And Another Thing: Will The Real People's Champ Please Stand Up?
Posted by Hyatte on 10.31.2000
First, there was the Rock. Then, there was Booker T. Two men, picked to represent their company as champion.
First, there was the Rock.
Then, there was Booker T.
Two men, picked to represent their company as champion. Two men, picked to build and focus the direction of each man’s respective wrestling promotion. One man was picked thanks to his remarkable charisma, his movie star looks, and his well-honed articulation. The other rose to the top thanks to his dogged determination, his own natural charisma, and his deep appreciation for his craft of Professional Wrestling. Both men deserve their role in the scripted scheme of things. Both men deserve to be on top of the card. Unfortunately, as with almost everything pertaining to wrestling, there is more to this story other than two champions representing two different promotions to the best of their abilities… there is a shady underside.
Rocky Maivia came into his own first. Although no one could ever foresee just how huge he would become in such a short time, the WWF always knew that Maivia had something. The had to have faith in him, or they wouldn’t have given him his second chance after bombing out so famously during his initial run as the babyface Inter-Continental champion. Somebody in the WWF had faith in what he could do.
Obviously, the faith was warranted. When Rocky Maivia became simply "The Rock", he didn't just get heat, he blew up. With a pronounced raise of his eyebrow, and an arsenal of colorful catchphrases distributed slowly and patiently over time, the Rock declared himself the "People's Champ" and was able to mesmerize and take control of an audience unlike anyone else before him. Not even such WWF legends as Hulk Hogan, Bruno Sammartino, or Roddy Piper can make this claim. In fact, only "Stone Cold" Steve Austin can make a serious argument for his own popularity, but although Austin knows how to make the fans go absolutely beserk, does he really have the hold on them that The Rock does when he has a mic in hand and time to play?
Another thing the Rock has is something extremely rare for this business... mainstream crossover appeal. Back in the 80's, when Wrestling was booming and the WWF was king, Hulk Hogan made performed interviews with journalists and appeared on talk shows. He spoke in a calm, relaxed manner, conversing with the interviewer in a way as to show that Wrestler's aren't always screaming rage and venting fury twenty four hours a day. As human as Hogan tried to be, however, his bulk and size simply could not fit the role his voice was trying to create. Hogan looked like a Wrestler, he moved like a Wrestler... and that would not change, no matter how intellectual he sounded. Bret Hart also made the mainstream publicity rounds during his time on top, but although Bret certainly looked more human than Hogan, Bret froze up on camera like a deer caught in the headlights. He spoke in a soft monotone and had no skills at holding the viewer's attention. Even Austin, who does look relatively "normal" out of the ring and has rich, natural conversational slkills, also has a deep, gruff, rasslin' voice.
The Rock, however, has a clear, articulate voice which, while deep, is not deep enough to be threatening. He carries himself more like a celebrity, not as a wrestler. It is why the WWF chose him to speak at the GOP Convention this year. It is why he said "Thank You" to the world for allowing a Professional Wrestler to speak on behalf of their fans. It is why he got a juicy role in "The Mummy" franchise which also landed him five million dollars and the lead in the third film. The Rock is the first Professional Wrestler who won't have to resort to showing Jay Leno how to apply a Sleeperhold for cheers from the audience. He is truly a legimate "WWF Superstar" and not just a "wrestler" marketed as one. He doesn't have the title now, but to coin his phrase, it doesn't matter whether he's the champ or not. He is the WWF's number one attraction and it's biggest Superstar. And in the eyes of the mainstream media, he really is the People's Champ.
Then there's Booker T.
Over in WCW last Summer, Vince Russo had made a big leap. Under pressure from upper management who wanted more ratings growth, Russo made a stand and told Hulk Hogan that his practice of "Me First, You, Maybe Later If I'm Feeling Generous" backstage politics would no longer be acceptable to the company. In a stunt engineered to be just as controversial and as headline grabbing as the famous "Montreal Screwjob" of '97, Russo had the WCW champion, Jeff Jarrett, lay down peacefully for Hogan to pin and walk away with the title. Then, after a critical and public lambasting of Hogan, Russo announced that their will be a brand new WCW Championship created and it will go to a real wrestler for once. A wrestler who has worked his butt off for the sport, and WCW in particular, for years without asking for anything but an opportunity. With that, Booker T was given his first WCW title opportunity and defeated Jarrett to become the new WCW representitive. Not one who earned the spot simply by being a "big star" or an "Icon", but one who bled and sweat and slaved for the sport all his life and truly earned his place on top of the card. A champion for the fans, who will defend the title against any and all comers not with a cushy little clause in his contract that gives him to right to decide who gets to beat him and who doesn't, but with his heart and the best of his abilities.
