Royal Rumble is just a few weeks away. That means we’re that close to officially setting off Road to WrestleMania, which will bring us—what we hope—is the best three months of the wrestling calendar. We think about WrestleMania, the company’s super card, all year round. I should know, most of my posts on BR are fantasy booked WM cards.
This year, I’ll be in attendance for the Grand Daddy of Them All. It’s going to be my first WrestleMania experience and despite my general frustration with the current product, it won’t dampen my enjoyment of the show.
This being said, it’s time for the purpose of this column. It’s my opinion that the treatment of WrestleMania is actually causing more damage to WWE’s product than supporting its greater mission.
Since WrestleMania XX, the WWE’s biggest PPV of the year has drawn more than one million buys six times and will certainly crack that number again this spring. WrestleMania XXII and XXV each came a bit short.
These numbers alone should make you think the brand is alive and well. Unfortunately, it covers up the bigger issue, which is that the PPV buys are down overall throughout the year.
Decreased PPV purchases buys have led the company to gimmick-branded PPV events.
For example: Elimination Chamber, Money in the Bank, Hell in a Cell and TLC. In the last year, it led to knee-jerk decisions like rushing the Brock Lesnar-John Cena feud, rolling out Triple H-Lesnar in an effort to save a poorly-booked summer at SummerSlam and left them scrambling to book a finish to a Ryback-Punk WWE Title match at Hell in a Cell.
In order to prop up annual buyrate totals and the overall bottom line, they rely heavily on WrestleMania. Last year, leaning entirely on Rock-Cena - Once in a Lifetime, the company drew the biggest buyrate in history at approximately 1.3 million. For perspective, no WrestleMania had drawn more than approximately one million since the previous record-holder WM XXIIV. Add to that the fact that Extreme Rules this year, featuring Lesnar’s first match back against John Cena, drew less than 300,000.
It’s fair to say that Vince is banking on this year’s WrestleMania to break last year’s record.
The Rock is back—likely in the WWE Title match against John Cena in a Twice in the Lifetime bout—along with Triple H returning to face Lesnar in a rematch that is totally necessary (because God forbid he ‘lose his heat'), along with the annual spectacle that is The Undertaker. It’s safe to say there is as much established star power on this show as any point in the last few years.
By taking this approach, though, Vince will pop a record-setting buyrate and simultaneously tell his entire viewing (and buying) audience that we can tune out until WrestleMania XXX. Undertaker won’t make another appearance in 2013. The Rock may make a few, but not likely any matches. Triple H and Lesnar will be in and out—but who is Lesnar really impressing after wrestling three matches in a year and losing two of them?
For more than a year, CM Punk has been the WWE Champion. The World Title picture has been booked around Sheamus and more recently Big Show. Daniel Bryan is the most over-star with the company. They’ve created a star in Ryback and The Shield could be the hottest thing going into the New Year. Miz turned face. Cesaro has been booked well. Kofi seems to be getting a push. I haven’t even mentioned Randy Orton or Wade Barrett.
All of those names are the ones Vince relies on to bring ratings each week and buys each month, but other than Punk, none of them will be highlighted at the biggest show of the year.
Dolph Ziggler defeated John Cena in the main event of last PPV of 2012. He now has a compelling girlfriend and a muscle-bound powerhouse in his corner, yet he’ll likely be part of a poorly-booked multi-man match that will get less than 10 minutes of time in the ring at WrestleMania, including him eating the pin. But such is life in the WWE at WrestleMania in 2013, when the focal point of an entire year of booking is tossed aside to draw a big number on one spring night.
For the next three months, we will hear about WrestleMania moments. We’ll get recaps about all of the great moments of past. We’ll see footage of Shawn Michaels against Razor Ramon and Bret Hart. We’ll see TLC II and Austin vs. Rock. We’ll see Brock against Angle and John Cena winning the belt from JBL.
But this year at WrestleMania, what moment could there be that we look back on? Triple H beating Lesnar? Undertaker winning yet another match? John Cena winning another WWE Title against the guy he faced last year? Ryback beating… someone? Sheamus beating… someone else?
Extreme Rules will arrive and we’ll have John Cena as champion again. Punk, who is rumored to be in line to face Taker, will be coming off a loss. The rest of the roster will be without momentum heading into the summer. WWE is cannibalizing it’s own product by showing us that their current roster—other than Cena—is the B-squad intended to entertain you until the big guys come along the next year.
Whether it’s using Punk as a warmup act for Cena, refusing to acknowledge Daniel Bryan is the most over-act on the roster. Not capitalizing on Orton’s potential as a major draw or keeping Kofi, Cesaro and Barrett as generally directionless as possible, WWE works its hardest to make sure no character gets nearly popular enough that they’d have to actually book them as a main eventer equivalent of Cena.
In doing so, we don’t have any new stars that could actually draw one million PPV buys at WrestleMania. I give the Undertaker through WrestleMania XXX before he calls it a career. Lesnar could decide to go his own way at any point in time. Rock is only becoming a bigger, more expensive star as his Hollywood career becomes increasingly successful.
I’m going to enjoy WrestleMania one way or another. I’m also going to keep watching Raw every Monday, because I’m a slave to pro wrestling. However, I’m also becoming less willing to skip other alternatives to watch Raw each week. I’ll be going out for New Year’s Eve. I’ll also opt for the BCS Championship game over Ryback-Punk in a TLC match, along with Rock’s return. That is because I have no confidence that anything will happen that matters until after the Royal Rumble.
We’re all dying for a new star in WWE. That’s why we cheer for Ryback. But whether Ryback is successful or not isn’t important. We need an entire new cast of stars to carry us forward. The only way that will happen is if they are booked to rival and even, yes, beat Cena at some point. I want my Wrestlemania XXXX to be as good as this year. Fingers crossed.