This past Sunday at WWE Extreme Rules, Christian won the World Heavyweight Championship. It might have been the best feel good wrestling moment of 2011 so far. Seeing Christian, a guy who busted his ass in this industry finally make it to the top was refreshing. In a John Cena dominated era, it was nice to finally see Captain Charisma at the top. It inspired me to write a blog about it on Monday.
I described Christian as the blue collar type of worker. He's not the hot shot salesman, he's not the fancy boss. He's the guy who shows up, does his job, and doesn't brag about it. The top people may not see it, but everybody else in the company does. Now in the wrestling business that may not be a good thing, but this is why fans grew to love Christian. Christian just seemed like the average guy. A guy the fans could identify with. But in the eyes of Vince McMahon, that is not a good thing.
And to quote the legendary Gorilla Monsoon, at this Tuesday's Smackdown Taping, there was a "miscarriage of justice!"
If you haven't heard by now, Randy Orton defeated Christian to win the World Heavyweight Championship. That's all Christian got, a 48 hour reign. Sure in WWE time it is a 5 day reign, but give me a break. Vince couldn't even keep the World Title on Christian until the next PPV, which is in 3 weeks by the way. Orton won the "fan vote" to face Christian later in the night. From the fan reports, the match was very good. And we all know Randy Orton isn't responsible for that.
The booking blunders are just astonishing. Why should Christian, a man who just fought a ladder match five days ago, be forced to defend his Title immediately after the PPV? At least with Cena, Miz was using his re-match clause. Why give away a match with no build on free TV not even ONE WEEK after a PPV? Randy Orton vs Christian is one of the few matches that the WWE has yet to do, and a proper build up to the match could have made it a decent main event. It could have been built up to a Christian heel turn, or hell even an Orton one. There's a PPV in three weeks. How about you have a #1 Contender's Match, then have Orton vs Christian at the PPV? No, Vince couldn't stomach having Christian as World Champ for three weeks. Vince might have died seeing that. At this point, Vince McMahon not running the WWE may be the best thing possible.
The WWE's business is struggling. It's been status quo for about 5 years now. No big growth in the audience, but no great decline either. There are a lot of factors that add up to all of this. It doesn't help that there are so many PPVs. Extreme Rules and Over the Limit are 3 weeks apart. At least Extreme Rules has gimmick matches. Over the Limit has nothing to its name. It may be one of the lowest PPVs in terms of buys ever. People say the PG rating is killing the product. I wouldn't necessarily agree with that, but some people use that argument. Other people dislike the lack of wrestling taking place on TV.
The WWE's biggest problem, and it has been for the last handful of years, is their inability to make new stars in today's era. Notice I said today's era. This doesn't just revolve around Christian. There are so many other wasted talents currently on the roster that Vince McMahon and WWE Creative fail to utilize properly.
Over the 1990s and early 2000s, the WWE had absolutely no problem building up new stars. In 1990, the Ultimate Warrior rose the ranks in the WWE and at Wrestlemania 6, defeated the biggest star in this company's history, Hulk Hogan, to win the WWE Championship. The Ultimate Warrior was a terrible wrestler, but Vince built everything all around his character and promoted the hell out of it. And it worked. Vince found a way to make a terrible wrestler a money maker. He had a lot of balls to trust Warrior in that role, but he made it work. Warrior didn't make as much money as Hogan, but he kept control of the ship very well.
In the mid-1990s, the WWE lost Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, and Ultimate Warrior, there rocks from the early 90s. Vince had to find a way to build new stars. So what did he do? He took Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, two smaller wrestlers who busted their asses in the ring, and made them main eventers. It was a downtime for the WWE, but Vince STOOD BEHIND these guys. He didn't give up and move on to someone else, he stood behind them. Sure enough, Shawn Michaels went on to become one of the best in ring workers of all time. Bret Hart is known as one of the best in ring technicians ever. They didn't have over the top characters or a muscle bound physique, but they got the job done. From an appearence perspective, they were guys fans could identify with.
Then came the Attitude Era. Many people consider this the best Era in pro wrestling. Some of the biggest starts in the wrestling industry were made during this time. When given the opportunity, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and Triple H all made names for themselves. As Vince said on RAW this past Monday, he thanked The Rock for coming up to him and asking Vince to have the opportunity to let him be himself. Vince gave Steve Austin the chance to express himself, and he became a legendary character. Sure, Triple H married Stephanie McMahon, but he would have gotten over regardless. He had the charisma to make it in this business. He had the passion some lack. Vince again was able to take low-card stars and build them into main eventers.
