Saturday, May 2, 2009

Old-school 'rasslin' booking can still work

By Rick Morris

Many of the mistakes that WWE makes have to do with laziness and disregard of internal logic. For example, last year the company wanted to showcase popular ECW newcomer Evan Bourne, so they often shipped him to Raw with little or no explanation as to how a wrestler from one brand was free to follow to another one.

The company wisely chose to keep Bourne in ECW for at least another year, figuring that a successful pursuit of the ECW Title would give him the momentum he needs to move to one of the "Big Two" in the spring of 2010. With an ECW Title program not appearing to be on the horizon until late summer or early fall at the very earliest, how can the company continue to build Bourne in the interim? Additionally, with a serious rivalry with fellow up-and-comer Tyson Kidd rumored to be on the schedule for this year, how can these two grapplers get their rivalry over to the broader WWE audience without mindless shuttling between different shows -- in a reality that only gives ECW one PPV match per month at best?

The answer lies in the type of old-school booking that the "sports entertainment" crew in charge of the company so often disdains. With industry insiders so often dismissive of "smart marks who don't know anything," I'm going to take this opportunity to sketch out why old-school booking still works and just how to elevate Bourne and Kidd within the permissible bounds of the brand split.

^ The first step would be to give into the rumors and pair DH Smith with Kidd and manager Natalya (Neidhart) as some kind of "New Hart Foundation." From there, in honor of the origins of the PPV, ECW would be awarded a #1 contenders match for the Unified WWE/World Tag Team Titles at the "Extreme Rules" PPV in June. On one side: Kidd and Smith. On the other side: Bourne and Finlay.

^ Bourne and Finlay would win, to set up the following night on Raw. By this time, the titles would be with Legacy and the Rhodes/Dibiase pairing would be challenged by Randy Orton to "send the #1 contenders a message." They would end up going under the ring to pull out Hornswoggle, with the intention of beating him up to push his "father" Finlay over the edge. He would end up scampering away from them and hiding in a place where seemingly nobody could find him -- only to get discovered and thrashed (presumably off-camera, since the WWE is back into programming for kiddies right now).

^ The next night on ECW, Finlay is warned by the GM Tiffany that although she's very sorry about what happened, she must tell him that he's not allowed to show up on Raw to extract revenge. Finlay blows off her warning and comes out of the crowd the next week to attack Rhodes and Dibiase with the shillelagh. Afterwards, Raw GM Vicki Guerrero announces that she has the backing of the board of directors to suspend for 30 days any wrestler from any brand who invades her show. This takes him out of the title match.

^ The next night on ECW, Bourne is despondent, but is told by Tiffany that he may pick a replacement wrestler for the match at the upcoming Great American Bash PPV. In a moment of despair, he shrugs and says that he doesn't care who replaces Finlay. At the end of the show, Tiffany comes to the ring to announce Finlay's replacement. She is interrupted by Kidd and Natalya, who want to hear her announce that the first person who volunteered to take the spot was ... Tyson Kidd! Bourne is standing on the ramp in disbelief. Kidd's explanation is that he wants the titles no matter what and feels that Bourne is at least good enough that he, Kidd, can "carry him to the gold."

^ On Raw the next week, Rhodes and Dibiase announce that they will be going to ECW the next night to make a major announcement about the team that they will be facing on Sunday night at the PPV. The next night, with Bourne and Kidd in the ring awaiting Legacy, as the entrance music hits, Finlay is spotted by a camera getting ready to come out of the crowd. Rhodes and Dibiase then appear on the Titantron, laughing that they weren't going to give Finlay another chance to get at them. They then reveal that Kidd was the mastermind of their plot against Hornswoggle, even putting a GPS device on him so that they could find him. As Bourne and Finlay confront Kidd, he weakly denies having had anything to do with it.

^ With the odds stacked against the uneasy partners, they still find a way to win when Finlay again comes out of the crowd to get involved. From there, the stage is set for a one or two-month program in which Bourne and Kidd travel to Raw, Smackdown and Superstars to defend the titles but also have a few matches against each other on ECW TV -- and a few matches pitting variations of Bourne and Finlay against Kidd and Smith. The "partners who hate each other" angle has been done many times before, but not as much in recent years and certainly not with the capacity for athletic matches that these two super-talented youngsters possess. The feud between them would only accelerate once they lose the belts, no later than SummerSlam, and it would serve to elevate the visibility of both before one or both enters the ECW Title picture.

While the self-impressed insiders at the WWE feel that only the "smart marks" care about internal logic and consistent character motivation, they would surely find that tightening up their own product could only have positive effects. Doing it the haphazard way hasn't worked to bring about the next boom period, why not try executing in a well-structured manner and using their least-watched show as a laboratory for this approach?

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