No, this isn’t another “John Cena sucks and here’s why” column. There are a thousand of those already and nothing you or I say is going to change what he’s doing. The product is stale because there is a clear lack of direction. Creative only seems to have the inclination to push a few top people and generally just forgets about the rest of the card, throwing together the same matches over and over again because it’s quick and easy. Think about how many Dolph Ziggler vs Alberto Del Rio matches you’ve seen in the last year and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Without being on the inside, we’ll never truly know what the issue is, but there are enough interviews/columns/speculations on the internet that one could make a fair deduction.
The first is that Vince McMahon, still the final say in all matters WWE, is out of touch with what his viewers want and is at this point producing a show simply for his own enjoyment. That seems fairly obvious with the way John Cena has been booked of late and becomes more and more obvious with each racist/sexist/dick joke presented on WWE television.
Another is his supposed lack of attention to performers who earn their own crowd reaction. The prevailing theory is that if Vince didn’t create you, he won’t let you get over. A prime example of this is Christian. Captain Charisma received no real push in his career, but was still getting over with crowds on his own thanks to a big personality and a reputation as being underrated in the ring. Did Vince capitalize on this by giving him a huge main event run? Nope, he let Christian toil in the mid-card until he left for TNA and then stuck him back in the mid-card when he returned. Sure, Christian got a few World Heavyweight Championship runs, but by the time the belt got to him, it was clearly the “B” title of the brand and didn’t mean nearly as much as the WWE Championship. He got over on his own, but because Vince didn’t make him, he got no real attention.
So what can be done to fix the very pedestrian WWE product? Obviously, Vince pushes who he wants when he wants, so this isn’t going to turn into a “push this WWE superstar because I think so” piece. Instead, let’s take a look at five things that could change the overall product of the WWE for the better.
1. Build the Tag Team Division
It has long been known that Vince doesn’t think terribly highly of tag team wrestling, believing that money is made in singles performers. While he might be right about that from a merchandise standpoint, I think he’s being a little short-sighted.
Money can be made from the tag team division in the form of ratings. Can anyone sit there and tell me that the Hardy Boyz, Dudley Boyz, Edge & Christian and all the great tag teams of the attitude era didn’t make the company money via ratings? After all, when the attitude era is talked about, the tag team wars are one of the things most mentioned and for good reason. It was ground-breaking, compelling television.
Building up the tag team division does three things: 1.) it fills content. Part of the issue with the WWE being stale is that there are five major hours of television to fill each week (Raw/Smackdown), so they revert to things they’ve already done in an attempt to fill content. Building a comprehensive tag team division helps alleviate that issue, giving them fresh content to give viewers. 2.) It breaks the monotony. With a deeper tag team division, we would get exciting tag matches instead of Part 247 of Kofi vs Miz. 3.) Tag team wrestling breeds stars. It might not be a fool-proof system, but look through wrestling history and you’ll find tons of stars that came out of tag teams: Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Jeff Hardy, Edge, Booker T, etc. At worst, you’re giving tag teams a chance to make a name as a team; at best you’re going to have an interesting team with two interesting individuals that you can move into big solo storylines down the road.
There literally is no downside to pushing the tag team division. Instead of filling it with repetitive, formulaic matches, let some of the young teams in the company (or new teams they make) try their best to get over in front of crowds like those historic tag teams did years ago.
2. Merge the US/Intercontinental Titles, Make IC Belt Relevant Again
Hands down one of the biggest issues the current product has right now is in the way the Intercontinental title is treated. Until the mid-2000s, the title was treated with the prestige it deserved: it was often considered the stepping stone to the main event scene. The list of past IC champs is a marketing point in itself, with past champions including Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Chris Jericho, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Edge, Razor Ramon, Bret Hart and the Ultimate Warrior. Using those names to sell just what the belt means can give it back the prestige it has lost over the last several years.
As for the United States title, it’s basically a lost cause at this point. It was relevant during the brand split, but since that time it’s clearly become a secondary title and hardly ever gets defended. Merging it with the IC title gives that belt more value and lets the WWE rid themselves of a useless belt.
