The WWE has officially run out of ideas.
On Monday night, the main event of Raw was the Big Show versus John Cena. If that sounds familiar, it should. They have wrestled approximately a billion times since their first PPV matchup at WrestleMania 20 in 2004. The match comes two weeks after Survivor Series, where Big Show turned heel again. By conservative estimates, he has turned more than 30 times in his WWE career. That’s not a joke.
Survivor Series also featured the WWE debut of Sting. If this were 2004, that would have been fascinating. If this were 1994, it would have been life-altering. Instead, it's 2014, Sting is 55 years old and the thought of him wrestling Triple H at WrestleMania makes me sad.
The most interesting thing in pro wrestling this year involved CM Punk nuking Vince McMahon and Triple H in a podcast, and then promptly signing with UFC. Current WWE champ Brock Lesnar is also likely headed to UFC within the year.
The WWE Network is an abject failure. The ratings are stagnant. Raw is a three-hour unwatchable slog. There is no energy, urgency or excitement.
The biggest problem facing the WWE has been its same problem for 10 years – they cannot create new stars. I've written in the past about how WWE is broken but it ultimately boils down to the fact that everything is stale.
The company needs a spark. It needs to inject life into the proceedings, even if they have to do so artificially. That's why I'm advocating the WWE go back to the brand extension and split the company back in two.
In 2002, the WWE initially instituted the brand extension because its roster was overflowing thanks to the recent acquisition of WCW and a desire to push new stars.
In the summer of 2002 – within a matter of months – Randy Orton, John Cena and Batista debuted to little fanfare on SmackDown. All three were miscast with their first gimmicks. But as midcarders there to eat up time and learn the craft, it didn't matter. All three would eventually hit on what worked. All three become big stars. All three dominated the WWE for the past decade.
Since then? The WWE has not developed a single star that reached the level of Cena or Batista. Even when opportunities fell into their laps, they blew it. Think how hot CM Punk was in 2011 and how his momentum was killed by a Triple H and Kevin Nash (wtf?) feud. Think how Daniel Bryan appeared to be the star of 2013 and it took a literal crowd revolt to make him champion.
A brand extension would not cure all the ills of the WWE but it would give them a fighting chance to identify the next superstar before trotting one out to get slaughtered by the masses.
Over the past decade, so many guys have been championed as the “next big thing” and the crowd soundly rejected all of them. It appears no one at the WWE has any idea how stars are made in pro wrestling. The fans do not like being told who to root for. They like to decide for themselves. Yet, the WWE trots out jabronis like Sheamus and Ryback and Drew McIntyre (remember him?) and wonders why the vaunted WWE universe ignores them.
Look at the looming failure of the Roman Reigns push. The Shield was one of the WWE's hottest acts in 2013 and essentially saved the company from disaster by pumping out incredible matches for a year. The breakup was designed to be a vehicle to get over Roman Reigns as the next John Cena. The problem? Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins have surprised many to be far more compelling performers.
Will the WWE listen to the fans? Nope. By all indications, Roman Reigns is getting the rocket push through WrestleMania whether we like it or not. He won the Superstar of the Year award last night to a thunderous round of silence. No one believes Reigns won the fan vote.
So why would a brand extension help?
For starters, it would alleviate the stress of carrying storylines through a 3-hour Raw and a 2-hour SmackDown each week. It is burning out everything associated with WWE. A three-hour show each week is madness, but with an extra two hours on SmackDown, and it will never work. The fans needs a break. While John Cena may only show up on Raw, the midcarders are trotted out all the time in repetitive matches that ruin everyone.
Secondly, the brand extension was shuttered because it was hurting the PPV numbers – shows with stars from both brands did better numbers. Well, they killed the PPV market. There is no such thing as PPVs anymore, only WWE Network specials. If you have a brand extension, you can move back to having 16 “specials” a year. Sure, paying $50 for a show with half the roster was really stupid but for $9.99, it’s more value for the WWE Network subscription many have passed on.
Most importantly, it will give young talent the time to practice their craft in big arenas on live TV and ultimately find a gimmick that works from them. The WWE has NXT on the WWE Network, which at times has been an interesting show. However, the small venue and limited exposure means the WWE doesn't truly know if a gimmick works on a national stage.
Nowhere is this more evident than with Adam Rose, who seemed to have a killer gimmick in NXT and was essentially sent out to die on Raw. Could that gimmick have worked? Who knows? The WWE never gives talent the chance to succeed so they all fail.
A brand extension, by itself, will not save the WWE. It will not instantly boost ratings – in fact it may even cause ratings to take a step back. But the WWE must take a long view on its future. They are so concerned with micro-decisions on a weekly basis that they have completely ignored the macro-level of a failing company.
The company is all John Cena, and has been for 10 years, because there is no option B. The WWE needs to split the roster in half again and give everyone a chance. John Cena's replacement is out there. He is very likely on the roster right now. He just needs an opportunity.
How do I know? Because I saw a big lug with no discernible talent saddled with a deacon gimmick become the biggest star in pro wrestling within three years. Yes, Batista, the guy who is about to play a major role in a Bond movie debuted as a wrestling deacon!
The next pro wrestling star can come from anywhere...except the current WWE.
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