#51: Why I Love The AuthorityThe arena turns a sickly shade of green as the first notes of Motörhead’s gut churning riff echo through the air. Triple H, once chief rebel of an outlaw band but now clad in a business suit, his hair cropped short, his trademark handlebar beard a thing of the past, steps out and walks methodically to ringside. There are no histrionics, no blowing of water into the sky from the apron’s edge. This is not man you used to know. The Game has changed the game, and everybody in that locker room is going to toe the line, or suffer for it. He has back up too. Daddy’s Little Girl has grown up; no longer the weak willed, petty harridan once labelled a “bottom-feeding trash bag ho” she now exudes the grace of a lioness. Her fourth decade has been kind to her; she has grown into herself, become a woman in truth as well as name. By their side is their champion, Randall Keith Orton, once personally groomed for greatness by Hunter. Having discarded his awkward attempt at being a fan favourite, his entitled arrogance is perfect for the scene, for this display of power. The belt over his shoulder looks like it belongs there. He is the heel champ incarnate. Around the ring are the enforcers, three black hearted mercenaries in SWAT clothes, standing insouciantly, daring some foolish rebel to try to attack their paymasters.
I love The Authority. Conceptually, visually, narratively. I’ve adored the direction they’ve given the product, and the way they’ve made Monday Night Raw feel vital again. I appreciate the way their antics have allowed babyfaces to develop emotional ties to an audience desperate for them to vanquish the bad guys. I enjoy chuckling along to the promos that push at the fourth wall. Many will violently disagree with me. Some will quote ratings; others will claim a favourite wrestler has been buried. There will be a few fans that agree that the company is better off with consistent stories, but who feel that this has been the wrong story. Well, look, I’m aware that I’m probably not going to change too many minds that think that way, but I owe it to myself and to you, the reader, to explain why I feel that this is the best WWE product since the Smackdown brand in 2003.
If there’s one thing I have consistently criticised WWE for over the past number of years, it’s for their complete disregard for consistent long term storytelling. Now, I’m not naïve enough to think that everything in pro wrestling is going to exist in the same continuity, but I do like history to be referenced and I do like overarching stories that take in a good portion of the roster. I suppose that’s the lingering influence of teenage and early adult years spent watching the Attitude Era. The moment that the Authority began to coalesce on the Raw after Summerslam, I suddenly regained faith in the creative team’s ability to come up with an interesting long term storyline. Yes, it borrowed heavily, particularly in the beginning, from the Corporation angle of 1998 and 1999, but wrestling has always cannibalised its own past, and when the story is as good as that one was, and a whole generation of fans have never seen it, well, I say why not use it again? William Shakespeare did not write a single play that came from his own imagination; he mined sources from his education and from popular publications of the time, including the plays of his own contemporaries. There is a long and rich tradition of stories being recycled. So originality is not a valid criticism as far as I am concerned.
For the second half of the last decade, creative generally gave the audience only individual, short term angles that resolved themselves within that particular bubble. The one true exception was the advent of the Nexus, but it became clear very quickly that the company hadn’t really planned that piece of plotting out much past Summerslam and it quickly lost momentum. When Randy Orton won the red Money in the Bank briefcase in July and Daniel Bryan was booked to go over John Cena clean in the main event of the second biggest show of the year, it was clear that, for the first time in an age, creative had a long term narrative arc in mind. What I’ve appreciated most is that it was not just “The Beard vs. The World” as it might have been if this had happened a year or so before. The plot encompassed a large swathe of the midcard, too. Ziggler spoke up against the regime and was targeted by The Shield for his troubles. Cody Rhodes said the wrong thing at the wrong time and had to wrestle for his job in a thrilling contest against The Viper that took him to a level of babyface stardom few could’ve imagined before. By the time Goldust returned to attempt to get his brother reinstated, a story which rapidly drew in The Big Show and the patriarch of the Rhodes family, the American Dream himself, there was huge heat in the midcard as well as up top between Bryan and Orton. The side effect? The tag titles were elevated, Cody was pushed back into a prominent role, and The Shield added yet more stellar tag matches to their resume. As a side note, we should not forget how horribly Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns had started to drift after Extreme Rules; this angle refreshed them. Furthermore, I’ve spoken before of my love for the way the World’s Largest Athlete became a deeply sympathetic hero for the crowd to root for, and his journey- from kayfabe interview to reluctantly doing The Authority’s bidding, from being fired to rogue revenge acts, from lawsuit to title tilt- was beautifully charted by the writing staff, in my view. The thing to remember is this: the neo-corp narrative has reinvigorated the careers of several upper-midcard talents and serves to make Daniel Bryan’s ultimate triumph more meaningful.
