An interesting thing happened this week on “Monday Night Raw”. In a three hour show filled with a backwoods cult leader singing I’m A Little Teapot, Kevin Owens speaking French but being one upped by John Cena’s French and Mandarin, the Bellas suddenly wrestling as faces again after clearly being the heels in the feud, there was a major trend that caught my eye. This week, we saw the closest thing we can see to a flashback to the old TV formula, and that is a very welcome change of pace.
This week, there were eight matches on “Monday Night Raw”. Four of these followed a similar formula. Here are those four matches.
Prime Time Players b. Ascension
King Barrett b. Zack Ryder
Ryback b. Mark Henry
Dolph Ziggler b. Adam Rose
Notice the theme here: the winners are all defeating wrestlers who are beneath them on the totem pole (with the possible exception of Henry, but he’s been little more than a jobber of the stars for at least a year now). Now, this is a good deal all around for everyone and it makes the show far better for future shows.
Here’s the key to the whole thing: no one looks bad. The winners all get a win and the losers are all beaten by people they have no business beating. This is exactly the kind of formula that you rarely see. How many times have you seen two stars, or at least big names, fight each other with one of them having to lose, thereby making one of them look weak going into a big match? It defeats the purpose of building up to the pay per view match and makes it harder for the fans to cheer for someone. Simply put, who wants to cheer for a loser?
This is how the old formula worked for wrestling television. The TV shows would rarely be anything but stars vs. jobbers and then a bunch of promos to talk people into the arena for the house shows. Now of course this isn’t possible today. You can’t have three hours of stars beating up jobbers and expect an audience to be around for more than about fifteen minutes at most. Today there aren’t enough personalities to keep the people watching by being larger than life and making you care about whatever they’re doing.
That’s where we get back to the idea of just having a series of matches like these, but it has to have a balance with other stuff. If you have a bunch of matches like Barrett vs. Ryder, it eventually becomes the old formula of just squashing jobbers and no one is going to stick around for that. Therefore, you have to add in enough big matches and talking to keep the crowd’s attention.
Unfortunately, this often means that we have more talking from the Authority, which presents the exact same problem: the show feeling long and repetitive because they’re doing the same, slow promos that talk about the same thing. It’s a far cry from Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes and Sting shouting about how much they want to hurt each other and how amazing they are when you have the Authority speaking in a bizarre way that no one else would use in an attempt to get various buzzwords trending on social media.
So what do you use to fill in the time without boring the audience? Well you need to create some new stars. How would you go about doing that? Well thankfully last night we got a good example in the form of an unlikely case: Ryback. Given how many times he’s said it over the last few months, I’m going to assume you’ve heard Ryback’s speech about breaking his foot in Hawaii and was out for over a year. That promo changed a lot of things for Ryback for one simple reason: it gave us a reason to care.
Ryback’s story was something that fans can relate to: someone who was fighting to achieve his dream no matter what was thrown in front of him. With that one exhausted though, last night Ryback gave us a new story. Last night he talked about his parents splitting up when he was a kid and speaking for the first time when he won the Intercontinental Title.
While a lot of fans can’t relate to the idea of being Intercontinental Champion, they can relate to the idea of a broken home. It’s nothing huge, but it’s something. It’s a little thing that fans can hear and gives them a way to get to know these wrestlers a bit outside the ring. You get people connected to them and the fans are going to care about what they’re doing regardless of who they’re out there against.
That’s what the WWE, and wrestling in general, needs more of: characters that the fans have a reason to care about. Being impressed by athleticism is always a good thing, but how many times can you see Cena giving Big Show an AA or Neville hitting the Red Arrow before it stops being as special as it was the first time? I’m pretty sure most of the fans watching can’t get in a ring and do the things that the wrestlers are doing, but they can see the wrestlers sharing traits or circumstances with the fans’ own lives. Those connections aren’t going to change or lose their impact.
That brings us back to the idea of the old TV formula. Back in the day it was about personalities you cared about having matches designed to set up the major matches down the road. For years now, the wrestling TV product has been far more about having big matches to set up another big match down the line. While I don’t believe for a second that this week’s “Monday Night Raw” was the beginning of anything new, it was very nice to see something different for a week, even it if was just part of a week. Mix things up a bit and you might be able to have your pay per views mean a bit more, which is better for everyone.
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