall, and the pop when Cena's shoulders were counted to the mat for three was one of the loudest in memory. I can only think of three "pops" in recent times that could rival the Chicago crowd that night – the Rock's initial 2011 return, Brock Lesnar showing up on Raw in 2012, and Dolph Ziggler cashing on Alberto del Rio last year. And speaking of Brock Lesnar, it was another Chicago crowd in front of which Lesnar made his in-ring return to the company at Extreme Rules, where as a heel his every move was cheered to the rafters. Unsurprisingly, his opponent on that night was John Cena.
The point is, Chicago is a lively crowd, more often than not. And yes, from time to time they can be a "smarky" audience, though their support for CM Punk has more to do with his hometown connections and the amount of time he spent plying his craft on the independent scene around the North of the country. It's understandable then, that McMahonagement has some concerns heading into Monday's Raw. In the last two weeks, chants of "CM Punk" have died down considerably, but this is Chicago. Such a dilemma highlights a growing problem in the WWE Universe and that's that audiences are, more and more frequently, taken it upon themselves to "hi-jack" shows. If you wish to pin-point when this craze began, you would have to talk about the night after WrestleMania 29 in the Izod Centre, East Rutherford, New Jersey. It's become an iconic night that will go down in wrestling history for the bizarre nature in which the fans took over the show. This particular episode of the Raw saw fans chanting bizarre things all evening, including all of the announcer's names, "Randy Savage," "RVD," "Sexual Chocolate" and "We Are Awesome." The fans that night also thanked the Big Show for putting an end to a Sheamus/Randy Orton match that failed to set the world alight, and began the craze of "Fandango-ing" by humming along the flamboyant star's theme music throughout the night.
"Fandogo-ing" became a minor craze follow the Raw in New Jersey.
While this is perhaps the most high profile instance of a crowd hi-jack a show, smarky crowds have existed for a long time and the WrestleMania 22 example is more likely the first example on such a major scale. But in the last few years there are number of factors that have made such instances a more frequent occurrence.
Firstly, you have a company shifting from a product directed to a more mature audience to a family-friendly, PG product. Such anti-establishment chanting is a response to this by the older members of the audience. Typically fans who chant things like "we are awesome" are long-time fans who believe they know what's best for the wrestling product. It's not necessarily about trying to "get yourself over," but more an acknowledgement that the show isn't reality and that they can be a part of it. Regardless of the quality of the PG product, older fans will always crave something more nostalgic, and "acting up" is their way of lashing out.
Secondly, the product has massively embraced the internet and social media in recent years and these means like-minded people have easy ways of communication, sharing similar beliefs and venting their frustrations. If people have a way of discussing ideas with people who share the same views, those opinions gain traction to the point that it becomes a consensus. When a large amount of these people are in the same arena for a pay-per-view or an edition of Monday Night Raw, you're more like to hear a vocal minority voicing their displeasures, whether that means booing the faces and cheering the heels, or chanting for random performers who aren't involved in a given segment or even signed with the company.
Additionally, you have to consider the fact that fans have been rebelling against the "face of the company" for some time. For years now the "smark" audience has clamoured to see John Cena turn heel, or do something to freshen up his character. Cena is not the first mega-face to receive backlash from the fans, as Hulk Hogan and The Rock both received fair levels of criticism after being on top for so long - the difference is the company was smart enough to shake things up and make changes. Of course, it helped that they had guys ready to step up, but nowadays there seems to be little confidence in the roster outside of a select handful of guys and thus turning the cash-cow heel isn't an option, and the fans will continue to resent that.
Then you have way the idea of a main event talent has evolved in the last few years. Since the introduction of the Wellness Policy, there seems to have been less of an emphasis and body-builder looks and large, muscular buys in the main event. Sure, you still have John Cena, and Batista was at the top right up until his department, but we've also seen main event runs for smaller talents like Rey Mysterio, Edge, Christian and Chris Jericho. Put even more recently, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan have broken through despite years of people from outside and within the company saying they could never make it. Guys who the "internet fans" would typically get behind either previously never made it to the main event, or it took them a lifetime of hard work. Perhaps as a by-product of the social media boom, guys like Punk and Bryan make it to the top quicker than they would otherwise. I recall an episode of Raw in December 2011 when Punk, Bryan and Zack Ryder all stood in the ring as champions and took in a mammoth reaction from the crowd. It was like a celebration of smarkdom. "Smart" fans realised that every now and then, even if it was once in a blue moon, they could what they wanted. It was almost as if they were encouraged to let their voices be heard and they have done ever since.
