Undercard Overhaul 3: Yet 5 More Angles to Improve WWE TV
This industry thrives on spectacle and people have millions (if not billions) of entertainment alternatives if WWE and its performers fail to deliver a compelling product.
With that in mind, let's take a look at five more angles and ideas that can turn WWE's struggling undercard from awful to enduring.
5. S.O.B. Inc.
Tyler Reks and Mason Ryan are two intimidating beasts who can't seem to find a niche. Too big to job convincingly yet too late and too green to fill an "unstoppable monster" role in a company with too many unstoppable monsters already.
It brings up the question: How do they get on TV without resorting to comedy (a la Brodus Clay)?
Mark Henry, Kane, Big Show, Ezekiel Jackson, Sheamus and John Cena are all singles Superstars. That market's closed. There is, however, a distinct lack of big men in tag team competition and WWE still needs a new wave of challengers to fortify a (continually) struggling division.
I think Reks/Ryan (not to be confused with a certain NFL head coach) could drop into that spot and draw.
The answer to my question, "What can they do?" is simple: go into business as S.O.B. Inc., a heel-tinged Acolytes Protection Agency who sell their services as black sunglasses-wearing bad asses, bodyguards and unscrupulous hitmen.
Ten years is long enough to rest the gimmick; let's dust it off and present it to another generation of fans.
Hook them up with Kevin Nash, who has plenty of experience in the bodyguard business and managing groups of up-and-coming wrestlers, preferably in a non-wrestling role, and the tandem's flexibility as hired help allows them to go over without so much as an ongoing feud.
WWE could use S.O.B. Inc. as supporting elements on TV, letting them mix it up most on Superstars and house shows, and give Reks and Ryan a chance to grow into the gimmick before a big push.
(To the IWC: I'm prepared to take some heat over Nash's inclusion in this package. As polarizing as he is, I still feel like he's got something to give the world of professional wrestling. Keep the promos short and focused, use him to highlight his clients rather than himself, get rid of the shoots and let the characters shine. I stand by it.)
4. Jack Swagger, American Ambassador
Jack Swagger using the Ankle Lock has got to be a rib.
At some point, someone in a position of power had to look at this kid and say, "Well, if we can't have Kurt Angle..." (which is blessing and a curse, being compared to one of the all-time greats and Fake Razor and Diesel in the same sentence). He even uses the same style of tights!
Swagger's already there, the comparisons to Angle are inevitable and WWE shouldn't shy away from stories where Jack takes even more pages out of Kurt's playbook.
I'm thinking back to Angle's run as a milk-drinking, chastity-pushing, overbearingly self-righteous American hero as further inspiration for Swagger now that he has the United States Championship.
There has never been a better time for this guy to embrace his All-American American gimmick and be that Kurt Angle.
The belt should be a catalyst for all kinds of patriot-based shenanigans.
I want to see Jack Swagger wearing an Uncle Sam hat, giving us tours of American monuments, visiting national parks and landmarks, giving speeches to school children about the importance of their American heritage (in El Paso!) and cutting promos with Congressmen.
I want him draped in Old Glory on his way to the ring, coming out to "Real American" and kissing babies. (I especially want him to do this in Canada.)
Swagger needs to be a goodwill ambassador who promotes nothing of the sort.
I'm not sure I want him hunting illegals with Bradshaw but there's a lot of room for the All-American American to feud with foreign wrestlers who besmirch (I'm looking at you, Regal) the good name of the United States of America.* (Anything to get supremely talented workers like Tyson Kidd and Yoshi Tatsu on TV.)
What I want to see Swagger do the most, however, is an All-American Challenge. He needs to invite a different foreign wrestler to the ring every week and dare them to beat him in 10 minutes.
If they can't, it would somehow re-affirm Swagger's belief that America is the greatest country in the world and he'd prance around, saluting like an idiot (but an idiot who would be such an interesting and unpredictable self-parody that people would pay to see him).
There's also potential for Swagger to run a World Cup-like wrestling tournament, returning loyalty angles to an industry that was practically built on nationalism and the fear of other cultures.
* I swear I'm not trying to break any records for "most uses of the word 'America' in a single slide."
3. Resurrect the Hardcore Championsihp
The Hardcore Championship was a casualty of the WCW buyout.
Too many titles under one roof made consolidation an absolute necessity so WWE unceremoniously unified it with the Intercontinental Championship barely a month after that same strap also absorbed the European title.
In addition, when every segment devolved into a brawl, the Hardcore Championship became redundant. The 24/7 angle was milked to death and turned into a joke. The belt needed a rest.
It’s been almost 11 years, however, and WWE’s working environment has changed.
For one, there are no tertiary belts for the curtain-jerkers to fight over and having the Hardcore Championship exclusive to Raw while the Cruiserweight title was exclusive to Smackdown gave people incentive to watch both shows. Brand split or not, each program needs its own identity.
The Hardcore Championship is marketable again, as well. Extreme rules and gimmick matches are few and far between thanks to WWE’s commitment to PG programming and a lack of novelty acts on a vanilla card has created a specialized niche where the Hardcore Championship could find success.
WWE is afraid to revisit “hardcore” because it’s so closely associated with words like “bloodbath” and “massacre” but it’s also an atmosphere where unique offense and innovation flourished.
