The 8-Ball 07.12.12: Top 8 Things To Hate About Current WWE
Posted by Ryan Byers on 07.12.2012
From being unable to effectively build feuds like Randy Orton vs. Christian and failing to differentiate Cody Rhodes from the Miz to the lack of roster depth, no appreciation for history, the Women's Division, Money in the Bank and more, 411's Ryan Byers counts down the top 8 things he hates about WWE!
This week, though, we're going to head straight back into the heart of contemporary, mainstream professional wrestling. I don't talk much about modern WWE when I write for this website, but, here it comes . . .
Top 8 Things I Hate About Current WWE
For over eleven years now, WWE has been the only mainstream, big league professional wrestling show in the United States. TNA has tried to fill some of the void that was left by WCW, but they've only ever been able to capture about a third of the audience that put WCW into a close second place for the majority of its existence. So, if you want major league wrestling, you essentially have to watch WWE, as I have continued to do ever since the 1990s wrestling boom went bust.
And, frankly, WWE has been a mixed bag if you've been watching it that entire time. There have been great moments and there have been terrible moments, and, especially over the course of the past three years, there have been very few periods where everything has been clicking on all cylinders and the show has been consistently awesome from top to bottom.
So, I thought that it might be an interesting experiment to take a look at the good and bad of the company as it sits right now, beginning this week with the Top 8 Things that I hate About Current WWE.
Before I begin, I want to issue a few disclaimers:
1) I am talking only about WWE's on-screen product for purposes of this column. I am NOT talking about any of their business practices that I take issue with, though that might be the subject of a future 8-Ball.
2) These should be taken as nothing more than my personal opinions as a fan. I'm not trying to say these are objective problems with WWE or that they're hurting the company's business. These are simply things that bother me when I watch the shows as somebody who has been following pro wrestling since the early 1990s.
3) So that I don't get accused of being overly negative, there will be a "flip side" version of this column coming along shortly in which I highlight the positives of the current WWE product from my perspective.
4) Also, so that I don't get accused of being overly negative, for every entry on this list I will be including a few lines regarding developments in WWE that make me hope they will shortly be addressing the problem.
With that said, let's hit the list . . .
8. Money in the Bank
Last year, Money in the Bank was one of the best WWE pay per views of the year, and several people would probably go as far as saying that it was the best WWE pay per view of the year, thanks to two well-worked ladder matches and an excellent main event from CM Punk and John Cena. This year's version of the show is coming up shortly, and, on paper, it has the potential to be every bit as good as last year's, with two more ladder matches full of talent and a championship encounter between Punk and Daniel Bryan.
I've got no problem with the MITB pay per view from a match quality or entertainment value perspective. My problem is with the concept of the Money in the Bank title shot, i.e. two wrestlers on the roster running around with magical briefcases that allow them to receive a championship match at any place and at any time, regardless of the state that the champion is in.
What's my beef with this concept? There are three issues, really. The first is that the concept has gotten incredibly repetitive and predictable. There have been ten MITB briefcases handed out since the concept debuted in 2005 and all but one of them have ended in the exact same way, with the man holding the briefcase waiting until the champion was in a compromised position and pinning him in a "match" that lasts two minutes tops. (Basically the equivalent of a Crash Holly WWF Hardcore Title change from 2000.) It's lazy storytelling, and seeing the same thing time and time again has worn thin with me. It's time for something different.
The second issue is that, for some reason, WWE has developed the opinion that, if they're giving a wrestler the briefcase, they can treat him like an absolute joke for the entire buildup for the ladder match and the entire period between the briefcase victory and his cash-in. It's happened with both Daniel Bryan and the Miz in recent years. A guy who is on his way to a title win, particularly a first title win, should look like someone who is ascending the card and becoming a star BEFORE he gets the belt. Otherwise, you're stuck having to salvage a title reign by a non-star after the fact, in which case you face the strong possibility that fans will never get behind the guy. See Swagger, Jack.
The third issue that I have with Money in the Bank - and it is probably the biggest of the three - is that it completely cheapens the concept that I grew up with of what a championship in pro wrestling should be. The title holder was supposed to be the absolute best in the world, an elite competitor who can beat anyone in the promotion in a fair match. Money in the Bank doesn't allow for that. A guy who wins a title off of an MITB shot isn't the best. He's just a guy who snuck a quick pinfall one night when the champion was hurt, and, even worse, the company usually doesn't do much after that cheap victory to establish the champion as a legitimate wrestler. (Again, look to Bryan and Swagger.) It cheapens the entire concept of a title that I grew up with.
