Grading the Grudge: Analyzing the Angle Between WWE's the Miz and Alex Riley
Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant, Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat, Shawn Michaels vs. the Undertaker. These are the a few of the greatest grudges in pro wrestling history.
What makes them so? Hulk Hogan is by no means a great technical wrestler, even in his heyday. Ricky Steamboat's promos didn't really set the world on fire. Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker were well into their 40's when they collided in consecutive WrestleManias.
While each of these rivalries have factors that can be nitpicked, they all possess a majority of the essential elements needed for a dynamic feud. For an angle to develop, it needs a spark. What possesses two men (or two women) to step in the ring and resolve their differences with aggressive gladitorial behavior?
A feud needs a strong back story. Great wrestlers develop a story within the ring. Their moves are crisp and effective. There is ring psychology. This is the stuff that star ratings are made of. Considering that most angles are only resolved once or twice in the ring, it's absolutely important that both superstars not only maintain their conflict, but escalate with out of the ring action, whether that be promos, interviews or how they choose to affect their opponent's outcomes while they're wrestling other people.
Speaking of Hulk and Andre, it's incredibly helpful to have superstars with pre-existing popularity to bring people to the table (and slap down the money for a pay per view buy).
Finally, and possibly most important, is the payoff to the feud. Significant time is invested into seeing two superstars get in the ring and having one walk out the victor. Who won, what methods did they employ to win and what type of match (or championship opportunities) are questions that solidify a feud as a great one.
Over the course of this slideshow, these five factors will be graded: back story, in ring action, out of ring action, pre-existing popularity and payoff. These grades will then be averaged, and the feud will be given a grade.
For the first installment of this article series, it was important to highlight a feud that was recent and that was (seemingly) resolved. The actual physical feud lasted about two months, but the build to the feud had started eight months prior. Read on to see the grade for The Miz vs. Alex Riley!
If you watch enough wrestling, you start to see the end at the beginning, especially in a mentor/mentoree relationship.
In the Miz's storybook rise to the WWE championship, Alex Riley became an integral part. Miz and Riley became acquaintances when Miz was Riley's mentor on NXT Season 2. After not winning NXT, Riley was hired as Miz's personal assistant. Riley dressed like The Miz, emulating not only his appearance, but his smug heel mannerisms. Riley did everything possible in this role to ensure Miz would win and maintain the WWE championship. He interfered in many matches, took the Miz's place in a few matches and as a result, would often eat the finishing move meant for the Miz.
Although John Cena bested Miz in a match where the stipulation was that Alex Riley would be fired, Miz countered by rehiring him as his V.P. of Corporate Communications. When things were good, the Miz's attitude toward his apprentice was equally good. When things went bad for The Miz, however, he would look for a scapegoat, and Riley was the goat. This abusive element to their relationship reached a head when Miz couldn't regain his title against John Cena at Over the Limit (his third consecutive loss to Cena).
The next night on Raw, Miz berated Alex Riley, blaming him solely for the loss. He became physical and ultimately fired him. This resulted in Alex Riley losing his composure and beating up Miz for a prolonged time, met by a surprisingly loud pop by the crowd. A feud was born.
Grade for Back Story (out of five stars): ****
Analysis: The amount of time both competitors spent together prior to the turn really solidified this back story. There could have been more degradation of their relationship post Wrestlemania; things were a bit hurried. Otherwise, a very good back story.
In Ring Action
As a fan of the Miz, I really try to look for his improvement as a wrestler. He can cut a great promo, but his area of weakness is his wrestling skill set. Miz has definitely improved over the past few years, especially with match pacing. With that being said, his offense is still variations of basic wrestling moves: DDT, neckbreaker, Russian leg sweep, clothesline, etc.
Even though Miz's skills are still emerging, Alex Riley's to date are much more limited. Riley has a big man body but doesn't really showcase anything other than clotheslines, a spinebuster and his finishing move, a DDT. He is noticeably "green," exemplified by poor timing and execution during his matches. The two men thus far have been involved oppositionally in eight matches, counting tag matches and multi-person matches. Riley went 5-2 in those matches (Alberto Del Rio won the Money at the Bank match against both men).
