KELLER & POWELL FLAGSHIP (12/5)
(Search "wade keller" to subscribe in podcast app)
Calling WrestleMania 33 a good show may be a bit of a stretch, but it wasn’t a terrible show. It was a show that was “just fine.” Which for a regular three hour PPV is also “just fine” but when you’re asking your audience to essentially commit half of the time they spend awake during a day to watching your show, “just fine” doesn’t really cut it.
When I do these articles after a PPV, I do make a noteable effort to find as many positive takeaways to include as possible. I don’t want to get a reputation as a negative nancy who watches wrestling and then writes about how much it sucks. I love wrestling!
That said, WWE’s current output is just so constantly flawed that it becomes basically impossible to not fall into that trap of writing about everything they do wrong and not giving the proper credit for things that they do right. But with WrestleMania 33, I was really struggling for overwhelming positives to talk about. And that’s pretty damn sad.
The return of The Hardys was a great moment, but it’s frustrating that moments like that are so isolated. I enjoyed Triple H vs. Seth Rollins personally but it was the wrong match to work on this show. Goldberg vs. Lesnar will be remembered as a fun program by some, but there will be many who remember resenting Goldberg’s return by the end. The aftermath of the main event was memorable, but that was because it was real and not because WWE made something memorably special.
So with all that said, we’ll now look at 5 Lessons WWE Can Learn from WrestleMania 33, unfortunately largely focused on aspects they got wrong rather than right.
(1) A Seven Hour Show Is Too Damn Long
And it’s really too long even if your product is hot. Yes, once you include the prelims, UFC shows end up really long, but the difference is you don’t need to see the very early prelims and they always ensure that the attraction you want to see the most comes on last so that their crowds aren’t drained because the main event isn’t something they’re red hot for. And the reality is those shows could do with being shorter anyway. Even the New Japan PPVs that go into a fifth hour only get away with it because their shows are so good and the matches get continually better throughout the show, peaking the crowd’s interest with the main event. The only way you’re getting away with having such a long show is by having an awesome product in front of a hot crowd with legit stars in the main event.
And even then, seven hours is too long for any show to last. Yes, you can feasibly put on a seven hour card and have people raving about how great the show was if it is a really great show. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still too long. A great four hour show is always better than a great seven hour show. It’s more appealing to a wider audience and you reduce the risk of disappointing and potentially losing more of your existing audience. This is the second year in a row now that one of the main takeaways from WrestleMania has been that the show is just too damn long. And that’s not a good thing, even if it’s being tagged on the end of compliments about how the great the show was. So what’s the solution?
WrestleMania in its current form needs to be a two show event. Now sure, the preferred solution would be to get back to having a four hour show, but that isn’t really a viable option. WrestleMania isn’t a case of give everyone a match for the sake of giving them a match. Every match that was on the card did really deserve to be on the card. If you take one of the womens matches off the card, then you face backlash. If you don’t have a cruiserweight match on the card, then you face backlash. If you don’t have a tag match on the card, then you face backlash. And not just from the fans, but from the wrestlers. What kind of message does it send to all the women on Smackdown if you scrap their match? What does that do for morale and their output for the following year? WrestleMania 33 could have easily had MORE matches and it wouldn’t have felt like they were adding matches for the sake of adding them. The Usos vs. American Alpha could have been added. A showcase match for the rest of the cruiserweights could have been added. A Braun Strowman vs. Big Show match could have been added.
In order to get the show down to even a five hour show with the pre-show included you need to cut over two hours of content from the show. And I’m not sure how you do that. Say you cut Pitbull, Ambrose vs. Corbin, Naomi’s Title win, and the Battle Royal. You’ve saved maybe an hour at a push. Where does the other hour come from? Most of the matches were relatively short as they were. Goldberg vs. Lesnar took up a lot less time than usual for a main event match. Cena’s and Orton’s matches both clocked in around the ten minute mark which is the bare minimum their matches should be given. You could argue knocking five minutes off of both Reigns vs. Undertaker and Rollins vs. Triple H, but you’re still not even close. The re-introduction of the brand split has only increased the number of heavily showcased wrestlers in WWE that deserve to be featured on WrestleMania and the reality is, come WrestleMania 34, the number will likely be even higher. The length of WrestleMania is growing in size because WWE’s roster is also growing in size. So when reducing the length of WrestleMania no longer becomes a viable option, the only other solution is to increase the length. But keeping it to one night is just far too draining and does a disservice to your product and to the wrestlers who have to go out late into the show and bust their ass for an audience of fans who are too exhausted to give them their full appreciation.
