Wrestling adapts with the times. The 80’s featured comic book heroes toppling despicable villains. That doesn’t cut it with fans anymore.
The late 90’s featured extreme political incorrectness, CTE-inducing bloodbaths, steroids and a general hatred of corporate America. While it was enjoyable at the time, the damage induced by this era’s stars is irrefutable.
The early 2000’s was basically the same: more steroids, more concussions, more bloodbaths, but not as much un-PC-ness and the storytelling was crisper. As above, we’re not getting away this kind of wrestling/violence anymore.
By the time the late 2000’s rolled around, Linda McMahon pursued public office and WWE became a publicly-traded company. Aside from the occasional transcendental CM Punk pipe bomb, it seemed as if WWE returned to its 80’s roots. We’ve been in this purgatory for a while now…until Kayfabe Shane McMahon started running Raw.
All of a sudden WWE has become this weird hybrid of compelling stories and characters, legitimate competition, second chances and an explosion of unorthodox independent and young talent.
How else can you explain guys like AJ Styles, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens and Cesaro regularly flirting with the main event scene? Or the Tag Team Championship Tournament. Or the new Women’s Championship?
WWE is even becoming self-aware and is literally playing out its biggest feud of the last few years on television every week: the fans vs. WWE (embodied through AJ Styles vs. Roman Reigns).
Styles represents the diehard fans. He’s a blue-collar workhorse who’s paid his dues. Roman Reigns is the new blood. He has everything corporate wants: the look, the size, and the merchandise sales. He’s self-proclaiming himself as THE GUY, despite the fact that he has failed to ignite most diehard fans.
Styles and Reigns are rapidly colliding like out of control torpedoes. The outcome is bound to be volatile at Payback. Either WWE will be entirely revamped with the people’s champion prevailing (Styles). Or in the more likely scenario, WWE stays the course with Reigns in order to trigger the audience.
The outcome of Reigns-Styles and the status of Shane McMahon controlling Raw will ultimately dictate what is next in the evolution of wrestling. We’ve seen similar situations before where WWE hints at new beginnings and change, but those attempts were simply blips on the radar (*cough Team Cena beating Team Authority at Survivor Series 2014 *cough).
It’s certainly compelling to see a face in control of Monday Night Raw for a change. For once, the heels are on their toes (no pun intended). With that being said, a GM that gives fans what they want undermines one of the most crucial rules of business: you need to keep demand for your product high.
Why else do you think we don’t have an electric car? Or cell phones with unlimited batteries, etc. You need customers to keep coming back.
If management gives into every demand of the audience (Shane running Raw, AJ Styles going after the WWE WHC, giving fans dream matches every week on Raw, etc.) there is a legitimate threat of burnout.
The one brand of wrestling I didn’t mention in my opening was WCW. In their prime they created a popular faction (NWO) that dictated all the rules. Moreover, they not only featured dream matches every week, but these matches were often for meaningful championships (see Finger Poke of Doom, Hulk Hogan vs. Jeff Jarrett, etc.).
If WWE continues down this path, it will need to carefully walk the tightrope of giving fans enough excitement during the week without overshadowing live events.
The crucial element here, regardless, is that we are seeing hints of real-life evolution in WWE for the first time in a long time. Like major sports, WWE needs to advance with the times. Basketball from the 80’s is completely foreign to today’s game. It’s not as physical, but the game is a lot faster and a lot smarter. Same goes for football.
MMA has even been redefined since the 90’s. It’s more of a complete sport nowadays. Although he is a master of Jiu-Jitsu, I wouldn’t like ’93 Royce Gracie’s chances against any of the behemoths in the UFC today.
WWE needs to change too. You’d expect it to. That’s why it’s okay that everybody uses Super Kicks, Top Rope Elbow drops, Stunners and Frog Splashes as secondary moves. You wouldn’t expect the tricks and moves of yesteryear to still work.
If Shane McMahon is sincere about making sure WWE sticks around for the next generation of McMahons, the game needs to keep changing.
by: Kevin D’Hooge