By Will Pruett
On Saturday night, I did a thing I’ve managed to avoid doing for about five years; I watched a UFC event. I am not usually a fan of real fighting. After all, I believe there is a reason we started faking it. Real fighting isn’t interesting enough. Toss in some bouncy ropes and a couple well-timed backflips and suddenly fight seems fun. Fighting did actually seem fun on Saturday night though. Whether is was the solid company in a Buffalo Wild Wings located in the center of Suburbia, the interesting event, or the hypnotic effects of a yellow octagon mat, I’m not sure (actually, it was the company). What I am sure of is WWE’s failure to capture the imaginations of potential fans on Saturday.
Let’s start with some background information: many UFC fans are lapsed or potential WWE fans. You see it all over the internet. UFC people tend to talk about “when wrestling was good in the Attitude Era” or “when it felt real” and while these views tend to over-praise the late 90’s (which were more than slightly terrible), they show an affinity for what wrestling could be. In many ways, UFC shows the evolution of what mainstream professional wrestling could have been if it had evolved past 1997.
Before Brock Lesnar’s victorious return to the eight sides of chain link, WWE had the opportunity to roll a commercial. This may not seem like much, but sitting in the bar on Saturday night and seeing this roll on a UFC pay-per-view was more than slightly surreal. WWE’s commercial was for Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton at SummerSlam. This was a logical thing to do. People are excited about seeing Brock again. Some of these people may have forgotten that Brock, aside from being a UFC fighting man, also plays “The Beast Incarnate” on WWE TV. It was a solid opportunity to remind them.
WWE went about reminding people in the wrong way. Instead of telling the amazing parallel stories of Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton, WWE chose to show an overly orange video with competitors taking abuse from each man while commentators spouted catchphrases and silly nicknames. In a sense, WWE chose to show everyone why they don’t watch professional wrestling. This was a poor decision.
This creative choice wouldn’t be so easy to critique if there wasn’t a noticeably better way. WWE could have shown a 60 second mini-documentary style show. They could have told us about Orton and Lesnar training together in OVW, being contenders for 2002’s Rookie of the Year (a fictional award WWE could easily ret-con into existence), and both being the youngest men to capture WWE’s top prize(s). Brock left WWE in 2004 as Orton started to rise. Orton became a legend (and legend killer, if you want to be witty) in Lesnar’s absence. After Brock returned, they never faced off. Orton’s returning from injury looking to prove he belongs. Brock is looking to continue dominating the WWE scene where he hasn’t been truly beat since 2012.
Let a voice-over artist do the heavy lifting as the video makes it seem like both men’s careers have been heading to this point all along.
WWE chose to offer way too much flash and sizzle, in hopes of exciting people, when they could have relied on the exceptional story Orton and Lesnar’s lives tell. This illustrates the key problem with WWE storytelling. They want to pump everything full of trademarked phrases and spectacle instead of telling a real story. I learned nothing about Orton and Lesnar from WWE’s sepia-toned waste of space. I didn’t leave the bar on Saturday looking forward to what was next for Brock.
In contrast, all over this show, fans saw UFC telling compelling stories about fighters as people. Each video did have a forced narrative, but these narratives were close enough to truth for fans to buy into them. It’s easy to manipulate truth to tell a story than to create an entire fiction. This is especially true when one relies on JBL and Michael Cole to voice this fiction.
WWE made a major tactical error on Saturday night. They had the attention of the world as Brock Lesnar fought and they chose to offer silly spectacle over substance. I wish I could say I was surprised, but it’s just what WWE does.
Lower-level creative minds within WWE, fans, and even wrestlers themselves know how to tell better stories than the whole of WWE does. The machine that used to make stars we felt were “real” now makes a cartoon sepia world. This was a major missed opportunity, but not a surprising one.
Will Pruett writes about professional wrestling, pop culture, and anything else he feels like writing about. Got thoughts to share? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email me at email@example.com.