Pick My Brain Interview: Todd Martin
Internet Wrestling Columnist
As die-hard fans of anything and everything Observer-related, we love interviewing some of the people involved with WrestlingObserver.com like Mike Coughlin, Ben Miller, and Todd Martin.
Todd, who does the weekly Raw recaps on the site, is one of the best writers and smartest people around when it comes to wrestling.
Todd’s always good for a conversation, especially when he has to answer our ridiculous questions. He’s a straight shooter, which makes it interesting to see how he handles a light-hearted interview like this one. Regardless of what you think of Todd’s political beliefs, you have to respect his motivation, drive, and initiative to tackle his demanding law program at UCLA. Smart wrestling fans rule, because they’re a rarity. And when we find them, we have to milk them for all they’re worth.
We interviewed Todd two years ago, which many of you enjoyed as a refreshing change of pace from our usual comedic fare. And when I had a bad car accident shortly thereafter, Todd went out of his way to throw in a get-well note in his Observer post. As Paul Bearer would say, that’s class with a capital C. I’ll never forget that. So now, we’ve invited Todd back for Round 2. We hope you enjoy this one. Put on your thinking cap and read on…
1. As always, please use this first question to plug anything you’d like. Shill, shill, shill. Where we can we read your stuff, etc, etc, etc.
I write for the Wrestling Observer website. I don’t really have anything to shill.
2. Since we last spoke, you’ve accepted UCLA’s offer admission into their law school. Why did you choose that school, and why did you choose that field of study?
I’ve always been interested in the law, and I have always had the skills for the profession. You can insert your own joke there. Seriously though, there isn’t a tremendous job market for people right out of college. I wanted to get a graduate degree, and law was a natural one. I’m not beholden to one career path at this point. I will get the degree, pay off my debt as quickly as possible, and then go from there. I sent applications to a number of schools across the country, and I liked UCLA the best of the places I was accepted or waitlisted at. So now I’m here, and I like it a lot.
3. Are you prepared to face the wrath of your opposing attorney in the age of the internet? For example, a really anal lawyer could Google your name, see that you’ve called Victoria hot on several occasions, and use this against you in the court of law.
That’s a hell of a point. I can always claim it wasn’t me. Given that no one who knows me would think in a million years I like wrestling, I think I wouldn’t have too much difficulty convincing them. Now that amateur pornography I’ve done may be a tougher skeleton to keep in the closet.
4. Speaking of Victoria, please use this forum to explain your obsession with her.
Why? You don’t think she’s reading, do you? Maybe you could put in a good word for me?
Honestly, it was just a joke. It ran its course. I think she’s a great talent. She has tremendous charisma, is an excellent wrestler and has physical believability. I think she could be a real asset to the company. But obsession is perhaps a bit strong.
5. We at The Armpit are big on education, not only because it leads to a better life, but also it ruins the stereotype that all wrestling fans are morons. Why do you think us wrestling fans get labeled as idiots?
I don’t think the way promoters have constantly played to the lowest common denominator has helped. There are a lot of stupid wrestling fans. However, there are also a lot of smart wrestling fans, and a lot of stupid people who are fans of all sorts of things. I think humans in general are too judgmental. I’m certainly not completely innocent in that regard. But rather than just respect that people have different interests, we’re always putting labels on things. I have my interests, but I try to avoid criticizing people for their interests. It’s not a big deal, though. The beauty of stereotypes is that they are easily disproved. If someone thinks less of you because you watch wrestling, that’s their problem.
6. Which do you prefer:
Raw or SmackDown: Raw, narrowly.
ROH or TNA: ROH, in a landslide.
Quarter system or semester system: Semester.
Taking class notes with a notebook or taking notes with a laptop: Notebook. I brought a laptop to school, but I don’t use it in class. It tends to be more of a distraction than a help, and you can’t draw elaborate diagrams on the computer. But I’m in the distinct minority here.
Spike TV or Court TV: Spike TV.
The Raw Diva Search or SmackDown Tough Enough: Tough Enough.
