Once upon a time, the Royal Rumble was one of the WWE’s most anticipated annual events. Its headline attraction being the 30-man elimination match with the ultimate prize of headlining WrestleMania as the challenger for the WWE Championship. For the last two years though it has been a pivotal point of backlash for a legion of dismayed and disappointed fans. First Batista was christened ‘Bootista’ and this year Roman Reigns inadvertently kicked off the #CancelWWENetwork campaign.
The days of WWE’s ratings earning a 5-plus are a memory so faded that some of WWE’s current fan base weren’t even born during it. At present, RAW occasionally fails to scrape to a 3-plus rating without competition from either WCW or the NFL. Meanwhile WWE Network are below expectations, as evidenced with free month offers and the removal of a six-month commitment. This isn’t even taking into account the potential cancellations after Sunday night.
There are several obvious problems with the company along with blatantly popular alternatives. Look at Daniel Bryan getting a belated insertion to the WrestleMania main event last year. Management even seem to know of their problems beforehand, shipping in countless WWE legends to endorse their more unpopular moves – most recently The Rock endorsing his cousin, Roman Reigns, at the close of his Rumble triumph.
Sometimes to go forward it is necessary to take a few steps back. The following list will take a look at things from WWE’s past that it needs to bring back, return to or simply remember (in no particular order).
25. Cruiserweight Division
When WCW was struggling in the late 90’s they had one shining light, a strength that TNA tried to capitalize on with the X-Division, that is of course, the Cruiserweight division. The division brings something different to the product thanks to its exciting, high-flying offence and is the closest American wrestling usually gets to the Mexican Lucha-Libre style.
It has created countless stars, most notably to the WWE audience Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho and Eddie Guerrero. WWE has a reputation for not wanting smaller wrestlers near their top prize and main event scene, so why not bring back an entire division dedicated to allowing them success and a stage to shine?
24. Championship Scramble
WWE loves to have unique match stipulations and few come close to the Championship Scramble for being different. Essentially an Iron-Man Match mixed with the Elimination Chamber, two men start and a new one enters every five minutes. Wrestlers can become an unofficial interim champion with the usual victory methods, and the interim champion at the end of the time limit is named the winner and actual champion.
The Scramble has only been used three times and all on the same night, Unforgiven 2008. The concept had some detractors, but it was a great way to build new stars without actually giving them the top championship gold. Jeff Hardy is a great testament to this, as The Brian Kendrick could have been if WWE had continued his momentum following the event.
23. Championship Importance
The best thing about Brock Lesnar being the current WWE Champion is that an importance has been attached to the prize for the first time in a long time. Whilst fans have viewed the title as an important honour, the company has treated it as less of an attraction than poster boy John Cena. The importance of CM Punk’s lengthy reign as champion was undermined by having him defend below the main event spot, but now the title is back where it should be.
The rest of the championships are not as fortunate. The mid-card titles are worthless, with the Intercontinental and United States Champions usually being put in less favourable positions than they were before they captured the gold. Remember when Dean Ambrose was the U.S. champion for almost a year? How many times did he actually defend that title?
Rusev uses the belt as a prop, but at least he’s booked strong. Bad News Barrett lasted a mere five minutes in the Royal Rumble this week after two televised losses in the build up. This situation could be remedied by either unifying the two belts or by…
22. Separating The Brands
In 2002, WWE split itself into two rosters, one for each of its major televised shows – Raw and SmackDown. Bringing back this separation would have many benefits to the current product. By keeping one unified champion that defends against both brands, each brand’s top prize would be the currently underused Intercontinental and United States Championships.
The separation would allow more screentime to underdeveloped characters and storylines, as well as give more space between pay-per-views by having each brand get one bi-monthly (with the exception of the ‘Big Four’). It would also help SmackDown move out of the role of being a Raw re-run. Back in the Heyman led days of 2004, SmackDown actually overtook Raw in the ratings battle. Additionally it would lend some clarity to the rosters appearing at live events, which is currently a random split. It would also make the WWE champion all the more important, being the true face of the WWE, as he would be the only one appearing on both shows.
