Wow, the holidays are crazy at the asylum (no pun intended). Still, in the last few weeks I found time to sit down with the other inmates and do what I am sure many of you did: watch wrestling. The days of yore when the holiday season was a hot time for wrestling promotions seems to have passed, but there were some things to look forward to. Two of the things I looked forward to viewing were two of the things we had the boob tube here at the hospital tuned to: NXT’s REvolution (lame play on words btw) and WWE’s TLC(and S; also not too clever either) PPV.
I did what many wrestling fans did, which was watch both of these shows and then went to the old compare/contrast foible. This is inevitable when two major shows are produced and broadcast within 72 hours of each other. Was I impressed by either? Or possibly disappointed? Perhaps I enjoyed one and not the other? Maybe I felt both had good points and bad points? Well I think none of that matters when you look at the “big picture”.
These two shows were looked at by many fans as the litmus test for all that is good AND bad with the WWE product nowadays. I get that. They are after all the final impression the folks up in Connecticut and down in Florida will give us for 2014 came from these two shows. As I read the response of the internet fans it seemed many are frustrated with the main WWE product while being enthralled with the NXT product. This was to quote a great book (and song by Iron Maiden) “A Brave New World” we will be entering in 2015. Alright then, everyone feels this will be a great thing for wrestling fans…but will it be? Like I stated earlier, I want to look at the “big picture” and see if it will be.
I think (and hope) all diehard wrestling fans want wrestling to return a time when the product was hot and everybody, even casual fans, couldn’t get enough. I read online many feel that even if WWE isn’t giving the fans that, NXT is. So why do they think that, and what does that REALLY mean. Is the future not as dismal as I always seem to vocalize it is? Nah. Don’t get too excited too fast folks.
Let’s start with the “why” and then move on to the “what”. I love NXT just like most I have heard do. The REvolution show was a wonderful blend of old school, basic, and simple booking with all the bells and whistles of a WWE TV production. The belts mean something. The in-ring product is top notch. The long arcing angles have satisfactory blow offs. Even the concept that these are athletes that have real reasons to want to compete against each other is emphasized. That is what many of us love(d) about pro wrestling to begin with.
Many stars that fans felt had never been given the platform to show their respective skills to an American audience (Kevin Steen/Owens, KENTA/Hideo Itami, Prince Devitt/Finn Balor, Sami Zayn/El Generico) get to shine in NXT. The much ballyhooed debut of Kevin Steen/Owens had major impact in the opening bout. It was a quick, yet brutal match. Kevin bled (hardway I might add), showed his aggression, and developed his character immediately as an athletic big man with no frills. Finn Balor had an over the top ring entrance similar to his bombastic entrances in New Japan Pro Wrestling that just makes him feel like a big deal. Even the WWE homegrown talent like Charlotte and Sasha Banks brought charisma, athleticism, and passion to the party.
Then there was the final match. Fans had been taken on an almost year long journey with Sami Zayn and his inability to win the “big one” all while struggling with the concept that he wouldn’t take the short cut to claim the NXT title. This was a struggle Zayn was having internally and it showed externally. This built emotion (there is that dirty little word again) that created a connection with Sami and the fans, that was ultimately rewarding as Zayn fought his own inner demons and doubts, won the belt, and won it the “right” way.
The post match celebration was real and the fans ate it up. Even Zayn’s longtime enemy from the independent scene, Kevin Steen/Owens, came out to celebrate Sami’s triumph. Then it happened. Kevin showed his true colors, his jealousy, and his cowardice. He viciously attacked the newly crowned champ and left him laying. This was unexpected and a very effective way to book a challenger immediately all while definitely showing a faith in Steen to be an immediate player and main eventer.
So that is what all the fans clamored for. All these stars were being given their break, on TV, with a major national clearance. Then it hit me, was this a WWE produced product or was it New Japan Pro Wrestling? Or perhaps Ring of Honor? Maybe even Pro Wrestling Guerilla? No this was NXT, which let’s not forget is a WWE product. So why am I being a negative nelly? Let me break that down now that the facts are out there.
Many felt that Sami Zayn was being booked to lose and thus have to leave NXT per his own pre-match stipulation. This would have meant a call up to the main WWE roster. Well we see he won and is the new NXT champion. Looks like the old El Generico isn’t going anywhere. What does that say about the main roster’s creative team’s feelings about his abilities or potential to create more fans on the expanded TV time laden main roster? Based on the outcomes of REvolution, the only guys that seemed to be coming up to the main roster are The Ascension. This has been confirmed since then with vignettes on Raw and Smackdown. Are The Ascension much different in look, in-ring work, or overall vibe than what main roster WWE guys have been for years? Uh…no.
Well there is the creative booking from the NXT bookers right? Correct me if I am wrong, but haven’t I seen Zayn/Steen before? Oh yeah it was ROH. Or was that PWG? Perhaps AIW. Or any of the major indies over the last several years. Finn Balor and Hideo Itami got to be showcased as the international superstars they are, and that is good. Too bad their ring entrance, which made them come off as megastars, was created by New Japan’s folks, not NXT’s.