Let’s look at the worst case scenario of making WrestleMania 34 a two night event. You already have the stage setup and the stadium booked. Running an extra night inside the same stadium won’t double the costs of running WrestleMania for one night in the same stadium. You’re essentially looking at the only major additional cost being the cost of running the show itself. The costs of running the building and travel for instance don’t double with doubling the number of shows.
The biggest concern is would WWE be able to draw 70,000+ for two consecutive nights. And honestly, who knows. I’d personally expect them to be able to fill a stadium like the Superdome at least three-fourths full for consecutive nights. When you consider how much the average wrestling fan attending WrestleMania is spending on wrestling events that weekend, I’d say it’s a pretty good bet that the majority of the fans paying for a WrestleMania ticket would pay for two nights of WrestleMania. After all, it’s not like they’re going to WrestleMania and only paying for a ticket to that one show. Most likely it would be the many independent shows running WrestleMania weekend that lose out as fans spend their money allocated for that on an extra WrestleMania ticket. Maybe someone should frame it to them as they’ll be able to start greater monopolising WrestleMania weekend if they make it a two night event. What a world we live in.
Obviously all of this is just speculation, but it’d be near impossible for it to be a disaster for WWE financially. Just drawing 50,000 people both nights with all tickets 20 percent cheaper would see them draw enough extra revenue to presumably offset the increased costs of running an extra show. And honestly, 100,000 ticket sales over two nights is the low end of what my estimate would be. Point being that it would be a disaster of a WrestleMania if they didn’t end up making more money running WrestleMania as a two night event, and WrestleMania hasn’t been a disaster since it began to take on a life of its own.
And as far as non-financial factors go, it’s hard to see any downsides. WrestleMania being stretched to an eight hour extravaganza over two nights meaning more matches and more matches not getting cut short on time. American Alpha get to have their WrestleMania showcase. The women don’t get their matches weakened due to time restraints. Just imagine the entrance Triple H can make with an extra ten minutes! And it’s not like anybody will really be more worn out as a result of it. Sure production staff may technically have to put a bit more work in but I’m sure they’d prefer it broken up over two nights than having to produce a seven hour show in one go. Nobody ever brings it up but think of those poor production crew having to make WrestleMania look as spectacular as it is for that period of time under that pressure. Maybe that’s why I saw more cameramen on a WWE show then I can ever remember seeing before.
And as far as having two separated cards both deemed WrestleMania worthy that really shouldn’t be a problem. In reality, you only need three marquee main events to sell the show and anything else that appeals to you on the undercard is a bonus. So if we take 33’s card and split it up, on Night 1 you could headline it with Goldberg vs Lesnar, A.J. vs Shane, and the Mixed Tag Match. And then Night 2 you can headline with Reigns vs Taker, Rollins vs Hunter, and Orton vs Wyatt. Mix up Bayley vs. Charlotte vs. Sasha vs. Nia, Owens vs. Jericho, the Ladder Match, and Aries vs. Neville over the two cards and you have both nights with a strong five match hand boosted by two or three undercard matches each. And suddenly you’re almost conned into presenting a match like Aries vs. Neville or the Womens Four-Way as much bigger matches which only benefits them.
Making WrestleMania a two night event doesn’t have to be the solution as long as they acknowledge that there is actually a problem that needs fixing. The worst thing that they can do is make WrestleMania 34 another six to seven hour marathon because very soon the power of the WrestleMania brand name will start to weaken and that should be very high on WWE’s list of problems to avoid at all costs.
(2) The Toilet Break Spot Serves No Purpose
What purpose is it supposed to serve sending out an undercard match before the last match on the card? The argument for it always seems to be that fans need a breather between main events, but it makes literally no difference to the quality of the main event and how into it the live crowd are.
The last thing that crowds need towards the end of a show is a match that sucks the life out of the place and brings you back down to earth. And that applies either towards the end of a show that is outstaying its welcome or even towards the end of a show producing great match after great match with the crowd constantly involved. The last thing that you want is matches late into a card that you know will bring the crowd down.