Even in the mid-2000s, Vince again made new stars. Wrestlemania 21 saw Batista and John Cena defeat veterans Triple H and JBL to win their first World Titles. The build to each man's win was great. You could even argue in 2004 that Vince made stars out of Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero. Sure they were already established veterans, but they reached their peaks in terms of stardom in the WWE. Again, they were veterans who busted their butts for years to get to the top, just like Christian. Randy Orton also became a top star during this era, winning the World Heavyweight Championship in the summer of 2004.
So what does this brief history lesson tell us? That no matter what the time period in the WWE, Vince always found a way to build a new star or two, and make long term main eventers out of them. Fifteen years of the WWE, multiple new stars formed. Vince took the risk with every single one of these guys, gave them the opportunity, and they succeeded. Now sure there are some failures along the way, but those failures were still given the opportunity to try. Nowadays, Vince doesn't even seem to care, and it's been killing the product for the last few years.
There have been numerous young stars who have risen the ranks the last few years that fans have been dying to get behind. Lets go back to late 2009. Kofi Kingston seemed to be the next young star in line for a main event push. He began an angle with Randy Orton, who had just lost the WWE Championship. On RAW, he destroyed Randy Orton's custom made race car. OK, he didn't destroy it, just scratched it up and dumped some paint on it. Then at Madison Square Garden in New York City, he brawled with Randy Orton. The brawl ended with Kingston delivering the Boom Drop through a table. The crowd popped huge for it. Many people considered it a star making moment for Kingston. He was made in front of a MSG crowd. The crowd was behind him. Fast forward a couple months later, and Kingston was back in the mid-card. He apparently screwed up in a match with Orton, which caused Orton to burst out into an immature rant and yell "STUPID" multiple times at him. Kofi was over with the crowd, and a good worker in the ring. But the rug was pulled out from underneath him. He still remains in the mid-card as of this day.
Kofi Kingston went from future star to just another mid-carder in a matter of months
How about Jack Swagger? At Wrestlemania 26, he surprised everyone and won the Money in the Bank ladder match. Five days later on Smackdown, he cashed in MITB and won the World Heavyweight Championship. Fresh blood was finally at the top. The problem? Swagger was booked horribly as Champ. His reign lasted all of two months. He never looked strong during it. He was constantly dominated by the Big Show. He lost the title in a Fatal Four Way to Rey Mysterio. The WWE failed to capitalize on Swagger's momentum. I was there when Swagger gave that "Jack Swaggeer Appreciation" promo with all the trophies and awards, and it was great. The crowd ate it up. It looked like Swagger could handle himself at the top.
Then there's Sheamus. Sheamus made an immediate impact on his first month of RAW. He earned a WWE Title shot against John Cena, and won the title in a Tables match. He only held it for a couple of months, but he looked strong throughout the reign. He then put HHH out of action for almost a year. Sheamus won the WWE Title again during the summer of 2010 before losing it to Randy Orton. But what is Sheamus doing now? After winning the King of the Ring Tournament, he was jobbed out constantly. The guy he put out of action for almost a year, HHH, came back and destroyed him in about 5 minues. Not even in an official match, just a good ole fashion beatdown. There's a running joke over at the Oratory that he is "King of the Jobbers," with his jobber look and jobber hair. I like to joke around about it, but I think there is still potential in Sheamus. He's a guy who could be a dominant heel main eventer, but the WWE has ruined that. Sheamus is a good worker for his size, and can put on entertaining matches. Can the WWE build him back up? Only time will tell.
As upset as we are about Christian, I think the biggest example of dropping the ball in the last few years within the WWE has been Wade Barrett. Barrett won NXT, and it earned him a WWE or World Championship match. Barrett debuted on RAW with the rest of the NXT cast, and they took out John Cena and destroyed the WWE set, very nWo style. Everybody loved it. It was one of the best things the WWE did in years. Finally, they were about to change things up. Barrett looked great as the leader of the group. He was great on the mic. His in ring work was still average at best, but with the right person he could put on a good match in the ring. Many people thought he would be WWE Champion by the end of 2010. The WWE, however, completely ruined the Nexus angle. They jobbed Nexus out to John Cena at SummerSlam. Then when they finally took out Cena and made him leave the WWE, Cena still found ways to torture them. Cena beat Barrett at the TLC PPV, then Barrett was forced to move to Smackdown. He became the leader of Corre, who are now essentially jobbers with a T-shirt. Barrett's momentum has been pretty much non-existent the last few months. What once looked like the next main event push has turned into another wasted opportunity by the WWE. Barrett is in need of a serious overhaul if the WWE want people to think of him as a main eventer again.
