Steve Austin makes case against too much comedy in main event feuds, but sees something he really likes in NXT (w/Keller’s Analysis)

By Wade Keller, PWTorch editor

Steve Austin talks WrestleMania 39 finish
Steve Austin (photo credit Wade Keller © PWTorch)


Steve Austin watched the James Ellsworth angle on the latest episode of Smackdown, and he doesn’t see how that type of content helps draw money. Regarding comedy and frivolity in wrestling, he says “a little bit here and there, but in your top angles, man, I see a hard time drawing money at the arenas with that.”

That said, he gives credit to the job Ellsworth is doing in the role. “I was watching the angle between A.J. Styles and Dean Ambrose and James Ellsworth,” he told me on this week’s PWTorch Livecast “Interview Thursday” (click here to stream or download full free episode). “Now, I give props to the kid. he’s doing his job and he’s doing a good job of it. It’s interesting… I like what they’re doing. Monday Night Raw or Smackdown, credit to the James Ellsworth guy, he’s doing a great job, but I’m all about the serious stuff. Wrestling is a very serious subject for me. Yes, people would sit out there and say, ‘You did a lot of comedy, Steve.’ Well, yeah, I did. I had three broke bones in my back. I had to do something to be an entertainer, so I went out and did what I did. I had to push the envelope creatively. Still at the end of the day, I took what I did very seriously. Not to beat a dead horse. This isn’t an indictment of Steve Austin onto the company. They’re following their vision, their path.”

Austin points to another style of presenting wrestling as his gold standard. “I go back to the old school days of that Attitude Era stuff,” he said. “Everybody knows when I speak of the Attitude Era, my favorite stuff is of the mid-‘80s, all that NWA stuff, the World Class stuff, the stuff that Bill Watts was doing. The AWA was kind of starting to get on a little bit of a decline at that point and the WWF was still slipping on banana peels. That’s my favorite stuff.”

Although he’s self-described as “old school,” he does see a lot he likes in a current product he watches: NXT. “I think it’s basically the simplicity of the show,” he says. “I mean, you’ve got these angles that are wrestling-based, announcers staying within the system. They’re not talking about anything going on in pop culture. If you go back several months, Corey [Graves] made the comment that Bobby Roode had flown because he wanted to spend the least amount of time in Manhattan as possible. So just sticking within those parameters, the announcing I think is a little better on the NXT front right now. Just the action in the ring, it’s a better look, it’s dimmed down a little bit, it’s not too dark – I thought Lucha Underground was too dark this year from a visual standpoint. I like the production values. I like their entrance music. I like what they’re doing in the ring. Of course, they’ve got one of my favorite tag team in The Revival.”

Keller’s Analysis: With the demands of “filling TV time” between PPVs, WWE has been doing more humor in top-of-the-card feuds than anytime I can recall in pro wrestling history, both on Raw (“The List”) and Smackdown (Ellsworth). I really am enjoying the Ellsworth storyline and the chemistry with Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens. I also am concerned it’s too “lite” and WWE has currently lost focus on building up the idea that main events are “big fights with a lot on the line between two bad-ass fighters.” The “pride” WWE has in promoting what they define as “sports entertainment” instead of “pro wrestling” is leading to a diminished sense of gravity within the narrative regarding World Title level storylines and feuds. NXT has less demands in terms of TV time, but I genuinely believe there are key core elements of the NXT approach that, if transferred to the main roster shows, would lead to a better overall product that “drew more money” (i.e. sold more tickets at arenas and drew more WWE Network subscriptions). I think there’s too much going on that’s done to “entertain viewers in the moment” and not get them invested in watching a fight. Simulated or not, people like conflict between powerful forces, with an invested emotional interest in seeing someone win and someone else lose. WWE is losing sight of that being the necessary core of what they do. The comedy should be in smaller doses and in a mid-card context.

3 Comments on Steve Austin makes case against too much comedy in main event feuds, but sees something he really likes in NXT (w/Keller’s Analysis)

  1. I think what makes Ellsworth’s character interesting is that many people (probably including some of those who are buying his t-shirts) can relate to it. In any social setting, there is often someone who doesn’t quite fit in with the group, and is trying a bit too hard to be liked. Someone in the group (e.g. Ambrose) will typically take an interest in befriending and supporting the person, while another (e.g. Styles) will oppose.

    The dynamic also works because Ellsworth, despite his insecure persona, is an experienced wrestler, who can work the mike and has some wrestling skills.

    Styles and Ambrose have also helped to make this angle interesting, by giving Ellsworth some of their main event spotlight.

    This current angle has been fun. It can’t go on forever, but there are other things they could do with Ellsworth’s character, with different wrestlers (the men and women) playing variations of the roles that Ambrose and Styles are taking on right now. After scoring a few wins, with help of others, Ellsworth could start to show a less endearing side of his personality, and be back on his own, and in trouble again.

    This type of thing would probably be better situated in a mid-card setting, as you suggested.

  2. I disagree with what Austin said,this entire angle could be lead to interesting turn like what if James Ellsworth becomes a cold person after receiving truth that ambrose never cares about him and only using him to further his agenda

  3. Jim Cornette said it all and what he said was true.

    Fans got mad when he wanted EL Generico to lose the mask, gain some weight and gee, Sami Zayn has bulked up a little and lost the match.

    Fans got mad when he wanted Kevin Steen to lose some weight, take himself more seriously and be more bad ass than ha ha.

    Gee, Kevin became KO the Prize Fighter and is carrying himself as a bad ass and he got into better shape joining WWE than in ROH.

    So Corny was right.

    Now Cornette always says “funny doesnt draw money” and he is RIGHT.

    The problem is now if you want sport you are told to go watch UFC as if you are wrong for wanting pro wrestling to be a fake sport instead of a real variety show.

    Belts should matter. We should care who wins or loses.

    Instead of chanting “this is awesome” you should be INTO the match with a care who wins.

    Instead of “oh they told such a marvelous story and the workrate was blah blah” you should be just saying “I loved it when X won” instead of this smug critical above it all view.

    The problem is fans now are more concerned with fake cereal boxes, unicorn horns, potential memes and more fodder for in jokes in Facebook wrestling groups or on social media than they are with an actual drive to see a match because they want one person to win and the other to lose.

    Heels get cheered and as a result the only heel existing today is The Miz.

    He is the only heel because fans while respecting him still dont like him which means he is doing it right.

    Pro wrestling should be fun but if everything is a joke and a catchphrase we may as well have the cast of SNL start taking bumps and call it a day.

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