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September 20, 2014

Promos By Hyphen: The WWE Network, The Present & The Future

by Kelen Conley

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When Stardust and Goldust became heels a few weeks ago, my opinions on hating that Cody Rhodes had become Stardust did a 180 and I was onboard immediately. I made a mental note to dedicate my next column to THE BALLAD OF CODY RHODES.

But I just couldn’t get motivated to write it. Maybe another month.

I’ve also been super impressed by how well this AJ Lee/Paige feud has been progressing so I thought maybe I could write a shorter column (SQUASHES BY HYPHEN anyone?) about the first Divas feud I’ve cared about in a long time. Hell, I don’t remember the last one I cared about.

But with Nikki Bella’s insertion into their match at Night Of Champions and with how horrible the Nikki/Brie feud has progressed…no thanks.

I even had the idea to put on a hat that I’m not super fond of, a hat called fantasy booking. Gary had asked how I would keep Brock Lesnar World Heavyweight Champion all the way to WrestleMania XXXI, and I thought I could come up with something clever.

Then I heard that Brock signed a new deal that allows WWE to have him show up to any show, as long as they pay for the appearance, and that took all the fun out of that idea.

Which leaves me to deal with the elephant in the room. On September 26, 2014, my subscription to the WWE Network will expire. I’m choosing not to renew it, even for the low price of only NINE NINETY NINE. On one hand, I could just say I have a child now and it saves me TEN DOLLARS a month. But you already know, there’s more to it.

The WWE Network is incredible. There’s more content on there than I know what to do with and kudos to anyone who’s managed to watch it all. While there’s always something on there that you can’t find (at least easily), there’s plenty of things to make up for it. I never expected to spend an extended amount of time watching 2003 pay-per-views, I just wanted to see Booker T/Triple H and Brock/Angle at Mania XIX. Next thing I know, I’m knee deep in what became a very repetitive Kevin Nash/Trips feud for the World Heavyweight Championship. But the best part was seeing these two friends (sometimes three as Shawn Michaels was on Nash’s side) go at it for weeks on end.

After hearing about how incredible a match was between Jeff Hardy and The American Badass Undertaker from Raw in 2002, I actually got to see the whole thing on a random Sunday afternoon when I turned on the Network. I had only gotten on to watch random content until the live PPV that night, but I’ll be damned if Hardy and Taker didn’t put on a show. And all of this took place in 20 minutes or so at the end of the Raw.

When I first got the Network, I ended up on the WCW PPVs immediately. When I came back to wrestling for the Monday Night Wars, it was the formation of the nWo and WCW that I was watching. Being able to watch such staples as Glacier (some guy named Kevin Nash won the World War 3 match) just as I remembered them is worth the 9.99 alone.

I’ve also spent a lot of time watching the Legends of Wrestling roundtables. I used to get so aggravated that these great interviews were only available on PPV at random times of day and YouTube never had the full episodes. Getting to finally see those shows made the 9.99 even more worth it. Except for Mean Gene cutting everyone off when they’re really starting to tell some great stories.

To no one’s surprise, I went back and relived a large chunk of CM Punk’s run, especially following the pipebomb. Even though I’m with the majority who think that the booking was terrible after Punk won the Title at Money In The Bank 2011, he still had some standout matches. His rematch with Cena at SummerSlam that year was pretty great despite the fact that Punk didn’t win cleanly and his match with Trips at Night of Champions was an epic that took place all over the arena before it gave way to the Awesome Truth storyline. The real gem was another Undertaker match, this one between he and Punk at Hell In A Cell for the World Heavyweight Championship. Even though Punk lost, it was a nice appetizer for their classic a few years later at WrestleMania NY/NJ. Being able to still watch CM Punk matches definitely makes 9.99 seem like chump change.

And most recently, I started watching the Monday Night Wars series. I don’t know how much of this stuff is recycled from the DVD of the same name, but as one of those fans who was torn between WWE and WCW every night, this is awesome. When I finally started watching WWE (the night after The Rock turned heel at Survivor Series 1998), I felt it was a slightly superior product. So I would watch Raw from 9 to 11 and record Nitro on replay at 2 in the morning, then watch as much as I could before school. I’d normally finish up on Tuesday night. While I wish WWE had started this series when the Network first launched, being able to see all these great stories come together in one place makes the 9.99 seem like pennies. And did anyone else know that WWE planned to make Lex Luger their face of the company in the early nineties? While I never loved Luger outside of the Wolfpac (though his Torture Rack was always a favorite of mine), can you imagine what would’ve happened if he hadn’t bolted for WCW and the first episode of Nitro in 1995?

