The Nostalgia Trap: Heading Into ‘Hell in a Cell,’ Does WWE Rely Too Much on …

October 22, 2015 - WWE

On Monday night, WWE had a Legends homecoming on Raw, trotting out “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, and Ric Flair to piquancy adult a record and build hype for Sunday’s Hell in a Cell pay-per-view. The lineup was also something of a exam run for subsequent year’s WrestleMania, that will try to set an assemblage record during Jerry World in North Texas, and rest positive that any wrestling fable who can travel to a ring will be there to fist each final sheet sale out of a fans.

Austin, Michaels, and Flair were assimilated in a march of yesteryear by a Dudley Boyz, a Undertaker, and Kane, all of whom had their heydays in a ’90s and are still actively wrestling — yet Taker’s light report these days resembles that of Punxsutawney Phil. Yet overall, a reversion thesis is tough to omit in new WWE happenings: Kane, who debuted in a ’90s, is wrestling Seth Rollins for a WWE championship on Sunday. Attitude Era good Chris Jericho is still on a highway with WWE, and he wrestled during a Night of Champions PPV. The Rock has been reimported from Hollywood for a series of large matches over a past few years. Triple H, a wrestler incited backstage exec, still works a integrate of matches a year, such as his WrestleMania 31 match opposite Sting, that featured sad run-ins by over-the-hill grappler posses a nWo and D-Generation X. In serve to that, DX members Billy Gunn and a Road Dogg had an endearing quip in WWE in 2014 and quickly this year as well.1

If you’re meditative that WWE requisitioned a Legends on Raw to boost flagging ratings, afterwards you’re substantially right. If we suspicion this bid would succeed, then, well, I’m fearful we have bad news. Despite all a venerable appearances, notwithstanding this being a go-home uncover before a dear PPV event, Raw rated a 2.21 share this week. There were extenuating resources — Raw ratings always humour during football season, and Monday Night Football this week had a reward captivate of a new Star Wars trailer. Even that stings, though, given even in a nostalgia match, WWE can’t win.2

There are a clearly gigantic series of channels and websites to occupy intensity viewers’ eyes, so it’s no warn that wrestling’s ratings numbers are trending down. But this was a notably low rating — with a disproportion of a Christmas Eve 2012 episode, it was a misfortune ratings opening by Raw since 1997. That’s eons ago in wrestling years, behind when a WWF register featured names like … a Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Rocky Maivia, a New Age Outlaws, and Goldust.3 Goldust (much like a Outlaws) was called adult in 2013 from his backstage purpose to resume his in-ring career to give a nauseating boost to a complicated story lines, teaming adult (and after feuding) with his real-life half-brother Cody Rhodes. The story line was intermittently intriguing — generally when they brought their dad, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, into a account — though it ran out of steam when Goldust went down with a shoulder damage in May.

Injuries in pro wrestling are partial of a deal, though they’re quite distressing when they occur to comparison performers. Wrestling allows for a special kind of masochism: If we can cocktail a throng and take a bump, afterwards we can wrestle, no matter your age. The mania that many former stars have to a spotlight is rivaled usually by promoters’ coherence on converting late stars’ fast recognition into financial gains — and fans’ unquenchable enterprise to see them combat “One some-more match!” Unsurprisingly, this regulation doesn’t always finish well. Fifty-six-year-old Sting came behind to combat for a WWE championship during Night of Champions final month, and he left with a back/neck injury that scuttled a designed finale of a match. The Undertaker was rushed to a sanatorium with a serious concussion after his compare opposite Brock Lesnar during WrestleMania 2014.

