Why Mitsubishi is the WWE of the Automotive Industry
Full disclosure: If you aren’t even remotely interested in professional wrestling, this will be of almost zero appeal to you. This is a wrestling nerd deep-dive. You have been warned.
- The Road to Geneva-mania
- The Brief and Wondrous Push of Daniel Bryan
- When it Reigns, it Pours
- 2015 Royal Rumble
- How Mitsubishi Fits In
An Introduction: The Road to Geneva-mania
Mitsubishi is promising an all-new concept SUV for the 2015 Geneva Motor Show with two shadowy images that strongly imply a design study unlike anything we’ve ever seen before from the brand:
At least that’s what shadowy teaser images tend to want you to think. It’s extremely likely, however, that this WORLD PREMIERE is going to be the Concept XR-PHEV with a revised front and rear end.
Yes, that is the same Concept XR-PHEV that originally premiered at the Tokyo Motor Show in November 2013 and was lazily trotted out again at the 2014 LA Auto Show out as Mitsubishi’s declaration that it was not going to pack up shop and stop selling cars in the United States.
By definition, this means that Mitsubishi’s 2015 Geneva Motor Show WORLD PREMIERE is neither all-new nor brand-new. It’s not particularly interesting either, but that’s Mitsubishi for you. Make it their new slogan in the US. Mitsubishi Motors USA: We’re almost entirely unappealing, but hey, we aren’t going away any time soon!
To be clear, Mitsubishi is taking something that’s already been around for a good long while, slurping it up and vomiting it back out with a couple of different wrinkles, and calling it BRAND-NEW as if it believes that people who are interested in the automotive industry are complete morons.
The manner in which Mitsubishi fails on so many levels to be interesting and yet still has the temerity to treat its audience like a bunch of dopes by presenting something old and calling it new reminds me very much of another company that very recently earned itself a sizeable amount of fan backlash this week: World Wrestling Entertainment.
Hang on, folks. It’s a long, windy rabbit hole from here on in.
This past Sunday, WWE held their 28th-annual Royal Rumble event, which is traditionally capped off with a 30-man match where the one man who avoids being thrown over the top rope moves on to a title match at the professional wrestling…ahem…sports entertainment equivalent of the Super Bowl—Wrestlemania.
The fan-favorite going into the match was one Daniel Bryan, arguably the best professional wrestler in the United States and one of the best in the entire world. Bryan has always been beloved by fans for not only his technical ability, but his affability. In a sport that demands to such a great extent that the audience relates to the performer, Bryan is arguably one of the few pure everymen that the WWE employs.
It didn’t hurt that Bryan also had almost three years’ worth of emotional momentum trailing behind him going into Sunday’s Royal Rumble. Fans were at a fever pitch; they demanded Daniel Bryan by name, night in and night out and louder than anyone else. Their feelings on who should move on to face current WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Brock Lesnar, at Wrestlemania 31 were unmistakable.
This only makes what was done to Daniel Bryan—and, by extension, his fans—on Sunday night all the more baffling.Content for the tab An Introduction: The Road to Geneva-mania
The Brief and Wondrous Push of Daniel Bryan
The crushing wave of adoration for Daniel Bryan began, strangely enough, with an embarrassing eighteen-second loss.
Daniel Bryan came into Wrestlemania XVIII as the World Heavyweight Champion, and despite his role as a heel (wrestling parlance for a bad guy), fans would cheer loudly for him whenever he performed out of sheer respect for his abilities. This was no different in Sun Life Stadium on April 1st, where 78,000 fans were hotly anticipating an excellent contest between Bryan and challenger, Sheamus, to open the card.
What they got was an 18-second squash match. The bell rang, Bryan kissed his on-screen girlfriend, AJ Lee (who was standing on the ring apron), turned into Sheamus’ Brogue Kick finisher, and was pinned. The objective was clear: kill Daniel Bryan’s momentum and discredit him on the biggest stage in the business.