The next night on Nitro, Booker did not thank the world for allowing wrestling fans to be recognized as a political influence, but he thanked the fans for allowing him the opportunity to become a world champ. He promised to defend the belt against anyone, anywhere, anytime. There would be no taking advantage of the clause that says a Champion needs only to mandatorily defend the title once ever thirty days, oh no, Booker planned to fight for his spot, and his fans. It didn't take WCW long to attach the title, "The People's Champion" to Booker, which was eventually refined to "The People's Fighting Champ. To make matters worse, Booker even started to employ some catchphrases of his very own, climaxing into the downright insulting practice of placing one of them to the beginning of his own theme music.
The problem is, there was already a "People's Champ" in the sport, one whose had one of his catchphrases used to start his own theme music.
Another problem is, both men are dark skinned.
In fact, within just a few weeks of his newfound title push, Vince Russo managed to turn Booker T into almost an exact replica of the Rock. With the flashy shirts left unbutton, and the promotion of Booker's "Rock Bottom" move from "middle-of-the-match" crowd-pleaser to full fledged signature hold now called the "Book End", Russo apparently dared the fans to compare the two and see who holds up.
Or, maybe... just maybe... Russo wanted to test the obsene theory held by ignorant whites that "they all look the same, anyway"? As ridiculous as it may be, it does appear that Russo turned Booker T into "The Book" in hopes that the audience would think they just signed Maivia. It's moronic, I know... but so is trying to turn Booker into a Rock imitator. Which is exactly what Russo tried to do.
Notice, I said tried.
Now, Booker is a great wrestler. Athletic, agile, and powerful. He is good looking, and gifted. His voice, while not as fluid as the Rock's, has a gravelly cadence to it that speaks of years of toil and labor. He will never appear in front of a Political Convention as a Wrestling Representitive and speak on behalf of the fans. He will never get five million dollars to star in his own movie, (at least one that's not about wrestling). One doubts he'll ever get on Leno, Regis, or Larry King. In this arena, he'll never be The Rock no matter how much he is packaged.
And to that I say, Thank YOU, Booker.
The Rock is a true "WWF Superstar". He is packaged, marketed, and coached to be the ultimate representitive. His fluid charm and talent for ready-made soundbites are a bit too prepared. Like the Football star who speaks to the press in careful cliches such as "we weren't on our game tonight", and "we have a tough game coming up that we need to mentally prepare for"... the Rock speaks in a controlled, cautious manner. He rarely smiles, hardly even acknowledges the fans unless he needs them to chant his name or respond to his cues as they have been conditioned to like Pavlov's Dogs. Oh, sure, when the TV cameras go out, he'll engage in a hearty banter with someone about "poontang pie" and the like... but that's only to make sure they buy another ticket the next time the WWF come to town. I'm not saying that the Rock doesn't care about the fans, I'm just saying that he rarely, if ever shows it... and I don't necessarily remember the last time the Rock thanked us for supporting him.
Booker, on the other hand, knows how to smile. He knows how to slap hands as he walks down the aisle. Booker shows off his appreciation for the sport and for it's fans each and every time he steps out from the backstage. Look at the smile on his face and the joy in his eyes as he criss crosses both sides of the ramp on his way to the ring. Booker doesn't just slap hands with the fans, he holds them, shakes them, and warmly thanks the fans for supporting him all these years. As the Rock darts his eyes, jerks his head, and stares at the crowd, waiting for them to take the cue, Booker pumps his fists in the air and dances around the ring in celebration with the fans. Booker shows that there is more than one way to mesmerize a crowd.
So, which one is the People's Champ?
Well, the number one hamburger in the world is the Big Mac. In the millions (and millions) or McDonalds around the world, you can grab a Big Mac and get a quick, cheap meal that is tasty and relatively satisfying for a fast lunch. The problem is, the Big Mac is mostly bread with two thin slabs of meat that barely qualify as beef. You also know that every Big Mac that has ever or will ever be served will taste exactly the same as the one you just had on the go.
Or, you can go home and slap a raw patty on the grill. With all beef, condiments, toppings, and bread to buy, it's more expensive than a Big Mac, and it takes longer to cook and eat than a run at the drive through, but you decide how big the burger can be, youcontrol how much mustard, ketchup, relish, onions, lettuce, etc... goes on it. Sure, it takes more time and more effort, but isn't the home-made burger a million times better than the Big Mac? Sure, on the go, nothing beats the Mac for a fast snack... but the burger that you made simply blows away the mass produced, pre-packaged fast food. The Big Mac is great. I love the Big Mac. But who doesn't appreciate a burger that you created coming off the grill a little bit more?
Do you smell what the Rock is cooking? I think I finally do.
Smells like a Big Mac.
This is Hyatte too.
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