SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Battleground was a breaking point for me as a fan. From this point onwards, I’m breaking my usual routine when it comes to watching WWE’s PPVs. I’m from the UK so I’m not staying up till 4 a.m. in the morning to watch a WWE show. I stay away from anything wrestling-related to avoid results and watch the show the next day after work. That had been my routine, probably dating back to around 2002 or 2003 on a monthly basis. I never missed one. They were appointment viewing.
I’ll never forget the sheer heartbreak at waking up the morning after WrestleMania 20, no school to have to get through, then setting up the VHS tape only to find that I hadn’t rewound the tape and it only recorded the first few minutes at the end of the tape. Or the time when I was so excited all day at school to get home and watch the 2006 Royal Rumble to see who won and then as I was coming out of school I overheard some kids talking about Rey Mysterio winning the Rumble. My legs almost stopped working such was the pain. I’m done with that routine now. From now on, I’m not watching these PPVs in full. I’m just going to cherry pick the matches that I want to watch and then only watch anything else if it gets rave reviews.
So I was watching Battleground and I got up to the A.J. Styles vs. Kevin Owens match and, after that, I was done. I started thinking to myself, why am I watching this show? Out of some form of blind loyalty? To what? To whom? So I can turn around and agree with other people about how we all wished we didn’t spend over 30 minutes of our life on that Punjabi Prison mess? So I just turned it off and watched something else.
And that’s what I’m going to do with these shows from now on. If I’m not bothered about watching a match I just won’t. I’ll skip it until I get to something that I do want to watch. And if there’s nothing on the show that I really want to watch, or what I do want to watch is a foregone conclusion as far as the result goes, I’ll just read the results beforehand, check out some reviews of the show, and let them dictate how much of the show I see. As a result I’ll have so much more time to spend watching something else. There’s so much good wrestling to watch either from the present era or from previous eras, why are we all sitting through a 28 minute Randy Orton vs. Jinder Mahal match? Did we all have some warped perception of reality and expect it to be good?
When it comes to Summerslam I’ll definitely watch the Universal Title match unspoiled because that ticks both the boxes for what I want from a match in 2017: Potential to be a great match without a foregone conclusion. As for everything else? I’ve sat through my last below-average Jinder Mahal match. Natalya vs. Naomi sure isn’t worthy of my time. Another New Day vs. Usos match should be good. Kevin Owens matches do nothing for me anymore so he’s on the skip pile. Whatever trash Bray Wyatt is involved in goes in the bin. Same for Dean Ambrose. Big Cass vs. Big Show can join them. Bayley vs. Alexa and Neville vs. Tozawa I’ll probably check out because I like all four acts, but I have no hopes for them being memorable matches.
So with all of that said, what are the reasons why I’ve tapped out to WWE’s stranglehold and what can they learn from it? These are all primarily focused on the Smackdown side of things, but you can apply a lot of the points made to the Raw half too. The Raw PPVs at least benefit from a much better roster of talent that gets used to its full potential. Watching guys such as Roman Reigns, Samoa Joe, Braun Strowman, Sasha Banks, and Cesaro in good matches with crap finishes that don’t mean anything is at least better than watching Jinder Mahal, Randy Orton, Naomi, and Lana in crap matches with crap finishes that don’t mean anything.
(1) Nothing Matters
There’s just nothing to get invested in as a fan because nothing matters. There are no journeys that wrestlers go on that we as fans get to tag along with. There’s no natural progression in terms of character developments from one key event to the next. The outcomes of the matches don’t even matter in the slightest because who gets pushed coming out of the next show may as well be drawn out of a hat. There’s no “oh this guy is picking up some momentum let’s see where this goes.” There’s no “oh this guy is improving before my very eyes let’s see where he goes from here.” There’s no “oh that was a big win for so and so, I bet that assures them of a bigger match on the next card.” Absolutely nothing that happens on these shows matters.
Aiden English beat Tye Dillinger. So? Aiden English still won’t mean anything and it just ensures that Tye Dillinger won’t mean anything either. The New Day won the tag belts. Hot match but the title change doesn’t mean anything. The Usos had their turn holding the belts and now it’s New Day’s turn again. When their turn is over it’ll be someone else’s turn. Being a champion doesn’t mean anything when everyone gets to be a champion. Natayla won the number one contendership match. I guess it’s her turn to be in the title match, just like it will soon be Carmella’s turn, and in time Charlotte and Becky will each get their turn as well. The same goes for A.J. vs Owens. There’s no equity in any of the belts to provide any sort of rub to whoever holds them.
Nakamura and Corbin was the epitome of nothing matters. We sit through 12 minutes of bearhugs and terrible striking for the old the heel doesn’t care about losing the match finish. Oh, and we got the match two days later with an actual finish. Just to make us feel even more embarrassed for watching this show. How are we supposed to get invested in these matches if we don’t trust there to be a decisive finish where something is achieved?
