This article title may well have been eye popping to pro wrestling fans, because Stephanie is by no means a bad promo and is certainly photogenic and whip smart, but unfortunately, that’s not why she’s arguably the worst thing to happen to WWE television on an annual basis. She’s talented, she’s a fabulous antagonist, and she can stand up on a microphone to anybody standing across the ring from her. Those points are not in dispute.
But there’s a big problem with Stephanie McMahon that makes her not just a major hindrance to the on screen product, but potentially THE major obstacle to original WWE television. Bear with me here, because this is going to sound strange at first. The issue with “SMH” is this:
No one can punch her in the face.
Think back to the vaunted Attitude Era, which when you stop and consider how much of that content worked and how much didn’t, you’ll discover that top to bottom, it was filled with far fewer skilled pro wrestlers than we see now in WWE. There were some supremely gifted workers then, but in totality, the in-ring ability today is on a different level. Most of these guys can flat out go. Or they can when permitted, when their capabilities are allowed to grow and their collective potential is realized, which often isn’t the case in WWE.
That’s why this Steph problem is so frustrating, because the roster is jacked full of guys in their prime that are hungry to thrive, but RAW, from the moment she arrives on the show, RAW is only about making her THE star. No one may even realize it within WWE, but that’s how it’s written. They may think she’s elevating other people, but how often has that been true?
The only exception to the Stephanie rule, currently, is Roman Reigns, as he’s WWE chosen one. Because of that, his Shield partners Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins are partially protected, but probably not in any segment in which they encounter Vince’s daughter without Reigns. It’s a monumental concern for anyone with functional brain power, because Stephanie McMahon does not draw fans to the building. She doesn’t put her body on the line every week, and as good a character as she can be in small doses, her act is entirely one note.
The idea is to make her Vince McMahon, but somehow, lost in translation, is what made Vince one of the greatest characters ever seen in this business. In short, his megalomania and extreme ego made him a villain, as he tried to browbeat and punish fan favorites and those who displeased him, but he almost never ended up on top. There would have been no Stone Cold Steve Austin, at least to the levels he reached, without McMahon’s willingness to be the butt of every single joke.
Sure, he tortured Austin, screwed him out of multiple WWE Championships, established a “Corporation” to hold him back, and used both The Undertaker and The Rock, among many others, to try and take Stone Cold down a notch, but Stone Cold always had the last laugh. The key is Vince played the domineering deity, but turned himself into Michael Scott in the early seasons of The Office. He employed fools, lackeys, and sycophants that were no match for Austin, and he was perfect at remaining credible while very infrequently succeeding in his schemes.
Recall the last time we saw Vince McMahon on television, which was several weeks ago to help push the Hell in a Cell bout between Kevin Owens and his son, Shane McMahon. How did that segment end? Kevin Owens headbutted Vince, busted the old man open, and left him laying in the center of the ring. It was a vicious move, one that should be outlawed as a matter of fact, because it was in no way “fake.” But, that was Vince’s call, and he always goes the extra mile.
And it was he who was decimated.
Contrast that to Stephanie McMahon on Monday night, as for the second straight week, she emasculated Kurt Angle multiple times in the ring and called The Shield (the most important act in the company right now) losers who couldn’t hold onto their gold. Again, taken by itself, provided there’s retaliation, there’s nothing at all wrong with creating a white collar jerk or jerkette. Far from it.
But, no one will lay a hand on Stephanie McMahon. Think back to Vince McMahon taking Stone Cold Stunners, Rock Bottoms, and having Mr. Socko shoved down his gullet, courtesy of Mick Foley. Remember the famous hospital scene in 1998, where Austin used a bed pan to strike his boss, or even the moment with the toy gun that led to Vince soiling himself in the ring.
Can you even FATHOM anything that embarrassing ever happening to Stephanie McMahon? The answer is no, so when she comes in and castrates multiple General Managers, as she did in 2016 to Mick Foley and is now doing in 2017 to Kurt Angle, the question has to be asked what the benefit is. Eventually, as she continues to run her mouth about the talent, it’s going to have an effect on fan perception. They all want to see her knocked around and humbled, but it simply doesn’t happen.
Ric Flair was on the wrong side of a wrestling match for 85% of his career, only taking command in the final stages. He understood, implicitly, that hope breeds interest, and if he snuck out with a win he didn’t appear to deserve, it would make the audience hate him that much more. As soon as the “bell” rings for Stephanie, she squashes her opponent, who gets in almost no offense and ends up beaten, slapped, and with a heel print on his forehead.
