I have been a professional wrestling fan since 1987. I watched NWA/WCW religiously every Friday night, Saturday and Sunday evenings, and WWF/WWE Sundays after church then on Monday or Tuesday nights. There has always been something about it that kept me interested and coming back. I watched WrestleMania last year and thoroughly enjoyed the show. The booking and wrestling was tremendous. They finally gave the fans the payoff they had been waiting for. But that was almost a year ago, and since then I have had very little interest in the product. For me the WWE is ruining their product and have a long way to go to get it back to where it needs to be.
Here is several ways their product is suffering.
The biggest problem is that the booking makes absolutely no sense.
Booking Problem 1: It does not matter if you are the champion, they will still book someone over you in a way that should not be done. The first time CM Punk was champion, he constantly lost non-title matches. He would be pinned clean in the middle of the ring. No babyface champion should lose a match cleanly, unless they are building a monster like Brock Lesnar. They did the same thing to Rey Mysterio when he was champion. He would be put in non-title matches with the great Khali, and get destroyed. They still do the same thing. No one gets built up. Brey Wyatt was one the hottest heel in the company last year (thought it could be argued to be a face because the fans loved him), but he kept losing. There were maybe only two or three others as over as he was. He could have been on top of the company as one of the best workers, but they kept burying him. In most cases it feels like they flip a coin to see who is going to win. Most of the wins and loses do not amount to anything or build toward anything. The top four athletes that wrestled in the top two matches at New Japan Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom on January 4th, had not lost in a singles match in three or four months. That is how you make your booking count, and build a strong character.
Booking Problem 2: They try to turn wrestlers heel and baby face too often. This is what is known as the Lex Lugar Syndrome. At some point people stop caring, and it hurts the character. I can not tell you how many times they have turned Randy Orton. When John Cena would get hurt and they would need a new babyface on top, they could always turn Randy. When Cena would come back, time for him to be heel again. Randy would take time off, and they would bring him back the opposite of what he was before he left. At some point people stop caring.
Booking Problem 3: Wrestlers are not allowed to get over on their own, they are forced to be what the booking committee wants them to be. During the attitude era each character was an extension of his/her own personality. During interviews they were allowed to say what they wanted to and matches were not as scripted out. Now a large majority of the talent is being given a place to fit in to and not develop themselves. When someone cannot be themselves, the fans can tell, and it makes it extremely difficult to get over.
The art of hiding someone flaws has vanished. Everyone knows that their are certain people who can’t talk on the mic, others can only work a certain way in a match, and some can’t even work a match. If you do not know how to hide someones shortcomings , you hurt the business. If you go back and watch any ECW match, Paul Heyman could hide anyone’s flaws. Example, The Sandman was a horrible wrestler, so he didn’t wrestle, he was a brawler. Sabu could not talk on the mic, therefore he always had a mouth piece. Shane Douglas had a natural heel personality, so he was never a babyface. Because the WWE stopped trying or didn’t now how to hide these things, many of the ECW wrestlers who came over never succeeded. Many of the smaller guys could be used successfully in Tag Teams. Ricky Morton of the Rock’N’Roll Express was about 5’9” and 190lbs. It would have not been believable for him to overpower or beat the Russians, but stick him in a Tag Team and allow them to double team and it becomes believable. It is an art that is not being used, and many talented young wrestlers are suffering because they are not having a proper chance to succeed.
Start Putting Unused Talents in Tag Teams. Since I brought up Tag Teams, WWE has had many of the greatest Tag Teams of all time come through the company. For the most part they have used them successfully and drawn huge money and merchandise. No one got a bigger pop or was more over that the Road Warriors. The tag team market is a division that they are only scratching the surface of. Lets look at the New Age Outlaws, The Road Dog Jesse James and Billy Gunn. Billy was a successful tag team wrestler, but James was floating around with not much opportunity and not getting over as a singles. You put those two together and it was lighting in a bottle. Any time someone is floundering, I would look for the opportunity to put them in a tag team, if it doesn’t work for them no harm. A current good example of this is Golddust and Stardust. Cody Rhodes had several misses, but once he got in the tag team, he rejuvenated his carear.
There is a constant cycle of writers and creative talent moving through the company. Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s many members of the creative team grew up in the business or were fans. Once Dave Lagana and several other staff started to leave, their roles were filled with Hollywood writers. These people know how to write a TV series, but they don’t know how to write an extended program that should last serval months to build heat.
Since the early 2000’s there has been what everyone calls the “WWE Style” of match. Most of the matches consist of 5 to 10 minutes of action with very little selling, making everything look good for the camera. Most of the time it follows the same formula. Babyface has a good start, the heel starts getting the best of him and then the face has his comeback. There are very little “rest holds” or ring psychology, and the crowd is not being worked.
To go along with the WWE style match, the commentary is focusing on things other than the match. Instead of focusing on the storyline that is going on in the ring they are talking about the Twitter account, what is going on later in the program, or trying to plug an event or movie. The purpose of the commentators should be putting over what is going on in the ring.
WWE needs to decide: Give the fans what they want or do their own stories. For the past couple of years the fans have started voicing their opinion. It has made a big impact on the business. The WWE has even went so far as giving them a Slammy Award. They got used to getting their way. Then starting at the 2014 Royal Rumble, the fans voiced their opinion and the WWE did not follow. Daniel Bryan lost the Rumble and the fans hated it. They had to change their WrestleMania plans to accommodate, because he was more than deserving of the spot. This year at the Rumble, they allowed Roman Reigns to win, the fans again hated it, but they are sticking with their plans. They need to decide what they want to do. They need to either go with the crowd support, or do their own thing and run their storyline.
The final problem is that it is treated as entertainment. At one time and in many other parts of the world it is still treated as a sporting contest. Having Brock Lesnar on top has helped bring a bit a realism back to the product, but they still have a long way to go bring it back to where it once was. You can’t take back what has already been done, so it will never be like it was in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s.
When you look at all the issues and problems that plague the WWE at this time, all the blame really has to fall on one man: Vincent Kennedy McMahon. He is the chairman and CEO of WWE, but he deals in more than just that. He has his hand in the creative decision and directions the company goes in. There is nothing that goes on at a Raw, Smackdown or PPV that does not first have his consent. The majority of the blame for the shape of the WWE, needs to fall square on his shoulders.
If you are tired of the WWE product and are looking for some good alternatives here are a few.
NXT: It is under the WWE banner, but the style and feel is very different. The talent there are putting on some great matches. Check out the rising superstars, before they are forced to put on the WWE style match.
ROH: In my opinion, it is the most entertaining and best worked wrestling promotion in the US. Many of the current WWE stars have come from here and they continue to build great talent and have put on the best matches for the past 10 years.
Lucha Underground: This startup is building a solid stable of talent, and bringing the Lucha Libre style to the US.
New Japan: New Japan wrestling has been around over 40 years, and they are now starting to get TV in the states. If you miss the 1980’s NWA style of competition then this is something you need to check out. The matches are amazing and the characters bridge the culture barrier. My recommendation is go and watch Wrestle Kingdom 9 on Dailymotion, or buy the DVD, and listen to Jim Ross call a wrestling match like it was meant to be.