Three Tropes the WWE Needs to Give Up On
Posted by Wyatt Beougher on 05.05.2014
While it's been said that there are no truly new ideas in wrestling, should the WWE abandon three of their most overused conventions in order to greatly improve the product? 411's Wyatt Beougher takes a closer look.
Introduction: Last time around, we discussed the effects of WWE's insistence on 50/50 booking and how it makes wins and losses seem worthless while simultaneously making sure there's a constant core of midcarders who never get over. This time around, I'd like to take a look at the WWE's over-reliance on a handful of tropes that have hurt their product over the past decade.
"Hey, kids, don't be a bully, but beating up minorities and people smarter than you is okay!"
The WWE's "Be a STAR" Initiative is a Joke
WWE was one of the founding members of the Be a STAR initiative, and on paper, it's certainly an excellent thing for them to get behind - promoting equality and sending a message against bullying. Unfortunately, I don't think the creative team has quite gotten the message, based on how they book face characters. Let's say someone made fun of someone else because of their race, beat up someone simply because they were smarter, shouted over another person because the person who was speaking was making truthful points that made the shouter look bad, or insinuated that someone was less of a person simply because of their gender or sexual orientation. I don't know about you, but I'd call that person a bully. Not in the WWE - those are, in order: Sheamus (with ADR), Sheamus (with Damien Sandow), the Bella Twins (when AJ Lee dropped her "pipe bomb", which was supposed to be their face turn), and John Cena and the Rock (numerous times, Rock with everyone he's interacted with on his returns, and Cena with Eva Marie and the Rock and CM Punk and…). All of those Superstars minus the Rock have been used as public faces of the Be a STAR campaign, though, so why doesn't WWE see the contradiction? (And the Rock is easily the most famous person with a connection to the WWE, which arguably makes him worse.)
Face characters in the WWE routinely attack their opponents from behind, escalate verbal conflicts into physical ones, and resort to name-calling and childish insults rather than pointing out actual flaws in their opponents' logic, words, or actions. I realize that this is the WWE trying to recapture the success of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, but Austin was never supposed to be a hero, and he wasn't cheered just because he was an awful person doing awful things, he was cheered because he was an awful person who was doing awful things to his even more awful boss. I think everyone's had an awful boss that they'd love to just Stunner, but what about the rest of the stuff that I've mentioned? Granted, taken as a whole across the country, wrestling fans are still a pretty awkward, lowest common denominator, sexist bunch, with a large contingent of racists (whether overt or repressed) in certain areas. But the worst part of all of this is that Sheamus and Cena are hugely popular with small children, which means the WWE is reinforcing those same terrible beliefs in another generation of fans. (And before it comes up in the comments, TNA's treatment of women and use of misogynistic and homophobic slurs is far, far worse - I'm aware of that. However, this is an examination of the problems facing the WWE, so that's a discussion for the comments or for another time.)
Would it kill the WWE to make one of their faces actually likable? Daniel Bryan is a flawed character, who is prone to letting his rage cloud his better judgment, but for the most part, outside of being insanely stubborn, he's been honorable and largely in the right. I don't think it's a coincidence that he's so popular with the fans, and while a part of that is being the best wrestler in the world, I think he's also a nice change of pace from all the guys who say one thing and then do something completely different.
I'm afraid you're going to continue to lose
Championships are a Curse
Later tonight, at Extreme Rules, WWE Intercontinental Champion Big E (nee Langston) will put his title on the line against Bad News Barrett. In my appearance in last week's Wrestling Fact or Fiction and in the Extreme Rules Roundtable, I voiced the same concern - Big E's momentum has completely stalled since becoming champion, as he's been relegated to essentially a prop in the Real Americans breakup and ate the pinfall in the six-man tag the night after Wrestlemania that continued the Cena/Wyatt family angle. His opponent, while riding a nice wave of momentum since his in-ring return that same night after Wrestlemania, was at the very nadir of his career during his most recent reign as Intercontinental Champion. This is the same belt that was held by Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat, the Rock, Triple H, and Steve Austin, yet it feels like the WWE has no idea how to give it any importance, or, more importantly, how to book its champions.
Secondary champions fall into one of two categories: Superstars who don't defend their title at all (Dean Ambrose), or champions who lose a bunch of non-title matches and then retain their championship whenever it's on the line (Barrett, Kofi, AJ, etc). Even the main champions, outside of Cena, pretty much fall into the "ineffectual heel who can't win without help" (Punk during the latter part of his historic reign, Orton as the "face of the WWE") or "face who doesn't deserve top billing" (CM Punk at the beginning of said historic reign, more than like Daniel Bryan right now). When you look at it from that perspective, it's no wonder superstars don't complain about being stuck in endless midcard feuds that never go anywhere - at least they're winning roughly half of the time that way. If the WWE is serious about rebuilding the prestige of its secondary championships, here's a novel idea - make your champions look like competent professional wrestlers. Two divisions have at least shown some progress in that direction lately, with both the tag team championships actually being held,and defended, by credible teams since the Shield won them (minus the Outlaws' nostalgia run), and the new women's champion Paige has more successful title defenses on free television in her first month as champion than I believe AJ Lee had in the past eight months.
