Admittedly, sometimes it’s hard to tell whether WWE is actually at a creative low point or if wrestling fans are complaining a lot because wrestling fans always complain a lot. Nonetheless, ratings and online rants from disgruntled viewers indicate that WWE could use a little guidance these days.
Roman Reigns didn’t resonate as a champion or top babyface, many crowd favorites are locked in feuds that don’t lead anywhere or mean anything. The best new concept WWE has offered up in the last two years is The New Day, which was originally a terrible concept that got great once the writers decided they didn’t care about it anymore and let Kofi Kingston, Big E. Langston, and Xavier Woods do with it whatever they pleased.
When every new idea you have sucks, it helps to look back at old ideas, possibly old ideas other people had, that seemed to work out a lot better than what you can come up with. So if WWE must rehash the past to forge its future, perhaps it’s best that it avoids repeating itself and rehashes the history of a completely different company instead of its own.
We used to complain when WWE ripped off ECW, but today, ironically, we’re saying WWE hasn’t ripped off ECW enough.
And we don’t mean the crummy knockoff ECW WWE tried to pass off as ECW - we mean the low-budget syndicated cable show we had to watch at 3 a.m. on the Spanish channel. Paul Heyman’s greatest creation wasn’t meant to last, but it infused some outsider grit, political incorrectness, and an element of “reality” into wrestling at a time when it was otherwise occupied by literal circus clowns, Shockmasters, and special guest appearances by Robocop. ECW shook things up for a while, things need to be shaken up again, and if WWE steals a few more of ECW’s concepts, perhaps the shaking can commence.
10 More Visual Diversity
Let’s say one of these nights, WWE feels like booking a three-way dance between Dolph Ziggler, Tyler Breeze, and Chris Jericho. Were they to do such a thing - and it’s certainly not implausible- viewers who aren’t already familiar with WWE storylines may struggle to tell the three combatants apart, especially if Jericho develops an eating disorder and/or starts doing steroids again. Back in ECW, it wasn’t uncommon to see Spike Dudley to take on Bam Bam Bigelow, or Sabu battle the One Man Gang, and in those cases, nobody watching got any of the pretend fighters mixed up.
It’s not the biggest problem WWE faces today, but there’s something to be said for the overabundance of matches that, at a glance, look like a white dude with no shirt on in really good shape vs. another white dude with no shirt on in really good shape.
9 Characters Fans Can Identify With
The Sandman was a bloated, unrepentant alcoholic drug addict who - to say the least - wasn’t the greatest in-ring athletic talent of his time. Yet he was wildly popular. Why? Because other bloated alcoholics in the audience could look at The Sandman and say, “I feel as though this wrestler speaks for me. Our life experiences may be similar in many regards. I want him to win, because his victory is vicariously my victory.”
Meanwhile, here in 2016, what WWE fan can look at Roman Reigns, or John Cena, or Brock Lesnar, and say to themselves, “This person reminds me of me?” Furthermore, we bet WWE creative executives say things like, “Wow, Dean Ambrose is popular, even though he kind of dresses and acts the same way some of the fans do. Let's never let him anywhere near the world title!”
8 Weirder Special Attractions
Even at their best these days, Raw and SmackDown get a little samey. We can only see Sheamus vs. Randy Orton so many times before losing interest, regardless of the caliber of matches they may or may not be having. But ECW brought in talent from far outside their main roster to keep things fresh on a regular basis. Masato Tanaka, Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy, Sid Vicious, Scott Hall, and Jake Roberts are just four stars who weren’t necessarily associated with the ECW brand, but all made one-off or limited appearances. The special attractions made for an atmosphere where seemingly anything could happen, as opposed to where exactly what happened last week can happen.
12. Every Once In A While, Beat Up A Fan
Plenty of ECW brawls spilled over into the audiences and, often due to fans lacking a clear sense of boundaries or concern for their own well-being, it was not uncommon for wrestlers to take a swing at an audience member. Obviously, WWE would find itself in substantial legal trouble if their performers pummeled idiots in the crowd with any regularity. But remember when those fans were jumping the barricades and bothering formerly-Shield-affiliates? Reigns, Ambrose, and Rollins should’ve been allowed to beat those guys up.
