By Mike Mooneyham
May 29, 2005
It’s not rocket science.
That’s why it’s so perplexing that wrestling companies have such a hard time grasping what draws money and what doesn’t. Ill-advised characters and angles doomed for failure dot the wrestling landscape. While certainly not a new phenomenon, bad booking and ego-driven decision-making appear to be a fact of life in today’s sports entertainment genre.
Creative staffers and writers, for the most part, are handsomely paid for coming up with ideas for characters and storylines that will ultimately result in profitable television ratings and pay-per-view buyrates. Contrary to popular belief, iconic characters such as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock and Bill Goldberg were products more of the individuals themselves than the think tank responsible for creating them. All three improvised and tweaked their ring personas into unique, crowd-pleasing attractions who went on to make millions for their companies.
Current fans who have been force-fed episode after episode of bad acting, bad characters and bad storylines may not even realize what they’re missing. That’s not to say there aren’t talented performers on today’s rosters, but there clearly is an abundance of dreck occupying much far too much valuable time on the airwaves.
The most recent star to echo the “It’s not rocket science” mantra was Bill Goldberg who, like many of his contemporaries, grew tired of the backstage politicking and either left the business or found themselves the odd men out.“It’s easy,” Goldberg told this reporter. “I’m not saying I’m a booker and can put things together – I can deliver them but I can’t put them together – but I guarantee you that Kevin Nash could write better material than any wrestling show out there right now. I liked the business when it was pure and it didn’t have all the crap associated with it.”
I’m not so sure about the Kevin Nash part of Goldberg’s equation, since his booking tenure in the now-defunct WCW was less than successful, but I do know scores of individuals who could come up with entertaining, logical and relevant story ideas.
That being said, there’s a can’t-miss scenario out there that falls into the “no-brainer” category, one which includes all the vital elements of successful and compelling storytelling. It involves the classic teacher vs. student confrontation, where the legend has meticulously molded his pupil into a younger model of himself, only to have the more contemporary version steal the thunder and dismiss his teacher as yesterday’s news.
The central characters are, of course, Ric Flair and Triple H. The rap on Flair – that he’s 56 years old in a young man’s game – makes the story even better. And, if I remember correctly, they used a similar script in Hollywood some years ago for a movie called “Rocky” with some pretty good results.
There’s no one in the business with the ability to communicate to a mass audience with the realism and believability that Flair conveys so effortlessly yet so passionately. Bar none.
In spite of his numerous world title reigns and the fact that he’s considered by many to be the greatest performer in the history of the business, Ric Flair has not been immune to horrendous booking. So many great Flair moments in the past have been marred by unimaginative or politically biased follow-up.
WWE creative might want to get some paper and pencils and take notes.
The road to the ultimate teacher-student showdown is as simple as it gets. Tired of playing Triple H’s lackey, Flair finally stands up to the dethroned world champion, turning the babyface that most fans see him as anyway. You could throw in an injury angle, where Flair is sidelined and returns home to Charlotte, complete with self-doubt over whether he really is – or ever was – “The Man.” The wrestler regarded by many as his greatest opponent ever, Ricky Steamboat (who just happens to be employed by WWE), comes to Flair’s aid, reinforcing the fact that he is indeed the greatest performer ever. With others, such as fellow Horseman Arn Anderson (who also conveniently works for WWE) taking part in the Flair comeback, the company has weeks and potentially even months of a tremendous buildup, not to mention riveting television.
Triple H, an avid fan of Flair who was heavily influenced by the Nature Boy as a youth, has the ability, the connections and wherewithal to complement the story. More importantly, to take part in such an angle with his real childhood hero would not only be a professional coup for the WWE star, but a personal one as well. The vignettes and high-quality WWE production work leading up to the bout, along with the vault of classic Flair footage, could be among the company’s best ever. Give the scriptwriters time off and hand Flair the ball, and old and new viewers would be treated with bona fide hall of fame material.
The big match takes place in Charlotte, which ensures it of being one of the most emotional stages for a pay-per-view event in company history. There also would be no better time to resurrect Starrcade, a once-annual extravaganza affectionately referred to by NWA fans as “the granddaddy of them all.”
This time Flair and his legion of loyalists get their just due, if only for one night, and The Man puts on a performance of a lifetime. Egos are set aside for the sake of good business, justice really prevails, and Ric Flair becomes the champion one more time.
Like Flair told Eric Bischoff on a September evening in 1998 at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville: “It’s real!” Just months after being suspended and sued by the then-WCW president, Flair provided what may have been the single greatest professional wrestling moment ever captured on film, a scene in which real life was played out in the most unlikely of places – a wrestling ring.
For the naysayers who point to Flair’s age, don’t let those numbers fool you. There’s plenty of gas left in that tank. He’s more than ready to bump and chop his way into your hearts one more time.
Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at [email protected]