For several years now, Vince McMahon and his subordinates have presented us with the idea that wrestling is a generational thing. “The business” goes through ups and downs and the theory we’ve been given states the downs correspond to a change in generation. History shows that there is definitely some truth to that statement. However, the key word in the previous sentence is “some.” You see, how many viewers you have ultimately depends on what product you present to them. And the truth is that the WWE product hasn’t been hot for a few years now.
The easiest proof of this is the fact that the company’s biggest annual event – WrestleMania – has been highlighted for 5 consecutive years by Attitude Era stars who were hot in the 90s:
WrestleMania 28 (2012) – The Rock vs. John Cena in a “generational battle”; Possible The Undertaker vs. Triple H Part II.
WrestleMania 27 (2011) – Hosted by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson; Triple H vs. The Undertaker, and appearances by Trish Stratus and Steve Austin.
WrestleMania 26 (2010) – Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker (Career vs. Streak); Bret Hart vs. Vince McMahon
WrestleMania 25 (2009) – Triple H vs. Randy Orton in a great storyline gone bad but highlighted by Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker (Part I)
WrestleMania 24 (2008) – Ric Flair vs. The Undertaker (Retirement match)
While John Cena and Randy Orton – the company’s two most-pushed stars on television – have been a fixture at all of these events and often competed in the main events for championship matches, notice that their names appear once only (each) as highlights. The most memorable moments of these events had very little to do with the current line-up of WWE wrestlers.
Every business, since WWE loves using this word so much, goes trough a down time. It’s just a part of the game. There’s nothing wrong with that. What’s important is that the people running the business realize it, and take the appropriate steps to correct the problem. Most older fans who have turned out argue here that the company dropped the ball on that.
Recognizing strong sales of merchandise when it came to the company’s two most kid-friendly and kid-beloved characters – John Cena and Rey Mysterio – added to Linda McMahon’s run in politics, the company worked very hard to go PG a few years ago. This seemed like a final straw for a lot of fans who had been sticking around. While PPV buys were down (kids have to convince parents to buy PPV events), merchandise sales and live event attendance were through the roof. WWE stuck with their direction, which also makes sense – kids become teens and young adults and that’s when you change back to a TV-14 rating to keep up with their interest. They can also now afford to buy PPV events themselves.
The plan was set in stone and the company operated this way for a while, but other problems came into play. Besides lukewarm writing, the company’s most capable and bigger money-making stars were leaving one by one. A trend started by Ric Flair saw Shawn Michaels, Batista, and Edge retire for different reasons. Chris Jericho has been in and out of action, splitting his attention to his band Fozzy. Age caught up with Triple H and The Undertaker, who were constantly out with injury and have not appeared on television since their WrestleMania bout. (In the case of Triple H, he has for the most part retired to work backstage in the transition steps of the company.) For the past two years, the company’s reliance on Randy Orton and John Cena as their two biggest stars had become necessary business-wise, but redundant storyline-wise. People simply stopped carrying.
As we mentioned earlier, however, it’s important to recognize when things aren’t working. That’s where the positives come. The June 7, 2010 edition of Monday Night RAW saw WWE’s best-executed angle in quite some time. Wade Barrett, the winner of WWE’s new star-making program, NXT, and the losers from that show united as Nexus to attack John Cena and CM Punk during their main event battle. They destroyed the RAW arena, tearing down the ring ropes, barricades, announcer’s desks, etc. They beat up Jerry Lawler and Justin Roberts (the infamous tie-choking incident that got Daniel Bryan fired), and proceeded to destroy the untouchable John Cena with a vicious beating. The level of realism in this execution was tremendous, as witnessed by the reaction of the audience. There were shots of crying kids and young teenage girls in the audience. Several fans in the front row, after Lawler, Roberts, and the bell-man were attacked, reached over the barricade and rung the bell pleading for help from the back. While the follow-up to this angle wasn’t the best (a known WWE issue – hotshoting an angle and not following up), it created a few new stars in Wade Barrett, Daniel Bryan, and Justin Gabriel. However, the hidden message and usage of realism in the story wasn’t incidental. It was WWE’s first plead to its old-generation fans they lost out to UFC to rejoin. The company’s refusal to recognize UFC as a competitor was blown out of the water. WWE was shooting a very simple story of “I want to be a star and to be a star I need to take down the current star and take over” with a realistic component added – the very nature of what UFC’s business is. It was also an outcry to older WCW fans who had witnessed the nWo storyline unfold.
