I wrote three weeks ago about the tremendous entertainment value WWE provided at Battleground. I wrote two weeks ago about how exciting of a time it is to be a WWE fan with the brand split and two separate live shows a week. Last week there was another step back as I wrote about two specific characters in Roman Reigns and Eva Marie that stood out to me as being entertaining and promising. This week I actually found myself almost sleepwalking through five hours of WWE television on Monday and Tuesday. What’s even more unfortunate is these were that final two shows before SummerSlam, which is arguably the biggest PPV card of the year.
Three million of us watch Raw every week and two million of us tune in for SmackDown Live. Outside of us, would anyone tuning in on either night have walked away with the sense that an enormous event is taking place on Sunday? I know they would have probably heard SummerSlam mentioned, but there was nothing on Raw that would have inspired a casual viewer to tune in to the biggest event of the summer. SmackDown did have a great opening segment with Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler on Miz TV and closed on a high note with John Cena putting AJ Styles through the announce table. As great as those two segments were, the 90 minutes in the middle provided very little to get excited about, Eva Marie’s continued obstacles aside.
Looking back at three weeks ago, we were all mindblown over the first Raw after the draft. It, along with SmackDown the following night, felt like a reset. Both shows were steeped in the realism of athletic competition, where wins and losses actually had stakes and consequences. I believe the extreme focus on what was happening in the ring was just the start of a new presentation of the WWE product. As much as I like the actual wrestling part of WWE, I figured over the coming weeks they would gradually ease into a little more character development and storytelling. We are living in an age where the actual physical and athletic component of wrestling is the best it has ever been. Combine that with great characters and stories and it felt like we were on the verge of a WWE renaissance.
Fast forward to this week and there really are no stories, there really hasn’t been any character development and now each show feels once again like just a series of things happening to take up time until the show goes off the air. What felt like the dawning of a new day of two fresh and exciting WWE shows has quickly turned into two generic versions of the same thing WWE has been giving to us for far too long. We have gotten matches that didn’t need to happen, finishes that made no sense, segment that served no purpose and too much of an overemphasis on silly branding. Did we really need to hear the term “Demon King” even half as much as we did on Monday? Even more to the point, did they really even have to come up with the term Demon King? I know Balor actually translates to Demon King, but I don’t ever remember hearing that on NXT. This just proves that once Vince McMahon gets his hands on something exciting he can’t help himself from getting his fingerprints all over it and running it into the ground. I’m sure everyone reading this can think of multiple examples of this. It’s a shame that Balor’s Demon character already feels like it’s been misused and it hasn’t even really been used yet.
I actually walked away from watching WWE for multiple years due to a misguided feeling that the next generation of talent couldn’t be as good as the previous one. I learned from the error of my ways that the talent will always continue to get better and that the best of anything should always be ahead of us. But after the past two nights I’ve felt for the first time like WWE just wasted my time. Don’t get me wrong, this split is a pretty big undertaking and I always suspected it would take time for both shows to be firing on all cylinders, but there is a huge difference between peak performance and lazy, boring and repetitive television.
Jim Ross has said numerous times on his podcast that he will reserve judgement on the quality of the two shows until he sees the WrestleMania 33 card next year. He believe that will be the true litmus test of how WWE has managed both programs and developed the stars on each show. That is fair and I won’t even pretend there is any threat of me turning my back on the company. For one, I won’t let them run me off from something I enjoy, even though I don’t enjoy it as much as I’d like. Second, it’s actually not all bad for WWE, despite the tone of this column to this point. While Raw and SmackDown Live may not be meeting my, or many of your standards each week, it doesn’t mean they aren’t giving us any great programming.
The level of WWE’s Pay-Per-Views has been consistently great since the New Era was coined in May at Payback. It is an amazing credit to the in-ring talent that they routinely tear the house down each month despite the complete lack of storytelling and character development. It truly is the ability of the talent to entertain us and make us buy into them as performers that allows us to enjoy the matches they put on and leave satisfied and often electrified every month. Imagine how great it would be if the stakes could be raised by a properly run creative team. I actually believe the esteemed John Canton could choose five commenters from TJR Wrestling every week to book a better show than Raw is currently putting on. In fact, I’ve read better WWE storytelling in my comments sections than most of what we are getting on Monday and Tuesday nights.
In another positive note on behalf of WWE, they are giving us great programming like NXT and more recently the Cruiserweight Classic. They give us the monthly installment of the Stone Cold Podcast as well as the newly introduced Talking Smack postgame show, not to mention $9.99 a month for the WWE Network is really one of the biggest steals in any marketplace anywhere. They are an entertainment company with their hands in so many cookie jars and I think a lot of fans don’t see past the wrestling product. While I can see what they are trying to accomplish, I just don’t think the wrestling product needs to suffer in the pursuit of loftier goals.
My slowly growing dissatisfaction with WWE actually has me excited about one recent story outside the company. That is the announcement of Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan as President of TNA. It isn’t because I am some TNA mark or anything, as I’ve literally only watched The Final Deletion and Jay Lethal’s Black Machismo stuff back in the day. It is because Billy Corgan has a long track record of being a highly creative and innovative individual in the music industry and I look forward to seeing how he uses those talents to shape the world of pro wrestling.
I hold no illusions that TNA will ever truly compete with WWE, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I remember once Vince McMahon said he wasn’t competing with Ted Turner because Turner was in the “Rasslin” business while he himself was in the Sports Entertainment business. Maybe Corgan’s TNA will become something different from what WWE has become. I hope so, as that can and will only help the industry. I have very high hopes for what his vision will do to separate TNA in some way from the rest of the wrestling world. While they won’t be a formidable opponent for WWE, they could hopefully one day be a source of inspiration for the great company up north.
As a wrestling product, WWE can’t seem to figure out what exactly it is or where exactly it’s going. Many people will criticize Vince by saying he’s lost his touch. If you think about it, to steal a quote from the great Wes Anderson film Bottle Rocket, “Did he ever have a touch to lose, man?” While I can’t take anything away from Vince McMahon and the tremendous success he’s had and the infinite amount of entertainment WWE has provided me with over the years, it is no secret that the WWF was in trouble on more than one occasion.
The first time the company was saved was with the introduction of WrestleMania and some would argue that the idea for WrestleMania was inspired by NWA’s Starrcade. The second time WWE was in trouble was in the mid-1990’s and we all know the Attitude Era saved the company that time around and ultimately led to the end of WCW and any real competition. But it was that very competition that led to the Attitude Era as Vince used WCW’s more realistic, more mature programming and just did it better. So you see, Vince McMahon may be more of an innovator than an inventor and maybe he needs someone else to revolutionize the business so WWE can once again improve upon it.
At any rate, WWE is going nowhere and neither are the current crop of WWE fans. There really is nowhere else to turn for us and as I said before, the monthly PPV’s are more than worth the cost of the WWE Network. With that being said, the company needs to find a way to make all of these hours of programming worth our time. Right now it looks like a company without a plan and someone, ANYONE needs to find a way to fix it, even if it’s someone from outside of WWE.
Check out my new podcast, Mat Madness, every Wednesday on iTunes and Podbean, as well as the video show on YouTube. It’s a fan oriented show, so if you’d ever like to take part, let me know. Thank you!