Kayfabe Thoughts: John Cena Thinks You’re Stupid

(I’ve written a few columns this year for some other online sources and now I’m making those available here, so you might have already read this or it’s subject might be dated. If you’ve already read it: THANKS! If you haven’t: here you go!)

To be regarded as “the top guy” in the wrestling business is something all wrestlers aspire but few actually achieve. In the ring, the wrestler must be charismatic to both adults and children, possess the gift of gab, and be technically proficient enough to have good matches with competitors of all shapes, sizes, and skill sets. Outside the ring, they must be able to carry the weight of being the ultimate brand ambassador and able to withstand the additional scrutiny that comes with heightened visibility and expectation.

John Cena carried that weight for the better part of 15 years for WWE. Night after night, day after day, Cena worked tirelessly to live up to the expectations thrust on him as WWE’s standard bearer. Appearance after appearance, charity event after charity event, town after town, all over the world, John Cena came to epitomize what WWE is as a company, both inside and outside the squared circle.

Young Cena shifted his persona to reflect his status. Gone were the chains and hip hop lyric insults. No more rap albums or edgy promos.

Just hustle, loyalty, and respect.

The new Cena wore brightly colored shirts to appeal to his younger fans. He kept the jorts, but they became less baggy. He learned Mandarin, so that he could speak to his fans in China. Super Cena even re-invented himself somewhat in the ring, learning some new tricks along the way to mix in among his infamous “Five Moves of Doom” in order to have more exciting matches with new, younger opponents. Cena evolved and it paid off handsomely for WWE and Cena.

But Father Time is undefeated and the tastes of wrestling fans change.

Physically, Cena is fit as ever. He has stayed relatively injury free throughout his career and his commitment to maintaining himself has clearly benefitted him. But his youthful looks are trending toward middle age and there is now a bald spot struggling to be masked by even the most closely cropped fade.

More troublingly, fan patience with and interest in the Cena character has waned. The former 50/50 “Let’s go Cena/Cena sucks” chants skew far more negative. Time off to make WWE financed movies that served as expanded marketing ventures was once ok because fans loved to see Cena in action movies like “The Marine”. Today, fans question his commitment to the WWE and deride him as a part timer who only comes back to WWE to promote his films, shade a younger Cena once threw at the Rock.

While the clearest path back to relevance seems to be Cena finally giving in and turning heel a la Hulk Hogan 20 years ago when he found himself in a similar place, Mr Make-A-Wish has refused. As a result, Cena’s position at the center of the WWE Universe has drifted.

Consider his last 3 WM appearances: an injury limited appearance at WM32; a WM33 appearance hinged on completing a storyline from his girlfriend Nikki Bella’s reality show by finally giving in and asking her to marry him in the ring after their match with The Miz and Maryse; and at WM34, a 3 minute squash match loss vs the seemingly retired Undertaker. The Undertaker match felt especially weird in that it left everyone confused as to what exactly the point was of the build which featured Cena seeming less like a tough guy calling a reluctant opponent out but more like an entitled, petulant child whose parent won’t get him the toy he so desperately wants.

Cena’s spotlight, one that burned brightly and only for him, has dimmed.

So what does Cena do?

He works. He hustles.

But this time it’s the fans who are being hustled and worked, with no respect for the fans intelligence to be found.

To the surprise of no one paying attention, Cena and Nikki announced on April 11 that they would not be getting married in a matter of weeks as planned. This announcement came just 6 days after a promo for the upcoming season of “Total Bellas” teased that there was trouble in paradise and also before the release of Cena’s movie “Blockers”. All of it happened so quickly and so seemingly coordinated that not even the most cynical of fans began to wonder if something was afoot.

Still, a certain contingent of fans immediately threw around phrases like “this is heartbreaking”, “poor Nikki”, and “we must respect them during this difficult time” because “this is real life stuff, not wrestling stuff”.

In light of all that has occurred since, I’m going to go ahead and tell the Bella Army that they need to stand down, because they all just got WORKED along with the rest of the WWE Universe.

Three weeks later, it’s even more clear that the probability of all this being a work is closer to the truth than not, despite consistent denials otherwise. As the premiere of “Total Bellas” drew near, Nikki released a heartfelt vlog, makeupless and emotionally drained. Cena then made a few statements in interviews claiming he still loves Nikki and always will. Cena upped the ante when during an appearance on the Today Show with Kathie Lee and Hoda, John stated that “I still love Nicole, I still would love to marry Nicole, I still would love to have a family with Nicole”. Later, during a red carpet interview on Extra, Nikki would be informed of Cena’s comments and reply with an unconvincing “Wow. I’m speechless.”

Nikki might be speechless, but I’m not.

This is garbage.

Furthermore, neither is a skilled enough actor to convince me that any of this was ever real.

While I am absolutely in favor of personal, real life situations being kept out of the wrestling realm, all of this has taken place very publicly in front of the WWE Universe. Everything that has been presented for consumption within the confines of WWE produced television is subject to criticism and speculation. Anyone saying otherwise is engaging with the product on a level that makes me uncomfortable.

Fans were right to question the entire Cena/Nikki engagement from the beginning. Cena had long portrayed himself both on “Total Divas” and “Total Bellas” and, most tellingly, IN REAL LIFE as someone who’d rather set all of his cars on fire than subject himself to marriage again or children. I think John Cena’s nightmare’s all begin with him finding himself on the set of “Maury” with the host hanging on the verdict of whether or not he is a father.

So why the change? Certainly not for love, but instead for the love of one’s self and the spotlight. Plucking at the heartstrings of easily manipulated fans landed Cena a heavily promoted spot at last year’s Wrestlemania, so mission accomplished. Maybe a breakup will pop “Total Bellas” ratings and help push along those pesky contract negotiations with NBCU. Heck, maybe Nikki can even sell some more Birdie Bee product by playing the clueless girl one more time!

Either way, the warm spotlight Cena loves and has come to crave so much returns.

There is a famous line uttered in an equally famous scene by forgotten and delusional starlet Norma Desmond (played by Gloria Swanson) in the 1950 film “Sunset Boulevard” that comes to mind when I consider where John Cena is now and what track he seems to be willing to take in effort to return to the spotlight.

In my mind’s eye, I can see today’s Cena backstage at RAW, the Cena who continues to stick with the jorts and bright tees because that’s what his fans used to love, the Cena with a fuller bump card and less full hairline, the Cena who apparently traded loyalty and respect for notoriety and a paycheck. He marches with purpose down the hallway, flings the door to the room where creative meets to discuss upcoming storylines open and announces to Vince and everyone inside: “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr McMahon.”

Thanks for reading!

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Kayfabe Thoughts: WWE’s Once and Future King

(I’ve written a few columns this year for some other online sources and now I’m making those available here, so you might have already read this or it’s subject might be dated. If you’ve already read it: THANKS! If you haven’t: here you go!)

As Wrestlemania neared, it appeared that Brock Lesnar would be leaving the WWE to return to the UFC. Lesnar, who had held the WWE Universal Championship since defeating Goldberg at the previous year’s Wrestlemania, found himself as the ire of many fans due to the attraction nature of his booking and the resulting sporadic defenses of his championship. While it seemed that the equally (if not more) reviled Roman Reigns would be the beneficiary of Lesnar’s departure, fans were at least happy that 1 of the 2 most high-profile championships in the company would begin to make regular appearances on TV and at PPVs again.

But of course, in the words of Uncle Dave, plans changed.

Lesnar and WWE came to terms on a new deal that would allow Lesnar to work UFC dates in addition to his WWE deal just hours before WM. Not only did Lesnar retain the title vs Reigns at WM, he also prevailed in the subsequent rematch at The Greatest Royal Rumble, much to the chagrin of the WWE Universe.

The Mayor of Suplex City hasn’t been seen on WWE TV since and unfortunately the legit contenders are few it seems.

In their last head to head encounter, Braun Strowman, the current monster of the WWE, ate the pin clean. I’m all for Braun getting a title run and I think that getting it by absolutely destroying Lesnar would make a statement in the process. However, it seems like if WWE creative wanted to protect the Monster Among Men mystique, he would have beaten Lesnar already.

Samoa Joe is in almost the same boat as Strowman. Despite building a program last summer between Lesnar and Samoa Joe around Joe’s persona of being a legit badass, the Samoan Submission Machine came up short against Lesnar at 2017’s oddly named Great Balls of Fire event in one on one competition and again in a Fatal Four Way match that included Strowman and Roman Reigns at Summerslam.

In my opinion, the challenger who made Lesnar look most vulnerable (and most like the Lesnar of old) last year was AJ Styles at Survivor Series 2017. However, unless the WWE wanted to do some sort of title unification bout with the Universal and WWE Championships, it’s unlikely to be revisited.

Is there a light at the end of the Brock Lesnar tunnel?

In a word: YES!

In 3 words: YES! YES! YES!

Daniel Bryan should be the guy.

I understand the WWE’s hesitance to re-insert Bryan into the main event picture. Bryan’s health issues derailed the last 2 high profile programs Bryan had before his retirement, when Bryan was WWE champ and again during his brief return as Intercontinental champ. The potential disaster for Bryan and WWE to have to deal with another head injury warrants all the caution that seems to be taken right now.

But man, what a story it could be.

When Bryan announced his return in March, the entire sports world, not just the WWE Universe or wrestling fans, stood up and took notice. The news of his un-retirement sparked a reaction that isn’t seen often within the IWC: universal happiness. Paying off the “Believe in your dreams and your dreams will believe in you” idea with a win over the reigning, defending, undisputed Universal Champion Brrrrock LLLLesnar would punctuate the story with a what might be a bigger moment than Bryan’s WMXXX win over the Authority.

And Bryan could no doubt have a great match with Lesnar. Think back to the Styles/Lesnar match I mentioned earlier. Styles in-ring approach is so diametrically opposite of Lesnar’s that it was believable that he could keep the Beast Incarnate on his heels and perhaps pull off the upset. Bryan would be positioned in a similar way and with a larger variety of submission holds at his disposal, the potential to weaken Lesnar’s base (Brock always seems to skip leg day) can easily be established.

Imagine the pop if the biggest underdog, a man who was told he was too small to compete with the heavyweights and one who had to give up his title due to injury and retire, emerges victorious in a match with one of the most unstoppable forces in wrestling and combat sports history.

Goosebumps (or goose pimples as the great Gorilla Monsoon said)…

With one moment, WWE could go a long way to stealing back some of the magic that the stale, lazy booking stole over the last few months. And with most of the recent positive wrestling headlines going in the direction of a show headlined and promoted by a man who asked to be released by the company (Cody), this is a great way to bring some of that positivity the WWE’s way.