The plan failed. Despite the good guy triumphing over Bryan’s sniveling, misogynistic bad guy character, the crowd made their feelings explicitly clear. For the remainder of the card—one that was headlined by The Rock and John Cena, the latter of whom has served the function of WWE’s top babyface (wrestling parlance for good guy) for the last decade—the fans chanted for Daniel Bryan. The next night, they cheered even louder for Daniel Bryan, and he addressed the crowd after the show to express his appreciation.
This pro-Bryan trend continued for more than a year-and-a-half, through Bryan’s programs (and incredible matches) with WWE Champion, CM Punk, and a long, goofy tag-team gig with resident cartoon monster, Kane, until WWE finally acknowledged Bryan’s popularity by putting him into a title match with John Cena at Summerslam 2013.
And, for a brief moment, fans ultimately got their wish: Bryan defeated Cena and won the WWE Championship in an exciting contest that made him look like a legitimate star. The celebration was short-lived, however, as Randy Orton took the title away from him mere minutes later by cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase—a MacGuffin that holds a contract good for one title match at any time of the possessor’s choosing.
Bryan won the belt back a month later at Night of Champions only to relinquish it the next night when it was revealed that the referee was biased against the bad guys. All in all, Bryan’s two WWE title runs lasted less than 24 hours combined, and was becoming readily apparent to fans that, despite the crowd’s lust for a Daniel Bryan title run, WWE chairman and owner, Vince McMahon, would not set his prejudices aside long enough to give them what they wanted.
The belief is that management—particularly Vince McMahon—was not and is not of the opinion that Bryan translates as a main event guy. This very much factors into the treatment of the Daniel Bryan character, evidenced by the years-long mandate that lead announcer, Michael Cole, constantly denigrate Bryan as a “nerd” and an “indie darling” so as to sway the audience into spurning him. When Cole was eventually begged off, McMahon’s son-in-law, Triple H, and daughter, Stephanie, were brought in as on-screen authority characters, and they took up the reins of lambasting Bryan, going so far as to call him a “B+ player.”
Bryan was quickly scuttled out of the title picture for a couple of months in the hopes that the audience would simply move on, but the fans did not waver in their convictions: they wanted Daniel Bryan as their champion, and they wanted him to win it in the main event of Wrestlemania XXX.
Then the 2014 Royal Rumble happened.
Inexplicably, Bryan was denied a spot in the 2014 Royal Rumble match, and when entrant number 30 turned out to be not Bryan but Rey Mysterio, Jr., the crowd in Pittsburgh showered the ring with boos. The WWE Universe, as they are so often called, made it clear that they wanted Daniel Bryan. Vince McMahon adamantly disagreed with them.
Then, like deus ex machina, a chain of events sparked a sweeping change: CM Punk, the company’s other top babyface, quit the day after the Rumble for a multitude of reasons up to and including medical negligence and a lack of confidence in the company’s future direction. 2014 Rumble-winner, Dave Bautista (aka Drax the Destroyer from Guardians of the Galaxy), was treated less-than-warmly by arenas full of fans despite his position as the returning babyface, and they had no choice but to turn him heel. Chants of “Daniel Bryan” permeated nearly every match on every card, even at events where Bryan wasn’t in the building. The fans were not happy with the direction the company was taking, and something clearly had to be done to save Wrestlemania.
WWE’s hand was forced—they had to give the man they deemed a B+ player the Wrestlemania XXX main event. He submitted Bautista with the “Yes! Lock” and won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Funny enough, the fans really loved this.
Daniel Bryan’s signature chant involves thrusting his arms triumphantly skyward and bellowing out one singular word like a god-given mandate: “YES!” The “Yes!” chant seeped into popular culture to a great extent between 2012 and 2014, gradually becoming a staple in sports arenas around the world. People chanted “Yes!” at Miami Heat games. People chanted “Yes!” at Pittsburgh Pirates games.
There, standing in the middle of the ring in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Daniel Bryan held the two most-coveted title belts in professional wrestling and chanted “Yes!” And 75,167 people, relieved for their hero and for the end of their suffering, chanted “Yes!” along with him.