Ever since New Jersey, fans have taken to attempting to "hijack" a number of shows. Sometimes, it's a direct response to the product they're being presented with – this has been since in the last several months with the refusal to put the strap on Daniel Bryan for any significant period of time and came to ahead firstly during the "Championship Ascension Ceremony" prior to the Tables, Ladders and Chairs pay-per-view, and then again when Bryan didn't win or even appear in the Royal Rumble a month ago. Bringing in guys like Batista to fill another high profile slot at WrestleMania doesn't help matters. It's a decision-making process that seems to fly in the face of what the fans are asking for. And it's no longer a vocal minority – the majority of the audience has no interest in a Batista/Randy Orton title show down in five weeks time, and nearly every member of the WWE Universe is craving to see Daniel Bryan succeed. As best as we can infer, it's a decision-making process that has led to CM Punk walking out of the company at the most inopportune moment for his employer. Once upon a time Punk was the Voice of the Voiceless, but now the roles have been reversed. CM Punk is completely off the radar and this Monday, his hometown crowd will act as the Voice of the Voiceless CM Punk.
Expect quite the ovation if this man makes an appearance on Raw this Monday.
But is a vocal form of protest the way to get what you want? There's plenty of theories going around about what an audience should be chanting for. Do the wave. Chant for Punk. Chant for Bryan. Chant "Bootista." Stand with your backs to the ring. The problem with all these rebellious acts is that by purchasing a ticket for the show, you're lining the pockets of the company who's product you claim to rebel against. Obviously, to an extent, negative chanting and protest chants annoy the higher-ups in the company, but it's a minor irritation. The reaction of the crowd at the Royal Rumble show made mainstream news on websites that wouldn't typically talk about wrestling, but the most important thing is that they were talking about the product and any publicity is good publicity, within reason, and more so on the Road to WrestleMania. And this go back to the reasons for the rebellious crowds in the first place. In seeing the likes of Bryan and previously Punk in the positions they're in, these fans already have as much as they could ever of dreamt of. They also have multiple platforms to voice their opinions. So showing off at a live Raw isn't necessarily a case of airing grievances, it's a case of being spoiled.
Batista isn't the most atheletic or technically-minded main event talent in the company's history, but he's an able big man who rose to stardom organically, because the fans backed him. His in-ring ability isn't the most impressive, but he's proven he can work a main event style and have an entertaining encounter with a variety of opponents. Randy Orton has his detractors, but he's one of the most consistent in-ring performers in the company, along with guys like John Cena and Alberto del Rio, two more guys who are slated by the online community, usually unfairly. And let's not pretend that Daniel Bryan is being relegated to the pre-show. CM Punk wasn't slated to jerk the curtain. And there's plenty of new stars who will have significant spots on the show, from the Shield to Cesaro to Bray Wyatt, who will do battle with the real face of the company. Some of these men are former independent starlets who did good, and some of them are stars the company has groomed through their own developmental system.
You can argue that the company is throwing away money by not putting this guy or that guy in the main event, but the fact is the companies revenue streams are not largely effected by the on-screen product. As long as there's a certain number of stars of a certain level featured on Raw and SmackDown and live events, that level of business will do just fine. Few stars "move the needle" these days, including some of our favourites. It's no longer about ratings like it was in the 1990s. WWE is making money through a plethora of different avenues and that's not going to change any time soon, regardless of how many people are chanting "JBL" during a Kofi Kingston match. A crowd that sits on their hands has always been a pet peeve of mine, but after the last few months, I think I'd rather watch that and be able to concentrate on the performers in the ring than listen to fifty middle-aged guys in the front few rows chanting "we are awesome."
It's WrestleMania season, enjoy the product.
This Week's Diva
Maria was always one of my favourites, and she needs to get over her beef with the Bellas and get back on my TV.
This Week's List
For those of you who still can't quite come to terms with the fact that neither CM Punk nor Daniel Bryam will be contesting the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania this year, you just need to keep in mind that it could be a whole lot worse. Randy Orton vs. Batista was just one of the many options the company had at their disposal, and there are unforeseen circumstance that means we've avoided some even worse clashes! These are just the first five that sprang to mind, and it doesn't even include Orton vs. Cena!
Top 5 Potential WrestleMania XXX Main Events Worse Than Randy Orton vs. Batista
V. Ryback vs. Goldberg
Eighteen months ago Ryback was in a position to become the next top star for the company. He was getting massive face reactions and was frequently in the title picture, and if it wasn't for the fact that Rock/Cena II was already pencilled in for Mania 29 with title up for grabs, Ryback would have been the man to dethrone CM Punk and end his historic reign as WWE Champion. If that scenario had come to fruition (and many argue it should have) it's likely that McMahonagement would not have been able to resist the temptation of throwing a truck load of cash at Goldberg to come in for the obvious match with the Big Guy. Ryback has failed to devlope very much as in-ring performer since coming back to the main roster, and Goldberg has 100% record of atrocious WrestleMania matches. Had things gone a little differently, this could well have been your marquee title match at the biggest WrestleMania of all time.
