Is The WWE Using It's African-American Superstars Properly?
With the abrupt departure of several of the WWE's top stars in the past year like Shawn Michaels and Dave Batista, and with the recent injuries to the Undertaker and Triple H, WWE officials have been scrambling to find younger stars to push to main event status.
The WWE has spent the last several months taking a hard look at the entire roster of low/mid-card talent, and they continue to tag some of their more promising stars for a serious push.
Mid-card staples like the Miz, Kane, and Drew McIntyre continue to get runs with the gold, and are being pushed to main event status, while young stars like Daniel Bryan, Wade Barrett, Dolph Ziggler, and even Cody Rhodes are being elevated to the top of the talent pool.
But in its effort to strengthen its "youthful" roster by creating a plethora of new stars in a short period of time, is the WWE overlooking its now-prominent African-American roster? Or simply mis-using them?
Let's take an in-depth look....
Ron Killings (a.k.a R-Truth) has had more than his fair share of gimmicks throughout his career, but perhaps his current role as the WWE's Flavor Flav-esque hypeman has truly worn out its welcome.
Truth has been a fan favorite for the past couple of years for the 45 seconds it takes for him to "perform" his way to the ring.
From bell to bell he can work as good as anyone. But where is this character heading, and more importantly, is there any room for him in the new WWE main event roster?
Attire: Baggy Jeans with....is that CHALK on the side? C'mon man! A baseball batting glove? Kris-Kross style braids? Wrestling in jewelry?
I don't know if he is breaking all the rules, attempting to stand out, or just plain out of touch, but this superstar is only ever going to be as legit as he looks.
Not only is his look outdated, but there really isn't a demographic available that can relate to this guy, on first glance.
Ring Entrance: After the Undertaker's 17-minute Ring Entrance, R-Truth arguably possesses the most popular ring entrance in the WWE.
I must admit that when I first saw his ring entrance, I quickly turned my eyes away and cringed in awkwardness. I had never seen such awkward inexplicably epileptic dance moves.
But my younger sister thought the song was hilarious, and I soon became fascinated with it as well. WWE's PG audience is clearly drawn to this call and response lyrics and he's fun to watch, in an entertaining way.
But this entrance has absolutely worn out its welcome, and that was highlighted this past month when the now easily-annoyed Michael Cole begin to bury Truth's entrance week after week on Raw.
I think I speak for all fans when I say "ENOUGH ALREADY!" Two weeks ago, Truth debuted a new song, hoping to rekindle that spark.
The reality is that Truth's song isn't the only thing that needs re-packaging.
Personality and Mic Skills: Besides saying "[Insert city here] What's up!", we haven't heard much from Truth this past year. He seems to have small spats with other stars as they pass him up on their way to the top (see. Miz.....How in the world did Truth let Miz "injure" him right before Money In The Bank, cause him to miss his shot at the MITB prize, and never get a revenge match???)
Truth never says much on the mic, because it seems as if he doesn't have much to say. He has an argument, a disagreement, a quarrel with another star, but never seems to care enough to pursue it.
He had some good moments in the weeks leading up to SummerSlam as he joined to Team WWE, but the whole time, I was scratching my head thinking, "Well okay, but what is his purpose?" That about sums it up. What is Truth's purpose?
Is his character just a rapper who is focused on making music and keeping the crowd happy? Does he have legitimate beef with another star that he would like to pursue through a PPV or two? Is there a title that he has his sights set on?
(He had a brief run with the US Title, and seemed to care less that he lost it, and never really pursued it, which de-valued both Truth and the Title itself).
I know the funny dynamic entertaining personality is there somewhere, but will WWE finally highlight the good, and eliminate the "I'm cool with everyone" attitude?
Future and Possible Changes: HEEL!!!! I know this is an easy fix (especially when you mention what can be done about refreshing John Cena), but I think a heel turn might do him some good. I don't know that he is a natural heel, but he can still try and play one on TV, right?