For a record, a categorical eventuality during Hell in a Cell is Undertaker vs. Lesnar again — this time inside a suggested steel cage. It’s being billed — aloud — as their last compare ever. Because of Taker’s age, it’s substantially a usually time WWE has overtly promulgated a line like that. Paul Heyman, Lesnar’s baroque-tongued advocate, betrothed that one of a dual combatants will travel out a leader and a other won’t travel out during all. The half-frightening, half-enthralling thing about Heyman’s guarantee is that listening to it in a moment, it sounded like a truth. Undertaker’s matches have always been must-see spectacles, though given WrestleMania 30, a philharmonic has been equal tools farewell debate and disaster porn. Odds are Taker will have another compare or dual after Sunday — it’s tough to suspect a WrestleMania in Dallas though him — though notwithstanding his years-long blood evidence with Lesnar, a Taker’s modernized age and prior injuries make adult a prevalent story line here. That a compare is inside a Cell, where assault is preordained and disaster is anticipated, usually underscores that.

There’s no denying that Undertaker can still put on a good match, and Sunday’s categorical eventuality should be one of a biggest matches that WWE has put on in a prolonged time. The co–main eventuality between Rollins and Kane won’t humour for Kane’s age — he’s a same in-ring participation he’s always been. And as with Taker, a feeling that we’re saying Kane’s feat path gives a compare some zest. And listen, carrying aged favorites like Austin, Michaels, and Flair cocktail adult is great, as prolonged as they’re used appropriately. we suspicion Shawn’s communication with Rollins on Monday was smart, and Flair’s bawling combined genuine view to his daughter Charlotte’s pretension win final month.

But these things don’t occur in a vacuum. They occur in a universe in that WWE has larded a broadband network with Attitude Era–related documentaries, homages to a Curtain Call of 1996, and histories of a Monday Night Wars. Much of a calm a WWE has constructed on those subjects is good. But for a nostalgia seeker, it’s secondary. If we wish to see my favorite legend, we can check out his podcast or his comedy act or his reality show or his metal band. we don’t need an opening promo on Raw to get that fix.

If we were unequivocally hungry for my Legends fix, we could also watch all of a aforementioned fellows in their heyday … on the WWE Network. The network is a good apparatus for archival functions and a earnest height for elaborating a business. It’s a benefaction for wrestling fans. But nostalgia is a passing emotion, not a story line. It can be a selling tool, though it’s not a surrogate for substance. When reliving a past takes dominance over building a present, that’s a problem.



Pro wrestling is a accumulation show, and there’s room for legends and rookies alike, usually like there’s room for monsters and dancers and wrestling bears. But this isn’t an evidence about calm as many as it is one about priorities. An mania with a past creates swell in a benefaction scarcely unfit — that’s obvious. It also creates a here and now some-more difficult. When he seemed on The Steve Austin Show, Vince McMahon pronounced a latest era of wrestlers hasn’t constructed conceptual stars given nobody has grabbed a coronet ring. He blamed it on millennials. The indicate was some-more shrewd than he substantially dictated it to be: The reason immature wrestlers have a harder time violation out is given they’re serve private from a late-’90s impulse that WWE can’t seem to stop obsessing over. A guest mark from an aged favorite can be a good impulse in a bigger show, though forever mining a past demeans a present. And when a stream product can’t get out from underneath a shade of a past given WWE’s finances are tied to a network and so to a glories of yesteryear, a guest spots also feel diminished. Fans can’t tell a disproportion between suggestive special appearances and a unconstrained circle-jerk of Legends–related selling synchronicity.

On Sunday during Hell in a Cell, we get Lesnar holding on presumably a biggest wrestler of his era in a Undertaker. We get Seth Rollins contra a workhorse Hall of Famer in Kane. We get a Dudleys holding on WWE’s newest sensation, a unblemished New Day. And there’s copiousness of reason to be vehement about a future, if blue-chippers like Roman Reigns, Bray Wyatt, Charlotte, Dean Ambrose, and Kevin Owens4 can comparison a old-school stereotypes in that WWE seems dynamic to execute them, even as McMahon blames a performers. But there’s a feeling that WWE can never shun a past, a mania with floating adult a territorial complement and overpowering a after opposition in WCW. Like an aging high propagandize football star, WWE is removing fat on a couch, reliving a excellence days.

