It’s no secret that for many years, possibly over a decade or so .. WWE’s had the mindset of pushing one or two “golden boys” to the moon. It started with Cena in 2005, and you could say they found success with him despite the polarizing reactions. Ratings dipped, yet the company was making plenty of profit elsewhere. Ratings didn’t seem to matter as much, so they branched out to social media and made up for it. For the last few years it looked like it would go the same for Roman Reigns, and it was sorta working.
However, instead of getting 100% behind the big dog, they were worried the universe’s reaction could become so overwhelmingly negative it would be counter productive. So they went with the alternative. Going with Brock Lesnar as champion, they figured it would make business sense to use his part-time schedule for heat and as a special attraction for PPV. But this meant everyone on Raw .. including Reigns, weren’t worthy because they were not a beast like Lesnar who could hold the main prize hostage while sitting at home.
It devalued everything we saw on Raw, because nothing mattered unless Lesnar showed up live. Seth Rollins (and co.) did their absolute best to make the Intercontinental title relevant again, but it’s safe to say most casual fans don’t care if it is defended regularly. All they want to see is Lesnar show up so we can find out if anyone can beat him. And again it seemed ratings didn’t matter as much due to WWE having their new Network. They plugged it .. and plugged it. And just when you thought they couldn’t plug it more .. for a sweet deal of $9.99(!), they slapped you in the face with another plug. They placed so much faith in their fans subscribing, but it didn’t go as well as they’d hoped. Rather than doing something about it .. like improve the product, they stuck to the same old formula til it was time for Reigns to take over from Lesnar.
And boom! They did just that earlier this year. Reigns got the title and surrounded himself with The Shield. Of course he still had his critics, but at least we got The Shield to return for another run. They pinned everything on Reigns, and figured it’d be enough to carry Raw for the next decade. Everything looked rosy as he sold tickets for Raw, and AJ Styles built a neighborhood on Smackdown. It was all going according to plan. They had it sussed. Even through Braun Strowman was red hot, why would WWE give him the title and risk hurting everything they built for Reigns? What if he wasn’t ready? Should they listen to the fans and put the strap on him? Or do they not listen and think about business? Obviously they went with business, as Strowman has still not won the Universal title. Although, they do see value in him, especially around the time he won the Greatest Royal Rumble title.
And then there’s the GM position, which I believe is a waste of time. Not just because the whole GM authority thing has played out too many times, but because they have both a GM and a Commissioner for each brand. Do we need four authority figures for two shows? Do we desperately need a McMahon undermining/encouraging their GMs? When all a GM is now .. is a glorified ring announcer.
In a recent article I made a point about Paige and how she hardly does anything (no fault of her own) and some seemed to take offense to that. Obviously Smackdown’s authority are more like no-nonsense babyfaces, but you can still be on the good side and make a regular impact (remember when Austin was the “Sheriff” while Bischoff was GM?”). And for the longest time Kurt Angle was the same. Bless him, I love the guy. Talked with him before on his social media and he’s a true legend. But what was he doing as GM? Not a lot. He was another Mick Foley, eating Stephanie’s crap each week and being made to like it. No one wanted to see him be degraded. It didn’t make us hate Stephanie’s character anymore than we already do .. it was just rehashed stuff leading nowhere.
When WWE thought they couldn’t do much with Kurt, they ditched him for the Baron Corbin experiment. And I’ve got to say .. at first it was cringing. It was hard to listen to Corbin stumble through his rehearsed lines. And what he was doing to get heat wasn’t his fault, so I can respect what he’s done with what they gave him. For a while it seemed Corbin didn’t go all in for heat. Yes .. he was crooked, but he wasn’t “McMahon” crooked. He wasn’t pushing the limits and really getting under people’s skin. And the fact is, the reason fans tuned out wasn’t because of Corbin. No. They tuned out because he was doing things we’d seen before. So he put himself in some matches?? Big deal. Nothing he’s done or said shocks anybody. But at least he was doing something!? Unlike Paige, who’s just kinda there .. holding a mic, probably wishing she could get back in the ring so she never, ever has to be a GM again.
So Corbin sucks and not in the good way. And fans know it’s not his fault, because he’s just doing what Vince wants. He’s the face and the words coming out of it are Vince’s. This was even more clear this week as Corbin and Rollins went back-and-forth, publicly admitting to the declining ratings. I was taken aback by this. On one hand I’m glad WWE came straight out and said “we know things are not working out here”. On the other, you got to facepalm because yeah .. just imagine if you’re new to this product, or you’re trying to get a friend or family member in to wrestling and they hear that. How do you sell the rest of the show after that? How do you convince them that the rest is worth watching after stating ratings are down? They blatantly admitted the product sucks right at the start of a 3-hour show. Who does that in any form of entertainment? Who comes out at the start of a show and says .. umm yeah, sorry the show’s sucked lately! We’ll try do better. Of course Rollins placed all the blame on Corbin .. but we know he was channeling Triple H (or almost any fan who knows what’s going on) to get the crowd behind him against Vince’s Corbin.
