The rise of HHH backstage has brought many benefits to the “future” of World Wrestling Entertainment. One big plus point for me is that new characters are built up again, like they were in the old days, with vignettes and promos BEFORE their official television debut’s (we’ll not count NXT appearances). These video segments prime fans about what to expect from the newcomers. We knew, well before he stepped in the ring, that Razor Ramon was a cocky, arrogant “Cuban” with an attitude, that Papa Shango was a voodoo peddling whack-job and that Bob “Spark E Plugg” Holly was a wrestling race car driver…OK so they didn’t all set the world on fire, but at least fans knew who a performer was and what he represented before he actually had a match.
(My comedy favourite was Alex “The Pug” Porteau, who was hyped on the basis that he had, you know, technical wrestling ability. A shocking turn of events in the mid 90’s WWF).
The Wyatt Family are one recent example. If they had been thrown out on Raw with no build-up (and no, NXT doesn’t count in this instance) their attack on Kane would not have meant anything. But those fantastically eerie, well-made promo vignettes introduced us to the trio and before they’d even appeared live on Raw every fan knew what to expect from the wrestlers (in essence they’d been primed to react in the right way) and what characters were being portrayed.
It got me to thinking what other “old” WWF promotional techniques could make a comeback and then is struck me. What the WWE could also do to help new stars get over is to bring back the jobbers.
By jobbers I don’t mean the likes of Zack Ryder or 3MB, who are supposed to be “superstars” (albeit on a very low tier) but the kind of legendary figures like “Pistol” Pez Whatley, “Iron” Mike Sharpe or Mario Mancini (who had the honour of being the first TV opponent of The Undertaker on Superstars of Wrestling) whose name recognition was limited to that brief word from the ring announcer before they ultimately did their job and, ahem, did the job. No music, no packaging, no real gimmick. Just a man who would lose a match.
Now you may be wondering what use such guys would be in 2013, but I think they would have a big value in the right circumstances.
To combine the two things I’ve talked about here, lets backtrack a little and take the case of Curtis Axel. I’m no great fan of Axel and feel that without his family tree he’d never have made it back to the main roster a second time. He’s not shown me much in any segment prior to the official announcement of him being the son of Curt Hennig that made me think “wow, this kid has got it”. But that is besides the point. Paul Heyman did his best with his “introductory” speech explaining the genesis of the Axel character, but how much better would it have been if we’d been treated to, say, a month of vignettes that played up to his family connections and showed us how serious Curtis was about honouring the legacy of his father. (This might also have had the added bonus of explaining to the young section of the audience who don’t know Mr Perfect just what a legend he was, which could only have aided his son’s quest to get over).
It needn’t have telegraphed the Paul Heyman connection if they wanted to keep that a “surprise”, but it would have primed fans who weren’t “in the know” about Axel as to the character of the man in question in a way that an unannounced debut at the side of Paul Heyman could never have achieved.
Next was his “debut” match against John Cena on his first night on Raw. This might seem, on paper, a positive thing (disregarding the result and Cena’s “suitability” for getting other people over) but it was no such thing, and not just for the reasons you might expect.
A win against Cena would have been nice (and a pipe-dream) but how were we supposed to invest in the match when we didn’t have a clue about Axel’s routine? We didn’t know his set-up moves, his signature moves or his finisher, a fact exacerbated by the fact that he spent most of the next month not winning matches against Triple H before lifting the IC title. If he’d spent a month being showcased on TV against jobbers fans would have been educated about the style that Axel works and when he is building up to a finish. We would have known his signature moves and what they were called and this could only help to get Axel, or any other wrestler in his position over (and bear in mind we would have already been introduced to his character for a month before he stepped into the ring). I submit that this build-up and then a “switch” to Heyman’s side would have made more of an impact and would have resulted in him being more over than he currently is.
Big “surprise” debut’s could still happen, of course, and I wouldn’t suggest that my method would need to be used for EVERY new superstar. But even if it was only used half the time, those lucky 50% of new guys would have a head-start in connecting with the audience. And even if we just take into account the 5 hours of Raw and Smackdown each week, five minutes for a vignette and a squash match represents less than 2% of the WWE’s prime-time TV weekly output. Is it too much to ask that such a small segment of time is used as an investment in the company’s future?
– By Matthew Roberts