Why 'Start-and-Stop' Pushes Are Hurting WWE's Mid-Card
While the main-event scene in World Wrestling Entertainment may be considered "thin," there is no denying that the company has one of the great mid-cards in the history of the sport.
Talented Superstars such as Kofi Kingston, R-Truth, Cody Rhodes, Wade Barrett, Sin Cara, Antonio Cesaro, The Miz, Kane, Daniel Bryan and Damien Sandow are just a few of the performers capable of flipping a switch and having a legitimate show-stealing match.
As talented as those individuals (and others) are, there is cause for serious concern when it comes to the company's second tier.
The inability to sustain a push has derailed a number of talented men in recent years, perhaps none more so than Zack Ryder. A wildly popular star who is in the top 10 in terms of merchandise sales, Ryder created a web show out of frustration over his spot in the company.
He mocked himself all the while sending a clear message to the company that he was better than how he was being portrayed on television. Fans ate it up and their response to "Long Island Iced Z" resulted in a push that lasted, roughly, four months before being halted, suddenly and definitively, by a one-sided rivalry with Kane.
Brodus Clay exploded onto the scene in early 2012 and managed to get over a "Funkasaurus" character that was straight out of 1996. Fans bought into his performances and he became a featured performer for most of the year.
Then the creative team became bored with the character and did nothing to advance him past the dancing and squashing phase. Now he has been on a free-fall down the card, losing decisively to opponents such as Heath Slater in recent weeks.
At Sunday's Survivor Series, the traditional tag-team elimination bout is full of Superstars who have seen pushes start hot, then evaporate suddenly. Kofi Kingston has had a number of serious pushes fall to the wayside in favor of tag-team collaborations. As has Cody Rhodes.
Damien Sandow looked poised to enjoy a major push in the coming months, but any semblance of said push disappeared when he was inexplicably paired with Rhodes to combat Kane and Daniel Bryan.
Jack Swagger and The Miz are two former WWE/World Heavyweight Champions who achieved the ultimate prize the industry has to offer, only to be shuffled back down the card when they were no longer needed to fill that role.
Miz lost to the likes of Clay, Alex Riley and Rey Mysterio, and had blame put squarely on his shoulders when the buy rate for last November's Survivor Series, featuring The Rock and John Cena teaming up, slightly under-performed.
Swagger's case was even worse. He went from World Champion to glorified jobber in a two-week span. Since the summer of 2010, he has essentially become the guy the company uses to elevate others, seemingly believing that his "former World Champion" status will be enough to keep him over with the audience.
That has not been the case. Just two years after winning Money in the Bank and reaching the promise land, Swagger is off television and in the process of being repackaged in hopes of a renewed push.
At some point, starting at the top with Vince McMahon and trickling down to even the lowest-ranking writer, the creative team must do a far better job of defining its roster and creating some sort of pecking order.
The current "status quo" way of booking, where no one Superstar loses or wins too much to really break free, does not allow the performers to get over with the audience in a way they have in the past.
In the 1980s, fans knew that Jake Roberts and Brutus Beefcake were to be taken more seriously than, say, Sam Houston and the Blue Blazer. During that Attitude Era, everyone understood Ken Shamrock, Goldust and Val Venis were bigger stars in the grand scheme of things than the likes of Too Cold Scorpio, Droz and Chainz.
Today, every one of WWE's mid-card stars are on the same level because the company has adopted the "50-50" style of booking where no one really wins.
The reason that McMahon and his crack writing staff have such a difficult time finding a mid-card Superstar that connects with the audience and can carry the ball in the main-event picture is because fans have been conditioned to treat them all the same.
Cody Rhodes is no better or worse than Heath Slater. Santino Marella means nothing more than Justin Gabriel. At this point in the year, only Tensai and David Otunga could be considered lowest on the totem pole, the former being another victim of the start-and-stop push.
Until World Wrestling Entertainment remembers that the reason the Rock-and-Wrestling and Attitude eras were such a hit in the first place was because of a complete roster, full of characters people want to see and an unquestioned star ranking system, the status quo affecting the company will continue. And, unfortunately for the likes Rhodes, Sandow, Clay, Ryder and Swagger, that means periods of great hope, followed by the agony of disappointment when reality sets in.
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