Wrestling used to be one of the most popular things in America at two separate times, during Hulkamania and during The Attitude Era. Nowadays it’s a lot more niche but by any metric, the actual wrestling is far and away the most athletic and skillful it’s ever been. WWE in the last 5-10 years have brought in a huge chunk of the best indie wrestlers in the world, clearly influenced by the fact that CM Punk and Daniel Bryan each took over the WWE fans imaginations despite questionable decisions keeping them from ever being the top priority.
So with this influx of great talent, the highest production values they’ve ever had, worldwide exposure and the WWE Network giving practically unlimited content to the entire world, it’s strange that a few glaring holes remain in WWE’s system that keeps it from attaining the heights they did in the 80s and 90s. It’s not even a bunch of major problems either, just a collection of small things that devalue wrestling which is the core around which the WWE brand exists.
Television may now be a race of thousands of channels instead of dozens but WWE is serving up essentially the only wrestling game in town (in terms of scale). If they want to ever gain back that huge audience that made them practically required viewing they need to get out of a bunch of bad habits that they think are helping but are most definitely making it hard to watch every week.
15. Pimping Out Wrestlers
Between wrestlers being forced to participate in hokey skits where they proclaim their love for a sandwich or having Michael Cole reminding us 30 times in one night that the upcoming PPV is sponsored by ‘company x’, advertising in wrestling has gone beyond acceptable limits. Hearing and seeing wrestling throw itself at the feet of anyone willing to deign WWE with cash doesn’t make you want to use that companies product, it makes you want to mute the tv or stop following the wrestlers hawking the junk in question.
There are the very occasional exceptions where one of these endorsements is kinda funny and therefore passable, but WWE needs to focus on the synergy that doesn’t undermine their performers otherwise they are just cutting off their noses to spite their face. In the past wrestlers just did stand alone commercials, like Mankind’s infamous Chef Boyardee ads, not skits that took up time on the actual wrestling show they were trying to be taken seriously on. Colonel Ziggler should not be the standard but a cautionary tale.
14. Commercials In The Middle Of Matches
It’s commonplace now and utterly expected, to the point you can predict a commercial with seconds to spare every week, but it wasn’t always that way. WWE believe it or not, used to value their wrestling segments and ensure that matches were seen bell-to-bell with only excessively long matches requiring commercials to intersect them. Now we only see the first minute and last two minutes of a seven-minute contest, rendering the audience at home completely boned if they want to see any decent match uninterrupted.
The WWE seems to have a schizophrenic tone when dealing with this issue as well, half the time claiming that actual wrestling on a wrestling show doesn’t hold viewers, while actively using wrestling as the anchor on each side of commercials to ensure current viewers remain watching. It can’t be both, so without a solid reason in place that makes any sense, can we at least get one decent length, uninterrupted match each week on the main shows?
One of the things that have infected wrestling to the point of needing to mute the television since 2000 has been the need to brand absolutely everything without regard for common sense or subtlety. From ‘The Maharaja’, to ‘The Boss’, to ‘The Goddess’ to ‘The Big Dog’, it’s gotten to the point where they all mean equally nothing. WWE is very much in the habit of coming up with the most unnatural sounding phrases that MUST be spewed out every time a wrestler or event is mentioned. If you were to drink every time Braun Strowman was called ‘The Monster Among Men’ in a single segment you’d be throwing up or passed out before it was over. By the way, did you know that “Survivor Series is the one time each year Raw and SmackDown compete in head-to-head competition!”? Yeah. It’s also wrong, but that’s a whole other problem.
It doesn’t have to go away completely since having a cool nickname or tagline is part of the fun of wrestling, but when every superstar from ‘The Beast Incarnate’ down through two-thirds of every division have nicknames that must be repeated without fail it loses any impact, charm or specialness that may come with it.
12. Camera Zoom Chaos
Forgive me if you haven’t noticed this before now because once it’s pointed out to you it’ll bug you up the wall and back down again. In WWE’s ever-evolving quest to fix things that aren’t broken they’ve instituted a policy for their shows that means camera operators have to zoom their shots in and out during multiple strike attacks. It’s an attempt to make the impact somehow translate better to the viewer but in all honesty, it just looks like someone’s kid is messing with the settings.
You see it whenever a camera shot is close to something in the corner or ropes, like Sheamus’ clubbing forearms or Roman’s corner clotheslines. Camera Guy is right there zooming in and out, making it hard to actually see the action since you’re being forced to “feel” it. WWE should take a page from perhaps the greatest man to ever fight on camera, Jackie Chan, who insists that a steady wider shot of the entire scene allows for the greatest impact when performing stunts on camera. He might know a thing or two that guy.
11. Commentator’s Groaning During Heavy Lifts
If there’s one thing we don’t need it’s Michael Cole making grunting, straining sounds on commentary every time someone puts a large wrestler on their shoulders. It’s disturbing to hear someone sympathetically groaning into a headset from up on the stage as they watch wrestlers do what they do, so this is something that needs to die in a fire in the very near future.