The violence against the audience doesn’t even have to by physical. Sasha Banks provided a good example of emotional violence in NXT when she annihilated Bailey so badly children were crying in front row.
11. Give Wrestlers More Space To, Y’know, Wrestle
Speaking of Bailey and Sasha Banks, the pair of upstarts clearly had the best WWE-sanctioned match of 2015. The problem was it was on NXT: Takeover, not Monday Night Raw. Because if it was on RAW, Banks and Bailey would’ve had to limit their contest to less than 10 minutes and it would be saddled with an ill-conceived storyline to set up a PPV match.
Remember - most of the actual wrestling in ECW was pretty terrible, but they always made room on the card for at least one show-stealing, genuinely stand-out contest. For every four mindless weapons matches, there was one Eddie Guerrero vs. Dean Malenko, or RVD vs. Jerry Lynn. So it’s not at all a stretch to figure WWE could start filling Raw up with four or five tossaway matches or interview segments, then send two of their better in-ring performers out to tear the house down for 20 minutes. As we know from ECW, the tearing down of said house would be all fans remember after the show.
7 Evil Dudleys
WWE will have to wait until The Wyatt Family’s inevitable face turn for this, as Bray and the bunch are presently filling the Dudleys’ old ECW role of Four Big Mean Guys Who Dress Alike And Don’t Talk Much Except The Very Chatty One. But once that’s out of the way, it’s time to bring back the evil Dudleys. Bubba Ray and D-Von were - without question - the greatest heels in ECW and perhaps the greatest heels of the ‘90s. Using them as the modern day equivalent to The Bushwhackers and/or an ECW nostalgia act is a complete and utter waste of ruthless abject heeldom.
9. Make Kevin Owens or Samoa Joe The New Taz
Younger fans probably think of Tazz as a goofball second-tier commentator, but those of us who remember his run in ECW know that once upon a time, Taz was an orange bulldozer who made Brock Lesnar’s current Suplex City routine look like a stupid baby’s tea party. Today’s WWE lacks badasses or shoot-style wrestlers who feel authentic, but at least two who immediately pop to mind could fill the shoes Taz wore in ECW, before he put on his not-funny fat guy shoes. Samoa Joe used to get compared to heyday Taz all the time and Kevin Owens also wields the street-cred and polishless aura of credibility for the role.
8. Joel Gertner
Okay, for the life of us, we can’t understand why Joel Gertner wasn’t offered a lifetime ring announcer job with WWE as soon as ECW went under. Who was the slackwit at WWE who listened to Gertner introducing The Dudleys and thought, “Jeez, let’s not hire that guy.” Luckily, the Quintessential Studmuffin is not dead, so it’s not too late for Triple H to get on the phone and say, “Mr. Gertner, we’re sorry about the huge mistake we made not offering you a job 16 years ago. Obviously, because we didn’t do that, our ratings are tanking. Come back and make wrestling good again for us,” and for Gertner to respond with a resounding “Well, Well, Well….”
6 Inter-Gender Matches
As absurdly sexist as ECW got on many, many occasions, the rebel promotion was not afraid to allow women to mercilessly pummel men with foreign objects until those men were reduced to bloody, unconscious piles of newly-useless human parts. Some of the most memorable ECW contests ever included Beulah McGillicutty vs. Bill Alfonso and Stevie Richards vs. Luna Vachon. Perhaps if WWE is serious about a Divas Revolution, the next step would be something like Paige winning the US Title, or a Becky Lynch joining the League of Nations and single-handedy tapping out the entire Social Outcasts squad, or Sasha Banks locking John Cena into the Bank Statement and making him sob and beg for mercy like the big dumb overhyped sillypants that he is.
