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Thursday Night Tanders (12/10/15): The Dos and Don'ts of Stable Booking (Part 1 of 2)

The Throwback Tito has noticed one thing after watching the last two episodes of RAW—for the first time in eons, it’s open season on stables.

As of now, the WWE has seven factions, or stables, including three that were formed in the past two weeks—Team ECW (Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley, Tommy Dreamer, Rhyno), the League of Nations (Sheamus, Wade Barrett, Alberto Del Rio, Rusev), and the yet-unnamed faction of Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and the Usos. The Wyatt Family has been a four-man stable for quite a while now. The New Day counts as a stable as they’ve got three members, then you’ve got the three-woman stables Team BAD and Team Bella. Heck, you can even make it eight and count The Cosmic Jobbers Wasteland, though The Ascension didn’t accompany Stardust in this week’s match against Jack Swagger.

While the three-way Divas Revolution stable wars have basically gone pfft with Team PCB’s dissolution and Nikki Bella’s injury, it looks like we’ve got some interesting rivalries among the men, with Reigns’ faction feuding with the League of Nations, and a Team ECW versus Wyatt Family elimination tag match confirmed for TLC. Now even as we’ve just watched the go-home RAW for TLC, it’s too early to say whether these feuds will pay off. I certainly hope they do, because out of all the stables I’ve watched in the WWF/E and WCW, most of them weren’t booked the right way. But instead of merely looking back at examples of how NOT to book a stable in a wrestling promotion, I shall do that, but also focus on those stables who were booked perfectly, or close to it.

Without further ado, here’s the first in a two-part series focusing on the dos and don’ts of stable booking, with the usual historical examples.

DO: You Want a War? The Birth of the New World Order

"You want a war?" Amazingly, he didn't call Eric Bischoff "mang" or "chico."

Back in 1996, the WWF was still at its most occupational and gimmicky. While The Goon injured opposing hockey players, TL Hopper unclogged toilets, and Mantaur did whatever the hell he’s supposed to do, two prominent members of the almighty Kliq jumped ship to the competition and expedited the loss of Shawn Michaels’ smile. Razor Ramon and Diesel were enticed to join WCW, as Eric Bischoff was pulling out all the stops and spending big bucks to pirate WWF Superstars and bring Vince McMahon down to his knees. Then again, he probably shouldn’t have tried that hard—WWF at that time was a sinking ship, and the likes of Lex Luger were so upset with how the company was booking them that they signed with WCW for less money. Still, you get my drift—leaving WWF was a wise career move at the time.

The landscape of wrestling changed forever on May 19, 1996, when a man recognizable to everyone as Razor Ramon made his way from the crowd and interrupted a match between former WWF curtain-jerkers Mike Enos (formerly Blake Beverly) and Steve Doll (formerly Steven Dunn). Without identifying himself, Razor told the audience in his trademark faux-Cuban accent that “you all know who I am, but you don’t know why I’m here,” before addressing Eric Bischoff and asking him if he wanted a war. Later on the show, he would then demand that WCW represent itself by fielding three of its best wrestlers against his team.

To summarize what had happened over the next few weeks, Razor (now going by his real name Scott Hall) teamed up with Diesel (likewise known as Kevin Nash), and was later joined by Hulk Hogan in what remains the highest-profile and most unexpected heel turn in all of wrestling history. Instead of saving his good buddy Randy Savage in the “Hostile Takeover” six-man tag match at Bash at the Beach 1996, Hogan hit his trademark legdrop on the Macho Man, revealing himself to be the mysterious “third man” in Hall and Nash’s faction and turning heel for the first time since the early 1980s. The man who told kids to train, say their prayers, and take their vitamins for the past several years was bored, brother.

With Hogan’s shocking heel turn, the New World Order was born, and they would be booked like no heel faction was ever booked before. They had edgy, black-and-white promos shot in blurrycam. Whereas you had simple face versus heel feuds in the past, the nWo was a heel faction fighting one organization. WCW faces and heels would form uneasy alliances with each other, all in an effort to put a stop to the nefarious nWo. But nothing would work in the end, as the nWo won a good percentage of their matches against WCW’s opposition. In fact, WCW ended up so decimated that only one man remained as their most likely savior—Sting.  But the nWo would find a way to make him look bad, and that was to frame him up by using an impostor Sting and having him attack the real Sting’s storyline best friend, Lex Luger.  And when the real Sting laid into WCW and the fans for doubting his authenticity and sincerity, that kick-started the most iconic phase of his career—long black hair, The Crow-inspired face paint and trench coat, dark, brooding, and silent persona.

