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What Actually “Counts” In The WWE?

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Aside from the entertainment value, the business of professional wrestling has always been based on, and drawn the biggest money from the “big fight” atmosphere created around a particular feud. The emphasized importance of main event matches and championships generate a “must see” environment. Those characteristics have proven to be a successful formula for decades and have transitioned eras. The reason being those same traits are what sale any form of entertainment, the audience must be given a reason why they have to buy a ticket, order a pay-per-view etc. Within the wrestling industry, Bruno battling foreign villains in the 60’s, Dusty vs. Flair, Savage vs. Hogan, and Stone Cold vs. McMahon all shared that “can’t miss” quality that sent people flocking to the box office, the closed circuit areas, or their remotes to order a PPV. It’s not an antiquated concept either, considering that when CM Punk was booked in perhaps his final WWE bout in 2011, it had the main stream media talking about sports entertainment.

However, somewhere along the way, specifically during the past few years after the WWE cemented its strangle hold on the market in the United States, much of the “must see” element has disappeared. Some can argue the business is overexposed, fair point, but Steve Austin explained the product was entertainment was he was drawing record money in the Attitude Era. Others might suggest it’s more difficult to generate big money when there are more options for consumers than anytime in history, but the Wrestlemania brand proves that if something is presented in the right manner that it draws numbers. That said, WM 32 being such a stand out success can also be an indication of the lack of “can’t miss” programming during the rest of the WWE calendar. As I wrote previously, the reason WM itself is a draw is because the fans are emotionally invested in the history and the perception of the event. Without that emotional investment, pro wrestling becomes interchangeable with any other form of entertainment.

The laundry list of injuries led to WWE booking Shane McMahon vs. The Undertaker in a match at WM 32 with the stipulation that either Shane wins control of Raw or The Undertaker would be done at Wrestlemania, which would basically be a retirement since he has worked a limited schedule in recent years. It was somewhat of a panic move to boost the show since there was a noticeable lack of build up prior to the event. It was risky because the fans wanted to see Shane on Raw, but nobody wants to see The Undertaker lose again at Wrestlemania so it was possible the fans could be disappointed with either result. But, it generated buzz for the event because it created the perception that something was on the line in the match and thus an importance toward the direction of the product.

The night after the cell match, Shane appeared on Raw and was given control of the show, which essentially made the entire “important” stipulation from the match at WM 32 pointless. Still, maybe it was booked as a “consolation prize” so to speak to avoid some of the disappointment mentioned earlier. As of now, that’s not the case since Shane was in control of Raw again this past week and if he continues to do so going forward, it’s another reason shot toward the believably of the stipulations in the WWE. Yes, it’s pro wrestling and shenanigans will be booked from time to time to get around specific scenarios, but management is telling the fans that the stipulations don’t matter so how believable is the next “all or nothing” angle? When angles are rendered pointless it kills the credibility and the believably of the product, and as a result less matches have a “must see” atmosphere. Why should the fans care about a specific match at a pay-per-view if there’s a rematch on free TV the following night on Raw? If Shane booked on TV adds a spark to the weekly programming is a different situation and might be a reason WWE brass should’ve considered the implications of the stipulation.

The concept of definitive winners is the ingredient that establishes the importance of a title or stipulation. For example, the NXT title is decided within the environment of a match and there’s no goofy booking to discredit the value of the match that decided the winner. The Undertaker/Shane match didn’t have a definitive winner because there was no actual consequence to the result. Another aspect of this is the 50/50 booking that was talked about recently and it’s another example of lack of definitive winners. If everyone on the roster trades wins on TV, it basically makes everyone average and in theory, winning is supposed to be the entire point of the matches.

The lack of stipulations counting for anything has occurred in the past and seems to happen more frequently since the industry had somewhat of a decline in ratings. Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels was considered one of the most important matches in the history of the business when it took place in 2008. There was the build up and emotional investment in watching the conclusion of the nearly four decade career of arguably the greatest pro wrestler of all time. It was considered important to see Flair’s retirement until he returned to the ring for TNA because he needed the money and it tainted the best retirement scenario of all time. Many fans criticized Flair for his decision to wrestle again, but he had to make money because of unwise financial decisions. You can’t blame him for trying to make money, but it certainly soured some of his retirement. While Flair’s personal blunders were beyond WWE’s control, remember when John Cena vs. The Rock was promoted as “once in a lifetime?” Technically, the tagline along made it “must see” because it was promoted as the one chance to see it happen. It was once in a lifetime until the WWE promoted it again the following year, hence damaging the credibility of the stipulation.

Obviously, Shane vs. The Undertaker is the most recent example of lack of credibility for when something is put at stake and it will be interesting to see if the WWE audience buys into the next angle that is presented with a similar stipulation. Don’t get me wrong here, there are always ways to book around certain aspects of the product or to book certain returns without tarnishing when something is on the line in an angle, but if there’s blatant disregard for stipulations then it kills the credibility of the product.

-Jim LaMotta

@jimlamotta

image via WWE.com

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