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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: Excellent Raw Showed Us a Major Element to Building the Next Very Popular Period in Pro Wrestling
By The Doc
Oct 15, 2013 - 8:08:25 PM

The Snowman is a genius

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From top-to-bottom, I enjoyed Raw this week as much as I have in any other week this year. Oddly, it was not the build-up to Hell in a Cell that championed such a statement, but rather two matches. Though I am looking forward to the next PPV, I think it is pretty clear that neither the match that opened Raw nor the main-event that closed it will have any significant bearing on the PPV buyrate for Hell in a Cell. Yet, those two matches emotionally invested me like very few matches do in this day and age. In a recent conversation with a reader, the topic of what it might to take to launch a new wrestling boom period came up. I do not have a full thesis ready to present, but I am quite confident that matches like we saw last night need to be a staple for it to be possible.

When I sat down to watch Raw last night, I assumed that the Tag Team Championship match announced earlier in the day would go in the middle of the show somewhere. I was pleasantly surprised that it ended up in the main-event slot. As I was watching the opening segment with Randy Orton and Shawn Michaels, I was also pleased to see that The Miz vs. Randy Orton was about to be featured. Both matches had something in common that has been sorely lacking on Monday Night Raw for a long time: they each mattered. That is to state that something was at stake. Particularly in the mid-card, it has become a very rare thing to see a featured match with a legitimate story behind it. Those opportunities go to main-event talents almost exclusively. How often do we see mid-card matches that mean very little; that build little to no legitimate interest in a PPV or that fail to further a storyline in a substantial way? Weekly. You would have an easier time pinpointing the last Raw mid-card match before last night that really did matter.

Three hour Raws have made it more obvious than ever that the WWE spends very little time on its mid-card. To just throw people out on TV for matches without any more build than "these guys went through the motions for a match a week ago so we’re throwing them out there for a rematch" is not putting effort toward building a top notch roster. What was great about last night was that The Miz vs. Randy Orton was hyped weeks ago, beginning with Orton showing his more vicious side by attacking Miz in front of his parents. It was an occurrence that invested people emotionally, making the match last night something worth viewing. Far too often, the matches on Raw are so loosely connected with anything going on that is remotely important in the grand scheme of things that it becomes very difficult for me to sit through them. Tons of Funk vs. The Real Americans is a great example of that. I like Antonio Cesaro and Jack Swagger, and I have a lot of respect for what Matt Bloom did in Japan (and I even think that Brodus Clay has potential), but I fast-forward through their matches on DVR almost every week. They rarely speak. When they do, their rhetoric is not directed toward a rivalry. If the WWE does not present these men as viable members of the roster, then why should I invest? But it was so simple what they did a month ago with Randy Orton's attack on Miz. The WWE took a mid-card act and brought him up to a main-event level, making Orton vs. Miz a match that I wanted to see.

Balance is so important to the wrestling product. There needs to be a balance between the creative attention paid to main-eventers and mid-carders and there needs to be a balance between the modern version of enhancement matches (i.e. squashes), bouts between top stars, and mid-card contests; there needs to be a balance between the in-ring product and the promotional efforts (backstage happenings, interviews, and other segments), as well. It has been ages since we have truly had a good amount of balance. This week continued a trend started several weeks ago of putting a lot of effort into making Raw more interesting but less emphasis on delivering PPV payoffs. They are going to have to find a better balance between creating hooks to watch on the weekly Monday and making sure that a fan’s $50 (average) is well spent on the monthly Sunday. Last night showed that they may very well be heading in the right direction. Consistency will be the key.

In writing my book (cheap plug: due out first of the year), I had the opportunity to extensively review the last thirty years of pro wrestling history. Of the many things that I gained a better appreciation for was the strength of the undercard. As it is today, the majority of the ticket-selling stories were done at the top of the card, but there were legitimate tales being told by more than just the four or five premier guys in wrestling. In the NWA, for instance, Tag Team titleholders had rivalries with their best challengers that yielded innovative gimmick matches. We saw that pattern repeated successfully during the Attitude era. The Hulkamania era WWE tag title scene was also very strong and, while verbal opportunities to build rivalries were not prevalent, they still were given. Combined with the actual stories told in the ring, where it felt like the combatants were wrestling for something, the microphone interactions (limited as they may have been) created for depth in the product sorely lacking for many years in the current WWE. We also used to see featured bouts in both WWE and NWA/WCW involving a headliner and a second tier player. Hulk Hogan would step down from Mt. Olympus to grapple with Mr. Perfect, Harley Race, or Honky Tonk Man, while Ric Flair would elevate by association and in-ring excellence with the likes of Road Warrior Hawk, Brian Pillman, and Ricky Morton. In both wrestling boom periods, the main-event drew substantial outside interest, but the secondary stars kept the viewers tuned in for the entire length of the program. Cruiserweight wrestling in WCW, high profile mid-card factions in the WWE, the Intercontinental and United States Championships, Tag Team gold, etc. Depth of interest in the wrestlers outside of the main-event has been the glue that held together the eras when wrestling was at its peak.

Time will tell if the WWE may have found the right balance between hyping the forthcoming battles between headlining wrestlers and making the rest of the roster interesting all on the same show, but if we are ever to see the WWE create sustainable, larger interest in their product, it will be essential that the matches on TV involving the mid-card wrestlers matter. The Rhodes Brothers vs. The Shield (as defacto goons of The Authority – good names, by the way) was an outstanding match with a superb back story that delivered an excellent payoff. That is not going to sell PPVs in my opinion, but it’s going to create more interest in the product.

Question of the Day: What essential elements do you think are required for wrestling to either establish another “boom” period or to significantly boost its audience?

Join me tonight on LOP Radio at 6PM for the next episode of "The Doc Says..." Discussion points will be whether or not Hulk Hogan will ever return to the WWE, Hell in a Cell matches this year vs. their historical counterparts, and "The Doc's Bi-Weekly Wrestlemania Moment."

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