At the time Sting ranted about people not having faith in him, the nWo had five members—Hogan, Hall, Nash, storyline financier "Trillionaire" Ted DiBiase Sr., and The Giant (a.k.a. Big Show with long hair and a much slimmer physique). They also had Impostor Sting, but somehow, he wasn’t counted among the stable’s ranks. Soon after, Hall and Nash’s Kliq buddy Sean “1-2-3 Kid” Waltman jumped from the WWF as the nWo’s sixth member, fittingly renamed Syxx. In October 1996, DiBiase’s old manservant Virgil debuted as nWo head of security Vincent, because, you know, WCW wanted some payback for WWF naming Mike Jones after erstwhile booker Dusty Rhodes’ real first name. Nick Patrick became the stable’s official referee, as if they really needed one with all their dominance. Even Miss Elizabeth joined up to work as Hogan’s valet. By November, Eric Bischoff was revealed as the nWo’s secret leader. If you lost count, that’s a whopping ten members, eleven with Impostor Sting included, but everything still seemed hunky-dory at that point.

It's a challenge counting everyone who was part of the nWo in WCW, though in this photo from 1998, the likes of Horace Hogan, Curt Hennig, and Konnan had joined their ranks.
When Bischoff warned everyone with WCW contracts that they had to join the nWo or be targeted by the growing faction, that’s when everything went haywire. Soon, everyone and his cousin was joining up, and the nWo became so large they got themselves their own pay-per-view, nWo Souled Out. More importantly, the nWo had become so large that it became unmanageable, and with turnover in the group becoming commonplace by 1997, it became virtually impossible to follow their storylines. I could write a whole piece on how the nWo became too big to handle, but for purposes of this article, I’d rather focus on how they wrote the book on how to pull off a perfect invasion angle.

DON’T: Wild, Young, and Ultimately Impotent—The Rise and Fall of The Nexus

For our “don’t” example, we shall be going back to the WWE’s recent past, which is far more recent than the throwbacks I had previously featured. We shall go back to 2010, when WWE’s ECW brand and television program was replaced by NXT, a program that hearkened back to the days of Tough Enough, as it featured eight prospective rookies competing to be the WWE’s “next breakout star,” with the winner getting a guaranteed WWE contract and the seven, ahem, "non-winners" ostensibly heading back to the indies.

The winner of NXT’s inaugural season was a cocky Englishman named Wade Barrett, though that season also gave us a memorable cast of runners-up—Harvard Law graduate David Otunga, soft-spoken high-flyer Justin Gabriel, rock star wannabe Heath Slater, South Beach party animal Darren Young, cowboy Skip Sheffield, indie sensation Daniel Bryan, and angry young man Michael Tarver. As he made his main roster debut on the June 7, 2010 RAW, Barrett seemed on his way to making an immediate impact, as he answered questions in a truly heelish and effective manner, and even teased something big, something that had “never been done before in the history of RAW.” Nobody guessed, however, what was going to happen later that evening.

As John Cena took on CM Punk in the main event of that night’s RAW, Cena found himself distracted by the sudden arrival of Barrett, who was curiously wearing a black armband with a yellow-and-black “N” patch on it. And as Punk got up to his feet, TV viewers got to see Tarver making his way from the stands, then Bryan, Slater, Young, and Sheffield ganging up on Punk and his Straight Edge Society stablemate Luke Gallows. On another side of the ring were the other Season 1 rookies, Gabriel and Otunga. Soon it was all eight Season 1 rookies, all wearing the same armband/patch combo, circling around Cena, then beating down on him eight-on-one. They would then attack the likes of NXT host Matt Striker, timekeeper Mark Yeaton, and ring announcer Justin Roberts, turning their entire surroundings into a junkyard, tossing chairs, overturning announce tables, and even going as far to disassemble the ring while some of the rookies continued their assault on Cena. Barrett was right—what he and his fellow rookies did was never done before in WWE history, and it looked like another large-scale invasion was upon us. The eight rookies called themselves The Nexus, and as they put it, you were either “Nexus or against us.”

For the next few weeks, The Nexus continued their reign of terror on the WWE. At this point, they were now a stable of seven, as Daniel Bryan was fired in real life for his overly brutal assault on Justin Roberts—choking a man with his necktie and screaming “YOU ARE NOT BETTER THAN ME!” at John Cena, apparently, was not PG. Seven, schmeven. These were still seven men with bad intentions and no respect for anyone in the WWE. They attacked everyone from active superstars to Legends such as Ricky Steamboat, Dusty Rhodes, and erstwhile RAW General Manager Bret Hart, and even Vince McMahon himself. Even when they got what they wanted, which was WWE contracts for everyone in the faction, they still attacked whomever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and almost one month after they laid waste to the WWE for the first time, The Nexus began their feud with John Cena in earnest.