It was the first time WWE recognized it’s in trouble. Unfortunately, not much changed, as the youngsters they chose for the role weren’t ready for the main roster, and lost credibility quickly. WWE’s writing team helped that by once again refusing to give a rub to the stars and instead choosing to ultimately protect Cena (who was “fired” as a result of the storyline and showed up a week later – an embarrassing development that Vince McMahon even brought up recently on RAW).
While the problems continued, one year later the company chose to side with The Miz in making him a bigger-stature star, realizing his potential with the media who are interested in him due to his reality TV days. The company signed one of Mexico’s biggest stars (Dos Caras, Jr.), unmasked him to become Alberto Del Rio and pushed him through the roof with the idea he’ll be a big star. He has definitely inserted himself in the mix. These two stars have helped freshen the product up, but ultimately they seem lost in the shuffle again with the company siding with Cena and Orton as their biggest stars.
The second biggest attempt at drawing older fans came the past few weeks. This one was much better. WWE decided to take advantage of CM Punk’s talking ability and his somewhat credible status as former 3-time World Champion to pull a trick that’s very useful every so often in wrestling – exposing the business. It has been the most talked-about storyline in years, giving WWE tons of exposure online and in the mainstream media, leading to a PPV match between Cena and Punk, where if Cena loses, he’s fired (?), and CM Punk whose current contract expires the day of the PPV would steal the WWE title and go to another promotion. In the process, Punk was the voice of many older fans who have had the same complain about the current WWE product. A business driven by egos where nobody who runs things actually seems to know how to make a star because they are so out of touch. The storyline involved Vince McMahon and was executed to perfection. Unfortunately part of the angles ran on July 4 (bad day for viewership) and on July 11 head to head with the MLB Home Run Derby event, resulting in poor ratings. At the end of the day, there’s no doubt that this is the company’s best effort to bring in older audiences while supporting a kid’s product, and it is their best-promoted “B” PPV event in years, with the Punk/Cena storyline being the best one in the company since Batista vs. Triple H of years ago.
WWE Money in the Bank PPV Predictions
1. CM Punk vs. John Cena – WWE Championship Match
There’s no predicting this. It all depends on what Punk’s future plans are, which somehow have managed to remain a mystery. Suggested endings range from Punk winning and then losing the title to a winner of the MITB ladder match, to Punk winning the title and taking it to ROH and the announcement of WWE buying the promotion. The possibilities are literally endless.
2. Christian vs. Randy Orton – World Championship Match
The WWE’s refusal to pin John Cena and Randy Orton clean has been a huge part of how badly this storyline has gone. Everyone was behind Christian and his title win after a storied career to only see him lose the title a few days later as Orton moved to SmackDown!. After the internet blew up with complaints, the company fixed things… by turning Christian heel. Welcome to Ego Stroking 2011. A Christian win might actually happen here because there really seems to be no other direction, but a Sheamus win in MITB would give us Sheamus vs. Orton (again)…
Prediction: Randy Orton
3. RAW Money in the Bank Ladder Match – Alberto Del Rio vs. Rey Mysterio vs. R-Truth vs. Evan Bourne vs. Jack Swagger vs. Kofi Kingston vs. The Miz vs. Alex Riley
This should be a good match as these are all great athletes who have plenty to bring to the table. It seems that The Miz or Alberto Del Rio would be the appropriate picks here. With Del Rio never getting his chance at Cena, one would think he’s in for a big match at SummerSlam.
Prediction: Alberto Del Rio
4. SmackDown! Money in the Bank Ladder Match – Sheamus vs. Justin Gabriel vs. Heath Slater vs. Kane vs. Sin Cara vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Cody Rhodes
Everyone was screaming “Surprise!” predicting a Cody Rhodes win here. It has been so popular online that I would think it now has no chance of happening. Some speculate he will win MITB only to lose his title shot so that we can have the one scape goat that didn’t win the title after winning MITB. Sheamus is the logical pick with Cody Rhodes a favored surprise pick and Daniel Bryan and Sin Cara a distand shock-value pick.
5. Big Show vs. Mark Henry
Catering to old-school fans, this match brings a very old-school minded perspective. Two giants going at it! A true old school clash – TBLWrestling.com’s own Joe’s type of classic bout.
Prediction: Big Show
6. Brie Bella vs. Kelly Kelly – Divas Championship Match
Kelly seemed genuinely touched to win the Divas Championship. However, it seems that her in-ring performances have been suffering as of late. Unless there’s a major shake-up with Punk and Cena they would need a title change on the show and it would have to come here.
Prediction: Brie Bella