Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Biggest Wasted Opportunities in WWE History Part 1

No one will deny that the WWE has brought us a lot of fun stories over the years. Even people that hate Vince McMahon admit he is (or was) a creative genius who has made great memorable moments that millions have enjoyed for 30 some-odd years.

He's also boneheadly missed great opportunities to do great things that would have lived on forever in wrestling fans' hearts, but are now regelated to fantasy wrestling scenarios and whistful what-ifs. Things that by all accounts could have and should have been great that we'll never know. Things like...

Reckless Youth Gets Paid to Sit On His Ass For A year

Tom Carter loved wrestling his whole life. And while most of you probably never heard of him, he carved a unique legacy for himself on the indy circuit for years. Longtime Indy fans know Reckless Youth like they know Brian Danielson. He was regarded as one of the best on the planet. He could get technical with the best of them but had a high risk high flying style that wowed crowds worlwide. He was a flippy spotfest guy who could STILL tell a story in the ring instead of just stringing spots together like many accuse Jeff Hardy of.

In 1999, The then still WWF signed Reckless Youth to a developmental deal. They signed him for one year. Internet fans were excited, hoping to see Youth pull off his unique style on Raw every week. We knew we'd probably have to find video of him down in OVW first but the thought of seeing him in the 'E excited those of us who knew of him. We were waiting to see this every week...

Yes, you recognise men like William Regal, Christopher Daniels, Super Crazy and more in that montage. Anyone in the wrestling business you know and love that ever had a big Indy presence has done the dance with Reckless Youth, and he had as much respect as Danielson. Plus, he could cut promos better than Brian. So yeah, we were excited.

And then we realized he wasn't showing up on OVW. And then we noticed he wasn't showing up anywhere. And weeks turned into months, and there was nothing, anywhere.

WWE paid Youth to sit on his ass at home for a year and never once did one single goddamn thing with him. Even Danielson got to shine on NXT. But Youth? Nothing. He ceased to exist. And the 'E never gave him a reason for his non-use beyond not being sure what to do with him.

When the Developmental deal expired, Youth went back to the indies. Recent watchers of Chikara might know him from there. I think he even passed through Ring of Honor once or twice. And he's still damned good, but the WWE's abandoning of him took something away from Youth, and he's felt like something has been slightly missing somehow.

Of course this is a missed opportunity mostly for hardcore internet fans who loved Youth. The bulk of wrestling's audience never heard of him, so it's not like anything more than a small minority laments it, nor will it dog the WWE for decades. Unlike...

WWE Had Hogan & Flair in Their Prime and Did Zilch

Younger wrestling fans probably only look at Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair and see two useless limping old men who can't cut it in the ring anymore and should at absolute best be limited to promos and managing. But us older fans remember the latter half of the 80s and early 90s, when Hogan was unquestionably THE face of the WWF and no one could say NWA and NOT think of Flair.

Hogan and Flair were THE top draws in their respective companies for years, each longer than any other top draw that came before or after, and arguably more successful than any predecessor or any who followed except perhaps for Austin and the Rock. Even John Cena isn't as huge a draw as Hogan and Flair were.

No one really has heated debates about dream matches anymore. WWE's closest competition is TNA and calling TNA "Competition" is like calling a 5 year old boy competition for Tito Ortiz. At best you sometimes get hardcore fans like me and the Inside Pulse writers comment on message boards about "I think it'd be cool if ***** signed with *** and worked with *****".

But in the 80s, fans had fevered rabid debates about dream matches, who would win, how the match would go, etcetera. And no dream match was more debated than Hogan Vs Flair. Wrestling magazines like Pro Wrestling Illustrated and Inside Wrestling devoted entire articles to analyzing the possibilities. But we resigned ourselves to fantasy as Hogan was WWF and Flair was NWA and never the Twain shall meet.

And then on September 9th 1991, this happened.

Thanks to Jum Crockett pissing Flair off, Flair took the NWA Title and jumped ship, and suddenly fans were salivating. We were finally going to get our dream match! The 'E even teased it several times, having Flair and Hogan cutting promos together, Flair doing run-ins for the Undertaker at Hogan's expense, and Flair even winning the WWF title at the Royal Rumble at Hogan's expense when Sid pulled Hogan over the ropes.

