In the midst of a global pandemic and ratings that have dipped to a record low, WWE brass introduced the concept of “Raw Underground,” a fight club gimmick ripped directly from 1999, two weeks ago. The results and the feedback have been mixed at best.
First, I have to say to present something so out-of-the-box rather abruptly projects a sense of desperation, as ratings have slipped below two million viewers. This goes back to something I wrote earlier this year about the lack of a live crowd in the pandemic era, it exposed much of the WWE product for it’s lack of substances without the state-of-the-art production value to camouflage programming with the sizzle of all the smoke and mirrors that goes along with WWE live events. Granted, it doesn’t help that Roman Reigns, the star they organization has continuously banked the most on, can’t be there because of rightful health concerns, but without the previously mentioned smooth production value that pans the camera around full arenas to make the product look major league, some of the more glaring flaws in company philosophy have shown through. Another aspect I’ve written about extensively in recent years is the 50/50 booking that doesn’t actually allow performers to progress or be showcased as bigger stars. Plus, most of the product was put on autopilot as the WWE machine churns out content with the same formula, which led to mediocrity and complacency on WWE TV.
There are several examples, and it will sound too negative, but an objective look at the situation shows those mishaps are the basis of the problem for the lack of legitimate star power, despite the fact that the current roster might arguably have the best in-ring talent in the history of the company. As talented as Dolph Ziggler is and as much as he probably should’ve been given better chances to run with a better spot on Raw, he’s more or less glorified enhancement talent because he’s often booked against top guys in an attempt to make them look good. The problem is, it was done so often that those angles lost any value for the champion because it was obvious that Dolph didn’t have any chance to actually win the title. He was booked against Braun Strowman as only a way to make Braun look strong and then he worked a feud against Drew McIntyre that not only made him look foolish, but his value as a contender was reduced to zero when he couldn’t beat Drew in a match where he could pick the stipulations. Sure, that gimmick was used to attempt to sell the possibility that Ziggler could use his pick to get enough of an advantage that he could win the title, but if the writing team is going to book something like that and then Dolph loses, what value does he have as a challenger on the show? Furthermore, how could he retain any type of star power after that? The whole scenario is so predictable that the audiences knows they don’t have to tune in to see the result, and they obviously didn’t based on the recent ratings.
Another recycled angle is that Randy Orton was booked against the Big Show prior to the Drew feud. How many times has a heel beat down the Big Show to attempt to get them over for a title match? Remember when Brock literally did the exact same thing a few years ago? Considering the Big Show is usually only brought back for a short-term feud to get someone else over in the same type of angle that was done repeatedly before, isn’t there a point where that situation is also too predictable to retain viewers? Speaking of Randy Orton, it’s debatable if he should be in the top feud on Raw because while he’s tremendously talented, he sometimes mails in performances, depending on the opponent. If I had to guess, I’d say he will be motivated to work with Drew, but how many stellar Orton matches have happened in recent years? That’s not meant to bury him either, but considering how talented he is, he doesn’t have the extensive list of classic matches to him name that you might expect of someone at his level. The bottom line is, will McIntyre be a bigger star after these matches against Orton?
The tired cliches of WWE programming are ultimately why management is trying something completely different with the Raw Underground setting, but the concept is flawed on a fundamental level. The problem with worked MMA is that it looks blatantly phony and it’s a situation where the audience will roll their eyes at something that is so obviously fake because it goes to a level that it’s insulting to watch. The concept of MMA within a WWE context actually neutralizes the advantages that pro wrestling has over mixed martial arts. Since sports entertainment is predetermined, the performers can ensure the paying customer gets a good show with the intention that they get their money’s worth. Sure, some pro wrestling shows fall flat, but the intention is to try to deliver a solid three-hour pay-per-view etc. If you follow the UFC, it’s well-known that there are times that highly-anticipated cards are changed because of injuries or there’s occasional lackluster main events on pay-per-view. Finally, pro wrestling is a work where there is cooperation between competitors to avoid potential injuries. It can’t be understated how important that is because if an athlete is on the shelf, regardless of it’s within sports entertainment or MMA then they can’t draw money, which is the entire point of the business side of sports.
The WWE simply can’t get away with the countless camera cuts to try to hide the fact that the “worked shoot” matches are obviously staged and it looks so tacky. Keep in mind, from an MMA prospective, fans can watch similar action in the UFC and see a slow motion replay of a legitimate knockout so how is Raw Underground going to try to sell the action as a shoot when the camera is clearly trying to avoid how far away the strikes are in the ring? Furthermore, you have to wonder what exactly the selling point is for Raw Underground? Is it that Raw Underground is the “real fighting” on the show? If that’s the case then why should the audience care about the previous two hours of scripted fighting on the same show? The previously mentioned Dolph Ziggler was on par with The Brooklyn Brawler just a few weeks ago, but he got a win on Raw Underground so why couldn’t he use any of those skills against McIntyre? If the presentation is supposed to be that Raw Underground is the “legitimate” competition on the show then management is telling the audience that the scripted matches aren’t as important. It’s ironic that WWE’s sports entertainment numbers are in a slump when they’ve spent the past few years pushing the fact that MMA is more important than the actual pro wrestling on the shows. Ronda Rousey and Brock Lesnar were presented as more important than the typical wrestlers because of their MMA background. Maybe fans would be more enthusiastic about watching sports entertainment if management emphasized the stars of it instead of trying to get wrestling fans to tune in for something other than the pro wrestling industry.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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