Wrestling is shit these days. Look at it. With its Seasame Street appearance and overall cookie cutter vibe, it’s dire girlie-man schlock. It’s a long way from the violent and chaotic ‘Warzone’ of the 1990s when the likes of The Rock were spawned, and the likes of Steve Austin, wielding loaded firearms, broke into the private homes of rivals. In many ways its similar to what is happening to movies we love being castrated, the threat of an ever increasing politically correct society and the attraction of wringing an extra buck out of minors.
To understand the problems you have to go back to the Monday Night Wars. The ‘Attitude Era’ was a response to the threat of WCW, the WWF had put on unmissable TV, most of it edgy, in order to keep WCW at bay. The result was monster ratings, but the most lucrative sponsors began to boycott the WWF. Even though they were doing unprecedented business, they could’ve doubled their profits had they turned it into a children’s programme. As soon as WCW folded, the Attitude Era was immediately cancelled. Complacency and greed set in and worse, half of the company eventually became public. As a result of hegemony, their pay-per-view business is dead and TV ratings hover in the 2.0s (in 1999 the WWF enjoyed ratings beyond 8.0).
With owner Vince McMahon stepping down and the dimwit partnership of Paul Levesque and Stephanie McMahon taking over, the ship is clearly taking on water. WWE fanboys say the company is too big to fail. WCW fanboys said the same thing. This is the golden era of TV. Who wants to watch shit like WWE Raw when you can put your feet up to Better Call Saul or the NFL? Something needs to change. They gotta man that shit up and start chasing ratings instead of thinking the world owes them a living.
Stage One: Eliminate Public Ownership
So let’s say there’s an outsider and he can see the inbound problems for WWE and therefore wrestling as a whole and he’s capable of assuming power. Hypothetical, hell just say Shane McMahon. Before you can expand or do anything, you need to clean your own house. So the first thing Vince McMahon’s successor would need to do is purge public ownership.
The rot of public ownership and interference from committees and the like cannot be overestimated, especially for an entertainment programme primarily aimed at adult males. Eric Bischoff, who turned WCW into a monster, said he knew it was all over after AOL bigwigs began demanding a family-friendly product for WCW Nitro. Four years after the first such meeting, WCW was on the morgue slab, out of business and finished.
You better believe this type of shit is currently going on in WWE. Public ownership of the company is in the higher 40% range, which is a lot of chefs in one kitchen. It means every second of television needs to be vetted and agreed upon by several bus loads of executives, most of them having never watched the product. It also means dozens of writers who can’t agree on shit. Compare this to two writers who created The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
This kind of rot would have to go and the only way to eliminate it is to buy out investors, at any cost, and make the company completely private again. Only that could lay the groundwork for the monumental changes required. It wouldn’t have to be done in one fell swoop, might even be advisable to do so with a bit of tact, but the disease would most assuredly have to be taken down.
Stage Two: Allow Talent To Develop
Once you eliminate public ownership and outside interference, you’re free to wipe the slate clean. You could then do one of two things – reboot the stale product entirely, or gradually transition to something edgier, darker and more organic. The second option is best, this is what McMahon did in the mid-90s. Right now every word that comes out of a wrestlers mouth must be approved. Back when the WWF was drawing monster ratings, the likes of Austin and his peers were turned loose on the mic and allowed more or less free reign.
Contrary to what some might think, ironically enough the current leadership of WWE among them, you simply don’t pick out an employee and decide he’s going to be the face of the company, who then becomes so popular he’ll then go on to star in billion dollar movies. Instead you must give your roster free reign and eventually the crowd will pick someone they like. They’ll also pick someone they hate. From there, you’re halfway home and even marginally talented writers with creative freedom can turn it into brilliant fictional television.
Stage Three: Violence, Sex And General Adult Television
WWE right now is a children’s programme. This is odd, considering that the average viewer is a 41 year old male. Like any normal business, you cater to your clients and their desires. This is why when wrestling ‘grew up’ in the ’90s, the ratings went through the roof. When the greedy lure of sponsorships came about, and it was safe to accept them, ratings fell into the toilet. There hasn’t been a Rock or Stone Cold since this happened and that is not a coincidence.
Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t have to be outrageous or cheesy. But you have to respect the tastes of the viewer. Make it darker without being depressing, make it raunchier without being porn and make it more violent without being sadistic. This also means creating more realistic characters. Which leads me to possibly the most important part of transition. Anyone who has been watching wrestling for long enough will remember what turned WCW into a monster – Hulk Hogan leading a ‘realist’ and anti-hero revolution. John Cena, the leading man, is today the exact opposite. And that’s exactly why he would be the man to turn the ship around.
