THE OBTUSE ANGLE Long Reign's Journey Into Night September 19, 2003
by Jeb Tennyson Lund OnlineOnslaught.com
Triple H has held the World Title for roughly thirteen months. Yes, Shawn Michaels technically held it for one of those, but it was a brief interruption in a far more significant span of time, exemplified by the acts and words and dominance of one man. Thirteen months. Babies have been conceived, born and learned how to spit-up on their parents in that time.
Presumably, the Triple H fans have had a great time. Their boy was on top. The Triple H conspiracists and detractors have been miserable, but they've consoled themselves with the notion that the long reign has infused the title with significance that is transferable when the title is passed to someone new. And the Triple H fans have quickly agreed, if only to keep Triple H-bashing at bay.
But both parties should be asking themselves the same question right now: We built to this for thirteen months? We've spent so long convincing ourselves that long title reigns are a good thing that we forgot about the fact that life goes on after the reign's end and that other circumstances affect the title. Upon realizing that, things don't look so positive. It seems we have arrived at the worst of circumstances.
A thirteen-month title reign is thirteen months of latent action, latent reaction, latent force. It is over a year of potential energy: a great surge of expectant fan ecstasy intensifying and remaining bottled up. The worth of the title reign is only felt when the title changes hands when the great tide of expectation finally explodes into reality. Yet, after all these months of intensity, this title will change hands with a whimper, a sigh, a great guttering ebb of wasted power. The long title reign will be wasted.
The Reign As months passed and we launched ourselves further in praise of long title reigns, we started pushing the "effects" of title reigns back. They no longer ended when the belt changed hands. Instead, title reigns supposedly lingered for months afterward, and the euphoria resulting from the change stuck around more persistently than the taste of garlic in your mouth.
This is just silly. Triple H's reign, like any other, ends when it ends. We might be really happy about someone else winning, but that sensation fades. Even the internet, that stubbornest of public forums, will tire of saying, "Well, at least the new champ isn't Triple H" inside of a month. Thirteen months of Triple H does not rubber stamp approval for whatever future lies in store for us.
Basically, Triple H keeping the belt for about a year has made many of us excited about him losing it. But that excitement will not be enough to overcome our disappointment if the next reign is boring, botched, predictable or otherwise ill-conceived. Where does thirteen months of investment go if it's followed by a month of nightmares? How long can the novelty of his losing excuse the future?
Those questions are very real and very serious when we consider the dearth of strong contenders out there. The bookers have contrived to make most of Triple H's challengers look so mortally weak or inconsequential that his vacating the belt would make the title picture look almost entirely vacant. Those who would be significant challengers are mired in ongoing feuds, and those free to challenge need time to restore (or generate) credibility. The thirteen months spent adding value to the belt have not seen much value added to those seeking it. As such, the relative lack of worth of contenders must be subtracted from the worth of the reign/belt leaving us close to where we started nearly a year ago.
In short, no matter how long you spend elevating a belt and the person carrying it, if you spend no time readying someone else to take possession, that elevated title plummets back to earth. A valuable belt fought for by valueless contenders makes the contest inconsequential. Naturally, this consideration brings us to the belt's contender and a parallel (but far worse) problem.
The Contender In order for a long title reign and the elevation of the belt to work, their worth ultimately needs to go to someone who needs and maintains their aura of pricelessness. He who wins the belt needs to need it, to clutch it desperately: to take into his character the value that the belt has and that he lacks. Goldberg is not this man.
No matter how high Triple H elevated the World Title, it was within Goldberg's reach upon his first entering the WWE. Upon first seeing him, no one doubted that he was going to be "unstoppable," just as in WCW. Instead of title ownership being a matter learning, struggling and adapting, it was really just a matter of time. From moment one, Goldberg was the uncrowned champion: a respected and applauded monster whose lack of possession of the belt was owed to circumstance, not any possible inability.
These are the conditions that ultimately will make Triple H's long title reign worthless. If Goldberg is so superior that it is a foregone conclusion that he deserves the belt above all others, what does it matter what happened to the belt before he won it? It's his, regardless. It could have skipped from RVD to Michaels to Booker to Kane to Triple H in the last year, and it wouldn't alter that fact. Because when a force of personality like Goldberg so galvanizes public enthusiasm and belief, no perfect or imperfect prelude to a title win is necessary. What matters is that we know the belt is rightfully his. All other conditions become secondary.
The sheer inevitability that Goldberg represents overwhelms and negates the drama of winning a long-held title. Since entering the WWE, Goldberg has changed not a whit. He has learned nothing, adapted in no way. Not one challenge has forced him to be a better or more diverse wrestler or character. Everything he has confronted has been obliterated, making him less a human being and more an irreducible principle of physics.
