Like many of you reading this article I frustratingly made my way through Sundays WWE Backlash event, a show that certainly brought out the anger in many wrestling fans across the world. Most fans on both Facebook & Twitter expressed their disdain for Backlash and attributed it to the worst qualities we know the WWE can bring out every now and then, I however saw Backlash as part of a much bigger picture.
Backlash to me didn’t just represent everything I dislike about the WWE product but was the boiling point of so much pent up emotion & frustration I’ve been having lately.
In 2016 when the re-introduction of the brand split came about, the new WWE business model excited me; 3-4 smaller shows (like Backlash) in between the 4 marquee spectacles (Royal Rumble, SummerSlam, Survivor Series & WrestleMania) that occur seasonally and would set the tone for everything leading into the next respective event. This model isn’t just brilliant on paper but can adjust the flow of your entire product to work to perfection if executed correctly, clearly, I don’t believe this has been accomplished.
The last 6-8 months of the WWE product as a whole has quite frankly drained a little bit of the life out of me. The expansion of the company and its ever-growing roster of talent might be exciting to some but to me comes across as incredibly overwhelming. Some were ecstatic over the announcement of new show concepts such as ‘The Greatest Royal Rumble’ & the combination of both brands under monthly network specials instead of the traditional 2 shows per month method they had been following, but my excitement seems to have sadly dwindled.
As a fan for close to 2 decades now this concerned me, has my passion for the business gone? Is wrestling too stale? Is the product not as exciting as I once remember it to be? The answer however was dead-centre the entire time, the mainstream WWE product is simply exhausting.
When I refer to exhaustion I in no way mean it’s entirely poor booked or scripted, I mean we as fans are being fed far too much in what seems like such a short space of time, but in reality, is a combined 7-hours of weekly television between Raw, Smackdown, 205 Live & NXT. This combination excludes the occasional specials WWE tends to place on its Network, such as; The Mae Young Classic, Cruiserweight Classic, Mixed Match Challenge and countless others we can expect to be announced anytime now with summer just around the corner.
But surely the only way to critique a product is to look at external competitors, right?
A product as broad at the WWE gives us the perfect opportunity to analyse the issues from its own internal structure and thankfully we have more than enough evidence to sink our teeth into and get an idea of far larger issues lurking below the depths of what we as fans tune into weekly.
The NXT product is arguably the best professional wrestling product on the planet right now and arguing against this would be quite the challenge.
This brand acted as Triple H’s pet project, something he took under his wing and over time turned into a global phenomenon which many cite as the best thing going under the WWE banner, having outshined the main roster talent of the company on countless occasions. It combines everything great about the art of professional wrestling; the simple yet excellent storytelling, compelling characters, rabid audiences & some of the best in-ring work in the business of the last 5 years regardless of the company you choose to discuss.
What I find as the main attraction however, is the brands use of timing. Only providing one episode per week that runs anywhere from 45-60 minutes, NXT is able to cram a ridiculous amount of fun professional wrestling into a small space of time that surprisingly works.
A format such as this keeps it simple, rotate your storylines on a weekly basis while keeping the key championships at the forefront of your programming & let the wrestling do the talking. It may not provide the eccentric energy and chaos of the 90’s Attitude Era but that isn’t the intention here at all. It’s a classic call-back to the roots of the business and does it in a way I never thought could be so perfect.
Using familiar faces from International brands such as Asuka, Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, Finn Balor, Aleistar Black & many more is also a brilliant move on the part of the brands creative team, as it introduces the wrestling world to names some never thought would have the WWE light shun on them. The brand isn’t exclusive to just independent talents though, current names such as Velveteen Dream & Lars Sullivan were homegrown under the WWE Performance Centre and have been highlights of the programming for months now.
NXT itself highlights the primary aspect the 2 mainstream WWE shows slips up on, the importance of timing. Brands such as Smackdown & RAW may provide some good storytelling & wrestling, but both shows clock in at 5 hours of weekly programming, something a lot of us don’t have time to sacrifice for regardless. This only gets worse when we take into account each of the brands key events, in this case NXT’s TakeOver specials which run roughly 3 hours as opposed to the 6-8 hour monstrosities that the mainstream product offers us every 3-4 months.