21. Annual Draft Lottery
Of course, bringing back two rosters would also bring back the annual Draft Lottery. These events brought rare inter-promotional contests and interactions, as well as the drama of finding out who would be competing on a new show for the next year. The illusion of randomness created in the early drafts thanks to the system of drawing balls was as close as WWE gets to feeling unscripted, with even GM Paul Heyman not being safe from a trade.
Taking place directly after WrestleMania lent a finality to the mega-event and its rivalries, as the roster changes brought new storyline potential. Currently the post-WrestleMania pay-per-view comprises of rematches in gimmick form, that dampen the big time feel of the ‘Showcase of the Immortals’.
20. Women’s Championship
Interest in women’s wrestling in the WWE is at an all-time low, thanks to a larger focus on Total Divas than on in-ring competition. This entire lack of interest is represented no better than with the Divas Championship itself. The silver butterfly strap doesn’t look much more than a piece of memorabilia and it has a negative reception in the wrestling community.
Bringing back the Women’s Championship belt would represent a more serious approach to the division, especially if the booking of it improves. WWE has the talent at their disposal for a strong division — look at how NXT’s women are thriving, and it is simply a case of aligning them together to bring back the days when the women could go on second to last at WrestleMania without being considered as filler. It’s a far cry from when Trish Stratus and Lita main evented an episode of RAW, and the audience embraced it.
19. Inter-Gender Tag Team Matches
While on the subject of taking female wrestlers seriously, let’s take a look at their treatment with the male roster. Inter-gender tag team matches make it legal for anyone to be in the ring together, unlike the currently used Mixed Tag matches that make it illegal for opposite genders to compete.
In the Attitude Era and a few years after, women would frequently mix it up with the men. While not frequent, these kind of clashes had great story potential. A male wrestler could instantly become one of the most reviled people on the roster for attacking a woman. Stacy Keibler was the victim of Randy Orton, The Dudleyz, Scott Steiner and Test. Chris Jericho and Christian had a ‘Battle of the Sexes’ feud with Trish Stratus and Lita that led into a big WrestleMania storyline.
It also has the additional benefit of creating female stars, as they either garner sympathy from the audience or they show a fearlessness that sees them fight the males as the likes of Chyna, Lita and Beth Phoenix have displayed in the past.
18. Emphasis on Tag Team Wrestling
It isn’t just inter-gender tag team wrestling that needs revisiting, it is the entire division of tag teams. In 2013 and early 2014, it seemed like WWE had finally viewed tag teams as a priority again after their strong usage in the 80’s and Attitude Era, building up an impressive roster of teams and giving them big storylines and prevalent spots on pay-per-view cards. The likes of The Shield, The Rhodes Brothers, The Wyatt Family, Evolution, The Usos and many more all put on some of the best action of the last five years and were rewarded for doing so.
Cut to now, where the division has only four viable teams, two of which had internal battling during the Royal Rumble match. Yet the crowds still crave tag wrestling. Listen to the reaction that The New Age Outlaws and the APA received on the Raw reunion last week. WWE has a lot of wrestlers who aren’t being used and NXT is building a decent division themselves, so there are plenty of ways to re-energize the division and recapture the fading glory.
Many of the teams listed in the previous entry all had one thing in common; they were part of a stable. Professional wrestling stables were a big hit in the 90’s thanks to the likes of the Four Horsemen, D-Generation X and the nWo. Most recently, The Shield, The Wyatt Family and a reunited Evolution all became major box office attractions.
These faction wars have many benefits, such as creating new stars – The Rock, Randy Orton, Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, Bray Wyatt and the three Shield members are just a few examples of success born from being in a stable. Stone Cold and Daniel Bryan’s rallying against The Corporation and Authority respectively pushed them into super-stardom. The alliances and numbers games also lend themselves to easy story creation with instant fan investment.
16. Emphasis on Managers
Likewise, managers had largely fallen by the wayside in WWE until the last year or so. The few that have been around in recent years have shown great success for their clients by association (although not 100% of the time). For example, Paul Heyman has had Brock Lesnar and CM Punk. Zeb Coulter with Jack Swagger and Cesaro. Lana and Rusev; Triple H and Stephanie McMahon with Seth Rollins and The Authority.
