WWE's Future: 10 Steps to Define a New Era
On June 27, CM Punk delivered the "Promo Heard 'Round the World" and provided WWE the opportunity to usher in what has now been coined the "Reality Era." While I am not particularly a fan of that phrase, WWE is, without a doubt, at the outset of a defining period in the promotion's history.
After a half-decade of complacency and an ongoing process of creating an increasingly corporate product, I believe a solid majority of the audience, among the adults at least, are ready for a change. A new direction for the company should integrate both old-school pro wrestling elements and acknowledge the current generation of stars and fans.
This reinvention could be easily achieved, and I believe the following 10 steps are essential in re-establishing wrestling promotion.
Acknowledge the Product as Professional Wrestling
Although many fans may not be aware of it, as of April 7, 2011, when they tune in to Raw or Smackdown, they are no longer watching professional wrestling.
After a nearly thirty-year journey, Vince McMahon achieved his longtime dream of officially branding his company as sports entertainment, and shortened his promotion's name from World Wrestling Entertainment to the Wall Street-friendly WWE, Inc.
In addition, for several years, the terms "wrestling" and "wrestler" have largely been absent from WWE broadcasts, except for obscure references by talents such as CM Punk and Daniel Bryan.
The reasoning behind these moves can be attributed to the company's decision to become publicly traded in October of 1999. Over the last twelve years, it has been financially beneficial for McMahon and his Board of Directors to distance the WWE from a distinctly wrestling venture to a more diversified, multifaceted corporation.
However, is there honestly a single fan who wouldn't label WWE as a wrestling company? A more debated and valid question would be "Is wrestling a sport?" not "Is wrestling wrestling?"
In my opinion, if those in charge of the WWE showed more respect for the industry that provided them a multimillion dollar promotion, the wrestling fans, in return, would appreciate the business to a much larger degree.
End the Brand Split
On March 25, 2002, in part due to the expansion of the roster due to the absorption of WCW and ECW, the World Wrestling Federation, primed to get the "F" out, held the first company-wide draft.
That night, sixty wrestlers were divided between the company's two shows by Smackdown representative Vince McMahon and Raw representative Ric Flair. Originally, the idea was near-sighted at best, and it seemed inevitable the concept would eventually become stale.
Regardless, nearly a decade later, the idea remains in place and was, at one time, expanded to include a third brand, the re-launched ECW.
In logic, a divided roster pigeonholes both booking potential and the development of wrestlers. Worthwhile and intriguing feuds are either put off until the next aimless "WWE Draft" or neglected altogether. Not only does the impossibility of these feuds weaken the product, but it also squanders the company's dollar-generating potential.
Wouldn't the luxury of having booking spontaneity and promoting major feuds be enough to effectively conclude the brand split?
Moreover, the existence of two World Champions within WWE invalidates the significance of being the top wrestler in the industry's top promotion.
Consequently, with the presence of two World Champions, one title, usually the WWE Championship, takes precedence over the other. A single lineage of one World Heavyweight Championship would strengthen the prestige and relevance of the achievement.
As a sweetener, wouldn't the extinguishing of the brand split by the recently anointed pseudo-decision maker Triple H make for an interesting storyline.
Stop Assigning "Characters" and Scripting "Promos"
"The New WWF Generation" era, which began in 1994 and lasted until the beginning of the Attitude Era, was the most miserable economic period in the promotion's history.
While that sharp financial downturn is often associated with the emergence of WCW as viable competition, I believe the company's tendency during this time to formulate outlandish and unrelatable gimmicks for countless otherwise talented wrestlers was partially responsible for the decrease in the WWF's popularity.
Cartoonish characters like Abe "Knuckleball" Schwartz, Man Mountain Rock, and Mantaur, to name a few, dominated the company's mid-card and generated little interest in the product.
Today, WWE is wary of creating such outrageous gimmicks, but the company continues its policy of assigning "characters" to its talents.
Beginning with a stint in WWE's developmental territory Florida Championship Wrestling, wrestlers are instructed to alter their own personalities to satisfy the whims of WWE's television writers. Yet WWE proceeds to blame "future endeavored" wrestlers for failing to get over, when in reality, it is their creative department's "characters" that fall flat.
Any veteran matchmaker or wrestling legend with a true passion will argue a wrestler's individual success is dependent on his ability to escalate their own unique personality for entertainment purposes.
Wrestlers like Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan reached their extreme levels of popularity due to their ability to retain their true, real-life personas while adding elements of over-the-top bravado and showmanship.
Meanwhile, it is nearly impossible for even the most charismatic wrestlers to cut a completely scripted, word-for-word promo in order to further the contrived story lines of a two-hour wrestling comedy and sound genuine while doing so.
As of late, it seems as if the higher-ups within the company have taken the leash of off select wrestlers, such as CM Punk and John Cena, but it should be noted that a wrestler will be most convincing when they are allowed to use their own words to describe their own motives.
