5 Ways WWE Can Rejuvenate Their Product
How do you keep 7+ hours of programming a week fresh?
It’s hard to not get a little burnt out on the vast yet somewhat repetitive content produced by WWE on a weekly basis. What with 7 hours worth of your life going to the combination of Raw, Smackdown, NXT and 205 Live each week, plus an extra 6 dedicated to the fortnightly pay-per-views, sometimes WWE can find themselves digging themselves further into a rut, depending on momentum and whether or not fans are responding well to what’s being presented.
Believe it or not, this isn’t actually a post about how terrible WWE is, in fact I intend for it to be quite the opposite. Right now, the landscape of the industry has never been more prolific, yet WWE fans are quick to complain about the lack of creativity, so perhaps it’s high time that producers start thinking up some innovative new concepts for the current mainstream of wrestling. What with this being a ‘new era’ and all, you’d think by now that someone would have found something to help define it. Here’s just a few small ideas I have for what WWE could do to help rejuvenate the current product.
1. More Live-Streamed Content
So far, the WWE Network has been a roaring success, hosting content which could keep any fan of the industry happy for hours on end. However, there are a few occasions where I’ve thought that WWE have missed the trick when it comes to the service. Live streaming capabilities is something that almost everyone utilises, including WWE, having the monthly pay-per-views broadcast as it happens on television. Obviously not everything can be streamed live on the network for television contractor reasons, but surely WWE can begin to host their own original live streamed content?
Technically this already happens, what with NXT, 205 Live and UK Championship specials being solely broadcasted on the WWE Network and absent from televised content. But what if it went beyond the standard hour of bland material? WWE desperately needs something different to draw people back onto the network at specific times.
Now cast your minds back to the early 00’s and the legacy left behind by the Hardcore Championship. The first thing that comes to most people’s minds when thinking about the Hardcore title was the 24/7 rule, in which the championship was defended at all times, challengers could literally come out of nowhere with a referee and take that title for themselves. It was an utter mess at times, but great fun to watch!
So imagine this, every so often, WWE would host a 24 hour live stream in which a championship exclusive to the network would be defended over that period. Somewhat combining the reality TV aspects of Total Divas/Bellas with the hijinks and shenanigans found in Swerved, it could make for a pretty entertaining days worth of wrestling. Not only could it give props to some members of the roster’s undercard struggling to find a place (I’m thinking along the lines of Luke Harper, Aiden English, Tye Dillinger and Heath Slater) but it could also make for some memorable cameos and throwbacks for fans of new and old to enjoy.
If this were to become a regular occurrence, then I’m sure many fans would find themselves drawn back to the product, with something to be excited about over the occasional monotony of the weekly content.
One of the most successful parts of the Network thus far has been the Cruserweight Classic, the culmination of some of the biggest stars from the independent scene and what essentially became the rebirth of the Cruserweight division. The CWC was without a doubt the peak of the divisions popularity and the source of most discussion amongst wrestling fans.
What made this tournament so special was its drift towards competition and desire to put on a ‘good wrestling show’, it was certainly out of WWE’s comfort zone, but they nailed it! Bringing this attitude to the upcoming Mae Young Classic will do not only the women’s division a ton of favours but also provide some life back into the company before the Summerslam period.
Could these seemingly annual tournaments be stretched to two a year? I sure think so. WWE has never shyed away from putting on a tournament every now and then, The Dusty Rhodes Tag Classic is becoming a regular part of NXT television and the King of the Ring had a resurgence a few years back. But the issue with those in particular is that neither of them truly mean anything. They get a nice looking trophy or a costume to wear for a couple of months, and that’s about it.
Looking back at the KOTR, winners of the esteemed tournament would then go on to challenge the WWE Champion at a later pay-per-view, sometimes leading to success with the likes of Brock Lesnar, whereas other times falling back into the mid-card scene (see any victor after Booker T).
Now if WWE decided to rebrand the KOTR with the current WWE roster, I’m sure we’d be in store for something special. By implementing the mindset used for the CWC and allowing the performers to go nuts and put on excellent matches, it could create new stars and bring some out of their shell in the meantime. The roster has never been more stacked and full of fresh talent that has yet to made the most of – I can only think of the great things a KOTR tournament could do for the likes of Chad Gable, or others with the potential of becoming so very over with the crowd.
Of course this would mean nothing without the eventual winners going on to achieve bigger things, sticking with the example of Chad Gable, the story of him going on to challenge whoever the world champion would be at that point would be absolutely huge and could become one of the most emotional and dramatic narratives told this year.
Just no capes and crowns this time.
3. Kayfabe Universe
What makes Lucha Underground so unique is their strict adherence to their own fictional universe. What some fans and writers can’t seem to grasp is that Lucha Underground is not a wrestling show, it’s a fantasy-based soap opera featuring wrestling. The crux of the show is found in the ‘backstage’ segments in which two or more characters will delve into their mythos or develop their rivalries in more intense locker room confrontations – making them seem more legitimate and less scripted. The grindhouse presentation really adds to the passion that the fans have for the product and the performers and the added lore to each of the storylines makes the weekly broadcast just that more fun.