While I understand those that enjoy the spectacle of the WWE product in its weekly televised shows, it just isn’t enough to substitute for a more coherent and simple form of entertainment that NXT can provide fans with. Many of us have jobs, hobbies & interests outside of professional wrestling that potentially cannot be fulfilled with the level of dedication the mainstream WWE product requires from us, as sad as that may sound.
You may read this as anti-WWE and pro-NXT rhetoric but all I’m doing is comparing a product to another one that I feel will give us as fans far more to sink our teeth into. After all, it’s always quality over quantity.
The Greatest Royal Rumble
My overall tone & voice to this article, is as stated, one of exhaustion. Which is something I highly attribute to the overcrowding that the WWE product has currently. By overcrowding, I mean far too much content with very little breathing room that us fans need in order to appreciate what we’re given on a weekly basis. I see no better way of displaying this, than mentioning ‘The Greatest Royal Rumble’.
I previously wrote an article expressing my excitement towards The Greatest Royal Rumble, its cultural significance and what it meant to myself, someone originating from the Middle East. Regardless of how much hype the company placed behind it, the final product certainly didn’t live up to the expectations we were leading to believe.
The show itself felt like a prolonged house show, featuring one-note matches (albeit an excellent ladder match) & a main event that never quite clicked with the live crowd in the manner we’d imagine it would. Add on some of the bizarre booking decisions that took place throughout and you had a show that while large in scope, presented very little content with any form of re-watch value behind it. However, it wasn’t the failed expectations that are the primary issue here, it’s the shows long-lasting impact on the fans across the globe.
Being assigned the task of following up WrestleMania 34 seemed ambitious on paper, but you can only drag out so much excitement from a global fanbase that is already pre-exhausted from what transpired a matter of days before this event went underway. WrestleMania is our version of Christmas and this show felt like a forced rehash of it at a time when we need to kick back for a little while to soak in the events that occurred in New Orleans. It also didn’t help that the WWE’s Post-WrestleMania schedule featured the ‘Superstar Shake-Up’ roughly 8 to 10 days prior, their dual-branded Backlash event which would occur shortly after and last but certainly not least, their annual tour of the United Kingdom.
What I’m trying to express here, is overkill. Plain and simple. This in no way means ‘The Greatest Royal Rumble’ is solely responsible for the excessiveness of WWE content, but it’s a representation of such issues. Any larger scale franchise, brand or product maintains its relevancy & excitement behind it by letting their loyal customers behind it breathe for a while, giving a chance for what has been produced to resonate and sink in while plans for any future developments be slowly introduced as time roles on.
Understandably, many will disagree with me on this point, as the nature of the professional wrestling business is a non-stop thrill ride with ‘‘No Off-Season’’ as we are told every week by WWE commentators. You can’t change the nature of the business, but you can change the way its structured to keep fans more in tune with the excitement you’re attempting to resonate through your programming.
I obviously appreciate The Greatest Royal Rumble for what it was, and the efforts put in by the massive roster present on the day, but all of this just seemed like far too much at a time when we need far less. It also wasn’t helped by the car crash that followed.
I don’t really have as much to say about Backlash as I do the other sub-topics in this writing, partially because of how outright terrible I found the show especially since I had to sit through it between 1am and 4am in the morning.
Backlash wasn’t just panned by critics online but to anyone who saw the show live, angered the live audience in ways we rarely see nowadays. From fans walking out of arena to chants for CM Punk, the WWE seemingly turned an entire fanbase against a show that had all the potential to be the years best, and you don’t blame those who acted in that manner in the slightest.
We got swerves we never asked for, match conclusions that were flat-out ridiculous, matches that came across as nothing but rushed & the constant reminder that Roman Reigns is bigger than even the WWE Championship when discussing the main event slot. Decisions like these won’t just anger your fans but will have them questioning their dedication to you entirely.
