The year is 2019. There’s a change in the air of professional wrestling as movers, shakers and newcomers are making waves. There’s a PPV on the horizon. It’s being pushed hard by the company. New matchups, new storylines, new alliances. Fans wait to be amazed, drawing breath in anticipation of the freshness they’ve longed for. As the event draws near and matches are announced, it becomes clear that a man who has wrestled less than five PPV matches in the United States all year is likely to end the PPV holding the biggest title in the company.
Hands up if you’re thinking of Brock Lesnar right now. How many of you had him in mind when you were reading this and were inwardly groaning when you reminded yourself that he’s the current WWE Universal Heavyweight Champion…again? Well, I’m sorry to say that the passage you just read wasn’t about Brock, but instead Chris Jericho. Now you’re fine with it, right? I mean, after all, it’s God damn Chris freakin’ Jericho. But let me ask you this, dear reader; what’s the difference between a wrestling company putting a top title on a 48-year-old or a 42-year-old?
Surely wrestling companies should be pushing the younger talent, right? Well, in that case, shouldn’t you be more content with the younger Brock being a champion rather than seeing Jericho as a contender to be crowned the inaugural champion of the AEW brand? Of course, you wouldn’t and that’s my very point.
Wrestling companies are entertainment and their goal each and every night is to put on, or promise, enough entertainment that you’ll happily be parted from your hard-earned cash. Sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes it’s not. Life, and sometimes pro wrestling, is nothing more than a crapshoot. That’s not to say that wrestling companies are dismissive of their fans, it’s more that fans can be too expectant of their favorite shows and it seems that way as each year progresses. I won’t go into too much nostalgia here, but we’re in an era of our lives when everything is instantaneous. Instant responses to us via text message, WhatsApp, DMs or e-mail. We have everything we need on demand. It’s on our TVs, our phones, our computers and more. We can have whatever we want and have it right now.
I may be showing my age here, but I’m part of that last generation who grew up without the internet. Depending on what you read, I’m a Millennial (someone born in the 1980s), or a Generation Y person, or one and the same. Apparently, we’re a small group in society who mainly grew up before the widespread use of the internet, enjoyed the frustration wonder of VCRs, and had to use pencils with our cassette tapes (only those who know will understand). We were the last generation born before widespread e-mail, telephones with long, twisty cords and the move from vinyl to CDs. Our computer game systems had names like Super and Mega. Perhaps that’s why I and other fans around my age – or especially older ones – don’t really buy into the instant gratification and immediate payoffs many wrestling fans seek. We remember what it was like to wait. We remember when a mine of information wasn’t at our fingertips and it wasn’t all that bad.
Since WWE announced the signings of both Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff to Raw and Smackdown Live respectively, the internet and many WWE fans were buzzing with anticipation about what lay ahead. So much so, that some were predicting wholesale changes just days after the announcement. Raw was going to be this, Smackdown will be like that, etc. I wrote about what the future may hold with both men taking on such huge roles in the company, but I certainly didn’t expect top to bottom changes right from the get-go. And because there haven’t been such massive changes, many fans are already complaining. The most recent gripe being Brock Lesnar cashing in Money In The Bank this past week at Extreme Rules. I didn’t groan about this – although I certainly didn’t cheer it – but I think we need to take a step back and see the bigger picture here.
Prior to Heyman and Bischoff taking on their new roles, Brock Lesnar was already holding the Money in the Bank briefcase. If there was going to be a new regime in which Brock Lesnar wouldn’t be considered a long-term option for the Universal Title, the problem still remains that he had the briefcase. Now, WWE could go one of two ways here; either have him lose the briefcase to someone in a match or cash it in quickly and get it over with. The first option ain’t gonna fly. Brock hardly ever loses, so why do that? The second option seems a lot more sensible. Get the monkey off WWE’s back and have him cash in quick to remove the looming presence of the beast at every Seth Rollins match. With stage one complete, and Brock now the champion, WWE can still do their planning on how to take the belt off him. See? That’s not instant gratification, but a considered, measured response to an issue WWE had.
I’ll use another example. Eric Bischoff has yet to take the reins of a single Smackdown Live. Is this an outrage? Is he abusing his new role and refusing to start until he wants to? How dare he build up the fan’s expectations like that and not deliver instantly with his ideas. No. For those of you who aren’t aware, WWE has signed a massive deal with FOX in the USA to show Smackdown Live for over $200 million per year. As John Canton wrote in a recent post on the site, FOX is going to push WWE hard and not just the blue brand. It’s also expected that NXT will be given a prominent spot on national television too – perhaps as direct competition for the fledgling AEW weekly shows. This is a huge deal for WWE and will see a fire lit under the writers, bookers and wrestlers on Smackdown Live and also perhaps NXT. So once again, I ask you to take the metaphorical step back. If you were Vince McMahon or Eric Bischoff, would you jump in with both feet the moment you took on the new role, or would you assess the lay of the land and see the FOX launch on the horizon? What would you prioritize? The here and now? Or the huge opportunity mere weeks away? I know which I would choose.
I think WWE knows exactly what they are doing. I think they know what plans they have in the future and right now are merely laying the foundations for something far greater that should take our breath away. Yes, they’ll make missteps here and there, but the road is long and there are some huge opportunities ahead. I think we need to take a breath and buckle our seatbelts, folks. This could be a wild ride.
“Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment – that which they cannot anticipate” – Sun Tzu
As always, thanks for reading.