I’m not entirely convinced it’s a New Era in WWE or if it’s an old era renewed. At the very least, there seem to be components of wrestling’s past stirred about in a wort of the delicious brew of Raw and Smackdown. The important part is that both brands are as experimental as Tesla right now, and it’s quite refreshing. Whether or not you like the changes on either brand, I think we can admit that these changes will keep things interesting.
This past Monday Night Raw opened up with a long, drawn-out promo involving Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Chris Jericho, and Enzo Amore. The exchange was arguably the funniest content WWE has written in many years, not shying away from some more suggestive innuendo and witty dialogue. It’s more likely that Jericho and Enzo wrote a lot of their own material, as they’re known to do; and since WWE Creative has always been under scrutiny for leaving much to be desired.
It wasn’t your typical Vince McMahon-approved potty humor either. There was no Vickie Guerrero projectile vomit or a deluge of feces cascading down on a group of male cheerleaders. It was all respectably well timed and well delivered comedy. This emphasis on humor and wrestlers having creative liberties harkens back to what made the Attitude Era great, with prolific back-and-forths between Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock. This combined with the aesthetic of the commentary table being moved up toward the entrance ramp gives older fans like myself the tingling feeling of WCW nostalgia (or memories of Eric Bischoff’s Raw for some).
Raw has also opted to bring back something which pro wrestling so desperately needs: Jobbers. Braun Strowman is on a squash match campaign and it’s a breath of fresh air. Squash matches, where a powerhouse quickly plows through a smaller, weaker unknown local wrestler, makes the superstar look like the unstoppable force that he is. The pre-match interviews with said jobbers have been pretty damn funny, as well. It may not be an ideal formula for a fan of pure wrestling, but it’s an extremely useful tool when building a monster heel.
Speaking of fans of only pure wrestling, there might be a lot of wrestling hipsters out there who aren’t sold on some of these more traditional promotional techniques. We all know wrestling hipsters (and I’m not talking about smart marks, necessarily) who poo poo anything that isn’t what they would consider a five star match. Or the kind of wrestling hipster who want less talk and more wrestling. Or the kind of wrestling hipster who will write of a guy as influential as Hulk Hogan, who (albeit an oppressive backstage politician) brought pro wrestling to heights where fans and wrestlers alike would be able to enjoy the fruits of its popularity for decades to come. Because here’s the reality of having nothing but match after match: wrestling dilutes wrestling.
If there is no buildup or promotion, there is no investment in the match. Some might point to the Cruiserweight Classic or performances like NJPW’s Ricochet vs. Will Ospreay and say that good wrestling is its own promotion. Yes, good wrestling is very important. Of course. But please do that match the courtesy of some expert promotion. And that’s something that WWE excels in.
I don’t want to come down too hard on wrestling hipsters. These are the people who pay such close attention to the indies and find the pro wrestling equivalent of great craft beers. Without fans like these, guys like Kevin Owens or Shinsuke Nakamura may never have appeared on WWE television. Now that these globally recognized talents have WWE’s promotional abilities behind them, they’ll be unstoppable.
Having match after match as your show format can destroy the importance of those matches. If you’re going out there and performing five star matches every week, there will be no scale for what makes a match important (as well as increase the potential for injury). This is partly what happened toward the end of the Attitude Era. Having championship title matches week to week makes the belt less significant. The championship shouldn’t change hands as often as it did in those days, or there will be no reason to win it. Just build up to a match the fans want to see, and are dying to see. As much as I’m enjoying the A.J. Styles and John Cena feud, they probably shouldn’t have even wrestled yet. Everything after the fact just feels a little flat.
Enjoy the talking. Enjoy the squashing. Don’t be so eager to see the perfect match on every half hour, for your tolerance will become unsustainable. Savor the taste of that craft beer. It was made to be enjoyed, not shotgunned.