The Wrong E in WWE

I have to admit it – I marked out big time when Goldberg returned, and then some more when I realized he wasn’t going to be ‘fed’ to an over-built, over-hyped Brock Lesnar. It wasn’t just me. A friend from those days when WWE was aWWEsome called me all the way from Canada just to tell me, “OMG! Did you see Goldberg???”

But, as the Internet Wrestling Committee keeps cribbing on forums and chatboards day after day, it’s unfortunate that it’s the old names who are still keeping up the excitement (not the interest, which is a different thing altogether) in the product. Even a short Bret Hart or HBK skit elicits more cheers and chatter than a white-hot Ziggler promo or a Miz move. Not a conversation goes by that doesn’t talk of Roman Reigns’s ‘undeserved’ push ad nauseum ad infinitum, or how SuperCena is still the go-to face that can’t be brought to turn heel.

Inevitably, the comparisons are to the WWE’s Attitude Era. Today’s stars are placed against Stone Cold, Kurt Angle, the Rock, Triple H et al; naturally, the legends take the votes. But it isn’t because they were better wrestlers, or even more gifted with the mic. It’s just that the storylines these past few years have let down the fans and the wrestlers alike, plagued with a variety of issues.

1) Fewer OTT/Wow moments: Even a cursory browse of Youtube videos for such moments tells you how difficult it is to select truly Over-the-top “Holy Shit!” moments in the past decade. True, safety is so much more important these days, especially since Linda McMahon continues to nurse political ambitions and injury-related casualties have been on the rise, but that’s no excuse for lazy narratives. Imagine the Ministry of Darkness siding with the Corporate; the closest tween I could find was the Big Show screwing the Shield to help the Rhodes brothers win the title.

2) Long Memories: During the Attitude Era (and before it, certainly) feuds used to last years, spilling into each others, creating a sense of tension and “can-you-trust-him” grayness. Today, it’s more black and white, and rarely lasts beyond a few weeks, let alone Mania to Mania.
Big Show’s turn, to continue with the point I was making earlier, was something I anticipated eagerly; it never happened, reducing him to a lower mid-card thanks to the lack of interest the WWE seemed to have in pushing him. Honestly, I’ve lost track of the mid-card feuds these days – they seems so frivolous and short-lived, the only energy in them coming from occasional, heartfelt bursts of the wrestlers themselves, let down because some executive somewhere decides, on the basis of numbers perhaps, that it isn’t ‘compelling’ enough. You have to give stories time to build up, to get the viewers invested in the outcome, and then to take it in a new direction instead of forgetting about it altogether. You can’t expect the viewers to take a fight seriously when you don’t.

3) Get Steph off the screen: Honestly, if you aren’t going to keep us guessing what she’s going to do, you might as well not have her at all. Stephanie McMahon was one of the key actors of the attitude era, playing the helpless heiress one day and the calculatingly-remorseless businesswoman the next. Now she’s just a placeholder for when Triple H shows up and kicks ass. A bot can write the Stephanie-Foley segments these days, predictable and repetitive as they are.

4) Give Shane something more to do: Shane McMahon’s return was another cause de celebre when it happened, but his engagement these days seems to be petering out towards pointlessness as well. If Stephanie-Foley makes no sense because they can’t seem to work together, Shane-Bryan teeters on the edge of yawndowm because they don’t add their own twists to what’s happening. They are are in agreement far too often to make both of them necessary.

5) Stop forgetting your strengths: Let’s not mince words. As talented as WWE’s superstars are, it’s never been about their wrestling abilities alone. Sure, you need solid matches and in-ring talent to push the product, but the reason WWE held the crown during the Monday Night Wars after Mankind’s win was the storytelling. It was OTT, wacky, counter-intuitive… and we lapped it up, week after week. You had the Rock throwing Stone Cold off a bridge; you had hit-and-runs, vengeance, multi-pronged feuds. You had beer-baths and milk-baths. Basically, the E stood for Exciting then, not merely Entertainment.

And that’s what Vinnie Mac’s team needs to rediscover soon if their television revenues must keep coming in. It can’t have missed the top management’s attention that with ratings slipping, it’s only a matter of time before advertisers decide to pull out and back something else. Nxt is shaping up nicely, but it’s still a long way away from catching up with Raw and Smackdown – unless the red- and blue-brands oblige by dropping their own numbers. Which, on present trends, is not an impossibility.

As a once-fanatic and now meh-let-me-see-what-happened-this-week viewer, I can only hope that there is something for the next generation of Helmsley-McMahon’s to do a coast-to-coast for.