Why It Might Be Getting Better: John Cena seems likely to win this year's Raw Money in the Bank match, and he will most likely not "steal" a title win as other wrestlers have in the past. Plus, rumored Smackdown MITB winner Cody Rhodes is going into the match with a rare clean win over Christian, so perhaps they'll treat him with some respect going into his eventual title shot.
7. The Women's Division
Unlike many folks out there, I don't dislike women's wrestling in general. Over the years on this website, I have written a fair amount about my enjoyment of the all-ladies indy group SHIMMER, and several of my favorite wrestlers of all time are actually from joshi promotions in Japan. In my mind, gender doesn't really matter to professional wrestling. As long as there's a match and the action is hot, the psychology is solid, the live crowd is into it, and there's a well-told storyline, I'm going to enjoy it whether the participants are men, women, hermaphrodites, or eunuchs. Good wrestling is good wrestling, regardless of the competitors' X-Y chromosome makeup.
Of course, the opposite is also true, meaning that bad wrestling is bad wresting, regardless of the competitors' X-Y chromosome makeup. The WWE women's division, in its current state, is at worst bad wrestling and at best pointless wrestling. If there were an entire division made up of male professional wrestlers, some of whom were good but the majority of which were never trained properly who got thrown on to television week in and week out in a series of one or two minute matches against each other, every wrestling fan on the planet would turn on it. They would turn on it even harder if there were no real storylines to speak of, outside of a lame "I beat you, you beat me" sequence of win-trading with the division really only focusing on two people - the champion and the challenger - at any given time.
However, aside from switching the genders, that's EXACTLY what the WWE women's division is. In most instances, the matches are so brief that you can't really classify them as being good matches or bad matches, and, in the rare instances in which they have enough substance to be fairly evaluated in qualitative terms, they're bad more often than not, and they're never as good as the best men's matches, as is the case with SHIMMER or joshi.
Yet, because there is a small group of fans who have convinced themselves that all women's wrestling has value just because the competitors are women or that somebody is a sexist if they knock the WWE divas, I still have to hear from wrestling fans who have deluded themselves into thinking that this division is somehow relevant or worth following. (In fact, there are entire websites devoted to pretending that the WWE and TNA women matter.) At this point, though, I would much rather that WWE scrapped the Divas altogether and devoted the five or so minutes that they get per episode of Raw and Smackdown to wrestlers that the company is actually behind and attempting to elevate. In some ways, I am reluctant to say that, because there is talent in the division that I like (i.e. Beth Phoenix and Natalya Neidhart) but, even with those individuals, the division is still by and large a waste of time.
Why It Might Be Getting Better:: Hey, they signed Sara Del Rey!
6. They Don't Know How to Extend a Feud
If you pay close attention to the matches that WWE books from pay per view to pay per view, it appears that they have a rule of thumb that, in order for a feud to be worth their time, they have to get a minimum of three PPV matches out of it. There are some exceptions to the rule, particularly on the undercard, but if you look at the vast majority of feuds featuring main eventers, they're going to be wrestling each other on at least three consecutive shows. Sometimes, in fact, it goes much further than that, including the nearly six month rivalry between Randy Orton and Christian last year over the WWE version of the World Heavyweight Title . . . but we'll talk about that specific feud in more detail in just a bit.
I've got no problem with long feuds between wrestlers. In fact, in the past, I've been critical of WWE for burning through some storylines too quickly. However, the problem now is that, when the promotion has a feud that they want to take through three shows, they often are not particularly good at stretching it out for that long. The biggest issue here seems to be that, for most of its programs, the company is not engaging in long-term booking and is instead deciding where the story is going on a show-by-show basis. If you take a three month rivalry, start booking it with the end in mind, and go backwards from there, you can come out of the process with a coherent plot in which the wrestlers begin not having any issue with one another and the stakes get raised in a logic manner until you're ready to blow things off in a barnburner of a grudge match. However, the problem with WWE booking a three month feud without having an idea of where they want it to finish up is that, instead of the stakes consistently raising from start to finish, the story seems to jump backwards and forwards in terms of how much the wrestlers despise each other and whether they're going to seriously go at one another or trade stupid comedic barbs.
WWE's solution to this problem is usually to make sure that each pay per view match between the wrestlers after the initial encounter has a different stipulation or gimmick, but the fact of the matter is that, historically, gimmicks don't draw just because they're gimmicks . . . gimmicks draw because they're part of the natural progression of an ongoing storyline. And, oftentimes, when WWE tries to rely on gimmicks to move a feud forward as opposed to good storytelling, one of the wrestlers who is involved in the program winds up having his credibility hurt and hurt badly. This is because the rivalry is almost always put together in a one-sided manner, with one competitor (usually the babyface) winning far more than he loses.
