On Monday the WWE put a temporary halt on its brand extension, a dividing of its talent roster between Raw and Smackdown that took effect in 2002. Effective immediately, no superstar or diva is exclusive to either show. Anyone can show up pretty much anywhere.
The brand extension began largely because the roster ballooned after ECW and WCW both went under, giving pro wrestlers only the one major-league option. But even then, when each show was considerably star-studded, fans have clamored for the rosters to unify. Many have said it held back the quality of WWE programming for much of the 2000s. I say they're dead wrong, but that's another post.
In the spirit of this announcement, today's Powerbomb Post looks at 10 moves we think would really improve the quality of WWE's programming. We're not listing moves that would simply make more money, but we're also not being entirely idiosyncratic (thus David won't argue that more face-painted wrestlers or bringing in The Necro Butcher would be the greatest things ever). Here are our ideas:
1. Take some cues from UFC. I don't care what the WWE corporate line is: If you made a Venn diagram of WWE and UFC fan bases, there'd be decent overlap. And regular UFC viewers have grown accustomed to feuds built on simple, but effective stories rooted in fundamental values like winning being all important, and titles meaning supremacy over everyone else. That's why UFC can turn ratings for "The Ultimate Fighter" that are just shy of "Raw's" into pay-per-view buy numbers that regularly trounce those of WWE events. UFC builds fights on the kind of competitive tension that viewers just have to see spill into the Octagon. Trash talk helps, too, but the kind spat by Chael Sonnen, Rashad Evans and "Rampage" Jackson has real heat behind it. It's hard to see that kind of hunger in today's WWE superstars. Most of them look more content to tell lame jokes and pose in front of pyro than be the best of their peers.
2. Stop overexposing the wrestlers. Conditioning fans to go back to the pre-Monday night wars days of mostly "squash" matches would be tough, but at the same time, today's WWE routinely gives away main event-caliber matches two times a week with little notice. There has to be a happy medium that can make a TV match between main-event players like John Cena and CM Punk feel like something special and must-see again.
3. Make pay-per-views important again. On the same note as No. 2, the fact that huge main events are given away every week on Raw and Smackdown makes it tough to justify spending $35 to see the same matches on pay-per-view. Factor in the repetitiveness of feuds (how many times have Randy Orton and Christian fought for the World Heavyweight Championship this year?) and once-prestigious shows like Summerslam have become little more than special-edition Raws and Smackdowns.
4. Fire the Hollywood writers. This connects to No. 2. The promos written for today's WWE superstars generally fail to make those men and women interesting to the viewer. Most wrestlers aren't competent enough actors to make compelling material of scripts shoved in their faces, and that's when said scripts are written to be remotely effective in the unique dramatic medium that is professional wrestling. Usually the words seem written to just barely pass muster in a soap opera or sketch comedy show. This is especially galling considering that there are legends on the WWE payroll who rank among the best talkers in wrestling history, such as Dusty Rhodes and Arn Anderson.
5. Let wrestlers be themselves. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and "The Rock" have often been spoken of as amplified versions of Steve Anderson and Dwayne Johnson. And this year, CM Punk broke into the stratosphere with a promo that came from the heart of Phillip Brooks. It's not difficult to see why that kind of naked characterization made those superstars so popular: As basically themselves, no artifice could mask the raw charisma and passion they had. It's no different with the many generic, ridiculously named prospects churned out today by developmental territory FCW. Take Michael McGillicutty (Joe Hennig), for instance, and tell me he couldn't connect with audiences better were his persona based on being the son of WWE legend Curt "Mr. Perfect" Hennig, and having to live up to that reputation. Because that's a burden I'm sure Joe can identify with - and the WWE universe would take note of the authenticity.
1. Reduce number of pay-per-views. I remember some of the early WWE video games only having the four major pay-per-views: Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania, Summerslam and Survivor Series. Now, I'm not saying the WWE needs to cut back to only four PPVs a year -- that would be too drastic. But right now, PPVs are nothing. While the WWE would argue that this is a way for them to make money, I'm sure it costs them a lot of money to hold a PPV. Plus, the quality of the PPVs is like a roller coaster. Some of them are up, others are down. You never know what you're going to get.
What I would like to see: Cut back to six or seven PPVs a year. This would make PPV main events more important, and make major PPVs like Wrestlemania even bigger.
2. Have a REAL WWE Hall of Fame. That's right: Build a building. WWE has the money to do this, plus it would give their legends a home. Also, by "have a REAL Hall of Fame," no celebrities should be inducted. Inducting people like Pete Rose (probably the only Hall of Fame he will ever make), Bob Uecker and Drew Carey makes the Hall of Fame a joke. This should be a way to honor the legends of the industry.
3. Bring back strong tag team division. When WWE was at the height of its popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s, one of the biggest draws was its tag team division. You had the Hardy Boyz, Edge and Christian, the Dudley Boyz, the Acolytes and the list goes on. Now, the tag team division is weak. The WWE needs to bring this back. Tag teams add a new element to any show. The tag team of Kofi Kingston and Evan Bourne is a start, but more needs to be done.
4. Mix up gimmick matches. I remember the days when a Hell in a Cell match was a rare occurrence. Everyone remembers the great Hell in a Cell match between Mankind and the Undertaker. Now, there is a PPV featuring the Hell in a Cell match. Same thing with Money In The Bank and the Elimination Chamber.
I like gimmick matches, but in moderation. There also should be a wide variety of gimmick matches (Iron Man Match, anyone?) and pay-per-views shouldn't be used as a way to highlight one gimmick. End the Hell in a Cell PPV and save the Hell in a Cell for a major PPV. End the Money In The Bank PPV and hold the event at Wrestlemania.
5. Stables, stables, stables. When I was first getting into wrestling, the Corporate Ministry was a powerful stable. As the Corporate Ministry showed, you don't need superstars. Sure, the Corporate Ministry had the McMahons, the Undertaker and Triple H, but that's not what makes a stable great. A great stable has an excellent dynamic and should help elevate talent that usually would be no better than middle of the card.
The WWE got close with Nexus, but that was quickly dissolved.
A stable with a long reign is needed. It would add a whole new dimension to Raw and Smackdown. And it would give fans a group of people to love (or hate) for a long time.