Can one man vanquish seven young upstarts on a hot streak? For anyone not named John Cena, the answer is no.
In the best interests of brevity—the Throwback Tito has been saddled with work as of late—I would again pass on the gory details of the whole convoluted Nexus versus Cena feud. We shall instead focus on the seven-versus-seven elimination tag match that served as the main event of SummerSlam 2010. It was The Nexus versus Team WWE, and while you may remember that as the night when Daniel Bryan made his return as the surprise seventh member of Team WWE, it was also the night when The Nexus got its collective bollocks cut off. At first, it was Nexus with the edge over Team WWE, with Cena and Bryan left against Barrett, Gabriel, and Slater. Bryan, who was, in storyline, fired from Nexus for “showing remorse” for his role in the original invasion, made Slater tap out, but was quickly eliminated thanks to a Miz run-in; if you remember your Season 1 NXT, Miz and Bryan’s antagonistic relationship with each other was a key storyline in there.

That left Cena against Barrett and Gabriel, and with Mr. Hustle, Loyalty, and Respect the lone survivor of Team WWE at that point, he turned into Super Cena, no-selling everything Barrett and Gabriel had to throw at him, including a DDT on the concrete floor. In the end, Cena had eliminated Gabriel and Barrett, looking very much like the savior of WWE and the man who had almost single-handedly turned The Nexus into toast. #CenaWinsLOL!

Then again, I should also touch briefly on something that happened almost five years ago, at TLC 2010. Something so symbolic of how far The Nexus had fallen after their embarrassment at SummerSlam, and symbolic of what WWE Creative was doing to them since that time. In the main event, John Cena defeated Wade Barrett in a Chairs Match, burying him in a pile of chairs (23 of them) to end the match and end the show.

For a more updated version, see below.
So how’s everyone in The Nexus doing right now? Daniel Bryan, obviously, was THE breakout star at the end of the day, though we’re still waiting with bated breath as he remains on the sidelines due to concussion-related issues, with a small chance that he may never wrestle again. Skip Sheffield never got over as a cowboy with a corny catchphrase (“Yup yup yup, what it do!”), but he’s fairly over as Ryback, with the much-improved catchphrase “FEED ME MORE.” Wade Barrett has seen his potential wasted in the midcard, though his membership in the League of Nations may be the shot in the arm his career needs. Darren Young’s been off TV for some time, but he was recently Tag Team Champion as one-half of The Prime Time Players, and deserves our respect for being the first active WWE wrestler to come out as gay. David Otunga is miraculously still employed by the WWE, and hasn’t wrestled in what seems like forever. Heath Slater is barely on TV, and when he does show up, it’s usually in meaningless backstage segments, in lumberjack matches as a lumberjack, or in the ring, counting the lights in a quickie squash. Justin Gabriel and Michael Tarver are no longer with the company.

Likewise, later Nexus recruits from NXT also turned out to be a mixed bag. Michael McGillicutty became Curtis Axel, and when was the last time you saw him on TV, much less winning a big match? Husky Harris became Bray Wyatt, and while he isn't always booked the right way, he remains one of the WWE's most interesting characters and a solid upper midcarder.

Overall, that’s not what one would have expected on June 7, 2010, when The Nexus debuted as potentially the most dominating faction the WWE had ever seen.


That all said, those were the dos and don’ts of booking invasion angles involving stables. For the second part, we’ll be going back to my favorite era in all of wrestling—the Attitude Era—as we take a look at how one stable of degenerates got over as babyfaces despite acting obviously heelish, and how two of three feuding stables failed to get over as anything while pushing racial buttons left and right.

The Throwback Tito is Enzo Tanos, a freelance writer and the drummer/manager for garage rock band The Myopics, where he hopes to debut his masked lucha drummer persona “Sin Verguenza” in future gigs. A wrestling fan since childhood, he’s old enough to remember watching Outback Jack’s pointless vignettes, and One Man Gang’s transformation to Akeem.

PHOTO CREDITS - Scott Hall c/o Hfboards, nWo circa 1998 and Cena versus Nexus c/o Bleacher Report, Where is Nexus Now c/o Pinterest

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