WWE’s Annual Spring Slump: Who needs to step back (part two)

< Part #1: Who needs to step up

This week, we’re taking a look at who needs to step up and who needs to step back. Tuesday we noticed three regularly-featured Superstars who could stand to pick up their game and give the WWE Universe a little bit more fire. Today, let’s notice three guys the WWE creative team would do well pulling back on. These are a few guys who have been a bit over-exposed and have contributed to the malaise that is Raw-in-the-Spring.

While it is not typical WWE policy for people to take time off, and its certainly not in a superstar’s best interest to be demoted down the card, the recent absence of AJ is an interesting study in how absence makes the heart grow fonder. Fans are already excited about the prospect of an AJ v Paige match for the Divas title and even if we have to wait until SummerSlam to get it, that means almost 5 months of anticipation, making it the most exciting Divas match in a decade.

Imagine if John Cena took more than his usual 6 week hiatus to rehab some injury. He missed time in late 2007 and came back at the Rumble to a massive pop, and again in the fall of 2008, returning at Survivor Series to a big pop. He recently took a couple months away in late 2013, returning to a good pop at Hell in a Cell. While none of his returns sparked a renewal of popularity for the polarizing superstar, that’s a result of his stale character—as we noted Tuesday—not a backlash to his absence.

Performers like Chris Jericho and Rob Van Dam have proven that, if you are a known commodity, you can step away and return to a big reaction and a featured role on the show. Batista’s return in January might not have gone as planned but it still elicited (and has continued to do so) a big reaction from the fan base. The backlash he received is not because of his return, but because of his inability to work a match without gassing (not to mention his Rumble win coincided with the peak of Daniel Bryan’s anti-establishment fanbase).

CM Punk certainly thinks time away will help him recapture some of the magic and the spotlight he had in late 2011. I’m not advocating for guys like Dolph Ziggler or Fandango to take a year-long break. They would be treated less like Chris Jericho and more like Christian after he came back from his stint in TNA. What I am advocating is for guys who are over-exposed to step back a bit and be featured less, for the good of the overall product and the longevity of their careers.

With that said here are three that could stand to “step back,” either to keep his effectiveness as a top guy secure, keep his characters fresh with fans, or just to rejuvenate stale performances…

Triple H

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There’s no doubt that Triple H is doing, if not the best work of his career, then certainly close to it. The last time he was this consistently entertaining was his magical year 2000. Despite his age, he hasn’t look this good since his run at the top of the card began 15 years ago. His standing in the company will forever be solidified (thanks in part to his ability to write and re-write history as needed) and unlike John Cena, his match-to-loss ratio has never been higher. He’s putting guys over left and right these days, while also working some fantastic matches. You could even make a case that—along with Daniel Bryan—he’s the MVP of the last year.

All that said, it’s time for him to take a step back. And of all the guys who could, none could do it more easily than Triple H. Right now he’s in the midst of a solid feud with Shield, which will probably culminate in a match with Roman Reigns at SummerSlam, putting the young stud over. After that he probably will take a hiatus, but for how long? Since becoming the on-screen COO authority character, his presence has been felt on nearly every Raw, and multiple SmackDown and Main Event shows. His opening the show with a 20 minute promo has become a running gag. Again, he’s doing some of the best work of his career, but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t gotten a little repetitive.

Another danger he faces—ironically as a direct result of his recent willingness to put guys over—is a diminished status as a “final boss” (to use a video game reference). The last challenge a hero faces has to have an air of invincibility. There have to be stakes or the audience won’t be fully invested in the story. This was never more apparent than during his WrestleMania 30 match with Daniel Bryan. Having it be the opening match kept the thought in the back of everyone’s mind: “Triple H could win and Daniel would have to work his way into the main event…” The idea of Triple H winning kept fans guessing, made every near fall a heart-attack and made his ultimate defeat that much sweeter.

Since then he went into a big match as leader of Evolution against the Shield. Fans once more were split, with some thinking the Shield (who have been nigh-unbeatable as a team when they are on the same page) would prevail while others assumed Triple H and co. would win the first round.

Then Shield beat them in convincing fashion.

At some point fans are going to subconsciously view Triple H as a paper tiger; a guy who looks the part and sounds the part but will always lay down. That’s the way fans view Chris Jericho, and although that hasn’t hurt his support when he returns, it has hurt his ability to carry a feud as a heel. Triple H could use some time away from the spotlight (while still working behind the scenes and popping up on NXT every now and then), so that when he does step out from behind the curtain, the fans wonder if he’s not doing so to re-establish his dominance.

Kane

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No superstar has had as long a career, with as many drastic character changes, as Kane. Debuting as a silent monster, with all but one arm exposed, he engaged in a brutal war with the likes of Undertaker and Steve Austin, even capturing the WWF Championship three months into Austin’s first reign.