Bryan as champ works right into a program with longtime nemesis The Miz. From there, all the dream Bryan battles could go down (Styles, Balor, Nakamura, Joe, Zayn, Owens among others), provided his health continues to hold. Ultimately, maybe the WWE revisits Bryan/Reigns and uses Bryan to legitimize Reigns as champ like they did with their matchup before WM 31. The possibilities are endless and with the stacked roster of talent WWE possesses right now between the main and NXT rosters.

Bryan is the man that can bring the magic back to WWE.

WWE just needs to take a real look at what is going on and act fast.

Thanks for listening!

Kayfabe Thoughts: WWE’s Vince Problem

(I’ve written a few columns this year for some other online sources and now I’m making those available here, so you might have already read this or it’s subject might be dated. If you’ve already read it: THANKS! If you haven’t: here you go!)

In 1982, Vincent K. McMahon purchased Capitol Wrestling Group and the WWWF from his father, Vincent J. McMahon. Between 1954 and 1982, the elder McMahon built his version of the WWWF around the old territory idea of how wrestling promotions were run. Business was good, as the WWWF had long been regarded as one of the crown jewel territories because it was among the first promotions to split gate dollars with talent and controlled the New York market, and Vincent J. McMahon was very happy to keep the status quo.

However, the younger McMahon had a larger vision for not just the WWWF, but for the wrestling business as a whole that his father could not or did not want to see. In fact, “Junior”, as his father’s friends called him, changed the business so drastically that even he admitted to Sports Illustrated in 1991 “Had my father known what I was going to do, he never would have sold his stock to me.”

As fans, we’ve been able to watch that vision turn into reality, as Vincent K. McMahon would turn the world upside down again and again, turning his father’s regional promotion into one of the largest entertainment companies in the world. Along the way, he has given us some of the most memorable characters, moments, and storylines in the history of the sport. He has also pushed the now WWE to the forefront of innovation, re-writing the book on how wrestling is marketed and produced.

Truly Vince McMahon is one of the most innovative, creative minds in the history of entertaiment and the father of modern wrestling (insert genetic jackhammer joke here).

Except he’s killing WWE and needs to go.

Now, I know someone is rolling their eyes at this, frantically getting ready to type something about “WWE revenue year over year”, “#LOLZWUTAMARK”, “You don’t understand wrestling” etc. but just take a minute and keep reading.

Vincent K McMahon is 72 years old, 3 years older than his father when he passed away as a result of pancreatic cancer and 5 years older than his father was when he was bought out. Some of the same things in regard to presentation and being overly reliant on old ways of doing things that the younger Vince held against the older are now somewhat afflicting the current WWE.

Brock Lesnar as an attraction-type champion is a bad and antiquated approach. Attractions worked when the WWE didn’t produce so many hours of content each week. That’s not to say wrestlers as attractions can’t draw. Attraction matchups still work, look at the interest in the Undertaker or HHH’s yearly Wrestlemania matchup, but it’s a really bad look to have all this content, but not be able to feature one of your top 2 champions.

The same can be said of the repetitive, dogmatic approach to Roman Reigns booking. I like Roman. I think he’s an excellent performer, good looking, popular with kids. He ticks all the “top guy” boxes. He is SUPER over without question. But Vince and creative have tried out every single approach to cementing him as champion without giving that character time to breathe with the fans. Think about it (or maybe, more appropriately, #UseYourHead): he’s tried the dominant Hogan booking, the bad-boy Austin booking, the screwed over by the Authority booking, and now the scrappy underdog booking with Roman all to NO AVAIL.

I could go further with this, but by now you are already thinking of other examples of the WWE’s repetitive approach to main roster booking and production.

Truthfully, the best parts of WWE right now are NXT and lately 205 Live, both Triple H’s pet projects. Triple H smartly seems to have built both to more closely resemble the style and tone of promotions like ROH, New Japan, and PWG which are currently popular among younger and international fans alike.

Perhaps most troubling is when NXT stars get to the main roster, many struggle because Vince’s approach is so very different. As de facto god of all things wrestling for the main roster, Vince has to be held responsible for the product’s inability to evolve.

It’s really simple business. Any business that can’t grow its talent to success will always have trouble on multiple fronts and eventually will endure long-term difficulty. Mid-level talent and below will continue to do just enough to stay around because they are just happy to get a paycheck. Good players who feel abandoned, mishandled, or ignored will leave, taking their talent elsewhere and succeeding when given a platform that is better suited to their strength (see also: Cody Rhodes).

When the growth problem becomes most debilitating is when the talent exodus eventually breeds a more competitive market. What’s worse is the eventual whisper campaign against your company which impacts the ability to attract new up and coming talent. Right now, WWE can still cover their imperfections with the promise of a bigger paycheck for young, starving performers eager to make it to the big stage.

But if what continually occurs is that they fail not because of their lack of skill or an inability to connect with the crowd but because of a failure to connect with a septuagenarian who rules with an iron fist, eventually the chorus of bad experiences gets loud enough to drown out the siren’s call of the money. The consequence becomes inevitable and your company goes from being stocked deep with young talent to having to hire the 3rd, 4th, and 5th best candidate in order to fill a roster (see also: The Island of Misfit Toys that was mid-90’s WWE or the later days of WCW).

Predictably the product suffers, market share shrinks, and one of two things happens: the company changes course radically and bounces back (late 90s WWE) or your former fans serenade you with a rousing rendition of Vince’s favorite song as the lights go dark for good.

A wiser man than I once said “Enough is enough. It’s time for a change.”

Vince has to go.

Just don’t blow him up in a limo this time.

Vince Blown Up

Kayfabe Thoughts: Running on Empty

(I’ve written a few columns this year for some other online sources and now I’m making those available here, so you might have already read this or it’s subject might be dated. If you’ve already read it: THANKS! If you haven’t: here you go!)

Well, it’s been a while.

More specifically, it’s been since before Wrestlemania.

I won’t go into specifics, but it’s been a bit of a month. Infection. Surgery. Recovery. Not my favorite 6 weeks personally.

And still, I feel like my time post-Wrestlemania has been better than WWE’s.

Wrestlemania weekend started out strong. Takeover NO was one of the best cards WWE has put together in years and the talent delivered, setting the bar high and making for a tough act to follow. To the pleasant surprise of most fans, the early part of the card (minus the pre-show battle royals) featured several excellent matches. From the Miz/Rollins/Balor classic at the outset of the event all the way through the Rousey/Angle/HHH/Stephanie match, it seemed that the main roster was ready to meet that challenge.

However, after a few so-so matches mixed in among an underwhelming payoff to the Undertaker/Cena build, Daniel Bryan’s triumphant return to WM, and the weirdly constructed Styles/Nakamura match, it was clear that there were cracks throughout the foundation.

Then the house fell in on itself: Lesnar beat Reigns and the fans who were already actively antagonistic showered Lesnar and Reigns with boos all the way to Gorilla.

Creatively, WWE seems to be caught in a free fall ever since.

The tone-deaf money grab that was The Greatest Royal Rumble was hugely disappointing for many fans. The event was highlighted by yet another curiously booked Lesnar/Reigns match and culminating in an apology for mistakenly showing the “Best of Both Worlds” promo during the event and exposing the crowd to images of scantily-clad women, a big no-no in Saudi Arabia. Not a good way to punctuate what was intended to be an opportunity to promote the progressive agenda espoused by the current regime through good, clean fun (for anyone who isn’t a woman).

Oh, and Brock Lesnar, still the Universal Champion, hasn’t been seen since.

WWE proceeded to throw gas on the fire by having one of the worst PPVs ever just 9 days later. Aside from another really good match between Seth Rollins and The Miz, the remaining matches were predictably, if not curiously, booked. Also, I thought back to Seth Rollins’ promo on Raw, when he talked about the grind of the touring schedule, because it seemed like everyone was just missing a gear in regard to ringwork. Hopefully the extended time between Backlash and Money in the Bank will let the overtaxed talent heal up mentally and physically from the toll paid over the last month.

Perhaps most troublingly are the continued issues WWE creative has introducing or re-introducing talent to the WWE Universe. While I can’t fault fans for not immediately getting back on board with Bobby Lashley (yawn) or Big Cass (he didn’t do a single crunch while he was out?), my biggest concern still rests with how promoted talent are handled.

NXT stars brought to the main roster have been met with a TON of indifference, aside from the now-double-I IIconics. In fact, the most high-profile additions, Andrade “Cien” Almas and SaNity, have yet to be seen outside of a few “coming soon” vignettes. Regardless, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that anyone promoted from NXT is going to have their character augmented and usually it’s changed in such a way that fans lose interest quickly.

Oddly, the only character who didn’t undergo a change thus far are No Way Jose and that is a gimmick that was already dead in the water. I don’t care that everyone at house shows loves the conga line, it’s Adam Rose and the Rosebuds 2.0. He’ll probably be feuding with a person in a “jalapeno on a stick” suit soon given the success of “Bury the Drug Free Bear” and creative’s penchant for cultural misappropriation.

Overall, it hasn’t been the hot start to the new wrestling year that I’m sure WWE anticipated. Though the company itself might be coming off its greatest revenue year in history, time is already beginning to run short with the WWE Universe’s patience. If reports from some in attendance are to be believed, fans may have already been headed for the exits before the end of the Samoa Joe/Roman Reigns main event.

For a company that believes that anything that gets a reaction is good for business, that kind of action from fans is decidedly NOT good business.

Thanks for reading!

Kayfabe Thoughts: The Most Wonderful Time of the (Wrestling) Year!

(I’ve written a few columns this year for some other online sources and now I’m making those available here, so you might have already read this or it’s subject might be dated. If you’ve already read it: THANKS! If you haven’t: here you go!)

My 8 year old son loves the holiday season. Beginning on November 1, as he comes down from the candy high of Halloween the night before, he begins his countdowns: the first to Thanksgiving and then the big one to Christmas. His excitement grows every day as he anticipates the upcoming time with his extended family and, of course, the gifts. When Christmas finally comes, he wakes up early and with more enthusiasm than for any other day, determined to milk every moment out of the day he knows he only gets one time each year.

That’s me (and probably you, too) this week.

Get excited: it’s Wrestlemania week!

