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Posts Tagged ‘Vince McMahon’

Bank on it: CM Punk, new WWE direction are money

July 19th, 2011 2 comments

For the past few years, WWE programming, specifically its flagship RAW show and PPVs, has consisted of largely predictable affairs, or even worse, written with the intent of swerving the viewing public for the sake of the swerve itself, with plot holes big enough for Steve Austin to drive a beer truck through. For a company that prides itself on being youth-oriented, WWE has been stale.

Part of the problem has been the company’s top babyface, John Cena, who while charismatic and capable of having great bouts with the right opponents (e.g., an HBK or a Chris Jericho), turns off many of the WWE’s desired core audience: the coveted male 18-34 demographic. Certainly, Cena moves tons of merchandise and deserves a spot near the top; however ,he’ll never capture the imagination of a huge cross-section of the fan base in the same vein of Austin or The Rock…or even Hulk Hogan in his ’80s heyday. And because of the company’s lack of depth–largely because of its reluctance to truly elevate the right guys to main events–there has not even been a strong secondary guy in the fans’ eyes, with the possible exceptions of the aging HHH, the dead-character-walking, often-injured Undertaker and the misused babyface Randy Orton. Edge was close before his untimely retirement, but he always seemed to work best as a slimy heel.

Just chillin': CM Punk tweets a picture of his newly won WWE championship, which is seemingly on ice until he decides to return. (I'd have been so disappointed had there not been Pepsi in the fridge.)

Of course, some things have been out of the company’s control. Shawn Michaels retired just in time as the sun was setting on his brilliant career, Batista left WWE just when he was finally hitting his stride as a heel, Chris Jericho again suffered burnout after successfully reinventing himself as the smarmy heel from hell, while The Rock has continued to tease us with taped promos that illustrate just how uncharismatic most of the current roster really is.

An experiment with the Miz on top as WWE champion, while daring, was disappointing despite his creativity on promos and crossover appeal with the mainstream media. Not to slight Jerry Lawler, but the 61-year-old was involved in two of the biggest programs for months heading into WrestleMania and delivered the most memorable moment on RAW in ages when he literally had the WWE championship in his grasp when he nearly defeated the Miz in a ladder match on the Nov. 29 show. Somehow amidst all the chaos, Michael Cole emerged as the biggest heel on RAW before the company wisely backed off the push when the decision was made to keep him in the announcer’s booth, which was starting to transform into the wrong kind of heat–when viewers simply change the channel.

During that time, arguably the most talented all-around WWE performer has been lost in the shuffle, losing most of his high-profile matches and leading the biggest band of misfits since the BWO. Despite being mired with mediocre material and the new Nexus, CM Punk has endured.

That all changed on June 27, when Punk was allowed to “shoot” his mind and get some things off his chest, speaking for many fans when he spewed that he was sick of the “idea of John Cena being the best.” He lamented the fact that he has not been positioned as a top guy despite being the company’s best talker and in-ring worker. (Gasp–he actually used the supposed banned word “wrestler” as well!) Punk complained of being held back by McMahon, whose “yes men” like John Laurinaitis, WWE’s longtime executive vice president of talent relations, and others don’t speak up for him. He seemed to acknowledge the WWE’s lack of depth and that he was, ironically, going to leave the company just when his golden title opportunity arrived…and take the WWE championship with him, perhaps to defend it on Ring of Honor (his old indie stomping grounds). Hinting of the storyline to come, Punk maintained that WWE would carry on in rote fashion even after Vince finally died and his “idiotic daughter” and his “doofus son-in-law” (HHH) took over. While it was pretty clear to most observers this was a work, some weren’t so sure (Jim Rome included); however, it doesn’t matter which side you fell on. It was the best promo on RAW in ages and lit a spark of excitement and unpredictability that used to be a staple of the Monday Night Wars. The era of the “worked shoot” hit its apex in the late ’90s before it got old fast, though that hasn’t stopped less intelligent, less talented performers from continuing to try it (see virtually any episode of “TNA Impact” in the last year). But Punk pulled it off. (This wasn’t surprising to me–I’ve been singing the guy’s praises for ages.)

As is typical when WWE gets hot, there was some concern about how the company would follow it up. It seemed to be an Air Jordan slam dunk with Punk’s WWE title match scheduled to be taking place in his hometown of Chicago at Sunday’s WWE Money in the Bank PPV. Would WWE kill Punk’s heat in his hometown, as they’ve undercut so many superstars in the past? Or would they create a WWE moment that would be talked about for years? The company pulled the trigger as the crowd exploded and thousands of the “I Want Wrestling” movement rejoiced over the Internet.

