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Final piece of puzzle in place for Randy Orton to become next Stone Cold: facial hair

May 11th, 2011 3 comments

Stone Cold's 'hair-apparent'?

WWE desperately wants Randy Orton to become the next anti-hero babyface a la Steve Austin; capturing that kind of Stone Cold magic is like capturing lightning in a beer bottle. It doesn’t come along every day, and it sure as hell won’t come with forced material from WWE TV writers who, while they have a general idea of what the Stone Cold character was about, they don’t understand is that Austin was a product of the territory days, when you were encouraged to speak your mind, say you want as an extension of yourself with the volume turned way the hell up. No one fed Austin that 3:16 line directed at Jake Roberts at King of the Ring, which ended up selling more T-shirts than Hulk Hogan ever dreamed and helped create a pop-culture phenomenon that made wrestling “cool” again.

Two years ago, Orton was a heel who was beginning to hear cheers despite his dirty deeds–once again, a classic case of the fans deciding whether a character is a babyface or a heel. WWE Creative thought they had the next Stone Cold. (Overheard at TV meetings: “First the Rattlesnake, now the Viper!” and “Orton wears black trunks and black boots too!”) But the execution of the Legacy breakup was pathetic, in part because Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes were never elevated past the level of Orton’s flunkies, and the storyline was convoluted, even by TNA standards. What should have been a slam-dunk scenario to turn Orton never had a chance because no cared about DiBiase or Rhodes, with the latter only now emerging as a character while the former is floundering to find his identity despite having one of the hottest Divas on his arm. The biggest problem is that Orton doesn’t resonate with the fans in the same vein as Stone Cold–his delivery during promos is the same as a face or a heel, and he simply doesn’t have that blue-collar connection with the crowd that the boss-beating, beer-drinking SOB did.

The recent feud with CM Punk reinvigorated Orton, as the best heel in wrestling brought out the best in “Randal,” giving his character a shot in the arm and much-needed momentum. With that feud’s inevitable end and Orton’s move to SMACKDOWN!, he’s poised to be the top dog on the lower-teir brand. Along with new surroundings and a rushed World title win over Christian, Orton’s beard is also finally coming into full bloom after a six-month process. A-ha! So that’s what he’s been missing all along. After all, the clean-shaven RIngmaster didn’t get over, but that goateed son of bitch Stone Cold sure as hell did! Look out, world. The era of Orton has truly finally arrived! (Or not.)

Seemingly born-again Christian buried again in WWE

May 9th, 2011 5 comments

Real-world emotion: Christian at last climbs the ladder of success in WWE.

After Edge announced his retirement on the April 11 RAW–the longest running episodic program in history (coughs)–Twitter was speared with thousands of tweets speculating on not only whether it was a work but also what this meant for Christian if indeed his best friend was stepping aside as the top babyface on SMACKDOWN.

Despite a very natural charisma, entertaining promos and superior workrate, Christian reportedly has never been viewed by Vince McMahon as a top-teir singles superstar, despite his success with Edge in the tag ranks. My point has always been that the same could said for Edge until he was given the chance to run with the ball and develop his character as a singles star to the point he became one of the slimiest heels in the business.

In fact, despite being beaten several consecutive weeks on RAW in 2005, Christian was getting over as Captain Charisma–a classic case of the fans overruling WWE Creative  and getting behind a guy despite his lack of a push. Following Christian getting squashed by Kane in May 2005, I wrote, “All Christian needs is a strong six-month push. Hell, even with all the jobs he’s done of late on TV, the fans–his so-called “peeps”–are increasingly into his corny Captain Charisma gimmick. The guy’s got a bright future as a heel or a babyface down the road.”

The night of the 11th, I tweeted that this represented a golden opportunity for Christian, even though I know he probably didn’t want it at the expense of his buddy no longer able to physically perform and continue living their boyhood dream together.

When World title heir-apparent Alberto Del Rio was drafted to RAW–and Cena was drafted to SMACKDOWN and back again to the flagship show–it appeared that a change of plans was in the works. Instead of “fulfilling his destiny” as World champ on SMACKDOWN, Del Rio seemed destined instead for a SummerSlam main event showdown with Cena, who most expected to regain the WWE championship from Miz at Extreme Rules. With Del Rio already booked for a ladder match for the vacant World title with Christian, who was stepping up in place of his retired former tag partner, it seemed that Jay Reso would finally get his opportunity to reign as the top guy, albeit on the secondary brand.

