Wrestling Sure Used To Be Great

Update: I just found the interview Jake did after the Elizabeth slapping. I remember it having more of an effect on me back then than it does now, but back then I was in shock that this nutcase seriously just hit Elizabeth.

Since Carin’s last Christmas present to me turned out to be some form of the plague, I’ve been passing the time by watching even more wrestling than usual. I’ve especially been enjoying watching things I haven’t seen since I was a kid and trying to decide through my more experienced eyes whether or not they’re still as awesome/stupid as I remember them.

One of the things I stumbled across was this 1991 clip from WWF’s Tuesday In Texas pay-per-view, which wasn’t a bad show as I recall. The problem was that nobody saw it, which is why there wasn’t a Tuesday In Someplace pay-per-view ever again. Well, there was Taboo Tuesday, but that worked out about as well as anybody who remembers Tuesday In Texas should have expected. Yes, should have. Those who don’t learn from history and all that, which pretty much sums up WWE over the last decade or so.

This is the end of Randy Savage vs. Jake Roberts.

Anybody who argues that wrestling back in the day wasn’t better than it is now has probably never seen this. Yes, there was a lot of terrible stuff back in the day, but one thing that was done right more than it wasn’t was long-term storytelling. Everything you’re watching meant something for a lot of reasons, many of which explain perfectly why almost nothing means anything now.

For starters, Macho Man and Jake was an angle that began before you had any idea it was going to begin. Heel Macho Man lost his career in a match to the Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania that year, but was then turned face when he finally reunited with Elizabeth after years apart when she saved him from Sensational Sherri, who had just lost her job along with his and was none too pleased about it. One of the key parts of this is years, because the more time passes, the more it means when something you don’t expect to happen happens.

Speaking of which, all of this eventually wound up with the wedding angle, which wouldn’t have worked had Savage not been turned months earlier and had it not been building silently for years. It was something a lot of people wanted to see, to the point where it was actually one of the main draws for Summerslam.

This is where Jake comes in. He’s been a heel for a while, but it’s still weird not cheering for him after so long. He’s a pretty good heel, but not great yet. Then…he ruins the wedding reception. This, naturally, sets Savage off and he starts campaigning WWF officials to reinstate him. All the while, Jake keeps pushing his buttons, doing all kinds of interviews insulting and threatening Savage and Elizabeth. Just when it looks like Macho Man will be allowed to wrestle again in time for Survivor Series, one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen happens.

That would have been crazy anyway, but it was helped out significantly by the snake going into business for itself and chewing on Savage’s arm longer than intended. It obviously wasn’t poisonous, but everybody involved sure sold the shit out of the fact that it could be. I was 11 when this happened, and I remember adults who couldn’t believe what they were seeing and were as legitimately worried about Macho Man as I was.

This brings us to the video at the top. Macho Man was reinstated. he got the match he wanted. He won. You’d think that would be the end of the story. But no. And this, again, is where long-term stories are important.

We’ve been told for years that the DDT is a dangerous move. If one will knock you out, the three that Savage took after the match might just kill him. We’ve also known for years that Elizabeth almost never gets physically involved. She stands outside, being a cheerleader and an inspiration. the other thing we’ve learned over several months is that Jake is fucking nuts. He had a snake try to gnaw off a guy’s arm, for crying out loud!

The important thing about all of this is that unlike with much of today’s wrestling, these three facts all had time to sink in. they had been established as the angle slowly built, and they were allowed to take time to play themselves out in the ring when it was time to pay it off. Every movement every person made meant something, and the commentators made sure to hammer it all home. We knew what we were seeing wasn’t something that was supposed to happen. And once Jake hit Elizabeth, everybody watching knew they had seen something huge. Jake Roberts was the most hated man in the world, and Randy Savage and his innocent wife were as sympathetic as Jake was despised. We all wanted to see Jake get his, and we were willing to part with money for the privilege.

My point in all of this isn’t just goddamn that was great stuff, but that wrestling needs to get back to it. When writers can’t keep stories straight from week to week or sometimes even from hour to hour, it’s impossible to get attached to characters or hooked by the stories those characters are trying to tell. Also, slow the hell down! There’s no need to tell a 4 month story in 3 weeks. You can’t invest yourself in something that’s moving so fast. Give us time to digest what we’ve just seen.

Wrestling will never completely go back to the way it was. It can’t. Too much has happened, and the world has changed. But there are things that will always work no matter what. Well paced, easy to understand situations involving people you can believe in will always work better than thrown together, rushed crap poorly acted by people who don’t seem comfortable as the person they’re being told to play. If you give people that, they’ll want more. They’ll even pay for it. Wrestling has worked that way forever. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel. It doesn’t need it.

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