The John Report: Twenty Ideas for WWE to Consider - 2011 Edition
By John Canton
Follow me on Twitter at @johnreport
My name is John Canton. I'm a wrestling fan that's 30 years old. I've been watching World Wrestling Entertainment programming since I was about five years old. I've seen every PPV, every Raw and every Smackdown. I've been writing about the product on and off for a decade. For the last two plus years I've written about Raw every week. I have so much respect for everybody involved in the wrestling business because I know how hard they work to put on a show for us every day, week, month and year. I think 2011 has been a very strong year for WWE especially in terms of quality matches on PPV as well as at the main event level. With that said, there are still things I would change. With that in mind, I present twenty ideas I'd love for WWE to consider.
My rules for this column are that I can't pick something that is unrealistic. For example, I can't say that WWE should bring in Kurt Angle or AJ Styles because those guys have contracts with TNA. I can't say they should book Shawn Michaels vs. CM Punk because Michaels is retired. I have to be realistic with my options. I feel like I've come up with twenty ideas that cover different areas of WWE business, but are also things that they can do to make the product better. I'm not saying the product is bad. It's been a strong year. I'm generally pretty happy when I watch Raw, Smackdown or the PPVs. However, like with anything in the world there are ways to improve as well.
Below I've listed twenty ideas. They are in no particular order. I didn't feel the need to list anything because they vary from creative ideas to PPV changes to television logistics. It's hard to compare them or rank them in terms of importance. I believe they're all meaningful. Let's begin, shall we?
Live Smackdown on Tuesdays
I'm hopeful that the August 30th experiment leads to a permanent move to Tuesday nights for the Smackdown brand. The cost of doing a show live is higher than it is to do a taped show, but my guess is things like attendance would go up as well as sponsorship money because the TV ratings would be increased as well. Having Smackdown on Friday night is something I've disagreed with since they moved it there from Thursdays. Sure, we can use DVRs if we want, but a lot of people are too lazy to do it or they simply won't remember. Friday's a bad TV night. A lot of people go out or simply don't want to watch a TV show. By moving it to be a better TV night you're getting more exposure for your talent, which ideally will lead to better attendance, ratings and PPV buys. The negative is that on PPV weeks you'd have three straight days of WWE content and you're asking the audience to watch 7 hours of programming in three days. In terms of booking you're not changing anything because it's already being written and the wrestlers are already going on Tuesdays.
Eliminate one of the two October PPVs
Why does WWE have 13 PPVs in the year? I don't understand the logic behind it. I know that they tried adding more a few years ago, they realized it was too much and they cut back, yet here we are with two PPVs in October again. This year you've got Night of Champions on September 18, Hell in a Cell on October 2 (two weeks of build) and then Vengeance on October 23. That's three PPVs within five weeks during a part of the calendar year when a lot of people are watching first run television shows as well as the NFL being back too. There's also the MLB playoffs in October too. If you're going to have two PPVs in a month, why October? I never understood that decision. I'm fine with one PPV a month. I think they can justify that. Having more than 12 in a year is a bad idea, though. It's not like they are big money makers either because when you have them so close you are hurting the quality and the freshness of the matchups. I'd also eliminate the Hell in a Cell PPV all together. What to put in its place? Move on to the next one.
Bring back King of the Ring as a PPV and put it in October
Here's how you make the King of the Ring matter again. You hold a 32 man tournament on Raw & Smackdown. You have the brackets posted on WWE.com. You create the site wwe.com/kingofthering and you encourage people to vote on who they think is going to win each matchup. What else can you do? Speeches and video packages from previous King of the Ring winners like Bret Hart, Steve Austin & Triple H to name a few, talking about how winning King of the Ring meant so much for their careers. Perhaps Austin can be at the PPV to hand the winner the trophy. Since it's a tournament, they should book upsets too. Why not? It puts over the idea that anything can happen and would be a great tool to elevate somebody even if they don't win. Meanwhile, main eventers can be used to put others over. The key would be to have somebody new win it. What does the winner get? A WWE or World Title shot at Survivor Series depending on what brand that person is on. The winner is put over huge because he would have won five matches to become King of the Ring. All of a sudden, the October PPV matters again and so does the King of the Ring concept that has died a slow death due to lazy booking.
