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Wrestle Wars Week One - Putting It All Together

October 6, 2019

In corporate America, its invaluable to remind teams in order to achieve objectives, one must keep the main thing, the main thing. When working as a manager or a sales person, whether working in sales, customer support, or change management, that message was critical to winning. We’ve finished the first week of this new era of Wrestle Wars and that message is critical to those responsible for the final product for WWE’s RAW (Mondays), WWE’s NXT (Wednesdays), AEW’s Dynamite (also Wednesdays), and WWE’s Friday Night SmackDown. Right now the main thing is establishing your show and it's characters while attracting viewers and improving ratings.

 

This week we saw two really good shows – NXT and AEW, one big splash show – SmackDown, and one disappointing show – RAW. Before declaring winners or losers, we need to understand just how proficient these production teams will be at hitting the target with wrestling fans, over the long run. Developing engaging material that gets a positive response from a fan base that has higher expectations and a sophistication beyond that of prior generations isn’t going to be easy. Repeating this successfully week after week is going to be a very difficult grind. With the advent of NXT and AEW on cable television, the big winners look to be the wrestling fans.

 

There are legitimate concerns that any of the four shows will be able to deliver great shows on a consistent basis. In recent memory, only NXT has proven the ability to put out a quality product each week. Despite NXT's accomplishments, they also have a new challenge. They have to double their weekly programming as they move to two hours of programming each week. Beyond the additional content demands, the pressure to maintain and expand ratings is new to NXT as well. Their ratings will now be tracked publicly in a way that could never happen when their home was the  WWE Network. Each of the four shows will need their production team to decide what their brand will represent and then strive to make that image a reality. After that is done, the fans have to tune it as well. Lets look at where we are after week one.

 

Week One Results

 

RAW

Summary – RAW had a dismal show. Aside from a new set of announcers, we were fed a typical episode. RAW has struggled in the ratings over the last three years and we’re seeing why. There was also a surprisingly small effort to pump up their latest pay-per-view, Hell in a Cell (HiaC). HiaC airs this Sunday night on the WWE Network and based on this lack of promotion and push, it certainly appears that the WWE was focused on the SmackDown debut on Fox.

 

Positives for RAW

  • Regardless of how Vince McMahon uses his wrestlers (or leaves them languishing at home), RAW has the strongest roster currently. There are plenty of fresh matchups available if Vince could just book more of the wrestlers on the payroll. Watching how they balance the needs of a weekly three-hour RAW with the desires of the higher profile two-hour SmackDown on Fox will be interesting to say the least.

  • RAW has the tradition of being the WWE's flagship show. It won’t be the flagship anymore with SmackDown moving to Fox, but it’s going to take time for RAW to lose its cache. They'd better leverage this while they can.

  • Paul Heyman is RAW's showrunner (or at least nominally he is) and if he’s allowed to lead, he knows how to produce and book a solid wrestling promotion.

  • If RAW is considered the “B show”, then Heyman might be able to manufacture a culture that unifies the staff and wrestlers in order to prove that RAW is still the best wrestling show. There were times over the years that SmackDown surprised as the underdog and there’s no reason RAW can’t aspire to doing the same.

Negatives against RAW

  • The biggest negative for both RAW and SmackDown is the fact that one person determines what goes on the air. When a show is produced for the tastes of an audience of one, the risk of that one person not having their finger on the pulse of the general public at large is high. Over the last two to three years of the WWE’s ratings slide, it’s become apparent Vince McMahon is out of touch with the American wrestling audience. This analysis doesn’t even consider the money that is wasted by the WWE for paying talented writers to sit at home when they’re not allowed to use their abilities.

  • Many matchups feel old and boring. Too few wrestlers are used by Vince and the booking can get stale due to five or six wrestlers being overexposed.

AEW

Summary – AEW produced the most visually stunning wrestling show this 52 year old wrestling fan has ever seen. The camera angles were fantastic and the look and feel of the show was best described as a movie come to life. The show moved well and the wrestling was much better than either RAW or SmackDown. There were things they could’ve done better, but this was a very impressive debut for AEW.

 

Positives for AEW

  • The look of the show was magnificent. An excellent stage was featured, the camera angles captured the crowd well, innovative camera shot framed the action in a fresh manner, and the show had a crisp appearance - even for someone used to watching on a 4K television.

  • The matches were longer and were allowed to tell a story. There wasn’t the feeling of a match being rushed to completion and the commercials were less intrusive. The pacing of the show was very good.

  • The announcing team of JR, Tony and Excalibur were clearly the best of the four shows. Tony Schiavone was always one of my favorite announcers from his early GCW/WCW days. Having him back and paired with JR has brought the best out of both. I wasn’t very familiar with Excalibur but he is also very good. The lost art of having the announcers fill in the blanks behind the story and support the fans in getting a feeling for what is happening and why it is happening is refreshing. As these three work together, my assumption is that they’ll get much better. That is really encouraging.

Negatives against AEW

  • Tony Khan talked for months about how AEW was going to resemble competitive sports. The endless run-ins with no help from security, other wrestlers, or effective referee involvement smacked of the WWE at its worst. This author loves factions and interference as much as anyone, but at least have a couple members of the faction in charge of decking Security personnel as they attempt to respond to the run-in. This would aid in building the believability of the situation and make it less cartoonish.

  • This is probably a sub-set of the above point, but the way the referees were depicted worthless in containing the bad behaviors of wrestlers was really sad. When you couple that with the six-man tag match continuing on despite Kenny Omega being separated and disappearing from the match, it was hard to swallow. Even if it was Jon Moxley causing the issues - and he is no friend of Jericho's - Omega's leaving the match shouldn't have been ignored.

