What's Best for Business in the WWE
I've never been one to attempt to write a wrestling manifesto, mainly because I don't presume to speak for everyone that is a fan of professional wrestling. If, while reading my column, you find yourself nodding your head in silent assent, I've done my job. If you find yourself screeching at the screen that I'm as qualified as a Rhesus monkey to judge the in-ring action, I'll take that too. Emotion and passion are what set wrestling fans apart. I've always felt that way and I always will. It's one of the primary reasons I find myself defending it to people that don't get it (or don't want to). What follows, then, is not a manifesto. It is rather a suggestion or two to the largest professional wrestling company in the galaxy (as far as we know, Dave Bautista can let us know otherwise) on what might truly be "good for business."
No doubt you've heard that line of late over and over again on WWE programming. Whether you're a fan of the Corporation Part Deux vs. Daniel Bryan storyline or not, you cannot argue that it has captivated the imaginations and emotions of wrestling fans the world over, as well as being responsible for nearly bringing TJR's own Briggs brothers to blows. Bryan's (yet again) stunted title reign got me to thinking, as Night of Champions fortunately already fades from my memory: what SHOULD be some business goals for the WWE in this moment? What are some simple suggestions that may prevent the potential apathy and malaise that has chronically plagued storylines of late? Thus, a sampling:
I know what you're thinking, and I truly do understand. In a world where D-Generation X are the best tag team champions in the history of the company (as per popular vote), how can I possibly play booster for allowing more Christians to march to the lions? The answer is simple: WWE interactivity is a figment of your imagination. How many more times will we be subjected to polls where the answer is as predetermined as the outcome of the match it's in reference to? Let's take a quick poll, and you don't even need your WWE App for it.
Would you prefer to:
A) Enjoy a nice snack.
B) Watch the Great Khali wrestle.
C) Be hit in the face with a brick.
D) Help Ric Flair pay his alimony.
Assuming for the moment that you all answered "A" with gusto, you get where I'm going with this. If you answered "B" or "C," then you've been tricked, as they are actually the same option. As for "D," if that was your choice, feel free to donate to the Mike Holland Manifesto fund. WWE toploading their poll questions on nearly every show in a vain attempt to demonstrate their desire to give the fanbase what they want is patently ridiculous. While I have no idea what brand of pharmaceutical the fans who answered many of the NOC poll questions were on, I question the fact that so many obvious omissions occurred. The presence of a TNA guy like Hulk Hogan, who coincidentally is featured heavily in their newest video game, doesn't fool me one iota.
WWE wants you to participate in their programming. They want your suggestions and ideas and thoughts. They certainly want your Touts (um, yeah), Tweets, and social messaging. And they particularly want it when it dovetails with their self-congratulation or creative ideas. This dawned on me as I watched the Tweet scroll inch by during last night's Raw. Included in the feed was a telling comment from a member of the Universe: Raw is brutal tonight. Hashtag backhanded compliment? Not sure which way the fan in question meant it, but I guarantee you which way the programming guys took it. If 90% of the wrestling population thinks Donald Trump vs. Rosie O'Donnell was the best match ever, that's on them. At least it's an honest opinion, unmotivated by corporate chicanery and obvious sleight of hand.
Interactivity can be gimmicky, as Cyber Sunday certainly taught us. Too much of it spoils the batter, but I'd rather none at all than a farcical mix of obvious throwaway options and gentle prodding in the general direction of the desired outcome. Letting your fans help you decide things is a risky proposition; it's also a necessary one when the competition from other sports that you face is growing harder every day. Wrestlers scoff at the notion of "dirt sheets" and "smart marks" helping make the product better. While I'd be the first one to agree that not all of the commentary is constructive, it's coming from the same place. Don't give us the keys to the car just to have no gas in the tank. Get fans involved in better ways and watch interest rise.
