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WWE World Heavyweight Championship Tournament Is Falling Flat by Ron Pasceri

One of my favorite sayings is “When life hands you lemons make lemonade.” I’m also quite fond of “Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth” by the great Mike Tyson. One may be slightly more innocent than the other, but in essence, they have a very similar meaning. Applied to life or sports or sports entertainment, sometimes you’ll be faced with adversity. Once adversity hits its all about how it’s handled.

In fantasy football I drafted Eddie Lacy. I managed to trade him for Adrian Peterson before he completely lost his value. In professional sports, Ronda Rousey was handed a vicious first defeat and now she must find a way to bounce back. In WWE, Seth Rollins was injured at a time when John Cena and Randy Orton would also be absent. It caused a lot of uncertainty and a scramble to change plans, but it also presented an opportunity to be incredibly creative.

It’s very interesting that creativity is the main attribute lacking from a group called WWE Creative. That’s about as egregious as calling Derrick Rose the NBA’s Iron Man. When I heard they were going to hold a tournament for the vacant WWE World Heavyweight Championship I couldn’t help but get excited. I thought back to WrestleMania IV when Randy Savage outlasted the field to find his place at the top. I remembered being away at school for Survivor Series 1998, when The Rock became the Corporate Champion.

Unfortunately, this tournament has proven much less exciting, much less interesting and much less fun. In my mind, part of the problem was that the tournament started immediately and there was no real chance to build to it. It basically boiled down to just matches on Raw and SmackDown! that don’t feel particularly inspired or significant.

The biggest sports day of the year, the Super Bowl, is the culmination of a season’s worth of struggle, followed by an arduous post season. There are ups and downs, peaks and valleys for the teams involved in the final game as well as those vanquished along the way. My personal favorite sports day of the year, the opening day of the NCAA Tournament captures the spirit that truly anything can happen. There has been none of either in WWE’s current tournament.

They haven’t shown any particular Superstar show that the title means something to them. There hasn’t been any sense of urgency among the participants in the early rounds of the tournament. They haven’t even told us how the participants were chosen! How important could a tournament be if you didn’t even have to earn your way into it? Thats what these episodes should have centered around. Building hype around the title and having as many members of the roster as possible fighting for a spot in a one night tournament for the biggest prize in the game.

I derive no joy from being negative and if you’ve been reading my work, I try to be positive and stay away from common complaints. I especially don’t want to grow into one of those guys that says everything used to be better back in the day. But in this instance, I feel like things were better back in the day. WWE used to know how to take lemons and make lemonade. Like when Triple H was punished for the Curtain Call, Steve Austin was waiting in the wings to be the next King of the Ring. Less than two years later, when Shawn Michaels was forced out with a back injury, Austin was there yet again to take the company to new heights.

When I watch old episode of Raw or old PPV’s it just feels so much different. In some cases it’s watching true icons like Stone Cold or the Macho Man. In others it’s hearing the voices of Gorilla Monsoon, Bobby Heenan or Jesse Ventura. Jim Ross’s voice and style of announcing a match made it feel like you were watching a significant event. I can say the same in sports about guys like Brent Musberger, John Madden, Pat Summerall and Dick Enberg. Their voices became synonymous with games that really meant something. There is no current announcer in sports or sports entertainment or sports that makes me feel the same thing.

Is it possible that the difference is simply that I look back with nostalgia on those times? Of course, but I don’t think it’s the case. I think the NFL has become so big with so many advertisers to appease, that the game has become too sanitized. The game has become much less violent and colorful, which in some ways is good, but it hurts the entertainment value. The same thing is plaguing WWE at the moment with the PG rating.

I’m not suggesting a return to the Attitude Era is needed or even the best thing. To those of us in a certain age bracket, the Attitude Era was sort of like the WWE growing up with us. It was a kid’s show for the most part when we were kids and got edgier and more adult as we grew into adulthood. A lot of people have problems accepting changes of progress, but it may be even harder to deal with changes that feel like regression. But being more family oriented doesn’t have to be a step back for WWE. There are ways to write family friendly programming that appeals to our demographic.

WWE hires Hollywood and TV writers because they want to present their product as a TV show as opposed to a wrestling show, which is fine. That being said, if your focus is on the entertainment aspect of the business, why is the quality of the in-ring wrestling so far exceeding the actual storytelling? What is the point of hiring non-wrestling writers if they aren’t delivering entertaining stories or creating compelling characters? Not one story or character has been advanced through the early stages of this tournament. It’s possible something has yet to happen that we will all love, but it’s hard to really trust in what lies ahead.

Outside of the tournament itself there is the story of the Wyatt Family and the the Brothers of Destruction. A lot was put into the kidnapping of The Undertaker and Kane and the rise of the Wyatt’s in the time since. Bray and his minions looked as though they were becoming the strongest force in WWE and appeared as legitimately threatening heels. Then, out of nowhere, ‘Taker and Kane show up and dominate the Wyatt’s as if they were the Spirit Squad. Now they have a match at Survivor Series where we not only already know the winner, but the heroes have already had their revenge.

On top of everything else, how is The New Day not involved in this thing at all? First, they actually make us believe that their titles mean something to them, and when John Cena was holding the U.S. Title, they wanted that one too. So why wouldn’t they want the World Title as well? Also, one story point that has actually kinda sorta been put in place is that they consider themselves to be allies of Seth Rollins. It just seems ridiculous that the most popular act in the company wouldn’t be part of what should be the biggest event since WrestleMania, especially since there are logical reasons for them to be there.

I said a few weeks ago that booing and disrespecting talent during a show is no way to get our point across. It will only alienate our voice from the thought process of those in charge and make them resent us. The only thing that will teach them a lesson is if we stop spending our time watching their shows and our money on their tickets and merchandise. It seems more people have taken that approach as ratings dip more each week.

People like Vince Russo, who I don’t hate by the way, say they will never criticize the creative team because of how difficult a job it is. Is it really that hard when I see better ideas in the comments than I do on Raw? I’ve decided I will never direct my anger toward a talent again. Creative is the problem and there is no reason to pretend it’s not. Vince McMahon, Kevin Dunn and the writing team should be criticized until they show they have a finger on the pulse of viewers. They clearly don’t understand or care what the people want and their handling of this tournament hammers that point home.

Once again, I will admit that we haven’t reached the conclusion and they may pleasantly surprise me like they did at the end of WrestleMania. Sadly, I don’t expect that to be the case just based on their recent track record. Here’s to hoping WWE will take the lemons they’ve been handed and figure out something else to do with them besides squirt them in our faces on Sunday night at Survivor Series.