That happy moment, frozen in time, didn’t last.
Bryan married his longtime girlfriend, WWE Diva Brie Bella, five days after his Wrestlemania victory. Ten days after, Bryan’s father died. Nearly a month after that, Bryan announced that he would need to undergo potentially-career-threatening neck surgery, and he was stripped of his title on June 9th.
So ended Daniel Bryan’s “Yes!” Movement. That was, until he returned on the December 29th episode of Raw and announced that he would return for the 2015 Royal Rumble.
Surely, this time things would be different. Surely this time WWE had learned from its mistakes. Right?
When it Reigns, it Pours (Mostly Apathy)
The stage was all set for Daniel Bryan to win the 2015 Royal Rumble on Sunday, and all the pieces lined up perfectly. Bryan, fresh off of a turbulent seven-month layoff and multiple surgeries, would win the battle royal and go on to face the monstrous killing machine, Brock Lesnar, at Wrestlemania 31 for the title that he never actually lost. It’s a David versus Goliath story so obvious that Joseph Campbell could have appended The Hero with a Thousand Faces with it as an example of the hero’s journey.
The only thing standing in his way: Roman Reigns, Vince McMahon’s long-groomed heir-apparent to John Cena’s throne, who had been projected to win the Royal Rumble match and headline Wrestlemania for months.
Reigns, like so many other pro wrestlers throughout history, fell into wrestling after he flamed out of professional football—the former All-ACC defensive tackle for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets only played a single five-game, nine-tackle season with the Edmonton Eskimos after getting dropped from two NFL practice squads.
Unlike most pro wrestlers, however, Reigns was guided to wrestling by way of a storied family heritage in the squared circle. His father, Sika Anoa’i, was one half of the WWE Hall of Fame tag-team The Wild Samoans. His brother, Matthew, competed for the WWE as Rosey between 2002 and 2006. His cousins include professional wrestlers Rikishi, Yokozuna, current WWE Tag Team Champions Jimmy and Jey Uso, and the most prominent Samoan pro wrestler of all time, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. We’ll come back to him in a bit.
After two years in the WWE’s developmental territory, Reigns joined the main roster in 2012 as the muscle for the three-man stable known as The Shield. Despite early indications that either Seth Rollins or Dean Ambrose might end up being the biggest breakout star of the group, it became abundantly clear that Roman Reigns was Vince McMahon’s guy.
He was booked as a big, intimidating enforcer whose sole interaction with the ever-present camera was to smolder and tell anyone who was listening to “believe that.” He let his actions do the talking, and the approach worked wonders.
In the 2014 Royal Rumble, Reigns set the mark for most eliminations in a single match by throwing 12 men over the top rope. The Pittsburgh crowd loved it.
He was then rocketed into the WWE Heavyweight Championship picture after The Shield’s demise, and just three short PPVs removed from Wrestlemania 30, Reigns was a sentimental favorite in a four-way title match against Kane, John Cena, and Randy Orton.
He was on track to being established as a bona fide main-eventer, and the crowd was into him enough that it just might work. Then he was forced out by an incarcerated hernia, and everything changed.
His shtick worked solely because he was believable as the good-looking tough guy who doesn’t say much. And then he returned from his injury. And started talking. A lot.
Reigns’ underwhelming performances on the microphone—including typical badass good guy posturing and far too many recitations of 70-year-old catchphrases from cartoon characters—have greatly hindered his ability to connect with the audience. This is the same problem that has squashed the momentum of wrestlers like Cesaro, but in the case of Reigns, it has done nothing to stop his arduous march to the top of the card.
For the sake of comparison: in a segment on the December 29th episode of Raw, Cesaro committed a minor gaffe by saying that a wrestling ring has four ropes and not three; the announcers killed him for it for the duration of his match, treating him like an absolute moron. A week later, Roman Reigns, as a means to make up for a string of flubbed his lines in previous promos, honest to god, used the words “suffering succotash” in a promo—to, I don’t know, prove that he can alliterate, I guess—and then winked at the camera.
