It’s that time of the year again folks, the dark period of sports that is an endless ESPN news cycle of football suspensions, NBA title victory tours, coaching hires, free agency, and off-season shenanigans. That’s right everyone, it’s baseball season or better known to wrestling fans as the “Post-WrestleMania” period.
Growing up during the Attitude and Invasion Eras, I always looked forward to the Post-Wrestlemania time. It was a time for excitement as storylines were refreshed, long title reigns began, and small titles changed hands. The faces that lost their matches at Mania almost always had a comeback, and the heels generally found their comeuppance or turned on the jets, launching more diabolical schemes to bring the faces to their knees (although Big Evil dragging Hogan behind his bike does seem a bit less diabolical given this weekend’s events). Yes, the typical lineup of Backlash, Judgment Day, King of the Ring, and Vengeance all were key elements of formulating an exciting time in the wrestling world for building to our mid-year climax that is SummerSlam, and overall, it was a fun time to be a wrestling fan. In essence, the “Post-Wrestlemania” period is like the 1st episode of the next season of the show you’re watching on Netflix; you just watched this huge, culminating moment in the show, and the next one has to hook you and make you hunger for more.
15 years later, this period that saw all of the aforementioned things I loved come to fruition has become notorious for failing to deliver satisfaction to wrestling fans. Perhaps there is a degree of nostalgia and lack of memory that prompts me to remember this build up period as lackluster, but overall, it seems fair to say that this period has gotten progressively worse over the last 5 years and that the “Post-Wrestlemania” Period has become a bit of a problem spot. Let’s take a look:
Summer of 2011 – Ah, the Summer of Punk. To most of us, that’s all that needs to be said, but for those that don’t know, The Summer of Punk saw CM Punk drop his infamous “Pipe Bomb Promo,” and subsequently win the WWE title, seemingly absconding with it. Yes, it was all CM Punk that summer.
Summer of 2012 – OH MY GOD BROCK LESNAR IS BACK. And then…he’s not? This summer was all about “People Power” as we saw John Laurinaitis feud with John Cena over the control and direction of WWE. BUT THEN LESNAR IS BACK FOR SUMMERSLAM. Meanwhile, in the background, we had Daniel Bryan on the comeback after losing the World Heavyweight Title to Sheamus at Mania and feuding with CM Punk. Summerslam culminated with Lesnar facing Triple H, and CM Punk facing off against Cena and Big Show. Also, very subtly hidden in this fray is the debut of Cesaro, who finally made it to the main roster.
Summer of 2013 – On the heels of Twice in a Lifetime, we see Cena have feuds with Ryback and Mark Henry before setting up Daniel Bryan for Summerslam. Not to mention, on the flip side, we saw Dolph cash in on Alberto Del Rio, and feud with him briefly. We also see Lesnar / Triple H again at Extreme Rules, and of course Lesnar goes on hiatus again afterward. Probably most noteworthy though are the reigns (lol) of the Shield, as they dominate the Tag Team and US Title divisions.
Summer of 2014 – DANIEL BRYAN DID IT. OH, MY GOD, HE DID IT. And then, after a match against Kane at Extreme Rules, Bryan relinquishes the title due to injury. Meanwhile, rising star Bray Wyatt rebounds from what some would say was his most damaging loss yet to John Cena by beating Cena at Extreme Rules. The rest of the year revolved around Cena’s pursuit and the reacquisition of the title before being destroyed by the Beast Incarnate. We also saw the debut of Rusev and the beginning of his long undefeated streak.
Looking back at all of these summaries, I’ll admit, on paper, those look like incredible programs, more so than I remember at least, especially summer of 2010 and 2011. But if they look so good on paper, why is it that I don’t remember them being nearly as good? I mean, many of these angles that had pretty solid beginnings – Nexus, Summer of Punk, Return of Lesnar, People Power, Anonymous Raw GM – that would suggest that they would be landmark events in WWE history. However, the issue with these angles seems to be that, upon playing out entirely, they didn’t really amount to anything useful for the company or the fans. Now, that’s not to say that these angles didn’t have positive outcomes in some ways, but let’s examine how each of these fell apart: The Nexus ended with Wade Barrett being one of the only salvageable stars, who is now drowning in the mid card with great gimmicks that have been squandered, while the rest of the Nexus was relegated to the undercard or released. They had a “restart” as The Corre, but their paycheck match at Mania XXVII was a full-on burial of that angle. The Summer of Punk was incredible when Punk left, but his return just a week later was just crap, and then the subsequent failure to capitalize on his popularity by having Del Rio beat him with a cash-in, followed by jamming him into a match with Triple H, was an unfortunate misstep that they couldn’t recover from until his long reign the next year. The return of Lesnar was marred by the fact that Cena immediately beat him (even if it was with a chain and steel steps), and now this looks even worse given his dominance after ending The Streak. People Power featured a Stale John Cena gimmick go up against an even more stale, less-than-vanilla John Laurinaitis, as well as the Big Show. And lastly, the Anonymous Raw GM, who often times was so unpredictable that it was entertaining, ended up fading into obscurity, never to be referenced until it was revealed to be Hornswoggle. Not such a bright picture anymore, huh?
