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As the new year roars on in its early stages, I made a promise to myself that I would no longer insult the WWE product. Quite frankly, there's no use for such a "war" between AEW and WWE, and everyone should just like what they like and refrain from being a dick about it. So I'll try to offer an honest observation in the best way possible.
With the recent rumors of Ricochet and Matt Riddle reportedly on their way out of Titan Towers, and with the seemingly stagnant progression of a once promising Aleister Black, it begs an honest question -- Is WWE giving us an outdated product?
More than likely, many could make a case for this years ago, but with the rise of NXT, and non-Cena/non-HHH main event stars like A.J. Styles, Bray Wyatt, Drew McIntyre, and Daniel Bryan over the past few years, one could make a case against it. With the guidance of Paul Levesque, we have seen many hot independent stars get swooped up by Vince & Co., many of whom have made a name for themselves on the aforementioned NXT brand.
But I've made this critique before, and I'll do it again -- NXT (a developmental brand) is not making any new stars at the moment that haven't had prior success on the Indies, and haven't for years.
So when WWE are losing out on the potential contributions of Ricochet, Riddle, Black, Lee, as well as others who have fallen through the cracks to find success elsewhere already (Jon Moxley, FTR, Brodie Lee R.I.P.), are they falling a bit behind the wrestling pulse? Other promotions such as All Elite Wrestling, New Japan, and Impact Wrestling pride themselves on a level of creative freedom and input from their talent, as well as cross-promotion of brands.
However, even talent aside, watching a WWE Raw from 2021 looks nearly identical to one in 2011 (sans fans in attendance of course). It's the same cut-and-paste style of the traditional WWE format of heavily scripted opening promos, predictable match styles, a blood-free TVPG rating, cartoonish announcers, start-stop pushes/feuds, and wrestlers watching a god damn TV sideways while they're awkwardly being filmed...
And look, if you enjoy all of this -- great! I won't tell you not to watch it, but it begs the question if the company is falling behind what wrestling is becoming in 2021 and beyond. This is with AEW giving us long-term storytelling, the occasional blood-and-guts, cross-promoting, and the awareness not to treat the viewer like a child by observing that other promotions exist -- and that independent stars are welcome to be showcased there.
What is making WWE seem outdated the most is their inability to toe the line between kayfabe and real life personas.
Don't get it wrong, Tony Khan and All Elite is just as much corporate as Vince and WWE -- but they way AEW is making their money is in a manner that treats creativity, individuality, and expression as ways to get more eyes on the product to become even more successful. Promotions like AEW and Impact understand that their talent can exist both in and out of kayfabe in a way that the viewer understands. Watching a Sammy Guevara blog, or a Sabian/Miro Twitch stream humanizes them, and allows a fan to get to know a wrestler better than they would behind a veil of a third-party revenue ban a la WWE. This goes double for the weekly BTE show where talent can seemingly do any "bits" they want for the sake of entertainment.
In truth I want WWE to succeed, because I miss watching Raw and Smackdown every week. It gives me a slight nostalgic feel much like the Monday Night Wars did as a teenager. But every time I do tune in, or even watch through recent YouTube clips, I run into the same problem -- the feeling that I am watching an outdated product. A product that is afraid to position rising stars in the main event, and instead head back to the legends wheel for guys like 54-year-old Goldberg. Or a recycled early 2000s-era storyline involving a 71-year-old Ric Flair and a married military mom, Lacey Evans (zero believability).
Professional wrestling exists in a blurred line between celebrities and vaudevillians. We know what we see on weekly shows aren't who these wrestlers are in real life, but we also know them well enough that extreme out-of-character actions create a lack of believability both in wrestler and in story. It's believable that Darby Allin as a wrestler plays himself -- but turned up to 11. We know he is an amateur filmmaker, adrenaline junkie, and skateboarder -- and that comes across in his on-screen persona. If he was suddenly booked to chase after Tay Conti and read her love poetry, nobody would buy it.
We see many examples of WWE talent that are either held back from full expression beyond what they do inside the WWE universe, or gimmicks that fail to connect because we know that's not remotely close to who they really are. Again, the fine line between celebrities and vaudevillians. These are real people -- not an individual celebrity cast for multiple different roles for multiple different movies.
In the age of social media, fans want to get up close and personal to their favorite wrestlers as much as they can (within safe legal means, of course). And there are examples of talent being able to live freely within their gimmick and as themselves turned up to 11 (Asuka is a great example, who also has her own YouTube channel), but all too often we see a very cartoonish and overly gimmicky side of a lot of WWE talent. (See: Retribution)
It is Vince McMahon's inability to navigate this blurred line, as well as failing to lessen the corporate grip he has over his own talent, is what continues to make WWE feel outdated. I can only hope that when McMahon takes a step back from his own creation (if ever) that this greedy kung-fu corporate grip will lighten up for the sake of so many talented wrestlers currently in WWE that are likely being underutilized and are creatively unfulfilled.
So what do you think? Is WWE an outdated product? If so, do you still watch it?