Managers can take a talented in-ring performer who isn’t the strongest on the microphone and carry them to the very top by being their mouth. Heyman does it for Brock the way that Heenan did it for André. They can also merely compliment a good talker, as Heyman did for Punk and Heenan did for Rick Rude. Like stables, a manager can be the fuel for many storylines for instant investment in an otherwise random series of matches.
15. Gimmick Matches Specified By Story
Over the last few years WWE has systematically removed any special attraction element to all of its gimmick matches. Due to themed pay-per-view events centering around the likes of Hell in a Cell, Elimination Chamber and T.L.C. matches, the matches no longer feel special. They lack the anticipation or excitement of years past, and not just due to over-saturation. It is also because the wrestlers and stories in the contest often aren’t suited to the stipulation.
Tables, Ladders and Chairs matches were created specifically for the trio of teams who made them famous – Edge and Christian, the Hardy Boys and the Dudley Boyz. That is why they made the most of the stipulation. Guys like Undertaker and Mick Foley made the Hell in a Cell match what it is, thanks to their multiple classics in the cell. Now, whoever is in the top three rivalries that month get thrown into one of the numerous iterations of it throughout one night of repeated use and no one benefits.
14. Hardcore Championship
If WWE insists on wanting gimmick matches for the sake of gimmick matches, why not bring back the Hardcore Championship? It would at least add a reason to the random stipulations they throw about and also give purpose to some of the wrestlers without much creative direction.
Additionally, by sharing out the random carnage it would be easier on the bodies of the top stars who are getting injured increasingly frequently in the past few years. Why have a box office draw compete in a brutal Hell in a Cell or Money in the Bank match that could rule them out for months when you could have wrestlers lower down the card come up with their own interpretation of weapons combat at a lower risk but the same reward. The 24/7 rule can also create more interesting filler backstage segments in place of the current bad comedy.
13. Living Dangerously
ECW’s biggest pay-per-view event would be a welcome addition to the WWE calendar. Named after Heyman’s previous moniker, Paul E. Dangerously, the event would be a much more subtle and interesting name for WWE’s annual Extreme Rules show that was birthed from ECW’s reunion show One Night Stand in the first place. By returning it to its ECW roots of the event, WWE could even utilize the dead promotions vibe and presentation styles to create a completely unique showcase of all things extreme.
Having it helm from a place like Philadelphia or the Hammerstein Ballroom would give a different atmosphere to the show, and using graphics in the vein of ECW would also help things along. Perhaps even bringing out Joey Styles as the sole commentator for one night a year, along with some rare returns from the ECW alums like Rob Van Dam and The Dudley Boyz would add in some of the nostalgia usually reserved for surprise Rumble entrants or random reunion editions of Raw.
12. WCW Pay-Per-View Concepts
WWE is currently pushing the Network as a showcase of wrestling history, but what better way to get modern day fans to go and watch old shows than by continuing their tradition and keeping them relevant to the current audience? WCW has plenty of classic events that remain untapped by the WWE and could increase buyrates through name recognition alone.
The Great American Bash, Halloween Havoc and Starrcade were three of the most beloved annual events of the former competition and WWE only used one of them after purchasing the company. In their place in WWE’s current line-up are Money in the Bank, Hell in a Cell and TLC (and Stairs). Three events named after a match type and would lose nothing by being branded as a more recognizable event that are still themed. The first two tap into festive holidays, and the latter is WCW’s former elite show to close WWE’s calendar year with a bang.
11. International Pay-Per-Views And European Championship
The two should go hand in hand and as such, neither have been since the early 2000’s. There is a case to be made about WWE having too many championships already, especially when factoring in some of the previous entries, but the European Championship would have a new lease of life in the modern WWE thanks to the multiple tours of the continent. The championship can be a low ranking one in ordinary television but be given a much higher standing in shows emanating from Europe, including the twice a year UK episodes of Raw and SmackDown.
The same could be applied if WWE hosted a pay-per-view event in the UK, or anywhere else in Europe. In the past WWE had United Kingdom specific events such as Rebellion and InsurreXtion but it also played home to SummerSlam 1992, one of the most famous editions of WWE’s number two event. The European Championship was even the main event contest of the UK show One Night Only back in 1997.