Public school system or private school system: In theory, public school system. In the United States, private school system.
Campus meal plan or cooking for yourself: Campus meal plan.
Christy Hemme or Carmella DeCesare: Carmella. Note, this isn’t an endorsement of her in any way. But I think I could at least stand being in her presence for more than two minutes.
Daniel Rodimer or Daniel Puder: Puder.
Paralegals or legal secretaries: Legal secretaries.
Mr. Simon or Mr. Jones (and who in the Hell are they, anyway): Mr. Jones. But I’ve already said too much.
Baltimore Arena or Anaheim Pond: Baltimore Arena. Although, I actually have a softer place in my heart for the old Capital Center.
WCW of 1997 or WWF of 2000: WWF of 2000.
ECW of 1995 or ECW of 1999: ECW of 1995.
SMW or OVW: SMW.
Blue World Order or Latino World Order: Oh, that’s a tough one. LWO by a nose.
Cameras in the courtroom or cameras banned from the courtroom: Banned.
Judge Judy or Judge Wapner: Judge Wapner.
West Coast or East Coast: East Coast. I love Melbourne and Sydney.
Gavin Newsom or Arnold Schwarzenegger: Gavin Newsom, although I do like Arnold.
Gavin’s wife or Arnold’s wife: Arnold’s wife.
Rudy Giuliani or Michael Bloomberg: No comment.
Janet Reno or John Ashcroft: Ha!
The OJ trial or the Peterson trial: Neither. One’s a waste of time and the other ended in injustice.
Amber Frey or Kato Kaelin: Kato.
7. Why is that we always dread reading books for class, but when it comes to reading the Observer, we can’t get enough?
You need to go to a liberal arts college. During college, I didn’t take a single course that I didn’t want to, because there was basically nothing in the way of requirements. So I really enjoyed reading books for class. It made the whole experience very pleasant. But there’s definitely something to be said for throwing aside a dense book on civil procedure and picking up some light hearted wrestling related reading. It’s a shame I haven’t had much time in the past year, because I have fallen behind on my wrestling reading.
8. Yes or No, has Todd Martin ever:
Gone to a Lucha VaVoom show: No. I was going to attend the only show they have run since I arrived, but I had a last minute schedule conflict. I will definitely be going at some point.
Walked down the Sunset Strip and visited all the places that legendary LA bands like Motley Crue and Guns N Roses used to play in the 80s (and if not, why haven’t you?): No. I haven’t been many places in L.A. yet. Too busy.
Missed a class this past quarter: Yes.
Zoned out during class and thought about how you’d book Raw if you were in charge: Yes.
Been recognized in class for being that guy who writes the Raw reviews on wrestlingobserver.com: That is never going to happen.
Been to a Toastmasters meeting to improve your speaking skills: No. I did a lot of drama and debate in high school and college. I don’t need to improve my speaking. I need to improve my ability to shut up.
Called into Wrestling Observer Live: Yes. Many times.
Used a fake ID: No.
Purchased an LSAT prep book: Yes. I took a course in fact.
Traded copyrighted wrestling tapes on the black market: Ummm, no. Of course not. What’s it to you?
Flirted with a woman on campus in the last 3 weeks: Yes.
Done a research paper on wrestling: Yes.
Seen someone wearing a wrestling t-shirt on campus (if so, which shirt was it?): No.
Subscribed to Pro Wrestling Illustrated: Yes.
Subscribed to Pro Wrestling Torch: Yes.
Subscribed to Figure 4 Weekly: Yes.
9. You made a snide remark in a recent Raw recap about how Muhammad Hassan has a point when he says Americans are guilty of sometimes being prejudiced against Arab Americans. Please explain yourself further.
I don’t think any explanation is necessary. Tolerance.org and Amnesty International are probably the best resources for information on the subject if you don’t know anyone from that part of the world who can pass along anecdotes of their own. The fear and distrust of many ethnic groups in the Muslim world by some Americans manifests itself in myriad ways. From vandalism and threats, to increased racial profiling, to the Patriot Act, it is not a fun time to be an Arab-American. Ann Coulter said three years ago we should invade “their” countries, kill “their” leaders and convert “them” to Christianity. Since then she has had four best-selling books. Surely someone must be drinking the Kool-Aid.