Since then he found his speech via voice box, traded in the one-sleeve for a tanktop, swapped out the full mask for a half mask, began speaking normally, ditched the mask and the top all together, returned to the tanktop and half-mask, ditched the entire costume for a suit and has now returned to the tanktop and halfmask.

His character has gone from Undertaker-but-scarier, to generic brawing monster, to goofy brawling monster, to psychopathic monster with a gigantic gut, to a demon spawn, to a corporate sellout, back to a demon spawn (this time with 80’s horror movie villain powers). He’s been all over the map and has rarely missed time due to injury. He’s been a staple on WWF/E programming since late 1997. 80% of John Cena’s fanbase has never lived in a world without him on their TV.

His return to his masked roots last month was borne out of necessity; Daniel Bryan needed an opponent who could give him a safe but effective first conquest in his championship run. What’s sad is how the change (back) in character was unneeded. Kane and Bryan had tagged together for nearly a year, holding the tag titles for much of that time. Bryan then went on to become the top babyface singles star and Kane became a heel corporate sell out. THAT would have been a great feud, not this horror-movie reject crap we’ve been force-fed.

“Korporate Kane” had been doing great work, perhaps the best singles work in his career since 1998. He was sarcastic, disruptive, ripped to shreds and was legitimately under the fan’s skin. This new “demon Kane” is a joke. No one takes him seriously, not as a title threat nor even as a title challenger. What’s best for all parties is for Kane to be vanquished by Bryan, disappear for a long time (past SummerSlam, maybe until the 2015 Rumble) and then return as a guy putting over the next generation in the midcard. His days as a main-event player are over. He needs to step back.

Commentary

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Jerry Lawler’s jokes are tired, clichéd, and unfunny. JBL’s constant shouting and inane “insight” and empty words of “expertise” is a detriment to RAW, Michael Cole’s commentary is bland, lifeless, bereft of emotional attachment to the happenings in the ring. Commentary right now is as bad as it has ever been. It is white bread with moldy spots. It needs a serious overhaul.

It’s not that the three man team can’t be good, either. The concept of a three man team is sound: You have a play-by-play straight man, a babyface analyst, and a heel commentator who roots for the bad guys. That works, but that’s not what WWE offers. WWE offers a corporate shill guy who pitches the latest products and keeps viewers up to date on what happened on the show one commercial ago. WWE offers a babyface commentator who cracks old man jokes. WWE offers a sometimes heel sometimes nothing commentator who shouts and laughs and says things that are totally detached from anything relevant.

It’s not that the three men in question, individually or as a team, can’t be good either. Michael Cole has commentary experience going back to 1999. He’s worked a two-man team with both JBL and with Jerry Lawler. Go back and watch his work with both on Smackdown. His call of the Mick Foley title win on Raw was brilliant. His work with JBL on Smackdown was exceptional. His work with Tazz during Smackdown’s reign on dominance between 2002-2005 rivaled JR and King’s work in the twilight of that partnership. Michael Cole knows how to be a play-by-play man. WWE just won’t let him.

There’s too much stuff to shill. There’s too much stuff to catch everyone up on. There’s too much arguing going on over crap that doesn’t matter. There’s too much Vince yelling in his ear telling him what to say next, none of which has anything to do with the action in the ring unless someone is getting covered for a 2-count or getting superplexed from the turnbuckle. That’s it.

Jerry Lawler knows how to be a color commentator. The problem is Jerry Lawler—one of pro wrestling’s greatest heels—doesn’t know how to be a babyface commentator. He’s old, sounds old, and makes fans uncomfortable with his old-ness. It’s not like Vince, who did commentary in the mid-90’s and always sounded like your goofy old uncle. Jerry isn’t charming in his age, he’s creepy. He’s unfunny. He’s off-putting.

JBL can be a great antagonizing heel. He’s also a very intelligent man and has an ability to convey his thoughts in an adult way that brings the product on screen to a new level. He’s not doing that, however. He’s not giving serious insight into what’s happening; he doesn’t even seem to know what’s happening. Instead of being the former-champion vet bringing insight to the product, he’s yelling stupid catchphrases and getting into arguments about the color of Cole’s tie not matching his shirt.

This isn’t even a “bring back JR” rant. This is a “bring back commentary” rant. Bring back an actual respect for the in-ring action. If commentary cares, the fans will care. If the fans care they will pay money to see more. If they pay money to see more, you won’t need to shill and beg and plead for people to buy this or that. WWE will get their money and the fans will get something they can watch AND listen to and not get enraged. Everybody wins.

Step back commentary. Reevaluate yourself and change the way you do business.

> Part #3: Who needs to step out

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