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A DEEP LOOK INTO WHAT HAS BROUGHT WWE TO WHERE THEY ARE NOW, MISTAKES THAT WERE MADE (EVEN AS RECENTLY AS MONDAY) & WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN NOW

By Mike Johnson on 2015-12-04 14:49:38

For all the talk of how bad WWE Creative is doing at their job or how much the company is lacking in top talent now, I feel terrible for those working for the creative team because of the daily stress of their job and the constant criticism that they have to live with in today's social media age.  They are working to make their boss happy and to try and do that job to the best of their ability, when it reality, it's impossible to make someone like Vince McMahon happy, since he's never ever satisfied (and given the current trends, there's no chance he will be anytime soon).

The reality is there are a lot of things not currently clicking with WWE, and that anyone who has been watching the landscape had been predicting this for some time.   WWE has a lot of work in front of them and unlike the past, it's not just going to be about making one change or turning one star (or even hiring one star) to make things seem refreshed.

There are a number of mitigating factors that have helped hurt the aura of the company in recent years (some of which I will go into below) but the reality is that the company has been heading towards a time period where the veteran talents who could bring along the next generation were dwindling away for some time.  With every Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels career-ending bout, WWE had lost another star who could work with and bring the next generation of talent up a level.  For the loss of every Booker T and William Regal to retirement and other duties, the company lost strong hands who could help mold the younger stars as well.  Hell, I think WWE would be very happy to have a new Hardcore Holly come along at this point if it would help them.

As the roster turned over, it left WWE in a position where talents who didn't have the time to be slowly cultivated were fast-tracked to the main roster while others were brought in from the independent scene.  In some cases it worked and it didn't, but over the last decade, in hindsight, it became even more obvious that the pro wrestling generation has been succeeded by sports-entertainers and much like the difference between the NBA and The Harlem Globetrotters, the former is something you emotionally invest in and the latter is something you watch for a laugh once a year or so.  It wasn't Millennials, as Vince McMahon once proclaimed on the Stone Cold Podcast, but a generation of talents who were happy just to be on the team, because they were performing as part of the troupe.  That's a big difference between the locker room of the past where everyone was vying to work with the top names and out for blood to make it happen.  WWE created that culture, whether they intended to or not. 

That's not to say there aren't great talents in the company right now.  NXT is bursting with great talent.  Dolph Ziggler still has yet to be used commensurate to his skills and to the level fans see him at.  95% of the roster features talents who are sound inside the ring but have either been beaten down in storylines or in the ring to the point the audience doesn't see them as attractions.  WWE had the moment to elevate Ziggler after he scored the pin to send The Authority home a year ago at Survivor Series but within a few months, the win and the moment meant nothing and were forgotten.  That's not Ziggler's fault, but when the audience sees someone they love fail over and over, they stop caring. Ask any Zack Ryder fan.

Creative decisions like that have exposed the names who should be spearheading the run into Wrestlemania and relegated them to mid-card names who the audience is happy to see but has no reason to want to pay to see, since there's no emotional connection.  There's a reason veterans like The Dudley Boyz are working a storyline that is obviously designed to rehab The Wyatt Family and get some momentum behind them again - because the company put Bray Wyatt and others in a position where they were secondary to the "top names."  What could have been a top heel unit that fans wanted to pay to see get their asses kicked are instead those guys on the show with the fans' cell phone entrance.  The Wyatts might be rehabbed or they might not, but at the end of the day, it's not Bray's fault to make the call as to how he should be used, but he, WWE and the fans have all suffered because of those calls.

There will be some who say it's too easy to pick on WWE these days because the reality is they are having a run of bad luck right now with so many names out.  There's no argument they are having a bad luck run, but much like the old story about the Ant and the Grasshopper preparing for winter, the ants were prepared.  The Grasshopper didn't care and wasn't.

As so many of the company's top names have become part-time attractions and/or injured/out doing personal projects, WWE left themselves with a litany of mid-card talents who could have easily stepped into the main event position if the company had actually paid attention to them and prepared for this, instead of just using them to fill miscellaneous segments. 

Sheamus is the new WWE World Heavyweight champion, so we'll use him as an example.  He's been trying extremely hard since getting the belt but the reality is that on the same show he won the championship, he lost earlier in the night and had been making a "jiggy with it joke" that died on the vine coming to the ring to play off of The New Day.    For months, Sheamus had been in a lower-level position, sometimes comedic, sometimes in a tag team but never presented or treated as the threat-in-waiting for the champion on a consistent basis.  Jim Carrey can be a great serious actor but he's best known for being a comic genius.  He's also never called upon to do a serious, dramatic turn in the same film where he's acting the fool for laughs.  WWE asked that of Sheamus, because in the eyes of the average fan, WWE is all one movie.  The reaction of moving him from one position to the other in "5:15" is what makes fans throw their arms up.  It's not an indictment on Sheamus the performer but of the company asking fans to yet again take another leap of faith when the logic isn't there to support it.

All that said, I don't begrudge WWE, even when they have a Raw such as they did this past Monday where it felt like four weeks of TV was packed into three hours.  The company is completely overworked when it comes to storylines and at times, one almost wishes for a return of the Brand Extension.  As much as that was criticized for splitting the rosters, it did force different teams to focus and build talents who all had their own exclusive show.  Now, with everyone on every show, everything begins to blur, especially when the TV shows are basically the same format they have been since the late 1990s.

