Admit it, it is way more fun to rip the current WWE product (especially in light of Survivor Series booking) than praise it, in particular when the main problems are obvious to everyone except the WWE brain trust. Yes, this is the brain trust which helped create The Rock, DX, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and the Undertaker. It also gave the “universe” Bastion Booger, Isaac Yankem, Total Divas, and The Gobbly Gooker. They also thought people wanted to eat a WWE theme restaurant, pay money for movies starring The Miz, and enjoy extreme football action. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
If you look at any blog like this one, the bashing entries with blood on the end of the pen (okay, keyboard) far outnumber those praising the product. Much like a heel wrestler, it is also way more enjoyable to kick a guy when he is down. And down seems to the WWE direction as measured by TV ratings. The good thing for long time fans is that we’ve seen this movie and we know that wrestling is cyclical. Something WILL click and the next Austin, Rock, or Cena will rise to the top. Finally as bad as some Raws and Smackdowns can be when they’re filled with more barking than biting, there are enough good performers who can save most any show. No recent WWE show has sunk to 1999-2000 WCW or modern day TNA all turkey all the time.
So perhaps it is time to give thanks to some of the things that WWE is doing right and with two notable exceptions, not calling out any individual talent.
15 WWE Corporate Giving
Like most corporations, World Wrestling Entertainment does a fair amount of charity work which they like to brag about far too much. While their involvement in an anti-bullying campaign remains head-twistingly ironic, other programs make sense and a difference. From their Circle of Champions program for kids with life-threatening illnesses to the Tribute to the Troops shows, WWE has all ages covered. Also give thanks for their WrestleMania Reading Challenge which allows children ages 4 – 18 to read free digital books and earn prizes, including a chance to attend WrestleMania. Thank you WWE.
14 T13. WWE Books
What started with Mick Foley’s fabulous memoir has turned into a publishing machine cranking out some excellent tomes. While most of the recent autobiographies fell far below the Foley standard, WWE still produces other excellent books. In particular, they excel at expensive coffee table products such as WWE: The Attitude Era and 30 Years of WrestleMania. The WWE Encyclopedia is top notch as is the WWE 50. They’re been some bad ones, like the Andre biography, but the overall quality rate is high. While the magazine is long gone, WWE produces special issues, such as one recently on the life / career or Roddy Piper. For those wrestling fans that read – and yes, there are a lot of us – we should be thankful that WWE’s book division isn’t run by the same people who run the movie studio.
13 T13. WWE Website
While the books provide great history lessons, the website keeps everything up to date. There was tribute to Nick Bockwinkel up almost immediately after the news of his death broke. Breaking news combined with a huge media archive means every WWE fan should be grateful for wwe.com. Now, it gets a lot wrong (a photo of Zeus next to the word “best”) but there’s so much great content that is not on the network. As of this writing (18 November), there are tons of great Undertaker videos, lists, and articles, such as “The uncensored history of The Undertaker’s locker room group: The Bone Street Krew.” Yes, there are too many ads and way to many inane comments (“The Kliq rules!” thanks for sharing ), but WWE.com is stuffed with satisfying goodness and rich media gravy.
12 WWE 2K16
Speaking of media, the reviews of this and most other WWE video games are uniformly positive. One example: USA Today writes of the newest release that “with WWE 2K16, Visual Concepts and Yuke’s delivers what may be the biggest wrestling game ever made.” Just under 40 critic reviews crunched at metascore.com come in at 74 / 100 with 27 positive reviews and only two negative. The user reviews are less positive, but as mentioned, it is far more fun to rip the WWE than praise it. There’s robust roster including hidden players like Arnold Schwarzenegger and legends like Andre the Giant. Best are the different versions of Sting, Undertaker and Foley, but thankfully not all the characters played by Glen Jacobs so no Isaac Yankem or fake Diesel.
11 Treatment of Past Talent
We should be thankful the WWE hasn’t totally washed their hands of injuries suffered on their watch. That's what makes lawsuits by wrestlers and/or their families seem so shabby. While they’ve cut some people off (like Sunny and Scott Hall) the WWE’s commitment to former talent struggling with health issues, in particular addiction, is commendable. While the motive might be to “stuff their mouth with money” this program helps people all of us grew up watching on TV have a chance to live healthy. Related, when a former wrestler does pass away, the tributes across all WWE platforms is classy way of saying “thank you” to the departed.
10 Medical Treatment of Current Talent
One of the most intense moments in Daniel Bryan’s autobiography is his description of getting into a screaming match with HHH and Vince over stopping one of his matches because he had a concussion. While most everyone would love to see Bryan back in the ring, the WWE won’t allow it until they are sure he’s healthy. Maybe that’s because it is a publicly owned company, but unlike “the old days” when guys are hurt, today, when they sit they still get paid. While there’s a lot more that could be done – such as giving everybody time off to heal – fans should be thankful WWE looks after the best interest of their talent although C.M. Punk would disagree.