Don't put The Rock in a match before WrestleMania 28
I realize that the temptation will be there to put The Rock in a match prior to WrestleMania 28 because it would generate a lot of interest. Plus, it makes sense to give the guy a chance to show he's still got the goods before wrestling in the biggest match of the year. The biggest draw of the match with Cena is seeing Rock in the ring again for the first time in seven years. I realize that he needs to get in ring shape and I trust that he will do that on his own by working in a private setting. It's one thing to be in shape, it's another thing to be in-ring shape. I think Rock will be able to do that on his own. Post WrestleMania, if he wants to wrestle more that is great and I welcome it, but prior to the big event in Miami on April 1, 2012 I think it's in the best interests of WWE to keep him out of the ring. Sell the match with promos, video packages and some physical interaction. Don't give away a match on TV or another PPV. It's not worth it.
Bring Chris Jericho back
Remember him? The "shut up and read it" Dancing With the Stars guy who used to tell us very slowly that he was the best in the world at what he did? That's Chris Jericho. He's the guy that was, in my opinion, the best WWE performer during his three year run from late 2007 until his deal expired in September 2010. I wrote after that thinking that he'd sit out a few months and be back for the 2011 calendar year. Nope. Didn't happen. Now 40 years old, Jericho's wrestling future is in doubt. As I'm sure most know, his band Fozzy is doing well in Europe and they are doing okay in North America too. Like Jericho's said in the past, you can't wrestle forever, but you can sing for as long as you want. Still, I think due to the fact that he's not somebody that has had many injuries in his life and his desire to continually prove he's the best, Jericho needs to return soon. I don't think it's a WWE call. I think they want him back. It's up to Chris to decide when that time is. The new year, especially around the Royal Rumble, is very likely. I think if he stayed for another two or three years, then got out hopefully with his health intact he will cement his legacy as one of the best ever. He has a lot of value as both a heel and a babyface. He's so good in either role that no matter what he does he's going to bring out the best in his opponent. Here's to hoping he comes back for one more run. I miss him. I doubt I'm the only one that would say that.
More tag teams
This seems to be something that will happen, but until it actually does I'm going to put it in here. I think it's important for WWE's talent relations team (Triple H, John Laurinaitis & others) to scout the indies, see who might be available from TNA (perhaps Beer Money?) and look overseas as well because the best teams will be the ones that come in fresh as a duo rather than pairing up two random guys from the current roster. What's likely also is the arrival of the Ring of Honor duo known as the Kings of Wrestling comprised of Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnoli. If you haven't seen them work trust me when I say they are as good as any tag team in the business. They should introduce them as a heel tag team, have them roll through the competition (even through the current championship team of Air Boom) and book them the way a dominant tag team should be booked. Along with Air Boom, The Usos, Otunga & McGillicutty and other teams that can be formed by current WWE midcarders or FCW workers. With some work, you could easily have seven or eight regular tag teams to make the division credible again. It's there if you want it, WWE.
Give every performer at least one month off per year
This one isn't about anything on screen obviously. It's about the health of the superstars and divas in WWE. There are a lot of legal things that would have to be written into contracts for this to happen, but I'd love to see it. The schedules of wrestlers are such that a lot of them are on the road for 250 days in the calendar year. They can easily get drained from the travel. I realize that if they're healthy that management isn't going to want to take off John Cena, Randy Orton or other top guys from TV. That's fine. There are ways to work around that by letting them be on TV, but maybe take them off house shows that weekend. That way they work only four or five days in a month rather than 15-18 days. I realize that WWE prides itself on having no offseason like pro sports do, but the burnout factor is something that should be considered too. I'd say among the twenty things listed in this column this one isn't as likely just because WWE has never believed in doing something like this. However, it would be good for the physical and mental health of WWE's performers. Did I say performers? I meant "independent contractors." The WWE legal team loves that phrase as soon as people talk about benefits.