Nobody else does it and it’s always been baffling when WWE does it, especially when wrestling fans talk themselves into believing that they need to be brought down before a main event after they were riding high from the co-main event. New Japan don’t need it. Ring of Honor have never needed it. UFC never need it. Even when you look at past WrestleManias, they’ve never actually needed it. And the great main events have done just fine without it. When a show has momentum, the last thing that you should want to do is have a segment on the show that is there to intentionally drain that momentum ready for it to be built up again for the main event. Get the crowd hot and maintain the quality of the match beforehand and the crowd won’t die down.
Not only is it a downer for crowds who are riding a wave of momentum, but it’s unfair on the talent that you’re sending out there in an intentional death spot. And especially so to send the women out there in that spot when you’ve been trying so hard to get that division over as a meaningful part of the show. When you send a segment out in front of a live crowd with the intention of bringing the crowd down, you’re defining the talent in that segment as acts that don’t matter and acts that you shouldn’t be invested in, and that follows through to their segments after WrestleMania. You can’t send the Smackdown women out at WrestleMania in a spot so blatantly designed to be a come down before the main event and then expect everyone to get invested and take them seriously in their segments on Smackdown.
(3) WrestleMania Doesn’t Make Up For A Year Of Damage
Case in point, Seth Rollins. This program with Triple H has done nothing at all to get him over as a babyface no matter how much some people may frame it otherwise because “Triple H put Seth over at WrestleMania.” On that one night, he lost a wrestling match to him. And that’s been it. Losing a wrestling match to the babyface doesn’t put them over if the six months leading up to it were full of you making the babyface your bitch by looking smarter and stronger than him. Because guess which one Seth Rollins is going to be remembered by more.
Put it into a different context. Say your girlfriend (or boyfriend) spends six months cheating on you, embarrassing you, being vile and horrible to you and making you feel worthless. But then on one night at the end of this six month period, they take you out on a nice little weekend away, spoil you, compliment you and shower you with gifts. That one good weekend does not suddenly make them a good person and it does not make up for the six months that they spent treating you like shit. And if you think it does then you’re a GOD DAMN IDIOT. Just like you’d have to be an idiot to think that Seth Rollins is better off now as a babyface because on one night they booked him how they should book a major babyface.
The same point applies to Stephanie McMahon “getting her comeuppance” at WrestleMania. I saw someone online this week write about Stephanie’s table bump. They wrote: “Look at the reaction for that table bump, that’s why she’s such a great heel.” GOD NO. Of course everybody is going to pop for Stephanie going through a table. Nobody likes her and we get to cheer for her showing ass once a year. of course everybody is going to pop for it. Getting hers once a year when every other segment of hers over that year involves her emasculating, shaming, and embarrassing her babyface foes is not an effective return. And it didn’t even do anything for Seth because of the average plus/minus being so far out of his favor (that and Seth didn’t even get to actually put her through the table himself).
What happens at WrestleMania definitely matters. You can have a star-making, career-defining performance at WrestleMania and that can set you up for a very long time. But all of that only counts if it’s backed up by the other 52 Raw’s in the year. The final payoff is obviously important, but where you really get someone over is the build up to it. You can’t eat the meal before you set the table.
(4) Surprises Are Great!
Arguably the highlight of WrestleMania 33 was the surprise return of Matt & Jeff Hardy to WWE. Undeniably it got the biggest reaction of the show. And that’s not because they’re bigger stars than John Cena, Undertaker, or even Roman Reigns. The magnitude of that pop came from the fact that even though we all suspected they would end up in WWE at some point, nobody really thought that they’d turn up at WrestleMania to win the titles.
And WWE needs more organic surprises like this that really are memorable. Moments that we remember ten years from now and still get us excited. The “WrestleMania Moment” has basically become a parody now, but WrestleMania really should be about the moments. That’s what lives on in our memory years after the event and make the WrestleMania brand the selling point that is, not the fact that Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens were given enough time to have a good three-and-a-half star match.
Yet, weirdly, this year’s show didn’t have a ton of those moments. In fact, it was as much of a WrestleMania based around the in ring action as ever before. As far as real moments go, you had The Hardys, Taker retiring, and…. Goldberg vs. Lesnar? One of my favorite memories of WrestleMania when I was younger was Hulk Hogan saving Eugene from Muhammad Hassan and Shawn Daivari at WrestleMania 21. Also on that show was a very good Undertaker vs. Randy Orton match. Which one do people remember more and look back on with more emotion? THAT is what makes the WrestleMania brand have the appeal that it has and is something that WrestleMania shouldn’t lose.
