The Secret to Getting Over: WWE Live Events are Key Ingredient to Superstar Success

Graham GSM Matthews@@WrestleRantFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 9, 2022

Drew McIntyre arrives for his match during the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Crown Jewel pay-per-view in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 21, 2021. (Photo by Fayez Nureldine / AFP) (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)
Drew McIntyre has been a pivotal part of WWE's live touring since returning to the road in 2021. (Credit: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

WWE has had an established presence on Mondays and Fridays with Raw and SmackDown for decades, but the untelevised live events are what the company was built on.

Bruno Sammartino, Bob Backlund, Hulk Hogan and countless others all made WWE the success that it is today thanks to their tireless work as traveling world champions, primarily in the northeast region of the United States and eventually across the country.

All these years later, while they aren't as essential to the company's business model as they once were, the house shows (as they're commonly referred to as) are essentially the lifeblood of talent development on the main roster.

One week before heading to Cardiff, Wales, for Clash at the Castle, Superstars from SmackDown and Raw collided on a supercard in Springfield, MA at the moderately sized (capacity: 8,000) MassMutual Center.

Outside of the arena, fans awaited the arrival of all the notable names scheduled to compete that night including AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens and The Usos. Coming off a double taping of SmackDown in Detroit the night prior, Drew McIntyre was the last to roll in.

"On the weekends without the cameras there, we have an opportunity to try things out that you don't want to try on TV for the first time in case they don't work," the Scot told B/R. "If it doesn't, we'll have a laugh about it and so will the crowd. That's for the more established Superstars. For our younger talent, these shows are more essential to get the reps in and hone their craft."

Having been with the company on and off for the past 15 years, McIntyre is more familiar with WWE's live events than a vast majority of the current roster. He's well aware of how pertinent they are when it comes to creating new stars.

Matt Hardy, Finlay and R-Truth were among the seasoned vets he had the privilege of working with early on in his run. He says he learned something new every time he shared the squared circle with them on the house shows. Then again, it would have been impossible for him not to.

"I think William Regal actually first told me when I was asking him, 'How do you get over? How you get those reactions and get people to know who you are and build those connections?' He said, 'Go out there and give it 110 percent every single time and they'll remember. Next time you come around, you do the same thing.' It's all about reps."

Wrestling fans never forget. It's that interaction with the audience that separates pro wrestling from anything else in sports and entertainment, and WWE is in a league all of its own when it comes to that.

Embracing Audience Interaction

The VIP Experience is a staple of all WWE's live events. For a premium price, fans are allowed to meet selected Superstars backstage before the show, receive ringside seats and complimentary merchandise, touch the ring canvas, and more.

Kofi Kingston, who teamed with McIntyre and Xavier Woods in the main event in Springfield against The Brawling Brutes, feels he's basically watched many members of the WWE Universe grow up by seeing them in the same spots at live events, airports, meet-and-greets and elsewhere in public.

The house shows have undergone a significant transformation since The New Day star began on them in 2008, specifically in regards to their production level.

"There are some elements that are the same as far as the interaction and being able to be more intimate with the crowd, but now it's more full-scale, professional-looking," Kingston told B/R. "We used to come out of a black curtain. That was our presentation."

The idea is to make fans feel as if they're attending a Raw and SmackDown, just without a lot of the limitations of airing on cable or network television.

Without commercials, the live events are straight-up action–brief intermission aside. They typically take place on Saturday and Sunday evenings, welcoming more a family friendly vibe compared to the television tapings.

Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods were well received as a trio on the house-show circuit when they started out as The New Day in the summer of 2014, only to find out their act didn't click quite as well as officials thought once they finally debuted on Raw that December.

Kingston credits a great deal of the group's innovation and evolution to what they were able to experiment and get away with on said shows.

"Everything we've done on TV started at a live event, whether it be traveling on the road in the car or doing random stuff in the ring," he said. "We usually go out there and try to entertain each other, and when it works, we say, 'Oh, they liked that, let's see if they liked it this time.' Being on the road for these live events was integral to the chemistry development of me, Woods and E."