Being a heel would force him to have targets, whether it be individuals he has beef with, or a certain piece of gold he covets.
He's not over enough to be ready for main event status, but he is one good solid feud away....the worst thing the WWE can do is put him with another mid-carder like Ted Dibiase or John Morrison to let them struggle along together, never progressing.
Perhaps a long, heated feud with a star like Chris Jericho or Edge, to get him over the right way. The second worst thing WWE can do is throw him in a heel stable like Nexus, so he can be lost in the shuffle all over again, and receive little to no mic time.
He needs to shine, he needs to talk, he needs to show some long-term anger and aggression and PASSION.
Or he could just keep rapping his way back to WWE Superstars....
The Artists Formerly Known As CRYME TYME
(Let me just say this. We're three stars in, and already we've had a "rapper" and two street thug gimmicks....what does the WWE think of African-Americans anyway?)
I thought that when an established legit tag team is broken up, it's because they are ready for serious singles pushes (or at least one of them).
Since the breakup of Cryme Tyme, JTG has been on a downward spiral to where even the most common street thugs can't catch a break - WWE Superstars.
Shad has literally disappeared from the scene. Truth be told, many WWE officials are pretty high on Shad Gaspard, and would like to push him to main event status, but have sent him down to FCW to clean up his skills.
I think both of these young men do have promise, and JTG's dynamic personality can easily shine through in any role.
It says a lot about both of these guys that they were willing to put on this embarrassing stereotypical thug gimmick as long as they did, and they should finally be given a chance to be themselves.
JTG's Future and Possible Changes: JTG is not a bad tag team guy, and might do well to team up with another young star like MVP, or perhaps one of the young NXT'ers.
He doesn't have to win gold to be legitimate on Smackdown either. He has a long way to go, but a couple of good feuds could really build the momentum.
If he stays face, I would book a feud with a heel like Drew McIntyre or another "different side of the tracks feud" with Cody Rhodes, where JTG is attacked week after week until he is the underdog that overcomes at a PPV.
If he turns heel, perhaps a feud with a young fan favorite like Kofi Kingston would really draw serious heat and make him more of a legitimate threat.
Shad's Future and Possible Changes: I am really high on this guy, and I think there is only one way for the WWE to make him into a star.
They have to approach his stardom the same as Wade Barrett's. Make him a star by association, make him a star just because you say he is.
It has to come out of nowhere. If they expect to spend months and months building him up fighting his way through the Christians and Jack Swaggers of the world, he'll never get there. Here's my plan (just go with me here, for a second):
1) Move him to Raw....
2) Continue building this tension between Edge and this mysterious "RAW GM" leading to Edge forcing the GM to finally reveal himself....
3) Announce that Shad sold out and has become Vince's crony and is the new Raw GM.
4) Have him insert himself in the main event title chase with Orton, Cena, Sheamus, Edge, Barrett, etc., by abusing his power as Raw GM.
Have him create lopsided matches with Orton or Cena for the title and have him win.
Why this works: Fans will have the same reaction that you are having right now: complete and absolute fury over the idea. Not only will it come out of nowhere, but many will begin to say he's not good enough, he doesn't deserve this, blah blah.
My response: Jack Swagger. Jack Swagger seemingly came out of nowhere to win MITB and become the World Heavyweight Champion five days later on Smackdown.
Now he is a legit title contender whenever WWE remembers to put him back in contention. In this role, Shad would be given power, control, and could force wins so that he appears strong and dominant, while also being hated by the fans.
Although Raw is heel heavy right now at the top (Edge, Jericho, Miz, Sheamus, etc.) he could easily be one of the top heels. The Raw GM gimmick wouldn't have to last long, maybe three or four months.
But in that short time, he could "control" the fate of every WWE superstar on Raw, and every title. He could control the fate of John Cena and the Nexus and he could determine his own future as a top guy.
