By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
There’s no denying that drama, scripted or not, is one of the fundamentals of an entertaining pro wrestling show. It can be manufactured in a bevy of ways. Surprise. Suspense. Unpredictability. The blurring of the lines. If the distance between pro wrestling and a scripted piece of art isn’t really all that far – and, let’s be honest, it’s not – it’d be impossible to claim that the element of drama isn’t imperative to the success and growth of a pro wrestling company. This isn’t a new observation.
But damn, man.
Like, really. Damn.
These days, drama engulfs the two biggest American pro wrestling companies and I’m not so sure the bit is working anymore. Maybe it’s fatigue. Maybe it’s become predictable. Maybe it’s just too much nonsense and not enough … you know … wrestling. Whatever it is, there’s an overwhelming feeling of apathy that I can’t shake when I take a look at both situations, even if one is supposedly rooted in reality while the other is rooted in good, old-fashioned screenwriting.
We’ll start with the latter. WWE’s Bloodline saga has captivated wrestling audiences now for years. It’s been compelling, interesting, and entertaining all the same. Not only did it completely reimagine Roman Reigns, but it also elevated the Usos and has essentially made Solo Sikoa. Plus, instead of yelling Brock Lesnar’s name each week, we now see Paul Heyman as one of the most fun characters he’s ever portrayed – a subservient man who walks the line between authority and underling in masterful ways on an impressively consistent basis.
But as I wrote almost a month ago to the day in this very space … well, I’m just getting tired of it:
“The frustrating thing about the Bloodline was that for the longest time, they were the exception (to everything bad in WWE),” I wrote in July. “They weren’t time-fillers. They were intriguing. They bucked the trend of WWE forcing wrestlers to memorize lines and recite them in a way that felt both inauthentic and corny, and if nothing else, those segments felt like they were as real as it gets in WWE Land. The problem now is they’ve taken that great thing and run it into the ground. You can almost predict when Jey Uso is going to smile, when Roman is going to fire up, who’s going through a table and how Solo Sikoa is going to play his body language while each person talks. It’s not that we’ve seen it once; it’s that we’ve seen it 100 times. The first 50 were good. The next 25 were OK. But between 75 and 100 … I mean, honestly.”
And to think: That was written before SummerSlam – a SummerSlam where Jimmy Uso returned to cost his brother Jey Uso his match against Roman Reigns. From there, Jey yelled from the heavens that he was done not only with the Bloodline, but also WWE, as Smackdown went off the air this past Friday. Just when you thought the minds behind the story had run out of ideas to keep the thing burning, we’ve now been given a Jimmy who says he tried to save a Jey from himself and a Jey who just said, “To hell with this; I’m out,” after super-kicking a Jimmy. Perhaps the most fun thing to come out of that development is that once Jey declared his intentions to leave the whole thing behind, WWE instantly threw his WWE.com profile into the alumni section, presumably thinking that such a move would help fuel speculation that the Uso actually quit the company.
There’s no way that’s true, of course – but let’s be honest: If WWE somehow allows Jey to pop up at, say, one of the GCW shows in Chicago during All Out weekend (and let’s not forget that Brett Lauderdale seems to have a cozy relationship with WWE), that would be the most fun the pro wrestling business will have seen in years. Still, the moment on Friday was clearly designed to keep the train moving down the Bloodline money rails and ensure that those record gates in each city keep rolling in. The problem for me was that while the twist was supposed to leave us wondering what’s next for the story, I could barely muster enough energy to shrug my shoulders at the latest development because this thing has just gone on way too long.
Or, well, it’s gone on way too long in my eyes, at least. My eyes don’t really matter as long as WWE continues its winning streak wherever it goes while the Bloodline sits at the tippy top of every card. Objectively, then, we can say that drama sells in WWE – even if we have to tag that with the “so far” qualifier in this context. I’m a head case, so I’m not equipped to be on the TwitterXToks, but from what people tell me, I’m not the only one who at least kind of/sort of finds the Bloodline stuff at a point where it inspires little more than an eye-roll. Maybe a break is needed. Maybe Reigns needs to lose his title. Maybe another character needs to be inserted. Who knows how those guys can stick the landing, but the one thing I do know is that if Heyman wasn’t lying when he said the story is only in the third inning, I think I’ll be heading to the parking lot well before the seventh-inning stretch – even with the wrinkle of Jey supposedly quitting the company.