In the previous slide, I argued that a wrestler would struggle to seem convincing if he or she was coached to say something close to verbatim. To be realistic, every single wrestler who has sufficient in-ring capabilities or marketability can't be expected to have abundant charisma.
Contrary to the current WWE practice, the lacking of promo skills does not justify either scripted promos or a wrestler's relegation to jobbing. It should be obvious Vickie Guerrero shouldn't be the only member of WWE's managerial fold.
For many decades, it was accepted knowledge in pro wrestling that if a wrestler couldn't sell himself or promote his own matches, place him with a mouthpiece, or more simply, a manager.
The case for the return for managers is completely one-sided.
Could King Kong Bundy have ever main-evented a Wrestlemania without Bobby "The Brain" Heenan? Would The Midnight Express have become the "World's Third Greatest Crippler" without Jim Cornette and his lethal tennis racket?
To further support the cause for managers, there are several personalities already employed by WWE that could fill play the role perfectly.
Michael Cole is not entirely needed as a third wheel on the Raw announcement team, and it is no secret he wears thin on Jim Ross' patience. He could definitely draw heat for his charge as a manager.
William Regal, despite being the color commentator on WWE NXT (yes, it still exists), has sadly been lost in limbo within the company for three years and could prove his undeniable worth at ringside. Plus, it wouldn't be backbreaking for Johnny Ace and the talent department to hire a few managers off the indy scene.
I could guarantee, though, that Corny wouldn't receive a job offer.
In short, it isn't coincidence that caused the manager formula to be a success for so many, many years. Managers are a core element of pro wrestling that have been overlooked for far too long.
Stop Burying Young Heels
I cannot honestly say WWE have neglected every one of their young wrestlers.
However, the promotion has a blatant record of killing the careers of several up-and-coming "Superstars". While many 30-and-under talents have received generous pushes, some wrestlers, within a blink of an eye, have been buried by WWE creative. A few distinct examples:
- Ted DiBiase, Jr. began his run with the company as a two-time World Tag Team Champion with Legacy partner Cody Rhodes. After the Randy Orton-led stable dissolved, his stock within the company steadily declined, and he was made into a seldom-victorious mid-carder.
- On February 18, 2011, Dolph Ziggler, a wrestling natural and a potential second coming of Mr. Perfect, was awarded his first reign as World Heavyweight Champion in a made-for-TV storyline and eleven minutes later, he was dethroned as Champion and fired from Smackdown. Six months later, Ziggler remains far removed from the main event picture and is the weekly butt of a limitless Vickie Guerrero jabs.
- After he was deemed by Vince McMahon as his "Chosen One" before his 2009 debut, Drew McIntyre was undefeated for seven months in WWE and reigned as Intercontinental Champion for eight months as well. After his time as IC Champion was over, McIntyre, who had considerable heat and was perhaps the company's most qualified young gun, was not elevated to the World Title picture. Instead, he and Cody Rhodes formed a shortlived alliance and had an irrelevant reign as World Tag Team Champions. Eventually, he was drafted to Raw and completely forgotten.
Other buried rising stars include Brodus Clay, Tyson Kidd, Jack Swagger, Tyler Reks, and Zack Ryder.
Notice a pattern?
Much like the Federation days of the 1980's, WWE is doing little to provide their up-and-coming heels with any credibility. With Alberto Del Rio holding the WWE Championship and an inevitable in-ring return for Triple H, it seems unlikely any young heel will be pushed to the top.
In related good news, Cody Rhodes may soon be inserted into the main event on Smackdown.
I understand not every young heel can have their time in the limelight (every generation has its own versions of Roddy Piper and Jake Roberts.)
However, heels, especially those with a promising future, shouldn't be buried because they aren't considered a main-event talent, or because of the lame excuse "creative has nothing for them."
Without a steady flow of threatening heels, can the John Cenas and Randy Ortons meet their full potential as faces and World Champions?
Build a Legitimate Tag Team Division
Has there ever been a greater disaster in wrestling than the lack of respect that is currently given to tag teams? While it is inexplicable managers have disappeared, the dissipation of the tag team division is completely incomprehensible.
Beginning with the explosion of pro wrestling onto the national scene, tag teams were one of the most popular segments on any program. When executed correctly, a tag team match can tell a story two singles wrestlers could not possibly pull off.
Additionally, well-versed teams have boundless versatility and can work an exciting, yet technical match under nearly any circumstance.
To be concise, a tag team does not have the physical or psychological limitations a singles wrestler might experience.
As for building a strong foundation in a revamped tag team division, opportunities for WWE are explicitly clear.
As for already contracted talents, there are scarce capable tag teams handy. With the exception of the Usos, most of the company's duos are thrown together singles talents who are currently out of the loop.
I am not opposed to the concept of the promotion creating their own teams, as that could make good use of several mid-carders. However, the tag team division shouldn't be a transitional phase for wrestlers like newly-crowned Champions Evan Bourne and Kofi Kingston.
