Part one of a five-part series.
Remember "Fandangoing?" For an entire week, on the strength of a raucous international crowd (and a post-WrestleMania hangover), people from all over the world danced to and sang Johnny "Fandango" Curtis' entrance theme. Everyone from NFL cheerleaders to animal rights groups got into the groove. It became one of the 50 most bought songs on iTunes. Fandango, destined to be the latest in a long line of failed gimmicks, had suddenly caught on. There was a Fandango Revolution.
And then last Monday happened. What was created organically had become forced down our throats. The Bi-Lo Center crowd in Greenville, South Carolina, couldn't have been any more indifferent if they were at a Miami Marlins game. The WWE machine got their hands on the Fandango Revolution and killed it dead. There may have been a bit of a revival last night when Raw hit London but the damage is done. Fandangoing is just another thing in a long list of things WWE has ruined in recent years, including these 12 things that could have been really good for business.
- WWE ruins the Invasion (2001). Remember when the then-WWF bought WCW for pennies on the dollar just before Wrestlemania X-Seven? We were finally going to get Austin-Goldberg, or Booker T-The Rock, or the plethora of dream matches that were thought of during the days of the Monday Night Wars. But WWE ruined it even before they made the announcement on RAW on March 26, 2001. Though they had more than enough money to cover the costs of WCW's biggest names, the WWF let Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Sting, Goldberg, and many others collect their Time-Warner deals and sit it out. Besides, WWF was hemorrhaging money with their latest failed experiment, the XFL (which lost some $35 million in its only season). Booker T and Diamond Dallas Page took massive pay cuts to come along for the ride, and with a bunch of B-players, the WWF needed something to prop up the biggest storyline ever. So they got ECW and Paul Heyman, put the two failed organizations (WCW and ECW) together, though they were about as cordial as The Real Housewives of whatever city they're doing the show in these days, and had them led by the McMahon children. With a bloated roster, WCW's big names sitting at home counting their folding money, more gold than Fort Knox, and the continued oversaturation of the McMahons (not to mention WCW and ECW guys getting jobbed beyond the point of oblivion), the mishandling of the Invasion was the breaking point for many wrestling fans.
- WWE ruins ECW (2006-2010). Remember ECW? That small organization that ran many of their shows from a bingo hall in South Philadelphia that became an international player on the strength of their loyal fanbase, word of mouth, and over-the-top ring action and storylines? Even during its slow and painful death in 2000 and 2001, fans stuck it out until the company was crushed under a mountain of debt (due in part to a less than favorable TV deal ECW got with then-TNN). Fans stayed loyal to the brand even in death, and the demand to bring it back was finally heard when ECW resurrected first for a one-night only show in 2005, then as WWE's third brand in 2006. In the first few months, it was in a lot of ways like the old ECW. The stars you remember, the action you expected, the look and production were all there. It felt like ECW with a fresh coat of paint. Then December to Dismember happened. The sheer awfulness of this PPV has to be seen to be believed (and by that I mean stay as far away from this PPV as possible). Paul Heyman, the man behind the original (and rebooted) ECW was kicked off the island, and soon, everything we knew about ECW was slowly stripped away. The originals were fired, the set changed, the announcers changed, the belt changed, the theme changed, the logo changed. It wasn't ECW. It was Tuesday Night Jakked (or Metal. Or Heat. Or Velocity. Or Wrestling Challenge if you want to go back that far). Plus, the change in WWE's philosophy to a family friendly product in 2008 made ECW not long for this world. Finally, it was put out to pasture in 2010 to make room for a new brand WWE could ruin, NXT.
- WWE ruins NXT (2010-2012). It did not take long for WWE to ruin the rookie showcase/"reality show". Twelve weeks, if you're wondering. Despite being voted among the pros as the top rookie in the group, Daniel Bryan couldn't win a match. Bryan (aka Bryan Danielson) was regarded as one of the premiere wrestlers in the world prior to coming to WWE, and now he couldn't win a match to save his life? No one buys that. He was one of the first two rookies eliminated (and he was "eliminated by WWE management". He was never voted out). Wade Barrett ended up the whole thing, and with it, a guaranteed world title match on PPV. Not that it mattered too much, as all eight rookies got contracts anyway when they formed the Nexus stable (well, seven as Daniel Bryan got fired for choking ring announcer Justin Roberts with a tie, but still it worked out for him. He came back and has since lapped his fellow cast members from that season...and his pro The Miz). Season 2 winner Kaval was jobbed to the point of oblivion before being released just weeks after his title match at Survivor Series 2010. Then there was the Diva season. The less said about it, the better. Kaitlyn won it over AJ and Naomi, but all three are on the main roster. Season 4 winner Johnny Curtis didn't use his WWE Tag Team Championship match until a year and a half after winning (he lost). And then...NXT Redemption, the season that never ended, and wished that never existed. 67 episodes before WWE pulled the plug and rebranded NXT as their developmental territory for the WWE. The original concept was a good one. But they went ahead and ruined it. Thankfully, NXT 2.0 hasn't been ruined. Yet.
