wrestling / Columns

How WWE Lost WrestleMania Weekend

April 8, 2016 | Posted by J. Onwuka
Roman Reigns

Well hello party people! It’s me again — Super J Onwuka introducing my long lost brother-from-another-family the Super J Column — to clutter up your head with more thoughts about wrestling. I hope you’re not all bile’d out about WrestleMania cause we’re doing some more complaining today. Strap in!

WWE is running scared. They probably haven’t been this scared in about ten years. After WrestleMania 32 I guarantee you they’re absolutely terrified. If there is a big loser out of Mania weekend it’s the WWE system itself.

That’s a big claim. Let’s walk that one back, shall we?

How could WWE be scared of anything? Biggest, baddest pro wrestling promotion on the planet. If they want to go there they’ll go and they’re gonna draw a pretty solid house as well. Any promotion you think of as a number two — New Japan, TNA, even CMLL or AAA — really doesn’t hold a candle to WWE. And I don’t think that anyone is anywhere close to unseating it as far as overall revenue, market position, or visibility. As much as I hate to say it, barring anything incredible, we are stuck with WWE for at least 10 more years. It’s almost institutionalized at this point.

What WWE is afraid of is losing the ‘hardcore fans‘. It’s here where the emergence of New Japan is a real threat to them. Puroresu has always had the mark of being a ‘better’ kind of professional wrestling than what crops up in the United States. Whether that’s actually true is arguable, as Asuka alluded to in a series of tweets after Mania (credit to E_Key_Oide from twitter for translating). Point is that the idea of Japan as the home for absolutely crazy top-flight wrestling, separate from the hokeyness that is popular here in the states, had been a part of the US hardcore fan’s mindset during the 1990s and into the 2000s decade. The problem before, and even into the 2000s, was the language barrier. In the ring it translates well but one of the reasons that wrestling fans in particular keep up with wrestling is the storyline aspect. I would say I’m as non-drama, anti-Attitude as it gets but I still watch to see rivalries develop and pay off. As most of the puro stuff during that period was exclusively in Japanese, there was a huge barrier for most fans on getting into their product. That and the fact that they didn’t tour in the US basically made them another world.

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Now it’s all changed. Throughout the 2000s there was almost a concerted effort to get Japanese wrestling over. American indy wrestling took a great deal of its cues from that (specifically joshi wrestling, in my opinion) and made those pretty plain. With the rise of the internet there were more opportunities for fans who watched Japanese wrestling to get their tapes out there and to summarize them for non-Japanese speakers. Rather than the closed networks of tape traders, everything started to come out in the open where anybody could check it out. And I don’t mean to cast aspersions on the tape traders here. It’s just that their technology made it necessary that distribution was person to person. The internet is, by its nature, cheap and public.

If you want to check out Japanese wrestling you can do so almost as easily as checking out American wrestling. That’s a problem because there is still a respected, high-level promotion with history in Japan, and that means there are exciting, meaningful, elite-caliber matches to entice hardcore fans.

When you consider the rise of guys like Daniel Bryan and CM Punk against the relative stagnation of Randy Orton and John Cena, what’s the difference maker? The hardcores. When you look at The Shield, it’s the hardcores who kept Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose over despite the WWE’s pushing Roman Reigns, and in my opinion it’s the fact that the hardcore audience doesn’t like Reigns that turns the rest of the crowd on them.

In anything, any pursuit or interest, if you don’t know what the deal is you go to an expert. You don’t know where to eat in an area, you ask a local friend. Fashion’s the same way. Television, same way. You go to the people who are paying attention all the time and you figure out what they think is good. In wrestling, who are those people? The hardcore fans.

I think that WWE had a huge opportunity to show that it deserves all of the hardcore fans’ attention at WrestleMania 32. Not only did they have their own huge show and NXT Takeover: Dallas, they had their handpicked independent group WWNLive running a slate of iPPVs. If everything had come off great it would have looked like the WWE stamp was undeniable.

That’s not what happened. On almost every level, WWE failed. That’s what I mean by them ‘losing WrestleMania weekend’. It wasn’t a head-to-head thing. They just had a chance to really change opinions and they failed.

NXT Takeover: Dallas was a triumph. I’m not going to question that. I have a lot of problems with NXT but I also recognize that they have great performers who can put on very exciting matches. Up and down the card, NXT delivered. I don’t find fault with this, but I will say that I don’t think this event changed anybody’s opinion. All NXT could do was screw it up, but they didn’t. Hardcores already know to count on NXT, especially because it has people who are already validated in their eyes, people who sweated and bled for them all around the country before hitting this bigger stage.

The first major misstep came with WWNLive. They had feed issues throughout their weekend, not only for both their EVOLVE cards but also for their CZW show and their SHIMMER show. From what I’ve heard the SHIMMER show was really good (and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it tons) but I do know that no one was into the stream issues. CZW, according to 411’s own Larry Csonka, was a horroshow. I’ll leave that there. The promotion that really needed to impress on the weekend was EVOLVE, WWNLive’s flagship. By all accounts they didn’t. Yes, they had Will Ospreay‘s matches, but for EVOLVE/WWE he’s probably not the star they wanted with the most shine, considering he’s just signed with New Japan. Aside from that there was nothing too great. Plus, more than any other shows, the EVOLVE shows were mauled by stream issues. The shows came off very poorly, very unprofessional, and I do not believe they looked good for EVOLVE.

