RBTR – The Giant Leap

Mitchell Gadd

Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of Reading Between The Ropes. Landing a WWE contract would be a dream come true for many an aspiring wrestler today. To be offered a place on the roster of the biggest wrestling company in North America today must feel like you’ve made it to the big time. However, gaining that illusive contract is only the start of the journey. There’s just as steep a hill and just as big a challenge once you’ve gained that WWE contract as there was when a wrestler initially makes the rounds on the Independent circuit. What I am referring to is the difficult, giant step one must take when successfully making the transition from Ohio Valley Wrestling to the realms of World Wrestling Entertainment.

What makes this step even more difficult is that the factors which determine whether a wrestler successfully makes the transition from OVW on to WWE television are not always in the wrestler’s hands. In fact, they’re much more out of the wrestler’s hands than in it. One could be blessed with all the ability in the world, but if road agents and talent relations within the WWE do not think you are ready and do not have the faith in your ability, then you’re likely to remain put. Of course, that also rings true for independent wrestlers hoping to initially gain that big Titan contract and, in essence, can be applied in any walk of life in any type of vocation. There is a bigger problem at heart. A much more difficult barrier to over come. Creative.

How many times have we heard the phrase “creative has nothing for (insert wrestler x here)?” Of course, this counts against the wrestler in question, despite the fact that it is creative’s job to come up with something for said wrestler and, when they don’t, it isn’t the wrestler who should be the one punished for it. Perhaps the threat of members of the creative staff being fired if they fail to come up with something for an athlete might actually give them the kick up the back-side that they so desperately require.

I’m not sure what’s worse, though; creative not having something for you, or creative having something for you that blatantly smacks of a career killer gimmick? Perhaps it would be better to stay put and bide your time until something better comes along. Of course, athletes don’t really have the luxury of turning down gimmicks that are designed to bring them on to WWE television. They have to take what’s given to them or lose their job, even if what’s given to them is an impossible situation that’s destined only to fail.

Paul Burchill gained that illusive WWE contract. He also impressed officials enough down in OVW to warrant being brought on to WWE television. Even better, they brought him on to WWE television as he was in OVW, a powerhouse of a wrestler billed on his sheer athleticism alone. However, that didn’t last too long. Now he has a gimmick of… a pirate? One has to wonder just what kind of miracles Burchill requires in order to escape this angle going anywhere but to Failureville. Even more worrying is what will happen to Burchill if this does fall through for him? “I’m sorry Paul, we put all our eggs in the Pirate gimmick basket. Creative has nothing for you any more.”

C.M. Punk is one of the most fundamentally sound athletes on the circuit today. Like many other wrestlers right now, Punk finds himself trying to make that giant leap towards a successful role on WWE television. Even if Punk does catch the eye and is called up to WWE programming, what’s to say he won’t be lumbered with a disastrous gimmick shortly thereafter? Perhaps he’ll be stuck on Velocity and Heat if and when he gets that call? Many wrestlers who get called up to WWE programming begin there time on the WWE B shows. Even with the right gimmick, a wrestler needs the time and the exposure to get over with the fans and, quite frankly, Velocity and Heart offer neither. There are so many barriers in the way and so many steep hills that make this one titanic step for an athlete.

Recently we saw the release of two tag teams that had come through the ranks of OVW. The Heart Throbs (or Heart Breakers, as they were known in OVW) and The Dicks were both released after unsuccessful runs on WWE television. One has to question why both these teams failed when they were HUGELY popular on OVW television and amongst OVW audiences. Paul Heyman did a fantastic job with both teams and both were extremely over in Ohio Valley Wrestling. I, for one, found the Heart Throbs vignettes where they were working out in the gym and trying to bulk up hilarious. If they’d have debuted with the same vignettes played in the WWE they’d most certainly have garnered just that little bit more interest from spectators. In fact, when I first saw the Heart Throbs I was completely uninterested with their characters and whole act. However, having now watched the OVW vignettes, I completely digged their schtick. Sometimes it takes little things like that to gain a fan’s interest. WWE did little to invest in either team, and now they are both out of jobs.

Another successful group of OVW athletes recently made their debuts on WWE programming. Ken Doane and Johnny Jeter, two extremely promising OVW talents, along with OVW veteran Mike Mondo, former Tough Enough alumni Nick Mitchell and Chavo’s former caddy Nick Nemeth. Guessed who they are yet? Yes, of course, they’re the Spirit Squad. The Spirit Squad only recently debuted on OVW programming before being switched to WWE programming. Ken Doane hadn’t even joined the group by the time they made their way on to WWE television. Paul Heyman had a lot of explaining to do in order to rectify the situation down in OVW. Doane and Jeter were two of OVW’s golden boys, and they should have a massive future in this sport. However, note the use of the word ‘should’.

If the Spirit Squad gimmick fails in the WWE, and there’s a BIG chance it could, what next for men like Doane and Jeter? Could they bounce back from gimmicks like that? Or, even more apt, would they be given a chance to bounce back from a gimmick like that? Nick Nemeth has gone from being a caddy to a cheerleader in his two call ups. If he ends up 0-2 on successful call up front, just who’s fault will that be? Even the best wrestlers or the best showmen can fail if they’re given a ludicrous gimmick. Mike Rotunda (or Rotundo, depending on who you listen to) was outstanding in his role as Irwyn R. Schyster… but, ultimately, he was still an evil tax man. Jeff Jarrett revelled in his role as Double J… but he was still a country music singer using the WRESTLING world to get back at the country music industry. Barry Darsow relished his role as the Repo man… but he was still a repo man repossessing wrestler’s accessories. No matter how much energy and talent you put in to a gimmick, you could still wind up being labelled as “wrestlecrap”, most likely through no fault of your own.

The Spirit Squad quickly caught the eye in OVW, but it’s often been ridiculed and mocked by fans since it’s transferral on to WWE television. This also goes to show just how different sets of fans can react differently to the same gimmick. OVW fans and WWE fans have reacted very differently to gimmicks like The Heart Throbs and The Spirit Squad. I hope Doane and Jeter, and to a lesser extent Mondo, get another chance should things not work out for them on WWE television as the Spirit Squad. Heck, all five of them deserve a chance and I hope it’s their wrestling ability that ultimately determines how many opportunities and how much investment creative gives to these guys. The Heart Throbs and The Dicks didn’t get much investment from creative. I sincerely hope the same fate doesn’t await the likes of Burchill, Doane, Jeter, et al.

Even if a wrestler is lucky enough to be persevered with, sometimes it can be too little too late. As likeable a character as Goldust is, there was once a time when Dustin Runnells was considered a big time player in the wrestling world. His matches in WCW for the Television and US titles as Dustin Rhodes were sensational, and it seemed he was destined for stardom. However, as well as he plays the Goldust role, there is only so far one can go with such a gimmick and, now, nobody will ever see Runnells as anything other than Goldust. This makes the allocation of gimmicks to new OVW stars, or established ones making the leap to WWE television all the more important.

The transition from OVW to WWE television is a precarious one. If unsuccessful, a wrestler may not get another chance to try again and, even if given that second chance by management, a wrestler may never recover from a horrendous gimmick. There are many factors working against a wrestler when making the step up from OVW to WWE television; different sets of writers and bookers, how creative introduces you and presents you to a new audience, the new audience itself and how they will react to your gimmick, the amount of exposure and time invested in you in order to get you over with the crowd. All of these factors and many more can work against you and help make the leap from developmental athlete to member of the full roster one of the most challenging a wrestler could ever face.

Until next time,

Mitchell L. Gadd

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