I speculated on Twitter that if Edge were at ringside for Christian’s coronation,the result would be one of those emotional events that WWE creative struggles to create but seldom fulfills. Not only would Edge and Christian feel the moment, but the joy would permeate throughout the crowd and the “WWE Universe” (ugh) watching on PPV. I’ll give WWE credit: They gave us that moment. Christian’s exultation when snagging the Big Gold belt he’d seen Ric Flair strut around with in the late ’80s as a young fan in Canada was as real as it gets. Realistically, there was probably no way  Christian was going to eclipse Edge’s shadow with the two on the same brand unless he turned heel, but at this point in their careers, I don’t think the fans would have bought into such a scenario. Ironically, Christian’s moment in the sun had to come with Edge riding off into the sunset.

According to Dave Meltzer at The Wrestling Observer, we almost didn’t get this moment. After the draft, the impromptu plan was for Del Rio to go over and then drop the belt to new SMACKDOWN draftee Randy Orton two nights later. Apparently, McMahon was sticking to his steroid-enhanced guns about Christian’s lacking the “it” factor. But that would mean Del Rio still be appearing on SMACKDOWN to defend the belt, with the result clearly spelled out for the fans and further diluting the already weak concept of two “separate” brands.

World beaten: Former NWA champs Christian and Tommy Rich have World title reigns that collectively lasted six days.

Instead, Christian’s powerfully emotional win is erased after a mere 48 hours as champ, suddenly making Tommy Rich’s NWA World title run appear a lot more prestigious by comparison. In his first SMACKDOWN appearance as champion of the world last week (taped last Tuesday, airing on Friday night), Christian dropped the strap to Orton, who has been overexposed in World title match appearances on PPV to the point of ridiculousness.

In a class move, Christian delivered a hell of a performance in dropping the title, seemingly proving a point. The fan reaction to the abrupt title switch was overwhelmingly negative on Twitter, although the live crowd popped like crazy, perhaps more so for the fantastic bout than for Orton regaining the World title he won for the first time at age 24. (Obscure fact: Rich’s victory over Harley Race on April 27, 1981, made him the second-youngest man to win the NWA title, also at age 24.) Perhaps the title win also served to placate Orton, who was probably not thrilled with being moved from the higher-profile live RAW show. Regardless, I think it stinks that Christian didn’t at least get a buildup over the next few weeks to see what his win might mean to the ratings and to the fans. In my not-so-humble opinion, it seems like a misread by McMahon & Co. to not give Christian a chance to defend the title at least once on PPV.

McMahon’s reaction to the criticism will probably be one of defiance: Orton will reign as World champion, while Christian most likely will not even get a PPV rematch and will be relegated to mid-card status by the summer.

Some will argue that McMahon made the right call, as babyface Christian flopped in his reign as NWA champion despite a thrilling win over Jeff Jarrett years back. But that was in TNA, where stars go to die. With the right push by the WWE marketing machine and riding the emotional wave of Edge’s retirement, Christian could have thrived at least short term on top as champion. Supposedly, the whole idea behind the recent WWE Draft was to “shake things up.” But with Cena as champ on RAW and Orton carrying the Big Gold belt, it sure seems like the same old shit to me.

RassleMania 25: This time, it is personal between Triple H and Randy Orton…but will it draw?

April 3rd, 2009 No comments
Game face: Triple H is out to kick Orton’s ass.

Game face: Triple H is out to kick Orton’s ass.

Following the brilliant duel between the Undertaker and Triple H to close the SMACKDOWN! Elimination Chamber bout at NO WAY OUT, I wrote: “… a [WrestleMania] main event of HHH defending the belt vs. the streak of the Undertaker would do big business, as unlike most big matches nowadays, the finish would be difficult for fans to guess. (In fact, things were so predictable at WrestleMania in 2008, the WWE title match finish in the Triple Threat was changed to Orton successfully defending the title over John Cena and HHH just to swerve the marks.) At this point, fans don’t believe ‘Taker’s WRESTLEMANIA streak is in jeopardy, no matter the opponent…with the possible exception of Triple H. Pulling the trigger on the match now would make sense, while ‘Taker is still viewed as a force and Triple H is still on top of his game.

Instead, in their infinite wisdom, WWE Creative, of course, decided to go in a different direction. And when I say “different,” I mean “the same ol’ direction” of a matchup we’ve seen several times, including high-profile PPV bouts: Randy Orton vs. HHH.

Ah, but this time, it was to be different. This time…it was to be personal. Apparently, Vince and Co. believed that by revealing the worst-kept secret in the biz—that Trips is married to Stephanie McMahon—and having Orton terrorize the McMahons would give the pairing a sledgehammer shot to the arm.

As I’ve mentioned several times, Jerry Lawler and Jerry Jarrett used to remind each other that “personal issues draw money” when co-booking the Memphis territory. That philosophy was evident in the initial Lawler vs. Dundee series, a long program featuring heated promos and a series of stipulations over the summer of 1977 that captured the imagination of the fans. For weeks, the promotion featured the same bout on top, consistently drawing money.

