The wrestling business is naturally prone to both massive successes, along with huge failures. Booking ideas regarding pushes, individual characters and match results basically run the entire industry at its core. In-ring talent is of course important as well, but with bad booking, it’s often overshadowed and it’s effect is lessened. With WWE, everything is under a microscope, and it’s the most analyzed and debated wrestling promotion in the world. Therefore, when they get it right, they’ll receive constant praise, but if they make a wrong move, it’s amplified to the fullest extent. It’s simply the nature of the beast.
Over the years we’ve seen plenty of examples of both outcomes. Certain eras of WWE are typified by the booking decisions that were made, as they’ve made for some of the most distinctive moments of the time period in question. Whether Vince McMahon and WWE ended up failing or succeeding in any one angle or storyline, it’s usually been at least memorable in some way. Let’s take a look at some of the best and worst decisions that management has given the WWE fanbase through the years.
Ranked below are 8 things WWE got right and 7 they definitely didn’t.
15. Bret Hart Going Solo (Got Right)
The Hart Foundation was a staple of WWE programming for over five years, but it was always obvious as to which one had the potential for singles success. While Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart was a decent tag wrestler who provided a good powerhouse contrast to Bret Hart’s sleek technical style, it was always Hart who had the upper-hand for a push.
And for good reason. Within a year of heading to the singles ranks in 1991, Hart had himself an Intercontinental Title, and was immediately recognized as one of the budding stars in the company. That would only continue to grow, as he would become one of WWE’s top-flight main eventers, and one of their biggest draws throughout the 90s. This was a push that some would call obvious, but it’s always a risk when you split a successful tag team. This time it paid off.
14. Going All-In On Lex Luger (Didn’t)
When WWE signed Luger in 1993, it was seen as one of the biggest acquisitions in wrestling during the early-90s. He had proven himself in WCW, and what he may have lacked in traditional in-rin excellence, he made up for with his look and inherently charismatic persona. But instead of becoming a long-term star in WWE, he headed up one of the least successful eras in the company’s history.
They slotted Luger with a hokey “All-American” gimmick that was at least partially aping the same territory that Hulk Hogan occupied before his then-recent departure. Luger simply wasn’t the caliber of a draw that was needed to carry the company. On top of that, he soon displayed reliability issues, and departed for WCW in 1995 to coincide with the debut of Monday Nitro, never to return. After establishing a few new stars in the ’90s, WWE definitely whiffed on Luger.
13. Embracing Hardcore Wrestling (Got Right)
It’s been well-established at this point that by the early-’90s, the cartoonish version of WWE that had run its course. No longer were wrestling audiences looking exclusively for the kind of storylines and in-ring style that had been popular just a few years before. With declining ratings, WWE knew that they had to make some kind of a change. Thankfully for the existence of ECW, they now had some kind of a blueprint where they could draw ideas from. It’s no surprise that once ECW was gaining in notoriety, that WWE shifted more towards weapons-oriented matches and edgier storylines.
That isn’t to say that every single aspect of The Attitude Era was the direct result of ECW’s existence, but to say it didn’t take influence from the promotion is a misnomer. Ultimately, embracing this style helped WWE regain their standing as the biggest promotion in the world, and fight back against WCW. The hardcore-oriented style gave WWE five or six years of top-draw programming, which was definitely worth it.
12. De-Legitimizing Certain Title Belts (Didn’t)
One of the things that WWE did very well in the ’80s and early-’90s was making sure that every title that was being defended at any given time had some kind of significance. Title defenses were rarely used to just fill time, or used as a squash match to get another wrestler over. This created legitimacy around every title match, which created intrigue, which ultimately resulted in being a draw. Somewhere along the line, however, this was scrapped in favor of a plethora of different titles, some of which weren’t deemed important.
We’re seeing the Cruiserweight Title fall victim to this, along with the European Title, United States Title, and with the tag belts. If a promotion is going to go through the trouble of booking for a title, it’s in their best interest to make it at least reasonably important. This is a problem that plagues WWE to this day, and in some ways, it’s worse than ever.
