By Dan Murphy, OWW Columnist
I have been writing about pro wrestling for more than 17 years now, and I can tell you that it’s a lot easier to be negative than positive.
Anyone can be a “Tuesday morning armchair booker. It can become toxic, really – if you’re always focused on what’s “wrong” with wrestling, you lose focus on the artistry, the silliness, and the storytelling that made us fans in the first place.
So, in an exercise in sanguinity – or, perhaps, evidence that my anti-depressants are working this morning – here are a few reasons to be cautiously optimistic about WWE’s immediate future.
The WWE Network is Struggling. At first blush, that seems like a cause for alarm. It’s definitely causing migraine headaches at Titan Towers. WWE over-estimated the domestic customer base for an on-demand network, and it under-estimated costs, resulting in a precipitous drop in stock prices and a belt-tightening austerity movement. Things are tough at WWE; everyone is feeling the pressure.
And that’s the sort of environment that pushes people to excel.
When WCW pushed Vince McMahon’s back against the wall during the Monday Night Wars, McMahon responded with edgy booking and rapidly elevating new stars who got over with fans. Adversity helped WWE change its product and to look for new ways to re-engage the audience.
WWE needs the network to succeed. To try to attract new subscribers, the company will likely have to overload the next few pay-per-views with marquee, never-before-seen match-ups. If established names like Randy Orton and Sheamus aren’t moving the needle, then the company is going to get behind fresh faces and see what works. WWE investors are going to demand to see some progress in the third quarter, which means the next two-and-a-half months should see more cameo appearances (Bret Hart and Ric Flair appeared on consecutive weeks), surprises (such as the Sting promo video), and unique matches. The next three months could help right the ship or put WWE in a financially precarious position.
There’s a Buzz Around NXT. There are several developmental prospects that can bring a lot of excitement to the main roster. Adrian Neville, Sami Zayn, and Charlotte have the potential to be instantaneous title contenders. The recent acquisition of KENTA is also extremely promising. Others – like Mojo Rawley, The Ascension, Bayley, and The Vaudevillians – have charisma and could provide at least a short-term boost of excitement (similar to Brodus Clay and Fandango when they both debuted).
These talented developmental stars are keeping some of the lower-tier members to elevate their game. Main roster stars are looking over their shoulder. That’s a stressful position for them to be in, but that competition for roster spots can be good for the company as a whole.
Roman Reigns. I know I’m not exactly going out on a limb here, but I think Reigns is WWE Champion material … and the sooner, the better. WWE has a heck of a find in Reigns, a powerhouse who combines The Rock’s cocksure bravado with Goldberg’s aura of intimidation. Forget the traditional title chase; WWE ought to have one incident between Reigns and John Cena on Raw to whet the appetite, and then schedule a championship match exclusive to the network. The sooner WWE puts the belt on Reigns, the better. If he flops as champion, Cena is always there to take the reins (and hopefully Daniel Bryan will be back a short time after that). Reigns has a natural charisma and – from what I hear from fans of the fairer sex – a sex appeal that no one else in WWE possesses. It’s time for WWE to capitalize on those traits.
Legends, Legends Everywhere. In recent years – and reportedly, largely due to the efforts of Triple-H – WWE has mended the fences with disgruntled former stars. Historically speaking, WWE has not been kind to wrestlers once they leave the fold. Bret Hart was branded as a crybaby (much like CM Punk is being portrayed now). Lita was sent off in humiliating fashion (when Cryme Tyme raided her bags and had a “Ho Sale”). Others have been run down on commentary or ignored altogether.
Though Punk is a notable exception, WWE now has working relationships with previously outspoken WWE critics like Bruno Sammmartino, Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, and Roddy Piper, as well as The Rock, Steve Austin, and Shawn Michaels. In large part, WWE has made peace with its own history. Having relationships with alumni – be it former world champions or midcard talent – opens the doors for cameos and surprise returns. It is, for example, entirely possible to see The Rock in a WWE ring with Sting, or Bruno Sammartino and Hulk Hogan in a side-by-side posedown.
Nostalgia can wear thin quickly, but having the opportunity to stage such unique pairings (such as the opening segment of WrestleMania 30 featuring Hogan, The Rock, and Austin) gives WWE the ability to cross generations of fans and to potentially re-connect with fans who have strayed away from the current product.
— Dan Murphy