Within the overdue Nineties, something bizarre took place that made each person abruptly start giving a crap approximately wrestling. It became referred to as “The Monday night Wars,” and it essentially boiled all the way down to this: wrestling packages went head-to-head every Monday night in a battle to nut-slap each other out of existence. What made it so damn addicting become that you could watch those corporations being pricks to each other in actual time. They poached every others’ stars on a regular foundation. WCW would announce WWF spoilers stay at the air to prevent humans from switching over to their display (which changed into taped). Hell, at one factor, WWE sent a group of wrestlers to break WCW’s stay broadcast, which became being finished inside the subsequent metropolis over.
Eventually, Vince McMahon received. He sold WCW, and that became that. Alas, scores were dying ever considering the fact that, and they lately admitted at some point of an interview that they do not know how to restoration it.
Do not get me incorrect here. I’ve never worked in the industry. The best humans i have ever wrestled didn’t understand it changed into going to show up till I pounced on them. I do not know how contracts paintings or the manner they use for developing an episode of uncooked. But I do understand what made me begin watching wrestling, what made me continue watching wrestling, and what subsequently made me say “Fuck wrestling.” and that i realize an entire titload of folks who experience the identical way. The short model is that WWE has overpassed what makes a tv display (now not just a wrestling show) exciting. The long version is a lot more complicated. So for the individuals who are not terrified of phrases, let’s wreck that down …
#5. The “Creative Department” Basically Doesn’t Exist
Sergey Nivens/iStock/Getty Images
Some time around 2008, the WWE switched its content from beer, cursing, blood, and ass to a TV-PG rating. Wrestling fans love to speculate as to why that happened, but there’s no single underlying reason. You could easily write several books on possible causes, ranging from the double-murder/suicide of Chris Benoit the previous year to an attempt to clean up so they could sell more toys and video games. They’re a publicly-traded company with stockholders to protect. So be it. But there’s a reason I’m bringing this up, and it’s a pretty important point.
When fans talk about how the Attitude Era was so much better (and they talk about it constantly), they often attribute its high ratings to the adult-oriented content. While I’m sure that cursing and titties did play a role in its popularity, what they forget to factor in (aside from the fact that the Monday Night War itself was a huge selling point) was that in that era, every major character had a storyline. Stone Cold was fighting back against a corrupt boss who was actively trying to keep him from becoming the face of the company. The Undertaker had a dark secret from his past: a little brother, whom he thought had died in a fire, was found to be alive and coming for revenge. Mick Foley was slowly going insane and developing split personalities. He was easily manipulated by Vince McMahon, and was being used as a pawn in a greater plot.
Lawrence Lucier/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Nobody does a “fuck your mother” look quite like Vince.
It sounds silly, doesn’t it? Then again, Star Wars was about a boy with space magic and a sword made out of light who defeated his robot father with love. The point is that everyone had a deeper motivation than just “I want to be the champion.”
I can’t remember the last good storyline in the modern era of wrestling. They’ve started a few, but it doesn’t feel like anyone in the company knows how to follow through and deliver on them. For instance, they created a mysterious redneck cult called “The Wyatt Family” who are super creepy. They often speak in vague, ominous riddles, which is pretty cool, because it makes you want to stick around to see what it all means. For months, the WWE built up their coming debut, and when they finally arrived, it was pants-shittingly awesome:
So they’re coming after Kane? Awesome. Why? What do they want with him? In the following weeks, we’d find out that they were going to show him the true meaning of the word “fear,” and they were going to turn him into the demon that they know he is. Even more awesome. So they’re going to recruit him into their cult? Turn him to the Dark Side?
Nope, they had a match, and after the Wyatts won, the plot was over. Kane didn’t join their cult. The Wyatts didn’t progress into a bigger, better story. It turns out that Kane just needed some time off to go film See No Evil 2, and having the Wyatts “injure” him was a means of explaining his absence from TV.
Keep in mind, this is the most interesting story they’ve had in several years. The majority of the others boil down to, “I want to win this match because I can wrestle better than you.” They set up a match between The Rock and John Cena one year in advance, based entirely on the storyline “John Cena talked shit about me.” That’s not an exaggeration. That was the whole story: a “meet me in the playground after school” beef. And what that tells us as fans is, “If these two extremely popular guys wrestle each other, you will buy tickets or subscribe to our network, no matter what.” I’ve put more effort into wiping my ass than the “creative” team put into that booking, and that’s become par for the course in the WWE.
