Having a character named “ZZ” is hilarious if you know French, in which “zizi” is a slang term for penis. But then again, ZZ on Tough Enough isn’t a character, though he’s certainly trying to be.
ZZ is the prime symptom of what might become Tough Enough‘s fatal flaw as a business move – letting the fans vote people off even as the judges and trainers are the ones who really know what it takes to be a career pro-wrestler. Week after week, the overweight, out-of-shape Cajun is berated by his competitors and the WWE talent for being lazy; yet week after week, when it comes to an audience vote, he gets saved, as more athletic and knowledgeable contenders get sent home.
There’s a lesson in this, and I hope the higher-ups perceive it: fans like an underdog hero, and WWE has not given them one in a long time.
To be fair, WWE has never really been about the whole underdog thing, except maybe during brief moments of Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart’s tenures as champion. They made their name on the back of Hulk Hogan, who was portrayed as superhuman and indestructible. What they have been decent at is taking somebody who is already superhuman and giving them impossible, no-win scenarios that they somehow beat anyway – this is the Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible philosophy, as opposed to the Rocky philosophy. Hulk Hogan’s a superhero? We’ll find people even bigger than him and dress them up as monsters. Steve Austin’s a tough SOB? We’ll give him an evil boss who doesn’t fight fair.
Fans relate to battles against the odds – we go to wrestling shows to see our designated avatars beat those odds, and yell at the villains when they manage to pull one over. And I think they sense the odds are against ZZ, the funny, slightly slow, overweight alligator wrestler who does not have a WWE look at all (unless your idea of a WWE look begins and ends with Steve Keirn as Skinner).
Paul Heyman got it – one of the reasons fans loved ECW so rabidly was because guys like Tommy Dreamer and Sandman looked like them, and seemed like working class guys you’d meet in a bar who’d have your back if you got mugged afterward. Steve Austin utilized the best aspects of what Heyman taught him and combined them with the WWE superhero archetype in a perfect storm, but after that, the ‘E went back to pure superhuman types with the Rock, Randy Orton and Batista.
Both CM Punk and Daniel Bryan tapped into the crowd’s desire for an underdog hero, and both were, to use a horse metaphor, ridden till they dropped. Punk left over a number of issues including not being allowed to heal properly, and Bryan’s injuries may be career-ending. In their place, nobody else has that man of the people appeal. Cesaro is too foreign – American fans know next to nothing about Switzerland, his country of origin. Bray Wyatt could connect better if he actually started talking coherently instead of gibbering maniacal nonsense; I am the perfect demographic to appreciate his fusion of goth and redneck, and even I can’t take his promos any more. Dolph Ziggler’s too pretty, too perfect, and Randy Orton’s a bore.
Dean Ambrose could be the guy, if they’d let him.
In the meantime, will ZZ win the contract, and if so, is there any doubt he’ll be kept in NXT and jobbed out until it either expires or he miraculously turns over a new leaf? Don’t get me wrong – I like him as a personality on my TV. But if you can capture a persona like that and give it to someone who can really go in the ring, magic will happen.
And on another note, Byron Saxton should not be the after-show host. Miz was perfect at that as a faux-Hardwick, and is already now proving to be the Bobby Flay of WWE judges in his new role, saving all the hot blondes for his own eye-candy gratification. Ric Flair probably would have stepped into Hulk Hogan’s empty seat in style – he’ll do anything for money these days.
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