10. Unique Show Sets
Remember the SmackDown fist? Or the screen it had off to the side? How about Raw’s parallelogram screen or the Raw Is War stage with two banner screens down the side? Now, nothing separates the two shows from each other, or their smaller counterparts Main Event and Superstars. Every show looks the same, even including pay-per-views which usually contain the same stage with very minor changes.
There have been so many memorable pay-per-view stages throughout history: Halloween Havoc 1997, Survivor Series 2002, WrestleMania XX, Bad Blood 2004, In Your House and many, many more. Each one fitted perfectly to either the show theme, the host city or both. They gave the events a feel that was out of the weekly norm and felt like special once in a lifetime events. WWE only tends to extend that same effort to WrestleMania now, leaving every other event feeling discarded.
9. Regular Talk Show
Piper’s Pit, The Funeral Parlor, The Highlight Reel, Carlito’s Cabana, Peep Show, The Cutting Edge. Just some of the talk shows that have existed throughout WWE history. Two of these in particular are more iconic than the rest, Piper’s Pit and the Highlight Reel. There are two good reasons for that. The first is of course their respective hosts; Piper and Jericho are two of the most charismatic people to step foot in a wrestling ring. The second is that they were a regular feature on WWE programming.
WWE lacks that same feature right now, with only the infrequent and underwhelming MizTV to fill the role. WWE needs to pick an upper card performer who possesses a gripping charisma and give them a regular talk show segment. The talk show can begin feuds, progress feuds, merge feuds, start allegiances, use injured stars, create opportunities to book matches for the show they are on and more. Most importantly, with the right host, they can be a true scripted spectacle that tap into the current interview market currently dominated by wrestler podcasts.
8. Byte This And The Slammy Awards
Speaking of which, WWE has recently tried to muscle their way onto the podcast scene with the WWE Network exclusive Stone Cold podcast featuring Vince McMahon, and an upcoming one with Triple H. But they already have the solution to it in their archives – Byte This! An online show that saw wrestlers take fan questions, it has explosive potential but offers the company more control than Twitter. It would be a strong WWE Network weekly exclusive that aims itself at the current audience who crave the ‘reality’ behind wrestling.
Another potential WWE Network exclusive is the Slammy Awards if it returned to its roots. Starting out as a spoof of The Oscars and Grammys, the Slammys were presented as a real awards show. The Slammys don’t work in the Raw show format, so return to the award show format and either have the voting for awards by real fan votes, or at least stop pretending they are and have them chosen by a ‘WWE Panel’ like The Academy.
7. Money In The Bank At WrestleMania
Back in 2005, the WWE created a way to get as many people onto the WrestleMania card as possible – the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Siphoning the success of the TLC carnage earlier in the decade proved instantly popular, and as an added bonus it gave the WWE some dramatic potential thanks to the gimmick of cashing in throughout the following year.
Since Money in the Bank has moved to its own event, WWE has come up with considerably less exciting ways to avoid leaving wrestlers off WrestleMania – first overly large tag team matches and last year, the André the Giant Battle Royal. Neither have come close to engaging fans the way Money in the Bank on the grandest stage did.
6. King of the Ring
In the place of the Money in the Back event could see the return of the King of the Ring tournament. This is one of the most oft-requested features from WWE past for several reasons. The tournament style provides the opportunity for fresh pairings and stories, as well as a level of unpredictability for how the tournament will play out; especially if SummerSlam’s number one spot was also given to the winner.
Several superstars have found King of the Ring to be perfect launching pad to superstardom, including of course the likes of Stone Cold, Triple H, Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar. It can also be an effective tool for reinvigorating existing stars.
5. Rare Encounters
As Vince McMahon said during his WWE Network version of the Steve Austin Show, less is more. Speaking about the shortage of appearances by Brock Lesnar and Sting, McMahon stated that fans crave things more if they get it less. Sound logic, yet the WWE willfully ignores it at nearly every turn.
The reason why The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels felt so special at WrestleMania 25 was because their last singles match had been 11 years prior at the 1998 Royal Rumble. Stone Cold and The Rock were kept separate for long stretches, only having a handful of one-on-one pay-per-view matches in their careers – and that was for arguably the greatest rivalry in WWE history.
