Storylines in fiction are interesting machines. They’re born of teams of writers who are utilizing performers and other assets to the best of their ability. They try to take what’s in their head and match it with the mission statement set out by the creator or showrunner while appealing to a wider audience. With sports entertainment the writers are joined by the performers who have some input as to what their characters are and where their characters are going. This creative input varies from performer to performer and creates a sort of politics as people jockey for screen time.
Not only that, but talent can suddenly become unavailable due to real life injuries and writers are sent scrambling to change storylines. As with any other form of fiction, it’s hard to shock the audience in a real and organic way because most people’s minds consider the possibilities of what’s coming next. They also risk alienating fans by jarring them out of their comfort zone. I happen love those moments when the writers and performers can surprise me and make me wonder what could happen next.
How about some examples?
Seth Rollins Defects from the Shield
Speaking of injuries, Seth Rollins was a breakout star this year but that might not have happened without his shocking moment over a year ago. In May 2014 the Shield was a dominant force in the WWE as a tight knit trio who stood together as brothers. The group consisted of the “Lunatic Fringe” Dean Ambrose, “The Juggernaut” Roman Reigns and “The Architect” Seth Rollins. On June 1 2014 the Shield was engaged in a war with their boss’ team Evolution. The Shield and Evolution had absolutely destroyed each other to the point that Batista had even walked out. It was easy to see that Evolution would need to add another member to their ranks and there were plenty of candidates. Then June 2, 2014 rolled around. Triple H came out to the ring with a smirk on his face and, like a sleeper agent suddenly coming to life, Seth suddenly wailed on his ‘brothers’ with a steel chair. I remember actually yelling “No!” at my television screen.
The moment ended up being great for everyone involved. The Shield had been a tight unit and, as with any good tag team, it was hard for each member to have singles success while part of a group. Seth Rollins became The Authority’s pet wrestler and eventually held the World Heavyweight title and United States title at the same time while the bosses pulled the strings for him. Dean Ambrose got even crazier and became a common man hero character whereas before he had been an antagonist with a screw loose. Roman Reigns became a bonafide superhero and fan favorite and even though he’s a big, musclebound guy he makes a lot of waves as an underdog. Growth comes from change and sometimes change is most effective as a sudden shock.
Brock Lesnar Ends the Streak
In my previous Why I Love Pro-Wrestling post I went on at great length about the legend of the Undertaker and how much I’ve loved his story. While I didn’t go into minute detail, one thing I left out was The Streak. Wrestlemania has long been described as WWE’s equivalent of the NFL’s Superbowl. It’s a yearly event where they try to put out their biggest matches, often ending or shifting storylines into a different gear. Wrestlemania is also partly responsible for the advent of the sports entertainment payperview event to complement a company’s television offerings. The Undertaker fought in his first Wrestlemania match against the legendary “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka and the Undertaker won. After that, the Undertaker went on to win every Wrestlemania outing and usually with supernatural flair. Every year the legend grew and every year they teased an end to The Streak. After twenty Wrestlemania victories it was beginning to look like he would retire before losing at Wrestlemania. Enter Wrestlemania 30 and “The Beast” Brock Lesnar.
Brock Lesnar is a monster speciment who first made his splash after a very, very short NFL career which ended up being a single preseason in 2004. With his build and demeanor it always seemed to me that he was more well-suited to fight than to play ball. He took the WWE by storm at a time when it desperately needed fresh blood. He became a crossover star when he fought for real in UFC and then returned to WWE to fight in even more scripted combat. At Wrestlemania 30 he returned and defeated the Undertaker. That wasn’t the shocking happening because, as I said, Lesnar was such a ferocious beast. What shocked me was that Lesnar beat Undertaker so badly. The supernatural powers that the Undertaker drew upon were nothing against the onslaught and it really helped Lesnar’s career.
Chris Jericho is Beaten by Dean Malenko
World Championship Wrestling was a titanic wrestling company and, like most titanic wrestling companies, it had more talent than it could deal with. They hired Chris Irvine aka Jericho to a fairly lucrative contract but they apparently hadn’t thought much beyond that. At that time, WCW was getting a lot of mileage out of its cruiserweight division. The formula was that they would use the admittedly aging big names to draw in crowds and keep them entertained with young, talented performers who were relatively unknown. The formula worked. Stars like Hogan and Savage were putting on less than stellar matches while upstarts like Jericho, Mysterio, Benoit and Dean Malenko were lighting up the place. Cruiserweights like Jericho pretty much did what he want because as far as the writers were concerned, their storylines didn’t matter.
Jericho was the ultimate blowhard and after he had won the Cruiserweight title from Dean Malenko he ridiculed Malenko constantly. Dean was on the injured list so Jericho didn’t fear any reprisal. Week after week and Jericho retained his title by hook or by crook and continued to belittle Malenko who was a great talent. Finally there was a battle royal to come up with a challenger for Jericho’s title. The battle royal was hard fought as Jericho stood by and mocked all of the competitors. Finally it came down to Cyclope and Juventud Guerrera and then Juvy jumped out of the ring and eliminated himself. What the !? Jericho entered the ring to face his opponent which is when Cyclope unmasked and it was Dean Malenko. Dean proceeded to beat the tar out of Jericho for every mocking statement and it elevated both stars if only for a moment.
The Montreal Screwjob
Hold on, don’t yell at me yet. I know this one wasn’t exactly planned and written with everyone’s best interests at heart. The Monday Night Wars were a brutal and cutthroat time in sports entertainment history and a lot of people did things they can’t ever take back. Both WWF and WCW were in heated battle and were constantly poaching talent from each other. All sorts of shenanigans were happening. Madusa jumped ship and showed up on WCW and dumped her WWF title belt in a trash can on live television. Rick Rude showed up on live television on WCW while still showing up on taped WWF programming. Both companies were looking for every chance they could find to screw each other over using the performers as pawns. In the middle of all this, the WWF was in dire financial straits and was starting to fear the reaper.
Brett “The Hitman” Hart was the World Heavyweight Champion and he was riding high. He was highly skilled and his family name was (and is) one of the most respected names in sports entertainment. The WWF had promised and signed Hart to a contract worth millions of dollars and they no longer had those millions of dollars. Vince McMahon allowed Brett to check in with WCW to see if they could offer him a comparable deal to let the WWF off the hook. WCW was definitely interested so it came down to those involved to decide when Brett would lose his title. Out of fear that Brett would be convinced to leave the company with the title, Vince changed the end of Hart’s match with Shawn Michaels. He had the ref ring the bell and screw Brett, letting him leave the company on a bad note.
Vince wanted to gloss over the event and move on but the fans wouldn’t let it go. Eventually, the WWF embraced the momentum and Vince transformed into an evil boss character. When that character went up against the anti-hero Steve Austin, every put upon employee saw their greatest fantasy being played out. The feud (and a few other stoy lines) brought the WWF out of its financial slump and eventually led to them winning the Monday Night Wars. All on that one shocking event.