Lutz's Blog: Pressing the reset button is only a temporary fix to WWE's problems
By Jeffrey Lutz
WWE is going to be fine, and I hate that.
I'm not rooting for the company to fail -- just the opposite, actually. As a longtime fan and now someone who analyzes the business, I want to be part of something that means something, rather than feeling like I'm involved in a niche form of entertainment and a company without an identity. I want WWE to thrive, but I believe major changes are necessary. This week's episode of Raw showed that any changes will be merely cosmetic.
WWE didn't completely turn the page on its dwindling summer story lines, but Raw introduced just enough new angles and, potentially, new principal characters that it seems obvious that WWE is moving on from many of its summer elements. Daniel Bryan has apparently moved to the periphery as he transitions, it seems, away from any involvement in the main event. John Cena is back to being John Cena, but acts such as the Wyatt Family and Damien Sandow may see their roles expanded as the end of the year approaches.
The changes are just enough to keep WWE fans watching through the winter, even though Raw will likely produce inconsistent stories and meaningless angles designed solely with that light at the end of the tunnel -- WrestleMania season -- in mind. By the time the product becomes less interesting, which it always seems to do, the Royal Rumble will be upon us and even the most critical and impatient fans will be forced to return.
It's a seemingly endless cycle that never pays off for WWE. Not all of the viewers who abandoned the product during those infamous lulls return, and television ratings either stagnate or gradually drop. Television ratings are no longer the be-all end-all of WWE's popularity, but they provide a fair sample of which way the product is trending. WWE, though, manages to keep enough viewers every year that it no longer takes chances. A WWE championship run from Daniel Bryan would have been taking a chance, and sooner or later WWE will have to try something drastic because they'll recognize that ratings and popularity can't get much worse. We're not at that point yet, so fans are forced to live with the status quo.
What makes WWE's refusal to change so frustrating are constant signs that it may finally be branching out. Examples of those signs were abundant Monday, as Damien Sandow finally got the chance to shine that so many hardcore fans feel was long overdue. Sandow didn't successfully cash in his Money in the Bank contract, but he had a competitive match with John Cena and made his eventual appearance in more high-level matches seem anything but far-fetched.
WWE must recognize the opportunity it has with Sandow. The story with Cena is and always will be his ability to win matches even under seemingly dire circumstances, and that has made Cena's character feel stale to many fans. The way to keep Cena fresh, though, is to give him fresh opponents and make them credible enough to oppose him in a pay-per-view main event and portray them as threats to taking his title. Giving Sandow the title Monday night would have been a mistake, because not enough fans see him as credible or threatening. After the match, though, those traits were clearly evident, and WWE may have a new star on its hands.
Hopefully the company capitalizes on Sandow because too many other potential new stars have reached a glass ceiling. The main-event storyline features some solid performances from Big Show, Triple H, Randy Orton (sometimes), Stephanie McMahon and others, but those characters don't need any help. One act who could use a boost, the Shield, is being marginalized because WWE apparently ran out of ideas for the trio. Everything unique about that group was eliminated when it began serving as henchmen for Triple H.
WWE must not have learned its lesson, because it may be happening again with the Wyatt Family. It's too soon to tell if "The Devil made me do it" referrs to Triple H or another authority figure influencing Wyatt's actions, but nobody should influence Wyatt's actions. Wyatt, as the leader of a cult-like group shouldn't follow anyone. We haven't learned enough about him or his minions Luke Harper and Erick Rowan to the point that they should branch off to become loyal to authority. It's a waste of what makes Wyatt special.
Then, of course, there's Bryan. WWE misused him so badly that he lost much of his summer momentum, but Monday showed that much of it remains. Bryan's presence in the ring during a promo prompted fans to chant negatively toward Shawn Michaels, who hasn't been jeered in 15 years. Even though it was obvious Michaels was the heel in that scenario after what he did to Bryan at Hell in a Cell, it's still an accomplishment to get fans on your side when the other side is made up of the greatest performer in professional wrestling history. Even if Bryan isn't a near-future WWE Champion, his remaining favorable fan reaction should keep him at the top of the card.
Even though I don't necessarily love the genesis of WWE's new angles, introducing these stories Monday makes for must-see television in the coming weeks. WWE, from me at least, gets chance after chance to prove that is has learned from its failures, but every week I tune in to a formulaic edition of Raw that may boast the ascension of a once-middling character or an angle that burns hot for a week or two. WWE's reset will keep me -- and many other fans, I assume -- watching. But that doesn't mean it will be good, and it doesn't mean WWE should stick with what is just barely working.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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