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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: Neville's Walk-Out Indicative Of A Growing Problem Within WWE
By The Doc
Oct 24, 2017 - 12:26:29 PM

”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE's top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Do you agree or disagree when fans say that WWE is a creatively-stifling organization, circa 2010 to present day particularly?

As generations age, they become convinced that those who fall into their age group are superior to the newer generations. It never fails. Right now, ask any employer and they will likely tell you that millennials, the generation that is currently entering the work force, have a tendency to show up right on time and leave right when it is time to go home. This is often said with a negative tone, of course, when it comes from someone of an older generation, as the older generation sees great value in showing up early and staying late. Employers, when pressed though, will just as often readily admit that millennial production during the established working hours is usually top notch and that the “kids” of that generation are smart and innovative even if they complain too much.

The reality, of course, is that every generation has its strengths. Millennials, frankly, have a better work-life balance; they have little interest in working themselves into the ground before their fiftieth birthdays and, honestly, that is quite an admirable quality. The elite young people in the current work force have also adopted a mindset that says, “If you are not going to give me the opportunity that I have proved to you that I deserve, I am not going to sit here for a decade miserably wasting away while others get the chances.” They have mentally-established breaking points for when they “are over it” and, once that breaking point is reached via cumulative assault on their patience and psyche, they will go find a place of employment that makes them happier and gives them a chance to become more fulfilled; and that brings the conversation around to WWE.

WWE is a company with a forward-thinking primary business model – the WWE Network – yet much of the men and women responsible for supplying that Network with new content are subjected to an environment that has for many years now handicapped their potential success by stifling them creatively, numbing their ability to both express themselves and truly get over with wrestling's audience at one turn and constantly throwing a wet-blanket on their momentum at the next. Increasingly, that environment is creating a backlash.

Neville, a few weeks ago, was just the latest in a growing list of superstars who decided that they had had enough and moved on, deciding in all likelihood that if chasing their dreams of getting all the way to the top of the world's largest professional wrestling organization meant they had to be miserable, then it was not worth it to them. Older generations might scoff at the notion of taking your ball and going home because the job is tough or that one necessarily must feel miserable if not steadily climbing higher in his/her industry, but there is something to admire in a generation that has an awareness of what it is capable of achieving if the opportunity exists to maximize their potential; and therein lies arguably WWE's greatest modern problem – it on a routine basis for almost the entirety of this decade has, with an iron fist, ruled through actions that stellar work in between the ropes or the development of a persona that connects with the audience is secondary in the grand scheme of things to whatever WWE has decided it wants to do ahead of time. WWE will say publicly, “If you're not in this business to get to the top of this business, then get the hell out,” but statistically WWE has lowered the glass ceiling and reinforced it with the sort of glass used to make airplane windows.

Thirty years ago, American Express was the toast of credit card town. When the economy declined, they did not change their basic modus operandi, keeping their rates higher than their competitors and charging the same pricey annual fees; and, as a result, their business greatly suffered because their cardholders canceled and went with options that better suited their current desires and that better fit the revised economy. As recently as the turn of the decade, nobody could have foreseen that WWE could be a place that very talented pros would leave to join the independent ranks and find a thriving scene that afforded them the opportunities to make really good money, work less dates, and hone their artistic abilities to a greater extent. However, competitors to WWE – though not on a global scale (that is in all likelihood still impossible to equal until proven otherwise) – have emerged, as professional wrestling in general has made a comeback; New Japan Pro Wrestling has found its footing and has begun to thrive again, Lucha Underground showcased a different style of production to rave critical reviews, the European circuit is doing much better, etc. WWE is still the place to be, but there are other viable places to be now too.

So, why would Neville stick around right now if, say, WWE had told him after his Cruiserweight Title-holding, 205 Live foundation-building efforts were complete, that it “had nothing for him.” Pure speculation that may indeed be, but you would be lying to yourself if you said you would be surprised by such a scenario. Neville is as hot a commodity in the industry right now as he has been since he carried the NXT Championship for most of 2014. If WWE was going to relegate him to languishing in random matches for the foreseeable future, it would have driven down his worth elsewhere. Some have called him the MVP of WWE in 2017 – he was at the very least a candidate – because what he did as a character and the quality of the matches that he performed while leading the charge on late Tuesday nights was utterly outstanding, indicative that he had far more to offer creatively than most fans would have previously expected.

Going back to his NXT Title reign, you could not fault Neville for thinking that his call-up to the main roster was going to amount to a world’s worth of opportunities. NXT had become the darling of the business and he was at the top of it for 287 days. He had a strong 2015 on the main roster, with several stand-out moments including teaming with a celebrity at Summerslam and nearly beating Seth Rollins to win the WWE Championship on Raw, but then he fell victim to the up-and-down, stop-start creative process of modern WWE. He tumbled down a creative rabbit hole for all of 2016 before stumbling into the fledgling 205 Live program, where he somehow managed to thrive. WWE gave him a tiny chance and he grew his role into something spectacular. How would you feel if that caliber of effort went nowhere? Cody Rhodes felt that way; after making absolute creative chicken you-know-what into something valuable on several occasions – he got over a mustache for God’s sake – his reward was not the chance to step higher up but to keep getting pushed further down.

There is an easy way to fix this growing problem before it proliferates and, frankly, enough evidence exists that it is WWE’s problem to fix at this point; it simply needs to commit creatively, financially, and stylistically to moving forward with the so-termed New Era instead of backwards (part-timers galore) or sideways (Brock, Cena, etc.). If it does not, then logically, the exodus of talented stars who want more but who feel like, no matter how hard they work, they will not get more, is going to grow. If Neville proves, like Cody before him, that he can go back to the independents and do very well for himself, then what now seems logical will all but become a guarantee.

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