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Posted in: In Laiman's Terms
IN LAIMAN'S TERMS #313 - State of the WWE with Ris and Tito
By Marissa Laiman and Mr. Tito
Aug 13, 2017 - 8:00:00 PM

Posted by Ris Laiman on Tuesday, May 2, 2017


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IN LAIMAN'S TERMS #313 - State of the WWE with Ris and Tito

1. It’s that time again; where Ris and Tito come together and talk about how things are looking in the WWE for 30 Thoughts or so. For those who’ve never followed this one before, it tends to be a session of sharing thoughts between two somewhat-similar perspectives and how the primary wrestling company in the public consciousness is doing. Tito, it’s no secret how you’ve felt about things in the last few months, but to summarize for those who may not have followed as closely as I have: what is the state of the WWE, as it presently stands approaching Summerslam?

2. Mr. Tito: I’d be alarmed that as hard as WWE has been working for the past 2 months between the Great Balls of Fire and SummerSlam Pay Per Views, they are just barely above 3 million viewers for Monday Night RAW. We’ve had Brock Lesnar appearing frequently and we’re giving away matches on free television that should be saved for Pay Per Views. If Samoa Joe, Roman Reigns, and Braun Strowman are your main eventers for now in addition to Lesnar, they shouldn’t be wrestling each other repeatedly on RAW. Thus, after SummerSlam, you’ve exhausted most of their match combinations already. In the past 4 weeks, we’ve seen Joe vs. Reigns, Reigns vs. Joe vs. Strowman, and Strowman vs. Reigns. All of that effort and we’re just barely above 3 million. What happens after SummerSlam when Monday Night RAW is against NFL’s Monday Night Football and new premiers of TV shows? Reason RAW is even below 4 million viewers, which is saw as of early 2015, is the fact that the WWE keeps pushing the WRONG guys to the Main Event. Years of pushing guys like Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Alberto Del Rio, Sheamus, Jinder Mahal, and different versions of Randy Orton has caught up to the WWE. It’s sad when 3 million for RAW and 2.5 million for Smackdown are the new “normal” viewership numbers.

3. I feel like I get some level of pushback when I’m sick of seeing the same things over and over again. In the column I wrote today (August 10th), I spoke on the idea that they’d rather stay the course and “troll the fans” than go with the flow of crowd reaction and what people seemingly want to watch. Tito, you’ve been doing this even longer than I have… Has this always been a part of it and we just didn’t know it, or is this a recent phenomenon?

4. Mr. Tito: I don’t think they are trolling as much as they are becoming complacent. WWE seems to understand that they just have to really work hard to draw for Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania, and SummerSlam. Make those events like big tentpole events that large cities actually bid for and the rest of the year can sort of be mailed in. I also think that absent competition (TNA/GFW, ROH, and New Japan are not close to the WWE, financially), the WWE not only gets bored with itself but they don’t have a competitor to steal talent from. Again, New Japan and ROH don’t count… Both the Hulkamania Era and Attitude Era saw the WWE stealing key talents from their main competition. WWE doesn’t have the fire from competition nor can they make as many splash free agent signings. AJ Styles was probably the last “big” free agent signing and that’s only because most fans felt he was under-utilized in TNA wrestling.

5. I guess, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to go with the flow of where the fans are, as Triple H seems to understand this down in NXT. Ironic, as I never thought I’d be saying those words, given the days where I was a young teenager getting mad with you. Good ol’ days… Anyway, I’m growing frustrated with multiple things, and in addition to that, I sometimes just don’t understand what it is they’re doing. It feels so forced, pre-packaged, unauthentic, especially when they have the commentators use the literal exact same script two nights in a row to pitch their damn network. Is it just complacency, or the business changing without those at the top knowing it?

6. Mr. Tito: It’s very much complacency. In addition to having no competition, WWE has become very corporate. They went public in 1999 but it wasn’t until the Chris Benoit scare that really forced the WWE to clean up its act. Gone was the racy adult themed storylines and wrestlers were policed more than ever. PG Era and a stronger Wellness Policy has sanitized the WWE. Then, having USA Network’s Standards & Practices and the WWE Corporation’s thicker bench of officers working in Stamford, CT who are more concerned about image and marketing than quality of the in-ring product. Roman Reigns is only being pushed, for example, but he might look decent as an action figure. Meanwhile, what’s being lost is that pro wrestling still has most of its action being performed in a ring and fighting over Championships. If that wasn’t important, then ditch the rings and titles… See how well things draw.

