Kayfabe Thoughts: Summer Slam Predictions Edition – 08/19/18

Last night’s NXT Takeover: Brooklyn 4 event may not have been as solid top to bottom as this year’s prior NXT events, but once again the “developmental brand” set a high bar to challenge for tonight’s 30th Anniversary Summer Slam.  2 of the 4 NXT title matches changed hands last night, and as Summer Slam can serve as an opportunity for WWE to make short term tweaks to the title scene or even test out possible storylines ahead of the Road to Wrestlemania, I expect some big moments in this evening’s show.

Predicted winners in bold and defending champions noted with (c).

Pre-Show

 Andrade “Cien” Almas & Zelina Vega vs Rusev & Lana – I can’t see Almas and Vega taking the loss here simply because they both have so much damn upside. It’s hard to believe at this point that Rusev was in a title match just last month, but here he is on the pre-show. I guess that’s better than being at catering with Naomi and Asuka.

Cedric Alexander (c) vs Drew Gulak (WWE Cruiserweight Championship) – It seems like 205 Live, while still solid and very much worth watching, has again lost some of its steam. Alexander is spectacular, but smiling babyface champs can be boring and at least a heel champion like Gulak can have a JBL/Cena “you’re too young to beat me” type feud with Lio Rush. Truthfully, my feelings on the whole 205 Live scene can be summed up in 3 words: I miss Neville.

The B Team (c) vs The Revival (Raw Tag Team Championship) – Listen, I love The Revival. Their matches in NXT with DIY and American Alpha were incredible examples of how great tag team wrestling can be when it’s executed by guys committed to performing as a team. But they’re short. Like noticeably shorter than all of their opponents. While that may have been ok for Arn and Tully in Crockett, that’s not what Vince likes. The B Team aren’t big guys either, but what they are is a comedy act and we know that Vinny Mac loves the ha-ha’s as much as he loves chocolate ti…well, you know. The B Team won’t be champs for much longer, but they won’t lose here.

Main Show

 Finn Bàlor vs Constable Baron Corbin – This story has gone on too long and has gone nowhere in the process. It’s clear that Vince and creative feel like Bàlor is missing something now, despite feeling decidedly the opposite way about him 2 years ago when he was made the first Universal Champion. Likewise, Corbin has muddled around the midcard since failing on his MitB cash in a year ago. Thankfully, Corbin saw the writing on the wall (not to mention the hair in the sink sadly) and ditched what was quickly becoming a “skullet” for a much better look. Too bad it came with a Corporate Kane starter kit. Oh yeah: there’s a match here. Bàlor wins, but it wouldn’t shock me if the WWE Creative Match Generator 2000 continues to glitch and we inexplicably get another turn on the booking merry-go-round.

Bludgeon Brothers (c) vs The New Day (SD Live Tag Team Championship) – There have been some very positive things to come out of the former Wyatt Family’s repackaging as the Bludgeon Brothers. For starters, I like the Bludgeon’s outfits just fine. I’m also glad Luke Harper got to change his clothes and they gave him a clip to hide his thinning hair. I’m happy that Erick Rowan no longer has to dress in a janitor’s jumpsuit for work. However, the hammers are bad cosplay though and every time Corey Graves has to try and sell us on the idea that the hammers are actually heavy, I hear him die a little inside. For Corey’s sake: ditch the hammers. For our sake: put the titles back on The New Day.

Braun Strowman (MitB) vs Kevin Owens (Strowman’s Money in the Bank contract) – Kevin Owens has no momentum going into this match. He’s spent the better part of the summer running from the Monster Among Men, playing the chickenshit heel perfectly and getting beat down by Big Braun at every turn. For these reasons I was thisclose to picking Owens. Only in the strange world of WWE booking would this make sense, but I’m still not convinced that Owens won’t win the MitB away from Strowman. WWE has had several opportunities to give Braun a run with the title, but hasn’t yet pulled the trigger. With Lesnar’s time as the WWE’s unbeatable monster coming to a close, this seems like a “if not now?” moment, and a Braun cash-in seems to be the easiest way to test those waters, but more on all that later…

Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs Jeff Hardy (United States Championship) –Sadly, reading this will probably take longer than their last title match and there hasn’t been much physicality between the two in the aftermath. Since then, creative has done little to set up an actual Nakamura/Hardy rivalry, instead focusing on pushing things toward Hardy/Orton. Maybe Orton interferes and costs Nakamura the title, adding a championship aspect to the Hardy/Orton angle, but I think in light of recent allegations, Orton should refrain from giving a hand to anyone. Nakamura retains because there’s no good reason to put the title on Jeff Hardy here and Nakamura as a heel is gold.

Dolph Ziggler (c) vs Seth Rollins (Intercontinental Championship) – Rollins brought Ambrose back on Monday Night Raw to even the odds against Ziggler and Drew McIntyre. Ziggler has been really good with McIntyre as his running mate, but they need to have a run with the tag titles to really solidify the latter-day Shawn and Diesel vibe and that can’t begin until Dolph loses the IC title. Besides, the newly jacked Dean Ambrose can’t complete his Super Saiyan transformation until he helps Rollins become champion, only to immediately turn on him by beating the crap out of his old Shield mate.

The Miz vs Daniel Bryan – Honestly, I don’t know what to make of this. On one hand, it appears that WWE is actually going to pay off a storyline that has been building for nearly a decade, something they rarely do. On the other, it’s been rushed in such a way that makes me wonder if Daniel Bryan is really not actually on his way to being All Out. Still, I can’t imagine that WWE would set up Bryan’s exit by giving fans the match they’ve been clamoring for. I always thought Miz and Bryan deserved a bigger stage (WRESTLEMANIA!) with some real stakes (WWE CHAMPIONSHIP!) and perhaps this is the beginning of the road and not the end. We can’t get there with Bryan winning this one, so I’m picking the Miz and hoping for the best.

Carmella (c) vs Charlotte Flair vs Becky Lynch (SD Live Women’s Championship) – I’ll go on record as saying that no one in WWE, man or woman, “gets” who exactly their character is more than Carmella. She knows that character needs to be loud, obnoxious, and generally unbearable to be successful and she absolutely NAILS it. She is the company’s most hatable heel; she’s the female Miz. It seemed like the Women’s division ultimate white-meat babyface, Becky Lynch, was going to get her chance to shine by beating her for the championship, but then WWE made a very WWE decision and added the returning Charlotte to the match. Now I can’t help but feel like it’s a near lock that Charlotte walks out champion and that makes me sad because Becky isn’t a heel (they tried that in NXT and it just didn’t work IMO) and that’s how I see this going. Becky needs the title for a stretch, not to end up in catering learning Japanese puns from Asuka.

Alexa Bliss (c) vs Ronda Rousey (Raw Women’s Championship) – Ronda was ringside at NXT for fellow Horsewomen and NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler’s somewhat surprising loss to Kairi Sane, which appears to free up Baszler to support Rousey. WWE also confirmed a match featuring Alexa Bliss and Trish Stratus for the inaugural Evolution PPV in October. Though it wouldn’t shock me if WWE found another way to keep the title on Bliss to pay it off with Rousey at Hell in a Cell in September, the amount of buzz a Rousey win would make in the mainstream media is too hard to ignore and they won’t.

AJ Styles (c) vs Samoa Joe (WWE World Heavyweight Championship) – I can’t help but assume this is the match that WWE wishes they would have gotten to book 10 years ago, when both had a bit more tread on their tires. That’s not to say both aren’t still great, because both men remain among the top 8 talents on the roster, but the end of the road is closer for both than the beginning and Joe has had some injuries that may have delayed his ascent in WWE. For me, this is another of those “if not now, when?” moments in regard to Samoa Joe’s championship opportunities in WWE. AJ Styles has proven to be an effective babyface champ and re-lighting the fire by having him chase an old nemesis in order to regain his lost championship would be a great way to stoke the AJ Styles fire further over the course of the fall season. It’s Joe’s time and I think he becomes king of SD Live’s mountain.