I am not complaining about the lack of creativity. I enjoy seeing all these things as much as the next diehard fan does, but I am not crowning the NXT bookers as groundbreakers when they have done little beyond copy what others have already done. Enjoyable, yes. Creative, no. I am also not jumping to the conclusion that ANY of these talents will be on Raw soon regularly to perform for that fan base. What does all this say about the future of NXT and the WWE? A lot if you ask me.
Then we can look at the TLC(S) PPV from the main roster. There was almost no build up for any of the matches. Many of the matches (Rusev v Swagger, Usos v Miz/Mizdow, Wyatt v Ambrose, Harper v Ziggler) were all matches WWE had shown fans many, many times on TV. Their creativity was to just make this a card of gimmick matches hoping it would spice up things. It didn’t. Only Cena v Rollins delivered at any level for me, but that came at the price of too much shenanigans for any match but especially a gimmick match to begin with. I did like Harper v Ziggler, but they damn near killed themselves to get a reaction from the crowd all in THE FIRST MATCH OF THE NIGHT! That made it difficult at best and impossible at worst for almost every match after to follow or generate any emotional investment from the fans. Not blaming Dolph or Luke, but not very sound booking WWE.
So we have an uninspired effort from almost everyone involved with the main roster, and a great if not too terribly original offering from NXT, all that occurred within a long 4 day weekend this holiday season. That is not “A Brave New World”, it is just more of the status quo. We see the main roster is just not changing in talents, pushes, or creatively. NXT is full of athletic, hungry guys and gals, that are re-hashing what they did elsewhere, all for a much smaller audience than the main roster, with little to no hope of ever moving up to the “major” leagues.
Do any of you think Ambrose or Wyatt will retain their main event status? Not when they are booked in the impossible position of being in a stunt match that had to follow nothing but stunt matches where the fans had seen almost every stunt the two of these brothers did. Don’t forget Roman Reigns returned that night too. And Randy Orton and Bryan Daniel are slated to return soon. Then there is the whole Sting factor too. So with all that said, do you see “A Brave New World” or more of the same?
I want to point out some history too. If the NXT product model was pushed to main roster presentation I doubt it would make much difference. I love solid in-ring action, but when these type of angles have been the main focus of national promotions they have produced the financially worst times for these promotions. 1988-1989 WCW had the classic Flair/Steamboat series followed by Flair/Funk and Muta/Sting in the semi main slot. These were awesome matches and feuds, but were one of WCW’s lowest money generating years. This also happened in the mid 90’s WWF when the focus was matches involving Bret Hart, Curt Henning, Davey Boy Smith, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, and Yokozuna. All of those guys brought it in-ring, but it did not produce the dollar signs that other eras had or did.
If you are reading this, you are most likely a diehard wrestling fan. You will watch wrestling no matter what. I respect and appreciate that, but that is money promotions can count on regardless. It is the casual fan’s billfold you must go after. The WWE is not getting that right now, and changing to the only other thing they are currently doing (NXT) would not either if history shows us anything. So I can’t see that as “A Brave New World”.
I haven’t even discussed how the vast majority of all of this programming is now on the WWE Network. I think the numbers for those subscriptions have stagnated. The diehard fans have gotten it, and I can’t see WWE picking up much more. If anything, they will probably lose, and not gain, more subscriptions. Matter of fact, the WWE’s own number bear this out.
Is any of this bothersome? Sure, but not unexpected. I find what I like and enjoy it, and don’t worry about the rest. I wish more fans could do the same. Enjoy what you enjoy and stop predicting or downing what is out there. I own stock in WWE plus unlike most of the readers of this blog have put my life into wrestling. I actually put food on the table for my kids through wrestling at one point. I have a burning passion and love of professional wrestling, yet I am not complaining or becoming emotionally invested to the point of ludicrousness like many fans I see are. Math was never my strongest subject in school, but even I can see that equation doesn’t add up.
So please, relax. Enjoy the ride. Watch what you like, tune out what you don’t. Also don’t be too surprised if not too much changes for quite some time. Look on the bright side, in 2015 we have thing to look forward to. TNA has found a home on Destination America, Lucha Underground is on El Rey, ROH still is in syndication, and New Japan will be on AXS TV. Then there is the Wrestle Kingdom PPV to start out the new year with. NXT will not be creative, but it should be good. Even parts of WWE will be good I bet. So maybe 2015 will not be “A Brave New World”, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some good stuff to watch.
Well I have some arts and crafts time now. Got to make my famous ginger snaps for Christmas to give to my kids. I want to thank all of the readers of this blog. I appreciate each and everyone of you. I also want to thank the crew at A1-Wrestling for allowing me this blog space and all the time to rant on the podcast. If it makes anyone feel better, remember there is a certain inmate at the asylum and his teddy bear hoping all of you have a safe, enjoyable, and happy holiday season, whatever you personal spiritual beliefs, or disbeliefs, may be. Any comments can be left below or in the forums at a1-wrestling.com. I can be reached on Twitter @CrazyTrain_jb or directly through firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy Holidays all, and until next time…ALL ABOARD!!!