That brings us back around to the Christian/Orton feud, which is probably the most egregious example of this problem. I remember that, when we were voting on the 411mania Year End Awards for pro wrestling, a lot of my fellow staffers voted for Christian/Orton as the feud of the year, because the matches were always EXCELLENT. Always. However, I actually had to differ with the group and vote for Christian/Orton as the worst feud of the year because, no matter how good the matches were, Orton was established as being much better than Christian in the first match of the program, and there was never anything to tell us differently for six months, as the Viper pinned the CLB time and time and time again. That is NOT a solid basis for a six month feud, and, in fact, it made the whole thing painfully boring for me regardless of the match quality, because there was never any question about who was winning or where the story was going. Christian/Orton is the extreme example, but there are feuds of this nature ongoing every month in the E.
Why It Might Be Getting Better: I actually thought the company did a solid job of extending the CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan rivalry by interjecting Kane for a couple of months and then going back to the one-on-one feud.
5. Everything's a Joke
There have been a lot of comparisons between the push of current WWE performer Ryback and the initial push of Goldberg. However, there's one key difference between the Goldberg push and the Ryback push that a lot of people are missing out on, and I think that it's one of the main reasons that Goldberg, by this point in his push, was one of the hottest up-and-coming acts in all of professional wrestling, whereas Ryback, though his crowd reactions are improving, is still met with either indifference or "Goldberg" chants in many of the cities in which WWE tours.
The difference is that, when Goldberg was climbing the ranks, he was treated like a straightforward, straight ahead no holds barred ass kicker. He came out to the ring, plowed through a regular member of WCW's undercard roster, didn't say anything, didn't interact with the rest of the company, and came back next week to restart the cycle of destruction. It was a deadly serious part of the card. Yes, the crowd was having fun, but the announcers and other performers treated it like this man was really running through a game competitor. That's not exactly what happens with Ryback, though. Apparently WWE thinks that the Goldberg formula, even though it created one of the biggest stars in the biggest era pro wrestling has ever had, is just too bland. They've decided that there has to be a different spin on it. They've decided that segments involving a badass, world destroying monster have to be funny.
Thus, instead of Ryback rolling through an Uso twin or a Miz in a straightforward fashion and leaving fans with the lasting memory of a bad, dangerous man, we get Ryback facing off against job guys who have names, looks, and promos that are obviously put on television with the intention of being humorous. (Not to be confused with Hugh Morrus, the guy Goldberg beat in his debut.) The impression that fans leave with, more often than not, isn't that Ryback is a bad man who they would like to see tangle with some of their favorite established WWE superstars. The impression that fans leave with, more often than not, is that "Stony Hooker" sure was a funny name for a jobber. Even with Ryback moving up in competition recently and facing off with dweebs from Superstars, there has still had to be an element of comedy, with the dweebs arguing with one another before and after the matches.
And this is the perfect example of a problem that exists throughout WWE, at virtually all levels of the card. With the rare exception - such as the Undertaker vs. HHH at Wrestlemania - they seem wholly incapable of booking a storyline that is entirely rooted in a serious rivalry between two men or teams. There always has to be SOME degree of humor interjected, whether it's John Cena yammering about Star Wars or Sheamus name-dropping his Uncle Fargus' green testicle. Everything has to be a joke and, though I have no problem with comedy in wrestling in measured doses, integrating it into virtually every segment and every rivalry is complete overkill.
Why It Might Be Getting Better: Triple H has booked himself into numerous serious angles in the past, and he's likely coming into control of the company within the next decade or so.
4. No Respect for History
As I briefly mentioned earlier in this column, I started watching wrestling in the early 1990s. Not long after I started watching, I was making trips to the local video store, where I was also watching quite a bit from the 1980s, to the extent that it was available on VHS. To that end, I've got a lot of fond memories of performers like Roddy Piper, Dusty Rhodes, Ted DiBiase, and more. They were the guys who made me watch in the first place and also the guys who turned me from a person who watched once or twice into a long-time, diehard fan. They are to me what Michael Jordan is to somebody who started watching basketball in the 1990s or what Wayne Gretzky was to somebody who started watching hockey in the 1990s.
