Money talks? Not on Monday nights

Daniel Crummett, Sarah Fuhrmann, Joshua Smith, Steve Rosenzweig, Stephani Green, Donna Rose, Justin Guy and Will Frank. Not instantly recognisable names in the wrestling world, but these guys were all over WWE Raw two weeks ago. They were the lucky winners in Vince McMahon’s ‘Million Dollar Mania’, his new weekly segment where he kindly gives away $1 million of his own money to WWE Raw viewers. The cash prizes ranged from $250,000 down to $2, and we watched with baited breath to find out who would walk away with which prize. McMahon was so euphoric, that he even got some of the locker room involved; Cryme Tyme, Maria Kanellis and that noted superstar Charlie Haas all had a part to play. There was money everywhere, dollar signs adorned every poster and every logo and they even managed to recycle the Donald Trump ‘Money, money, money, monnaaaaaay!’ music from a few WrestleMania’s ago. Money for you, money for me, money for all! Money! Lots and lots of money! Money everywhere! ‘I’ve got loads of money’ Vince was probably thinking ‘And now so have you’. What a fantastic way of solving the rating’s problem…for a few more weeks.

The only problem is that it didn’t. When the much anticipated rating came in, it was down from the previous week. It wasn’t as if the WWE had been quiet about its new big new venture, but the impact it made was minimal. A combination of websites and passwords, mixed with the best telecommunications and satellite technology that money can buy allowed Vince to speak to, and congratulate, the winner’s right across the USA. It was a state of the art wrestling show, which simply demonstrated what a state the art is actually in…

Creatively, the WWE is in a rut and a million dollar giveaway isn’t going to help much. WWE Raw is supposed to be a wrestling programme. We tune into the show every week to see engaging matches and plausible storylines involving entertaining and exciting wrestlers. The WWE reached it’s zenith in the late 90’s/early 00’s on the back of Steve Austin, Triple H, Mick Foley, The Undertaker, The Rock, Kurt Angle and others. These guys had distinctive, well-rounded characters and were more than capable of having superb matches with most of the guys in the locker room, and they were ably assisted by the likes of Kane, Edge & Christian, The Dudley Boys, Chris Jericho, The Hardy Boyz and even the McMahon family members. They were all given the necessary TV time to cultivate a successful feud or angle. Things weren’t rushed or hurried through. Just look at McMahon Vs Austin from 1998; that feud ran successfully for nearly 18 months. It surely isn’t beyond the WWE creative team to peruse the current roster and conceive some interesting and credible storylines. Or is it…?

A glance across the current WWE Raw roster makes for slightly disheartening reading. At the top, you have Triple H and Shawn Michaels. By far, these two are best workers on the roster and no questions can be asked of their talent and ability. JBL is competent (even if his gimmick is a Million Dollar Man rip-off) but his matches are rarely barn burners. The less said about John Cena, the better. Randy Orton is excellent as the cocky heel, but a bad bump at One Night Stand has put him on the shelf until October. And Chris Jericho seems to be habitually stuck in limbo between the main-event and the mid-card. The supporting artists do make for an exciting bunch; Mr Kennedy, Jeff Hardy and Umaga are on the verge of breaking the glass ceiling, but being on the brink isn’t good enough. Smackdown isn’t really any better; Edge is currently top dog and has got his act down perfectly. Batista is good with the right opponent, just ok with the wrong one. The Big Show seems to have ‘Jericho-itas’ as well. The Great Khali is what he is. And The Undertaker has been ‘banished’ (to Australia, apparently) and won’t return for several months. Hopefully, Rey Mysterio will be back soon to liven up the main event. The upper mid-card is comprised of Finley, MVP and Matt Hardy. Again, which of these guys can join the upper echelon of talent? Kane and Shelton Benjamin are treading water in ECW as, it seems, is CM Punk. A year ago, Punk’s popularity was rocketing and it seemed he would overtake Mr Kennedy as ‘The Next Big Thing’. But since winning the Money in the Bank ladder match at WrestleMania 24, his push seems to be on the wane. Whether the reports of Punk’s alleged backstage issues are genuine, and are having a direct impact on his progression, we’ll never really know. What we do know is that his star doesn’t burn nearly as bright as it once did.

