The primary topic of conversation heading into WrestleMania isn’t surrounding a particular match or angle, but how bad the buildup has been. We are still two weeks out so WWE could turn things around, however, the creative direction of the product over the past year has been stale and hollow. It’s certainly not for a lack of trying, but there is a clear disconnect somewhere between the time when pen is put to paper and the moment the finished product materializes in front of the camera.
It’s no longer about Hulkamania running wild or Austin 3:16 opening a can of whoopass. It’s about Mattel toy lines, anti-bullying campaigns, red carpet premiers, and stock portfolios. The WWE brand is receiving the big main event push, not Roman Reigns. The act or performer is secondary, which is an inherit byproduct from when cooperation becomes corporation.
Other businesses in different genres have thrived when a company has changed their philosophy and agenda. The thing is, I don’t believe wrestling is something that can be presented in a cute little package because you are trying to make the unconventional conventional.
Look at what happened when Vince McMahon brought back ECW in 2006. It was a soulless parody of its former self as state of the art arenas, world class production values, a muted hardcore motif, and “entertainers” instead of wrestlers did anything but complement the counter culture ideology of the original.
Wrestling has always had a little dirt and grit to its presentation. Watch Monday Night Raw from March 30, 1998, the night after WrestleMania 14. The crowd was filled with signs galore and was hot for the entire show, wrestlers were booked strong, and there was a definitive voice and direction. Today, every aspect of WWE television looks too clean, too pristine, there is no firm direction, and the audience pops when they’re supposed to instead of reacting out of genuine approval.
HBO Boxing telecasts have a beautiful presentation to their broadcast, however, when the bell rings, the fight is often intense, competitive and brutal. WWE programming is focused on looking good instead of presenting substance that the audience can buy into. Sure, they have their moments, but playing it safe has stripped away the intensity and made their interpretation of the art look like fake fighting.
The WrestleMania lineup looks strong on paper. The ladder match for the intercontinental championship could steal the show if it’s given enough time, Sting vs. Triple H could be something memorable, and even though one half of the WWE title match leaves a lot to be desired in Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar delivers more often than not in main-event situations.
WWE could create the best stories on television, but it doesn’t matter if no one cares about the characters. The Walking Dead is a popular show that’s had its share of lackluster episodes. And even in those cases there are still compelling characters that make the show can’t miss TV such as the everyman-with-a-moral-code, Rick Grimes or the bright and loyal supply runner, Glenn.
I honestly hate writing pieces like this because I sound like that old person who swears wrestling used to be better. Still, I’m fearful because, what if this uninspired build remains intact but WrestleMania turns out to be an amazing show? It will be an indicator to the company that the build doesn’t matter as long as the end result is a slam bang success. In the end, this means angles and storylines don’t have to be as dynamic because the narrative doesn’t matter anymore.