The last PPV of 2003, WWE Armageddon, from Orlando, FL on December 14, was a huge let-down, from a standpoint of presenting less than the average episode of RAW, for a $34.95 price tag.
The two problems were most evident was, first of all, WWE’s transparent attempt to make Evolution stars from the show, positioning them as the top group of wrestlers on RAW by having control of all of the men’s titles (Randy Orton is the Intercontinental Championship, Batista and Ric Flair are the Tag Team Champions, and Triple H won the Heavyweight title from Bill Goldberg). Unfortunately, Batista is an average wrestler, Randy Orton hasn’t hit his stride yet, and Triple H is not Ric Flair. And Ric Flair, at 53, can’t take Hunter’s position.
Naturally, any group of heels that fans can see right through will fail, unless it is because they hate the cowardice or hatefulness that they portray and want to see the face avenge their wrongdoings, but that’s not the case with any member of Evolution, or them as a whole. Titles, especially the weak ones that WWE has, cannot always act as a method of building someone or a group up, there has to be something else.
Orton going over Van Dam in this type of setting meant less for both considering they fought on the same night as Evolution was given the belts. By changing the belts in such a manner, you are making a sacrifice for something, like a stronger stable. But how is Evolution stronger? The controversial main event was so because of Triple H’s title win and people’s disgust with Triple H. Is it blind disgust? Probably. But is it unfounded? No, it isn’t. The fact is, by Triple H winning, everything that has been done with Goldberg has been sacrificed almost completely. Surprise: Goldberg’s contract has been worthless and it has nothing to do with Goldberg. Kane is pretty much out of the picture. The bottom line is that Triple H’s title win accomplished nothing, just like the match itself. A Goldberg-Kane encounter that was avoided for month was, well, still avoided.
The second problem from the show was the wrestling, which like last month’s dual-brand Survivor Series PPV (which was successful only because of a hot match featuring a classic comeback scenario casting Shawn Michaels in the lead role), was lackluster in terms of poise, crispness, time, and workers that actually click (styles and levels of ability). The house show touring circuit, besides being a source of revenue and manner to be more intimate with the fan base, is supposed to be a chance to improve craft. They have not accomplished this. Since the onus has been on people like Brock Lesnar, John Cena, and Batista to improve greatly in a short amount of time, while on a demanding tour and with a demanding push, they have all struggled, with Brock Lesnar probably being the most successful.
While the WWF PPV format in 1997 called for average work on PPV matches, drawing critical disgust but consistent PPV numbers for a year rebounding from 1996, 2003 is obviously a different year, and the work standard in WWE, which has taught fans that a good PPV should have a **** – ****1/2 main event and ***1/2 undercard matches, must meet high expectations. Especially with a burgeoning independent main-stays such as Ring of Honor, offering up ***** Low Ki matches at live events. Coupled with average booking, is why only 7.9% of the people who responded to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s poll on the event, said it was a “thumbs up,” or worth $34.95. Despite a rebounding economy, that price tag, with this quality of shows, will continue to chip away at the WWE fanbase that purchases PPVs and goes to house shows and buys merchandise. In other words, the ones who fill their coffers with that handsome $94.4 million they drew last quarter.
This show proves the weakness of the RAW brand like nothing else. Despite strong television programs for at least two months, the brand has yet to captivate the audience, move ratings, draw buys, create strong interest in this PPV, or accomplish some of the most fundamentally meaningful booking moves that need to be made. Praise for RAW has not been tempered, which, come the weekend of the event, and the days following, became apparent to people trying to figure out what was wrong with the card going into the PPV. I have reserved my praise of the TV for this reason. None of the TV built up great feuds, which meant most of the show was filler, right off the bat.
Entertainment is one thing, and it is important, but it is not the only aim. By disrupting logic in another attempt to turn the product around, WWE has found a way to draw praise, but over several months, valuable time has been wasted. Mick Foley’s unspectacular reign as general manager has not meant anything for ratings, the three weeks before his reign drawing four-hundredths of a ratings point higher than the three weeks of RAW that encompassed his reign (this normalized rating replaces the quarter hour featuring the Rock with the hour average without that segment). This shows how disinterested casual fans have become with the product and instead of making drastic changes with the product, listening to new ideas, changing the booking style, and using new guys; the company has decided to try to keep the old and do the new too. John Cena, Randy Orton, and Batista (the only of which has been complete has been Orton, and Cena for a few weeks) do not make up for the fact that Paul London and Spanky are a tag-team on Velocity. Or that the focus of the television for the past three months has been on a stale Triple H, non-wrestlers Steve Austin, and the entire McMahon family.
Armageddon has helped to make reflections on the past year more negative, in realization of the fact that WWE is no farther than they were last year, and there is no indication of them getting better under Vince McMahon.
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