But Kelen, if you like the WWE Network so much, why are you canceling your subscription? Why are you feeding us 9.99 jargon in every paragraph?

To put it simply, the WWE Network is hurting the current product. Many have tried over the years to name the era of wrestling that we’re in now. The PG Era? The Reality Era? The Best for Business era? The John Cena Era (that started during Ruthless Aggression, sorry kids)? I finally have the perfect verbiage: The On-Demand Era.

One of the things that I’ve complained about is how Creative has no buildup for their storylines. Matches take place after one altercation on Total Divas that aired the night before Raw (see Cameron & Naomi this past Monday. There was no mention of their split a few months ago.), storylines are dropped with no explanation (this isn’t new, but I think in the past, bad angles were allowed to fail before they were dropped. See the Xavier Woods/Big E/Kofi Kingston faction that never was.), and everything must happen within a certain time frame. WWE feels that they have to change with the times, so since everything else is happening right now, their shows and stories have to happen right now too.

Look at it this way though, professional wrestling has always gotten a rap as a male soap opera, and I support that idea 100%. Now, how upset would the daytime viewing audience be if their stories started wrapping up within days of them starting? I used to watch Days Of Our Lives, so let me use what I remember as an example.

Monday: Bo gets shot. Who shot Bo?
Tuesday: Bo is found and taken to the hospital.
Wednesday: Bo is in a coma and the Salem police are looking for clues.
Thursday: Bo has to be resuscitated on the operating table and the police still have no answers.
Friday: We find out who shot Bo and why, Bo makes a full recovery and captures his assailant himself, and then sits down to cake with Hope afterwards.

What?

Because of the need for ratings, WWE feels like its audience is too dumb to sit through a Lesnar/Cena feud where Cena actually takes the time to lick his wounds after the pummeling he took at SummerSlam. Instead, Johan Cena has morphed into Super Cena, culminating in Cena getting a few shots in on Brock last Monday and having to be held back by 15 men to keep him from beating Brock to a pulp.

As I mentioned earlier, AJ and Paige have a legit, great feud that they’ve been building since AJ came back. They’ve gone back and forth, one upping each other and have traded wins at PPVs. So for the rubber match at Night Of Champions? Let’s throw Nikki Bella in there because she has a great (horrible) feud going with Brie and in order to bring more attention to Nikki, she needs (doesn’t need) to be this Divas Title feud.

Why ruin this feud? Because Total Divas is back on and the WWE Universe needs to be watching Total Divas and they won’t unless one of the cast members is in a Title match. Which is bullshit because I actually like Total Divas.

It even happens on the midcard: Long time jobber Jack Swagger finally gets over in his feud with Rusev. They have good in-ring chemistry, Lana and Zeb Colter are great trading barbs, and you have the whole America vs. Russia thing going for it. The logical thing would be for Swagger to lose and lose and lose until he gets that moment where he’s the first man to beat Rusev after months of struggling. You’d care about that feud right?

Creative doesn’t think so. Rusev beat Swagger at SummerSlam, Swagger got sent into a feud with Bo Dallas that’s killed all his momentum, and Rusev is now facing Mark Henry. In a feud that main evented Raw! So all the work Swagger and Rusev did the past few months, Creative wants us to forget about it and move to this new, exciting (boring) featuring the World’s Strongest Man. And did I mention that they’ve pressed stop and play on a Big Show/Henry tag team that would dominate and entertain at least three times by now?

I know I’m frustrated and that may not be why you read my columns. I try to be positive about the product, which is why I usually pick a wrestler and explore what’s going on with them month to month. But when I can turn on the Network and see how Bret vs. Shawn became BRET vs. SHAWN over the course of years, and then WWE wants me to get hyped about Brock/Cena III when Cena clearly shouldn’t be able to walk after SummerSlam? You’re damn right I’m frustrated.

They pushed this rematch by sitting Hogan, Michaels, and Flair in the ring and having three hall of famers DEBATE about whether John Cena could beat Brock Lesnar. Oh, and by the way, you can see Cena beat Lesnar at Extreme Rules 2012 for 9.99.