Most of us admire the company’s determination to build up the ‘Next John Cena’, but its clear this is yet another issue that exhausts people like myself and that’s being force-fed talent. Guys like Roman Reigns are insanely talented without question but from a logical perspective, how many of us are buying into him in the role he’s being pitched?
The man is certainly over but just not in the way the WWE would like him to be and this is clearly on display now that his 3rd straight big match has come out with disastrous results. We currently have of talents like Braun Strowman & Seth Rollins who the WWE Universe adores with every ounce of their heart but instead we are served a man that seems ‘out-of-date’ if you will.
Booing a talent remains cool for a little while initially but as anyone watching this product knows, we aren’t that easily wavered into thinking the way a set of certain individuals wants us to and much like Backlash, these decisions come back to haunt you.
They say the first sign of madness is doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting different results. We can all but confirm this is a topic the WWE has clearly lost their minds over.
I doubt there is another topic in the world of professional wrestling, aside from the Monday Night Wars that has been done to death in the way that of 50/50 booking has over the last number of years.
To those who are clearly mature enough to avoid the constant complaints of internet ‘fanboys’, the concept of booking in wrestling is how a character is presented in regard to his/her wins & loses which in turn impacts the credibility of these characters to the general audience. One of the biggest plagues of the WWE product is just this, 50/50 booking which relates to even numbers of both wins and losses amongst feuding characters.
The primary issue of such a direction isn’t just how boring it can be in storyline but that it generally stagnates much of the programming it’s attached to. Nobody buys into a character that loses all the time and when you make a character so invulnerable he/she never loses, it can on occasion hurt the character in a similar manner in making any feud they have remotely interesting. There is however no curse more harming than going neither direction and having characters trade aimless wins & losses.
Currently we can look at the Bobby Roode vs Elias feud. Now I happen to be a massive fan of Elias, who may have the most over gimmick in all of WWE, but I’d be lying if I said Bobby Roode has turned into anything more than just a catchphrase at this point in time. A feud like this can be used to introduce the newly drafted Roode into a refreshing new role and potentially further elevate the status of Elias, WWE however have turned it into easily the most stagnant part of each weekly RAW show.
Why is it so stagnant you ask?
Because there’s no endgame. Fans of your product aren’t going to invest in a feud that just consists of passable matches on a weekly basis and this is the same mistake we’ve seen WWE conduct for what seems like an eternity.
Both ‘Road Dogg’ Jessie James & Triple H themselves in the past have stated that wins & losses generally ‘don’t matter’ in the grand scheme of the WWE product, an answer I’d never expect from two names so synonymous with the business. Talents such as Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, The New Day, Rusev, Jinder Mahal, Baron Corbin & Bayley have all suffered because of this particular issue, in spite of all the mentioned names possessing more than enough talent to hold their own.
Watching the product as long as I have, I doubt this will change anytime soon. A part of me hopes this trend continues and eventually the company’s creative team but as a fan I feel an obligation to express what a negative impact this style of booking is having on my long-term interest in storylines and like any wrestling fan, we deserve the best from every aspect.
Solution – What now?
I can easily see people misinterpreting this essay in a negative light and take it as a simple bashing of the WWE product as it currently stands. The truth is, the WWE & Professional Wrestling are a massive part of who I am today as a person, providing me with some of my fondest memories to date and is something I love so much that I spend my days writing pieces like this.
In no way is this intended as simple slander, it’s a look at the product from the eyes of someone who sees countless glaring issues with what the WWE is trying to do and there is no better time than now to fix them. Simply throwing the solution of ‘listen to the internet more’ is certainly not the way of overcoming these obstacles, if anything that would be regressive, the WWE however need to open their eyes to the issues that are facing them.
Some of what I spoke about may not seem like much, but each point represents a much larger picture, and something I fear will result in the backlash of many fans who have remained loyal for so long. I do not implore any fan to act in the manner that some fans this past Sunday at Backlash did, but there is a growing tension between the WWE and its fanbase with each passing major show and like we saw this past week, that tension could lead to something ugly.
I along with millions of fans love this business and will stand by it for as long as I can, I’m just sick of my passion being taken for granted.