A key ingredient to that is the element of genuine surprise. Genuine surprises that even people reading this are surprised by. Sadly, that’s an element that we’re losing more and more in this modern climate. We’re now in an era where we know the entire WrestleMania card before it even begins to become apparent on TV. It’s an era where we know every debut before it happens. It’s an era where we can even be spoiled for a wacky outcome like Zack Ryder winning a featured match at WrestleMania 32. WWE’s product is so much better when we as fans aren’t constantly one step ahead of what we’re watching. Because when we’re not ahead of the game it creates moments like The Hardys returning at WrestleMania that allow us to lose control of our emotions again and allows WWE to get the maximum return on their output.
The Hardys were a genuine WrestleMania moment and a true highlight of the show. So learn from what made that moment as great as it was. Surprise us with moments that aren’t announced ahead of time and, most importantly, do a better job of keeping the surprises in house so that they are actual surprises.
(5) Bray Wyatt’s Character Is Atrocious Right Now
There are many types of bad wrestling, but probably the worst type is embarrassing bad. The type of bad that makes you pray that nobody outside the bubble catches you watching. That’s the type of bad that the Orton vs. Wyatt match was.
I’m not even going to be too harsh on WWE for what they tried here. They tried to do something creative that they thought would be memorable and it flopped. I mean, anyone who thought projecting stock footage of maggots onto the ring for a World Title match at WrestleMania should have been ridiculed on the spot, but hey, creativity should be embraced and given its freedom right? Where my reaction becomes ruthlessly unforgiving is when you factor in how often they’ve done these daft supernatural gimmicks with Bray and how every single time they’ve flopped and been unanimously mocked. Even in the month leading up to WrestleMania it wasn’t getting over and was being met with ridicule.
At this point there’s no excuses at all for the hocus-pocus garbage of the Bray Wyatt character. And that’s exactly what it is, garbage. Sure, the Undertaker character had similar traits, but part of the magnificence of that character was that he managed to stay the right side of becoming a joke because of it. If Bray’s supernatural actions were getting over in the right way and WrestleMania was a mere blip, then fair enough. But this is a running trend over a number of years now and the further in they go with it the more embarrassing it becomes for viewers. And when your audience is embarrassed watching your product and praying nobody catches them watching, you’re testing their patience to the very limit.
Maybe the most frustrating part about the increasingly mystical and magical direction Bray’s character has taken in the past month is that Bray’s cult leader character has really good potential if they treated it in a more serious manner and as less of a circus act. He’s supposed to be this evil leader recruiting the weird and horrible to help elevate him to heights beyond his ability, yet since he’s been on WWE TV, we’ve seen him literally lose more followers than he’s gained and been conned by more new recruits than he’s gained. He’s been constantly spouting out ridiculous threats without ever backing them up. He’s never made anyone do something against their will. He’s never had any effect on anyone. He’s essentially the worst cult leader ever.
But there’s so much good stuff that they can be doing with him. The whole concept of The Wyatt Family should be that it’s a massive group of outcasts who are rejected by society but taken in by Bray to do his dirty work for him while he reaps all the spoils. The Wyatt Family should be a group of at least five members at all times with a constant influx of new recruits. Instead of doing nothing at all with two guys like Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel, have Bray “recruit” them and stick them in the group as fall guys so you can protect the bigger stars better. Instead of flopping twice with the same concept, debut Sanity and have Bray manipulate everyone bar Eric Young into leaving Sanity and following him. Show him manipulating tag team opponents into turning on one another before they face him. Show him manipulating his followers into taking all of his beatings for him or inflicting self-punishment upon themselves in order to gain his approval. Show that he can back his threats up.
The master manipulating cult leader has so much potential if you go all in on it being a dark character that hushes crowds and creates a nervously uneasy atmosphere. One thing is for certain, though; the direction the character has been going in with the hocus-pocus garbage is atrocious and they absolutely need to rethink both the character and the direction before it becomes so embarrassing that fans lose patience and tune out of the show completely.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: FIVE COUNT: Five Lessons The Wrestling Industry Can Learn To Produce Better Heels
(“Five Count” is a Specialist column by PWTorch Specialist Matt Seabridge who presents a list of five lessons to be learned from various categories, theme, shows, eras, or events in pro wrestling.)