Granted, WWE seem to be willing to integrate this style of kayfabe into their current product. Not quite to the same level of Brian Cage being gifted a magical infinity gauntlet from Dario Cueto, but the current Raw storylines seem to be suggesting that there is a kayfabe universe within the weekly shows. The whole Kurt Angle/Corey Graves storyline as well as the ‘Who attacked Enzo’ and the conclusion to the ambulance match at Great Balls of Fire all seem to be taking notes from the soap opera style of writing, adding a hint of drama to the typical backstage segments found shoe-horned into the three hours.
More of this style of storytelling is necessary for making characters instead of superstars. The likes of Bray Wyatt could benefit so much from taped segments which require the audience to suspend their beliefs and accept the kayfabe universe as what is reality. That, in essence, is what wrestling has attempted to be for years, yet can never seemed to be sustained what with the presence of the internet. But now that Wrestling fans can appreciate content which is slightly more eccentric and comic, then it could certainly bring the fun back to the fandom and the programming.
New Japan Pro Wrestling can be praised for being one of the most obviously booked promotions out there. There’s no furious debate over who’s in line for the championship or who is deserving of being booked better than they are, the hierarchy of talent is maintained well and the storylines are expertly told.
Whereas in WWE, there is so much discontinuity over who is who and why fans should care about them.
What I mean by this is that in NJPW, Okada is currently booked as a dominant champion who is most certainly at the top of his game, although previous instances have shown that Kenny Omega can take him to his absolute limit. The continuity of the storyline has been that Omega has the ability to come so very close to winning, but ultimately fails at capturing the title because Okada is a wrestling god.
In WWE, Roman Reigns is someone who is portrayed as someone of equal footing to the likes of Okada, he’s at the top of his game and is a threat to anyone he is in the ring with. Surely this man should be champion? No. In fact he often loses to championship contenders. So why should anyone truly believe in him as ‘the man’, just because occasionally he comes away with a big win? There’s no continuity in modern booking, with the over-reliance on 50/50 footing and the intention of creating a perfect balance between every member on the roster, there’s no strict hierarchy that the roster can be split into.
I’m not saying that Roman Reigns, nor Okada, should win every single match that they are a part of. But they should certainly look very strong coming out of it, in order to maintain their status as ‘the man in this industry’.
Having guys like Samoa Joe be portrayed as an absolute monster heel going into his feud with Brock Lesnar, yet forgetting that only a couple months back he was losing to Seth Rollins, is something that in my eyes is unforgivable. Nobody can be taken seriously if they flip-flop between being an unstoppable force and someone who can be thwarted after 10 minutes.
This is somewhat of a repeat of my last point, but this time with a focus on the actual character, instead of the wrestler. What makes memorable characters is the relationships they have with others around them, every Batman needs a Joker, every Steve Austin needs a Dwayne Johnson.
The need to switch a characters attitude depending on their popularity with the fanbase is something which producers and fans are becoming way too obsessed with. Take a shot every time you come across “X needs to turn heel” comments on a wrestling post. Surely if they are popular as they are, then why the need to change? DC wouldn’t decide to suddenly turn Harley Quinn into a hero because she’s one of the most popular villains (oh wait, Suicide Squad happened)?
Understandably it’s hard to keep up the whole villain thing when you are so beloved, it’s difficult for someone so popular to rile up the crowd and generate heat in this day and age, unless you’re Roman Reigns of course. So I get why the constant changes in character happen, but what does get to me is how they suddenly are forgiven for all their past deeds.
Seth Rollins is the biggest culprit of this. The most definitive moment of his career so far was the moment in which he turned his back on The Shield. For well over a year, both Reigns and Ambrose remained determined to get their revenge on Seth and take away the WWE Championship from him. That all fell apart when Rollins got an untimely injury. Seth returned to begin a championship feud with Reigns, which then later turned into the anticipated Shield Triple Threat match. The blood-feud was still alive and kicking, with all three members now at each others throats over the championship. However, the brand split soon put an end to that, with Ambrose taking the title away with him to Smackdown and leaving Seth to begin feuding with Finn Balor and Kevin Owens for the Universal Championship.
Somehow, over that time period, everything was forgiven and forgotten, as Seth Rollins turned to the light side and began occasionally teaming with Reigns and Ambrose on house shows and main events. There was no ‘burying of the hatchet’, there was no ‘keep your enemies closer’ moment, there’s been nothing to acknowledge why they are suddenly bessie mates again. It angers me that something so iconic and era-defining has been dropped just for the sake of a couple of star-studded main events.
Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins in particular could have become this era’s yin and yang, ensuring that their feud never dies and chaos ensues whenever they happen to be matched against each other. Fans would go nuts for the moments when they would be left in the ring together and stare each other down. Instead they’re currently in a strange feud with The Miz, Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas. Where the fuck is the continuity?