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WWE Has Become the Master of Long-Term Storytelling

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured Columnist IVDecember 4, 2022

It goes without saying that 2022 has been a landmark, if not historical turning point for WWE.

The highlight was of course Triple H replacing Vince McMahon as the head of creative. But a much bigger point is the company's sudden willingness to modernize by seemingly going all-in on long-term storytelling.

Does this happen without the change to the creative lead? Maybe, but few pro wrestling onlookers would have been brave enough to predict this would unfold quite like this.

Not too long ago it was AEW as the industry standard for trusting fans with long-term stories. It was, without a doubt, one of the big reasons for the company's fast rise and predictable ability to compete directly with WWE at all.

Yet the script has flipped in dramatic fashion. The most prominent example is Roman Reigns and the Bloodline. It has had its hiccups (endless Brock Lesnar matches) and was at risk of going stale if not for one special talent by the name of Sami Zayn. But by and large, the risk of putting both men's top titles on Reigns has paid off and will continue to do so, provided the company doesn't revert to its old ways by ignoring fans (Zayn or Jey Uso) and going back to part-timers suddenly (you know who).

While the Reigns saga is the biggest example, that might have unfolded anyway. Other good examples include everything around the orbit of Judgement Day. Austin Theory's budding character development from a cocky heel who risks it all to something much bigger could end up being a splendid saga that solidifies a new main-event star for a decade-plus.

And don't forget Bray Wyatt and the White Rabbit gimmick. In old WWE, Wyatt saw his Fiend persona thrown into championship matches that made no storyline or character sense because he got the biggest reactions. The whole thing flopped, to say the very least.

New Wyatt got a long, long buildup to one of the best returns in modern pro wrestling history. Now he's had two-plus months of character-developing promos without a match in sight. It might bore some, but even the detractors who want to see more will be as invested as it gets once the feuds and matches start to flow.

There are other minor ones worth mentioning too. Becky Lynch's character and her feuds can and should resume in interesting ways. Ronda Rousey continues to see some interesting long-term character shifts. Old allegiances like Zayn-Kevin Owens and even ties as far back as NXT keep getting the spotlight.

For just a moment, contrast this with AEW and its current growing pains. The promotion gave fans the epic, nearly unheard of two-year saga of Adam "Hangman" Page and all that came with it, to name the best long-term example.

But right now? AEW's trying some things with MJF's "Bidding War of '24" and the Jade Cargill streak, among others. But the MJF saga has been a good example of the chaotic storytelling that has derailed the experience. From speculation about his future and the ruining of the feud with Wardlow, another absence, returning to win a title, and then abruptly turning on William Regal without explanation, it's hard to blame fans with whiplash and questions unanswered.

That's symbolic of AEW as a whole right now. The OGs of the company, for the most part, hardly get enough time. The Ring of Honor inclusion in weekly broadcasts and the hard-to-keep-up-with number of titles has made weekly broadcasts tough to follow while giving stars little time to tell coherent stories.

Some of this has been out of AEW's control (CM Punk, injuries, etc.). But the entire package is a far cry from what made it stand out early and is rather concerning when compared to what WWE continues to do right now.

As the calendar approaches 2023, it's odd to think WWE isn't the wrestling promotion fixated with quick pops via debuts or surprises and heat instead of the long-term.

None of this is to suggest AEW can't get back on track and WWE doesn't have mistakes of its own. But it is WWE suddenly investing in long-term storytelling as if finally realizing even the most casual of fans can handle it and appreciate the payoffs.

WWE will be much better in the long run for it, too and it couldn't have come at a better time. And that has nothing to do with AEW—WWE has long been in an emergency zone of needing to craft new top stars for when Reigns reduces his workload. This sort of booking and attention and care for detail means they don't need the next John Cena ever again, they simply need a slew of top stars with a backlog of history to headline and keep fans happy.

Based on what WWE has shown off in the last six-plus months, it almost feels like the company is just getting started. The groundwork laid to show fans this is a new era suggests a boom for the company and fans alike well beyond the next six months.