11. D-Generation X (Got Right)
With the emergence of the nWo in 1996, it was clear that WWE needed to do something to combat the popularity of that faction. It took almost a year, but when D-Generation X came to be, the answer to the nWo was finally realized. It was less scattershot and random than the nWo was, and the amount of members that it had was much easier to keep track of, as the nWo soon turned into a revolving door of different wrestlers. In short, it was a massive success in a short amount of time.
At its apex, DX was not only able to extend Shawn Michaels’ relevance for a few more years, but also launched successful careers for Triple H, Billy Gunn, Road Dogg and X-Pac. It was a hallmark of The Attitude Era, and the catchphrases popularized by the group can still be heard today around WWE territory.
10. The 24/7 Hardcore Title Rule (Didn’t)
While embracing hardcore wrestling to some degree was definitely a good thing, making a rule where the Hardcore Title could be defended at any time day or night, was not. This was an example of overthinking the appeal of a stipulation. It was a poor attempt to insert comedic moments into what had been a legitimate title up to that point, and in affect, de-legitimized the title as a whole.
Instead, WWE could have just continued to provide great hardcore matches in a traditional in-ring manner. With as much air-time as they were getting during The Attitude Era, there was no need to resort to such a ridiculous rule to provide comedic value. Ultimately, the title would be retired in 2002.
9. The Ultimate Warrior (Got Right)
With roughly three years of Hogan dominating the title scene, by 1987 WWE needed to infuse a new star into the company. That came in the form of The Ultimate Warrior, who had cut his teeth in the UWF and Texas-area promotions as The Dingo Warrior. Everything about his appearance was absolutely electric, and the perfect antidote to the methodical wrestler of the time period, which was still heavily prevalent. The Warrior dropped like a bombshell in 1987, quickly winning the Intercontinental Title, and eventually the WWE Title.
This was a WWE-creation of the highest order. Everything was meticulously crafted to make Warrior into a huge star, which he absolutely was, even though his shelf-life was a bit on the short side. He was definitely one of the biggest stars of his era, and one of, if not the first indication given by WWE that there would be life after Hogan.
8. Sporadic Main Eventers (Didn’t)
In recent years, due to increased crossover appeal exhibited by fighters of all styles, it’s become increasingly easy to have mere occasional main eventers in WWE. Example? Consider how often Brock Lesnar leaves and then returns to WWE on such a consistent basis. He follows the money, and when it’s time for him to make another run with the company for a few months, he’s back in the ring. We’ve seen it with The Rock, Sting and Goldberg over the years as well.
Obviously there’s nothing wrong with a one-off match, but WWE just depending on stars of the past to come back and save their pay-per-view buys is a tired strategy. It’s imperative that new stars be developed, and that they remain on the roster long enough to consistently main event shows. This certainly happens as well, but the idea of wrestlers returning for a few months with a premeditated departure is a tired strategy.
7. National Expansion (Got Right)
Before the mid-’80s, the wrestling business was territorial. There was no concept of “mainstream” wrestling that was available to every fan coast to coast. Various promotions were draws in various regions of the country. WWE occupied the Northeast, but when Vince McMahon Jr. took over from his father, he strived for more.
With some savvy business maneuvers, and good timing with creating stars, he was able to successfully make WWE fully a national entity by the end of the ’80s. It was unprecedented in the wrestling business, and needless to say it changed everything. WWE has produced both a quality and sub-par product over the years, but I think every wrestling fan is glad that we at least have access to it. Without the idea for national expansion, that wouldn’t be possible.
6. Scaling Back On Tag Team Wrestling (Didn’t)
It would be foolish not to acknowledge that at one time, tag team wrestling was paramount to WWE’s success. It contributed some of the greatest matches and feuds in the promotion’s history. Somewhere in the mid-2000s, all of the creativity and significance that was placed into the division had completely diminished. This has continued to the present day, and while there are a few good individual teams, the tag division doesn’t have the clout that it once did.