Cena beat Rusev. In fairness, Cena is a rare case of being an actual attraction for WWE and he should be losing very sparingly, even at this stage of his career. Plus Rusev isn’t in for a big push right now with Jinder on top. But still, it didn’t really matter a great deal, it was just a placeholder program before Cena likely works with Jinder at Summerslam. Sami Zayn beating Mike Kanellis falls under the same line as Aiden English beating Tye Dillinger. They’ll trade wins and none of them will mean anything to the future of either guy.
And finally Jinder retained the title but it doesn’t mean anything because nobody views him as being a champion or even one of the top guys in the company. He’s not a champion, he’s just a guy holding a prop. He never picks up a decisive win where he’s the better guy so we as viewers keep having to sit through all the unimpressive indecisive finishes.
So if nothing that happens on these shows matters then why should I care? Why should I even watch? For match quality? It’s not like the shows are producing these killer matches that make up for the relevant flaws of irrelevancy. Getting a title shot doesn’t make you special when everyone gets a turn at some point. Being a champion doesn’t mean anything when there’s no equity in any of the belts. Winning a match in the midcard doesn’t mean anything because the concept of momentum and working your way up the card isn’t there. Acts just suddenly get pushes out of nowhere because someone decides so and it has to happen all in a matter of weeks. So what’s the hook for watching these shows?
(2) What Are These Garbage Finishes Building To?
Remember how a rivalry used to start off with a regular match and then the intensity and the hatred would grow and you’d build towards them blowing the feud off in a big gimmick match where you let them loose on each other in an environment that allows them to kick the violence up to another gear. Remember when you’d get excited because a Hell In A Cell Match was announced. Remember finding out there was going to be a Street Fight and just assuming it would enhance the quality of the match.
There’s none of that anymore. In fact getting a gimmick added to your match pretty much guarantees a worse match than you would have had working under traditional rules. Even the marquee gimmick matches such as Hell In A Cell, Last Man Standing, or Elimination Chamber don’t get anyone excited anymore. And what do these rivalries build to now? Games of strategy. Yaaaaaay!
I am so done with these garbage gimmick matches that are more like someone competing on Ninja Warrior than in a professional wrestling match. And we’ve had so many of them in the last few months. There’s been Bayley and Alexa fighting to get a stick off a pole. There’s been The Hardys and Sheamus & Cesaro playing a moronically played game of escape the cage. We’ve had Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman trying to place the other into a vehicle. And now we get John Cena and Rusev trying to complete an obstacle course ending with a flag planting and Randy Orton and Jinder Mahal playing a more advanced version of the game The Hardys and Sheamus & Cesaro were playing the other month.
And every single one of them is just so insulting to anyone watching with their brain switched on. I get that wrestling relies a lot on the suspension of disbelief. The irish whip is silly but we can put up with it because it’s a means to an end. There’s no positives from the stupidly contrived spots in these matches. I’m just begging for someone to make a total mockery of them and in a cage match as soon as the match starts just run straight up the cage and down the other side and win. I mean it’s not like they’re wrestling matches where you have to wrestle. All you need to do is escape.
Gimmick matches should be a significant drawing card. You should be able to announce a Cage Match and see a significant uptake in anticipation for the show. But that only works if you make them mean something and you ensure they add some sort of added value to the match. A feud leading to a gimmick match doesn’t ensure a drastically different style of match and more importantly, it doesn’t ensure that the viewers get a decisive outcome. Nowadays there’s a stupid out for every big match so none of the finishes, even in a gimmick match, mean anything. You do a Cage Match and there’s still interference 100% of the time. You do a No DQ Match and it just enables them to have someone interfere and render the match and the finish meaningless. They do a Hell In A Cell Match nowadays and it’s not something that’s usually all that great of a match.
So when I’m sitting through a garbage finish to the opening match of a program like Nakamura vs Corbin or The New Day vs The Usos last month, why am I just accepting of the garbage non-finishes? Because they won’t lead to anything worthwhile. They’ll just lead to another garbage finish in a different context or if we’re a lucky, a convoluted obstacle course challenge.
(3) A Lack of Talent
There’s just so few real quality acts on the Smackdown roster right now. If we quickly run through the card it will illustrate this problem.
Aiden English is an undercard comedy act. It’s a role that all rosters should have somebody occupying, but unfortunately WWE have no idea how to effectively use an act like that and even if they did it’s not an act that’s drawing you into a show. Tye Dillinger isn’t someone you rely on to have memorable matches and hot programs. He’s a role player that should be used to get other people over. Which again, is a position on the roster that should be filled but none one that’s getting people excited about the show.