There are nearly 50 wrestling or wrestling-related events going on in New Orleans from promotions big and small. From NXT: Takeover and the flagship to “Pancakes and Piledrivers” presented by Pro Wrestling Revolver and WrestleCon; and even as far out as Kaiju Big Battel there is truly something for everyone to enjoy. Fans from around the world make plans up to a year in advance to attend, planning out their itineraries more meticulously than my wife planned our first trip to Disney World, in order to take in as much as possible and make memories that last a lifetime.

For those lucky enough to be in attendance, 3 things are for certain: sleep will be minimal; relationships will be tested; wrestling will be consumed.

Those of us who cannot attend will still find plenty of ways to take in as much as possible, pushing our ISP download speeds and couch cushions to their limits in the process. We can do so thanks to the number of streaming services offered these days by various wrestling promotions willing to take our money. While I can’t physically be present to see Cody and Kenny battle for Bullet Club supremacy (Bullet Club is FINE!), I can watch it all go down live for just $9.99 a month from the comfort of my own home.

Ah the internet: not just for porn anymore.

And the internet will be there for all of us fans, allowing those in attendance and those on their couches to give us their hottest takes about the week’s happenings, both real and fictional. Nope, scuttlebutt isn’t just for Meltzer anymore. Fans will take to Twitter and Periscope to tell us about how they had a friend who hooked up with a WWE creative team member and they saw the official match order and OMG Nakamura/Styles is on the pre-show and Alexa/Nia is going on last. They will tell us they saw Kenny kiss Kota outside a sex club on Bourbon St the night before SoH.

And we will eat that shit up, RTing and favoriting faster than a strike from Asuka and with less regard for the source than a GTS from KENTA.

We will also do our best to not just use wrestling’s biggest stage (bought and paid for by wrestling’s 800lb gorilla the WWE) as a platform to bring more people into wrestling’s fold, but we will use it as a device to continue to fracture and disenfranchise existing fans. We love to hate on each other in the name of what we think is the best way, instead of appreciating the differences between each promotion’s approach to booking their business.

There is nothing quite like the irony of someone in an Okada shirt berating a person in a Roman Reigns shirt because “Roman isn’t good. He’s just shoved down our throats every week.” It’s really quite breathtaking, but mostly it’s frustrating. One of my favorite places to browse for wrestling thoughts and ideas is r/SquaredCircle, but this week, I’ll try to avoid it. During this week, reason gets replaced by irrationality and flame wars abound. Still, to loosely quote the WWE philosophy, a negative reaction is still better than indifference, and there will be none of that to be found.

Still, there is so much more good than bad that will happen this week and, as always, I’m ready for it. Truthfully, I’ve been waiting for it since last year’s ended.

The best wrestling week of the year begins with excitement for ALL THE WRESTLING, ends after next Tuesday’s Smackdown with a feeling of gluttonous exhaustion from TOO MUCH GODDAMN WRESTLING, and usually features an apology to my wife somewhere in between.

Maybe I should go ahead and post a spoiler that the apology is coming via some theater tickets and a nice meal now?

Nah. Plans might change…

Thanks for reading!

Kayfabe Thoughts: Roman Reigns Is So Fetch

(Note: This opinion column also appears over at NODQ.com)

“Stop trying to make “fetch” happen! It’s not going to happen!” – Regina George

Nope, this column isn’t misplaced. I’ve just been recalling this phrase a lot lately when watching WWE.

This iconic line from 2004’s Mean Girls rings in my ears each and every time Roman Reigns appears on my screen. It also quickly follows any utterance of the phrase “THE BIG DOG!” by Michael Cole. It’s usually accompanied by a deep exhale, an eye roll, and the sudden urge to stop paying attention to whatever is on the screen.

Simply put, like a portion of the WWE Universe, I have a clear-cut case of Roman Fatigue.

Now, if you’re expecting a Roman Hate column, you won’t find it here. Roman is over and is no doubt the face of the company.

In fact, this really has nothing to do with Roman.

It’s not his fault.

If anything, his only perceived “crimes” are being too talented, too good-looking, and too charismatic. In reality, Roman Reigns ticks all the boxes of a traditional babyface and the WWE is sticking to how that specific star has been booked FOREVER and that, for me, is the heart of my real issue.

Babyfaces should lose in order to keep heat on whoever they are chasing in order to build sympathy with the audience and that is fundamental storytelling. It’s why Luke didn’t kill Vader in Episode 4, why Rocky didn’t beat Apollo in Rocky, and why Mario still fights Bowser.

But that’s not exactly how our entertainment works now.

We live in a hot-take, hot-n-ready, world. Everything moves faster. We want everything now or in as little time as possible. We don’t want ties – we want winners and losers. If the team struggles – fire the coach or trade the players. Don’t tell us Rose’s story – stick to Luke’s. (BTW: I love TLJ, don’t @ me!)

But with Roman, all of it has taken too long to pay off, and it seems like he’s shouldering the blame for years of booking decisions that were no fault of his own:

Roman didn’t hotshot himself into the championship picture as soon as The Shield broke up.

Reigns didn’t fail to book Daniel Bryan for the 2015 Royal Rumble.

He didn’t choose to book Rollins to cash in and win at WM31 while Reigns was at his absolute hottest (a fantastic moment) and I’m going to assume that it wasn’t his idea to lose to Brock again at not only WM34, but also Greatest Royal Rumble.

Creative is to blame for all that.

Bad luck in the form of contagious illness scuttled any goodwill that might have come along with The Shield reunion last fall.

Now, could Roman do some things better? Sure.

He certainly didn’t help himself by being suspended for violating the wellness policy while WWE Champion in June 2016 and killing any momentum from a program with former Shield-mates Rollins and Ambrose.

Reigns also continues to wear the tactical vest and cargo pants that he wore while a member of The Shield which makes his gear seem a bit boring after 5 years (also, even D’Lo Brown wonders why no one makes a big deal out of Roman wearing that vest!).

Finally, his handsome face is rather punchable while playing the cocky babyface.

In fact, Roman has been most interesting in the past year or so when he’s been on the arrogant side of things, be it with AJ Styles or The Undertaker, because he naturally gets heat. He’s a big, talented guy and the underdog angle doesn’t work for him because WE know he’s been on top for so long.

And that’s why creative should turn him heel for a stretch and hook him up with The Authority.

He should be a heel long enough to “reset” the character by being a badass, smug, unbeatable corporate heel.

Long enough so that when Reigns has had enough of being Triple H’s errand boy (as he used to call Seth Rollins) and rebels against them or when The Authority feels like he’s outlived his usefulness and they turn on Roman, it feels like something major is happening.

Long enough so that when his Shield brothers save him, it means something.

Not forever.

Just long enough.

Romans greatest potential lies in being a strong babyface because he IS one. But he can’t hit that potential without starting over and to start over in wrestling means either a turn or to go away and WWE would be foolish to bench Reigns for a long stretch.

It’s imperative that WWE finds a way to reset fan perception of its most bankable star quickly, just the same as they once had to with a stale Bret Hart.

Make Roman matter again.

Make Roman Reigns a heel.

You can contact me with any comments either by posting in the comment area below, @-ing me on Twitter (@factfreemedia) or by emailing me at factfreemedia@gmail.com You can also find me at my website: http://www.factfreemedia.com where I host my wrestling history podcast “Kayfabe Forever”, which drops each Friday-ish. The podcast is also available for download by searching “Kayfabe Forever” on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, iHeart Radio, or Tune In Radio and by following the show page on Facebook.

Kayfabe Thoughts: Raw is Bore…

WWE has a problem. The “go home” episode of Raw, the Raw that is supposed to set the table for half the Wrestlemania card’s matches (not to mention 2 matches that might potentially be the main event), was a total snore last night.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some good moments (Finn and Seth with Miz on commentary was pitch perfect), but by and large the second most important Raw episode of the year took a very safe, paint-by-numbers approach to match making and booking. In fact, the shot sheet for the show found its way into the hands of Fightful.com’s Sean Ross Sapp well in advance of show time and the show was note for note as he reported.

Now, Wrestlemania is the biggest wrestling show of the year for WWE, and in order for WWE to achieve the level of spectacle that “The Super Bowl of Wrestling” demands, WWE must protect storylines that, in some cases, have been planned meticulously for up to a year.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to book a tank for a party at the last minute, but it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s not like you can just call “Tanks R Us” and somebody will show up an hour later with an Abrams. You have to plan that out well in advance.

It’s also a bit unfair to expect much match variety and excitement from this Raw. The last thing that WWE wants to do is have a superstar booked in a high-profile match to be injured performing a high-risk spot less than a week before the biggest show of the year. Likewise, talent don’t want to find themselves missing out on the year’s most lucrative payday.

Future WWE Hall of Famer Bubba Ray Dudley shared similar thoughts on his Twitter feed last night after the match between Finn Balor and Seth Rollins concluded, saying “The #RAW and #SDLive before ‘Mania are probably the most “nerve wracking” shows of the year because no-one wants to get hurt before the big one.”

So, if the storylines are baked and the in-ring performances play it safe, what makes it to air must be crisp and interesting and that is where Raw failed last night.

The in-ring work last night was largely solid. Most of the blame lays with the continued lazy booking and writing of the creative team. Unfortunately, clunky promos meant opportunities to heighten interest further were missed.

For example, Nia Jax’s interview segment with Renee Young may have been the best thing we’ve seen during her time in WWE and was among the high points of the show. Nia was at the same time vulnerable and strong, fiercely focused on getting revenge on her former best friend Alexa Bliss.

On the other side of the story, Alexa delivered what I consider one of her worst promos, punctuated by the WWE’s continued use of pop-up, bold font text. As in previous weeks, Bliss and Mickie James again poorly delivered the content of this Mean Girls like program, being more shrill and whiney than Regina George cutting and cruel.

What’s most troubling is that lately it feels like Alexa’s standing with the crowd might be suffering as a result of this booking, as her once narcissistic but charming character is receiving a bit of the infamous X-Pac “GO HOME!” heat from the crowd. Hopefully, once this story has run its course that the character recovers and no long-term damage has been done, because Alexa Bliss has developed into a bankable villainess on the main roster in a way unseen during her time in NXT.

Finally, the John Cena/Undertaker program still continues to confound much of the WWE Universe. Weeks of Cena calling out the Undertaker on Raw still ultimately led to nothing in return from the Deadman. With less than a week to go before Wrestlemania, WWE’s biggest star of the last decade and a half still has no opponent.