But for reasons known only to Vince McMahon's fevered brain, they never pulled the trigger. A Hogan/Flair match on PPV never materialized. Hell they never even had a match on free TV. Their interaction in the ring at the afore-mentioned Royal Rumble was even minimal at best. WWE was sitting on a liscense to print money and decided they didn't like money.

There were rumours of course, ranging to ego crashes over who would job, to Vince not wanting to give any weight to the strength of the competition by acknowledging the Dream Matches wishes of many fans as it meant ackjnowledging the NWA existed all those years when Vince still expected fans to believe that the WWF existed alone in the wrestling world and no one hired from another promotion had any pre-WWF history. We'll never know. Hogan and Flair both claim to have never been aware of the reasons if any and Vince has never answered questions about it.

A few years later in WCW, we finally got our Dream Match but by then it had lost it's appeal. The WWF teases that never paid off had soured many fans on the dream match, and by the time it happened, neither Flair nor Hogan were still on top. Both had begun to move past their primes, and fan interest in each was waning. The opportunity to make huge bank on it had passed, as evidenced by Bash at the Beach's at best average buyrate despite months of hype leading up to it.

The moment had passed, and it was without a doubt a loss to the fans. But at least this loss could be blamed squarely on Vince. The same couldn't be said for...

Mohammed Hassan Proves Most Fans Are Racist Bigots

You have to give the WWE credit on this one. In spite of the fact that they hired an Italian to play an Arab-American, (Not unlike hiring an idiot to play a cartoon Italian more recently), the original idea behind Mohammed Hassan was a noble one. As Mohammed, Mark Copani was intended to be a face that would build bridges and help America get over it's irrational fear of Arab people post 9/11. His original promos were designed to convey a "Look, I'm just like you, we aren't all the enemy" message that, coupled with Copani's good looks and perfect english, would convey the image of a guy that was just another human being and shouldn't be judged by his ancestry.

It was a rare, noble, far-reaching idea from WWE Creative that could have done a lot of good.

If they hadn't seriously botched it from day 1.

Granted, that isn't his first debut vignette. I cou;dn't find that one online anywhere. His first vignette had a polite tone with no anger, and ended with Davari translating for him, also in a polite friendly tone.

And that was their mistake. Audiences watching the promo in arenas immediately began booing the shit out of it as soon as Davari started speaking. And in a complete show of no goddamned backbone or creativity under pressure, Creative immediately abandoned their original plan and made Hassan heel. After the first three weeks of nice friendly promos, the above video aired with Copani showing open hostility towards his fellow Americans.

Why did this idea bomb so badly? Because WWE wanted to believe the bulk of it's fans WEREN'T the stereotypical redneck trailer trash most non fans assume, (sadly quite correctly) that a good chunk of wrestling fans are. I was at a live venue when the first Hassan vignette aired on the tron. The Audience around me seemed mostly respectful and even applauded a few times when Copani as Hassan was talking about not judging and being just like us and how we should all try to get along and help foster peace. But hearing Davari speak, (In Persian actually, not Arabic), the audience turned immediately. Why? Because Davari, even in a friendly tone, sounded just like every muslim villain on TV and in movies, and the audience's instinctive racism took over.

Shawn Davari is a damned talented cruserweight and had every right to a spot on the WWE Roster. But not as Hassan's translator. Hassan should have stood on his own. Without Davari's "scary foreign language speaking" triggering the still very fresh and raw fears of the American audience, Hassan very well could have gotten over as a face, and his character could have actually helped America get over it's post 9/11 fears. Instead it fed into them and arguably made anti-muslim sentiment worse. And it cost Copani his job when Creative pushed the revised Hassan character too far by having him send masked thugs to choke the Undertaker until his face resembled that of a recently beheaded head, and the mainstream poress exploded in anger as the segment aired theday after the London Underground was bombed. Hassan was made the scapegoat while Davari got another year with the company as the Great Khali's original manager. Copani has since toured the Indies as Mark Magnus trying to put as much distance between himself and the Hassan character as possible.

Part two next week, as I'm still researching details on the last entry.