Goldberg is the only person who can plausibly win the title right now, but he's the last person who should win it. The length of Triple H's title reign has imbued the belt with so much significance that it will make its winner worth his own weight in gold. Goldberg is like a nomadic tribal leader who doesn't care about gold and is already worth his weight in rare beads. The belt is a treasure he does not need to value; and, compared to his own essential worth, he does not need it at all. Why bother?
The Match Perhaps the features of the upcoming match disappoint most of all. Month after month of successful title defenses have made Triple H into a compelling, impressive, dominant and loathsome champion. He is both a man who can cunningly cheat you of victory and a man who can surprise you with his own honest unassisted prowess. Goldberg has undone all of that.
Triple H is still a cunning cheat, but his power seems to have faded entirely. After months of making the belt mean something, the maker has been exposed as a fraud, a coward, a petty weakling reliant on aid from two other cheaters. If he is a faded champion, his championship is equally faded, tarnished by the inedequacy of its possessor. And those who vied for it and lost are more so.
The wealth of this belt is now either nearly nonexistent or non-transferable because of the degradation of its owner and the unquestioned power of the challenger. How can the belt be the apex of achievement when he who holds it is unquestionably a lesser man than he who strives for it? Because of this, the struggle for it is now dull, too. There is little drama to this match at all.
The way to make that long title reign mean something and make the new champion also mean something is to create doubt. For that, you need a challenger who must ascend to a higher level to earn the belt. And you need a match where his losing is possible. By making Triple H the reeling weakling and Goldberg the seemingly "true" indefatigable champion, the audience does not need to emotionally invest in Goldberg.
And that's the most damnable feature of this match. A Goldberg win won't be the culmination of all our hopes and dreams but a confirmation of what we knew already. Who needs to cheer, to scream, root, sweat and ball one's fists together in furious desire when one knows that Goldberg is too strong to lose?
Worse, who needs to do this when we know that Goldberg will not be retired, drummed out of the WWE and all wrestling forevermore? The retirement stipulation removed almost all doubt. Again, why bother? No one least of all Goldberg needs our chants. In wrestling, where we all know that the outcomes are determined, certainty is the death of fanaticism.
Were this a match between Triple H and anyone else, the drama would be overwhelming. Could RVD, Jericho, Booker, Michaels, Nash or someone else manage to find the inner strength to not only save their careers but also validate all our adoration? How would they do it? A new finisher? Mat wrestling? A heel turn and vicious cheating? A bloody stand-off? Brute reptilian-brained resistance?
The contender has killed the drama of the match. What drama might have survived was killed by the retirement stipulation. Thus, a long title reign may end not in shock and adulation but in strict cynical inevitability. Cynicism not directed at the match stipulations and performers can be directed at the remaining "insider" circumstances.
"The Conspiracy" People who read wrestling websites know that Triple H has a deep thigh bruise and other nagging injuries. They also know that he is getting married soon and would probably like a honeymoon. In light of those facts, he needs some time off TV, to heal, take snapshots, order room service and giggle with his porcine bride.
Put another mark on the board for the "inevitability" theory.
As one might assume, I'm not fond of Triple H, but neither am I a conspiracist. While I know he has a surfeit of backstage influence, I don't view him as an agent of evil, and I would think him a fool not to exploit his influence while he has it. That said, many people do not think like me, and see in the added match stipulations a kind of blueprint for conspiracy.
The title can be lost due to disqualification or a count-out. What many people see in this is the possibility that Goldberg may win the title in a manner that minimizes his strengths and minimizes Triple H's weaknesses. Goldberg gets to be champion while Triple H keeps some credibility. How can this happen? Let's say an overzealous Randy Orton thinks he can hit Goldberg with a chair while the ref isn't looking. The ref sees it, at the last second. Triple H is disqualified and never really loses. Goldberg wins the belt, goes berserk and so brutalizes Triple H that Triple H needs to take a month off to recover.
And while others might marshal this circumstance to support their ever-burning hatred of Triple H, it's far more significant for the worth of his title reign. In short, he will have spent ten months defeating all comers only to lose in a way that conveys no drama. The worth of the title belt never passes to another. Triple H keeps the glory while another keeps only the appearance of it. The investment in the belt becomes only an investment in Triple H. Hopefully, we won't notice because we like Goldberg so much.
So Much Wasted The attempt to legitimize the World Title was noble and successful. Another major attempt was to infuse it with such importance that those who would later possess it would inherit its symbol of excellence, dominance and worth. If the belt changes hands this Sunday, at Unforgiven, that other attempt will fail.
Goldberg is already as big as, or bigger, than the worth of the belt. As such, his winning it changes nothing about him. (If anything, it might make him less compelling, as Goldberg has always been better as the would-be champion.) The investment made in the belt will not transfer to someone of equal or lesser importance than the belt itself: it will remain, unabsorbed, like a puddle smeared by an already over-saturated sponge. The best dramatic intentions will be unfulfilled the last year of the belt's history wiped away by Goldberg's persona.
