Monsters in Pro-wrestling: Cult Success and B-movie Awkwardness

Bray Wyatt after scalping the Monster Kane last year, credit:

Bray Wyatt after scalping the Monster Kane last year, credit:

2014’s Extreme Rules PPV and the RAW following it have suffered a great deal of criticism in relation to two separate monstrous characters: Bray Wyatt and Kane. In Wyatt’s case, the criticism wasn’t directed at the almost universally lauded Wyatt specifically, but the booking of his cage match with John Cena which saw Wyatt win, but only after a great deal of help from his two regular followers, Harper and Rowan, and an extra follower, a child singing Bray’s ‘Whole World’ refrain with a demonic voice. In Kane’s case, there has been criticism of his presentation being hokey during his feud with new(ish) WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Daniel Bryan; indeed I have heard two separate comparisons between Kane on RAW and the popcorn horror film, ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’. It may seem crazy to describe Wyatt as a ‘realistic’ character here, but that’s precisely what i’m going to do in comparison to Kane while hoping to rebuff criticism of Wyatt and his Extreme Rules match.

Bray Wyatt defeated John Cena at Extreme Rules. That alone is a fantastic boost for Wyatt as a character and potential ‘main eventer’, but for many it was tainted by the fact that Cena was clearly the stronger fighter in the match, only losing because his attempts were repeatedly scuppered by Wyatt followers. The problem with that is that it relies on a ‘textbook’ approach to wrestling where ‘looking strong’ is all that matters for key wrestlers, and where all wrestlers have the same background, skills, and motivations as each other. Bray Wyatt is scary, and his over the top performance of offense is very unique and fitting of his maniacal character; so I certainly don’t believe Wyatt is being depicted as someone who can’t beat anyone, but Bray Wyatt is a wrestler who – and I think this is deliberate – has a degree of physical vulnerability, but gets a lot of his power from how he presents himself. In short, he is the perfect depiction of a cult leader: an ordinary man who gains power through charisma and brainwashing. Bray Wyatt has been one of my favourite wrestlers and characters since his start on NXT, and he is becoming the most realistically-drawn character in WWE today, and perhaps the problem is that realism isn’t always the first concern in pro-wrestling matches.

To apply this to Wyatt’s cage match with Cena, it was a great example of how a cultish can use his ‘powers’ to overcome a stronger opponent. Wyatt as a wrestler could beat lots of wrestlers on his own; he isn’t some helpless jobber, but remember, he was facing the most unbeatable wrestler in at least ten years in John Cena, and that was something Wyatt could never achieve on his own. Thankfully, that is perfect for him. The key here is that Wyatt is not special in any tangiable way – he is not a ‘demon’ or impervious to pain, but he has the incredible ability to make people believe he is, and gain followers through his somewhat-sensical but warped view of the world and it’s heroes. It is this power that allows him to engender help from a pair of scary country-hosses who are mentally incapable of rejecting Wyatt’s ‘truth’, to scare ‘normal’ people like John Cena and make him question himself, and ultimately makes him capable of beating anyone, half with his physical skills, and topped up by dominating the mind of his opponent. I don’t mean he uses ‘mind control’, I mean he psychologically dominates them with his charismatic, earnest, melodic delivery; it puts whoever he is facing at a disadvantage, and even more so when the ring is surrounded by ‘followers’ who will do anything for him, so brainwashed are they.

Cena confronted by a brainwashed Wyatt-follower, credit:

Cena confronted by a brainwashed Wyatt-follower, credit:

Even when looked at as a fraud, this idea of Wyatt seems crazy, but then again, it is a lot easier to suspend that disbelief as soon as you type “Jim Jones” or “David Koresh” in to Wikipedia. That is what makes Wyatt so great, and so genuinely scary because, though rare, this sort of devotion, and abuse of that devotion is possible, with Wyatt playing up to it so convincingly that people genuinely worry for him as a human being away from the ring. While the match with Cena at Extreme Rules was probably a little overbooked, and maybe taken a little too far with the sheer amount of interference and the Wyatt’s ending up in the cage etc, I think the general idea at play was perfect. Man-on-man, Cena would always beat a non-cultist Wyatt every time, because Cena would beat most other wrestlers every time, or nearly every time. But for a cultist Bray, he would use the interference of his dedicated followers, and his psychological abuse of Cena through a genuinely scary brainwashed child to help him beat ‘The Franchise’ at all costs; and then use that victory to reaffirm his power. This is a perfect way to present such a different, unique talent, and I hope it continues like this for a long, long time.

