For those who missed the goings on in East Rutherford, this was the Raw on the night after WrestleMania, and what showed up may or may not have been the best crowd in WWE history, but it was damned sure the most creative. They booed the good guys and cheered the bad guys. The showed off their deep historical knowledge of the industry. They refused to tolerate the boring and lost their minds at the mayhem.
And they chanted. Oh, they chanted. They sang soccer songs (“Olé Olé Olé”). They chanted for the superstars (Mark Henry). They chanted for the announcers (JBL and Jerry Lawler – and my gods, even Michael Cole). They chanted ironically (“U-S-A U-S-A”). They chanted for wrestling organizations that are out of business (ECW). They encouraged Big Show to throw one more chair. They serenaded Miz and Wade Barrett with a round of “you fucked up” after a blown spot. They chanted for cotton candy. They chanted about how awesome they were. They chanted for guys who aren’t on the WWE roster anymore (RVD). They chanted for a dead guy (Randy Savage).
Big Show – a heel – got a monster pop when he laid out Randy Orton and Seamus, two huge crowd favorites. They went berserk when Ryback shellshocked ostensible babyface John Cena, to the point where we’re not actually sure if we were seeing a heel turn or not. When arrogant heel Dolph Ziggler cashed in his Money in the Bank suitcase and beat crippled babyface World Champion Albertoooooooooooooo del Rio for the belt, the crowd nearly blew the lid off the place. Let me repeat that – bad guy shortcuts his way to title win over injured popular good guy – and the crowd goes nuts. Granted, Ziggler has been one of the company’s best and most charismatic workers for some time, but del Rio is everything you could ask for in a pro, too.
And the absolute moment of the night, bar none…well, note the 6:54 mark of this video, when the crowd starts humming Fandango’s entrance music. Absolutely. Fucking. Twilight Zone.
They were doing it again after the show went off the air, too. I guess it’s a mercy that CM Punk wasn’t there. If he had been, they might have torn the building down.
In other words, a crowd unlike any other in pro wrestling history showed up unannounced and hijacked the biggest show on cable. It was like the fraternity party on the Saturday night before classes start. It was like somebody got the Timbers Army huffed up on ecstasy and nitrous and turned them loose in the Seattle Opera while it was performing Bugs Bunny’s version of Der Ring des Nibelungen. Or something. “Live” doesn’t come anywhere close to describing the scene. Even “electric” falls way short of the mark. Maybe “insane”?
Goddamn, it was more fun than a paddy wagon full of Juggalos trying to figure out how magnets work. The wrestlers clearly had no fucking idea what was going on, but they rolled with it. The announcers were having the time of their lives. And I’m still laughing.
But maybe not the WWE creative team. If I’m VP of Creative Stephanie McMahon, I didn’t get a wink of sleep last night.
Here’s the problem. WWE fans are notorious bandwagoners and imitators. What if the crowd next week in Greenville, SC feels like it needs to match the intensity and weirdness of last night’s New Jersey crowd? And all of a sudden it has become a thing, like yelling “what?” every time a heel cutting a promo pauses to take a breath.
You’re the creative team and now, all of a sudden, you have to develop storylines in an upside down world. You have to get over characters when the fans are aggressively booing the faces, cheering the heels and mocking every single cliché and halfwitted idea you come up with. (Except Fandango, apparently – creative has saddled new call-up Johnny Curtis with the cheesiest gimmick since Repo Man, a Prancing With the Stars ballroom dancing wank that would have been embarrassing back during the promotion’s 1980s cartoon heyday, but the fans responded by … well, watch the video.)
How the hell do you book in an environment where the audience is actively clowning you at every turn?
I’m probably overplaying the perversity angle a slight bit here. In truth, the crowd rewarded the likes of Chris Jericho, who in addition to being a big, way over star, is also … and this is key … a very good worker. He’s been a talented in-ring guy for years and is one of the best at making his opponents look good, which is why, one suspects, he was paired with Fandango for the rookie’s first feud. If anybody can teach Curtis, make him look credible in the ring and help get him over with the crowd, it’s Jericho.
Big Show has been a remarkably effective worker through the years, too, especially given his size. Most behemoths are poison in the ring because they lack the physical dynamism to do much beside lumber around (see Khali, Great). Show, who played hoops at Wichita State once upon a time, is a good athlete and has proven his ability to get other performers over.
All of which makes the WWE creative nightmare that much scarier. What if, in addition to being perverse about who they cheer for, crowds start popping for workrate guys? Oh, that isn’t good. The folks in Stamford have undervalued actual wrestling skills for decades, opting instead for high charisma star power. Hulk Hogan might have been a legend, but there are mannequins who are more credible in the ring. Hypersupermegastar The Rock? Meh. Better than Hogan, but generally pedestrian. Current face of the company John Cena? The only person who seems to be able to get a good match out of him is the aforementioned CM Punk, who calls himself the best in the world and he’s probably right.
If the fans start cheering the guys who can work and mocking the stiffs, it’s going to pose a massive challenge for Stephanie McMahon and her team.
Last night may have been a one-off. We have never seen its like before nor shall we again. But the WWE exists in an exceptionally viral universe, and with that in mind, if I’m running WWE creative we’ve been locked up in a brainstorming session all day. The question before us: what the hell do we do if the world just completely changed forever?