Mark Henry, Wade Barrett, Injuries, and a WWE Offseason: WWE Overhaul Part 2
It's a fact of the business.
Injuries are going to happen.
So are suspensions (and due respect to WWE for taking them seriously).
You can't eliminate them, but you can take steps to prevent them—and you can prepare for them.
You know, like not letting your tag-team division get so sparse that a single suspension exposes the whole thing for the farce that it is.
Anyway, I'm already off topic.
In this edition of WWE: Overhaul, we're going to look at the extreme stress and strain placed on WWE's touring talent, some of the effects, and ways to mitigate those effects—and possibly even improve the product at the same time.
As it stands today, RAW and SmackDown air every week of the year without fail. This is very important to WWE and they take immense pride in trumpeting the fact.
For some reason, NXT also airs every week. (Well, "airs" is a strong word).
Actually, NXT and the "lesser" shows could stand to take a week or two off here or there, though WWE brass probably couldn't stand for it.
On top of the tapings, there are house shows, appearances and travel—not to mention working out and training and all the normal personal upkeep.
And since everything is on a weekly schedule, even if there weren't house shows, a wrestler could be in the ring every week without a solid week of rest.
Because WWE shows are all traveling affairs rather than centrally located, talent would at minimum need to travel two days a week as well.
This continual work is a physical and mental drain on the performers. It increases the risk of injury, which can prompt the abuse of medication—leading to suspensions—or cause them to quit.
Some performers, like Wade Barrett, are injured in freak occurrences and their suddenness forces the company to adjust its plans.
Other wrestlers, like Mark Henry, are called upon (or choose to) work while injured, preventing healing and risking worse injury.
Wrestlers only get a break when they're too injured to work, and then they rush back barely healed.
Meanwhile, every professional sport has an offseason, ranging between two and six months, depending on the physical demands of the sport.
Even if athletes spend that time preparing for the following season, they can do so in a single location, allowing them to recuperate and spend time with their families.
Looking at it from the other side, most TV shows have seasons, with long breaks between when re-runs or other shows air.
Some shows can't even successfully air a full season without a break, but are still successful when they do return.
Some shows that are "year-round" rather than scripted by seasons, like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, still take holidays of up to a few weeks.
But is this something that can work in the WWE?
Read on and find out.
Or head back to the home of WWE: Overhaul.
Part 1: Revamping the Wrestling Shows
A Legitimate Offseason
Other people have cried out about the need for a WWE offseason to let wrestlers who have been lucky enough to avoid the major injuries recover.
This would also help build demand, while letting the creative minds behind the scenes work ahead of the game—rather than reacting to circumstances as they happen.
There are two major problems with this idea, however, at least from the perspective of WWE's top brass, i.e. Vince McMahon.
The first is the loss of revenue.
Whether it's two weeks or two months, that's tickets not being sold and TV ads not being purchased as well.
The second is the fact that RAW and SmackDown are the No. 1 and No. 2 longest-running weekly episodic shows airing on television today.
This is a big deal to Vince, and is probably the deal-breaker when it comes to the schedule.
So, okay, RAW and SmackDown, at least, still have to go on.
But how can WWE work around that?
A Partial Offseason
Okay, so RAW and SmackDown still have to go off every week.
But that doesn't mean NXT, Supertars and ECW do.
Each of these shows could take two to four weeks off, either all at the same time, or at different parts of the year.
Heck, NXT, by its very design, should have taken at least a month off between "seasons," in order to provide a better product between seasons 2 and 4.
By cutting down the overall output of wrestling, you can limit the demands on the wrestlers for a short period.
But more can be done...
Smoke and Mirrors
Whether or not the secondary shows continue to run, there is one major physical drain that can be excised for a brief period of the year in order to ease the strain on the wrestlers.
They are a major part of the WWE schedule and their inclusion contributes to the physical toll on the performers.
It's the main reason what is by appearances a once-a-week gig turns into 300 days on the road a year.
Now, I'm not going to suggest ending house shows altogether, as they provide revenue, build support, and in many communities are the only live WWE event they will ever get to host.
But you could take between two to six weeks of house shows off the schedule while continuing to run the TV shows and no one would notice.
House shows don't have a set schedule.
The fans in Bumblehump, Texas don't know that Smarch 4 is their day until WWE tells them it is.
House shows have no effect on WWE TV. (Unless Evan Bourne has just failed a Wellness test.)