He has the size and the dominant look, all he needs is the the right storyline, and this one would definitely thrust him into the main event status. The fans will learn to like it and accept it, just like they did with Sheamus, Swagger, and plenty others before them.
Anyone with the nickname "The World's Strongest Man" should be dominant every single time he goes out.
Let's be honest, Mark Henry went from huge to morbidly obese, and he is probably experiencing his last years, but he is still a fan favorite. He can still have a decent short match, and can legitimately beat most guys in the company.
He is much too large to continue jobbing to guys like Cody Rhodes and Drew McIntyre, chasing after Hornswoggle, or teaming with Evan Bourne.
WWE needs to go back to the days of legitimate feuds not related to any title shot, and let Mark Henry feud with some guys regularly.
Future and Possible Changes: Mark Henry would have been a great staple in the ongoing feud against the Nexus. He could have some good power matches against David Otunga and Skip Sheffield, and even Wade Barrett.
Mark Henry isn't bad on the mic either, in small doses, and he could really help to put over some of these younger guys.
I know the WWE isn't giving him any victories over John Cena or Randy Orton any time soon, but Mark Henry could still be an upper mid-card talent facing guys like Sheamus, helping to strengthen their resume.
If he's going to job, shouldn't it be in legitimate matches and storylines against other future stars like Barrett, Sheamus, and maybe even the Miz? I think so....
After being sidelined with injury for the past few months, can Ezekiel come back stronger than ever?
Besides Kofi Kingston, this young star might be the most ready for a prime time spot on the WWE roster...Ezekiel Jackson has the size, and the look of a beast.
He is a great heel, and he has the believable aggression necessary to take out the top guys in the company.
My biggest concern is his mic skills. The WWE did a great job pairing him with William Regal on ECW, and it might benefit him to continue that partnership for a few months, while Jackson re-establishes himself.
Or the WWE could consider re-packaging him upon his return with a more elaborate gimmick.
My biggest fear is that WWE will indeed repackage him, and make him play a more stereotypical comical heel role, or just a flat out offensive role (much like R-Truth and Cryme Tyme). Let Jackson be Jackson.
Let his true persona come out and give him a purpose, whether it be an enemy, revenge, or some type of title or goal.
(Note: They don't always have to chase titles to have a legit purpose. Stars can pursue other goals like, King of the Ring, Royal Rumble, Money In the Bank, undefeated streaks, creating a stable, etc.)
Jackson has potential. Regardless of race, this guy can be a star in the next year or two, and WWE would be wise to invest serious time and effort into his role, and then step back and give him the opportunity to put it into action.
MVP...Montel Vontavious Porter....
Montel Vontavious Porter....
Montel Montel Montel.....
*Sigh* MVP has been one of the biggest disappointments of 2010, but not of his own doing. For those who don't know, MVP has one of the most powerful stories and backgrounds in WWE.
He is truly living the American dream after overcoming his prison time years ago....He's not afraid to talk about his struggle.
I remember being fascinated by him when I read about his ring attire and how he wore the long-sleeve body suit because he didn't want kids to see all of his tattoos from his former life and get the wrong idea about that lifestyle.
MVP fell in the stereotypical gimmick of the materialistic "blinged out" athlete with no morals, and was not to be taken seriously.
He had some runs with the U.S. Championship, and a good pursuit of the Tag belts with Mark Henry last fall.
Then WWE did something interesting. They placed MVP in an ongoing feud with the Miz. But it was no ordinary feud.
Well, the gimmick was pretty recycled: the guy who grew up in the streets versus the guy who's had it made his whole life.
But in MVP's case, this feud was more real than any of us know. I was shocked when I saw the episode of Raw when MVP was given the chance to talk about the mistakes he made that led him to jail time, his mistakes with gangs, and how he learned the way to turn his life around.
This was the most real MVP had ever been with his character, and it came off as much more honest and believable than anything he or anyone else had done recently.