Brock Lesnar (c) vs Roman Reigns (WWE Universal Championship) – I can’t see Vince paying Brock Lesnar to take the Universal Championship to UFC, so this has to be Reigns. And then it immediately has to be Strowman with the cash-in. I’m not going to bash Roman beyond I think his gear is lame and his character is stale to me, and I don’t even think either of those things are Roman’s choice. I also am unsure if Strowman is necessarily fully-baked enough as a character to carry the company. What I am sure of is that adding a desperate edge to Roman by having him finally achieve victory over one monster only to lose to another is perhaps the best (and maybe only) way forward as a babyface (or at least non-heel) for Reigns in order to get Roman to become the universally cheered superstar WWE wants him to be. Reigns history with Strowman is far from decided (Roman did try to murder Braun afterall) and there is plenty of good meat on the bone to chew for both. Both men continuing to build their legacies together benefits the company and the performers best (see also: Bret/Shawn and Austin/Rock) and would be a great story to tell this fall/winter on the Road to Wrestlemania, so I’ll pick Reigns over Lesnar, but the show closes with a post cash-in Braun holding the Universal Championship high above a fallen Roman.

Wanna give me a high five for being right or tell me how wrong I was? You can contact me with any comments either by posting in the comment area below, @-ing me on Twitter (@factfreemedia) or by emailing me at factfreemedia@gmail.com You can also find me at my website: http://www.factfreemedia.com where I host my wrestling history podcast “Kayfabe Forever”, which drops each Friday-ish. The podcast is also available for download by searching “Kayfabe Forever” on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, iHeart Radio, or Tune In Radio and by following the show page on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Kayfabe Thoughts: John Cena Thinks You’re Stupid

(I’ve written a few columns this year for some other online sources and now I’m making those available here, so you might have already read this or it’s subject might be dated. If you’ve already read it: THANKS! If you haven’t: here you go!)

To be regarded as “the top guy” in the wrestling business is something all wrestlers aspire but few actually achieve. In the ring, the wrestler must be charismatic to both adults and children, possess the gift of gab, and be technically proficient enough to have good matches with competitors of all shapes, sizes, and skill sets. Outside the ring, they must be able to carry the weight of being the ultimate brand ambassador and able to withstand the additional scrutiny that comes with heightened visibility and expectation.

John Cena carried that weight for the better part of 15 years for WWE. Night after night, day after day, Cena worked tirelessly to live up to the expectations thrust on him as WWE’s standard bearer. Appearance after appearance, charity event after charity event, town after town, all over the world, John Cena came to epitomize what WWE is as a company, both inside and outside the squared circle.

Young Cena shifted his persona to reflect his status. Gone were the chains and hip hop lyric insults. No more rap albums or edgy promos.

Just hustle, loyalty, and respect.

The new Cena wore brightly colored shirts to appeal to his younger fans. He kept the jorts, but they became less baggy. He learned Mandarin, so that he could speak to his fans in China. Super Cena even re-invented himself somewhat in the ring, learning some new tricks along the way to mix in among his infamous “Five Moves of Doom” in order to have more exciting matches with new, younger opponents. Cena evolved and it paid off handsomely for WWE and Cena.

But Father Time is undefeated and the tastes of wrestling fans change.

Physically, Cena is fit as ever. He has stayed relatively injury free throughout his career and his commitment to maintaining himself has clearly benefitted him. But his youthful looks are trending toward middle age and there is now a bald spot struggling to be masked by even the most closely cropped fade.

More troublingly, fan patience with and interest in the Cena character has waned. The former 50/50 “Let’s go Cena/Cena sucks” chants skew far more negative. Time off to make WWE financed movies that served as expanded marketing ventures was once ok because fans loved to see Cena in action movies like “The Marine”. Today, fans question his commitment to the WWE and deride him as a part timer who only comes back to WWE to promote his films, shade a younger Cena once threw at the Rock.

While the clearest path back to relevance seems to be Cena finally giving in and turning heel a la Hulk Hogan 20 years ago when he found himself in a similar place, Mr Make-A-Wish has refused. As a result, Cena’s position at the center of the WWE Universe has drifted.

Consider his last 3 WM appearances: an injury limited appearance at WM32; a WM33 appearance hinged on completing a storyline from his girlfriend Nikki Bella’s reality show by finally giving in and asking her to marry him in the ring after their match with The Miz and Maryse; and at WM34, a 3 minute squash match loss vs the seemingly retired Undertaker. The Undertaker match felt especially weird in that it left everyone confused as to what exactly the point was of the build which featured Cena seeming less like a tough guy calling a reluctant opponent out but more like an entitled, petulant child whose parent won’t get him the toy he so desperately wants.

Cena’s spotlight, one that burned brightly and only for him, has dimmed.

So what does Cena do?

He works. He hustles.

But this time it’s the fans who are being hustled and worked, with no respect for the fans intelligence to be found.

To the surprise of no one paying attention, Cena and Nikki announced on April 11 that they would not be getting married in a matter of weeks as planned. This announcement came just 6 days after a promo for the upcoming season of “Total Bellas” teased that there was trouble in paradise and also before the release of Cena’s movie “Blockers”. All of it happened so quickly and so seemingly coordinated that not even the most cynical of fans began to wonder if something was afoot.

Still, a certain contingent of fans immediately threw around phrases like “this is heartbreaking”, “poor Nikki”, and “we must respect them during this difficult time” because “this is real life stuff, not wrestling stuff”.

In light of all that has occurred since, I’m going to go ahead and tell the Bella Army that they need to stand down, because they all just got WORKED along with the rest of the WWE Universe.

Three weeks later, it’s even more clear that the probability of all this being a work is closer to the truth than not, despite consistent denials otherwise. As the premiere of “Total Bellas” drew near, Nikki released a heartfelt vlog, makeupless and emotionally drained. Cena then made a few statements in interviews claiming he still loves Nikki and always will. Cena upped the ante when during an appearance on the Today Show with Kathie Lee and Hoda, John stated that “I still love Nicole, I still would love to marry Nicole, I still would love to have a family with Nicole”. Later, during a red carpet interview on Extra, Nikki would be informed of Cena’s comments and reply with an unconvincing “Wow. I’m speechless.”

Nikki might be speechless, but I’m not.

This is garbage.

Furthermore, neither is a skilled enough actor to convince me that any of this was ever real.

While I am absolutely in favor of personal, real life situations being kept out of the wrestling realm, all of this has taken place very publicly in front of the WWE Universe. Everything that has been presented for consumption within the confines of WWE produced television is subject to criticism and speculation. Anyone saying otherwise is engaging with the product on a level that makes me uncomfortable.

Fans were right to question the entire Cena/Nikki engagement from the beginning. Cena had long portrayed himself both on “Total Divas” and “Total Bellas” and, most tellingly, IN REAL LIFE as someone who’d rather set all of his cars on fire than subject himself to marriage again or children. I think John Cena’s nightmare’s all begin with him finding himself on the set of “Maury” with the host hanging on the verdict of whether or not he is a father.

So why the change? Certainly not for love, but instead for the love of one’s self and the spotlight. Plucking at the heartstrings of easily manipulated fans landed Cena a heavily promoted spot at last year’s Wrestlemania, so mission accomplished. Maybe a breakup will pop “Total Bellas” ratings and help push along those pesky contract negotiations with NBCU. Heck, maybe Nikki can even sell some more Birdie Bee product by playing the clueless girl one more time!

Either way, the warm spotlight Cena loves and has come to crave so much returns.