- WWE ruins Hell in a Cell (2009). The brainchild of Jim Cornette, the Memphis-style steel-cage/War Games hybrid made its WWF debut in October 1997 when The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels settled their score brewing since the summer. It was brutal. It was bloody. It may have taken years off both their lives. But the bar was raised to impossible heights in June 1998 when Mankind and Undertaker finally settled their on-again, off-again two year blood feud. Everyone remembers Mankind's fall off-and later through-the cell that's forever ingrained in wrestling lore. In essence, it was a feud settler, much in the way the steel cage was back in the day, and only used when all other avenues have been exhausted. If we were lucky, we got one a year (though 1998 had three and 2000 and 2002 each had two. 2001 didn't have any.). Then, in a major overhaul, many of their PPVs got renamed after gimmicks in 2009. The formerly named No Mercy was renamed Hell in a Cell. Forget for a moment how dumb a name this is for a PPV. Naming a PPV after a gimmick other than Royal Rumble and Survivor Series hasn't dramatically increased PPV buys. Plus, it lessens the special feel of the match, as in whoever's the hot feud at the time basically ends up in a Hell in a Cell match. There were 16 Hell in a Cell matches from 1997 to 2008, or just over one a year. There have been 12 in the four and a half years since, including three in one night in 2009.
- WWE ruins the undercard titles (2007-present). Remember a time when being Intercontinental or United States champion in the WWE was sort of a big deal? Don't laugh. This time existed, I swear to you. Hell, being cruiserweight champion was sort of a big deal for a minute. But in the last five years (and especially in the last two), the status and credibility of every championship other than the two world titles (and that includes the tag titles) is miniscule at best. The cruiserweight championship was one of three surviving belts following the Invasion era (the other two are the WCW Championship belt and the United States Championship, resurrected in 2003). A belt held by the some of the best under-225 pounders in the world including Rey Mysterio, Ultimo Dragon, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Dean Malenko, Lance Storm, and Jushin "Thunder" Liger, the last champion was the four-foot leprechaun known as Hornswoggle in 2007. Let that sink in for a moment. Try as they might, but the Intercontinental and United States championships, the two midcard belts in the WWE, have meant little in recent years. Antonio Cesaro held the title for eight months before losing it to mid-carder for life Kofi Kingston this past Monday. Not many people can remember more than one title defense he had (the Summerslam preshow). I'm sure he had plenty. Hell, I remember when he put The Great Khali and Brodus Clay in the Neutralizer. The problem is he's more remembered for the many, many losses he piled up while he was United States Champion. The same could be said of former and current Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett (the former and current came within a 26-hour period earlier this month). Even as champion, he's compiled so many losses, it's hard to take him seriously. The same could now be said for new world champion Dolph Ziggler. How do you expect the casual fan to take him seriously when he spent most of the last year looking up at the lights (and doing the same in his second-first for many since let's be honest, who watches Smackdown-televised match since winning the belt)? I get that it's not a legitimate sport. But the least you can do is treat your "champions" as such by having them win once in a while, thanks.
- WWE ruins Monday Night RAW (2009-present). Monday Night RAW was and still is the premiere destination for many wrestling fans every week. It wasn't always that way. Until (and through) the mid-1990s, some of the best wrestling was on Saturday (sometimes in the morning, sometimes at 6:05pm on TBS). And even then, if you wanted the best of the best, you had to go to the house shows. Then WCW Nitro lit a fire under WWE's collective asses, and RAW expanded to two hours and flipped the script on its content under the crumbling pressure of its competition. We all know the story from there. But in the late 2000s, ratings were sagging again, this time under the pressure of reality television and high-quality scripted dramas. Wrestling fans tired of the "same old shit" wouldn't get an Attitude Era revival. Enter...the guest host era. Celebrities would take over general manager duties for a night and run the show, much to the chagrin of wrestling fans everywhere (though in defense, some of them were actually good. Not many though). While that didn't quite ruin the franchise, the expansion of the show to a third hour in 2012 sure did. It killed Nitro. It's killing RAW. WWE doesn't have the horses nor the stories to make a third hour work. Every week since the three-hour show became a thing, the third hour always lost viewers from the second. EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK. Three hours of wrestling on PPV can be draining. Three hours of wrestling on basic cable has been draining. Hope those fat checks USA gives you are worth it, WWE.
