The original idea for this blog was to cover everything that interests me, and while I’ve been focused pretty much exclusively on gaming for the past year or so, I still have many other interests. One of those interests has been professional wrestling, and while I don’t write about wrestling much, I have a pretty extensive knowledge-base on it. Here is just a little background of where I come from and my overall involvement with wrestling as a whole.
I started watching WWF during the 80s, primarily catching the weekly weekend shows when they aired. During the 90s I religiously watched the Monday Night Wars and frequently saw PPVs, including ECW and some Japanese shows. As everything transitioned to the WWE, and the other organizations dried up, I began going to local independent wrestling shows, which in my area was primarly IWA-MS, ran by ECW’s Ian Rotten. Going to these shows was where my interest stayed up until I joined the military and no longer had access to those venues. For the next few years I caught TNA, as well as ROH and CZW independent shows, via DVD whenever I could. During this entire time, I would continually catch WWE, slowly transitioning to a Wrestlemania-only viewer. This year in the WWE has to have been one of the worst that I have seen in a long time, but there is promise. Let’s see if I can break it down, and also come up with a few constructive solutions in the process.
So why does current WWE programming stink?
Honestly, when I watch matches, the wrestlers work their butts off and put on a great show. The talent of the wrestlers themselves is generally not the issue, as I feel that the actual wresting itself and the athleticism has actually gotten better over the years, even with PG generation limitations. However there is one main lingering issue that has slowly built on me over the years and why I don’t tune in as much; oversaturation. When a company runs a 3-hour show every Monday and a 2-3 hour show every Friday, you will tend to see the same matches, week in and week out. By the time you get to the monthly Pay Per View, you’ve already seen several combinations of the same match over and over again. This leaves the interest waning from a character investment standpoint, the other major aspect to wrestling besides for the actual match performances. Thinking in relation to an old samurai flick, there is typically a huge build up to the main battle, between two awesome individuals, which you don’t see until the very end. If they showed that same battle throughout the entire movie, that final battle would no longer mean as much or be as special. So basically the formula that has been established, as more and more wrestling has been broadcast on a weekly basis, has been slowly hurting the overall interest in the matches on an overall basis, giving them less of a “big fight feel”. One great example of this and how it was done right is how Brock Lesnar has been presented these past few years. Because of his high profile, and likely also due to the cost of adding him to a show, he is used very sparingly. This means that each and every time that Brock is out there, it is special. We don’t see him wrestling every week on Raw and again on Smackdown in random pairings of matches, sometimes winning, sometimes losing. Now does that mean that everyone should be handled like Brock? Absolutely not, however booking matches like this should be handled similarly. So here is my recommendation how to begin fixing this issue:
– Cut the broadcasted programs, like Raw and Smackdown, way back. Make Raw 2 hours maximum and maybe cut Smackdown to 1 hour. This will mean that less time is there for wrestlers right? Actually, no as there are other avenues that WWE is not currently utilizing to its fullest potential. So basically they would keep their higher profile wrestlers on the show, but use them very sparingly in the weekly matches, saving them for PPVs. For example, I wouldn’t have the world heavyweight champion wrestle at all on TV until the PPV. Make it special when we get to see the champion in action and people will want to pay for it too! All of these guys, including the champ, will still get ring time at house shows, and off broadcast at Raw/Smackdown, which is less visible to the overall community and completely fine. The perfect example is that for NXT we only get an hour a week and some weeks we don’t see certain wrestlers, which is completely fine. It only makes it that much cooler on a week when we do get to see them and makes the NXT PPVs a must watch event.
Classic Must See Matches are becoming a Rarity
Another lingering issue is how they have handled the main roster character development in the past few years. Have they not built any Superstars? I honestly feel like this is completely untrue, it’s just that WWE has had an extremely unlucky year in regard to injuries. So many top tier wrestlers are currently out that it means that they have to rely on other people to carry the torch and keep the ball rolling. The issue is that they have buried some of these individuals continually in the past, and some of the others do not have the fan following to be the “face” of the company yet. This also goes with the oversaturation statement, as everyone is used too frequently to truly feel special. So the current idea to put the title on Sheamus may have looked good on paper, however it ended up coming off as sloppy, and a “safe play”, due to how they have handled Sheamus over the past year. This is not only due to the aformentioned frequency of broadcasts, but also due to changes with his overall character within the past year. So here is one fix that might make things more interesting and goes with some of my previous wrestling knowledge:
Here is your WWE World Heavyweight Champion Folks….
