WWE WrestleMania 28: Rock vs. Cena and When Breaking Kayfabe Goes Too Far
Call me a wrestling purist.
At the age I am, it feels strange for me to say that. I am finally starting to sound like what old guys use to sound like to me. I am beginning to talk about the "good old days" and how things use to be a lot better in the past. Well, I won't talk about things being better in the old days of wrestling. But I will talk about how things made a lot more sense, at least business wise.
What's Best for "The Business"
If the CM Punk vs. John Cena feud or CM Punk's character of the summer of 2011 taught us anything, it was that breaking kayfabe doesn't draw one red cent. It all sounds great to us few fans that understand the insider lingo, or know of the inner workings of the backstage and/or locker room area. It even sounds good to those who listen to shoot interviews and know of the inner squabbles, feuds and guys who have heat in the back. But for the common, general, casual fan, it is all just lip service.
We all thought that CM Punk was destined to be the torch barer of the WWE after a magnificent display of wits and "telling it like it is" in his now famous promo. But when the PPV numbers came back, it was realized that not even pipe bombs could reinvigorate the stale state of the WWE product.
Is it fair to say that kayfabe breaking was the only reason why CM Punk's run on top didn't last longer? Probably not, but it did show that breaking kayfabe alone is not enough to move the needle.
Even more than not moving the needle, it left a lot of guys exposed. We all now look at Kevin Nash to be an old man who has no value in the WWE. We look at Alberto Del Rio to be plainly put, boring.
Chris Jericho is a rehash from the past, fresh off a Dancing with the Stars run, who simply doesn't have it anymore. HHH is only in his spot because of sleeping with the boss's daughter and so forth and so on. While all these things may be true indeed, how is it good business to point out the short comings of those who you hope to push and even make money with?
Do it like it has Always Been Done
Back in the '80s and '90s when wrestling was hot, I couldn't imagine Vince McMahon letting any of his workers go out on the stick and break kayfabe simply to draw heat on an angle. Imagine if Vince McMahon in the mid '90s would have allowed Shane Douglas to get on the mic and have at it against Ric Flair or Shawn Michaels.
It would have made for good television, yeah. But it doesn't accomplish the main focus of what promos are suppose to do, make the performers look better and make people interested in seeing the wrestling matches.
Don't get me wrong, there have been angles and feuds based on real life heat; Kevin Sullivan and Chris Benoit comes to mind. But these guys never aired their grievances on national television. Backstage events occur and tense moments may even occur in the ring. But doing what was best for the match at hand always seemed to prevail in the end.
Stranger than Fiction
This brings me to last night on Raw. We saw The Rock ramble on for about 20 minutes, talking about Fruity Pebbles boxes, Cena not being legit tough, him being a fraud and not being the "Doctor of Thuganomics," going to a private school, him being rammed down the fans throats, jean shorts and everything else imaginable.
In the inverse, you had John Cena talking about Dwayne Johnson vs. The Rock, Dwayne being self-centered behind the scenes and the infamous "promo notes."
This segment, if even in a worked sense, did a great job of showing us that these guys really don't like each other. If this was UFC, I would have already have ordered this PPV. But see, all of this stuff is counter productive in that we know wrestling isn't real. We also know that these guys should be being presented as two icons, two legends in the sport. Not two bickering, as Rock likes to yell, "bitches."
Wrestling is not real, so why try and sell us on the fact that these guys have legitimate real life heat? Again, WWE is trying to serve two masters here. You are pointing out that your product is not real by showing that there is a life that exist outside of it.
When Cena talks about Dwayne Johnson, it has nothing to do with the "WWE Universe." You are taking away attention from the matter at hand. The focus should be on the in ring battle, not if you are gonna punch Cena in the face at the caterers table.
The Rock will not seek out to bust open Cena the hard way at Mania in their match. Cena will not kick The Rock in the balls and try to really hurt him. So who cares about how much they don't like each other outside of the ring?
Does Breaking Kayfabe and/or Shooting Add to Match Building?
