The WWE as we know it was formed in the 1980s, but can trace its origins all the way back to 1952, when Roderick James McMahon helped co-found the Capitol Wrestling Corporation. In time, the CWC would become the World Wide Wrestling Federation, and then the World Wrestling Federation, and eventually the #1 brand in wrestling we know today as World Wrestling Entertainment.
WWE has always been proud of its history... for the most part. Their attempts to rewrite history is a debate best left for another day, but it cannot be denied that WWE loves showing off all its many different "eras". Whether it's "The Rock 'N Wrestling Connection" or "The Attitude Era" or "The Ruthless Aggression" era, each generation of wrestling has been unique and special. But let's take off the nostalgia goggles for a moment and admit that in every era since its creation, the WWE has had just as many crushing downs as it has had meteoric highs.
As the saying goes, "the more things change, the more they stay the same". Pro wrestling is rooted in history, and its roots run deep. Booking philosophies that first began when pro wrestling was still a circus sideshow attraction remain in place even today. Vince McMahon remains the most powerful man in the WWE, just like he's been for over thirty (THIRTY!) years. And while the WWE has evolved with the times in some ways, in many ways, they refuse to let go of their history and try new things. Here's fifteen ways the WWE is stuck on repeat.
15 The Brand Split
The original brand split between Raw and SmackDown had everything going for it: Vince McMahon was putting on some of his best heel performances since the "Austin vs. McMahon" glory days, and Ric Flair seemed a perfect fit in his new "executive" role. The storyline featured such highs as the nWo's debut in the WWE, which while not a perfect story by any means did give us the returns of Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Hulk Hogan. Both brands had unique identities, their own pay-per-views, and would combine occasionally for co-branded mega-events.
What went wrong? Quite a lot, actually. Once the brands were split, the talent pool began running dry. "Brand-exclusive" pay-per-views became so lackluster than fans tuned out in droves. When the only important stories occurred leading up to big co-branded events, fans began getting the hint that nothing really mattered much in terms of the week-to-week product until a big event was coming up. When the WWE answered this by hosting more co-branded shows, the appeal of co-branded shows wore off quickly. Before long, the only option left was to rejoin the brands.
What's stopping this from happening again? To be fair, both brands have been doing a really nice job of establishing themselves as separate entities. Not only are their rosters different, so is their feel, their atmosphere, and their soul. Yet the same could be said of the previous brand split. Only time will tell if the second time's the charm.
14 McMahon Family Feud, Version... 10? 20? 50?
One of the defining storylines of the "Attitude Era" was the birth of the McMahon-Helmsley faction, and their attempts to take over the WWE from Vince McMahon (who was in the middle of a rare face turn). And then in the early 2000s, the much-maligned "InVasion" angle that was supposed to give us star-studded ECW vs. WWE and WCW vs. WWE dream matches, but instead gave us another McMahon Kids vs. Big Daddy Vince storyline.
In total, there have been four major McMahon's that have become four major storyline personalities in the WWE's modern eras: Stephanie, Shane, Vince, and even Linda. And we've seen just about every version of them feuding with each other that is mathematically possible. Vince vs. Steph? Done. Vince vs. Shane? Done. Vince vs. Steph and Shane? Done. Vince vs. Linda? Done. Vince vs. Linda vs. Shane vs. Stephanie? You know the drill.
Today, it's General Manager Stephanie vs. General Manager Shane, with the twist being that their "sibling rivalry" is... actually kinda friendly this time. It's nice to see the "McMahon Family Drama Saga" take a back seat in order for more storylines revolving around the actual talent, but still, this storyline trope has been done dozens of times and remains an example of WWE not just going back to the well, but running it dry.
13 Ignoring A Rival Promotion
The WWE has gotten remarkably better at this in recent years, 'tis true. Only a few years ago, WWE liked to pretend like no other wrestling federations even existed. Today they love to mention how big of a star some of their stars were in New Japan Pro Wrestling, and even Ring of Honor has earned some honorable mentions, and in one notorious CM Punk promo, a full-blown shout-out.
Still, WWE likes to pretend that TNA (now Impact Wrestling) doesn't exist. AJ Styles was made in TNA. He was amazing outside of it, but that's where he got his mainstream attention (at least, as mainstream as TNA gets). The same goes for Austin Aries, Bobby Roode, Samoa Joe... the list goes on and on. But all their accomplishments are swept under the rug due to the long-outdated mentality that just ignoring your competition will make them go away. Samoa Joe and AJ Styles have wonderfully transitioned to full-blown WWE Superstars, but both men were still never given the credit they were due as two of TNA's biggest and longest-running stars. And that's a damn shame.
12 The Nostalgia Runs (Title Run Optional)
The second there were more than two "eras" in the WWE's history, someone came up with the idea of bringing in a star of the past to mix it up with the Superstars of today and the brightest prospects of tomorrow. The 80s, 90s, 2000s, and the modern era are filled with these "nostalgia runs" where a former champion or notable name comes back after a long hiatus whether for "one last run" or to make a triumphant return and prove that they've got more than enough left in the tank to hang with all these young whippersnappers.