  • The other WWE touch that I didn’t like - and didn’t expect after listening to Khan’s in-depth interview with Wade Keller of the PW Torch - was the walk and fight routine that Moxley and Omega did as they headed from the ring area to the glass table spot. I don’t know what the answer is, but the 100 meter mosey coupled with occasional punches and kicks as two wrestlers meander to another location in the arena has got to be eliminated from professional wrestling.

  • Omega’s booking mystifies me – but I am content to see what happens with this story. I have more faith in Jericho, Cody and the Young Bucks' collective ability to book than I do a 74-year old Vince McMahon.

NXT

Summary – NXT put on a pay-per-view level show for their first full two-hour show on USA Network. They won’t be able to do that most weeks, but it was hands down the best wrestling show of the week. After seeing AEW’s production values, and even with SmackDown’s improvements, it’s clear that the Full Sail studios aren’t going to be acceptable as the primary location for this weekly show for long. NXT is going to have to take it’s act on the road to an arena. There are two questions NXT has to plan for: what size of arena can they sell out?  And is that size of arena (whatever that might be) big enough to make NXT look cool?

 

Positives for NXT

  • Strong roster – NXT has a very strong roster with quite a few talented wrestlers waiting on an opportunity to shine. This means fresh matchups are possible. When you add in former longest running champion Finn Balor’s return to NXT and the return of Tommaso Ciampa, the prior champion, who had his title stripped due to injury; this roster has some of the most anticipated matchups of the four shows.

  • The wrestling on NXT was the best of the four shows. AEW might have weeks where they equal or surpass NXT - but week-in and week-out - NXT knows how to put on excellent matches that are designed to let the wrestlers shine.

  • I hate to feed his ego, but Triple H has proven across his tenure with NXT that he is the only proven commodity when it comes to running a successful promotion to this modern generation of wrestling fans. Sure, Vince has the best resume of all time, but his last era of ratings success ended in the early 00s. There is no doubt that Triple H is the man that I’d want running the WWE if I was on the Board of Directors.

Negatives against NXT

  • The matches presented in the NXT debut show were pay-per-view level matches. This is not sustainable over the long run. That being said, they have built a strong roster and I have faith Triple H will use it well.

  • Full Sail was a great setting for an “underground” developmental show. The WWE needs to look into smaller arenas at least on a rotational basis. AEW shows taking place in large arenas look too good to leave NXT in an arena that seats 900 or so fans.

  • NXT’s lead announcer, Mauro Ranallo, is nearly unlistenable to my ears. He is way too over the top and generally just way too loud. I watch with the volume too low just to make it bearable for my tastes. I am showing my age, but I prefer the Gordon Solie types when it comes to wrestling announcers.

SmackDown

Summary – we saw a hot shot show of phenomenal proportions on their opening night on Fox. The pace was fast. There were no down times. The show was headlined by The Rock. He promptly demonstrated why he is in the discussion to be on almost everyone’s Mount Rushmore of Wrestling. His charisma was amazing. Sadly even one of today’s most popular stars, Becky Lynch, looked pedestrian standing next to the Rock. It was a shock that there was no evidence of any WWE plan to promote Sunday’s HiaC and influence the nearly 4 million folks who tuned in to watch SmackDown to order the WWE Network.

 

Positives for SmackDown

  • The WWE and Fox have redesigned the sets for SmackDown and have refreshed the camera angles used to televise the program. Things look great but the exponential advancements in the look of AEW's presentation have easily won the day in this category.

  • Regardless of how Vince McMahon uses his wrestlers (or leaves them languishing at home), SmackDown may end up with the strongest roster. There are plenty of fresh matchups available if Vince could just book more of the wrestlers on the payroll. Watching how they balance the needs of a weekly three-hour RAW show with the desires of the higher profile two-hour SmackDown on Fox will be interesting to say the least.

  • The WWE can roll out retired/semi-retired stars for weeks – think the Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, the Undertaker and on – but this needs to be an effort to maximize ratings while still building up the current roster. Vince keeps forgetting the current roster and it’s health when he books nowadays.

Negatives against SmackDown

  • The biggest negative for both RAW and SmackDown is the fact that one person determines what goes on the air. When a show is produced for the tastes of an audience of one, the risk of that one person not having their finger on the pulse of the general public at large is high. Over the last two to three years of the WWE’s ratings slide, it’s become apparent Vince McMahon is out of touch with the American wrestling audience. This analysis doesn’t even consider the money that is wasted by the WWE for paying talented writers to sit at home when they’re not allowed to use their abilities.

  • Many matchups feel old and boring. Too few wrestlers are used by Vince and the booking can get stale due to five or six wrestlers being overexposed.

  • Is Eric Bischoff up to the job of being the showrunner for SmackDown’s first foray in partnering with Fox? This must be followed up with the question will Eric Bischoff be anything more than a showrunner in title only? Will Vince continue to control all things Creative and booking?

  • This is a high pressure situation. Fox didn’t spend a billion dollars to have non-existent ratings, even on a Friday night.

Summary

AEW and the WWE are incredibly well funded companies. Both companies are here to win. Both companies will draw this fight out over time. So which of the four shows will be able to deliver for the wrestling fans across the world on a weekly basis? We don't know, yet. So, buckle up, folks. It's going to take some time, but it should be an exciting ride.

 

 

 

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