Kingston had the entire evening to do whatever he wanted before competing in the final match at Saturday Night's Main Event in Springfield. He chose to spend a portion of the precious downtime filming for UpUpDownDown with Woods and others members of the roster.

Anything Can Happen at a House Show

From a behind-the-scenes standpoint, the atmosphere of WWE's live events is more relaxed than it's ever been before. Laughter and banter could be heard from the hallways, which were roamed by everyone from Tommaso Ciampa and Cedric Alexander to Bobby Lashley and Gunther.

There wasn't a single hint of chaos in sight, the exact opposite of what an average afternoon at Raw, SmackDown or a PPV would bring. Matt Riddle embodies that easygoing attitude like no one else.

Due to having debuted on the main roster during WWE's empty-arena ThunderDome era in 2020, The Original Bro didn't get the same reps newcomers normally would on the road.

However, wrestling on the independent scene in the years prior to signing with WWE helped prepare him for that hectic lifestyle.

"I like live events because they're very lackadaisical compared to TV," Riddle told B/R. "It's still a show, I'm still going out there and have someone's life in my hand, but it's not TV. They're both fun in different ways. For me, I prefer TV because I like the pressure. These shows are very laid-back.”

Riddle's 2022 has been tumultuous, to say the least. He spent the first five months of the year enjoying tag team glory alongside Randy Orton before an injury to The Viper forced him to branch out on his own, resulting in a string of singles losses.

His latest defeat saw him fall short against Seth Rollins at Clash at the Castle, but in Springfield, he managed to score the important victory over his archrival in a highly physical Street Fight.

These are the types of marquee matches fans can expect at live events, along with Iyo Sky vs. Asuka for the first time.

Much to the disbelief of the internet, WWE did indeed give away that WrestleMania-worthy one-on-one encounter in front of a few thousand people and, as expected, it was excellent.

Gunther vs. Ricochet for the Intercontinental Championship, The Usos vs. The Street Profits for the Undisputed WWE Tag Team Championship, and Bobby Lashley vs. AJ Styles vs. Austin Theory for the United States Championship filled out the card as well.

Although no titles changed hands, it isn't completely uncommon for a new champ to be crowned at a live event. It happened as recently as December 2019 when Andrade beat Rey Mysterio for the star-spangled prize at Madison Square Garden.

House shows serving as a precursor to what fans will witness on Raw that Monday is what's so enticing about them to Theory.

"Getting the experience to be in the ring with guys like AJ Styles, Finn Balor, Bobby Lashley and that level of excitement and getting to bring that to fans... At live events, you never know what's going to happen," he told B/R. "Usually, you get to see what's going to happen before Monday Night Raw. It's a tease."

Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Radio (h/t Corey Brennan of BodySlam.net) reported in July that Theory was set to feud with Dolph Ziggler so he could gain experience from working with him on the house shows.

At only 25 years of age and a Money in the Bank contract in his possession, Theory has a bright future ahead of him and plans to take advantage of every opportunity presented to him, especially on the smaller shows. That's where he'll make the most progress.

He's already improved his audience interaction skills immensely thanks to the live events, gradually getting closer and closer to capturing WWE world title gold in the process.

"The biggest difference [from TV] for me is the audience and the connection we get to make with them," Theory said. "There's no focus on cameras and stuff like that. We're focused on playing to the audience and getting to try so many new things. Maybe I'll try a move I've never done. Maybe I'll say something I've never said in a promo and see what the response is. That's what's cool: These are for fun."

He even teased the possibility of cashing in his briefcase on an upcoming non-televised event–the ultimate incentive for any fan to attend.

It became clear coming out of the pandemic period from March 2020 to July 2021 that WWE would hardly suffer financially from doing away with house shows, but the ability to continue developing Superstars' skill sets far outweighs any potential drawbacks of running them.

The intimate environment, heavy emphasis on in-ring action and overall freedom for the roster make untelevised live events almost the antithesis of the TV tapings in many ways and provide WWE with a tried-and-true formula for consistent talent development.

Long gone are the days of the business being built off the backs of one or two household names. Nowadays, it's all about the brand of WWE and the must-see aura they bring from town to town with these house shows and how they're gradually giving fans a glimpse into the future.

Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.