Former examples include Jake "The Snake" Roberts in the early 90s, Hulk Hogan in the early 2000s, as well as Shawn Michaels. Granted, Michaels' return was one of the best stories in wrestling history and gave us some of the best matches in wrestling history, but it still most definitely qualifies as a "nostalgia run", at least in the beginning. Current examples are Brock Lesnar's (mostly good) return and championship pursuits, and Goldberg's (MOSTLY ATROCIOUS) return and championship pursuits.
11 The Evil Foreigner Gimmick
Quick, tell me what Rusev's character is. Don't think, just spout something off the top of your head. Here's my answer: Rusev is a bad guy because... he's not from the USA. Also, Jinder Mahal is a bad guy because... he's not from the USA. Oh, let's not forget about the League of Nations! They were all not from the USA, and we were supposed to boo them because they're not from the USA. If I say USA enough times, you'll get so patriotic, you'll just boo any foreigner that dares talk smack about our red, white, and blue. USA! USA! USA! USA!
I can't blame WWE too much for this one, it's one of the storylines most ingrained into the fabric of pro wrestling. But still, we've had evil foreigner gimmicks for about as long as we've had pro wrestling in general. This storyline is paper-thin and long past its expiration date. Fans deserve better.
10 Tag Partners... Best Friends... Hated Enemies
This classic storyline is still going strong today. It begins by taking a tag team and charting their entire history: their formation, their early trials and tribulations as they strive for excellence, their elation as they finally capture gold. Things like that. But then something happens: maybe jealousy sets in. Maybe one star just becomes too big and begins overshadowing the other star. Maybe one star gets a title opportunity for a singles belt and finds out he's amazing all on his own. And then the inevitable breakup happens, and leads to a prolonged feud where two men who once loved each other like brothers become each other's most hated enemy.
WWE's history is filled with examples: Marty Jannetty and HBK in the Rockers, Triple H and Shawn Michaels when they started feuding after the faked DX reunion, even today, we have the breakup of JeriKO and the breakup of the Wyatt Family. Much like the "nostalgia run" this storyline can actually still be pulled off really well even today despite its long, long, LONG history of use. But it remains an example of WWE relying on what works and not trying new things.
9 The Constant Focus On "Making History"
How many hundreds of times did we hear about The New Day getting close to Demolition's streak as the longest reigning WWE Tag Team champions?, How many hundreds of times did we hear about John Cena coming close to tying Ric Flair's 16 championship wins? Also, who remembers when The Rock vs. John Cena was billed as "Once In A Lifetime"? Or how big a thing it was when Brock Lesnar broke The Undertaker's undefeated streak?
Don't get me wrong, it's awesome when a wrestler makes history. The WWE wants to promote history-making events and feuds and spectacles and matches as much as they can, and to some degree they should. But just like storylines can be over-booked and up-and-coming wrestlers can be over-pushed, the constant focus on "history in the making" can and has been heavily over-promoted throughout the years, especially now. To be brutally honest, sometimes WWE's incessant need to dwell on the past has hampered their ability to focus on the future.
8 "Pick A Fight With Your Boss" Storylines
Just like the "evil foreigner" and tag teams growing together only to ultimately turn on each other, this is another example of a classic pro wrestling storyline with multiple decades of history that is still being used today. The classic example is Vince McMahon vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin, a feud that was done so well and gave us so much drama that it's the one thing people think of most when they think of the Attitude Era.
But make no mistake, this storyline is still going strong today. Not only that, this storyline works for both good and evil bosses/management characters. We even have two concurrent "fight your boss" storylines going on both the red brand and blue brand. Over on Raw, Seth Rollins vs. Triple H has been lasting for months and is barreling towards its inevitable conclusion. And on SmackDown, the AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon feud just got started.
7 The "Monster" Monster Push
In general, people view a "monster push" as someone being catapulted to the top of the card the second they debut. Samoa Joe is the most recent example. But this entry on our list covers a certain subgenre of the "monster push": not just catapulting someone to the top, but doing so by establishing him as an unstoppable force of destruction, a wrecking machine in human form. These men are portrayed as more than just human, they're seen almost like forces of nature.
Before his push ended in the latest desperate attempt to get Roman Reigns over, Braun Strowman was the latest unstoppable monster that did all his talking in the ring. Baron Corbin has been given a similar push, although to a somewhat lesser extent. Past examples include Brock Lesnar when he first debuted, Ryback when he was in his "Feed Me More" heyday, and of course, our current WWE Universal Champion, Dadberg.
6 The Lack Of Focus On Cruiserweights
I know what you're thinking: lack of focus? They have their own belt! They had their own tournament! They have their own show! But let me stop you before you get too incensed: focus in this case doesn't mean "they're not featured as much". This is especially true nowadays since they have their own show. When I speak of "focus", what I mean is that WWE has never had a clear vision for their lighter-weight divisions.
