By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – December 22, 2018)
“Nothing’s working. The ratings are in the tank. Not just bad, we’re talking historically awful! What’s wrong with my company! I’m the smartest man alive when it comes to this, that’s why I took out my competition and left them hosting podcasts about what went awry and left them jobless!”
It’s not Vince McMahon, but these may as well be his thoughts, because what we’re witnessing within World Wrestling Entertainment at this point in time is, quite frankly, trending very much in the wrong direction. Even with the gigantic Fox money that makes much of the rest of the WWE business model irrelevant, things aren’t going well. The past two months have been disastrous from a numbers perspective, even if it hasn’t hit the bottom line as of yet.
I mentioned early in the summer it might be the time to sell if you have stock in WWE, because the product is subpar and on a dangerously unstable trajectory. There WAS money to be made holding WWE notes, but at this stage, I’d look elsewhere, at least until Vince isn’t the one making creative and content decisions for the company.
We’ve reached a position where RAW might drop below two million viewers for an hour before the end of the year. The holidays will push things down, which explains why Vince was on television both Monday and Tuesday to try and promote the idea that the company realizes business isn’t good and knows the fans are restless, unhappy, and beginning to pay attention to alternative organizations.
The problem, however, became even more clear as a result of the Vince, Shane, Stephanie, Triple H “we hear you and we love you and we’re going to fix this” message they delivered, but failed to sell on Monday night. This felt like World Championship Wrestling in 1999, from the words themselves to the idea that the company is standing on national television in a ring telling its consumers they’re aware the TV sucks and they’re going to change it.
Baron Corbin, heavily featured during the downturn, was beaten by seven babyfaces on Sunday night at the TLC PPV on the WWE Network, and then was decimated on Monday to reiterate the point. Corbin, hilariously, is a virtual and on-screen character stand-in for Vince McMahon. In fact, along with the worst of the commentary team, you have the perfect amalgam for what VKM is at this stage in his life. With over 25 writers on staff, ultimately McMahon controls every segment and every moment of WWE programming.
Just a few weeks ago, RAW emanated from Houston, Texas, and that show began a few hours after the funeral of George H.W. Bush. Plans for the program were almost entirely scrapped and rewritten late that afternoon because Vince believed the fans would be somber due to 41’s death and needed an uplifting night. Thus, much of the “heat” scheduled for the evening would be transitioned to fan favorites getting wins.
THAT is what it took to stop the onslaught of heels making babyfaces look like feckless losers on WWE television, and even worse, why he felt Bush’s death meant RAW needed to be a positive show is beyond me. Who even equated the two things together? Bush was a decent man, despite your political leanings, but what did his funeral have to do with RAW’s creative? This was overthinking to the most inane degree.
But, back to Monday night, when Vince and his children (and son-in-law) spoke about a fresh start, a new beginning for WWE, the company then proceeded to deliver a show just as dull and uninspiring as the ones that put them in this position in the first place. RAW concluded with a women’s gauntlet match that spanned the entire final hour, where the winner would get a shot on Christmas Eve against Ronda Rousey for the WWE RAW Women’s Championship. In theory, okay, good idea. But, in execution, none of the matches were particularly good, the booking was obscure, and the opportunities that existed to create a star were entirely squandered.
Bayley could have had a Seth Rollins performance, where he nearly went the distance in the men’s version of the match this spring, but she was beaten by Mickie James. Ember Moon is a young talent that has gotten over with the audience, but she didn’t win either. Instead, it was Natalya Neidhart, who has a sort of halfway pushed friendship with Rousey that will ultimately lead to a heel turn at some point. Fine, but this accomplished nothing for anybody. The ratings didn’t tank as much as expected, but what did it really matter? Sasha vs. Nattie was good, but nothing else stood out in any way.
The most egregious issue though is the announcement of callups from the developmental NXT brand to the main roster. Rather than let these people begin to filter in organically in surprising fashion over the next few months, Vince decided with the ratings in the position they were, it needed to be a big announcement to drive interest.
And then came the list, featuring no one the fans were clamoring to see get the boost to RAW or SmackDown. That’s nothing against these people, but they weren’t at the top of NXT in any respect, and a few are relatively poor workers, but they fit the WWE model of attractiveness or promo ability, with the wrestling largely secondary. I hope the best for all of them, but fear maybe one of the six ends up being anything remotely close to what was expected.
