Something has been rolling around in my head about the UFC's success, and I think that this weekend's main event exemplified it. I thought I'd send it your way and see if you and your readers agree.
So, we all know by now that Jon Jones was never really in any trouble on Saturday night. The betting odds said as much going into the fight, the pundits all had Jones winning, and it was borne out in the fight. However, all of that aside, the UFC did a wonderful job getting people to think Rampage might be able to win, or at least wondering if he could. Rampage did some of that with his previously unseen commitment to training, Jones helps by still being a relative newcomer, but still, the UFC finds ways to turn a puncher's chance into real doubt. They did the same with Yushin Okami and Jake Shields, they'll find a way to do it with Carlos Condit (even though I don't see him beating GSP), and Brian Stann if he gets past Chael Sonnen, etc., etc.
WWE is a different animal in a lot of respects, but they're both largely in the business of creating drama around a fight or a match and making people want to see it. Mark Henry's recent push is the lone instance in which WWE has created drama around the concept of whether one guy can beat the other guy. We seem to always know who can beat whom and who can't, so that the only drama seems to revolve around whether the lesser man can pull of a fluke or cheat his way to a victory or something. Part of the reason for the Royal Rumble's success is that there are so many variables and possible winners that it's just about impossible to predict (except maybe for obvious ones like Michaels in '96 or Austin in '98). Coincidentally, the Rumble that ended with an undeserving guy cheating to win, 1999, is widely considered one of the worst (if not the worst).
One would think that creating drama about whether one guy can beat the other guy would be easier to do in an enterprise where the outcomes are predetermined, and yet, it's an area where WWE is getting its ass kicked by the UFC.
Oh, absolutely. The easiest storyline in wrestling is building up one heel to an insane degree so that no one in their right mind thinks anyone can ever beat him, and then you find a babyface and they manage to do just that. That used to be a staple with Hulk Hogan in the 80s, as I’d often think “Oh shit, Bad News Brown is a badass who’s killing everyone, I bet Hogan can’t kick out of the GHETTO BLASTER.” And then of course you’d go to the house show and he totally would, because that’s his whole schtick. WCW did it on a much larger scale with Vader, which is why Ron Simmons getting the massive upset turned him into a top-tier star for many years afterwards whereas the feud with Luger in 91 did nothing for him. And then after Vader spent most of 1993 swatting around the WCW midcard like mosquitoes and nearly killing Cactus Jack for fun, WCW backed into an inspirational story with Ric Flair getting the upset win for the title, and THAT worked too. Or take, say, the Undertaker v. Shawn series at WM. No one in their right mind would think that scrawny Shawn Michaels has any kind of a chance against Undertaker, but he just kept kicking out and coming back and making people care about the match because they care about HIM. Sure, he lost both matches, but you damn well know people would have bought him winning either one. That’s why a heel champion, when done effectively, can draw so well. Their problem is just that they don’t know how to do it effectively any longer. Hopefully Mark Henry’s push will prove that wrong.