So a thing happened in the wrestling world. Recently, “the All-American American” Jack Swagger came back from hiatus with a new gimmick of being “the Real American” and ranting about immigrants and lazy people and all that. Then he got a manager in the form of old-school wrestling personality Dutch Mantel (now known as Zeb Colter), who acted as a mouthpiece, ranting his Tea Party-like views for the sake of getting the crowd’s ire. Weeks into his return, Swagger won a big multi-man match to gain a title shot for the World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania against Alberto Del Rio, a Mexican aristocrat with a love for the downtrodden. It’s a feud that makes sense and sounds like it would give us an entertaining story with a great payoff.
But that’s the thing about the unpredictable world of professional wrestling. It’s so many factors planned out and the best laid plans of mice and men have a tendency to go astray. With WWE, they aren’t even the BEST laid plans to begin with. No, a huge wrench came into this situation in the form of Jack Swagger being arrested for speeding and driving under the influence of marijuana.
This is one of those times where the behind-the-scenes story will trump the scripted stuff in front of the cameras, even if heroic immigrant vs. bad guy who hates immigrants has so much potential. So what’s so interesting about this Kurt Angle/Biff Tannen hybrid getting pulled over?
1) Jack Swagger continues to be the epitome of dropping the ball. Let’s take a quick look at Swagger’s WWE career. The deceptively-tall Swagger showed up on WWE’s ECW in late 2008, immediately shooting to the top with his easily-hateable goofball heel charisma and a power grappler style that made him look like he had a serious future in the company. He enjoyed some time as champ, although the ECW brand was so third tier at this point that he didn’t even get a match in the four-hour Wrestlemania 25. He got called up to the Raw roster and proceeded to do a big pile of nothing.
WWE did nothing of note with Swagger and he quickly faded into the background as just another midcarder. In 2010, he won the multi-man Money in the Bank match at Wrestlemania 26, which was a major surprise, as this development came out of nowhere. After all, he hadn’t really done anything to suggest he’d suddenly get any major push, yet here he was. Days later, he cashed in his automatic title shot on a beaten-down Chris Jericho (also a heel, which was weird) and became World Heavyweight Champion. This is part of one of WWE’s more recent problems of cheapening their titles by sticking them onto random people in hopes that it would make the wrestlers seem like a big deal instead of the other way around.
Swagger would go on to have one of the worst title runs of actual length in the company’s history, up there with Rey Mysterio and Jeff Hardy. Other than a clean win over Randy Orton at a PPV, he was made to look like a joke who in no way deserved to be considered on the championship level. Just as bad, they removed his full-of-himself jock personality and replaced it with a serious, suit-wearing character that they kept using for all heels around the time based on Chris Jericho’s success using the same gimmick. He ended up losing the title to Rey Mysterio and fell right out of the title picture.
Again, they found a good enough starting point with him down the line during the excruciating Jerry Lawler vs. Michael Cole feud that made WWE nearly impossible to watch at times. Rather than go on and on about how that sucked as a whole, I’ll just focus on Swagger’s role. Swagger was Cole’s bodyguard of sorts, doing all of the dirty work and making Cole act like he had Lawler’s number every time. When things didn’t go their way, Cole would begin to act a little abusive towards Swagger, setting things up for Swagger’s imminent face turn. Finally, Swagger had had enough of Cole’s antics and… just kind of stormed off. He left the story, but he remained heel, going on to lose a feud with Evan Bourne. Wow. Way to go, WWE.
A lot of damage had been done to his career and it didn’t get better for a long time. He became a complete jobber, losing all the time and even being done in thanks to the outside interference of Beaker from the Muppets. He walked away from it all, claiming that he was better than this. This part made sense at least. He was off TV for about six months so they could put a new layer of paint on him.
Even though many speculated that he’d come back as a face against the anti-American Antonio Cesaro, Swagger came back as “the Real American” and here we are. It’s weird that after all this time and all these examples of the ball being dropped on Swagger’s budding career, this time it’s 100% his doing and not the WWE machine.