Unorthodox maneuvers, a variety and clever use of weapons, inventive brawling outside the ring, stunt finishes and the imaginative use of Falls Count Anywhere: these are the things a new era of “hardcore” would have to rely on, removed from the blood and gore that WWE’s sponsor/partners are so afraid of.
I'm calling for the return of Bull Rope and Four Corners matches, too. Creative match gimmicks could be used as sleight-of-hand, making fans forget they're not seeing blood.
Modern hardcore wrestlers would have to craft a new identity for the division, one where people watched because they saw things they’ve never seen before rather than “Guess Who’s Wearing a Crimson Mask This Week."
The key is maintaining a low profile. They can’t flood the market. Keep “hardcore” special, an attraction, and its many rewards will far outweigh its risks.
2. Diversify the Divas
Staying with championships for a moment, I think the Divas Championship butterfly belt is beautiful and unique. Sadly, there aren't many nice things I can say about the women’s division otherwise.
When fans stay through the commercials and take their bathroom breaks during women’s matches (some of which don’t last long enough to wash our hands), the championship and Divas who pursue it suffer accordingly. Ask Gail Kim.
The quality of competition has bottomed out in recent years thanks to a number of glaring issues, chief among them is this revolving door, “we can get anyone to replace you with a new Diva Search or the worst NXT in history” mentality. WWE now emphasizes glam girls and badly trained models, style over substance.
There are a couple of notable exceptions within the division (the so-called Divas of Doom, for instance, when they're not booked like inept pushovers) but the cardboard cut-out valley girl routine we get from Kelly Kelly, Eve, Alicia Fox and the rest of the Divas is forgettable at best and an insult to every female performer who came before them at worst.
If you’ve see one makeup-wearing cheerleader, you’ve seen them all, and no amount of cheap pops or apple-polishing the crowd is going to make me root for a Diva who can't work. (Might’ve gotten someone over in the ‘50s, but it doesn’t happen today.)
In order to elevate the Divas division, WWE needs to do two things: make its divas memorable and hire wrestlers rather than models.
To address the first point, Divas need identifiable personas beyond the superficial rich girl glitz.
Give us a gangster wannabe; a death-obsessed Goth girl; a man-hating, flannel-wearing “hardcore” diva; a super-heroine like the Hurricane; an angry evangelist on a Right to Censor-like quest to clean up the smut; whatever.
I don’t care what gimmick you give them, just give them a character. Quirks. Make these girls memorable for more than just their skimpy outfits because (lemme tell ya, brother) I have the Internet and skimpy outfits aren't so memorable anymore.
As for hiring models, wrestling's a hard business that demands a hard lifestyle and women who get hired with an eye toward Playboy or future careers in other professions aren't likely to have WWE's best interests at heart (and I'm sure they're a pain to train).
There are plenty of talented women out there in the Independents, Japan or SHIMMER, and many still in TNA, that can actually work.
Vince McMahon isn't fooling anybody. Just because Kelly Kelly's booked to win matches doesn't mean she's a good wrestler with solid fundamentals and the ability to tell a story. It just means she got booked to win a match, and that's why long-term fans wanted Beth Phoenix to turn her inside out.
Awesome Kong (Kharma) can't get back fast enough.
1. "I'm Tyler Black and I'm Here to Wrestle"
Seth Rollins is close to making the jump from FCW to the big leagues. He's been touring with WWE's main roster and wrestling dark matches against Tyson Kidd, and anybody who saw him perform as Tyler Black knows the kid can go.
Seth's laundry list of accomplishments won't mean anything if he's brought in as Val Venis 2.0 or the son of "Sparky" Plugg, however, and it's important for WWE to capture the energy, intensity and pure athleticism that is Rollins' trademark (especially in this so-called Reality Era).
The first time we see Rollins on TV, FCW theme intact, he should be in the middle of the ring and declare himself on no uncertain terms: "My name is Tyler Black and I'm here to wrestle."
Invoking the memory of Dean Malenko and Chris Benoit, guys who didn't need a gimmick to get over, Seth (returning to his roots as Tyler) would come in as everything Bryan Danielson should've been without NXT.
Whatever "the American Dragon" is now, however, Tyler Black is the one who needs to make his career as a "pure athlete," someone who's a student of the sport and isn't interested in Santino's sock puppets or the trappings of sports entertainment.
He can capitalize on CM Punk's "Shoot Heard 'Round the World" by saying, "They wanted to call me 'Seth Rollins' and make me the next Nick Dinsmore. I told them 'no.' I'm not here to sing or dance or argue with Michael Cole, and I'd walk out the door if they made me wear face paint and tassels. I came to WWE for one reason and one reason only: This is where the competition is and you can't be the best until you beat the best."
He wouldn't cheat or use dirty tricks. He wouldn't cater to the fans, though, either. He'd cut short, old school promos and pay supreme respect to the craft.
WWE would be gambling on Black to bring out the "Indy" in his opponents, in stark contrast to the company style, as a way of highlighting and showcasing him. (To riff on Paul Heyman, if there's a 99 hot blondes in a room and one ugly redhead, which one stands out?)
Black needs to be that one guy, above all others, who lets his actions speak louder than words. They ought to give him the Texas Cloverleaf, as well, to help fans make a more overt connection. (Malenko built a career out of being "the Ice Man," if Black's using his move, Black must be an "Ice Man," too.)
We could also hope that Black calls out Daniel Bryan, leading to an intense "best of" series across several pay-per-views. He'd say, "You used to stand for something, Daniel. Then you got to WWE and fell for everything."