Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Many happy (WWE) returns

By Rick Morris

First, in October, it was Shawn Michaels. Then, after a long viral video campaign, last week it was Chris Jericho. Sunday night at Survivor Series it was Edge. Then, last night, it was Ric Flair. In a few weeks, it will be Bobby Lashley.

In each case, "it" is a returning superstar and previous main eventer being counted on to help revive the business. At a time when the WWE is facing Congressional hearings about its sham of a "wellness" program and when it is trying to shake the overall black cloud that has hovered since the Benoit family tragedy of the summer, these stars are being seen internally as key to a hoped-for reversal of fortune. In all likelihood, this is simply an extension of the delusions of grandeur that have persisted since the company self-destructed and killed the last wrestling boom in 2001 with the botched Austin turn and the fizzled Invasion (a missed opportunity that was the biggest self-inflicted wound in the industry's history).

The reason? Simple -- star power counts for nothing if it is not used properly. A sane, focused organization would be staggering these returns, pointing to WrestleMania 24 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando as a culmination of the creative efforts. But in Vinny Mac's world, everything gets hot-shotted immediately and WrestleMania be damned. Apparently the plan will be to scribble the matches on a cocktail napkin in mid-March the same as always instead of employing a several-month build.

Think of the matches we're going to be seeing soon that should be held off for when they could matter much more: Jericho/Orton, Undertaker/Edge, Lashley/Kennedy. The hot-shotting of these returning stars (many of whom are coming back far ahead of the estimated recovery times for their injuries and who may be doing so unwisely) will have a poor effect on the business when the company tries in vain to find them fresh and compelling WrestleMania matches in a few months.

Here's a final bleak thought for those still hoping that the WWE can bring about another boom with business as usual: at the end of RAW on Monday night, WWE Champion Randy Orton was in the ring with Ric Flair. Three autumns ago, Orton was the champion and at odds with Flair and Jericho, albeit in opposite face/heel roles. For the incompetent creative crew employed by the McMahons, truly, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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