SWEET CHIN MUSINGS: WWE Hell In A Cell Mailbag

SWEET CHIN MUSINGS: WWE Hell In A Cell Mailbag
By Rick Nash Updated

You know what a WWE fan’s definition of hell is? The waiting. That painstaking time in your life where you try to keep up with all the goings on of WWE television in the hope that you’ll see something great, all the while knowing that they’ve put the epic on pause until peak season hits.

That said, they do try to make the mundane matter, and this Sunday’s Hell In A Cell presentation could be a decent effort. Headlined by Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan’s rubber match in the cell for the WWE Title (with special referee Shawn Michaels), the night also promises the return of John Cena to challenge for Alberto Del Rio’s World Heavyweight Championship, alongside CM Punk facing Paul Heyman and Ryback in the evening’s other Hell In A Cell bout.

Maybe it’s because we know we’re guaranteed an entire pay-per view with at least one match, but the cell doesn’t cast the same ominous shadow that it once did. When introduced in 1997, and later upon Mick Foley’s near-death experience a year later, it seemed like a death trap waiting to happen. Like two of your favourite wrestlers going to battle on a shaky rope bridge that could collapse at any second. Put it down to WWE’s reinforcement of the cage or increased safety measures that put a stop to people falling from the top, our love for the cell is fading like a relationship at the two-year mark: sure we still love it, but those butterflies we had when we first locked eyes on it are long gone. It takes a bit of effort on their part to remind us why we first fell in love with it.

With so many talking points leading into the PPV, I wanted to gauge your thoughts on all things WWE right now. So we put out a call on Twitter and the WWE Parties Ireland page looking for crackpot theories and rants on today’s product. I’ll add my own tuppence worth too as we host Balls.ie’s first ever WWE MAILBAG!

Crackpot theory? Brad Maddox will be a future World Heavyweight Champion.
- Neil Caraher

Ah here, you’re drunk pal…

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...is what I’d typically say to someone before The Miz went from annoying reality TV contestant turned really annoying backstage interviewer turned really, really (really?) annoying WWE Champion.

At first glance, it may appear that Maddox is simply too small and an unknown quantity in the ring, but the guy has charisma and legit acting chops to boot. In WWE’s mind, anyone with a body and some athletic ability can be trained and put in the ring, it’s the other stuff that sees the cream rise to the top. And Maddox has that in spades. He’s in a league of his own when it comes to sheer smarm in the company today and, daunting as it may seem, has about as little a chance of headlining WrestleMania as you would’ve predicted The Miz would’ve before he caught fire in 2010.

If any bookies take long-term bets on this stuff, stick a cheeky fiver on it now while the odds are long and you may be in for a windfall in the future...

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A major media company will look at WWE’s profits and realise there is no true competitor and set up a genuine alternative. in terms of resources, a WCW2, but with proper leadership.
- Jude Clancy

That assumes that there’s someone out there capable of doing so. The wrestling industry is relatively small, and nobody out there is reinventing the wheel even in the darkest depths of the indy scene. If that was the case then maybe, just maybe, they would be one filthy rich speculative investment away from taking over.

You have to remember that the collective brain thrusts of Paul Heyman, Eric Bischoff, Hulk Hogan, Dixie Carter, the Jarretts, Ted Turner, Gabe Sapolsky (and everyone who’s tried to follow him at Ring of Honor), Vince Russo and MTV have all tried the same and failed. And many of them competed when there was a fair opportunity to take Vince down. When WCW changed the game by offering their big names guaranteed contracts, they almost put Vince out of business overnight. But they had their shot at the king, missed, and later almost all of them ended up taking paycheques from him with their tails between their legs.

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The problem with creating a genuine competitor isn’t just limited to the product itself, especially now that WWE have had over a decade of unrivalled dominance at the top*. TV companies don’t particularly care about pro-wrestling (outside of WWE), MMA is now a much more appealing market to try to tap into for the key male 18-35 demographic they’d potentially target with wrestling. WWE are too established, too long at the top, too profitable (in that it’d cost a bomb with no guarantee of success to even try to compete at their level) and even then there’s no hunger from TV companies to green light any new kids on the block. Since WCW died, WWE have effectively become the NFL of pro-wrestling. And ask Vince McMahon himself, there’s no competing with the NFL.

