The Mental Ward: It Pays To Be Bad…..


I first discovered pro wrestling in the mid-1980s. “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes doing battle with “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton inside a steel cage is one of my earliest wrestling memories. However, when I saw “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and Sting go 60 minutes at the first Clash of the Champions, I was hooked for life. THAT was storytelling. THAT was drama. THAT was pro wrestling. In my youth Hulkamania ran wild. In my high school and college years, The Attitude Era redefined the industry. In my adult years, things just haven’t been the same. A spark is missing. The sport I loved has morphed into something almost unrecognizable at times. Yet, I still watch. I cling to hope that pro wrestling will one day again return to past glory. Webster defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. Ladies and gentlemen, come on in. We’re all friends here. Welcome back to, “The Mental Ward.”

Being a pro wrestling fan these days is not an easy task. Well, if you’re 25 and under, I suppose it could be. Glaring weaknesses are obvious to a long-time fan that has stood the test of time watching this sport. When you think about it, people like myself have lived thru the territory days, the Hulkamania / Rock & Wrestling era, the Attitude Era / Monday Night War, and now we find ourselves in the midst of a social media conscious, anti bullying, PG rated, reality TV era of “sports entertainment”. Even pro wrestling has a way of coming full circle. Even though today’s corporate friendly model may appear like it is mimicking the glory days of the 1980’s, it’s really night compared that era’s day. There are several examples I could use to illustrate this point, but I’m just going to touch on one very important example.

The main thing that really bothers me today is the absence of true villains in professional wrestling. Where have all the bad guys gone? Nobody wants to be a true heel. Sure there are guys that get booed by the fans but they aren’t true old school heels. True heels in wrestling have no redeeming qualities. They take shortcuts and cheat to get ahead. They brag and run their mouths and never back it up. They are bullies. When challenged they back down and retreat. In short, they are everything that any sane individual would hate. Today most heels seem to try to be “cool”. They are interested in selling merch or getting a snicker from the “smart” fans during a promo. That mindset really came along during the Attitude Era when the nWo and DX, among others, gave a wink while delivering their promos in order to pop the boys in the back. Now it seems WWE is more than happy to dance on the grave of kayfabe every chance they get.

Today nobody is interested in garnering true heat. I mean the kind of heat that gets you shot at, stabbed, or incites a riot. A true heel says or does whatever needs to be said or done to piss off everyone in the building. You know the results of that behavior? People PAY money to see those heels get their comeuppance. In the WWE today there are three or maybe four real heels. They are all hated for different reasons. The best heel in the company is Stephanie McMahon. She seems to be the only person unafraid of getting under people’s skin. Seth Rollins displays heelish characteristics: he lies, he cheats, he retreats and acts cowardly, but his dazzling moveset makes him a fan favorite to some. Rusev is also a believable heel. His character is more old school because it is rooted in real world political tensions between Russia and the United States. The Miz is a smarmy, whiny, pretty boy, and is good on the mic. I think he would be best served as a manager going forward but at least he tries to get heat.

For whatever reason, the WWE refuses to turn their golden boy, John Cena, into a full blown bad guy. Every male over the age of 10 hates him already. That’s a whole ‘nother story. Ted Dibiase hopped on the money train when they ran the “Million Dollar Man” character by him. He said he knew right then and there where the money was. He was a true villain and the dude got paid. He was the top heel in the WWF for a good 4-5 year stretch in the late 80s. “Ravishing” Rick Rude dropped his pants once to show that he was wearing another set of tights underneath featuring the face of Jake “The Snake” Roberts then-wife on his rear end. Every man in the crowd was furious at Rude. Speaking of “The Snake”, he was gold as a heel. Remember when he crashed the wedding of “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth at SummerSlam 1991? He ended up in a feud with Savage that saw him latch a King Cobra onto Savage’s arm when he was helplessly tied up in the ropes. You think Jake cared about selling T-shirts to kids during that run?

The pro wrestling product is just more entertaining with a really good bad guy. Every super hero has an antagonist. Superman had Lex Luthor. Batman had the Joker. Spiderman had the Green Goblin. Pro wrestling has often been compared to a comic book come to life. Every hero needs a villain to vanquish. That dynamic just doesn’t work without a guy (or gal) that makes us hate them. The Von Erich’s never would have made the mark they did without the Fabulous Freebirds. Sting would never have become the attraction he became without, “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Hulkamania could have been a flash in the pan without “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, our hearts ached for Dusty Rhodes when he was constantly attacked by the Four Horsemen…but for some reason, there are no guys today that want to assume that role. It’s not like they weren’t making any money. The heels laughed all the way to the bank.

My column has become an endless rant about all things wrong with pro wrestling today, primarily the WWE. I’m not sure what has to be done to change things up. A rival promotion would greatly help. The PWA Show staff has been discussing this matter over the last few days. There are high hopes that, “Double J” Jeff Jarrett’s new upstart promotion, “Global Force Wrestling” becomes the rival promotion we need as wrestling fans. Hopefully they will eventually go head to head with the WWE, and by all means, be on a major television outlet that is available in every home in America. This might be our last shot. My worst fear is that pro wrestling is going to die a slow death. It’s already barely recognizable from the phenomenon it was 25 years ago. Eventually, these young wrestling fans are going to revolt against this bubble gum, PG style of sports entertainment much like my generation did in the mid 90s. The only difference is that we had a strong viable alternative, WCW. GFW may be just what the doctor ordered, but it may also be too late. As an eternal optimist, I hope I’m wrong.

There are great athletes in pro wrestling today, and they deserve an awful lot of credit. We tune in each week and watch a program in WWE Raw that hates the thought of offending anyone. If I were Vince McMahon, here is what I would do. I would create a character that was “Isis” like and have him do and say unspeakable things. I’d say “piss off” to anyone that didn’t like the direction we were headed and I’d start a major feud with John Cena. I’d have this character form a stable of like minded villains that would eventually beat the living hell out of yesterday’s hero, Hulk Hogan, leaving John Cena to take up the American Flag and save the day with his band of merry men as the crowd chants, USA! USA! USA! Oh, and this feud would materialize at “The Great American Bash.” That’s what I’d do. Are you angry about this idea? It hit a little too close to home? Do you hate me for suggesting such an awful character based on a despicable terrorist organization that hates America? I rest my case. As always, you can reach me on Twitter @jonward51.

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