Things are not going well for WWE at the moment. I don’t think that’s any real secret as the TV ratings and audience continue to fall apart almost every week. There isn’t one thing that you can point to that sums up the problem, but there are a few different things that add up to being the big culprit of the entire issue. However, there is one thing that has stood out to me in the last few days and I think it sums up the problem better than anything else.
I could go on for a long time about a wide ranging list of issues (that was the original column this week with ten different things, but that might be just too much complaining) but it boils down to one idea: WWE doesn’t seem to know what their goal is anymore. That has been said a lot over the years, but a line from Michael Cole on Sunday night at Money In The Bank showed just how far away things have gotten from the original purpose.
On Sunday night during the Universal Title match between champion Seth Rollins and challenger AJ Styles, Cole said “This is also about being Universal Champion, representing the Raw brand, leading Monday Night Raw through the summer, through shows like WWE Super ShowDown in two weeks on the WWE Network. Summerslam!”
There’s a lot to unpack from that thirty two word statement and it goes a long way towards explaining how out there WWE’s line of thinking is these days. I know that WWE has gone a long way from what wrestling used to be, but this statement and the thinking behind it is completely against almost everything that wrestling has been for decades, if not forever, and it shows so many problems today.
Here’s where it all got started:
Today we’re going to focus on the obvious part though: wrestling, at least for the most part, is supposed to be about winning titles and making money as a result. From a kayfabe standpoint, why else are you there? Aside from some kind of personal issue, most wrestlers are going to be there to prove that they’re the best (usually the face motivation) or to make money (usually the heel motivation).
That’s the pure essence of what wrestling is: the face wrestler is all about following the rules and a fair contest while the heel wrestler only cares about winning the prize that comes with it. That might be a championship, money or some form of power, but that’s why they’re doing this 99% of the time. That has worked since the beginning of professional wrestling and that’s the building block that everything grows from.
But now apparently these wrestlers, whether heel or face, are fighting to become the ultimate company man and get to be on posters and part of ad campaigns and all that good stuff. Maybe that comes with the idea of being the best and power and all that jazz, but the part about wrestling being a competition is completely ignored for the sake of….leading a brand? Now everyone is just fighting because they love WWE and want to be the face of the company?
I mean, I guess that comes with being the champion and the top star, but could we please at least pretend that it’s about athletic competition instead of this weird business/wrestling hybrid? It’s another example of WWE trying to speak in some corporate style and acting like being World Champion is the Employee of the Month award. The story that had been set up was Rollins wanting to establish himself as champion and Styles wanting to show he could win on the bigger show. That’s all well and good, but now it’s about leading a brand?
So this was a rallying speech back in the day:
It comes off like trying to make everything as realistic as possible instead of letting these people be larger than life athletes. I grew up a Hulkamaniac because Hulk Hogan was the Immortal and Hulkamania was the strongest force in the universe. Hogan was the WWF Champion and wrestled because that’s what Hogan did. All that mattered was him being the champion and keeping the title from people like Jimmy Hart and Bobby Heenan, because they were bad guys who cheated to win matches.
Now imagine if you were told that Hogan needed a performance evaluation or that he wasn’t best for business or that he wasn’t marketable. The first thing I would think is “Hogan….works for the WWF? And gets paid to wrestle?” Well yeah, of course that’s true, but why would I want to hear that? As a kid it sounds boring and as an adult, it makes you think of punching a time clock and all the other boring stuff that comes with going to your job every day.
I know it’s probably a line from a McMahon and that it isn’t going to matter in the long term, but it’s such a stupid thing to say. It might be the way things work and that’s fine as this is ultimately a business, but that doesn’t mean WWE needs to remind you that it’s a business. For some reason we’re not supposed to be allowed to be swept away into the world that they’re creating without the buzzkill of commentary reminding us that this isn’t an actual competition and it’s all about WWE rather than the wrestlers trying to win a match. Ignore that being the backbone of wrestling in general of course.
This is what has happened to WWE though and it’s a big reason why WWE is where it is at the moment: as soon as something becomes fun, the official voice of the company or someone in charge at the company is right there to let you know that no one is bigger than the business and it’s all about WWE. Why this needs to be done eludes me, as one would think that if Styles, Rollins or Primo Colon takes off and becomes a huge star while working for WWE that WWE would ultimately benefit anyway, but why let someone become a star when WWE would just make money off of it?
See, when Steve Austin was doing this, he wanted to lead a brand:
Wrestling has always been a place where you have to suspend a bunch of disbelief to make it work. That’s the case with most forms of entertainment, but wrestling is among the highest. WWE insists on having Cole and others constantly remind you that there is no point in thinking that anything is different than what it really is, probably because anything otherwise might make their stock go down a fraction of a cent and WWE doesn’t want to have to answer to its stockholders.
It’s another instance of asking the fans to just accept more corporate speak and to accept that this is NOT professional wrestling but sports entertainment. These people are just pretending to try to beat each other because they’re all in this together under the WWE banner, and if one of them succeeds, they all succeed. You know, provided that they don’t get too popular and succeed too much because WWE doesn’t like that.
Wrestling isn’t something that everyone can pull off. Aside from WWE, as of this writing the biggest company in the US is one that hasn’t put on a show yet. Fans want to like this stuff and have a good time, but that can only be so successful when you have WWE saying things like “this is for the right to lead the brand!”. It’s such a weird way of doing things and the more I see it, the less surprised I am at how many less people are having fun than in the glory days. These words matter, and the more WWE uses them, the more the audience will use the words “enough of this.”
Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 50,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 5,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his Amazon author page with 28 wrestling books. His latest book is the the Complete 2000 Monday Nitro and Thunder Reviews Part 1.
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