There is a famous line uttered in an equally famous scene by forgotten and delusional starlet Norma Desmond (played by Gloria Swanson) in the 1950 film “Sunset Boulevard” that comes to mind when I consider where John Cena is now and what track he seems to be willing to take in effort to return to the spotlight.

In my mind’s eye, I can see today’s Cena backstage at RAW, the Cena who continues to stick with the jorts and bright tees because that’s what his fans used to love, the Cena with a fuller bump card and less full hairline, the Cena who apparently traded loyalty and respect for notoriety and a paycheck. He marches with purpose down the hallway, flings the door to the room where creative meets to discuss upcoming storylines open and announces to Vince and everyone inside: “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr McMahon.”

Thanks for reading!

Kayfabe Thoughts: WWE’s Once and Future King

(I’ve written a few columns this year for some other online sources and now I’m making those available here, so you might have already read this or it’s subject might be dated. If you’ve already read it: THANKS! If you haven’t: here you go!)

As Wrestlemania neared, it appeared that Brock Lesnar would be leaving the WWE to return to the UFC. Lesnar, who had held the WWE Universal Championship since defeating Goldberg at the previous year’s Wrestlemania, found himself as the ire of many fans due to the attraction nature of his booking and the resulting sporadic defenses of his championship. While it seemed that the equally (if not more) reviled Roman Reigns would be the beneficiary of Lesnar’s departure, fans were at least happy that 1 of the 2 most high-profile championships in the company would begin to make regular appearances on TV and at PPVs again.

But of course, in the words of Uncle Dave, plans changed.

Lesnar and WWE came to terms on a new deal that would allow Lesnar to work UFC dates in addition to his WWE deal just hours before WM. Not only did Lesnar retain the title vs Reigns at WM, he also prevailed in the subsequent rematch at The Greatest Royal Rumble, much to the chagrin of the WWE Universe.

The Mayor of Suplex City hasn’t been seen on WWE TV since and unfortunately the legit contenders are few it seems.

In their last head to head encounter, Braun Strowman, the current monster of the WWE, ate the pin clean. I’m all for Braun getting a title run and I think that getting it by absolutely destroying Lesnar would make a statement in the process. However, it seems like if WWE creative wanted to protect the Monster Among Men mystique, he would have beaten Lesnar already.

Samoa Joe is in almost the same boat as Strowman. Despite building a program last summer between Lesnar and Samoa Joe around Joe’s persona of being a legit badass, the Samoan Submission Machine came up short against Lesnar at 2017’s oddly named Great Balls of Fire event in one on one competition and again in a Fatal Four Way match that included Strowman and Roman Reigns at Summerslam.

In my opinion, the challenger who made Lesnar look most vulnerable (and most like the Lesnar of old) last year was AJ Styles at Survivor Series 2017. However, unless the WWE wanted to do some sort of title unification bout with the Universal and WWE Championships, it’s unlikely to be revisited.

Is there a light at the end of the Brock Lesnar tunnel?

In a word: YES!

In 3 words: YES! YES! YES!

Daniel Bryan should be the guy.

I understand the WWE’s hesitance to re-insert Bryan into the main event picture. Bryan’s health issues derailed the last 2 high profile programs Bryan had before his retirement, when Bryan was WWE champ and again during his brief return as Intercontinental champ. The potential disaster for Bryan and WWE to have to deal with another head injury warrants all the caution that seems to be taken right now.

But man, what a story it could be.

When Bryan announced his return in March, the entire sports world, not just the WWE Universe or wrestling fans, stood up and took notice. The news of his un-retirement sparked a reaction that isn’t seen often within the IWC: universal happiness. Paying off the “Believe in your dreams and your dreams will believe in you” idea with a win over the reigning, defending, undisputed Universal Champion Brrrrock LLLLesnar would punctuate the story with a what might be a bigger moment than Bryan’s WMXXX win over the Authority.

And Bryan could no doubt have a great match with Lesnar. Think back to the Styles/Lesnar match I mentioned earlier. Styles in-ring approach is so diametrically opposite of Lesnar’s that it was believable that he could keep the Beast Incarnate on his heels and perhaps pull off the upset. Bryan would be positioned in a similar way and with a larger variety of submission holds at his disposal, the potential to weaken Lesnar’s base (Brock always seems to skip leg day) can easily be established.

Imagine the pop if the biggest underdog, a man who was told he was too small to compete with the heavyweights and one who had to give up his title due to injury and retire, emerges victorious in a match with one of the most unstoppable forces in wrestling and combat sports history.

Goosebumps (or goose pimples as the great Gorilla Monsoon said)…

With one moment, WWE could go a long way to stealing back some of the magic that the stale, lazy booking stole over the last few months. And with most of the recent positive wrestling headlines going in the direction of a show headlined and promoted by a man who asked to be released by the company (Cody), this is a great way to bring some of that positivity the WWE’s way.

Bryan as champ works right into a program with longtime nemesis The Miz. From there, all the dream Bryan battles could go down (Styles, Balor, Nakamura, Joe, Zayn, Owens among others), provided his health continues to hold. Ultimately, maybe the WWE revisits Bryan/Reigns and uses Bryan to legitimize Reigns as champ like they did with their matchup before WM 31. The possibilities are endless and with the stacked roster of talent WWE possesses right now between the main and NXT rosters.

Bryan is the man that can bring the magic back to WWE.

WWE just needs to take a real look at what is going on and act fast.

Thanks for listening!

Kayfabe Thoughts: WWE’s Vince Problem

(I’ve written a few columns this year for some other online sources and now I’m making those available here, so you might have already read this or it’s subject might be dated. If you’ve already read it: THANKS! If you haven’t: here you go!)

In 1982, Vincent K. McMahon purchased Capitol Wrestling Group and the WWWF from his father, Vincent J. McMahon. Between 1954 and 1982, the elder McMahon built his version of the WWWF around the old territory idea of how wrestling promotions were run. Business was good, as the WWWF had long been regarded as one of the crown jewel territories because it was among the first promotions to split gate dollars with talent and controlled the New York market, and Vincent J. McMahon was very happy to keep the status quo.

However, the younger McMahon had a larger vision for not just the WWWF, but for the wrestling business as a whole that his father could not or did not want to see. In fact, “Junior”, as his father’s friends called him, changed the business so drastically that even he admitted to Sports Illustrated in 1991 “Had my father known what I was going to do, he never would have sold his stock to me.”

As fans, we’ve been able to watch that vision turn into reality, as Vincent K. McMahon would turn the world upside down again and again, turning his father’s regional promotion into one of the largest entertainment companies in the world. Along the way, he has given us some of the most memorable characters, moments, and storylines in the history of the sport. He has also pushed the now WWE to the forefront of innovation, re-writing the book on how wrestling is marketed and produced.

Truly Vince McMahon is one of the most innovative, creative minds in the history of entertaiment and the father of modern wrestling (insert genetic jackhammer joke here).

Except he’s killing WWE and needs to go.

Now, I know someone is rolling their eyes at this, frantically getting ready to type something about “WWE revenue year over year”, “#LOLZWUTAMARK”, “You don’t understand wrestling” etc. but just take a minute and keep reading.

Vincent K McMahon is 72 years old, 3 years older than his father when he passed away as a result of pancreatic cancer and 5 years older than his father was when he was bought out. Some of the same things in regard to presentation and being overly reliant on old ways of doing things that the younger Vince held against the older are now somewhat afflicting the current WWE.

Brock Lesnar as an attraction-type champion is a bad and antiquated approach. Attractions worked when the WWE didn’t produce so many hours of content each week. That’s not to say wrestlers as attractions can’t draw. Attraction matchups still work, look at the interest in the Undertaker or HHH’s yearly Wrestlemania matchup, but it’s a really bad look to have all this content, but not be able to feature one of your top 2 champions.

