Ring Architect 3.16.14: My Dinner with Corny
Posted by Obi Justice on 03.16.2014
411's Obi Justice hasn't actually had dinner with Jim Cornette, but he does rant about Cornette's recent shoot interview as well as respond to some comments on this Mailbag edition of Ring Architect!
This week on Ring Architect, I found myself a bit too pressed to hash out a complete article. Instead, I decided to grab a few comments to respond to. I tried to go for ones that would actually give me some sort of springboard. I'll be doing further mailbags in the future, either as separate columns like this week or as part of the regular column. It really depends on my time and the comments that I get. Anyway, hope you enjoy the comments and a rant/review on Cornette's Breaking Kayfabe appearance.
I think [the tag situation]'s pretty much the same as the mid-card and Divas situation. WWE only really focuses storylines on the top stars and the main title. Nothing else really gets any storyline dedicated to it. It's a matter of who's champion, how long have they held the title, who haven't they faced in a while, and is it time to change over to the "next big thing".
Look at the US & IC titles. People hold those titles for months, but never have any meaningful feuds. Any "feud" they do have lack any storyline outside of "wrestler x decides he wants the title and has a few confrontations with the current champ". No back and forth promos. No motivation. Nothing.
It sometimes seems they built feuds better at all levels when their programming was an hour on Saturday mornings featuring pre-taped promos and jobber matches.
A lot of this comes down to money. I'm sure they have metrics that show that focusing on certain areas doesn't really move the needle one way or another Carl Rood Dearth or Rebirth
The reasons for the feud stagnation in the US/IC scenes and the tag/Divas' scene are a bit different to me. For the guys' secondary belts, the fact is that there is going to be a lot of singles action in general. Often, the IC and the US champs are involved in some part of some other feud. Sometimes they aren't. But they can move up and down the ladder pretty quickly, so while the belts do generally spend a long time without a feud of the spark that hits the main event, they're not really divisions on their own. Dean Ambrose has been all over TV as part of the Shield while not really having a focused US title feud. Cesaro, back when he was US champ, got a ton of spotlight for his run even though he didn't have a grudge feud. Right now, Big E is involved in the whole Real Americans fracas. So I'd say that WWE tends to have their singles feuds higher up the card, sometimes they draw the champs in, sometimes they don't.
For the Divas and tag division, it's definitely exposure. Those divisions don't slot in as easily with the main stories. Yeah, you can get them involved, like the AJ/Bryan/Punk story, but you really can't just say "Alright, we're gonna have Bryan vs. AJ for the Divas' title." Same thing with tags for a slightly different reason. Number one, the superstar challengers (assuming we've got a solid team a la the New Age Outlaws as our champs) might not even be that unified. Even if they are, they're definitely not going to be as schooled a team as the champs. If the challengers get beat too much, probably the appeal of booking that match is lessened. If the champs get beat too much, we get what WWE has now: it looks like you don't need to be a good tag team to win the belts, both of you just need to be superstars, even if you refuse to work together at all. The only way to figure them into the main stories reliably is to make sure every single main story is vaguely faction-based, everybody has a girl wrestler and everybody has a tag team. And that would probably be boring and formulaic.
So I said all that to basically say that the US/IC thing I think is fine, but the Divas' situation is definitely like the tag one, and I think they've got the same basic solution. As far as the money thing goes, I suppose I'm of the opinion that if you're going to have the titles, do it right. You don't need tag belts or a women's belt to have tag wrestling or women's wrestling, but if you insist on having them, expose them enough that they mean something. US/IC belts get some importance from being launching pads to the top title(s). Divas' and tag? Not so much.
When the largest appeal for a wrestler, is his LACK of any sort of push or TV time...what happens when he suddenly gets oodles of TV time and recognition? However, the moment the IWC was finally satisfied, the Ryder project was over.
Can people seriously not see the parallels with Daniel Bryan? The entire YES phenomenon came to fruition from a humiliating defeat in mere seconds at Wrestlemania. His largest reactions have come from the fact that he comes close to his perceived destiny, but never quite achieves it. The question is...what happens when Bryan wins the WWE Title, has a nice lengthy reign, and gets the full support and backing of WWE as their top guy?
As for Reigns? Here's the kicker. If Reigns is ever going to be a top guy in this day and age, people have to believe it was their idea, and their support that made him a top contender and not the backing of WWE. The Royal Rumble, where the crowd adopted Reigns in the midst of Bryan's Rumble no-show, would've been the time to strike while the iron is hot. The weeks following would've been the time to strike. Time will tell if that iron cools down yet.
Someone mentioned that Reigns stepping up as the de facto leader of the Shield didn't feel organic. I feel that is 100% incorrect. In a period where Ambrose is booked weaker and weaker with every match, and Reigns has had a series of stellar performances, its not odd to think Reigns might be the first to puff his chest out in a showdown with The Wyatts. Sparky Roman's Rising Star
Hoo, boy. A mix of right and daft. Well, let's dig in.
