Nostalgia is WWE’s biggest weapon… with a tinge of spite

Nostalgia is WWE’s biggest weapon… with a tinge of spite

The WWE can make a throwback work when it wants to

Screenshot: Screenshot: WWE

There might not be a promise I’ve broken more than saying I won’t mention AEW when discussing WWE, and vice versa. I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten it right. It’s not so easy when that’s the main narrative of the wrestling industry these days. And it’s also hard to avoid when WWE, on their biggest night, is doing stuff like this:

So it’s clear that WWE felt the need to needle their new competitors, even if they’ll never admit that they’re competitors. I’ll get to Cody himself tomorrow, but WrestleMania is supposed to be the grandest exhibition of what WWE has over the rest of the business. The scale, the bombast, the sheer enormity of everything around and in Mania is simply not anything anyone could dream of matching. The pop Cody got when entering last night could only be found in one place, which is a big reason he came back to New York.

The match of the night belonged to Becky Lynch and Bianca Belair, as it was always going to. If WWE was trying to showcase what it has that no one else does, the kinds of stars that they’ve made Lynch and Belair into is a good place to start. Their handling of the women’s division only is better than AEW’s because sometimes they pay attention to it rather than almost never, and only at the top, but the level of anticipation and then delivery from those two last night certainly proves that when WWE wants to they can get it gloriously right.

But what WWE has over everyone, and by an amount that’s simply incomprehensible, is its history. What makes Mania “MANIA” is what’s come before. What it’s been built for over 38 years. It’s not just the biggest event on the calendar for wrestling fans. It’s the show where Macho Man and Steamboat redefined the term “classic.” Or Stone Cold and Bret Hart. Undertaker and Michaels. The Rock and Stone Cold. Hulk and Warrior. When you attend or watch Mania, the echoes of those matches and so many others are sitting next to you.

So while the cynical can, rightly, point to Steve Austin’s return last night as just a ploy to sell tickets in Dallas when sales were flagging, WWE can get away with it because of what Austin’s return means. They can call on that. There may come a time when AEW can do the same, 10 or 15 years down the line. For now they just try and wring memories of ROH and NJPW and other companies around the world that aren’t nostalgia so much as just inside-baseball winking. And that works for their audience.

It’s that base of history that made Austin’s match with Kevin Owens so good for everyone. It wasn’t just Austin’s return or that he was more ambulatory than a cadaver holding out a collection plate for Vince like Undertaker was in his last couple years, or Goldberg and his malfunctioning forklift way of doing everything. It was more than Owens working his ass off to make Austin look good and credible, though that had a lot to do with it.

It was the fact that through the build, through his role as playing the taunter and asshole, baiting the entire state of Texas into this through Austin, Owens didn’t do much to hide that this was the ultimate dream come true for him. Every fan was living through Owens, who probably never believed he would get to work a match with Stone Cold until it was upon him. We all got to experience it. Through Owens’s work we could feel his utter joy.

Which is what makes Owens by far the best candidate to lead Austin through a match like this. Owens’s appeal is multifaceted. He’s perhaps the best talker in the company. Despite his bouncer-like physique he’s among the best workers too. But it’s his reverence for wrestling as a whole, its many approaches to telling a story and its history and its tropes, that always shines through the most. It’s why he’s not afraid to call upon his encyclopedic knowledge of wrestling’s past to influence a match, whether it is his history or someone else’s. KO just loves it so much that we can’t help but do so along with him. He must wonder how he is going to top last night.

It’s easy to scoff at WWE going through the storage facility to pull out some aged star when it needs more tickets bought or eyeballs on Peacock. And it has gone wrong in so many cases. The difference between when it goes right and when it goes wrong is when it’s merely just tossing some very sore and very achy guys in their 50s out to the ring for no reason, and when it’s actually building on its history. Austin at Mania still means something, in a way that Goldberg and Undertaker in Saudi Arabia can’t. Sure, Owens and Austin hit all the notes you’d have expected. But so do the Rolling Stones when they play “Jumping Jack Flash.” Doesn’t make it any less fulfilling.

That doesn’t mean WWE should be pulling out some legend for every PPV or every other Raw. This is the time and place for it, because Mania is a celebration of WWE’s history as much as anything else, a history only they have. And they’re likely to be the only ones to ever have such a thing. And the buzz they’ll get from last night’s main event will last weeks, even when they eventually (and disappointingly) squander it. It’s the trigger they, and only they, can pull. And when they get it right, they remind you why they have it.

Original source here

#Nostalgia #WWEs #biggest #weapon #tinge #spite

About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.