The burying of Wade Barrett, and the entire Nexus, was perhaps the most disappointing event in the WWE in 2010
Again, another trip down memory lane. But what does it all show? The poor booking in the WWE over the last couple of years. I like to call it the WWE's "hot and cold" approach. They find a guy they feel like they have to get behind for a few months. They make him look like a star, put him in big angles, win a few matches. Then all of a sudden, they cut the legs out from underneath them. It's obvious that the WWE is willing to give younger talent the opportunity to shine, but the problem is that the talent isn't allowed to do it on a constant basis. When given the opportunity this summer, Wade Barrett looked like a future main eventer. He still can be one down the line, but it all comes back to when Vince McMahon is "hot" on him again. Right now, it's obvious that the WWE, or at least Vince, is "cold" on him.
The lack of consistent new stars in the WWE is alarming. As obvious by my brief history over-run, some of the best times in the wrestling business are when young talents are developed into new stars right in front of our eyes. Often times, when a mid-carder is developed into a top guy, fans get attached to him and are along for every second of the ride. Fans became attached to John Cena and Batista on their rise to the top. The same can be said for Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, and Steve Austin. Some of the best moments in wrestling history are seeing the guys I just mentioned finally reach the pinnacle of success, winning the WWE or World Title.
That is what is missing in today's WWE. Fans are afraid to get attached to a young up-and-comer because their push is more than likely going to get squashed just as quickly as it was started. Kofi Kingston doesn't get as big of pops as he used to in 2009. Fans can't get attached to him. The same could be said for John Morrison. Morrison looked like a star on the rise in 2010. He became the #1 Contender for the WWE Championship. Many thought he would face Miz at the Royal Rumble, but instead he fought Miz on RAW, and Orton fought Miz at the Royal Rumble. That pretty much killed any momentum Morrison had going. He could do all the parkour moves he wants, the fans will be afraid to get attached to him again. It's important in the wrestling business to have mid-card guys that the fans can believe will become future main eventers. These are the guys fans can attach to, and stick by on their rise to the top. That's lacking in today's WWE. They did it with Christian, but again, the rug was pulled out from underneath him. Do you think the fans will be as behind Christian now as they were before Extreme Rules? I don't think so. The WWE had something special with Christian this time around, and they completely ruined one of the best wrestling moments in a very long time.
For some reason, the WWE continues to go back to their core guys, John Cena and Randy Orton. Now this article is not meant to bash these two individuals. While I don't like John Cena's character, and I think Randy Orton has become boring as a character, I still respect what they do. Cena and Orton aren't the people hindering the young talent, it is Vince McMahon and WWE Creative. People who were bashing Orton on Twitter Tuesday night need to realize he didn't go to Vince and say, "Hey, I should be World Champion. Make it happen." John Cena recognizes new stars need to be made. He's set it himself in numerous interviews. But for some reason, the WWE decides to go back to the same stuff we've seen over and over. Now we have to worry about John Cena holding the WWE Championship til Wrestlemania 28 against the Rock. A match that DOESN'T NEED the WWE Championship. Let the title be on the line against two young stars hungry to make a name for themselves.
This is not what fans wanted to see end Extreme Rules
I knew Christian's title reign wasn't going to last long, and I expected him to lose the title sooner rather than later. My main problem is that it was to a guy that has been at the top before. If the WWE wanted to make a new star out of it, they could have at least had Mark Henry win. The heel heat on him would have been tremendous. That dastardly heel Mark Henry ruined Christian's moment at the top! Then when Christian won the belt back, or cost Henry the title, it creates or continues a good feud. But that wasn't Vince's thinking. He couldn't stomach anybody but Orton as the Face of Smackdown, so he felt the need to act as soon as possible.