Personally, I’m in favor of the Undertaker continuing to remain retired, as last year’s swan song with Reigns at least made up for the uneven performances of the previous few appearances while providing a proper sendoff. However, the persistent, somewhat desperate pleas from Cena made a return seem imminent but still only silence. Ultimately, if there is no resolution here, if Big Evil and Super Cena don’t come face to face on the grandest stage of them all, fans will be left asking what all of that posturing was for if not a match between the two icons?

Of course, all of this will be forgiven if the payoffs for all these angles live up to their potential on Sunday, and I can’t wait to find out how Smackdown Live unfolds tonight.

WWE needs to be wary of the potholes on the home stretch of the Road to Wrestlemania. McMahon and company just need to keep their eyes and ears alert along the way.

Thanks for reading!

Kayfabe Thoughts: The Best Wrestling Week of the Year!

My 8 year old son loves the holiday season. Beginning on November 1, as he comes down from the candy high of Halloween the night before, he begins his countdowns: the first to Thanksgiving and then the big one to Christmas. His excitement grows every day as he anticipates the upcoming time with his extended family and, of course, the gifts. When Christmas finally comes, he wakes up early and with more enthusiasm than for any other day, determined to milk every moment out of the day he knows he only gets one time each year.

That’s me (and probably you, too) this week.

Get excited: it’s Wrestlemania week!

There are nearly 50 wrestling or wrestling-related events going on in New Orleans from promotions big and small. From NXT: Takeover and the flagship to “Pancakes and Piledrivers” presented by Pro Wrestling Revolver and WrestleCon; and even as far out as Kaiju Big Battel there is truly something for everyone to enjoy. Fans from around the world make plans up to a year in advance to attend, planning out their itineraries more meticulously than my wife planned our first trip to Disney World, in order to take in as much as possible and make memories that last a lifetime.

For those lucky enough to be in attendance, 3 things are for certain: sleep will be minimal; relationships will be tested; wrestling will be consumed.

Those of us who cannot attend will still find plenty of ways to take in as much as possible, pushing our ISP download speeds and couch cushions to their limits in the process. We can do so thanks to the number of streaming services offered these days by various wrestling promotions willing to take our money. While I can’t physically be present to see Cody and Kenny battle for Bullet Club supremacy (Bullet Club is FINE!), I can watch it all go down live for just $9.99 a month from the comfort of my own home.

Ah the internet: not just for porn anymore.

And the internet will be there for all of us fans, allowing those in attendance and those on their couches to give us their hottest takes about the week’s happenings, both real and fictional. Nope, scuttlebutt isn’t just for Meltzer anymore. Fans will take to Twitter and Periscope to tell us about how they had a friend who hooked up with a WWE creative team member and they saw the official match order and OMG Nakamura/Styles is on the pre-show and Alexa/Nia is going on last. They will tell us they saw Kenny kiss Kota outside a sex club on Bourbon St the night before SoH.

And we will eat that shit up, RTing and favoriting faster than a strike from Asuka and with less regard for the source than a GTS from KENTA.

We will also do our best to not just use wrestling’s biggest stage (bought and paid for by wrestling’s 800lb gorilla the WWE) as a platform to bring more people into wrestling’s fold, but we will use it as a device to continue to fracture and disenfranchise existing fans. We love to hate on each other in the name of what we think is the best way, instead of appreciating the differences between each promotion’s approach to booking their business.

There is nothing quite like the irony of someone in an Okada shirt berating a person in a Roman Reigns shirt because “Roman isn’t good. He’s just shoved down our throats every week.” It’s really quite breathtaking, but mostly it’s frustrating. One of my favorite places to browse for wrestling thoughts and ideas is r/SquaredCircle, but this week, I’ll try to avoid it. During this week, reason gets replaced by irrationality and flame wars abound. Still, to loosely quote the WWE philosophy, a negative reaction is still better than indifference, and there will be none of that to be found.

Still, there is so much more good than bad that will happen this week and, as always, I’m ready for it. Truthfully, I’ve been waiting for it since last year’s ended.

The best wrestling week of the year begins with excitement for ALL THE WRESTLING, ends after next Tuesday’s Smackdown with a feeling of gluttonous exhaustion from TOO MUCH GODDAMN WRESTLING, and usually features an apology to my wife somewhere in between.

Maybe I should go ahead and post a spoiler that the apology is coming via some theater tickets and a nice meal now?

Nah. Plans might change…

Thanks for reading!

 

Kayfabe Thoughts: WWE Sometimes Stands for “What’s Wrong Everywhere”

There is something wrong with the WWE.

Ratings are down or flat for Monday Night Raw, WWE Network subscriber growth has slowed, the 205 Live program draws fewer viewers than Attitude Era programming on the WWE Network (and very sparse crowds watching the product live), and fan interest in the product as a whole is waning. Almost more troubling, recent attempts to create new stars from talent developed via the WWE’s NXT initiative have been more miss than hit. This has lead to repackaged feuds between older or already established superstars, and these recycled storylines have been met with large amounts of indifference and even displeasure from the WWE Universe. Reports from fans in attendance at live events also seem to indicate that negative crowd reactions to performers or story beats are being turned down by the production truck so that viewers perceive a reaction closer to what WWE creative desires for the product (Note: WWE has long turned down boos and turned up cheers for their anointed stars, but lately it seems they are piping in reactions for reaction’s sake).

Recent polling indicates that the average WWE fan’s age has risen from 28 years old in 2000 to age 54 in 2017 which seems to show that young fans are aging out of the product and not coming back. If this holds, WWE will find itself unable to sell ad space targeting the extremely lucrative 18-54 ratings demographic to major companies during their primetime broadcasts as easily as they do now, which would really hurt the company’s profitability and growth, as their TV contracts are a huge revenue stream for the company.

For a company which prides itself on finding out what’s best for business by taking the pulse of the crowd and proceeding based off what they appear to want, something is quite off. Whether it is product over saturation due to having 5 hours of network TV to fill each week and not enough good ideas to fill it, inner turmoil between the old guard and the new in regards to how talent and storylines are booked, or talent injury and/or lazy storytelling curbing audience enthusiasm, it’s becoming clear that something radical may need to be done, and quickly, to right the ship.

While the WWE has long found itself subject to peaks and valleys. The astronomical successes of the 1980’s brought along by the meteoric rise of superstars like Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage faded into the cacophonic mess that was the early to mid 1990’s. This period was marred by terrible characters (see: The Goon, Mantaur, Bastion Booger, etc) and abysmal writing and the WWE was extremely close to going out of business completely as a result. Were it not for the WWE taking a chance by allowing their talent the freedom to take more risks in the ring and on the microphone and following the fan’s reaction to non-traditional superstars like Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mick Foley, and The Rock, the WWE might currently be in the mess of failed Scrabble-tile-like wrestling federation monikers along with the NWA, AWA, and UWF.

While the McMahon’s get the bulk of the credit for the company’s successful periods, like any other sports or entertainment endeavors, largely these successes are built on the back of the collaboration between the performers and creative staff to produce engaging stories. Simply put, it is easier for a writer to write and take chances when they know that their ideas are in good hands. Likewise, skilled performers take ideas and add their character’s perspective and feeling, giving depth,  breadth, and action to the words. When these pieces come together and are presented in a way that the audience can feel and become invested into, magic happens (see: Hogan/Savage Wrestlemania V; Rock/Austin Wrestlemania X7; Cena/Punk; Bryan/Authority).

From all indications, while the McMahon’s are amazing proprietors and marketers of professional wrestling, they appear to be struggle with creating an engaging product that captures fan’s attention. Vince McMahon has long preferred the spectacle of a performer, which has led to numerous prodding matches featuring large, slow, technically lacking stars and other performers pushed because of their look. There are so many stories from past WWE staff members regarding Vince’s initial negative reaction to performers based on how they looked (Mick Foley) or their overall size (Eddie Guerrero), only to be proven wrong by the fan’s reaction to them, that this assumption has to be a valid one.

Stephanie McMahon leads the creative team, but her TV persona lacks the depth with which her real-life self seems to burst.  Nearly every interaction between Stephanie and a babyface male superstar ends up feeling somewhat generic in that the interaction culminates in “Stephanie’s Two S’s”: the Sneer and the Slap. As the modern day WWE operates with a kid and family friendly intent, the slap only neuters the male victim, as they can have no comeuppance. The ability to strike back against an evil oppressor in a manner greater than or equal to what was doled out is an elementary key to resolving any physically escalated conflict within a story, and the reliance on using lazy, overused trope makes me wonder if Stephanie is  best placed as head of creative or if she would be better suited in another company impacting role which would still highlight her incredible charisma, knowledge, and passion.

These hinderances which are rooted in the McMahon’s are not likely to be resolved as long as the family is in control of the company and it’s inner workings unless it they are willing to hire some people that are willing to speak up and work to convince the McMahon’s to take chances on large scale changes which could reinvigorate the fan base. There are several things that the McMahon’s and the WWE could do to facilitate this change.

Pro wrestling’s roots grew out of the carnival and circus industry. In the early days, wrestlers were part of the show, traveling and living with other other carnival workers. In fact, modern day sports entertainment still adheres to guidance developed during the early days. Early wrestlers adopted “carny speak” as a way to communicate inside and outside the ring. Also, wrestling fans are sometimes referred to as “marks”, the same as midway-goers identified by carnies as easy targets.

The most prominent of the traditions still followed by today’s performers is the itinerate nature of carnival culture. Day after day, week after week, the show travels around from town to town, sometimes with multiple shows in different towns in a single day, with few off days for performers in between. Missed dates mean missed dollars and that stands firmly against the carny code.

The WWE prides itself on keeping it’s performers on the road in order to keep the WWE Universe entertained. Wrestlers are responsible for their own transportation to these events, typically scheduled within a drivable distance from each other. As wrestlers are also responsible for their own expenses while on the road, many will travel together, splitting the cost of rental cars, hotels, and meals. The communal aspect of this experience often allows talent to bond and idea-share and the long-held tradition of good guys riding with good guys and bad guys riding with bad guys is still encouraged. This touring schedule is a point of pride for the WWE, as they routinely tout that performers are generally on the road in excess of 250 days per year.

While this can be looked at as similar to what the average, full-time, 5 day per week, worker across America works per year, consider the wear and tear accumulated by wrestlers due the way the business operates. According to Cagematch.net, Dean Ambrose had more matches than any other performer on the WWE roster in 2016 with 204. On the road, they are stuffed into rental cars, sitting for hours at a time, headed to the next town on the tour. Wrestlers also make appearances throughout the tour at events in show towns that are being held by company sponsors, in addition to taking time to meet with fans associated with various charity and philanthropic groups. Once these obligations and bookings are met, performers typically get on planes and head back to their homes for a couple of days and restart the cycle again.