As for the kids and this new direction? Yes, you’d lose bank from the raging soccer moms who would refuse to pay for your newly rebellious product. But as sure the crowds used to get drunk in 1998, those kids will dig your product still, possibly even more. And one way or another, they’d find a way to get their hands on your show. The more they’d be dissuaded from viewing it, the more they’d talk about it. And you know, kids are masters of social media these days.
Stage Four: Turn Cena Heel
I guarantee that if John Cena was to turn heel, ratings would go through the roof. It would have to be handled carefully though and as part of a product-wide change. I don’t watch wrestling much these days, but from what I understand Cena is hated now more than ever while Daniel Bryan is extremely over, but buried by HHH/Stephanie McMahon.
The process of turning Cena heel is simple. His resentment of being booed would cause an eventual breakdown, probably through jealousy of a more popular wrestler. This isn’t a new play, again, Eric Bischoff ingeniously did this with Hulk Hogan in 1996. It would be as simple as having Cena face Bryan at a WrestleMania event, then beat the shit out of Bryan, 90s-style, with weapons. For added effect, have a family planted in the front row, leaving in tears in disgust. The next night, Cena would appear on Raw dressed as a normal man, not as Barney the dinosaur, and launch a foul mouthed tirade against the crowd in attendance, for abusing him for so long. For added effect, pull that other old trick out of the play book, have plants at various intervals in the audience start throwing their beverages at the man in the ring, almost certainly, the tens of thousands would join in.
This alone would propel the company and signal a massive change. So much so that any capital lost through buying out public investors would return, and fast.
Stage Five: Evolve
From there, WWE would be spinning with such potential that it could only grow. The hatred for Cena would create the next face of the company as the old booking trick of having an underdog take down the hated antagonist would play out. Or, as with Hulk Hogan, it could push Cena into anti-hero territory and watch the crowd accept him as a modern day variant of Austin or The Rock.
Further down the food chain, the next Cena would already be in development. From there it would be up to the leadership to mould him. The last time WWE ran their company in this way, they had multiple ‘Cenas’ in various stages of development.
Who knows what other ways they could potentially grow. We know they have their own movie studios, which is predicted to be liquidated soon because they are hemorrhaging money elsewhere because, you know, nobody is buying their PPV’s or subscribing to their network. But if they were back in 8.0 ratings territory (nothing is impossible) and creating more Rocks and Austins, it would be senseless not to make the movies themselves, as oppose to stars becoming so big that they leave the company.
From there WWE could once again butt heads with the NFL and NBA, like they did at the peak of their power when they catered to their main demographic through fear, as opposed to screwing them over through greed. The potential would be astronomical.
Alternative: An Outside Competitor
There is only one other way of saving professional wrestling – an outside force trying to fuck over WWE. Those who have been watching wrestling for a long time will remember that WCW was once a little runt of a company, before Ted Turner, who had more money than God, decided he was going to buy it and inject it with proverbial steroid cash. This is as unlikely as the above, but it has been known to happen.
The ideal candidate would be TNA. The ramifications of someone purchasing TNA, or the equivalent of it, with the intention of turning it into a ratings monster, couldn’t be understated.
Again we look to history as when Eric Bischoff was given a blank cheque with WCW, he started poaching the players from the opposition and using them in superior fashion to their full potential. Today’s WWE superstars boast of their loyalty to McMahon, but they did the same thing in 1995 until someone promised them the wealth of a Saudi oligarch. In the face of a $3,000,000 contract, loyalty doesn’t mean shit. Then, treachery was afoot and when they jumped ship, so did the viewers. It is almost certain that if TNA was bought out by someone with unlimited funds as happened with WCW, their first course of action would be calling up the players on the WWE roster.
They might not get Cena, but they’d damned sure draw blood from somewhere. From there, repeat history. For us the benefit would be two-fold, firstly we’d get competition which is always healthy, secondly it would force WWE to resort to ideas outlined above anyway. So in fact, this is probably the better option. It might sound outlandish, but a year or two ago there were serious rumours of Mark Cuban buying out TNA and he has more money than Italy. By all accounts, it was a bidding process with other tycoons wanting in too.
But ultimately, an ego torpedoed the whole thing. TNA owner Dixie Carter refused to sell, and continues to put the product through a slow, sore death. And we can expect that for wrestling as a whole.
God speed, pro wrestling. Change now or die.