Much as the problem is with having separate rosters for Raw & Smackdown, WWE went one further last year when they introduced the “Superstar Shake-up” as a replacement for the draft. Instead of making a brand switch seem special, the shakeup told us it doesn’t matter. Why care? When the brands get shuck up like a snow globe each year anyways? With no build or sense of importance.
Long gone are the days when you could look at someone like, The Undertaker for example, and say “he’s a SmackDown LIVE guy! So I must watch SmackDown LIVE”. There’s no identity for the brands other than one having a red scheme and the other blue. There’s no reason to watch one over the other so it defeats the point. The brand split was always meant to create inward competition, but manufactured competition means nothing unless the company gives the talent incentive to go above and beyond. Not only that, but The Undertaker goes where he wants, John Cena goes where he wants, so it seems pointless to split rosters when a few come and go as they please. Also isn’t Raw already the #1 show? Due to having three hours and a bigger roster?
Speaking of big rosters, there are too many titles. Neither the WWE or Universal title mean as much as they would if the other didn’t exist. The Intercontinental and US titles have always kind of canceled each other out, but at least WWE has made better use of them in recent times. There are not enough women superstars (who can draw) to sustain three titles across Raw, SmackDown LIVE and NXT. Ronda Rousey could win the Raw Women’s title, yet have to stand next to Carmella and Shayna Baszler as an equal? Isn’t that a bit wrong? I mean, if you’re going to push her as a box office attraction, how come she can’t jump and win the other titles as well? Oh yeah, because she’s “contracted” to only work on Raw right? Sigh. It’s ridiculous.
There are too many rules. There are too many results which mean nothing. It’s WWE in a nutshell. They have the talent, but their schedule is so heavily stacked, and due to everything been done before, they have difficulty giving the audience something they’ve never experienced. And this has been the trend since the mid-2000s, gradually getting worse and worse, because WWE is a machine which hardly ever strays from protocol. Everything that worked in the old days was slowly chipped away, leaving talent in a vacuum of limited creativity. Even “Woken” Matt and his crazy universe isn’t immune to these limits.
Management isn’t willing to execute anything risky in fear of damaging its reputation. It’s all about the money, and as long as they’re raking it in, there’s no reason to change. I’ve said this for years, as it’s true of any business in any marketplace: When a company monopolizes the market, the consumers suffer. Prices go up. Quality declines. The consumer has to pay as they’ve got no other choice. In the 90’s, WWE(f) had to risk it all to survive, which is why their product became must-see. The fans didn’t know what would happen next. It wasn’t brilliantly written Shakespeare, but at least it was unpredictable and shocking. It’d grab your attention early, and keep it most the time. Not only that, but they knew how to keep everyone tuned in to the weekly product, and how to build to the next PPV. It felt episodic, and major angles had some thought behind them. We got heated feuds, really hate-filled blood feuds which could lead to someone possibly being ran over by a car, put in a casket (to RIP), or thrown off a cell through a table. It was super risky television which delivered more often than not; but as a long-term product it could not be sustained.
I remember when WWE started cutting back on the payoffs for feuds/angles, often leaving only a few weeks for a regular program to die abruptly before it could flourish. WWE changed the booking to work via monthly basis; except for special programs. But it’s not enough time! I remember how dumb it was, watching John Cena feud with a dude one month, beat him, move on to the next guy the following Raw, beat that guy at the next PPV. Repetitive indeed. There was a time when WWE could build an angle for months (not often-like), but the ability was lost ages ago outside of NXT at least. If I had to give an analogy, it’s like eating a Happy Meal everyday, instead of going out once a week for a fat, juicy steak which has been prepared to perfection. You’re going to get sick of those Happy Meals pretty fast, well, I know I would anyway.
There’s no better evidence of how bad it’s got, than if you was to compare NXT PPV to WWE PPV, and the Johnny Gargano/Tommaso Ciampa feud to anything produced on the main shows. NXT gets a handful of PPV events a year, and they smash it out of the park every time. Why is that? Because the angles, the feuds, and the talent themselves, have built to these moments the right way. The wrestlers know it’s time to step in to 8th gear and deliver their best. The fans get a good deal of time waiting in anticipation for NXT TakeOvers. But you know what? Money in the Bank? Trust me, if they didn’t have ladder matches, it would be like any other Raw or SmackDown LIVE. It’s only special because of the contracts and crazy spots we are bound to get. Also, theme PPVs have the problem that you get all of it on just the one event, instead of spacing it out over several. They could easily spread out four Money in the Bank matches for Raw male/female & SmackDown LIVE male/female superstars at different events across the year; instead of stacking them together on the same card.
Another problem with feuds on the main roster is they can’t get too “nasty”. And I’m not talking about the action or crazy backstage spots, I’m talking about rivalries which grow seriously personal. You don’t see the same levels of hatred between superstars as we used to. When was the last time we got a feud which was universally praised? I hate to say it, but I think the last time was probably Daniel Bryan vs. The Authority? And that only came about because the fans demanded it. Due to limitations, feuds are not allowed, or are not capable of (in the allocated time), evolving in to something memorable. Either the talent are not allowed to push the boundaries, or they only have a few weeks build til the payoff match.