First of all, Ryder's appeal wasn't his lack of TV time. That's absurd. His appeal was his goofy internet character. He would have gotten popped huge even if they'd trotted him out right after the chants began. It became such a phenomenon with the "We want Ryder!" just because they didn't feature him. Zack Ryder was never a gigantic star and no one ever treated him like one except for people I read on the internet who made the case that crowd cheers = big star. No. Mike Tyson got cheered huge, too, but they didn't bring him back on to win the title. Khali gets big cheers but he's not a huge deal getting pushed all the time. Getting cheered and actually being a main event wrestling star are different.
Saying that Bryan's success is the same thing as Ryder's is ridiculous. Where are the classic Ryder matches? Where are the great Ryder promos and segments? You won't find them because they're not there. Even if you want to concede that Ryder had some good comedy, Daniel Bryan's comedy stuff has been way better and gotten seen way more. It's not just a matter of material because Daniel Bryan's material was, if you look at it from just the elements, fucking shit. And it always was. Ryder had a thing and, in his vacuum, he could control that and make it great. Bryan can take shit that he did not necessarily design or want and make gold out of it. That's why people are still into him as a threat for guys like Punk and Cena whereas Ryder never would be. Nobody would cheer Ryder over Punk, and I don't think people would cheer him over Cena except out of hatred for Cena. So yeah, whenever Bryan wins the belt, people will still be on board because he will actually deliver matches and segments that people are into.
As for Reigns, I agree that his shift to leader of the Shield has been pretty natural. The Shield never really seemed to have a leader as such. Ambrose always seemed like the leader because he did most of the talking (Rollins talked as well but he is not nearly as good). He was the guy who could put the case for the Shield in the twisted eloquent way that they needed. With Reigns getting over, it's just been that Reigns talks more, he actually says words to get things going whereas before he might just gesture and roar. However, the idea that for him "to be a top guy in this day and age, the people have to believe it was their idea" is stupid. They just have to like the guy and not be forced to like him, which is the same as it's always been. For everything.
The last face who bombed out of the gates that I can remember was Rocky Maivia, and though I'm sure there were others since, it's definitely been a while. The main modern shoved-down-your-throat example Cena was popular at first. He was way popular until he'd been champ a bit. Nobody could have guessed that Batista would have gotten booed when he came back. He'd just come off a long absence and, typically, that's the guy that wins the Rumble. Bryan was already not in the match and he'd gotten destroyed. Because people like Bryan a whole damn lot they thought he might come back in the Rumble, not because it was probable from a storyline standpoint. That was an error but not a booking error, more a perception error. And, really, that kind of love is difficult to see until you get something like Batista getting booed out of the building.
The real mistake they made with Bryan was not giving him the belt already. That's really where their problems started. I'm sure they figured that they'd have a face get a big Mania win for the title and, not having anybody else to really move the title on, they kept it with Orton. I think they probably did have Bryan slotted in there clean (i.e., without all the bullshit they're doing now) before Batista got signed, when they figured that Batista was a ready-made star and just returning, that would be cool. The thing is, the crowd had already been huge behind Bryan way before, and there was a payoff to the Bryan/Orton story that we have been promised but not gotten yet. Mania, I think, is the last chance to see that happen in a satisfying way, and with Bryan seemingly excluded by the Rumble, you get "Bootista" x 1000.
Why do I say all that? I'm saying that to make the point that the crowd doesn't really give a fuck whether the guy is "created by the office" or "created by the fans." It really doesn't matter. I mean, how would you even be able to tell? The distinction is purely academic. Reigns will be a big star because the crowd likes him now, everybody's bought into the project, and as long as he keeps delivering and WWE doesn't randomly decide to beat him to hell, nothing's gonna change that.
This was FUN. What a great little article. What I love most about really technical wrestlers is how different two guys can be who do it. You hear two guys are 'technical' and in people's heads, they have this image of what that means but when it comes down to it a guy like Benoit (High impact, with a lot of slams and chops) is totally different from a guy like Regal (This very 'floaty' chain wrestling style, but every now and then would elbow the daylights out of you). The internet wrestling culture is changing right now and starting to write off "technical" wrestlers as all being charismaless wastes, but a lot of those guys have off the charts physical charisma. Anthony Jocko WRRRESTLING!!!
You hit it on the head with the versatility of technical wrestling. Style-wise, it's pretty difficult to mix up Flair with Daniel Bryan with Chris Jericho, but each of them is called "technical." I think that shows that the common demoninator there is a definable wrestling technique. With "high flying" or "brawling" or "martial arts" as styles, you tend to become restricted in style if you pigeonhole yourself into that. "Power" styles are also usually seen as limited to those who are strong enough, so it's seen as having less skill: if everyone was as strong as Sheamus, they'd be doing huge throws all the time, too.
