John Cena has been the main event of WWE for the better part of ten years. Whether fans like it or not, he’s the flag bearer for the promotion. While the previous statements are repeated ad nauseum, Fans often engage in speculating whom will be a part of the main event moving forward. Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton,Kane…the names that have had an opportunity to be a part of the WWE’s main event are a short list, and they really don’t change, they don’t manage to go outside the box. It seems the promotion creates a simple formula and doesn’t deviate from it. For the most part, the WWE’s main event formula has been successful. Their characters build steam, generate a reaction, move up through the ranks within the promotion and ultimately achieve a push to the main event scene.
At the first Wrestlemania, the main event consisted of a tag team match; there was no title on the line. What the main event did include was one of the biggest pop-culture figures in Mr. T as a pivotal part. That celebrity element brought in mainstream attention to help elevate the event. Did it matter that the WWE title wasn’t on the line? Not in the least. Fans knew that there was this new and major spectacle about to take place and the entire world was now watching. For a long time prior, wrestling was a battle between territories over whom could draw a greater crowd, and stars would move from one territory to the next. But Vince McMahon Jr .managed to turn wrestling into a spectacle that had cross over mainstream appeal in the entertainment world.
After this inaugural event, the model became that the main event needed to focus on the World Title and the person holding it. From Wrestlemania 2 onward the main event has focused around the World Title. The one exception would be when the Undertaker’s streak became a focal point, but even then, the championship match always went last. The only exception to that rule was another celebrity appearance, when NFL Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor wrestled BamBamBigelow in the main event of Wrestlemania 11.
Still, sometimes the selling point is the story and not the title. Roddy Piper and Mr. T in a boxing match was just as big a selling point for Wrestlemania 2 as Hulk Hogan versus King Kong Bundy for the WWE Title. The WWE capitalized on Mr. T’s pop culture notoriety and managed to spring board that into a notable story; while the match itself was less than memorable, the build to the match didn’t need a title to maintain its popularity.
As an audience we realize that the World Title is the most prominent title in the promotion. Without question, some of the greatest encounters during Wrestlemania have been for the Title. Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels in an Iron Man Match, and Shawn Michaels and Stone Cold Steve Austin’s match two years later were simply about the Title, but had significant build and were aligned with a great story to support it. While there have been years when the title wasn’t the focus, it’s been very rare.
The question that should be asked is: Why not redefine the main event? With a vast array of talent and an opportunity to feature talent, why not make the major focus of a major event something less traditional. There is always a debate about whom will be the next talent to achieve. What is the next character that will appeal to audiences? What innovative and cutting-edge character will draw in more fans? There are so many questions that are asked about wrestlers today, but the format for the main event remains the same. Why is that?
The main event is typically defined by two men, generally in the heavyweight division, competing for the WWE World Heavyweight Title. It’s pretty standard. It doesn’t deviate from what’s normal in the least. And, there isn’t anything new or exciting about this format. The argument regarding this format would be, if isn’t broken, why fix it? But it certainly is broken, it’s just that the promotion doesn’t generally believe so.
Promotions such as ROH,TNA and Lucha Underground not only offer an alternative to what the WWE offers, they also they book their main events differently. They take chances because they compete in areas the WWE cannot. Is the risk of changing their format for success one those promotions are willing to take? It appears so to an extent. For instance, during one of the final episodes of Lucha Underground,Vampiro and Pentagon Jr had a violent and frightening match up as the main event. They put the money on the screen and left no doubt that fans would leave that event excited about the next one. In fact, Lucha Underground has ended their programs on a number of occasions with the intention of telling a story that does not focus at all on the Lucha Underground Title. In Ring of Honor, at their most recent pay per view All-Star Extravaganza, while the ROHWorld Title match was the main event, it was tag team specialist, and one half of reDragon, Kyle O’Reily, that was competing against Jay Lethal. Conventional booking would have the top solo contender compete for the title, but ROH allowed themselves to challenge that train of thought.
Consider for a second the reactions of the NXT audience to the Bayley/Sasha Banks main event at NXT Takeover: Respect. The response was tremendous. Fans were treated to a compelling story involving two women whom the audience wanted to see compete. The main event wasn’t about the men. It wasn’t about having two heavyweights slug it out either. Many praised the show, saying that women’s wrestling had taken a step forward and the focus was now about putting on the most entertaining match for the main event rather than simply having the two most notable names. This showed that it is time to change the formula, or if not completely change it certainly could mix it up a bit.
This main event was about two women that took risks like any of the guys have, and kept fans wanting more. Sure, this was a small sample size, but it connected with the audience. The event sold out Full Sail, and while that venue doesn’t seat 13-15,000, the reaction by the fans in attendance for the Bayley and Sasha Banks NXT Women’s title match at the Barclay’s Center in New Jersey was no different. It was a dynamic and eclectic group of fans that wanted to see good wrestling. It could easily be argued that the match was not only a co-main event, but rather the match of the year.
What if they created a new norm? What if they continued to try to revolutionize sports entertainment? Summerslam’s main event was Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker. The story of vengeance and retribution was greater than the WWE World Title. It was a case of two combustible elements that compelled fans to watch. While this isn’t always the case, the question is, could it be something to be explored more in the future? It certainly could.
One particular tag team has drawn in audiences more and more each week with their antics, to the extent that having them as a part of the main event isn’t a stretch. The New Day, for all of their gyrations, promos and actions in the ring are unquestionably a group that is being used as part of the main event. Whether it has been tagging with Seth Rollins or working collectively against a common enemy, the New Day are drawing in more and more fans. Recently they interrupted the United States Open-Challenge between DolphZiggler and John Cena and thrust themselves into contention for the title there as well. There is more and more evidence pointing to fans wanting to see The New Day on television and it appears that the WWE has taken notice. They have stood out and garnered enough heat as heels that fans easily jeer them, but manage to love them all at the same time. It’s a wonderful place for them to be in. When you think of teams such as The Hardy Boyz, Edge and Christian and The Dudley Boyz, they were outstanding teams that could have easily main evented a pay per view or Raw. By having The New Day as a part of the main event, the WWE would manage to go outside their conventional box of match alignment. By creating characters andstorylines that resonate with audiences, the promotion creates other opportunities for how to matches place matches on the card.
Fans grew tired of watching John Cena in the main event, despite his tremendous efforts. By having well-booked storylines for mid carders, tag teams and the women’s division, WWE could create the opportunity for fans to watch a different match as the main event. Even if pay-per-views are often still being sold at a rate of $60 a purchase, consider your WWE Network subscribers who pay $10 dollars a month for the same event. They are the core of the audience and the financial backbone moving forward. With the great deal of publicity efforts to encourage the purchase of subscriptions, take a risk for your main event to further encourage subscribers. Fans could watch a colossal six man tag match where the stipulation could be that the one making the pin is the person who will have an opportunity for the next major title shot. Have a massive intergender or women’s match up that is given time. Just do something different.
There are opportunities here to redefine the main event, with little risk. They have an opportunity to redefine the standard and change the rules. Not even attempting to take these chances, even occasionally, doesn’t help their cause. Redefining the main event would ultimately change how it is seen, would mix up who is in it, and potentially draw more fans, making them care about it and leave them hungry for more. They simply need to take from their previous experiments to create something special.
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