411Wrestling Special: 10 Ways To Save Wrestling - Part 2
Posted by Michael Benjamin on 10.14.2003
Ken Anderson's acclaimed special on how to turn around wrestling continues...
NOTE: Part 1 of this special feature is available here!
4. Emphasize the importance of House Shows, and give the consumers a reason to attend:
Three weeks ago, I went to a WWE house show in Tallahassee, Florida. North Florida has always been a wrestling hotbed. Tallahassee and neighboring Jacksonville bared witness to some of the greatest matches in NWA history. The blood spilled in epic battles between Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair still stains the ground of the Leon County Civic Center. On top of the large base of old-school fans, nearly 100,000 students in the WWE's main target demographic converge in the city's three major universities.
The house show drew less than 2,000 fans. The arena was laughably empty. During certain portions of the show, you could hear literally hear each conversation taking place in an arena that had once been known as one of the most raucous venues in the Eastern United States.
This particular evening wasn't an isolated instance.
House show attendance has official reached disastrous levels. Even during the WWE's "dark years" in the mid-90's, Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart were still able to draw respectable crowds while touring the house show circuits.
If it weren't for the advertised Ric Flair-Chris Jericho match three weeks ago, I would never have even gone to that house show.
The reason is simple: I get absolutely nothing out of going to a WWE house show that I can't see on RAW or Smackdown for free. Why should I pay $40 to get the exact same thing that I can see from the comfort of my own living room twice a week.
Vince McMahon whines and cries about declining house show business, yet he gives the impression week in and week out that they don't mean a DAMN thing. When are they ever mentioned after the fact on television? When do significant title changes (and no, Booker-Christian doesn't count) occur at house shows? When do you truly see something special happen at one of these high-priced events. Never.
The first major change that needs to occur is the advent of house show tours.
New Japan has tours, Zero One has tours, and in it's prime, the NWA had tours.
A month before each major PPV, the WWE needs to announce a tour for the corresponding PPV. In March, there would be Road to Wrestlemania tour, in August a Summerslam tour, and in November, a Survivor Series tour.. They could touch down in 20-25 major cities, previewing variations of the PPV matches, and getting the crowds excited for the upcoming PPV. For example, if the main event of Summerslam is Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesner, with a US Title match between Eddie Guerrero and John Cena, the WWE could headline each show with Angle and Eddie against Cena and Lesner.
This would prove beneficial on so many levels. Not only would the house show draw much better on name recognition alone, but if the WWE can get their act together and put on a quality show for those in attendance, it will serve the duel purpose of selling the PPV as well.
House shows are faceless, nameless events which seem to serve no purpose in the grand scheme of things. That can be changed. Would you be more prone to go to a vanilla, undefined PPV in January, or a show on the Royal Rumble tour, featuring a 15 man mini-Rumble, Royal Rumble banners hanging from the rafters and ring apron, and a somewhat heightened sense of importance? The answer seems obvious.
Along with these new tours, WWE announcers need to make a conscious effort to mention shows after they occur on television. This at least gives some sense of significance to the show. Just a fleeting mention of "Booker T and Christian having an epic battle last night in Tallahassee" would set off a light-bulb in my head telling me to make an effort to attend the show next time. It's SO easy to do, yet it seems taboo to even mention a house show's existence on television. No wonder no one gives a damn.
A final step towards restoring house show momentum would be the acquisition of house-show exclusive talent. One or two legends matches at each house show would seemingly give fans yet another reason to make the trip to their local arena. Again, the key is to give the consumer something they could not get from staying at home and watching RAW.
Wrestlers like Sting, Randy Savage, and in the future, Hulk Hogan, would prove much more valuable to house show business than they would to television ratings.
These wrestlers should be kept entirely off of television, but promoted extensively in local house-show advertising.
Imagine how profitable it would be to run Dusty Rhodes against Ric Flair as a bonus match in Florida and the Carolinas. Flair is under contract, and Dusty would be more than willing to work cheap.
The house show business is in a self-created rut, do to years of neglect, redundancy, and disregard. If changes aren't made immediately, attendance will likely begin to drop into the triple digits.
5. Give Wrestlers More Creative Freedom:
Over the course of the last three or four years, the creative freedom of WWE wrestlers has all but disappeared. When the WWE was first gaining steam in late '97 and early '98, the majority of what you saw in the ring and more importantly what you heard on the mic was largely unscripted. Wrestlers were given a sheet of paper with a few bulleted points to hit on, and were free to get those points across in any manner in which they chose.
The bad-boy Steve Austin, heelish Rocky, and arrogant DX of 1998 were all self-creations. Those characters didn't pop because of some sitcom writer scripting their dialogues line by line for them. They popped because Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, and Rocky Maivia were three brilliant men given the opportunity to get themselves over via their own creative instinct.
Flash forward five years, and we're in a much different place. Each and every word you hear on RAW and Smackdown is written largely by episodic television writers who know nothing about wrestling. We're getting to the point where the actual personalities are being suffocated in favor of fancy Hollywood writing.
Rob Van Dam is a prime example. If given the mic, a general idea, and a couple of minutes of television time, Van Dam's natural charisma would make him into an even hotter star than he currently is. Instead, we're forced week in and week out to watch him awkwardly read lines that could just easily fit any character. There's no uniqueness. The personalities all begin to blend together. No one really sticks out, and in turn, no one really cares about any of the personalities. Hence the dreaded complacency we mentioned earlier.