One area I agree with a lot of criticism recently is to do with how Kane has been presented. It wasn’t so much his match with Daniel Bryan at Extreme Rules that bothered me, but the follow-up the next night on RAW. Where Wyatt is all talk, so to speak, Kane is, in kayfabe, a genuine fire-throwing monster. Now don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed the supernatural logic behind the Brothers of Destruction in the past – silly as it really is, both Kane and Undertaker have in the past been great at playing supernatural beings/monsters within a wrestling context and within some defined internal logic; the problem here was the presentation. While I feel the supernatural characters I was just discussing have maybe reached a shelf-life (for now at least), I would be ok with it if it was within the same wrestling context and logic they have always lived within, but in Kane’s case on RAW, they moved outside of that. As I mentioned, I have heard more than one flippant comparison to ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ in relation to this presentation, and it’s not inaccurate either. Kane has had these powers for most of his careers, but it has all taken part in the context of a wrestling ring/arena and has had a lot of power by being shot in the same way as the rest of the show (backstage segments, pyro from the ring/stage as if he controls it, etc), but this past Monday, it became this movie-like presentation, with reverse angles and a universe outside of the arena. Wrestling always requires some suspension of disbelief (blood feuds being solved with formal wrestling matches, only ever doing anything on Mondays in agreed upon arenas, etc), but we accept that as long as everything makes sense in context as the rest of the show. The Kane segments ripped that apart because while Bryan and Brie Bella showed up to the arena because that’s just what happens, they immediately wanted to get out of there, and their escape was suddenly filmed like a milktoast horror movie. From the ‘car troubles’ to the in-car reverse angles of the action, it felt different, a splice of pro-wrestling and horror movie, and it became almost nauseatingly awkward as a result.

A mystery camera films Brie and Daniel as the prepare to flee the arena. Credit:

A mystery camera films Brie and Daniel as the prepare to flee the arena. Credit:

While I find Wade Keller of the pro-wrestling torch a frequent indulger in pessimism and narrow-mindedness, he made a very good point about it on this week’s pro-wrestling torch – this would have worked so much better if it would have been in a pro-wrestling context, for instance, Renee Young interviews Bryan and Brie backstage when Kane appears to menace them with Bryan and Brie reacting in whatever way you want them too and have a backstage fight/chase. Just by doing that, it fits in to the wrestling context and logic; instead we got a not terribly threatening ‘monster’ falling off a car before it cuts to him sat lying perfectly flat on the floor and sitting up like Michael Myers or something. None of it rang true, and therefore, none of it rang scary. No doubt Bryan will show up again next week, and so will Brie, and they’ll both be terrified again.

Speaking of which, why is out new HERO BABYFACE WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION running away from a threat!? If you buy the somewhat patronising angle that he’s ‘protecting his wife’, then he should have told Brie to get out of there while he deals with Kane. Instead, Bryan looked as scared of Kane as Brie despite beating him the night before. What are we to think of Bryan now? The tenacious undersized peoples champion we’ve loved for years is running away from an obstacle! He’s coming across as cowardly and a bit stupid thanks to this, and I think we should all heed Mick Foley’s twitter warning that this is starting to seem like the Zack Ryder angle which turned him from Internet and US Champion, to well, essentially nothing important. Bryan is much much better than Ryder, will wrestle better matches with Kane, and will move on successfully, but I just worry this will effect his longevity as a top hero, and I hope the Yessing never ends, despite this nonsense.


NFL Draft 2014: Why Johnny Football Will Stay in Texas and the Jaguars Will Make the Biggest Splash

Johnny 'Football' Manziel making his signature 'Money' gesture, credit:

Johnny ‘Football’ Manziel making his signature ‘Money’ gesture, credit:

The NFL Draft is always a hot-bed of intrigue and speculation, from General Managers leaking false reports to outwit their competitors, to mock draft upon mock draft upon mock draft – all with different angles and opinions about what will happen when Commissioner Goodell takes the podium at Music City Radio Hall. The one thing that it seems everyone is agreed on is that the later date of the Draft this year is making everyone increasingly frustrated for the event to come, lost in repeated conversations and ‘big questions’ that have now been exhausted. Maybe it is that frustration that has led to me writing this article – needing to pass some time before the Draft next week. The last NFL post I wrote was about how Seattle would crush Denver in the Superbowl, so I advise that you heed my savant-like words about this draft.

Another reason I decided to write this post is that I have a projection for the draft which seems to go against a strong consensus of both fans and ‘draft experts’. On most boards, South Carolina potential once-in-a-generation Defensive End Jadaveon Clowney is going to be picked first overall; a projection which seems to make a lot of sense if you buy Clowney as the All-Pro he is projected as. Further, the argument goes that the team in possession of the #1 pick – The Houston Texans – will take Clowney to add to a Defensive line that also includes former Pro-bowler and NFL Defensive Player of the Year, JJ. Watt to complete a fearsome pass-rush that would undisputedly be the best in the league (and potentially, ever). If they were to do that, teams would certainly struggle to score on them and the Texans would be taking balls away left, right, and centre; and often-times, a great defense can lead to a championship team.

Jadaveon Clowney, the once-in-a-lifetime prospect and #1 prospect in this year's draft. Credit:

Jadaveon Clowney, the once-in-a-lifetime prospect and #1 prospect in this year’s draft. Credit:

This post wont be arguing that that’s a stupid approach because it isn’t, and if the Texans take Clowney I will neither be surprised or dismissive, but all that being said, I will argue that the Texans as a team will benefit more by going in a different direction in their draft. This is based on a simple premise: the current starting QB for the Houston Texans is Ryan Fitzpatrick, and that isn’t good enough. Fitzpatrick is an ok player, a journeyman veteran, but there is no reason to think he can run a dynamic, successful offense – he never has before, has just joined the Texans, and seems more like a back up or safety net than a feasible starter. The Defense may not concede many points, but the Offense wont be scoring many points either – there will be a lot of low-scoring games involving Houston this year if they take Clowney. That’s a risky strategy when they face teams with good Offensive lines and quarterbacks who can release the ball quickly and successfully as a response to pass rush.