We get it, lifting heavy things is difficult and sometimes people make straining sounds for something extra heavy. We also get that emphasizing that sound over commentary is supposed to increase the empathy people have for the guy lifting, but the tradeoff of having grunting on commentary is absolutely not worth it. It’s also undercut half the time when in one breath they’re telling us what a powerhouse Roman is while in the next they’re straining as he tries to lift guys he’s lifted 18 times already in the same match.
10. Dancing Wrestlers
We’re just about due for another one of these to make its way onto the main rosters and for No Way Jose’s sake, we hope he isn’t pigeonholed with it forever because with very few exceptions the ‘dancing wrestler’ gimmick is good for about two months before it begins to go sour. It happened to Brodus Clay, it happened to Adam Rose, it’s kinda happened to Rich Swann, and it’ll happen to No Way Jose if he can’t fashion a way to get around the stigma before it completely ruins his career and we see him getting wished well in his future endeavors.
Not to say that this is never a fun change of pace since wrestling is nothing if not an eclectic mix of several genres and performer types. But eventually, you either need to be taken seriously enough to transition out of it or go somewhere totally unique to maintain interest. We know that Vince McMahon simultaneously loves these gimmicks and also grows bored with them at a moments notice, so for all wrestlers planning to dance their way to the top, be prepared with some backup plans for when the music stops.
9. Blood Loss
This one is a simple case of WWE trying to please sponsors and shareholders but it really requires a rethink. When people are fighting and it gets to a certain point some blood getting introduced to proceedings can enhance the moment into immortality. There have been several moments in recent times where a bit of the red stuff has not only made a match seem more brutal but it’s actually made a wrestler so much more sympathetic and endearing due to them struggling through this clear indicator that they’re damaged.
Cesaro having his horrific tooth injury occur at this year’s No Mercy was not only an added bit of gruesome to a tough contest but it made his effort to continue fighting for the rest of the match into something unforgettable. A great match now has an element that won’t be forgotten. Selectively adding this element to matches deserving of the boost is a massive thing to discard.
8. Death By A Thousand Camera Cuts
The equally ugly cousin of the camera zoom problem, having the camera cut every time contact is made on a strike may hide the fact that wrestling is wrestling and they’re not exactly trying to kill each other, but it also makes every hit lose that visceral impact that a great looking punch can deliver. Trying to watch a fight where the camera angle changes reflexively every second makes the action intangible and faker than any amount of whiffing on a single punch would do. If UFC did something like this the company wouldn’t exist anymore, simple as that.
A lot of this has to do with certain top wrestlers having terrible looking punches that forced WWE to try to hide this weakness by cutting ad nauseum, but it bled out into almost every other match and now, between the cutting, zooming and sometimes straight up missing of critical actions in the matches, the spectacle of wrestling that we all came to see is carved up right before our eyes.
7. “They’re Just Having Fun”
If you ever hear this phrase applied to a wrestler it’s WWE speak for ‘we didn’t realize this was going to make them look like such a jerk, please forgive it’. Too often good guys are given segments where they outright act like petty mean girls or d-bags and WWE expects the fans to find it endearing or ‘cool’. When Mark Henry or Apollo Crews saunters out with an ear-to-ear grin for no reason and Cole on commentary trills “He’s just having fun!” you have every right to die a little inside.
WWE has had a massive problem for the longest time making actually enjoyable and backable face wrestlers. Austin was an anti-hero, The Rock was an ultra-cocky jerk who was too entertaining to dislike for long, and since those two left WWE has tried to make every big face into a knock-off version of either of those with very limited success. Orton for a minute was made into a Stone Cold clone, RKOing everyone without rhyme or reason. Cena was Rock-lite with poopy jokes instead of razor wit and they’ve tried both methods with Roman and we got the ‘sufferin succotash’ promo and Roman attacking people without just cause.
When WWE has naturally likable babyfaces like Sami Zayn and Bayley acting like weird, antisocial weirdos it kills what made them special in NXT. No amount of “they’re just having fun” commentary cover-ups can salvage simplistic, bad segments.
6. Contrived Moves And Stories
On the moveset side of things, this is mostly directed at Dean Ambrose’s rebound clothesline, but it applies equally to moves like Alberto Del Rio’s old top-rope corner stomp or Roman Reigns’ drive-by apron dropkick. On the storyline side of things, we’re talking about stories that play out so far on the peripheries of WWE programming that to even the hardcore fans the sequence is difficult to fathom.
One problem is easy to solve, and it’s simply to limit the moves that require nine exact things to happen all at once in specific order to make any sense. Dean leaning out the second rope when there was no cause to do so makes the clothesline look extra phony, as does the fact that only in Roman Reigns matches will opponents sprawl themselves across the bottom rope in preparation for the dropkick. Cut it out or set it up more naturally, and the world is a better place.