It’s one thing to have superstars say how important winning the belt is and for the announcers to talk it up in the moment, but until someone has an extended run with it, defending it in big matches and makes it feel as important as they say it is, it won’t have that value. Not only that, but move some of the tweeners mascarading as upper-tier talent – Big Show, Kane, Sheamus, Cesaro and Rob Van Dam – strive for the IC title. Think about how important the title would seem if Bray Wyatt got an extended run with the belt. Think what it would mean if all of this talent needing a boost to get to the next level went all-out for the mid-card title?
Like the tag team title division, it’s a win-win: fresh angles, a raise in prestige for what is supposed to be an important title and a chance to give renewed pushes to guys who desperately need them (lookin’ your way, Jack Swagger).
3. Stick with Pushes
Speaking of pushes, one of the most maddening things about present-day WWE is the seemingly ADD-riddled pushes they give. One week, they promote a star as the next big WWE superstar before completely forgetting about them a week later. Bo Dallas and Adam Rose are in a dimly lit room somewhere, nodding and sobbing.
In the eyes of a wrestling fan, it speaks volumes about a performer if the company stops pushing them out of the blue. To go from “hot commodity” to “jobber fodder” can completely kill a character’s value. Do you think Kofi Kingston will ever be taken as a legitimate threat again? Can Big E ever come back from having his push completely deflated?
The problem with this is that the WWE is desperate to create new stars and won’t give it a chance to happen organically. Instead of putting characters on television and seeing how they do in front of live crowds, the WWE either pushes someone out of the gates or ignores them entirely. Let guys swim or sink on their own and I bet you’ll see quite a few more faces emerge.
4. Make Divas Other Than Paige/AJ Lee Relevant
This is kind of a double-edged comment. I realize that asking for something like this leads to the rise of the Total Divas and no one wants that. No, like above, they should be given time to sink or swim on their own. Paige was pushed out of the gate but then it became clear creative didn’t know what to do with her. Since then, she’s developed one of the more interesting female rivalries in the recent history of divas wrestling with the only other standout female performer, AJ Lee.
It’s clear that the WWE doesn’t know how to write women into their shows. They’re either jealous over boys, jealous because they aren’t as pretty or just a bitch. There are no layers to most of the characters and their motivations feel entirely forced. Giving them depth beyond “hey, she’s pretty” is what leads to the Trish Stratus’ and Litas of the world. We have enough divas like the Bellas; let’s try to develop a few more unique characters.
5. Change the Announce Team or Eliminate it Entirely
Arguably the biggest detriment to the current WWE product is the announce team. It seems like the days of Jim Ross and a coherent Jerry “The King” Lawler was eons ago. Michael Cole, the lead announcer, doesn’t know how to convey emotion like a person. He shouts, says some of the dumbest things possible and fails to promote the talent in the ring in the way that he should. In the case of the women, he may as well say that he doesn’t care and can’t stand the product because that’s what his tone and snide remarks indicate. It’s clear that Vince is in his headset, feeding him things to say at all times, but I’m sure Jim Ross did, too. That didn’t seem to hamper him in the way it does Cole.
The aforementioned Lawler, meanwhile, is an awful shell of his former self. He cracks awful jokes, seems a step or two too slow to be doing what he’s doing and leaves you screaming “really, Jerry?” as he makes comments about a character’s behavior while sitting in his glistening Ed Hardy t-shirts. He’s provided no value to the commentary team in ages and it’s only been getting worse with age.
The last member of the team, John Bradshaw Layfield, has the potential to be a great commentator. He’s witty when he tries, can easily play the biased heel that isn’t seeing things clearly or objectively. The sad fact is that he’s just like Cole, only more of a jerk. He gets shouty about everything and beats buzz words that haven’t been popular in years into the ground for the sake of tying to be funny. “We’re twerkin’ on Friday nights, Maggle!”
Instead of building up the performers in the ring, they spend half their time talking about the WWE Network or what’s happening on Twitter. The other half is spent yelling over one another as incoherently as possible with absolutely nothing being accomplished. You’re left wondering why these men are paid to talk and if they’ll actually talk about what’s happening in an interesting and informative manner.
The WWE is apparently worried about the declining ratings and the lack of a turn out for their vaunted WWE Network. Here’s a thought: act like you care about the product and people will flock. The attitude era didn’t happen solely because of Steve Austin or the Rock; it’s time to build the supporting cast that helped perfectly accent those stars.
Or we can keep going about business as usual. Clearly, that’s not the cause for concern.
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