All anyone seeking competition can hope for is that a stable-but-innovative number two establishes itself in time. Their best shot at taking out WWE is sitting pretty gaining steady but not spectacular ratings on an obscure network, and playing the waiting game hoping that a scandal of epic proportions in WWE sends sponsors and TV companies into a tailspin, leaving a giant gap in the market for a stable alternative (even then, that runs the risk of sponsors and TV companies just souring on pro-wrestling altogether).

The problem with that is...well, said scandal already happened. It happened when details of Chris Benoit murdering his family came out WHILE WWE WERE DOING A TRIBUTE SHOW TO HIM, kickstarting a worldwide campaign against the dangers of concussions (one so large it could yet bring down the behemoth that is American Football), and what happened? In a PR masterstroke, WWE have emerged from the whole thing relatively unscathed. A quick Ctrl+A and Delete for all searches containing the words ‘Chris+Benoit’ in the WWE library and a watertight Wellness Policy was all it took for the scandal to end all scandals to disappear. Vince McMahon is quite good at deflecting potentially devastating scandals (points to Jimmy Snuka) He knows, am I right?

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(Ahem)

Fact is, WWE have already found their legitimate competitor in the UFC, which targets essentially the same market. And time has shown that both can live perfectly side-by-side with each other. So if all of those factors can’t touch WWE’s profitability on a worldwide scale, then nothing will.

What could potentially happen is that competitors could try to gain a niche in individual markets, Ireland and the UK for example. There was a recent false start in this field with questions over whether World of Sport would return to ITV in the near future (it won’t). But that’s about it unfortunately.

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*Note how there was literally zero mention of TNA as a legit competitor until now. That wasn’t a mistake.

How about an in-depth look at Bray Wyatt?
- Pecker Doyle

I fear that looking at Bray Wyatt too closely would only reveal a lot of KFC grease on his string vest, and I don’t know if Balls.ie is ready for that just yet. But this column may be in the pipeline if the Wyatts continue to thrive...

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It’s a sad state of affairs when we all long for the legends to return - Taker at mania, Y2J, The Rock, Brock at the Royal Rumble, and we all want Stone Cold as GM of raw. The new "talent" isn't up to it, Cena carries the company.
- Paddy Byrne

Hmm, I see your argument, but I’m not sure if it’s a case that new stars aren’t being made, or if it’s us looking at WWE today like Eamonn Dunphy looks at all of football, in terms of a supposed lack of new talent coming through.

Think back to, say, WrestleMania IX when WWE knew there was no satisfactory way of ending a show the scale of Mania without bringing back Hulk Hogan to win the WWE Title, three years after he supposedly ‘passed the torch’ to The Ultimate Warrior. Were WWE devoid of star power in 2002 when they looked to the likes of Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels and Hulk Hogan to fill the void created by Stone Cold Steve Austin’s walkout and The Rock’s emerging movie career? In other words, is this a 2013 problem or is this something that’s just always happened in wrestling and we’re just the latest generation to notice?

The fact is, it takes time and commitment to create ‘faces of the WWE’. To put it into perspective: Rocky Maivia became The Rock in 1997, he won his first title a year later, but it wasn’t until 2000 that he became the true crossover star that we now know him as. John Cena’s popularity was exploding by the time he won the US Title at WrestleMania XX, but it wasn’t until WM 21 that he won his first World Title (while still only wrestling on SmackDown) and you wouldn’t really call him ‘the guy’ until he beat Triple H a further year later.