7. You’ve alluded to that before, and while wrestling has always had sort of that cliche “soap opera” attachment to it, it always came down to the actual wrestling and belts. Yeah, Undertaker lost his family in a fire and his brother came back to seek revenge… in the ring. Now, it feels almost incidental that wrestling is taking place. If Jason Jordan never actually competed, would it feel remarkably different than this weird “whoa I have a son I never knew until now!” thing does at its present state?

8. Mr. Tito: The whole Jason Jordan is Kurt Angle’s son comes from the WWE trying to veer away from being a pro wrestling company. Exactly what does being Angle’s son have to do with Jordan attempting to be the very best as a pro wrestler? Makes zero sense and WWE has loads of these BAD storylines throughout the year. WWE has to realize they have drawn when they’ve appeared to be a scripted sport and not a television show. Most will say “what about Austin vs. McMahon”... Well, what was that about? Vince didn’t want Austin to be World Champion of his company. That was the heart of the issue and Vince threw every heel he had at Austin to stop that from happening. In truth, Austin vs. McMahon was STILL about the spirit of competition and Vince’s goal was always to keep Austin away from the WWE Title. Gee, and it drew too. It wasn’t until we saw more Soap Opera drama in the form of McMahon-Helmsley that the Attitude Era officially peaked and began its downslide. The drama over the WCW/ECW Invasion during 2001 instead of the wrestling product and wrestlers themselves killed that angle as well. Oh boy, Shane/Stephanie vs. Vince… Again, why have Pay Per Views full of matches if wrestling in a ring for a Championship title doesn’t matter. And you have to put the absolute BEST wrestlers in the top positions. World Titles do NOT make main event draws… Fans do. They cheer for guys to become the #1 babyface. Somehow, the WWE believes that they can obtain instant gratification by placing a Championship on a wrestler and that makes them instantly great. If that were the case, Alberto Del Rio would be drawing in the WWE right now instead his current situation now.

9. Alberto Del Rio, someone who was put in that position for a very similar reason as one of the current world champions, presumably. When one of the world champions is a complete afterthought at best, it also takes away from the wrestling side of things. I struggle with the idea that putting a belt on someone for no other reason than that they’re from there, it makes it pop the ratings. Then again, I don’t understand the business side of it as much as you do, and I’m just a fan lost in the shuffle who wants good wrestling and compelling storylines without the latter eating the former completely. Are those days gone, or are there signs that it could return in some capacity?

10. Mr. Tito: Actually, the return is more simple than you think… Well, in reality, finding THE GUY to become your #1 babyface draw is very difficult, but all it takes is 1 guy and the rest falls in place behind them. They just need to find the correct #1 babyface that fans can 100% stand behind. That’s why I believe that pushing Braun Strowman perfectly is very important. If the WWE makes him win the 2018 Royal Rumble match, lets him definitively beat Brock Lesnar for the WWE Universal Title at Wrestlemania 34, and pushes him hard as a strong World Champion for the rest of the year… It could work. WWE has lacked that “Larger than Life” World Champion for a while and I could see Strowman maybe becoming a strong babyface. But the WWE has to stop forcing the wrong guys down our throats as Main Eventers and let the fans discover them. Furthermore, WWE needs to have a consistent midcard with a deep bench of midcard singles wrestlers and tag teams wrestling over their respective titles. The midcard acts as your “farm system” but the US Title, IC Title, and Tag Titles can draw if pushed well. In the past, the WWE has headlined shows with midcard titles while another tour featured the World Champion. No way that you can do that now effectively with the way WWE has poorly booked the midcard.

11. The midcard has been kinda awful for a long time, and yet the wrestlers who were main eventing six months ago are now fighting there over the IC and US titles, strangely enough. It seems like they took what was really working with Smackdown having an “alternate” feel, and brought the pieces to RAW without the feeling and setting of Smackdown, which was well-paced, filled with more wrestling, and even started the in-commercial feed. Strategically and naturally though, never on the main event. It doesn’t seem like they’re willing to stick with anything long enough to see it grow, or, conversely, they want to stick with something so long that they’ll make you like it, even if they have to alienate every last fan to do it. Where can the rebuilding begin, other than the “Larger Than Life” Strowman being the presence he has been? Feasibly and realistically, of course.