Judging by the way that all of these angles played out, it seems that the “Post-Wrestlemania” problem is a lack of foresight on WWE’s part. All of these storylines suggest that these great ideas were great ideas…in April. But the thing about plans made in April is that they have to have the legs or proper closure to make it all the way through summer. This lack of foresight is of course affected by the fact that after so many hot angles from Summerslam until Mania, there’s a lot of steam taken out of the writing team. It’s like running a marathon and finishing, only to be given a bike and being forced to immediately start another race. Sometimes, angles have to be rushed into and they don’t have a chance to be thought through. Guys take time off after the big show. Some guys retire. Some guys get hurt. In short, it’s undoubtedly a tough spot for the writers to be in.
So what should be done? How can WWE address the “Post-Wrestlemania” problem? Well, the blunt and obvious answer is to plan better. Have dedicated angles for folks, alternate plans for injuries, and consequential outcomes for various programs. Nothing is more infuriating than watching Bray Wyatt work himself and put over theprogram after program over on the mic, yet constantly be beaten and have nothing consequential come of it. It makes him look like a fancy jobber.
A more concrete answer, however, may be what creative seems to be leaning towards this year, as well as what in retrospect happened last year: making Pay-Per-Views, especially SummerSlam, matter. As I mentioned, events and programs need to be consequential, and last year’s SummerSlam is a great example of how consequential events can matter. Cena getting obliterated last year by Lesnar is a great example of what a consequential program can do for the WWE. Lesnar’s win sent major shockwaves through the WWE. As a result of that, Cena has stepped away from the World Title picture and had a minor identity crisis, and Lesnar looks like even more of a monster after dominating a character whose strength has been pretty protected for the last decade. The addition of Undertaker, as well as widely circulating rumors of celebrity appearances at SummerSlam, suggests that WWE is attempting to make shows like SummerSlam on par with Wrestlemania.
Another solution that WWE has traditionally dabbled into, but done very well this summer, is to use this time to elevate the younger talents. No example is better than Kevin Owens. His inclusion in big events, as well as a stunning victory over Cena at Elimination Chamber, not only, has added to the appeal of these Pay-Per-Views, but also created an exciting buzz about his career. The same goes for Neville, as his inclusion in the IC Title picture has been exciting. While he hasn’t quite gotten the signature win yet that Owens has, Neville has shown a lot of promise, and it’s good that he’s gotten a chance to do so. Last but not least, WWE has done a phenomenal job elevating stars through the use of the tag team division. From elevating new stars like the former members of The Shield, to propelling work horses who never seemed to get the singles recognition they deserved like Cesaro, Tyson Kidd, Titus O’Neill, Kofi Kingston, Big E, and many others, WWE has breathed life into a tag division that has seemed stagnant in the last few years while simultaneously giving their stars more opportunities to shine. And of course, we can’t forget the divas division. The improvement of the quality of women’s wrestling has been incredible thanks to the efforts of wrestlers like AJ, Paige, Sasha Banks, and Charlotte putting on good matches. Giving divas a chance to shed the moniker of divas and shine as wrestlers helps them and the product grow, and gives them a much greater sense of legitimacy.
Another solution is to return to a two-hour format for Raw. I know, I know, everyone argues for this. But they are right in that returning Raw to a two-hour show will help make the product better. It seems that this lack of foresight and the rushing of angles has a lot to do with simply too much time for the writers to fill. When there is so much time, angles get rushed in an effort to provide content and fill up the three hours. When the angles are taken slowly, however, because of the extra time, shows seem slow and dull. Less time to fill means more time to refine.
The most drastic solution that I’ve heard proposed, however, is the implementation of an off-season. The argument put forward for this is that the writers can have all summer to plan angles and make plans for the upcoming year, while giving the guys and gals an opportunity to rest up and take the summer off to recuperate. This, in theory, would extend the longevity of the wrestlers, give them a chance to heal and address injuries, actually allow angles to be properly fleshed out, and make the product scarce so that fans hunger for more of it and tune in. As I mentioned before, less time to fill means more time to refine, and an off-season could produce a very well crafted and honed product that is sharp and makes sense. From a business standpoint, it also helps cut costs and save a little money and given WWE’s fire sale of employees over the last year, it seems that they would be interested in that. In a podcast with Stone Cold, Eric Bischoff mentioned that a brief hiatus for WCW helped spark its famous financial growth and success that Nitro saw during the 90s, and it could very well have the same effect for WWE. Furthermore, if the show takes on the format of a television series, just imagine the cliffhangers that can occur. Imagine the Survivor Series Team Authority vs. Team Cena angle with Sting returning being the season finale. Imagine Punk running away with the title after Money in the Bank being a series finale. The knowledge that it’s a season finale pulls in viewers and network subscriptions in the same way that shows like Game of Thrones and True Detective pull in subscribers to HBO, and the excitement to know what happens next would hook viewers and make them tune in for the next season. However, this seems to be the least likely solution given the reputations of Raw and Smackdown as being some of the longest syndicated shows on television.
So much potential for success, and yet, if the summertime sadness that is WWE’s lack of foresight rings true, all of these potential big events could end up with unsatisfying ends. No matter what, it’s most important that fans speak with their wallets and remotes, as Wade Keller noted that the ratings leading up to Battleground were some of the lowest WWE has gotten since the 90s (2.5).
What do you think? Is WWE’s lack of foresight going to damage the progress that has been made during this summer? Has progress been made at all this summer? Or will this summer seemingly end up like all of the others? What solution do you most favor to solve WWE’s “Post-Wrestlemania” problem?