The top of the card in WWE is producing some top quality storylines at the moment. With Seth Rollins heel turn and the World Heavyweight Championship saga, there are some exciting things happening. However, the undercard isn’t quite as stimulating. In fact, it’s downright boring.
Go ahead, name the most exciting thing about the undercard. Rusev’s semi-racist weekly destruction of minorities? Cody Rhodes picking horrible tag team partners for Goldust? Wondering how R-Truth wasn’t on the latest “future endeavored” list? With the exception of the antics of Bo Dallas (I am an unabashed Bo-liever), everything on the undercard makes me thankful I watch RAW on DVR. The creative team doesn’t seem to bother giving the undercard wrestlers and secondary championships any attention when it comes to creating interesting storylines for them or developing their characters. If they don’t care about these guys, then why should the fans?
It wasn’t always this way. Go back to the “boom periods” of the Rock and Wrestling Era and Attitude Era, and you’ll notice that one major advantage those time periods had was that the undercard was far superior to the current product. This isn’t due to the current product having less talent. There is arguably as much talent on the roster now as there has ever been. The biggest difference is the way the talent is used today compared to past, more successful eras. Now that we’ve established the problem, how can it be fixed? There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, but here are a few suggestions that might help.
When I was a young fan, Intercontinental title matches and feuds were almost as important as World Title matches, sometimes more important (see Summerslam 1992). The Intercontinental Title was sought after by everyone not in the main event picture. It was a springboard to bigger and better things for the likes of Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Macho Man Randy Savage, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Ultimate Warrior among others, and a crowning achievement for career mid-carders like Owen Hart, Mr. Perfect, Razor Ramon, etc. Nowadays the most important job an IC or United States champion has is to lose almost weekly to those at the top of the card.
Making the secondary titles mean something again is going to take some time. The first thing I would do is a pretty obvious step; stop having the champions lose non-title matches! When the fans see the IC or US champ constantly losing non-title matches, devalues the titles and the wrestler holding the title. I’m not saying that the champion should never lose. There are times when this can be done to set up contenders, like when Tatanka pinned IC champ Shawn Michaels twice in non-title matches to set up their encounter at WrestleMania IX. I am saying that the champions should not be losing weekly to wrestlers who are “above” these titles
Another suggestion I would make would be to eliminate the US title and introduce a 3rd tier championship, like the WWF European title or WCW TV title. This could be accomplished pretty easily. The simplest route would be to have a foreign heel (i.e. Rusev) win the title and declare the USA not worthy enough to have a title named after it and change it to the European title (or something else for that matter). Another, more entertaining way, would be to have a unification bout between the IC and US champions. This would eliminate the US title, while simultaneously boosting the worth of the IC title. Next, as Jim Ross suggested on a recent podcast, hold a tournament to declare a new TV or European champion.
JR suggested having someone underutilized, Dolph Ziggler, who would have quality matches every week win the title. While this would be entertaining, it would also cement Ziggler’s place at the bottom of the card. The way I, personally, would have the tournament play out would see Bo Dallas emerge victorious. Bo would then proclaim every week to his Bo-lievers, that the TV title is the most prestigious title in the WWE. This accomplishes two things: 1) It helps Bo establish his delusional character further. 2) His belief (or Bo-lief) that the title is prestigious helps establish that it is actually prestigious.
Another commonality of previous successful eras is quality tag team divisions. The late 1980’s was arguably the golden age for tag team wrestling. Teams like the British Bulldogs, Hart Foundation, Brain Busters, Rockers, Demolition, etc. were responsible for some of the best feuds and matches of the time. During the Attitude Era, teams like Edge & Christian, the Hardy Boyz, Dudley Boyz, Acolytes, and the New Age Outlaws brought the excitement back to tag team wrestling. Tag team wrestling not only enhances the undercard, it can be a launching pad to singles stardom. Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Edge, Jeff Hardy, and many others have used their success in the tag team ranks as a stepping stone into singles glory.