The only feuds that make any kind of sense are Ziggler/Miz (where Damien Sandow continues to job for a job and R-Truth continues to do whatever Creative asks of him), the Usos/Dust Brothers (which is super good since the Dusters went heel), and Rollins/Reigns (but didn’t Reigns just beat Rollins clean on Monday night? The only thing that could happen is Ambrose reappears. Probably against Rollins. But having him join the Authority would lead into an Ambrose/Reigns feud that I’d like to see). And the Sheamus/Cesaro match isn’t worth any more words past this sentence.

How can I get excited about the current product when any wrestling on the Network is done 10 times better? Boring episode of Raw? Why not revisit the Royal Rumble in 1999? SmackDown got you down? Why not watch some Saturday Night’s Main Event? Dull PPV? How about that Iron Man match between Bret and Shawn at ‘Mania as an alternative?

And there’s my dilemma. By paying for the Network every month, I’m supporting a current product I don’t like. So this is why I’m letting my subscription expire. Aside from watching Cena get destroyed, Ziggler, and the former Shield members, I really haven’t enjoyed WWE TV since the night WrestleMania XXX ended.

The Network supports the current product badly as well. After 6 months, the live events still have streaming issues. Raws and SmackDowns don’t show up for a month after their initial airing. After all of the hype of pre-shows and post-shows, most have been scrapped due to the financial losses the company has taken since the Network launched in March. Main Event has gotten a small bump but it’s still treated as a midcard show, so I’ve never tuned in live.

NXT is the best thing going on there and I think it doesn’t get enough coverage as it could, considering it’s supposed to be the future of the WWE.

Which segues into my third and final segment: the future. As happy as I was that Brock won the Championship, he’s not the long term solution. He’ll be around another year or so and then take his accomplishments home to be with Sable.

John Cena will continue to be John Cena. WWE will ride their cash cow for a few more years until the Universe completely turns on him and his merchandise. Either that, his body will begin to betray him, or the heel turn that’s needed now will be done far too late. He’s a first ballot hall of famer, but his days are numbered and I’m starting to think he knows it.

Reigns is in perfect position to take over John Cena’s spot on the card in the next few years but he needs to beware of falling into the “replacement guy” trap (think Lex Luger supposedly being the guy to replace Hogan). He needs to get more mic time, he needs a definitive finishing move, and he just needs something that will separate him from being Samoan Cena.

At some point, Rollins will cash in his MITB briefcase. I’m guessing it will be on Reigns if he wins the Belt some time next year, or maybe on Cena if he wins the Title back from Brock Sunday. It’s really important that he actually win the match though. As a former NXT Champion, Rollins has main event Gold experience and even if it’s just for a few months, he can carry the Strap well. But looking at Sandow and how boring Bray has become, maybe he should stay away from Cena.

My only hope for Bray at this point is that he stops talking so much. He went from a potential monster heel to a ‘tweener, getting put over by everyone’s favorite main eventer turned jobber, Chris Jericho. In order for him and the Wyatts to get some heat back, I think if they just shut up and wrestle for a few months, it would do them all wonders.

Dean Ambrose has the easiest route to a hall of fame career. With his current loose cannon incarnation, he can go from face to heel with little to no problems. I’d like to think he’ll see more Titles in the future but Ambrose has the IT factor written all over him, so he doesn’t necessarily need them.

And Daniel Bryan will hopefully return sooner than later but he’s got a tough road as well. WWE put the world on his shoulders and he collapsed under the pressure quite quickly due to his injuries (he was also losing the WWE Universe’s interest rapidly too). He needs to start his comeback out on the right foot by finding what the next phase of his career will lead to because the Yes Movement can’t last forever.

And that’s with me forgetting to mention all of the talent NXT currently has paired with new, already fan favorite signees like Kenta and Kevin Steen. There’s more than enough talent for WWE to set the wheels in motion for their next era of wrestling.

This isn’t going to be my last Promos column. I’m not abandoning WWE entirely by canceling my subscription. What I’m hoping to do is to make even the smallest impact on WWE’s bottom line. I can’t be the only person who will be letting their subscriptions expire (Thomas said he was as well) and once WWE sees their numbers drop, maybe that will make them take a hard look at the current product. And if we’re really lucky, maybe they’ll start trying to make it better.

How you ask? By making Dolph Ziggler a Paul Heyman guy, giving him the WWE WHC, and letting him have a 433 reign as Champ. No more than that though. I am, still, a CM Punk guy.

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