(The offending lines start at 2:27; the offending wink happens at 2:41)
Not one announcer said a single cross word.
To that point, the crowd reaction to Reigns has been warm if unremarkable. Fans liked him, but not a degree that would indicate he was ready to headline a show the magnitude of Wrestlemania, and certainly nowhere near as much as they like Daniel Bryan. Burdening Reigns with poorly-written promos that he couldn’t deliver effectively caused some to draw parallels between Reigns and the man that he was being groomed to replace: John Cena.
Cena, despite being positioned as the company’s top babyface for a decade, has long been reviled by a large percentage of the fanbase. This boils down to a number of factors, up to and including tacky promos filled with bad catchphrases and the company’s (read: Vince McMahon’s) insistence that he is the omnipresent vanilla good guy who is seldom ever made to lose or look weak.
There is a unique phenomenon that occurs at WWE shows where John Cena performs. During his matches, a large portion of the audience—primarily comprised of younger fans—wills Cena on with the cry “Let’s Go Cena.” In response, an almost equally large (and sometimes larger, depending on the city) contingent—primarily comprised of adult males—responds with the thunderous refrain “Cena Sucks.”
This, naturally, is not the reaction the WWE wants for its top good guy. Many surmised that Reigns’ path, should it be built to mirror that of John Cena, would wind up at a similar point where the crowd is divided.
Yet, through it all, the crowd had not turned on Roman Reigns. If a portion of the audience was vehemently opposed to Reigns, they were decidedly in the minority. But the potential for a fan revolt against Reigns was simmering beneath the surface, particularly if he should triumph over the beloved Daniel Bryan in the 2015 Royal Rumble.
If there was one surefire way to ruin this fragile equilibrium, it would be for Vince McMahon to put forth a sub-par 2015 Royal Rumble with a finish that satisfied absolutely no one except possibly for himself.
So that’s exactly what he did.
2015 Royal Rumble: A New Movement Rises
Even with the benefit of being preceded by one of the best WWE Heavyweight Championship matches that the company has put on in decades (if not one of the best it’s ever done), the 2015 Royal Rumble completely incensed the fanbase with its near-unprecedented awfulness. This was not anger to the degree where people simply raged about it on message boards and social media. This was anger to the extent that fans at the Wells Fargo Center gathered in the parking lot to block the talent from leaving the arena.
Two hours after the 2015 Royal Rumble concluded, the number one trending hashtag on Twitter was #cancelWWENetwork. And, as evidenced by the fact that the page to cancel one’s WWE Network subscription crashed for a period of time because it was so inundated with traffic, a great many followed that edict to the letter.
What made everyone so mad? Here’s the long and short of it: Daniel Bryan entered the match at number 10, performed a few spots, and was unceremoniously dumped out a few minutes later at the halfway point of the match.
Reigns entered at number 19 to a deafening chorus of boos and proceeded to do almost nothing for half-an-hour while last-gasp fan-favorites like Damien Sandow Mizdow, Bray Wyatt, Dolph Ziggler, and Dean Ambrose were dumped in quick succession. Reigns was left to eliminate three of the most stock wrestling trope characters—a giant, a bigger giant, and an evil Russian, none of whom had any realistic chance of upsetting Reigns—and stand in the middle of the ring with his arm being raised by his own cousin, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who showed up in time to save Roman from a two-on-one beat down (and, in reality, to deflect the crowd’s boos and give his cousin the rub).
In even shorter terms: the WWE, for the second year in a row, ignored its fans so that Vince McMahon’s vision of a perfect Wrestlemania could live. And the fans in Philadelphia were having none of it.
Standing next to arguably the most popular professional wrestler ever, Roman Reigns should have been soaking up a magnitude of love and adoration similar to that routinely heaped on Daniel Bryan. Instead, he was booed mercilessly to such an extent that the normally imperturbable Rock was visibly flustered. Just check out this post-match promo:
That is a man who gets paid millions of dollars to talk and act for a living thrown completely off of his game by the reaction of an angry crowd.