The same can be said of the repetitive, dogmatic approach to Roman Reigns booking. I like Roman. I think he’s an excellent performer, good looking, popular with kids. He ticks all the “top guy” boxes. He is SUPER over without question. But Vince and creative have tried out every single approach to cementing him as champion without giving that character time to breathe with the fans. Think about it (or maybe, more appropriately, #UseYourHead): he’s tried the dominant Hogan booking, the bad-boy Austin booking, the screwed over by the Authority booking, and now the scrappy underdog booking with Roman all to NO AVAIL.

I could go further with this, but by now you are already thinking of other examples of the WWE’s repetitive approach to main roster booking and production.

Truthfully, the best parts of WWE right now are NXT and lately 205 Live, both Triple H’s pet projects. Triple H smartly seems to have built both to more closely resemble the style and tone of promotions like ROH, New Japan, and PWG which are currently popular among younger and international fans alike.

Perhaps most troubling is when NXT stars get to the main roster, many struggle because Vince’s approach is so very different. As de facto god of all things wrestling for the main roster, Vince has to be held responsible for the product’s inability to evolve.

It’s really simple business. Any business that can’t grow its talent to success will always have trouble on multiple fronts and eventually will endure long-term difficulty. Mid-level talent and below will continue to do just enough to stay around because they are just happy to get a paycheck. Good players who feel abandoned, mishandled, or ignored will leave, taking their talent elsewhere and succeeding when given a platform that is better suited to their strength (see also: Cody Rhodes).

When the growth problem becomes most debilitating is when the talent exodus eventually breeds a more competitive market. What’s worse is the eventual whisper campaign against your company which impacts the ability to attract new up and coming talent. Right now, WWE can still cover their imperfections with the promise of a bigger paycheck for young, starving performers eager to make it to the big stage.

But if what continually occurs is that they fail not because of their lack of skill or an inability to connect with the crowd but because of a failure to connect with a septuagenarian who rules with an iron fist, eventually the chorus of bad experiences gets loud enough to drown out the siren’s call of the money. The consequence becomes inevitable and your company goes from being stocked deep with young talent to having to hire the 3rd, 4th, and 5th best candidate in order to fill a roster (see also: The Island of Misfit Toys that was mid-90’s WWE or the later days of WCW).

Predictably the product suffers, market share shrinks, and one of two things happens: the company changes course radically and bounces back (late 90s WWE) or your former fans serenade you with a rousing rendition of Vince’s favorite song as the lights go dark for good.

A wiser man than I once said “Enough is enough. It’s time for a change.”

Vince has to go.

Just don’t blow him up in a limo this time.

Vince Blown Up

Kayfabe Thoughts: Running on Empty

(I’ve written a few columns this year for some other online sources and now I’m making those available here, so you might have already read this or it’s subject might be dated. If you’ve already read it: THANKS! If you haven’t: here you go!)

Well, it’s been a while.

More specifically, it’s been since before Wrestlemania.

I won’t go into specifics, but it’s been a bit of a month. Infection. Surgery. Recovery. Not my favorite 6 weeks personally.

And still, I feel like my time post-Wrestlemania has been better than WWE’s.

Wrestlemania weekend started out strong. Takeover NO was one of the best cards WWE has put together in years and the talent delivered, setting the bar high and making for a tough act to follow. To the pleasant surprise of most fans, the early part of the card (minus the pre-show battle royals) featured several excellent matches. From the Miz/Rollins/Balor classic at the outset of the event all the way through the Rousey/Angle/HHH/Stephanie match, it seemed that the main roster was ready to meet that challenge.

However, after a few so-so matches mixed in among an underwhelming payoff to the Undertaker/Cena build, Daniel Bryan’s triumphant return to WM, and the weirdly constructed Styles/Nakamura match, it was clear that there were cracks throughout the foundation.

Then the house fell in on itself: Lesnar beat Reigns and the fans who were already actively antagonistic showered Lesnar and Reigns with boos all the way to Gorilla.

Creatively, WWE seems to be caught in a free fall ever since.

The tone-deaf money grab that was The Greatest Royal Rumble was hugely disappointing for many fans. The event was highlighted by yet another curiously booked Lesnar/Reigns match and culminating in an apology for mistakenly showing the “Best of Both Worlds” promo during the event and exposing the crowd to images of scantily-clad women, a big no-no in Saudi Arabia. Not a good way to punctuate what was intended to be an opportunity to promote the progressive agenda espoused by the current regime through good, clean fun (for anyone who isn’t a woman).

Oh, and Brock Lesnar, still the Universal Champion, hasn’t been seen since.

WWE proceeded to throw gas on the fire by having one of the worst PPVs ever just 9 days later. Aside from another really good match between Seth Rollins and The Miz, the remaining matches were predictably, if not curiously, booked. Also, I thought back to Seth Rollins’ promo on Raw, when he talked about the grind of the touring schedule, because it seemed like everyone was just missing a gear in regard to ringwork. Hopefully the extended time between Backlash and Money in the Bank will let the overtaxed talent heal up mentally and physically from the toll paid over the last month.

Perhaps most troublingly are the continued issues WWE creative has introducing or re-introducing talent to the WWE Universe. While I can’t fault fans for not immediately getting back on board with Bobby Lashley (yawn) or Big Cass (he didn’t do a single crunch while he was out?), my biggest concern still rests with how promoted talent are handled.

NXT stars brought to the main roster have been met with a TON of indifference, aside from the now-double-I IIconics. In fact, the most high-profile additions, Andrade “Cien” Almas and SaNity, have yet to be seen outside of a few “coming soon” vignettes. Regardless, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that anyone promoted from NXT is going to have their character augmented and usually it’s changed in such a way that fans lose interest quickly.

Oddly, the only character who didn’t undergo a change thus far are No Way Jose and that is a gimmick that was already dead in the water. I don’t care that everyone at house shows loves the conga line, it’s Adam Rose and the Rosebuds 2.0. He’ll probably be feuding with a person in a “jalapeno on a stick” suit soon given the success of “Bury the Drug Free Bear” and creative’s penchant for cultural misappropriation.

Overall, it hasn’t been the hot start to the new wrestling year that I’m sure WWE anticipated. Though the company itself might be coming off its greatest revenue year in history, time is already beginning to run short with the WWE Universe’s patience. If reports from some in attendance are to be believed, fans may have already been headed for the exits before the end of the Samoa Joe/Roman Reigns main event.

For a company that believes that anything that gets a reaction is good for business, that kind of action from fans is decidedly NOT good business.

Thanks for reading!

Kayfabe Thoughts: The Most Wonderful Time of the (Wrestling) Year!

(I’ve written a few columns this year for some other online sources and now I’m making those available here, so you might have already read this or it’s subject might be dated. If you’ve already read it: THANKS! If you haven’t: here you go!)

My 8 year old son loves the holiday season. Beginning on November 1, as he comes down from the candy high of Halloween the night before, he begins his countdowns: the first to Thanksgiving and then the big one to Christmas. His excitement grows every day as he anticipates the upcoming time with his extended family and, of course, the gifts. When Christmas finally comes, he wakes up early and with more enthusiasm than for any other day, determined to milk every moment out of the day he knows he only gets one time each year.

That’s me (and probably you, too) this week.

Get excited: it’s Wrestlemania week!

There are nearly 50 wrestling or wrestling-related events going on in New Orleans from promotions big and small. From NXT: Takeover and the flagship to “Pancakes and Piledrivers” presented by Pro Wrestling Revolver and WrestleCon; and even as far out as Kaiju Big Battel there is truly something for everyone to enjoy. Fans from around the world make plans up to a year in advance to attend, planning out their itineraries more meticulously than my wife planned our first trip to Disney World, in order to take in as much as possible and make memories that last a lifetime.

For those lucky enough to be in attendance, 3 things are for certain: sleep will be minimal; relationships will be tested; wrestling will be consumed.

