In October 2004, WWE will stage two pay-per-view events; No Mercy and Taboo Tuesday. One is a Smackdown event, the other is a Raw event; one will be booked in the traditional way, the other will have its main event decided by us, the fans. However, that’s where the differences end; in every other major respect, both events will be much the same. Both will have an over-stretched pool of talent trying in vain to put on a memorable show, and both will have a seen-before look about it. In this case, it seems that more will most definitely be less.
Let’s look at the evidence. In June of this year, WWE also staged two separate pay-per-views within a couple of weeks of each other; Badd Blood, a Raw event, and the Great American Bash, a Smackdown event. Now let’s forget for a moment that the linear WWF/E championship belt was forever tarnished that night by going around the waist of John Layfield, and let’s look at a few facts. Eddie Guerrero first met JBL for the WWE championship at Judgement Day on May 16th (this match ended in an unsatisfying disqualification); they met again at the Great American Bash on June 27th in a gimmick match (Texas Bull-Rope); finally, they met on July 15th on Smackdown in a cage, the match which ended their feud.
The funny thing about those three matches is that the best match of the lot (in fact, the only universally-acclaimed match of the three) was on Smackdown . . . . . which means that, over the course of two months (from May 16th to July 15th), Eddie and JBL met three times, twice on pay-per-view and once on TV . . . . . and the TV match was the best one? Hey, it’s great to think from a fan’s perspective that the best match in a feud could be televised for free, but it’s not exactly going to make you buy a pay-per-view. The marquee match was given away for free? Somewhere along the line, the booking process didn’t go according to plan.
Aside from the fact that the best match of their feud came on Smackdown rather than on pay-per-view, Eddie and JBL’s feud is the proof, in a nutshell, of why more is so much less. Whether you liked the feud or not, it had a distinctly unsatisfying feel about it for me. I found myself wishing for the old days, when maybe Eddie and JBL’s feud might have run for a few months, with the television tapings being used to build the tension and tease the expectation for the big fight on pay-per-view, be it through promos or beat-downs. Eddie and JBL, in that situation, need have only fought twice in three months, and yet the feud would have been successful – without the need to have them on pay-per-view twice in less than two months.
Whether you agree with that viewpoint or not, I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that, right now, the WWE is riding the horse to the limit. That seems to be the company’s style. And when that horse drops, they won’t say “well, maybe we shouldn’t have pushed him so hard”; they’ll just get another one and do the same. They’ve done it with everything over the past few years. “More is more” seems to be the motto. The thing is, though, there’s only so often you can see something before it has that “seen it, done it, bought the t-shirt “vibe about it. And that’s when the problems arise.
I’ve mentioned the pay-per-view situation. Obviously I realise that we’re not in the 1980’s anymore; the business has moved on, and I’m not one of these people who longs for the old days. Progress is great, and I’ve really enjoyed my wrestling since the mid-nineties, when pro-wrestling in the United States seemed to move away from the cartoonish/’rasslin’ days of the 1980s, with new concepts, new rules and new people leading the way, such as Paul Heyman, Eric Bischoff, Steve Austin, ECW, nWo, D-X, etc. The goalposts were moved; WCW launched Nitro, started putting on more pay-per-views, first ten a year, then one every month, then WWF followed suit. And suddenly, with ECW’s events figured in as well, you had over thirty pay-per-views per year.
It was a great time to be a wrestling fan, beyond a shadow of a doubt. The thing is, back then, you had three distinct companies, three distinct philosophies, three distinct talent pools, and three distinct figureheads. More was better then simply because each of the companies was focused on being the absolute best and beating the others. Failure to do so, as WCW eventually discovered, would result in doom. That kind of thing tends to focus the creative and business minds of those involved. New stars were made, new styles were exposed, and the humble fan never had so much choice. Add to that the fact that all of these concepts were new and exciting, and you have the reason why 1996 – 2001 was boom-time for pro-wrestling.
Flash forward to 2004, and there’s only one show in town, and that company (the one that’s outlasted all others) seems to have lost its way a little bit. The company has spread a good-sized talent pool way too thin, which means that the quality of its two weekly TV shows (and maybe more importantly, the quality of its pay-per-views) has suffered. The way to make money from pay-per-view used to be to build up several feuds, gain the fans’ interest, build the tension and interest to a crescendo and convince them to hand over their money for the big show. Even with three companies jostling for position in the late ’90s, that’s how it went. There were no shortcuts used. Even as WCW tried to put WWF out of business, they still did things the right way. And yet now, with no one forcing their hand, the company seem to have gotten lazy.
