It is a rare thing indeed for a company that posts quarterly profits like clockwork to be so consistently criticised by its audience. Such slavish adherence to the stability of the bottom line is typical and necessary, but also symptomatic of a problem. The WWE has been neglecting its fundamental imperative of manufacturing new, marketable stars for years now. Not since the elevation of CM Punk in two-thousand-eight has the league produced a bonafide top-level attraction. This writer, alongside many others on Wrestleview.com and beyond, have documented this colossal failure on multiple occasions. It is by no means a new subject. Nevertheless, the issue bears consistent scrutiny.
The problem alluded to earlier finds its roots in fear and neglect. Vince McMahon and, by extension, his writing team fear the potential negative impact of entrusting a newly minted performer with the responsibility of main events. As a consequence, the emerging prospects are inadequately prepared for their initial introduction; never mind the top-line work.
In the absence of a well-financed and aggressive competitor (a la WCW circa-1996-1998) from which to ?acquire? ready made performers, WWE has to engineer its own. In two-thousand-two the OVW class of trainees yielded John ?Prototype? Cena, Dave ?Leviathan? Batista and Randy Orton. Brock Lesnar was another who made his debut that year. Since then, the conveyer has switched from Ohio to Florida via numerous trainers and journeymen. The output has been consistent but lacking in genuine productivity. The goal of any world-class training facility should be to produce one to two world-class performers per annum. WWE has failed dismally in this capacity.
Those tempted to mention CM Punk as a more recent example should do so with a hefty caveat. Punk was already a well-rounded and polished performer who had wrestled a variety of opponents in hour-long matches in Ring Of Honor prior to joining WWE. As such, Punk’s situation is a potent example of the problems afflicting the developmental strategies of WWE at present. Though loathe to acknowledge it, the WWE has been weakened by the absence of WCW and the original ECW. The days of defections and bidding wars are long since departed. The likes of Paul ?Big Show? Wight or Chris Jericho had years of mainstream wrestling experience under their belts before arriving in WWE. Though various promotions have arisen in the interim – most notably TNA – none can yet offer the experience afforded former stars of WCW and ECW.
TNA Wrestling is home to numerous ex-WWE performers; many of whom have enjoyed sustained pushes precisely because of that fact. TNA is of course booked (until January at least) by Vince Russo. Russo’s disastrous attempts to transform WCW into a clone of the Attitude-era WWF hastened the destruction of the once prosperous league. Disturbingly, he has demonstrated the same foolhardy inclinations during his tenure at the helm of TNA: The same old boys on top; shock and awe television and angles which make no sense and illogical heel turns. In an ironic and unintended aside, the failure on the part of TNA to consistently push its own original performers has shielded them from potential talent raids, as sans a regular showcase WWE scouts are less convinced of their potential. This begs the question as to why the highly publicised likes of AJ Styles and Samoa Joe have avoided the WWE radar. The truth is they haven?t. Their reticence in considering WWE as a viable career path owes to another glaring error in the WWE recruitment policy.
Upon his arrival in WWE, CM Punk was subjected to a pre-show tryout under the watchful gaze of Arn Anderson, Shawn Michaels and Paul ?Triple H? Levesque. Hubris took hold as the assembled old guard took one look at the young, energetic and exciting Punk and deemed him ?unable to work?. He was thus despatched to OVW for ?tuning? before being unleashed on the new ECW brand in 2006. Hilariously, the famed WWE ideas department had failed to conceive of a gimmick that bettered Punk’s own imagination, so his refreshing ‘straight edge? persona survived. The joke is on wrestling fans as they watch new acts repeatedly thrust into the spotlight, totally unprepared, with the same identikit personae and dull ?kick, punch, rest hold? offence.
It goes without saying WWE cannot totally replicate the environments needed to adequately prepare a wrestler for the pressure-cooker ?WWE Universe?. Nevertheless WWE, in its arrogance and paranoia, actively seeks to eradicate any trace of individuality on unsanctioned dynamism it encounters. It was of no consequence to Vince McMahon that CM Punk already had scores of classic contests under his belt prior to joining WWE. Said matches didn?t occur in WWE, hence they didn?t happen period. Samoa Joe and AJ Styles would both be subjected to this treatment if they joined WWE. Like breaking in a stallion, WWE expects total obedience and adherence to company mantra at the expense of anything ?undesirable?. All facets of character, look, vocabulary and arsenal are strictly controlled. It is a silly and altogether dumb form of fascism that invariably handicaps a performer before he’s even begun his journey.
As WWE is incapable of seeing the folly of its ways, it continues to hire, train, fire and re-hire wrestler after wrestler after wrestler, never affording any the time to fail adequately, never mind prosper. WWE has not once succeeded in advancing one of its cookie-cutter wrestlers to genuine stardom. It’s staggering that WWE cannot see that virtually every upper card act on its books enjoyed the benefit of time, genuine character development and a wide variety of formative training experiences. In the absence of certain conditions WWE should be investing millions in training facilities and scouring the globe for any and everyone who might reach the promised land if afforded the opportunity. They should be embracing every philosophy and idea that might power a new boom. Sadly, as the recent departure of Shane McMahon powerfully attests to, all heretical (i.e. different) viewpoints are systematically sidelined and eventually crushed. To paraphrase British actor Christopher Eccleston: ?Any other wrestling organisation is different and anything different is wrong?.
The likes of Kofi Kingston, The Miz, John Morrison and ? most recently ? Sheamus are the apparent hope for the future. Sadly for them, WWE has either dawdled (Morrison), jobbed out (Miz) or overestimated their abilities (Sheamus). Kingston is making the most of his feud with Randy Orton and has genuine promise as a performer; especially since he’s lost the silly Rastafarian accent. The Legacy (Cody Rhodes and Ted Dibiase) are terrific pieces of talent with the right genes. They?ve also been the grateful recipients of lengthy, sustained and career-establishing pushes. If, as expected, Dibiase is turned and feuds with the despicable Orton in the new year, WWE may have a new star on its hands. They can but try. The point is they shouldn?t have to start trying, they should never have stopped. One way or another, two-thousand-ten needs to be a year of gargantuan creative progress for WWE (and Hulk ?TNA? Hogan). Anything less would be criminal.
Daniel R. Browne