Since the beginning of time (or in pro wrestling’s case, “the business”) viewers have come in droves to watch the choreographed violence, the amazing athleticism, and prom and circumstance of the industry. A Homogenous blend of influence that once laced with Good vanquishing evil becomes the psychosomatic concrete that the foundation of Professional Wrestling was built with. The structure of the prism, however, has always deeply influenced by the prelevant temperate of the current viewer.
This has always been why, like him or not, Vince McMahon is able to take the industry places where far beyond the imaginations of small time carnies and crooks that went town to town shilling hookers who didn’t suck anything but the air out of your lungs if you were stupid enough to try them. Wrestling started as a vaudeville act. Now, it is a global media phenomenon. How did it come to this? One man decided to put his finger on the pulse of not just the diehard fan, but also the entire civilization.
Allow me to digress for a moment. Promoters of the wrestling since it’s inception have tried to accomplish this same goal. McMahon has almost made funnel cake of the process, but not without some trail blazers lighting the way for him. Guys like Bill Watts and Verne Ganye packed the seats long before Mr. McMahon, and even his father was called a “true visionary”. These men, however, played to their niche. Their complacency ultimately led to their demise, for they didn’t see what Vince Jr. always knew… You can only go to the well so many times before it dries up.
Enter the Rock and Wrestling Era. Where Vince Jr. saw dollar signs in his eyes in the shape of a muscular, clumsy, blonde behemoth that always dreamed of being a guitarist rather than a demi-god. Nobody else saw it, but in Hulk Hogan Vince McMahon had a Superhero, movie star, and MTV personality concentrated on driving his product. Hulkamania wasn’t just a thought it was a movement. An unstoppable force fueled by the hunger of an embracing nation. Heroes existed before Hulk Hogan of course, hell; some say Bruno Sammartino is the greatest wrestling hero of all. In truth, Hogan was the 80’s version of Bruno, which is well documented in this article by The Masked Man. He argues CM Punk, and makes a great argument, but Hulk Hogan rode the wave of the MTV generation to stardom akin to Bruno using the fast growing Italian American population to skyrocket to the top of the industry.
Apples to oranges, however, the true string pulling comes in form of the monsters promoters grow for our champions to eliminate. Weightier it has been Russian strongmen, Nazi generals, or Iraqi sympathizers (how was that payday Sgt. Slaughter?) bookers have been busy in the kitchen cooking up some delicious foils for years. Recently though, Vince McMahon may have just outdone himself…
Jack Swagger was born Jake Hager on March 24th, 1982 in Perry, Oklahoma (Where, incase you haven’t heard is where the wind comes sweeping down the planes). Hager was rolling around the wrestling mat since preschool, and even lived in the same neighborhood as the grandson of Olympic wrestler Danny Hodge. Suffice to say his youth led the groundwork for success as Hager lettered two sports in high school on his way to being recruited by the University of Oklahoma for football. After hearing about his background on the mat, and seeing his 6’7 well over 240 pound frame the wrestling team invited Hager to join his sophomore year. An invitation he accepted, and eventually leaned on when he was unable to beat out first stringers Tommy Harris and Dusty Dvoracek for a spot on the field. (Can’t blame the guy actually. The Sooner front four was unreal that year, and those two guys were the linchpins. Too bad the Chicago Bears left their stench on both of them once they got into the pros. I actually had the pleasure of meeting Tommy Harris at Bar of Chicago a week before they played the Colts in the Super Bowl and he couldn’t have been a nicer guy. Vodka and club sodas were on him that night, but I digress.)
While ruining any hopes for Jake to be a pro defensive tackle, Dvoracek did do him one solid. After graduating from OU he introduced Hager to Jim Ross (Boomer Sooner and then head of talent relations for WWE) who was aroused up on meeting Jake. Ok, maybe he was just really excited… After compiling a NCAA record 30 pins his senior year Jake Hager decided to take up Good Ole’ JR’s offer and enter a career in World Wrestling Entertainment. Thank you Wikipedia, I’ll take it from here now…
Jake Hager became Jack Swagger, and the rest is sort of history. Success quickly followed Swagger per usual as he capitalized on his natural in ring presence and the WWE’s intense need to replace the recently departed Kurt Angle to quickly shoot up the company ranks. There is no secret Vince McMahon has always had an attraction to legitimate wrestlers and tough guys, and with Angle gone Vince saw Swagger as his “next big thing”. Only sometimes even the master of puppets can’t implant superstardom in someone. It just seemed Swagger didn’t have “it”. The factor that makes people want to take their hard earned money and spend it on a t-shirt or a pay-per-view in which they already have a great idea of what the outcome is going to be. In essence, people just didn’t get behind Swagger nor did they really decide they didn’t like him either, and in the wrestling business indifference is something of a death sentence
The chemistry of a great villain is impossible to decipher. You can’t can “heat” in a jar. Sure, there are cheap ways to get the reaction you want, but overtime wrestling fans have sophisticated tongues when it comes to their certain brand of entertainment. You cannot fake it for long, and with his boyish looks, and lisp Swagger was unable to convince anyone he was menacing or important enough to pay attention to. This is all despite the fact that he could probably take any of the other wrestlers in the back and bend them into a pretzel. No matter, perception is everything to us wrestling fans, and the perception was that Jack had no “Swagger”.
As a result, World Wrestling Entertainment had no choice but to try and rectify the problem. The path they chose was unintentional, but the end result has been brilliant. After “The Swagger Experiment” failed miserably, WWE decided to stretch it’s boarders and import some talent from all different nations and creeds. This was smart business largely due to the ever-growing national appeal of their product, but in doing so the WWE accidently created a monster (and in my humble opinion a potential gold mine.)
