Doc Manson: Glad to see you, Teach. I’ve asked you here today to discuss an ongoing problem in the WWE product. I’m not sure how to articulate this exactly, some people might say that some superstars, like John Cena or Randy Orton, are overexposed, but that’s not really the problem that I’ve having. I don’t really care if John Cena or Randy Orton are featured on television every week.
The issue is more that, by including this regular stable of recognized stars in the top-level feud, the upwards mobility of the mid-card talent is lessened. How can Cesaro or Ziggler go on to be main event players when they can’t even edge into the race for the heavyweight title?
The Teacher: For the purposes of helping you articulate your point, one which I will freely admit to agreeing with on most levels, allow me to the play the Devil’s Advocate.
Isn’t it just Cena and Orton that you have problems with? Are you against Kane getting a WHC push, even though it’s highly unlikely he’ll ever wind up with the strap? Do you dislike Lesnar’s appearance last night on RAW?
DM: Honestly, no. Cena is a workhorse, and I appreciate his contributions to the program. Kane, well, the man is due for a lengthy title run. I’m even glad to see Lesnar back, this guy is a legitimate bad-ass that brings some serious credibility to whichever feud he is a part of.
Again, I don’t think the issue is that these are recognizable stars. I’m actually stand-offish about Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins at this point. It’s not that I don’t want to see these specific individuals succeed, I guess I’m just lamenting that storylines seem to be so predictable.
I don’t mean predictable on the short term, either. I got a lot wrong on the Battleground Predictions discussion we had. However, long term, we seem to know that Cena v. Lesnar is the feud right now. Smart money places Lesnar v. Reigns at Wrestlemania 31. Where does this leave Seth Rollins? Is he going to cash in on Lesnar? Seems unlikely. What about all the other guys waiting for their shot? If the Money in the Bank winner is being crowded out of the title picture for the next six months, where does this leave all the other guys that are ready to be elevated?
T: Now I think we’ve stumbled onto the main problem. We have a small top tier of wrestlers, as you just mentioned, and then we have a much larger second tier of talent who could easily make their way to the highest echelon if given the proper chance. Yet there is only one Heavyweight title right now, and with the current state of the WWE, that’s not enough.
I’m a proponent of either doing another RAW / Smackdown brand extension or creating a new “company” entirely. Call it ECW 3.0, call it NXT Plus, I don’t really care, but the only way you are going to maximize the potential of the talent in this company is if you have multiple titles for them to vie for.
DM: That’s certainly one solution, but honestly they ought to be able to do more with their talent on the existing television program. RAW is 3 hours long, and has a lot of replays and other filler. They have time to tell other stories or to feature other titles. Hell, just bring back a Television Title and call it a day.
T: You have my undying support for the return of a TV title. Truthfully, that is how the US or IC title should be used. While I still support The Miz winning Sunday’s battle royal, I would also have had no qualms with them giving the belt to Cesaro and letting him have 15-20 minute matches with the likes of Ziggler, Kofi, Big E and Bray Wyatt for the next 3 months.
You’re right in that the only way to get this group of talent over is to give them screen time. But, to pick up my Devil’s Advocate hat once more, what about the people who have bought into the Authority storylines? Those who absolutely adore Roman Reigns and want to see him in 2-3 segments a night? The ones who are glad we had more Diva action on RAW than I think we may have ever had in WWE history? Do those people have to lose what might be attracting them on Monday Night’s just so we can see Zack Ryder featured for the first time in months?
DM: Something for everyone, no doubt. It’s not just a matter of screen time, but doing something meaningful with that time. Take Dean Ambrose for instance. Months ago he held the US Championship for months on end - a great move to really help solidify his status as Championship material, right? Wrong. He never defended that belt. The US Championship itself was devalued and weak at the end of Ambrose’s run.
