People call Vince McMahon a genius for his ability to manipulate or “work” the crowd. I believe if he was a true genius he would realize that he doesn’t have to do that at all. All he’d have to do is put on a good wrestling show that people want to see. To sift fact from internet rumor, CM Punk really did walk and probably isn’t coming back. Batista vs. Orton has been the planned main event since before the Royal Rumble. There was no grand plan, just business as usual. WWE’s corporate business plan isn’t in line with what the hardcore fan wants and is pulling out all the stops to get them there. For arguably the first time, it isn’t working on the scale it usually does and WWE is doing everything in its power to make sure the wider audience doesn’t realize it.
To whatever extent this has been turned into a work, it was because the fans forced their hand and caused them to alter course. I think a lot of people are quick to defend WWE thinking that it is going to get them noticed and they are going to get this magical call from Stamford. It’s much the same as Occupy Wall Street detractors thinking some rich person is going to come along and lift them out of the middle class as a reward, that isn’t happening. It begs the question of who is really getting worked here?
If WWE Raw from Chicago was a good show and executed excellent booking to quell the hijackers, it was good for all the wrong reasons. It shouldn’t take the threat of a potential fan revolt to force WWE to push the envelope creatively and produce 3 hours of television worthy of our attention. Scripts shouldn’t have to be written to harness and redirect legit fan heat that was created from past booking failures. There is nothing “clever or genius” about WWE having to go in and clean up a mess it made in the first place. The only genius to it was making the anti-hijackers think that the hijackers got worked, when in reality it was the hijack detractors themselves that got worked.
Before the Rumble, the general consensus was that the show wasn’t that good. That it had gotten lazy and repetitive and lost direction. That story-lines were inconsistent or in many cases nonexistent. WWE was genius in that they converted the hijack detractors from once critics of the product to supporters of it without creative actually having done anything. It is truly ironic. WWE worked its “supporters” into seeing and defending something that isn’t there. They made most of us forget that a few weeks ago, we all thought it sucked and it really still does. The Uso’s getting the tag titles wasn’t about quieting the Chicago crowd, it was about strengthening the resolve of the hijack critics, to reassure them that WWE really does know what it’s doing and really does have the fan’s best interest at heart.
In an article on SBNation.com, Steven Godfrey brought up an interesting point, “If you're a self-professed smark who couldn't see a Batista title run dovetailing with a summer movie PR tour as soon as his casting was announced, you're not that damn smarky.” I believe critics of the hijack movement would be quick to nod in agreement with this quote, but they’re missing the point. The “hijackers” are very much onto the fact that corporate business decisions are trumping the art and the quality of professional wrestling. They know why these decisions are made and don’t agree with it and made an attempt at protesting it.
I think a lot of fans, myself included, have been wise to this for a long time. I was willing to overlook these “creative” decisions as long as it was still fun to watch. Unfortunately for me, and I think the larger point that a lot of people miss, is that this isn’t fun to watch anymore. I’m very much a mark in that they just need to give me some good wrestling with some entertaining characters and some good angles that allow me to “suspend my disbelief” for a while and I’m a happy guy. NXT Arrival was a great example. I walked away a happy guy and WWE didn’t have to mind f**k me to get me there. Why? Because it was good wrestling for the sake of good wrestling. They didn’t have to manipulate me into buying into stories that are designed to sell merchandise and score some PR rather than just being good stories.
The problem for me now is that the corporate planning, however “clever and genius” it might be, is so in my face on every show that it has become impossible for me to suspend that disbelief. I am constantly reminded that this is fake and since the rumble has gotten so vile with regard to putting the smarks in their place or antagonizing them to generate some cheap heat that I just don’t enjoy watching it.
The owner’s daughter coming out to tell me I wouldn’t be watching if it wasn’t for her family or her husband calling a lot of the talented workers that kept me watching all these years “the B+ Players” doesn’t get me “hot” at them, it’s not genius booking, it just makes me feel stupid and ripped off. It seems that WWE does everything in its power to maintain a fan base and generate revenue except put on a decent wrestling show and Monday night was more an effort keep the casual fan from finally figuring that out.