2) The WWE’s random reactions to DUI situations. Alcohol and marijuana aren’t covered by the WWE’s Wellness Policy, but they’ll still get you in hot water, the latter especially. If you get caught with steroids, your fate is easy to figure out, but the punishment for a DUI can be rather scattershot. Some people get off with a slap on the wrist, like Alex Riley and Cameron. Hell, with Riley they even jokingly referenced it on the following edition of Raw.
The most comparable situation for Swagger right now is when Rob Van Dam held both the WWE Championship and ECW Championship, only to get pulled over with a lot of weed in his car. This one was just as much the WWE’s fault since RVD’s entire persona is that of a pot enthusiast, so what did they even expect? His star fell pretty quickly due to this situation because it brought some bad press to the WWE. Swagger, being a #1 contender with an angle and gimmick that’s still newborn, isn’t as high profile as RVD, but it isn’t something to be ignored. That begs the question, how will he be affected by this arrest?
According to the following three factors, things aren’t looking so good.
3) Vince McMahon has to be losing his fucking mind. Vince is a petty and vindictive man. Just ask Ted Turner, the Parent Television Council and the LA Lakers. After his wife lost her second election, making the McMahon family look like fools who flushed so much money down the drain, he decided to blame it on the Tea Party. Their extreme views mucked things up for the Republican party and cost them a lot of seats in the recent election. Ergo, Swagger and Zeb Colter (emphasis on that last name) were given a storyline to paint the group as villains. This got many fans nervous as what happens when certain regional audiences CHEER Swagger and Colter? At the very least, this is a step up from the Muhammad Hassan gimmick where speaking out about post-9/11 racism was treated as a BAD THING.
Already, Swagger and Colter’s antics were getting the ball rolling. Fox News featured a clip of it on one of their shows, annoyed at the implications that these were supposed to be bad guys. Vince was finally getting that media attention he craves so very, very much. It was negative publicity, but in sort of a positive way. It got people talking and it gave him a sense of revenge. Now that’s all in the toilet because if there’s any media attention to be had, it’s more about Swagger’s real-life driving exploits and there’s no way to put a positive spin on that one.
4) Appeasing Bruno. What does the elderly wrestling legend Bruno Sammartino have to do with any of this? After decades of speaking out against Vince McMahon and the WWE, things have FINALLY smoothed over enough that the company has been able to reach out to Sammartino. Thanks to Triple H’s actions, Sammartino’s agreed to a working arrangement with the company, especially in the form of appearing at this year’s Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. One of the big deals in this partnership was explaining that all the rampant drug use from the 80’s was non-existent. That the Wellness Program is strong and infallible.
They can’t not punish Swagger severely in this light. And that’s not even the worst of it.
5) The Zeb Colter connection. This is where things go from amusing to messed up and darkly tense. Dutch Mantel/Zeb Colter, Swagger’s mouthpiece and manager in all of this, is not only possibly cheated out of a promising career, but this incident is extremely personal. Mere months ago, Colter’s teenage granddaughter was struck and killed by a man driving under the influence. No matter how mad Vince is in this situation, I can’t imagine how it compares to Colter. Even if Swagger isn’t outright punished, how can these two continue to be paired with each other?
6) So what happens now? That’s the real question. Wrestlemania is still a month and a half away. Best case scenario, they keep the angle going and have Swagger get decisively destroyed at Wrestlemania. That should have been the endgame regardless, but with this company, who’s to say? Depending on how much of an example they want to make on Swagger, they may outright remove him from the feud. There are dozens of possibilities here. Does he push for his title match extremely early and then lose, only to vanish from TV? Does someone else defeat him for his title shot? Does he get replaced with someone else as Zeb Colter’s protégé? And if so, who? A lot of the top heels don’t quite work with the Tea Party gimmick and would be mismatched.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens here. All’s not lost for Swagger. Like in his ECW days, he can return to being a big fish in a small pond by moving on to TNA. Hell, you can wrestle high there and they’ll reward it by making you champion!