John Cena — the Doctor of Thuganomics, and the winner of 10 (TEN!) Slammy Awards — recently gave his opinion on the UFC.
It’s done great to establish itself as a brand, but in comparison with us, it doesn’t resonate with me just because I’m a storyteller. I enjoy the story that we can tell in the ring and like I said, I think [WWE does] it better than everyone.
I mostly like John Cena. I think he’s underrated on the mic, the way he’s able to work the shit out of a crowd that are booing him is phenomenal. Of course, he’s a pandering goon and his character is terrible, reaching a nadir at WrestleMania 31 when he became a patriotic, flag-wanking, anti-immigrant fuckhead, like the obscene botchling lovechild of Mr America and Donald Trump. On the flip side, he’s underrated in the ring, with his US title run producing some fantastic matches.
His thoughts on storytelling, though? No, WWE does not do storytelling better than anyone else. They’re not even the best within their own company. NXT, WWE’s developmental company — whose weekly show has, admittedly, been pretty tedious for a while — has by far the best and most consistent storytelling out of the two. There are no 20 minute promos, no feuds over shampoo commercials, just a man or a woman who wants a title or a fight. Characters actually grow and change over the weeks and months. There are consequences and clean finishes.
Take Bayley. Bayley was the laughing stock of the women’s division, unable to pull out the big victory when it mattered most. But then she improved. She trained harder, she fought better, and pulled out win after win. She put on the performance of a lifetime against Sasha Banks at Takeover Brooklyn and did it again at Takeover Respect (the second match featuring a nice bit of continuity, with Bayley stomping on Sasha’s hands, mirroring a spot from their first match).
The growth and build of American Alpha is similarly brilliant. Chad Gable was a goof who desperately wanted to team with Jason Jordan because he saw something in him. Jordan refused, teaming with all sorts of losers, until finally deciding to give Gable a chance, if only to shut his mouth. Of course, it turned out Gable is awesome and has amazing chemistry with Jordan and they’re now the champs.
The latest WrestleMania is a sad example of WWE being unable to get the basics right. The biggest drawing match — Shane McMahon vs the Undertaker — made no sense from the day it was announced. Shane McMahon, if he won, would gain control of Raw (and by extension the WWE, maybe? It was never clarified, only obfuscated). If Undertaker lost then he’d never appear at a WrestleMania again, per Vince McMahon’s orders. How does this make sense? Shane has no beef with Taker, Taker none with him. If Shane wins and gains control, how does Vince’s banishment of Undertaker stick? Why can’t Shane just instantly overrule Vince? Why were Stephanie and HHH, the people who would fare worse if Shane won, nowhere to be seen? Why didn’t they interfere? Why were they silent?
For a brief, shining second, near the end of the match, I thought we might have some honest-to-God story. Shane McMahon was a wreck after jumping off the 20ft cell, risking his life in front of his wife and children in order to take out the Undertaker and take care of his legacy. He failed, but Taker recognised something in Shane. Shane, with nothing left, was still egging Taker on, begging for more. Taker looked amazed and gave Shane a respectful pat on the face.
It was at this point that I assumed Taker would lay down for Shane. He’d realise that Shane was fighting for a good cause and respect Shane for willing to risk his life for his beliefs. Taker would lay down, let Shane win, because he’d had his time in the sun. He’d had his championships, he’d had the streak, and Shane would be able to save the company he’d spent so long representing and working for.
Nope, instead he tombstoned him, dropped his gloves, and left. Shane’s fight was for nothing. The bad guy won; a downer ending in an evening of downer endings. The next night? Shane McMahon gets control of Raw.
There are no consequences in WWE.
You can do all sorts of mental gymnastics to justify this shit.
Oh, Vince saw how much Shane was willing to fight and rewarded him with Raw control.
Well, Vince actually prefers Shane over the Authority now after the success of Shane’s Raws.
None of this is on-screen. None of this is explained. No one acts like a human being, nothing is logical. Lana leaves Rusev and becomes a big fan of denim and Ziggler’s cock. She then leaves Ziggler, dumps the denim and goes back to Rusev because reasons. You could write a book on the mishandling of the Wyatt family.
Brock Lesnar and Dean Ambrose at WrestleMania was just heartbreaking. Dean was built for weeks as this unbreakable lunatic. He’d taken HHH to the limit, actually being the face of the company while Roman had some incredibly well-timed nasal surgery. And guess what? People loved him. Dean’s character is simple, genuine and interesting. The man can cut a promo, when allowed to, and some of his work with Brock was great. People wanted Dean to win, even if they knew he probably wouldn’t. He should’ve taken Brock to his limits, with a loss ultimately being a character-defining win, a la Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13. Instead he got a few kendo shots in, teased weapons he’d obviously never use (some classic WWE writing there, building up to something they know they can’t deliver) and lost to Brock’s three moves of doom. He lost in a match a hell of a lot less brutal than the one he had against Seth Rollins last year, where he took multiple power bombs and was literally buried in chairs and still got back up and almost won. A match three times as long. It was a win that does nothing for Lesnar and continues to squander Ambrose.
This all brings us to WWE and their obsession with manufacturing moments. For the last few years, WrestleMania has become the place for ‘moments.’
When there’s a big spot at WrestleMania now, or a celebrity appearance, nothing can be organic or spontaneous, everything has to be bundled up into a hashtag and proclaimed a WrestleMania Moment®. Announcers sound like robots, proclaiming the Rock fannying around with a flamethrower as a Wrestlemania Moment. No one sounds genuine or natural. Instead of something obviously being a special moment, you are beaten around the head and told what is special, what is memorable. Imagine 2016 Michael Cole calling Mick Foley being thrown off the cell, or Jeff Hardy climbing the ladder in his match against the Undertaker. Sends a fucking shiver down your spine, doesn’t it?
The audience isn’t allowed to have an opinion, despite McMahon insisting he always goes with the crowd. At the Raw after WrestleMania, JBL –, the jibbering, dead-eyed, Play-Doh-faced idiot — told us not to worry about how the crowd was going to react to Roman Reigns. They’re just messing around, having fun. Cheer for Roman. Roman is the man. You like Roman. #RomanEmpire.
If you want the best storytelling in wrestling, go to NXT, LU, Chikara (the kings of continuity), or PROGRESS. WWE does spectacle like no one else and the wrestling can be outstanding, but only one man is allowed to win, and no one is allowed to grow and change, which are the basic tenets of storytelling. WWE is scripted and should be more dramatic and exciting than UFC, that it isn’t is an indictment of Vince McMahon and the creative stranglehold he has over the company.