It’s Time to Start a Dialogue about Shawn Michaels

Sometime around here is where Michaels introduced the rot that infects wrestling nowadays
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What is your biggest pet peeve as a wrestling fan? Mine, by far, is wrestlers talking about having good matches while on the clock. When they’re on Twitter, out of character, it’s fine. They should want to take pride in their work. However, part of the work is making the fan believe in the moment that what they’re watching is real, even if as soon as the show ends, they remember that it is all staged. It’d be like Daniel Day-Lewis talking about his acting method while he’s playing Bill the Butcher. I need the wrestling character to talk about how they want to win, how they want to be Champion, how they want the bigger share of the purse. I don’t want to hear Seth Rollins talk about entertaining people. I don’t care if Kenny Omega cares about Dave Meltzer star ratings. It’s a dichotomy that at least wrestlers for the most part used to get. Do you know where that dichotomy started fizzling away? Probably around the time Shawn Michaels started calling himself “The Showstopper.”

The first wrestler who really, in-character, cared about whether you liked how he worked or not was Michaels. Unsurprisingly, he’s a guy Meltzer latched onto, because whether Michaels meant to or not, he pretty much gave Meltzer validation for his star scale. A lot of other wrestlers latched onto him as well, as he became quite the influence on a lot of fledgling workers. While I personally find a lot of his in-ring work to be overwrought to the point of parody, he is cited by many to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest American worker of all-time. Thankfully, that crop of wrestlers also took influence from Japanese junior heavies like Jushin Liger and Great Sasuke, Japanese heavies like Mitsuharu Misawa and Shinya Hashimoto, and well, the Japanese women that the former two categories ALSO took influence from like Megumi Kudo and Manami Toyota. So instead of a whole bunch of Michaels clones, the wrestling scene got a well-rounded mix of wrestlers who happened to also really like the Heartbreak Kid. However, that like influenced them in the wrong ways.

Michaels’ whole aura of being the best wrestler not by winning but by having the best matches leaked into other wrestlers’ brains and mutated. Calling himself “Mr. WrestleMania” despite having a losing record there and WWE backing it up (I can’t stress this enough, Michaels cannot be a destructive influence without the single biggest wrestling company in history signal-boosting him) inspired Dolph Ziggler to distill that message into the more ham-handedly simplistic message of outright saying “I’m here to have the best match on the show, even if I lose.” It mutated in Davey Richards’ mind when he decided he’d take all the tension and stakes that happened in the match preceding and throw it in the dumpster by telling his opponent that he did great in there and that he’s special and that this match was so good! It allowed the Young Bucks to get buddy-buddy with Meltzer and even name a move after him.

Hell, the effects started not shortly after Michaels innovated this trash. Rob Van Dam himself rose to prominence around the time Michaels was losing his smile, hurting his back, and getting too drugged out for his own good. He would call himself the “Whole F’n Show” and talk about how World Championship Wrestling and WWE are in bidding wars to have him on their rosters, not because he won a lot of matches, but because he was entertaining, flashy. He was a stark opposite to Taz, whose motto was “win if you can, survive if I let you,” perhaps the character most driven by the need to win matches in Extreme Championship Wrestling. RVD even called his finisher the “Five Star Frogsplash,” which was a direct reference to Meltzer’s scale. I guess you could commend him for taking that persona and weaponizing it against both WWE and WCW for the greater glory of ECW, especially since he didn’t jump to WCW when nearly everyone else in the company did, and he didn’t go to WWE when Vince McMahon finally allowed his relationship with the “renegade” outfit to become a full two-way one. Still, he was part of the sad revolution to take the most important thing, the wins and losses, out of kayfabe.

It’s why when anyone starts singing paeans to Michaels as one of the all-time greats, I start to convulse and leak pus from various orifices. Even if you ignore how bad a Champion he was or how he would conveniently lose his smile when it came to putting someone over or his drawing numbers, his biggest hallmark influence on the business will be divorcing importance in wrestling from wins and losses. It’s not even just that wrestlers are making it part of their character. WWE actively pushes guys both on main and in NXT who make that their calling card. Seth Rollins doesn’t fucking care about being Universal Champion as much as he does having the best match. Shouldn’t that bother you if your job as a promoter is to make that title mean something? WWE talking about “performing” or having categories for “best match of the year” for its various awards is all a direct result of Michaels being allowed to be the Showstopper and McMahon being so under his sway that he thought it a good idea to adopt for his company. For that reason, I can’t think of any reason to entertain arguments for Michaels as the best of anything, unless it’s the “best scumbag in wrestling history.” Even then, he’s got tough competition. Wrestling is historically full of awful people.

