By April Lavalle, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@imatoofbrush)
As if a steady diet of seven hours of regular programming was just not enough for the average WWE fan, the company introduced the Mixed Match Challenge on January 16.
Streaming live on Facebook Watch immediately following Smackdown, the Mixed Match Challenge pairs up one male and female wrestler to act as tag-team partners in never-before-seen matches, all in an effort to raise money for charity. Sounds fun, right? I think so!
However, the live viewer count for the Mixed Match Challenge have been disappointing, to say the least. Week one of the MMC saw 135,000 viewers. By week four, live viewership dropped to just 77k.
But I think there is a lot to love about the Mixed Match Challenge.
Look, I question whether Vince McMahon even watches Smackdown, so I am nearly certain that he does not watch the MMC, if he even knows it exists at all. Without so much pressure on the performers to stick to the script and deliver for 2-3 million viewers, the talent definitely appears looser and more at ease, allowing themselves to show that they are not only talented athletes but also gifted improvisers.
As a result, everyone genuinely seems to be having fun. And what is professional wrestling if not fun? From their quick, pun-filled promos shot on cell phones to their in-ring performances, you get to see glimpses of every wrestler’s actual personality outside the characters assigned to them by creative. Many of the tag teams seem genuinely excited about the MMC, and the audience gets the benefit of experience wrestling that feels truly collaborative. Yes, it is a little “sillier” than your usual, anger-driven WWE plot, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.
As a matter of fact, it would seem that the more lighthearted content from the WWE has been getting positive fan responses, even the scripted segments on Raw and Smackdown.
The ‘Fashion Files’ revived interest in Breezango. The ‘Symphony of Destruction’ match from Monday’s Raw was delightfully stupid. And, of course, most WWE fans are more than happy to celebrate Rusev Day every day.
Even the whole Braun Strowman and Alexa Bliss romance plot doesn’t feel icky to me, unlike most love-driven plots scripted by the WWE (cough, cough Nia Jax and Enzo Amore). Although, I have to admit, I personally feel like they didn’t need to go there to make their tag team work.
But still, the numbers are down. And I get it: it is a hard sell to get people away from their televisions and onto Facebook in the time between Smackdown and 205 Live. Some of the WWE’s biggest draws, such as John Cena, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins, are not participating. And although the matches are no longer than 20 minutes, adding even more wrestling into one’s weekly viewing schedule can feel unnecessary and overwhelming.
I think the biggest contributor to the low numbers is because WWE has failed in properly promoting it. Sure, they mention it once or twice during the broadcast, but they have never weaved it into any of the scripted plots in any meaningful way, so the MMC feels very much like an unnecessary add-on. Plus, now that we know Asuka’s streak “counts” even if her partner, The Miz, eats the pin…it sort of feels like we know the outcome of the whole thing. Hopefully. Oh god, please don’t mess this up, WWE.
Ultimately, the MMC is a low-risk way for the company and the talent to try new things, and I hope that they incorporate some elements from the tournament into their regular programming. Specifically, I think that this proves that many people on the roster can be given more room to improvise, and that over-scripting the athletes often makes the content fall flat. I am also hopeful that this was a way of the WWE inching closer to more mixed-gender teams. And although I doubt the WWE will ever introduce inter-gender wrestling, it makes me hopeful that the company is becoming more and more comfortable with having men and woman stand next to each other in the ring.
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