10. You came under heavy assault from conservative wrestling fans who misinterpreted a remark you made about WWE’s handling of the 2000 election and their not-so-hidden favoritism of George Bush. You might as well use this forum to clear up what you were trying to say.
I thought I was actually pretty clear on that. To run a purportedly bi-partisan voting campaign and then endorse a candidate the night before the election takes unbelievable gall. It’s a slap in the face to every person you registered to vote who doesn’t like be used as a tool for the WWE agenda. That has nothing at all to do with partisan politics.
11. Something still tells us that you’re a liberal deep down inside, since you also made a snide remark how you’d like to debate JBL. Why is that most college professors lean toward the left? You’re welcome to express your own views on why you identify yourself as either a Democrat or Republican, but only if you’re comfortable doing that.
No good will come of this answer. I think most college professors tend to lean toward the left because smart people motivated by morals rather than personal gain tend to lean toward the left. College professors are smart, and if they were money-oriented they wouldn’t be teaching. Liberal values are of tolerance, understanding and justice. I think those tend to be appealing to people who have a complex sense of the world in which they exist. Conservatism has always fought against that, whether through labor rights, civil rights, women’s liberation, gay rights, or any other struggle for a better, more equitable society. This is particularly pronounced in our country, which has moved increasingly to the right in the past two and a half decades.
I don’t identify myself as a Democrat or a Republican. I don’t think either party does a very good job representing the people, and both are bought off by special interests. But I certainly think the Democrats have the American people more on their mind than the Republicans. I’m proud to be a liberal. It’s a crying shame that’s been turned into a dirty word in this country. I am deeply depressed by the direction of our country. The United States is one of the greatest bastions of democracy in world history. It should stand out as a shining example for the rest of the world, but right now it stands for very different ideals.
I look at what we do right now and it makes me ashamed. Violating human rights, justifying torture, flagrantly destroying the environment, pandering to homophobia and bigotry, running the biggest debts in world history to give tax cuts to the very richest, violating international treaties, cutting back civil liberties, executing preemptive and unjustified war, giving our enemies strength and our allies deep reservation. I’m outraged and disgusted by our current administration. Worse, after all of the things this administration has done, on top of a horrible economy and failed war, the American people reelected this monstrous group of immoral liars and crooks. I feel completely disconnected from people who would even contemplate voting for them.
Two things in particular bother me above all else. First is what the rest of the world will now think of us. I have lived overseas extensively, and I have always been proud of what the United States represents. But at this point I don’t see how even our closest allies can view us as a force for good in the world. Second is the United States’ historical legacy. 200 hundred years from now, what will it look like we represented? What has become of democracy if this is who gets elected to the most powerful post in the world?
12. The Armpit does not officially endorse either political party. We figure we’d majorly turn off half our audience, no matter which party we favored. Turning this around to you, aren’t you afraid of the same thing? For instance, Mick Foley is taking a huge risk of offending Republican fans by backing John Kerry, just as all those Hollywood actors and political rock bands are.
I’m glad to have the opportunity to clarify this point. When I write my articles, there are no politics. They aren’t relevant to the specific point I am making, so they get left out. I’m not looking to turn my articles into dissertations on politics. But I view the TV reports differently.
My philosophy on those is that I am writing what comes to my mind as I watch the show. So you get a different style. You get my sarcasm. You get my references to sports, music, movies, video games, and yes, politics. I’m a very political person, and when I’m watching the show I relate things I see to political figures and events. Believe me; I edit out political thoughts almost every week. I want to emphasize that point, because it’s completely true and I don’t think anyone who doesn’t know me personally realizes it. I spend much, much more time trying to get politics out of the reports, as opposed to putting them in. But I’m not going to completely neuter the spirit of the reports in the interest of not offending anyone. When WWE brings up politically charged issues, I’m not going to coyly pretend that I don’t have strong personal opinions and reactions to them. I’m never going to be selling anything to readers.
