The Mother Brain Pipebomb
By Mother Brain
I have been an addict of professional wrestling since the summer of 1994. It was the season of the baseball strike and the season when the New York Knicks were blown away by the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals. The landscape of wrestling had changed as well when icons like Hulk Hogan jumped ship to WCW while Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart was leading the charge in what we now know today as WWE. For the PG audience reading this piece, Bret Hart was my John Cena: Street fighter, defied the odds, won multiple titles, and all around good guy. Yet, as popular as Bret was, wrestling then was not the cool fad to be into. Kids in my school were high on the NBA or the innovative sounds of Tupac and Biggie. WWE tried many times to find a better wrestler than Bret to be the face of the company between 1993 to 1996. They even had him and Lex Luger win the Royal Rumble together in 1994 and the crowd reaction dictated that Bret was the bigger star despite all the company hype around Lex. But no matter who they selected to push him aside, the fans remained loyal to Bret until change was called for.
In the last few days, I’ve witnessed a huge amount of uproar from wrestling fans around the internet over the way fan favorites such as Daniel Bryan and CM Punk have been treated by WWE. Bryan had been sidetracked from the world title picture for months and many expected him to enter and win the Royal Rumble only to be disappointed when he was not selected to enter. Punk, after months of internal frustration with his status in the company and lousy booking from ‘creative,’ decided to pack his bags and return home to Chicago, creating widespread speculation about his departure from WWE all together. These men are not expendable jobbers from the 80s and 90s. Bryan and Punk devoted years establishing their craft together in the independent scene before signing with WWE and they won fans over with their 5 star matches as well as their personas going against the grain of the company’s model superstar, John Cena.
So why don’t they have Cena’s spot? Well, Bryan and Punk:
A) Are not over 6 feet tall.
B) Do not have bodies like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime.
C) Look less like current Hollywood golden boy, Channing Tatum, and more like a fallen Hollywood golden boy, Shia LaBeouf.
D) Are not “sports entertainers.”
Add in the excuse of merchandise sales and ratings, Bryan and Punk get passed over the main event spot in favor of established stars like The Rock and Batista. In a business that’s driven by instant success, WWE holds up a glass ceiling that no matter how hard these guys work, they will never be accepted as main event players.
Breaking it down…
A) Dropped the infamous pipebomb promo in 2011 that got mainstream press coverage and it made him win the title. Then gets shoved into an undercard match with Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania 28 where the title was treated like a second class citizen while Rock and Cena sold the event.
B) Turned heel in the summer of 2012 and sets a new record for longest title reign only for it to end with a loss to the Rock to set up a rematch with Cena at Wrestlemania 29.
C) Went back to being a babyface to feud with Paul Heyman and his stable in 2013. But when the feud ended, he got left with meaningless feuds with the Wyatts and The Shield.
A) Won fan support when he arrived to WWE in 2010. But he struggled due to Michael Cole burying him on commentary, matches getting taken off PPV cards, and more losses than wins. Also got fired at one point for choking a ring announcer with his tie before he was rehired due to fan outrage.
B) Lost the World Heavyweight Title to Sheamus in 18 seconds at Wrestlemania 28 which made the fans sympathize with him more.
C) Won the WWE Title twice only to have short title reigns so that Randy Orton and Triple H can knock him back down to mid-card level.
I can go further into the issues between these men and the company. Yet, the real issues are bigger than lousy writers, part-timers, and John Cena. This is about a company that will not listen to the outpouring demands of the fans who want change at the top of the card. Even kids I know personally are tired of the same 2 or 4 guys getting handed opportunities for the world title time and time again. Then I ask myself this question about this company that believes big men who don’t connect with the crowd are more important than the guys the fans root hard for…
Would the superstars of the past be pushed to the top if they were starting out in WWE today?
By most accounts, I say no because everyone I’m about to list was a pioneer in their heyday as the face of WWE. Though with this list comes my fictional way of how WWE management would perceive them had they started out in 2014:
Hulk Hogan – No one would believe a balding orange guy with a yellow handlebar mustache as WWE Champion.
Randy Savage – Great in the ring. But he looks like a bum who speaks like he smokes crack.
Ultimate Warrior – Great physique. But he overacts and he’s too dangerous in the ring.
The Undertaker – No way in hell will he be on the box of Fruity Pebbles. Also dead people are not PG friendly.
Bret Hart – No personality, too butch-looking, and he’s Canadian.
Shawn Michaels – Too small and too short.
Stone Cold Steve Austin – Drinking and sticking up middle fingers is no good for kids.
The Rock – Too ethnic.
Now one would say, “Well they were stars at different times in WWE history and you can’t compare then with now.” Back then, only Vince McMahon called the shots. Today, it’s Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, the shareholders, the sponsors, and Linda McMahon’s political campaign team. When ratings drop on a Punk or Bryan segment, they get punished creatively for it because the company doesn’t give them or guys like Dolph Ziggler, Zack Ryder, Antonio Cesaro, and others chance to get the mainstream public to familiarize with them over the course of time. WWE cannot expect to put a main title on one of these guys and anticipate blockbuster ratings and PPV buys as a result. In truth, it was never so immediate for the some of the legends I just mentioned. Here’s a few of their facts combated with truth:
WWE’s Common “Did You Know” Factoid #1: The 80s boom period started with Hulk Hogan winning the WWE title from the Iron Sheik at Madison Square Garden in January 1984.