Ethan Carter III (EC3) looks like the ten million bucks his character flaunts, but he’s an average wrestler at best. Lacey Evans has a wonderful story in real life, including military service, and a unique character, but she’s a poor wrestler that needed more time to develop. She also has “enhancements” that made her the right fit for Vince McMahon. Heavy Machinery is a tag team featuring one worker, Otis Dozovich, with all sorts of charisma, but a partner with none of it. Nikki Cross broke in with Sanity on the NXT brand, but when they were called up earlier this year, she stayed behind, which was another WWE blunder. Now, Sanity isn’t doing anything, and here comes Nikki Cross.
Finally, there’s Lars Sullivan, who reportedly will be entering with a push akin to or stronger than that of Braun Strowman. He’ll be pushed as a monster both brands are desperate to sign, but there’s a problem of him being a “freak,” but also being relatively short. It’s hard to sell him as a monster with the size concern. He’s also got a high potential to fail, because it’s clear Vince is in love with what he can bring, so he’s going to get a lot of opportunities. If the fans can sense it’s phony and astroturf, he risks being a guy generating go-away heat rather than anything genuine.
But, the rationale behind the call-ups is what struck me most. Vince thinks that with business down, WWE needs an influx of new talent. This is unbelievably incorrect. McMahon fails to realize the underlying issue with WWE isn’t a lack of talent, but a lack of talent being given anything to do. The roster is as deep as any we’ve ever seen in the promotion (and virtually in any promotion), but they’ve all been written like mediocre non-stars, always at the mercy of an authority figure and always behind the scenes being handed atrocious dialogue and placed in storylines that hinder, rather than highlight what they do well.
So, why would I care about six new call-ups when WWE has proven over and over again they don’t know what to do with the people they already have? Pretend you’re a company supervisor, you pick the business, but consider you have an assistant or other people on your executive team. A few aren’t pulling their weight, so the best thing to do is to give them twice as much responsibility, right?
Why trust someone with more when they haven’t performed with less? This is WWE in a nutshell. This is a promotion that can’t figure out how to use Samoa Joe, Rusev, Shinsuke Nakamura, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Drew McIntyre, or for a long time, had no idea what to do with Daniel Bryan and CM Punk.
But you’re going to get Heavy Machinery over as stars? They have a good chance to succeed?
Based on what?
WWE is trying to patch a hole by merely painting over it. When that paint fails to get the job done, they just put more paint over it. Eventually, somebody is going to have to grow the sack necessary to tell Vince it’s time to actually replace the wall itself. It’s the foundation underneath WWE that’s the weak spot, not the hole. Does Vince see his roster as a blemish in his otherwise pristine home?
It’s the owner letting the house fall into a state of disrepair by not maintaining it, not fixing the little things, and instead only paying attention to problems once they become creative catastrophes. He’s the termite eating his own domicile. Vince has all the money in the world, can sign almost anybody he wants, but ultimately, if WWE can’t make stars and doesn’t have contingency plans, it doesn’t matter who they’re paying to work for them.
WCW’s roster in 1998 might have been the most loaded pro wrestling roster in terms of star power and up-and-coming talent in the history of the industry. By March of 2001, that company was out-of-business. WWE isn’t in danger of that fate, not by any means, but the downturn has begun, and as long as Vince McMahon, whose ideas and mentality remain unchanged despite his comments to the contrary, fails to recognize WHY the promotion is angering its audience…
…it will continue to hemorrhage creatively, and groups like All Elite Wrestling (if it happens) will become the fountain of life, not just youth. Many WCW fans quit watching in 2001. The younger audience isn’t watching WWE these days, with most of its average demographic now in their FIFTIES. Something has to change, or WWE will lose out to Fortnite, kids reviewing toys on YouTube, and Paw Patrol.
Vince, it’s not a lack of talent.
It’s your inability to “change with the times.” You claimed last week that’s what WWE always does, adapt to fit the environment. You assert that’s why it works and why you’ve survived where everyone else has failed. “As long as we deliver more of what the fans like and less of what they don’t, we’ll be then, now, and forever.”
So why did the show that followed that soliloquy feel like 1994 then?
Vince, you’ll have to show me at this point before I believe you. Don’t come on TV and tell me you know your show stinks. Fix it and let people like me write about how entertaining it’s been after the fact. Don’t acknowledge to me how inept you’ve been. Believe me, we all know.
TV is so bad the BIG stars would rather not even be a part of it. John Cena will be appearing for WWE in 2019 early, his schedule is out there and has been reported. Virtually every show he’s working is a non-televised house show, because Cena knows that’s where you can have fun and work matches for a captive audience.
When talent would rather not be on TV because of what it won’t do for them, you’ve got a problem.
And Vince, it’s not just in Houston.
It’s in Stamford.