Those of us who cannot attend will still find plenty of ways to take in as much as possible, pushing our ISP download speeds and couch cushions to their limits in the process. We can do so thanks to the number of streaming services offered these days by various wrestling promotions willing to take our money. While I can’t physically be present to see Cody and Kenny battle for Bullet Club supremacy (Bullet Club is FINE!), I can watch it all go down live for just $9.99 a month from the comfort of my own home.

Ah the internet: not just for porn anymore.

And the internet will be there for all of us fans, allowing those in attendance and those on their couches to give us their hottest takes about the week’s happenings, both real and fictional. Nope, scuttlebutt isn’t just for Meltzer anymore. Fans will take to Twitter and Periscope to tell us about how they had a friend who hooked up with a WWE creative team member and they saw the official match order and OMG Nakamura/Styles is on the pre-show and Alexa/Nia is going on last. They will tell us they saw Kenny kiss Kota outside a sex club on Bourbon St the night before SoH.

And we will eat that shit up, RTing and favoriting faster than a strike from Asuka and with less regard for the source than a GTS from KENTA.

We will also do our best to not just use wrestling’s biggest stage (bought and paid for by wrestling’s 800lb gorilla the WWE) as a platform to bring more people into wrestling’s fold, but we will use it as a device to continue to fracture and disenfranchise existing fans. We love to hate on each other in the name of what we think is the best way, instead of appreciating the differences between each promotion’s approach to booking their business.

There is nothing quite like the irony of someone in an Okada shirt berating a person in a Roman Reigns shirt because “Roman isn’t good. He’s just shoved down our throats every week.” It’s really quite breathtaking, but mostly it’s frustrating. One of my favorite places to browse for wrestling thoughts and ideas is r/SquaredCircle, but this week, I’ll try to avoid it. During this week, reason gets replaced by irrationality and flame wars abound. Still, to loosely quote the WWE philosophy, a negative reaction is still better than indifference, and there will be none of that to be found.

Still, there is so much more good than bad that will happen this week and, as always, I’m ready for it. Truthfully, I’ve been waiting for it since last year’s ended.

The best wrestling week of the year begins with excitement for ALL THE WRESTLING, ends after next Tuesday’s Smackdown with a feeling of gluttonous exhaustion from TOO MUCH GODDAMN WRESTLING, and usually features an apology to my wife somewhere in between.

Maybe I should go ahead and post a spoiler that the apology is coming via some theater tickets and a nice meal now?

Nah. Plans might change…

Thanks for reading!

Kayfabe Thoughts: Roman Reigns Is So Fetch

(Note: This opinion column also appears over at NODQ.com)

“Stop trying to make “fetch” happen! It’s not going to happen!” – Regina George

Nope, this column isn’t misplaced. I’ve just been recalling this phrase a lot lately when watching WWE.

This iconic line from 2004’s Mean Girls rings in my ears each and every time Roman Reigns appears on my screen. It also quickly follows any utterance of the phrase “THE BIG DOG!” by Michael Cole. It’s usually accompanied by a deep exhale, an eye roll, and the sudden urge to stop paying attention to whatever is on the screen.

Simply put, like a portion of the WWE Universe, I have a clear-cut case of Roman Fatigue.

Now, if you’re expecting a Roman Hate column, you won’t find it here. Roman is over and is no doubt the face of the company.

In fact, this really has nothing to do with Roman.

It’s not his fault.

If anything, his only perceived “crimes” are being too talented, too good-looking, and too charismatic. In reality, Roman Reigns ticks all the boxes of a traditional babyface and the WWE is sticking to how that specific star has been booked FOREVER and that, for me, is the heart of my real issue.

Babyfaces should lose in order to keep heat on whoever they are chasing in order to build sympathy with the audience and that is fundamental storytelling. It’s why Luke didn’t kill Vader in Episode 4, why Rocky didn’t beat Apollo in Rocky, and why Mario still fights Bowser.

But that’s not exactly how our entertainment works now.

We live in a hot-take, hot-n-ready, world. Everything moves faster. We want everything now or in as little time as possible. We don’t want ties – we want winners and losers. If the team struggles – fire the coach or trade the players. Don’t tell us Rose’s story – stick to Luke’s. (BTW: I love TLJ, don’t @ me!)

But with Roman, all of it has taken too long to pay off, and it seems like he’s shouldering the blame for years of booking decisions that were no fault of his own:

Roman didn’t hotshot himself into the championship picture as soon as The Shield broke up.

Reigns didn’t fail to book Daniel Bryan for the 2015 Royal Rumble.

He didn’t choose to book Rollins to cash in and win at WM31 while Reigns was at his absolute hottest (a fantastic moment) and I’m going to assume that it wasn’t his idea to lose to Brock again at not only WM34, but also Greatest Royal Rumble.

Creative is to blame for all that.

Bad luck in the form of contagious illness scuttled any goodwill that might have come along with The Shield reunion last fall.

Now, could Roman do some things better? Sure.

He certainly didn’t help himself by being suspended for violating the wellness policy while WWE Champion in June 2016 and killing any momentum from a program with former Shield-mates Rollins and Ambrose.

Reigns also continues to wear the tactical vest and cargo pants that he wore while a member of The Shield which makes his gear seem a bit boring after 5 years (also, even D’Lo Brown wonders why no one makes a big deal out of Roman wearing that vest!).

Finally, his handsome face is rather punchable while playing the cocky babyface.

In fact, Roman has been most interesting in the past year or so when he’s been on the arrogant side of things, be it with AJ Styles or The Undertaker, because he naturally gets heat. He’s a big, talented guy and the underdog angle doesn’t work for him because WE know he’s been on top for so long.

And that’s why creative should turn him heel for a stretch and hook him up with The Authority.

He should be a heel long enough to “reset” the character by being a badass, smug, unbeatable corporate heel.

Long enough so that when Reigns has had enough of being Triple H’s errand boy (as he used to call Seth Rollins) and rebels against them or when The Authority feels like he’s outlived his usefulness and they turn on Roman, it feels like something major is happening.

Long enough so that when his Shield brothers save him, it means something.

Not forever.

Just long enough.

Romans greatest potential lies in being a strong babyface because he IS one. But he can’t hit that potential without starting over and to start over in wrestling means either a turn or to go away and WWE would be foolish to bench Reigns for a long stretch.

It’s imperative that WWE finds a way to reset fan perception of its most bankable star quickly, just the same as they once had to with a stale Bret Hart.

Make Roman matter again.

Make Roman Reigns a heel.

You can contact me with any comments either by posting in the comment area below, @-ing me on Twitter (@factfreemedia) or by emailing me at factfreemedia@gmail.com You can also find me at my website: http://www.factfreemedia.com where I host my wrestling history podcast “Kayfabe Forever”, which drops each Friday-ish. The podcast is also available for download by searching “Kayfabe Forever” on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, iHeart Radio, or Tune In Radio and by following the show page on Facebook.

Kayfabe Thoughts: Raw is Bore…

WWE has a problem. The “go home” episode of Raw, the Raw that is supposed to set the table for half the Wrestlemania card’s matches (not to mention 2 matches that might potentially be the main event), was a total snore last night.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some good moments (Finn and Seth with Miz on commentary was pitch perfect), but by and large the second most important Raw episode of the year took a very safe, paint-by-numbers approach to match making and booking. In fact, the shot sheet for the show found its way into the hands of Fightful.com’s Sean Ross Sapp well in advance of show time and the show was note for note as he reported.

Now, Wrestlemania is the biggest wrestling show of the year for WWE, and in order for WWE to achieve the level of spectacle that “The Super Bowl of Wrestling” demands, WWE must protect storylines that, in some cases, have been planned meticulously for up to a year.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to book a tank for a party at the last minute, but it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s not like you can just call “Tanks R Us” and somebody will show up an hour later with an Abrams. You have to plan that out well in advance.

