The business of professional wrestling is pretty silly. You know that, I know that, the people that work in the business know that and the people who think we’re stupid for liking it will remind us of how silly it is as well. However, when you understand what pro wrestling really is, then you can learn to understand the wackiness and maybe even fall in love with it.
I’ve been a diehard wrestling fan for over 30 years. I don’t have an exact date or a single match that got me hooked on it, but as I sit here in my mid-30s I can tell you I still love it as much as I did back then. I remember looking at my older cousin’s magazines, watching tapes of matches, watching WWF Superstars on Saturday afternoons and thinking it was the coolest thing ever. My first WrestleMania I remember watching live was WrestleMania III when Hulk Hogan beat Andre the Giant in the main event, which is arguably the most famous WWE match ever.
In addition to being just a fan of wrestling, I also write about it on a full-time basis. My interest was at an all-time high after Survivor Series 1997 when Vince McMahon and Shawn Michaels screwed beloved Canadian hero (of course I say that as a Canadian) Bret Hart out of the WWE Title. When I went to high school the next day, a lot of us were talking about it. “What really happened?”
Nobody really knew, so we sought out more info. That’s when I really started getting into reading about wrestling because this was also around the time when the internet became a regular thing in our lives and most people had an internet connection at home. About a year after that, I decided to mix my interest in wrestling along with my passion for writing and started on this journey that I’m still on two decades later.
In an average week, I’ll watch over seven hours of WWE programming (Raw, Smackdown Live, NXT and 205 Live) and write over 20,000 words about it. During a PPV week, that number hits well over 35,000 words. Believe me, I’m not complaining about it. It beats having a job where you have to do heavy lifting, that’s for sure. I’m blessed to be able to have my own successful website at tjrwrestling.net and now I get to write three times per week about WWE here at The Comeback as well.
The point is, I am as much of a fan of WWE today as when I was dropping Randy Savage-like elbows off couches onto my cousins when I was eight years old.
In addition to being a WWE fanatic, I’m also a sports junkie. I follow the big four North American sports (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL) closely and often compare my WWE interests to my favorite sports team.
Let’s take baseball, for example. My Toronto Blue Jays were great the last two years as they made it to the American League Championship Series before falling short. It sucked to lose, but I was happy for them getting that far because it had been over 20 years since the Jays were in the playoffs before that.
This year, I was optimistic for more Blue Jays success, yet here we are three weeks into the season and they’re 5-13, which is last in the entire major leagues. Does that mean I’m going to abandon my team? Of course not. But I’m probably going to spend most of the year complaining about it while wondering what they could have done better because I’m a loyal fan of the team. That’s what we do.
The reason I compare WWE to our favorite sports teams is because we want the best for them, just like our favorite wrestlers. When there are great moments, they remind us of why we became diehard supporters in the first place. Remember Daniel Bryan’s WWE Title win at WrestleMania 30? I was there in New Orleans that night, chanting “yes” with 70,000 other crazy people who celebrated as if our team won a championship. It’s a scripted event that had an obvious outcome. But to us, it was the culmination of a great story, which is similar to our team winning that title.
There are also the silly things that WWE does that make me scratch my head wondering what this company is doing. Katie Vick, anyone? I won’t get into it, but needless to say that’s the worst angle in WWE history that was designed to make us care about Kane’s WWE Title match with Triple H. Moments like that are comparable to when your team is 5-13 and you wonder “what the hell are they doing?” Just shrug your shoulders, move on and hope things get better because most of the time they will.
Wrestling is more than sports, though. It’s entertainment – hence the name “sports entertainment.” There is a writing team in place that is there to tell a story to make fans emotionally invested in the product. The more fans care, the more willing they may be to pay money to go to a WWE event to have their voices heard.
In addition to being a sports nut, I also watch a good amount of television drama. These days, my DVR is busy while I consume shows like Designated Survivor, Better Call Saul, Prison Break, Fargo and 24: Legacy, which just finished last week. I’m also in the process of binge-watching Billions, which I highly recommend as well. The reason I watch and enjoy those shows is the acting is top-notch and the writing is usually very good.
A good television show or movie can create interesting characters by taking their time, building up to key moments and most importantly, having things make sense. That doesn’t mean those shows are perfect, though. Nobody’s perfect — not even Mr. Perfect, but he sure knew how to smack a piece of gum.
