WWE is showing us that the surest way to muddle pro wrestling stories is to overload with them characters.
Too often, Fatal 4-Way matches and other crowded clashes have been WWE's default option. It's one that makes these kinds of contests feel less special and makes it harder to develop any real narrative.
The pattern is a familiar one.
A swarm of title-hungry wrestlers all clamor backstage or in the ring. They all want a crack at a championship. An authority figure can't decide who has earned that right and so instead books a multi-wrestler match to settle things.
WWE Universe @WWEUniverse
When it comes to deciding #SDLive #WomensChampion @NaomiWWE's next challenger, just about EVERYONE wants to be considered by @shanemcmahon! https://t.co/8yFW0BoVNU2017-7-12 00:53:40
It's the "throw everything into one pot and call it a stew" approach.
And WWE has taken it again and again in recent months. It will do so once more at the Battleground pay-per-view on July 23.
Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Lana, Tamina and Natalya will collide in a Fatal 5-Way Elimination match at the event to decide who will face Naomi for the SmackDown's women's title at SummerSlam.
In a vacuum, that move makes sense. The hierarchy of the SmackDown women's division isn't clear beyond the point that Lana is the cellar-dweller. Naomi doesn't have a rival among that group. There is no story to build on between the champ and a challenger at the PPV.
WWE has hit fans over the head with these gimmick matches, though. There has been a lack of effort to develop full narratives, instead opting for these kinds of easy fixes.
Dave Meltzer recently touched on the issue on Wrestling Observer Radio (h/t Wrestling Inc):
"The thing with multi-person matches is you can always gimmick the finishes so nobody has to lose, and it's easier for the bookers when you do that, and plus when you have multiple person matches, inherently you're not going to do strong personal storylines so you don't have to worry about writing good stories because you know, you can do a little heat where they're all mad at each other, but that's all you can do in a multiple person match."
The phrase "you don't have to worry about writing good stories" stands out like a lighthouse beacon on a foggy night.
Tamina could be having a breakout year by blasting through the competition, becoming the monster the blue brand fears.
Natalya could take shortcuts in her matches to earn the No. 1 contender's spot as she positions herself for one last title run. Flair could start to revert to her heel ways, the lure of championship gold clouding her judgment.
None of those stories are being told. There is no room to do so.
Venturing into a multi-wrestler stipulation every once in a while is one thing, but WWE has begun to use it as a crutch.
No clear contender for a title? Make a Fatal 4-Way bout. No strong rivalry to build on? Throw the entire women's division in a single match.
When SmackDown revealed it was going this route again for Battleground, the folks at Total Wrestling magazine were among those bemoaning the lack of narratives:
Total Wrestling Mag @TWrestlingmag
Another multi woman match to define a #1Contender for Naomi? This is a pattern developing, now. How about some actual stories? #SDLive2017-7-12 00:54:34
In the past year and a half, we've seen a lot of the same thing.
Per the Internet Wrestling Database, WWE has put on a total of 17 PPV bouts with three to six wrestlers, not counting Elimination Chamber and Money in the Bank matches in 2016 and 2017. WrestleMania 33 alone featured a four-way tag match, a four-woman clash for the Raw women's title and a Six-Pack Challenge for the SmackDown women's crown.
The women are hit hardest by this.
There hasn't been a one-on-one WrestleMania match for a women's title since 2007. And take Carmella for example. Of her 31 TV and PPV matches since the brand split, only 12 have them have been one-on-one battles, per CageMatch.net.
SmackDown has long had its women's division in a holding pattern with title chases that involve just about everyone available.
There's a fine line between showcasing a division and dulling its impact by crowding its stages. WWE is too often doing the latter.
That gets in the way of these wrestlers being a part of memorable, well-developed stories. That prevents great rivalries from emerging. CM Punk vs. John Cena would have never gained traction had that they met in a bunch of Fatal 4-Way matches rather than tangle mano a mano.
The occasional clash between four or five warriors is welcomed. But WWE would be better off zeroing in specific wrestlers more, creating rivalries with teeth and giving its Superstars a chance to shine on a less cramped platform.