Photo Credit – Wrestlinginc.com
As the wrestling world plans to start touring again and welcome arenas full of fans, what kind of product will they be providing them? Promotions had to make serious adjustments during a truly challenging time and to produce a weekly product and to do it safely during the middle of a pandemic is truly incredible. Whether you like all the companies or not, it doesn’t matter, what they were able to do to create hours of TV for well over a year with little to no crowds is an amazing accomplishment. With that being said, the pandemic era product that fans have been seeing may not hold up with crowds. What I mean by that is that without an audience WWE and the other promotions didn’t get the instant benefit of knowing whether this wrestler is over or if this direction is working and they have suffered for it.
A fellow opinion columnist, wrote an article about why people aren’t watching Raw and a lot of those same reasons can apply all of WWE as a whole but I believe it is a much deeper problem than that in the industry as a whole. Part of me thinks that it is possible that these companies were trying to just get to the next show and didn’t want to blow a big angle or have big moments without the fans being in attendance. Recently released superstar, Aleister Black said that he was supposed to win gold but Vince changed his mind since there wasn’t a crowd to witness it. AEW held back their hyped Blood and Guts match for a year because they wanted a crowd. However, even when these companies had crowds pre-pandemic they weren’t exactly setting the world on fire with the content they were providing.
As a whole the ratings for these products have been slipping particularly Raw, which arguably has been struggling for a long time even before the pandemic. When Raw doesn’t even get 2 million viewers that is a sign there is something seriously wrong. The wrestling business has never had a bigger presence on TV than they do now with Raw, NXT, Smackdown, Dynamite, Fusion and Impact all being on national TV and ROH being syndicated/Honor Club and NWA on FITE but the ratings for wrestling has been going down for years and the two biggest reasons are the amount of choices a consumer has for entertainment has dramatically increased and lack of compelling reason to forgo those choices and watch wrestling.
The diehards will always watch, they’ll complain about it but they’ll watch anyway. The casual consumer that was the heart of the late 90s boom is the audience that the business lost and never regained and the current product is eating away at the hardcore base of fans. WWE keeps providing the same matches over and over again, ignores titles which they already have too many of (see article) and horrible storylines. WWE should be embarrassed with the ending of this past week’s Raw, that whole Alexa Bliss/Baszler segment has to be one of the worst segments I have ever seen on RAW (Katie Vick is still the worst) and if that was in front of a crowd they would have booed them out of the building and demanded a refund. The main events they have offered as well have been mostly boring and that should never be the case.
The reason I’m focusing on RAW is because this used to be the MUST SEE show in wrestling and quite honestly it hasn’t been. Smackdown despite being the B show in WWE’s eyes has the most compelling heel in the business in Roman Reigns. The heel character tribal chief offers the one thing most wrestling today doesn’t have a compelling character that is a believable world champion. Roman supposedly insists on being either on the beginning and/or end of the show because he knows those are the two most important segments that people will likely remember. WWE doesn’t allow talent to find their characters and personas by scripting their promos for them and giving them characters that forced and if the talent doesn’t believe in it then why should the audience? WWE use to give talent bullet points and let them cut promos of their own and because every promo is almost identical or unrealistic it hurting the wrestler’s gimmick and the company as a whole.
The wrestlers aren’t innocent in all of this even though the company may give you a bad gimmick, you control what you put forth in the ring and this is where today’s product suffers because most talent lack ring psychology so they do moves that aren’t realistic or make sense in the grand picture. They do moves just because they can and want a pop or holy shit chant or a 5 star rating from Dave Meltzer. That should never be the reason why you do something in the ring. Every move you perform is a part of a much bigger picture and that picture can either be a masterpiece or just a spot fest and only one of those two are remembered for years to come and the spot fest is not the one. Hitting multiple finishers in the match or having a bunch of false finishes doesn’t make a match an instant classic if it doesn’t make sense. The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega are perfect examples of people that do moves just because they can and not because it makes any sense. The Bucks took a move like the Superkick which was HBK’s finisher and devalued it where it doesn’t end matches despite hitting it like 6 times in one match and is the equivalent of a chop across the chest because you constantly see it. Darby Allin and Kofi both do this trust fall/coffin drop move that has zero believability because who would just stand there while your opponent jumps off the top rope at you backwards? Samoa Joe is the only guy I’ve seen walk away and let his opponent crash and burn which is 100% believable.