Worse, there is no drama involved in this change. We expect Goldberg to win. What could have been an honor bestowed on someone who prevailed against all doubt will instead be confirmation of what we knew all along. No surprises means no elation, no riotous glee.
Finally, this change may come in the most compromised manner possible. A disqualification- or count-out-related title change will mean victory for the man who deserved the belt. But it will be a victory so hollow that approval of it will always be tempered by exceptions. "He won, and he should have won. But he didn't really win."
A title reign is only as good as what it promotes after it. No matter how great a championship reign is, if it can't make the succeeding reign triumphant and important, it hasn't done its job. This championship has seen a powerful victor become effete and cowardly. It will be challenged by a man whose right to it is almost totally assured. And it will be challenged in an atmosphere of possible cop-out endings, incomplete losses and incomplete victories.
Lost in the jagged wake of this championship and this match are those we supported; those who desperately needed that win; those we desperately cheered; those we cared about so much; and that certain wonder that comes from excellence and fortitude trumping doubt that sense of the possible improbably eclipsing the expected. Lost in that wake are Kane, RVD, Booker, Jericho and even Nash. Lost is the joy. The spectacular is gone, leaving only some legitimacy, and a sense of what must not what could be.
Once again Jeb, you succeed in hitting the nail square on the head. Outstanding work.
I would say that Hunter's title reign has been on a rather steep downward slide since his feud with Shawn ended. With each passing day he has been like a figurehead king whos empire is crumbling aroud him and whos advisors snicker behind his back. He sits on his throne, the years heavy on his body and the fire gone from his eyes. He sits in quiet reservation awating the invading Goldberg.
The buildup for the title change was totally weak. They handcuffed themselves with the win or leave stip. They have no idea how much good it would have done the belt if Hunter had have stopped Goldberg in his tracks. To actually make him struggle and not just steam roll. Even one loss would have been enough. The alternating pay per views makes that impractical tho considering that Hunter needs to go away for a while.
The fact that it was a forgone conclusion made me and others I know, totally lose interest. I didn't even bother to watch Unforgiven.
But I digress...
Anyway, Great column Jeb. Took the words right outta my mouth. (and said them much better than I ever could) :)
I have to disagree with this one. With the proper build and the win-or-retire stip, you'd think that a Booker or an RVD could be someone that fans could finally get behind. But I just don't think it could be done. I think Hunter has completely buried everyone so deeply in the dirt that no matter what you say or how you build it no one he's worked with in the past year is believable as a challenger. Since he didn't have time to bury Goldberg, people bought into him.
I am a firm believer than a reign is only as good as the matches it's made of. Triple H's reign would be a huge watershed moment if it had been a hot or even remotely entertaining reign. But it was month after month of boring drudgery, match after predictable match, deflating pedigrees forever and ever amen to the nth degree. It wasn't like the Rock's initial heel reigns, where the shmuch arrogant heel almost lost the title every night. It was more like slavery, because it went on way too long and no one believed the uprisers ever had a chance.
Now, if the title reverts back to Hunter the point will be moot. Goldberg's short reign will be but a small statistical anomaly quickly rectified, like HBK's was last year. If they keep it on Goldberg, I guess we'll see what effect it has. Goldy was on WWE.com saying he's willing to work house shows and go the extra mile now that he's champ again, and that's he's fallen into a comfort zone and is really enjoying himself. Who knows, maybe there's a shot at him drawing some numbers, which, if such turns out to be the case, it won't make any sense to put the belt back on Hunter.
Only time will tell.
Disagreement aside, great argument as usual, best stuff around, as usual. I worship at the altar of the sheer girth of your mental wang...
"Whatever I just posted above is what your mother said in bed last night."
I'm glad that everyone seemed to enjoy it, even those who disagreed with it. While I don't know just how great the girth of my mental wang is, I appreciate the good word.
As for the potential fantasy booking resulting from this title change, I entertain as many different hopeful possibilites as you. I can't say which is better, worse, more viable or otherwise; all I can say is that I approach this recent change with suspicion and dread. Suspicion because the option of most optimal worth seems to never be taken, and dread because its exact opposite seems, however impractical, the most probable.
As for my "porcine" comment: yes, I knew it was excessive. But I have to give vent to these indulgences whenever I write something too serious. I mean, this column featured so few Dennis Miller-esque one-liners that I had to cheat and goof in the one way I could. Serious columns like this offer so few avenues for silly word-play. I hate having a point so "important" that there is no room for joking around. Just because the message might mean a lot (at least to me) doesn't mean that it shouldn't be enjoyable along the way.
Jokes, jokes, more jokes! And pass the hock and soda water!
It's a line from Byron's "Don Juan," Matt. Sorry. No passing you.
"And for the future (but I write this reeling, Having got drunk exceedingly to-day, So that I seem to stand upon the ceiling) I say the future is a serious matter And so for God's sake hock and soda water!"
"Hock" is a peculiarly British term for (white) Rhine wines. Like their use of "claret" for red wines from Bordeaux.