Not once have they talked about wanting to prove who the better wrestler is, seeing who is the biggest icon. It has just been, "I am gonna beat the crap out of you at Mania." Personally, this does not make me want to see this match more.
I guess I will compare it to a Hollywood movie. Let's say that Heath Ledger and Christian Bale had legitimate heat with each other on the set of The Dark Knight. So much that they almost got into a fight on set. It's not like this heat would make the movie better.
You can't film an actual fight scene between these two and put it on camera, because you have to follow the script. But what can happen is the director can channel the tension between the two actors and find a way to make that best come across when they both share the screen.
The Boss has to be the Boss
This is what Vincent McMahon isn't doing. I feel it has gotten to the point where he is just giving Cena and Johnson the mic and letting them have at it. While it is helping Cena in this war of words, I feel it is leaving The Rock reaching, going off cue, and, more importantly, simply trying to express how much he genuinely doesn't like Cena. It's starting to feel like this is the point. The point of making The Rock look weak, bringing him down to Cena's level in the process.
In a match, especially of this magnitude, the fighters should look to be on an even field. If the WWE has to insert little devices that allow Cena to be able to compete with Johnson, one's that seem to be breaking kayfabe at that, I don't see how that could be seen as being good for business. Vince needs to be firm, tell these two great performers to get off of the shoot promos (on Twitter and in the ring), build this match how wrestling has been built for decades and let the fans be apart of something more than a pissing contest.
Let a Mark be a Mark
As much as I am a fan of the Deadpool comics, I am not a fan of breaking the fourth wall. Lately, wrestling has been overrun by it. You simply do not expose more to the viewer than you have to; that is just common knowledge of any form of entertainment. While it can be effective in some instances, too much is not a good thing. Imagine Criss Angel showing you how he executes a magic trick, and then being confused on why you aren't captivated when he performs it for you.
Originally it worked perfectly with CM Punk because he seemed like a disgruntled WWE employee who seemed like he really was going to leave WWE, with a WWE Championship and all. The Internet reports worked in his favor and made it all seem to be a shoot. It made sense from the business end going into his match with Cena.
For him to continue with this character, especially after he got everything he was seeking from WWE to stay, does not make sense. It also doesn't make sense from Cena, who is the biggest star in WWE, to point out, complain, criticize or shoot on anything or anybody.
See, the thing that bothered me most about the Rock/Cena segment on Raw was that Cena pointed out that The Rock had promo notes on his wrist. Being worked or not, some things are just best left alone. Now while there is a large segment of the audience that knows wrestling is fake, there are still those who don't know how the inner workings come together.
For you to point that out only shows that you (or whoever wrote your dialogue) have no real sense of the business. It's like Cena's pointing out to Flair that he blades all the time, or pointing out the blade itself.
In the past, Vince has been furious about anyone letting the secrets of the business out. Now, just to pop a rating, he would allow Cena to point that out? Would he even go so far to put that in the script as a talking point for Cena to attack? It just goes to show how out of touch McMahon is with the wrestling product or it shows just how much the industry has changed on what I grew up loving.
If you let a fan know that a wrestler is reading from a script, that might lead them to believe there is an actual script. If there is a script then there must be someone over the script, and a script for the wrestlers to follow. Once that is established, it is hard for me to believe that you can convince people that two wrestlers are about to get in the ring and actually fight to an outcome.
And again, this brings me back to my original complaint.
With all the great exchanges that The Rock and Cena have had and probably will have in the future, in the purist form of what wrestling is, this format is just failing to make anyone want to see these two wrestlers wrestle. It may make you want to see these two men fight, but again, these aren't two men set to square off in the octagon. You know, you could make a wrestling match seem like an actual fight, but you'd rather be more entertaining.
In an attempt to make these two men seem to have a bloodlust and to make the WWE seem edgy again, them breaking kayfabe in actuality is making the WWE seem like a product that is out of touch with what the fans want. And that is good ole fashioned match building.
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