On (or Over?) The Edge
April 16, 2004 - by Brad Dykens

I would like to go on record as saying that I have personally been very impressed by the WWE recently and its apparent "change of direction". I hardly notice it, but I can't help but believe the lack of "McMahon" involvement has something to do with it. Everything I used to complain about is resolved; Goldberg is gone, Triple H is putting other wrestlers over, and new stars are being created. With this new direction, however, comes that "on the edge" attitude that was an important factor in WWE's original rise to ratings dominance. Each brand (RAW & SD!) has it's own controversial items, all of which I can enthusiastically declare that I am happy with (so far). Let's take a detailed look into some of the recent creative shake-ups within the WWE.

John Bradshaw Layfield - Racism: The beer-swigging Bradshaw was in dire need for a change-of-gimmick, and this was a perfect change of pace for him. A wrestlers gimmick is always more believable the closer it is to the reality of the wrestler playing it. While I don't foresee him as being a top main-eventer for any length of time, I do believe that he deserves this one-time shot at the top prize. His gimmick is kind of old-fashioned, and some old-school fans will see comparisons to Ron Fuller's gimmick back in the South-eastern territory in the 1970s and 80s. I got a light chuckle when JBL started ripping off the Million Dollar Man's shtick of pulling a fan from the crowd to do something degrading for money -- too bad it was a plant. Up until that point, the character was pretty tame, but then they put a racial twist on it when JBL did a vignette from the Texas/Mexico border and was essentially "hunting for Mexicans". Now this was quickly perceived as highly racist by the crowd, who started booing emphatically. But when you think about it, illegal border-crossings are a major issue in the United States. One step towards dealing with the problem, is bringing attention to it. That's not to say the Mexican people aren't nice people, because I know they're just like you and me. Even if it were white people trying to sneak into the country, it would still be an serious issue. In addition to that, you have got to remember that wrestling is not real (I'm not saying it's fake, just that it's not real) and JBL is doing this to get "heat" because he is a heel. I am fine with the JBL character and I'm happy for John Layfield that he's finally getting a shot at the top.

Eugene Dinsmore - Special Needs: Nick Dinsmore has been floating around the developmental territory in the WWE for a very very long time. He was not cut from the same mould as many other developmental wrestlers; he doesn't have the chiselled body, or the big muscles and whatnot. I was afraid for Nick Dinsmore, because the WWE usually isn't successful at getting over wrestlers with his "look". But I have seen some OVW tapes with Nick Dinsmore and always knew he was an exceptional athlete and performer. So when I first saw "Eugene" on RAW, a big smile came across my face. I was so proud that WWE creative found a suitable gimmick for him, which would give him a memorable debut into the Big Time. I immediately found similarities between the Eugene character and a 70s wrestler by the name of Mighty Igor. The only difference is that Igor had a Tough Man element to his gimmick. A more recognisable comparison would be to the lovable 80s character George "The Animal" Steele, who was a favourite of any fan who grew up watching wrestling in the 80s. As with anything that comes anywhere near the edge of sensitivity in the WWE, a minority group of fans began complaining about how tasteless the character is. Even my best friend, who is not a wrestling fan, brought it up during one of our conversations, and I had to explain my point of view. My defense is that nobody whined and complained when Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jodi Foster, Billy Bob Thorton, Giovani Robisi or Julliette Lewis played special needs characters in Hollywood movies did they?? Nobody complained about George "The Animal" Steele, Mighty Igor or Dave Sullivan (WCW) did they? JUST BECAUSE it's wrestling, and people have such a hatred for wrestling (for whatever lame reason), they jump at anything that seems remotely amoral. I hate to bring up the same arguements, but you see so much worse behavior in the middle of the afternoon on the sleezy soap operas. I think you should loosen up and realize that this is the world we live in. You go to the mall and you see special needs people out and about trying to live their lives just like everyone else. What's so unbelievable about a special person wanting to emulate his favourite wrestlers that he grew up watching on TV? Nothing... I say!

Mordecai - Religion: I just saw Mordecai's first vignette about 20 minutes ago on Smackdown! and that is what prompted me to write this column. For those of you who don't know by now, the Mordecai character will be played by developmental wrestler Kevin Fertig (aka Seven). He has been working dark matches for several months, often teaming with his OVW partner Travis Tomko (aka Bain). Not much is known about this character so far, but I quickly noticed details that parallel Chris Daniels' gimmick on the independent circuit. I could be way off, but it seems quite similar. We shall sit back and see what sorts of things this character comes up with to challenge the audience to think about what they're watching.

John Cena - Pushing the Envelope: It's been highly publicized that ever since the Janet Jackson Superboob incident, that the FCC (whatever that means) is keeping a close eye on "the usual suspects" -- which includes the WWE -- when it comes to controversial television. John Cena's pre-match rap has become a focal point of the FCC and continuously pushes the envelope with implied profanity and sexual innuendos. I'm not so sure how he gets away with some of the things he does say, but I have been a fan of John Cena's raps from even when he was a heel. It's a great way to get the crowd's attention. By insulting his opponent in a creative manner, he's satisfying the fans need to watch the heel get humiliated. John Cena has come a long way from being an Eminem rip-off.

