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Posted in: Requesting Flyby
REQUESTING FLYBY: All In All, A Very Mediocre Year For WWE. So What Next?
By Maverick
Dec 15, 2017 - 5:10:53 PM

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All In All, A Very Mediocre Year For WWE. So What Next?

At the beginning of this decade, WWE was stuck in a holding pattern. John Cena, Randy Orton, Batista, Rey Mysterio, The Undertaker, Triple H, Edge and Shawn Michaels formed an impenetrable glass ceiling that successive generations of developmental call ups simply could not break through. In 2008, the man who broke through and joined these perpetual main eventers was Jeff Hardy, a man who has been with the company in some form since he was jobbing on the Action Zone some time in the mid 1990s, hardly an indicator of WWE being aware of the need to create a freshness at the top of the card. As the first Brand Extension wound to a close, an acquisition from Ring Of Honor who had served his time in the midcard, got a brief push, and then worked his way back up again, CM Punk, got white hot in a feud with Hardy that should have been the making of him. Instead, a backstage tiff with locker room leader The Undertaker led to him being jobbed out, a humiliation which set us on the road to the infamous “pipebomb” worked shoot two years later. It was that pipebomb, along with a heel turn and an 18 second title match loss for former indy favourite Daniel Bryan that finally dragged the company kicking and screaming into The Reality Era, which surely now stands out as a golden age for the art form, particularly when compared to the period immediately before it, and more relevantly for this column, the period immediately after.

Among the defining achievements of The Reality Era was the true coronation of two major new stars in Bryan and Punk, at the same time as Batista left, Michaels and Edge retired, and Undertaker and Triple H became once or twice a year performers. Following hard on the heels of The Straight Edge Superstar and The Yes Man were the three brilliant young upstarts from The Shield, a master character wrestler in the form of Bray Wyatt, and excellently booked midcarders such as Rusev. When you added that new injection of talent to the holdovers from the class of 2008-10 (Miz, Ziggler, Sheamus, Del Rio, et al) and a toned down OVW Class of ‘02, you had an exciting roster being written for in an edgy, self-knowing manner that read as a more sophisticated take on The Attitude Era. The crowning storylines of Reality- the Punk ticking timebomb contract, Bryan’s road to redemption in New Orleans, Cody and Goldust preserving their jobs, Dolph Ziggler improbably banishing The Authority with the assistance of Sting- were an emotional rollercoaster that encouraged proper engagement from fans in television week to week, and in pay-per-views which reached new heights of consistency.

Why do I mention all of this?

Because everything I just described has - mostly - been lacking from the WWE product over the past two years, but especially this year. I have gone over my dislike of the Neo Brand Extension many times on this website, so I will keep my comments on that brief, but I can’t help feeling that the huge benefits of one incredibly stacked roster during Reality have been undervalued and underappreciated in terms of the role it played in laying the foundations for a stretch run of brilliant television that lasted the best part of three years. Thinly spreading the talent between Raw and Smackdown has led only to an overall reduction of quality overall, at first on television but now on pay-per-view too. Neither show has been particularly watchable this year without very heavy editing. Formulaic booking, poor talent positioning, reductive and repetitive segments and never ending feuds have completely hamstrung the TV product. And eventually, given that scenario, the pay-per-views become more and more make or break, and most of the time this year, they have not delivered. Yet another Rumble with a result people disliked, some bizarre Elimination Chamber hot potato with the Smackdown title, endless repetitions of the same Brock Lesnar match, stupid tag team break ups that benefitted nobody, an inability to properly use talents who prospered in NXT, an infuriating reliance on Cena and Orton despite ever decreasing returns, and that’s before we even begin to talk about the lamentable Jinder Mahal situation. The simple fact is that there was no real reason to tune into weekly television at all most weeks, and 75% of the pay-per-views disappointed in one way or another.

This week on LOP Radio’s The Right Side Of The Pond, I consider, along with my colleagues Mazza and ‘Plan, what the matches of the year were. And it’s revealing to me that I didn’t think there were all that many main roster candidates worthy of discussion. The main roster matches on pay-per-view I truly enjoyed can be listed fairly succinctly, and I actually found it almost impossible to think of a TV match to put in the conversation, because everything on Raw ans Smackdown is so generic; TV matches nowadays are like endless cover versions of matches you’ve already seen. I think what is frustrating is that WWE have shown that they can get it right when they really try. The Ambrose and Rollins reunion was one of the more emotive story arcs of the past decade, whilst Owens and Jericho kicked the year off in brilliant fashion during the memorable “Festival of Friendship” turn by KO. Elsewhere, Shane McMahon’s feuds with AJ Styles and Owens were cleverly handled and the tit for tat invasions of Raw and Smackdown during the Survivor Series build also floated my boat. Meanwhile, on NXT Takeovers, there were numerous brilliant midcard and tag matches, with Almas and Black in particular deserving an honourable mention in any self respecting wrestling journalist’s MVP countdown.

So what do WWE need to do in 2018? I think it’s fairly obvious, truthfully: free your talent from the endless ball and chain that is the OVW Class of ‘02, stop inviting back every former star that still has a pulse, prioritise your new breed of headliners, and build properly for the future instead of looking to the past. The creative success of NXT shows that this approach pays dividends. I suppose all we need now is for Vince McMahon to be convinced of the merits of the approach he ironically built his kingdom on back in the day, but now seems to have forgotten.

2017 was a sad year for pro wrestling, but I’m optimistic for 2018 all the same. Because otherwise, what would be the point?

This is Maverick, requesting flyby