July 11: Lawler’s Cadillac on the line vs. $4,000 of Dundee’s money; Attn: 8,044

July 25: Lawler’s Southern title on the line vs. Dundee’s Cadillac: Attn: 7,681

Aug. 1: Lawler’s hair vs.Dundee’s Southern belt and Cadillac; Attn: Sell-Out 11,300

Aug. 8: Lawler’s Southern title and Cadillac vs. Dundee: Attn: 11,100

Aug. 15: Mickey Poole’s hair (Lawler’s manager) vs. Dundee’s Cadillac: Attn: 8,397

Aug. 22: Poole’s hair vs. Dundee’s hair: 7,143

Aug. 29: Lawler’s hair vs. Dundee’s title and Cadillac: 7,420

Sept. 5: Lawler’s hair vs. Dundee’s hair: 10,129

Sept. 13: Lawler’s hair and title vs. Beverly Dundee’s hair (Bill’s wife): 9,000

The personal stips kept the matchup fresh and interesting, with the fans captivated consistently week to week. Other territories pulled this off as well, such as the Mid-Atlantic feud between Ric Flair and Rick Steamboat, and Flair vs. Blackjack Mulligan.

The more the wrestling business changes, the more it remains the same. Personal issues still draw money; however, because the majority of WWE storylines are developed by writers who don’t appear to grasp the basics of wrestling psychology, the execution is rarely there. Case in point: the “Extreme Rules Grudge Match” between the Hardy brothers at this Sunday’s WrestleMania is an afterthought—just another match on the card. And that’s mainly because the spilt wasn’t thought out and booked to that end. It was merely a last-minute swerve to fool a small amount of Internet fans who were expecting Christian—not Matt—to interfere in Hardy’s title match at the RUMBLE.

In the case of the buildup of HHH vs. Orton, the results have been decidedly mixed. Things started off well enough, with Orton taking out Vince with a punt to the head before the chairman of the board could fire his ass. Orton, who has developed into the best heel in the business, had a lot of steam at this point. Orton followed it up by winning the Royal Rumble, ensuring his “spot in the main event at WrestleMania.”  Then came the hard-to-watch exchanges between Stephanie and Orton, capped off by the return of Shane McMahon to avenge his father on the Jan. 26 RAW, about which I wrote: I swear, when Stephanie threatened the Legend Killer, uttering the words “bigger plans” and Shane stepped onto the ramp to confront Orton, I just knew Steve Austin or Undertaker would appear behind him seconds later. The collective fart heard around the country when reviewers realized “bigger plans” in fact meant “just my fat brother” was deafening. I’m not speechless often (imagine that), but I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing — an out-of-shape Shane destroying the WWE’s hottest heel faction … without even the benefit of a single bionic elbow.”

The Orton and Shane match at NO WAY OUT was just as ridiculous, as the Legend Killer gave his opponent far too much offense and appeared lucky to make it out alive.  After finally disposing of Shane the next night on RAW, Orton RKO’d Stephanie, which (finally) brought out Triple H, who huffed and puffed with anger. At that point, I thought perhaps they had a hot angle on their hands, but it cooled on the Feb. 23 RAW, when Trips chased Orton and Legacy through the arena with a sledgehammer, a silly segment that didn’t come off realistic at all. The home-invasion angle was bad TV as well, another example of WWE trying to be Hollywood, when they should instead focus on being a wrestling promotion—a novel concept, I know. It’s hard to base a feud on a personal issue when the resulting angles are so over the top that it’s nearly impossible to suspend disbelief.

I will say the angle on the March 24 RAW, which was booked out of desperation when the company realized that the HHH/Orton program wasn’t as hot as they thought it would be, was well executed for the most part. Orton handcuffs HHH to the ropes, which brings out Stephanie, who apparently made a remarkable recovery for the previous attack. (Don’t even bother trying to explain the logic of Stephanie making the save when there are countless wrestlers in the back.) Orton’s cronies corner Steph onto the ring apron, and Orton seizes the opportunity to drill Steph’s head into the canvas again, as her husband can do nothing but watch. Orton was wonderfully sleazy here, planting the kiss on the lips of the fallen Steph. My only quibble was that the segment went way too long, and it would have been nice to see at least some attempt on the part of the wrestlers (excuse me, Superstars) from the back to make the save. The company followed it up with a strong close to the March 31 RAW, with the return of Vince and Shane by Triple H’s side to face off with Legacy. I have to believe a six-man tag between the two sides will likely headline the BACKLASH PPV on April 3. It is personal this time around, but will it be enough to draw? At very least, the personal touch has made this bout far more intriguing than either championship match last year and it does have an old-school feel to that. And you know I like that.

For my prediction of Orton vs. HHH, and the rest of the WrestleMania 25 lineup, check out comics101.com later today.