Fans are growing fatigued with the current WWE product. Storylines are stale, matches follow the same format day in and day out, promos seem forced and unnatural, and as we’ve learned from last week’s revealing Jon Moxley interview with Chris Jericho and the reports that followed, many of the talent in the company are feeling fatigued, too. This falls at the hands of Vince McMahon. He’s not allowing workers creative freedom to come up with their own promos or the creative license to switch things up on the fly during a match, even if crowd reactions call for an audible. When things are switched up on the fly on-air, somebody, whether it be a writer or producer in the back or the wrestlers in the ring, are going to get grief for it from the big man at Gorilla Position in the back. And in some cases, it can lead to employees getting fired.
Moxley admitted, “If there’s one thing I want to prove it is that WWE’s creative process sucks. It does not work. It’s absolutely terrible. I’ve said that to Vince. I’ve said that to Hunter. I’ve said that to Michael Hayes. I can’t even tell you how their system works. It’s some kind of system of meetings that take place in Stamford, there’s some kind of home team with writers and producers, production meetings. It’s a bunch of bureaucratic red tape that you have to jump through to get to anything approved. It’s crazy. It doesn’t work. It’s killing the company and I think Vince is the problem.”
Sources aren’t denying any of Jon Moxley’s claims from the podcasts he’s done. People, including Vince, realize their current system is broken. Dave Meltzer reported in the June 6, 2019, edition of Wrestling Observer Radio, “In contacting a number of wrestlers, what Moxley said is true and it’s hardly a secret. Even those who personally didn’t like him had nothing negative to say about what he said. It’s pretty much acknowledged that it’s all true and we haven’t seen or heard from one person disputing that. One person who was not close to [Moxley] at all and felt he was a guy who couldn’t be happy said they listened to him on the Jericho podcast and felt he was very honest from this perspective, that the system in place is obviously broken and that’s not a secret nor is there any doubt about it, and that even Vince McMahon realizes that.”
Realize as he might, it’s going to take real change to turn this ship around and now is the time WWE can afford to take risks with their flagship shows. Money is locked in with TV deals and ratings are at a point where there’s not much in their current playbook that is going to boost or tank them, so why continue to play it safe? People want change now or slowly they are going to turn away from a company they’ve been loyal to for years. It will be this very audience that will likely turn to AEW once their weekly television deal begins on TNT.
“Thank you for giving me my freedom” – Jon Moxley’s first post-match promo:
Its Vince’s micromanagement that has brought WWE to a point reminiscent to WCW during its dying days and why many wrestlers are biding time until their contracts are up so that they can be set free.
“I never say anything’s as bad as WCW, because nothing is,” Meltzer said in a recent episode of Wrestling Observer Radio, “but this IS WCW. This whole last three weeks is just like WCW. Having no regard for your audience and just being completely out of touch with your audience.”
Dave also reported, “It would take two hands to count [how many wrestlers want to leave WWE].”
When you look back to the most exciting times in the business for any company, it was when the wrestlers didn’t discuss the matches beforehand. Instead, they listened to the crowds to dictate the direction of the match. Promos and storylines would follow.
“You have to listen to the crowd… you have to give them what they want.” – Tito Santana
“You didn’t discuss the match beforehand back when I started,” Tito Santana explained in an interview with Title Match Wrestling, “you would go in there and you’d wrestle and you’d listen to the people.
“When I started, old-timers would tell me, ‘You have to listen to the crowd…you have to give them what they want.’ Because you might wrestle the same guy all week and every crowd wanted something different.
“It would go in one ear and out the other. I didn’t know what they were talking about.
“Those old-timers – who I considered old-timers – they could hear the crowd and [snaps fingers] they knew what they wanted to do in a split second. Everything they did meant something.
“There are only very few wrestlers now who are capable of doing that.
“We’d go in there and do very little and we’d get a great response…the young guys, they fall from the ceiling and get no response. There’s a reason for everything that we do.
“The people want some wrestling, and then some butt-kicking, some wrestling, and then some butt-kicking – you know, up and down – not [the same tempo constantly].
“You do it at the right time, the right reason…you don’t have to do much and you’ll get the right response.”
Santana isn’t alone with this mentality. There are countless other wrestlers current and past who are singing from the same song sheet.
A challenge for Vince McMahon
What Vince McMahon needs to do is take his hands off the wheel and trial one Raw and one Smackdown without restrictions and see how it turns out. No scripted promos, just bullet points. Allow the freedom to script the match the way the talent sees fit without the help of producers. Give no direction to commentary. Let them speak. Make the lighting on both shows look like how the second hour of Raw used to during the Attitude Era. Gritty, raw, and real. Give producers and promo writers the week off and allow all the talent to speak and act naturally. Many of the younger talent aren’t used to this kind of creative freedom so there will be some hits and misses. That’s normal. Allow room for error. In time, they will improve. But give it one week to experiment. It won’t hurt the product nor the ratings more than they have been hit already in recent months. And you never know, fans might take notice. Maybe their audience will even begin to come back.