So how do they fix that? A good start would be to come up with defined stories for every single person who enters that ring. Give them a reason to be there. Hell, give us a reason to be there — make us come back next Monday because we have to find out what happens next. This isn’t some radical idea. This is TV 101. It’s something they understood back in the Attitude Era, and I’m blown away that they don’t understand it now.
#4. There Is No Longer Any Suspense Or Surprise
Scott Griessel/iStock/Getty Images
In the industry (and for hardcore fans), championship titles mean one thing: This is the person the WWE has marked as the company’s highest standard. For most other fans, it is a prop. It’s the reward that a hero receives for overcoming the odds and defeating the villain, or the trophy a villain receives for being extra good at evil. Either way you look at it, whoever holds that title is the good guy or the dickhole, as both a performer and a character.
There’s a very simple formula that all of wrestling has used since the invention of pay-per-view, and it goes something like this. Good guy wrestles bad guy every week for a month. He loses most of those matches because the bad guy is a cheating asshole. They then have a match at a pay-per-view, and the good guy finally wins the title. The audience feels vindicated. Now, you either up the ante for their story and take it to the next level, or that match becomes the ending point to their feud, and you introduce a brand-new story with a brand-new dickhole.
And you know his name is Chad.
It doesn’t always play out that way, but that’s the general idea. It’s Pavlovian; you feel good when the hero wins, so you keep coming back for that payoff. It’s emotional heroin. It’s a way to coax people into buying tickets, and it totally works. If you’re going to see a title change hands, you’re going to see it there, so you might as well buy a ticket and see it firsthand, right? Actually, it’s not quite that simple.
Let’s go back to 1999, when WWE hit their highest ratings. Because of the Monday Night War, both companies had to constantly surprise the audience. They were forced to do something every week that, if you missed it, made you think, “FUCK! Why did I pick that night to feed my kids?!” The easiest way to accomplish that was by throwing away the old pay-per-view payoff format and make new champions on the totally free TV show. That year, the WWE World Heavyweight Championship changed hands 12 times. Six of those times happened on regular TV.
In 2015, the title changed hands four times (two of which happened in the same pay-per-view). Of those four, exactly one happened on RAW. In fact, if you don’t count the one time they held a tournament to claim a vacated title, the last time a heavyweight championship was “legitimately” fought for and won by a challenger on regular TV was November of 2010. Before that, June of 2009. Before that, July of 2006. Before that, September of 2003
And the belts are really weird-looking now.
But that’s the big title, right? What about the Intercontinental Championship? It’s not as important in the eyes of regular fans, so there should be more flexibility in moving it around. In 1999, that one changed hands 10 times (technically 11, but that’s the year Owen Hart died, so there was a special circumstance involved). Five of those were on TV. In 2015, it happened five times — only one of them wasn’t on a pay-per-view.
So what am I tuning in for, exactly? There aren’t any compelling storylines, so it’s definitely not for that. I’m not being surprised by an underdog coming out of nowhere and upsetting the champion. Any time they introduce a match and say, “This is for the title,” I can say with near-certainty that the title is staying right where it is. You can predict the outcome of those matches before they even start. It takes away 100 percent of the suspense. At that point, I’m just watching two guys pretending to fight … and that’s just kind of weird.
If the WWE wants people to start giving a crap again, they’re going to have to reintroduce the element of surprise. If not with the championship titles, then at least with some good old-fashioned heel turns (good guy suddenly turns bad) or face turns (bad guy suddenly becomes good). That used to be a weekly occurrence back in the height of wrestling’s popularity, but now they follow the same rules as title switches, which is “NOPE! If you want to see that, you’ll PAY for it, fucker!”
#3. There’s Something Modern Wrestlers Don’t Understand About Their Roles
One of the most valuable assets in all of wrestling, regardless of the company, is a good heel. Someone the fans genuinely hate. It’s a lot harder than it sounds, because a lot of guys who try end up sounding like an actor who’s playing the role of a villain, instead of a man with genuine disdain for the audience. The person who can do that is vital because when he finally gets the shit kicked out of him by the hero, the audience feels retribution. His defeat is their reward for tuning in week after week. He is an emotional catalyst.
But there’s a second part to that role. Given enough time, most heels will inevitably develop a following. Or another wrestler will need to take over that spot in order to prevent the show from becoming a bucket of dead squid. At that point, the villain needs to flip and turn into the hero. Very few people are able to do that.
For example, here’s what Alberto Del Rio looks like as a heel:
Every part of that is fucking vile. Not just his actions — beating up a lowly ring announcer — but also the look on his face, the sound of his punches and kicks, the way he smugly holds up his belt to the crowd as if to say, “There’s not a goddamn thing you can do about it.” Watching that makes you want to hurt him.
