Just a few weeks ago, it was announced on the WWE Backstage show that John Morrison, former IC and tag team champion, is set to return to the company this year. Morrison, who went under several different names over the course of his nearly two decade career, was away from the WWE scene for over eight years so what does this return translate to for him?
A co-winner of a season of Tough Enough in 2002, Morrison was in the WWE system literally from the time he decided to pursue the wrestling industry. After he won the contract, he traded weekly air time on MTV for the gritty developmental system of Ohio Valley Wrestling, the WWE subsidiary at the time where he learned more than just the fundamentals that were shown on the reality show. That was always the double edge sword aspect of the Tough Enough concept, it provided a national platform to tell the story of each contestant and thus they can gain a fan following through the weeks of television exposure, but at the same time, most of the momentum is lost because there was such a delay between the reality show finale and the time the winner actually had the chance to get the experience to be ready for main roster TV.
As is well-known, Morrison’s first successful stint on WWE TV involved a gimmick that was started in OVW, the MNM tag team. Along with ECW alumni, Joey Mercury, and his real-life girlfriend at the time Melina, Morrison’s work was noticed after their debut in 2004. While their run was relatively short with just two years as a team, the paparazzi gimmick is still a memorable act from that era. After Mercury was released when he developed an addiction to pain killers from the horrific injury he suffered in a ladder match in 2006, (thankfully, he was able to overcome those problems) many thought that Morrison was on the path to be a main event star. He had the look, the in-ring skills, and the charisma that most assumed would fit the role of a WWE main event talent.
But, for whatever reason, that didn’t happen.
When MNM concluded, he had a few runs with the IC title and always seemed a part of the conversation, but wasn’t really a major priority in terms of a push further up the card. A nearly two-year run as a tag team with The Miz had most assume again that he would be the member of the team to eventually work the main event scene. However, he was again regulated to the mid-card with the IC title remaining as the ceiling for him in the company. In mid-2011, he was written off of television with an injury angle and his contract simply wasn’t renewed.
The pro wrestling rumor mill would suggest that the Batista/Melina brief relationship and the status of Melina and Morrison at the time were factors that led to his decline within the organization. While it’s possible that the “Melina heat” derailed Morrison’s path, nothing was confirmed or really discussed other than Batista mentioned his short relationship with Melina in his book. It would be unfair to assume anything other than just rumors about the situation, and keep in mind, the laundry list of pro wrestling rumors claimed that Ultimate Warrior in 1992 was actually Kevin Von Erich wearing the face paint.
Regardless of the reasons behind the decision, Morrison was shown the door. Many thought TNA would be his next stop because that was the pattern for many former WWE stars, especially in that era. Instead, he opted to work the indy scene for a few years before he inked a deal to work nearly full-time for AAA in Mexico in 2015. As a result of that affiliation, he worked for the American spin off of the organization, Lucha Underground on the El Rey network. After a two and a half year run,he finished with AAA in early 2018. Just a few months before that, he debuted for Impact Wrestling at a time when the company was in a rocky transition from the Dixie Carter era. That was also around the time of the Global Force debacle and the promotion didn’t have much brand identity after it switched names a few times within a relatively short time frame.
The problem that this created for Morrison is that since his WWE exit, he was still wrestling, but in terms of exposure, he was really under the radar, as far as the general fan base. The independent scene didn’t provide him valuable TV exposure to keep his name around the American scene. Mexico is very much a platform of its own, especially considering that pure lucha only has a niche market in the United States, and even the LU stint didn’t provide major publicity because El Rey doesn’t have the TV clearance of other networks. That was basically the same problem during his run for Impact, when he finally got there, the company was on Pop TV with an average of 300,000 viewers a week so it wasn’t as though he had a chance to get noticed there.
How this all translates to his WWE return is based on if he’s booked for something meaningful or if he will be used as a glorified enhancement talent to get the next generation over. Don’t get me wrong, if Morrison is getting paid good money then he should cash-in while he can, but as far as his prospects for what this run could be for his career, the options might be limited. At 40, he’s probably at the latter stage of his in-ring career, especially because he spoke about injuries in prior interviews. Is management really going to want to invest major TV time into him?
Another aspect is aside from the nostalgia pop for his initial return, will the WWE audience still demand a John Morrison main event push? Again, in many respects he was under the radar for the majority of his post-WWE career so many casual fans might not be aware that he still wrestled after his WWE run in 2011. I really think the lack of American TV exposure in the past several years might limit his reaction from the current audience, but it will be interesting to see if he can garner the fan support again. At the same time, there’s an entire NXT roster that can work a similar style to him and are younger so they have more time left in their careers. This isn’t meant as a jab, but at this point, can Morrison really keep up with Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, Roderick Strong, Matt Riddle or the others on the NXT roster?
If I had to guess, I’d say that eventually Morrison will settle into a role similar to what Rhino had a few years ago, as far as working with the younger talent and getting the occasional mid-card push. There’s nothing wrong with that either because as mentioned, the ability to make the most money possible is the main priority in the business. Granted, that also doesn’t answer the question about what Morrison could’ve done as WWE champion, but it appears that he just wasn’t at the right place at the right time to get the push for it. Either way, it will be interesting to see how he’s booked when he returns and what brand he’s used for the company.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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