Darren Young’s sudden emergence to an Intercontinental Championship scene, a title scene that has recently included the likes of Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, and Cesaro, has been somewhat baffling to some, this author included.
The decision still comes across as desperation in response to the brand split. However, the current WWE fanbase is not the same one that has been watching Young since 2011. The current fanbase, much more than before, is an informed one. Incendiary wrestling that is produced on the independent wrestling scene and in Japan is not foreign to them, meaning that in-ring performance has taken precedence over the sports entertainment spectacle WWE has become known for. The ring work is respected above all, which is precisely why it was brilliant to pair Darren Young with WWE Hall of Famer Bob Backlund.
Backlund would have been a competitor tailor-made for the New Era. His squeaky-clean look and technical wrestling ability contained no qualities having to do with the term “entertainment.” His matches did the talking, as he would join Vince McMahon Sr.’s World Wide Wrestling Federation in 1977. Before long, he would begin the company’s second-longest heavyweight championship run, a reign bested by Bruno Sammartino. Fans of the New Era would have loved 60-minute-plus barnburners Backlund put on with competitors such as Billy Robinson and Harley Race.
As the WWF transitioned into the “Rock and Wrestling” era, Backlund would be phased out, as his character offered little more than in-ring skill when one’s image was most important. His out-of-touch persona would aid him in the early ’90s, when he would return to the WWF to feud with Bret Hart. This time, he was a heel, threatening to teach the flashy, cocky “New Generation” a lesson. Although this feud would be somewhat brief, Backlund showed that despite his advancing age, he still had the cardiovascular and in-ring skill to hang with the best in the business.
The WWE’s New Era still contains colorful personalities, but the focus in on putting on the best match possible. This is an era that may not have been as accepting of a character such as The Undertaker, a walking zombie-like monster, or of an Ultimate Warrior, a painted, energetic jackhammer summoning his warriors and making references to outer space in interviews about as organized as a monkey crap fight at the zoo. These characters are not realistic, but those within the New Era are. Overall, the New Era’s competitors are seeking in-ring immortality rather than immortality achieved due to excess of spectacle.
Darren Young has not been over the top regarding his character since debuting as a member of Nexus. However, his characters, which were “guy with huge hair” and a smiling half of the Prime Time Players simply could not be taken seriously as championship contenders.
With Backlund’s tutelage, Young’s character is no longer trying to entertain, but it taking competition within WWE seriously. The time for smiling and the “millions of dollars” dance has come to an end. Young simply wants to win, which is something that Backlund did during virtually every era of his career.
Darren Young is set to face The Miz at this Sunday’s Battleground in a matchup that would have gone over with the crowd like a fart in church about a month ago. The Miz’s character, the obnoxious “A-List” actor with a hot wife, comes off as the last remnant of WWE’s former character-driven programming.
This match is going to show that instead of looking to be a supporting actor in the next Dolph Lundgren epic, The Miz may need to take notes from Darren Young, who scrapped any remainder of his somewhat cartoonish self. “Making Darren Young great again” may have come off like a complicated process, but rather, was as simple as getting rid of the hair, afro pick, and smiles. The only addition was the legendary Bob Backlund, who is less of a spectacle as watching paint dry.
Seeing Bob Backlund as a perfect addition to current WWE programming would have sounded absurd as recent as six months ago. However, the New Era is no-nonsense, a few people in the annals of professional wrestling are as no-nonsense as the legendary Bob Backlund. As often as WWE is judged, it is choices like this that show that WWE creative clearly has a bigger picture in mind. Bob Backlund, not a Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, or Rock, but Bob Backlund may be the one who truly makes Darren Young great again.