Yes readers, it all comes down to the thorny issue of D Bry, doesn’t it? If you believe he was buried, there’s little I can do to change your minds. But he wasn’t. He wrestled in four consecutive pay-per-view main events: the first two saw him cleanly pin John Cena and Randy Orton (despite the fast count “abeyance” situation that followed), the third had a dusty finish and in the last one, he only lost because Shawn Michaels treacherously kicked his head off…and lest we forget, the next night on Raw, the American Dragon practically wrenched Sexy Boy’s shoulder off in the middle of the ring. Moreover, Bryan had to leave the main event after Hell in a Cell. He’s been denied by circumstances, by a damned formidable heel faction, the one I detailed at this column’s outset. Have his reactions got any less loud? No! Has he stopped appearing prominently on Monday Night Raw? No! Does his storyline with the Wyatt Family mean that he won’t return to the main event in time for Wrestlemania? NO! NO! NO! NO! I believe that many fans have reacted with this vehemence because their favourite wrestler isn’t champion. My favourite singles wrestlers growing up were Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude and ‘The Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase. Did any of those men ever hold the top title in the Hulkamania era? No, they didn’t. But did I, as a ten-year-old kid, refuse to watch the product anymore because Rick Rude had not beaten The Ultimate Warrior for the top strap at Summerslam ’90? Of course not. Daniel Bryan is on your TV in a prominent card placing every single week. Just enjoy watching him perform; don’t waste your time howling at the moon to no purpose.
People continually raise the path of ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin in reference to the Yes Man. They say that Vince McMahon channelled the white hot reactions the Rattlesnake was receiving at precisely the right time and pulled the trigger on a push that made Austin the hottest property since Hogan. This is, at best, a selective reading of history. From his face turn in the main event of Wrestlemania XIII, it took a full year for Austin to ascend to the title. At In Your House: Cold Day In Hell, two months after the turn, the Bionic Redneck faced The Undertaker for the WWF Championship…and he didn’t win. Was he buried by Vince McMahon? Of course not. I have said this every week since Summerslam, it seems to me, but imagine the confetti raining down on the bearded wonder after pinning a unified champion in the main event of Wrestlemania and tell me that wouldn’t be better than him winning the title at a nothing pay-per-view like Hell in a Cell, or defending his title against a Cena-less top echelon in the aftermath of the Summer Classic. People hating on the Wyatt story currently ongoing, I beg you to remember that this too may be tied to The Authority due to the elusive “Devil” referred to by Bray during his first beatdown of the American Bandwagon. Moreover, CM Punk, another wrestler some claim has been marginalised, has turned his attention to The Shield, in a thrilling case of “I created you, and I can destroy you.” The storyline continuity would have been staggering if it had happened a year ago, whereas now, it’s gloriously normal, and even better, one can foresee a roadmap to Triple H vs. CM Punk and a whole lot of fourth wall references to the 2011 storyline which was infamously mishandled and ultimately aborted.
You see, if you’re prepared to look beyond your impatience to see Bryan’s rise to the title and Punk’s ascent to special attraction status happen RIGHT NOW then you should be able to see that The Authority has made the Road to Wrestlemania exciting, unpredictable and potentially thrilling. In yet another example of past stories being brought to light, John Cena and Randy Orton are now poised to face each other in a unification battle that draws on all of their kayfabe history as well as the fourth wall reality of their status as Vince’s picked studs since 2002. It’s tough to predict a winner, but you can see the motivation dripping from the pair of them and I am excited about the kind of main event blockbuster they’ll put together at TLC. If there is a winner, if there isn’t a winner, it throws open all manner of possibilities for Wrestlemania season, whether that be the Rumble and the Chamber, or a Raw main event of the sort we got between Punk and Cena back in February. The chess pieces are beginning to move and I have a feeling that we’re going to have one hell of a game on your hands. And if you’re not excited by the most unpredictable ‘Mania period for years, then I really don’t know what to tell you.
As I said at the beginning of this piece, there’s a good chance that my reasoning for loving The Authority and their roster encompassing narrative will fall on deaf ears here. I don’t mind that, because after all, this page exists for the purpose of debate. I am also fully aware that the likes of Ziggler and Mizanin did not ultimately benefit, and also that there have been missteps on television from time to time. Taken as a whole though, the storyline has been a roaring success and I hope you’ll see at least some of WWE’s recent work in a kinder light as a result of this column. They’ve embraced storytelling, elevated talent and tried to create a less “safe” product, things we all wanted from them. Give them a break.
And on that note, this is Maverick, requesting flyby!