– Currently, the main roster does not have a monster heel and have instead focused on making a subpar stable of heel wrestlers from different backgrounds, thinking that combined they could be a force to be recogned with. So in order to establish themselves as a dominant heel stable, they should have been burying individual baby faces. However when the entire stable does things like dancing with the New Day, which would be fine at a house show, it actually kills off any credibility they had. Something like that should never, eeeeever, have been broadcast live. This completely diminished any heat and respect those individuals had a heels, as they were trying to be more serious and come across as threatening. Now keep in mind, The New Day itself works great on a number of levels, and can be a good part of the weekly programming. Their sarcastic approach comes off genuine and is fun. However, the other wrestlers should not try to jump on their gimmick, expecially as intimidating heels. This gimmick confusion only hurts their image, which has now been the case for the League of Nations, and now they almost come across as a joke. So who should the WWE now focus on, while they recover other wrestler’s images? Kevin Owens. He is 100% the best talker on the main roster and has a different, more realistic, look. I have also had the pleasure of seeing him wrestle in the indies and he is one of the best workers that I have ever seen. The matches he pulled out of John Cena this year were some of the best we have seen on WWE programming and just an example of what he is capable of. There is no reason why he should not currently have the belt, so that when Cena returns, there is already an established heat for the title, which he could even realistically defend. Heck, I would make Owens (Kill Steen Kill) the ultimate heel and destroy the heel stable, taking the belt for himself from Sheamus. That would be some great television right there.
The Destroyer of Superstars…
Then we have NXT. This has been the best thing that the WWE has going for it at the moment. NXT needs to not change much, as it is currently lightning in a bottle. Aside from the hunger that wrestling fans have for a newer style of product, this also has to do with the hunger that the wrestlers in NXT have, combined with the amazing coaches that are helping each wrestler perfect their game. Having Sarah Del Ray as the women’s coach is amazing and the true reason we are having a “diva’s revolution”. I have seen quite a few matches with her and you can see that she is bringing the best out of all the upcoming divas, untapping their potential. Having guys like Adam Cole, among other indie legends, as coaches is insane. Cole was also another guy that I have seen tear the house down. These are just two of the coaches available to training up and coming talent. People wonder why NXT has picked up steam? It’s called building up talent from the ground up! Combine these extremely talented coaches with bringing in indie workhorses, like Samoa Joe and El Generico aka Sami Zayn, and it has been a recipe for success. Heck, Drake Younger is one of the NXT referees! One of the Nap Town Dragons, who I have seen put on 5-star matches, is a referee in the ring with the talent. If you think that he is not helping out with mentoring them, think again. Such an amazing brand overall and they are doing everything the right way. So here are my thoughts on the future of NXT, geared more towards when they are brought up to the main roster:
Looks can be deceiving… she’s a bad-ass!
– Do not drastically change the “NXT style” once those stars get to the main roster. We only watch NXT online, but we do watch it! If NXT “universe” enjoys them, why change them for the main roster, just simply because that is the established norm? The main disappointment that I have seen is how they have handled the “diva’s revolution” on the main roster. Basically all these amazing female wrestlers are extremely limited once they leave NXT and come up to the main roster; as the main roster basically doesn’t handle women’s wrestling the same as NXT does. So many 3 women tag matches with no substance on the main roster, when in NXT we get an amazing Women’s Ironman Title Match! It’s no wonder that you get the sense that NXT stars aren’t in a hurry to move up to the main roster. They truly are part of something special and it shows! How does WWE fix this, while still adhering to everything else I have mentioned? Basically, save it for PPVS! So at a PPV, we need to see that hunger, that drive, that we get at each and every NXT PPV. At WWE PPVs, they are not limited as much to time, so give us some high quality matches. Let the women actually wrestle and bring out the main event male players that we shouldn’t have seen in a wrestling capacity for basically a month. If we see less TV time from matches, as mentioned before, then each confrontation will be special. This also means that female wresters would also be just a high profile as the male roster. We could see a Sasha Banks versus Charlotte 5-star match again, like we did in NXT. Part of what also made those matches great was the build-up as we saw promos and such, but didn’t always see them in the ring every week. You have to make us want to see them put on that amazing show by not over-saturating it as much.