That’s not my personal ambition. So if they don’t like what I say about politics, and don’t want to read, that’s their prerogative. It’s no skin off my back.
13. Please rate the following lawyers on a scale of 1 to 10. You’re welcome to comment on them as well, if you’d like:
Mark Geragos: 6.
Greta Van Susteren: 3.
Gloria Allred: 8.
F. Lee Bailey: 2.
Johnnie Cochran: 8.
Robert Shapiro: 5.
Barry Scheck: 5.
Alan Dershowitz: 6.
Marcia Clark: 2.
Gerry Spence (he can cut a promo on the level of Ric Flair or Ole Anderson; just an awesome presence): 10.
Christopher Darden: 2.
Laura Brevetti (WWE lawyer): 7.
Jerry McDevitt (another WWE lawyer): No comment. He has been nice and helpful to me so I can’t comment objectively.
14. Scott Peterson… guilty?
I don’t follow media-created news very closely. But it certainly sounds like it.
15. Why in the world did WWE continue to use the WWF initials overseas after they had agreed not to? They only have themselves to blame on the repercussions on that one.
That’s not much of a question there, Mr. Professor. Yes, you are correct sir.
16. In 10 words or less (or more, if you can spare the time), please give us your opinion on the following wrestling court cases:
Lionel Tate using wrestling as an excuse for killing a young child: It was just a bogus claim by his lawyer. I can’t get too upset about it, because it was an abomination the sentence they were trying to get for that kid. Outside of that context, I would have been angrier about it.
Lewmar Inc. being sued for Owen Hart’s death: They deserved it. I’ve always felt WWE has gotten too much criticism for the decision to have Owen come down from the ceiling. Yes, it was unnecessary. But it shouldn’t be dangerous at all if they exercised reasonable care. A tope should be more dangerous than that stunt, and I don’t think WWE would have done it if they thought there was any danger. Lewmar, on the other hand, knew they could be responsible for the safety of a human being, and were knowingly allowing their product to be used in ways it should not have been.
Jobber Chuck Austin being awarded $20+ million for taking the Rocker Dropper wrong: That’s a tougher one. I hadn’t really re-evaluated that since taking torts. My tendency is to believe that there was an assumption of risk involved with Austin, and absent a heightened negligence, he didn’t deserve such a large payout.
The ECW Mass Transit incident: New Jack should have faced criminal punishment for that. That was completely outside the realm of a wrestling match.
WWE vs. WWF: The World Wrestling Federation broke its agreement. I don’t know why they signed the agreement in the first place. I don’t think the two entities created any marketplace confusion and I don’t think the Fed was obliged to sign anything. Once they signed it, I don’t know why they reneged on the deal. Just stupid, arrogant actions by the now WWE all around, and the real punishment still hasn’t arrived.
The racial discrimination lawsuit filed by Sonny Onoo against Turner: People tend to dismiss that case because of who was filing it. But just because Onoo was a joke doesn’t mean there wasn’t racial discrimination. And if they were discriminating against people with talent, it makes sense to think they were discriminating against people without talent, even if those people wouldn’t have been much better off either way.
Nicole Bass suing WWE for sexual harassment: That was just a money grab, in my opinion.
Missy Hyatt suing WCW for sexual harassment: I think that was completely warranted. I have little doubt the people at WCW thought they could do anything they wanted to her, and I applaud her courage.
Vince McMahon’s infamous steroid trial of 1994: Maybe Vince should be responsible in some way for the rampant steroid abuse in his company. But those specific charges didn’t fit.
WWE potentially suing TNA for possibly airing footage of their “invasion” in Orlando: Now that would be absolutely hilarious on so many levels. TNA could show footage of the Monday Night War DVD and kill that lawsuit in a hurry.