John Cena is the Stone Cold of this era. His phrases catch on immediately, and the crowd just hangs on every word he says. It's like gospel. Cena also has a visual element to his gimmick with all of his hand gestures and movement. John Cena has a huge future in the WWE and he'll be around for a long time.

The Big Show - High Drama: Before I started writing this column, I was watching Smackdown! and saw the Big Show go crazy and choke-slam Kurt Angle off a ledge. I thought the editing for the stunt was incredible! Torrie Wilson was her usual flaky over-acting bimbo but the whole set-up was brilliant with Big Show losing to Eddy Guerrero, then becoming emotionally distraught, taking his frustrations out on Torrie by demolishing and tipping her car, then heartlessly dropping Kurt Angle off a ledge! It was a stunt, totally pre-taped with a stuntman and proper stunt equipment; It looked so good on Television. This is what sets WWE apart from other wrestling companies. They have the money to set up elaborate stunts like this. To buy a car, just to smash it up on television, or hire specialists in the field of stunts to make their TV look phenomenal!

A NEW Concept - Wrestling: Wow! Who would have thought WRESTLING could ever find its way into the WWEs creative development. The main focus of the "new direction" was to put more emphasis on the wrestling portion of the show. That is why Eddy Guerrero & Chris Benoit are the champions. Matches are much longer now, on both brands, and you find that the interviews and talk-segments are cut a bit shorter. Guys are stepping it up in the ring, using more wrestling holds, as opposed to bouncing off the top ropes with useless moves that don't look realistic. A lot of that activity is reserved for Cruiserweight division so that it makes them look more unique.

Working a match properly, and keeping the crowd hot, is an art form, and many veterans such as Shawn Michaels, Eddy Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Triple H, Rob Van Dam, Mick Foley, Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio and others have stepped up to the plate to lend their wisdom to newer wrestlers who may not fully understand the concept of ring psychology. Doing this also brings back a sense of family within the WWE locker room, and that will always help your talent stay happy and content in a positive work environment. Ask any former WCW employee how important locker room morale is to the success of a wrestling company.

New Stars, Finally: John Cena & Randy Orton are literally the only new stars that the WWE has created in the last two years. Well, besides Brock Lesnar. That's not a good number, as a company with a major developmental system should be spitting out 5 new wrestlers every year. WWE has finally realized that cannot rely on the Austins, Rocks, HHHs, Undertakers, Michaels, Flair any more and has to make NEW MegaStars. Cena & Orton are the next to hit the big time, but they've started to bring up Shelton Benjamin, Charlie Haas, Garrison Cade, Rene Dupree and Mark Jindrak to the next level with plans to make them big! They're also putting a lot of their developmental wrestlers into the spotlight like Eugene Dinsmore & Mordecai, and we can expect Kenzo Sazuki, Nova, Travis Tomko & Matt Morgan to eventually be thrust into the spotlight.

It's refreshing to see the WWE is not going to the usual sleazy shock tactics like sex, nudity, necrophilia, death, rape and things like that. Everything that they have done, is edgy, but not over the edge. Everything deals with a legitimate issue that plagues society. Racism, people with special needs, religion, and censorship... they're all things that we, as human beings living on God's green earth, have to deal with on a daily basis. Would I let my kids watch it? Hell no. I honestly don't blame the WWE for making money off kids. I blame the parents who let their kids watch it without explaining to them what wrestling is all about. But that's an issue for a whole different column.

by Brad Dykens

Joe Joe writes:
Nice column. I agree with what you said. Especially about the content of the shows. They are rated TV-14 so if there is some profanity, nudity, etc then there shouldn't be much of an outrage. It all comes down to parents not accepting responsibilty. You brought up the Super Bowl/Janet Jackson incident, well there shouldn't have been too much of an outrage towards that because the Super Bowl is for football, a violent sport with half naked girls, cheerleaders, and with many ads for alcohol, viagra, etc and for God's sake it was only A NIPPLE!

There was one thing I really wanted to comment on, and that was JBL. What JBL did by stopping the Mexicans from illegally coming to America was a great thing. Because of it he deserved to win the Great American Award. He didn't deserve the title shot or main event status, but he has definitely stepped up from a few months ago and I think he would make for a good person in the mid card.
Brian Bertrand wrote:
I emphatically agree with everything you said. Once again, you exposed the finer points of the wrestling business.

One thing I got to also point out is that they are successfully mixing old school and new school superstars together in a way that ALL fans, die-hard and fair-weather fans, can appreciate. Having Rico team up with Charlie Haas is a great mix of athletesism and comedy. Giving JBL his new gimmick is perfect for him. And showing that HBK can still hold a grudge with Triple H is still something fans can ultimately appreciate because it will open up so many doors down the road. I hope WWE continues to show us this improvement by the time TNA reaches it's TV deal with Fox Sports

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