Friday, March 26, 2004

#72. Draft Fallout

First, a word about Paul Heyman. Apparently he's off to restart ECW, so the events of last Monday were all a put-on. Good luck to him, and it'll be good to see a real contender for competition against Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Empire, I mean Entertainment. This assuming I understand the situation correctly, and that this ECW really will be independent of WWE. Here's hoping.

Now let's get done to the meat and potatos. Triple H didn't leave Raw for Smackdown after all. I guess the prospect of a feud with Edge was too much for him. Anyhoo, last night we learned that in place of Hunter, Smackdown acquired Booker T and the Dudley Boyz. Booker T I like. He'll finally be able to do something again. He'll be reunited with Rob Van Dam hopefully only insofar as wrestling on the same brand, and if last night was any indication, they will deinitely be traveling down different roads. Right now Booker is getting pushed as competition for Eddie Guerrero's WWE title, as the biggest acquisition of the recent redrafting lottery. He really is, and since Triple H didn't make the lateral move as expected, he's only got Edge as a rival to that title. No one really big got traded, only some minor major wrestlers, riders of the cuff.

If you remember my Smackdown-to-waning-WCW-days analogy from a few entries back (when I feared Undertaker was headed toward Latterday Hogan Mode, which in all probability he may still), Booker is now right back where he started his biggest career push. The five-time five-time five-time WCW champion past his hype inevitably turns to is from the last few years of that company, when he, Scott Steiner, and Jeff Jarrett (plus Sid...and David Arquette) were the last company frontrunners. Steiner stayed on Raw (though I doubt it'll mean much for his career) and Jarrett is still running the show in his NWA-TNA (which I wish would get a regular show already, and not the weekly PPV gig it's currently got, so it could begin to fill the big league void left by WCW and ECW being swallowed by WWE three years ago; the prospect of a returning ECW goes hand-in-hand with this). But Booker is back to a brand that is not exactly seeing a golden era. I'm not saying Smackdown isn't worth watching, but I am saying it's suffering from a lack of consistency, much like the Boston Celtics this season.

Think about it. Brock Lesnar just left town. He was "The Next Big Thing," like Hogan reborn (um, with actual talent), and for the last year or so he was carrying Thursday night on his considerable shoulders. The Undertaker was one of those who kept him occupied, but he's getting on in years, is constantly plagued with injuries, and as such isn't really much more dependable than as a familiar face. The Big Show, who can thank Lesnar for his rebirth in relavancy, can only do so much, and is in fact in need of some downtime to nurse injuries of his own. I read that he wants time off but that the lack of big name talent on Smackdown led to the call that he really couldn't afford that at this time. Maybe Booker T's arrival changed that, maybe not.

Then there's Kurt Angle, who has been working his already tender neck ragid in his four years with WWE, already necessitating surgery once and I think, from some reports, only narrowly avoided again recently. He announced himself as the new Smackdown general manager last night, saying he's willing to sacrifice his own goals as a wrestler for the good of the show. Read between the lines and you'll find he's doing this for the betterment of his health, which is highly commendable. His role as a voice now was no doubt inspired by Steve Austin, who retired from the ring (permantly) last year and has been GM on Raw for months now. The fans still love him, so he gives them what they want, just not in the capacity as a wrestler. Shawn Michaels did that several years ago as well, until he apparently felt he was good enough to compete again on a regular basis. Angle will fight again, but for now he's an asset in this new role, just as a marque presence, if not in a singlet than in a suit, as a suit.

Speaking of suits, there's Bradshaw's character evolution, made possible by Ron "Farooq" Simmons at last retiring. I'm not really sure why Ron didn't walk away months ago, why when Bradshaw was first getting pushed as a singles wrestler again when he made his in-ring return last year complete with a short haircut (beginning to distance himself from his APA past already) they didn't do this right away. But I don't suppose it really matters. Bradshaw has always been a presence, but never really a factor in his own right, so it didn't really matter. I don't know how long exactly storylines cook up backstage, but it was a pretty good confluence for the step forward to be made when the brands were doing a little spring cleaning. More power to him, and I'd like to read his book, after Mick Foley's, of course.

Rene Dupree turned out to be an amusing acquisition. He might prove a useful addition. Rob Van Dam has the fans on his side, and he looked better than I remember him, though still a tad out of step with fluency and believability in the ring. He looks choppy, methodical in slightly the wrong sense, when he's executing maneuvers, bouncing around. But he's exciting, that much is obvious. That's why he's so well-loved. Spike Dudley, however, is not so much. He reminds me of someone who really wants to be a professional wrestler, who has all the moves down, but who would be better suited to one of the regional promotions across the country. He lacks the look, but I suppose he makes up for it in determination and a certain in-ring charisma that works off that determination, and like RVD explains where he is.

The Dudley Boyz, however, are doing exactly what they did four years ago, just without so many tables. They've developed a mystique, I guess, but they're so monotonous. Not very useful additions. Same with Teddy Long, who last night approached tag team champions Rikishi and Scotty 2 Hotty. If all he's going to do is act as a backstage personality, he's more a drain than an asset. His personality is lacking, limited. I think I'd rather have Ernest "The Cat" Miller acting in this capacity. Miller was around for a few months on Smackdown, but wasted the opportunity with a whole lot of nonsense posturing, dancing like he did in...WCW's waning days. You see where that'll take you, what kind of atmosphere that'll greet that sort of thing. I said Smackdown was in danger of heading in that direction, not that it had become that. And certainly, at the time Miller was telling people to call his mamma, it wasn't as close.

Did you see Mark Jindrak last night? I didn't. Oh great, another "developing prospect" for the brand, like his former partner Sean O'Haire. I'd rather see Orlando Jordan get to actually do something, and not just appear as a vaguely familiar face in the back, than give Jindrak a chance to go nowhere.

I wonder how Raw will fare with its newest stars. No doubt better. Charlie Haas looked good against RVD, better than I might have thought. Maybe splitting up the World's Greatest Tag Team was a good idea, but I still hate the fact that Shelton Benjamin went to the country filled with all the giants. Some might say that Raw better resembles WCW (in its better days) than any era in WWE, but when Booker T calls Smackdown the minor leagues I can't help but agree, there's a problem. I love Eddie Guerrero, John Cena, Rey Mysterio, but they're not enough to elevate the show past the developing stage. It's hard not to call something that has to establish everything a minor league, even comparatively speaking.

Jarrett's TNA could almost be considered major league in comparison...

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