Gretzky and Jordan don't show up that much on NBA or NHL broadcasts these days, but, if they did, what sort of role do you think that they would be used in? Most likely, they would either be used to provide pointed analysis for an important game, or you would see them being honored with some sort of award for their legendary careers. You would not see them brought back on to those leagues' television broadcasts to be made a fool of or to participate in a thirty second "dance party." It would be a waste of the goodwill that those athletes have with their fans, and, moreover, it would be completely disrespectful to their legacies.
Yet, for whatever reason, this is exactly what WWE has its legends do 90% of the time that they make appearances on Monday Night Raw or Smackdown. Dusty Rhodes is dancing, Roddy Piper is getting wedged into godawful segments with Heath Slater, Tony Atlas is transformed into the black Ed McMahon, and Jim Duggan is made to act like a barely functional developmentally disabled person. Granted, I don't think that these guys should be going toe-to-toe with current stars and winning outright, but there are ways to feature them on shows without booking them in matches and skits where they are comedic foils for the more serious members of the roster.
Why It Might Be Getting Better: Vader, Sid, and DDP have all been treated well in their appearances building up to the 1,000th episode of Monday Night Raw, though at this point they are still the exception to the rule.
3. Nobody Goes Away
From time to time, you will see me pop up in the chat room for Larry Conska, Steve Cook and Andy Critchell's 411 on Wreslting podcasts. One of the hot topics of conversation in those chat rooms - as well as elsewhere on the internet - is Dolph Ziggler. Dolph is quickly amassing a large fan base online due to his exemplary ring work, which includes some of the most insane, athletic bumps this side of Curt Hennig. I personally like the guy, but the problem that Ziggler and his fans are facing is that seemingly the more he improves as a performer, the less WWE wants to actually push him. Though he's been put into a program with World Heavyweight Champion Sheamus, he has essentially been the Christian to Sheamus' Randy Orton, dropping at least a half a dozen falls to the Irishman on television in the last couple of months and being laid out by his Brogue Kick several additional times.
My perspective on this has been that now, almost no matter how hard you try and no matter how good a performer he is, it is going to be virtually impossible to keep Ziggler on television and make him into a marketable main event level star, because he has been portrayed as nothing more than a JTTS for closing in on a year. It would do Ziggler a world of good if he could just drop off of WWE television for three to six months and come back with a new look and/or a slightly revamped wrestling style, which would allow people to forget that he's a jobber and give the company an opportunity to push him anew. There are plenty more members of WWE's roster who could use a vacation, including guys like Santino Marella, who, though I respect him as a performer, has been doing the same schtick for literally years now and is dangerously close to getting stale.
However, WWE has failed to structure its company in such a way that there is somewhere for a wrestler to go when it would benefit him to be taken off television for several months. In fact, virtually the only way that a wrestler can get a needed vacation is to injure himself, and that is obviously not something that you want to wish on anybody. The promotion would be well-served by developing a working relationship with a foreign promotion so that they could ship their talent off for several months, keeping them working and developing their skills while allowing fans to miss him for a while, guaranteeing an insta-pop and a big program for a big return. (If you don't believe me, just take a look at the montage of returns above.)
There are other wrestling promotions in the world that are doing this right now, and it almost always works out very well. The best example is New Japan Pro Wrestling, who continues a long tradition of major league wrestling companies in Japan by sending its young wrestlers on year-long "learning excursions" after they gain a few years of experience in their homeland. Two recent beneficiaries of this treatment are Tetsuya Naito and Kazuchika Okada, both of whom spent a full year in the United States (and, in Naito's case, some additional time in Mexico) and used it as an opportunity to develop significantly as wrestlers to the point that, now that they have returned to NJPW with new looks and new moves, both are well-established as main event stars. New Japan will also take a veteran member of the roster an send him overseas in order to freshen up, as Shinsuke Nakamura and Prince Devitt have both done tours in CMLL of late, giving them something to do while they're cycled out of the main mix in their home company. This is definitely a system that WWE needs to steal.
Why It Might Be Getting Better: WWE will reportedly be developing several new television shows as part of its network launch and part of its new strategy to make TV rights fees one of its primary income streams. So, even if WWE isn't sending wrestlers to other companies, they at least will have the opportunity to send them to different shows that might be outside of the mainstream Raw/Smackdown continuity.
2. Attack of the Clones
The first thing that drew me into wrestling was not the ring work. Quite the contrary. Like many fans, I was drawn in by the fact that there was a multitude of colorful, over the top personalities on the WWF's roster. From the bottom of the card to the top, there was a diverse mix of individuals, each of whom had a unique personality that could be summed up in a quick sentence or two. Even the midcard was diverse, with guys like the Mountie being quite a bit different than Greg Valentine, who in turn had very little in common with Earthquake, who in turn was nothing like the Nasty Boys.
