It has been said by many wrestling fans for a long time now that WWE just isn’t as entertaining as it used to be. And how could that be? I mean, entertainment is right there in the name: World Wrestling Entert… oh. Well, it used to be, before the powers that be changed the name of the company from World Wrestling Entertainment to simply WWE.
That’s right folks, those letters don’t actually stand for anything any more. Still, you would think that a WRESTLING company would want to provide it’s fans with the best WRESTLING show they could possibly produce, right? That may be, but sadly WWE doesn’t want to be considered as a “wrestling” company any longer either. Yes sir, you read that correctly. WWE has every intention of becoming less a company based in “sports entertainment” and more a huge multimedia conglomerate. The current plan, as I understand it, is to gradually move into sitcom production and eventually their own network.
This information shouldn’t come as a surprise to WWE fans, as surely they have noticed WWE’s move into the world of cinema, and I suppose if you think about it in that respect, any degree of success from said films would ensure this as an inevitability. If all goes as planned, we the WWE fans will undoubtedly see the company we have grown to love go the way of MTV, drowning their original and beloved product/service in a sea of pure, unbearable garbage dressed up as stomachable programming. Don’t get me wrong, a dark anime treatment for the Undertaker or a kids cartoon about the delightful and light-hearted adventures of Rey Mysterio both sound like good fun, but I for one am in no hurry to see “That’s So Del Rio!” “iOrton” or “A Shot At Love With Kelly Kelly“.
So back to the matter at hand: How or why has our beloved WWE come to this? Fans don’t feel as close to the product as they did before. I’m sure that you can blame that to some degree on alienation. Its harder for wrestling fans to relate to a company that wants to distance itself from it’s own product. There have been many questionable policies introduced by Vince McMahon and upheld by WWE in recent years, such as referring to the performing talents as “Superstars” instead of wrestlers, banning any reference to WWE championships as “titles”, “straps” or “belts” and even totally disregarding the company’s own past. Combine this with an increased effort to produce comedy sketches and less effort to produce a wrestling show, and you’ve got a recipe for unpleasantness. These developments within the company have been so ill-received by some, that talents like Carlito and Chavo Guerrero have opted to Get The “F” Out.
Many of the big names that once ruled the company are either completely gone or have one foot out the door, and most of the promising young talents are still trying to find their niche. What’s worse, the majority of WWE’s young talent seem to be totally without character, and are unable to naturally develop themselves as performers with the company’s aggressive scripting practices. These however, are perhaps the luckier of the young guns, as many are totally forgotten and allowed to fall between the cracks until they are released from their contract, a practice so common that it has come to be known as being “Future Endeavored”. There was a time that running the gauntlet in WWE meant performing in a match against multiple opponents one at a time until they were all eliminated. Now it means being a talent in the company and not only dealing with the politics backstage, but also struggling to establish yourself as a character against poorly written scripts and pink slips. Vince himself seems to have forgotten that Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker and Triple H all cemented their own spots as top draws by cutting their own promos and taking some degree of creative control over their gimmicks. WWE has since tried to mold newer talents to be the next Steve Austin or Rock by pushing them down the fans’ throats and booking them as superhuman, but the magic just isn’t there.
One exceedingly crucial element that any wrestling company needs in order to succeed is good writers. An interesting storyline is absolutely essential to both keeping the viewer entertained and helping to further develop characters. With all respect, the writers that WWE employs seem hardpressed to pull a decent storyline out of their hats these days, excluding of course the recent events surrounding CM Punk, which have made us fans not only watch the product more regularly, but has actually made us excited to tune in again, something that WWE programming hasn’t done for us in a while. Gone are the days of over-the-top plots and gimmicks, but here’s a question I haven’t heard anyone ask yet: Why? Why do they have to be gone? Fans still clamor for the Undertaker. Many fans would love to see the “Big Red Machine” Kane dawn the mask again before he leaves. Kids want Mankind, not Mick Foley, though any Foley Is Good. The return of Goldust some time ago saw great success, as seen in the WWE’s toy line. My point is, these are all gimmicky characters, so is it fans that don’t buy it any more, or is it Vince?