Jon Moxley’s New Groove

Moxley, shown here clutching Jeff Cobb, can spread his wings better in New Japan
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Even back when he was working deathmatches and cultivating a cool Nolan Joker persona without the paint, you could tell Jon Moxley had a certain eccentricity about him. He wasn’t Colt Cabana or Santino Marella, but his capacity for comedy wrestling was present. WWE saw this glimmer as well, but after The Shield broke up, Mox, as Dean Ambrose, was miscast. When Vince McMahon sees that you can make people laugh, he doesn’t recognize that that ability can manifest in different ways other than “doing stupid shit that makes a septuagenarian cokehead sociopath guffaw.” Instead of exploring studio space in cool and exciting ways, Ambrose rolled hot dog carts to the ring, jobbed to exploding television monitors, and went to the doctor to get needles stuck in his ass.

Of course, Moxley/Ambrose wasn’t the only wrestler done dirty by McMahon’s rudimentary understanding of character development. Wrestling, like acting, should have a wide swath of character archetypes, and yet the only ones that McMahon has ever gotten right are “tall übermensch whomst wins all the time” and “rebellious little shit who people like because they hit their boss.” So “Charlie Kelly who likes to hit people with things wrapped in barbed wire” was certainly not a character WWE was ever going to get right. The problem is, what promotion could get it right without allowing the person playing it to have most of the input? The answer is “no promotion,” which is why Mox’s lightly-salted eccentricity is able to shine in New Japan Pro Wrestling.

It’s not to say that Gedo doesn’t have input on him, or that he’s hands-off with most of his characters. I can say with confidence though that Mox name recognition coming in probably allowed him a certain degree of freedom, much in the same way that someone like Kenny Omega, Hiroshi Tanahashi, or Kazuchika Okada have or had some free reign in their stays with the company. I can’t see Gedo going to Mox and telling him to adopt Shota Umino, call him Shooter, and give him a jacket. But that whole underlying arc definitely feels like something Moxley would do just to riff, to have him break out and maybe give someone like Umino a little boost when he transitions from Young Lion to real boy full-fledged New Japan roster member.

Of course, that’s not the only thing he’s shown in New Japan already in his short tenure there. It’s the little things like blowing a kiss to Miho during his match with Taichi, or proclaiming that he doesn’t know Jeff Cobb or much about him, but that he respects him. These moves are that of someone who takes himself seriously, but not seriously enough that he ends up coming to the ring in a hood and exuding powerful “I study the blade” energy like a certain Aerial Assassin. It also manifests itself in ways that differentiate himself from, say, Toru Yano.

Moxley will still bleed buckets if he has to and make other people bleed buckets; just look at his match with Joey Janela at Fyter Fest, which was probably skinning the surface of what he’s able to do now. The biggest test for him will be his run in All Elite Wrestling. While I think he’ll get freedom there, I also imagine that he’ll be more heavily guided there, as Tony Khan and Cody Rhodes will undoubtedly want to exert more control over talent than Gedo does. Still, no matter how questionable the narrative direction in AEW has been (more on that later), Mox being there gives them a good leg to stand on.

If McMahon observes his competition at all, he should be learning the lesson that he should maybe loosen the reigns up and let his talent do what they want more and less of what he wants them to do. I doubt he will, as he’s probably alternating between overlording RAW and Smackdown with trying to write as many rules for his new XFL that make the players and fans know that they WILL respect the flag. That really only means that as long as he’s like this, wrestlers like Jon Moxley will be better off elsewhere, places that allow him to have more input in what he does in the ring and on the mic.

Kevin Owens – The Hottest Commodity in WWE Right Now? – by Mike Sanchez

First things first, if you haven’t done so already, please check out this clip from Smackdown Live this week before we continue.

