Most WWE fans would tell you that 2016 was a good year for the world’s top sports entertainment company. WWE created some new stars, elevated women’s wrestling to heights previously unseen, and generated interest with a brand split. That said, there is still a lot of room for improvement in 2017. Here are five things that Vince McMahon, who remains the sole “Authority” in all things WWE, should resolve to accomplish in the coming year.
Number One: Keep building new stars
While WWE did build some new stars in 2016, the company still relied on the tried-and-true in too many situations. The past year saw some new names like Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura and (almost) Finn Balor rise to national prominence. However, when push came to shove, Vince resorted to old-school stars like Brock Lesnar, Goldberg, HHH and Shane McMahon to pique the WWE Universe’s interest in some of the biggest spots of the year. When so much of the weekly programming is dedicated to elevating these new faces, it doesn’t make sense to resort to the same familiar faces to get the product over. If anything, going to that well over and over sends the message that the weekly TV shows aren’t that important. It’s time to take off the training wheels and see if these new stars can carry the company going forward.
Number Two: Make Raw a two-hour show
WWE has three major weekly television shows (if you don’t count 205 Live). While the company obviously considers Raw to be the flagship show, many fans would tell you that SmackDown Live and NXT are the most compelling. There are many reasons for this, but the WWE Universe’s biggest complaint about Monday nights is that Raw is just too damn long. The three-hour Raw has often dragged, and is usually full of replays, lame comedy segments and long promo segments that don’t do much to promote the product. Smackdown Live is better. The two-hour show features more wrestling, less filler, and more focused story lines. Many would tell you that NXT’s Wednesday night presentations on the WWE Network are the best of the lot. The developmental brand only gets an hour each week, but has still managed to create new stars, cultivate a rabid fan base, and sell merchandise. It’s likely that the USA Network pushed Vince for a three-hour show to sell more ad time. If the show got better ratings, which is possible and even likely, as a two-hour presentation, couldn’t the network sell those ads for more money? Cutting the show to two hours would help get rid of the lame comedy, the frequent replays, and allow WWE to focus more on the in-ring product.
Number Three: Promote the Cruiserweight Division
One of the best things that WWE did in 2016 was elevating women’s wrestling to a new level. The women had a banner year, main-eventing Raw on several occasions and even headlining October’s Hell in a Cell PPV with a huge match between Charlotte and Sasha Banks. The company is brimming with talented cruiserweights like Rich Swann, Jack Gallagher, Neville and many others. It’s time to give the high-flyers the same treatment that the ladies got in 2016. The company garnered strong ratings and critical acclaim for its Cruiserweight Classic on the WWE Network this summer. From most reports, the cruiserweight-exclusive 205 Live on the network is also doing well. This should be enough evidence to show Mr. McMahon that he can count on these smaller workers the same way he counted on the women. Elevating the cruiserweights would expose the audience to an exciting style of wrestling, and take some of the load off the guys currently at the top of the card. If the Cruiserweight Division proves to be as compelling as the women have been, it gives the WWE creative team more options for weekly TV and PPVs.
Number Four: Pull the trigger on some turns
One of the major problems with WWE programming is that someone (we’re looking at you, Vince) often decides what the audience wants to see instead of reacting to what the fans are telling them. Case in point is Roman Reigns. At some point, WWE decided that Reigns was going to be the one to replace John Cena as the face of the company. All the elements were there. Reigns looks the part, is a fantastic physical specimen, and has shown over time that he can deliver great matches with a variety of opponents. The big push was underway. The only problem is that the fans aren’t down with “The Big Dog.” Reigns gets booed out of the building almost every time he’s introduced. This isn’t a case of “Let’s Go Cena….Cena Sucks.” This is “go home” heat. Admittedly, a big part of the reason for the fans’ rejection of Reigns is the perception that WWE is forcing him into the main event. Vince doesn’t have to give up on Reigns, but he should listen to the crowd. Since Reigns is getting booed anyway, why not turn him heel? In my fantasy world, Reigns would be traded to SmackDown Live. Daniel Bryan would come out to announce the acquisition, and Reigns would come down the ramp to the sound of boos cascading from the crowd. Once he reached the ring, Reigns would take a mic, smirk at the fans, and say that things will be different for him on Smackdown. Then, he’d drop the mic and spear Bryan out of his shoes (if DB can take a spear). The crowd would absolutely rage at Roman, and the turn would be complete. There’s no doubt that Reigns is a talent – so make use of the hatred and make him a bad guy. I won’t advocate for a Cena heel turn (though I think it could have a Hogan-like effect), since it’s doubtful it would ever happen. However, there are others on the roster that could benefit from a “personality overhaul.” Picture a babyface Kevin Owens mocking a heel challenger or Sasha Banks getting to be The Boss again. WWE needs to realize that bad guys sell tee shirts too.
Number Five: Create more original content for the WWE Network
The WWE Network has been one of Vince McMahon’s greatest accomplishments. For wrestling fans, the network is better than Netflix – everything is there for less than $10 per month. The countless hours of classic content are fantastic. Who doesn’t want to watch the 1991 Royal Rumble whenever the mood strikes? However, the best part of the WWE Network is its original programming. I’m not necessarily talking about Swerved or Camp WWE (okay, I’m definitely NOT talking about them), but shows like Breaking Ground and the WWE Original Specials like First Look and WWE 24. I watched Breaking Ground with my son when it first premiered on the WWE Network. Not only did the show offer a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the WWE Performance Center and NXT, but it introduced me to several new stars like Bayley, Nia Jax, Baron Corbin and Tyler Breeze. Without BG, I wouldn’t have had any idea who those stars were when they were called up to the main roster. Because I knew about them, I was more into them when they showed up on the “big” shows. Watching Breaking Ground also helped me to discover the Mojo Rawley is actually a great dude who connected to some young NXT fans in a very touching way. He’s also incredibly smart and a tireless worker. If I didn’t know these things, I’d absolutely HATE the character. (Which would be bad, since he’s a babyface.) Watching a couple of the documentaries (about the women’s revolution and Seth Rollins’ rehab) made me feel connected to the product. WWE is really good at producing this kind of material. They should do more of it in 2017.
Hopefully, WWE will take on some of these projects in the next 365 days, and 2017 will be an even better year than the one just past.