The few guys who do stick out are those who are given the chance to run with their true life personalities. John Cena comes immediately to mind. Chris Jericho does as well. The rest of the wrestlers are forced to read hokey scripts, such as Kane's fire dialogue, and in the process, come off as flat, cardboard cut-outs as opposed to three-dimensional characters.
To end this topic, let's take a look at a quote from Steve Austin's infamous RAW Magazine article that basically sums up everything that's wrong with the current WWE creative:
"You got people writing storylines who ain't never been in the ring.. that don't know what the hell's in my head. And here's someone who's going to sit there and write words for Stone Cold? Uh-uh.
When I was at my very hottest, when I first came around, I started off as the Ringmaster. Well, I was coming up with all this stuff myself, and that made me a hell of a hot talent. I was spitting out all this shit I'd heard in Texas my whole life. That's what made me what I was. All of a sudden, you've got someone putting words in your mouth -- you can't do that. The writers are taking the business from the boys, and that's what the problem with creative is. They've got to give the business back to the damn boys. When you got a guy who's been in the business three, six, eight, ten or fifteen years, it doesn't matter. Asking a damn writer what he's supposed ot say? There's a problem.
When I was at my hottest, selling out everywhere we went, no one was telling me what do say. They'd give me a few little bullet points, "I'd like you you to cover this or that," and then like all talent should, I'd feed off the crowd and make the rest up. When Ric Flair was at his hottest in the NWA days, he wasn't doing comedy. He was saying what was on his mind, and it came from his heart and his head, because he believe in what he was doing. I believe in what I was doing.. Flair didn't have no one -- some 25 year old, fresh out of sitcom school or whatever the hell it is -- telling him what to say. That's a big problem to me."
6. Evaluate the Roster and Cut Excess Baggage:
As much as it sucks to see people lose their jobs, the WWE talent roster is laden with wrestlers who have no place being there.
Jim Ross, Vince McMahon, Kevin Dunn, Pat Patterson, and Bruce Pritchard need to sit down with a list of all current talent under WWE contract, go through each name one by one, and determine their immediate and long-term worth the company. If that worth is substantial, then they will remain in the company. If that worth is non-existent, or negative, then they need to be released.
I genuinely feel bad for the guys who need to be given the pink slip, because in all honesty, the company is probably just as responsible for their futility as they are. Guys like A-Train, Hugh Morris, Mark Henry, and Rikishi are all decent enough wrestlers, but their constant state of midcard limbo has left them in the unfortunate position of being too damaged to put over other wrestlers as legitimate contenders, and too tarnished to ever be taken seriously as an upper card threat.
I don't feel as bad for some of the other guys who need to be shown the door.
Billy Gunn has literally been given opportunity after opportunity after opportunity to become the next big thing in the WWE. He's blown each opportunity with flying colors. Yes, he's been saddled with some ridiculous gimmicks, but he's also proved to be incredibly incompetent in the ring, nearly killing an injured Chris Benoit in the process. There's only so many times you can blame it on creative.
Hardcore Holly is another guy I wouldn't feel terribly sorry for either. He just doesn't seem to understand his role in the company. He's a utility midcarder with no charisma and an extremely limited appeal, outside of the possible hillbilly or NASCAR fan. Holly seems to think he's above the federation though. After Kurt Angle accidentally broke Holly's arm after a botched moonsault attempt, Holly publicly said that he was going to get payback on Angle after returning. At the time, Angle was arguably the companies most valuable performer. A year later, Holly took it on himself to take liberties with Brock Lesner live on RAW, feeling that he had been handed too much too quickly. Brock Lesner nearly killed him, and from what I hear, most of the boys in the back sided firmly with Lesner. The last straw for me was seeing Holly rough up one of the unsuspecting kids on Tough Enough. That was the biggest disgrace that I've ever seen, and it completely contradicted the trust in your opponent that Al Snow was trying to instill.
The same goes for resident rapist Justin Bradshaw. He'll be fine on Wallstreet, although I'm sure he'll miss the hogtying and occasional sodomy.
Ivory, Jaqueline, and Val Venis are all worthless filler for the company. I'm sure they're nice enough people, but Jaqueline has never even generated one OUNCE of crowd heat, Ivory is hokey, over the top, and exposed, and Val Venis is another one of those wrestlers whose upward mobility is shot to hell. Tommy Dreamer is a legend, but has no real niche in the company outside of Philadelphia. Rico might never get over due to his age and the braindead gimmicks he's been saddled with. Nathan Jones had no business ever being in the company to begin with.
The list could go and on, but the names aren't what's important, the house-cleaning is.
Back in 1996, when Vince and the then World Wrestling Federation were on the verge of bankruptcy, Vince took a calculated risk. He dropped all the "dead weight," brought in some new talent, started from scratch, and brought his company to it's largest economic boom in history.
Now is the time to take that chance again.
Freeing up roster spots and salary room will allow Vince McMahon to bring in hot new talent and push them fast and hard like he did in 1997. Guys like AJ Styles and Low-Ki could very well be the next Triple H and Rocky Maivia.