Back in the 90s, the WWE Lightweight Championship was an afterthought. When WWE bought WCW, they were so afraid of having more than one lighter-weight championship that they almost immediately combined the belts. And then even the combined Cruiserweight/Lightweight Championship became an afterthought. Recently, we had an amazing Cruiserweight Classic but now the current Cruiserweights are quickly becoming afterthoughts too. With so many amazing talents in the current Cruiserweight Division, it's a damn shame that all we really get in terms of storyline is the current Neville vs. Austin Aeries feud.
5 Not Really Knowing What To Do With The Second-String Championship
Over on SmackDown the Intercontinental Championship gets a break because of the good work the blue brand is doing. Also, let's be honest and give credit where credit is due: The Miz has largely been the man to thank for giving the IC Championship more relevancy than it's had in a long, long, long time. But the red brand... oh boy the red brand. The United States Championship is so irrelevant right now it became a joke/meme when Roman Reigns had it and never defended it.
This isn't the first time the second-string/mid-carder belts have been reduced to nothing more than expensive paperweights. The IC Championship was highly prestigious in the early 90s, but during the "Attitude Era" when it became the "in thing" to switch titles for quick shock value, the championship was passed around so often that it lost all its prestige and relevance in only a matter of years.
4 The Constant Fixation On "Old School vs. New School" Matches
At times, the WWE seems outright obsessed with nostalgia, to an unhealthy degree. The only reason Goldberg is currently WWE Universal Champion is because of the wrestler he used to be, not because he's a 50-year-old wrestler who can't wrestle past the two-minute mark. Plus, Dadberg's feud with Brock Lesnar mostly focuses on how both men were the most dominant wrestlers of their generation (Lesnar is technically the most dominant wrestler of more than one generation).
In the past, we've had The Rock vs. John Cena, The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan, and more. One of the best matches in Raw history, Shawn Michaels vs. Shelton Benjamin, was a fantastic example of an "old school vs. new school" match. Triple H vs. Seth Rollins, when it inevitably happens, is another example. We've had Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt with Wyatt attempting to take the Undertaker's place as the most feared man in the WWE.
Sometimes it's just best to put two fresh stars against each other and let them sink or swim on their own merits. At best, this storyline trope can produce some amazing moments, but at worst it holds back promising talent from proving themselves on their own. Many of the WWE's younger stars are so good that they simply don't need to coast on the star power of their more-famous, more-established opponents.
3 Saving Up Everything For The "Big Four"
As good as some PPV's have been lately, WWE remains constantly fixated on saving the best match-ups and the most interesting storylines for Survivor Series, SummerSlam, Royal Rumble, and WrestleMania. Maybe it's asking too much for every event to be a mega-event, but doesn't it always feel like WWE is either stepping lightly on the gas or even simply treading water anytime they don't have one of the big four coming up?
As stated previously, this was one of the largest contributing factors to the brand split not working out the first time it was attempted. And while I commend the WWE for wanting to make the "Big Four" seem more like spectacles than wrestling shows, they have to know by now that this tactic can and has resulted in storylines being stretched thin. Various feuds and storylines have gone on far past their expiration date just so one of the big four can add another marquee attraction to the card. Does anyone really care about Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg anymore? Doesn't it feel like it's gone on forever? Did we really have to save the big rematch for WrestleMania when their first WrestleMania match was one of the worst in 'Mania history?
2 Bigger Is Still Better
This mentality has gone through many ebbs and flows: sometimes it's only an afterthought, but sometimes it's the main thought. Yet it cannot be denied: in the past, in the present, and most assuredly in the future, the WWE has a habit of trying their best to push hulking behemoths to the top of the card. Either they're super tall or super muscled, or both, but they remain one of Vince McMahon's favorite wet dreams.
The list of "big men" that rocked to the top based solely on their imposing stature and/or physique goes on and on and on (and on). Brock Lesnar. Goldberg. Ryback. Braun Strowman. The Great Khali. Lex Luger. The Big Show. Scott Steiner. Batista. Test in WWECW. Need I say more?
1 Pushing A Babyface As "The Chosen One" Despite All Fan Backlash
You just knew this had to be #1. Admit it. Of course this was going to be #1. Roman Reigns is one of the most-hated men in WWE history, and he got there by the WWE promoting him as "The Chosen One" despite his complete lack of qualifications. Reigns can put together a good match, when he's forced to, but his promo skills have varied wildly. At best he's borderline passable, at worst he is a walking abomination any time a microphone gets put in front of his face.
But Reigns is only the latest example of the WWE shoving their fingers into their ears and pretending like the fans love their top babyface as much as the WWE loves their top babyface. This same thing happened to Lex Luger in the early 90s, it happened to The Rock later into the 90's, and it perhaps most famously happened to John Cena in the 2000s during his atrocious "Super Cena" run. One day, hopefully, the WWE will actually remember to listen to their fans when deciding who their next "Chosen One" should be. Until then, they'll remain stuck in the past and trapped in a pattern of failure.