I think it's safe to say that after the last three months, fans' trust in the WWE brand may be at a new low:
- Pay-per-view events went from being reliably great for the better part of a year to pretty bad four shows in a row, the last of which was barely even promoted as a major event on Raw and Smackdown.
- Wrestlers are routinely being double-booked at two different shows, leaving one city's fans in the cold.
- Daniel Bryan was on the verge of breaking through as a top babyface before being repeatedly beaten and screwed out of the WWE Championship and sent down to the mid-card without any shot at getting revenge.
- Now they're trying to sell a unification of the WWE Championship and World Heavyweight Championship as the TLC main event, while advertisements for the Royal Rumble say that the winner of the Rumble match itself will get a shot at his choice of one of the two titles at WrestleMania.
Granted, it's likely that the Rumble ad was finalized before the creative team finalized the TLC main event, but that doesn't mean it's not a problem. Most of the fan speculation I've seen about the unification match has centered around how WWE will get around actually unifying the titles as opposed to who will win. This series of screwy finishes has made fans more skeptical of main event stipulations and even if it has nothing to do with anything, that ad will fuel the fire.
On top of that, they're running what was expected to be a WrestleMania main event at a B-level PPV. While I do think it's a good idea if just for the lack of any challengers for Randy Orton and John Cena, and the match being too overdone a few years ago to be important enough to main event WrestleMania, it does feel wrong. Most fans aren't going to see it that way. They're going to be skeptical of a unification match 11 years in the making being thrown out on what's often a lame duck show because it's the last PPV before WrestleMania season.
Look at how everything has devolved over the last three months to get us to this point:
SummerSlam: Daniel Bryan beats John Cena to win the WWE Championship in the main event of one of the biggest shows of the year. While Triple H and Randy Orton turning heel as part of a scheme for the latter to cash in Money in the Bank on Bryan takes the wind of out fans' sails, it was the right decision since WWE needed a heel champion at the moment. Besides, Cena vs Bryan was the second match of the year candidate and the third great match in general on WWE's best PPV of the year in a year filled with great PPVs, so life was still pretty good for WWE fans.
After a month of Daniel Bryan being beaten down ended seven of the eight TV shows in the interim, the schedule (which still has 12 PPVs during the year even with a six week break between Elimination Chamber and WrestleMania) dictated that the next three PPVs (Night of Champions, Battleground, and Hell in a Cell) were set to take place in a six week period. That's when everything went from bad to worse, with Bryan, who was getting the loudest pops of anyone on the roster, got screwed out of the title in three consecutive matches against Randy Orton and never got any revenge.
To make matters worse, all three of those PPVs were terrible. There were way too many thrown together matches in the midcard featuring bland, directionless wrestlers like The Miz and Fandango. Many of the wrestlers who contributed to the strong run of shows through SummerSlam were either buried and losing their confidence like Dolph Ziggler, injured like Christian, or gone from the company like Chris Jericho.
Look at Alberto Del Rio. He had a number of strong PPV matches through SummerSlam, but he was then stripped of any of the trappings that got him over. While Rob Van Dam was the right opponent for him on the depth chart, they didn't have any of the chemistry Del Rio had with Christian and Ziggler, and it contributed to the shows' decline.
So, three months after SummerSlam, it was time for what was historically one of the "big four" PPVs of the year, but isn't anymore, especially after it was barely promoted on TV:
Survivor Series: Randy Orton beats Big Show to retain the title in an 11 minute PPV main event(!) after Triple H's entrance causes a distraction. In a match where the highlight is Randy Orton applying the loosest sleeperhold in WWE history, the fans chant "Daniel Bryan," "boring," and "take it home." While in some ways it was the best of the post-SummerSlam PPVs in that it didn't have any dead spots, it was still a lackluster show, and the main event was gallingly uninspired.
I get paid to watch this stuff, and it's been wearing me out.
In the middle of all this, a number of house show tour dates as of late have seen many top stars double-booked. On this past Saturday's Wrestling Observer Radio (F4WOnline.com subscribers-only link), Dave Meltzer noted that this only happened after Michael Hayes, who was booking the house shows, went on a leave of absence to take care of personal issues. The most high-profile of these mishaps saw the oddest Smackdown episode in recent memory, where most of the top stars were absent, and Damien Sandow turned babyface for one night for some reason.
It's not exactly hard to rectify all of these problems:
- Leave house show booking to someone who understands that wrestlers cannot break the space-time continuum to make a second show thousands of miles away.
- Pretend the PPVs are important even if you don't think they are and make good matches for the mid-card.
- Only book screwy main event finishes when they are a necessary part of a long-term storyline.
- Don't handicap wrestlers like Alberto Del Rio or Dolph Ziggler to see if they'll sink or swim.
- Don't promote a PPV main event as having a guaranteed definitive winner and then have the guest referee turn on his protege to influence the finish.
- Have someone keep track of advance advertising in case it contradicts an upcoming event.
Just because WCW has been dead for over a decade and TNA is in dire straits doesn't mean you need to be complacent. All of these things that are hurting WWE in the fans' eyes are signs of complacency, and I'm worried that it's only going to get worse than nobody caring about a stipulation match that seemingly every fan who talks about wrestling online has been asking for since 2002.
If WrestleMania season doesn't motivate WWE and in turn the fanbase, this will get really ugly.