5 Focus On An Absent, Abstract Adversary
On many occasions, Paul Heyman got on the mic and denounced the pitifully subpar programming and shady business tactics of his greatest enemies - Titan Sports and Turner Broadcasting. The punk rock, anti-establishment aesthetic of ECW made viewers feel like they had discovered a secret or like they were part of an underground subculture with access to an arcane, extreme wisdom that WWE and WCW viewers could never understand. Then, later it turned out ECW was basically a farm territory for WWE that entire time and Tommy Dreamer's probably still kind of bitter about that.
Nonetheless - any pretext of anti-establishment leanings WWE ever projected vanished 15 years ago when they bought up ECW and WCW and became the only show in town. WWE has nothing to rebel against - and could use a heel that isn’t technically present to defend itself against, just as ECW had WCW and WWE to bash and rail against. Not sure if any organizations could fit the bill. Maybe UFC? The NFL? The U.S. Government?
4 Pulp Fiction Promos
One of the biggest criticisms against the current WWE product is a lack of meaningful storylines, at least outside of the main event picture. Most matches, from a narrative perspective, are basically just two guys who are mad at each other because they’re fighting and that’s how fighting people behave. In WWE's defense, it’s difficult to present clear motivations and personalities for a dozen-or-thereabouts characters within a two-and-a-half hour TV show in which some, by necessity, must take grand precedence over others.
Unless of course, you could give all of those personalities 20 seconds each to get themselves over in a punchy interview package toward the end of the show, or online for that matter.
3 Raven’s Nest
While we’re on the topic of characters lacking direction - Luke Harper, Erick Rowan, and Braun Strowman have no meaningful identity outside of The Wyatt Family. Why not give one or two of them something to do aside from beat up whoever Bray Wyatt tells them to beat up? In Raven’s original Nest - not to be confused to Flock - the revolving door of personalities was so diverse, Cactus Jack was its most prominent member for the time and the group spawned the bWo faction, which was a strong enough concept to carry on autonomously. We’re certainly not suggesting Harper and Rowan go the comedy route, but they should have something to do just in case Bray Wyatt gets eaten alive by The Undertaker, or whatever.
2 To Hell With the PG
We’ve gone from an era in which F-bombs were frequently bleeped out, Mark Henry and Mae Young had a hand baby, and The Undertaker crucified and/or murdered his adversaries, to a show in which no one, under any circumstances, is allowed to bleed or swear or reference their sexuality in any way. Is there maybe a happy middle ground we could look for? We certainly don’t need Roman Reigns to start giving his opponents the finger or John Cena pointing to his crotch - but maybe make it okay for someone to say “ass” every now and again? Or perhaps the occasional blade job in big PPV matches when it feels appropriate to do so?
1 Stop Calling It Sports Entertainment
WWE’s experiment in distancing itself from “legitimate” sports by dropping the phrases “wrestler” and “wrestling” has failed. We know this for a fact because absolutely no one - not hardcore internet wrestling fans, not occasional viewers, and not people who hate wrestling - has once ever referred to WWE as a “sports entertainment” show. Continuing to call pro wrestling sports entertainment not only diminishes the history of professional wrestling, it’s carrying on a rebranding that simply hasn’t stuck. The phrase “sports entertainment” was a misguided attempt to popularize corporate jargon, and needs to be done away with. In 2016, it’s about as useful as a surprise appearance by Chris Jericho.
1. Go Out Of Business
For the sake of argument, let’s say mainstream interest in WWE hit its most recent zenith a few years ago when CM Punk won the title right before his contract expired, meaning his threats to leave the company with the title and defend it in other promotions seemed legitimate. What would happen in a scenario in which WWE appeared in legitimate danger of going out of business and bogus information was leaked to the media to make it look like the real deal? What if WWE threw itself one final farewell PPV and the next week on Monday night, a surprise fresh episode of a newly relaunched WCW aired? It would be like wrestling’s answer to Crisis on Infinite Earths. WWE could literally implode and rebuild itself, and as we know from comic books, there’s nothing like a continuity reboot to revitalize the public’s interest.