That is what Alberto Del Rio was born to do: Be a remorseless punching machine. He plays the part of an evil turd perfectly. Here’s what he looks like as a babyface:
Every part of that is fucking vile. Not just his ridiculous “I’m a good guy now” speech, but also the way the words unnaturally flop out of his stupid suckhole. The fake gas station manager’s smile. Trying so hard to convince us that he’s on the level. He wasn’t trying to trick the audience there — he’s just that bad at playing a babyface. Watching that makes you want to hurt him.
Now I want you to take a look at Stone Cold Steve Austin as a heel:
That’s a pretty damn good heel. It feels like he’s going to come right out of the screen and kick your ass, just for having the gall to watch him on TV. Let’s see what he looks like as a babyface:
Oh. Well, hell. It’s almost like he kept the same exact ass-kicker attitude, except he pointed that aggression toward established heels instead of established faces. Huh. That’s weird. I thought that when a wrestler went from villain to hero, he had to put on a big-ass smile and give everyone an enthusiastic thumbs-up. I mean, I know that Stone Cold became one of the biggest stars the WWE has ever seen, but surely he was a fluke, right? Nobody else could make that work …
This is why people have a hard time accepting guys like The Big Show, Roman Reigns, and John Cena as babyfaces. When they’re playing heels (or at least thugs), all three of those guys can pull off “scary ass-kicker.” We know that when they enter the ring, someone’s getting skull-fucked. But when they switch roles and become babyfaces, they turn into smiling, thumbs-up, pandering jackasses, and it’s embarrassing. It’s not that the audience doesn’t believe in them as good guys. It’s that we don’t want them representing us.
Let me put it this way, because this is a huge topic of debate among wrestling fans:
The hero in that ring represents the audience. He or she is a projection of who we want to be. They’re not just defeating the villain for their own purposes … they’re saving us from his bullshit. When we see ourselves projected into the spot of the good guy, we want that representation to be badass. We don’t want to be Superman. We want to be Wolverine or Deadpool or Punisher. Sometimes, Bugs Bunny:
The people who want to see John Cena turn heel aren’t just saying it because they’re sick of him playing Superman. That’s a big factor, but it’s not the whole reason. A huge part of their argument is that they know what happens when you take a stale, played-out babyface and inject him with ruthless brutality and anger: He becomes unpredictable, he becomes a threat … he becomes interesting. Then, after a year or two, when you finally switch him back to the hero role, he keeps that ruthless attitude, and we back him 100 percent. Every guy in the videos I linked above has gone through it, and it made them better characters.
But what you don’t do is start high-fiving audience members and sucking their assholes for cheap pops. Am I right, people of beautiful NORTH CAROLINA?! The second a babyface starts doing that is the second we start firing up the “boooooring” chants.
#2. The Divas’ Division Is An Afterthought
The “Divas” are WWE’s division for female wrestlers, and it’s a huge can of worms for a whole lot of fans. I’m not going to bullshit you about what they stood for overall in the late ’90s. Most of them were presented as, “Here are some tits, and also some ass — if you’re lucky, you might ‘accidentally’ see some nipples!” But that doesn’t mean that the old Divas Division wasn’t miles ahead of today’s.
I’m not just talking about in-ring or on-mic performances, either. I mean that back in the Attitude Era, women were much more utilized. Everyone had a role, and you could clearly tell who was a heel and who was a face. When Lita stepped onto the entrance ramp, I knew who she was feuding with. I knew her alliances. I knew her motivation and story. I knew her skillset and her finishing maneuvers. I knew the color of her thong. Her wins and losses meant something because she was a fleshed-out character with a purpose … and so were her opponents.
When they weren’t performing in the ring, many of them were paired with male wrestlers as managers or as a backup in case another woman tried to jump in the ring and pull some old-fashioned “distract the ref with my titties” bullshit. You weren’t given a chance to forget them, because there was always a reason to have them in front of the camera.
Today, I could name maybe four Divas, and two of those are twins.
A large part of that is because there aren’t many standout personalities. They don’t get much airtime, so many of them have no idea what they’re doing on a microphone. Most of the heels sound exactly the same: like a high school drama student who’s doing a bad impression of what she thinks a villain sounds like. And when any of them — heel or face — attempt to sound intimidating, it’s just … cringe-worthy. See if you can sit through this clip. I personally can’t.
Even when you look past their acting ability, the actual wrestling isn’t much better. There are a couple of decent performers, but for the most part, it’s like watching them handle broken glass. The punches and kicks are badly mistimed. Most of the holds are as basic as it gets. I have a very hard time watching the matches because all of their moves telegraph the idea of “We are models first and foremost — and sometimes we have to wrestle.” It’s just painfully awkward. Here’s a match from 2014:
And here’s one from 2001:
the punches look and sound real in the second one, but not the first? A whole lot of us do. So how do you fix it?