Ultimately, this was a mistake. Tag team wrestling was one of the foundations the company was built on, and there’s little reason it shouldn’t be a featured component of pay-per-views. Every other notable promotion emphasizes it, so WWE’s reluctance to do so in recent years has been puzzling.
5. Allowing “Stone Cold” Creative Control (Got Right)
In the WWE landscape during 1996, most wrestlers were simply told what to do, what to say, and how to wrestle. There was little precedent for anybody being able to expand upon their character just on their own volition. But Steve Austin wasn’t an ordinary talent, and it was clear that to maximize his potential, management would have to take a step back and let him improvise.
Initially slotted with the bland Ringmaster gimmick with Ted DiBiase as his manager, Austin slowly began to build his own original character. He would begin to get louder and more vile on the microphone, and demonstrated an in-ring style that was reckless to say the least. It was a breath of fresh air, and it was one of the few times up to that point that WWE management was willing to let an individual wrestler essentially write their own script. Needless to say, it paid dividends in the proceeding years.
4. The ECW Brand Resurrection (Didn’t)
An ill-advised move that was nothing more than a cheap cash-in on a defunct promotion, reviving ECW did no good for anyone involved. It was a peripheral show in the WWE landscape, even when it re-launched in 2006, and there was de-legitimized from the start. It was nothing more than a watered-down version of what was once an exciting and innovative promotion. WWE was mostly using their talent (Tommy Dreamer, Sandman and Sabu the notable exceptions), and many of them belonged nowhere near an “ECW” ring.
Eventually, the concept collapsed under its own weight, and it was removed from programming. Just a bad idea all around, for obvious reasons. The fact that WWE management were even willing to attach their name to the company was cringeworthy to begin with.
3. Shawn Michaels Going Solo
Just like with Bret Hart, Michaels was one-half of a successful tag team that could be counted on time and time again. Also like Hart, he was always the one-half of the team who projected to be a major star in the singles ranks. It was obvious, the only question concerned when it was going to happen. In 1991, Michaels superkicked Marty Jannetty through the glass during “The Barbershop” segment, and suddenly became HBK overnight.
He only ended up being WWE’s biggest start of the ’90s before The Attitude Era, and in many ways single-handedly kept the company afloat for a period of time, or at least kept them as the leader in the TV ratings. The amount of classic matches and moments are too many to count, and Michaels simply turned out to be one of the all-time greats.
2. The Brand Split (Didn’t)
Up until 2002, every wrestler on the WWE main roster were all hosed under one roof. Anybody could wrestle anybody, and all were fair game to appear on any of the programming that was on at the time. That all changed with the brand split, which effectively separated the roster into factions of Raw and SmackDown. While it was an original idea, and could be justified at the time, the overall effect of the decision has run its course.
Keeping every wrestler under one “brand” creates less clutter, more intrigue for big matches, and less overall confusion. Now, with the additions of NXT and 205 Live on top of the traditional Raw and SmackDown factions, there’s simply too much to take in. A move back to the traditional solo brand would be a wise decision in the future. It would also allow the roster to be trimmed to a manageable level.
1. The Hulk Hogan Push
The catalyst that made WWE into a national phenomenon, and put them in the sporting world elite. Pushing the “Hulkamania” angle, beginning in 1984 with his WWE Title win over the Iron Sheik, was the single best thing that WWE ever did in terms of the bottom line. It simply took over wrestling, and changed the entire industry in one fell swoop. Overnight, WWE became the most popular promotion in the country, and crossed over entirely into pop-culture with ease.
Hogan, of course, wasn’t the best wrestler in the ring, but none of that mattered. His character gave WWE a main event draw for the next decade, and the revenue he was able to draw broke down all of the doors in terms of WWE becoming a mega-sized company. Indeed, the Hogan push was the single best decision they ever made, all things considered.
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