Compare that to two feuds that were first-time ever encounters when their programs began in late 2014 – John Cena and Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt. These two pairings faced each other almost every single week for the final three months of the year, usually in singles competition and in the latter’s case, gimmick matches.
4. Intensity in Top Feuds
Not to disparage the place of comedy in wrestling – just look at the likes of Mick Foley, Eddie Guerrero, heck even The Rock – but it is a fine art to be both funny and get a crowd invested in your plight. Most main event feuds have to hook a viewer to want to see their favorite get the gold or get their vengeance, whatever the story prize is.
What fan can honestly invest in John Cena’s plight for revenge on The Miz while chasing his WWE Championship, when instead of displaying anger and desire, he makes innuendos about Miz’s relationship with Alex Riley?
This past summer fans wanted nothing more than to see Seth Rollins get his comeuppance for his betrayal of his Shield brethren via Dean Ambrose, but thanks to a hot dog cart, their program went from being the hottest feud of the entire year to a standard WWE feud with average interest.
3. Wrestler Freedom in Promos
Both audiences and Vince McMahon have complained that wrestlers don’t stand out from the crowd in the modern WWE landscape and the problem here is very clear – they are too restricted. Teams of writers script every promo down to the last word for nearly every superstar, whereas back in the Attitude Era stars like The Rock and Mick Foley would be given a list of bullet points to hit.
The result is that wrestlers now go out and recite at the crowd, and it feels every bit as impersonal and dishonest as it is. In the past superstars would talk to the crowd and as such feel more believable, have more personality and their storyline issues were easier to buy into. It is hard to believe that many legendary stars would have been as successful under this current scenario, and even less likely that WWE would have defeated WCW in the Monday Night Wars. But, don’t take my word for it; how about a bit of advice from one of the best of all time at the art of a promo, Stone Cold Steve Austin?
“I disagree with (scripting). I think the nature of a promo has to come from your heart and your guts and you have to mean everything that you’re saying,” Stone Cold explained in an interview with Brighthouse Sports Network. “Now is the perfect time to go back to that formula. You learn to sink or swim. And guys and gals will start to learn to swim again. That’s what’s going to make the product feel more organic, more spontaneous and more real.”
2. Two Hour Raw
While the commercial revenue of sponsorships and television deals may prove too lucrative to ever see this put into action, sometimes quality just has to prevail in order for greater success. WWE struggles to keep an audience gripped for a three hour episode of Raw, and that is without even factoring in the additional five hours provided by SmackDown, NXT, Main Event and Superstars (plus a three hour pay-per-view once a month).
As a result of a show that is too long for its content and an underdeveloped roster, Raw is comprised of so much filler that it dares viewers to change the channel. There are cringe inducing backstage comedy segments, endless plugs and endorsements, promos that are five minutes longer than necessary and worst of all, the same moments being replayed multiple times during one episode.
It isn’t just the viewers at home who need a return to a two-hour Raw, the fans in the audience are visibly and audibly fatigued during the third hour due to the lack of content to make the experience feel like anything less than an endurance test.
1. Aiming At Adults And Listening To Fans
WWE and Vince McMahon are headstrong and are stuck in a mindset that the promoter is always right and the fans should like whatever they are given. There are arguments to be made for both sides of the debate, but for this particular moment in time, there is only clear winner. WWE needs to listen to what the fan base wants and act upon it.
Daniel Bryan is undeniably the most popular man in the company and the fans want to see him in the main event and in the championship picture. For the past two years, WWE has ignored this in favor of their hand selected Royal Rumble winner and they have rightly received major backlash. They had to be dragged kicking and screaming into placing Bryan in WrestleMania XXX’s main event. The WWE Network is a machine that relies upon fans dedicating to WWE and it is a two way street.
The other issue is the age of the audience. WWE needs to remember that the paying audience are adults and they need to be given more focus. This doesn’t necessarily mean blood, sex and crass language. There is nothing to stop a PG WWE reeling in the 18-49 key demographic. Children will love the superstars portrayed as the best – adults require more. There is a reason why CM Punk is the only person to outsell John Cena’s merchandise – he aimed for adults, but children still loved him, so he sold to all demographics. Aim at the largest possible audience and you will capture the most people.
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