One of the biggest wrestling news stories of the first half of 2016 was the Ricochet-Will Ospreay match at New Japan’s Best of the Super Juniors Tournament. It was a dizzying display of high flying moves and technical precision that caused the typically reserved Japanese crowd to breakout into chants of “this is awesome.” While these chants are commonplace in American wrestling, it was the first time I ever heard the phrase uttered on a Japanese show.
The match generated such an intense online buzz that non-wrestling outlets covered it.
Unfortunately, the first glimpse of the match that many Americans saw were a series of GIFs which lasted mere seconds. These videos cherry picked some of the more explosive moments and didn’t give viewers the full context and emotion of a match that went 16:47.
While many in the wrestling community praised Ricochet and Ospreay for putting on a state of the art performance there were just as many, including legends Vader and Jim Cornette, who criticized it for being a glorified spotfest. Some went so far as to say that these two extraordinary talents were killing the business.
If anyone is killing the very foundation of professional wrestling then it’s WWE Chairman/CEO Vince McMahon. Despite having a team of two dozen or so writers it’s Vince’s vision of wrestling that dictates what we see each week on WWE programming, especially on the company’s flagship Monday Night Raw. Creatively speaking, the buck stops with him.
The booking on the July 13 episode of Raw only magnified the reasons why fans are losing interest in the current product.
For starters the show kicked off with a battle royal to determine the #1 for the Intercontinental Championship. Darren Young, who has been promoted for weeks with a series of vignettes featuring WWE Hall of Famer Bob Backlund, won in the most unconvincing manner possible. Not only was he booked as an afterthought throughout the entire match, but he only won after Apollo Crews and Baron Corbin eliminated each other.
Why should fans get behind someone who essentially backdoored his way into receiving a title shot?
Things got even stranger later that evening when Zack Ryder lost clean to Sheamus in a match that served no apparent purpose, other than to further reinforce why Ryder shouldn’t be taken serious as a legitimate threat to anyone. This result wouldn’t be considered as newsworthy under normal circumstances, but Ryder is the one challenging Rusev for the United States Championship next week at Battleground. Sheamus isn’t involved in a major program and it’s unlikely he’ll be added as a third participant to the championship match. So it’s not like Sheamus would’ve been hurt by a loss.
Why should fans get behind someone who is consistently made to look like such a loser?
Raw also featured the much hyped showdown between the Wyatt Family and New Day that was filmed on location at the Wyatt’s compound. It was a blatant ripoff of TNA’s recent Final Deletion showdown between Matt and Jeff Hardy. Final Deletion may have been cheesy, but at least it was entertaining and effective for the direction they’re going. WWE’s version came off as being second rate and seemed to hurt the New Day-Wyatts program.
Even the way WWE is going about booking the SummerSlam main event of Randy Orton vs. Brock Lesnar boggles the mind. Not only have both been off television for months, but Orton even sent a congratulatory tweet to Lesnar following his UFC 200 win over Mark Hunt which seemed oddly out of place even for him.
While Orton vs. Lesnar is a fresh program there is no reason to promote it so early without any storyline ramifications. WWE’s decision to promote so far in advance may prove disastrous since Lesnar was recently busted on a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency violation that could put his SummerSlam appearance into jeopardy.
Each of the instances I’ve described are emblematic of a deeper problem that has permeated WWE booking this year: laziness and arrogance. It’s for this reason that Vince has abandoned nearly every rule that has applied to wrestling since the beginning of time.
Longterm storytelling is nonexistent. Promos are terribly overscripted. The announcers (on Raw) have zero credibility. New guys come in and lose immediately thus killing their momentum. Tag teams and factions are designed for the sole purpose of splitting up. Top heels and babyfaces are routinely emasculated by Vince’s daughter Stephanie. Guys are pushed only to wind up in the same or worse position weeks later. Programs begin and are then dropped at a moment’s notice with no explanation given to fans.
While Vince may think he’s being creative, he’s actually cutting off the fans’ emotional attachment to the product. Ratings have nosedived to near record lows this year. If Vince doesn’t care about the ramifications of his actions then why should fans?
He can get away with putting on such a subpar product because there is no real competition that can compete with the global juggernaut WWE has become. WWE would be in trouble if there was another wrestling company that had a prime time slot and the financial resources that media mogul Ted Turner had when he launched WCW Monday Nitro in 1995.
The most perverse part in all of this is that these problems are only exclusive to the main roster. NXT, WWE’s developmental brand, contains virtually none of these inconsistencies. Everything on there makes sense. The same goes for WWE’s Crusierweight Classic. With only one episode under its belt its presentation and announcing makes Raw look pedestrian.
I doubt that we’ll see any real change in the product until Vince steps down from power. We’ll get a fresh coat of paint such as the upcoming draft that will make things more interesting for a short period, but the underlying issues will be waiting just underneath the surface.
There is a generation of fans growing up that will have no idea of what it’s like to witness a year-long program unfold from start to finish such as Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage going into WrestleMania 5, or a personal grudge like Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho in 2008. They’ll never see two transcendent megastars on the roster at the same time like Steve Austin and The Rock. They’ll never see guys start from the bottom and rise to become legends of the business like Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart.
The lack of attention to detail is astounding for a man who once paid meticulous attention to every aspect of his company. These days Vince is known for changing his mind at a moment’s notice. He even joked about this in a tongue-in-cheek manner during a recent an interview with Renee Young on Raw.
While intended to be a cute moment, it was another sad reminder of how far Vince has fallen from his peak.