It’s also a bit unfair to expect much match variety and excitement from this Raw. The last thing that WWE wants to do is have a superstar booked in a high-profile match to be injured performing a high-risk spot less than a week before the biggest show of the year. Likewise, talent don’t want to find themselves missing out on the year’s most lucrative payday.

Future WWE Hall of Famer Bubba Ray Dudley shared similar thoughts on his Twitter feed last night after the match between Finn Balor and Seth Rollins concluded, saying “The #RAW and #SDLive before ‘Mania are probably the most “nerve wracking” shows of the year because no-one wants to get hurt before the big one.”

So, if the storylines are baked and the in-ring performances play it safe, what makes it to air must be crisp and interesting and that is where Raw failed last night.

The in-ring work last night was largely solid. Most of the blame lays with the continued lazy booking and writing of the creative team. Unfortunately, clunky promos meant opportunities to heighten interest further were missed.

For example, Nia Jax’s interview segment with Renee Young may have been the best thing we’ve seen during her time in WWE and was among the high points of the show. Nia was at the same time vulnerable and strong, fiercely focused on getting revenge on her former best friend Alexa Bliss.

On the other side of the story, Alexa delivered what I consider one of her worst promos, punctuated by the WWE’s continued use of pop-up, bold font text. As in previous weeks, Bliss and Mickie James again poorly delivered the content of this Mean Girls like program, being more shrill and whiney than Regina George cutting and cruel.

What’s most troubling is that lately it feels like Alexa’s standing with the crowd might be suffering as a result of this booking, as her once narcissistic but charming character is receiving a bit of the infamous X-Pac “GO HOME!” heat from the crowd. Hopefully, once this story has run its course that the character recovers and no long-term damage has been done, because Alexa Bliss has developed into a bankable villainess on the main roster in a way unseen during her time in NXT.

Finally, the John Cena/Undertaker program still continues to confound much of the WWE Universe. Weeks of Cena calling out the Undertaker on Raw still ultimately led to nothing in return from the Deadman. With less than a week to go before Wrestlemania, WWE’s biggest star of the last decade and a half still has no opponent.

Personally, I’m in favor of the Undertaker continuing to remain retired, as last year’s swan song with Reigns at least made up for the uneven performances of the previous few appearances while providing a proper sendoff. However, the persistent, somewhat desperate pleas from Cena made a return seem imminent but still only silence. Ultimately, if there is no resolution here, if Big Evil and Super Cena don’t come face to face on the grandest stage of them all, fans will be left asking what all of that posturing was for if not a match between the two icons?

Of course, all of this will be forgiven if the payoffs for all these angles live up to their potential on Sunday, and I can’t wait to find out how Smackdown Live unfolds tonight.

WWE needs to be wary of the potholes on the home stretch of the Road to Wrestlemania. McMahon and company just need to keep their eyes and ears alert along the way.

Thanks for reading!

Kayfabe Thoughts: The Best Wrestling Week of the Year!

My 8 year old son loves the holiday season. Beginning on November 1, as he comes down from the candy high of Halloween the night before, he begins his countdowns: the first to Thanksgiving and then the big one to Christmas. His excitement grows every day as he anticipates the upcoming time with his extended family and, of course, the gifts. When Christmas finally comes, he wakes up early and with more enthusiasm than for any other day, determined to milk every moment out of the day he knows he only gets one time each year.

That’s me (and probably you, too) this week.

Get excited: it’s Wrestlemania week!

There are nearly 50 wrestling or wrestling-related events going on in New Orleans from promotions big and small. From NXT: Takeover and the flagship to “Pancakes and Piledrivers” presented by Pro Wrestling Revolver and WrestleCon; and even as far out as Kaiju Big Battel there is truly something for everyone to enjoy. Fans from around the world make plans up to a year in advance to attend, planning out their itineraries more meticulously than my wife planned our first trip to Disney World, in order to take in as much as possible and make memories that last a lifetime.

For those lucky enough to be in attendance, 3 things are for certain: sleep will be minimal; relationships will be tested; wrestling will be consumed.

Those of us who cannot attend will still find plenty of ways to take in as much as possible, pushing our ISP download speeds and couch cushions to their limits in the process. We can do so thanks to the number of streaming services offered these days by various wrestling promotions willing to take our money. While I can’t physically be present to see Cody and Kenny battle for Bullet Club supremacy (Bullet Club is FINE!), I can watch it all go down live for just $9.99 a month from the comfort of my own home.

Ah the internet: not just for porn anymore.

And the internet will be there for all of us fans, allowing those in attendance and those on their couches to give us their hottest takes about the week’s happenings, both real and fictional. Nope, scuttlebutt isn’t just for Meltzer anymore. Fans will take to Twitter and Periscope to tell us about how they had a friend who hooked up with a WWE creative team member and they saw the official match order and OMG Nakamura/Styles is on the pre-show and Alexa/Nia is going on last. They will tell us they saw Kenny kiss Kota outside a sex club on Bourbon St the night before SoH.

And we will eat that shit up, RTing and favoriting faster than a strike from Asuka and with less regard for the source than a GTS from KENTA.

We will also do our best to not just use wrestling’s biggest stage (bought and paid for by wrestling’s 800lb gorilla the WWE) as a platform to bring more people into wrestling’s fold, but we will use it as a device to continue to fracture and disenfranchise existing fans. We love to hate on each other in the name of what we think is the best way, instead of appreciating the differences between each promotion’s approach to booking their business.

There is nothing quite like the irony of someone in an Okada shirt berating a person in a Roman Reigns shirt because “Roman isn’t good. He’s just shoved down our throats every week.” It’s really quite breathtaking, but mostly it’s frustrating. One of my favorite places to browse for wrestling thoughts and ideas is r/SquaredCircle, but this week, I’ll try to avoid it. During this week, reason gets replaced by irrationality and flame wars abound. Still, to loosely quote the WWE philosophy, a negative reaction is still better than indifference, and there will be none of that to be found.

Still, there is so much more good than bad that will happen this week and, as always, I’m ready for it. Truthfully, I’ve been waiting for it since last year’s ended.

The best wrestling week of the year begins with excitement for ALL THE WRESTLING, ends after next Tuesday’s Smackdown with a feeling of gluttonous exhaustion from TOO MUCH GODDAMN WRESTLING, and usually features an apology to my wife somewhere in between.

Maybe I should go ahead and post a spoiler that the apology is coming via some theater tickets and a nice meal now?

Nah. Plans might change…

Thanks for reading!

 

Kayfabe Thoughts: WWE Sometimes Stands for “What’s Wrong Everywhere”

There is something wrong with the WWE.

Ratings are down or flat for Monday Night Raw, WWE Network subscriber growth has slowed, the 205 Live program draws fewer viewers than Attitude Era programming on the WWE Network (and very sparse crowds watching the product live), and fan interest in the product as a whole is waning. Almost more troubling, recent attempts to create new stars from talent developed via the WWE’s NXT initiative have been more miss than hit. This has lead to repackaged feuds between older or already established superstars, and these recycled storylines have been met with large amounts of indifference and even displeasure from the WWE Universe. Reports from fans in attendance at live events also seem to indicate that negative crowd reactions to performers or story beats are being turned down by the production truck so that viewers perceive a reaction closer to what WWE creative desires for the product (Note: WWE has long turned down boos and turned up cheers for their anointed stars, but lately it seems they are piping in reactions for reaction’s sake).

Recent polling indicates that the average WWE fan’s age has risen from 28 years old in 2000 to age 54 in 2017 which seems to show that young fans are aging out of the product and not coming back. If this holds, WWE will find itself unable to sell ad space targeting the extremely lucrative 18-54 ratings demographic to major companies during their primetime broadcasts as easily as they do now, which would really hurt the company’s profitability and growth, as their TV contracts are a huge revenue stream for the company.