12. Mr. Tito: Exactly. You’ve identified another big problem with the WWE roster. Both AJ Styles and Kevin Owens were both World Champions to start 2017. However, when they were champions, where they treated as such? Remember those joke James Ellsworth matches that AJ Styles had to endure and actually eat a few losses? And then you had Kevin Owens getting repeatedly owned by Roman Reigns during non-title matches. Next up, Kevin Owens moves to Smackdown to feud with AJ Styles over the United States Title. Huh? While they are doing that, the always under-achieving Randy Orton and a former RAW roster jobber named Jinder Mahal are wrestling over the prestigious WWE Title. Pretty easy to see what’s wrong, but based on how Owens/Styles were booked as champion, it’s pretty obvious that Vince McMahon didn’t take either guy seriously as World Champion. Unless your name is “Cena”, “Orton”, or “Reigns”, get ready to eat lots of non-title losses. Pretty amusing to see how much better the US Title appears right now versus the WWE Title.

13. I've sat through some boring feuds before, but Orton and Mahal may top the list. We're not supposed to be fully captivated by the US title and then forget about the World title. That isn't how it's supposed to work, is it?

14. Mr. Tito: Of course not, but when you have 2 complete duds wrestling for the WWE Title, that happens. Orton and Jinder are the very definition of what I’m talking about for pushing wrong guys and at the wrong time. Randy Orton is a 13 time World Champion in the WWE yet what does he have to show for it? Can you remember most of the events that happened leading up to any of those reigns or when he was champion? Do any matches stand out to you? He’s a future generation wrestler and WWE has handed him most of his pushes. 13 years ago, they rushed him to the World Heavyweight Championship at SummerSlam 2004 too early when he was not in a position to carry the company. Hasn’t been the same since. Jinder Mahal was a jobber on RAW and then becomes WWE Champion on Smackdown. How does that make sense? Goes to show you that the WWE has two serious problems on their hands: (a) pushing the wrong guys by playing favorites based on family or look and (b) the developmental system might not be replenishing the WWE system like it should. Orton is part of that Ohio Valley Wrestling “Class of 2002” and they are still relying on him. Ditto for Lesnar and Cena… Those guys are getting old but yet the WWE has nobody on its bench to replace their star power. THUS, they force guys to the top like Jinder, Roman, Del Rio, etc. and it makes your World Titles look silly. Hence why the midcard titles could look better at times (though rare for WWE, to be honest). The US Title has had some weird love lately with Smackdown this year and then Cena proudly defending the title during 2015. Oh yeah, let’s have John Cena be United States champion during 2015… Made lots of sense. Top guy holding a midcard title, though the matches were great.

15. I know you get a lot of ridicule for the OVW Class of 2002 trope, but how can it not ring true? Randy Orton randomly stops being with the Wyatt Family and commits arson, wins the most forgettable Royal Rumble ever, right after the three older guys were obviously going to be the last ones in. Has a forgettable title reign and then loses it to a guy who suddenly got into a contendership match despite not winning ever. Cena has transitioned to part-time special attraction, and seems to be relishing in it, Marine-gimmick flashback with Rusev not withstanding. Lesnar is all out of fucks to give and it shows. The Fatal Four-Way involving Lesnar looks like a blast, but it’s clear to me the guy doesn’t care anymore. Again. I’m having a hard time again because I want to like this. I really want to watch a show I like. How can you have access to a library like this, this much ubiquity, and then literally give away money by having free matches on TV like last man standing matches and three-quarters of the huge main event wrestling each other? The rosters aren’t what needs shaken up.

