The way WWE has booked Survivor Series, you’d swear they were going out of business. In a way… they are. With the exception of maybe the Monday Night Wars, the company finds themselves in a peculiar position where if you’re a wrestling fan, you don’t need to watch WWE. And I’m not talking about how people go to wrestling-themed websites and get results the next day just to watch what they want on YouTube. I’m talking about being completely devoid of having anything to do with the largest promotion on Earth.
Right now, as we speak, if I truly wanted to, I could purchase a subscription to New Japan World for the same price as the WWE Network and get a library of matches and shows I’ve never seen before. Like purchasing a Netflix subscription to BBC programming you’ve never heard of, and having the ability to watch all those shows all the way through and be surprised at their outcome because it was all new. Don’t like NJPW? Ring Of Honor has a weekly show in syndication with their own set of PPV events you can watch that aren’t as frequent as WWE, and they’re looking to jump into the streaming service as well. ROH too mainstream for you? Pro Wrestling Guerrilla has their own YouTube channel and weekly shows you can go see live in Los Angeles.
The point we’re making here is that if you want wrestling and don’t like what WWE is offering, you have options. More options than at any point in time in the industry. And while WWE may have been in denial for a few years, their recent actions show that they have finally come around to quietly acknowledging it behind the scenes and are trying to correct it. If you’ve ever listened to Dave Meltzer in the past year, you’ll hear two familiar things come up a lot on Wrestling Observer Radio. The first is how ticket sales are slumping, to the point where you can see fan photos on social media frequently pointing out how a lot of the upper bowl and much of the upper stands are empty, or even seeing seats covered in black cloth to hide it for a photoshop job later. The other is when Meltzer talks about how Vince McMahon used to not take excuses for empty seats, saying something akin to “if we had the product they wanted, they would have come.”
That mentality went by the waist side for years, and it could be argued that it’s been that way for the past 15 years, ever since WCW went out of business and McMahon’s traveling wrestling show had no competition to fight. (And no, TNA was not competition.) When you’re running a marathon, you can only run so fast when you’re running by yourself. But if someone is running neck-and-neck with you, you tend to push yourself a little harder. With NJPW clicking on all levels, ROH appealing to indie fans, and several other promotions gaining popularity over time (Impact, Lucha Underground, PWG, etc.), WWE are finding themselves in a race that they may be leading for now, but not by much. Any scan of the audience to see all the Bullet Club t-shirts will tell you that.
So now with reality kind of staring them in the face, it appears that WWE has decided to step up their game and do something about it. Everything going into Survivor Series this weekend shows that it’s all hands on deck. (Unless your name is Kevin Ownes, Sami Zayn, or Paige. Which makes zero sense for them not to be included on such an event at this point.) But it kind of begs the question: Is it going to stay this way? Think about that for a moment. The only reason we got Kurt Angle back in the ring last month and Finn Balor vs. AJ Styles so soon at TLC was that of an illness going through the ranks. The only reason we’re getting the super-improved booking this month is that the overall response to their earlier plans (which included Brock Lesnar vs. Jindar Mahal) was less than stellar. Suddenly we have fresh matches we’ve never seen before like The Shield vs. The New Day and Alexa Bliss vs. Charlotte Flair.
But those are brand split matches and once the event is over, we’re back to where we started until maybe the Royal Rumble at the end of January. Once that spark goes away after Sunday, what is WWE’s long-term plan to get to Wrestlemania? Does it feel like a long-term goal to spice things up? Does this actually feel like WWE’s management got the message and are trying to improve the product? Or does it feel more like WWE’s marketing team at work trying to entice you for a six-month network deal through Wrestlemania 34? With the planned main event of Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns that is already getting panned online, it feels like the latter.
And that’s a shame because this is the kind of WWE programming we should be seeing on a weekly basis. Exciting stuff that feels unplanned and shocks the hell out of us from week to week. No pre-planned scripts, no pedantic promos, no endless supply of matches we’ve seen a dozen times over on TV. I’ll be watching this next week or so to see what they do and hope they’re working to turn a corner. But the longtime fan in me feels like this is just WWE trying to get me to buy what they’ve got in stock right now for some kind of “blowout sale” before they go back to selling me the same boring stuff they have been for years.