I’m not quite sure what WWE’s selling these days, but I am fairly certain that it’s not violence.
At least not violence in the pro wrestling sense of the word.
I’m talking about the kind of choreographed mayhem that, when employed in the right situations, significantly adds to the aesthetic quality of the match.
I’m talking color. I’m talking about blood.
While I’m not advocating a return to the hardcore days of the original ECW, it’s become very apparent that WWE television has transitioned from hard-hitting, no-holds-barred programming into a lightweight comedy show featuring weak backstage vignettes and a revolving door of celebrities whose styles don’t mesh well with a wrestling show.
Oops, almost forgot, it’s not wrestling, it’s sports entertainment. And the competitors are no longer referred to as “wrestlers,” but instead as “superstars” or “performers.” As for the title belt, known for years as a “strap” in wrestling jargon, it’s now called a “championship” per mandate of company brass.
Blood, meanwhile, seems to have gone the way of the horse and buggy in the WWE universe.
That’s why it’s almost laughable when the company hypes its upcoming “Hell in a Cell” pay-per-view where not one, but several, Hell in a Cell matches will be showcased inside the “demonic structure.” And out of those matches, with the combatants using the unforgiving cage as a battering ram, it’s unlikely that a drop of blood will be spilled.
John Cena and Randy Orton talk about tearing one another’s head off inside the cell. Can you really do that without spilling a little of the red stuff?
Allow me to be perfectly clear. I’m not talking about the gratuitous use of blood. Utilizing blood for the sake of blood just doesn’t work. And there’s no question about the physicality of this generation of wrestling. Today’s athletes do things that would be unheard of “back in the day.”
But sometimes certain elements are necessary to fit the context of a match. Grudge bouts — including Hell in the Cell matches — in the past always featured blood. If there was a cage match, you could safely bet your bottom dollar that blood was going to flow.
Pro wrestling was often a nightly bloodbath during the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. Photos of blood-covered gladiators graced the front covers of many top wrestling magazines. Blood, also referred to as “juice,” was a staple of the business, and “red means green” was a testament to the practice’s effectiveness.
Sometimes less is more, and promotions over the years used that mantra to their advantage. Grudge matches and gimmick bouts sold tickets, and blood was the common denominator. But it was reserved for special occasions.
Unfortunately a number of independent and fly-by-night wrestling “organizations” in recent years took the use of blood on their shows to sometimes barbaric levels.
Some of those aspiring pros had come out of the ranks of backyard brawling and underground fight clubs where every conceivable object would be used — from staple guns and mousetraps to fluorescent light tubes and flaming baseball bats. The overkill component not only weakened its impact, but wreaked havoc on many would-be grapplers who employed meaningless blade jobs and dangerous stunts as a crutch to cover up a lack of legitimate ring skills and natural charisma.
I fully realize things have changed over the years, and there are legitimate health concerns, most notably the potential of contracting dangerous diseases such as AIDS or hepatitis, to go along with financial considerations. WWE hopes a new TV-PG rating will attract more blue-chip sponsors and advertisers buying into a gentler, kinder product.
Triple H even referred to the show’s “violence” in a recent interview as “very Wile E. Coyote-ish.”
WWE, taking aim at kids and families to shore up the bottom line, now boasts that children constitute a major share of the audience, although statistics show there was a higher percentage watching during the envelope-pushing Attitude era in the late ‘90s. A sizable percentage of the current WWE audience consists of the over-40 bunch — those who still remember when the blood flowed like wine. That demographic is closer to the segment of society now attracted to mixed martial arts and ultimate fighting. WWE domestic pay-per-view buy rates have dropped this year while those for UFC shows have continued to grow.
But WWE’s almost nonexistent use of blood — particularly on its pay-per-views where customers shell out $40 a show — just doesn’t make sense. The company is offering, at a hefty price tag, something that you can’t get on free TV. And the occasional use of blood should be part of that equation.
Chances are we’ll see sledge hammers, bodies crashing through tables and skulls rammed into ring posts at Hell in a Cell.
