Why the WWE's Reliance on 50/50 Booking is Doing More Harm than Good
Posted by Wyatt Beougher on 04.27.2014
Has the WWE cost themselves the opportunity to make several bigger stars by trying to make large groups of Superstars look equal? 411's Wyatt Beougher examines this dilemma and how the WWE should look to tradition to fix it.
Introduction: First off, I've opted to drop the "Squared Circle Soliloquy" name and switch to the new column format, because I'm new to the Wrestling Zone anyway, so it's not like I'm dropping years of history or anything. I'll still be doing at least one column per week, and I'm going to finish my examination of the WWE's decade-long inability to create stars on the level of John Cena, but I'm embracing the future. Huzzah!
Last week's positive response from the readership was probably more surprising to me than the negative feedback I received from week one. Apparently, while opinions on just how culpable Cena is for WWE's failure to make new stars, nearly everyone believes that he deserves at least some of the blame. This week, I'll be taking a look at how the WWE Creative Team's insistence on keeping things balanced has really shackled their ability to make any other Superstars appear to be on Cena's level.
As we've already established, John Cena is essentially the final boss of the WWE - he's the guy that you have to beat (and generally beat repeatedly, just look at the recent championship reigns of CM Punk and Randy Orton) if you want to call yourself the top star in the WWE. Unfortunately, even a clean win over John Cena means very little if the momentum from that win is squandered. And far too often, wrestlers who are supposed to be taking "that next step" towards becoming true stars end up mired in pointless back-and-forth feuds that end up doing nothing for either man. The problem for me is that the current WWE Creative Team is afraid of making one Superstar look dominant in a feud, so everyone trades wins and no one really goes anywhere. The upper card hasn't been so bad since the start of the year, with Daniel Bryan basically demonstrating that he's the best in-ring performer on the roster night in and night out, only to be thwarted repeatedly leading up to Wrestlemania by the Authority. At Wrestlemania, he finally overcame the Authority and took his spot as the top champion of the WWE.
Remember the 8000th time these guys wrestled
But Bryan's story is the exception, and not the rule, and you need look no further than the WWE's largely directionless midcard to see the proof. How many times have the following guys wrestling in some combination of singles matches: Alberto Del Rio, Dolph Ziggler, the Miz, and Kofi Kingston? (I'd throw Sheamus in there as well, prior to his injury layoff, but I'll be addressing him in a moment.) It seems like every week, some combination of these guys are wrestling one another, and regardless of who wins or loses, it really does nothing for either participant, because chances are, the other guy is going to win either later in the week or the following week. When the matches don't matter in the least, how does the Creative expect fans to get behind wrestlers to elevate them out of the midcard? Especially when a lot of the WWE Developmental guys who didn't start out on the Indies have nearly interchangeable movesets, with just a move here or there that stands out over their peers. I realize that the WWE has the most stacked roster now that they've had at any point in their history, with guys who are either good on the microphone, good in the ring, or both, but they still only have one real star, and treating a large portion of their weekly program as disposable content isn't really doing anything to change that.
Rather than having the same group of guys wrestle each other on repeat, why not spread them out? Put a guy like Ziggler against a Cena or an Orton and let him have a good, competitive match where he isn't made to look like a complete goober. Then, when Ziggler wrestles Alberto Del Rio the following week, if Del Rio has a competitive match with him, both guys come out of it looking better, even if Ziggler wins two-thirds or three-quarters of their matches. It's not rocket science, just simple professional wrestling formula. In this instance, Ziggler would move on from Alberto Del Rio to someone else who is slightly higher on the card, and Del Rio would look to rebound against someone in the same position on the card. It's not rocket science - just simple professional wrestling booking, but somewhere along the way, the WWE Creative Team has lost that in favor of "Guy A won last week, so let's have Guy B win this week", ad infinitum. If everyone is always equal, how is anyone supposed to stand out?
Had I known this would be the highlight of Sandow's last twelve months, I would've made an effort to enjoy it more
Of course, there are exceptions besides Cena and 2014 Daniel Bryan, and Sheamus is the first one who comes to mind. Whether it was his feud with Damien Sandow or the more recent one with Christian, the Celtic Warrior is one of the few people on the roster who is allowed to decisively gain the upper hand on his opponent in an angle and maintain it throughout. Unfortunately, for as good as Sheamus can be in the ring, he just doesn't have the charisma and personality that Cena does, so while he connects with the fans, I don't believe it's ever going to be enough to make him the WWE's bona fide number two Superstar. If Cena is Hogan, then I'd argue Sheamus is the Ultimate Warrior - he's popular, but no matter what he does or how he's booked, he'll never be as popular as Cena. In turn, this leaves Sheamus in nearly the same position that Cena is in, just one rung below him on the ladder. To borrow an MMA term, I consider Sheamus the gatekeeper of the upper card - if someone picks up a decisive win over him, they're more than likely going to be receiving a substantial push. And to be completely honest, a wrestler like that is completely necessary for a roster to have, and they can actually benefit from having several of them.
Historically, building up multiple superstars to near-equal footing on the card isn't the WWE's strong suit, although they did do it very well with the Michaels/Hart era and Austin/Rock in the Attitude Era. This current creative team certainly seems to think that it is done by two Superstars trading wins and losses so that they stay even. In truth, it's better to let two guys look dominant against similar competition without really crossing each other's paths. Probably the best example of the WWE doing this properly in the last handful of years came earlier this year, although it did not feature just two wrestlers. Instead, the WWE let the Shield become "the most dominant unit in WWE history" for over a year, while the Wyatt family were quietly built up with vignettes before taking out a string of former champions of various ilks (Kane, Kofi, Bryan, even costing Cena the title at Royal Rumble). At one point, it looked like the two factions would go to war, but they instead opted to focus on their common enemies in CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. However, when the Wyatts attacked Cena again in a match to determine who would be involved in this year's Elimination Chamber title match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, costing the Shield the match, the two groups finally found themselves at odds, and it was glorious. The fan's reactions to the confrontations that led up to what has thus far been my Match of the Year should've told the WWE everything that they needed to know about how to build up stars.
This should be the template going forward
Surprisingly, it seems as though they may have gotten the message, as it looks like Wade Barrett will come out of the Intercontinental Championship contendership tournament looking like a dominant force, but Cesaro will be riding a wave of momentum that included an excellent showing in the Elimination Chamber match and a huge win in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at Wrestlemania. Assuming Barrett wins the title from Big E Langston, Cesaro would be a natural feud to not only give the title back some of the prestige that it's sorely missing, but also to improve both men's standings in the eyes of the fans. Two big Europeans who have their own unique charisma and are good in the ring, battling it out for the WWE's second most important singles title? That would be enough to get me to renew my WWE Network subscription. Unfortunately, my next column will look at why I have serious doubts about that happening, and, even if it does, why I doubt that it will work. And even if they do manage to get it right with Barrett and Cesaro like they did with the Shield and the Wyatt family, there is still a whole slew of Superstars who could benefit from better booking. I'm not saying everyone needs to be on the level of Cena or even Sheamus, but at least make it feel like their matches matter and they are not just lost in the midcard shuffle. For all of Vince Russo's faults, he was very good about giving the entire roster, from the top to the bottom, something to do. And that is something today's WWE could stand a little more of.
Wyatt Beougher is a lifelong fan of professional wrestling who has been writing for 411 for over three years and currently hosts MMA Fact or Fiction and reviews Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.