I’ve just finished watching last night’s WWE Hell in a Cell pay-per-view in something like reverse order; after I happened to be up late enough to see the main event of Brock Lesnar vs The Undertaker last night, I’ve ended with the pre-show six-man tag match which pitted Dolph Ziggler, Neville and Cesaro against King Barrett, Rusev and Sheamus.
In a show which also touted Kane competing for a WWE World Title shot against Seth Rollins, and The Dudley Boyz against The New Day for the Tag Titles, I’ve become confused as to what the year is.
In the year 2000, you’ll have found D-Von and Bubba Ray, Taker and Kane all floating about at the top of the card against guys like Edge and Christian, The Rock and Triple H.
Hang on, they’re all ringing a bell too. Could it be that, 15 years on from the time that WWE became the hottest commodity in all of pop culture, they’re still hanging on to the same old names appearing on their programming in an effort to pop buy rates and ratings?
Yes it could. And while (spoilers), none of those more established names were able to get the victory, in kayfabe terms it’s all well and good giving the younger guys some of ‘the rub’ by getting the wins, but realistically none of these performers should still be in the mix.
But while those guys are staking their claims on the championship titles, it’s keeping out some of the younger talents – the best six examples of which (if you really must count Sheamus…) are stuck in the curtain-jerker spot, warming up the crowd with what was honestly one of my favourite matches of the night.
While I’ll concede that Wade ‘King of Bad News’ Barrett isn’t exactly setting the world on fire with his character, he is a very good hand to have on your roster. But as for the rest of that line-up, I’ll single out Cesaro as the man who’s so deserving of a Prime Time (Players) spot on any given WWE card, that it feels criminal for him to be denied one by the likes of Kane, Taker and the damn Dudleys – again, all of whom I’m a fan of.
But the higher-ups’ reluctance to trust these talents with prestigious spots, or to have some patience when they did previously have the spotlight – Ziggler’s MITB briefcase win and two WHC reigns come to mind – is costing them dearly in fan reactions for two reasons.
Sure, you’ve got part-timers like Taker, Lesnar and even The Rock who are prepared to show up and do battle, alongside the likes of legends like Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels to turn up and talk the talk, but we’re getting to a generational gap where younger fans – let’s just call them Cena fans and be done with it – won’t physically be aware of the days where these guys made their original mark. They won’t even have been born!
And more egregiously, as the same older names do turn up for the occasional run – Taker’s now wrestled as many times in 2015 as he did from 2012 to 2014 – they’re costing men like the aforementioned Cesaro, Rusev and Barrett their own run near or at the top. It’s this lack of opportunity to gain the biggest of big match experience that was partly why one CM Punk left the company after the 2014 Royal Rumble; one of the hottest heels of the past five years was jobbed out left and right to part-timers like Taker and The Rock – the latter for his WWE World Title which The Rock duly dropped to Cena during their second consecutive Wrestlemania main event.
The feel-bad ratings hit of the autumn
While younger fans are content to cheer and boo the appropriate performers, and buy up as much merchandise as they can carry, where it all really counts is the weekly TV ratings for their three hours on Monday nights. And ratings are down – Cageside Seats puts them at their lowest since 1997, in fact. Even this particularly star-studded episode (Michaels, Taker, Lesnar and Flair all appeared – as did Stone Cold Steve Austin) is indicative of the slowest WWE period since they were getting their weekly ratings kicking from the nWo over on TNT.
But what’s worse than the slow decline is the absolute dragging of WWE’s heels in trying to buck the trend. When even an Austin appearance doesn’t manage to perk up the points, maybe it’s time to try something – someone – new. Anything. Anyone.
Especially Cesaro and Neville.