One on one, Riley had the advantage as well, winning two out of three against his mentor. Their matches held to a very simple, time tested formula: a heel beatdown of the face followed by a face comeback. There was a lot of brawling and little wrestling, which makes sense considering the severity of the two superstar's hatred of each other.
Grade for In Ring Action (out of five stars): **1/2
Analysis: Even though punch-kick-punch can be exciting for a few minutes, when it's the majority of your time in the ring, it gets a bit monotonous. Also, you're asking a lot to expect Miz, who is still coming into his own, to carry a match with a very new competitor.
Out of the Ring Action
Starting with the initial blowup between these two, much of the buildup in their feud started out of the ring. As previously mentioned, this is where the Miz excels. His take on the story is that Alex Riley is ungrateful and that he, The Miz, enabled Alex to have a job and learn from the best. Alex Riley's side was that the Miz couldn't have achieved the heights he did without Riley's assistance. Fortunately, Riley (like his mentor) can handle the mic, and came off as confident and justifiably angry.
Immediately after the May 23 Raw, where the feud started, it was followed on the next Raw when The Miz's biggest advocate, Michael Cole, interviewed Alex Riley in the middle of the ring about his "betrayal" of The Miz. Much like the week earlier, it included a verbal beatdown of Riley, this time by Cole, until Riley lost it.
Before Riley could take his frustration out on Cole, Miz came out and tried to exact revenge on Riley, but to avail. Riley was able to fight off Miz back down the aisle and was left standing tall.
The next week, Riley was given a rub when he was partnered with John Cena against the Miz. Cena, wary of Riley because of his past interactions with him, said he "respected" him. It helped that later in the night, Riley hit Miz with the Money in the Bank briefcase rather than turn on Cena.
The following Raw really pushed this feud in light of the Capitol Punishment PPV six days later. Miz and Riley were in the ring with both Stone Cold Steve Austin and Rowdy Roddy Piper. Miz scored some major points by bragging to Piper that unlike him, he's actually won the WWE championship. This lead to a bout between Piper and Miz with 5,000.00 each on the line, which Riley refereed. Predictably, Piper won this match.
At Capitol Punishment, Alex Riley beat Miz cleanly in a 10 minute match. Had the feud ended there, quite a few of my grades would be different, but the next night on Raw, Miz and Riley were involved in a six man tag where Riley's team won, although neither men were involved in the pinning sequence.
On next Monday's Raw, The Miz and Alex Riley had a singles competition where once again, Alex Riley won, this time in nine minutes. Postmatch, Miz gets his first real show of uninterrupted offense against Riley as he beat him up outside the ring, ultimately kicking him over the guardrail.
Next week's Raw featured promos by each of the participants in the upcoming Raw Money in the Bank ladder match, which featured Miz and Riley, among others. Later in the evening, both superstars were in another six man tag, which Riley's team won...again.
In Money in the Bank, Miz was seemingly injured. Him and Reilly fought during the match, but were certainly not a focus. Neither competitor won the match; that honor went to Alberto Del Rio.
The only real interesting Miz related Money in the Bank moment was his injury because on the next night, they had a title tournament for the now vacant title. In a way, it was like the WWE was testing the waters for a Miz face turn because they had him win while noticeably limping against his first two opponents advancing to the finals, where he lost to Rey Mysterio the following week. His first opponent of the night...Alex Riley. He beat Riley in a five minute match, which apparently ended their feud.
Grade for Out of Ring Action (out of five stars) ***
Analysis: Considering they featured this as an important feud and brought in people like Stone Cold, Roddy Piper and John Cena to escalate the feud, this should have received a higher score. What really hurt the score was how little Miz was able to accomplish against Riley, who should have been treated like an underdog. Then, having a not yet over Riley face an injured Miz only generated a pop for Miz, which seems like counter-productive booking. Also, the mic work was not spectacular, which makes sense considering there's only so many ways you can rehash the "I made you who you are, No, I made you who you are" formula.