Wrestling companies want fans to return then they need to create a compelling product to get them to watch both at home and at the arenas. How do you do that, well the following will certainly help:
1) Stop trying to force bad gimmicks and promos on the talent – Let the talent find their way. You can give them bullet points for promos but let them find their way there. Work with them to mold the character and those truly great talent will thrive and those that aren’t should be cut. There are so many slots and only the best should be in them.
2) Talent need to step it up – The fans need to see your passion and that you believe what you’re doing and saying. Don’t just mail it in because if you don’t care then why should the audience? Always strive to get better and show a drive both on and off screen and don’t just blame creative or the company. Talent particularly in WWE and probably the others too, stay just for the paycheck and don’t care if they are booked right. If you don’t like how you are booked and aren’t just there for a paycheck do something about it, talk to the booker and if nothing changes leave and prove them wrong. Most importantly talent need to seriously focus on the ring psychology, in WWE you literally have access to some of the best minds in the history of the business, pick their brains, study tape and stop doing spots that make no sense like the dives on a group of people on the outside to catch you. It has been done to death and it makes no sense, why would my opponents and teammates just stand there together looking up to catch me and break my fall? It is an insult to the audience’s intelligence. Sometimes less is more, you don’t need false finishes in every match, not every match needs to go 20 minutes and not every match needs a blade job (Cody Rhodes, this means you).
Austin once said, “if you’re not in this business to be the top dog, then you shouldn’t be in it”. Now Austin knows not everyone is world champion material but the point he was making you should strive to be your best in what you are doing. Keith Lee left ROH because he believed he could be a singles star and they didn’t and he made a name for himself on the indies and eventually ended up in WWE. Cody Rhodes didn’t like that WWE didn’t see him as world champion material and he left and went on to become both ROH and NWA World Champ and is a EVP in AEW.
3) Companies need to focus on providing a quality product – Get back to basics, wrestling is about good vs evil, the quest to be champion and rivalries. There is a reason this concept worked for so long because it connected with the audience and was compelling. I already said WWE needs to reduce the number of titles and all the companies need to really commit to their divisions and making them competitive and therefore making the titles mean something again. While WWE has too many titles, ROH is attempting to get back to basics by introducing their Pure division back but it seems like it is the only division that they are focusing on. They barely acknowledge the others and when they do it is usually for a rushed PPV matchup.
4) Stop with the theme shows – I discussed this here. There are so many PPVs from these companies in a given year that many of them feel rushed and without the proper build-up to be successful they are forced and far from compelling.
5) Deliver what was promised – AEW had an exploding death match that was embarrassing to watch especially the ending. The explosion was like a Gillberg sparkler entrance. AEW also had a Blood & Guts match that suffered from bad camera work, cutting to commercial which took fans out of the match and lastly an ending which had Jericho fall on a cardboard ramp. The problem with the ramp wasn’t that it was cardboard but it was so obviously cardboard was the problem. If you can’t make it look good and real don’t bother doing it. NWA recently returned to PPV and their main event had some ridiculous finish to their world title match to prevent their champion from losing which is not a smart way to end a PPV to have a bad finish.
6) Don’t insult the fans intelligence – Don’t run angles that are ridiculous and make no sense. The zombies at backlash are a perfect example, yes WWE got 6 figures for doing it but pissing the fans off may cost them more than 30 pieces of silver. Impact ran a who shot John E. Bravo angle which was a ridiculous ripoff of 80s show Dallas and MLW was taken over by a stable who controlled their TV to explain why they weren’t producing new content during the pandemic. Really MLW? So you think that helped your company?
The point of all this is that for the good of the companies and the industry as a whole, these companies and talents need to seriously give a serious effort to create a quality must see product. Focus on making a compelling product that we not only want to spend hours watching but make us want to pay to see in person.