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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: WWE The Way I'd Like It To Be In The Network Era
By The Doc
Sep 7, 2017 - 2:35:55 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: What does an ideal WWE look like in your mind's eye here in the WWE Network Era, specifically as it pertains to the dichotomy between Mania/Summerslam seasons and the rest of the wrestling calendar, but also in general?

Much has been publicized over the past couple of weeks regarding the pair of WrestleMania main-events taking place at the upcoming No Mercy pay-per-view, and it got me thinking about what exactly it is that I want from the WWE product in the Network era.

As was rightfully pointed out during the myriad discussions since Strowman vs. Lesnar and Cena vs. Reigns were announced, the idea of saving the biggest matches for WrestleMania may indeed be an old school way of thinking when you consider the altered landscape inspired by the Network’s launch in 2014. For as long as I can remember, I built my extra-curricular calendar around WrestleMania Season (January to April) being WWE’s peak, but that habit was established during the PPV era. WWE is still clearly dependent on WrestleMania being its greatest harvester of new business – in fact its lone yearly substantial Network-subscriber stimulus. However, 1.5 million people consistently subscribe and thus have access to every other PPV, as opposed to the at times 80% drop off that used to exist between Mania viewers and the buyers for other special events; quite naturally, the game has changed accordingly.

So, what do I want from WWE in this day and age? Let’s start this verbal portrait with broad strokes and get more specific as we go.

Personally, I still would like the product to peak from January to April and, to a lesser extent, from July to August, because I have competing interests throughout the rest of the year; dare I say many other fans would say the same. A pattern that I have noticed, having studied pro wrestling far more than any sane person should, is that the Rumble to Mania stretch is perfectly situated on the calendar. The Rumble takes place in between the NFL conference title games and the Super Bowl, its hype beginning in the waning moments of college football season and right as Monday Night Football is wrapping up. The most important creative stretch on WWE TV between March and early April happens during a lull in the NBA and most major soccer league schedules; March Madness (college basketball) shares part of that period, but is most popular during an opening salvo two weeks prior to Mania. The Showcase of the Immortals takes place a week or two prior to the start of the NBA Playoffs and the final stretch of the European Champions’ League, and a month prior to the unofficial start of the summer(ish) movie season. Again, perfectly situated.

Summerslam is similarly well-positioned, gaining the bulk of its hype after the NBA Finals, NBA Draft, and any major international soccer tournaments are over; the Summer Classic then takes place two weeks before college football season starts. So, while I admire WWE for putting its biggest foot forward this month with a pair of matches that could have main-evented WrestleMania next spring or Summerslam last month, the plethora of competing interests from now to December and from mid-April through early-July that are shared by a good junk of the wrestling audience (by my understanding at least) reinforces my own very strong preference that the non-Mania and non-Summerslam periods be used differently; and, while I will not complain about these blockbuster battles taking place in two weeks, my interest in them would admittedly be substantially greater if they were happening during peak seasons for WWE. Even in the Network era, I still like the routine established during the PPV era.

That preference does not mean that the non-peak seasons should strive to be uninteresting, mind you; it is, of course, not that black and white. At PPVs in between Mania and Summerslam and then in between Summerslam and the next Mania Season, I would prefer to see WWE make liberal use of the opportunity to build up fringe headliners. Thinking analytically, if we were to rank all 33 male Raw roster members, not including the Cruiserweights, from 1 to 33, the preeminent matches of the year – the Mania and Summerslam main-events – should essentially feature some combination of the superstars ranked 1-3 (maybe 1-5). Barring exceptional circumstances, I want the top two matches of the year to preferably involve members of the year-round roster exclusively or regular roster members going over talent who are no less active than Cena or Lesnar. Then, though it does not necessarily have to perform this function every year, The Rumble is a great place for someone ranked around 10th to be tested at a higher level in a title match; Survivor Series, without an inherent connection to either Mania or Summerslam, is a perfect event on which to execute the most intriguing Top 5 showdown possible that is not intended to main-event the proceeding WrestleMania.

