WWE isn’t a stranger to backing itself against a wall.
Funnily enough, those in charge of the company often do their best work when it seems cornered. It pulls off unexpected classics (Undertaker’s match at WrestleMania 36) or finally decides to get behind the Superstar everyone seems to love (Drew McIntryre).
But it would be nice if WWE wasn’t always in a corner needing to surprise, right?
Unfortunately, that’s where the company is once again as the calendar turns to July. Ratings are down and things have started to change again. A recent report from Wrestling Observer Radio (h/t Randall Ortman of Cageside Seats) suggested the booking for Raw each week will focus on getting short-term ratings instead of building the stars and the company for the future.
If true, it’s a case of “here we go again.”
WWE couldn’t have predicted the coronavirus pandemic and the ramifications on ratings and audience-less shows. But the company’s approach left it vulnerable to pretty much anything. That includes the arrival of serious competition in the form of All Elite Wrestling, which left WWE scrambling to counter by beefing up NXT, even to the point of sending Charlotte Flair there, mostly to little effect.
And it’s not hard to figure out the “why” behind WWE being vulnerable in the first place. Stars just aren’t breaking through to the mainstream.
Kofi Kingston might be the best possible example here. He was on fire and getting global attention during his stint as WWE champion last year. SmackDown then went to Fox and WWE made a point to squash him in a hurry for a short-term return via one Brock Lesnar.
Disclaimer: Lesnar went on to eventually put over McIntyre. But where’s Kingston? Where was his anger or even bothering to mention the fact that he got squashed and never really had a chance at getting his title back? Why isn’t he in the main event scene?
Instead, The New Day man has been bouncing around in aimless six- and eight-person tag matches. He’s been relegated to the midcard and tag scene and everybody knows it. Everybody knows he’s probably never getting out of it again, too.
McIntyre isn’t exactly breaking into the mainstream either (though he deserves to). He’s been in a ho-hum, somewhat-fun feud with Bobby Lashley, but that’s only the beginning of something that could really keep viewers coming back. Before that, he was running roughshod through names like King Corbin and MVP.
Point is, short-term booking has already been happening in WWE, lately and for far too long. The arrival of Paul Heyman in a big spot for Raw seemed to hint at going all-in on the future, but pulling the plug on it before realizing that plan and reaping the returns just resets everything back to a poor place.
Prioritizing “moments” over continuity and building new top stars just isn’t going to work. Clearly, when a comedy act like Otis is the most organic thing getting over and has a small chance to break through to the broader audience, there’s a problem.
From here, it’s critical WWE sticks to long-term booking and sensical behavior for Superstars it wants to build for the future.
Keep Aleister Black deadly and working his way up to the main event scene, not swerving him off into a dancing fool who only works tag teams (it stings to think this possibility isn’t so outlandish). Maybe have Big E organically split off and start gunning for solo titles. Let Matt Riddle shine while guys like Roman Reigns are out instead of giving a title to Braun Strowman and hoping his big set pieces pull in ratings every week.
Examples abound, really. Given the circumstances, there are too many big-name stars out of action right to keep throwing big short-term moments to the few names left and hoping it draws an audience. Now is the perfect time to prop up guys like Black, Big E and Bianca Belair, for example, as cornerstones of the company.
Considering the old short-term approach hasn’t been too successful in the past, it can’t hurt to follow a long-term outlook with fresh faces. In the past, the unexpected has drawn broad attention and helped revive things—we know that only focusing on the short term has caused so many of these problems.
A company as rich in talent as WWE shouldn’t have to be avoiding long-term disaster in the first place. But repeating the same mistakes that got it here in the first place would end up devastating.
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