Character development is so important in any form of television show or movie. I’ve probably watched The Shawshank Redemption over 20 times in my life, yet every time I see Brooks hang himself, it makes me sad because he came across as a nice man who simply couldn’t fit in with others. The sadness happened because they got us to care about that character even though he had maybe 10 minutes of total screen time.
I’m not comparing WWE to a big-budget movie or dramatic television show either. In WWE’s defense, they are not the same as a scripted television show that may have six months or more of production before the episode airs on television. In WWE, they usually write an episode of Raw a few days before it airs on live TV and edit it right up until showtime. I’m not saying that WWE writing must be as good as the best scripted television shows. I’m just saying it could be better.
The reason I mentioned my passion for sports and dramatic television shows is because I’m a fan of those things just like I’m a diehard fan of WWE. I’m not a hater by any means because if I was, why would I spend so much of my life watching and writing about the product? It’s the same reason why you watch WWE and choose to read about it online. The reason I criticize them from time to time because I care just like you care.
Saying that I care isn’t enough, though. I want to give some examples of things that could have been done better. To help make my point, I’m going to look back at a major WWE event from last summer as well as two recent things that happened (one major and one minor) that shows the lack of details in WWE’s storylines. Let’s go back to last year’s WWE draft.
The 2016 WWE Draft didn’t explain NXT related decisions
The WWE Draft took place on July 19, 2016 because the WWE roster is too big. It was also done to try to make Smackdown Live a more important show by going live on Tuesday nights after being a taped television show for 17 years.
There were 59 selections in all, which I analyzed last year and by the way, I nailed it when I said Kevin Owens was the biggest winner on the Raw brand. Raw received more talent since it’s a three-hour show, while Smackdown is two hours.
In that same article, I wrote the following:
“I was bothered by the fact that WWE did an extremely poor job of explaining the NXT roster selections. Going into the draft, we were told that both rosters could pick a total of six current NXT stars (or teams) for Raw or Smackdown. There was nothing set about limitations or who couldn’t be picked. The thought was that anybody would be available, which is not what happened.
The six NXT selections were: Finn Balor, American Alpha, Nia Jax, Mojo Rawley, Alexa Bliss and Carmella. With Balor, American Alpha and Nia Jax, it’s easy to see why they were picked. However, the best performers in NXT are people like NXT Champion Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura, Women’s Champion Asuka and Bayley. None of them were drafted or even mentioned. Is it because they are locked into title matches at the NXT Takeover Brooklyn event on Aug. 20? That’s what we assume, but it would be nice if WWE could have told us.”
How did WWE explain the logic? They didn’t. From WWE’s perspective, they assumed that if they never mention such a logic hole then most fans aren’t going to care.
The fans do care and it’s wrong to leave it up to us to assume. We want to have somebody try to explain why the likes of Mojo Rawley or Carmella would be picked to be on the main roster at that point when names like Shinsuke Nakamura and Asuka were available. It makes the people in charge (on television) look as inept as the people booking the show.
They could have explained it in 30 seconds by simply having NXT’s on-screen general manager William Regal talk about how people involved in key matches at NXT Takeover were not available to be picked in the WWE Draft. Simple as that. Instead, we get nothing while we shrug our shoulders hoping WWE will get better at things like this.
The Superstar Shake-up involved trades with no details
Fans of American sports leagues are familiar with trades. One team sends a player to another while they receive players in return or draft pick compensation. Every trade is specified with details, so that we know who got traded for who (or what). When sports like MLB, NHL and NBA have their trade deadline, there’s a lot of excitement about which players our teams can acquire to help them improve heading into the playoffs. In the NFL, the deadline exists, but not a lot happens.
Those trades lead to the media and fans reacting about whether it was a good move or if it was foolish. Hey Houston Rockets, how did that James Harden trade work out for you? Pretty, pretty good.
I liked the idea of WWE doing the Superstar Shake-up a few weeks after WrestleMania because things had gotten stale on both Raw and Smackdown. However, WWE went the lazy route by ignoring the concept of explaining the trades.
They didn’t say Kevin Owens was traded for Dean Ambrose since they are both midcard title holders. Oh no, it was nothing like that. Instead, random people showed up on Raw who used to be on Smackdown while random people appeared on Smackdown from Raw one night later.
It would have been nice if WWE actually took some time – just a few minutes – to have the GMs of the respective shows (Kurt Angle and Daniel Bryan) talk about the moves that happened while offering some logic as to why they moved certain people.
