WWE Is Great On Paper But Something Is Wrong by Matt Corton

Whether it’s chatter about how this is the most talented roster for generations, top to bottom, or whether it’s chatter about WWE having lost that quintessential good vs. evil dynamic that kept its storylines going for so long, or even chatter about how the current product is getting really stale, I’m hearing a lot of chatter about WWE.

The thing is – there’s an almost universal sense at the moment that the WWE product isn’t where it should be. Not everyone agrees why, as everyone has their different tastes, but whilst there are a few voices speaking out in favour, they tend to be about the match quality and in-ring work, which are things I think everyone can universally agree are great things about WWE right now. Every PPV is above average and in most cases way above average and that’s a huge credit to that roster.

The thing is, the people chattering in a positive light about WWE’s product beyond the ring seem to be those people who are or were involved in the product. All the positive podcasts are ex-WWE guys. All the bemoaning blogs are from fans.

I’d take the latter over the former any day of the week. The reason is, the former are right.

Which doesn’t make any sense. Except it does, because the thing is, this is the best roster they’ve ever assembled, top to bottom, and it is a more open company in terms of who can hold titles than it has ever been. All of the wrestlers know how to do what they do well and they’re doing all the right things, everything they are being asked. It all looks good on paper. Everything looks bright and rosy and we really should be watching the best TV WWE has ever put out because of who the company employ and what they can do.

So what could possibly be wrong?

It’s bad writing, right?

In some cases that’s definitely right. I can’t begin to conceive how someone came up for the idea of an Asylum Match (Ambrose and Jericho last year), but even that pales into nothing when compared with the person, perhaps the same person, who knows, who thought a plant and a jacket should be the main focus of that entire feud. There are countless examples of other head-scratching moments such as Dolph Ziggler’s awful Michael Jackson Shinsuke segment, the House of Horrors match and having the Universal Title off TV for weeks at a time, clearly not learning the lessons of the last time they did that when Brock Lesnar held the WWE Title.

That’s bad writing – but the in-ring product should rescue the bad writing just as it does on the PPVs. Maybe it’s the adverts, or the presence of authority figures, or the fact the matches aren’t long enough on a three-hour show. Which brings me to…

It’s because Monday Night Raw is way too long, right?

Again, possibly the case for Raw, but why then is SmackDown starting to suffer some of the Raw malaise when it’s only two hours of TV? Raw can feel like a chore sometimes, but it also pulls out some of the more experimental material because it’s long enough to do so and get away with it. When Ambrose and Orton were in their initial feud, before Orton joined the Wyatts, SmackDown focused on that feud with more than one segment a show – and it felt to me like those segments dominated that show, whereas there’s more room for something else on Raw.

The trouble isn’t that Raw is three hours, it’s that they don’t fill three hours with enough longer, more in depth content. We’re nations of binge-watchers now; we need something to get our teeth into and so much of what’s on Raw feels like hors d’oeurves or canapés. Which in a way it should be, because it’s a slow build to a PPV, but there’s just not enough of it. Fill a three hour show with three hours’ worth of material that develops and builds character and that gives you something meaty to chew on and – above all else – makes you wonder what will happen next rather than be able to easily predict it and you won’t even notice it’s three hours.

If it’s not those things, then it must be PG, right?

That gets a wholehearted yes from me, but I know it doesn’t bother a lot of you at all. I miss it, but it’s not the swearing or the objectification of women I miss, it’s the fact they made characters feel like real life despite the fact they were fantastical. They reacted in more realistic and consistent ways to their problems and more importantly than that, they remembered their past problems – or at least seemed to. An Attitude Era Rusev wouldn’t have stood by sulking while Rock told him he’d slept with his woman. An Attitude Era chairs match wouldn’t have been a few shots to the back. An Attitude Era promo wasn’t learned by rote.

I miss the hardcore segments. I miss the fact that if you had a chair in your hands you’d hit someone in the head with it, because that’s what you’d do in real life, you wouldn’t turn it sideways and bash it into the gut. It feels unrealistic to focus on the gut and back and it’d be better if they just left the props out if they weren’t going to use them properly . I don’t miss the blood because that got to be too much when it was every week, but I do miss the realistic depictions of what someone would do in a violent situation, which is what a wrestling match should be – not a dance. Spots should look like they hurt and if you’re hurt, you should stay hurt. I appreciate this might not be the way all modern wrestling is going, but no-selling doesn’t wash with me. It stops you getting lost in it as a viewer – but then I know a lot of you are interested in the athleticism and move-sets and will completely disagree with what I’ve just said.

What I’ve just said there, though, is completely paradoxical. Because nobody “sells” getting hit in the head with a chair. You should be knocked out and we know head shots are off limits now due to concussions. If you suffer a hellacious beating in an extreme match, you shouldn’t be on TV for weeks afterwards, rather than just limping for an hour later like they did even in the Attitude Era. But it should feel right. It should feel violent. It’s one of the reasons AJ Styles is so great – he is one of the most energetic and diverse wrestlers in the world, but he never loses sight of the fact he’s supposed to be in a fight. Styles does things that look fantastic, but that still look violent.

So it’s none of those things?

No, not on their own. I think they are part of it for some people, but they don’t explain the fog of disdain about the TV product. I think it’s something else entirely. Whilst all of those three things cause problems, the root cause of why WWE is great on paper and not on screen is simply because of the format. There’s nowhere near enough free reign.

I was watching the Table of 3 with Team Credgeley last night as well as the one with Team Eck. One of the things that both of those shows showed me was how much free reign it seems Edge & Christian (in particular) got to come up with their own segments. They weren’t overly scripted – in fact, Christian tells an anecdote about the “one time” he learned a speech by heart – they were sometimes off the cuff, sometimes goofy and always relaxed.

CM Punk became truly great in WWE when he was given more free reign on the mike. He had enough about him to make sure everything stayed PG and on-message, which maybe they don’t trust all the wrestlers to do, but to have virtually none and to hear scripted words stiltedly spoken doesn’t interest me.

Let them be themselves. Let them express characters they have a say in the development of. Look at Goldust – the guy is synonymous with that character, it’s different, it’s natural, it doesn’t seem like he’s speaking lines he’s learned – it works. Bray Wyatt – for all he can talk about the same things, time and again, or that he verges on the supernatural, he never misses a beat, never stutters over a word and you feel like that’s partly because the words are in part his.

It’s long been said that Randy Orton is stilted in promos – but he’s not in interviews. Let him be himself. And let me clarify – I don’t mean letting wrestlers be themselves – I mean let the characters be themselves. Dustin Rhodes isn’t like Goldust, but he knows exactly who Goldust is and how Goldust would react.

If Road Dogg says it’s all about characters, then where are the characters?

That’s why it’s not working.

Or am I wrong? What do you guys think? Is the wrestling enough? Or am I wrong about none of those three things being the main reason?