It was an odd week for Kevin Owens, given WWE's dearth of credible heels. On Monday Night Raw, he lost cleanly to Dolph Ziggler, a stale act who has been treading water for the past twelve months. On Smackdown, he lost again to WWE United States Champion Kalisto, which wasn't quite so egregious, as he looked dominant before the finish and only lost via roll-up due to Ziggler distracting him. However, the message is clear: Owens is now a member of WWE's dreaded 50/50 club, someone company management deems not worthy of protection going into WrestleMania 32, because they have no big plans for him.
Company management would include former WWE wrestler Brian James, better known as The Road Dogg, who has worked as a WWE producer (or road agent) and later as a creative team member since October 2011. According to Court Bauer, he was recently made the lead writer of Smackdown. James is also a long term friend of Paul "Triple H" Levesque and has been dubbed his right-hand man by knowledgeable sources.
In a worrying sign, given that James is so influential when it comes to WWE programming, he responded on Twitter to complaints aimed at him regarding Owens' recent booking, by arguing that wins and losses don't matter, because wrestling isn't real competition:
@philgreensauce wins and losses don't count, it's about character and he's a winner!— Brian G. James (@WWERoadDogg) February 4, 2016
@philgreensauce of course I mean that, it's not real competition so how can they count? You and I just see it differently I guess. All good— Brian G. James (@WWERoadDogg) February 4, 2016
This is a similar argument to the one Triple H gave at the Needham Interconnect Conference in the summer of 2014 when he was put on the spot about UFC being competition to WWE, which he resolutely denied because professional wrestling is scripted entertainment like the Rocky film series and is more about telling stories than physical combat, although he didn't go so far as to say that who wins in WWE didn't matter. I hope that's because Hunter realises, unlike his deputy seemingly, that the timing of wins and losses in the Rocky movies was critically important to the success of their plots. For example, how can you tell a tale of the hero overcoming adversity building to his great triumph if the villain loses all the time? Indeed, my friend Charles Humphreys, felt James' defence was the dirt worst:
If wins and losses dont matter, what's the point of watching? That's worse than folks saying selling doesn't matter. https://t.co/0xfeCOe4Xw— It's Frayley (@TheFrayMovement) February 6, 2016
It's so bad that one has to wonder whether he really believes the claptrap he's spouting or if he's just rolling out a corporate line to defend bad booking or intentional sabotage/sidelining of talent?
It also shows a lack of understanding of his own career trajectory, as The New Age Outlaws went six months before cleanly losing a tag team match to one of their rivals. Without that protection, it's unlikely the duo would have ever taken off like it did, even with his charisma and "Oh, you didn't know?" catchphrase. If they had lost all the time, he would have remained an opening match geek, no matter what he did.
Having said all that, it should be unsurprising that WWE's head writer of Smackdown feels the way he does. As Smackdown reviewer Ru Gunn noted in her analysis of the Owens vs. Kalisto match for Voices of Wrestling:
"In wrestling, as a whole: strong booking decisions make decisive actions regarding strengths and weaknesses of characters; their futures; triumphs and downfalls. They let us leave having learnt more about a story than when we started. That’s why we watch, isn’t it? To feel like we’re part of something that matters, that leaves the internal universe different from when it became.
WWE booking—particularly on SmackDown—is more like a metronome, swinging back and forth on a pivot equally in both directions and ultimately inconsequentially. When the metronome returns back to the vertex, nothing has been lost or gained from its previous oscillations."
Fortunately for WWE, their monopolistic business model is set up in a way that it is very hard for them to lose money, now that the WWE Network is established and it has enough subscribers to generate a modest profit. But this can be a double-edged sword, as it can lead to complacency from their creative team, as exhibited by James bragging that "last year was the most profitable year on record". That's not quite true, as WWE is expected to report an adjusted OIBDA for the full year of 2015 of $62-66 million next week, which is at healthy, but not record breaking, levels. So WWE can get away with their creative team not firing on all cylinders, but they may be storing up more problems for their future, if they continue to book talented wrestlers like Owens to lose frequently, hurting whatever momentum they build up.