Bryan could have talked about how he didn’t like The Miz, so that was his main reason for moving him. Angle could have replied to that saying he sees Miz as an asset because he knows how to get a reaction out of people. Bryan could mention that Sami Zayn was underutilized on Raw, so he traded him for (insert name) to give him a shot.
Who did Charlotte Flair get traded for? Was it simply for Alexa Bliss or Alexa plus Mickie James? If it wasn’t one of those women, was it for a guy like The Miz? We don’t have an answer to those questions because WWE chooses to ignore it.
Why did Bray Wyatt get moved to Raw? Was it because Bryan wanted to break up the Wyatt Family and keep Wyatt away from Orton since Orton burned down his house? Either of those reasons would have made sense if they said it, but again it was WWE’s choice to not even mention it.
There was even a moment on Raw where Seth Rollins was in the ring doing a promo saying that maybe he should he go to Smackdown. How could he even do that? Our understanding is that wrestlers could only get traded rather than leave on a whim. Of course, there won’t be an explanation of that either.
Instead of explaining why things happen, WWE just does things without giving any reason. Don’t expect any kind of explanation either. They have moved on and expect us to move on as well.
Jinder Mahal becomes the No. 1 Contender to the WWE Title while Smackdown’s biggest names aren’t even in the match
This is a minor example compared to the other two, but it happened last week, so it’s fresh on our minds.
There was a Six Pack Challenge match on last week’s Smackdown to determine the No. 1 Contender to Randy Orton’s WWE Title. The six men in that match were Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler, Mojo Rawley, Luke Harper, Erick Rowan and Jinder Mahal. Prior to the match, guys like Rowan and Mahal rarely won matches. They were there to get beat. Guys like Zayn, Ziggler, Harper and Rawley were all midcard wrestlers who could have been believable winners. Instead, WWE went with Mahal for the win.
When I saw those names mentioned for the first time during a commercial on Raw last week, my first question was: Why aren’t Smackdown’s best wrestlers in that match? Logically speaking, you would assume that the likes of AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, Shinsuke Nakamura, Baron Corbin and others may be in that match because they want to be the top contender to the WWE Title.
Instead, none of them were in that match and none of the wrestlers complained about it while the on-screen management didn’t explain it either. I know that Owens is the US Champion and Styles is the No. 1 Contender for that title, but they still should have been in that match.
The WWE way isn’t to explain the logic behind booking decisions. They would rather beat us over the head by repeating the phrase “land of opportunity” 27 times during a Smackdown as if that’s supposed to explain how Jinder Mahal was put in a match to become the No. 1 contender to the WWE Title. The character of Mahal did nothing to earn that spot based on wins and losses since he won two matches in the last year before this. At least Mahal won in a cheap manner over Zayn, thanks to some help from The Singh Brothers (former Bollywood Boyz).
This isn’t a column about mocking Jinder Mahal, although I did criticize that decision in my Smackdown review last week. I think he’s a good talent like so many others in WWE, but they didn’t do a good job of building it up at all. If he won four or five matches in the weeks leading up to this, then people would believe in it more. Instead, it was as if the plan to elevate Mahal was thrown together that week.
Do you know how many pay-per-view wins Jinder has won in his WWE career? Zero. Meanwhile, AJ Styles – the best wrestler in WWE who started the year as WWE Champion – wasn’t even in the same match. Do you think WWE is going to tell us why? I doubt it very much. That’s how they roll.
After reading all of that, you may be asking yourself why doesn’t WWE care about the little things in their storylines? The answer is simple: They don’t have to.
The WWE Universe will only see what Vince McMahon wants us to see. He controls his universe with whatever creative direction he wants. If he wants to push Jinder Mahal to the WWE Title because he suddenly realized it’s smart to push an Indian wrestler because they have over 1 billion people (did they just realize this?), then that’s what he is going to do. Vince doesn’t care that fans see Jinder as a loser because that’s the way Vince presented him to us for the last six years. In his mind, we’re supposed to react to it because he WANTS us to do so.
I didn’t write this article because I’m a WWE hater. I want storylines to be better in WWE. They need to think long term, they need to do bigger angles and they need to fill in the gaps when they exist. Fans are smarter than you think, WWE. We don’t want longer shows like a five-hour WrestleMania. We want writing that makes sense, stories that matter and characters we can believe in.
By doing the little things right they might head in the right direction sooner rather than later.
I’ll be back with more this week including the Raw and Smackdown reviews, as well as a WWE Payback preview later in the week as well.