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Undertaker says the current WWE product is too soft

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WWE.com

Undertaker appeared as a guest on The Joe Rogan Experience, where he noted that WWE’s current product needs more of an edge. The Dead Man puts the blame for this on individual talent who emphasize flash over substance:

Rogan: “Do you enjoy (WWE) as a fan or are you too close to it?”

Undertaker: “I try. It’s tough right now for me because the product has changed so much. It’s kind of soft, you know?”

Rogan: “Are you going to get in trouble for saying that?”

Undertaker: “Probably. I’ll probably piss a lot of people off but they need to hear it. It is what it is. But to the young guys, ‘oh, he’s a bitter old guy.’ I’m not bitter. I did my time, I’m good. I walked away when I wanted to walk away. I just think the product is a little soft. There’s guys here and there that have an edge to them. But there is too much pretty and not enough substance, I think, right now.”

The Phenom elaborated on this issue, framing it as an old versus young thing:

Undertaker: “They’re trying, and it’s always been this way, but they’re trying to put something out for everybody. You know, and it’s like… some guys are into the comedy shit and then there’s other guys that want to see the more hardcore type fighting. I think one of the big things that happened is that the generation before, we all got old at the same time. So there weren’t enough guys to work with the young guys. We can sit and talk and I could give you my theories on what you should do, you know ‘you should do this’ or ‘maybe you should try this’ but until you actually can get in the ring and actually do it it doesn’t really translate a lot of times. And then you also have too many people that… they’re on the Internet. ‘Well, these guys on the Internet say I’m pretty fucking good.’ It’s like, okay, well, you can listen to them or you can listen to somebody who has been there and done it.

So I think there needed to, and you can’t help it, but there was just not enough merging of the young and the new talent. Like when we had Stone Cold, and Rock, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, all these guys, we were all working together, and we were making money and we were drawing, and then we all just kinda aged out. I hung in there for a long time but we kind of aged out and then it just left all these young guys to learn with more young guys, and the product changed. The PC, the training center is helping, we’ve got Triple H, a great wrestler, he heads that whole thing, and he’s trying to get some of the toothpaste back in the tube. He’s trying to move it back to kind of take a step back to move forward to give the product a little more edge. I think that’s what it’s missing.”

Okay, there’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s get to it.

As far as the pretty vs. substance point is concerned, this mostly comes off as Undertaker being the old guy complaining about the kids on his lawn. WWE’s product isn’t lacking an edge because someone like Ricochet does a few too many flips. Undertaker was an undead mortician who resurrected himself from the grave over and over again. That’s a lot more implausible and hokier than any of the pretty moves on display by today’s roster. This criticism isn’t really anything new though - many older wrestlers from the previous generation complain about the fancy moves of the current generation. This has been happening for decades.

It’s interesting that Undertaker seems to have a problem with current wrestlers valuing internet feedback and influence. Many of today’s wrestlers gained notoriety and made a lot of money as a result of internet awareness. The internet was (and remains) a key platform for elevating their careers, so it would be strange to suddenly shun it or put no value in it. As far as Undertaker implying that the opinions of the people who have been there and done that are what’s most important, I find it hard to believe that today’s wrestlers aren’t receiving plenty of positive feedback from those exact types of wrestlers. How many times have we seen wrestlers dismiss online criticism while citing compliments from someone like Triple H? The Undertaker is just one voice out of many; it’s likely that the current wrestlers are receiving all kinds of positive and negative feedback from other wrestlers just like him, as well as through online platforms.

In general, I agree with Undertaker that WWE’s product is missing an edge, particularly the Raw brand right now. But his decision to focus the criticism on individual talent is where he is off base. The brunt of the problem lies squarely on the shoulders of Vince McMahon. One obvious reason why WWE drew so much money in Undertaker’s prime is because Steve Austin and The Rock transformed the business. They had the freedom to develop incredibly compelling characters with an edge. Today’s wrestlers in WWE no longer have that freedom, for the most part. Scripted promos are a huge problem, and WWE will never find another star of that magnitude while these restrictions are in place and stifling the creative expression of the talent. That’s more of a Vince McMahon problem, and less of a problem with the individual talent.

