Tuesday 7 February 2012

Slaying Monsters

Monsters used to rumble into wrestling promotions every year or so. Their task was a simple one: they were there to beat everybody that was put in front of them. They would begin with expendable jobbers before moving on to mid-card talent who would help give the newcomer more credibility by putting them over decisively, not something audiences would be used to seeing. The monster would then plough through the federation's main event talent, possibly picking up a world title along the way.
In short: they would be made to look unstoppable.
All this was done with a greater goal in mind. That goal was to create a new star to pit an existing headliner against. The monster was usually a heel, the existing star was usually a face. The story would be simple but effective: the monster heel would have proven their dominance over everybody the company had to offer and it would be up to the valiant babyface to finally bring them to justice.
Part of the reason the approach was so effective was that only one wrestler would receive this treatment at a time. From the moment that wrestler debuted to the moment they left they would be the company's most dominant star and would be afforded every curtesy by both the booking team and other wrestlers. Anybody else receiving similar treatment would diminish the effect of both pushes. It was all about keeping the monster looking impressive.

There are plenty of wrestlers who have received very successful monster pushes within the last couple of decades, proving that the concept can work on a national level. A smattering of examples off the top of my head are Goldberg, Kane (when he first appeared in 1997), Awesome Kong, the Great Khali, Samoa Joe (in both TNA and ROH), and, of course, Brock Lesnar.
All succeeded on a mixture of their own talent, the backing and competence of the appropriate creative teams, and the fact that they were the only acts of their kind in their respective promotions at the time.

One of the most obvious monsters of recent times: the Great Khali!

Sadly such care is no longer taken in the wrestling business. At least not in North America. Of the continents three major wrestling promotions two are pushing two or more monsters concurrently while the third is approaching the gimmick so haphazardly that we can't even be sure it's what they're trying to do.
The third company I refer to is TNA (was it ever going to be anyone else?). When Crimson was first brought into the company he was given a healthy number of victories. Technically he is still undefeated as he hasn't been pinned or made to submit himself yet. Unfortunately (but predictably for TNA) the waters have been muddied by having Crimson suffer losses in tag team bouts. While he hasn't lost himself the damage has still been done: an element of doubt now exists regarding Crimson's undefeated credentials. He has been tarnished by his tag partner's shortcomings. That (in addition to the fact that he has not been booked to garner as many one-sided victories as should have been the case) has tarnished his image as a dominant star on the rise.
Yeah, TNA has failed to disguise the weaknesses of one of their talents. What a shock!
Perhaps more surprising is WWE, who have created several very successful monsters over the years which means we should be able to assume they understand how to keep them looking as strong as possible.
I still believe the push should have gone to somebody younger and more capable but they did an excellent job of building up Mark Henry last year. He went from a tedious mid-card face to a legitimate top card heel in the space of six months thanks to a clear vision and strong booking. Sadly his status as the company's monster has been harmed recently by several other men being presented as being just as unstoppable. Big Show has been permitted to look far too competitive against 'The World's Strongest Man' far too often. Kane returned in December and, while he hasn't been stacking up victories, he has been obliterating John Cena (a top star that was presented as Henry's equal only a couple of months ago) on a regular basis and was also credited with Zack Ryder's storyline injury.
Then there's Brodus Clay. Since returning to TV on the January 9th RAW 'The Funkasaurus' has done nothing but beat enhancement talent. It would have far more effect if the three men mentioned above hadn't received similar treatment.
That's four monsters in WWE alone, an absurd number.
It's Ring of Honor's attitude that I find most surprising. For a company that prides itself on its old school approach and mentality to wrestling booking to be pushing two men in such similar ways can only be described as a disappointment.
The two men in question are Tommaso Ciampa and Michael Elgin. Both have been added to factions, allowing managers to be at ringside to disguise their shortcomings and help them get crowds riled up. Both perform a lot of power moves (so they're physically dominating the competition) and Ciampa's even got the trusty "undefeated streak" story on the go. It's a stark contrast to the way in which the promotion booked Samoa Joe years ago: he beat everybody and nobody was seen as his equal when it came to victories.
I make the above points to highlight the change that the wrestling business has undergone (and continues to undergo). It is a caution, or warning, for all the promotions mentioned. Less, as they say, is often more.

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