Last night on Raw, Drew McIntyre beat Randy Orton to win the WWE championship, and it doesn’t matter.
I say this because Orton, who can put his performances into the next gear when he wants to, just beat Drew three weeks ago to win the title at the HIAC pay-per-view, ending his six month reign as champion, a run that fans were never in the building for because of the restrictions of the pandemic. In truth, there’s no way to gauge how over Drew is or isn’t as champion because a live crowd hasn’t been given the chance to react to him, and ratings are sluggish because of the pandemic era, not necessarily because of who is champion. Still, when Drew dropped the belt without ever appearing in front of a live audience as champion, it halted some of his momentum and if nothing else, created a pause in what could’ve been an extended title run that could’ve been referenced later to help tout his credentials when a crowd can return to WWE events.
The bottom line is, what was actually accomplished with Orton winning the belt for three weeks?
This summarizes why the WWE product in general has been very bland the past few years because the results of matches and even entire feuds rarely impact the direction or progress of the company. Other than adding another belt to Orton’s resume, which isn’t nearly as important as it would’ve been in years past, what effect did Orton as champion for three weeks have on the product? The ratings didn’t improve, he’s still at the same level in terms of star power, and it’s not as though it was used for anything other than switching the title just to say that there was a title switch at the pay-per-view. Don’t get me wrong, Orton has star power, but he’s basically as over as he’s going to be for the rest of his career so what benefit did another title reign, especially for three weeks provide him or the company?
This is a major example of a problem that can be seen across WWE programming. Too often, there’s no consequence to the storylines and thus it’s very rare that anything is “must see” for viewers. How often could a view skip a month of Raw and not really miss any key progress in the show? The Retribution angle is another example of the lack of meaningful storylines within the WWE product. This reveal was built up for months, and not only was the payoff a let down, but in a matter of weeks Bray Wyatt beat down the entire stable on Raw before Bobby Lashley squashed Slap Jack on pay-per-view. Why should the viewers invest the time into the Retribution stable? The entire narrative was supposed to be some attempted take over of the promotion, but what is the sum total of the storyline? It’s a bunch of mid-card wrestlers in silly masks that didn’t accomplish anything of any importance on television.
Now, consider how many times angles that were given substantial time on TV only to fall flat. If I had to guess, and this is only a guess, I’d say it must be a total lack of any long-term planning for the direction of the product. You hear the rumors online of Vince McMahon deciding that a show should be rewritten just hours before a taping starts, but most of the time you have to take that with a grain a salt because it’s usually just from the online rumor mill. However, the decision for Drew to drop the belt at HIAC only to win it before Survivor Series suggest that it was only booked to make the PPV something more than just a gimmick show.
Speaking of which, why exactly should Survivor Series be used as a champion vs. champion event? Granted, Roman Reigns is doing the best work of his career as a heel, but is there really a demand for Roman vs. Drew? This will sound too pessimistic, but the attempt to promote any type of “Raw vs. Smackdown” narrative as a selling point for Survivor Series is silly. It’s not as though each show has exclusive fans, but rather that people will watch the shows that they find worthwhile or have less competition for other programming that night. For example, the Raw number can be affected by Monday Night Football depending on what teams are playing, but it’s not like there are “Smackdown fans” that will only watch the show on Friday night. The entire brand vs. brand concept seems like an excuse for lazy booking instead of storylines that would have more depth to them.
So, if Raw wins more matches at Survivor Series than Smackdown, does that mean that more fans will watch Monday and less people will watch Friday? That’s very doubtful, and that ultimately goes back to the previous point that very few angles on the shows have a major consequence to the direction of the brands. If the results of matches don’t have a major effect on the path of the company then what’s the audience missing if they don’t tune in to see who wins?
It’s a more drastic example, but when Stone Cold beat Shawn Micheals, it was a meaningful result to the company. When Mick Foley beat The Rock in 1999, it planted the seeds to build eventually build The Rock as a heel with the infamous Royal Rumble match to lead to the Wrestlemania 15 match against Austin. When Randy Orton defeated Cactus Jack in 2004, it let the audience know that Orton reached a new level as a star. There are numerous examples, but the bottom line is, the results of storylines must be more than just a reason to churn out more content for the WWE machine. Quite simply, if a viewer didn’t watch any of the WWE product in the past month, when they stopped watching, Drew was the champion and involved in a feud with Orton and The Fiend. So, when they tune in again, nothing really changed or progressed, which basically renders Orton’s brief title reign useless.
If the point of all of this was to get to Drew vs. Roman at Survivor Series then the exact same destination could’ve been accomplished without halting McIntyre’s momentum if he didn’t lose the title to Orton. Recently, Triple H claimed that McIntyre vs. Reigns could be comparable to Hogan/Flair or The Rock/Stone Cold. First and most importantly, it’s completely unfair for Triple H to make that comparison because those stars had big runs when pro wrestling was a part of pop culture. Plus, very few within the industry could reach that level, and as talented as both are, nobody has claimed that Drew or Roman will rank among the biggest stars in the history of the industry after their career are finished. No, Drew and Roman won’t be as popular or as accomplished as The Rock, Steve Austin, or Ric Flair.
In fact, if that was even close to being possible, you’d expect their champion vs. champion match to garner a major boost in WWE Network subscriptions, but that probably won’t happen. Similar to how most stars are more or less interchangeable, the vast majority of WWE events outside of Wrestlemania are at the same level. Those that subscribe to the WWE Network often do so because of the overall access to the extensive video library as well as the live shows. It’s not as though most fans subscribe or unsubscribe based on a specific pay-per-view card. The selling point of the network is the overall package of content. The same way that the biggest selling point of most WWE events is the WWE brand, not specific stars. The example I’ve used several times is that regardless of their spot within the company at any given time, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor are at the same level of star power in terms of their ability to sell tickets. Brock Lesnar had a match with Seth Rollins at Wrestlemania last year, but would it have really made a difference in the numbers if it was Balor vs. Lesnar instead at the show? Again, too often the 50/50 aspect of the product makes things interchangeable and there’s a level of mediocrity. Sure, Randy Orton won the title for three weeks, but what was the point? Now, Drew won it back, but does that really make Drew a bigger star as compared to a month ago?
I’m sure this sounds too harsh of a critique, but it’s just disappointing that the argument could be made that as far as in ring talent, the company might have the best roster in its history, but the structure of the promotion prevents legitimate money-drawing stars from being made and there’s a total lack of “must watch” TV 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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