The best part of Monday Night RAW took place in the unlikeliest of settings - the opening segment. Usually reserved for booking main events or “Weekly Authority Parade”, last night’s opener was about as unexpectedly un-WWE as possible, and the cause came from the most unbelievable of sources. . . One Randall Keith Orton.
This is, if memory serves, the first time I’ll speak about Randy Orton for more than just a few sentences, mainly because over the last decade no single talent has irritated me more, both on a personal and professional level, than The Viper. Be it the uber-frat boy looks or the seemingly pointless tattoos, the completely juvenile backstage antics or the reportedly disdainful ways he treats fans and the media, Orton has never done anything for me as a wrestler. In fact, up until a few weeks ago, I never even gave him the credit he may have deserved for being such a naturally gifted in-ring talent - I couldn’t see past the person to appreciate the persona, as it were.
What changed, you may ask? The introduction of Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose into the main event picture. While I would normally fast-forward through any Authority promo or Orton match (for instance, I chose to ignore his entire mini-feud with Roman Reigns), with Seth and Dean in the mix, I suddenly had a reason to pay attention. And I liked what I saw.
This Orton was different from the one I remembered. This one seemed. . . grown up, even if he was involved in a “sibling rivalry” type feud with Rollins over who was the Authority’s golden boy. Instead of being the young kid punting legends in order to make a name for himself, Randy now stood as the grizzled veteran, irritated at the new stud taking his spotlight. But that wasn’t all that was different. I couldn’t really put my finger on it until recently. Somebody said something on Twitter that struck me.
For the first time in a long time. . .Hell, maybe even for the first time EVER, I saw passion behind what Randy was doing. And, as one of my previous lessons indicates, you can’t teach passion.
There was truth behind Randy’s words when he spoke out against Rollins. When he teased giving Seth the RKO a few weeks back at the end of RAW, he really looked like he wanted to do it. This wasn’t acting, or pretending, or following a script - Orton seems to genuinely have a problem with Rollins taking over his spot, and his performance has improved because of it.
You can see it in his mic work, you can see it in his ring work (which, I’ll admit, has always been solid, but you have to admit he’s taken it up a notch), but most importantly, you can see it in his interactions with the crowd.
Orton is the quintessential heel - everything about him has always screamed out for people to despise him. He’d fit right in as the villain in a cheesy 80’s college movie. Whenever Randy has played the face role, it has always felt forced, as if he can’t wait for this phase to be over and he can go back to being a prick. But not now. When he plays to the crowd now, you can tell he’s enjoying it. He can get them in the palm of his hand, and unlike so many other times before, this time they’re loving the ride.
Again, Orton cares, and shockingly enough, the fans have noticed and responded positively. Amazing how we can sense passion, isn’t it?
So let’s go back to Monday night’s opening. The Authority’s music hits, and I immediately groan. “How can they not be starting the show with Bray Wyatt or Ambrose?” I ask myself, “Why do these guys need to force themselves into being the main story?” We hear from Stephanie McMahon and Triple H. . . We hear from a freshly-dyed Rollins. (I’m telling you, that hair looks awful. It’s like Jeff Hardy after wearing his Willow get-up for 6 weeks straight.) Honestly, if it hadn’t been for J&J Security, I might have stopped watching and just caught up with the MULTIPLE replays they inevitably show during the next three hours.
Then, here comes Orton, and he looks. . . Animalistic. Seriously, I’ve never seen him so amped up. He builds himself into a frenzy very quickly (perhaps a little too Ambrosian in nature, but you can’t blame him from using what is so obviously working), and within seconds is nearly apoplectic with rage. Deep red face, pacing wildly. . . I loved it! Once more, you could see the underlying truth there. Rollins won, Orton lost and he is legitimately pissed about it.
Then, the coup de gras. He attacks Rollins, they’re separated, Triple H looks to be calming down the Viper, and then...
A lot of people are wondering on Twitter when the “official” Orton face turn is going to happen. I’d argue that it happened already over the last few weeks, but if you need a single catalyst for the change, that’s the one.
In that one moment, he defied The Authority, he attacked the Golden Boy and he did what, at least in Triple H and Stephanie’s mind, was NOT best for business.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Randy Orton, one of the most popular stars in our sport…
(Sorry, I just can’t resist!)
Man, that came out of nowhere!
It’s hard to be a wrestling fan.
It’s even harder to be a wrestling fan who then has to produce original content about said wrestling.
On behalf of Doc Manson, I apologize to our fans for being absent these last weeks. I wish I had a hell of an excuse, but I think it just comes down to fatigue. Tired of writing, tired of editing, tired of having to watch RAW week after week and think of a new angle to blog about.
WWE just isn’t that exciting these days.
Sure, when Brock beat the snot out of Cena, we were jazzed. This was the beginning of a new era, we thought. This was going to be special.
What’s happened since? The Bellas spend each week yelling at each other and crying. . . Dean Ambrose is running around the countryside like Mick Foley after one too many Vaderbombs. . . What’s the main event for Night of Champions? Cena and Lesnar. . .Again.
So I’ve soured a bit on the current product. Thankfully, the WWE Network has saved me.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been watching the first year of Monday Night RAW, and the PPV’s to go with it. Here are, in no particular order, some musings and thoughts on that crazy time in pro wrestling, and if we can take anything from it today.
- Bam Bam Bigelow is a bad, bad man.
Most current WWE fans are likely unfamiliar with the ‘Beast from the East’, save for “Isn’t that the guy who lost to Lawrence Taylor?”, and that’s a shame. Paul Heyman was on Stone Cold’s podcast a few weeks back and talked about how Bigelow was one of the most naturally gifted in-ring performers he’s ever seen, and he’s absolutely right.
