Sure, the IWC has a reputation of being reactionary, but they should be; they are wrestling's watchdogs. However, the hysteria that rains down in 140 character cannonballs should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.
Live entertainment operates in cycles. Take Saturday Night Live for example. The ebb and flow of cast members makes that show teeter from uncomfortable to genius. Or, take your favorite sports team. Well, not all of your favorite sports teams, because some are perpetually garbage. The larger market franchises, though, the brands: The Yankees, Lakers, Patriots, Manchester United etc. These organizations will always contend for the highest honors. Even in their down years, their fan base knows, because of the team's history, that the next wave of good years is right around the corner.
WWE operates under the same rational.
If the year is indeed 2015, then WWE has nearly replicated its plight from 1993-1994.
|Man, the Usos would have killed it back then|
The gap between 1992 and the Attitude Era provides the stickiest situation for any defender of wrestling. Riddled with bad pushes, hollow storylines and questionable employees, it's not hard to draw the line from then to now. The biggest difference? Social media didn't exist. This brand of panic and outrage couldn't go further than the basement it originated in. At least now, we have legitimate methods of communication. I mean, how many fan letters would Vince McMahon really read about how much Lex Luger sucked?
The company finds itself in an transitional time. One thing you have to admire about WWE and McMahon is that they always take risks. What's crazy is that they usually hit the jackpot. Like any investment, it takes time to reap the benefits.
- Raw debuts 1/11/93: WWE's roster is thin, and the product takes a few years to gather itself.
- WWE buys WCW 3/23/01: A notoriously questionable integration of rosters.
- Release of WWE Network 2/24/14: The product is _______.
The rosters of 93-94 and today are remarkably similar. Both main event pictures induce an eye roll. The Intercontinental scene serves as the beacon of hope. The tag team division and everything underneath is more or less forgettable. The list of departures is also worth noting:
Then: Ric Flair leaves in the spring of 1993. Hogan is gone by that summer. Macho Man is relegated to color commentary. Three main event pillars are gone. To top things off, Shawn Michaels quit/was suspended for the majority of 1993.
Now: No John Cena, Randy Orton, Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan and basically no Brock Lesnar. Ouch x5.
That list has been passing the WWE Title around since 2013; 9 of the last 11 champions, actually. None of them are currently wrestling.
But that Intercontinental roster, though.
Then: Mr. Perfect, Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon, Diesel, and a decent amount of Bret Hart.
Now: Kevin Owens, Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler, kind of Luke Harper/Ryback/Daniel Bryan
OK, this is kind of sobering. However, if we mix in the likes of Sami Zayn and Finn Balor, that makes us feel warm, no?
Guys like I.R.S., Crush, Earthquake, Tatanka and Bob Backlund were all ghosts of past success that were losing relevancy. Big Show, Kane, Sting, and The Dudleyz all fall into the same category.
|Heard Strowman's been trying on skin suits.|
The problem is the same in both iterations of WWE—they are caught in between eras. It's a full blown identity crisis. WWE loves to keep it chummy with pop culture, but they are usually a few years behind. Not to mention, there's an element of ego worth addressing. The fans of WWE may be reactionary, but that is one thing WWE has never been. To their credit and sometimes their fault, they are alway methodical when it comes to changing their product. In short; they are a little stubborn.
The '80s could not have been bigger for WWE. They were the first promotion to truly transcend the territorial constraints and distribute a legitimately global product. This wave of good feelings spilled into the '90s. The formula was infallible. Until it wasn't.
WWE found itself having to replace Hulk Hogan. The problem? Hulk Hogan doesn't come around that often and certainly couldn't be contrived. His popularity had begun to plateau by 1993 (gahh, how the smarks would have hated him) and it was pretty much on a palpable decline after he essentially cashed in at WrestleMania 9 (cue Sheamus' music).
WWE thought they could just put anybody in American flag panties and have similar success. Even in the middle of the Gulf War, the Lex Express wasn't buyable.
Lex Luger and Bret Hart shared the 1994 Royal Rumble crown, giving them both at title shot WrestleMania 10. After a solid year of Luger falling flat, WWE pulled the plug and had him lose by disqualification.
Now, WWE looks to replace Cena. Like 93-94, Roman Reigns certainly parallels Luger's arch. Created in the Hulk Hogan mold like his predecessor, Cena, WWE has also hitched the "Daniel Bryan Story," to Reigns. Unfortunately, he too has been mildly received for a year.
How likely is it that WWE ends the Reigns experiment like they did with Luger? Well, every day that he is not champion signifies the company's doubt. The window is closing. If he doesn't have the belt before, during or after WrestleMania 32; he's not getting it.
Complacent is the wrong word. But, the lagging of 1994 and 2015 both occur in unmotivated promotions. Arrogant would be a misplaced criticism as well. Dogmatic feels like a better fit.
What allowed this to happen? Under what conditions can a product seem so viscerally good one year and unwatchable the next?
There is no flame under the ass of WWE.
There is no insatiable ambition from the '80s. There is no WCW and their dragon, Nitro, to breath down WWE's neck. Even psuedo-competition like Raw vs. SmackDown is obsolete. The sense of urgency is gone.
Sure, anyone in WWE would all tell us that their mission is give us the best show possible. The thing is, you need competition to bring out your best.
Like in 1994, WWE is still mid-victory lap. They have won so many times, they have forgotten what it's like to lose. After creating demi-gods in the '80s, WWE probably felt how eternal their promotion could be. With the WWE Network and WrestleMania 32 looming, they probably feel the same way.
|Fear: the great motivator.|
1994 fixed itself. So will 2015.
It took trial and error and a little divine intervention, but it happened. A failed Luger push forced the title onto a very capable Bret Hart, a la Rollins at WrestleMania 31. From there, WWE developed a guy that had Vince's fingerprints all over him: Diesel.
After getting a nice rub from Michaels, Diesel was awarded the Heavyweight Title. Somehow, Reigns can be both Luger and Diesel. Reigns gets the rub from The Shield and boom; he's the guy.
Diesel is credited with one of the worst Title runs of all time. Part of this is due to his lack of legitimate contenders. I mean, he retained against Mable at King of the Ring. After Diesel's underwhelming reign, the belt was shared between Hart, The Undertaker and Psycho Sid until HBK was ready.
At this point, if Reigns does indeed get fed the belt, it looks like it's going to be a pretty flat run. The guy just lacks basic charisma. So now, the most important question in WWE is: Who gets the belt after Reigns?
By 1996, WWE had righted the ship and was armed with talent to not only compete with WCW, but to eventually destroy them. Michaels as champion, Stone Cold Steve Austin is born, The Rock debuts, Mankind and Undertaker feud and the Attitude Era is so, so close.
Now, the mantra is patience. With so many guys due to return and a plethora of young talent on the main roster and NXT, there are brighter days ahead. As WrestleMania 32 approaches, the possibility of it being a letdown also looms. You know what? That's fine. Because a billion people will watch it.
Right now, it's easy to see that WWE is preoccupied with making 32 he grandest show of them all. They couldn't care less if Dolph Ziggler wins or if the Wyatt's storyline make sense. Eventually they'll get to making the product better, but right now, they are trying the make the product bigger.
So for now, we must weather the storm. It's a cycle and good days will return.
|Please, be gentle.|