16. Mr. Tito: Brock Lesnar defines WWE’s problems. He appears like a legitimate superstar and is booked as such. He’s credible as a superstar. Look at how Bill Goldberg was booked. They kept him in short matches on purpose to keep the aura of Bill Goldberg alive, even at 50 years old. Difference is that both Lesnar and Goldberg wrestled at Wrestlemania 20 during 2004. They’ve been there and done that. Already stars and the booking enhances their star power. Let’s take Samoa Joe by contrast. He had a pretty good career before the WWE but he was placed in NXT for a long time before joining the WWE roster earlier this year. His feud with Lesnar was great and Joe vs. Lesnar helped get RAW back above 3 million in viewership after being under it for most of the post-Wrestlemania 33 timeframe.. Yet, Joe loses and then he soon loses to the “chosen son” Roman Reigns cleanly as well. What does he have left now? Then you have a guy like Rusev on Smackdown. Most wrestlers have had their way with him yet Randy Orton instantly RKOs him the second they meet in the ring 2 weeks ago. That’s where letting brilliant wrestling minds like Jim Ross or Pat Patterson go and not effectively replacing them with actual experienced wrestling guys hurts the company. Something is breaking either at the NXT developmental system or within the WWE as those call-ups arrive. How is Bayley outselling ALL women’s wrestlers in merchandise as a NXT performer and struggling as a WWE main roster superstar? Seems to me that the developmental system might be doing its job replenishing talent and something is broken on the main roster. Patterson and Ross aren’t there to correctly advise Vince. Instead, you have corporate types, family, or Kevin Dunn in Vince’s ear. The results speak for themselves with over 1 million viewers lost on RAW, thousands less attending live shows, and WWE Network subscriptions hitting a plateau already.

17. Maybe it’s George Lucas syndrome, as in where at one time when there were people willing to say no to him, the product ended up much better than having complete creative control. NXT is proof that you can take a group of wrestlers in front of a smaller audience and tell a complete story with far less time, and in the modern day world. Then they head to WWE to freshen things up, and they’re given no consistency, save for maybe Joe and somewhat Nakamura. If there isn’t even consistency from the developmental to the “main” shows, how can there be consistency anywhere? What does it take to bridge that gap, repair the damage done, or can it be repaired?

18. Mr. Tito: As much as I admire the work that Triple H has done in NXT, he’s going to remain quiet when working backstage at WWE events. Vince McMahon has given him a career, millions of dollars, and his daughter’s hand in marriage. Thus, he won’t stand up to Vince ever. Why would he? Ditto Stephanie, who is the biggest enabler of Vince’s bad behavior. Ditto Kevin Dunn who agrees with the extreme side of Vince’s tastes, which is what you’ve seen with the Divas Search contests, Tough Enough, and basing everything on look. Michael PS Hayes is a total yes-man. Nobody is there to course-correct Vince McMahon for bad ideas. Ross, Patterson, Cornette, Pritchard, Briscoe, and even Russo during the late 1990s presented Vince with different ideas or at least had some mild courage to disagree. Nobody there now and thus Vince McMahon is only as good as the sum of parts with his existing management team.

19. And with a multi-faceted entertainment presentation, there has to be someone to be able to tell the main guy “No!” All of those people you listed have that in common, in addition to having the wrestling experience behind them. It’s almost like Vince is afraid that people might associate his business with wrestling if he emphasizes that part too much. But the point of the NXT comparison is that it can still sell when done correctly, and that’s one of the things that give me hope that it has the potential to change. I imagine the main roster payday is better, but it has to be bittersweet to be called up, at least for a group like the Vaudevillains or someone like Emma, who disappears into the fold the minute they get there. And yet somehow with all these extra people hanging around, they still can’t make the three-hour RAW complete without filler, repetition, video packages, Network pitches, and commercials interrupting matches. They don’t make it easy on us.

20. Mr. Tito: The Vince you see now isn’t the same guy from 20 years ago. WWE becoming corporate has evolved them into a profit center concerned about public relations. I still think that Vince McMahon passionately cares about pro wrestling and has the best interests at heart… For example, most of his Brock Lesnar monster push has been great while he was correct about Braun Strowman as a raw talent. WWE Network is nice though I’d argue that he destroyed the Pay Per View market with poorly planned price hikes. He’s become “institutionalized” to the corporate machine and it hurts the wrestling product. Everybody is scripted and that kills the individuality of the wrestlers. For example, for all we know, Roman Reigns had a great personality and could be charismatic. However, the WWE scripts him to be the complete opposite and he appears to be a weak main eventer as a result. By caring more about the Corporate stuff, WWE cares less about tradition. Too many non-title losses to the champion, simple things like champions coming out first, bad gimmick matches, and wrestlers acting like there isn’t 10 different cameras around. And then dumb things like Kurt Angle’s son and ambulance destruction. These aren’t logical steps to take to grow your wrestling business.

