WWE is a very mixed bag right now. If you want to see some of the best wrestling in the world, you can turn on any given wrestling show produced by them and see at least one really entertaining match. That couldn’t always be said about their product, but with guys like Seth Rollins, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, and Kevin Owens doing amazing things each time they are given the chance. But at the same time, you have a program at the top of the card being taken by older, slower, but far more popular stars for a tag match about eight years past it’s shelf life.
Look, I don’t try to knock older wrestlers. But at the same time, I think that there is a point where guys shouldn’t be at the top of the card, regardless of how big of a draw they still are. I know that this is a business, and with any business you have to look at profits and what makes you the most money, but you also have to have forward thinking, and that is something that seems to be lacking in a lot of wrestling right now.
Minoru Suzuki recently had an interview in Japan where he talked about what was missing from NJPW right now, and his answer was pretty telling, in that he stated there isn’t a star in their 20s right now. He pointed out that when Kazuchika Okada first won the IWGP Heavyweight Title, he was only 24. When I think back fifteen years ago, and I think of guys like John Cena, Randy Orton, and Dave Bautista, the landscape looked like there was so much on the horizon, and right now, I don’t feel that is the case at all.
Look at all the guys who should be future players and money makers for the WWE and NJPW. Most, if not all, are currently in their 30s, already in the stage of their career where they should be making the most money of their career. The problem is that unless you want some carousel of revolving champions that dilute the main event scene in the process, most of these guys will never reach the top. There are only so many spots available, and again, we have to see who has the most potential with earning money in those spots.
The biggest problem right now is with the mid-card. No one is ever built up to be a legitimate threat to anything in the long run. Even a guy like Braun Strowman, who was the most over person on the roster for much of the past year, was shown to be expendable. Since his heel turn after SummerSlam he has been booked vastly different. So we have all of that build up and having him crush everyone in his path save for Brock Lesnar, we are now seeing him act like a coward when it comes to facing off against Roman Reigns.
These companies aren’t doing much to make us believe that someone can rise through the ranks and become a true star. We have been conditioned to believe that there are only a select few that can make a true impact on the main event scene. Sure, there are exceptions like AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, but those guys were huge stars outside of WWE, and neither of them are young.
One could argue that there are wrestlers that are in the pipeline. NXT is as stacked as ever right now, and the match ups that you will see when they start to get called up is exciting, but looking at others who have prospered in NXT and then get called up to the main roster (Bobby Rude comes to mind), it doesn’t leave a lot of confidence that stars are on their way. I think a lot of times the writing team gets excited about having a new wrestler to incorporate into their story lines, but after a bit, the shine seems to fade and Vince gets convinced that the person doesn’t have the right “it” factor.
That is the big difference with WWE and the world outside of WWE. Vince wants to convince people that he knows what a star looks like. And he does. Lord knows that he has made this amount of money in wrestling because he knows his product and he knows his audience. But the problem is that is doesn’t leave much for organic growth. When we as fans see someone who we perceive as stars on TV, and then they get jobbed out continually once the honeymoon is over, it frustrates us. It feels like an insult of our intelligence,
One thing that WWE and NJPW have to consider is that there is so much on the horizon that is going to be crucial to growth of their product and profits going forward. WWE is going to be on network television, and they need big TV stars, not just “wrestling” stars, in order to keep the ratings consistent. Also, with New Japan Pro Wrestling trying to expand globally, they need to establish that they are a big deal outside of Japan, and the way they do that is to present stars that audiences want to see.
Nostalgia is a big part of professional wrestling. I remember being a kid and being excited to see Roddy Piper and Terry Funk wrestle, even though they were well past their primes. But, it is not a viable way to continue making money. One only has to look back to the end of WCW, and while many mistakes were made then, I think the most glaring one was that they never established young talent that would eventually replace guys like Hogan and Flair at the top. Let’s hope that the top companies now-a-days don’t make the same mistake.