There’s no reason why Roman Reigns can’t be featured in the main event. There’s no reason why the divas can’t have their segments too. They are finally using Paige, the Stephanie arrest was no doubt designed to tickle the fancy of viewers everywhere. Good things are happening, but still there is continual stagnation. Cesaro losing to Kofi multiple weeks in a row, never capitalizing on his association with Paul Heyman is but one example.
No one wanted to see Cesaro as a Heyman guy after Wrestlemania, and while I don’t begrudge them for telling their own story, where is the long term vision? They took a guy on the cusp and deflated his momentum. Now, they need to rebuild Cesaro instead of utilizing what they had built before.
T: In truth, you just want Cesaro to have Roman Reign’s spot.
DM: Tell me right now what happens to Seth Rollins over the course of the Lesnar v. Reigns feud.
T: I can’t. But then again, I doubt the WWE writers can either.
There is a lack of long-term planning right now, and to be honest, I’m not quite sure that’s not Daniel Bryan and CM Punk’s fault. Both of them were supposed to be leading the company right now. When Punk and Bryan were around, Cena was doing what Cena should be doing at this point in his career; he was building up stars like Bray Wyatt. Randy Orton was part of Evolution fighting with The Shield.
Then, Punk goes AWOL and Bryan gets hurt. All of the long-term planning WWE might have done goes right out the window. Suddenly, John Cena seems like the best option for the WWE title, and Roman Reigns is the homegrown star they can build as, excuse me Mr. Lesnar, but the Next Big Thing. Would any of that have happened if Punk or Bryan were still around? Not a chance. The main event picture took a giant hit and they’re floundering around trying to put it back together. I also imagine they are a little gun-shy on building long term around new talent, when who knows where they’ll be in a year.
DM: And that’s why we call you The Teacher. I feel like I was just taken back to school. You’re right, of course. This is the result of creative scrambling to restructure whatever long-term plans they previously had in place. As I sit here lamenting the fate of the mid-card, I should be taking solace in knowing that there is so much capable talent ready to take over should the need arise.
T: That doesn’t mean there still can’t be improvements made in the overall product. Last night’s RAW was the most enjoyable one I’ve seen since I resumed regular viewing and a lot of that had to do with the talent on screen. Cesaro and Dean Ambrose was our main event match! We didn’t need to see John Cena and the rest of the main event crowd for more than a minute or two at the end of the night; we knew what their stories were and what was going on, which let us sit back and enjoy actual wrestling.
So we’ve established that the next wave of WWE main event talent is ready and waiting, and it is the firm belief of the Number Two Contenders that they should be getting their chance to shine, ideally with one of the secondary belts being elevated to a higher standard. Anything else you would recommend, Doc?
DM: Put some emphasis back on the titles. It lessens the need for strong supporting stories, because everyone understand the competitive aspects of sports entertainment. This has the benefit of freeing creative to cook up truly compelling stories that are NOT centered around the belts as well. That’s where the majority of attention needs to be focused, on those situations which don’t have the championship as a prop.
I’m a big proponent of the Jim Ross school of story-telling, I guess. There’s no reason to divorce sports entertainment from the sports aspects. Utilize time limits and count out finishes in smart ways.
T: Would you be a fan of re-instituting a Top 10 rankings system for the title?
DM: Yes, and no. I do think that emphasizing the worth of the titles is smart, easy story-telling, but an overly complicated ranking system can get in the way of the dumb fun I’ve come to appreciate from professional wrestling. I’m all about the storylines, I don’t want those to go away or else I’d be watching Ring of Honor exclusively.
T: Fair enough. The folks on Twitter tend to agree with you. Too much thinking during a wrestling program is generally seen as a bad idea.
Well, Doc, I don’t know if we necessarily solved anything here today, but I at least hope you feel better getting a chance to express your feelings.
If there’s a lesson to be learned from all this, is it “If you don’t like the WWE main event scene right now, blame Punk and Bryan?”
DM: Finally, a lesson we can all agree upon.