Comparatively, I think we’re looking at similar timelines for the next generation of stars: in two year CM Punk went from his pipe bomb promo to longest reigning WWE Champion in a decade to finally being established as a main event draw. Daniel Bryan is only beginning his first major push. Meanwhile there are the likes of Sheamus, The Shield, Alberto Del Rio, Dolph Ziggler and even Antonio Cesaro all underneath them primed to break out when given an opportunity. You would’ve classed both CM Punk and Daniel Bryan in that category just a couple of years ago.

We do need stars to come back, but remember that Brock Lesnar needed The Rock. Stone Cold needed Shawn Michaels. Bret Hart needed a Hulk Hogan run-in to give his first WrestleMania main event a big time feel before finally winning it on his own a year later. The Rock needed Stone Cold to get injured to grab the limelight. This is how pro-wrestling has always worked, maybe we’re all just getting old and the flaws seem more obvious now?

I’m sure that, even in 2002, there were old Hulkamaniacs bemoaning that WWE needed Hogan to come back and save the company. I was 15 then, so I wouldn’t know, I just thought it was cool when he hulked up.

Speaking of things wrestling fans say when we get older...

Maybe its just down to PG these days, also the characters are weaker, but I see more wrestlers on the mic than actually wrestling. Yes I know it is part of the wrestling business, but you need a balance.
- Cecil Coughlan

Again, I don’t disagree. Funny thing is, though, when I go through my Tuesday morning ritual of watching Raw with the fast forward button at the ready, the promos and backstage skits are typically the parts I don’t fast forward through (unless they involve R-Truth looking like he’s trying to sell me merchandise out of the back of a truck. Earl Hebner must be watching those skits thinking, “I do it and I get fired. He does it and he’s given a weekly skit?!?”)

To be fair, though, WWE increasing the length of Raw to three hours generally means that they stick on at least one good 20-minute match to fill time.

And let’s think back to a typical Raw back in The Attitude Era days that we all miss: you had a 20-minute promo involving some stable ran by some McMahon family member to open the show, JR and The King ignoring matches in the ring to forward sell the main event segment and creep on the divas at ringside (by the way, maybe it’s the HD but does anyone else think that WWE divas seem...I dunno, ‘cleaner’ these days, for lack of a better term? Like you’d have half-fancied your chances if you bumped into a half cut Terri Runnels or Ivory in a nightclub in the late 90’s. They seemed hot but infinitely gettable back then, until the likes of Trish and Stacy Keibler came along and raised the standards beyond the dreams of even the wealthiest, most suave of WWE fans - though if rumours are to be believed, the wealthiest could’ve probably afforded Torrie Wilson), then the show would end with some derivation of liquid being sprayed from a vehicle as opposed to a wrestling match.

What’s worse is that you could say the same about PPVs. Sure they were entertaining and it worked, and I don’t disagree with your point, but I’m just saying it’s not all bad. More talking buys them more time to build up meaningful matches. That’s not how it’s always working out these days, but it’s what it could potentially return to.

Not a rant but who else is loving Goldust back.. I think he’s brilliant.
- @donnachers23 on Twitter

Agreed. I’m also relieved for him after spending months following him on Twitter begging for movie roles. How’s this for depressing?

A quick browse through Goldust’s Twitter feed over the past few months is to see a guy whose career and life has been rejuvenated. He’s gone from desperate optimism in tweeting The Rock looking for film bookings, to hopelessness in advising young wrestlers to get a degree and pick another career, to getting a one-off WWE booking and launching new merchandise, to stealing the show at a WWE pay-per view and becoming a WWE Tag-Team Champion out of nowhere. And all because WWE needed an excuse for his brother’s time off for his wedding.

In wrestling, sometimes all we need to invest in a match is to get a glimmer of realism behind that, and that’s why Goldust is working for me: he’s wrestling like a man completely fearful of the void that served as a prelude to this run. It’s impossible to take your eyes off and just another reason why wrestling compels us; there’s such a fine line for these guys between unbridled joy and that crushing breadline.

