The second-biggest WWE PPV is almost upon us, SummerSlam – although I personally regard the Royal Rumble as the second biggest, with SummerSlam coming in a close third. The build for SummerSlam has been okay. Both Raw and Smackdown Live are trying new storylines, new feuds and generally finding their feet as WWE approaches a huge period for the company. The FOX deal is on the horizon and WWE seems to be doing all they can to draw both new and old eyes on the product. So much so, that they’ve delved into their past and pulled some veterans out of semi or full retirement and back into the squared circle. I think this can be both positive and negative for WWE going forward, and I want to explain why I think that.
In recent months WWE has begun to put some of the biggest names in their history front and center on their TV shows. Rey Mysterio has decided to have another run and I think WWE has struck gold by pairing him with Andrade, a younger talent who has excellent chemistry with the veteran Mysterio. Both men tell a great story and their feud doesn’t need outside interference, a title or a gimmick. They’re both just so good when paired against one another. It can only do wonders for Andrade’s career right now.
For the ladies, Trish Stratus has returned and is looking incredible for her age (42), and even though she’s hinted that her SummerSlam match against Charlotte Flair will be her last in WWE, her name will certainly be a draw to the huge Canadian fanbase WWE will have at the PPV. Add to that the return of Goldberg (at age 50) in what must be the lock of the night in his match against Dolph Ziggler. A strange addition I thought, but Dolph will sell to make Goldberg look like a million dollars, so perhaps a smart pairing from WWE.
Over on Smackdown Live, Randy Orton is making his presence known by challenging Kofi Kingston for the WWE Heavyweight Title. Though not ‘retired’ as such, Orton has certainly slowed down his career and taken time out away from WWE. Orton’s push in the title picture is similar to that of Natalya in her feud with Becky Lynch. Both Becky and Kofi are popular champions and their title wins were very well received, but their current spots make some think the chase is sometimes more exciting than the title run. Kingston has defended his belt well, but after four months as champion, do fans and WWE feel a change of direction is needed? The same too can be said about Becky. It was smart to have her drop one of the two belts she won at Wrestlemania, but is the division in danger of becoming stale on Raw at least, with her recent appearances being in tag action or alongside Seth Rollins instead of standing alone and taking on all comers?
I think we all understand that WWE is a business and the purpose of the business is to make money. By advertising Goldberg, Trish, Orton and others for big SummerSlam matches, WWE are pushing their ticket sales and viewership on the WWE Network. Then there’s the FOX deal. FOX have stated in media releases that they fully intend to promote and push WWE in a big way on their network. WWE won’t be treated as a niche or small part of their shows, but a major player and a big draw. WWE needs to hold up their part of the bargain by ensuring their fans tune in to FOX and raise their viewing numbers. The easy way to do this is to appeal to the widest demographic and try to catch as many fans as possible.
I’m not saying WWE has talent that people don’t want to watch, but the names like Trish Stratus, Randy Orton, Goldberg and even The Undertaker are names older fans who may have strayed from WWE will recognize. These are the fans who are spending money and subscribing to networks, so they are the ideal target. Will they tune in to the first WWE show FOX broadcasts on October 4? Perhaps, but are they more likely to tune in to a show that’s been heavily promoted and will include appearances from their favorite stars when they were kids? More likely, I would suspect.
Where does that leave the ‘lesser known’ stars to the wider audience? If you haven’t been watching WWE for a few years, you may be unaware of Aleister Black, Ricochet, The Viking Raiders, Kari Sane, Nikki Cross, The IIconics and Buddy Murphy. You may be unaware that Drew McIntyre returned to the company, and even if you took a passing interest, the lack of regular TV time and/or pushes for Sami Zayn, Sasha Banks, Bobby Lashley, Rusev, Lana, Kevin Owens and Braun Strowman may mean you’re not familiar with many of them. But if WWE is looking to push on with the new exposure FOX will bring, surely now is the time to showcase the talent on the roster rather than wheel in the veterans? Unfortunately no, while Trish, Goldberg and Orton all have matches scheduled for SummerSlam, everyone listed above with exception of Ricochet and Owens (who is yet again facing Shane McMahon – sigh), hasn’t been put on the card as yet. There’s hope at least one or two may be added, but this is WWE, so don’t expect too much to change.
Is this the proverbial Catch-22 for WWE? They want to boost their viewing figures and grow the company, but they continue to rely on bringing back stars from yesteryear to draw in the fans, rather than push their younger talent on their own merit. The only problem with that is the veterans aren’t getting any younger, and the superstars of the Attitude Era (the biggest professional wrestling has ever been) just aren’t interested or physically able to go like they once did.
Does WWE need to change tactics for the years ahead? Is there anyone who was part of the Attitude Era who could realistically put on a match in 5-10 years? If not, who will be the next crop of veterans to be brought back to the company? The Rock recently confirmed that he’d officially retired from wrestling. Perhaps WWE had been in touch to try and bring him back too? Does that only leave John Cena as the most well-known veteran of the modern era who could put on a match? Perhaps WWE should trust in their younger talent to make themselves household names and be the future of the company? Right now is as good a time as any to do just that.