Why I have 'no confidence' in WWE these days
All apologies for posting so infrequently here. If you’ve been following my coverage of the MTA as of late, you’ll understand that I’ve been quite busy.
But I felt compelled to drop in today after watching the last few weeks of WWE programming, including the Hell in a Cell pay per view Sunday night and last night’s newsworthy Raw. It’s all led me to write something that I never thought I would:
WWE could learn something from TNA.
To be sure, that statement should be accompanied by about a dozen asterisks. Without a doubt, WWE remains the premiere professional wrestling promotion in the world, and TNA—but for some marked improvements in some of its booking heading to its biggest show of the year—remains irreparably broken.
But this much is true: While TNA has focused in recent weeks making a star out of Robert Roode as he goes into his world title match at Bound for Glory, WWE has been tripping over its own feet with the latest variation of the tired “Who’s in control?” storyline that has failed to captivate fans.
In fact, WWE and TNA have done quite the role reversal in recent weeks. For the better part of the last year, TNA’s on-air product has obsessively focused on backstage politics and the tug-of-war for power incolging Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff and Dixie Carter. To the surprise of nobody, except perhaps Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff and Dixie Carter, they storyline hasn’t helped business one iota.
For years, WWE has typically been more disciplined about keeping its on-air product focused on the issues between its wrestlers, and less so on political power struggles. Then in June, C.M. Punk lit up the social media world with his “shoot” promo that delved into all sorts of taboo subjects usually reserved for insider newsletters and blogs like this one.
The buzz coming from the angle got WWE so giddy that they decided to pull back the curtain even further for fans, and get Triple-H involved in the fun. Before long, Monday Night Raw became a less about wrestlers feuding over titles and personal issues, and more about Punk and Triple-H trying to appeal to a tiny segment of the audience, while talking over the heads of the vast majority of fans.
Things got way out of hand last night when most of the WWE locker room staged a walk-out on chief operating officer Triple-H. It was intended as a shocking angle that would raise a number of questions: What does it all mean? Who is in charge? Who lifted the cell? Who is sponsoring the Miz and R-Truth?
For the life of me, I’m not sure who this whole angle is supposed to be getting over. But whoever it is, it’s not working. WWE defenders would say that I should wait and see, and that it will all make sense in the end. That’s all well and good—and it’s what TNA has been saying for about 10 years now to cover for its bad booking. But regardless of where they intend to go with all this, WWE is supposed to be in the business of entertainment. And this isn’t entertaining at the least.
Worse, WWE’s self-indulgent booking comes at a time when they can afford it least. Weekly ratings have fallen to levels not seen in years. WWE’s second biggest pay per view of the year, SummerSlam, reportedly drew just 175,000 purchases in the U.S.—an alarmingly low number. John Cena’s star is fading rapidly, and nobody has stepped up to take his place. And TNA, and even Ring of Honor, have been getting their ducks in a row to put forth solid televised alternatives to WWE’s stale product.
Rather than working on a long-term plan to right its course, WWE has instead gone into panic mode. World titles are changing hands nearly every week with little rhyme or reason. The brand-split has been tossed away in order to pack Raw with more stars from Smackdown. And the Hell in a Cell stipulation—once reserved for the single hottest feud of the year—was wasted on a pair of matches with little backstory or hype on Sunday.
Among the mess of booking that has dominated WWE in recent weeks, there has been one shining light, and it has come from the most unlikely of places. Mark Henry, the 15-year WWE veteran who most wrote off years ago, has been stealing the show week after week despite having very limited skills in the ring. How has he done it? By talking about winning matches and beating people up, and then going out there and doing it.
I don’t know who’s booking Mark Henry’s segments, but I want him booking the rest of the WWE.