21. I’m pretty sure I know the answer, but for those who may disagree, why do those little things matter? The non-title losses, the champions coming out first… What do those things communicate, beyond a lack of caring about tradition?

22. Mr. Tito: Just a matter of having credibility as a scripted sports competition and credibility towards anyone you book as a champion. A real champion should be recognized nationwide as a major celebrity and celebrated as the top performer in pro wrestling. Furthermore, anytime that champion appears on a wrestling card, it draws higher ticket sales, sells more merchandise, and puts more eyeballs on the television. Additionally, the more wrestling appears as a legitimate sport, the better that it can market itself against UFC or Boxing. In UFC or Boxing, you can see a bigtime disappointment in a Pay Per View outcome. Because WWE can script the results of a match, they can guarantee a quality show each and every time. However, if you push Soap Opera crap, push the wrong guys, and disregard your title belts… You’ll lose 1 million viewers on RAW and thousands in attendance per live show. Like I said above, if the in-ring wrestling product didn’t draw, then the WWE should just get rid of the ring already and just have people cut promos.

23. Of course, the two of us both get our criticisms for being too negative or critical, so before we get to the 30th entrant here, is there anything you do really like right now? Anything really captivating you or at least helping you look forward to Summerslam? And do you see any hope for some of the above improving?

24. Mr. Tito: I believe that the Fatal 4 Way, if done correctly, could draw some interest… I worry that it’s just another attempt to get Roman Reigns over and that Samoa Joe’s opportunity is already gone by recent losses to Lesnar and Reigns. But that’s a BIG main event. No denying that. Problem is that Joe, Reigns, and Strowman are very similar pushing the badass gimmicks that lean both heel/face. What the WWE needs is a true drawing babyface and Roman Reigns isn’t that. They’ve let him beat CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Undertaker, and Triple H cleanly and he’s STILL not over. Whatever on him. But beyond that? Yikes… I don’t believe that WWE will ever take Nakamura seriously based on prior Japanese wrestlers in the WWE or WWE’s refusal to bring in Japanese wrestlers in the past. I like Baron Corbin but I worry that his World Title push could be too premature. Just seems like the WWE has a bunch of upper midcarders who may have already peaked and we don’t have a Creative Team infrastructure to get anybody over. I think that WWE has a decent amount of talent but it’s a matter of nurturing individuality (no scripting) and having a good Creative Team in place. WWE lacks both, so thus we’ll basically get whatever Vince McMahon wants without any challenge.

25. Is that potential to challenge Vince McMahon even feasible at this point? We’ve seen several attempts, as underground alternatives even reaching the level of TV deals, but not since WCW has it happened. Is mainstream professional wrestling as a whole in trouble?

26. Mr. Tito: I think if you incubate wrestlers on Smackdown and on NXT, that’s the ticket. Remember, John Cena got over on the Smackdown brand during 2002-2004 that was booked by Paul Heyman while Vince reportedly had more attention on RAW during Monday. Vince doesn’t pay as much attention to Smackdown although he has lately with the Jinder Mahal push to strike interest in India. For NXT, Vince McMahon gives little say… If Triple H can build a superstar on Smackdown and NXT from scratch and sell that to Vince to feature on RAW, that’s how you do it. Like John Cena during 2002-2004, you have to get him over to convince Vince to push him. That’s how I believe Triple H can “challenge” Vince by developing wrestlers on Smackdown and NXT. You’ve already seen that with the Miz who greatly improved on Smackdown, for example, after 5 years of just limping around on the roster. He was reborn as a superstar. However, Smackdown won’t go anywhere with Road Dogg as its main creative force and reported stooge to Vince. Yikes, that show has been awful during 2017!

27. Which is a shame, because it was sure decently watchable from the first split in 2016 until the second shakeup. It was something to look forward to while RAW dragged through the doldrums. RAW has seen a bit of an uptick, especially since Joe showed up, but Smackdown seems to be finding its bearings again… Just in time for another rumored Shakeup. I really hope Triple H emerges as some kind of influential force that isn’t just staying the course. We’ve seen proof now that he can book a completely watchable, top-to-bottom entertaining show.