Handle Your History
I'm really glad that Triple H has a DVD coming out about his legacy. I'm particularly excited because my fish tank needs another display item to really bring it together. My first question would be: Where's the Jim Ross DVD? If you're going to hand the best professional wrestling announcer IN HISTORY his walking papers, perhaps figure out a way to do it that makes money AND keeps the fans happy. I can think of enough JR calls to fill several DVDs, all of which I'd prefer to watching the WWE fawn over its own progeny. I congratulate Trips on his wrestling career. I personally think he has great ideas for the next generation of the WWE. I wish he'd have gone into the front office sooner. Priorities are wrong here, however.
If you need another example of handling your history poorly, let's discuss the tragedy of Chris Benoit for a minute. I'm still uncertain how pretending someone doesn't exist because of a horrific situation makes it any less horrific. It actually makes it MORE horrific. When you tell your child not to go into one room in the whole house, which room are they likely to head to the minute you look the other way? How does watching a Chris Benoit match make you more comfortable with a murder? It's ridiculousness in its extreme, and it needs to stop. I had the opportunity to meet Chris Benoit (as in a handshake or a comment or two), and it makes me cringe to this day that someone who made me so intensely excited about the wrestling business eventually made me feel disgust. I certainly didn't want to run right out and watch a Benoit match, just like I'm sure we're all less comfortable watching an Owen Hart match than we used to be. That's what happens when tragedy strikes. It knows no bounds and it touches everyone. Hopefully in the end it unites and makes us stronger.
Why is it whenever there is a tragedy in pro wrestling, it's handled so poorly? Does erasing someone from your roster mean they existed less? Does it mean they gave less for your company, which made loads of money from them? Shouldn't we trust each other as adults to unite behind the few things we do know about what happened that dreadful day and make things better? Redouble our efforts to make sure there isn't one element of what we watch every week that could contribute to what happened to that poor family? You tell me. Fans of wrestling are used (unfortunately) to their heroes dying far too soon. Since 2010(!), we've lost over 50 wrestlers. That is staggering. While not all of them passed away before their time or due to their occupation, for many of them it was at least a contributing factor. I'm not trying to minimize the personal loss, but this is tragedy on a grand scale involving people who did their damnedest to entertain us every single day they possibly could. The least we can do is send them off right.
Ringing the ring bell ten times and posting quotes on a website is appropriate. Getting to the root cause is more appropriate by far. WWE's proposed Network will likely one day launch, and with it the opportunity to celebrate so many of these men and women who devoted their lives to our entertainment. Wrestling's excellent and unique history should be celebrated every day, and not just with nostalgia one-offs and gimmick battle royals. With all these hours of programming, how can it be a struggle to fit some of the past into the present? Is anyone seriously making the argument there's not a market for it? We shouldn't wait until Hall of Fame time to have these vital conversations.
Make A Difference
WWE is a charitable organization. I admire and applaud everything they do for the communities around the globe. It makes me personally feel good to see a company I spend a considerable amount of time and money on giving back. The recent commitment to drug testing and rehab for former wrestlers is the right thing to do. WWE has transformed itself from a company maligned as complicit in the McMahon steroid trial days to one that sets the tone for other sports when it comes to taking action regarding abuse. But there is still one legacy Vince McMahon has yet to leave, and I urge him to do it before he retires: Give these boys and girls a union.
The debate for a professional wrestling union is not truly mine to engage in; I don't earn a check from a pro wrestling company and with this column even further reduce my chances of ever doing so. But I will certainly stand up for the idea that when any organization is the only game in town, employees will suffer. The idea that real people risking real injury night after night with no breaks don't have the opportunity to take up for each other to make their work environment better is unfortunate indeed. So too is the idea that we as fans don't have a say in that; I'm sure many felt Punk & Bryan would never be pushed. Pandora's box won't be opened; the earth will keep turning. Professional sports leagues around the globe have embraced this concept and allowed their former players to help the current ones make the right decisions regarding fame, money, and pressure. It's an ongoing battle. Failure to recognize this opportunity to get yourself one step closer to respectability might be the single biggest mistake Vince McMahon has ever made.
