Wrestling isn’t as popular as it was. The ratings tell us that. But what is wrong? Why isn’t it at the level it once was? Well there’s a hundred and one reasons you could state, and all would be valid. But in my opinion one of the most glaring problems in wrestling is quite simple. It’s something that used to mean everything and now means comparatively little.
Winning and losing.
In years past it was very important, but these days it doesn’t seem to matter anymore to promoters, at least not to the level it should. And I’m not just saying that as someone who thought there was an actual book where these records were kept when Gorilla Monsoon would hype a wrestler’s win/loss record.
Ryback lost his match at WrestleMania to Mark Henry, yet he was named the number one contender to John Cena’s World Title at Extreme Rules and beyond. Think that through for a moment; a man who LOST his match at ‘Mania (to an opponent who cannot be said to be a true top-line superstar) becomes number one contender, not the man who beat him. No-one in their right mind wants to see a John Cena/Mark Henry program, but that is besides the point. Anyone paying attention has to come to the conclusion that wins and losses don’t matter.
It was a similar story leading up to ‘Mania for the other World Title. In some ways you could argue that Jack Swagger wining the Elimination Chamber match argues against my point; after all there was a match, with the title shot at stake, and Swagger won it. And yet Swagger was a man who had won precisely ZERO PPV matches for months leading up to that show and therefore had done very little to earn the chance for the title shot in the first place. This is exacerbated by the fact that wins and losses have become so devalued that Swagger’s one win to grab the shot meant a lot less than it would have otherwise done in a company that valued such things.
TNA are no better. A prime example would be last year’s Bound For Glory tournament which purported to make winning matter, but then threw that away with a tournament that had wrestlers having different number of matches than others and was seemingly booked at random each week. Would it have been so hard to book the matches in advance and publicise them so fans could get behind the guys? Similarly the most “successful” Gut Check competitor for months was one guy, Joey Ryan, who actually failed to win the TNA contract that was at stake.
It’s not just the promoting that is at fault though; a big part of the win/loss problem is top-liners who refuse to “sell” a defeat. And yes, for once, I am happy to point the finger at Internet favourite John Cena. On the rare occasion that Superman Cena does suffer a loss, he is invariably out the next night on RAW laughing and joking as if nothing had happened. Indeed we are usually lucky if he isn’t acting like that in the seconds after the actual defeat. Even when he has lost the World Title, the thing that is most dear to him in all the world if we are to believe his promo’s leading up to this year’s Mania, it doesn’t have any effect on him. It’s part of the reason this year’s ‘Mania build up fell flat; it was difficult to believe Cena’s proclamations that his loss to The Rock the year before had such a bad effect on him when all the evidence pointed to the contrary. Nothing of any consequence happened to Cena because of that loss and there was no change in his demeanour that showed he was even upset with the loss. It’s perhaps unfair to completely lay the blame at Cena’s feet given the part-time nature of The Rock’s schedule, but for a man who could give (and gain) so much by losing “the right way” it’s totally inexcusable. Even his loss in a six-man to The Shield at Elimination Chamber (where he was not even the man who was pinned) was hardly mentioned on RAW the next night, the brief clips that were played hardly referred to Cena and Cena himself didn’t mention it once.
The problem is that although wins and losses don’t matter to the WWE, and therefore they are of the opinion that they do not need to matter to the fans, they actually are still important in many areas. A new guy cannot get over without wins, but as witnessed by the recent HHH/Curtis Axel debacle the WWE place no importance on wins so Axel gets creatively buried on the very first night of his return. On the other hand, wins are so devalued that a winning streak did nothing for Antonio Cesaro, who “failed” to get over and was then denounced as boring by some management.
And therein lies the problem that surfaces in this current era. Wins and losses are less important than ever and yet when it suits their purposes the WWE still try to insist that they are important. Is it any wonder that fans don’t know what to think?
It’s not easy and cannot be done overnight, but if the WWE were to get serious, make match results that see winners advance up the card and losses have some effect on wrestlers, it could help to generate a buzz around every match on TV and foster the feeling that everything you see on TV actually matters. Sadly, I don’t see that coming any time soon.
– By Matthew Roberts