Fast forward to 2012, and, though there are still some distinct personalities at the top of the card, anything beneath main event level is really, painfully homogenous. Take a look at the five pictures that I threw up at the top of this entry: Jack Swagger, Drew McIntyre, Mike the Miz, Dolph Ziggler, and Cody Rhodes. Here's a pop quiz question for you . . . when it comes to their characters, what makes Cody Rhodes different than the Miz? What personality traits does Jack Swagger have that Dolph Ziggler does not also have? Aside from being Scottish (which isn't really a character trait), how is Drew McIntyre not an exact duplicate of all five of them? In addition to the company not pushing them worth a damn, I see that as one of the biggest reasons why these individuals have not broken out from the pack. They just haven't been given (or developed on their own) a persona that the fans can sink their teeth into and become rabid fans of. They're all doing the same brash, young pseudo-frat boy gimmick that has been trotted out on TV a million times before. Breaking out of the generic heel mold what turned Eddie Guerrero from a perpetual Intercontinental Champion to a Hall of Famer, and it's what allowed Edge to have a career renaissance when it was starting to look like he would be best remembered by history as a tag team guy. However, for whatever reason, as we sit here in 2012, WWE's midcard heels are either unable to or unwilling to do the same thing . . . or they're encouraged to not do it, which would be even worse.
Frankly, it makes the television shows hard to get through some weeks, and, when I was at a house show about a year ago that featured the majority of these guys in prominent roles. I damn near fell asleep, not because they were necessarily at what they were doing but rather because they were all doing the exact . . . same . . . thing. Any one of these men keeping their current schtick would be fine, but several of them need to develop an original character, and WWE certainly doesn't need to let anybody else on the roster who is just going be a carbon copy of the carbon copies that are already on the roster.
Why It Might Be Getting Better: Characters that have more recently debuted on WWE television, such as Damien Sandow, Ryback, and Brodus Clay are showing a little bit more diversity.
1. Lack of Roster Depth
When the Monday Night Wars were on, I was one of the folks who regularly flipped back and forth between the WWF and WCW, though, when both shows were on their game, I always preferred Monday Nitro the slightest bit over Monday Night Raw. A lot of that had to do with the fact that WCW had an INSANELY large roster. There were literally 100 wrestlers who were, at least somewhat regularly, getting exposure on the promotion's primary television vehicles, and that made it exciting to be a fan, because the wrestlers' different styles and personalities meant that you were getting something different in virtually every segment. On top of that, the fact that there were 100-plus wrestlers meant that there were was a large and varied group of top guys, and you were never lacking a star who could be popped up into a main event program. Though many of the wrestlers, in retrospect, were probably overpaid, having such a large roster of guys was a fairly sound business strategy in terms of offering an exciting product and making sure that there were always folks at the top of your cards who could draw.
Nowadays, it is almost as though WWE is going out of its way to see if it can run four hours of first run, a-level professional wrestling programming per week with as few performers as possible. I took a quick tally, and, by my count, there are currently TWENTY-NINE full-time male wrestlers who are regularly on Raw or Smackdown and not currently injured or suspended. That's just too few wrestlers. Matchups get repetitive, wrestlers who shouldn't be jobbing because they're in the middle of a push inevitably have to lose bouts, and there are fewer unique personalities to entertain fans. Plus, because there are fewer wrestlers overall, even fewer of them are legitimate main eventers, meaning that either guys who have not been properly built for the main event have to be shoehorned in (see, once again, Sheamus vs. Zigger); feuds have to be dragged out to the point that they're dreadfully tired (Miz vs. John Cena); or non-wrestlers have to be given positions that are far too prominent on a wrestling show (A.J. Lee, Johnny Ace).
WWE does have a large number of wrestlers in developmental, but, by most reports, only so many of them area ready for prime time . . . and, even once they get put on television, it can take a long time to elevate them to the point that they're actually a productive member of the roster. Furthermore, with there having been no direct competition to WWE in professional wrestling over the course of the past ten years, it's not as though there is a crop of stars from another company that the promotion can immediately snap up and put on television in key roles. So, unfortunately, of all the items on this list, it appears as though this is the one that it will take the longest to fix, meaning we're stuck with a pretty meager roster for several years. Oh well, at least some of the guys who are actually there can e pretty entertaining.
Why It Might Be Getting Better: Really, I don't have much to report here.
That's it for this week's 8-Ball. If you can't get enough of Ryan, follow him on Twitter here.