Using the current Raw roster, here is how I would rank the Top 10 (in order from 1-10) based on a combination of their present pushes and their past reputations: Lesnar, Strowman, Reigns, Cena, Joe, Rollins, Ambrose, Balor, Wyatt, and Miz. So, using the above system, I propose the following PPV main-events from last month’s Summerslam (in retrospect) to WrestleMania 34: Strowman over Lesnar (Summerslam ’17), Strowman over Joe (No Mercy ’17), Strowman over Joe again (TLC ’17), Strowman over Lesnar again with The Shield as sole survivors in an Elimination Match (Survivor Series ’17), Reigns over Strowman and Wyatt with Ambrose and Rollins co-winning the Rumble (Royal Rumble ’18), Reigns over Strowman again (Fast Lane ’18), and Rollins over Ambrose and Reigns (WrestleMania 34). That line-up would accomplish striking while the Strowman iron is hot this summer and fall, demonstrates intriguing possibilities at the top of the card during non-peak seasons for WWE, and hits its crescendos at the time when interest peaks.

Moving down the card, the Intercontinental and United States Titles should regularly be fixtures among the top few matches on non-peak PPVs (see Miz vs. Ziggler) and maintain a viable, upper-tier level during peak seasons as well (see Jericho-Owens). A Top 10 star should represent each division as champion and be given the chance to work with a wide variety of opponents inside and outside of the Top 10. Given the brand split, I favor the idea of making the tag team and women’s championship divisions enormous pieces of the PPV puzzle throughout the year as well, but giving them a bigger spotlight during non-peak seasons. Naturally, if something gets over substantially from one of those divisions (i.e. the Women’s Revolution, New Day the last two years, Charlotte’s PPV undefeated streak, etc.), WWE should more prominently feature them at Mania or Summerslam, but usually those divisions should form the mid-card backbone of every Big 4 event and should be elevated higher up single-brand PPVs; I think it is reasonable to expect creative focus around Mania and Summerslam to shift to accommodate either the blending together of the two rosters and/or special attractions that further differentiate those cards from the standard special event.

Playing armchair booker using the most recent Mania and Summerslam, respectively, to serve as examples of “WWE As The Doc Would Like It To Be In The Network Era,” the main-event at Mania 33 would have been Cena vs. Styles supported by HHH vs. Rollins and Strowman vs. Reigns Round 1 for the Universal Title, while pretty much all else would have remained the same. Taker would have had the hip surgery, rested up for a year, and then had his retirement match next year; Shane McMahon would have shifted his match with Styles to Summerslam this year. Summerslam 2017 would then have featured Strowman over Lesnar in the main-event supported by AJ-Shane and Cena vs. Nakamura, wiping the ridiculous Mahal title reign from existence; pretty much everything else from that card would remain (add Owens vs. Orton).

The recent Great Balls of Fire and last year’s TLC were really good examples of ideal non-peak pay-per-views, in my opinion. Before the build to GBOF, Samoa Joe was sitting well outside of the Top 5, using the previously mentioned rankings, but the match between him and Lesnar was absolutely fit for the marquee. The IC Title bout was contested by a pair of Top 10 stars, and the Tag Team and Women’s Championships were highlighted to a greater extent than normal; the rest of the card filled out nicely with other matches involving Top 5-10 talents and an intriguing (at the time) storyline featuring wrestlers who otherwise would not have gotten as much air play. TLC, meanwhile, put two of Smackdown’s Top 5 in the main-event, two of its Top 10 in the IC Title match, elevated the presence of the Tag Team and Women’s Titles, and gave the rest of the opportunities to mid-card angles.

Generally, I would be a very happy wrestling fan if WWE utilized the above templates. Parity across the PPV schedule is not realistic in this day and age, if you ask me, nor is it truly what I would prefer to see; in other words, the September PPV does not need to carry with it a reputation at the top of its card that prompts WrestleMania comparisons. Great Balls of Fire-caliber cards every month during a non-peak season plus major PPV cards that stack the deck to the greatest extent possible, emphasizing current talents over part-timers, would be pro wrestling nirvana to me. WWE spent thirty years in the PPV era figuring out a solid formula to condition fans for when interest levels should peak; keep that formula and take better advantage of such a talented roster. That’s how I would do it, anyway.

Have you thought about what you want from modern WWE at all? Have you sat down and put thoughts to paper (or audio)? I think it is a healthy exercise.

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