That still leaves two titles with decades of history, the Intercontinental championship and the United States championship. The first step in rehabilitating the reputations of those belts is to get them off of their current champions. Nothing against Ambrose or Big E, as I am a fan of both performers, but they've each been booked too poorly as champion (in Ambrose's case, that only means the disturbing lack of title defenses) to really start the ball rolling again. I'd love to see Big E engage in a multi-month chase for the belt after Barrett wins it, as that would actually make it seem like something worth having at that point. Get guys like Ziggler and Sandow involved, as well as former world champions like Sheamus and Mark Henry. If the Intercontinental championship is for established guys who have been around for a while, I'd suggest the United States title be used for what it was used for in WCW - to showcase young talent who are on the cusp of taking the next step towards the main event. Cesaro, right now, would be an ideal US champion, so long as he doesn't get shunted into same "lose non-title matches and win at the PPV" cycle that we've previously discussed (and also plagued his first reign as US Champion).
Beautiful, fierce females apparently only exist in NXT
Divas Aren't People
This isn't exclusive to the female members of the WWE roster, but it's markedly worse with the women, as you're either pretty and popular or jealous. There's no middle ground, no other motivations, nothing - even AJ Lee's historic reign as Divas champion was turned into "AJ is jealous of the Total Divas cast", and it applies to both heel and face characters. And for Divas who don't fall into one of those two archetypes at any given time? Senseless turns from heel to face with no explanation or motivation whatsoever (sup, Alicia Fox?). This, to me, is ultimately the least forgivable of the booking team's current offenses, because of NXT. Sure, NXT doesn't have the issues with bullies or secondary titles that I've already highlighted, but the biggest disparity is between the storylines and characters of the NXT Womens division and their WWE Divas division counterparts.
Emma is a perfect encapsulation of this - in NXT, she was self-absorbed and completely unaware of it, but she danced funny and loved bubbles and was awesome in the ring, so people loved her. On the main roster, she's a ditzy blonde who dances funny and hangs out with Santino and occasionally gets to be awesome in the ring. The "popular girls" faction in NXT? Yeah, that started because Summer Rae couldn't beat Emma and convinced Sasha Banks that it was more important to get noticed than to win, which seems like an actual motivation you'd expect a professional wrestler trying to make it to the main card to have. Sasha's entire character changed for the better as a result, and now she's one of the highlights of NXT. They also convinced Charlotte that using her last name was a better option than trying to make her name on her own, which is absolutely a real thing that happens everyday in the real world. Just look at the Kardashians, the Hiltons, and at pretty much any family-owned company in the United States. Then look at the only face character left with Emma and Paige now on the main roster, Bayley - she's a huge fan of the sport, she's completely naive, and she loves to give people hugs. Over the past year, she's made real progression from being starstruck in the ring to actually realizing that she's pretty damned effective inside of it. There's no jealousy from either the heels or the face, and if Bayley ever does exact her revenge on the BFFs, it will feel deserved, as she was the victim of Charlotte's turn, and the BFFs have continued to taunt or goad her on several occasions afterwards.
So if the developmental writers are able to create compelling and realistic characters with only one hour of in-ring time per week, why is it that the main roster writers do not seem to be able to do so with seven hours or more? The only female characters with real emotions and motivations who have been on the main roster for more than a couple of months are AJ and, shockingly, Tamina. Their friendship, the loyalty that it inspires in Tamina, and AJ's obsession with the belt and proving that "real" Divas are better than Total Divas, are the only things in the Divas division that actually seem multidimensional, even if, as I've already mentioned, the writing staff has done everything in their power to make the latter nothing more than AJ being jealous. For the first time since they diluted AJ's pipe bomb with the jealousy angle, I'm actually interested in where the Divas division is going to go, and I hope that they continue to let Paige be an actual character going forward.
And while the current state of the WWE as I've laid it out may seem somewhat bleak, at least we do have a few exceptions that could potentially be light at the end of the tunnel. From Daniel Bryan's current title reign actually being filled with stuff you'd expect from a good guy (yes, hitting an unyielding monster with a wrench for trying to end you the week before and then kidnap your fiancee to hell is perfectly acceptable behavior), to the excellent Intercontinental Championship contendership tournament that will hopefully produce a champion with enough forward momentum to escape the current trap, to a new Divas champion who feels more like a real person than any of the shallow personas we've seen from the Divas for too many years, there's actually at least a chance that the WWE's creative team will catch up to their increasingly improving roster and give them the writing that they deserve.
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.