Enjoy it while it lasts, though. We all know that this ends in Goldust being the Marty Jannetty of the duo, followed by being reduced to lazy comedy skits with Santino Marella and the Great Khali. At the moment, Goldie’s best hope is that he impresses enough involved to land a full-time job as either a road agent or trainer in the Performance Centre. Just know that it’s entirely possible that The Rock and Eli Roth could be bombarded with tweets again in the next six months. Worst case scenario, how about we all put some cash together and make a movie with Dustin Rhodes as the lead? For this run alone, I think he’s earned it.

The ratings and buy rates are down because no one cares about Daniel Bryan!!!
- Gareth Soye

The ratings are always down when Cena isn't on the show because WWE viewers are predominately made up of casual wrestling fans. Bryan is over like nothing over but WWE is unwittingly decreasing emotional investment in Bryan and the storyline by screwing him out of the title too many times
- David McGee

The ratings have dropped to a point that they are resorting to showing VT of John Cena to get the Cenation back watching #saveuscena
- Gerry Nugent

And we didn’t even get a full VT, we got iPhone recordings spliced together.

You can see why I bunched these three comments together. I wouldn’t be too harsh on Daniel Bryan, though, or worry about the ratings. No disrespect to the likes of Daves Meltzer and Scherer, but while the information they provide is usually dead on, their spin on it is what keeps them in business, even if that involves sometimes creating panic where there is none.

Let’s take the rating for this week’s Raw and look how it compares, year-on-year, to the equivalent edition of Raw over a 5-year period:

2013 - 3.83 million viewers
2012 - 3.65m
2011 - 4.71m
2010 - 3.5m
2009 - 4.22m

So, as you can see, this week’s ‘disastrous’ dip in ratings is actually improved on last year’s and 2010’s, while hugely down from 2011 and trailing 2009. Remember that all of these shows are competing with Monday Night Football, so ratings traditionally take a hit anyway from September to December. This is why you’ll see a lot of experimenting and tinkering in the storylines as WWE save their A-game for their peak period of January to April (and ratings back this up). What does this tell us? That Daniel Bryan’s supposed ratings ‘flop’ is pretty much a non-event. It is, in fact, more successful that CM Punk’s equivalent run with the title last year.

One would imagine that, if WWE were truly concerned with bumping the ratings, they’d have had Cena return on a Raw ahead of the PPV. Instead they’ve opted to hope his comeback helps their Hell In A Cell buyrate. Further proof that neither they nor TV execs are in any way sweating the numbers while Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton hold the fort.

Daniel Bryan will be fine. I don’t feel that this run has made him any more or less likely to stay as a WWE major player in the long run. Either WWE saw him as a long-term fix when they began his push, or they always saw him as a stopgap champion while they waited on Cena’s return.

The only thing that could’ve possibly swayed them was if he’d gone a Stone Cold Steve Austin-like tear and brought WWE back to its heyday in a matter of weeks, like we all remember happening with such hugely rated Raw broadcasts as that of October 24th, 2011, which saw Kevin Nash end the show attacking Triple H with a sledgehammer. And we all know that turned out great...

Don’t give up hope yet. Three words: Royal Rumble 2014. Or two words and a number. Whatever. It’s happening. And someone will probably get hurt. But it will still definitely be amazing.

Rick’s WWE Hell In A Cell Quick Picks

WWE Championship Hell In A Cell Match: DANIEL BRYAN over RANDY ORTON
JOHN CENA over World Heavyweight Champion, ALBERTO DEL RIO
RYBACK & PAUL HEYMAN over CM PUNK
WWE Tag-Team Champions, CODY RHODES & GOLDUST over THE SHIELD
Divas Champion, AJ LEE over BRIE BELLA
Intercontinental Champion, CURTIS AXEL over BIG E LANGSTON
LOS MATADORES over THE REAL AMERICANS

Rick Nash is a former professional wrestler and the founder of WWE Parties Ireland, who will announce details of their upcoming SURVIVOR SERIES PARTY in Woolshed Baa & Grill, Dublin, next week! He is also a DJ and terrible sports gambler, so feel free to share some tips with him on Twitter.

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