9 T8. Evolve Relationship
As NXT (and yes, that’s on this list) has evolved (groan) from a training ground to a viable brand has allowed for the WWE’s new relationship with the Evolve promotion. Fans should be thankful not only for the wrestlers from Evolve / the Indy scene which will be featured on NXT and maybe later on the main stage, but that WWE realizes the independents are fodder for future talent. After years of eschewing independent wrestlers, the success of Punk, Bryan, and Rollins has demonstrated to the WWE that work-rate matters. Let’s hope this evolves even more.
8 T8. Pushing Ability More
Yes, monsters and muscle bound guys still get a look. Yet perhaps after years and years of failed projects (Mason Ryan, Chris Masters, and Nathan Jones are just the tip of the over-sized iceberg) WWE is becoming a learning organization. While smaller wrestlers do fail, it seems most of the talent given any sort of push succeed beyond expectations. Not only because they are more athletic, they are more relatable and perhaps to the promotion, more reliable. The drawback, of course, is because these guys can “go” they often go to fast and get hurt.
7 Pushing Women’s Wrestling
There’s no sense rehashtagging the botch of the Diva’s revolution. WWE fans still should be thankful for the talent, however mishandled, that’s come to the big show. Sasha Banks, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch put on fantastic matches in the WWE, as will Bayley and Asuka when the call comes for them. Perhaps next year, we can be thankful not only that those two will be wrestling, but they are fighting over the Women’s Title rather than the Diva’s Championship. This would be in the top five if not for the epic fail of the launch.
6 Almost All Good Matches on Big Shows (Except Big Show)
Old WWE pay per views would normally feature a majority of dud, one-star, and two-star matches, often in the main event. Those days are gone. While not every match is five-star classic and deserves a “this is awesome” chant, there’s no denying that match quality matters. From the "you can’t wrestle" chants just a few years ago, John Cena’s battles with Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, and Cesaro all earned rave reviews. The tag team division, minus The Ascension, is loaded with good workers. In NXT, tag the two Bayley vs Banks matches as instant classics. While the booking remains suspect, the ring work shines brighter than ever.
5 WWE Hall of Fame
Yes, it is petty and political and provincial, but still. Yes, not only does it host Johnny Rodz, Koko B. Ware, and Baron Mikel Scicluna, which is bad enough, but that these people went in before Randy Savage, Bruno Sammartino, and Bob Backlund is criminal. Yes, the speeches are too long and fans are way too disrespectful. But wow, a Hall of Fame. A night to honor the greats in the business. WWE fans should be thankful for a company which ignored history for so long, the Hall has become a platform to celebrate the giants of the business. One day they’ll realize if they build a real Hall of Fame, people (like me) will come visit.
4 T3. Keeping Kevin Owens (mostly special)
Some people have IT: Kevin Owens is one of them. Fans who didn’t know the ROH / PWG Steen character could still tell from his debut in NXT (awesome) then to his debut in WWE (awesome squared) that he was special. And for the most, the WWE has allowed him to be if not special than different. It ranges from small things, like how he throws people into the ropes, to big things, like his gut. From how he heckles at Michael Cole for during matches to his mocking of his opponents to calling himself a “prize fighter” rather than a “superstar” Kevin Owens is outstanding because he’s allowed to stand out. As Steve Austin showed, that’s a good thing. Owens, if the booking isn’t botched, will be the Austin to Roman Reign’s Rock by 2017 if not sooner.
3 T3. Keeping Brock Lesnar Special (again, sort of)
While having him lose to Cena on his first match remains mind-numbingly stupid, the WWE seems to have learned. Lesnar rocks because he rolls so differently than everyone else. He doesn’t talk. He doesn’t over stay his welcome. He doesn’t do high flying spots. He’s not real, but he looks the part and seems to enjoy getting blood hard way. It’s unclear how long the WWE can keep The Beast off the corporate leash, but as long as they do, cash registers will ring and ratings won’t nosedive when he’s front and center.
Wow. Part of it is the network (hint on number one) that allows access which OVW never did to the masses, but part of it is was the change in mid-stream philosophy. NXT isn’t just about teaching talent, but also educating fans to the next generation of WWE style wrestling. Not everything is perfect and some of the call-ups to the A squad (sorry, Ascension and Bo Dallas) have not worked out, but the proving ground has proven successful. With the specials – which if done every month are no longer special (hint hint hint) – leading the way, the NXT brand’s formula of experienced Indy workers with folks new to the business has proven, so far, a great combo burrito every WWE should be grateful is being served.
1 WWE Network
There’s a whole blog post in listing all the things wrong with it, but look at all that’s good. It begins with the money saved each year by hard core fans who bought every pay per view ($9.99 x 12 is less than $39.99 x 12) but mostly it is the content. Yes, most of the original content isn’t great and some of the old stuff moves far too slow. The idea of watching historical wrestling seemed like a good idea, but like watching “classic ESPN” the genre has evolved so much that the old content seems ancient. Yet, if you want to watch a certain match (legally) that’s easy to do. Of the new content, a lot is dross but there’s plenty to enjoy. The Austin and Jericho podcasts, the NXT shows, and the instant specials are worth the price. So for all the flaws, WWE fans should be thankful for the network for a low price which might only be only $9.99.