Think about it like this. How many NXT stars have done well on Triple H’s brand, only to come up to the main roster and struggle to stand out (to varying degrees)? The list is damn near endless, but some of the more recent names include Aleister Black, Andrade, Matt Riddle, Ricochet, and Dominik Dijakovic. Other stars got a hot push out of the gate before falling way down the card, like Shinsuke Nakamura. Keith Lee was called up to Raw and immediately had his entrance music and ring gear taken away from him. Then you have someone like Finn Balor, who had decent success on the main roster, but whose ceiling was ultimately limited by McMahon’s size obsession, leading to a return to NXT. And what about Nikki Cross? She’s now one of several wrestlers who has to shoot her own angles on the internet because the creative team somehow forgot about her. There are so many more examples that can be cited over the years.

Maybe some of these wrestlers are soft and unwilling to find the edge that Undertaker is talking about. But I ask, what’s more likely? That every single one of these these wrestlers is missing an edge and not heeding enough advice of folks like Undertaker, or that Vince McMahon is generally failing to identify and utilize their talents? The answer is clear to me, because the sheer amount of wasted talent is staggering.

It’s also harder for the current WWE characters to have an edge when Vince McMahon frequently brings in old part-timers to dominate them. For at least a decade now, Vince McMahon has been hammering the point home that the older stars are the actual stars and that the current wrestlers don’t measure up. Undertaker, Steve Austin, The Rock, and Triple H didn’t have to deal with that major obstacle in the late 90’s. But here we are in current WWE, with Goldberg beating the unstoppable Fiend rather easily at Super ShowDown less than one year ago.

Finally, I’d like to point out that WWE’s roster isn’t actually young. Undertaker was 33 years old in 1998 at the start of Steve Austin’s peak. Austin was also 33 years old. The Rock was 26 years old. Triple H was 29.

John Cena was the top star in WWE by 29 years old. Hulk Hogan was 30 years old when Hulkamania was created. Shawn Michaels was 30 when he became the top star of the promotion.

Now look at today’s stars. Drew McIntyre and Roman Reigns are both currently 35 years old. Finn Balor, Daniel Bryan, and Kofi Kingston are 39. Riddle is 35. Braun Strowman is 37. Big E, Charlotte Flair, Xavier Woods, and Seth Rollins are 34. Bobby Lashley is 44. Kevin Owens, Keith Lee, Baron Corbin, and Sami Zayn are 36. Asuka is 39. AJ Styles is 43. Randy Orton, The Miz, Dolph Ziggler, Cesaro, and Nakamura are 40. John Morrison is 41. Sheamus is 42. Bray Wyatt is 33. The Usos are 35. Rey Mysterio is 46. Jeff Hardy is 43. Ricochet is 32.

There are some notable younger stars like Sasha Banks (28), Alexa Bliss (29), Otis (29), Street Profits (30), and Bayley (31), but for the most part the WWE product is dominated by the names listed above, many of whom are 35+ years old. Many of WWE’s featured stars right now are already older than Undertaker was when WWF’s business was booming in 1998. They’ve been wrestling for a long time and have a very good idea at how to present their craft. These aren’t exactly inexperienced wrestlers who don’t have a clue about character work and haven’t been there and done that.

I’m not sure who exactly Undertaker has in mind when he says the WWE product is soft, but these are the people who are synonymous with the product right now. So when he says the product is missing an edge because individual stars choose pretty over substance, it must be coming from within that group.

The Undertaker framing this as a young versus old issue is misguided, with that context in mind. But I get why the Undertaker says the product is soft. Most of the storylines on Raw aren’t engaging, and many of the television matches have no stakes and don’t matter. Once again, that’s much more about the guy who runs the show, and not the workers who are trying their best to bring forth that man’s out-of-touch vision for compelling television.

What do you think about Undertaker’s opinion on WWE’s product being soft? Do you think he’s right to put the blame for that on the talent?