Pro wrestling has never been a static artform. It has always had its ups and downs, time periods and eras where business was booming, often followed by periods where the same old same old was allowed to dominate for too long, and fans get bored, and fans walked away from the sport.
Almost invariably, the big change surrounds a new personality: someone who draws, someone who showed a spark, someone who captured the attention of a wider audience, not just the dwindled remains of a once bursting fanbase.
Sometimes it was new technology – Television boomed the wrestling industry in the late 40’s/early 50’s of last century. The ability of wrestling to provide a product cheap in terms of production values has always helped it with newfound ways to transmit images. Pro wrestling made a mark with closed circuit, and of course dominated PPV opportunities for several decades.
Unfortunately, that last big boom was cause by a variety of things, a perfect storm of aging and new stars, the famed Cable TV battle that allowed fans to watch two products almost at the same time (at a time when clicking a button made this very easy), and of course the underlying competition that forced competing products – and alternatives across the world – to do things differently to attract that attention.
I believe the combination of competing companies, plus the foundation of fans who still remembered the various regions, combined to pull back fans for nostalgic reasons and also due to the combination of styles now being seen on a national level. That was a time when every veteran was well honed in a specific style (or more), well trained, well experienced in front of fans, and quite capable of delivering in the ring or on the mic.
And those who couldn’t could either be carried or have their talking done for them.
Those are a lot of concepts and many just don’t exist these days. Sure, nostalgia is alive and well and always will be. There’s always an appeal to revisit the glory days. The Rock was huge in his reappearance. One way or another, his WrestleMania match next year will be a positive. If Stone Cold ever laces up the boots, if Goldberg to a lesser degree, if Batista as well, they will make splashes.
The Undertaker has cemented himself and by not wrestling regularly, he’ll move the markers if he does another match.
That’s a joke in an age where the WWE can profit on momentum. There’s something about Vince being a millionaire but should be a billionaire that is oddly familiar to me, but the reality is that the WWE is an industry giant no matter how the popularity compares to ten years ago.
Let’s not even go with TNA, as they seem well sated by SPIKE TV’s money, and while there are intriguing aspects of the newcomers on display, how much faith and expectation is there for it to persist?
Which brings me back to CM Punk and the lackluster ratings of this week.
Sure, the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby took a bite, but there’s something not biting with the angle. Part of it is the build-up, part of it might be because we’ve not seen the big ending yet. But to me, and while I marked out over the initial promo when I heard it later, and I actually sat and watched the end of RAW on Monday and thought it interesting, there’s so many levels to this WWE storyline that just aren’t going to connect.
We’re back to the reality that working angles for the internet crowd just doesn’t pay off.
We’re also back to the reality that in a promotion that continues to fail to do anything but the status quo, every new angle has failure ingrained within it, mostly because every angle has been rehashed, and rehashed badly.
WWE Creative is so far removed from having to deliver compelling storylines that it’s groping blindly for something to deliver. CM Punk as the alternative is interesting and appeals to ME, but what does that mean? How long will it take before someone like ME goes and engages friends and family to watch TV or buy PPVs or start talking positively about the WWE?
Ok, I sort of am.
But those hardcore fans like myself have long forgotten about buying PPVs. Either they continue to do so or they’ve left the realm of mainstream wrestling. Either way, they’ve lost the momentum and lost that sense of driving other fans back to the fold.
Mostly because every interesting start ends up being a failure, mostly because like every new face in the WWE, the momentum builds and they get dragged back into the pack. It’s happened so many times, so often, and it forces fans to take a wait and see approach before it changes.
There was awesome aspects to CM Punk talking trash, and the angle Monday night was compelling, and the dynamics are there for something big, but what happens next?
Money in the Bank is raising the bar on hype and expectations and what are the odds that it fails?
100% if I’m betting, based on the track record of this company.
Mostly because Vince McMahon already did this angle and did it well and did it to the point where he became the evil character, the evil promoter and he launched a big boom on the fallout of the MONTREAL SCREWJOB.
Problem is, we saw how that happened, and why can’t it happen again. Everyone knew Bret Hart was leaving and those in the know and those on the periphery of the mainstream were speculating what would happen, and Vince delivered an awesome (albeit controversial) response.
Can he do it again?
Maybe, but there needs to be a fundamental change, and I’m not so sure CM Punk is going to be given that opportunity. He’s just not the big guy that Vince adores, and John Cena is too entrenched for most of the conventional options (heel turn, doing something out of the box involving him, or even being beaten down by Punk) to make sense.
About the only thing that makes sense now is for CM Punk to steal the belt, survive the two Money in the Bank challenges and have a fading shot of him walking out of the Chicago arena with that belt held high.
But that still leaves the question of ‘what next’?
And that’s the big question that drives the industry forward. Because if the WWE delivers something big here, they could spark a revival. If Punk shows that a ‘real wrestler’ can beat Cena and that there’s complete anarchy in the WWE about the missing and biggest prize, and there’s a sense that everything changes from Sunday July 17th to Monday July 18th, and the WWE takes a few weeks establishing that change, and everyone sees that it’s not business as usual, then things could be really interesting.
Or, this Monday arrives and Cena is the Champion and whether or not he gets more boos or more cheers is irrelevant, because it shows that the WWE – once again – is satisfied with the status quo.