Monday Night Raw desperately needs to start building stars. For too long now – and this has been a problem since before the pandemic – the show has been a stagnant, stale three hours of increasingly difficult, often unbearable viewing. Through no fault of its superstars, of which there are many, the show continues to sink further. Whereas many will argue that the ratings don’t matter because the WWE is bringing in more income than ever before, this is simply not true. Ratings matter to stock holders – and they certainly matter to USA Network, who matter to the WWE. If ratings continue to plummet, and all evidence shows that they are in a terminal, slow downward spiral, they will become increasingly problematic.
Over the past few years, whenever WWE scores a historic low rating, they “bring in the big guns” and hold a Legends Night, or a Raw Reunion, or an “Old School” Monday Night Raw. Different names, same old desperate ratings grab. Chances are, we will be having another soon, in front of a live audience. Here is the thing: if the WWE didn’t continuously squander the vast amounts of talent at its disposal and if the company truly attempted to build multiple stars as opposed to one or two, they would not have this problem. With ticket sales now reportedly being at low levels ahead of its return to touring, per Wrestling Observer Radio, the company should truly begin making an effort to build stars on what has traditionally been the flagship show. The WWE has been off the road for over a year – fans should be clamoring to attend its shows. If they are not, it is through WWE’s own fault.
— WWE (@WWE) June 15, 2021
Most Talented Roster Ever? Regardless, It Is Going To Waste
Many argue that the current Raw roster is one of the most talented ever. From a purely in-ring excitement-inducing perspective, one might have to agree. Over the past decade and a half, work-rate has become the desired aspect of professional wrestling to paying fans. The giants of the past were gradually phased out; replaced with smaller, though more athletically gifted in-ring competitors. It was a gradual transition which arguably began as far back as Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart, though it became far more noticeable during the generation of Daniel Bryan and CM Punk. Over time, wrestlers of their ilk have become the majority on Raw. Yet, they have nearly all gone to waste – their prime years spent rotting away in WWE catering. Ricochet, Cedric Alexander, Akira Tozawa, Angel Garza, Lince Dorado, Mustafa Ali and Shelton Benjamin are some of the most talented workers in the world and yet, with their booking on Raw, they are made to look anything but. Even the larger stars are booked terribly, with Elias, T-Bar (Dominik Dijakovic) and Keith Lee, to name just three, are stars who have all suffered drastic mishandling in recent months.
The question is: why? What purpose does it serve to constantly and consistently diminish the value of the majority of your competitors, with only a select few – Drew McIntyre, Bobby Lashley, Sheamus and Randy Orton, to name three – being presented as something resembling stars? It is a consequential mistake and arguably the biggest contributor to Raw’s rating woes. It is no surprise that more and more superstars want to leave to greener pastures. Even worse, this is a problem that will likely never change – at least while Vince McMahon is in charge. He has his vision for the company and everyone else has to go with it. Yet, it would make his life easier; the workers’ jobs easier and the viewing of the audience easier if he would stop the fifty-fifty booking; halt the constant character diminishing and actually attempt to build stars.
A Women’s Division Struggling For Time
In addition to the male roster being one of the more talented ever, the women’s roster throughout the entire WWE today is the undisputed most talented ever, at least within the company. For all their faults, over the past decade, there has been a genuine and conscious effort within the WWE to rebuild women’s wrestling in the company, after years of costume themed, one-minute matches; bikini contests and various other forms of overly-sexualized content aimed at drawing in teenage male viewers. Yet, despite this, the Raw women’s division is one which struggles for time each week in a three hour long show. The market for women’s wrestling is at an all time high; fans now have access to women’s wrestling all over the world, whether it be in Japan, Mexico, Britain and Europe or even the US itself. There is so much out there and fans enjoy it. Yet, the women are often confined to the same, repeated and rehashed storylines; “can they work together?” or “best friend turned on best friend over championship”. It makes the show difficult to watch when it is the same two feuds done over and over – especially when it is usually including the same four or five women.
Additionally, much like with the men’s division, potential top stars are constantly diminished. Look at Shayna Baszler – a certified killer in the ring. Someone who should be booked as the closest thing to a female Brock Lesnar. Yet, instead, she is running away from dolls and even being cost matches by voodoo magic. Without covering this again, it is a problem for both the division and the brand, as a whole. There are so many superstars and potential superstars on Monday Night Raw right now who only need good booking – complete with good storylines – to get over. This is something that desperately needs to happen soon.
SmackDown Is So Much Better
Whereas Monday Night Raw has become near-unbearable viewing, Friday Night SmackDown is thriving right now. For whatever reason, despite both shows apparently both being overseen by Vince McMahon and Bruce Prichard, SmackDown is far more enjoyable; drastically more watchable and, dare we say it, good television, most weeks. Roman Reigns as the Tribal Chief; the storyline with The Usos; Bianca Belair as SmackDown Women’s Champion; Bayley as the gradually-descending-into-insanity mad-woman; the turn-around of Intercontinental Champion, Apollo Crews; The Mysterios and Big E as the next big thing are all making the show great pro wrestling viewing. Then you consider Shinsuke Nakamura, Cesaro, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens and Sasha Banks are on the roster in prominent roles and it becomes easier to recognize why the show is so much better than the red brand. Not because the SmackDown stars are better than their Raw counter-parts, but because they have all been given stories; are all being treated as stars and are given the freedom to go out there and steal the show. It is really not that difficult for Raw to succeed when its sister show is already doing so.
Traditionally, whenever SmackDown has become the better show, a draft comes along to take away their best talent – who then get squandered on Raw. Yet, this time, with SmackDown clearly the “A Show” with the FOX deal, this won’t happen. All Raw’s creative team needs to be successful is to follow SmackDown’s lead. Whereas SmackDown isn’t perfect and too has its own problems, they are on a much smaller scale because they are dealt with, or at least attempted to be resolved. If Vince McMahon can’t recognize the problems Monday Night Raw has, it will merely continue to make for abysmal viewing; will look increasingly embarrassing next to the far more watchable SmackDown and will continue wasting the years of top quality talent who, frankly, deserve better.
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