As for stories, this applies majorly to things like Natalya’s recent SmackDown Women’s Championship win. No one saw it coming, because it made no sense from any perspective except one. That perspective was that it was the storyline being run over in Total Divas that required Natalya to win the big one. That’s too far afield for anyone to have possible gotten benefit from, and so needs to be limited. Surprise wins can be great, but this one to service a ‘reality show’ on the fringes of WWE is garbage.
5. Cheating Is Bad Except When It Isn’t
If you want fans to buy into your faces and good guys you have to hold them accountable for the times where they either bend the rules or break them. Similarly, you have to have a line that can’t be crossed in other contests and not merely care about cheating when it is against the Chosen few who Vince deems worthy of caring about.
When commentators spend all show bellowing about how The Miz cheated or Kevin Owens is a dastardly heel for his actions against The Chosen Ones you can’t then ignore when Cena or Roman commits approximately the same crime. Give us context. Give us nuance and standards and we as fans are perfectly capable of following or deciding what is right and wrong.
WWE insisting that they not only dictate what we see but that we must perceive it almost exactly the opposite way it comes off drives viewers out the door. If Cena acts like a jerk don’t tell us he’s noble and hustling for loyalty out of respect. We see through that and eventually won’t watch or care if it’s forced on us.
4. Endless Replays
It can’t be easy to fill up five hours of television each week and more on PPV weeks, but surely there are better things WWE could do than insisting that they reply every segment right after it just happened.
Either they think WWE fans are goldfish with little to no attention span worth respecting or they assume that other viewers are flitting in and out of watching their show and require constant updating just in case they need context for what they see to stay tuned. Except there’s nothing less likely to retain a new viewer than showing them that what is currently going on isn’t live or currently happening. Why would someone stick around for replays and Michael Cole recaps? It’s practically half of Raw these days.
3. McMahon Drama
One thing that has been a constant since The Attitude Era is that some form of McMahon drama permeates the WWE product at all times. If it’s not Stephanie McMahon on a power trip with Triple H it’s Vince McMahon trying to thwart Hulk Hogan or Shane McMahon revealing he has a mysterious lockbox containing Vince’s secrets that he’ll only put on the line at WrestleMania, or even Linda McMahon’s senatorial bid turning WWE into a weirdly defensive political ad campaign.
While some of these are fun, mostly the ones involving Shane since he actually puts his body on the line to make his appearances worth it, the other three need to be seen much less or not at all. Stephanie in particular hamstrings the men and women she interacts with and since she’s never going to put on a match worth all the bother of her undercutting their performers it should not be part of the shows. She’s just doing a cheap Vince impression anyway, so let’s cut all that out and let the wrestlers do their thing without the McMahon cloud hanging over everything.
2. Almost Everything About Backstage Interviews
Backstage interviews used to be some of the most memorable moments for wrestlers to connect with fans. No seriously!
With Mene Gene holding the mic guys like Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage captivated audiences with bellowing proclamations of imminent victory and virtue. Dusty Rhodes’ Hard Times promo is rightly heralded as one of the greatest things ever. Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts could mystify and terrorize opponents and audiences with a few minutes of gravelly portends of doom. The Rock blew people’s minds with his quick wit, razor tongue, and scathing insults. All of these moments destroy anything we see from modern backstage interviews. The reasons are simplistic but vitally important to fixing this lost art.
Wrestlers need to be allowed to talk and look right down the camera. Currently, they all stare off into space to the side, talking to no one or at best looking sideways at the interviewer. Another aspect is having interviewers having more personality and interaction to prompt spontaneity. Mene Gene was the king of inspiring natural moments from his subjects and Renee Young could be the modern example if given a little leeway.
1. The Chosen One
Perhaps in many fans eyes, this is the biggest problem plaguing WWE for the last decade and a half. First, we had John Cena who despite fan revolt and consistently falling ratings was positioned as the only guy who could possibly succeed in WWE, whether it was incessant marketing, promotion or just general prominence at all turns. Now it’s Roman Reigns, and while the negative perception of him is softening as he continues to put on great matches and has been reunited with the two guys who seem to make him likable in The Shield, he is also presented as WWE’s one and only.
While both Stone Cold Steve Austin and Hulk Hogan were unquestionably the top guys during their respectively successful eras they had a swirling mass of great allies and foes around them to make things interesting. Austin had guys like The Rock, Kurt Angle, and The Undertaker to help carry the load who were seen as able to defeat The Rattlesnake on the right day. Hulk Hogan had Macho Man Randy Savage, Andre The Giant, and The Ultimate Warrior, all who toppled Hogan at various times and kept him fresh before he finally wore out his welcome.
Cena had no one. No one was presented as a legitimate threat because it would tarnish the ‘Superman Cena’ thing and it resulted in years of lacking feuds. Roman is headed in the same direction, with him only ever losing clean a literal handful of times because nobody even on their best day can defeat ‘The Big Dog’. If WWE is ever going to regain a wider array of fans they have to give them a wider array of heroes and heroines to support who can conceivably reach the top.
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