Meanwhile, this year’s Quarterbacks class is a deep one with some special talent, and none more special – in every way – than Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. Compared to other Quarterbacks in this class, Manziel seems much less like a development prospect and the most pro-ready prospect – an exciting mobile quarterback who can inject some dynamism and creativity in to an offense held down in the past by Matt Shaub’s limitations. Future Quarterback classes may come and go, but no-one knows what the standard of talent will be; but what is clear is that the Texans need a franchise quarterback, and won’t be a serious competitor until they get one, so it isn’t time to wait on the most important position on the team.

Add to the equation that the Texans do have a great and already successful blind-side rusher in JJ Watt and a good D-line already, the addition of Clowney may be an exceptional addition to an already relative-strong spot, but I argue that it is plainly better to fill a huge team need while keeping a good D-line that the team already has, and if the Texans really feel a need to add to their Defensive line, they can always trade for or sign more defensive linemen in due course and a lot more easily than it is to find a successful franchise quarterback. There are also the extra intangibles of taking Manziel, especially for a Texas expansion team. Any team Manziel goes to will instantly have a much higher profile, huge fan interest, shirt sales, TV time etc that helps build a successful franchise; and in Houston’s case, taking the darling of Texas will only increase that effect. That extra element makes Manziel a once-in-a-lifetime pick for the Texans specifically, and someone they must be looking at much closer than onlookers seem to be crediting.

While it seems to me that some quarterbacks like Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr might fall to the second round. Manziel and some others who are in the highest echelon of QB talent, however, will almost certainly not fall out the first round, if not the top 10 picks, and if the Texans trade down and there is a run of Quarterbacks, they could miss out altogether. So though – objectively – Clowney is the #1 talent in this year’s draft, I predict that one of the many shock’s of this year’s draft will be the very first pick, Johnny Manziel to the Houston Texans.

So if Manziel does indeed go to the Texans, where will Clowney go? Well that brings me to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

A lot of people would never anticipate Clowney dropping from #1, so they would anticipate him dropping to #3 even less, but it is nonetheless what I see happening. Once again, I would not be shocked if the St. Louis Rams take Clowney at #2, but they are a team with a much bigger need at Wide Receiver than at Defensive Line due to lack of depth as well as due to a need to give their Quarterback – be it Bradford or a new quarterback with their second first round pick at #13. There are two receivers with game-changing talent in the draft: Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans, but neither will be there at #13, so the Rams will want to take one at #2, and Sammy Watkins is certainly deserving of a #2 pick; so that’s why I see the Rams taking Watkins at #2 and therefore, Clowney dropping again.

Clowney is another player who – though to a lesser extent than Manziel – has a franchise, attention-grabbing feel to him, and Jacksonville don’t just have a need at Defensive Line, but they have a need in terms of interest and energy in the franchise. Clowney fits both, the Jaguars will be delighted to see him still on the board, and will announce that pick within seconds of them being on the clock.

Teddy Brdgewater, the Louisville QB who has slid dramatically down most draft boards. Credit:

Teddy Brdgewater, the Louisville QB who has slid dramatically down most draft boards. Credit:

But it won’t stop there for the Jaguars. I hinted before at the likelihood that some very talented Quarterbacks could fall to the second round – most infamously, Teddy Bridgewater, who was projected just a month or two ago as a potential top of the first round talent, but has fallen steeply following a disappointing pro day. A disappointing pro day is hard to explain as it should be a gimme performance for a top Quarterback, but it is not the same as his impressive outings for Louisville. Depending on what St. Louis do with their second pick in the first round, I see Bridgewater still being on the board when Jacksonville come to pick in Round 2. I added the Rams caveat there as there has been speculation that they could take a quarterback at some point in their first round picks, but I don’t buy that; I think they still believe in Bradford and were just a bit too keenly supportive of him recently to make it seem insincere or trickery. Call it intuition if you like.

So, by means of an advantageous turn of events, the Jaguars could end up with both Jadaveon Clowney and Teddy Bridgewater: two players who were at different times projected as top-five prospects, and one of whom is almost certainly the top talent in the draft. If the picks do indeed go that way, it could be a brand new start for a Jacksonville team banished to 3 years of London games due to the franchise’s mediocrity. They are in a division with the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans, who will provide some pretty stiff completion, but those moves could make the Jaguars competitive, or certainly more competitive in that division. The main thing is that the team would be suddenly one of the freshest and most exciting attractions in the league, starting right off from making the biggest splash in the 2014 Draft.

Of course, if and when teams start trading picks, it could affect the delicate eco-system I have imagined here, but that’s all part of the fun of the draft, and it really can’t come fast enough …