There have been teases of more emphasis being put on tag team wrestling, but that is all they are, teases. Just a few short months ago, it appeared that tag teams were on their way back to relevancy. There were more pertinent teams than any time in recent memory, and didn’t consist of randomly thrown together single stars. The Shield, The Brotherhood, The Usos, The Real Americans, Primetime Players, The Wyatts, Los Matadores, Tons of Funk, 3MB, and Rybaxel, while not a murderer’s row, was a respectable tag team division and were getting a solid amount of TV time.
It seems the strides that were made were all for naught. The tag team division is in shambles again. The Shield is in the process of becoming individual stars. The Brotherhood, who carried the division for months, are in the middle of a breakup. The Primetime Players and Tons of Funk both saw one member turn heel and then all members drift into obscurity. Two thirds of 3MB were just given their walking papers. The Usos are gaining popularity, but how many times can we see them take on the Wyatts and Rybaxel before everyone quits caring. I’m thinking that number is rapidly approaching.
This problem can be eradicated by adding more quality tag teams (not hastily thrown together singles acts) and investing more time in tag team feuds, and not just feuds for the title. There is enough underused talent currently on the roster that could be used to bolster the tag team division. The Ascension has been rumored to be called up to the main roster for a while. Guys like Justin Gabriel, Tyson Kidd, Adrian Neville, Sami Zayn, and the recently fired Curt Hawkins and Evan Bourne are all tremendously talented, but don’t have a consistent spot anywhere besides NXT. Package them together in any combination and you have three exiting high flying tag teams. Not to mention the guys that have charisma and/or a good look but have deficiencies in the ring or former stars that have lost a step that could be combined with the aforementioned group to produce entertaining tag teams.
There are also a ton of quality tag teams on the indy scene and in Japan that would immediately boost the WWE’s weak tag team division. The Young Bucks, ReDragon, The Briscoes, Killer Elite Squad, Karl Anderson/Doc Gallows, and Bad Influence would all be the #1 or at worst #2 tag team on the roster immediately if they were signed. Don’t forget that The American Wolves made one appearance on NXT before going to the soul-sucking hellhole that is TNA. There are talented teams out there, and that could be made on the current roster that could be used to tell some fantastic stories. Instead, we get a tag team roster that is four teams deep and almost no stories.
Tell stories with the undercard!!!
This seems simple enough right, having actual storylines for guys not in the main event or named John Cena? This is an option isn’t it? I’m not crazy am I? If you’ve only been watching wrestling for a short amount of time, you may think I am crazy. I know the norm for an undercard feud is Kofi Kingston and Dolph Ziggler having a match on every single show with no reason at all for months on end, but there was a time when guys would have a reason to have a feud with another guy. The stories don’t have to be extravagant. They just need to be stories. Rick “The Model” Martel was a lifetime mid-carder, but I vividly remember his feuds against Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Tatanka. Martel was a heel, and did things that heels do, spraying his “Arrogance” cologne into Roberts’ eyes, and stealing a feather from Tatanka’s Native American headdress. The faces wanted payback to these injustices, and eventually got it.
These were examples of simple storylines that gave the fans a reason to hate the heels and cheer for the faces. It’s that simple. You want fans to care about wrestlers, give them a reason. Give them a reason to boo the heels, and a reason to cheer the faces. Take time to develop the characters. Instead of showing endless replays of what happened at the beginning of RAW or the horrible “comedy” segments, take some time to tell what the undercard guys are all about. Better yet, let them tell us! Let some of these guys talk! Instead of writing bland promos for everybody that gets the rare chance to talk, give them bullet points to cover and leave them to their own devices to get their characters over. Kofi Kingston has been with the WWE for what seems like forever. We still don’t know anything about him other than he performs innovative athletic moves, has won several mid-card titles, and smiles a lot.
Take out the smiling and that describes Shelton Benjamin and John Morrison’s tenures as singles stars. That is a lot of wasted potential in those three guys. If they were the only three to suffer this fate, that wouldn’t be a huge problem. However, this has been a problem for years and there are WAY too many talented wrestlers suffering this same fate. Granted, all the guys that weren’t given any kind of character development wouldn’t have found success. They would have all had a chance though. Let the fans know who these guys are, give them stories to continue developing their characters, and then the fans have a reason to be interested. If the fans are interested, then everyone wins. These steps wouldn’t fix all the problems with the undercard, and won’t happen overnight, but they would be a start in the right direction.
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