The New Day and The Usos are obvious talents but what on earth do they both do afterwards? Baron Corbin has something but the reality is that they haven’t found a way of getting him genuinely over yet or a way of working an entertaining match around his strengths. Nakamura still hasn’t produced anything good. That A.J. Styles guy is kinda good. I don’t need to see Kevin Owens wrestle anymore but I’m not going to pretend that he’s not an attraction. Rusev is a strong talent and Cena is Cena. Sami Zayn is obviously great but he’s never doing anything important. I don’t agree with people that say that Randy has been unmotivated during the Jinder program but the reality is that Orton isn’t someone who naturally gets you excited about what they’re doing. And then there’s Jinder Mahal working long main event matches…
And as for the women. They have a very serious issue with talent. I’m all for the women being given more time to showcase their talents but only if they have talent. The women being featured more isn’t a good thing if the women are Naomi, Carmella, Tamina and Lana. The reality is that Tamina and Lana just aren’t at all good and nobody needs to see them working extended matches, especially when Charlotte and Becky are being used as glorified background characters. Which leads into my next point…
(4) The Best Talent Playing Second Fiddle
It’s one thing when there’s not a whole lot of talent on the show but it’s something else entirely when what good talent you do have are playing second fiddle, not even to average performers but to bad ones.
Charlotte has been on Smackdown for four months now and I can’t name one significant thing that she’s done. She came over and got attacked by heels so suddenly she was a babyface and we were supposed to root for her because she got attacked by the other bad guys. Okay then. Maybe it would have had a chance if it was the catalyst into her becoming the face of the division but it was the catalyst for what? Getting Natalya, Carmella and Tamina over? Even if she’s not going to be the focal point of the division you can still at least be doing something significant with one of the best talents WWE had last year, male or female. Instead her run on Smackdown has amounted to just being a body in two disappointing ladder matches and a random match on Smackdown with Naomi and another with Becky.
Becky’s in the same boat too. I don’t think she’s a super talent in the sense that she still wrestles to the level of her opponent but she’s a rare case of being a babyface who is actually liked by the vast majority of the audience. Yet she’s spent the last year doing much of nothing other than putting over Alexa Bliss in forgettable matches. Meanwhile Naomi, Carmella, Tamina and Lana who all still can’t put together a respectable match get featured more than the two acts who last year were one of the most effective heels in Charlotte and one of the most effective babyfaces in Becky that WWE had.
And then at the top of the card you have Jinder Mahal. Everything that has needed to be said about Jinder’s push has been said so I won’t say anything more about it here. Jinder being in lengthy featured matches wouldn’t be half as bad if a) the rest of the show was really hot and b) he wasn’t taking that spot away from much more deserving acts. But when you’ve got a product that is struggling and instead of making use of the talents of acts like Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Sami Zayn and Chad Gable, the show is cluttered up with lengthy promos and matches from Jinder Mahal and Lana, it just compounds an existing problem even further.
If this was 2000 and the whole show was hot and they tried something like this Jinder Mahal push it would still be bad but it wouldn’t be having half the damage on the show as it is now because the positives on the show would be far outweighing the negatives. Instead we’re currently faced with a show where the negatives produced from subpar performers are far outweighing any of the positives coming from the rest of the show.
(5) Too Many Shows
WWE has had issues with their product for years now. All these problems that I’ve brought up since I started this column aren’t new things that have suddenly popped up. They’ve been around for years. And yes there’s a breaking point for everyone that often takes a long period of time to reach, especially if you’re really a fan of something and you have been for a long period of time. The sheer volume of these shows however is going to be the finishing blow for a lot of fans who are on their last legs with the current product.
It’s as if you’re in a relationship and you know the hopes for the future of it aren’t great for reasons a, b, and c. But you’ve been together for a long time and deep down you want it to work. You remember the good times, get all nostalgic, and talk yourself into believing that they’ll come around again. It’s just a bad patch, things will get better if you stick it out. And then you take a holiday together and instead of just spending time with each other at the weekend and bit at night, you’re spending every minute of every day with one another. Suddenly, the little things that have always annoyed you just a little make you feel like punching a wall. The little quirks they do that make you roll your eyes suddenly make you want to scream, and in no time at all you just can’t take it anymore because it’s every single day. There’s no break where you get to go to work or spend a night out with your mates instead.
And that’s what these WWE PPVs are starting to feel like. Every two to three weeks the same constant disappointment and annoyance until eventually you do what I’ve done and you sit down and think to yourself, “Why am I doing this to myself” This isn’t good for me. I could be spending my time on something more enjoyable.”
If the shows were still monthly, I could maybe put up with them. But they’re like every other week as of late and the same pattern will kick in again after Summerslam and it’s just too much to take of something that you just don’t enjoy. There’s only so many head shots you can take before you go down for the count and when it comes to these Smackdown shows, I’m lying dead on the mat at a nine count with no hopes of getting up.
So barring content that really grabs my attention, I’m out. I’ve taken enough punishment in this abusive one-sided relationship. I’m going to stand up for myself and say enough is enough. Those two to three hours every other week I’m giving back to myself. That’s time that I can spend watching something better. Maybe I’ll watch some more Roddy Piper promos. Maybe I’ll watch some more amazing discoveries on nwaondemand.com. Maybe I’ll decide it’s time I watched more Lou Thesz matches to determine how good of a worker he was. I don’t know how I’ll spend it, but I can pretty much guarantee it’ll be more enjoyable than watching a product that I don’t like anymore.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: FIVE COUNT: Ramifications of awful finishes, Women’s Revolution, Styles-Nakamura, Mike & Maria, Title Prestige