From there, we go from the supposed to the real (or something in between, perhaps?). Over in AEW, CM Punk is doing all of the CM Punk things, and he’s taking off-air public shots at Hangman Page while some AEW talents are being barred from even being in the building at Collision tapings. Who knows what’s true? Who knows what’s real? Who knows who (if anybody) is to blame? But at this point, someone has to wonder aloud when enough is enough.
Love or hate The Elite, Punk actually looks like a child these days. It’s been almost a year since Brawl Out had an entire wrestling community on pins and needles, and we don’t seem to be anywhere closer to any type of resolution. Working under the assumption that everything that is reported is indeed true, someone needs to stand up and be the grown-up in the room because this is getting even more tired than the Bloodline nonsense – and this is supposed to be real life! We can roll our eyes at Jimmy Uso saying he was trying to save Jey from himself because that’s part of a story written for entertainment purposes. But certain wrestlers of a company not being allowed in an arena that is used for taping television shows for said company? Come on, now.
In truth, if this is all just part of one big master plan, it can work because it gets all the behind-the-scenes fans talking and it would, in theory, accomplish something WWE never did, which is a true brand split. The notion of a true draft or split between Smackdown and Raw is laughable at this point, but hell, if certain wrestlers actually aren’t allowed to show up on Saturday nights in AEW while others might not be welcomed on Wednesday nights, we’d have something cooking here. The problem, of course, is that we’ve been led to believe that the hatred is real, none of this is part of a pro wrestling story and the entire thing won’t be paid off in the end.
And if that’s the case, I’ll say it again for the people in the back: After this past weekend, CM Punk looks like a child if everything that’s been reported turns out to be accurate. It’s all so small. We’re a year removed from a really rough night for everyone involved and we’re still taking pot shots after the cameras go off the air (and, while this is written before the latest episode of “Being The Elite” is released, I’ve got to think there will be some type of wink and nod comment that’s designed to belittle Punk in return from the other side of this issue as well). If the drama here is written, it’s as tired as the Bloodline; if it’s real life, everyone looks petulant.
But does it sell? Well, “All In 2” surpassed 80,000 tickets sold over the weekend, so something is working in AEW. Are those tickets sold in direct response to the Punk/Elite drama? Well, there’s no match on the card that might highlight their friction, so my guess is no. But there’s no denying that AEW has stars that can sell the company to a worldwide audience, which isn’t something that can be said for many other startups by year five of its existence. There’s drama. And the company is thriving. It’s just impossible to pinpoint the correlation between those two things and the masses – and that’s if a correlation even exists.
As for me, I can’t say I’m into any of it anymore. Just because a story is long doesn’t mean it’s good. The same goes for the line between working and shooting – a story isn’t automatically good because we don’t know what’s what in the context of a potential real life issue between people. Punk might have a master plan and a lot of hope for the future … or he might just be a dick who has no problem throwing around his political weight.
The same notion goes for the fictional world of the Bloodline. Jey Uso “leaving WWE” might be a nice shot in the arm to the program if we don’t see him again for another handful of months … or we could throw all that out the window and have him pop up on Smackdown in a few weeks to set up a PLE match. Whichever one it is in both scenarios, it’s time to move on.
At the end of the day, do we know how well drama sells in pro wrestling? If the record-setting gates and the rise in popularity is any indication, then the answer to that question has to be “pretty damn well.” For some of us, though, it’s a fine line between intriguing and impatience and I’m firmly on the latter’s side these days when it comes to the biggest dramas in both WWE and AEW, real life or not. My biggest curiosity then becomes this: Speaking in the long-term, does this short-term influx of drama compromise the ability to make the next batch of it relevant? And if so, will these issues, written or real, ultimately have an averse effect on the product some three to five years from now?
Don’t forget: Drama, when exploited, can drive you away as quickly as it lured you in. Which side will these issues end up on and when do those dominoes begin to fall? Time will tell. Here’s hoping it tells us much sooner than later.