One can gleam from opinions offered by many current and former pro wrestlers that this grind can lead to injury and burnout. As with any workplace, health and well-being are key, but these are paramount in sports entertainment, as mental fatigue can cause lackluster performances. This can lead to uninspired work on the microphone in the best case to an unintended injury for the performer or opponent in the worst case. Either way, both the performer and overall product suffer as a result.

While WWE employs some of the most finely tuned athletes in the world, even the best of the best fall victim to the rigors required by the job. Injuries to superstars Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, and Finn Balor in recent years have caused the World Championship and Universal Championship to be vacated and long-built storylines to change quickly. One can only wonder if these injuries were freak instances that occurred, or as a result of the accumulated toll paid by each of these athletes over the course of the schedule required of them.

In the United States, the professional sport with the most games and the longest season is Major League Baseball. Teams play over 30 spring training games and 162 regular season games between mid-February and late September, with 10 teams eventually qualifying for postseason play in October, adding an additional 11 games (at minimum) for the final 2 teams. This means that the average player will come to the ballpark 192 times per season and players on the best teams will have 203 games (at minimum). Considering players don’t play every day and have travel demands similar in scope (but very dissimilar accommodations), the demands of the baseball season seem most similar to a WWE Superstar, minus the physicality.

There is one other major difference: baseball players are given 3-4 months off to recover and prepare for the next season. The WWE is never on hiatus.

Adopting an off-season is my first suggestion to shake things up and I have some ideas as to how it could be managed in such a way as to not only not break the business, but make it best for business.

How exactly would an off-season work in the WWE? Interestingly, it might be easier to institute an off-season than previously thought, as many of the pieces are already in place that would help cover the hiatus.

Firstly, the hiatus would be 8-12 weeks in length and it would begin immediately after the Wrestlemania wrap-up shows. The WWE has long looked at Wrestlemania as their unofficial year end. Choosing to end the season at this point would keep Wrestlemania positioned as the biggest show of the year and allow the WWE to continue to sell full-week travel packages that include the Raw and Smackdown shows that follow Wrestlemania at a premium price. Potentially, these packages may be even more in-demand if these shows are the de facto “season finales” (to borrow a TV term) for their brand, as they could also be used as the launching pad for the next season’s stories.

During this off-season, RAW’s network TV time would be filled by NXT broadcasts, which would be 2 hours in length. This would allow non-network subscribers to be exposed to new wrestlers, so that when those performers are promoted to the main roster, viewers would already be familiar with them. This would also benefit the performers, allowing them to perform on live TV and do some touring.  NXT is currently taped weeks in advance and aired on the network and does limited touring. Dropping the show to 2 hours keeps the unseasoned talent from being overexposed and the limited run of the series could bring more eyes to the network when the show transitions back to it’s normal schedule.

The additional hour on Monday night would be filled with what is referred to by baseball fans as “Hot Stove League” type content. The hour long program would recap the previous show’s action (similar to Talking Smack) but also include draft coverage and speculation and interviews with talent that help set up the forthcoming season’s content. Smackdown’s time slot would be filled by limited-run content like the Cruiserweight Classic or other tournament style content which would grab fan interest and conclude in time for the new season to commence.

The final week of the off-season will be devoted to 2 things: the draft on Monday night followed by trades and free agent signings on Tuesday night. WWE’s draft specials and roster shakeups typically are much anticipated events, but are often anti-climactic in the way they are handled. 

Before the draft, at the start of the show Monday night, each GM will submit a list of 5 wrestlers on their current roster that are “protected” and unable to be drafted by the other brand. Tag Teams will count as 1 total unit. Those designated as “protected” will not be able to be designated as such for the next year’s draft. Champions for each brand are exempt from being drafted and do not need to be protected but can be traded only on the first night for other champions, those with the “protected” designation, and draft picks. These are the only trades allowed on the first night.

Also, each GM will release 5 performers, making them free agents. All remaining unprotected talent will be draft eligible. The draft will proceed using alternating picks between the two GMs, unless there are acquired picks that change the order, until 20 total selections have been made. Each GM’s draft picks must include one member from the pool of NXT talent. Any undrafted wrestler remains property of the brand that they were on before the draft occurred and are trade-eligible Tuesday night. 

Tuesday, the final night of the off season, will consist of free agent signings and trades. No champions or draft picks places can be traded on Tuesday night, but “protected” members can still be traded. If there are any players that remain unsigned from among the released players, they will remain free agents and are eligible to compete on the NXT roster until signed. All NXT performers will be treated as free agents after this night. At the conclusion of Tuesday night’s show, all rosters will be frozen at 35 total performers eligible to compete on RAW or Smackdown and free agents can be signed only if there is an injury or corresponding release. There will be one additional time in the year when trades can be made and that is the night after Summerslam, after which time rosters will be again frozen. 

Once the first year of this new process has completed, any talent that has performed for a brand for a year but has not been protected, drafted, traded, or released will become a free agent eligible to resign with their current brand or negotiate with the other brand.

Now that the new off-season has been laid out, there are a few other things that can be done to help.

The next change to be made to the WWE product would involve realigning the talent into divisions. With only 35 performers per show, there will be room for the WWE to spotlight other wrestlers by making changes to how existing divisions  are presented and introducing a new division altogether.

The first change would be to create a new WWE Network show for the now-robust tag team division. Right now, with the roster as deep as ever, so many tag teams with huge amounts of potential have gone under used, have had their storylines cut short only to seemingly disappear (see: American Alpha and Slater/Rhyno) or have been broken up prematurely. As some of the best matches over the last couple of years have come out of the tag team division (specifically NXT tag teams), this division deserves it’s own time on the schedule in order to maximize the talent.

This show would air on Wednesday night after NXT with the matches taped before Raw and Smackdown (the same process by which Main Event matches are taped). Tag teams from both Raw and Smackdown would appear on this show, with strict adherence to brand specific competition. This change would allow the tag team division to give extra time to shine and keep them from having to compete in 8 man tag matches on their respective shows in order to gain exposure.

Finally, the annual Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Tournament (which really should be the Teddy Long Tag Team Tournament given the Playa-in-Chief’s love of tag team matches, but that’s neither here nor there), would be featured on this show. 10 teams would qualify for the tournament, with the top 3 non-champion teams from each brand being automatic qualifiers. The remaining 4 teams would be composed of the 4th ranked team from each brand and 2 teams from NXT and these teams would face off in the wild card round. The NXT teams would be the NXT tag team champions and 1 other team which wins a qualifying tournament from among NXT tag teams. The #4 Raw team would face the NXT Tag Team champions while the #4 Smackdown team would face the NXT tag tournament winners.

The brands would be mixed when the teams are seeded after the wild card round. The #1 Raw team would face off with the winner of the matchup between the #4 Smackdown team and the NXT tag tournament winners, while the #1 Smackdown team gets the winner of the other wild card contest. The #2 team from each brand will be on the opposite side of the bracket from their brand’s #1 team and will face the #3 team from the opposite brand (i.e. #2 Smackdown will face #3 Raw on the Raw #1’s side of the bracket). This will allow the best teams to face off regardless of brand affiliation and a legitimate winner to emerge with bragging rights. The winner of the tournament will receive the existing trophy and a championship match versus their brand’s champion. If an NXT team wins (which would be awesome booking, btw), they would choose which brand’s champion they would face, with a main roster contract available as well should they win.

The addition of this show and the showcase tournament would allow extra time for the competitors in this division to show their amazing talent to a broader audience by offering additional match time. With the current tag team division being currently being so stocked with talent, this only stands to help prove the old adage that is long-held by wrestlers and wrestling fans alike: great tag team wrestling is often some of the best wrestling around.

The final changes I would make involve the women’s division.

In 2014, the WWE found itself in an historically unprecedented situation: the company was flush with talented female performers. While the WWE long featured female wrestlers, physical looks were often times the focus of the attention given to the division, with competitors competing in gimmick-heavy matches (pudding wrestling, bra and panties matches, swimsuit competitions, etc.) meant to mask the fact that many of these women weren’t very technically proficient. Very little training was given to these women before they were thrown onto the roster, many meant to be eye-candy first and viable performers second. WWE chose to rebrand them as “Divas” instead of women’s wrestlers. Somewhat sadly for the women who had taken the time to develop their skills and become world-class in ring performers, they were rarely able to shine as brightly as capable because of the division’s skill imbalance.

As the WWE developmental system evolved, the WWE made a pointed effort to recruit and attract female talent whose background was in athletics. WWE also hired coaches who understood not just wrestling, but coaches who understood how to maximize matches in order to exploit the unique style of high-level women’s wrestling.

This approach paid dividends. WWE brought in several good, young ladies who either already had wrestling experience or had been already been exposed to the business, and the division became one of the most compelling parts of the NXT product, and the so-called “women’s revolution” subsequently became a social media phenomenon. Once this new generation of performers proved to the fans that there was more substance than hype, WWE dumped the “Divas” and began referring to them as “Superstars”, same as the men.

Somewhat unfortunately, even as the roster continues to be bursting with skill, interest seems to be waning. The women were split across the Raw and Smackdown brands, which has led to some curious matchups and repetitive booking. Further, the way the rosters were split intentionally or unintentionally created a noticeable talent gap between the shows.

Bringing the women back together as part of the Smackdown brand is the first step to fixing the these issues. Allowing the best performers the opportunity to compete against each other is key to stoking fan interest in this division. Just as important is affording them adequate time to tell their stories. Often times, women’s matches seem cut short and sometimes end abruptly, leaving fans confused and storylines truncated.

Adding a 30 minute, WWE Network exclusive women’s show solves this problem. While 205 Live hasn’t been a total success, it has given the cruiserweight division room to breathe and allowed the competitors to have some really good matches without being overexposed. The women’s show would do the same.

The final change coming to the women’s division would be the creation of a Women’s Tag Team Championship. The roster is deep enough at this point that multi participant matches are commonplace and the additional title would allow for another title to be pursued. Tag team wrestling has also proven to be a launching point for many great singles runs and the opportunity to showcase more performers only stands to benefit the talent involved.

By mimicking the operation of another division, the WWE could further legitimize the women’s division as more than just a sideshow. These changes would strengthen the performers, the Smackdown brand, and overall WWE Network content, all while helping to grow the next generation of women’s wrestlers.

So that’s it. What do you think? Let me know in the comments or reach out to me on social media (@factfreemedia on Twitter or search Kayfabe Forever on Facebook). Thanks for reading!