To compliment in-house creations, WWE could have a variety of veritable indy tag teams. The most glaring choice would be, perhaps the most skilled team of this generation, the Kings of Wrestling, which is comprised of Claudio Castagnoli and Chris Hero. Their presence as the cornerstone of the tag team division would immediately provide legitimacy and importance to the Tag Team Championship.
A combination of already qualified indy teams and well-developed teams would bolster the division and drastically improve the quality of the promotion's product.
Give Meaning to the Mid-Card
A major flaw within the structuring of the current WWE landscape is the excessive amount of attention placed on the main event. Often on Raw, segments not related to the main event seem out of place or outright fail because they are of little importance to the majority of the viewing audience.
When little effort is used to give significance to the mid-card talent, it becomes increasingly difficult to introduce new faces into the World Title picture. Furthermore, stale main event feuds caused by a diminutive rotation of top talents can have crippling consequences.
There are many options for getting mid-carders over. For one, giving ample time to wrestlers contending for the Intercontinental and United States time to develop and present their personas will be of great benefit in both the present and the future. If rising talents are established as serious contenders for success in WWE, they will soon enough be believable contenders for a World Title reign.
In addition to allotting time for as many talents as possible, the validity of all singles divisions is equally imperative. For example, women, or as WWE brands them, Divas, can provide more than three minute matches and weak story lines. Also, the re-introduction of the Cruiserweight Title would provide a much-needed outlet for a specific variety of mid-carder and satisfy the audience's cravings for highspots.
I would go as far as suggesting the activation of a Television Title in lieu of the United States Title. The benefit of a TV Title would be the potential for a credible and regular televised title defense, which in return would elevate mid-carders into reliable workers and meaningful Champions.
Cut Back on the Number of Pay-Per-Views
Currently, there are thirteen yearly WWE pay-per-view events. That number yields an average of 28 days between each PPV, which seems like a generous amount of time to promote each card.
However, in some instances, there are only three weeks between certain PPVs. Such a short window for the development and promotion can stifle a feud's potential effectiveness and may lead to, as is custom, the same match main eventing four consecutive pay-per-views.
If WWE were to cut back to around 10 pay-per-view cards annually, an appropriate amount of time could be used to develop feuds and pay-offs would be more must-see and stronger.
My suggestion would be to cut gimmick pay-per-views such as Hell in a Cell, Money in the Bank, and TLC. Quality feuds aren't rushed, and normally become more intense as time passes. Instead of giving a match away after four weeks of confrontations, one of which may be the standard contract signing, big-time matches could be scheduled to build before the four largest annual PPV cards: Royal Rumble, Summerslam, Survivor Series, and Wrestlemania.
Without diligent planning, resolutions for feuds are pointless and anticlimactic.
Hire Qualified Bookers, Not Hollywood "Writers"
For over a decade now, a majority of televised wrestling has been the product of second-rate Hollywood screenwriters with no experience or interest in wrestling. Every angle and segment they conceive is an individual component that ultimately makes up a one or two hour wrestling sitcom.
While the WWE product has improved lately, the simple truth is if you have no passion for wrestling, you should not be given the matchmaking reigns.
The fact that Raw and Smackdown are televised shouldn't justify their existence as a completely scripted TV program. When your product is entrusted to a collection of experienced and involved bookers, as they were referred to before the Russo era, a delicate balance can exist between entertainment and pro wrestling.
While "old-school" bookers undoubtedly have their hang-ups, a respectable booker is far less likely to push their own agenda on their wrestling promotion.
If this step was achieved, I believe a large portion of the preceding suggestions in this slideshow would be quickly solved.
Respect All Wrestling Fans
In today's wrestling industry, as kayfabe has long been broken and the IWC runs rampant, much is said and written of the deviation between casual fans and smart marks, or those wise to the inner-workings or pro-wrestling.
As I'm sure you know, smart marks, commonly known as smarks, haven't been completely satisfied with the happenings of WWE for quite some time.
It should be noted that smarks will often scrutinize without mercy to find something to complain about, but their passion should at least be addressed and appreciated.
I believe the most damaging stain on WWE today is their failure to produce pro wrestling in which everyone can put their faith. Regardless of their degree of knowledge, no fan should be subjected to sloppy, uninspired work. In any memorable era, a successful pro wrestling promotion provides nearly every single fan with the product they desire.
If WWE give the fans something they can believe in, they will once again enter into a defining era.
The preceding ten slides may seem like and could very well turn out to be pipe dreams, but I believe each and every suggestion is something to dream for the future of WWE.
Many fans' renewed interest in the industry can be ascribed to the emergence of CM Punk as the so-described "Voice of the Voiceless." His recent words have inspired many, including myself, to hope and expect more good things to come in what seems to be a period of reinvention for the WWE.
To close, Punk has often offered valuable advice of what to expect from WWE: sit back, relax, and see what happens.
"Every moment is an experience."- Jake Roberts