What a fine mess Triple H has helped made of WWE's developmental system! Can he now learn from past mistakes to help fix it? (Photo by Michael N. Todaro/Getty Images)
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That old adage could easily apply to how WWE's developmental system has hit the skids over the last five years. They once had a process in place that worked tremendously well in grooming greenhorns into becoming the next generation of WWE superstars, but WWE management decided to tinker with it and ended up with a mess on their hands.
Ohio Valley Wrestling based in Louisville, Kentucky, ran by Danny Davis and booked by Jim Cornette and later Paul Heyman had a stellar track record from 2000-2007 at training WWE's budding young talent. Their alumni reads like a Who's Who of WWE's top stars of the last decade. John Cena, Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar, Batista, CM Punk, The Miz, Dolph Ziggler, Cody Rhodes, Bobby Lashley, John Morrison, Ken Anderson, Shelton Benjamin, Carlito, Chris Masters, the list goes on and on.
So why on earth did WWE decide to wind down and then cancel their affiliation with OVW? Triple H, in his infinite wisdom, encouraged by his friends Shawn Michaels and Batista (the only performer who made it big that ever had bad things to say about the promotion), thought that people who never drew money could never teach people to draw money, even though Davis had palpably proved otherwise. Instead, WWE chose road agent Steve Keirn to open a new developmental territory from scratch in Florida named Florida Championship Wrestling, which has been fraught with difficulties since its inception, similar to Jody Hamilton's short-lived Deep South Wrestling that was WWE's first attempt to replace OVW.
FCW has been in business now for almost five years and it has yet to make a bonafide WWE star out of a complete rookie. The few wrestlers who have graduated from FCW and been a success on the main WWE roster, like Alberto Del Rio, Daniel Bryan, Sheamus and Wade Barrett all had considerable independent and overseas experience before ever stepping foot in an FCW ring. That trend looks set to continue, as FCW's current best prospects all have had a similar background, namely Dean Ambrose (aka Jon Moxley), Seth Rollins (aka Tyler Black), Antonio Cesaro (aka Claudio Castagnoli) and Kassius Ohno (aka Chris Hero).
This is not something that has been lost on WWE management. Ever since Triple H became WWE's Executive Vice President of Talent in January 2011, there's been rumours that he was going to give WWE's developmental system a much needed overhaul. After a lengthy period of inactivity on this matter, as Dave Meltzer reports in this week's Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Hunter finally took action by firing Ty Bailey, the WWE executive responsible for developmental, which may be a sign of bigger changes ahead:
I've been hesitant to look at WWE developmental until the new moves were made. But that's been a long wait, and there still isn't even a hint of what there will be, other than the company just let Ty Bailey go. Bailey was originally the guy Laurinaitis had put in charge of developmental. He was let go on 3/9 and when HHH took over developmental, he began reporting to him directly, so this was HHH's first major move. The book on Bailey was that he had minimal wrestling product knowledge. His father was a longtime NFL executive, including working as a General Manager. He first came to work for the McMahon family as part of the XFL in management. He was brought back to work in talent relations under Laurinaitis.
This is clearly a step in the right direction, as it was a mistake to put someone in charge of developmental matters who didn't understand wrestling, but a lot more needs to be done. They need a structure in place where their trainees get experience working in multiple geographic areas and wrestle in front of live crowds on a much more regular basis, especially with veteran hands. The whole ethos needs to change where they're not just taught the basic in ring mechanics, but also learn how to play to the crowd and how to develop a character for themselves. I'm not confident that such changes will be made, as WWE has proven over the years to be very resistant to such a drastic change in mentality, penny pinching with developmental while wasting vast sums of money on ill fated movie and network projects.