The last time Stephanie faced any form of true comeuppance came in April, as her husband accidentally bumped into her, sending her off the ring apron and through a table in Orlando at WrestleMania. Even that moment felt more like a slip on a banana peel. It was nice fan service, but just as the nWo was both World Championship Wrestling’s best and worst thing, sometimes simultaneously, Stephanie has become a millstone around her company’s neck.
The guys can’t strike her, because no one will accept that, nor should they. I always balked at intergender matches, as it’s uncomfortable to watch a man assault a woman, even in fiction. It feels entirely wrong. However, many times amidst her rants, Stephanie also rears back and smacks the male she’s berating as hard as she can in the face. These are egregious slaps, often painful, but in each moment, she’s lording control and her last name over them.
Vince used to slap people, but they could slap him back, or worse. Stephanie does it, and the guys have no option but to stand there and take it, often looking menacingly upset. Every fiber of one’s being says, “Please crush her,” but then that one realizes this is a woman, and those are men. So that’s not okay. Steph can physically assault anyone on the roster, and unless it’s a women’s angle, which it almost never is, she’s never going to receive instant payback. There’s no balance to any of this.
Very little good comes from an authority figure with unchecked strength. The reason The Office worked as a concept is because of the subjugation of hierarchy it represented. Michael Scott, before he softened and became sympathetic, was a buffoon. David Brent, who never truly evolved, was always a punch line. Both the UK original and the US adaptations were examples of Mardi Gras in the classic sense, celebrating subversion and excess, as both the secretary in the office, and her love interest were the two smartest and most level-headed people in the room.
Historically in modern professional wrestling, heels have been idiots. The villains have had to cheat, because they portray Wile E. Coyote in a never ending struggle against the forces of good, who have generally been intelligent enough to foil plans and make the antagonists look like cartoon characters. It was not the babyface that ended up running out of the ring or caught in humiliating, comedic positions. Instead, it was the bad guys, which gave the fans something to hold onto. The pricks held the titles, because the chase from a top, popular fan favorite is what draws big money, but those victories by the enemy came “by hook or by crook.”
The meanies also constantly stumbled and tripped over their own shoelaces, except when it came time for the finish of wrestling matches, where they would break rules or use the referee’s level of imbecility to skirt all legality. Stephanie doesn’t permit herself to be portrayed as a dunce, virtually ever, and unless it’s WrestleMania, you can bet she’ll walk out of every situation unscathed.
Then, she’ll return the next week, and continue berating the talent, talking down to others, and making sure everyone knows she’s better than they are. The guys can’t hit her, they can’t shove her, they can’t lay a finger on her, but she can do all of those things to them. In the process, they all look like ordinary people, and why should we buy tickets to see our neighbors, unless our neighbor is Justin Timberlake or Margot Robbie?
These are superhumans, modern day superheroes when written well, and the best babyfaces reflect the times and regions in which they live and perform. But, there would have been no great Batman legacy unless he consistently one-upped The Joker and thwarted the rest of the rogue’s gallery. In WWE, no one learned that lesson, even from the biggest business the promotion has ever done. If you wonder why Vince has so much trouble making stars out of pure babyfaces in this day and age, look no further than how Stephanie McMahon’s character towers over everyone else. Unless you’ve got a Daniel Bryan out there that every fan gets behind, you’re toast.
Watching Steph do her thing to top stars and general managers is the equivalent of watching those performers do consistent jobs for her in the ring. She’s pinning the wrestlers. She’s the star. Her husband, Triple H, will ultimately lose the match, or occasionally will take a beating on television, but those defeats come after about 50 victories.
When Steph shows up, we know what’s coming. For about six months (if she took time off), she’s going to verbally assault all the top babyfaces, get herself over, but bury all of them in the process. One of them might recover some of that dignity at the biggest event of the year, but it will all be forgotten in time for her to arrive the next year and do it all over again. The names change. The angle never does.
That’s the very definition of stale, stagnant, and useless. WWE wants to make Steph into her father, but they’ve built her into the exact opposite. How they haven’t recognized this discrepancy yet is stunning and it needs to change.
We’re leading to Triple H vs. Kurt Angle at WrestleMania, and you can judge for yourself whether you want to see that in 2018 or not, but there’s one thing with which I can equivocally leave you. This is an opinion you could bet your bank accounts on.
The road to New Orleans is going to be annoying as hell.
I’m @JMartOutkick. Oh it’s true. It’s damn true.