Why were so many people so angry about the outcome of a match in a sport where the outcomes are pre-determined? Think about it in this context: to wrestling fans, not having Daniel Bryan take his rightful place in the main event of Wrestlemania 31 is perhaps a bit like having Walter White die halfway through Season Six of Breaking Bad. Having him lose halfway through the match with no fanfare was probably like doing the whole thing off-screen and finding out that he just died in a low-speed car accident on the way to pick up a pizza. It’s not necessarily the fact that they had the balls to do it; it’s the insulting execution of the whole bloody affair.
Ultimately, a lot of what may have contributed to Roman Reigns’ burial beneath an avalanche of loathing on Sunday was how the company presented him in the weeks since he had returned from his injury. Gone was the quiet enforcer, replaced by a man who spouted fairy tales and generally looked uncomfortable talking into a microphone.
So how does this all tie in to Mitsubishi’s general awfulness? Let’s talk about that.
Finally, Back to Mitsubishi
No, I haven’t forgotten Mitsubishi, even though it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to do so.
Drawing a correlation between Mitsubishi and WWE gets a bit tricky when one stops to appreciate scope. The WWE is, as it stands, the single largest and most popular professional wrestling company in the world. According to OICA’s 2013 report, Mitsubishi is the sixth biggest automaker…from Japan. WWE achieved dominance over rival companies like WCW by buying them out and putting them out of business. Mitsubishi, to many peoples’ minds, is a rough year of sales away from going out of business in the United States.
The WWE is a juggernaut, Mitsubishi is an underdog, and yet both fail to impress with their products on any consistent basis. What they have in common is that they both continue to exist simply because professional wrestling and automotive are two industries that will always be in demand. So long as people need cheap cars, Mitsubishi will try to be that lowest common denominator. So long as people want to watch professional wrestling, Vince McMahon will have a stranglehold on the industry.
That’s the point at which the stories deviate. America—and the world for that matter—has largely figured out that there are tons of other (better) options out there other than Mitsubishi vehicles. Why get a Mitsubishi Lancer when you can drive a Mazda 3 or a Volkswagen Golf? Mitsubishi’s best-selling model, the Outlander Sport, cannot hang with the Honda CR-V or Subaru Forester in comparison testing. Its newest model, the Mirage hatchback, is widely considered the worst new car on the market.
Wrestling fans in America, however, feel an obligation to pay fealty to Vince McMahon and the WWE. This could be attributed to a kind of brand loyalty—WWE is the company that gave us Hulk Hogan and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, after all—but it could also be due to the fact that so much of the casual American wrestling audience is unaware of all the other (better) options out there to enjoy. Fans who hated the 2015 Royal Rumble would do well to seek out the objectively better Aztec Warfare match from a recent episode of Lucha Underground. Anyone who thinks Wrestlemania will disappoint them would probably love New Japan Pro Wrestling’s four-hour Wrestle Kingdom 9, which features easily two if not three of the best matches of 2015.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi from Wrestle Kingdom 9: Objectively Better than Reigns/Lesnar
Says Metzler in his introduction to the tenth-anniversary expanded edition of The Death of WCW:
[N]ow, the costs of getting in, starting up, and competing with WWE are too high. A generation only knows one major-league version of wrestling, and that is WWE. The vast majority of fans aren’t open to an alternative. And it certainly doesn’t help that the largest alternative, TNA Impact, has been run nearly as ineptly for most of its existence as WCW was during its dying days.
When Mitsubishi rolls out a press release with all that tired buzz-verbiage (“edgy,” “dynamic,” “powerful”) touting its BRAND NEW (read: slightly-modified old) concept and follows it up with a full-scale countdown teaser page, it’s easy for the vast majority of even the staunchest auto enthusiasts to miss it.