For a company which prides itself on finding out what’s best for business by taking the pulse of the crowd and proceeding based off what they appear to want, something is quite off. Whether it is product over saturation due to having 5 hours of network TV to fill each week and not enough good ideas to fill it, inner turmoil between the old guard and the new in regards to how talent and storylines are booked, or talent injury and/or lazy storytelling curbing audience enthusiasm, it’s becoming clear that something radical may need to be done, and quickly, to right the ship.

While the WWE has long found itself subject to peaks and valleys. The astronomical successes of the 1980’s brought along by the meteoric rise of superstars like Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage faded into the cacophonic mess that was the early to mid 1990’s. This period was marred by terrible characters (see: The Goon, Mantaur, Bastion Booger, etc) and abysmal writing and the WWE was extremely close to going out of business completely as a result. Were it not for the WWE taking a chance by allowing their talent the freedom to take more risks in the ring and on the microphone and following the fan’s reaction to non-traditional superstars like Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mick Foley, and The Rock, the WWE might currently be in the mess of failed Scrabble-tile-like wrestling federation monikers along with the NWA, AWA, and UWF.

While the McMahon’s get the bulk of the credit for the company’s successful periods, like any other sports or entertainment endeavors, largely these successes are built on the back of the collaboration between the performers and creative staff to produce engaging stories. Simply put, it is easier for a writer to write and take chances when they know that their ideas are in good hands. Likewise, skilled performers take ideas and add their character’s perspective and feeling, giving depth,  breadth, and action to the words. When these pieces come together and are presented in a way that the audience can feel and become invested into, magic happens (see: Hogan/Savage Wrestlemania V; Rock/Austin Wrestlemania X7; Cena/Punk; Bryan/Authority).

From all indications, while the McMahon’s are amazing proprietors and marketers of professional wrestling, they appear to be struggle with creating an engaging product that captures fan’s attention. Vince McMahon has long preferred the spectacle of a performer, which has led to numerous prodding matches featuring large, slow, technically lacking stars and other performers pushed because of their look. There are so many stories from past WWE staff members regarding Vince’s initial negative reaction to performers based on how they looked (Mick Foley) or their overall size (Eddie Guerrero), only to be proven wrong by the fan’s reaction to them, that this assumption has to be a valid one.

Stephanie McMahon leads the creative team, but her TV persona lacks the depth with which her real-life self seems to burst.  Nearly every interaction between Stephanie and a babyface male superstar ends up feeling somewhat generic in that the interaction culminates in “Stephanie’s Two S’s”: the Sneer and the Slap. As the modern day WWE operates with a kid and family friendly intent, the slap only neuters the male victim, as they can have no comeuppance. The ability to strike back against an evil oppressor in a manner greater than or equal to what was doled out is an elementary key to resolving any physically escalated conflict within a story, and the reliance on using lazy, overused trope makes me wonder if Stephanie is  best placed as head of creative or if she would be better suited in another company impacting role which would still highlight her incredible charisma, knowledge, and passion.

These hinderances which are rooted in the McMahon’s are not likely to be resolved as long as the family is in control of the company and it’s inner workings unless it they are willing to hire some people that are willing to speak up and work to convince the McMahon’s to take chances on large scale changes which could reinvigorate the fan base. There are several things that the McMahon’s and the WWE could do to facilitate this change.

Pro wrestling’s roots grew out of the carnival and circus industry. In the early days, wrestlers were part of the show, traveling and living with other other carnival workers. In fact, modern day sports entertainment still adheres to guidance developed during the early days. Early wrestlers adopted “carny speak” as a way to communicate inside and outside the ring. Also, wrestling fans are sometimes referred to as “marks”, the same as midway-goers identified by carnies as easy targets.

The most prominent of the traditions still followed by today’s performers is the itinerate nature of carnival culture. Day after day, week after week, the show travels around from town to town, sometimes with multiple shows in different towns in a single day, with few off days for performers in between. Missed dates mean missed dollars and that stands firmly against the carny code.

The WWE prides itself on keeping it’s performers on the road in order to keep the WWE Universe entertained. Wrestlers are responsible for their own transportation to these events, typically scheduled within a drivable distance from each other. As wrestlers are also responsible for their own expenses while on the road, many will travel together, splitting the cost of rental cars, hotels, and meals. The communal aspect of this experience often allows talent to bond and idea-share and the long-held tradition of good guys riding with good guys and bad guys riding with bad guys is still encouraged. This touring schedule is a point of pride for the WWE, as they routinely tout that performers are generally on the road in excess of 250 days per year.

While this can be looked at as similar to what the average, full-time, 5 day per week, worker across America works per year, consider the wear and tear accumulated by wrestlers due the way the business operates. According to Cagematch.net, Dean Ambrose had more matches than any other performer on the WWE roster in 2016 with 204. On the road, they are stuffed into rental cars, sitting for hours at a time, headed to the next town on the tour. Wrestlers also make appearances throughout the tour at events in show towns that are being held by company sponsors, in addition to taking time to meet with fans associated with various charity and philanthropic groups. Once these obligations and bookings are met, performers typically get on planes and head back to their homes for a couple of days and restart the cycle again.

One can gleam from opinions offered by many current and former pro wrestlers that this grind can lead to injury and burnout. As with any workplace, health and well-being are key, but these are paramount in sports entertainment, as mental fatigue can cause lackluster performances. This can lead to uninspired work on the microphone in the best case to an unintended injury for the performer or opponent in the worst case. Either way, both the performer and overall product suffer as a result.

While WWE employs some of the most finely tuned athletes in the world, even the best of the best fall victim to the rigors required by the job. Injuries to superstars Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, and Finn Balor in recent years have caused the World Championship and Universal Championship to be vacated and long-built storylines to change quickly. One can only wonder if these injuries were freak instances that occurred, or as a result of the accumulated toll paid by each of these athletes over the course of the schedule required of them.

In the United States, the professional sport with the most games and the longest season is Major League Baseball. Teams play over 30 spring training games and 162 regular season games between mid-February and late September, with 10 teams eventually qualifying for postseason play in October, adding an additional 11 games (at minimum) for the final 2 teams. This means that the average player will come to the ballpark 192 times per season and players on the best teams will have 203 games (at minimum). Considering players don’t play every day and have travel demands similar in scope (but very dissimilar accommodations), the demands of the baseball season seem most similar to a WWE Superstar, minus the physicality.

There is one other major difference: baseball players are given 3-4 months off to recover and prepare for the next season. The WWE is never on hiatus.

Adopting an off-season is my first suggestion to shake things up and I have some ideas as to how it could be managed in such a way as to not only not break the business, but make it best for business.

How exactly would an off-season work in the WWE? Interestingly, it might be easier to institute an off-season than previously thought, as many of the pieces are already in place that would help cover the hiatus.

Firstly, the hiatus would be 8-12 weeks in length and it would begin immediately after the Wrestlemania wrap-up shows. The WWE has long looked at Wrestlemania as their unofficial year end. Choosing to end the season at this point would keep Wrestlemania positioned as the biggest show of the year and allow the WWE to continue to sell full-week travel packages that include the Raw and Smackdown shows that follow Wrestlemania at a premium price. Potentially, these packages may be even more in-demand if these shows are the de facto “season finales” (to borrow a TV term) for their brand, as they could also be used as the launching pad for the next season’s stories.

During this off-season, RAW’s network TV time would be filled by NXT broadcasts, which would be 2 hours in length. This would allow non-network subscribers to be exposed to new wrestlers, so that when those performers are promoted to the main roster, viewers would already be familiar with them. This would also benefit the performers, allowing them to perform on live TV and do some touring.  NXT is currently taped weeks in advance and aired on the network and does limited touring. Dropping the show to 2 hours keeps the unseasoned talent from being overexposed and the limited run of the series could bring more eyes to the network when the show transitions back to it’s normal schedule.

