Thanks to recent interviews by the recently freed Jon “Dean Ambrose” Moxley and reporting by several others in the know, wrestling fans are more aware than ever of the problems plaguing WWE’s creative process. For the last several years the main roster product has often seemed directionless, rushed, and half-assed. It’s been confirmed that this is primarily due to the man at the top, Vince McMahon. The wrestlers, writers, and bookers are all working to please an “audience of one,” that being McMahon himself. I won’t pass judgment on Vinny Mac in this piece beyond affirming that his ideas don’t really seem to jive with what modern wrestling fans are looking for.
So how do you fix a problem like this? One of pro wrestling’s biggest strengths and most glaring weaknesses is the way everyone’s sort of in on the secret. Although we acknowledge it as fiction, we also generally expect it to maintain a level of believability above and beyond what we look for in most of other entertainment – but the line there is often blurry. CM Punk sitting down on the ramp with a microphone to trash the McMahons and the way they run the business was a powerful moment because he combined his own voice, the voice of his character, and the fans’ frustrations into a complex mix of story and reality. If WWE cares about righting its creative ship it needs to lean hard into that blur.
They should start by putting the problem onscreen. Get Vince out there doing every horrible thing he’s been blamed for: fucking with young talent, rewriting promos at the last minute, minimizing the impact of the female talent, castigating hard workers for not doing enough. Create a caricature based on every rumor, leak, and exclusive interview that’s criticized or crapped on his process. Take that reality, crank the amp to eleven, and make it a driving force behind the fiction. Put Shane out there with him to eventually take the necessary beatings his father can’t safely handle anymore.
Now you’ve got a villain. Who’s the hero?
There’s been one part of WWE that’s garnered near universal acclaim: NXT, the developmental brand featured on the company’s streaming service set up to prepare new recruits for (supposed) success on the main roster. NXT’s gotten a lot of praise for the high quality of its matches, its simple but effective storytelling, and its consistency in tone and character. It’s often described as what WWE could be if Vince weren’t around anymore, an accurate statement given McMahon’s general lack of involvement. NXT is run by his son in law, Triple H. Rumor has it most of the former NXT talent frustrated with their roles on Raw and Smackdown have been going to Hunter for help. Put this guy in charge and let him run the main roster like he’s been running NXT.
Then, after a few weeks of Vince and Shane priming the landscape for a change, make it explode. Put a couple of former NXT darlings who’ve run afoul of the McMahons out in the ring for a naked nursery rhyme contest or some other demeaning activity designed solely for Vince’s amusement. Just as it’s about to start…
*Familiar guitar riff*
TIME TO PLAY THE GAAAAAAAAAME
Here comes Triple H, and he’s pissed. He drops Vince and Shane, saves the NXT guys from a horrible fate, and declares he’s taking over. Now you’ve got Hunter as a mentor character leading NXT against Vince and his older established stars. The fiction echoes and builds upon the real changes in the back office. It’s a license to print money.
So of course, it won’t happen. But a frustrated wrestling fan can dream while waiting for AEW to hit TV in the fall, right?