And the Miz was the perfect counterbalance to that, and he played his role perfectly.
What went wrong? The WWE took control of the feud, and essentially buried it. The feud culminated in an unannounced match at the 2010 Royal Rumble where the Miz won despite being notified just five minutes before the bell rang that he would be competing.
Then it was over and MVP never was given the chance to capitalize on the momentum, while Miz kept climbing. (Starting to see the pattern here with the Miz being involved in half-feuds with guys and then nothing ever happens with them...MVP, Truth, Mark Henry, Kofi....)
MVP was later traded to Smackdown where he has been less than memorable for months. Just wandering aimlessly.
I honestly don't know what the future holds with MVP, but I know that the current direction (or lack thereof) isn't working. Is he a main-eventer? I can't honestly say that he is now, or ever will be.
But he can definitely have an impact in the company, either in the tag ranks or in the singles ranks. What would I do to change? I don't know.
When the WWE was ready to sign MVP, he was prepared for his run. He pitched his idea for the current gimmick to WWE officials and they loved it, and they loved his enthusiasm.
It definitely worked long enough to get him established, but it hasn't progressed as of late.
Perhaps this would be a good time for WWE officials to sit down with MVP again, and get some more creative ideas from him about where HE would like his character to go. He did it once, I hope he can do it again....
The David Otunga and Michael Tarver
....oh yeah...Darren Young, too I guess....
The Nexus has been the saving grace of Raw for the past three months, until they were inexplicably buried at SummerSlam by John Cena.
Since then, questions and rumors continue to swirl about the future of Nexus and its stars. I could write for hours on the past, present, and future of Nexus, but for now let's discuss Otunga and Tarver....and I guess Young.
David Otunga: Tons of potential. Great look. Great size. Decent, improving mic skills (although the script only hurts him. He should be given broad bullet points and allowed to just talk). Horrible in-ring skills.
It. That's right It. He has It. They can teach the ring skills with time, but you can't teach It.
He has the Superstar presence and more importantly, the confidence to be one of the future leaders of the company. He already has name recognition, so as an individual, he's on his way.
The problem with the WWE's use of Otunga is the same as Nexus' overall problem....no purpose. When Nexus first arrived, they claimed to have a "much much bigger purpose" week after week.
That purpose has since been forgotten, and they have nothing better to do than keep getting beat week after week by John Cena. Besides the fact that it's utterly ridiculous than anyone man with a bat could beat seven guys at once, Cena's continued victories have done nothing but bury these guys.
If the best WWE can come up with is have these guys to lose to Cena every week, individually and collectively, then get Cena out of that program and put someone else in against them (i.e. Orton, Jericho, Mark Henry, Daniel Bryan, the Hart Dynasty).
Regardless, Otunga also needs his own purpose. Is he the de facto second in command? Is he looking to overthrow Barrett and become the new leader?
Is he going to pair up with Sheffield or Tarver to join the tag team division? WWE can do a lot for Otunga by simply answering these questions and moving forward with him according to that answer. I know many critics would like to see Otunga in the tag division, and that would be fine, but I think he would be better served to bring back relevance to the Intercontinental Championship.
He would make a great IC Champion, not to mention the fact that Nexus has been dominant for months but still hasn't captured a single title yet, which makes NO SENSE.
Michael Tarver: After Wade Barrett and Skip Sheffield, I think Michael Tarver has the biggest potential. He is a great hell, the kind that everyone in the arena can hate.
On NXT Season 1, he was awkward and confused, but since the Nexus run began, he has showed nothing but promise. He has great mic skills (in fact, he should be talking as much as Barrett to draw more heat), his in-ring work is less than great but improving, and he just looks like a mean, pull out all the stops heel.
