As I tuned into WrestleMania a couple of weekends ago, I was more than elated to see a dream match open the show as “The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived,” Austin Aries was set to do battle with “King of the Cruiserweights,” Neville, who has oozed with appeal since his heel turn and ascended the ranks, quickly becoming the WWE cruiserweight champion. Whether it was on the main card or the kickoff show, this bout was something I considered to be a must see occasion as both competitors have been heralded as two of the best active cruiserweight wrestlers in the world today.
While it’s understandable that WWE is forced to keep some of their undercard performers on the kickoff show, what happened next is without a shadow of a doubt something I am more than sick of seeing each time I tune into a WWE event; something I feel lowers the stock of the athletes competing and also debases the fans who cheer for these competitors just the same. Out of nowhere, the broadcast took a commercial break mid-match and aired a trailer for the PPV I was already tuned into; regurgitating the same promotional spot I had seen countless times on RAW and Smackdown leading up to the WrestleMania spectacular…which, let me repeat, I was already in the process of watching.
Following that quick spot, I then had to shake my head as the next commercial was also for WWE network programming, something they could easily air in between matches, but in case the point hadn’t been hammered home that shows like Holy Foley and Ride Along were available to stream on the network after weeks and weeks of pumping them into our brains, they took a couple of minutes away from two deserving competitors who have worked their entire careers for a “WrestleMania moment”. To me, this was a slap in the face. What does it say to your roster when plugging and hyping a match that will happen later on in the night takes precedent over the current match happening in the ring?
While this may not seem like a huge deal on paper, I can in fact tell you that it is a large mistake overall, as the need for excess plugs and promotion has taken time away from competitors trying to work their way forward. This also rings true on WWE “B” show programming; with shows like Main Event that are supposed to focus on the matches of wrestlers relegated to the undercard or showing mid-card superstars accumulate wins; yet instead, show very little in ring action at all in place of airing 40 minutes of RAW/Smackdown highlights and promotional material for whatever pay-per-view is coming up.
In November of last year, WWE chose not to renew Superstars, a program that has long been synonymous with this type of programming. Usually the shows consisted of 2-3 lower tier matches and then kept it heavy on the highlights. This has long been a staple in WWE programming, with now defunct shows like All American Wrestling, Heat and Velocity being some of the more memorable shows that were programmed in this fashion, though WWE shows of the past did more to put over talent at the expense of “jobbers” and enhancement talent signed to be role players in those lower positions or offered more competitive main events as bait to peak the fan’s interest.
In its current state, WWE is far too competitive to adhere to some of these rules of the past, yet have seen the benefit in enhancement talent as of late with the success of Braun Strowman and some of the female competitors who have had televised “squash” matches with enhancement talent used to build them up, rather than instances of devaluing their characters and pushes by airing network based commercials and promos for more important contests during their small window of television time.
Think about that for a second…WWE is airing commercials for its own programming during matches; not commercials for sponsors, not singling out this time to highlight charitable organizations or things that could be considered a “good cause”, but commercials for their own programming! Reminders to tune in for a new season of Camp WWE or to promote twenty-minute First Look at whatever new WWE DVD set is about to hit the shelves of stores over the screen time these men and women devote their lives to earning. Countless hours in gym, spending months and months away from family and loved ones, the sacrifice of “blood, sweat and tears” only to be silently ribbed by a video package telling you that your time is filler and will amount to nothing more than killing a few minutes on a broadcast they aren’t the highlight of.
WWE can do far better for their employees and in my opinion, a gesture of respect like pulling the plug on promotional spots, video packages and commercials during live matches on the “kickoff” show would be a fantastic start. WWE undercard programming can actually be beneficial if the brass will ever see it from a different prospective. One of the most well know sites on the internet, WhatCulture.com did a list of the 20 best matches on WWE’s “C” List programming (this was before the brand split, so RAW was considered the A show, Smackdown the B, and all other programming C) and actually unearthed some gems from the past I had completely forgotten about over the years. Matches like “Chris Jericho vs. John Morrison” and “The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family” are highlighted and give clout to a well made list that also features memorable moments like the locker room controversy surrounding ECW/WCW favorites “Public Enemy” in one of their few WWE contests in which they were literally beaten up by Farooq & Bradshaw after a controversy surrounding what the finish would be on an episode of WWE Sunday Night Heat.
Shows such as these used to succeed on the back of a watchable main event to round out the show, and were often paired up with two less important matches that were usually squashes meant to get a superstar some good marks in the win column. Other than that, it was the usual airing of video packages, vignettes and highlights, but first and foremost, the matches were the focal point of the show.
When you look at how often we see part-time superstars like Brock Lesnar, Goldberg, and others headline and dominate the most important shows of the year…it is easy to see why WWE hasn’t made anyone they would consider a “mega-star” in a long while. WWE is often in their own way and it all begins with how they promote and display the talent that they have, which unfortunately can also be attested to how they focus on the few instead of the many like were forced to do when they had the competition of WCW looming over them all those years ago.
This is the reason Superstars floundered and why nobody I know watches Main Event. While the other shows no longer exist and have also been victims of the changing times, their models were far superior than anything we are given to promote the undercard in the current era. There is no longer a need for a show like Main Event, when all you have to do is log onto the network and watch the live feed…you will inevitably see the same 20 commercials and video packages over and over; something I wouldn’t pay to see if a cable bill was looming over my head.
WWE can do far better by their employees and for the sake of a few dozen blossoming careers; I sure hope they figure out how to do so sooner rather than later. If the undercard is set up for failure, then so is the future of your main card, and that is not so hard to understand.
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