posted a BLOG item 5 months ago
For years, we've endured the weekly rituals of WWE Monday Night Raw and Friday Night SmackDown. Likewise, we've also witnessed monthly events on pay-per-view television, culminating in the spring ritual of WrestleMania, a marquee event. We've seen action figures, video games, Blu-Ray releases and more recently feature films, often starring members of the promotions roster. Some films have been good, some not so much. Games have ranged from average to very good.
Sadly, the rituals have become horribly stale. It pains me to say this, being a lifelong fan of wrestling shows, enjoying the work of wrestlers like Bret Hart, Randy Savage, Ric Flair, 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin, and others. But it's time for a change. I've been a fan of wrestling my whole life and I've met some of these extraordinary characters. I've been to house shows, TV events and pay-per-view events. I watched Owen Hart fall to his death. And in the process, I've always seen the show for what it is, theatrical, timed, and to the participants, fame and fortune earned through bodily injury and showmanship. The show went on and people came.
The problem is that show is now a monopoly and the quality has deteriorated under terrible mismanagement of talent. Worse still, controlling interests in the show have no desire to take risks or make things better. Status quo, stale booking and politics have taken over.
Blame rests squarely on Vince McMahon Jr. and his family. It has never been more apparent that in his quest to buy out and take over the wrestling world, McMahon has lost sight of history in his business. He ignores his mistakes and repeats them as if they never happened. He ignores more quality talent to push his ideas and his family and friends instead. He has no real understanding of his fans.
Take some more recent story lines and 'talent' on the show and compare to shows of the past, and the pattern becomes clear.
First, we have John Cena. Not a bad person, really. His work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation is outstanding. However, he is promoted as a sort of superhero that can't be kept down, much like predecessor Hulk Hogan, who held the WWE title for several years and never really fell to any competitor. Cena is getting the Vince McMahon treatment, which includes the creation of new feuds and story lines just to build Cena as a hero. As with Hogan, this process is backfiring. Fan loyalty is very divided, but clearly, there is a majority that despises Cena. Worse still, Cena clearly does not want to make a heel turn, which would upset his loyal fan base and upset his relationship with Make-A-Wish. Change could mean a fresh start for him and eventually, a new following of fans that would make him more popular than ever. Much like Hogan, Cena does not see the forest for the trees. And the creative team won't push such a move for upsetting the status quo.
In the 90's, the fan base was getting tired of the same old show, featuring circus acts, repo men, trash men, tax men, rich men, hillbillies, etc. The talent base was ready for a change. The mass exodus from the WWF/E to WCW included many of McMahon's marquee stars and major talents. As the roster shrunk, Vince became desperate enough to make major changes that had been long overdue. Enter the Attitude Era. It was at this time stars like Stone Cold Steve Austin, HBK, Edge, Christian, and others led the promotion to new success. The war between old school talent in WCW (including the NWO) and new talent in the Attitude roster made for a ratings boom. In spite of having an impressive array of talent, WCW was so badly mismanaged that it eventually folded and was sold to McMahon. He had the best of both worlds, including creative control, licensing, and an entire viewing audience.
It only gets worse from here, though. When Linda McMahon decided to enter politics, many of her opponents pointed out the risque behavior of the WWE shows, including sexualized storylines and ultra-violent matches. Suddenly, the WWE became "PG". And any trace of the Attitude Era that once thrived in the promotion was eliminated. There are a few lingering stars from that time, but most are gone now, retired, with health failing or simply not physically capable of competing anymore. And new talent was given a strict set of instructions about what was and was not acceptable in programs. "Family entertainment" was back and here to stay.
Older stars like Bret Hart, Rick Steamboat, Ric Flair, and many others no longer have the spotlight, in spite of paying their dues heavily in this sport for decades. Harts book, full of stories of how many other wrestlers had become shells of themselves, is a sad testimony to the work and sacrifice so many of these people make for the business. So it only makes sense that these men would be honored in the Hall Of Fame. Yet, this too has become an insult to many of the stars who deserved their time in the spotlight, but who have been ignored completely. With wrestlers who gave their all in the ring being ignored in favor of the likes of Donald Trump, Drew Carey and other celeb wannabes, the annual tradition now includes the words "Why them?" and "Why not an actual wrestler?"
The promotion does have some solid talent, in the form of CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, and a few other holdovers from the Attitude Era, such as Christian and Chris Jericho. All of these wrestlers are solid and deliver outstanding matches. However, much like the 80's and early 90's, when brawn always got a push over talent, wrestlers like Ryback, Mark Henry, and Brock Lesnar receive these massive pushes for their size and brute strength. Is there a place for this in wrestling? Yes, definitely. But not at the expense of better talent. This is a lesson the McMahon family has yet to learn.
There are other obvious problems with the WWE. The carnival atmosphere that was once fun and inviting is now stale like a cheap act at a state fair. Dwarves, giants and divas all have their place, but they get absolutely nowhere in this business. And more often than not, these people serve as filler for a show that desperately needs it. B-list wrestlers litter the backstage area, waiting to lob insults, sneak attack other performers, or just loiter for the sake of a paycheck. There are still great performers on the microphone and in the ring, like Punk, Bryan and Jericho. But they're outnumbered by far, now.
Vince is looking for the next big thing, but that doesn't mean he won't try a side project, something he has failed at over and over again. See also: Icopro, the WBF, the XFL, NXT, and coming soon: Total Divas. This division of the WWE is so bad, the crowd almost seems to sleep through the matches. There are a couple of decent wrestlers in the division, second generation stars who took after their famous relatives and know enough about the sport to be awesome. Sadly, they find themselves surrounded by the likes of the Bellas, AJ Lee, Alicia Fox, and other pointless performers. Like the rest of the program, what could be good just gets lost in the shuffle. I'm guessing the new spinoff will die in a season or less. But the division will limp along regardless.
The McMahon family has recently begun to crop up in storylines on Raw. And even though Vince has proven to be a great villain during his feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin, the current plot between himself and his son-in-law HHH and daughter Stephanie has been nothing but annoying. The family tries desperately to look like a monster with multiple heads, but instead looks like a played out soap opera. Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley has all the acting range of a would-be model reading a cue card. HHH, while somewhat talented and marginally capable in interviews, spends more time being second banana. I can't see either of these people being effective leaders. CM Punk came out during his infamous 2011 tirade and mentioned that he can't see Vince dying only to have the show taken over by his "idiot daughter and doofus son-in-law". I can see what he means. Vince has engrained many bad habits and lazy story telling into this organization and its creative team. Unless this family is willing to bring in outside creative assistance, the WWE has nowhere left to go except down.
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