A Matter of Morale in WWE by Matty J. Douglas

Happy Monday TJR Faithful! I’ve been away for a while, busy with work and a sudden family emergency, but I’m back. And I’ve got just one question for all of you: What is your fondest WWE memory? What moments in wrestling do you recall when things are bad to remind you of how great the medium can be at its best? One of mine is Eddie Guerrero winning the WWE Championship from Brock Lesnar in 2004. Another is the night The Rock returned to the WWE in 2011. The first time the Shield and The Wyatts confronted one another on Monday Night Raw and Money In The Bank 2011 when CM Punk won the WWE Title and left the WWE are also incredibly vivid and fond memories I have of the WWE.

All these events have one thing in common, and that’s how they made me feel. Exhilarated, tense, awed, riveted. Those are just some of the words that describe how I felt in those moments. They are joyous memories, that bring a smile to my face even as I think about them right now.

If I were to systematically go back and log all my favourite wrestling memories, I’m certain that I’d find that very few of them have anything to do with a great wrestling. Great matches are fun and can be memorable in their own right I suppose, but the moments that make you feel something have very little to do with the technical minutia of what makes for a compelling match.

I hypothesize that this is the reason why last night’s PPV, WWE Fastlane, left everybody feeling so sour. At the end of the night, there isn’t a moment you could point to where you felt something good, whether that was happiness, shock, excitement, etc. By the time the show concluded, all that most fans felt were the cold, unfeeling hands of inevitability slapping them in the face, and reminding them that no matter how much they hope, things will only go the way one man wants them to go. Is that how we’re supposed to feel on the road to Wrestlemania now? Isn’t this supposed to be the WWE’s most exciting time of year?

Which brings me to the title of this piece, A Matter of Morale. Has the morale around the WWE been lower in recent memory than it is right now? From the talent, to the fans, is there anything to be hopeful for? The WWE is certainly producing content, but are they crafting lasting memories?

Take for instance a few months ago, when Seth Rollins was tragically injured and forced to vacate the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. This alone would be a stinging blow to morale, especially when compounded with the unusual amount of injuries we’ve seen in the last year. The WWE had a decision to make moving forward with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, and they started off rather positively when they announced a tournament to be held, culminating at Survivor Series where the winner would be crowned Champion.

In the time between the announcement of the tournament and the revelation of who the competitors in it would be, the wrestling community was abuzz with speculation and excitement. What would they do in these circumstances? How could they decide and/or announce who is in the tourney in a fresh and exciting way? Anything and everything felt like it was on the table, and that feeling was electric. From the throngs of this electricity the WWE managed to produce Roman Reigns (who to that point still hadn’t caught on with the WWE Universe at large) winning the Title and dropping it seconds later to Mr. Money In The Bank, Sheamus (who Big E reminded us on Twitter last night, ruins everything).

Meanwhile The New Day were nowhere to be seen in this tournament, despite being the most over act in the entire WWE at the time. Imagine how different things would have felt had the WWE rewarded New Day for getting over, by giving them a short stint with the WWE Championship during this crisis? It would have been exciting, unexpected, and more importantly morale boosting, not only for the fans, but for the other superstars in the locker room. What better way to show everybody that the proverbial brass ring exists and is attainable? What better way to inspire other superstars to capture the imagination of the WWE Universe the way New Day have?

Instead we got Sheamus as champion for a while, and boy did that while suck (fun fact: instead of giving New Day a shot at being on top of WWE, they just used them to try and make Sheamus seem entertaining at the top… didn’t work though). Then Sheamus predictably dropped the Title to Roman (who to his credit had gotten as over as he’d ever been and would proceed to squander the good will mere weeks later) in a moment that I remember for all the hilariously bad Vince botches, who then dropped it to Triple H in the Royal Rumble in a finish that was clear the moment they announced the WWE World Heavyweight Championship was going to be defended in the Royal Rumble match.

Can anybody honestly tell me that any of the wrestlers are pleased that Triple H is champion and is going to be main event Wrestlemania in 2016? Can you honestly tell me that the guys in the back aren’t as annoyed as I am that Reigns and Sheamus keep getting opportunities despite not getting over, while guys that do get over, like New Day, Ambrose, Cesaro, etc are seemingly not in consideration for such opportunities? The message to the superstars and the fans seems clear: don’t get your hopes up.

It seems that they’ve forgotten that the most important aspect of WWE as an entertainment product isn’t simply match quality. It isn’t simply telling a logical story from point A to point Z. The single most important aspect of the WWE as an entertainment medium is how they make people feel. Do people walk away from your show with a positive impression? Are you crafting memorable moments that will last a lifetime? Quite frankly the answer to these questions in recent weeks is no. The booking has been downright awful and hasn’t risen to the quality of the wrestling or the roster.

The images they leave us with are not compelling. Yes the match quality is technically probably the highest it’s ever been, but match quality doesn’t exactly tug at the heart strings of the viewers. We want to feel excited, happy, anxious, hopeful, intrigued, etc. We desperately want to invest emotionally in the product, and being told stories that we can sink our emotional teeth into goes a long way into forgiving some of the rather asinine portions of the show.

Take the Attitude Era for instance. It wasn’t all great, but they hooked you emotionally every week with something. They left you on an emotional high and regardless of the outcome of a match or segment, the overall feeling around the WWE at the time was a positive one. All the guys we watched looked like they were having a good time, and so were we. Outside of the New Day, is there anybody on the roster you can truly say is having a good time at work right now in the WWE?

Many people look back at Wrestlemania 30 fondly, despite the fact that it was technically speaking a so-so show. The reason it is remembered positively is because it had two HUGE emotional moments. The Undertaker losing to Brock Lesnar (which was an emotional gut punch), and Daniel Bryan winning in the Main Event, which is even more uplifting in retrospect given how things would turn out for him. Both of those moments had fans and superstars alike reacting emotionally. That should be the goal.

That said, I feel that far too often our hopefulness is met with disdainful responses. Whether that be our hopes for the Survivor Series Title Tournament, our hopes for the Royal Rumble, or our hopes for last night’s PPV, where many were praying that there would be one cool surprise, whether that be Dean Ambrose winning the Triple Threat or Edge and Christian bringing out Enzo and Cass to battle New Day. All those ambitious expectations are dashed in favour of inevitably Plain Jane outcomes often soaking the viewer in indifference. Or worse yet, Sheamus!

It’s been said that this is the Reality Era of WWE, but I’ve found the last two years would more aptly be labeled the Apathy Era. Sure NXT still inspires raw, genuine emotion in its viewers, but that fact only adds to the level of disinterest fans and superstars alike feel, which is now palpable. Both are ready to care about something happening on WWE TV. Both are hungry for a morale boost. Unfortunately, I see very little on the horizon that promises such a boost is within reach. Save Us Shinsuke Nakamura!

There you have it, but as always I want to know what you think! What are some of your favourite wrestling memories? What’s something that the WWE could do to capture your imagination and have you invest emotionally in the narratives they are peddling? Do you think the WWE Locker Room has a high morale right now between the puzzling booking and the overzealous Titus O’Neil Suspension? Why does Sheamus ruin everything like Toby from The Office?

Until next time folks, I’m Matty J. Douglas saying at least I can go see Deadpool and have Daredevil and Game of Thrones to look forward to on the horizon. Have a spectacular week everybody!