Wrestling was never Shakespeare but at least it made sense once upon a time. Storylines had identifiable beginnings and endings. You knew when you were watching a match that it was going to begin a feud or end one. The wrestlers built up to things, to Pay Per Views, to blow offs, to matches that mattered. The wrestlers themselves sold it. Would anyone have believed that Bob Backlund was a threat to Bret Hart unless Bret made it clear, through promos, that he was? Would anyone have cared about a ladder match for the Intercontinental title at Wrestlemania X if the title changed hands as much as it does these days? Would the Undertaker be perceived as the deadman, as a real threat, if guys like Yokozuna and Shawn Michaels didn’t act like they were nervous to face him? Hell no. Unfortunately, these days, we don’t get any of the great little things which used to make the matches mean something.
Titles change hands at the drop of a dime. Bret Hart was a five time WWE champion and that was an accomplishment back then. How many times has Cena held the title now, twelve? The title doesn’t mean a whole lot when it is won and lost at every Pay Per View or two. The prestige of all of the titles have been in jeopardy for years now. They want the fans to care when a title is defended, and they want you to believe that title could change hands at every moment, but you’d think they’d also want the title to mean a little more than it currently does. Holding the title means about as much as an empty net goal in hockey; sure it counts towards your total but no one ever puts it on a highlight real.
As for building each other up.. WWE has completely lost its way in that department. CM Punk, whom many of the fans love, comes out there and tells everyone that Alberto Del Rio is boring, that people are fast forwarding past him on their DVRs and that they should be. Punk holds a lot of sway, so many people love what this guy is saying and when he tells you that the former (then current) champion is boring and not worth watching.. why would you bother watching? That doesn’t build him up. Also, when did someone being boring or not boring have anything to do with an opponents ability to kick your ass?
Punk didn’t say Del Rio was weak so he’d beat him. He didn’t say he was stupid or skilless. He said he was boring. I never faced a tough fight in a bar or in the school yard where I thought for a moment that I could win because my enemy was boring. Everyone wants to “shoot” so badly and WWE wants so desperately to pull in people that they’re willing to sacrifice the quality of their product. It doesn’t seem to make any sense. Punk talks about how boring Raw is and how he wants to make it cool again. Imagine if your favorite football team’s Quarterback did pregame interviews where he said “Well, we’re boring and we’re not very good and people fast forward through our games but you should watch anyway.” To quote the Miz: Really? Really, WWE?
This brings us to the man who is most responsible for this kind of irrational, counterproductive behavior; John Cena. John Cena and the Rock are going to face one another at Wrestlemania. They teamed up at Survivor Series and at the end of the show the Rock left Cena laid out from a Rock bottom. Does Cena say it hurt, does Cena say he’s mad, does Cena say anything to build up heat? No. The guy walks out to the ring with a smirk on his face and says that people do things in the heat of the moment. So his method by which to build heat is to forgive his opponent for attacking him. Seriously? What the hell is going on here? Cena basically says it is ok that the Rock laid him out, that he isn’t bothered by it, and worse yet, he understands and forgives it. Oh yeah, now I really can’t wait to see these two rip each other apart. Imagine if in the film “The Matrix” that Keanu Reeves’ character, Neo, had said “We shouldn’t dislike the Agents, they’re just doing their job and I can understand that. I mean, we’ll fight them anyway, but let’s not have hard feelings about it.” Sounds like a blockbuster to me.
This isn’t just a WWE problem, though recent weeks of their television have made it clear that they show no signs of changing. Is this the future of wrestling? There is no future this way. You cannot castrate your product and expect it to produce in the years ahead. Some argue that Vince McMahon is losing it as he ages but the problem runs deeper than that. Stephanie is there and she should know better as well. Triple H should definitely know better but during that whole “walk out” storyline he implied that him wrestling a mop was more entertaining than watching the WWE Superstars perform. There are ways to build up your product, to make your opponents and roster look strong without losing your credibility as a more reality oriented, shooting promotion. WWE doesn’t seem to understand that and, as a result, they’re stuck with basically the same ratings week in and week out. Maybe, just maybe, if you made it seem like your matches mattered, your champions were credible and your show wasn’t “boring” than people would actually watch. This isn’t a solution to all of their problems, but it is a place to start. I love wrestling and they’re even beginning to convince me that it isn’t worth my time.