So Jack Swagger recently made his return to WWE television with a scruffy beard, Dutch Mandel, and a new storyline where he hates immigrants because he's a "real American".
WWE seemed to believed this would transition nicely into a feud with newly crowned champion Alberto Del Rio because Del Rio is, after all, Mexican and Swagger hates Mexicans...what could go wrong?
Well, the problem is that no one seems to give a flying rat's behind about Swagger's new character and Del Rio's babyface act (aside from his entrance) isn't exactly setting the world on fire.
The issue here is that people aren't connecting with either the babyface or the heel in this situation. As you know, wrestling is all about drawing reactions (positive or negative) from people by presenting situations that they can easily understand and relate to.
Take last night for example: The Undertaker was paying tribute to the late, great Paul Bearer when CM Punk interrupted with his obnoxious heel act and generally acted like a complete jerk. Even if you think the angle was tasteless, the concept was very simple: Punk is a jerk and therefore Undertaker needs to destroy him at WrestleMania.
Wrestling crowds always seem to connect to the most basic of ideas. A heel does something terrible to a babyface, so the babyface wants revenge and fans are willing to pay to see it. That has been the foundation of wrestling for a hundred years, so why does WWE believe fans want "soap operas" and "movies" that play out on TV?
Jack Swagger is certainly playing a Tea Party knock-off which, for non-American fans, could be a little confusing. As an extreme right-wing organization, the Tea Party is a vocal minority in the United States and has some support and opposition but the normal wrestling fan isn't generally going to be the most politically-minded person in the world.
Another problem is that Jack Swagger's gimmick doesn't seem to go beyond "I hate immigrants". You see, there's a huge difference between gimmicks and characters in wrestling. Gimmicks are things like immigrant-hater Jack Swagger, wrestling dancer Fandango, and funky guy Brodus Clay. Gimmick wrestlers are one-trick ponies who aren't going to offer you anything in the long run.
Characters are guys like Steve Austin, someone who has a complete personality and gives the crowd a reason to love or hate him through actions and match behavior. Ric Flair's character was so solid that the Rock made a superstar career out of being Ric Flair 2000 for a large portion of his heel run. CM Punk has developed his character so well over the past few years that he's solidified himself as a main event star. Gimmicks might sell t-shirts but characters sell tickets.
Aside from his anti-immigration stuff, what has Swagger done to earn the slot of a "main event" heel? Beat up Jim Duggan? Jim Duggan hasn't had heat on him since 1988.
The other half of the problem is Alberto Del Rio. Now, I liked the Del Rio heel character and I thought he was half-decent in the ring. Sure, he was hurt quite a bit by not beating Edge for the title at WrestleMania a little while ago but the character definitely could have been salvaged.
However, this new babyface Del Rio is everything that every fan over 15 years old hates: Pandering.
Babyfaces who pander to the crowd will never get over. Now, there's a major difference between pandering to the crowd and playing to the crowd. Playing to the crowd encourages the people to cheer for you, motivates them to get behind you, and slowly builds over time. Pandering to the crowd is the equivalent of getting on the mic and saying "hey everyone, I'm trying really hard so please cheer for me."
The only real bright spot in this whole this is Dutch Mandel aka Zeb Coulter. "Dirty" Dutch has always been a great promo guy and he has had some bright spots during this run with Swagger. However, this storyline is so shallow that he doesn't really have much material to work with.
Besides, didn't WWE already do this whole deal with JBL and Eddie Guerrero a few years back? Remember when Bradshaw patrolled the Mexican border to "make the world safe for democracy"? It's simply a rehash of that storyline but the big difference is that Swagger has about 1/8th of the charisma that JBL showed as a heel.
Yes, I realize that I am over-analyzing an undercard match on a four-hour pay-per-view. However, this kind of thing prevalent all over the WWE roster outside of the main event.
These are kind of problems you run into when you fire wrestling writers and hire soap opera writers to head up your creative team. It's not a successful model and yet another reason why WWE's business is not as strong as it should be.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!