Of course, they couldn’t resist teasing yet another Montreal screwjob in the process, before Cena released Punk from his STF to clock Laurinaitis and prevent him from ringing the bell as instructed by McMahon. After Cena stared down McMahon, upon re-entering the ring,the Champ was hit with Punk’s Go to Sleep finisher for the pin. The bout was one of Cena’s best and the atmosphere was far more electric than most WrestleMania main events of the last five years. Most important: Punk was elevated to that top level,dispatching RAW MIB winner Alberto Del Rio, who was attempting to cash in on his moment, and seemingly kissing McMahon and WWE goodbye as he disappeared into the throng of his adoring masses with the WWE title in his grasp as McMahon closed his eyes as if he were having a bad dream. (I’ve had that same feeling watching many a WWE PPV in the last two years.)

The next night, McMahon ordered a tournament to crown a new champion; however, before it could be completed, his “doofus son-in-law” appeared to relieve him of his duties and assume command of the day-to-day operations as mandated by the board of directors. Trips went a little overboard with the “Pops” comment, but the moment was saved when a bawling McMahon was saluted by the fans with chants of “Thank you, Vince!” after initially being treated as just another angle with the singing of “Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye!”

I would imagine Punk will kept off TV for a while, perhaps while WWE does indeed crown a new champion in his absence to set up a triumphant return to determine the “real” titlist as early as SummerSlam. I even expect Punk will show up as promised on other promotions’ TV with his WWE title, stirring the pot. One thing’s for sure: I haven’t been this interested in a WWE storyline in ages. With Rock coming back for at least one live appearance in the fall to “kick Cena’s ass,” Triple H in a fresh role, Cena’s babyface status possibly in limbo, Daniel Bryan going over as the MIB winner on SMACKDOWN!, Christian regaining the World title from Randy Orton and Alberto Del Rio carrying the MIB briefcase on the RAW side, and the emergence of the new anti-hero, CM Punk–WWE champion–the company’s programming has the potential to be red hot for the rest of 2011 and heading into next year’s WrestleMania.

Macho memories: WWE, CM Punk pay tribute to Randy Savage on May 23 RAW

May 24th, 2011 3 comments

Come up to meet ya, tell you I’m sorry
You don’t know how lovely you are
I had to find you, tell you I need ya
And tell you I set you apart
Tell me your secrets, and nurse me your questions
Oh let’s go back to the start

Nobody said it was easy
It’s such a shame for us to part
Nobody said it was easy.
No one ever said it would be so hard
I’m going back to the start

RAW emotion: Let's go back to the start--the first RAW announce team of Bobby "the Brain" Heenan, Vince McMahon and the late Randy "Macho Man" Savage.

Last night, WWE produced a touching tribute to one of its greatest superstars of all time, Randy “Macho Man” Savage. Regarded for years as the one of the biggest, most colorful personalities in the company, along with Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper, the Macho Man was responsible for much of the WWF’s success throughout the mid-’80s to early ’90s. He was more than that, though. Like Hogan, the top dog, Savage’s popularity transcended wrestling fans, capturing the imagination of the general public with his incredible promo skills and even more impressive in-ring ability. But while Hogan entertained the masses and sent them home happy with his ring psychology and showmanship, it was usually the pure athleticism of the Savage match that folks leaving the arena were talking about. (Case in point: the classic Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat match at WrestleMania III, which stole the show and is considered the greatest ever despite being on the undercard of the most publicized main event of all time: Hogan vs. Andre the Giant.)

The Macho Punk: CM honors his fallen idol with ring gear reminiscent of Savage.

By 1986, Savage was widely considered by his peers and “smart fans” alike as the one of the top five workers in the world. His babyface turn and WWF title win at WrestleMania IV cemented that reputation with the company’s mainstream audience and kids worldwide.

Although Savage took Ted Turner’s money like everyone else in the late ’90s and jumped ship to WCW, Vince McMahon seemed to hold a grudge against his former champion that went well beyond professional reasons. Some have speculated that Savage may have had an affair with a young Stephanie McMahon, but that’s never been substantiated. (Though she sure seems to have a thing for wrestlers…sports entertainers…whatever.) For more than a decade, McMahon vetoed Savage-related merchandise, even though WCW had long been dead and buried.

In recent years, though, McMahon seemed to have mellowed on the Macho Man. The first indication that the heat was dying down was when Savage, an integral part of so many “Saturday Night’s Main Event” episodes on NBC (which at one time were doing better numbers than the network’s “Saturday Night Live” in the same time slot), was featured on the cover of the DVD collection. McMahon later agreed to a Macho Man DVD, though it consisted of only several of his most memorable bouts and not the documentary treatment that he deserved.

The biggest strides in repairing the relationship with Savage appeared to occur over last summer, when word spread that Mattel would be releasing Macho Man action figures–the first in 12 years. The Macho Man himself put an exclamation on the announcement with a video that aired at San Diego’s Comic-Con.

McMahon clearly realized that it made good business sense to mend fences with Savage, especially with Hogan tied up with TNA. Not only did Savage appear on the cover art of the new “WWE All Stars” video game but he also cut one heck of a promo putting the game over.

