Undercard Overhaul is a fantasy booking series born of one fan's intense frustration with WWE's creative direction, pitching ideas that may better serve the Three E's of Good Wrestling: each performer has a place; every match matters; and even the midcard can draw.
Today: "A Curious Case of Comeuppance" featuring Alberto Del Rio.
No one ever says, "I have to buy tickets to Smackdown because I'm emotionally invested in seeing Alberto Del Rio get his butt kicked!"
(It's not just Del Rio, but he's being singled out in this piece.)
WWE's business model has been reshaped to court bandwagon jumpers fixated on Mary Sue characters (merch movers), fair weather fans who don't want or care about meta-narrative, legitimate athletes or honest-to-God storytellers—of which Del Rio is one. Thus, nobody's buying a ticket to see him (or anybody else on the roster not named Cena, Orton or Sheamus).
The psychological crux of classic (re: good) professional wrestling is the concept of comeuppance, karma or the idea that bad guys get what's coming to them in the end. The entire industry is built on that spiritual axis, an homage to Greek theater-in-the-round, where fans find justice and hope in good vanquishing evil in ways not commonly observed from 9:00 to 5:00.
It would follow, then, that Del Rio's true purpose as one of WWE's top-tier antagonists is not perpetual incitement of the crowd, but to offer a cathartic release when he "gets his." That used to mean losing a marquee match-up, but that's no longer enough. The weight of a Superstar's record has been subdued, and that satisfying spark of cathartic comeuppance is no longer taking place.
Shows haven't always been so accessible or frequent; the Internet hadn't yet killed kayfabe; Vince McMahon still believed in enhancement talent; and wins and losses used to mean something. Prestige has been stripped from championships and nobody's fighting for anything anymore. Even if they were, we've been conditioned not to care.
Modern wrestling, or sports entertainment, is intellectually flimsy and we need to swing the needle back to a place where bad guys reaping what they sowed is a crucial part of the spectacle—to a place where people will buy tickets to see Alberto Del Rio get his butt kicked.
In a sport that thrives on showing people things they've never seen before, Del Rio has been the same character since his debut.
He's grown stagnant, cutting the same promo week after week, using the same arsenal of sneak attacks and "vicious beatings." Even Ricardo, the little ring announcer that could, has lost his power to compel an audience to feel anything (good or bad) for Del Rio.
Alberto's brackishness, coupled with the loss of wrestling as a (faux) competitive sport, makes it much harder for fans to connect to Del Rio's character in any meaningful way.
They won't tune in or buy tickets to see what happens next because what happens next is what happened last time they wondered what would happen next, and the time before that: absolutely nothing. Losses (that don't matter) don't have any effect whatsoever on Del Rio (who never changes).
In order for Del Rio to "pay off" his antics (and the crowd to go home happy), he must suffer some kind of comeuppance that transcends the record books and splits his fat-cat persona right down the middle.
If Del Rio is an affluent member of the Mexican aristocracy, saddle him with a symbol of Mexican poverty. Instead of driving a fancy car to the ring, he's riding down on the back of a pack mule led by Ricardo, face contorted with indignity and rage. ("Ass" jokes ensue on what's supposed to be PG TV.)
The set-up is easy: force Del Rio into a situation where his honor is at stake and he's willing to bargain anything to prove himself, maybe a shot at the World Championship (vs. Sheamus) or someone making fun of his lauded "Destiny" (vs. Christian).
The (much cheaper to rent than a sports car) donkey becomes a stipulation at the next pay-per-view he loses, Del Rio spends the next two to three months playing angles to get out of it and the fans finally feel like that rich evil-doer finally got what he deserved.
Jeremiah Allan is a sometime comic book writer, 2009 graduate of Ottawa University (Ottawa, KS), and senior staff writer at Wormwood: a Serialized Mystery. Check the article archive for previous installments of Undercard Overhaul.