Still, I'm not sure if it's technical wrestlers or technical wrestling that's being attacked by the "IWC." I know for sure that the crowd tends to get restless in technical matches these days, and nobody's going to sit down for a 10 minute match with no strikes or big bumps. That said, Chris Hero does his best to work a technical style, Richards has got it, Aries, you've got Bryan in the E, etc. etc. Personally, I'm much more likely to find flyers characterless as they rely so much on their flippies to get people excited. But for every vacant-faced AR Fox there's a live Rich Swann or an ACH or... so I think, on balance, we're all good.
A sketch of wrestling ideas.
I've said before that I consider myself a student of Jim Cornette, so naturally I watched his recent Breaking Kayfabe video from Kayfabe Commentaries. The main bit of this is him detailing his controversial time as booker for ROH. It's a pretty interesting story and well told by Cornette. I think if you viewed it as a long promo you'd find it entertaining whether you believe him or not. I tend to believe him, as I would. The most interesting thing to me about the tape was not necessarily any detail of the story (though the line "It finally kicked off when Adam sent Cary an e-mail with the header 'First of all, fuck Syd and Ross'" had me rolling) but the fact that, for the most part, it focused on the behind-the-scenes business and not the booking.
Number one, to say that the booking was the major problem in ROH is to ignore a lot of the very real problems they were having. This is what Cornette goes into in detail. The iPPV debacles are well-known, as is (to indy news followers at least) Cornette's relationship with Joe Koff and Gary Juster that led to the SBG purchase. He goes into his own frustrations with SBG's running, and though a lot of the blame goes to a certain Greg Gilliland, it's difficult to see how the technical and production problems would be Cornette's fault. Cornette's been heavily involved in promotion for basically his entire career. These are amateur mistakes being made. If other people made claims about his business mistakes there might be a reason to doubt him, but as far as I know, no one has said that.
So then there's what Steen and a lot of detractors accuse him of: not being in touch with the new fans. He doesn't really talk about this much, making the basic case that "people want to see guys that look like superstars not guys that look like hobos/lardasses/whatever" (paraphrasing) and that Steen in particular plays to the smark fan. Here's the issue with that. People who like Steen don't dislike Daniel Bryan or Michael Elgin or Adam Cole, none of whom pull the shit that Steen has. Adam Cole is very well liked but also pretty clearly a heel. He doesn't come out to huge cheers. He's able to play the bad guy. Michael Elgin and Daniel Bryan never needed to pander to the crowd, they can just be wrestlers and do their thing and the crowd comes on board. Steen is good in the ring and he knows the crowd, but he's got a very provincial mindset and presentation. His mindset is that because it works in ROH and ROH is kind of a big deal, it must be a good idea all the time. The problem is that Steen, not being as well-traveled as some other people, and having a schtick when he came up, didn't need to learn the tools that will reach all sorts of audiences yet. There are just as many people who hate Steen to death, even online, as there are that love him. And I'm not talking heel/face, I'm talking about respect for skill.
Basically, there isn't a new fan. There are fans who are bred to like the ROH product and perhaps they share a particular mindset, but they still react to the things that everyone else reacts to. The idea that Cornette was out of touch falls apart when you consider that even opposing Steen/Generico, he still allowed it to happen, still ran with it, still put it on top of the shows. He's not on the show trashing what they did. I've heard he's criticized bits of it but not it as a whole, because if he had, I'm sure he would have nixed it (as an aside, Cornette does repeatedly claim never to have been the "head booker," but I'm taking it as read that he could have vetoed anything he really strongly didn't like). The acts people liked were the acts he promoted. He put on matches people wanted to see and raved about. So when you say that he's out of touch, what more is there to be in touch with? Does he need to be over the moon about every idea that's presented, or does he just need to know what's moving the crowd, what's making money, and how to package and promote that? Because if it's the latter, there are really few people in the business better equipped to do that than Jim Cornette.
As for Cornette's being a bully, and I'll make this short, nobody ever got anything done by playing nice. Behind every great product is someone who wanted it enough to roll over people if they wouldn't roll along. Behind every mediocre product is a committee. Doesn't work in war, doesn't work in business, doesn't work in politics, doesn't work in art, doesn't work in wrestling.
Now, Cornette doesn't really need my defense, but I'm writing more against this sort of IWC/indy provincialism. You guys, we, are not different than the "mainstream fan." Everybody's got their own preferences, but broadly, we all react to the same things. We want to see fire out of the babyfaces and we want to see the heels acting shitty. The idea that a guy like Cornette is out of touch means that you'll start writing off a lot of older guys, like Bill Watts especially (even though he is a backwards old fuck in many ways), just because they didn't happen to like the new guy you did. Fact of the matter is, people's preferences change, culture changes, but talent and psychology don't. Once the indies -- especially places like DGUSA, PWG, AAW, etc. which have athletically but not psychologically talented guys -- can get on board that they're not different, I think there can be a lot better thinking and storytelling on the indy circuit.