Change the Royal Rumble so that it involves only 30 men again
The idea to change the 2011 Royal Rumble to 40 men is one that I hope doesn't run into 2012 and beyond. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the Rumble in the first place. The thinking that more people in the match means it's a better match is silly to me. What it does is water down the match to the point where even less people are believable as winners. The impact of the Rumble has gone down in recent years because the winner of the Rumble isn't seen as a big deal due to all the other big matches that happen at WrestleMania. This year's Rumble winner, Alberto Del Rio, got his World Title match in the opening match on the show. Did that seem like a big prize for him? No. For the 2012 Rumble, people are wondering if it will even matter because there's a chance that Cena could be WWE Champion going into his match with Rock while Daniel Bryan is cashing in on Smackdown's World Champion that night. All of a sudden the Rumble winner matters less again. Don't be silly, WWE. Go back to your roots with the Rumble. Thirty men in the match is the way to go. Bigger doesn't mean better in this instance.
Christian vs. Daniel Bryan in a Best of 7 Series
In my opinion, two of the best workers in the WWE. How about a classic best of seven series? We know that Daniel Bryan has a Money in the Bank briefcase. He plans to cash it in at WrestleMania 28 against whoever the World Heavyweight Champion is. What they need to do is have him win feuds against big names. As a former World Champion, Christian is a big name. These two could have some incredible matches together that could start out calm, but turn into a heated feud by the end. I'd have Bryan win it in some kind of gimmick match at the end and would use it to elevate his status. Perhaps this is something that would be best served at the start of the 2012 year just before Bryan's ascension at WrestleMania. By putting Bryan into a long term feud with Christian, it elevates him to that next level where fans will be quicker to believe he's a future World Champion.
Turn Jack Swagger babyface
I thought that one of the biggest missed opportunities of this year was turning Swagger babyface when he was the buddy of Michael Cole. After Cole lost, he should have berated Swagger. Then Swagger could have put him in the ankle lock, broke his ankle, which would lead to Cole coming out in crutches to announce the shows. Wouldn't that be great for Swagger? Instead he's still a midcarder that barely gets on Raw. I think he'd work well as a babyface because he can work, he's got good finish and a strong finisher with the ankle lock that is over with the crowd. If a heel is in the same spot for years the best thing you can do is change his character. Allow him to evolve. The "cocky jock" gimmick isn't working anymore. Build him up to be some kind of American hero that is a superior wrestler to everybody else. It can be done if you book it the right way.
Change the rules of all cage matches to "escape the cage" only
If you've read my work over the years you know this one is important to me. I'm tired of hearing the rules of cage matches where they say you can win by pinfall, submission, climbing out of the cage or walking out the door. I strongly believe cage matches should be escaping the cage only with no other way to win. The purpose of the cage is to keep others from getting in, but it should also be used as a method of victory. Seeing a guy win via pinfall in a cage match is boring. That should only be the case for a Hell in a Cell match. For a regular cage, climbing out should be the way to end it. The idea is that you beat down your opponent so bad that he can't get up to pull you back in there. Some see it as being a coward's way out (hi Ed how you doing?), but to me it's a way of showing that the winner beat their opponent so bad that they couldn't stop them from winning the match. It's similar to winning a ladder match by incapacitating your opponent to the point where they can't stop you. It's the old school way of booking it. I'd love to see it brought back.
Make the Intercontinental Title & US Title matter again
This was one of my points in the 2008 version of this column and I feel like mentioning it again because I hate how WWE books these titles in such a poor manner. I can remember a few times in recent years when one of these title holders faced a WWE or World Champion and they didn't feel like special matches at all. They felt random. I grew up a wrestling fan in the late 80s and early 90s when the IC Title really felt like a big prize. Sure, the WWF Title meant more and I knew that, but at least the IC Title had a lot of value. Remember the IC Champion Ultimate Warrior against WWF Champion Hulk Hogan? That was huge. These days I bet a lot of people don't even know that Cody Rhodes holds the IC Title or that Dolph Ziggler holds the US Title because they are rarely presented as a big deal. How do you fix the problem? Book a champion to hold the belt for a year. Have them defend it on TV two or three times a month. Put the title on the line in PPV matches as well. It's all about presentation. If you tell people that the title means something they'll believe it. If you barely utilize the titles guess what? Nobody will give a damn. I miss the prestigious secondary titles. They have value. Take advantage of that.