Great, wasn’t it? Kevin Owens going full steam ahead in a passionate rant about Shane McMahon’s overbearing presence on WWE TV and more these past few months. He spoke from the heart about how much ‘TV time’ Shane is taking up and by doing so is forcing Owens’ colleagues in the locker room to take a back seat and not be involved at all. This is one of those rare times when story blurs into reality as there have been many vocal fans of WWE bemoaning the insistence of WWE to continually shove Shane McMahon down our throats. Owens was saying what we were thinking, and though I won’t try to compare his promo with the infamous ‘pipe bomb’ of CM Punk from eight years ago, it did bear some similarities and spoke some home truths.

Kevin Owens was doing what Kevin Owens does; what he wants, when he wants. His promo was so much more than an angle in that he took it upon himself to say what the fans have been thinking. He used the platform he has to vent his frustrations with the company, the direction it is going and the limited opportunities he’s had since returning from injury. Some are saying that this is the beginning of a feud that will see Shane take a step back from being an on-screen talent and go back to working behind the scenes or continuing to work on the many businesses he has outside of WWE. I really don’t care one way or the other, but one this is for certain; if this means more Kevin Owens on our screens, then I’m all for it.

The question is; what happens from here and also, after this feud is over? Shane is positioned as the heel in this story – something he’s been reveling in for some time now. His return from self-imposed exile in February 2016, saw him as the returning hero, there to do battle with his sister, Stephanie McMahon, and challenge his father’s authority once again. At that point, Shane was hailed as the returning savior to save the WWE Universe from the evil Stephanie’s reign of terror. That story played out well, but the feeling from many WWE fans is that Shane has overstayed his welcome. His very presence has become Smackdown Live’s version of WWE’s insistence on putting Baron Corbin in main event spots on Raw. It grates with us and has gone on for too long. That’s not a pop at Shane (or Corbin) personally, but the formula is getting old and tired. They need to be knocked off their perch.

Enter the new hero, the man who has decided to become the voice of the people – Kevin Owens. This gives Owens a new opportunity to go into this feud as a fully-fledged face, something he hasn’t been too much of in his WWE career. Personally, I love his heel work; from his destruction of John Cena on his main roster debut (when Owens was NXT Champion), to his beatdown of Chris Jericho when Owens decided to end the Festival of Friendship without telling his partner first. I think a face Kevin Owens will be a really fresh idea going forward. This new crusade he’s on, to rid the WWE of Shane McMahon, should see the crowd rally behind him and support his cause no end. It also shines a light on the side of Kevin Owens we rarely see – one who is supportive of others. Usually, Owens has been the loner in WWE; out for himself at all times. Sure, he’s had help along the way with the aforementioned Jericho and his real-life, long-time friend Sami Zayn, and a brief dalliance with The New Day, but I think Owens does his best work when standing alone.

As a fan of both Owens and WWE, I’m already invested in this and am eager to see where it goes. I like Shane McMahon and he’s held his own when it comes to performing in the ring, but at his age (he’s 49 years old), he should be taking a back seat and letting the younger guys and girls shine. His feud with the Miz was too long, boring and did little for either man. Miz should’ve whooped Shane’s ass in a big showdown, but it faded out into nothing memorable – which is a shame because Miz is awesome. All that feud did was give us even more Shane. The ‘Best in the World’ moniker Shane has given himself is also tiresome. It’s been done to death before and the Saudi Arabia show in 2018 wasn’t the highlight it was meant to be – with fans caring very little, if at all, that Shane ended the night with a meaningless trophy and title.

Kevin Owens should be the voice of the people in this. He should be the renegade who is determined to get Shane off TV, and not for himself, but for the rest of the locker room. He mentioned some notable names in the promo above: Apollo Crews, Asuka, Kairi Sane, Buddy Murphy and more. We’ve seen those stars have fantastic matches, but they never seem to get the time or opportunity to showcase more than once in a blue moon. Will the McMahons try to silence him? Yes, but will he go quietly? Not a chance. Kevin Owens should lead the charge against the regime. He should be the voice of the WWE Universe and he should be the figurehead for the stars in the back who are missing out because of Shane McMahon’s ego.

Could Kevin Owens be that guy on the roster who gets to beat up his boss? Could he take on the persona of the working man who takes out his frustrations on the suits? WWE tried that once before with a man named Steve Austin, who happened to use the same Stone Cold Stunner that Owens used on Smackdown this week. Things turned out alright for him, didn’t they?

Do you like Kevin Owens’ face turn? Do you see this as a positive move for WWE or should there be more Shane McMahon on TV? What happens if/when Kevin wins the feud? What next? I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, thanks for reading.

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