Fresh off his Money in the Bank win at WrestleMania, Jack Swagger appeared to cash in his championship contract the following night on RAW, jumping WWE titlist John Cena. Swagger took out his frustrations on the briefcase that he clumsily struggled to unhook on the biggest stage, cracking it over the Champ’s skull before Superman made his comeback and sent the new No. 1 contender scurrying from the ring, ”waiving off” the title opportunity. Later, in an impromptu main event, Swagger was pinned clean in the middle by Randy Orton, who cemented his babyface status by teaming with former enemy Cena and pandering to the fans afterward. It’s moments like these that make me wonder if the wrestling business has passed me by. In this era of instant gratification, all the basic tenets of storytelling, creating superstars and booking two wrestlers on a collision course are often pushed aside in favor of the “swerve” and the “shake-up”…which leads to the hotshotting of angles that even the most diehard of marks can’t follow or explain. As Jim Cornette explains, this is the way it should work: “The art of booking is that you find someone who the people are naturally predisposed to have a negative opinion of…but who’s a good performer. Then you find a good performer who the people are naturally predisposed to have positive feelings about, and you put those two on trajectories by getting over people until finally the fans say, ‘Holy shit—they’re gonna fight each other!’ You wanna see what’s gonna happen. So you buy a ticket to see them face off, that match ends, and then you want to see what happens next.”
Wouldn’t it have been refreshing for Swagger to face Cena like a man on RAW and claim that, unlike most MIB winners, he was going to cash in his contract in advance–not a cheap sneak attack. You build to a PPV showdown weeks or months from now, with the cocky former amateur standout claiming that he wants Cena at full strength and fully prepared so that he can prove he can outwrestle Marky Mark and take his title “the All American way.” Even Cena acknowledges in promos that the knock on him is that he can’t wrestle, so this is the chance to silence his critics once and for all. Meanwhile, you overcome Swagger’s weak push the last few months and book him on a hot winning streak. Then, on the final RAW before the PPV, Swagger jumps Cena and injures him, and goes on to defeat the wounded Champ for the WWE title–so much for winning the title fair and square, i.e., a little old-school heat.
We’ve all seen the cowardly title victories of past MIB winners–even by then babyface C.M. Punk. This would have been different and helped establish Swagger as a true title threat while getting heat for not sticking to his word about a straight-up wrestling match and setting up a natural rematch for when Cena is healthy in another month. OK, that’s just one scenario WWE Creative could devised to get Swagger over as heel force.
I’m only speaking hypothetically because I know the company appears to be focusing on the Cena vs. Batista rivalry, which is probably the best for the company, at least short term, as a PPV draw. Nothing wrong with that; personally, though, I think the rematch would have been far more compelling had Batista retained the title at WrestleMania.
Jack Swagger, who reminds many observers of Kurt Angle 11 years ago, has loads of potential, but has been buried in mediocrity following his ECW title run (which was nothing to write home about anyway). The MIB win was the first step in surmounting his perception as a midcarder, but he greatly could have benefitted from another month of buildup, “with newfound intensity and focus since winning the contract.” I’ve mentioned this before, but Swagger also needs an old-school manager, a mouthpiece who can help get him over and guide him through promos. (I know of a talented manager who’s available in Hollywood, baby!) Instead…at last night’s SMACKDOWN tapings in Las Vegas, Swagger attacked fellow heel Chris Jericho, who had just been speared out of his street clothes by Edge, and cashed in his MIB opportunity and won the World title. Yep, the cowardly MIB sneak attack again. Yawn.
I simply don’t get it. While I was predicting an Edge win heading into WrestleMania, I applauded WWE for having showing restraint in the instant-gratification era and prolonging his chase for revenge and the World title. Seemed like the Edge vs. Jericho issue still had plenty of steam, but it now appears a three-way feud may be the new direction. To me, this would negatively affect the personal nature of the rivalry between Edge and Jericho–inserting an undeserving midcarder in the mix as a new titleholder. I’m all for creating new stars, but Swagger will be considered a joke if he’s not better booked. Not only that, but his World title win last night screws up the momentum of the Jericho/Edge issue, which has yet to be settled. OK, now there could be other factors that went into the decision-making process. Perhaps Edge is still not 100% , so Swagger vs. Jericho will be the replacement until the Rated-R Superstar is ready. (Last night, Long set up a match between Edge/Jericho for the April 9 SMACKDOWN,with the winner getting a crack at the new champ.) Otherwise, this looks to be the latest misstep by WWE Creative, who had been on a roll of late.
File under Jack Swagger and Money in the Bank.