Sign top independent female wrestlers
Two names come to mind: Sara Del Ray and Serena Deeb. Those are the two women that I think WWE needs to sign as soon as possible in order to boost the quality of the women's division. Sara Del Ray is arguably the best women's wrestler that's not working for WWE or TNA right now. She's had great matches all over the world. She's got the experience and the talent to get over if she was given a chance. My other pick, Serena, is somebody that has worked for WWE in the past and got released last year. I'm still confused by the whole thing. I don't think the "she partied too much" rumor has legitimacy to it. There must have been something else because to me that's not enough reason to fire a good looking woman in her mid-20s that knows how to work at a high level. Since being released by WWE, she's worked the indie scene in the US and spent a lot of time working in Japan, which is only going to make her better. I think it's fine if WWE wants to sign women through modeling agencies as long as they're willing to work to improve. However, you need true professionals too.
Use women as managers
Another thing relating to the women is using them as managers. This idea that every woman in the company should wrestle is flawed. Not all of them can do it at a high level. There's nothing wrong with that. Obviously Vicky Guerrero is a manager who has wrestled only a few times. They need to consider that for some of the other women like Rosa Mendes for example, who doesn't seem to have a great grasp on performing in the ring. Another woman that's a free agent now after being let go by TNA is Becky Bayless (aka Cookie), who has experience in the ring, but she'd make an even better manager. I've read interviews with her. She WANTS to manage. She sees value in it. They should explore these options because women like Miss Elizabeth, Sherri & Sunny (to name a few) had great careers in a managerial role. They can talk for the talent, they can cheat and they can get them over. It's a role that works. Male managers work too, which brings me to my next point.
Move Michael Cole into a managerial role
I think a lot of people would agree with me when I say that Michael Cole is a very average wrestling announcer. Whether he's in the play by play role or the overbearing heel shtick we've seen for the last year, he's not somebody that I'd consider "great" at what he does. He had a few good moments during the Lawler feud, but for the most part he's an annoying heel rather than some kind of great heel. As for who he should manage, I'd suggest a guy like Drew McIntyre who to me has a lot of potential and is a nobody right now. A stable of three or four guys would work. Cole could berate a face, the fans would want the face to go after him and then Cole could get the wrestler he's managing more over because of the heat he can generate. I think it's a role that would suit him well. The problem is that Cole is Vince McMahon's pet project, he loves what he does and likely wants to keep him as an announcer on both shows. I hope Vince changes his tune because wrestlers are more important than announcers. Cole could be used as a method to enhance talent while also making the broadcasts sound better by him not being at the table.
Use William Regal as a heel announcer on Raw
I like the three man announce team on Raw. I would replace Cole with Regal, who has been a shining star as an announcer on NXT. Let Jim Ross be the play by play voice while Lawler can remain in his babyface role since they refuse to turn him heel again and a fresh voice like Regal can be the heel. Unlike Cole, he'd be better at picking his spots, would be more traditional in the role because he's a wrestling lifer that knows how to do the job. The other thing Regal adds is credibility because of his 20+ years in the business as a technical wrestler. While Lawler screeches for John Cena like a 13 year old girl, Regal can talk about how a move hurts or why. Credibility matters, which is what Regal would bring to the table. I think he'd do very well in the role.
