I’ve said on many occasions that professional wrestling is a business and none more so than WWE. A conglomerate with fingers in a variety of pies is, at heart, a wrestling promotion. There are other branches of the business such as merchandise, films, online network and charities. They’re on the stock market and considered the biggest name in the professional wrestling industry. They sign multi-million dollar deals with television networks and also hold semi-privately-funded shows in Saudi Arabia. Some don’t like that last one, but it only serves to emphasize the point that it’s purely business and all that matters is that each decision WWE take makes them money at the end of the day.
To that end, WWE are a popular brand that continues to evolve. Of course they’ve been guilty on more than once occasion of resting on their laurels and basking in the glory of their number one status in the world, but on occasion they require a jolt or boost in popularity and across the many media outlets in the world. One sure-fire way of doing this, is to try and reach out to potential audiences by tapping into popular culture and bringing on board a name with a ‘celebrity’ status or appeal.
The choice of ‘celebrity’ varies wildly, depending on their pull at the time and more likely the money WWE is prepared to invest in having a familiar face show up on one of their shows. The problem with that – and with popular culture in the current climate – is that ‘celebrity’ seems to be a catch-all word for people who are just known for something (and not for something necessarily admirable either), instead of someone who is well-known or popular though their good works, deeds or positive influence on the world. WWE had Grumpy Cat on a Monday Night Raw for heaven’s sake. A cat. A miserable-looking cat is (or was, as it has since passed away) a celebrity.
Do celebrity appearances draw in viewers or make the product better for the current WWE fanbase? I think that depends a lot on the celebrity in question and what they’ve been brought in to do. The earliest one that was very successful I can think of is when Mike Tyson was invited to Wrestlemania 14 as the special guest referee in a Heavyweight Title match between Shawn Michaels and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Tyson had been involved in a brawl with Austin on TV prior to Wrestlemania and the news had spread around the world. Clips were shown on news and sports outlets and the interaction created a huge buzz. Naturally, it led to new audiences tuning in to the PPV to see how it would all end. Tyson was brought in to bring in fresh eyes and it worked.
Tyson is/was a legit badass and his involvement was limited physically, but still packed a punch (terrible pun, sorry). He even returned to partner with DX some years later. Other well-known names have also had limited involvement but haven’t made such a lasting impression. Hugh Jackman clocked Dolph Ziggler for real in an impromptu tag match on a Monday Night Raw – although he insists Ziggler told him to hit for real and he’d duck out of the way (which he didn’t). Pee Wee Herman had a forgettable appearance. Mickey Rourke and Shaq started angles that never led to in-ring action. I’ve no idea who LaVar Ball is, but I know his segment sucked. I also don’t know who Michael Che and Colin Jost are, but I remember their terrible involvement in an ‘angle’ with Braun Strowman.
In all fairness, not every celebrity has crashed & burned in WWE. The music artists who play entrance music for some of the talent are great additions. Snoop Dogg, Flo Rida, Joan Jett and Nita Strauss were superb when they were on. Strauss’s performance for Shinsuke Nakamura is one of my favorite entrances in recent memory. It’s not just music though as the ‘Guest Host’ spot, though usually underwhelming, did on occasion provide some good memories. Bob Barker hosting the Price is Right being one of the best. I think the bigger a fan of WWE the celebrity is, the better it works. If someone is drafted in who knows nothing about WWE or wrestling, then it shows pretty quickly. Respect the business and it’ll respect you back. One could make the case that Andy Kaufman and Arnold Schwarzenegger both knew this when they interacted with pro wrestling in different eras. Kaufman’s legendary feud with Jerry Lawler was so epic it was the catalyst that spawned the movie Man on The Moon.
So what of the WWE talent and the impact made to their careers by these celebrities? Right now we’ve been seeing clips of Tyson Fury interacting with Braun Strowman on Monday Night Raw. I like Fury and especially his work in raising awareness for mental health issues. His boxing career saw him declared the undisputed heavyweight champion, however since then he hasn’t managed to hit those lofty heights again. He may not be ripped like Anthony Joshua, but no one can doubt he was the #1 guy in the sport at one point. If he’s going to be involved with Strowman then I’m all for it. Strowman has been an afterthought too many times and deserves to have some type of story or feud thrown his way.
If celebrity involvement is kept to a minimum or saved for outside the ring, then it can work. The current US President, Donald Trump, had a fun time that involved shaving Vince McMahon’s head at a Wrestlemania alongside Raw’s new lothario, Bobby Lashley. However, too much involvement can have a negative impact.
As a fan of WWE, I don’t want to see too much non-wrestling action, especially from someone who doesn’t care about the product. A segment here, a backstage interview there all eat into the production time and five minutes wasted on Snooki spouting crap on TV is five minutes that could be used to develop a wrestler’s character. An in-ring segment like Miz TV interviewing someone unknown outside of the USA could be a ten-minute match for the Miz and a guy kicking rocks out in the back. I’m all for celebrity involvement to help boost WWE, but in moderation and with consideration given to the guys and girls in the locker room who are there every day busting their asses for audiences around the world. They should never have to play second-fiddle to someone drafted in for a big payday – unless it has a positive impact on their own wrestling careers, just like it did for Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 14.
WWE recently announced they were bringing in a raft of celebrities for the upcoming draft between Raw and Smackdown. Being in the UK, I have literally no idea who any of those people are besides Michael Vick, who I know was an NFL player for the Falcons and Eagles. It would be like me getting excited for seeing Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and Ian Wright on a WWE show over here. Names that are very well known for us Brit soccer fans, but likely unknown to the majority of North Americans. Perhaps I’m not being fair in my judgement, as those listed to appear for WWE are likely very well known in the United States and Canada, but speaking for the UK population of WWE fans, they don’t make me want to watch the shows any more than I already do. To me they will take up valuable time that could be used to showcase matches. Each to their own, I suppose. As long as the draft gives us freshness in the product, it can only be a good thing.
Are there pros and cons to celebrity guests? Of course, but they can be a necessary evil and a good promotion tool to reach a wider audience. Not every person brought in makes a difference, but WWE can afford to take chances on trying something new – hell, they get berated enough times for not doing that, so why not? I’m happy we see celebs on WWE TV, but as long as they’re in a limited capacity and don’t take anything away from what we’re all there to see and what a WWE audience expects – wrestling.