Honestly, it would depend on their contracts, and what the WWE expects out of them as employees. If they are primarily models, then you can’t really blame them for not going balls-out with their moves. You can’t put bruises all over someone who’s going to be posing in a bikini the next day (holy shit, that sounds dark). Regardless of whether or not you think that’s awful to say about professional wrestlers, it is as much a part of why they were hired as the actual wrestling. If that’s the case, then we should probably just shitcan the entire Divas Division and find other on-camera roles for them.
If they are considered wrestlers first and models second, then it’s either time to retrain them on how to wrestle and talk on a microphone, or replace them with women who can. Like I said, there are a couple of decent performers, but even the best wrestler in the world will look like shit if her opponent doesn’t know how to make it look real. Michael Jordan was awesome, but replace the rest of his team with four Steve Buscemis, and suddenly the Bulls become known as a group of creepy-looking white guys who can’t play basketball.
#1. The Man Running The Company No Longer Understands His Audience
In the wrestling business, anger that’s directed at a performer is called “heat.” It’s universally accepted that if you’re performing and you get heat from the audience, you’re doing an awesome job. All heat is good — it means the fans are giving a shit enough to get mad. The absolute worst reaction a wrestler can get is cold, dead silence.
Well, actually, the worst reaction a wrestler can get is people just straight-up leaving. Here are the average TV ratings for RAW for the past seven years:
“We’re renaming the ‘OFF’ button the ‘WWE’ button.”
So what’s the difference between now and 1999, when they pulled an average rating of 5.90? Aside from all of the things I’ve talked about so far, you have to point directly to performers like The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Degeneration X, The New Age Outlaws, Chris Jericho … pretty much most of their roster. What made those guys so awesome? Did the WWE just get lucky when they hired them? Is Vince McMahon really that good at creating characters? Did he have an epiphany one day and tell the locker room, “Get out there and be an asshole. Make dick jokes. Maybe whip out your big ol’ hog every once in a while to keep things edgy.” Nope — it’s a lot more vanilla than that.
I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of “shoot” interviews (where someone from the industry drops their character and just speaks honestly), and every single one of the stars from that era have one thing in common: They finally hit a breaking point where they threw up their hands and said, “Fuck this. I’m doing whatever I want. I don’t care if I get fired.”
But even further than that, several performers, including HHH, have said in multiple interviews that Vince himself hit a breaking point and just gave the green light for wrestlers to be themselves and do what they wanted. Vince didn’t create The Rock. Dwayne Johnson did. Steve Williams created Stone Cold. Paul Levesque created HHH. And it’s that way across the board. Every major star from that era tweaked their characters until they were personally satisfied with them, and it showed.
You know you’re a badass when you can look that scary even in that shirt.
The audience fucking loved it because they were no longer watching actors. They were watching a bunch of gigantic people just having fun and being themselves. And this is something that Vince no longer seems to understand: People, as a whole, have excellent bullshit detectors, and we don’t like it when we’re having it force-fed to us. It’s so much easier for us to just walk away from the table and never return than to try to digest a barrel of shit in order to get to the spoonful of cheesecake at the bottom.
When you ask those extremely successful wrestlers what advice they’d give to the current roster, they tell them to do what they did, themselves: to take risks, to go out on a limb and do something unexpected. I mean, it worked for CM Punk, right? So why don’t modern wrestlers do that? The sad answer is that it’s pretty fucking easy to get shitcanned now.
To be fair, that guy doesn’t look like a very good wrestler.
Brad Maddox was working an untelevised match, and his job was to get heat from the audience. He made one minor change to his trash talk … he replaced the word “losers” with the word “pricks.” He finished his match, walked backstage, and was fired on the spot. That sends a pretty clear message to other people who are looking to let loose and be themselves: “There are consequences now. We have strict rules on what you can say and do, and if you decide to take liberties in the ring, be prepared to start selling crack for a living.” More information
Look, I’m not saying that Vince McMahon needs to take off the leashes and let wrestlers run wild. And I’m definitely not saying that he should let the audience dictate storylines, who becomes champion, and who becomes heel or babyface. That’s not the fans’ place. But he does need to understand the difference between a good boo:
And a bad boo:
And the difference is this: If they’re booing because the heel is making them angry, that’s good. If they’re booing because they hate the “good” guy, or because the show sucks … it’s probably time to reevaluate the product that you’re trying to sell them.