Stupid People Doing Stupid Things, Wrestling Edition

Preface: This is a post about stupid things in pro wrestling. You may find it enjoyable. You might not. Either way, you’ve been forewarned. Terms not familiar to the layperson explained at the end of this post.

There’s been some truly head-scratching moments in recent days for pro wrestling fans. If you’re anywhere near the business, you can smell the stupid coming off major companies and those with decision making authority. The smell, of course, isn’t pleasant.

Guilty Party number one is Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, or Impact Wrestling. Currently under new management with Anthem Sports, a division of Canada’s “Fight Network,” TNA is going through the difficult measure of figuring out who to hire and who to fire in an effort to save the struggling promotion.

One target no one saw on the chopping block were the Broken Brothers, Matt and Jeff Hardy. Veteran tag team wrestlers, Matt recently revived his career with the “Broken Matt Hardy” gimmick that turned him into a wealthy lunatic with a Mexican gardener, a menagerie of zoo animals containing the souls of great warriors, and a lake that revived wrestler gimmicks long retired.

Broken Matt would feud initially with Jeff, who he called “Brother Nero,” in a singles program for the rights to the Hardy family name. The two would then team to face a group called “Decay.” Finally, an entire episode of Impact Wrestling with incredible amounts of lunacy was taped at the Hardy compound in Cameron, North Carolina.

These three bits, “The Final Deletion,” “Delete or Decay,” and “Total Nonstop Deletion” are best termed pro wrestling’s “Sharknado” trilogy. You will love them or hate them, but the general consensus is each is so bad it’s good. Regardless, each of the segments produced impressive ratings for a struggling pro wrestling promotion on Pop TV.

Contract negotiations didn’t go well with the Hardys. They felt so insulted by Anthem’s offers they didn’t even counter. They just finished out their dates, offered to drop the TNA Tag belts at a taping*, and then moved on to Ring of Honor, where they quickly won the Tag Titles.

Anthem countered by serving the Hardys with a Cease and Desist, claiming intellectual property rights in all of the Broken gimmicks, and demanding the duo cease using the Broken gimmick immediately.

This is not a good look for Anthem or Impact Wrestling, as Matt’s wife Reby Sky recently pointed out on Twitter. Among the organization’s egregious sins, “Senor Benjamin,” the gardener in the Broken universe, is Reby’s real life dad and was never under contract with Impact or Anthem. Asking him to stop being himself or threatening him with legal action is just plain stupid.

Matt’s more than likely ready to fight this should Anthem decide to make good on the threats of a lawsuit. He’s probably coaching Jeff on what to do in case something goes south. Jeff knows a thing or two about the legal system, so safe bet is he’s not exactly scared of a lawyer.

Anthem, back off. Get some sense. And rid yourself of the owl logo. That suggests wisdom, and picking a legal fight with the Hardy Boys doesn’t display much sense.

Guilty Party Number Two is the big dog in professional wrestling, WWE. In preparation for the Showcase of the Immortals, the organization announced on Twitter today the Undertaker would face Roman Reigns at Wrestlemania 33.

This is a hard level of stupid to measure, because it deals with an iconic WWE star, someone the federation has tried to get “over”** with the fans with no success for some time, and a Wrestlemania tradition called “The Streak.”

The tradition at Wrestlemania is the Undertaker never loses. For some reason, The Deadman is able to up his game at the company’s biggest yearly show and come away with a W. That would change on April 6, 2014, when former UFC World Heavyweight Champ and former NCAA Heavyweight Champ Brock Lesnar would end the streak in the New Orleans Superdome.

Ever since that year, the Undertaker has beaten his Wrestlemania opponent. Lesnar remains the 1 in 23 and 1, but Vince McMahon, the WWE’s top dog, wants Roman Reigns to get over with fans badly. He wants “The Big Dog” to get some sort of traction with the WWE Universe***, and it smells like Vince is considering asking ‘Taker to “do the honors”**** for Reigns this year.

If that happens, there will be riots. If there’s a person liked less than John Cena in WWE, it arguably has to be Roman Reigns. If there’s one person the WWE fanbase resents having shoved down its throats repeatedly, someone who can’t cut a promo without a Hollywood script writer handing him his lines hours before airtime, it’s Roman Reigns. A win over the Undertaker at Wrestlemania does no favors for Reigns or WWE.

First, it tarnishes Brock Lesnar’s beast-like credibility. Part of the beauty behind Lesnar’s status as the 1 in the 23-1 is that Brock is such a huge animal of a human being, he could have legitimately “gone into business for himself”***** during that match, beaten the piss out of the Undertaker, and cemented a legacy he shouldn’t have.