WWF suing WCW for insinuating Scott Hall and Kevin Nash worked for WWF during the 1996 invasion angle: That turned into such a joke, but WWF did have a point. They were trying to use the characters WWF created (although Hall did have some of the same mannerisms as the Diamond Studd). I always thought Dave in the Observer didn’t take the issue as seriously as I thought it deserved to be taken. While WWF was certainly not clean in the various tactics it used in various wrestling wars, that doesn’t make what WCW did right from a legal or moral perspective.
WWE suing teenagers for selling/trading their copyrighted videotapes: They’re legally right to do it, but it seems to me they ought to find better things to do with their time.
17. Let’s play the “Last of Todd Martin:”
Last time you went to a frat party: A year and a half ago or so.
Last time you visited The Armpit: A few days ago.
Last time you spoke to Dave Meltzer: It’s been a while. Maybe six months to a year.
Last time you thought to yourself that the only reason you continue to watch Raw is that you have to do the write-up for the website: Never. The whole reason I have kept doing the Raw reports while stopping columns is that it doesn’t add any time to my week. I’ve been watching Raw since its beginning, and I’m not stopping no matter how bad it gets. I’m still a Redskins fan, still a Capitals fan, still a Wizards fan. I’m willing to stick with the losing team.
Last time you were offended by something you saw on a wrestling show: That depends on your definition of offended. People seem to think I’m screaming at the television over portrayals, when I’m not. I state my opinions strongly, but there’s a big difference between an intellectual criticism and a negative visceral reaction. That said, the last time I remember being outright offended was those Guerrero Lie Cheat Steal vignettes. I thought those were horrible offensive racist stereotypes. The irony is that I was watching the show every week at that time with a friend who is Hispanic, and it didn’t really bother him. Not that he endorsed it or anything.
Last WWE DVD you saw or purchased (and which one was it): The Rise and Fall of ECW. WWE does a hell of a job with its DVDs. I’ve picked up many of them: Benoit, ECW, Monday Night Wars, Guerrero, Foley, Flair, Hogan, Michaels and more.
Last time you felt egotistical and went back to read your old Pick My Brain with this website: I don’t see how reading my own words would boost my ego. Not that I’m saying it doesn’t manifest itself in other ways.
Last time you got a piece of hate mail for something you wrote in a Raw recap: I get specific points of criticism frequently. But outright hate mail? I don’t remember. Maybe eight months or so.
Last time someone wrote you and said, “I miss Mike Coughlin:” I don’t recall that happening.
Last time you had more than 1 hour of spare time during finals week: Every finals week. You can’t kill yourself for exams. It leaves you tired and off your game. Finishing papers is another story.
Last time you counted the months until you were done with this damn law school: Never.
Last time you wondered what the Hell you were thinking by wanting to be a lawyer: During exams. Not that I regret my decision. But it’s the sort of thing one does wonder from time to time no matter where you are.
18. Which of the following do you plan to specialize in, and why?
A. Family law
C. Criminal law
D. Immigration law
E. Corporate law
F. Intellectual property
H. Don’t know
I. Other (please specify)
19. Mike Coughlin used to ogle over the women on Raw, even when he took your place for that one week you were out. You, on the other hand, always rip on the exploitation of women whenever they show women on Raw (except for Victoria). Why such a difference in reaction, and has anyone ever written you asking you to lighten up a bit?
To answer the easy part, yes, people write me telling me to lighten up relatively frequently. The two most frequent points of criticism I get are “lighten up” and “leave out the political comments.” Those probably make up 90 percent of criticism I get, actually. As far as my perspective, the WWE has always been so sleazy and overt about its sexual exploitation of the female characters. It’s not done in a sexy way, but in a really sleazy bottom of the barrel type of way that makes me feel dirty watching the show. There are plenty of gorgeous women on that roster, and I’m happy to watch them in scantily clad clothing. I have no problem with that. But they go overboard way too often. I remember watching the segment with Trish Stratus barking like a dog in a common room of my college, which happened to be sixty percent female. I went to the television prepared to turn it off and walk out of the room if anyone came, because I was so ashamed of what I was watching. I shouldn’t be ashamed to watch wrestling, so I voice my disapproval when WWE showcases its sexist tendencies that have become more rampant in the past six years.