I can only look at this from a fan’s perspective, and forgive me if that’s a one-sided view. Pay-per-view buy rates are down from the levels they were at in 1998/1999/2000. I’m sure there are many reasons for that which are much more pertinent than the natural fluctuations and lulls that wrestling sometimes experiences. From the start of the ‘Attitude’ era (when the company irreversibly changed direction) to present day, WWE have done everything to extremes. From concepts like Hell In A Cell to placing the Divas in situations that often approach soft porn, from seemingly never-ending one month title reigns to blood spillage, from pushing no-trick ponies and one-trick ponies to the max while holding down world-class talent to sleazy and boring soap opera stuff, WWE has done it all to the limit. The concepts that worked before aren’t new anymore. The fact is, I actually think that they’ve flogged the horse a bit too much – it’s not dead, but it does need time to recover. And that’s why business is down.
And yet instead of doing the sensible and simple things (which may include ending the roster split so as not to have their world-class talent spread so thinly, as well as cutting down on the pay-per-views so as not to overload things and also to cut down on the risk of overkill), WWE are actually organising more pay-per-views. And there’s talk of even more next year. Hey, of course they are. Buy rates are down, company profits are down, ratings are down – you only have to look at guys like Chris Kanyon, Jamie Noble and Sean O Haire to realise that. So the WWE have decided to make up for this with the reasoning that if the buy rates are 70% of what they were, then having 30% more pay-per-views will make up the difference. They’re making the net as wide as possible, and from a business perspective it may well be a good plan – just not from a fan’s viewpoint.
No Mercy will be the second time that Undertaker and JBL have met on pay-per-view in less than two months. Now, that’s ok – from the first year WWF did monthly pay-per-views (1997 I believe?), that’s been part of the course. And hey, lots of people will no doubt tune in to see if JBL finally gets his comeuppance. The thing is though, what about the undercard? What kind of quality will that have? At Judgement Day, for example, matches involving Hardcore Holly and Mordecai, Kenzo Suzuki and Billy Gunn went down like a lead balloon. If you finished watching without feeling short-changed, then good for you, but I’m sure you were in the minority.
I’m not a fool, and I’m not ignorant of the demands to be met. Writing four hours of (at times) original material each week is difficult, being a booker is difficult, and it isn’t helped by constant criticism. I can appreciate that. I just wish that the company could listen to the fans a bit more often. From E2K’s point of view – ok if you don’t want to push Y2J, ok if Triple H remains the man without question, ok if Stacey gets more coverage than Gail Kim – this goes beyond a fan trying to make out that he can book things better or wanting his favourites to get a push. This is a fundamental, basic philosophy that I wish the company would hear – in September 2004, more is not more.
I’ve said before that even though I like 80’s wrestling a lot, I’m not a die hard for the old days. However I do long for the days when a guy could hold a title for more than a couple of months at a time. This may seem a contradiction, seeing as how I was a big critic of Triple H’s December 2002 – September 2003 World Title reign, but believe me, that had nothing to do with longevity and everything to do with poor booking decisions and poor match quality (which I won’t go into here). The thing is, the Intercontinental championship got it’s biggest boost in quite some time thanks to Randy Orton’s seven/eight month reign this year. It was made to really mean something, and its prestige and profile was raised accordingly. Not since the days of The Rock as champion in 1998 (the Jericho/Benoit feuds notwithstanding) did the title have such prestige. There’s a lesson there: more title changes = not necessarily good.
I also believe (to a certain extent) in a guy paying his dues before a title comes his way. Someone like Booker T was championship material long before he came to the WWE, but how about people like Road Dogg, Godfather, Albert, etc who were all given a run with the Intercontinental strap back in its “rugby” days (everyone got a try, geddit?). Or how about JBL now? People who are given a title without having earnt it and proved they can carry it with distinction tarnish the image of said title, and it can’t be great for locker-room morale either. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; a belt doesn’t make a champion, a champion makes a belt.
These are just some points that have been going around in my head for a while, ever since Taboo Tuesday was announced. One more pay-per-view crammed into an over-crowded schedule, one more event to stretch the already-stretched resources of both rosters. I don’t know everything, and I don’t criticise for no reason. I appreciate many things that WWE are doing – pushing talented guys like Randy Orton, pushing talented female wrestlers, etc. But I feel this had to be said, and I’ll say it again – in September 2004, as far as pay-per-views go, more is not more. And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with Taboo Tuesday.
Geez . . . . . I really ain’t looking forward to next year. As Faarooq might say – Damn!!