5-Star Women’s Matches are the Future!
So if WWE is limiting TV time, where could they possibly go so we could get famliarity with the superstars? How about YouTube and social media? 99% of wrestling fans also are on some kind of social media outlet. So if you are dropping your broadcast down, you can push over those extra promos and bonus content to social media, making it essential for fans to unlock the full wrestling experience, instead of it just being an afterthought. Of course you still would get the major promos on RAW or Smackdown, but all the other ones would be fine on social media, especially if it was consistantly done this way. I would still avoid pushing full matches to social media, but it could be on the WWE network, if they wanted to go that route. That would also give the network a purpose besides for the monthly PPVs.
WWE apparently has the followers on Social Media already!
The other aspect that I suprisingly enjoyed this year from WWE was the reality shows they have put on. My wife actually watches Total Divas and I found myself actually vested in certain female wrestlers featured on that show when I caught an episode with her. This is a formula that the WWE could focus more on, in small doses for more of the people on the main roster. Something like showing more of wrestlers that do not get much TV time, such as mid-carders like Heath Slater or the Accension, would help elevate overall interest in their characters. Obviously they would want to avoid a top tier heel from getting this treatment as part of the magic of a heel is to not be loved, however any type of face in WWE should definitely get the reality treatment. Even if they went heel later, having them off the show would make the heel turn even deeper. You want fans to get vested in Roman Reigns? Instead of simply bringing out The Rock to raise his hand, how about we see the real him? If we connect with him on a personal level, then the fan support will come. I think this is something that could be even stronger than an Austin 3:16-style or “pipe bomb” shock promo, as there is more of a longterm investment into the superstar as a person, which is where the world has went to with social media.
Can’t force us to like someone, even with Nostalgia. It has to be earned.
One great example of something the WWE could utilize to expand the product is a personal channel like UpUpDownDown by Xavier Woods aka Austin Creed. He does his own YouTube gaming channel and we get to see wrestlers interacting out of their element. It’s amazing to see some of these superstars “out of character” and actually has made me more of a fan of Xavier Woods and, in turn, The New Day, because they are also into other things that I enjoy, such as video games. What’s also great about channels like that is that the only people who connect with them will be those with the same hobbies, which brings an extra niche layer to the product that you didn’t have otherwise. I would love to see more of this from the roster and if they get popular they can actually make money on the side, which is a bonus. The key is, it has to be real to work.
Example of doing it Right! Austin Creed’s: UpUpDownDown on YouTube.
Keeping on the reality subject: WWE Breaking Ground. If you haven’t heard of this, it is by far some of the best WWE television that has been out there this year. Basically, we get to follow NXT rookies as they train and work on their characters and skills to hopefully make it to the main roster. There are certain wrestlers, such as Apollo Crews, who I was not familar with in the indies and basically didn’t see much in him from his matches alone. However now that I’ve seen him in Breaking Ground, he is an extremely awesome individual and I want to see where his career goes! I also like how we get to see not only the highs but also the lows. There are parts where people don’t make it, and are cut from the program which, while horrible, is great to see on camera and really makes being part of the WWE a special thing. From a fan perspective, you don’t get that much and having a show that goes this deep into things is an amazing aspect to the program. I hope they continue this indefinitely.
An Inside Look at Wrestlers Trying to Achieve their Dreams…
So overall did the WWE fail in 2015? As a company I would say absolutely not. However, that being said, their main brand has become increasingly stale and is in dire need for a revamp. I feel that the reaction to the NXT style of things and an emphasis on the reality side of the business were the most interesting aspects of the year and something they should pour more focus into. If WWE is willing to update the way they run the main roster style and implement some of my recommendations, I feel like 2016 would be an amazingly successful year for the company. Just a few tweaks are needed and we can be back to the great wrestling of old, with newer, badder, superstars; both male and female!
– Jeffrey Wittenhagen