That kind of nostalgia is dangerous — though not, we suppose, as dangerous as a intensity predicament of a 50-year-old male in a steel-cage genocide match. Kane, perhaps, is advantageous that he won’t be inside a cell, though his story line of late is each bit as harrowing.

Since his lapse final month, Kane has been occupying dual characters — a red-masked Demon Kane and a besuited Corporate Kane — and treating them as apart people. It’s misleading either or not he’s left crazy, though signs indicate to him operative a prolonged con. And as stupid as this plotline is, it’s indeed arrange of brilliant. Because Kane, a real-life submissive constant worker of WWE, has finally reached a finish of his career. And his bosses, a real-life execs Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, see him as a useful apparatus though not indispensably as a large draw, notwithstanding his years of use and his metaphysical ability to comparison each nonsensical gimmick that’s been bearing on him. So Kane works a separate celebrity shtick — a silliest gimmick possible, a ultimate of each reticent turn his impression has taken over a years — and he turns it on a head. He’s flouting a irrationality of it all, adventurous his bosses to call him on his antics. But they can’t, given to acknowledge that Kane is dual opposite characters — to acknowledge that a appurtenance has turn self-aware — would be violation kayfabe. And as many as a WWE register has been authorised to indulge in existence in new years, a onscreen management stays committed to wrestling’s grand illusion.

This is a guarantee of pro wrestling and a intensity of nostalgia. This story line works usually with someone who possesses as many story as Kane does, someone who has grown out of a Attitude Era and into a Reality Era. It’s a story line dual decades in a creation — nostalgia with genuine consequence. Best-case scenario, it’ll be a seriocomic master class, a wise send-off for a performer who’s brought us tons of fun over a years. Worst-case scenario, it’s a nostalgia trip, and we’d be improved off looking adult Kane highlights in a WWE Network archives.

As for Undertaker’s match, well, it’s nostalgia with a opposite kind of consequence. The best-case unfolding is that it becomes a compare of a year. Worst case, it’s a verbatim tragedy. Mick Foley, whose Hell in a Cell highlights roughly finished in catastrophe, told Peter Rosenberg that it’s indeed a good compare for an aging wrestler, that — unless you’re jumping off a roof — a infancy of a many brutal-looking spots are easy on an aged body. Maybe that’s true, though it won’t make saying Taker get forsaken from a tip of a enclosure (if it happens) any easier to watch. And we contend that as someone looking brazen to this compare some-more than any other compare we can remember. In Rollins-Kane, existence is played for farce. In Taker-Lesnar, a feign story line is genuine negligence for life.

It’s tough to watch your idols get old. Austin looks great, and so do Michaels and Flair, compared to some of their contemporaries. Undertaker and Kane are still wrestling, somehow, and a irony isn’t mislaid on anybody that they were both fundamentally expel as zombies and somehow those roles have turn a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it’s definite that a superheroes of a girl are confronting mortality. It’s generally uncanny that WWE would wish to march mankind around like a B-side of nostalgia, as it did on Monday’s Raw. But a stain of a rose-colored eyeglasses is powerful, generally when practical to a past. And if WWE skeleton to run out a aged guard, maybe now is a ideal time: Hell in a Cell, traditionally a many heartless PPV eventuality on a calendar, is when mankind is on hideous display.

So let’s wish for a good show, though one that doesn’t take too many out of wrestlers who’ve already given all for us. Here’s to anticipating Undertaker can travel out for a purposeless coming on Raw in a year or two.

  1. The other comparison adults in a following shave are a nWo again (Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and X-Pac), along with a APA (JBL and Faarooq, a.k.a. Ron Simmons).
  2. To be fair, a tangible series of viewers for Raw was somewhat aloft than a prior week, though there were some-more people examination TV this week overall.
  3. Mark Henry was also around, nonetheless it’s tough to call Henry a nostalgia act.
  4. And literally everybody in a pre-show match.

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