- WWE ruins Smackdown (2011-present). The WWE's B-show might have been ruined long before 2011. Some would say 2004 when John "Bradshaw" Layfield won the WWE Championship from Eddie Guerrero and held onto it for ten months, sending viewers and fans fleeing for the remote instead of to the box office to see him get beat. Even before then, there was as much energy for an episode of Smackdown as there was for RAW. In the early years of the brand extension (read: roster split), Smackdown had the superior roster and superior show. In recent years, it became clear that RAW was the A-show and it got the A-show treatment. In August 2011, RAW became RAW Supershow, meaning everyone was welcome to RAW again (though the lines between the shows have long been erased). While Smackdown guys appear on RAW, rarely was (and is) the favor returned. Smackdown, especially in the three-hour RAW era, has become a two-hour version of Sunday Night Heat, a recap of RAW with a few matches thrown in. Smackdown has gone from "The Rock's Show" to ruined Friday night filler.
- WWE ruins the Nexus (2010). I'll save this one for a Fanpost of its own, but here's a summary: following NXT Volume 1, the eight rookies that made up the cast wreck shop on RAW. The first sign of ruin comes two days later when Daniel Bryan, the best of the bunch, gets fired after being caught on camera choking Justin Roberts with a tie. But it's alright, if WWE does it right, they can recover just fine. So they spend most of the summer wrecking shop and beating the snot out of anyone and everyone, friend and foe, current wrestler and legend alike. Then Summerslam 2010 happened. Down 6-5, John Cena scores falls in quick succession over Justin Gabriel and Wade Barrett to win the elimination match for his team 7-6. Just like that, the rookies are the latest to be fed to the monster that is John Cena. It would continue to the fall, and even with Cena forced into servitude (and ultimately unemployment) by Barrett, the former Doctor of Thuganomics came out ahead time and time again, with the feud finally being mercy killed at TLC in December when Barrett got buried under a platform and two dozen chairs. But Nexus wouldn't stay down. CM Punk took leadership, but three members of the original group left, and the New Nexus, made mostly of NXT Volume 2 rookies, was fed to the other monster: Randy Orton. The group could have been huge. Could have. Ironically, the man who's done the most from Nexus was in the group for just one episode: Daniel Bryan, the tie choker.
- WWE ruins the Summer of Punk (2011). In June 2011, WWE stumbled (I use that for lack of a better term. No way Creative could have thought this up on their own) upon the hottest wrestling angle in recent memory, the Summer of Punk. It was essentially a retelling of Punk's final days in Ring of Honor to a wider audience. A quick summary for those who haven't seen Best in the World or followed ROH in the mid-2000s: right around the time CM Punk agreed to a deal with WWE in June 2005, he defeated Austin Aries to become the new ROH World Champion. Punk more or less "punked" the crowd and the company, threatening to dump the belt when he got to WWE. ROH spent the next two months sending one challenger after another to separate Punk from belt, all while Punk mocked ROH and its championship, even going so far as to sign his WWE deal on the ROH belt (it finally happened in mid-August when James Gibson beat him). The 2011 version started with a legendary worked shoot on the company, its employees and management, and its fans. The tirade spoke at the heart of many wrestling fans worldwide. Three weeks later in Punk's hometown of Chicago, he defeated John Cena to win the WWE Championship. One problem: like six years earlier, he was heading out the door, as it was his last night with the company. One failed Alberto Del Rio Money in the Bank cash-in later, and Punk disappeared into the hot summer night, perhaps to make good on his promise to defend the title somewhere else. The WWE, without its world champion, carried on about as normal as they could, commissioning a one-night (which ended up being one week) tournament to crown a new champion. Rey Mysterio won the tournament and the title, only to lose it to John Cena just an hour and a half later. Here's where they ruin it: CM Punk returns. After spending the previous week making the media rounds as a free-agent WWE Champion, appearing everywhere from comic book conventions to late-night talk shows, Punk returned with his WWE Championship belt. Then the Summer of Punk added unnecessary layers: the depowering of Vince McMahon; the Triple H power struggle (and subsequent walkout); Kevin freaking Nash (and his texts to himself); John Laurinatis and his cough-drop-desperately-needed voice. And worst of all, we got three months with Alberto Del Rio as WWE Champion. And Punk gets buried by Triple H in a match no one wanted. There aren't nearly enough hours in the day to tell you how WWE ruined a storyline this good. Simply put, they outthought the room.
- WWE ruins tag team wrestling. I can't quite put a date on when exactly WWE ruined it, but since this decade begin, thirteen different teams have held the WWE tag team titles. Only one team, the current champions, Hell No (sitting on seven months as champions and counting) has any hope of cracking a revised version of the greatest tag teams in wrestling list. If you look at the list of recent tag team champions, they're mostly a mishmash of singles wrestlers with "Creative having nothing for them". They've lucked on a tag team that's gotten quite popular, but arguably have run its course. I know the "new regime" talked about reviving the tag team scene, but no team has stood out in the new revival outside maybe of Rhodes Scholars. I can't trust WWE talking about tag teams being important these days when they've become about as important as they were in WCW's dying days. At least Judy Bagwell isn't holding one of the belts, so they have that going for them, which is nice.
Part two is coming next week, but if you have anything that WWE ruined for you, reply below. Discuss, my Cagesiders!