Another part of the issue is that WWE has gone too far in one direction of the Pendulum.  In looking at WWE NXT or even old episodes of Jim Crockett Promotions on the WWE Network, WWE is lacking in the sports-oriented presentation that made who won and lost matter, made grudges seem more realistic and made championships that were just as "fake" decades ago seem like they were the Holy Grail.  None of this was a result of the audience being stupider than today's audience is, but a matter of how the promotions opted to produce and direct their talents and the shows.  WWE has gone too far, right now, in action-adventure and in doing so, has eroded some of the foundation that makes pro wrestling so fun and unique.

NXT has shown that.  It's a sports-oriented, action-packed show based on legitimate grudges and quests for championships.   To me, the biggest mistake WWE has made in the last year or so is not recognizing that NXT isn't just a place to say "The Future is Now" but to realize that while they were grooming the next generation of talents, they actually built the foundation for the way professional wrestling should be going in the next decade.  There's a reason why so many NXT talents have faltered on the main roster - they aren't booked or utilized the same way that they were in NXT.  That's why the Divas Revolution has sputtered since it's launch and why Neville is sitting in the mid-card.  There's NO argument it's a lot easier to build storylines with one hour of TV as opposed to trying to fill three hours of programming on one show alone but there's no excuse as to why these talents have been pulled back and forth with an invisible yo-yo.  

Instead of being inspired by the brand, the loyalty it's cultivated and the stars it has built, WWE has acted as if NXT didn't matter once the talents left there for the main roster.  From Emma to the Wyatt Family to Becky Lynch to Neville, there's been no continuity to how some of the talents have been used.  They were presented as special on NXT and on the main roster, there was no rhyme or reason.  The talents become less interesting to the audience that way and if you don't think at least of portion of the audience doesn't throw up their hands in frustration in seeing Sasha Banks, one of the best wrestlers in the world right now, go from being a top vicious heel in NXT to working four minute meaningless matches on the main roster, you'd be wise to re-think your position.

 Throwing out whether you thought the idea was tasteless or not, several weeks ago, Charlotte's deceased brother was used to get her sympathy.  This past week, WWE began teasing a heel turn for her.  To do so that quickly not only confuses the audience but it makes them feel like nothing they watched before mattered.  Paul Orndorff turned a number of times in the WWF but when he turned on Hulk Hogan, it was built to over several weeks and when it happened, WWE made tons of money off it.  The only thing preventing WWE from doing the same today is that so much is rushed and so much of their personalities are yanked back and forth.  The company needs someone in charge of continuity who's going to keep track of the week to week and will have the power (and lack of fear) to even call Vince McMahon out when Vince decides to turn on a dime and change things up.  Changing direction isn't the problem.  Doing it at lightspeed is.

This past week's NXT was hardly a major show when it comes to news or major angles or even tremendous wrestling (Samoa Joe vs. Tomasso Ciampa is the exception to that statement) but they set up stories, deepened characters and continued on the path to Takeover: London.  When was the last time you felt Raw or Smackdown did that?  Where are the in-depth interviews that made someone fall in love with characters like the ones Jim Ross did with Goldust and Mankind?  When was the last time you felt like "this wasn't supposed to happen" when someone was in the ring, as opposed to "they are reciting the script?" 

Roman Reigns could very well be the next big thing, but if he's trying to just recite these scripts, we will never know.  Andrew Lincoln is incredible on "The Walking Dead" as Rick Grimes, because he's able to embody his character, to the point people are shocked to learn he's actually British and not American.  When was the last time WWE gave someone who wasn't a tried and true veteran the chance to go out and embody their character?  CM Punk?  Daniel Bryan?  If so, look at how well those worked out for the company.

Pro Wrestling was never meant to be classical music when you HAVE to hit the beats at just the right moment or else it all falls apart.  It was meant to be Jazz, riffing off the audience, the music taking them and you - the performer - to what FEELS right.  No one can write that.  It has to be felt, performed and it has to come from the heart.  WWE needs to find the heart of the current roster and need to let them feel it, or else the future is just going to be the company and the audience waiting for the next Austin, Rock, Brock, Undertaker, Michaels, etc. comeback and with each passing month and year, the law of returns diminishes even those...and even those Superstars will eventually become too old or too hurt or too disinterested for another Hail Mary pass.

This past week on Raw, the practice of not thinking about the future continued.  On multiple occasions, NXT was referred to as if it was "under" the main roster, giving the impression to those watching that it wasn't as important as Raw or Smackdown.  Whether that was the plan or an accidental occurrence, it cannot happen again.  WWE needs to prepare for the future and right now, NXT is their best (and until creative allows greater freedom to main roster performers, the best) weapon to fight off whatever malaise is currently shadowing the WWE product.

Let's hope that someone, whether it's a new voice or Triple H or even Vince McMahon himself, realizes that sooner than later, because if not, while Wrestlemania will surely sell out and surely see the "big names" around, once we get to April, we are back in the same boat again, only with one less return to capitalize on and everyone six months older. 

It's time for WWE to stop being the grasshopper.  Winter isn't coming.  It's here.

Mike Johnson can be heard weekly on The Taz Show at www.TazShow.com and is a guest on this week's Woo Nation with Ric Flair at www.Play.it.  He is anxiously counting down to the new Star Wars movie and can be followed on Twitter @MikePWInsider.

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