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This month marks the 25th Anniversary of Bruce Mitchell becoming a Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter columnist. No single person has influenced the editorial tone and direction of the Torch brand over the years than Bruce, who brought a hard-hitting, supremely well-informed, speak-truth-to-power approach to his writing. He went after sacred cows out of the gate, such as the beloved among “smart fans” (today’s “Internet fans” or “IWC,” I suppose) Eddie Gilbert and Jim Cornette. He also went hard after people in positions of authority and power who were abusing or misusing that power, or just not delivering a worthy product. He has also applauded and paid tribute to the greatest moments and movements in pro wrestling over the last 25 years, with a style of writing that has yet to be matched anywhere, I contend (despite Bill Simmons’s arrogant and uninformed contention last year that no one wrote at a high level about pro wrestling until his “Masked Man” columnist came along).
To celebrate and highlight Bruce’s stellar 25 years of influential and eloquent truth-telling about this fascinating industry, we’ll be featuring a single column from each of the last 25 years each of the first 25 days this month. His long-form columns were a pioneer approach to pro wrestling journalism, and the next 25 years you’ll experience a slice of what it is that has earned Bruce Mitchell widespread recognition within the industry over the years as being “Pro Wrestling’s Most Respected Columnist.” We began on Oct. 1st with his very first column, from Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter #89 (cover dated Oct. 5, 1990).
Today we feature his column from the November 20, 2012 edition of the Pro Wrestling Torch Weekly Newsletter (#1280) in which Mitchell wrote about the shameful exploitation of Jerry Lawler’s heart attack in a promo on Raw by Paul Heyman and C.M. Punk.
NOTE: VIP members can access hundreds of Mitchell columns and audio shows instantly in theBRUCE MITCHELL LIBRARY here, part of the massive unmatched online archives of insider wrestling coverage from over the past 28 years.
ORIGINAL HEADLINE: “Beat You To Death”
TORCH NEWSLETTER #1280
COVER DATE: November 20, 2012
“We gave you a taste of the Attitude Era and you didn’t like it, did you?”
– Paul Heyman, Monday Night Raw 11/19/12
Ten weeks ago, WWE Hall of Famer Jerry “The King” Lawler, while announcing a live Raw, had a major heart attack on the air. Family, friends, co-workers, and fans waited throughout the rest of the show on word as to whether Jerry Lawler was alive or dead, as medical personnel backstage pounded on the chest of the then-clinically dead Lawler for several minutes, desperately trying to bring him back to life.
It was a harrowing experience for everyone involved. A man that millions of fans had watched and enjoyed every week for years had almost died right in front of their eyes.
A week ago, Jerry Lawler returned to national television, to his long-time place behind the announce table. WWE, knowing that people cared about the King in a way that they didn’t for any of the other WWE Superstars, slotted his return for the key beginning of the second hour slot. Lawler, a master pro wrestling communicator, used all the tools he burnished over four-plus decades in the business to simply and directly express his appreciation for the prayers, best wishes, and gift of life he had received in the weeks since the heart attack.
It was the most genuine moment in the 20-year history of the biggest show in sports entertainment.
And then it was over, because WWE couldn’t help themselves.
Unless you were so used to who, in their lack of heart, WWE are and you were callous to it, you knew what the company did lacked any human decency, and for that reason alone they shouldn’t have done it – no matter how much money they might make over elevating/descending the level of WWE Champion C.M. Punk’s character’s despicable nature. Unless you thought it was business as usual because it was professional wrestling, and ignored all the lessons throughout its history of what happened to business when companies stooped to this kind of thing, you knew WWE should have just let the moment stand for itself.
A quarter of a century ago, also on national television, Jim Crockett Promotions heel Tully Blanchard shockingly attacked his arch-rival, the permanently injured Magnum T.A., kicking off what was supposed to be a huge money angle that would revive a slipping company.
It didn’t work, and all the other times over the decades pro wrestling tried to exploit the reality of human tragedy failed, too. Whether it was at the expense of Von Erichs, Grahams, or Guerreros, the bad taste attempts of companies to make money off death and human suffering all damaged the reputation of the business and failed at the box office.
What Punk and Heyman did Monday night a week ago confirmed what most people think of WWE, that for all their recent charity chest thumping they have no class. TMZ, no bastion of decency, covered Jerry Lawler’s speech on live television, and ignored what Punk and Heyman said to him – because that WWE would do that wasn’t news. It’s what keeps WWE, and thus the wrestling business, from the mainstream of American economics and culture, no matter how much money and how many ratings points the company generates.
That, though, leads to this question: How much money and how many ratings points would this angle generate? Would it be worth the damage their crass behavior did to everyone who held their breath while Lawler fought for his life that Monday night?
It only took a few days to get a definitive answer:
None and no.
The quarter-hour ratings for that Monday night showed that a significant number of male fans turned Raw off after the segment. Some came back to see Ryback destroy the referee who cheated him out of his WWE Title win, then turned it off again. The single most marketable match in the company – Punk versus the biggest star in WWE, John Cena – tanked in the ratings.
Sunday night, at the Survivor Series pay-per-view, Punk and Heyman were no more over as wrestling heels than they had been a week before. Hell, Punk was the second most popular person in the three-way main event, more from his longtime cult favorite status than anything he has done on recent WWE television. Not that it was overwhelming. The crowd lacked interest in most of what happened the entire night.
John Cena, the top hero in the company and Punk’s number one rival, never bothered to react to what Punk and Heyman did to Lawler. Cole, who had been so human the night Lawler had his heart attack, just called the matches. JBL didn’t seem to know it happened. Lawler himself seemed just a little more irritated with Punk and Lawler than usual. If the fans were mad, they never showed it. Most reviewers of the show didn’t much bring it up. After all, it happened six long days ago.
The next night, Monday Night Raw posted its lowest rating in a month.
READ PREVIOUS “25 YEARS OF BRUCE MITCHELL” SELECTIONS HERE.