Put Daniel Bryan in a feud with Tyson Kidd while also utilizing Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart
I know I already did one with Daniel Bryan. He's a favorite of mine. I'm a huge Tyson Kidd fan too. I think he's a great talent, who also happens to be a Canadian trained by the Hart family in Calgary. If you watch shows like Superstars and NXT you know he's one of the best workers in the company too. The guy puts on consistently great matches with a number of different opponents. He needs a push, though. How do you do that? Involve his mentor Bret Hart. I think it would be great to bring Bret back in a role not as a manager necessarily, but as the mentor to Kidd. They can put him in some matches with Bryan. DB can win them cleanly via tapout and then you do a segment where Bret tells Kidd to be more aggressive. They have one more match, Bryan wins again and this time Kidd attacks him post match. He applies the ringpost figure four (a move Bret made famous in WWE in 1997) at the encouragement of Hart and that injures Bryan. Hart turns heel along with Kidd. When Bryan comes back after a few weeks of selling the beating, guess who is in his corner? His mentor Shawn Michaels. Yes, Shawn & Bret mended fences so to speak, but there's nothing wrong with doing another angle with them using the guys that they trained to become wrestlers. Even if Bryan won the feud, it would elevate somebody like Kidd, which in the long run benefits the company. Plus, who wouldn't want to see HBK hit a superkick on Bret one more time or HBK writhe while in the Sharpshooter? It could be a really hot angle if they did it right. By the way, I wouldn't have Shawn or Bret wrestle. They had their time. Let it be about the present now. Superstar athletes coach all the time, so why can't superstar wrestlers manage a bit too? I could fantasy book this story to go over the course of six months leading to an epic showdown at the end. The possibilities are endless.
Find a way to involve Shaquille O'Neal at WrestleMania 28
There's no celebrity better suited to be involved with WWE than Shaquille O'Neal. Now that Shaq is retired and the NBA season may be cancelled, thus cancelling his new TV gig with TNT, it would be smart for WWE to involve one of the best NBA players ever. When he was a guest host on Raw two years ago he did a great job. He was arguably the best guest host that Raw ever had. With WrestleMania being in Miami, a city where Shaq led the Heat to an NBA title five years ago, he'd draw a lot of interest. Yes, The Rock is already a celebrity that will be involved with the show, but there's nothing wrong with adding one more. I think the likely storyline would involve Big Show, who would work great as a heel against O'Neal. If Shaq was willing to wrestle, I think a tag match would work really well. The Rock's in-ring return will do a lot for business, but seeing Shaq in a match will elevate it to an even higher level.
The Undertaker's WrestleMania 28 opponent should be CM Punk
I'm not sure when the Undertaker will be back, but I will assume that unless he's in a wheelchair he'll be hauling his ass to WrestleMania 28 to try to extend his infamous streak to 20-0. I realize that a lot of people think that it will be The Undertaker vs. Triple H in a rematch from last year. I'd rather not see it again. They already did the rematch idea with Shawn Michaels at 25 & 26, so why do it again? I'd rather see CM Punk be the challenger. I assume that Punk will still be a babyface by then, so you'd have another babyface match against Undertaker. It's the biggest possible match you could give Punk because the WWE Title might be a part of the Cena/Rock match and if it's not it will take a backseat to that. Of course, all of this gets wiped out if Steve Austin decides to wrestle Punk at WrestleMania although I think that's highly unlikely. I don't think Austin needs the money or the health risk that a match provides. The Undertaker/Punk feud from a few years ago was pretty good. With Punk getting over as a true top guy now, this match would be even better…assuming Undertaker can wrestle one more match. Who wins? The Undertaker, of course. Let the streak leave on.
Don't end the brand extension
Last point. I get asked this a lot. Should WWE end the brand extension? I say no. There are many fans out there that want to see the brand extension ended. I'm strongly against that. You have to look at the big picture and if you do that you would know that the house show business is important to WWE. Most weeks they run five house shows (three Raw, two Smackdown) before they tape each of the PPV shows. That's seven live events over the course of four days. Let's say you average about 7,000 tickets sold per event. That's nearly 50,000 tickets sold. Not a bad deal huh? If instead of Raw & Smackdown, how do you book the house shows? The fans don't know who is on what card unless they look. At least now if you know Raw is coming to town then you know you're getting Cena, Punk, Del Rio, etc. and if Smackdown's coming you get Orton, Christian, Bryan and others. There's also the fact that if you had just one roster that would mean you'd have to cut a lot of wrestlers, somewhere in the range of 20-30 people because there's no point in keeping them if they're not going to be on TV. I like having two separate shows. I like two separate titles. I know it's not for everybody, but I think from a business standpoint I understand why it makes the most sense for WWE right now.