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Authority Figures: It’s Time to Tone it Down

PWP Nation’s Zak Fellows shines a spotlight on the Authority figure complex in WWE.

At time of writing, we are on the eve of the WWE Brand Split Version 2 and all the implications in both product and fan reaction that would entail. Aside from the major wrestling changes that could manifest, including the introduction of another world title which you can see my thoughts on here, we have also seen build-up of the Raw and Smackdown separation on the non-wrestling side of WWE: specifically its authority figures.

On the 11th July Raw, after several weeks of returning General Managers from the initial brand split teasing their possible involvement once again, it was confirmed that Stephanie McMahon and Shane McMahon would act as “Commissioners” for Raw and Smackdown respectively while there would also be “General Managers” for each show. The difference being, General Managers would be more a week to week appearance while the Commissioner will, presumably, be a once in a while type appearance. While I wish not to discount or dismiss that the inherent storyline of “Authority Figure: Who’s it gonna be?” triggers healthy speculation and banter between wrestling fans, I will say that…

“Wrestling needs to calm down with the usage of Authority Figures in storylines.”

Perhaps this was always an issue that I knew was there but needed something specific to bring it to the surface, but the usage of these old personalities to build hype towards the brand split in the past month as opposed to the natural hype that emerges from splitting the roster really speaks volumes as to how much I, personally, no longer care about these guys in suits playing the typical clichés of authority. In the benefit of retrospective history, the brand extension diluted the Authority Figure Angle.

Since the popularization of authority figures in the Monday Night wars, where we saw the villainous Mr. McMahon play the foil to ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and Eric Bischoff allied with the renegade New World Order, wrestling itself has started progressively presenting their own take on the prevalent authority storyline. It could even be considered the most common of non-wrestling storylines in wrestling and it has been shown in both alignments.

During the Brand Split’s 10 year run, we saw a lot of different personalities take up the Authority Figure position: Some were better than others but part of my reason for dilution stems from the belief there was too little in the way of innovation and reinvention from these General Managers.

The whole purpose of angles such as these is to create strong and over characters that help and enable getting a wrestler more over, in the same manner that Mr. McMahon’s totalitarian rule got Austin more over as the rebel and free spirit, and, sadly, almost none of the brand split General Managers managed to do that. Very few can say they started to like John Cena because Eric Bischoff had it out for him, Bobby Lashley didn’t end his feud with Vince McMahon anymore over than he already was and the Anonymous Raw General Manager, yes I know, didn’t really benefit any person except for Michael Cole I guess and even then, the whole concept was designed as a mystery to work backwards ala Austin getting run over in 1999.

Ultimately, the lack of compelling and progressing angles for the benefit of the wrestlers, the Brand split authority figures’ lasting impression becomes and boils down more to the personality of each individual. To put it another way, people remember Theodore Long and his general shtick more than they remember what he did specifically. The appearance of the man when it was needed and important to do so is part of the reason why Jack Tunney is viewed as a positive template for the handling of Authority figures even if it was 30 years ago.

With that said, I feel it important to acknowledge the benefits that have been facilitated from what has become wrestling commonplace. Wrestling storylines focusing on the involvement of an authority figure have seen memorable feuds and matches that still hold up to this day, I mean imagine what the wrestling landscape would have been like if Austin and McMahon didn’t have such natural chemistry as adversaries.

Stories of Daniel Bryan overcoming the Authority’s closed mentality to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship remain as empowering and emotionally investing as classic storylines of friend vs friend, sibling blood feuds and battles of pride.

And as much as the General Manager’s stints of many people during the initial brand split remain largely forgettable as far as specifics go, something has to be said for the ability to create and reinvent personalities that people remember for their quirks and characters to this day. Vickie Guerrero can enter the industry with no experience and become a natural in her ability to draw heat to the point that she’s one of the most over people on the show during her tenure.

More recent times will remember John Laurinaitis for his People Power stint as opposed to the Dynamic Dudes in the 1990’s and the overabundance of Theodore Long tag team jokes compared to referee jokes or managing Rodney Mack has to say something. THAT is the appeal of an Authority Figure and why fans generally become, if not excited but, inherently interested in seeing how it plays out.


Perhaps my tired weariness of bringing Authority Figures to the forefront of wrestling shows stems from the most recent, and major, WWE angle The Authority. As good as Triple H and Stephanie McMahon are, the angle went on for so long, with nothing in the way of long term investible material in retrospect, missed several high points that they could have ended it ultimately causing the actual ending of WrestleMania 32 to be a down point. A whimper as opposed to a bang you could say.

It should be said that my fatigue of the concept is mostly towards the heel side of things: Babyfaces I would be more welcoming towards because it’s less of a guarantee that they will become heavily involved in the show week to week.

If wrestling insists on having an Authority figure be involved in a storyline make sure it has a purpose that benefit one of the wrestlers and not themselves because than their adversaries become interchangeable. And if you have one on every week, make sure their time is short, sweet and impactful…that’s the best approach to having a positive reception when you are a non-wrestling figure.

Don’t be cheap and cynical in your choices either wrestling promotions: Bringing back Daniel Bryan, a guy people loved to see wrestle, NOT wrestle and just stand there in a suit and go through the motions is not my personal idea of “Must see TV.”

[Zak Fellows knows Must see is case by case and you should too.]

Maybe that was harsh on Bryan… doesn’t stop people from committing to phony outrage though.

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About Zak Fellows

I started watching wrestling in 2005, mesmerised by a certain slow walking phenom. 10 years later and still going strong: Not only as a fan among a very eclectic community but also as a senior writer for this very website. Combining knowledge, opinion, a disdain for the typical wrestling fan on the internet and a sarcastic wit, if you agree with me than hooray and whoopee. If you don't...then don't be a little drama queen about it because god forbid people think differently.