Eric’s blog: A smirk is worth a thousand buys

"Hey, buddy!"

We at Stunt Granny bandy about the idea that the brand “WWE” and the product “WrestleMania” essentially sell themselves, so no matter the headline matches and no matter the build-up, WrestleMania will always be a huge success and the hook that WWE hangs its hat upon. The stadium will be sold out, and the buyrates will continue to be the company’s golden goose, strangled or not.

For a little bit of context, I Googled “wrestlemania buyrates” and found these results for the past four WrestleManias:

WrestleMania 23: 1,250,000
WrestleMania 24: 1,041,000
WrestleMania 25: 960,000
WrestleMania 26: 885,000

Last year’s drastic dropoff can be attributed to a number of things, most likely the economy and somewhat less likely Vince McMahon’s postulation that the WWE universe was gathering in groups and pitching in $5 a piece to order pay-per-views. (Sorry, Vince, my friends and I have been doing that since 1996.)

However, one major reason for a nearly 100,000-buy decline between WM25 and WM26 is the lack of hype for the main events: Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels, while a spectacular match, had a seemingly forced build-up; Edge vs. Chris Jericho suffered from Edge’s poor reception as a babyface returning from a long hiatus to feud with a white-hot heel Jericho; and John Cena vs. Batista was at best an insult-fest with a hint of “you broke my neck, even though I was back four months later and feuded with a lot of other people since then” added in.

So when we look at the build to the headlining matches at WrestleMania 27, one could step back, look at the bigger picture and rationalize some concern. Undertaker vs. Triple H has six weeks of build despite having a decade-old history; John Cena vs. The Miz is the “undeserving” champion defending against the guy who squashed him numerous times one year ago and is now pre-occupied with the third-biggest star in WWE history; and Michael Cole vs. Jerry “The King” Lawler is a match-up of announcers.

It’s the little things that are selling these matches.

No, the silent face-off between Undertaker and Triple H isn’t a small thing. It’s a tactic that’s growing in popularity, made famous by the baseball announcers who kept their mouths shut when Cal Ripken, Jr. made his lap around the ballpark during his record-breaking 2,131st game, and increasing in acceptance every time Mike Tenay babbles over a “dramatic” moment for which Jim Ross would have stayed quiet.

No, the Skull-Crushing Finales from Miz to Cena to cap off recent Raws aren’t small things. Of course the heel should be getting over on the babyface leading up to the huge show where fans pay to see the heel’s comeuppance.

No, adding Jack Swagger and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to the Cole-Lawler match isn’t a small thing. Heck, it’s a HUGE thing: the last time Austin was the special guest referee in a match featuring an unproven, mushmouthed musclehead and two nonwrestling personalities, WrestleMania drew its record buyrate.

It’s the little things, particularly the remarkable facial expressions of the superstars involved.

Last night’s Monday Night Raw saw Undertaker smirk at (for the second time) and blow off Triple H in response to Hunter’s “uphill battle” to defeat the undefeated. Last night’s Raw saw Sheepish Shawn Michaels angrily get in his best friend’s face to ask what makes Hunter think he can do what no one else, no less hall-of-famer Michaels himself, could get done, then turn to ashen sadness when Hunter shouted at Michaels to tell ‘Taker that he could be defeated (“I’m sorry, you can’t win,” Michaels nearly sobbed). Until last night, the match was what it was: an excuse for both tenured stars to bigfoot the rest of the roster. Now it’s a match I really want to see.

Last night’s Raw saw even more excellent facial expressions in a long stretch of great acting by the legendary Jerry Lawler and the homophobic, egotistical Michael Cole. Cole is the best heel in wrestling right now, and he didn’t get there by being shoved down our throats, he did it through his real-life pomposity and sense of entitlement, mixed with enough awareness to know he’d better carry his end of this thing against a 40-year veteran who can emote to the last person in the last row of the building better than nearly anyone in wrestling history. It started with that hilarious send-up of Kaval on NXT, and it continues through WrestleMania 27: Michael Cole has a face meant for a fistdrop.

Last night’s Raw saw John Cena, the company’s No. 1 guy, get roundly booed by a hot Chicago crowd, take it all in stride with a huge grin on his face, then deliver his unwelcome finishing move on Hollywood’s Dwayne Johnson, only to smirk right in the Rock’s face and wag a defiant “You can’t see me” at last generation’s megastar. Whether or not his purple T-shirt, jean shorts and Aurora Borealis-level-light-showing moveset have turned Cena heel to you or not, that smirk last night told a thousand stories, and probably pushed even more fence-sitters over the edge.

I was already going to WrestleMania 27 this year, and I couldn’t wait for the “vacation” aspect of it. Now I’m thankful for my ticket to the show itself, even though I’ll only be using the edge of the seat.

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