Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Lost Art of Factions in Wrestling

When it was announced on RAW this past Monday that the Four Horsemen were being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, the first thought that crossed my mind was "Its about damn time." I'm not old enough to have watched the Four Horsemen in their hey day, but I've seen enough of their stuff to know that they were probably the best faction in the history of wrestling.

Now I know that is just my opinion. People will make arguments for a handful of other factions. The first one most people mention is the nWo. The nWo came along at the perfect time in the wrestling business. They started a boom period for WCW, and it also helped that they had the greatest heel turn of all time solidify their group. The problem with the nWo is that it went on for way too long and started to include way too many people.

Just after the nWo came D-Generation X. The group started off just as Shawn Michaels, Triple H and Chyna but it was still very popular. They were more edgy, reckless and unpredictable than the nWo. Just like the nWo, D-X came along at the perfect time for the WWE. D-X launched the WWE into the Attitude Era and helped the WWE regain the lead in the Monday Night Wars. They showed that two people together can make a good faction and can be just as important to business as a faction with multiple people.

If you want to go farther back in wrestling history before the Four Horsemen there were the Fabulous Freebirds. The Freebirds consisted of Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy and Buddy Rogers. If you ask Michael Hayes no other factions would have come along in pro wrestling if it wasn't for the Freebirds. Now that is not true, but the Freebirds showed that factions can work in the business. In WCCW, World Class Championship Wrestling, in Texas, the Freebirds had a legendary rivalry with the Von Erics. You will never see arenas as heated nowadays compared to those days in the Sportatorium in Texas. You thought that crowd at Money in the Bank in Chicago was heated? Go look at a WCCW event in the 80s. That was back in the days when there were still territories in pro wrestling. There is no doubt that the Freebird/Von Erich rivalry was one of the best in the history of pro wrestling, and it helped make WCCW one of the best wrestling territories during the 1980s.

The last really great faction, in my opinion, was Evolution. Triple H wanted to make a group very similar to the Four Horsemen. The group ended up being a great combination of the past (Ric Flair), present (Triple H), and future (Randy Orton and Batista) of pro wrestling. At one point Evolution held every Title in the WWE, something the Four Horsemen also did during the late 1980s in the NWA. Randy Orton and Batista evolved into main event talents thanks to being in Evolution. Evolution was definitely a successful group. The problem with Evolution is that they broke up too soon. The group should have continued with Orton as Champ and growing tension between Hunter and Orton, with a break-up coming down the line. Orton's face turn might have been handled better if that actually happened.

So what is this trip down memory lane all for? Well, it is leading me to my second thought that happened after the Four Horsemen's Hall of Fame Announcement. That thought? What has happened to the strong, dominant stables and factions in pro wrestling? I'm not just talking WWE either. TNA hasn't done a good job with it either. When done right, factions can lead to huge things in pro wrestling. The Four Horsemen kept NWA a float in the 1980s. The nWo and D-X launched their respective companies to the top spot during different time periods. Factions have become a lost art in pro wrestling. Having one heel group be the dominant force of your brand can be good for ratings, especially in the long term. I will always stand by the belief that a face chasing the dominant heel for a Title is better than a dominant face, a la John Cena. The same can be said with factions. Having a heel group on top and a handful of faces chasing after them is better TV. It worked with Evolution.

I was really looking forward to the potential that Nexus had last year. They debuted exactly how a young, no-name group of guys should debut. Sure all of the original members of Nexus were on NXT, but that doesn't mean everyone knew who they were. But Nexus debuted with a bang, and people were talking about them. But in the coming weeks, the Nexus began to look weaker and weaker. They should have won the 7-on-7 match at SummerSlam. They should have been booked a lot better. The reason Nexus didn't get over is not because they were a bunch of young guys who couldn't get over. Wade Barrett was good as the leader of the group. Justin Gabriel and Heath Slater could hold their own in the ring. Skip Sheffield was a big loss for them. It wasn't a group full of underachievers. The problem was that the WWE was afraid to get behind the Nexus as a top heel faction. Every person in the Nexus could have grown into their own as a WWE talent. But the WWE pulled the plug on them way too soon. And again, it was because the WWE refused to have any type of heel on top for an extended period of time. Nexus could have been great, but they ended up being a meaningless group that never lived up to its potential.

Heel groups can be entertaining if booked right. The Corporation and Ministry of Darkness had a purpose in the Attitude Era. I know that the WWE is in their build to Wrestlemania period now, but we all know there is a lull period after Wrestlemania. Everything just kind of stays stagnant and nothing new really happens. If the WWE wants to shake-up that time period, why not develop a new stable? It doesn't have to necessarily be a group of new guys. A group of current WWE roster members could work just as well. The one thing that type of group would need, however, is a strong leader. And you know who that leader can be? Ric Flair. Flair is going to be at the Hall of Fame ceremony whether TNA says so or not. And even if TNA releases him, Flair can easily sign a new contract with the WWE and be a big piece to the WWE Network.

Despite being up there in age, Ric Flair is still a great mouth piece and can help get over a group of young heels looking to make a name for themselves. Since the brand split is pretty much over, you can take wrestlers from RAW or Smackdown to make the group work. How about this: Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger, Wade Barrett and Drew McIntyre. Maybe Cody Rhodes, but I wouldn't have more than four guys in the group. Just being associated with Ric Flair would be a great rub for those guys. I already think Ziggler and Barrett will be Champions by the end of the year, and having Flair would help.

There are a lot of things missing from pro wrestling nowadays, and the lack of factions and stables is one of them. All too often we just have guys out for themselves and jumping from feud to feud. But having one dominant group at the top can be a good thing every now and then. Factions can help get guys over that wouldn't normally get over by themselves. It can take a lower card talent and elevate them to the top of the card if the faction is build up correctly. I for one would welcome back a strong heel group and think it would get some people back to watching the WWE. Ric Flair alone would do that, but having him lead a group would be even better.

Until Next Time,
Justin C
Follow Me On Twitter @JCWonka

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