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Nostalgia Problem: Has WWE's Obsession with the Past Crippled Its Future?

Graham GSM Matthews@@WrestleRantFeatured ColumnistAugust 3, 2019

Raw Reunion was fun and all, but what did it really do to help WWE's current roster?
Raw Reunion was fun and all, but what did it really do to help WWE's current roster?Credit: WWE.com

Raw Reunion last week, which featured the returns of many familiar faces from years past, was an absolute blast for fans. However, it appears WWE's obsession with the past has officially crippled its future if that special was any indication of how bad things are for the company creatively.

If WWE had a strong enough roster between Raw and SmackDown Live, it wouldn't have needed to bring back stars from a previous era with no anniversary or anything of note to celebrate. It's as simple as that.

It was a desperate attempt by WWE to bring back viewers who have given up on the product after already trying everything else in the book. The random NXT call-ups, the wild card rule, and even empty promises of change were all unsuccessful, and despite drawing impressive audience numbers (the highest of 2019 so far), Raw Reunion did nothing to entice viewers to tune in the following week.

Shows such as Raw Reunion are far from a new phenomenon in WWE. The Old School Raw concept debuted in 2010, and although the blasts from the past were always entertaining for longtime fans, they have rarely benefited the talent of today.

The nostalgia-filled shows became more commonplace in the years that followed, especially in the early 2010s when WWE had little star power. In fact, there was one episode of Raw from 2015 that featured the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Brock Lesnar and Ric Flair.

It drew one of the lowest Raw ratings in nearly 20 years, and the flagship show's viewership has continued to slide at an alarming rate since then.

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To its credit, WWE has experimented with a few different things in an attempt to ensure its future is in good hands, including bringing back the brand extension in mid-2016. In theory, it was an excellent idea, as it divided the roster into two separate shows and gave everyone an opportunity to become a star.

According to Brandon Howard Thurston of Fightful, the brand split worked for a while based off how much higher SmackDown Live's ratings were in the second half of the year. The blue brand even beat Raw in the ratings on occasion, which was well deserved seeing as how the show was clearly superior to Raw from a quality standpoint more often than not.

It should also be noted that, aside from the return of Goldberg in October 2016, WWE largely focused on the active rosters during that period. AJ Styles established himself as a household name on SmackDown, Kevin Owens burst on to the main event scene and won a world title, and Braun Strowman got over with the audience at a level no one expected.

Somewhere along the way, however, the company lost interest in taking the split seriously, got lazy with it, and eventually began to have competitors switch shows at random.

Credit: WWE.com

For the last two years, it has felt as if WWE solely relies on legends to sell its shows. Mind you, Lesnar holding the Universal Championship hostage hasn't helped, but almost every WWE pay-per-view since 2017 has had at least one or two part-time wrestlers on it.

It's no secret that Shane McMahon has been plaguing the product for many months. He has beaten both The Miz and Roman Reigns multiple times, meaning his aggressive push has done more to hurt the roster than help it.

Let's not forget, all three of WWE's events emanating from Saudi Arabia were headlined by part-timers. The Undertaker was also in action at Extreme Rules in July, and now SummerSlam will see the in-ring return of Trish Stratus.

WWE will soon reach a point where these aging veterans won't be able to come back to compete anymore, and because it has failed to create new stars in recent years, it will finally be forced to face the music and deal with the reality that it has done itself a great disservice by looking to the past instead of the future.

Chris Jericho @IAmJericho

Awesome to see @BrockLesnar win the #MoneyInTheBank match...even though he wasn’t officially entered! Brock is the future of the biz and this perfect example of genius booking shows why @WWE will remain on top FOREVER! #GoBrockGo

Worse yet, WWE has the talent right now on its roster to build around, but it is blatantly choosing not to, for whatever reason. Styles, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan are all incredibly accomplished, but they lack that special something because of how they've been booked over the years.

Although Lesnar and John Cena remain the only active wrestlers who can bring a crowd to their feet every time they enter an area, they are much closer to the end of their careers than the beginning. NXT is stockpiled with potential main event players, but WWE has shown zero desire to showcase them as the stars they are once they hit the main roster.

Even with rumors swirling regarding WWE possibly returning to unique rosters come SmackDown's move to Fox in the fall, it may be too little, too late. The damage has been done, and only now is it starting to see why obsessing over the past and not making the most of what they have now has cost them dearly.

     

Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.  

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