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WWE 2016: A Renaissance by Howie Mandella

It seemed that not too long after last year’s Wrestlemania, rumors were swirling that the powers at be wanted to sell 100,000 seats in Dallas for the next one in April. Speculation that top matches for the card had already been pencilled in followed, and fans started to buzz. Some of the rumored matches caused excitement while other plans were groan-worthy at best. As 2015 progressed the WWE roster became plagued with injuries: some nagging, others being freak accidents. Either way, there’s no doubt plans for the big event were shaken up, whether we had a clue as to what they were or not.

On top of that, Monday Night RAW began to fall to record low ratings. The masses have weighed in on the state of the product, and how it should be geared differently to prevent total disastrous numbers. The main grievance is that WWE doesn’t listen to its fans, which to an extent I agree with. A legit argument can be made that the company fails to have their “ear to the streets” as they say where I come from. Management is slow to pick up on pop culture trends alone, not to mention placing the fans’ actual favorites in strong positions. Sometimes, they get it right; and while it may have everything to do with the pressure on them, I see 2016 being a year to remember for WWE.

I have always looked for a silver lining in the cloud. PWTorch’s Wade Keller made a great point on his post-RAW VIP audio, which you should subscribe to if you don’t already. He said that usually the next week after people are totally fed up with something is the week they don’t want to miss. It was true when my Steelers murdered the Colts a week after shitting the bed with the Seahawks. It’s true for every college course I’ve ever been in and I’ll say it’s especially true when you compare last week’s Monday Night RAW with this week’s. Admittedly, I wasn’t the least bit excited for TLC, because I felt like I was being dragged into the inevitable. However, the guys and gals rocked the house in Boston. In my opinion everyone did their best to deliver, regardless of the wonky hand that’s been dealt to a lot of them as of late.

Most notably, the tag team ladder match gave me hope that a New Day was coming, and that pun was very much intended. In Steve Austin’s words, the three teams involved made “chicken salad out of chicken shit.” The build up leading to this feud was mediocre at best, and for a while it was starting to feel like New Day was headed to overexposure while the Usos and Lucha Dragons were on their way to stagnation. But, not only did they deliver at TLC, each team was recognized for their hellacious performance the next night. Their segment on RAW this week opens up a lot of doors for what could come down the line. Was is just Philly or have fans truly embraced New Day and turned on the Usos/Dragons? We’ll have to watch and find out.


Alberto Del Rio and Jack Swagger also deserve credit for their performance. The MexAmerica storyline never really took off, but instead of completely moving on, these two finished out their rivalry in quite a compelling match. Is it over between these two for good? Well Zeb get behind Swagger again? We’ll have to watch and find out. I, for one, hope Swagger can get hotter coming out of this even though he lost, because there’s a lot of talent there than can be utilized. Jack Swagger is someone who has suffered the most from WWE booking woes over the course of his career. The countless start and stop pushes have hurt him, and I believe the majority of fans would like to see Jack built into someone more believable. Del Rio is also starting to pick up steam after an anticlimactic aftermath to his clean win over Cena at Night of Champions.

Of course, the real accomplishment over the last few days has been the emergence of Roman Reigns. WWE didn’t back down in their determination to make him a superstar. It may not have happened the way they originally envisioned, but there’s no denying the fact that Roman became a made man (if not already, he’s surely on his way). Hopefully, the obstacles won’t stop now that he has the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. I think a lot of what caused the initial resentment had less to do with the predictability of grooming Reigns to be the next top guy and more to do with the fact that the writing didn’t suspend any disbelief. No matter what they did, everyone still knew that Roman would overcome in the end. However, after constantly knocking him down, the Authority gained respect for Roman Reigns. They forced him to take his critics on the chin and in the end it worked. Sometimes it’s okay to know how the story ends as long as there’s mystery in how it unfolds. This time last year, we already knew who was winning the Rumble and what the main event was going to be. I’ll say it’s progress that so much is seemingly in the air right now.

Let’s be clear. I’m not saying, “all of your complaining can stop now.” I’m saying the opposite. It’s a shame that so many talents have been on the shelf for the latter part of 2015, but sometimes that’s how fate works. WWE has no choice now, but to re-write and reevaluate the creative direction of their television. We should continue to voice our opinions in the crowd or online, knowing that WWE maybe is listening to us. Instant gratification isn’t always what’s best for business in the long run, so let’s see where they take things from this point on. It would behoove fans to stay strapped in their seatbelt during this bumpy ride. We’re all witness to a transitional period in the business as a whole. It’s an exciting time to be tuned in, and I can’t help but wonder what those who have jumped off of the boat (or on the verge to) will miss.

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NXT is growing to the point where it’s no longer fair to say it’s a product for a niche market that may or may not translate to the main roster. I’ve said it before: with the WWE Network subscription count over the million mark, you can’t brush the IWC off as a vocal minority of basement-dwellers. More people have the Internet and it’s easier to voice your opinions. Now whether or not that’s a good thing is up to your discretion, but it’s the reality we all must face moving forward. There’s a reason certain acts get over so well on the indies and the cult following follows them wherever they go. The Internet has done wonders in exposing people to the fact that pro wrestling can be really fun if you don’t solely rely on content, edited and produced out of Stanford.

Though they aren’t groundbreaking, I enjoy segments like Miz TV, Stardust trippy times and The Rosebush for what they are. It’s an effort to get talent in roles that, while might not be prominent, doesn’t hanker them down as simply Main Event/Superstars acts. They’re still missing the boat on certain guys who could be a real asset if given something to sink their teeth into. Hopefully, 2016 works to end that as well.

I’m very much concerned for the futures of Tyler Breeze and Neville, moreso Breeze after taking such unceremonious losses as of late. That’s not a guy that should be pushed aside. I would also like to see more from superstars like Bo Dallas, Damien Sandow, Curtis Axel, Fandango and The Miz especially with Smackdown moving to USA. If done right, the move can serve as the refresh button for a lot of talent currently stuck in limbo. One thing is certain: Smackdown will have to deliver and differentiate from RAW when it moves. That’s something to look forward to in and of itself.

WWE produces more than enough hours of television weekly to get the majority of their roster over in some capacity, which in turn makes it easier on the workhorses and avoids the risk of overexposure. The next looks promising, but things aren’t going to miraculously get better overnight. It’s all about progression and maintaining consistency in the writing. For the rest of us, let’s just keep watching and keep our minds open. I like to watch the product and keep myself optimistic by thinking of long term story possibilities. It either leads to an amazing payoff or amazing disappointment, but it almost always excites me for the moment. WWE TLC and the RAW afterwards gives me confidence that changes are coming for the better. All hope isn’t lost, people.

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