Kayfabe Thoughts: Notes from Episode 4: The WWE Hall of Fame

Each year, one of the centerpieces of Wrestlemania week is the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Typically, the year’s honorees begin to be revealed weekly just after the Royal Rumble, the event which kicks off the “Road to Wrestlemania” officially. Thanks to the WWE’s status in sports and entertainment, coverage of and reaction to the announced names extends from not just WWE.com and the traditional WWE programs to mainstream outlets like ESPN.com, USA Today, and E! Entertainment News.

Though there is no physical structure members of the WWE Universe can visit to learn more about these heroes of the squared circle as there is for other sports greatest athletes, membership into this hallowed Hall is just as revered. Upon his induction into the WWE HOF in 2015, Kevin Nash equivocated the honor with winning his first championship. In a sport where kingdoms are built and legends are made by championship reigns, this is quite a claim. In number, there are only 164 total members and of those, 105 have been inducted as individual honorees (excluding those inducted under the Legends banner). Quite impressive considering the number of wrestlers, federations, and territories that have run across the globe over the course of the last 100 years.

Because of the exclusivity associated with the invitation to join these hallowed ranks, there is much controversy and discussion concerning past, present, and future honorees. Generally, the arguments are broken into four general questions:

Who is in the hall that shouldn’t be?

Who are locks as future honorees?

Who isn’t a mortal lock but is deserving nonetheless?

Who is NEVER getting in (or why it doesn’t seem like they ever will)?

So which ten wrestlers (or sports-entertainers) serve as answers to each of these questions? For the purposes of finding answers, I’m only going to consider singles performers inducted individually. There is no need to debate whether or not Chris Von Erich (most notable for tragedy), Donald Trump (eww), or Lou Thesz (absolutely) belongs, as all were elected as part of a group or as a celebrity or legend.  Also, placement on any list isn’t indicative of most/least deserving, only that the listed falls into that category.

Now then, at the risk of finding myself on the receiving end of a stink face, let’s start with the members that maybe shouldn’t be…

“Really? They’re in?” or “The Hall of Very Good”

Greg “The Hammer” Valentine

Wendi Richter

Tito Santana

Koko B. Ware

“Hacksaw” Jim Duggan

Rikishi

The Godfather

The Big Bossman

Don “The Rock” Muraco

Nikolai Volkoff

Now, there are some fantastic workers on this list who compiled quite a list of accomplishments over the course of their long careers. In fact, most of these performers held titles in multiple territories throughout that era. Their inclusion on this list is not meant to demean or degrade their legacy. In fact, their very presence in this category only exists because they have already achieved Hall of Fame status. In short, their legend is already written and the opinions of a mark, keyboard jockey changes nothing.

It’s that it is called the “WWE Hall of Fame” not the “WWE Hall of Very Good” (h/t to my friend Scott for introducing me to that phrasing in regards to the baseball HOF about 15 years ago, though there is little chance he ever reads this).

When looking over the list of members, there should be feeling of awe and reverence, not confusion and wonderment. That these 10 names comprise 10 percent of individually inducted wrestlers is astounding. Even in a sport which is openly subject to storylines, there is little tangible evidence to support those listed being included in the pantheon of wrestling’s greatest ever.

The standard for inclusion into a given sport’s hall of fame was once described to me as this: the sport’s history could not be fully written without including this athlete. Ask yourself how many of these names fill that criteria.

Sure, Greg Valentine had one of the most bloody matches EVER versus Roddy Piper at Starrcade ‘83 (Piper experienced permanent hearing loss as a result) and had brief runs as WWE Intercontinental and Tag Team champion, but he was never in the upper echelon of superstars during the Rock N Wrestling era.

Tito Santana is much the same. Santana is the only man not named Hulk Hogan to appear in matches at each of the first nine Wrestlemanias, a two-time Intercontinental and Tag Team champion but did anyone ever buy a PPV to see Tito wrestle?

Wendi Richter was a huge part of the “Rock N Wrestling” era, but the women’s division wasn’t exactly deep at the time. Truthfully, it was Cyndi Lauper and Moolah who were the stars of the program, Wendi was more of the wrestling stand-in for Cyndi. Considering she was the victim of the “Original Screwjob”, it’s almost incredible that she was inducted at all.

Rikishi? Really? He’s more famous for his ass than anything else, including a storyline where he ran over Stone Cold Steve Austin. Over the course of his WWE run, Rikishi played so many characters (much like fellow list-mate The Godfather) that all floated near the mid-card, it’s very hard to consider any of them long-term successes (except for when The Godfather was known as Papa Shango and he made the Ultimate Warrior sweat blood. That was pretty dope.)

Duggan? He won the inaugural Royal Rumble but is still more known for yelling than anything in-ring. He also possessed the absolutely most boring signature move ever: the three point stance into shoulder tackle.

Bossman? A racist, Southern cop character who handcuffs guys to the ring ropes and hits them with a nightstick and was later hung to death by the Undertaker at Wrestlemania XV inside Hell in a Cell only to return as fully alive? Blah (and absolutely ridiculous, btw).

Don Muraco? No, despite being an IC champ. (but please watch Fuji Vice on the WWE Network)

Nikolai Volkoff? The first thing anyone thinks of is the USSR’s national anthem, not his time as Tag Team champ with the Iron Sheik.

And then there is Koko B. Ware. I don’t care how “over” he was in Memphis, the Frankie the Bird was more “over” than him during his time in WWE.

Again, these are inductees of the WWE Hall of Fame.

Combined WWE championships between them? 2, both by Wendi Richter.

Lots of good, just not great.

Now that we have identified those honorees whose inclusion is perhaps the most questionable, who exactly is on the list of current and recently retired performers whose HOF rings are already sized? These are the best of the recent best, as it seems as though the WWE will utilize the Legends designation to honor wrestlers from the territory era and before. Simply put, a Hall of Fame wouldn’t be worth having without them. Once again, these are in no particular order of importance.

The “Duh” List or “Did you Even Have to Ask?”

The Rock

John Cena

Triple H

The Undertaker

Chris Jericho

Brock Lesnar

Randy Orton

Goldberg

The Big Show

Daniel Bryan

The names listed above are a veritable “Murderers Row” of talent. Each and every one has been a part of multiple high-profile storylines, has sold out shows around the world, and has held the WWE championship. All of these stars have become synonymous with the WWE, been featured in non-WWE related media and, in some cases, have found crossover success outside the WWE. In short, a mere mortal doesn’t need to make a case for these superstars.

For the sake of argument though, here are the reasons:

The Rock is the biggest no-brainer on this list. The man at whom fans once chanted “Die Rocky die!” turned himself into one of the biggest draws of all time. A multi-time world champion and Wrestlemania main event participant, The Rock took part in 2 of the most significant “torch passing” matches in Wrestlemania history: his match versus Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 18 and his matches versus John Cena at Wrestlemanias 28 and 29 signaled the ends of 2 WWE eras and the beginning of 2 others. His matches against Stone Cold Steve Austin at Wrestlemanias 15, 17, and 19 comprise the only main event trilogy ever.

Outside the ring, The Rock became everything Vince McMahon has ever wanted a headliner to become in the mainstream entertainment culture achieving success on the highest level. From hosting Saturday Night Live to becoming the biggest movie star in the world, The Rock is truly no longer just “The Most Electrifying Man in Sports-Entertainment” but “The Most Electrifying Man in Sports AND Entertainment”. The only question regarding his invite is “What is taking so long?”

In many cases, the same can be said for John Cena. Cena, who once criticized The Rock for being a part-timer who only comes back to the WWE when he has something to sell, has in recent years found his acting and hosting careers blossom in such a way that his wrestling has almost become secondary. Appearances in “Trainwreck” with Amy Schumer and “Sisters” with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, have helped Cena broaden his acting lane from “action dude” into comedy by showcasing his sense of humor. Cena is a featured part of the WWE’s highly successful Total Divas and Total Bellas television programs along with hosting his own reality game show “American Grit”. Cena also works frequently with both the WWE’s Be A Star anti-bullying campaign and the Make-A-Wish Foundation being recognized as their most-requested wish ever.

Cena’s in-ring accomplishments start and end the fact that he is a 16-time world champion, a number only matched by the incomparable  Ric Flair. Once criticized for only using “Cena’s Five Moves of Doom” in his matches, Cena has worked to improve his skillset in effort to matchup better with the WWE’s new stars who have perhaps a greater toolbox of holds from which to draw. This has allowed Cena to work great matches even at this late hour of his career. No matter which side of the “Let’s go Cena!/Cena sucks!” chants fans fall, there is no doubt that he is an absolute lock for the Hall of Fame when he hangs up his boots for good.

In fact, quite a few members of this list have used wrestling as a springboard to other successful ventures. Chris Jericho has had a great career inside the ring, most notably beating The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin on the same night in 2001 and becoming the first undisputed champion in wrestling history by uniting the big, gold WCW championship belt with the WWE World Heavyweight championship. He also found success with his band Fozzy and travels the world touring with bands like Metallica and Avenged Sevenfold and running The Jericho Network of podcasts, which includes his very successful podcast Talk is Jericho, when he’s not in the ring having show-stealing matches at the age of 46.

Likewise, Brock Lesnar cashed in on the notoriety afforded to him by becoming the youngest WWE champion in history to pursue a career in mixed martial arts. Lesnar became one of the biggest draws in all of the UFC and becoming heavyweight champion in only his second match with the company. This allowed Lesnar to achieve mainstream success in a legitimate sport in a way that few other pro wrestlers have ever done. After successfully defending his title a couple of times but eventually losing it, Lesnar returned to the WWE as a greater attraction than ever before. He proceeded to dominate his competition in ways not previously witnessed, culminating in his Summerslam bout with John Cena. Lesnar took Cena to Suplex City, leaving the man who has sold millions of dollars of merchandise featuring his personal mantra of “Never Give Up” a broken, befuddled heap, cementing his legacy as one of sports-entertainment’s true badasses. Still active but with limited dates, Lesnar will be enshrined as soon as he permits.

A couple of other members of this group, The Big Show and Goldberg, are in less for their skill on the mic or in-ring prowess, but because they are two of the biggest attractions ever. Both used their intensity and physicality to dominate their opponents and capture the imagination of the crowd. Pro wrestling has a history of promoting the spectacle of the moment over the quality of the performance and both maximized on this as well as anyone ever.