IV. Randy Orton vs. Sheamus
WWE loves to run angles where a big name performer returns from an injury and goes on to challenge for a world championship at WrestleMania. This trend started with Triple H in 2002, occurred again with John Cena in 2008 and Edge in 2010. If Batista hadn't agreed to return to the company earlier this year, Sheamus would be in a higher position on the card and could well have become a two-time winner of the Royal Rumble himself. While he's a more well-rounded in-ring performer than Batista, his face schtick was growing tiresome before his injury, and a match against Randy Orton would have resulted in similar backlash. In comparison to an Orton/Sheamus clash, Batista challenging for the belt is at least a fresh direction and one that we haven't seen for a good four years. Batista and Orton have an in-built history that they can play off of that should make for better television. Orton and Sheamus never had much chemistry in the ring and would have made for a similarly pedestrian encounter without the benefit of being a fresh match up.
III. John Cena vs. Hulk Hogan
As soon as Hulk Hogan parted company with TNA Wrestling it was only a matter of time before he made his triumphant return to his "home," WWE. As fans, we should consider ourselves fortunate that WWE has such a rigorous medical policy in place to prevent performers from participating physically when they shouldn't be. Evidently Hulk Hogan did not pass a medical, if he took one at all, but you can bet your bottom dollar that if he had, we'd be seeing him in a high profile match at WrestleMania, and it wouldn't be putting over a guy like CM Punk or Daniel Bryan. If Hogan were able to compete in 2014, the first guy they would get him in the ring with would be John Cena, the modern day equivalent on 1980s Hulk Hogan. Sure, there would be a ton of hype around the match, the fan reactions and promos might make for some interesting television, but the match would be one of the most painful things a fan could have to sit through, especially as the inevitable WrestleMania main event it would be. And it may well have had the title on the line. Hogan is twelve years removed from his Icon vs. Icon match with The Rock at X-8, and that was a match that was made by a rampant Toronto crowd. We've dodged a bullet with this one.
II. John Cena vs. The Rock
Yeah, you know this one must have been discussed at some point. It only makes sense. The Rock wins the first encounter, clean as a whistle. John Cena rebounds the following year to take the WWE Championship from The Rock. Both shows do massive numbers, so why wouldn't you do a rubber match? You don't need to even add additional intrigue to the match, you can sell it on the fact that it's the rubber match, and sell it as the absolute final encounter. In all honesty, it would probably have sold as well as the second encounter at least. Rumours following last year's show had Rock on a collision course with Brock Lesnar this year, but that never materialized due to Rock's injuries, but the fact remains we don't really know what direction the company would have gone this year if The Rock had made himself available. Rock/Brock may have been an option for Summerslam or something. From a financial and logical point of view, it only makes sense to have a final showdown between these two men. Personally, I loved the first match, thought the second was slightly more pedestrian though it played nicely off the original, and wouldn't have minded a blow off – but there's no way I'd want to see it at three straight WrestleMania events and neither would any of you.
I. Randy Orton vs. Triple H
This could easily have occurred. Ever since Randy Orton cashed in Money in the Bank and became the Authority's hand-picked "face of the company," there's been clear signs of tension between these former Evolution stablemates and more often then once they've hinted at a possible physical confrontation between the two. Obviously, Triple H always inserts himself into the main event (where's Sforcina's half-Chandler when you need it) and so this must have been discussed at some point. The Game also likes to keep his friends at the top of the card (another half-Chandler needed) so he'd much rather face Orton in the main event with the title on the line than Daniel Bryan. And you know it eats Triple H up inside that the last time he contested the main event of WrestleMania, the match was regarded as one of the worst main events in WrestleMania history. His opponent that night? Randy Orton. Quite frankly I feel we should all give Triple H a hearty pat on the back for resisting the temptation to go ahead with this match. And when we're done congratulating Triple H, which should take a heart vodka shot to erase the idea of this going on last at Mania XXX, and maybe a few more to rid us of the memory of their WrestleMania XXV "classic." Make mine a double.
This Week's Farewell
And that is a wrap. Make sure you leave your thoughts in the comments section and I'll reply either directly or in next week's column, when I hope you'll all join me as I attempt to hit the 2,000 columns mark! Thanks for reading, and see you in seven.