Tournaments are a concept with a very strong popularity among wrestling fans. They’ve become FAR more popular in WWE as of late, with at least TWELVE being run this year (United States Title Tournament, Mixed Match Challenge, Cruiserweight Title Tournament, Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, SmackDown Live Tag Team Title Tournament, Mae Young Classic, the United Kingdom Championship Tournament, the Tag Team Eliminator and the FOUR held at WrestleMania 34 Axxess). At an average of one per month, do you think we’ve had enough of them so far?
Why are tournaments so beloved in wrestling? It might sound crazy, but for the most part, wrestling tournaments aren’t very good. Sure, you’ll get the occasional very good one (normally the G1 Climax is incredible) but how many just come and go with nothing particularly memorable? How many of those tournaments listed above do you remember aside from maybe some of the finals?
While I get the appeal of holding a tournament on paper (a bunch of people/teams enter and only one is left standing), I just don’t see them as being worth the time or the effort most of the time. Some of them are just fine and serve their purpose, but how many of them are just there for the sake filling in time until we get to the big final that rarely has the kind of build that validates all the time that has been put into it?
The biggest one night tournament of all time.
There are several problems with tournaments, both theoretical and in actual practice, that we’re going to be looking at today. I’m not saying that all tournaments are bad as they do have a purpose and can be done very well, but more often than not, they tend to be a big waste of time and nowhere near as great as they’re built up to be. Of course it hasn’t helped when there were so many of them this year that there were three going on at the same time, and we’ll go there first.
We’ll start with one of the biggest problem: they’re too common anymore. Instead of coming up with a personal reason for these people to be fighting each other, the solution is to throw together some brackets and let them fight it out. It’s a pretty lazy way to book a wrestling show and offers another way out for the creative team who can just put together the one idea and then come back later on. That’s not exactly inspired storytelling and just look at how often they take place these days.
It seems like you can’t go two months now without having another one going on. They’re around all the time and some people are even involved in multiple ones each year. How many other stories could be put together instead of just putting everyone together in a tournament? It’s not like many people get much of a run out of a tournament anyway, as only the champion leaves unscathed. What else could be done with all of those people in the field instead of having them all lose outside of one?
Second, the things just take way too long. If the tournament has eight or more entrants, you’re usually looking at a three week minimum to get to the finals, which might just be there for the sake of setting up another match later on. So in other words, you have a bunch of time being spent on matches which you’ve probably seen before (as WWE has a tendency to run the same matches over and over again, yet somehow not understanding the concept of diminishing returns) which are rarely anything great, all until we get to the final, which may or may not be the best match of the whole tournament.
This presents the same problem as an Iron Man match: you can skip everything until the finals because nothing is actually going to matter until then. Aside from the random great match (which are always a possibility), you’re going to be watching a lot of stuff that doesn’t actually matter in the end (because, again, only two people or teams are going to be in the championship match and only one is going to win the prize) and uses a lot of time that could be spent on something else.
Speaking of being a big waste of time, what’s the point of the thing if someone who wins a title shot doesn’t beat the champion? Of the tournaments that ended this year and had a title shot for a prize, do you know how many of the tournament winners have actually won the title? One: the New Day winning in August. There have been seven tournaments for a title shot this year and the tournament winners are 1-6 against champions.
I’m so glad that I sat through these tournaments and one winner actually won anything other than a chance which could have been given to them in the first place. Prior to New Day, when the last time someone in WWE (NXT in this case) won a title shot via a tournament and then the title? That would be in 2014, when the Lucha Dragons earned a shot at the NXT Tag Team Titles and went on to defeat the Ascension.
How much time do you think was spent on those FOUR YEARS of tournaments since anyone actually went on to win a title? It seems to be a concept that WWE just can’t stand, to the point where they managed to have the Undisputed Era win a tournament this year (the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic) to retain the Tag Team Titles when they weren’t even included in the original field. Yes they won a tournament they weren’t actually entered into in the first place.
It’s even going international.
Finally, there’s the dreaded one night tournament, which at least eliminates the problem of spending a bunch of time on the earlier rounds. It creates its own problem though, including the necessity of having a draw for the sake of giving someone a bye for the sake of getting through everything in one night. That can be through a double DQ or countout or, the normally horrible time limit draw.
Look back at WrestleMania 4 and try to sit through Jake Roberts vs. Rick Rude’s fifteen minute time limit draw without drifting off. It’s a bunch of sitting around while we wait on the obvious finish as the guys “try to conserve energy”, which is code for “sit in a front facelock for five minutes while the fans call it boring”. How many times do you think you’re going to get through an entire one night tournament (or even the longer form versions) without having some kind of a draw for the sake of getting rid of two people in one match?
Finally, you have the rematches. How many times do you see a tournament final repeated time after time because it’s the easiest way to follow things up? Most of the time the tournament finals aren’t great in the first place, but now I get to watch the same match over and over again? How is that supposed to keep my interest up either at first or going forward?
Have I mentioned I don’t like tournaments? Maybe I’m just sick of seeing them take up so much time on WWE TV or maybe they’re just not all they’re cracked up to be. It comes off as lazy storytelling and a way to have a lot of people doing something instead of coming up with stories that make more sense for them and actually lets them advance somewhere. There have been some good ones before, but egads I could go with eliminating them from the booking brackets.
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 2003 Smackdown Reviews.
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