The Irresistible Force
Bob Schrader is a long-time WWE fan who has attended 11 WrestleManias. Bob grew up in the New York area and became fascinated with WWE in the mid-80s. From the brutality of Roddy Piper smashing a coconut on Jimmy Snuka's head, to the train wreck beauty of the "Land of 1000 Dances" music video off the Wrestling Album, Schrader has witnessed many moments in the history of WWE. After getting hundreds of submissions, Bob was chosen by WWE.com Senior Managing Editor Michael Cole to become the first-ever "WWE. com -- Fan Columnist". Check back every Thursday for a new column from Bob.
Message or Mess
Last Monday was the final Raw before the Backlash pay-per-view, which meant one thing -- wrestlers delivering "messages" to their PPV opponents. This is a long-standing tradition, and is somewhat unique to wrestling insofar as it's not considered all that big of a deal.
Before the baseball season started, Jimmy Rollins said the Phillies are "the team to beat," and it created an uproar in the baseball world. When the Phillies came to Shea Stadium, the fans made Rollins public enemy number one, serenading him with chants and delightful obscenities. However, if going into this Sunday's Fatal Four Way Match Edge said he considers himself "the man to beat," people would think he's gone soft and be disappointed with his lack of creativity.
The most effective example of message sending I can remember is right before WrestleMania II. Roddy Piper, preparing to face Mr. T in a boxing match, grabbed Mr. T's midget friend, The Haiti Kid, dragged him to Piper's Pit, and gave him a Mr. T Mohawk against his will. (Had The Haiti Kid been cool with it, the message wouldn't have been nearly as strong.) This established three things:
1) Piper didn't like Mr. T.
2) Piper was going to go to great lengths to display his dislike even if it manifested itself in a disturbing psychotic episode.
3) Piper also didn't like midgets.
And sure enough at WrestleMania II, Piper ended up hitting the referee and bodyslamming T, much to the delight of pretty much everyone -- even though Piper was supposed to be the bad guy.
How does that contrast itself to the messages that were sent last Monday night? Let's take a look:
Mr. McMahon, Shane McMahon and Umaga's message to Bobby Lashley
Apparently, the McMahon's and Umaga's message was "If Bobby Lashley wakes up one morning and finds himself turned into a pale skinny white British guy -- LOOK OUT." I really don't know what Vince was trying to accomplish here. If the USA wants to send a message to the Taliban, we wouldn't show it by bombing Sweden (although with this administration… maybe).
Unlike Santino Marrella who was picked out of the audience a week earlier, Shane introduced Robbie Brookside, who looked like the illegitimate love child of Edge and CM Punk and proceeded to beat the hell out him. Umaga then came down and did the same. Then Vince McMahon, looking like an extra out of "Mary Poppins" finished it off with the pin.
The only message here was Vince is losing his mind. After Trump shaved his head, McMahon should've taken a vacation, stayed out of the spotlight, let his hair grow back and deny the existence of WrestleMania 23 like Mel Gibson denies the Holocaust. Of course, Vince can't help himself and now he could conceivably walk out Sunday the new ECW World Champion. And that would send another type of message to die-hard ECW fans entirely. Stay tuned.
Shawn Michaels message to John Cena
Unlike the McMahon's, this was a much more effective way of sending a message. After WrestleMania, Shawn wasn't in the mood for shaking hands and congratulating Cena. In fact, he kind of acted like a jerk, essentially calling Cena's win a fluke and proclaiming himself to be the better man.
Well, Monday the pressure was on Shawn. If Shawn lost, his post-WrestleMania behavior is seen as sour grapes and would signify his ego is out of touch with reality. If Shawn won, then maybe everything he said and did post-WrestleMania was true.
So what happens? Shawn and Cena fight for close to an hour in a classic match with Shawn superkicking and pinning Cena for the win. Message sent. Add the fact that Edge and Randy Orton are also in the picture and lucked out by having their match cancelled, saving wear and tear on their bodies. It becomes increasingly clear that Cena's title reign is in serious jeopardy this Sunday.
John Cena's message to the WWE Fans
To me, this was the most fascinating message of all. By going toe-to-toe with Shawn Michaels for an hour, even in losing, John Cena sent a message to the fans. He said, "you don't have to like me but you better respect me." Cena is in a weird place right now. Sometimes, he's cheered, often times he's booed out of the building. Usually it's mixed with women and children battling grown men in the "Let's Go Cena -- Cena Sucks," chants.
The closest comparison I can find to Cena in the entertainment world is Justin Timberlake. When Timberlake, fresh off The Mickey Mouse Club, was gyrating with 'N Sync and dating Britney Spears, no male who had hit puberty could stand him. Sure, women and young kids adored him, but despite his worldwide popularity, most men, if given the chance, would love to punch him in the testicles. But then, something happened. 'N Sync broke up, Timberlake dumped Britney, made a solo album, dated Cameron Diaz, dumped her, made a cool follow-up album, started doing every A-list hot actress in Hollywood, and all of a sudden, guys started to slowly come around to him. The pinnacle of this was Timberlake's second hosting appearance on Saturday Night Live this past year where he performed the now infamous "D#&@ in a Box" skit. After that, grown men were actually e-mailing each other the clip and showing it at parties. Five years ago, could anyone ever imagine grown men sitting at a computer enjoying a clip involving Justin Timberlake that didn't have him being mauled by a cougar?
That's what Cena's match with Shawn Michaels is -- his "D#&@ in a Box" moment. In getting the crowd on its feet for an hour, Cena sent the message "Even if you absolutely HATE me and everything I stand for, even if the sound of my entrance music and my smiling face makes you want to involuntarily vomit on your lap, you at least have to give me some respect."
And in the end, that might be the most effective message of the night, and the perfect way to stop the Backlash.