After the conclusion of their match, The Undertaker stumbled through the curtains before passing out. He left with Vince McMahon in an ambulance to a nearby hospital for concussion testing and an injury evaluation. Vince didn’t return to the Superdome that evening and watch the finish of his show. That’s unprecedented.

If Reigns defeated the Undertaker at Wrestlemania 33, doubling the Deadman’s losses, it doesn’t give Reigns any extra heat******. It just makes Taker look a little bit older and ready for retirement. It also takes the wind out of the excitement normally reserved for the Undertaker’s moment at Wrestlemania. He doesn’t make many appearances beyond that date, and fans pay good money to see him work.

WWE is on the verge of doing something very stupid with Roman Reigns and the Undertaker. I hope for the sake of the company, the boys in the locker room, and those who shell out their $9.99 a month they don’t double down on stupid.

*”drop the belts”=losing the titles to a team the promotion wants to have the belts

**”over”=successfully getting a desired reaction with fans. If you are a good guy, being “over” is getting cheered. Bad guys are “over” when they’re booed.

***WWE Universe=the name the promotion gives its fans

****”do the honors”=lose to the other wrestler

*****”going into business for himself”=deviate from the expected finish with the express intent of making yourself look good at your opponent’s expense.

******”heat”=forward momentum, alternately negative reactions to things you say or do.

Hulk vs. Gawk: A History of “Creative Control”

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Image Credit: Ryan Shipley

Hulk Hogan* won $115 million in compensatory damages from Gawker Media on March 18, 2016 on conclusion of his defamation trial. I had a pretty solid grasp Hogan knew he would win this case long before the trial began.  That’s because I’m a student of history, and know that Hogan doesn’t take calculated risks unless he’s damn sure it’s going to pay off.  If you weren’t paying attention to history, or how Hogan conveys his image and works a crowd, you wouldn’t have seen how he exercised his “creative control” in tandem with his attorneys to reach a favorable verdict.

I’m going to put you in the Wayback Machine** and show you how Terry “Not Hulk Hogan” Bollea’s history as a performer and his manipulation of reality brought him a jury verdict of $115 million.  I’m doing this because as I write this Hulk Hogan is magically being re-written into existence by his former employer, World Wrestling Entertainment, after being scrubbed from their history books eight months ago.  You can’t “pull a Benoit” on a guy who just won a major lawsuit against a media conglomerate and not be afraid of the repercussions in your own life, especially if you’re a publicly traded company.

The term “Pulling a Benoit” unfortunately requires a brief discussion of Chris Benoit.  Benoit, over a three day period in June of 2007, killed his wife and son, then committed suicide.  Benoit’s death was originally discussed on WWE.com and through their mobile alert services, and on June 25 the planned “Monday Night RAW” show was replaced with a tribute to Benoit’s life and career.  The next morning, police reports began to surface that Benoit may have killed his wife and son, then committed suicide.  That night, WWE aired a pre-recorded statement from its Chairman, Vince McMahon, before the “ECW” show began.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Last night on Monday Night Raw, the WWE presented a special tribute show, recognizing the career of Chris Benoit. However, now some 26 hours later, the facts of this horrific tragedy are now apparent. Therefore, other than my comments, there will be no mention of Mr. Benoit’s name tonight.

And there wouldn’t be a mention of Chris Benoit in the WWE “universe” ever again.  Benoit was scrubbed from the history books.  His name appears in very few places in WWE merchandise, and you won’t find a mention of him on the WWE network now.  This is what I call “pulling a Benoit.”: erasing someone from conscious thought by scrubbing mentions of him from the public eye.

Now let’s discuss Hulk Hogan.  Doing this requires going back to 1996, and a discussion of Hogan’s run in World Championship Wrestling, or WCW.

World Championship Wrestling in 1996 was hot commodity in the pro wrestling business.  Their New World Order (nWo) storyline was so hot  people watching TV would call the police over filmed backstage segments they believed to be actual gang violence.

Hogan’s WCW career, however, was floundering.  Despite a ticker-tape parade announcing his arrival, and getting numerous headlining spots, all eyes were on the formative days of the nWo.  Hogan wanted those eyes on him, so he decided to do something he’d not done in thirteen years.  Hulk Hogan would turn heel (become a bad guy), and in a major way. This was an incredibly calculated risk, because it could have destroyed his career. Hogan would have to kill “Hulkamania” to pull this off and he knew it.

When you spend over a decade crafting an image of the “Real American,” making the “Hulkamania” brand something that’s recognized positively on the psyche of the viewer, a heel turn will kill that image and carries the potential to backfire heavily.  Hogan knew this, so he made sure that it would count financially for him in the long run.  His next contract with WCW would grant him more benefits than most talents would ever get in their professional careers.  Hogan knew his next contract would be ridiculous, because he’d be negotiating from a position of power.  And when contract negotiations began, “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan would exploit that power ruthlessly.