The point of all this is that when you scrutinize the names above, instant angles and storylines don’t leap off the page. It’s difficult to devise future pairings that will go some way to increasing the status of the participants. Jeff Hardy against Edge seems logical, but it looks like the ‘Rated R Superstar’ is going to have his hands full with Batista until The Undertaker returns. One idea maybe to turn John Cena legitimately heel, and transform his character into an arrogant, corporate creation who is more interested in recording rap albums and earning bucket’s of cash. Mr Kennedy, for example, would then be the man charged with beating the hell out of the former champ. Kennedy would become an instant babyface superstar, simply for being the guy who slapped the disliked Cena around a bit. But of course, this would never happen. Cena is a WWE cash-cow, and too much time and money has been invested in his public persona. And herein lies another historic factor that the WWE has to contend with now; it has always erred on the side of caution when it comes to promoting someone into a main event slot.

Anyone who wishes to dine at the top table has to have the pre-requisite package of WWE approved gimmick, charisma, personality, correct backstage manner, verbal skills and wrestling ability, topped off with a healthy dollop of catchphrases, slogans and merchandise possibilities. And again, the choices seem a little sparse, with only Mr Kennedy, CM Punk and Jeff Hardy as the standout candidates on the good guy side, and maybe Umaga and MVP occupying the bad guy positions. Can these guys make big enough strides in the next nine months before WrestleMania 25 rolls around, so at least one of them is mixing with the big boys by the time we get to Houston? I sure hope so. The WWE has had the opportunity in the past to elevate a number of guys to the main event, but failed to strike while the iron was really hot. Booker T, Rob Van Dam, Matt Hardy and Chris Jericho could all have been legitimate main event players in the WWE by now, but fate and others factors have conspired against them. The WWE can’t afford to let such chances pass them by again.

The Raw giveaway generated the kind of mainstream publicity that the WWE craves. Unfortunately, the whole thing seems to have been met with a touch of derision. McMahon’s performance in the segments was openly mocked on The E! Channel programme, The Soup. And Vince had a rough ride on The FOX News Channel also; being grilled as to whether the WWE was simply trying to buy fans. Even the creative team themselves has been disappointed in how Million Dollar Mania came off. The big idea has made little impact and has served notice that maybe the WWE should focus on what it’s famous for. After all, Vince McMahon’s forays into other areas (the XFL, the WBF, WWE Films, Boxing promotion) have hardly been financial and artistic triumphs, and most have been at the detriment of the wrestling product. In a quick recap to the FOX News interview, Vince McMahon asked reporter Neil Cavuto if he had ever seen an episode of WWE Raw? “Never” was the answer. Vince stated that he was the kind of potential viewer that the WWE was trying to secure. That’s great Vince, but what about the one’s that have been watching for years? What about the genuine wrestling fans who aren’t too worried about giveaway’s and don’t want to see a poor man’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? It’s just a thought…

And so Million Dollar Mania rolled into Salt Lake City on Monday night, and congratulations to Frank Turbeville, Michael Levya, Denzel Parker, Alana Ayres and the other lucky winners. I’m sure that they will thoroughly appreciate receiving a cheque from the WWE and put the money to good use. And for those of us who didn’t win, we got to see ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan in a tuxedo and a Bikini Blowout contest! The rating came in at a 3.3, an improvement on the previous week but not the high number that the WWE will be hoping to see in the future. And even though The Draft should dominate Raw next week in San Antonio, Texas, Vince will once again be dialling those numbers, asking people for the password and saying goodbye to the loose change he found down the couch cracks over the weekend. I did think that there was an error with this week’s password though; it was ‘Watch WWE Raw and Win’, but surely that should have been ‘Watch WWE Raw…please’

I’m looking forward to the upcoming draft mixing things. John Cena departing for Smackdown seems to be the latest rumour doing the rounds, but we can only speculate on what will occur next Monday evening, and the ramifications of those events over the following weeks and months. My wish is that the closed door meeting that occurred last week between road agents and the creative team members will start to bear some fruit. The general consensus was that the WWE has been too focused on producing skits that don’t ever lead to anything, as opposed to creating fresh talent, convincing storylines and entertaining matches.

Guys, I couldn’t agree more.