Don't take this the wrong way, because I mean no disrespect by this - but Michael Tarver, at some brief times....very few.....very briefly....has showed signs of the great Ric Flair! WHOOOOOOOAAAT? Don't overreact to what I said. At times....very briefly....much in the way that Ric Flair often played the coward heel in the ring, (i.e. getting down on his knees and begging for mercy, running and hiding when the face chases him, cheap shots to the eye and groin).
Tarver absolutely can be that kind of heel. In an era where no superstar heel (besides Chris Jericho) is willing to have an embarassing or defeated moment, he can be a great "coward" heel who cheats to win, talks more smack than anyone, loses every night and shows up the next day like he just won the title.
Tarver can be this annoying, mean, love to hate, cowardly heel on his own. The question is, will WWE be creative and open enough to teach him how, and to push him.
Darren Young: I really don't have much to say. He obviously works out a lot. What else is there to say? I tell ya what....If Darren Young cuts his hair, then we'll talk. In fact, if Darren Young cuts his hair, I'll devote an entire post to Darren Young.
The Next World Champion? Perhaps...
Finally...I get to one guy who WWE has been using semi-properly.
Kofi Kingston is absolutely on the rise. He is one of the most entertaining in-ring performers the WWE has, and they actually have done a pretty decent job allowing him to showcase his in-ring skills. He's had a successful (although quiet) U.S. title run, and short-lived but interesting Intercontinental Title run...and now....
Only time will tell. But the future is extremely bright for Kofi Kingston. He is a fan favorite, comes out to huge pops every night. I believe he could sell merchandise, especially for the kids. He may not be selling out arenas yet, but who is besides Cena and Taker?
Kofi can definitely improve on his mic skills, but I don't think that will be too difficult. His biggest problem (as with many of these guys) is that he has gotten caught up in playing a character, that the fans have no idea who he really is. The biggest stars in WWE history are all guys that the fans connecte
d to, because we could all imagine exactly what they would be like behind the scenes. We knew Stone Cold would be just as harsh and entertaining and would absolutely have a beer or two with us.
We knew the Rock would be hilariously funny and cocky as hell. We knew Shawn Michaels and Triple H would display the same college boy toilet humor.
What do we know about the real Kofi? Not much...yet. If the WWE can give Kofi as much air time as possible, not just in the ring, but in the locker room, in interviews, behind the scenes, etc....fans can continue to get to know the man behind the character and see and connect with Kofi. That is what it takes for him to make the jump from where he is now.
As far as storylines go, Kofi can absolutely work with anyone in the company. He had a great feud (although anti-climactic) with Randy Orton last year.
He could have another great feud with the Heel version of John Cena in the future, which would be quite entertaining with the right story. He could also be great with Chris Jericho, although Jericho is such a star that he might make Kofi look worse. (Let's face it. Jericho is so good that he makes everyone look worse). But Jericho also would know the right way to put Kofi over.
Kofi could also have a nice title feud with Barrett, Kane, Mysterio, Swagger (see all you Shad haters, Swagger is a legit contender and you didn't even think twice. Just one week. MITB. Champ 5 days later. YES SHAD CAN!).
My ideal feud for him right now would be against Sheamus. Randy Orton certainly doesn't need the gold to be over with fans. And as long as a face has the belt, the other faces can't really contend.
Give the belt back to Sheamus, and somehow get Kofi in a cross-promotional feud where both stars are on both shows going after each other.
Just thoughts, but whatever they do, they better do it good. They've got a prime talent in their hands with Kofi Kingston, and it would take real effort to screw up this guy's inevitable Championship reign....
Only time will tell. But as I look on the WWE.com roster right now, I see nothing but Caucasian champions. That's not a problem, except that I also look at who those champions are feuding with, and not a single African-American star is even in the picture.
With the talent we just highlighted, and with the resurgence of Latino stars like Rey Mysterio and the red-hot Alberto Del Rio, one of these superstars should at least be in contention. Maybe WWE will pick up the ball in the future, and give these guys the chance that many of them deserve....