Vince McMahon’s still got it.
Sure, all the trends show that rasslin’ has scuttled back down to the subculture after a good run in the mainstream. Viewership for McMahon’s cable and pay-per-view shows has sunk along with the price of World Wrestling Entertainment stock. His live events, guaranteed sellouts around these parts not long ago, aren’t drawing flies, eitherMcMahon’s most recent D.C. gig was an easier ticket than the Washington Freedom. Then there’s the embarrassing demise of what was to be a chain of WWE-themed restaurants: Its flagship location, the World in Times Square, shuttered earlier this year.
But McMahon’s still got it. Just look at La Resistance.
La Resistance is the tag team du jour. Locals should get their first look at the duo, made up of Canadians Rene Dupree and Sylvan Grenier, on Sept. 22, when McMahon broadcasts his Raw show from the MCI Center.
We’re supposed to boo. Dupree and Grenier, whose WWE bios claim they were brought up in Paris, are the latest in a long line of characters that McMahon’s family wrestling empire has conceived or signed over the years to give American crowds something to hate.
There was, for example, the Iron Sheik, an Iranian-born Atlanta-area resident named Hossein Vaziri, whose ring heyday came after hostages were taken from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. The Cold War provided McMahon endless story fodder, built around wrestlers such as Ivan Koloff and Nikolai Volkoff. Col. DeBeers, played by an American lug named Ed Wikowski, gave Afrikaners a worse name just as apartheid was on its way out. And in Gulf War I, McMahon transformed Sgt. Slaughter, an alleged U.S. combat veteran, into an Iraqi sympathizer. Slaughter had once whipped crowds into a nationalistic frenzy when he grappled with the Iron Sheik in the wake of the hostage crisis. When McMahon had him turn coat, Slaughter was paired with a character named Col. Mustafa, played by, ahem, the same guy who played the Sheik.
La Resistance’s raison d’être, meanwhile, is the feud between France and the United States over the American invasion of Iraq. Ring purists on the Web have questioned whether Grenier and Dupree, both unknown young hardbodies before landing their current roles, were thrown into the limelight before their scientific wrestling skillshow to land a figure four leg lock, and so forthwere ready for prime time. But from a storyboard standpoint, the pair has worked out better than McMahon could have ever imagined.
The WWE kingpin’s genius has always been plain, if in a way that folks without jobs, teeth, and diplomas are quickest to appreciate. And even that demographic has shunned him of late. When the WWE came to the MCI Center in June, the arena’s upper bowl was closed because of paltry ticket sales, and the lower bowls were nowhere near full; some Internet wrestling write-ups of that card estimated attendance in the 20,000-seat venue at just 2,000. But the few and unproud who did show up got more than a few chuckles. (My personal fave came when Billy Gunn sang his theme song, a tune about a guy whose only pleasure in life comes when he’s kicking ass. His biggest regret? “So many asses, so little time,” Gunn crooned.)
The WWE devised La Resistance this spring, when Jacques Chirac and his U.N. envoys kick-started the Franco-American feud by pooh-poohing the George W. Bush-Colin Powell case for war, built as it was around weapons of mass destruction. La Resistancea duo that in a snotty French accent hails everything Old World and derides everything Yankeemade its WWE debut in April. That wasn’t long after the commissary at the U.S. Capitol introduced “freedom fries” and “freedom toast,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed France as part of “old Europe,” and Bush deemed a naysaying United Nations to be “irrelevant.” All good for the WWE’s newest heels.
“La Resistance got the crowds booing,” says Joe Villa, a spokesperson for WWE. “You can’t ask for more than that.”
A remarkably unironic news story in Mississippi’s Hattiesburg American quoted 37-year-old Nora Meador saying she went to the WWE show that came to her town in hopes of witnessing somebody “kick some French butt.”
The characters, however, looked to have short legs once U.S. troops’ Humvees hit Baghdad and Bush flew to the USS Lincoln and, standing under a banner that read “Mission Accomplished,” all but put a check in the W column as far as the invasion was concerned.
But McMahon, in the face of imminent victory, didn’t put his newest stars on the shelf; he said, Vive La Resistance! And he made Grenier and Dupree the WWE’s tag-team champions. On June 15, at a WWE pay-per-view from Houston called “Bad Blood,” La Resistance took the belts from crowd favorites Rob Van Dam and Kane. As Saddam’s WMD stockpiles stayed hidden, destroyed, or otherwise mythical, and Operation Iraqi Freedom slowly went to hell, McMahon let La Resistance keep the title and keep egging on the boobirds.
And as the bad news from Iraq keeps on coming, McMahon’s French pair has only stepped up its heelish ways. The team’s high (or low) point came last month at a televised cable event. La Resistance eyed a U.S. soldier in the stands and began taunting him, causing members of a rival tag team called the Dudley Boyz to run from the wings to protect the uniformed gentleman’s honor. Grenier and Dupree, being cowardly Frenchmen, beat a quick retreat from the ring as the Dudleys brought the alleged soldier into the ring to wave an American flag and fans joined them in the “USA! USA!” chant that all La Resistance opponents try to stir up. But McMahon’s script then called for the
soldierwrestling fans recognized him as grappler Rob Conwayto turn on his protectors. Conway began beating the Dudleys with the flagpole and watched as La Resistance returned to the ring to add some finishing touches, including spitting wine (which they identified as French) on the prostrate Boyz. La Resistance and the phony GI left the ring after covering the Dudleys with the American flag. The team made the latest WWE pay-per-view sound like a Howard Dean fundraiser, taking to the microphones to bash Bush and his policies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Look for more of the same when La Resistance makes its bow in the nation’s capital. If McMahon wants them to be authentic, he could have Grenier and Dupree point out how the president mentioned the United Nations without using “irrelevant” in his Sunday address. Just as the French are doing. Dave McKenna