Lutz's Blog: WWE often willing to give wrestlers, past and present, a second chance
By Jeffrey Lutz
The Ultimate Warrior is back in WWE's good graces, and this kind of thing is less rare than you may think.
Whether through a falling out with Vince McMahon or failure in the ring or on a personal level, almost every WWE star finds a way to get on the company's bad side. But nearly all of them, with rare exceptions, get welcomed back into the family no matter how deep their transgressions and hard feelings ran.
The common refrain among wrestling observers is that McMahon will use anyone with whom he can make money. That's true, but it negates his humanity and turns him into a money-hungry robot with no real compassion or human emotion. While the driving force behind the returns of estranged wrestlers like Warrior or Bret Hart is most likely financial, there has to be a side of McMahon that welcomes back past stars out of the goodness of his heart.
How much money is he really making with these ex-greats, anyway? Bret Hart's return was monumental, but it led to a "match" with McMahon at WrestleMania 26 that most fans knew was going to be less than traditional and probably fail to bump the buyrate because of Hart's health issues and insurance policy. Warrior is back to promote a video game, which may minimally expand a niche market, but Warrior hasn't appeared on television (and might not), so any profit has likely already been canceled out by the money it took to bring Warrior back for a few commercials and a WWE website interview.
The only true financially based return, at least that I can think of, was Brock Lesnar. There doesn't seem to be any personal connection either way between Lesnar and McMahon, but WWE saw an opportunity to bring in a former UFC Heavyweight Champion with past ties to professional wrestling and capitalized on it. In the Lesnar-WWE relationship, both parties are in it to cash checks and move on. That, though, is the exception rather than the rule.
The second chances McMahon often extends go beyond welcoming back past main eventers. Almost every WWE star who made it to the top of the card had a failure or major setback that nearly derailed his career permanently. Daniel Bryan was fired and rehired, pushed to the mid-card after winning the World Heavyweight Championship, and is now a match away from becoming WWE champion. It's an amazing story, but hardly a unique one.
Mark Henry took more than a decade, and a significant pay cut, before he emerged as a top performer. WWE may have decreased his income, but it never stopped giving Henry opportunities, and Henry has finally shown that he deserved that patience. Randy Orton has two Wellness Policy violations and, facing termination if he receives a third, has earned back WWE's trust to likely become champion in the near future as owner of the Money in the Bank briefcase.
Glenn Jacobs flopped as Isaac Yankem and "fake" Diesel, but WWE saw a star quality in Jacobs and Kane was born. Fifteen years later, Jacobs has made Kane one of the most memorable and endearing characters in WWE history. C.M. Punk got his second chance without ever really receiving a first, rising to become a long-tenured champion on sheer talent and a defiance of WWE's failures to see his unique talents and potential. Dolph Ziggler was a cheerleader, and Alberto Del Rio has finally endured through unnecessary and disappointing character turns.
The stars of the past ascended in similar fashion. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was The Ringmaster before he found the right tone for a new character and changed the business forever. Rocky Maivia didn't last long before Dwayne Johnson tapped into his own personality to become The Rock. Shawn Michaels was allegedly suspended for performance-enhancing drugs near the height of his main-event run (though he continues to deny that's the case), but upon his return he was as popular as ever. Triple H took the heat for the Madison Square Garden "Curtain Call" with his friends from The Kliq, then became one of the best in the business after taking his punishment.
The list goes on. But the glaring omission from that list in Randy Savage. It's impossible to know how personal the issues between Savage and McMahon were (and, yes, we've all heard the rumors), but it's equally difficult to know that, because of Savage's 2011 death, those issues will never be resolved. Hopefully that softened McMahon's positions on bitter ex-stars like Warrior, and more will be welcomed back.
McMahon also needs to ease his position on disallowing wrestlers who died under nefarious circumstances entry into the Hall of Fame. WrestleMania weekend is a time to celebrate the company without negative feelings, but stars such as Rick Rude or Bam Bam Bigelow or Big Boss Man deserve their own second chances.
Though they may take a circuitous route to the top, ultimately the most talented and most driven wrestlers always end up there. McMahon is usually gracious enough to offer a second chance, or a third or a fourth, and top stars figure out a way to make the most of it. It's frustrating for fans when performers such as Wade Barrett or Kofi Kingston stagnate in the middle of the card, but that may mean they're just not quite as good as the main-eventers WWE invests more time and energy promoting. Or maybe all they need is a second chance.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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