And do you know what pisses me off? And probably pisses off many others? Raw was better this week. See what happens when they’re forced to try? See what happens when something threatens their ratings? Their money? They had to pull their fingers out and actually deliver a decent show. And while in the news today, Jimmy Jacobs reminded us how super hard it is to write a 3-hour show each week .. I do agree with him in one way but not in another. WWE’s creative fails to realise that fans enjoy long, quality matches. You don’t need to write much if you reserve half an hour for a classic “NXT style” Revival vs. AOP match (go watch their NXT matches .. it’s night & day). You don’t need to write much if you don’t micro manage every single little thing, and let the guys/girls improvise to some degree. You don’t need to write much if you don’t have stupid, awkward talk show segments no one remembers the next day (looking at you Alexa, Sasha, Bayley etc). You don’t need to write much if you don’t have rap battles with guys who couldn’t rap if their lives depended on it.
I’m all for creating moments, but WWE are not playing to their talents strengths. They do what Vince thinks is entertaining, which is so far out of touch you’d think we were watching the 80’s again. He doesn’t understand entertainment like Triple H does with NXT. The only time he understood it was when he let a guy called Vince Russo run wild with that cool concept fondly remembered as “The Attitude Era”. His idea of getting heel heat is putting a giant sticker of Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart on a table for Ruby Riott to look proud of. Seriously? I mean .. if you’re going as far to use a dead wrestler for heat, at least go all the way with it. Let Ruby say Neidhart sucked as a wrestler and as a Father. Let her burn the table! I mean, it’s dumb they wanted to involve Jim anyways .. but if they really can’t get anymore creative, at least go the extra mile to make Ruby look like a totally cold-hearted b***h. That’s what WWE fails to do, it’s half-arsed and afraid of offending anyone.
Smackdown is easier to digest as it’s not as long and the talent seem to get a little extra freedom. But even Smackdown has had down periods this year, especially before and shortly after it’s 1000th episode. After changing things around it’s gone back to being “good”, but it’s still very much the “B-show”. Making Smackdown look like s**t at Survivor Series still doesn’t make any sense to me. Why should we care to watch if the roster is clearly inferior to Raw? To many it’s enough that Smackdown is an easier show to watch, but to casual fans who are not always able or willing to tune in? How does it sell the show to those people? How does it bring in new viewers? How does it sell the talent as future legends we should be watching?
With Roman Reigns going out with Leukemia it changed everything and WWE wasn’t ready. Life is like that, things happen and you should always have backup plans. WWE figured well .. we have Strowman right? But even he got injured. So who’s left .. are talents who would’ve jobbed (exaggeration) to Lesnar, Reigns or Strowman only a few months ago. Drew McIntyre’s rise has happened due to these unforeseen circumstances. The focus on Corbin is another. WWE’s been forced down roads it wasn’t ready for. McIntyre would probably still be in a tag team holding the titles with Ziggler. Reigns would still be Universal Champion. Corbin would be around .. but not the focal point. The ratings dropped because we’re meant to care, but it’s impossible as WWE could not go all “Captain Hindsight” (kill me for using a South Park reference) and build them up earlier. At this point it’s pure damage limitation. They’d probably switch AJ to Raw right away if they could explain it.
The past week has been a knee-jerk reaction to circumstances they should’ve foreseen. It goes to show what WWE can do when they have a metaphorical gun to their heads. But the fact of the matter is .. it’s too little too late. WWE has lost many viewers because they weren’t willing to build several “top names” (like in the 90’s with Austin, Rock, HHH, Taker, Mankind, Kane, Angle etc all being capable) alongside Lesnar and Reigns. They should’ve pulled the trigger on Strowman. They could’ve pulled the trigger on Rollins again. And there’s many others capable of delivering main event storylines who would’ve gnawed hands off to get one chance to prove it. WWE put all their eggs in one or two baskets, but the eggs smashed all over the floor as the baskets aren’t there to hold ’em anymore. It’s hard to say if WWE will be able to recover from it, but what they need is to learn that they can’t rely on just one or two golden baskets; they need a “team” of them. At least that way if someone can’t be arsed showing up .. or if someone gets a life threatening illness, it’s not massively damaging as we can enjoy the other stars til they return. You can still define who “The Man” is, but at least make it more competitive for that spot.
Can WWE build others up enough to recover their viewing figures? Or is the trend going to continue? Will the fact that ratings could get even lower spark a resurgence? Will WWE need to go back to doing anything, and everything to survive? It’s desperate times, and sometimes it calls for desperate measures. Watch this space, because the next few weeks will tell us if we’re in for a different kind of WWE, or whether they’ve not learned anything as they repeat the same mistakes til no one bothers tuning in anymore. Thanks for reading everyone! Looking forward to reading your opinions on the state of WWE.