By JASON MARTIN (July 23, 2018)
I wasn’t sure what to title this piece, because quite frankly the truth behind WWE’s ongoing war with its own fan base is that at this stage, with the FOX deal, the current stock price, and the market dominance Vince McMahon wields, he doesn’t really care what you think.
The more disappointing part, if you’re unhappy with the current WWE product, is there won’t be anything changing for at least another year. Until the FOX contract officially begins and SmackDown airs on the network, we’re in an extended lame duck season, and rest assured, Vince’s goal over that time frame is the same one he’s had since the run-up to WrestleMania 31: Get Roman Reigns over as a babyface.
You’re rolling your eyes if you’re reading this article, because none of this is new. The infuriating part remains WWE’s insistence to try and build the “it” guy they want THEIR way, rather than pivoting and changing course. What’s now factual about Roman Reigns, and this is in no way a subjective opinion, is that regardless of what the company does, it ain’t going to happen with Roman until or unless he’s been a heel first.
The main reason isn’t as much the performer himself, but how his story has been written. Currently, he’s known more for big losses than big wins. He’s done the favors for Brock Lesnar on multiple occasions, this year alone, and eight days ago he did a clean job for Bobby Lashley. It’s perplexing, because just beating a guy clean over and over again and then attempting to sell him as a monster to get behind has basically never worked in pro wrestling.
The underdog can’t be the one you picked originally to be the franchise player because of his look. That guy has to be the Daniel Bryan or the CM Punk or the Chris Jericho or someone where everything other than the physical stature impresses to the point the fans buy into the talent more than the aesthetics. Roman Reigns looks the part, and because the audience is in on the secret, they reject him because they recognize him as an Astroturf creation, where the futility we see in his angles are all designed to draw sympathy.
What’s amusing is this is ALWAYS the case. It’s an Astroturf business 98% of the time, and many times the fans have believed they were responsible for a superstar’s rise when in fact they’ve been manipulated into a certain attitude. The people buying tickets weren’t responsible for Steve Austin’s success, but they were responsible for his longevity on top and the level of slack he received. But Vince McMahon picked Austin, he got on board early and caught lightning in a bottle.
Then, the Monday Night War forced a degree of competition that led to a oneupsmanship style of business model rather than the near monopoly WWE holds over its nearest competitors in the United States. For all the love showered on New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG), Ring of Honor (ROH), and others, the businesses are nowhere in the same vicinity of the McMahon behemoth.
But, it’s not just Roman Reigns, who has been rejected repeatedly and is still probably going to win the WWE Universal Championship at SummerSlam, unless Vince wants Brock badly enough to match the UFC money. Don’t laugh. That can happen. This TV deal changes WWE’s game, and if McMahon were to offer him the same to pretend than to actually fight, don’t think he won’t take it. The idea from the beginning has been to get the title on Reigns when he will be cheered and accepted, and it keeps getting delayed because that whole “cheered and accepted” trick has proven to be quite the undertaking.
Outside of Reigns (and the insufferably stupid Brock Lesnar story, which is he’s a jerk that doesn’t want to be in WWE and won’t do business, which both isn’t true and has done nothing but make the WWE Universe disinterested in seeing him), we’ve witnessed Sasha Banks and Bayley be so badly utilized and crafted as a potential feud on the main roster that it’s almost impossible to remember how beautifully it worked in NXT a few years ago. The problem with that angle is WWE doesn’t see to remember that it’s okay in pro wrestling to pit two people against one another with a storyline of “I think I’m better than you.” In fact, that should be the baseline concept behind the vast majority of matchups. But here, it’s been this back-and-forth garbage that has nearly destroyed both of them as draws or even entertainers. They’re given terrible dialogue and never allowed to actually have a match.
If it’s all been saved to create a “new” bout at SummerSlam in August, the company has succeeded in making me not care to see it once we do get it, because it’s simply too little, too late. You can take that feeling and apply it to a number of other performers as well, including Shinsuke Nakamura, who has been pinned more often in the past 12 months than he has in the five years that preceded it in Japan and NXT. Whether it was Jinder Mahal or AJ Styles, a potentially DOMINANT main eventer with literally all the credibility in the world has just sort of drifted through like a loose patch of tumbleweed.
Apply the last paragraph to Asuka as well, but for her, it’s been even worse.
Again though, WWE doesn’t really care what you think, and that’s why they’re on the other side of the ring from most of us right now. Once the TV deal takes effect, whatever draws ratings is what will become the order of the day. If Roman’s appearances don’t lead to good numbers on Friday nights (make no mistake, he’ll be moved over, as will Ronda Rousey), Vince will have to start looking elsewhere. He could afford to be stubborn in the past because of the way the company’s money pie was split, but that chart now changes drastically. In fact, the TV money will supplant the WWE Network, ticket sales, merchandise, video games, and virtually anything else you want to tack onto the P&L statement, and not individually, but combined.
Until next September, WWE should be spending its time creating as many stars as it can, so that once we get there, Mondays and Fridays are stacked full of talent sufficiently over with the crowd, encouraging eyeballs to stay on the USA Network and most importantly, on FOX. With the new money, Vince can also offer astronomical contracts to free agents and make it much more difficult on even a smaller competitor, as it’s going to become much tougher for workers to turn down the cash.
Instead of goodwill, WWE is regularly putting on subpar PPV events with awful finishes and mind numbing stipulations, making stars non-stars in record time, and creating a malaise in even some of the most die hard supporters of the promotion. Folks, they’ve turned Daniel Bryan into…just a guy on the roster. This is as popular a superstar as the company has had since Steve Austin, The Rock, and John Cena, and he came back from “RETIREMENT.” To say this should have been a slam dunk is an understatement. The program with Miz should work, but to what level? Yes, you can’t always go with the best match every night, as you’d burn yourself out, but that guy should already be around the WWE Championship, which hopefully is what we’ll see once the current angle runs its likely entertaining course.
I don’t like not liking WWE’s product. I don’t like not having any interest in watching the weekly shows and feeling so negatively every Sunday when it’s time for Squared Circle Radio. I shouldn’t get infinitely more enjoyment out of Something to Wrestle With than I do current pro wrestling, but that’s the case. SummerSlam should turn up the juice a bit as it always does, and maybe next month we’ll feel better, but then comes the deadest time of the year for the business as football takes over our lives. This is the time they could have pushed hard and owned the last few months.
It’s a missed opportunity. Vince needs to get it together. Soon.
WWE has me pinned…I’m getting tired of kicking out so often after botched moves I can no longer make look good. I’m considering taking a powder and eating that countout L.