Pre-Grudge Popularity vs. Post-Grudge Popularity
This is a really interesting aspect of the Miz/Riley feud. The Miz came in as arguably the hottest heel in the company, fresh off a five month title run in which he feuded with company faces, John Cena and Randy Orton. Alex Riley, while doing a commendable job as The Miz's lackey, certainly had little heat before they started feuding.
Because of how over The Miz was, Riley got a great reaction. Had the two wrestlers gone back and forth with the Miz getting the upper hand, the Riley reaction would have continued, but really peaked on the night of the initial turn. The Miz, who had key victories over Cena and Orton, found himself losing often to his former protege. Even though the WWE never portrayed The Miz as someone who would win cleanly, he was now losing cleanly to a rookie wrestler whose arsenal of skills were clearly limited. This actually hurt the Miz's character, and the boos that used to rain down from the bleachers, the definitive mark of a great heel, were somewhat silenced.
A face turn is almost necessary in order to breathe life back into The Miz, a superstar who can continue to help carry the company. Alex Riley garners a mild pop, due in part to his loud rock intro, but his character is stuck in the mud and certainly isn't ready to generate money.
Grade for Pre vs. Post Grudge Popularity (out of five stars): **
Analysis: Yes, the WWE is in full youth mode, desperately trying to make stars out of everybody. In the process of turning Alex Riley face and giving his character well deserved cathartic revenge, they actually damaged the character of their greater commodity, The Miz.
This aspect of an angle is what really determines whether it goes down in wrestling annals or is quickly forgotten. I don't think this particular feud ever had the potential to be prolific. Even though The Miz is relatively high profile, we don't know how he'll be regarded 10 years from now, nonetheless one year from now. Riley can't even be considered a mid-carder at this point, and it's difficult to see the championship potential some have said he has.
With that in mind, the payoff to this feud was pretty terrible. If you're going to give Miz the big win after weeks of getting beat and humiliated, it kind of has to be a big deal, not a five minute match in the first round of a tournament where their history is barely regarded. Or they could have ended the feud at Capitol Punishment, but even then the Miz comes off looking like a punk after showing no fight against a rookie.
This is a great example of a feud that started with a scream and ended with a whisper. No fan should really be happy with the outcome. If you're a Miz fan, your superstar squeezed out a win against somebody who beat him time after time, making him look inferior and a shadow of what he was months prior. If you're an Alex Riley fan (no; it's not an oxymoron), then any sort of good feelings you had over Riley beating Miz the majority of the time, including at a pay-per-view, has been overshadowed by a cheap Monday Night Raw win.
Grade for Payoff (out of five stars): *
Analysis: This feud benefited no one. Neither wrestler gained any heat, and beyond a little name recognition for Riley, their positions in the company remain the same. This angle wasn't memorable and had the opportunities to be so.
The Final Grade
Before I tabulate the final grade for this feud I should explain the star system.
Five stars: A nearly perfect feud. One that was so good that it's still regarded well after it ended. A star-maker.
Four stars: Great feud. Memorable and interesting. Elevated the careers of both participants.
Three stars: A good feud. Room for improvement with some of the elements. Possibly elevated one of its participants.
Two stars: Average feud. A time filler. Not really memorable, and didn't affect either of the superstars involved.
One star: Poor feud. This type of feud doesn't really fulfill any of the requirements for a good feud. Hurt the careers of the people involved.
DUD: Career killer. Everything went wrong. There was no heat, terrible wrestling and no reason to feud.
And now, the ratings for the Miz/Riley feud:
In-Ring Action: **1/2
Out of Ring Action: ***
Pre vs. Post Grudge Popularity: **
The Payoff: *
Final Score for the Feud: **1/2
Analysis: According to the rating system, the feud was a slightly above average feud, which I agree with. My own personal opinion of the feud? I thought it failed to deliver. Neither wrestler looked better as a result of feuding, and based on the first night, it had potential to help out both guys. It became monotonous and made me want to see Miz move on to a different opponent, and have Riley just move on or move out.
What do you, the reader, think? Do you agree with the rating? How about the scoring system itself? Any feedback is helpful, and thanks for reading.