Recently, in the ever-fascinating realm of publicly-traded, genre-cornering conglomerate World Wrestling Entertainment, their flagship television program Monday Night Raw has received in an uptick in (if not ratings, notably) intrigue, due to one CM Punk, a new-school ring veteran whose contract negotiations were parlayed into a scripted television angle that would stand as one of the most fascinating stories WWE has told in years. Becoming the “voice of the voiceless,” Punk has become representative of old fans frustrated by everything from the more PG-rated feel that Vince McMahon and company have aimed for in recent years to the general perception of stagnation that has plagued the company ever since they bought out WCW back in 2001. You can check out the feud-starting promo below:
So, of course, since Punk has stood as a fourth-wall-shattering visionary, cutting promos (talking segments) that have acknowledged WWE’s political goings-on and delved into long-known company traits, it’s only right that they would end SummerSlam, the company’s second-largest show in the year, with Punk being mowed down by Kevin Nash, who barely wrestles anymore and without copious amounts of hair dye bears a striking resemblance to Father Time. This was after a terrible non-ending to the main event (pictured above), which pulled the “he got pinned…BUT HE HAD A ROPE BREAK” ending out of a necessary retirement.
With this in mind, I thought I’d take a look back at other not-so-illustrious moments in WWE’s decision-making process, related to onscreen action. After all, there is an art to wrestling like any other entertainment medium, and like art in any other medium, sometimes it sucks. Terribly.
WWE’s Five Worst Storylines (1997-present)
1) Mae Young births a hand, or: The month my childhood ended forever.
In the late 1990s, and into the new millennium, WWE (then with an F at the end, until those damn pandas ruined everything) had reinvented its womens’ division as a mixture of the eye-candy Vince has always loved so much and a legitimate group of competitors. Sure, they got short shrift a lot of the time, and at times their involvement in storylines actually got pretty goddamned offensive, but at least there was a genuine attempt to feature the fairer sex in violent competition.
And then, there was Mae Young. Used frequently for comedy despite her geriatric age, Young (who still pops up every once in a while) was involved in an angle in 2000 in which she became the paramour/lover of Mark Henry, a 450-pound African-American wrestler who, with his current dreadlocks, is like a real-life version of the Predator. Then, he was cleaner-cut and known by the handle of “Sexual Chocolate.” Involved in several stories with WWF Divas in the past, Henry was no stranger to a romantic wrestling storyline, but this was different. The couple would become involved in a love triangle with Viscera, an even larger black man, over Young’s logic-defying pregnancy. And then, in a scripting move so lazy it’s almost heroic, the story ended when Young gave birth to a human hand. Yup.
2) Jim Ross’ cancer = comic gold?
In the annals of the IWC (internet wrestling community), it’s not much of a secret that McMahon has never been a huge fan of Jim Ross, WWE’s famed color commentary man. His southern twang and frenzied urgency lend gravitas to every match he covers, but on numerous occasions Vince’s disdain for his onscreen appearance (Ross has battled Bell’s Palsy for many years now) and down-home persona have led to some not-so-subtle barbs being launched. However, where usually they’re simply childish (currently, obnoxious commentary man Michael Cole regularly takes potshots at Ross during matches), a line was once crossed, and audaciously at that.
In 2005, Ross was let go from WWE after being both an on-camera personality and a talent scout for many years. Not long after that, McMahon and his writing staff decided that it would be prudent to bring Ross’ recent battle with colon cancer to the forefront; specifically, in a comedy sketch that would combine Ross-bashing with one of WWE’s old standbys. If you guessed “poop jokes,” you would be correct. Where most of this list comes from a mixture of ignorance, apathy and a gross lack of foresight, this is just cruelty, plain and simple.
3) Live! Sex! Under blankets!
By 2006, the times were a’changin’. The Attitude Era long over, WWE was struggling to balance a need for new stars not named John Cena with the urge to stay shocking and relevant. This isn’t always a good instinct for them to chase, and #5 will demonstrate why. Another attempt at shock value led to the only moment on this list that could actually be considered fairly successful in terms of getting heat on a storyline. Veteran Edge, in the most aggressive incarnation of his various heel (bad guy) characters over the years, became the “Rated R Superstar.” The antithesis to canonical wrestling babyfaces (good guys), Edge became a violent, sexual, ruthless man, willing to cheat his way to titles and glory. With his valet Lita (with whom Edge was involved off-camera), he became one of the hottest acts in the company.
There was still a feeling that couldn’t be shaken, though, one that astutely acknowledged that “rated R” was relative when Edge was trying to do his thing on the USA network. While characters are welcome, to steal a phrase from every damn commercial on that channel, they have to be of the PG-13 variety. In one of the biggest attacks on that image, WWE allowed Edge and Lita to engage in simulated sex in the middle of the ring on a Very Special Episode of Raw. To the delight of 12-year-olds the nation over, around ten minutes of simulated humping went down, in a sequence equal parts ballsy, unintentionally comical and fairly unexpected. (Probably NSFW)
4) The worst vandalism of all time.
It’s 2008, now, and John Cena has become the Hulk Hogan of our time, at least in terms of being forced into the main event whether the whole audience likes it or not. Snark aside, Cena is ten times the wrestler Hogan ever was, and a true good guy in a modern wrestling landscape that loves its half-cooked moral ambivalence. A big story during this time was WWE’s endeavor to be more family-friendly, and one of the casualties was Cena’s credibility with an older audience, due to his re-catering of promos to eight-year-old boys.
Case in point: When feuding with John Bradshaw Layfield, an evil Wall Street tycoon (IRL a very nice Wall Street tycoon, now), Cena took it upon himself to redecorate the limo in which JBL would make his ring entrances. Vandalism in wrestling is sometimes a whole bunch of fun; just look at “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s penchant for assorted vehicular destruction over time. However, when vandalism involves a grown man spray-painting “Poopy” on another grown man’s car, there’s nothing cool about it. In fact, there is only the vacuous absence of cool.
5) Katie Vick.
Any wrestling fan who stayed around post-Attitude Era probably gets a cold chill on instinct upon reading those two words. For those who didn’t: In 2002, blue-blooded Triple H was in a feud with the masked monster Kane. Known as the “Cerebral Assassin,” Triple H decided the best way to try and take out the Big Red Machine was to get inside his head. For weeks, there were teases of a woman named Katie Vick, and Kane’s sordid past concerning her. Kane pleaded for some time with Triple H to keep her name out of it, but this was in vain. One night in October of that year, Triple H promised to expose the truth about Ms. Vick.
Remember, before I finish the story, that wrestling at its core is both an athletic event and a spectacle. There is a certain amount of soap opera that is not only tolerable but necessary. If WWE in 2002 was a soap opera, the Katie Vick angle was the batshit-crazy Passions version of soap opera. Throwing over to a video, Triple H treated America to ten minutes of “Katie Vick” in a coffin (after a car accident in which Kane was involved claimed her life). And then, he has sex with the dead girl. In a Kane mask, of course, so as to try and convince the audience that this horrorshow involving the son-in-law of the McMahon family was actual footage. I’m going to let this do the rest of the talking. (Very NSFW)