Undoubtedly, Savage was way overdue to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, which would likely be set up with appearances on Monday Night RAW where he could perhaps put the issue to rest with McMahon once and for all in front of a worldwide audience. Savage’s mainstream appeal could have done wonders in bringing old-school fans back, as most people over 40 feel a disconnect with today’s WWE product. And for Savage, who lived and breathed his character 24/7, he most likely would have had a hell of a lot of fun. Perhaps most important, he would have been recognized by his peers and McMahon as one of the greatest all-around performers of all time. In a business that quickly forgets its heroes, a rebirth for the Macho Man would have been good for all concerned. But it was not to be.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but the selection of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” for the Macho memorial video seemed to reflect regret on behalf of the company, perhaps even McMahon personally, for not burying the hatchet sooner and talking things out like men. Regardless, any longtime fan of Randy Savage had to be moved. Clearly, the moment was not lost on CM Punk, who paid tribute to Savage with rather macho ring gear in last night’s RAW main event. With a Punk/Cena program reportedly in the works before the build to the Champ’s title match with Alberto Del Rio at SummerSlam, I was hoping the Macho Punk would get the win with an elbow from the top rope. Still, it was cool to see Bret Hart apply the Sharpshooter on Punk, who at least sold the hold, unlike Michael Cole, who strolled out to ringside last night unscathed from his previous punishment endured locked in the Hitman’s finisher the night before. (It’s the little details that are missing nowadays.)

Without further ado…behold the madness of the Macho Man.

Vince McMahon officially no longer in rasslin’ business

April 11th, 2011 3 comments

Thinking outside the squared circle: Wrestling will no longer be a black eye on Vince's corporate image.

Often during the late ’80s and into the wrestling war of the ’90s, Vince McMahon often boasted that while Ted Turner was in the rasslin’ business,  his then World Wrestling Federation was in the sports entertainment business.

No matter that McMahon at one time during the expansion years employed more than 100 wrestlers, sold hundreds of thousands of wrestling tickets to wrestling fans at wrestling events, hosted some of the biggest wrestling PPV events of the era, and transformed an idea called WrestleMania into a pop-culture phenomenon.

Reportedly, during the final 48 hours before the latest WrestleMania event, a meeting was held in which Vince declared that the company would no longer be referred to as the limiting, stigma-bearing World Wrestling Entertainment; rather, effective immediately, the company would simply be WWE, an all-encompassing entertainment brand…sort of like Disney I suppose.


DC Universe at Entertainment Earth

Days after its biggest wrestling event of the year, the company released a press release announcing its new business model: To better reflect the company’s global entertainment offerings, World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (NYSE: WWE) announced today a new business model for future growth, including formally rebranding itself, WWE.

Two key components to WWE’s brand expansion will be the active pursuit to acquire entertainment content companies and the outsourcing of WWE’s core competencies – television and film production, live event production and licensing. As part of the new business model, the company will also focus on the development of new television products including scripted, non-scripted and animated programs, as well as the launch of a new WWE network in the next 12-18 months. The first new program of the brand expansion is Tough Enough®, WWE’s non-scripted program that debuted on the USA Network on Monday.

“The new business model of the company better reflects what WWE is all about, being a global entertainment company,” stated Vince McMahon, Chairman and CEO, WWE. “We will always be loyal to our core business that made WWE a globally known entity, however, the future of WWE will be the addition of new entertainment content opportunities beyond the ring.”

This new rebranding initiative will be highlighted through a national consumer and business-to-business advertising campaign entitled “Bigger. Badder. Better.™” The campaign kicked off at WrestleMania® XXVII on Sunday and will be featured on cable TV, print and online.

While some would argue that Vince has been out of the wrestling business for years now, having steadily run off his own audience and longtime WCW fans since 2001, the line that concerns me the most is “the company will also focus on the development of new television products including scripted, non-scripted and animated programs.” Yes, because they have such a tremendous track record with such projects. (Anyone catch “The Marine”? Anyone?) As I mentioned last week, outside of wrestling, Vince has had little success, which the Los Angeles Times also recently pointed out:

“The moves come as WWE looks to rebound from a tough end to 2010 that saw attendance at its events and pay-per-view revenue both drop 15% in the fourth quarter. The declines were blamed on the economy, although WWE probably didn’t help matters by raising prices at a time when its core audience was feeling the pinch. This is not the first time WWE has tried to expand beyond its core. Several years ago, it partnered with NBC to launch the XFL, a springtime football league that died after just one season. A restaurant in Times Square also flopped. McMahon said he’s learned his lesson from those follies and will stick to the entertainment business.”

I have to admit, though, that despite rumors for over a year involving a “The Odd Couple”-style sitcom featuring Kozlov and Santino Marella in the works, I’m more optimistic after seeing a clip of WWE’s new animated TV series. Kids should eat this up. (I’m not sure about Bigger or Better, but the new WWE should definitely be Badder®.)