The efforts of this past Monday and previous weeks weren’t about working the hijackers; they were about preventing other wrestling fans from becoming hijackers. Raw was about placating to the casual fan, to appease them and reassure them that everything is under control and that they know what they’re doing. Well, they do know what they’re doing, just not in the way some have come out to defend them.
I think the real issue here, and one that WWE has struggled with for a long time, is that being a large entertainment corporation isn’t compatible with being a professional wrestling promotion. They’ve never really found the right balance. The “hijackers,” armed with years of proof of this, are finally calling them out on it and WWE doesn’t like it, so they’ve enlisted the casual fan to justify what have been some pretty brutal business decisions that just aren’t compatible with good pro wrestling story telling.
I would cite last year’s WrestleMania buy rate as a sign that they don’t always know what they’re doing. An article on Bleacher Report (link) after last year’s event confirmed that the buy rate was down by 205,000 or 16.4%. They figured elevating the corporate profile by having the WWE title on a Hollywood actor was worth reneging on their “Once in a Lifetime” promise and it backfired a bit. Rather than change course they made the decision to triple down, this time with Batista. The hijack detractors seem to miss is that by bringing back the Rock or bringing in Batista, WWE is essentially admitting that they don’t have confidence in their full time roster and have failed at producing a new top star that they are comfortable marketing. Daniel Bryan has only been thrown into the mix to cover this up. They never intended for him to have a main event spot at 30. He was going to wrestle Sheamus again. Remember, he wasn’t in the Rumble.
For those that still think the Daniel Bryan storyline has been a brilliant work the whole time, it wasn’t and still isn’t. Having him constantly getting “screwed” out of the title wasn’t just about bilking PPV dollars out of the hardcore fans, it was also to burn him out, much as they did with CM Punk in years prior so they could, again, get away with sticking him in the mid card at WM. If and when he gets the WWE Championship, it will just be to quiet the hardcore fans down, not because there was some genius booking/ slow burn type plan.
If Bryan does get the title, his run will be short-lived, it will be meaningless, he will be marginalized to hopefully burn out his fan base once and for all, relegated back to the mid card and that’s going to be the end of it. The hardcore fans aren’t being worked, they very much aware of this and are telling WWE that they just want to see good wrestling again. The “genius” of WWE is getting everyone else to focus on and poke fun at the hardcore fan, when in reality everyone has just been distracted from realizing that there never was a plan.
With all that said WWE has really backed itself into a corner. WrestleMania 30 needs to be a good show. They really need to legitimately deliver and at a time when it’s hardcore fan base is the most outspoken and the most critical about its true business decision making. In placating to the hijack detractors, WWE has put itself into a position where John Cena needs to lose and Daniel Bryan needs to walk out of WM with the title. Despite what “supporters” may think, this would be the first time WWE, in recent memory anyway, would truly be doing what the fans want rather than what WWE considers to be good corporate business. So they are forced with the decision of altering their plans or exposing themselves to the rest of the audience.
It is truly going to be interesting to watch. Picture WrestleMania XXX. The place is filled with hardcore fans, while casual fans are watching at home. If WWE maintains its position and books according to marketing or business plans, the casual fan is going to see the Royal Rumble all over again times four. Only this time, they aren’t going to be able to walk away thinking WWE did a great job “working the marks.” They are going to have no choice but to come to terms with and realize what “good for business” truly means.
WrestleMania XXX could end in disaster. The viewership and interest generally declines post-WrestleMania season. This year, the big question could be how big was the loss? It really is unfortunate, because this year, unlike years past, they really had the fans at hello. They didn’t have to bring in a Hollywood movie star to sell WrestleMania. They had what they needed and they didn’t have to work anybody to sell it, but they blew it anyway. And it’s only a matter of time before all the fans realize it.
Follow me on Twitter: @AJarczyk.
Follow us on Twitter @Kayfabe_Kickout, to get the latest news in the world of professional wrestling and like us on Facebook as well. To submit wrestling news email firstname.lastname@example.org.