The Big Show commands attention simply for his size alone. Once billed as simply “The Giant”, The Big Show helped change the tide of the Monday Night War by defecting to the WWE from WCW and instantly impacting the title picture and becoming a multi-time champion over the course of his long career. In better shape than ever before, The Big Show is still getting cheers today and helping to make stars out of up-and-comers by having excellent matches that others his size simply can’t have. Once retired, he won’t have to use one of his gigantic hands to knock down the door to the Hall of Fame, someone will happily open it for him.

The legend of Goldberg was written 20 years ago, solidified by an incredible 173-0 record to start his career, and it’s only been enhanced since then.  Goldberg changed the game with his dominant babyface character, squashing greats left and right along the way, in matches featuring more fists than headlocks. Each and every Goldberg match was an event and the aura of Goldberg continued to grow even during a 13 year hiatus from the ring and despite a fairly unmemorable run with the WWE in the early 2000s, which culminated in one of the most reviled matches in Wrestlemania history versus Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 20.

Fans were treated to a dream rematch when Goldberg returned to face Brock Lesnar, and Goldberg showed that he was older, but still a dominant animal, beating Lesnar in under 2 minutes. This previously unimaginable dominance over Lesnar whipped the WWE Universe into a frenzy that couldn’t be ignored by management and as a result Goldberg got a brief run as Universal Champion before dropping the title to Lesnar at Wrestlemania 33. Though it seems like Goldberg has finally retired for good, odds are he will find himself in the Hall of Fame sooner than later.

Daniel Bryan’s WWE run was a phenomenon,  a burning comet flashing across the sky that burns brightly but disappears quickly, leaving a feeling of something undone. The ultimate underdog, Bryan was one of the most beloved superstars ever and the title chase storyline with the Authority that played out leading to Wrestlemania 30 is the modern equivalent of the Vince McMahon/Stone Cold storyline.

In many ways, it was better.

The constant references to Daniel Bryan as being a B+ player by most notably Stephanie McMahon and the many seemingly stilted situations that occurred made it seem as though Bryan might never have a real shot at claiming the title. Month after month, Bryan found his quest for the title stymied at every turn by agents of the Authority, but his fans grew and the “Yes Movement” was born. This atmosphere of inequity collided with the “Yes Movement” and helped create one of the most magical moments in Wrestlemania history at Wrestlemania 30 when a damaged, bandaged Daniel Bryan emerged victorious over the Authority and claimed his title. While real-life injury would force Bryan to relinquish the title just months later and ultimately cause him to permanently retire just a year later, Bryan is still one of the most cheered performers ever.

Randy Orton has one of the most impressive resume’s ever, as he ranks highly on the list of most title runs ever and has been near the top of the heap for almost 15 years. Over his career Orton has been the proverbial dark side to John Cena’s light side, with the two engaging in numerous memorable battles. Orton is a natural, able to have great matches with workers of varying skillsets.

Orton is such an athletic freak seemingly destined for greatness that it has long been said that if someone was designing a sports-entertainer from scratch, they would make him look like Randy Orton. Orton carries a quiet fury with him at all times, seemingly ready to strike at any time, a perfect reflection of his moniker “The Viper”. Despite seeming too quiet at times, and not as skilled on the microphone as some others, Orton is without question one of the top stars of his and any era.

Someone included on this list who hasn’t had the outside crossover success of The Rock or John Cena but instead sold himself out to the old-school idea of keeping kayfabe to become a wrestling icon is The Undertaker. Often referred to as Vince McMahon’s Greatest Creation, The Undertaker is a multi-time world champion across his storied career, along the way compiling the greatest win streak in Wrestlemania history, running his record to 22-0 before falling to another all-time great (and member of this list) Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 30 and ultimately finishing with an astonishing 23-2 record.

In later years, The Undertaker made only 1 or 2 appearances outside of his Wrestlemania match each year, in order to build the mystery. Despite the infrequency of his appearances, The Undertaker continued to have entertaining matches with talent many years his junior by keeping himself in excellent, almost-freakish condition. Now that it seems “The Phenom” has finally left the arena for good, without question his invitation to join the pantheon of immortals in the HOF is soon to arrive.

Who’s left? Hmm…

Oh yeah. Triple H.

The man is so good, he was able to overcome the stigma of “The Curtain Call” and marry the boss’s daughter. Having done enough by helping define the Attitude Era as a member of Degeneration X, Triple H grew into one of the most fierce competitors the squared circle has ever seen, becoming one of the most decorated champions ever along the way. Possessing an amazing ability to combine size, speed, and skill, Triple H made every win feel inevitable and every loss mean something for the victor.

The man simply known as “The Game” has dedicated his later career to building others, either via matches at Wrestlemania or through his work in building the next roster of superstars at NXT. It can be said that no in-ring performer has done more to shape the future of wrestling than Triple H and he has done it over the past 20 years and he shows no signs of slowing down, aside from the fact that he’s taken a page from The Undertaker’s playbook and become mainly a Wrestlemania-only in-ring performer. The self-anointed “King of Kings” will take his throne in the Hall of Fame when he wants to claim it.

These are the workers without whom the story of wrestling could not be written.

As a fan, I wouldn’t have wanted to know the story of wrestling without them.

As is the case with other sports Halls of Fame, there are some names missing from the roster of inductees. In traditional sports, there are usually reasons, real or perceived by the voting membership committee (usually comprised of journalists and HOF members), which keep these seemingly well-qualified athletes from gaining admission into the hall (for example: Pete Rose’s gambling ban or Roger Clemens performance enhancing drug suspicions). Over the course of a player’s eligibility term, someone who had gained little support might eventually receive enough support for election, while others remain blackballed, forever outside the gates.

The WWE Hall of Fame is a unique case in that the election committee seems to be Vince McMahon and perhaps his inner circle. On the “Ravishing Rick Rude” episode of his amazing podcast Something to Wrestle With, longtime WWE producer (and former Brother Love) Bruce Prichard mentions that ballots are submitted by company officials each year, but those ballots are taken more as suggestions than votes towards honorees. Regardless, since no formal criteria or voting standard exists, there is much room for speculation in regards to why certain high profile talent are noticeably absent from the roster of HOF members, despite evidence which speaks favorably for their inclusion. As with other lists, position does not indicate or reflect most/least importance. Without further adieu, here are the names:

“It’s Complicated” or “Vince McMahon Hates Me”

Owen Hart

Chyna

X-Pac

Lex Luger

The British Bulldog

Vader

Psycho Sid

Scott Steiner

CM Punk

Chris Benoit

Not all of the names on this list are there directly due to issues they might have had with Vince and or the McMahon family. Some of them are there of their own volition. Some are there because of some event that turned their fame into infamy. In any case, they are performers who had a major impact on the WWE during their time with the company but for one reason or another, haven’t garnered an invite.

Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: Chris Benoit will never EVER get into the WWE HOF. Never. The company has gone to never-before seen lengths to distance itself from Benoit and the horrific end to his family’s lives and that will never change. After no amount of time will searching “Chris Benoit” ever return any results on the WWE Network. The only lasting remnant of Benoit is the concussion policy adopted by the WWE and even then he will never be referenced. His legacy is a specter that hangs over the WWE forever. His is the only NEVER is the world of  “Never say never.”

Two other all-time greats who might never see HOF invites come their way at least partly due to their out of ring exploits are Chyna and X-Pac. Both left the company under strained circumstances and seemed stonewalled thereafter. Once gone, both seemed to go out of their way to criticize both the company and Triple H and Stephanie. Complicating things further is the sex tape that the two made together and released, along with some pornographic films made by Chyna. Triple H has gone on record as saying that Chyna’s porn career has been a big consideration because of worries that the company has in regards to their PG age fans Googling Chyna and finding explicit results instead of her many wrestling accomplishments (which is a bit hypocritical given that some of those results are from Playboy shoots done while she was a WWE talent at the encouragement and promotion of the company).

Though X-Pac has been somewhat brought back “into the fold” in recent years, Chyna never found any such bridges rebuilt. At best, they may find themselves as part of a Degeneration-X faction induction some time down the road, but individual inductions in the near future seem to be somewhat doubtful at best. Either way, it’s almost inconceivable that one of the most influential male or female competitors of all time, someone who actually changed the game over the course of her career, may never be enshrined.

Lex Luger also has a bad combination of wrestling and non-wrestling related issues working against his candidacy. Luger did himself no favors by leaving the WWE and appearing on the first episode of Nitro back in 1995. While changing companies in and of itself wasn’t out of the ordinary during this time, especially considering that Luger’s contract with the WWE had expired after Summerslam, that Luger had appeared at a WWE house show the night before and didn’t tell McMahon that he was leaving caught the WWE on its heels and really left a bad taste in Vince’s mouth. So bad in fact that it’s rumored that when the WWE purchased WCW and talent was being reviewed for potential WWE use, Luger wasn’t even considered. Factor in that Luger was in a relationship with former WWE manager Miss Elizabeth at the time of her controversial drug-aided death along with these other events and it doesn’t seem like “The Total Package” will be able to add the WWE Hall of Fame to his list of career achievements anytime soon.

Three legendary performers who had successful but truncated runs which ended under somewhat controversial circumstances yet are considered among the best ever for their bodies of work are Vader, Psycho Sid (a.k.a. Sid Vicious, a.k.a. Sid Justice), and Scott Steiner. All three headlined PPVs and competed in championship matches during their time with WWE, with Sid main eventing two Wrestlemanias (8 with Hogan and 13 with The Undertaker) and being a two-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion.

Unfortunately, all three had issues either during or after their tenure. Working against Sid seems to be an incident with current WWE official Arn Anderson while both were in WCW. Allegedly, Sid stabbed Anderson with a pair of scissors after an altercation. Steiner has been very critical of Triple H since his run ended, which can only be a detriment to his candidacy. As far as Vader is concerned, it seems that the perception that he was a bit of a disappointment during his time in WWE is holding him back. On the “Vader in the WWF” episode of his podcast, Bruce Prichard references multiple times that Vader was to have won the championship only to have those plans scrapped at the last minute due to injury. Unlike the other two, Vader doesn’t seem to have any bad blood with the company, having been brought back for one-off’s since, so he seems to be the most likely of this group to be honored by induction sooner rather than later.

CM Punk is the odd wrestler who not only has burned bridges with the WWE but both he and the WWE continue to throw gasoline on the fire in order to keep it burning. Since Punk decided to leave the WWE unexpectedly and the WWE in-turn fired him on his wedding day, there has been a lot of dirty laundry aired publicly by both sides. Punk laid out his grievances with the WWE during an appearance on Colt Cabana’s podcast “The Art of Wrestling”, going as far as alleging that the WWE medical staff may have mishandled some of his injuries. In light of this, the doctor identified by Punk, Dr. Chris Amann, has sued Punk for defamation and that litigation has yet to be resolved.