20. I was on BART yesterday (the public transportation operator in San Francisco), and some liberal was on the train, with a bike and sign that read “END ISRAELI OCCUPATION, STOP THE WAR, PALESTINE STATEHOOD.” Oh great, another protest in San Francisco. I couldn’t help but think, “Jeez lady, why aren’t you at work??” Everyone else gave her the same look. It is women like her that I believe caused John Kerry to lose, because many people associate Democrats with left-leaning bomb throwers like this lady. Do you agree with that assessment, and why don’t so many college kids realize just how badly they come off when they protest like this?
I’ve never been into the protest scene, even though a lot of my friends have been. I just don’t see it as being terribly effective, and I do agree that it gives off a bad vibe. It also cries out naiveté. That said, there are certainly bigger problems in the world than the way people choose to express their outrage. It’s ironic you identify her as a figurative bomb thrower, when she was just using words. On the other hand, the actions she criticizes are using bombs. And I disagree it’s people like her that caused Kerry to lose. Despite her good intentions, I’m not sure the woman you speak of was being effective. However, I certainly think the problems she identifies do a lot more harm in the world than she does by holding up a sign.
21. Finally, last question. Every company needs a vision for the future, or else it will die and get eaten by the competition (unless you are WWE, in which case you can remain profitable even by being completely incompetent and having no competition). You’ve just been given the book by WWE, with the promise that Stephanie, HHH, and Vince will not overturn your decisions and will give you 100% control. What first 5 steps would you take to establish your vision, and which 5 stars would you build around (you can bring in any free agent you’d like)?
The wrestling business isn’t in as bad shape as people make it out to be. Its problems are largely of its own devices. WWE is the largest wrestling company in the world. If it can right the ship, the business everywhere will improve. The WWE has just been awful in recent years. Luckily, it has been so over the top terrible that simple booking competence would offer a breath of fresh air. There are also more opportunities than people seem to think there are. First, there are some framework, big picture issues.
“WWE style” needs to die, now. That doesn’t mean WWE has to go into strong style all of a sudden. It means that the same twenty moves every wrestler uses needs to be expanded. There are plenty of safe moves that look different than the current move set. Matches have become monotonous and boring because they all look the same. Wrestlers need to be able to do what they do best. WWE was wise to try to protect wrestlers’ safety. However, they have gone overboard and they need to loosen the reigns.
Another basic change is that wins have to matter again. If a wrestler wins a big match, they need to move up in the card. If they lose, they have to move down the card. Right now, wrestlers all end up the same place whether they win or not. Thus winning is indicative of nothing. Wins need to be re-emphasized.
New wrestlers and wrestlers with upside need to be protected. A new wrestler should not job in his first two months, at least. Fans need to be able to react and tell the promotion what they think of the new wrestler before the promotion decides their spot on the card. Wrestlers cannot have their legs cut out from them early. That also means that they need to be given gimmicks with potential upside. WWE has devoted way too much time in recent years to characters that cannot reach past the midcard simply because of gimmick. Simon Dean is the perfect example.
Likewise, if a wrestler is someone with upside, they should start low on the card, but winning conclusively over their opponents. Then they can beat midcarders, and then if they are ready they can be moved to the top. Once wins matter again, losses are also going to matter more. So protection becomes even more important.
Swerves need to happen no more than once every six months. Swerves can be some of the most effective elements in wrestling, but if you overdo them they mean nothing. Swerves have been done to death and fans are sick of them. Wrestlers need to act with a very believable set of motivations. They should not do anything that doesn’t make complete sense. Swerves need to be intricately planned so even they make perfect sense in hindsight. Logic in booking is an absolute must.
