Why WWE Needs To Take The Biggest Risk EVER

CM Punk holds the key to the one problem WWE has left...

WWE Raw Imperium Gunther Jey Uso

On the surface, that title might scan as ridiculous.

In general, WWE doesn’t “need” to do anything. In 2019, WWE generated more profit than it ever had by that point - more profit than any promotion ever had by that point - in spite of producing the worst content ever. 2019 WWE was dismal, antagonistic, genuinely unhinged.

WWE didn’t “need” to do anything then, and has even less incentive to change things now that things are working to an excessively successful effect.. Paul Levesque is WWE’s Chief Content Officer, which is their fancy name for booker. Under his direction, WWE has flourished and is bang in the midst of a new boom period. TV tapings sell out regularly. Around half of the ‘Premium Live Events’ emanate from a stadium. The key PLEs shatter viewing records on Peacock. Raw is the most-viewed cable property virtually every week.

Levesque’s approach is as much an exercise in conditioning as it is storytelling. Consider GUNTHER’s Intercontinental title reign. It’s exceptional in a basic sense at its very best. GUNTHER, and he’s brilliant at the difficult balance between invincibility and vulnerability required of a great champion, simply wins a lot of matches and has reigned with the title for a record amount of time. The length of the reign is almost more impressive than the reign itself - has GUNTHER wrestled a match as great as the WrestleMania 39 Triple Threat in the year that has elapsed since? - but his star aura is established week on week. Profile, focus, visibility. Conditioning. The number of days is of equal importance to the number of great matches.

The WWE “veneer” is still in effect. The dialogue remains stilted across much of the show. The promo segments are almost polite half of the time; most if not all of them build to a crescendo of a carefully-worded soundbite that will fit neatly into the video package. The formula is something like:

"You (my rival) say you're the (catchphrase/nickname). Well, I'm the (wordplay on rival's catchphrase/nickname)!"

It’s a much better produced show now, but it still reeks of a produced show. It rarely feels alive, on the edge of breaking down. Ironically, it doesn’t feel raw.

Using a core group of core talent that the fans are conditioned to embrace as stars through inflated records and repetitive segments - often, rival talents will talk at each other, regurgitate the premise of their conflict, and take it in turns to beat each other up - Levesque tells you who his star acts are. Repeatedly.

There are few unique, captivating angles on WWE television, and while infinitely less silly now, the plotting is tight without much in the way of verve. It is much too cynical to state that WWE fans are simply enraptured by the idea that things now make sense - but it’s hardly prestige-tier drama. There is a glacial formality to Levesque’s booking style. You can rarely fault the logic. The assembly of it more often than not pays off. Drew McIntyre is enjoying a richly-deserved career renaissance, but he’s over as the embittered fallen hero unaccountable for his own failings in part because that character is unmistakable. It’s a great character, who will imminently be involved in a major match, but you could watch the video package without feeling like you’d missed out on truly gripping, must-see episodic television. That’s the Levesque way. He’s intelligent. The man who built the TakeOver brand knows full well that the ends justify the means, that people tend to only remember the big moments anyway.

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Michael Sidgwick is an editor, writer and podcaster for WhatCulture Wrestling. With over seven years of experience in wrestling analysis, Michael was published in the influential institution that was Power Slam magazine, and specialises in providing insights into All Elite Wrestling - so much so that he wrote a book about the subject. You can order Becoming All Elite: The Rise Of AEW on Amazon. Possessing a deep knowledge also of WWE, WCW, ECW and New Japan Pro Wrestling, Michael’s work has been publicly praised by former AEW World Champions Kenny Omega and MJF, and surefire Undisputed WWE Universal Champion Cody Rhodes. When he isn’t putting your finger on why things are the way they are in the endlessly fascinating world of professional wrestling, Michael wraps his own around a hand grinder to explore the world of specialty coffee. Follow Michael on X (formerly known as Twitter) @MSidgwick for more!