Everything Bam Bam does is crisp and looks like it would hurt like hell, probably because it absolutely did. I hope we see some Network docs about Bigelow (as many of you who follow me know, I want docs on everybody), so people can appreciate how talented he was.
- The first year of RAW was bad. Really bad.
Nostalgia makes it wonderful, but watching these shows from the Manhattan Center feels like I’m seeing local access wrestling. No pyro, only the tiniest of Titan-trons, Rob Bartlett on commentary and squash matches everywhere you look.
I know that most people (including myself just a few paragraphs ago) lament how “bad” RAW has been as of late, but I think we all need to take a step back and appreciate how good we have it. Even the worst RAW of 2014 is head and shoulders above the RAW’s of 1993, though again, nostalgia heals most of these wounds.
- ECW was Jobber Central.
I’ve tweeted about this repeatedly, but it’s crazy to see how many ECW stars began their careers as low-card or enhancement talent for the then-WWF. Justin Credible (PJ Walker), Nova (Mike Bucci), Raven (Johnny Polo), the list goes on.
Heyman has always said that his success was based on accentuating the strengths and hiding the weaknesses. No more is this evident with comparing the jobbers of 1993 with the ECW stars of the latter part of that decade.
- I love Doink.
Not the fan favorite, Pink, Wink and Dink Doink. The evil Doink. The “hiding under the ring” Doink. The “I’m a bad-add submission wrestler who just happens to be wearing clown make-up” Doink. Seriously, he might be my favorite part of what I’ve been calling #RAW93.
Take this Doink and transport him into 2014, and he’d give Ziggler, Cesaro and any other “great wrestler” WWE has right now a run for their money. He’s that good.
- There are a lot of similarities between 1993 storylines and those of today.
In 1993, Hulk Hogan had left WWF to go make movies (though he would quickly sign with WCW). The biggest star in the world was suddenly absent. In 2014, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan also disappeared, though not necessarily for the same reasons. Still, there was a sizeable gap made by their departure.
In ‘93, WWF had two choices of who to put the belt on- The tried and true superstar who could be relied on for hustling, loyalty and respect (Bret Hart), and a giant monster of a talent who, from an outsider’s point of view, seemingly could not be beat (Yokozuna). Sound familiar, WWE fans?
Twenty years ago, Vince McMahon decided to skyrocket a guy to the main event level, taking Lex Luger out of his “Narcissist” gimmick and making him the patriotic defender of all things good and American, battling the evil “beast incarnate”. No, seriously, that’s what Vince calls Yokozuna at one point during Summer Slam 1993.
While Roman Reigns is not wearing red, white and blue undies and waving a flag, he does seem to be the new “golden child”, getting every opportunity to prove he is ready to be the next huge WWE superstar. He’s being set up as the only man capable of defeating Brock Lesnar. (barring some sort of catastrophe where Cena wins at NOC and most WWE Twitter fans lock themselves in the bathroom for the next 9 months, weeping audibly.)
So can we take any lessons from what we see in 1993? Perhaps.
Potential Lesson #1 - A push can only get you so far if you can’t run with it.
I honestly don’t know why Luger never won the WWF title, or why he was quickly delegated back to upper-mid card status (at best) soon after he got off the Lex Express. But all signs pointed to Luger being a multi-time champion, and it never happened.
I’ve heard that WWE, smartly in my opinion, is preparing for an eventuality where the same thing happens with Roman Reigns - after all this “Roman Empire” stuff, there’s a chance he won’t be ready to take the ball come early 2015, so they’re planning accordingly. So for all of you people who bemoan the fact that Roman is getting the push he has, relax. It’s not etched in stone that he’s the new anybody. There will have to be some marked improvement in his skills in order for him to reach the upper echelon, just as there would be for any superstar.
Potential Lesson #2 - You always need a “fall back plan”.
Say what you will about John Cena, and I’ve said plenty myself, but he was the only man for the job back at Money In the Bank. Punk was gone, Bryan was out for who knows how long, and somebody needed to be able to navigate the top until there was someone else to step up, and Cena was that guy, just like Bret was 20 years ago.
Don’t be surprised if this happens again a couple times before Cena’s in-ring career is finished. There really is nobody else who has the track record and the skills to be a “fall-back” champion. Not Orton. Not Kane. Not Jericho or even Triple H.
Unless WWE really starts building that next level of stars, and I mean pronto, we’re going to see more and more times where Cena is called in to hold the fort for a few months. Sorry, friends, but its true.
Lesson #3 - Start building stars now. Right now.
There’s no denying that the early to mid 90’s was a slow point in wrestling. One reason is likely because WWE did such a poor job creating the new wave of stars. Watch these old RAWs, people. Do you know who the guys getting the biggest pushes were?
Adam Bomb. Mr. Hughes. Tatanka. The Smoking Gunns. Ludvig Borga.
No Hall of Famers among them. Yes, they had Razor and HBK and ‘Taker and even a guy like Diesel, but that’s about it. If you think of the biggest stars of the Attitude Era, they are nowhere to be found in 1993. WWE didn’t take off until they had that next wave of talent, and they’re going to be in the same boat if they don’t get a move on.
‘Cause the talent is there. Ambrose. Cesaro. Wyatt. Harper. Ziggler. Reigns. Rollins. All the NXT guys. With some proper planning and a little luck, the next decade of main events is on your roster, WWE.
Get to work.