It's particularly alarming to me because I think it comes down to ego. VKM (should he ever retire) will receive a hero's welcome for his many contributions to this business, and rightly so. To say he stood on the shoulders of his father is to do a disservice to a man that truly has transformed the industry. Unfortunately, as many of wrestling's legends have said publicly, the one area he has utterly failed to transform is the idea that unionizing would cripple pro wrestling. Bred from the territory days, the time has come for promoters to understand that while the risks they take are financial, the ones they ask their talent to take are life-altering. We as fans can (and should) demand better.
What's "good for business" is easily reduced to a talking point. I'm an enormous fan of the entertainment side of sports entertainment. These issues, however, are very real and very good for the business we all love and appreciate. Perhaps the WWE can turn their talking points into action. I can only hope.
* I won't take up too much time and energy explaining my thoughts on Ryback joining up with Paul Heyman, as I've written copiously on the subject before. I will say that two points of interest arose from this outcome for me: Firstly, I look forward to the next appearance of Brock Lesnar on WWE programming and how Heyman having Ryback in his corner potentially figures into that mix. Secondly, let's take a moment to appreciate the desire of CM Punk to bare his soul telling a story. He and Heyman have told the best story in the WWE over the last six months, and Punk continues to put the business first by taking the loss to attempt to move Ryback into the sphere of respectability again. This is the hallmark of the best in the biz. They don't need to win the match to make an impression. Hats off to Punk and Heyman for once again giving us the moment of the night.
* If you read Chris Jericho's recent comments, you gain more insight into someone who for my money is one of the best workers of his (or any) day. Jericho's commentary on Fandango's push is so telling because it's so true. The crowd reaction to the Miz/Fandango match (and Fandango in general really) makes it patently obvious that everything Y2J is saying is, as usual, on the money. Wrestlers don't have to win every week (or most weeks) to be effective, but they do have to be built up properly and nobody knows that better than Jericho. WWE is its own worst enemy when it pushes the absolute bejesus out of somebody for months and then gives up and goes home. If you don't care, I don't either. It's as simple as that. WWE better hope that Jericho spends his twilight years on the booking committee.
* Will Alberto Del Rio ever have a memorable feud not involving Rey Mysterio? Given the recent series of matches against RVD, I'm finding it hard to think so. I feel for Del Rio. I think his mic work is quite good, he's got a good look in the ring, and he's been pinballed from heel to face to heel with no understandable point. The recent plan of draping the ring in Mexican flags is fine, and I do understand why WWE would highlight ethnicity in a multicultural world. But let's give the guy a bit more personality, shall we? His random dismantling of his ring announcer and xenophobic comments aside, what does Del Rio do to get anyone excited about? He needs to be far more vicious (a la Orton last night) and distinguish himself. Just like his feud with Swagger, this one has been a bore. I'm starting to think it's him.
* Notable in their absence was The Wyatt Family on NOC. The next night on Raw, while treated to another ten-second Divas match and R-Truth vs. Fandango, we got another vignette from Bray. I'm aware that the corporate storyline is the big deal right now, but the absence of the Wyatts week after week is inexcusable. It can't be that you have nothing for them already, can it? As much as I enjoy Bray's delivery in the vignettes (and fleshing out his creepy character), he needs to be front and center every week. If it takes Smackdown to do it (or Main Event, for that matter), go for it. But get him on our screens and keep him there. WWE runs the risk of watering him down by sheer lack of focus. That would be a major lapse in judgment.
That's all I have for this week. I'd like to thank you for taking the time to read the column, and encourage you to add to the discussion regarding what's best for WWE's business in the space below. You can as always reach me on Twitter @coffeyfan77 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great week, and I'll see you Friday with the headlines!