WWE could choose any number of wrestlers to build around, because they have a very talented roster. I would simply pick the wrestlers who the crowd seems to be the most behind. The audience hasn’t been given what it wants for years, so the first step to a turnaround is just featuring the wrestlers they most want to see. John Cena is to me the top guy for the future, because he’s got such great charisma. However, they have to be very careful with his character. He needs to smile less, and he needs to be a harder character.
My big angle for Cena would be an elaborate blend of the hip-hop East Coast/West Coast feud and the Randy Savage/Hulk Hogan angle of 1988-1989. The mid 90s East Coast/West Coast hip-hop feud was as powerful and interesting as any wrestling angle. It is also a perfect angle to play off with Cena, since Cena’s character should be loosely modeled after Tupac Shakur. The Mega Powers angle on the other hand, is one that hasn’t been done in wrestling in a while. I think it was a very successful formula of two face friends who are torn apart and forced to feud.
The starting point of the angle is John Cena joining someone else to feud with a large heel faction. I think the ideal opposition is Evolution, so I would set him up to jump to Raw. Randy Orton and Batista aren’t working in their current roles, so I would execute a double turn at WrestleMania, with Orton re-joining Triple H, Flair and Edge in Evolution and costing Batista the title in a triple threat match in the WrestleMania main event. The next night Batista would be the hot face, and he would announce he has a surprise for Evolution, bringing in the surprise of John Cena.
Of important note to all of this is that Cena is not raided by Eric Bischoff. He is not signed by Eric Bischoff. He is not traded for by Eric Bischoff. He jumps, because he can. For too long wrestlers have been the pawns of general managers. Fans want the wrestlers to be the ones in control, and that is the way it has to be.
That would set up Batista and Cena as the super-face combination, and I would have them feud with Evolution for an entire year. They are different enough that they wouldn’t overshadow the other’s role. First Batista would be the challenger, and he would win the title from HHH at SummerSlam. At Survivor Series, Cena would be scheduled for Batista’s corner, with HHH in Orton’s corner in the title match. However, Evolution would jump Cena backstage so he couldn’t be in Batista’s corner, and Batista would lose the title to Orton. That would plant the seeds of dissent in the team of Batista and Cena, and they would tease that until around the Royal Rumble, which Cena would win. However, Batista and Cena would make up, and they would move away from that all the way up until WrestleMania. There, Cena and Orton would square off in the main event, but Batista would turn on Cena and re-join Evolution.
The next year would be Cena as the ultimate rebel, betrayed by his best friend, feuding with all of the top heels, and having to go through all of them to get to Batista, who would end up with the title later in the year. He would go through all of Evolution, and finally get revenge and win his first world title against Batista at WrestleMania XXIII. I would try to get the hottest act in hip-hop at that point to have Cena’s back against Evolution at that show, to get some mainstream publicity.
The co-feature of Raw would be the tag team division. Tag team wrestling has drawn in various territories, and it hasn’t been emphasized in so long that it would feel fresh. First WWE should disband the Smackdown Tag Titles, so there is only one top team in the world. Then I would create a number of tag teams that are regular teams. To emphasize their ability to team well, official tag teams would defeat “dream teams” occasionally. I would also feature tag team championship matches as main events of Raw relatively frequently to emphasize their value.
On Smackdown, I would go a different route. I was not that discouraged with the way WWE handled the Daniel Puder-Kurt Angle situation. My thinking is you have no idea if Puder is ever going to be perceived as a star, and no one knew what happened. The idea of an MMA guy tapping Kurt Angle is a good one, but you can do it yourself with someone you know everyone will take to as a star. Someone like a Tito Ortiz, who only has one more fight left on his UFC contract and has shown interest in pro wrestling. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is another obvious pick, depending on his contractual situation. I would bring in Tito Ortiz and push him to the moon.
Fans of WWE I think are intrigued to some degree by UFC, even if they don’t know exactly what it is. I think a UFC fighter coming in would work if booked right, and Ortiz is the guy to do it. He has tremendous charisma, and the angle would work as the push of a mysterious outsider. Of paramount importance to this is Ortiz never talks about wrestling being fake, or wrestlers not being tough. The angle is that he thinks he is tougher than any of the current roster, because the angle doesn’t work if you send the message that pro wrestlers or pro wrestling matches aren’t important.