But it's not over yet...
More Smoke and Mirrors
Okay, so now we're down to just doing the televised shows, and maybe just RAW and SmackDown.
But several wrestlers, especially the high-profile ones that have been working the hardest, still have to go work and people expect to see some wrestling.
So what do you do?
Now, you can't just throw together a clip show, particularly not multiple weeks in a row, but there are several ways to ease the burden.
The Hall of Fame. The Slammy Awards. The Draft. Tribute to the Troops.
You can find ways to make shows that feature a minimum of actual wrestling and physical work.
String two to four of these in a row and you can clear a month's worth of live RAWs.
And what about SmackDown?
Well, as a taped show, it can be prerecorded—multiple shows up to a month in advance.
If any major injury or event happens in the work-light RAW shows, you can do re-shoots with a handful of workers before or after a RAW airs, then edit it in before that week's SmackDown.
Tricky indeed. But you don't have to use these tricks when you can just...
Use the Roster
A number of wrestlers are underused in WWE. Which is not unexpected, because the ones who get the biggest reactions or sell the most merchandise are going to continue to be featured.
But the lesser-used talent can be very useful in allowing the overworked stars some much needed rest, particularly if there are other things going on to distract the audience.
The big names can still be around to talk, but get the lowlier performers in the ring.
It would also be a perfect opportunity to bring back wrestlers who had been out with injury earlier, or who had taken a back seat to other feuds.
Or it could be an opportunity to feature the whole undercard, and promote one or two in the process.
Have an audition of sorts, or a playoff.
Think NXT meets King of the Ring.
Instead of having a single "dark horse" or "long shot" battle royal for 10 minutes to determine the guy who gets his big shot, have it take place over several weeks.
Or let guys fight to get placed on the show they want. Obviously, these guys would be headed there already, but instead of drafting or trading them, you make them work, build a little suspense and drama—even a couple rivalries.
Make guys pick tag-team partners or give them out at random and make them go through a series of challenges to get a chance to move to show X or a shot at title Z.
But of course you could always go a different route...
I cannot take credit for the idea of individual offseasons for WWE wrestlers.
So big props on the inspiration.
That said, it's a fantastic idea.
Individual offseasons allow all the shows to continue year-round without having to be changed or curtailed. (Though individual shows could still take two-week breaks once or twice a year—other than RAW and SmackDown, of course.)
Since they're known in advance, the writers can plan for them, either making a wrestler drop his title before his vacation or have him vacate it when he is "injured."
They can be flexible, so that if a performer suddenly and unexpectedly gets over right before his break, he can (on his own decision) delay it to take advantage of his new-found popularity—if he's feeling okay (think Santino).
Likewise, they can still be involved in other aspects of the business (like Zack Ryder did while he was out with injury this year) or take the time to pursue other projects (like Chris Jericho's upcoming rock tour).
The only difference is, it wouldn't only be something granted to the truly hurt or the powerful returning talent who can make demands—it would be available to all talent.
The benefits are obvious...
A Little Respite
If given a break, superstars and divas would be less inclined to quit because they couldn't handle the schedule or wanted to explore other things.
Some might not have abused various drugs—or would have been more able to recover if they did.
It's great that WWE now enforces a strong Wellness Policy, but you can treat the cause as well as the symptom—and even prescribed painkillers can be an issue.
Forcing the decision makers to work without certain performers, while giving them advanced knowledge of the fact—rather than having to react to absent wrestlers when they are hurt, suspended, quit, or are fired—would make them use the assets they have available and give more chances to the more obscure performers.
Allowing wrestlers the time to pursue other avenues will only increase exposure.
Instead of shows featuring a "former WWE Superstar," they could feature a current one.
And instead of insulting a wrestler for appearing on Dancing With the Stars, they could celebrate it (well, they could insult him too).
Imagine if The Rock, Brock Lesnar, Mickie James and Chris Jericho never had to leave the WWE to explore other avenues and had stayed with the company—even for just another year.
Imagine if your favorite wrestler's career had been longer, thanks to a slightly less demanding schedule and better care for his body that prevented an injury or use of drugs.
Freak injuries will still happen but the goal should be to make sure they're the only thing that takes a performer out for a year or cuts a career short.
Return to the home of WWE: Overhaul to catch up on the rest of the series.
Or continue with Part 3.