His 1998 four year contract with WCW guaranteed Hogan would earn $24,250,000, bare minimum.  Hogan would get revenue from the gates at house shows.  He’d get a percentage of Pay Per View sales based on buy rates.  He’d get ludicrous amounts of royalties from merchandise, even going as far as to get a “promoting” fee for the nWo.  First class air fare, paid for by Turner Sports, the ability to work any schedule he wanted, and even creative control over the way his character was booked.

E. Bollea shall have the approval of the outcome in all wrestling matches in which he appears, wrestles and performs, such approval not to be unreasonably withheld.

That’s the “creative control” clause, and it’s going to be important later.  Hogan became obsessed with having “the approval of the outcome” in any of his life events, not just pro wrestling matches. He would take that obsession and and would leverage his “creative control” straight through to his favorable verdict against Gawker.

Let’s move forward to July 24, 2015, when Hulk Hogan issues a statement apologizing for using the Word White People Must Not Use Anytime as audio from the sex tape is released.  This apology wasn’t enough for his former employers.  WWE fired Hogan, removed him from their Hall of Fame, and began to “pull a Benoit” on Hogan by scrubbing as much as they could from their history books.

And so the WWE has not only terminated their contract with Hogan for his damning words, but it’s also completely removed him from many areas of its website. In a situation similar to former wrestler Chris Benoit’s murder-suicide back in 2007, the WWE apparently wants to make it look like they’ve never had anything to do with Hogan, even removing him from their Hall of Fame listing. (emphasis added)

WWE didn’t just “pull a Benoit” on Hogan.  They even issued a statement “disavowing” their relationship with him, because a publicly traded company can’t have talent saying bad words in the name of diversity.

“WWE terminated its contract with Terry Bollea (a.k.a. Hulk Hogan). WWE is committed to embracing and celebrating individuals from all backgrounds as demonstrated by the diversity of our employees, performers and fans worldwide.”

Now let’s move to the present day, where Hulk Hogan sued Gawker Media over their dissemination of a one minute and forty second excerpt of his sex tape. That defamation suit was a calculated risk for Hogan, and he knew it.  Hogan’s been a performer all his life in a physical version of improv, so the end result was a masterful display of Hogan and his legal team exercising “creative control” over the outcome of his lawsuit.

He can’t sue them in Federal court for defamation, so the case gets in front of a Tampa jury, where Hogan is a local celebrity, lauded by many.  He’s allowed by the judge to wear a “plain black bandana” as part of his courtroom attire.  He won’t get to call himself “Hulk Hogan,” though.  He’s “Terry Gene Bollea” for the trial. No worries.  Hulk Hogan’s had “creative control” over his life even after he left professional wrestling, and so this entire trial is now on lockdown for a Hulkster-friendly verdict.

Absent the name “Hulk Hogan,” the new argument becomes there’s two people in discussion.  One is Hulk Hogan, the public figure who boasts about the size of his “python” and his sexual prowess on radio.  The other is Terry Bollea, and Bollea has an expectation of privacy Hulk Hogan does not.  Bollea was upset his privacy was invaded by Gawker’s dissemination of one minute and forty seconds of the sex tape made eight years ago.

All the while, the jury isn’t seeing Terry Bollea.  They’re seeing Hulk Hogan talking about a man named Terry Bollea.  This Tampa jury is seeing Hulk Hogan, a man always fights “for what’s right” tell them a guy named Terry Bollea had his privacy invaded, and that’s wrong.  The “Hulkamaniacs” on the jury listened and gave Bollea $115 million in compensatory damages.

With that $115 million verdict the WWE is working full-time to restore the Hogan name to their “universe.”  Don’t be surprised if Hogan gets his Legends contract reinstated and a return to the Hall of Fame.  WWE doesn’t want a lawsuit when their biggest focus is keeping shareholders happy, especially not against a man who just won a defamation suit against a media conglomerate over his hurt feelings.

“Pulling a Benoit” on a dead guy who committed a reprehensible act is one thing.  Doing the same thing to a guy over a word uttered eight years ago on a sex tape who just scored bank doesn’t look good when you understand his ability to leverage “creative control” into hundreds of millions of dollars. Vince McMahon and his legal team have been watching the outcome of this trial, and they know Hogan’s history. They know how he’ll take the benefits of a calculated risk and exploit it for maximum gain.

And they’re afraid of what he’ll do if his focus turns to Titan Towers.

*He’s Hulk Hogan.  I don’t care that his real name is Terry Gene Bollea.  You spend a lifetime calling yourself “Hulk Hogan,” that’s what I’ll call you.

**A series of references and a discussion of Hulk Hogan requires a return to this video: