With all of the hype surrounding Shawn Michaels’ “tag team partner” at Backlash, you would have expected something truly controversial as the payoff. You may not have approved of Vince McMahon booking God in a wrestling match, but you certainly expected more than a spotlight.
Yet that’s essentially all that happened at the Raw pay-per-view Sunday night. The Heartbreak Kid got a light from the heavens (okay, the lighting rig) to accompany him into battle. Vince made some more mocking comments, but nothing worse than the vignettes shown over the past few weeks. With the help of the Spirit Squad, McMahon and son used seven-to-one odds to score a victory in their ongoing feud with Michaels. And that’s about it.
It kind of makes you wonder why the WWE even bothered. If your goal is to cause controversy, to rile as many people up as possible, you’ve got to go for broke. Many pundits have the mindset that Vince believes that any publicity is good publicity, but the lack of something outrageous to finish off this angle suggests that might not be the case. The Da Vinci Code using the Opus Dei as a key component of a conspiracy is edgy; having Vince mock the Almighty is not.
For disclosure purposes, I probably should add that I was raised Catholic, and probably should have been offended by some of the segments that aired, especially the one a few weeks back that was supposed to look like it was shot in a church. But I wasn’t, and I think it was because it was pretty clear what McMahon and his writing staff were doing the whole time. Everyone knows religious issues are causing a buzz right now, and WWE creative is nothing if not consistent at following the trends. It’s hard to get bent out of shape at something that can be dismissed as just Vince being Vince.
That being said, I was fully prepared to be writing about something happening Sunday night that finally crossed the line. I wasn’t looking forward to it, to be sure, but a big finish at least would have provided a point to the exercise. Instead, we got a whole lot of nothing, which makes invoking God’s name in the first place seem like a waste of time. Of course, the WWE is already touting a big announcement for Raw tonight, so Vince may still have a chance to offend some more people. Stay tuned.
Staying on the subject of nothing, the WWE seems like it may have found that doing just that may be the perfect solution to the continually ambiguous fan reaction to WWE champion John Cena. Or more specifically, keeping the belt on Cena seems like an ingenious move, because it’s looking like more and more of the cheers will turn to boos the longer Cena wears the gold. Usually the creative team does something to push the fans one way or the other, but simply keeping the status quo may get the job done this time.
It’s not a move that’s completely without precedent. In theory, Steve Austin was still a heel and Bret Hart still a face when they met in their Submission Match at WrestleMana 13, though both were starting to receive Cena-like mixed reactions by the time the event rolled around. By the time the finish saw Stone Cold pass out with blood streaming from his face, the roles going forward were clearly established: Austin was the fan favorite (albeit a type not seen before) and Hart the villain.
Nothing that dramatic happened at Backlash, but the parallel is clear. Triple H seems unwilling to play the stereotypical good guy, though a hammer-wielding antihero doesn’t seem out of the question. As for Cena, simply holding on to his title when people are expecting him to drop it will exasperate those rooting against him and eventually turn him into a heel whether he likes it or not. Yes, a segment of fans will cheer him anyway, but that’s true of any big time heel. If, as some expect, he faces off against Rob Van Dam at ECW One Night Stand, there’s no question who the fans will back in that bout.
One other event took place Sunday that may or may not have some significance. Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler were reunited at the announce table, with Joey Styles relegated to Heat. No mention was made of the move ahead of time, and it remains to be seen whether or not the plan is to have J.R. and The King call all of the Raw pay-per-views. Though this apparent vote of no confidence in Styles seems a little unfair, given that he’s had to find his groove while putting up with The Coach, there’s no question that Ross and Lawler are the combo that clicks right now… unless the WWE ever decides to team J.R. and Tazz. That seems like the best possible combination of play-by-play and color man and might be something to think about for next year’s WrestleMania.
To close out this week’s column, I’d like to thank everyone who’s taken the time to give me feedback, positive or negative, since SLAM! Wrestling gave me this opportunity last year. I love hearing the thoughts of other fans from all over the world, and I try to respond to as many of you as I can. I’d love to add a letter and response section to the end of each column to make it more interactive — this is the internet, after all — so I’d love to hear from even more of you. If you see anything in this space that you’d like to comment on, just use the link at the bottom or click on my name at the very beginning of the column. Please include your name and city if you’d like to have your letter considered for a response in a future column.