The additional hour on Monday night would be filled with what is referred to by baseball fans as “Hot Stove League” type content. The hour long program would recap the previous show’s action (similar to Talking Smack) but also include draft coverage and speculation and interviews with talent that help set up the forthcoming season’s content. Smackdown’s time slot would be filled by limited-run content like the Cruiserweight Classic or other tournament style content which would grab fan interest and conclude in time for the new season to commence.

The final week of the off-season will be devoted to 2 things: the draft on Monday night followed by trades and free agent signings on Tuesday night. WWE’s draft specials and roster shakeups typically are much anticipated events, but are often anti-climactic in the way they are handled. 

Before the draft, at the start of the show Monday night, each GM will submit a list of 5 wrestlers on their current roster that are “protected” and unable to be drafted by the other brand. Tag Teams will count as 1 total unit. Those designated as “protected” will not be able to be designated as such for the next year’s draft. Champions for each brand are exempt from being drafted and do not need to be protected but can be traded only on the first night for other champions, those with the “protected” designation, and draft picks. These are the only trades allowed on the first night.

Also, each GM will release 5 performers, making them free agents. All remaining unprotected talent will be draft eligible. The draft will proceed using alternating picks between the two GMs, unless there are acquired picks that change the order, until 20 total selections have been made. Each GM’s draft picks must include one member from the pool of NXT talent. Any undrafted wrestler remains property of the brand that they were on before the draft occurred and are trade-eligible Tuesday night. 

Tuesday, the final night of the off season, will consist of free agent signings and trades. No champions or draft picks places can be traded on Tuesday night, but “protected” members can still be traded. If there are any players that remain unsigned from among the released players, they will remain free agents and are eligible to compete on the NXT roster until signed. All NXT performers will be treated as free agents after this night. At the conclusion of Tuesday night’s show, all rosters will be frozen at 35 total performers eligible to compete on RAW or Smackdown and free agents can be signed only if there is an injury or corresponding release. There will be one additional time in the year when trades can be made and that is the night after Summerslam, after which time rosters will be again frozen. 

Once the first year of this new process has completed, any talent that has performed for a brand for a year but has not been protected, drafted, traded, or released will become a free agent eligible to resign with their current brand or negotiate with the other brand.

Now that the new off-season has been laid out, there are a few other things that can be done to help.

The next change to be made to the WWE product would involve realigning the talent into divisions. With only 35 performers per show, there will be room for the WWE to spotlight other wrestlers by making changes to how existing divisions  are presented and introducing a new division altogether.

The first change would be to create a new WWE Network show for the now-robust tag team division. Right now, with the roster as deep as ever, so many tag teams with huge amounts of potential have gone under used, have had their storylines cut short only to seemingly disappear (see: American Alpha and Slater/Rhyno) or have been broken up prematurely. As some of the best matches over the last couple of years have come out of the tag team division (specifically NXT tag teams), this division deserves it’s own time on the schedule in order to maximize the talent.

This show would air on Wednesday night after NXT with the matches taped before Raw and Smackdown (the same process by which Main Event matches are taped). Tag teams from both Raw and Smackdown would appear on this show, with strict adherence to brand specific competition. This change would allow the tag team division to give extra time to shine and keep them from having to compete in 8 man tag matches on their respective shows in order to gain exposure.

Finally, the annual Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Tournament (which really should be the Teddy Long Tag Team Tournament given the Playa-in-Chief’s love of tag team matches, but that’s neither here nor there), would be featured on this show. 10 teams would qualify for the tournament, with the top 3 non-champion teams from each brand being automatic qualifiers. The remaining 4 teams would be composed of the 4th ranked team from each brand and 2 teams from NXT and these teams would face off in the wild card round. The NXT teams would be the NXT tag team champions and 1 other team which wins a qualifying tournament from among NXT tag teams. The #4 Raw team would face the NXT Tag Team champions while the #4 Smackdown team would face the NXT tag tournament winners.

The brands would be mixed when the teams are seeded after the wild card round. The #1 Raw team would face off with the winner of the matchup between the #4 Smackdown team and the NXT tag tournament winners, while the #1 Smackdown team gets the winner of the other wild card contest. The #2 team from each brand will be on the opposite side of the bracket from their brand’s #1 team and will face the #3 team from the opposite brand (i.e. #2 Smackdown will face #3 Raw on the Raw #1’s side of the bracket). This will allow the best teams to face off regardless of brand affiliation and a legitimate winner to emerge with bragging rights. The winner of the tournament will receive the existing trophy and a championship match versus their brand’s champion. If an NXT team wins (which would be awesome booking, btw), they would choose which brand’s champion they would face, with a main roster contract available as well should they win.

The addition of this show and the showcase tournament would allow extra time for the competitors in this division to show their amazing talent to a broader audience by offering additional match time. With the current tag team division being currently being so stocked with talent, this only stands to help prove the old adage that is long-held by wrestlers and wrestling fans alike: great tag team wrestling is often some of the best wrestling around.

The final changes I would make involve the women’s division.

In 2014, the WWE found itself in an historically unprecedented situation: the company was flush with talented female performers. While the WWE long featured female wrestlers, physical looks were often times the focus of the attention given to the division, with competitors competing in gimmick-heavy matches (pudding wrestling, bra and panties matches, swimsuit competitions, etc.) meant to mask the fact that many of these women weren’t very technically proficient. Very little training was given to these women before they were thrown onto the roster, many meant to be eye-candy first and viable performers second. WWE chose to rebrand them as “Divas” instead of women’s wrestlers. Somewhat sadly for the women who had taken the time to develop their skills and become world-class in ring performers, they were rarely able to shine as brightly as capable because of the division’s skill imbalance.

As the WWE developmental system evolved, the WWE made a pointed effort to recruit and attract female talent whose background was in athletics. WWE also hired coaches who understood not just wrestling, but coaches who understood how to maximize matches in order to exploit the unique style of high-level women’s wrestling.

This approach paid dividends. WWE brought in several good, young ladies who either already had wrestling experience or had been already been exposed to the business, and the division became one of the most compelling parts of the NXT product, and the so-called “women’s revolution” subsequently became a social media phenomenon. Once this new generation of performers proved to the fans that there was more substance than hype, WWE dumped the “Divas” and began referring to them as “Superstars”, same as the men.

Somewhat unfortunately, even as the roster continues to be bursting with skill, interest seems to be waning. The women were split across the Raw and Smackdown brands, which has led to some curious matchups and repetitive booking. Further, the way the rosters were split intentionally or unintentionally created a noticeable talent gap between the shows.

Bringing the women back together as part of the Smackdown brand is the first step to fixing the these issues. Allowing the best performers the opportunity to compete against each other is key to stoking fan interest in this division. Just as important is affording them adequate time to tell their stories. Often times, women’s matches seem cut short and sometimes end abruptly, leaving fans confused and storylines truncated.

Adding a 30 minute, WWE Network exclusive women’s show solves this problem. While 205 Live hasn’t been a total success, it has given the cruiserweight division room to breathe and allowed the competitors to have some really good matches without being overexposed. The women’s show would do the same.

The final change coming to the women’s division would be the creation of a Women’s Tag Team Championship. The roster is deep enough at this point that multi participant matches are commonplace and the additional title would allow for another title to be pursued. Tag team wrestling has also proven to be a launching point for many great singles runs and the opportunity to showcase more performers only stands to benefit the talent involved.

By mimicking the operation of another division, the WWE could further legitimize the women’s division as more than just a sideshow. These changes would strengthen the performers, the Smackdown brand, and overall WWE Network content, all while helping to grow the next generation of women’s wrestlers.

So that’s it. What do you think? Let me know in the comments or reach out to me on social media (@factfreemedia on Twitter or search Kayfabe Forever on Facebook). Thanks for reading!