WWE's midcard is the family dog after a new baby arrives—neglected and listless.
Raw has continually succeeded at its beginnings and endings, but what happens in between is treated as filler and the fans are picking up on that.
Daniel Bryan's increasingly personal feud with Randy Orton is top-notch entertainment. Big Show using his fist as a weapon of rebellion, Orton's devilish behavior, the tyranny of The Authority and Cody Rhodes and Goldust's story are all the kind of angles that makes pro wrestling so captivating.
It's everything else that is seemingly getting thrown together with forethought nowhere to be seen. One great course can make a four-course meal, but you can't just put sawdust in a bowl for the appetizer even if the greatest entree is coming afterward.
Pick apart the ratings for Raw on Oct. 14, per James Caldwell of PWTorch.com, to see a perfect example of this.
The show earned a 2.88 rating, a marked improvement over the previous week's score of 2.65. What is disconcerting is that the audience tuned out toward the end.
Viewership fell 10 percent during the last hour of Raw. As Caldwell writes, this "third hour drop-off was the largest of the year."
Excitement should be building so well during the middle of the show that the audience has little choice put to see how it all plays out. Monday Night Football and playoff baseball share some of the blame, but a look at the sagging middle during that episode of Raw reveals a critical weakness—a disappointing midcard.
Look at the match lineup between the opener of Orton vs. The Miz and CM Punk's Beat the Clock match against Curtis Axel.
- Fandango vs. Santino Marella
- Los Matadores vs. 3MB
- Ryback vs. R-Truth (Beat the Clock)
- Tons of Funk vs. The Real Americans
- Brie Bella vs. Tamina Snuka
Is there any wonder that audiences drifted after sitting through these bouts?
The kids who dig dancing like Brodus Clay or who giggle every time they see El Torito will go to bed before Raw's conclusion hits, and the adults fans will be numb and disinterested after a weak offering like this.
A comedy relief match with Santino after Orton's intensity is fine. Following that up with Los Matadores vs. 3MB for the third straight time isn't the way to engage the audience.
When Brie is a part of the second most interesting match of Raw's creamy center, there's an issue that needs to be addressed.
It's not as if Fandango or any of these tag teams aren't talented, it's just that while Bryan, Big Show and the Rhodes brothers are propelled forward by an electric story, the folks involved in these fights are given nothing to work with.
A great match has high stakes for all involved. Not every match can be a mask vs. mask or retirement match, but Ryback vs. R-Truth is an example of how to turn a run-of-the-mill clash into something worth talking about.
Ryback not only had to beat R-Truth, he had to do it quickly. Whether Paul Heyman or CM Punk would be choosing the rules for Ryback and Punk's match at Hell in a Cell was on the line.
The Beat the Clock stipulation made every pinfall attempt important.
Even R-Truth ducking out of the ring and wasting time was entertaining. This was thanks to the gimmick of the match, but also because there was a story backing this. Their fight was an extension of Heyman and Punk's feud.
What story are The Real Americans working with? What is Fandango's motivation to beat Santino other than the satisfaction of victory?
If WWE is going to insist on filling so much of his roster with silly characters who boogie, befriend small bulls or play with sock puppets, it at least needs to get them some fuel to work with.
There certainly isn't time to have the kind of involved, multi-leveled narrative that Bryan and Big Show are a part of, but seeing 3MB take on Los Matadores with nothing extra to boost the fun isn't going to work often.
What if Brad Maddox were to inform 3MB that if they don't win a match before October ends, they'll be forced to disband?
Suddenly fans have a reason to root for 3MB to fail. Should Los Matadores keep 3MB's losing streak going, it has lasting consequences.
What if the prize awaiting the winner of Fandango vs. Santino had been entry into a tournament for a shot at the Intercontinental Championship? Even with as goofy as both gimmicks are, the audience has motivation to be more invested.
Give The Real Americans and Tons of Funk reasons to hate each other and that match is far more interesting.
Otherwise, it's just an excuse for Cesaro to swing a large man around in the center of the ring.
Tension that increases over time should be the goal between the majority of rivals, midcard or otherwise. If wins and losses aren't tallied, if championships aren't on the line, there needs to be something else to keep fans sliding toward the edge of their seats, even for Santino's match.
Between Bryan and the Rhodes brothers, WWE fans need something more satisfying to chew on or they're liable to reach for the remote before Raw hits its climax.