All of these problems converge on the world of WWE, excuse me, the WWE Universe, to degrade the quality of the product. Individually, they’re minor, but compound them and the product suffers exponentially! So fans that have followed the company for years are left to wonder what’s happened. Why are all of these seemingly glaringly poor decisions being made? I fear I may have the answer, and I don’t think the suits are gonna like it.
In October of 1999, Vince McMahon made WWE stock available to the public for the first time by holding an initial public offering. This seemed a good idea at the time, allowing investors to supply WWE, then WWF, with the resources needed for growth. Ultimately however, this has caused problems for fans older than 8 years old, as more and more decisions regarding company direction seem to have been made not in the interest of entertaining the fans, but in the interest of WWE shareholders. WWE, an American success story built on controversy and a defiant disregard for the status-quo is now a company known for their safe and predictable approach to television. A typical mark can call most matches spot for spot, tell you what will happen during each show and even correctly guess the upcoming pay-per-view card before its announced. Everything is always the same. Every match, same opening spot, same false comeback. Every show, same interruptions, same main event tag match. They book the same match over and over and over. “Okay everyone, this Sunday on pay-per-view, it’ll be Guy A vs.. Guy B for the tenth time in a row, except this time… its with a special guest referee!”
The worst offense however, is their booking of top stars. Specifically, we have seen John Cena as THE top face for so long, since Wrestlemania 21 in fact, that MOST WWE fans now find him nauseating to listen to. I certainly mean no offense to Mr.. Cena in-particular, as I’ve known him to be a class act and an undeniable work horse for his company. It is the character and the way that he has been booked that has caused so many to lose interest to the point of pure loathsomeness. So why doesn’t John Cena make turn heel to keep the show and his character fresh? The answer is a simple one. Because he sells too much merchandise. Mr. McMahon doesn’t want to scare those shareholders, who’ve come to enjoy the millions of dollars worth of merchandise that Cena moves every year.
Vince has created a very basic, albeit very lucrative formula for moving these huge amounts of product, and that is to have Cena wear a new color shirt, sweatbands and hat every couple of months. Is the company going to see decreased John Cena merchandise sales if Cena were to make that all important, much needed heel turn? Possibly. Could they recoup those losses by making the product edgy and unpredictable again, and by allowing their talents to develop and become, dare I say… entertaining? Absolutely. Making that one, necessary change for one wrestler sets off a wave of much needed positive change for the company as a whole. Everybody wins. The story lines get better, the talents get the push they earn, the company makes money and the fans get a great show.
Even with those problems addressed however, we’re still left with a wrestling company that doesn’t want to associate itself with wrestling. As ridiculous a concept as that is, it is seemingly the future that we can expect. Only morbid curiosity leads me to actually want to see what this would be like. I would hate to see what kind of “tween” programming Vince has in mind for this abortion of an idea, but I can’t imagine it would be in any way a production that a wrestling fan, a WWF fan, could relate to. I can already see Monday Night Raw and Smackdown! being slowly phased out of the WWE channel’s programming to necessitate their all-new WWE2 channel. Blegh! If Vince has the resources required to pull off such a feat, why doesn’t he put those resources into the WWE’s developmental program or bring in a few fresh writers? I know I’m available if he wants to give me a call.
Only time will tell if WWE can pull itself back to its feet and once again deliver a WRESTLING product that genuinely excites their audience and re-ignites that spark that made them great in the beginning. I don’t want all of my greatest memories of pro wrestling to be all that I have left of my favorite promotion in the world. If the recent CM Punk story line and the actions of the newly appointed “COO” Triple H are any indication, they seem to be off to a great start. Punk has been insisting that he wants to promote change in the WWE, to make it fun again. I for one am rooting for him. Let us hope the trend continues friends, so the WWE can be the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.