RBTR – Out With The Old, In With The New?

Mitchell Gadd

Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of Reading Between The Ropes. Unforgiven has snuck up on all of us and is just around the corner so one could be forgiven (pun not intended) for expecting an RBTR preview of this month’s PPV extravaganza. However, as I’m about to explain, there seems to be a pattern emerging in Raw’s recent decision-making in terms of the feuding.

I use the word extravaganza with some trepidation this month, because looking at this card it is painfully clear that Raw has really struggled to piece together a card which is worthy of major hype and excitement. While I do praise Raw for placing its younger superstars in matches where they may get a decent rub which could echo in a new era, I am also sceptical of the people they are being paired with or, indeed, the youngsters which the WWE have decided to push.

Of course, I use the word youngster in terms of wrestling experience and not in age experience, though that is also worth considering when evaluating how much time these guys have to improve and the extent to which they already have some degree of wrestling pedigree which should have served them well during their learning curve.

And there within lies the pattern. Chris Masters will challenge Shawn Michaels this Sunday. Carlito Caribbean Cool will defend his title against Ric Flair. Perhaps to a lesser extent one could also name the Tag Team Title match as one in which a pair of youngsters in terms of mainstream wrestling exposure will challenge two more experienced guys (however this is not a new phenomenon for the tag team division, especially in the modern-day era where teams are few and far between).

One could look at Sunday’s card with great significance. WCW was berated for failing to usher in new talent and push the younger guys ahead of the ageing stars whose better days were well and truly behind them. Has the WWE recognised that sooner or later they need to push the younger talent and begin to start the process of evolution in who dominates the bigger matches on their major PPVs? Or are they merely offering a false dawn for those who wish to see a changing of the guard.

Indeed, this Sunday presents a major opportunity for the WWE to signal their intentions. Is the time now, or is it too early to begin the process of inter-change? Perhaps the greater question, bearing in mind that the odds are stacked in favour of at least one of the aforementioned legends toppling their younger adversary, is whether passing up this opportunity would place the WWE in the same precarious position as WCW was all those years ago or, more accurately, merely signal a repeated mistake.

If Michaels were to bury Masters this Sunday, like so many people hope he will, I believe it would represent a repeated mistake. The WWE would not be anywhere close the position WCW was in if they were to book Unforgiven in favour of the older guys. It is important to note that WCW had many other mismanagement issues that one would hope the WWE does not suffer from. It is also worth mentioning that WCW had repeated chances to turn the corner or at least make an effort to with the positioning of younger guys on major PPV cards; the toppling of nWo’s long succession of victories over WCW at Starrcade 1997, the Goldberg era, the New Blood era, etc. etc. However, that’s for another column.

My point is that the WWE would have other opportunities to put the younger guys in the spotlight. If Masters were to lose to Michaels on Sunday then the next opportunity could be as soon as the next PPV. However, as much as Sunday is an opportunity to do something right, it is also a chance to really do wrong. If Masters were squashed like an idiot Sunday and if, heaven forbid, Carlito were to drop that strap to Flair, then the steps backwards would be too many to count.

Have the WWE made a conscious effort to push their younger guys right NOW, or has this opportunity accidentally fallen on to their lap amidst the changeover period that inevitably follows either of the big two PPVs in the calendar year? If it has accidentally fallen at their feet then are they smart enough to recognise the importance of the moment and adjust to the situation? Or will they merely sweep it under the rug for a later date?

The fact remains, whether you like him or not, Masters is worth investing in more than Michaels. Masters may not be the future, but he deserves a chance to prove that he could be. If one were to have 100 free minutes of schooling at the best wrestling academy one could find or, perhaps more fittingly with today’s generation, 10 superstar points on your created wrestler, you would sooner give those minutes/points to Masters than Michaels. HBK doesn’t need any of them. HBK’s… well, HBK. A loss on Sunday for HBK wouldn’t harm the man’s legacy. Indeed, a loss for Masters wouldn’t greatly harm his… unless he were not given his fair share of licks in the contest. Either way Masters has to be more than a mere irritation for Michaels. It has to be a struggle… a battle… a war for EITHER man to win.

A crushing defeat for Masters could well and truly shut the door on any chance of making it as a star. Fans are less patient these days, and would be less willing to except this man later down the line. While it would be brash to call this ‘now or never’ for Masters, it could be a situation where were it not for him to show his credentials in this outing, then he might have to wait a very long time before he gets another chance… perhaps too long. Someone else could have filled this definite void in the roster by then.

It must be pointed out that the onus is just as much, if not, more so, on Masters than it is on the WWE booking team. Masters must take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and seize this opportunity, irrespective of whether he’s given the nod or not.

Perhaps those that berate the abilities of a Masters aren’t against the promotion of younger talent, but merely a promotion of the RIGHT talent. One must applaud the WWE’s move to give the spotlight to an up-and-comer, to use an old-school phrase, but maybe they’re looking at the wrong up-and-comer. I’m a big fan of Carlito, and I do see potential in Masters, yet I would much rather see men like Paul Burchill and, most certainly, CM Punk given the opportunity. That is why I say I applaud the idea, without shouting from the rooftop about the execution.

Maybe this is a testing of the water, so to speak. If the younger talent were to prove their worth then perhaps we could see more of the same thing with different guys getting the same opportunities Masters and Carlito have got. Of course, that would be grossly unfair as it would be lumping all younger guys under one bracket as if they were all of equal abilities. As we know, this is not the case, but who knows what the WWE writing team is thinking?

If today’s column does nothing else, let it remind you that Sunday IS important to the future of the business, and that at least two of the matches on the card do hold some weight in what the mindset of the WWE writing/booking team is right now. While I am by no means touting Masters as the definitive future of the business, I am merely saying that guys LIKE him could be, and that when placed in matches like Masters is on Sunday against a veteran who will not be around forever, then perhaps it is best to think twice before calling for an instant mauling of the young lion.

Until next time,

Mitchell L. Gadd

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