The reason that so many people don’t know about the latest asinine thing that Mitsubishi is or isn’t doing is very much the same reason that a great number of wrestling fans no longer know what ridiculous thing Impact Wrestling né TNA Impact Wrestling is or isn’t doing these days: they don’t care because they don’t see it as a viable competitor. Mitsubishi is run like a dying brand, it makes terrible and half-assed products like a dying brand, and its meager sales suggest that it is a dying brand.
Still, Mitsubishi is endlessly insistent that it will not be going down the same path as Suzuki and leaving the US market, and it’s that brazen refusal to yield to the obvious–fans really want one guy over another, just as customers would rather buy more interesting vehicles over yours–that makes them more like the WWE than their competition.
During the LA Auto Show, Mitsubishi Motors North America Executive Vice, President Don Swearingen, did a brief Q&A with Jalopnik readers. When Jalopnik’s own Matt Hardigree asked Swearingen to explain what radical change the company had in store to convince skeptics that Mitsubishi would be the next Subaru and not the next Suzuki, he had this to say:
Clearly Mitsubishi has gone through some tough years. And in those tough years we had to control costs by reducing spending in advertising and design. But we’ve returned to a profitable company and are committed to investing in research and design to focus on the future.
We did what we needed to do to survive in the U.S. market. We could’ve just pulled out, but we fought to restructure and to reinvest in the company. Our sales are up. We’re profitable and we’re growing. Mitsubishi has never given up. We’re committed to this market and we’re here to stay.
I’ll spare you the trouble of trying to decipher all of this jargon-speak: it’s not an answer to the original question whatsoever. Don Swearingen doesn’t want to tell you what Mitsubishi plans to do to say competitive in America because he simply does not know. What he does know, however, is that the company wants it to look an awful lot like the XR-PHEV.
Don Swearingen in this instance sounds a lot like Vince McMahon when he appeared on “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s podcast in December. Among a number of other tone-deaf statements, McMahon claims that guys like Cesaro are unable to connect with the audience because they’re missing some intangible quality. He says that nobody in the locker room has been able to “grab the brass ring,” a feat that he claims no other superstar in his employ had been able to do so since John Cena in 2005.
This says two things. One, it confirms that Vince McMahon is wholly capable of looking the gift horse that is Daniel Bryan straight in the mouth. Two, it confirms that Vince McMahon’s template for success: be John Cena.
This explains to a great degree why, as a means to get him over with a largely unmoved audience, Vince McMahon has attempted to portray Roman Reigns as John Cena Part 2. By being the goofy-promo-cutting, mixed-reaction-getting second coming of a guy who is still with the company, Vince McMahon is ensuring that his next top guy will only ever get a mixed response at best from here on out.
Vince McMahon doesn’t know what WWE will do in the future to stay relevant, but he believes it will look an awful lot like Roman Reigns—even if that means he’s basically just a palette-swapped John Cena.
Vince McMahon might be selling Roman Reigns as a BRAND-NEW car, but the fans see right through it: it’s the same ol’ thing they’ve already seen before. And yet, it’s good enough for Wrestlemania, just like the XR-PHEV is good enough for the 2015 Geneva Motor Show.
Still, one of McMahon’s most intriguing statements on that podcast was that, in lieu of competing with other wrestling promotions like CHIKARA or Ring of Honor, he feels that the WWE is in competition with sitcoms and prime-time dramas. While this is particularly funny with the WWE’s proven inability to tell a coherent story, it says something more about the company that could also be said of Mitsubishi: it is completely out of its depth.
The expectation that a casual television viewer would turn it over to professional wrestling to appreciate the bad acting and incomprehensible storylines is as unrealistic as Mitsubishi’s expectation that anyone who does their research would buy a brand-new Mitsubishi Mirage over a three-year-old Mazda2. WWE will likely always be America’s choice for wrestling, but it will never be America’s choice for entertainment. Mitsubishi may be a popular choice for industrial products and home electronics, but they will never be the first choice for automobiles.