28. Mr. Tito: BUT Triple H has yet to deliver Vince that next big Main Eventer. All of those call-ups since 2012 when Triple H took over haven’t produced the “next Cena”. Sure, they’ve had some decent production from Rollins, Reigns, and Ambrose but they aren’t proving to be larger draws as champions. Following them, the jury is still out on the 2015-2016 call-ups of Triple H’s guys. We’ll see what happens with Big Cass, Samoa Joe, Jason Jordan, Apollo Crews, Finn Balor, and Shinsuke Nakamura… I don’t know yet because as I alluded above, the lack of individuality thanks to scripting and a poor creative team could limit them. Just look at recent stories where Vince wants to reportedly demote several wrestlers back to NXT! Then, he’s furious specifically at Nakamura for the botched move on John Cena. Who knows? Triple H should be encouraged to keep trying although I worry that Smackdown is a lost cause. Lately, it seems like Vince has more of a say on that brand lately or his Road Dogg is catering to Vince’s wishes right now without any challenge. Jinder as WWE Champion, what a joke.

29. I truly believe the problem doesn’t lie within the NXT talent, but within the lack of consistency between divisions. Establishing stars one way, only to completely change it once they get there. I’ve also spoken, speaking of consistency, of not just throwing words out there without having a reason to matter or explaining what they are. John Cena’s a free agent? How does that work? Did he get released? Are they on contract? Do they have options? Brand options? Daniel Bryan institutes a rematch. How did that happen? What’s the precedence? Exclusive interview coming up. As opposed to what? Everything else on WWE TV? As big as fantasy has become, you would think that having some kind of statistical analysis for how this works, instead of just throwing things out randomly for the needs of the plot. In my opinion, the State of the WWE is better than I thought it would be, even a few weeks ago, but that hope is on thin ice at best. I don’t want it to be that way, but I’m not gonna sugarcoat things for the sake of “positivity.” Tito, thank you for joining me as always, and I’m looking forward to the day where we can take in a show together. Until then, your concluding thoughts?

30. Mr. Tito: Funny thing is from our past back & forth columns like this, I’m labeled as “negative”... But let me make a few things clear. I’m a big wrestling fan and have been for working on 3 decades now. I have been a writer for LordsofPain.net for almost 2 decades now and have been 100% voluntary in doing so. I wouldn’t be either one if I wasn’t passionate about the wrestling business. Somehow, I’m still here and keep coming back to it. I tried to “retire” on both during 2006 but I came back to it again during late 2009. I care about the business because there are few forms of entertainment better than pro wrestling when it’s clicking on all cylinders. Because I’ve watched for 3 decades and have written on it for 2 decades, I know what works to make a successful wrestling company. The roadmaps are out there and anybody with a WWE Network subscription can see it. For the most part, I’m repeating what works in the past… Wrestlers start in the midcard and work their way up to the top. Simple concept. Championships must remain credible and the business must be protected. It must appear legit and cause fans to wonder if what they are witnessing is real or not. As lost viewership, lost attendance, a decimated Pay Per View market, and other basic indicators are proving (WWE is betting on India to “save” them financially), the WWE has issues. I believe they are too Corporate, have too much nepotism, endured damage under John Laurinaitis overseeing developmental, and because of the WWE’s decline since it’s peak in 2000 and then the Benoit incident of 2007, there is much less interest in watching and becoming a wrestler than ever before on top of WWE’s poor creative teams in place. And I don’t just criticize… I give policy recommendations as someone who works in the corporate world myself and is a big wrestling fan. I CARE. Why would I waste hours of my life watching and writing about it if I didn’t care? And again, numbers are all down so the facts back up any criticisms that I have of the WWE product. Still, as much as I may criticize, the WWE is the absolute best promotion in the world and they actually give you a more indy-like promotion in NXT to escape if the big WWE show is burning you out. It could be worse, like the “artist formerly known as TNA wrestling” Global Force Wrestling.

Marissa Laiman, In Laiman’s Terms, and Inciting Incident are owned by It’s a Shameful Thing, Lobsterhead, LLC. Copyright 2016. All rights reserved. For media or inquiries, please contact patorrez@patorrez.com.

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