There will be some that will argue that whoever takes the Titles off of Cena and Orton will become bigger stars because of it. But the question I pose is this: Who are we suppose to believe can do that? C.M. Punk, one of the top heels in the WWE, was just thoroughly buried by Orton in a four month feud. John Cena just beat the Miz twice in two nights. Alberto del Rio has tried twice to win the World Title but ultimately failed. There are no other heels on the WWE roster right now that you could even consider having a chance. On Smackdown, Cody Rhodes just lost his feud with Rey Mysterio. Again, instead of having a young guy go over, the top veteran looks strong in the end. This all points to another problem in the WWE, the lack of a strong dominant heel, but that's another blog post all together.
The WWE needs to do something to keep their long-time fans who yearn for a change. They're talking about re-branding themselves to market to a new audience. Well guess what, long term, I only see that hurting the product more than helping it. The WWE should be concerned about keeping their fans who buy their PPVs and merchandise year after year. These are the true wrestling fans, the people the WWE should care about. Instead, Vince McMahon is essentially ashamed of being a "wrestling" company. He doesn't want that term used. It's sports entertainment. If you're ashamed of being called what you are, then you shouldn't be in the wrestling business.
Awhile ago I wrote a blog looking at the WWE's Youth Movement. Ultimately, that has been a big let down. I thought for sure a guy like John Morrison or Dolph Ziggler would be permanent main eventers right now. Instead, they're floundering in the mid-card. I looked at SummerSlam as an opportunity to do somewhat of a youth movement. I booked that card as if it were a young talent vs established talent event. I still think it would work. The card would need to be tweaked around a bit now, but there's no reason it still couldn't happen. Unfortunately, Vince McMahon probably doesn't think it would draw money.
So what does all my ramblings and history lessons mean? It means that the WWE has shown in the past that when they put their full support behind a young talent, they can get over. Don't take a "hot and cold" approach with them. Go up to a Wade Barrett or John Morrison and say, "You're going to be our next big time main eventer. It's time to up your game and show you belong." That alone would motivate a talent to step up their game. Instead, the WWE has failed to get behind one talent for a long time, and it is ruining their ability to make new stars in the eyes of their fans. It's causing fans to turn away from the product. The backlash the WWE received Tuesday night was justified. The fans FINALLY got behind a new talent at the top, and Vince McMahon pulled the rug out from underneath us. He probably got a good laugh out of it too. If you honestly think Vince McMahon gives a damn what the fans think, you're delusional.
This was probably Vince McMahon's reaction to the backlash on Twitter and Facebook Tuesday night
The problem is, Vince McMahon will continue to do this until fans really start to walk away. We all keep coming back. Even then, he will do something to get the fans back. He did it for Wrestlemania with The Rock. But that is only a temporary band-aid. When Rock is finally gone for good after next year's Wrestlemania, he better have some new blood lined up at the top, or fans will turn away again. Hell, he better have some new blood lined up for the summer when Rock won't be around, or fans might not come back for Wrestlemania 28. The Rock got Wrestlemania 1 million buys. While that is nice, it would have been better if the WWE's actual talent got them the 1 million buys.
I'm 23 years old, and have been a wrestling fan since I was 3. I might not have known all of the backstage workings of the WWE when I was younger, but I could tell when a new star was being made. Now that I know the workings of the WWE and read the rumor sites, it's more upsetting than ever to see no change at the top. It's really hard to say you can just turn away from something that's been a part of your life for 20 years, but this fan is getting dangerously close to doing so.
So to end this long blog/rant, I want to make a plea to Vince McMahon. Yes, I know he won't read it, but I just have to say it.
I've followed your product for 20 years. I was a WWE guy during the Monday Night War Era. I've bought your DVDs and T-shirts. I've gone to every live event in Buffalo since I was 12. I've seen you turn nobodies into main event Hall of Famers. I've seen you at your very best, but I now I feel like I've seen you at your very worst.
I know you're a publicly traded company, and your investors want a profit. But constantly having the same guys at the top will do nothing for you. You've done some of your best business when new stars are made. There's no denying it.
As a man who respects what you've done, I'm asking you to show that you've still got balls the size of grapefruits. If you do just one more thing before you step down as head of the WWE, show that you still have the ability to make great stars before our eyes. Give your very talented young stars the chance to become main eventers. I know they're willing to take the leap of faith, now you have to show you're willing to as well.
Until next time,