Lutz's Blog: WrestleMania season isn't the antidote for what ails WWE
By Jeffrey Lutz
This year, I'm not buying it.
Don't take that too literally. I'll buy Royal Rumble and I'll buy WrestleMania (OK, my dad will), but I won't buy the idea that part-time stars will show up between January and April and save WWE from the malaise it has endured since the final balloon fell from the rafters after Daniel Bryan captured the WWE Championship at SummerSlam.
There is, unfortunately, a lot of reality to cancel out my feelings, and I can't ignore it. A few weeks ago I wrote that WWE will be fine because part-timers like Brock Lesnar, Triple H (a part-time wrestler, anyway), Undertaker and maybe others will return sometime during the winter and the fans will follow. Ratings will spike, WrestleMania will approach or surpass one million buys, and WWE will waltz into April looking perfectly healthy.
I've believed that for a while, and I even held onto that belief when I wrote those words last month. The last few weeks have shown me, however, that WWE isn't healthy, and WrestleMania season can no longer be counted on as an effective remedy.
WWE will sell its fans on a polar-opposite philosophy. Someone will threaten Undertaker's WrestleMania unbeaten streak, a part-timer will face a full-time star in a "One-Time Only" affair and it will seem like that's exactly what the fans want. To a point, it is. Undertaker is WrestleMania's biggest draw and Brock Lesnar is perhaps the most compelling character and personality in WWE during the 21st century.
People will believe that hype because they've become conditioned to believe it. Somehow, in 2013, there is speculation -- or at least hope -- that Hulk Hogan, Goldberg and Sting will appear at WrestleMania, and that Goldberg and Sting may wrestle. All of those former greats are aging, to say the least, but somehow they're going to make WrestleMania a more grand spectacle. It's a farce and, quite frankly, it's insulting.
Goldberg has delivered entertaining matches because of his mystique in WCW during the 1990s, but he's never had a technically sound match. My intelligence is insulted when the idea that Goldberg could help rescue the WrestleMania buyrate by competing against someone like the equally clunky Ryback is presented. I, for one, would rather see Dolph Ziggler in an "attraction" match, but that is never going to happen. WWE doesn't believe Ziggler is an attraction now, so he can't be in 10 or 15 years. Never mind that Goldberg was also treated as an also-ran during his brief WWE tenure. Why Goldberg when Damien Sandow could become just as appreciated?
When WWE thrived, cameo appearances at WrestleMania were unnecessary. It was a positive consequence of WCW's popularity during the mid- to late-1990s that WWE couldn't rely on past stars like Hogan or Randy Savage to deliver a strong pay-per-view buyrate, since they defected to WCW (and many other stars from earlier WrestleMania events had passed away), and Vince McMahon and his writers had no choice but to create new homegrown stars. The Attitude Era's mythology grows seemingly by the day, but one fact from that era is that part-timers wouldn't have been needed even if they were available.
The great WrestleMania matches from the Attitude Era -- Austin vs. Rock, Hart vs. Austin, Jericho vs. Michaels, Lesnar vs. Angle -- all featured participants in whom WWE had a long-term vested interest. The notable exception is Rock vs. Hogan at WrestleMania 18, but Hogan was a full-time star then and that was one of WWE's only opportunities to present a "passing the torch" match at the time.
During the last two WrestleMania events, six of the eight "Big Four" matches have included at least one part-timer. The other two were World Heavyweight Championship matches and one of those, Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus two years ago, lasted 18 seconds. WWE claims that the planning process for the next WrestleMania begins immediately following the current year's, but every year WWE looks more unprepared. Just like with Raw, documentary DVDs, merchandise and other facets of the business, WWE has settled into a formula and doesn't appear interested in deviating from it.
At least the WrestleMania formula is more tolerable than a three-hour Raw episode. Undertaker's streak will never lose its luster, and appearances by The Rock and Lesnar are accompanied by a novelty that isn't quickly worn off. But instead of making a strong push toward the road to WrestleMania, WWE sputters toward it. That's why we're forced to suffer through "Raw Country" and the increasingly anti-climactic Slammy Awards as go-home shows for PPVs instead of hard sells for the events. That's why long-term plans constantly change. It seems as if WWE's writers coast because they know they can continue to coast when Undertaker, Lesnar, Triple H and (possibly) The Rock arrive with their abilities to sell matches on their own merits.
WWE has to scrap that formula eventually, and I wouldn't mind if it was this year, aside from continuing Undertaker's streak. I'd be bummed if Lesnar didn't appear at WrestleMania (and I know his contract and headliner status assures he'll be there), and I know Triple H and The Rock could have entertaining matches with exciting build-ups. The buyrate would suffer without these stars, but the long-term health of the company would improve. If you tell me persistently that C.M. Punk, Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Bray Wyatt and Roman Reigns are as larger-than-life as Austin, Michaels, Hart and John Cena, I'll eventually believe it and WWE will have its WrestleMania headliners for the next 10 years. Better yet, it will have the stars who can help build the next crop of headliners.
Come every January, WWE treats itself as if it needs to be saved, and part-timers come running with their life preservers. It never seems to occur to WWE that the company can only save itself.
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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