“Drafts.” “Superstar Shake-ups.”
Both of these WWE buzz-phrases are synonyms for “we’re out of ideas” when it’s applied to watching WWE programming since Friday’s Smackdown.
Believe it or not, in the grand “once upon a time” of WWE’s tenure in our lives, these nights were actually fun, interesting, or at least carried something that you could sink your teeth into. You had the two principal shows drafting a set number of singular talents — sometimes teams — who would switch shows, then maybe some ancillary picks after the episodes went off the air that would complement the initial set. Now, however, these Geppettos expect you as a fan to sit and smile while they endeavour to artificially “shake-up” the WWE Universe every 6 months; essentially redrafting most of their entire preexisting rosters in addition to a few new faces, entire angles and of course, entire factions whose focused reason for existing is to destroy WWE Raw for the company’s amoral treatment of its talent.
These nights no longer hold the same interest, instead they’re designed to pop a rating rather than provide you, the fan, some value for your time. When the draft itself is the hook for the show and you’re expected to sit through five hours of WWE television to absorb its content as though it were a professional sport, the least the company can do is not resign itself to lazy theatrics and half-reasoned explanations.
The result is a glossed-over fabrication of a stunt that doesn’t explain why Smackdown stars could contest a Raw championship post-draft, how the tag title situations were resolved, or most importantly after last week why Retribution isn’t given 10 minutes of time to further explain their existence. This is a critical time for the group, and WWE wasted a week with their absence, and will not likely show up at Hell in the Cell given their booking so far. This, in favour of lazy draft angles?
We can surmise New Day won the titles in the first place as a way to protect Street Profits from losing their Raw titles, but there must have been better options on the table other than a simple “authorized title trade.” What are the details of it? Were they surrendered and then awarded to the respective teams? That’s what we have to infer, but the devil is in the details as they say and those were sorely lacking here.
As for Retribution, well, as has been exhaustingly stated the group’s booking has been a mess from the outset with the only glimmer being Ali’s involvement. The group needs someone who can speak and work, and it’s him. However, it’s a catastrophic misstep to reveal him last week and omit them from the show this week aside from the ludicrous notion that they need to be drafted, as their entire M.O. to date has been to reap chaos across the shows they appear on; doing what they want on their own time. Their credibility as a threat took a shot last night because of the preoccupation with the draft.
What makes WWE’s ongoing dependance on lotteries, drafts or shake ups to pop their ratings (which doesn’t appear to be working as much anymore) more frustrating is we see outside “The E” and its sphere where the United Wrestling Network is bringing together all sorts of smaller indies plus the NWA under one tent. AEW consistently puts together cohesively well-executed shows, and NJPW is presently wrapping up its G1 Climax which is ripe with intriguing storylines that are crescendoing upwards toward their climax and are ripe for payoffs. And Yano.
Quick, Tell That Joke You Know
Vince McMahon has been doing this for a very long time, longer than most of the creative braintrust mentioned has either been alive or at least cognoscente of what wrestling is; he should know better, he can do better. And they’re just not, whether it’s sticking to a Rolodex of amazing ideas from yesteryear, or simply refusing to budge course when a decision is sputtering badly to its end. We see more and more a company too entrenched to move beyond old ideas, Brock Lesnar and Steve Austin appearances.
We see the opposite in AEW for better and worse, and even if you want to isolate the creative veto to being held by one person, while Gedo in NJPW is hardly at Vince’s experience level, up until Evil’s recent title run this past summer missteps are few and far between and he’s consistently delivered for NJPW as head of creative. And reportedly he plans two years ahead.
Meanwhile, we’ve seen the reports of script-trashing hours before WWE shows. Time and again we’ve watched WWE march out the same ideas, be they splitting teams, flip-flopping title reigns, or oftentimes handing a briefcase to someone without any clear notion of what the long-term plan is going to be, etc. We’ve heard former workers discuss how little planning or long-term scope WWE stories have. Then their stars (i.e. Rollins, Reigns) play it off of on us as fans not having the attention span to digest a wrestling product that plans beyond a few weeks. To which we should call “bullshit.”
Finally, when nothing they’ve “tried” works, we find ourselves in publicity stunt situations like draft nights in all their forms, panicked Lesnar appearances to artificially buoy the shows without care for the long-term health of the roster, or the final stab in the dark — that “break glass” Austin appearance.
What is perhaps the most frustrating from the outside looking in is we see what other companies are doing, we see how other wrestlers are allowed to work and shape their narrative; it would be absurd to assume any one person isn’t as skilled or creative inside WWE. The problem seems to be the Rolodex of ideas chronicling WWE’s greatest hits pre-Wrestlemania to present day. And when all those ideas are pigeon-holed creatively into microcosms of their original intention, it doesn’t matter if someone seems to have a great idea with numerous paths to travel down when all roads lead to either conclusion 1a or 1b regardless.
Knee-jerk reactions and poor planning mortgages the future to puff up the present, kind of like cutting off your nose to spite your face for a quick reaction when the end result is purely negative.
Few, if any of us, will actually run the ropes even once. Take a bump, much less a high-risk one. But we invest time and money into wrestling for our own enjoyment regardless of the total hours per week or years under our belts. So many mediums rely heavily on storytelling to convey a narrative we as consumers can sink our teeth into. What’s captivating, fun or interesting is unique to each to call their own. Because that purveying reality is part of every medium, even a well-written news piece, we understand what works in terms of story structure; how it could/should be executed and directed.
Stories are a lovely piece of our lives, and when we get invested in them we see all the possibilities before we’re anywhere near the end. Which is why it’s so rewarding when a conclusion surpasses your expectations, causing you to want more. That’s why people sometimes flock to other promotions. Conversely, it’s also why when the easiest, obvious path is taken by WWE or anyone else that the product that was the gateway for most of us fumbles and disappoints. After a point those iconic moments we grew up on fade away and all we’re left with is this shell we more often than not disown or outright shun.
The sobering reality in that admission comes when we try and come back; try and give them the benefit of the doubt when they make bold proclamations of change. But much like their follow-through, a worthwhile, satisfying payoff never materializes.