The Truth: Hogan was popular after his Rocky III appearance; however, WWE was still in a transitional period with Vince taking the reigns from his father, Vince, Sr., as he was acquiring talents from various territories and expanding television with national programing, specifically on the USA Network. Wrestling was still considered a boxed in fad with Bruno Samartino, Bob Backlund, Ric Flair, etc. The boom period did not start until the MSG show in late 1984 when Roddy Piper attacked Captain Lou Albano and Cyndi Lauper, leading to The War to Settle the Score event on MTV with Hogan defending their honor against piper.
WWE’s Common “Did You Know” Factoid #2: WWE turned business around during the Monday Night Wars when Steve Austin won King of the Ring 1996 and Rocky Maivia turned heel, becoming The Rock in 1997.
The Truth: WWE Raw was still well behind WCW Nitro’s ratings all through 1996 and 1997 when Austin and Rock started gaining momentum. They still had a heel Bret Hart, Undertaker, and Sid at the top of the cards. Business did not turn around until Mike Tyson appeared on Raw in January 1998 and was confronted by Steve Austin. Ratings increased week after week until after Wrestlemania 14 when they finally ended Nitro’s 83 week winning streak.
The point that I’m making here is that in those days, it took months, sometimes over a year for a top superstar to be properly built up to the point where a creative opportunity to go mainstream was presented and all numbers go up from there. Numbers dictate WWE’s direction more than anything.
Now, WWE drinks its own Kool-Aid like they have a formula for success that they cannot stray from. Yet, how can they believe in their own hype when they always resort to past superstars to headline Wrestlemania? What does that say about their faith in the current roster? Back in 2000, I remember watching the Wrestlemania 2000 pre-show interview with Vince where he was asked why there was a lack of celebrities attending the event unlike past years. His simple response was that his superstars had already been elevated into mainstream celebrity status. Back then at the height of the Attitude era, Vince was right because people saw his superstars in movies, TV shows, major news outlets, MTV, Playboy Magazine, etc. Now, only a select few superstars in the current roster are household names who are not on the same iconic level as Hogan, Austin, or Rock. Of course they are one of a kind and not everyone (Kane, Santino Marella, Sin Cara, Mark Henry, JTG, etc.) can expect to reach their level; however, guys like Punk and Bryan have a level of arena-shaking popularity as evidenced on live shows. Even episodes of Raw taped in cities with usually less than average crowd reactions tend to go crazy when the music hits for these guys.
What more do Bryan and Punk have to prove to headline Wrestlemania? Cut boring promos and disconnect from the crowd like Randy Orton? Go clean cut and appeal to young kids like John Cena? Get jacked up like Batista? Go Hollywood like The Rock? Marry into the McMahon Family like Triple H? Leave the company for MMA and return for more money and less working dates like Brock Lesnar? When superstars like Punk and Bryan have full ability in the ring, on the mic, and the respect from their peers, how do they rewarded? They get nothing but false hopes of upward mobility in the WWE machine. 434 days with Punk holding the world title is considered to be one of those imaginary brass rings that he mentioned in his 2011 pipebomb promo. Loud chants of “Yes!” for Daniel Bryan at a Raw show in his home state of Washington fall to deaf ears to management because in my Gene Wilder voice “Yes! They are fucking deaf!” They see this large bearded short guy who reminds them of Bob Backlund but they cannot hear how much the fans love him.
In the end, WWE is nothing more than an image-conscious machine that dictates one’s destiny in their ‘business’. They play their favorites at the top while everyone else is given a lot of money to take shit and hope to a higher power it turns into gold. Sadly, there’s no alternative to jump to like in the old days. Even Dixie-Land is preparing its own funeral in a few months time. I don’t blame Punk for leaving due to the physical and emotional toll he’s been taking for a long time. He deserves his rest and perhaps he’ll either re-ignite his fire or decide to ride off into the sunset. We have to respect his decision as human beings before we do as wrestling fans. Only time will tell with Bryan. Rumor has it WWE may change plans for him to win the world title before Wrestlemania to calm us angry fans down.
As for this writer, I’m not the same 11 year old who loved watching Bret Hart wrestle anymore. I see a different business that denies people in my age group for the kids who drink their Kool-Aid now. Except they’re starting to catch on little by little too. It would be easy to say I’d stop watching out of protest even though Monday nights can be a bit depressing without Raw (or the occasional Monday Night Football). Yet, my life means something more than despicable backstage politics that bear no influence on my day-to-day living. Maybe I’ll turn back to basketball in hopes the Knicks win a title. Oh that’s right. Their blowhard owner doesn’t give a shit about their fans either.