SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
A.J. Styles’ beatdown of James Ellsworth on Smackdown last week was a particularly clever hook for the TLC pay-per-view. Styles brutalized Ellsworth, hit him a steel chair, and then gave him what Mauro Ranallo called the “mother of all Styles Clashes” off the steel steps and onto the floor at ringside. Viewers were led to wonder whether this was the end of the Ellsworth character or at the very least dismiss the possibility of him playing a role in the TLC main event.
Not only wasn’t it the end of the character, WWE showed its audience that the most devastating version of one pro wrestling’s most dangerous maneuvers wasn’t enough to keep a frail comedy character off television for five days.
If not for a legitimate injury to Styles, they would have wrestled just seven days afterward. In fact, the opening segment of Smackdown this week saw a healthy Ellsworth chastise A.J. Styles for his injury.
Many changes in WWE’s philosophies over the years have made it harder for them to create new stars or create buzz around their product absent part-time wrestlers from different eras. The devaluing of championships, the weird cult-speak their wrestlers are forced to use, and the over-reliance on 50/50 booking all come to mind. However, there’s an argument to be made that no change is more damaging to the wrestling business than WWE teaching its audience that nothing in pro wrestling actually hurts.
Wrestlers are doing more and more in gimmick matches and selling less and less the next day. Dean Ambrose was put through many tables and beaten with chairs in his TLC match against Styles and then walked out two days later in the opening segment of Smackdown just fine. Then he wrestled in the main event.
The presence of Ellsworth, Styles, and Ambrose on the show furthered their storyline and was an enjoyable part of the show. But it also invalidated all the violence we’ve seen from them over the last two weeks. Moreover, it further kills interest in gimmick matches that once meant something.
We’re at a point in pro wrestling where a 30 minute Ironman match with traditional wrestling rules is going to decide the feud between Sasha Banks and Charlotte instead of the Hell in a Cell match that they had in October. Because we’ve seen that sort of pattern repeated so many times over the years, we’re also at a point where fans roll their eyes whenever WWE cites examples of wrestlers’ careers legitimately being shortened by dangerous matches.
In a bygone era, a springboard 450 splash through a table would have meant weeks on the shelf for Dean Ambrose and fans would have remembered that spot for years. Last Sunday that wasn’t even the worst thing that happened to Ambrose and no one is even talking about midweek.
There was a point in time where wrestlers did considerably less and fans treated the action as if it were real. There was a point where a Four Horsemen-style beatdown would put babyface out of action for weeks. As we head into 2017, it’s hard to imagine what the WWE World Champion would even have to do deter a jobber from continuing to challenge him.
(Jason Amadi has been a columnist at MMATorch.com and now also writes columns for PWTorch.com. Follow him on Twitter @JasonAmadi.)