Editor's Note: We highly recommend you give this effort from Cagesider "JG87" a read:
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The lights dim, a silence enters the arena as fans turn their view towards the stage. The music hits, a blaring familiar song alerts the fans, as they are becoming aware of the superstar who is making the entrance just as the pyrotechnics begin to blast all around.
No, this is not the Main-Event of the evening; it is merely the middle of it, a rise in investment from the warm-up matches earlier. Here is where you separate the superstars of tomorrow with the jobbers of today.
During all the boom periods in wrestling, the mid-card was as engaging and integral to the overall product, equally, if not more so, than the main-event scene. While not easy to define, working under the assumption that the final two matches are the main and co-main event, the mid-card would essentially consist of the superstars whose programs could not sell shows individually, but combined would become highly important to the overall product.
While perennial top draws will continue to be in programs not in the top of the billing, it is important to note the mid-card is primarily a proving ground for new talent.
WrestleMania XIV: a look at the card reveals how much depth and importance resided before the main-event scene took center stage. The Rock, Triple H, Mick Foley, and the New Age Outlaws were three Hall of Famers (HOF'ers) based on singles careers, as well as the partnership that may very well make it as a tag team or part of a faction. Neither of the big three had tasted Heavyweight gold just yet, and the Outlaws were still a ways away from hitting their stride. These four would be involved in three out of the eight matches of the card.
The top of the card? Three more HOF'ers in Austin, HBK, and the Undertaker, as well as Kane (who is Hall of Fame material as well).
Now, flash forward three years, to observe what many consider to have been the greatest WrestleMania ever, WrestleMania X-7. You can see a progression from the previous mid-carders to the main-event scene and an even more talent driven mid-card. Triple H and The Rock have elevated to permanent "top of the card billing" what with HBK and Foley heading off into retirement.
Filling in the under-card are Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, The Hardyz, Dudley Boyz, Edge and Christian, Big Show, and Kane. Of the aforementioned, only the Dudley Boyz would fail to win singles' Heavyweight gold or become a big player in one of the brands.
A look at last year's WrestleMania, and the one three years prior, illustrates a distinct lack of a serviceable mid-card or elevation of any superstars.
WrestleMania XXV consisted of 23 superstars in seven matches (excluding the 25-diva battle royal for obvious reasons). Of those 23, now 14 are retired, semi-retired, or no longer with the company. One would assume plenty of room for new blood and a fresh crop of title contenders, but of the nine remaining, only Christian was put into a position he was not previously given the chance to be a part of in WWE.
WrestleMania XXVIII had four part timers in three out of the seven matches (excluding the women's match, sorry Divas). To put it in different terms, (based on Wikipedia) the match time allotted to part-timers is 86.05 minutes, compared to 26.3 minutes for all the remaining matches (minus the women's tag).
How can you expect to grow and nurture new talent for the future when their chance to shine and improve is shrunk to hilariously low TV time? After all, TV ratings are dependent on the viewer wanting to watch the WHOLE program. Relegating the territory where the IC title once reigned supreme down to nothing more than filler, is a surefire way to lose viewership and fan loyalty.
Boxing focuses on the main-event 9 times out of 10, and the sport as a whole suffers as a result of it. The UFC rose to prominence offering many intriguing fights on the same card, helping to facilitate it's rise. Wrestling at its finest is a can't miss event -- a clear product of being invested in much of the card being played out in front of you.
Right now, just a few short weeks away from the "show of the immortals", are there any matches not involving main-event talent that you are remotely interested in?
A quick look at past WrestleMania's, during either the boom of the 80's or attitude era, shows a card with much more to offer than just the finale. Wrestling will go in cycles of popularity, but the quality of the product rises and falls with the mid-card, as it should be.