You start to plant the seeds for this angle by playing up the Puder-Angle incident some. Angle eventually gets a match with Puder and beats him decisively. He proceeds to brag about how no one in UFC could beat anyone in WWE. That sets up Tito Ortiz coming and laying out the challenge. Angle, by then champion, backs down, and tells Tito to fight a heel Big Show, who they build up from now until then. They set up Tito’s first match on Smackdown, against Big Show. Do everything you can to differentiate Tito from the rest of the show. Do the introductions in the ring, like they do in UFC, so Tito can jump up and down, run around the ring and do his routine. Darken the crowd lighting for the fight, to make it seem different and to concentrate all the interest on the fight. And then have Tito demolish Big Show.
Do a toned down version of Shinya Hashimoto-Naoya Ogawa match that helped to make Ogawa into a huge mainstream star. Tito will just ground and pound the guy, stiff him hard with elbows and punches, bust him open, and have the referee stop the fight less than two minutes in. Carry Show out on a stretcher, and treat it like a total shoot. Have it be the main event, and go off the air 15 minutes early to treat it as something completely unique.
Then at the beginning of the next week’s show, have Vince McMahon act like normal Vince McMahon for the first time since 1996 and apologize for what happened and say Tito Ortiz will never appear again in WWE. Don’t use Tito for the next four months, while Angle talks shit about him and builds himself up as the champ and toughest guy. Act like Ortiz is a taboo subject, and never bring him up even if people are bringing in signs or chanting for him.
Finally, when WWE comes to southern California, you have Tito Ortiz front row ringside, but you don’t bring extra attention to it. After Angle’s match, he challenges Tito Ortiz, and the promotion acts like it is a shoot. The announcers say we are going to cut away from this, and they show a crowd shot. With no commentators saying anything, you just let the crowd reactions inform the audience at home what’s going on, as Ortiz enters into the ring and proceeds to demolish the WWE champion. Show medical attention coming to ringside, and cut away from the arena altogether. The key is that no one on television actually sees what Ortiz does to Angle, but everyone knows something he hurt him badly.
Angle isn’t on television for a number of weeks, and he is forced to vacate the world title. That sets up a world title tournament, which can elevate a new star to the top of the card. When Angle returns, he demands a match with Tito Ortiz. That is treated as a co-feature of WrestleMania XXII, along with Cena vs. Orton and the finals of the world title tournament. They never show what happened with Angle-Ortiz, which creates intrigue and mystery in the fan base. Depending on how well Ortiz does during this time, you can then go to him challenging for the world title next and make him the superman babyface.
My co-feature for Smackdown would be the cruiserweight division, which has to be renamed. I’m not sure what to call it, but it needs to be a term like X-division, where it does not distinguish size or “youth.” I would sign Christopher Daniels, A.J. Styles, Bryan Danielson, Low Ki, Chris Sabin, Michael Shane, Super Dragon and Jack Evans when they are available. Add them to Rey Mysterio, Ultimo Dragon, Billy Kidman, and the rest of the WWE lighter weight guys and you have got a hell of a roster. Give those wrestlers 20 minute matches, and let them do their thing. Moreover, I would feature them in the main event slot frequently, and treat their belt as being very analogous in stature to the world title. That would give each Raw and Smackdown two chief foci, and the promotion a direction for the next few years. Then you just build on that success by introducing new characters, elevating promising ones, and going with what works.
Thanks to Todd for taking time out of his incredibly busy academic schedule to shoot the breeze with us.
For you Republicans reading this who got offended and outraged reading this, we’ll be interviewing Mike Coughlin again soon, and he might have some interesting things to say. And as always, we respect Todd’s ability to say whatever the Hell he wants, and for making something of his life.
If you want more Todd, check out the weekly Raw recaps and archives at www.wrestlingobserver.com. Thanks a million to Todd for agreeing to our interview.