One of WWE’s more calculated imports was the nephew of Mexican wrestling legend Mil Máscaras and former Mixed Martial Artist Alberto Rodríguez. Dubbed Alberto Del Rio, Rodríguez arrived on the scene to instant stardom and fame, as Smack down’s new number one heel. This is where the true visionary reaps the benefits of timing and necessity, because they were able to replace Swagger with another legitimate, established, and creditable bad guy who just happed to be able to allow them to profit on the interests of the ever-growing Mexican-American population in the United States. Thus, killing two birds with one stone, and leaving Swagger to rot in the dessert of Pro Wrestling obscurity. So much so that they decided letting Swagger take a leave of absence from television to lick his wounds was fine. After all, they had nothing for him anyway.
Time went on and once again opportunity knocked for Del Rio in the form of switching personas. His act had become stale, and not unlike Swagger he was in serious danger of snuggling up to a cactus himself. Only Del Rio still has the trump card of all trump cards… His deeply rooted Mexican wrestling heritage. Soon Alberto Del Rio was apologizing to the fans for being a pompous, greedy, and malicious evildoer to surprising cheers. Surprising to some, but let’s face it according to their company website WWE is the 8th most watched program among Hispanic Viewers. Period. That is a large following, and the newly minted “baby face” Del Rio has been able to catch a wide-open touchdown pass from WWE management. They even anointed him champion by allowing him to slay modern day giant Paul Wight in a herculean and heroic effort. Del Rio has become one of the most beloved WWE superstars, and the tale would end sour for Jake Hager if it weren’t for sheer luck.
What is it they say about luck? Is it not when preparation meets opportunity? Jack Swagger had been preparing to be a great wrestling bad guy, but the people had no reason to care about Jake Hager the man. This all changed a few weeks ago when Swagger returned to the scene like gangbusters demanding respect from the WWE Universe. Destroying whoever was in his path he earned a spot in last Sunday’s Elimination Chamber event where the winner would be granted a title shot at Del Rio’s World Heavyweight Championship. Swagger did not return alone however. With him came his Xenophobic “uncle” Zeb Colter, and the result was instant success. Swagger shocked the wrestling world by winning the Chamber match setting up a showdown with his former predecessor Del Rio at Wrestle Mania.
This time around the wrestling God’s are smiling on Swagger by being place with Colter whose real name is Wayne Keown. Known as Dutch Mantel throughout his five- decade career in the wrestling business. Keown is a wealth of wrestling knowledge, and one of the most respected minds in the industry. A perfect peanut butter to Swagger’s fluff as they have formed the alliance “We The People”. This has allowed Swagger to do what he does best while Colter works his magic on the microphone. And magic it has been… Colter delivers Xenophobic sermons in the middle of the ring with the flare of a Southern Baptist preacher spliced with an old-school wrestling heel. The gimmick practically sells itself, but the true beauty of it lies in timing of it all. You see, once again you can feel the puppet strings being pulled in the direction that lines Vince McMahon’s pockets. Swagger has the opportunity to upstage the man he could very well claim the WWE outsourced to replace him. While Del Rio was more successful at the task at hand is irrelevant due to the fact it even further enhances the story line. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves though…
There is no secret Xenophobia has been a hot button issue for some time in this country. After experiencing the over whelming prosperity of the late 90’s and early 2000’s people were not ready for the “cold shot” of reality that the deadly vaccine of 9/11 and the economic crash provided. Most people lost some while others lost it all in the free fall our economy has been experiencing. Leaving good people with bad tastes in their mouths and lots of fingers to point the blame. This is not my attempt to express my political views, for I am a lowly wrestling columnist, but I will call it how I see it. This process led to the rise of the Tea Party Movement. While more informed people can argue all they want it is impossible not to draw parallels from the parties credo and the sermons Colter has been singing the past three weeks. So much so, that WWE released a statement today denying any correlation whatsoever to their political belief system.
This is a case of C.M.A for World Wrestling Entertainment, but the ugly truth is still out there. People blame Hispanic people for the lack of jobs in the market out of nothing more than blind xenophobic-fueled hate. Sure, immigrants take up a good percentage of jobs, but isn’t that the foundation on which this great country was built on? Land of the free? Home of the brave? We have opened up our arms to everyone since our founding. This practice along with $10 lobster buffet at the Bellagio hotel is what makes this country great! I will now Step off my soapbox to get back to the lecture at hand.
World Wrestling Entertainment’s finger is once again feeling the pulse of the viewer. This is one of those topics that we should discuss more. However, weather it is fear or ignorance we choose to remain in the dark. For now, we will be simple voyeurs in the background watching WWE become CNN before our very eyes. My truest interest is whether or not fans will begin to cheer “We The People”, but then again there in lies the beauty of Vincent Kennedy McMahon. He has created a villain that most people can understand, and in some instances relate too thus making him more real and compelling. This furthermore challenges the viewer to take a deeper look into his soul to see where his belief system begins and ends. At the end of the day does anyone really want to live in “Jack Swagger’s” America? Sure, there are also people who still wear hoods with a taste to lynch as well. While these people may be monsters they are also as real as philanthropists.
Although World Wrestling Entertainment is walking a slippery slope I will argue that fine line is worth walking. Not everyday do entertainers have the opportunity to make a grand political statement while symotaniously fulfilling artistic excellence. Vince McMahon holds that power in his very capable hands, and this writer has no doubts that the payoff of Del Rio defeating Jack Swagger will fully satisfy.
After all, isn’t this how he planned it all along?
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