On air, Punk (whose name is used as a derisive chant by the crowd these days) has been ridiculed for the lack of success he had in his subsequent UFC career, where he lost his first fight to Mickey Gall in just over 2 minutes. Predictably, despite Punk having the longest continuous world championship reign in the last 25 years (434 days) and being one of the most popular and controversial stars ever, it seems that neither Punk nor the WWE have any interest in adding him to the list of WWE Hall of Fame members.

The last two names on the list are linked by both family and tragedy and are very conspicuous by their absence: Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith a.k.a. The British Bulldog. Both are among the most beloved wrestlers ever despite never holding the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Both are members of the legendary Hart family. Unfortunately, both died very young and under dubious circumstances. Smith passed away at 39 after a heart attack and Owen died tragically in a WWE ring at the age of 34 as the result of a body harness rigging failure that occurred while Hart was being lowered from the ceiling.

For a long time, Owen and Smith’s absence was assumed to be tied to Bret Hart’s controversial exit from the WWE. However, even after things with Bret were smoothed over and he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, Owen and Smith continue to be overlooked. There is some thought that Smith hasn’t been honored because of the allegations that perhaps the circumstances that caused his premature death are too similar to some other wrestlers of the same era who died young. Causes of those deaths have been tied to steroid and drug abuse while they were active performers and the thought is that the WWE might not want churn up any old, bad press related to these deaths by honoring Smith.

Owen’s exclusion is also somewhat complicated. While the wrongful death suit filed by Hart’s widow Martha Hart has long-since been settled and a tribute DVD honoring Owen’s life has been released, it seems that something is delaying Owen’s induction. Allegedly, Martha Hart is not interested in allowing the WWE to honor her late husband and because there was a lot of tension between Martha and the rest of the Hart family after Owen’s death, there was little good will gained in regard to Owen when Bret’s issues with the WWE were resolved. For the time being, Owen Hart, one of the most popular and influential wrestlers of all time (he’s probably your favorite wrestler’s favorite wrestler) has yet to take his place among the greats but maybe one day both he and the Bulldog will find their way in their rightful place in the WWE HOF.

All of these performers have HOF credentials but circumstances which are preventing them from induction. Seemingly, only one man holds the keys to the Hall of Fame. Will Vince let them in? Only time will tell.

Now that the questionable inductees, the future slam dunks, and the noticeably absent have been covered, there is one more group that needs to be addressed. The names on this particular list are well-regarded, influential, and deserving of recognition. Why some of these stars aren’t in already is astounding, while others aren’t simply because they are still technically active, but in the twilight of their careers. Truthfully, this list of 10 workers is responsible for this entire series. One last time, placement on the list is not indicative of ordered importance.

“The Jannetty Ten” or “We Play Second Fiddle to No One!”

Christian

Goldust

Mark Henry

JBL

Rob Van Dam

Rey Mysterio, Jr

Victoria

Kane

Molly Holly

Batista

To many fans, the names on this list are likely to elicit the same response as those on the “Duh List” from Part 2. Everyone on this list has been a world champion or women’s champion (except one). All of them have headlined PPVs or had key storylines in their respective divisions and helped build Hall of Fame resumes for many current and future members. All of them may have had their candidacy hurt because of the depth of roster during their tenure or that they began their careers as partners of wrestlers who went on to have even more high-profile careers than theirs. In any regard, they too are worthy of enshrinement as a byproduct of their own excellence.

Christian is a unique case in that he was hugely successful as half of a legendary tag team with WWE Hall of Famer Edge, got a nice push as Intercontinental champ after the two were split up, but ultimately left the company to work for a competitor after falling down the mid-card thereafter. While working for the competition as Christian Cage, Christian re-invented his persona and became TNA’s World Champion, showing the world that he was more than just the other guy in the “Edge and Christian” tag team. When the WWE brought Christian back, he was a bigger deal than ever before, having great matches and engaging in a very memorable feud with Randy Orton which saw him become the World Heavyweight Champion. Unfortunately, Christian’s career was cut short by injury and concussion, but few wrestlers have ever broken out of the shadow of their higher profile with quite so much success as Christian.

Likewise, Kane, though a multi-time world champion of his own, seems to live in the larger than life shadow of his kayfabe brother The Undertaker. “The Big Red Machine” was the third “Grand Slam” champion in WWE history and has had many memorable matches over the last 20 years. Kane’s imposing blend of size and athletic ability is almost unmatched and his ability to easily move his character between babyface and heel has helped keep him near the top of the card. Through partnerships and feuds, Kane has helped to make stars of Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan, and Seth Rollins along the way. When Kane gets the call to the hall, it will be well deserved.

Living in the shadow of an all-time great and trying to break out on your own is something that was a real-life concern for Dustin Rhodes. A well regarded performer, Dustin found himself compared to his legendary father Dusty Rhodes early on in his career, for better or worse. Once he transformed into the eccentric Goldust character, he blossomed into a compelling character who commanded the audience’s attention. The sexually androgynous character was a huge hit in the mid 90’s and Goldust was involved in some very memorable storylines and matches, including the Hollywood Backlot Brawl at Wrestlemania 12 versus Rowdy Roddy Piper. While Goldust never held the world championship, he is a multi-time Intercontinental, Hardcore, and Tag Team champion and should eventually be honored with a HOF plaque of his own.

JBL, then known as Bradshaw, also was primarily a tag team specialist early in his career, most famously teaming with WWE Hall of Famer Ron Simmons (a.k.a. Farooq) as the APA. When Farooq retired early in the 2000’s, it was assumed that Bradshaw would either find a new partner or fall down the card. Injuries however offered Bradshaw the opportunity to breakout as a singles performer, and he transformed from the beer drinking Bradshaw into the limousine-riding JBL. Only the out of ring appearance had changed it seemed, as JBL retained the same tough, relentless attitude of Bradshaw, but with the arrogance afforded to a millionaire.

The JBL character caught major heat with fans and he found himself in memorable feuds with Eddie Guerrero, John Cena, and Batista for the United States and World Championship titles. Somewhat surprisingly, JBL eventually had what was billed as the longest World title reign in a decade at 281 days before losing the title to John Cena at Wrestlemania 21. Despite allegations of backstage bullying throughout his career, JBL is without question worthy of inclusion in the WWE Hall of Fame.

Another well-decorated, long-tenured wrestler who should one day find themselves on a stage giving a speech the Friday night before Wrestlemania is Mark Henry. Despite coming to the WWE with little skill beyond brute strength and a great look, Henry worked on his craft, developed a great character and evolved from a support character into a main event player. While “The World’s Strongest Man” may never be known for his technical expertise, Henry has expertly deployed an arsenal of devastating power moves in pursuit of world championships, becoming champion multiple times. Henry also evolved his character from the goofy “Sexual Chocolate” who fathered a rubber hand with septuagenarian Mae Young to the latter-day curator of the Hall of Pain. Henry’s time in the ring may be drawing to a close, but he has done more than enough to find his name among the immortals soon enough.

Batista came to wrestling a little later in life than is typical and had a comparatively short career to some of the others on this list, but he maximized his time in the squared circle. After debuting as Deacon Batista, he soon left Brother Devon and found himself in Triple H’s Evolution faction along with Ric Flair and Randy Orton. As the mauler of the group, Batista would later break away and in the world championship picture. Over the course of his career, Batista was world champion six times, eventually holding the World Heavyweight Championship for a record 282 days. After a relatively short 8 years with the WWE, Batista retired to pursue a short-lived MMA career and acting roles, though he did return for a few months in 2015, during which time he won the Royal Rumble match and main evented Wrestlemania 30. Batista is now perhaps better known for his role as “Drax” in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie series than for his wrestling career, but as with The Rock and John Cena, his mainstream success only stands to enhance his candidacy for the WWE Hall of Fame.

Rob Van Dam also has a fairly short history with the WWE at a combined 8 years when considering his career as a whole but RVD nonetheless had great runs featuring multiple championships, including a time where he held both the WWE and ECW championships. Van Dam arrived in the WWE in 2001 and found himself immediately inserted into the title picture, and he remained near the top of the card. Most importantly, although his on mic work may have been a bit cheesy and fans could call RVD’s spots as they were about to be performed, his matches were always entertaining and commanded attention. Van Dam’s invite may be the most tenuous on this list, but since the WWE clearly considers careers as a whole, his WWE and ECW time should be more than enough to get him a spot in the HOF.

Victoria and Molly Holly are two women whose influence and contribution to the past and current incarnations of the WWE’s women’s division should not be understated. Victoria brought a combination of size and beauty to a division that desperately needed a real, crazy heel to battle Trish and Lita, in order for them to establish themselves as the queen babyfaces. Molly brought with her perhaps the most extensive move set possessed by a female competitor ever. Both Molly and Victoria were capable of getting more out of the other women on the roster than most and pushed the entire division forward by helping to change the perception of what women’s wrestling could be. The two eventually collided at Wrestlemania 20 in a hair versus title match, which saw Holly get her head shaved after her loss to Victoria.

For some reason, the WWE seems to credit Lita and Trish with redefining women’s wrestling, seemingly ignoring Victoria and Molly. Even more confusing is the induction of Beth Phoenix into the HOF before either Victoria or Molly. Hopefully the WWE’s current focus on featuring their female superstars will bring their careers back to the forefront and both find HOF inductions in their futures.

Finally, Rey Mysterio, Jr. Though injuries shortened his career in the WWE and caused long absences from the ring, one could say that the current cruiserweight division as a whole might not exist in the WWE if Rey Mysterio didn’t prove to Vince McMahon that fans like to watch smaller, fast guys wrestle, too. Over the course of his multi-time championship winning career, Rey was involved in memorable storylines, with the ones had with Eddie Guerrero and Batista being the most prominent. Guerrero also had one of the most memorable entrances, shooting up from below the stage when his music hit, and became a huge hit among the younger members of the WWE Universe, who wore masks like his while they cheered wildly. The ultimate David, Mysterio shone brightest in matches where there was a size disparity to overcome on the road to victory. The best of the little guys should join the giants of sports entertainment in the Hall of Fame very soon.

The wrestlers on this list may not have the notoriety as some others, but nonetheless are bankable Hall of Fame inductees when considering their breadth of their accomplishments and influence. Hopefully the powers that be recognize their numerous achievements and extend them invitations over the next few classes.