WWE: Building Bridges by Marc Madison

It would be easy to condemn them. It would be easy to say that WWE is just evil and that all they provide fans with is poor writing and poor character development. However, though it is easy to do that doesn’t mean it is necessarily true. Fans will often question what their motives are if all that is filtered down to them is nothing more than watered down programming. That in some way, hour after hour, we are delivered filler, rather than opening the door each week to a character and revealing a little more about them. It is fair to say that the characters on Smackdown Live are given time to develop their characters, and the script is often allowed to cross over to other WWE affiliated programs such as Total Bellas and Total Divas. We have been exposed to some interesting developments for the likes of John Cena, TheMiz, Bray Wyatt, AJ Styles, Randy Orton, Dean Ambrose and so on, and, despite being a shorter program they are given ample time to make their characters grow.

It isn’t new for fans to question the character development on Raw, and how time isn’t used efficiently to develop any of the divisions. However, that being said, does that mean that WWE isn’t actively seeking to improve? The simple answer to that is no. They are the number one company in the world, with mass appeal and an outreach that far outweighs what their competition is doing. Impact Wrestling,ROH or Lucha Underground are North American promotions that strive to be competition for WWE, but may only be able to achieve a certain ceiling of success because of the lack of resources and appeal to other markets. Impact Wrestling (formerly TNA) is going through a transition, ROH also appears to be going through a transition, and Lucha Underground’s programming is filmed like a weekly television program with a break-in between.

For as much criticism as they seem to receive, WWE continues to work to improve their product. How could they not? Many wrestlers speak about their Performance Center and the time allocated to help them develop their athleticism, characters, and skills in the ring. If they hadn’t wanted to improve would they have brought in the likes of AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Eric Young, Bobby Roode, Roderick Strong, and Austin Aries? These performers they have brought in are established men known for their time competing in promotions such as ROH and TNA. They also have brought in a number of female athletes, and talent from Europe as well that have earned a name for themselves around the world. Names such as Kimber Lee and Heidi Lovelace may not be well-known to some, but will become known as their skillset is such that it is hard to ignore them. Lovelace and Lee are two new recruits that joined the WWE’s Performance Centre this past fall and are working to refine their skills before appearing on television. Lovelace is going to be competing under the name of Ruby Riot, believed to be someone that will feud with Nikki Cross as part of sAniTy’s feud with Roderick Strong, Tye Dillinger and No Way Jose. As someone that has seen both of these women wrestle up-close during independent shows, I can attest to how good they both are. It will only be a matter of time before we see them competing on televised NXT programming.

Is everything the company does fully refined and not meriting criticism? No, but that doesn’t mean that they are just as critical of themselves, and how things turn out. You might assume that they aren’t as committed to making each division as strong as it could be. That, however, could not be further from the truth. The women’s division in NXT appeared to be lacking, but with the increased role of the likes of Billie Kay, Peyton Royce, and Ember Moon, the division has building blocks to build upon. With the addition of Heidi Lovelace (DoriPrange,) Kimber Lee (Kimberly Franklee,) and Crazy Mary Dobson (Sarah Bridges) it shows that the company is working to improve that division.

The other area of concern that tends to float around is the NXT men’s roster. The recent return of KassiusOhno has been great to see, but what else is in store for this division? A returning HideoItami will provide competition for NXT champion Bobby Roode, but effective use of another talent on the roster becomes a necessity. We need to look no farther than the addition of Dutch-born wrestler and UK phenom Tommy End. End will be competing in NXT as Aleister Black. Fans have probably seen vignettes, where he is just a shadowy figure in a darkened room surrounded by candles. End had a match against Neville as a special feature during the WWE UK championship tournament, using the Tommy End name. Fans of Progress Wrestling who were in attendance gladly showed their appreciation for his debut. Other names such as AndradeCien’Almas and OneyLorcan are also on a trajectory to be elevated up the card as well. It isn’t all rainbows and butterflies, but it isn’t the seventh sign of the apocalypse either when looking at the NXT roster.

WWE’s commitment to improving is also evidenced by the staff that works feverishly behind the scenes to make these men and women ready for air time. Adam Pearce, Matt Bloom, Terry Taylor and Fit Finlay are all long-time agents that have seen what it takes to be successful in the ring and how it is important to work on your craft outside the ring. These veterans have competed for Ring of Honor, the WWF/WWE,WCW and Japan, and in their time have seen how the interests of fans move and change as well.

Look at the effort put into presentation. However, despite how much time and production goes into each house show, each televised show, and each pay per view, it is impossible to think mistakes won’t happen. The goal of the people in these roles is to ensure that the few times that mistakes do happen a recurrence is prevented. And production errors are few and far between. Injuries take place too, as risks are taken and sometimes the result is that the talent gets hurt, and are sometimes out for prolonged periods of time. However, a commitment to improving has to go beyond what is safe, and risks are taken sometimes.

The Stephanie McMahon character is easy to dislike. Does she need to be a focal point of Raw? Not necessarily. However, her character being enough to grate the nerves of anyone that detests someone who has power and believes they are better than the people they employ may very well be the goal. Could a revolt by the talent work as part of a storyline? It surely could, but it would take the time to be done effectively, unlike what we witnessed with the Team Authority versus Team Cena feud at Survivor Series.

What some would be less aware of is the work the likes of Triple H and William Regal do behind the scenes to improve the product. For instance, one of the most notable independent promotions in North America is EVOLVE. EVOLVE has housed talents such as OneyLorcan (known then as Biff Busick), Drew Gulak, and Tony Nese, and has even included such former WWE and current TNA talent as Drew Galloway and Ethan Carter III. EVOLVE is owned and operated by GabeSapolsky, who ran Ring of Honor in the past. His knowledge and ability to find and book talent consistently says a lot about his knowledge of wrestling, and how highly he is valued in the sport. What is remarkable to note about Sapolsky is that he is respected by Triple H as well. Triple H has appeared at several EVOLVE shows and has been photographed backstage as well. It could mean nothing, but it could also mean something, and suggests that WWE is eager to watch young and up and coming talent competing for the promotion.

It would be nice to simply think that Triple H is in attendance to watch the talent, they are also looking to build bridges with different promotions. EVOLVE, while smaller in its production and scale, has developed a working relationship with WWE. While WWE is without a doubt the bigger of the two companies, they are in a legitimate partnership to seek out new talent to help strengthen their company in all facets. That means helping to replenish NXT’s male talent roster (as we have seen with the additions of Gulak,Nese, and Lorcan), its NXT women’s division, and seeking out companies from all over the world to help bring in and develop their tag team, division. It says a lot about their effort, and bringing in talent from other promotions such as Pro Wrestling Noah or New Japan Pro Wrestling means the company won’t simply seek local talent, but rather invest their time and money developing seasoned wrestlers to improve the company to where it needs to be.

It is easy to be cynical and focus on the bad of what WWE does, or complain that their programming isn’t highlighted by anything noteworthy or remotely mentionable. We could simply sit here and suggest that being the biggest company means there isn’t an effort to improve their overall product, but that isn’t true. With a company that does as many shows annually as they do, they realize that injuries will happen. The wear and tear on bodies mean that they need to develop new talent to replace those that will/could sustain an injury. It is a cycle that for some seem endless, but in order to provide fans with the best possible show, they know that they need to think ahead. There is always a plan in place, and even though we may not always see it, WWE is attempting to build relationships with other companies because they know in order to stay on top they need to think long-term.

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