The issue of urgency for WWE since the “Attitude” era – following the swallowing (and subsequent spitting out) of WCW and ECW – has been the importance of developmental leagues with which the company can nurture talent.
With competition gone and TNA struggling not only to catch up to WWE but also to create their own stars (with the exception of AJ Styles and, to a lesser extent, Motor City Machineguns and Beer Money), alongside an anaemic independent circuit struggling in tough economic times, WWE has had to turn to the creation of and dependence on its own farm leagues to raise the next crop of superstars – for the most part. But not always.
While Vince McMahon must accept that Sting is the only major name in pro wrestling to have never worked for him, he can possibly look to TNA for the above-mentioned stars, in addition to Hernandez and Samoa Joe, in order to offer a future injection of fresh blood into his WWE system, should they become available. Knowing Vince’s penchant for massively muscled wrestlers, Hernandez seems more likely than Joe, despite Joe’s Kharma-like endorsement from one Stone Cold Steve Austin.
WWE have also been able to look elsewhere. They’ve picked up the excellent Tyler Black and Claudio Castagnoli from Ring of Honor, now in developmental league Florida Championship Wrestling as Seth Rollins and Antonio Cesaro, respectively. But they’ve also been able to look further afield, via Triple H’s watchful eye – across the border to Mexico.
What was unique about the breathtaking Rey Mysterio-like Mistico’s arrival in WWE was their exception to their recent rule of sending a talent to FCW for a while (a la Black and Castagnoli), likely because of Mistico’s status as Triple H’s “pet project.” Renamed Sin Cara (“faceless”) for copyright reasons, he debuted in-ring in March/April of 2011 mere weeks after his January/February signing. However, instead of his short-cut to TV opening possibilities for the likes of Black and Cesaro, it has had the opposite effect. More on that later.
Before the era of “Attitude,” of course, WCW and the WWF were competing on a relatively even playing field. When, for example, Barry “Widowmaker” Windham, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Dusty Rhodes, Sid, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, (Jean) Paul “Hunter Hearst Helmsley” Levesque and Marc “Johnny B. Badd” Mero switched sides back and forth, neither company sent them away for training to “learn how to work.” These were rightly considered veterans with enough experience, talent, and individual uniqueness to simply essentially finish up with one organisation on the Friday and start for the other on the Monday. Take a look at this May 1989 debut of the above-mentioned Barry “Widowmaker” Windham in the WWF, having finished up in WCW just weeks before, in March of 1989.
Now, despite a successful previous 1980s run as one half of the U.S. Express with Mike Rotunda, Barry Windham’s high hopes failed to materialise into anything of note. By November of 1989, he had asked for his release due to family issues, but had not threatened to achieve prominence at all. It could be argued that he wasn’t repackaged enough, or that his Southern brawling style didn’t fit the WWF, but if that were the case, Dusty Rhodes and Sid would have both been flops. While not WWF icons, they certainly weren’t failures. Yet nobody jumped to the conclusion that Windham didn’t know how to work; it would have been preposterous. It could be argued that back then, the WCW and the WWF had no choice; there were no farm systems at that time. But WCW had its “Power Plant” and both they and the WWF still had house shows on which to test talent. They didn’t. So what’s changed?
The only time this kind of thinking is justified is to ensure up-and-coming stars are team players, able to work with anyone else on the card at any time, instead of putting themselves in the “shop window” to execute moves that show off their own body of work while lacking a bond or understanding with their fellow worker.
Back in the above-mentioned territory days, wrestlers soon learned how to work with anyone anyway, and the current dependence upon one single cookie-cutter factory is a danger in itself – in other words, staying in one developmental league can do more harm than good, and far more harm than baptism by fire, working with veterans on house shows and learning on the job in a new environment. Development hell can be as bad for the company as it can be for the stars sent there.
For several years now, largely since the collapse of prominent competitors such as WCW, the WWE mentality has been one where, as the only major league pro wrestling company left (at least Stateside), their sports-entertainment offerings are so far ahead above the rest that any talent entering the organisation is vastly inferior. The explanation has been that talent “don’t know how to work the WWE style.”
The “WWE style” is a myth.
What did Daniel Bryan (Danielson) have to learn in order to become a believable competitor in WWE after signing as a ten-year veteran of the art-form? It was nonsensical. This followed the 2006/07 rise of CM Punk following Paul Heyman’s persistence in pushing him, despite the WWE powers and the Kliq claiming, after Punk signed in 2005, that he didn’t “know how to work.”
To put this into perspective, Barbie Blank was a model signed by John Laurinaitis in May of 2006 – and by June of 2006, she was on TV as “Kelly Kelly.” What’s more, she debuted in televised competitive action in August of 2006. It became apparent that obviously Punk and Bryan simply weren’t John’s type – or that he believed Kelly knew how to work in some way.
For “WWE style” of working, simply read: humbling. With no WCW breathing down WWE’s neck, Vince McMahon and his minions refuse to see any other credible opportunities for pro wrestlers to “pay their dues”; it has to come in-house, regardless of how long and how further afield they’ve plied their trade. To send the likes of Punk and Bryan – independent stars and darlings of the internet wrestling community – into developmental, is a simple message that reinforces the arrogant, masochistic mentality in places of power that WWE is head and shoulders above all else, nothing else matters, and if you’re signing with them after success elsewhere, no matter how talented, you will be humbled.
So this year, as Triple H’s acquisition, Sin Cara debuted in the ring right away, and when his high-flying, high-risk, lucha libre approach somewhat inevitably prompted one or two sloppy spots and the odd botched move, he was considered a disappointment, and further evidence that the system was in order: all talent needed to learn to work the “WWE style” – this, apparently, was the proof.
While the FCW and potential Lance Storm league will be valuable and exciting breeding grounds for future talent, it is the Kelly Kellys, David Otungas and Mason Ryans who need to be taking root there before growing to the heights of the major league – not Seth Rollins, Antonio Cesaro, or Richie Steamboat. By holding these men down, WWE are merely masochistically harming themselves and their business, all for pointless petty ego and delusions of grandeur. WWE action never has, nor ever will be, the be-all end-all; there is excellent quality wrestling to be found all over the world that will shame many WWE Pay-Per-View matches.
Once again, we can only hope that Triple H remains defiant and pushes for more Sin Caras in the future.
Better to have a sloppy Sin Cara than a champion Kelly Kelly.