But no blood.
Wrestling, in its purest sense, is an art form. A judicious use of bloodletting can sometimes add drama and realism to that story, as well as to the suspension of disbelief.
I bet Jim Ross wouldn’t mind calling another match where he describes one of the combatants thusly: “His face is a crimson mask!”
Somewhere you know Gordon Solie would be smiling.
- Lilian Garcia finished up her 10-year run as WWE ring announcer at last week’s Raw.
The popular diva brought a nice touch of class to the company’s broadcasts, and will be remembered for her beautiful renditions of The Star-Spangled Banner here and abroad during WWE’s Tribute to the Troops tours.
The 36-year-old University of South Carolina honors grad eloquently expressed her feelings for the company and especially the fans during her farewell speech to the WWE audience last Monday night.
Lauren Mayhew, 23, a recent UCLA graduate with considerable acting and musical experience, will fill Garcia’s position.
Mayhew, who released a solo album in 2006, appeared in several films, was a member of a pop band that toured with Britney Spears and Destiny’s Child, and has interviewed a number of Hollywood entertainers on a nationally syndicated TV show.
- The Rev. Al Sharpton will join the fun as this week’s guest host on Raw in Albany, N.Y.
The controversial minister and politician is expected to promote his upcoming education reform tour to go along with WWE’s own education program and campaign for youth literacy.
- Jerry “The King” Lawler is running for mayor of Memphis, and Linda McMahon is running for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut. Times have really changed.
What’s even funnier is that Lawler and McMahon could actually win. After all, if Jesse Ventura could do it in Minnesota, anything’s possible.
Lawler is one of 25 candidates vying for the job in the special election on Oct. 15. Lawler was a third-place finisher in the 1999 election won by former mayor Willie W. Herenton.
Lawler said if he’s elected, he would run the city like a business, adding that Memphis hasn’t been marketed properly. And who knows more about hype than one of the greatest talkers in the business?
“I want to sell Memphis,” he said. “I want to make Memphis into a star, a showplace where people around the world would want to come to Memphis.”
McMahon, a multi-millionaire who has refused to accept PAC money, says she’s running for Senate “so the people of Connecticut can have their own voice.’’
It was reported last week that while the former WWE CEO helped formed the company’s “SmackDown! Your Vote” campaign, she herself actually missed voting in several elections, including last year’s presidential primary.
McMahon admitted her mistake in a blog post on her campaign Web site two weeks ago.
- The Miz and John Morrison will appear on Tuesday night’s “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader” on MyNet TV.
Upcoming episodes will feature Michelle McCool, MVP and Big Show.
- Former WWE on-air authority figure Vickie Guerrero reportedly will return to WWE TV for a one-time appearance on the “Decade of Smackdown” episode next Friday night.
She left WWE this summer to reportedly spend more time at home raising her daughters as a single mom. She last appeared on WWE TV after the Extreme Rules PPV in June.
- Jim Cornette attributed his recent release from TNA to a difference of opinion.
Cornette admitted he wasn’t a hundred percent behind the TNA creative team, which comes as no surprise, considering the decade-old heat he’s had with main writer Vince Russo.
Cornette added that TNA boss Dixie Carter would welcome him back into the fold if he got behind creative. With Cornette allies Jeff Jarrett and Dutch Mantel out of the picture, however, chances are slim. The apparent return of Ed Ferrara, Russo’s longtime co-writer, also would likely discourage any return by the controversial Cornette, who added that he would have resigned had he known Ferrara would be coming in.
- Old School Championship Wrestling will present its Caged Carnage event Oct. 11 at Weekend’s Pub, 428 Red Bank Road, Goose Creek. All matches after intermission will be in a steel cage. Former WWE performer Kevin Thorn will meet Malachi in a featured bout.
Doors open at 5 p.m., and bell time is 6. Adult admission is $10; kids 12 and under $5. For more information, visit www.oscwonline.com or call 743-4800.
Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.