Right here I think EVOLVE had their best shot to get established as a true independent promotion ‘to watch’. I use the quotes cause I don’t mean to imply they weren’t worth watching before. I mean in the sense of career position. When people hit Ring of Honor, even now when ROH isn’t at its hottest, it feels like they are making a definite career move to me. Hitting EVOLVE feels like part of somebody’s larger circuit, before they really make their mark. They have some stars now but most of their names were well known before EVOLVE: Zack Sabre Jr made his name in Japan, Chris Hero in ROH, Sami Callihan and Drew Gulak from CZW, and so on. It’s not that EVOLVE hasn’t raised their profile, but among the EVOLVE fans these guys already had a significant following. ROH on the other hand can lay claim to a lot more people who did not have a national presence or following before they came through their doors: Michael Elgin, Kyle O’Reilly from their new crop (I want to say Adam Cole didn’t start really turning heads until ROH but I know he’d got over in CZW), as well as Jay Lethal and the Briscoes. ROH are the ones who formed the base for guys like Punk, Bryan, and Rollins to succeed in their WWE careers. That’s the perception that EVOLVE could have established for itself here with an incredible showing. Instead they looked like… EVOLVE. I don’t know that people who are fans of EVOLVE are going to be turned off, but neither do I think they attracted many fans with their iPPV offerings.

I’ll mention the Ring of Honor and NWA Parade of Champions shows here as well. Both are functionally American arms of NJPW, so they’re ‘the competition’ at Mania weekend. As far as I can tell, both of them looked fine. That’s all they needed to do. ROH specifically removed any idea that these were to be seen as ‘major events’ by taking them off iPPV. Whether that was for costs or because they didn’t want to book major shows is beside the point. Rather than trying to make a ‘statement’, which Mania itself always is, ROH just put on a show. They got some buzz from Colt Cabana‘s return and they didn’t tarnish their rep. NWA seems to have put on a pleasing show, but expectations aren’t sky-high for NWA so they didn’t need to live up to a lot either.

What did have an almost astronomical amount to live up to was the marquee event itself: WrestleMania. What a terrible effort. I’m not going to go through and recap it all here, there are plenty of places you can find that. What I’ll say is that the action was often good but not consistently good enough or even amazing-in-small-parts enough for me to feel like it was a really key show. On top of that, the fact that every single booking decision was deflating made the show feel nothing like a triumph. If every match had been amazing to watch that would be one thing. I personally don’t buy into the idea that people ‘only care about the finish’. However, that does stay with people, and if there’s no true pick-up then you just get hit with awful after awful after awful. That’s how WrestleMania came off.

Now there were some feel good moments. I popped for Zack Ryder winning the Intercontinental title. My first choice? Not at all. But it was fun. The legends coming out got a lot of people excited. Same with The Rock and John Cena beating up the Wyatts. The thing is that the people who were really satisfied by these happenings were the casual fans. The people who will watch WrestleMania because it’s social, which doesn’t make them ‘not real fans’ but just the kind of people who are into it more as a spectacle than as a consistent following. People who watch the Super Bowl but not the regular NFL season. They can absorb all the stuff that’s happened before but, because they won’t be watching all the time, the week-to-week aftermath doesn’t bother them.

Who does it bother? The hardcore fans. Almost unanimously the commentary about Mania 32 has been negative, to the point that a lot of prominent names attached to the WWE have been running interference. WWE cares about the uproar. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t make such a point of trying to shut down anybody talking bad about it.

So I’m not saying that WWE’s ratings are gonna plummet to 0. Next year’s WrestleMania will probably top this year’s numbers. But will that trend keep up over the next 5-10 years? If the hardcore fans really start to pay attention to a new product I don’t think it can be sustained. As much as WWE outwardly disdains hardcore fans, they need the people who watch every week to tell everyone else why they need to watch. WrestleMania weekend could have hooked those hardcores in hard. In my case, I’m not making plans to come back to their show for a very, very long time.

On this episode of World Champions Podcast I’ll take a look into the life of the one and only Mildred ‘Cyclone’ Burke, a woman who not only defined what a woman wrestling champion should be but upped the ante for every male champion out there. She wasn’t the first, though: women like the strongwoman Minerva, Cora Livingston, and Barbara Ware preceded her in breaking social taboos and grappling. Burke was the first one to make a real living at it and become a true star, and in her wake came many other top wrestlers like Nell Stewart, Babs Wingo, and Mae Young. Still, the choking hand of paternalism always hovered, and for Burke it was made manifest in a horn-rimmed hustler named Billy Wolfe.

Check out episode #13 Fair Play at worldchampionspodcast.com or subscribe via iTunes or Stitcher.

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You can also follow me on Twitter @_nearzone and like the WCP Facebook page.

If you’ve got a comment or a question, leave it below. Appreciate those who read and get something out of it, positive or negative.

However, I’m gonna be plain about this: if you come on here trolling I’ll try and have your post deleted, and I’ll condescend to you besides. If you have a cogent critique why not put it into an argument? As long as you don’t, I’ll assume that you can’t.

WCP fans! Sorry for the lost week here. Between personal shit and Mania depression I decided to skip this week, so I’ve just linked the last podcast episode (listen if you haven’t yet!) I should be back on track now so expect the next episode this coming Monday or Tuesday. And everyone who’s been listening, thanks a billion, and remember to rate on iTunes!

Peace to the peaceful.

article topics :

WrestleMania 32, WWE, J. Onwuka