Pro wrestling is not a sport, as if I needed to point that out to you, but it presents itself like one in the sense that matches take place and we're supposed to care about the outcome. I say "supposed to care" because, well, WWE has worked hard to destroy that construct. That's not because they've weaved in increasingly complex storylines. All sports feature some narrative or another; WWE is just in a unique position to exploit them.
The problem that has arisen is that the company has long since forgotten that the concept of wrestlers simply winning and losing matches as a way to get over is tried and true. When considerations must be made for storylines, business, politics, ego, and personal preference, a lot gets lost in the shuffle.
Take Ryback, for instance. He was built as a mammoth of a man who used his brawn and killer instinct to destroy anyone who came across him. He racked up win after win after win, and fans couldn't help but take note of this, even if he was only beating jobbers and "local athletes" like Benny Camer and Stan Stansky.
Ultimately, he was built up enough that he got over to the point of inserting him into a WWE championship match. And when John Cena went down to injury, he was granted a headlining spot at the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view (PPV) on Oct. 28 in Atlanta.
To the surprise of many, that show drew 200,000 buys, up almost 20,000 from last year's show. And that's without John Cena.
In the latest edition of Figure Four Weekly (subscription required but recommended), Bryan Alvarez talked about how this was possible and yes, it's because of wins and losses mattering again:
WWE inadvertently created a scenario where fans felt that if they paid their money they were guaranteed to see something real happen - either Punk's reign was going to end or Ryback would no longer be undefeated. In the end, it came down to a scenario where wins and losses matter. They key is that in order to create moments and scenarios like this you have to have patience, and you have to work towards scenarios that are guaranteed payoffs in some way. Loser must retire will never draw because nobody believes retirements. But if you build up, for example, extended winning streaks, and put two long-term unbeaten guys against each other in a match with a guaranteed finish, you can, in fact, still draw in 2012. Shocking, I know.
This shows that despite Ryback not being perceived as being anywhere near as big of a star as Cena or CM Punk, he can still draw money because he was built up using the very basic concept of winning his matches and doing so dominantly. Unfortunately, WWE felt it necessary to avoid an actual outcome in the Hell in a Cell match and had a rogue referee cost Ryback the match before he went on a rage immediately after the pinfall in a cheap attempt to keep his heat.
Even worse, WWE saw the good buyrate and immediately changed the main event to the Survivor Series PPV from a traditional elimination match to a triple threat involving the three stars mentioned previously, Ryback, Cena, and Punk. Naturally, it was set up so that Ryback wouldn't lose but he wouldn't win either.
Now, Ryback will face Punk in the main event of TLC in a match that he will lose again, even if he doesn't lose. That's because the plan is still for Punk to head to the Royal Rumble to face The Rock, where he will lose the WWE championship so Rock can lose it to John Cena at WrestleMania 29.
WWE had a star in Ryback who they did a wonderful job building up but they've since torn down simply because they wanted to capitalize on his new-found star power while ignoring what gave him that star power in the first place.
Amazing, isn't it?