With WWE having shifted Wrestlemania main event matches to talents who are not working full-time on the road for the company, I thought it would be interesting to see exactly which of the "part-timers" are actually working the last month of the "TV Road" to the biggest event of the WWE calendar. The results are quite interesting and honestly, alarming.
Here's how things shape up for the next few weeks of WWE TV.
Appearing Monday 3/18 Raw in Pittsburgh - John Cena, Undertaker, CM Punk, Brock Lesnar. No Rock.
Appearing Tuesday 3/19 in Cincinnati - No Cena, Undertaker, Punk, Lesnar, Rock. None of the talent from the top three Mania matches appearing.
Appearing Monday 3/25 in Philadelphia - The Rock, John Cena, CM Punk appearing. No Brock. No Undertaker.
Appearing Tuesday 3/26 Smackdown in Hershey - Rock appearing. No Cena, Undertaker, Punk, Lesnar. One talent from the top three Mania matches appearing.
Appearing Monday 4/1 in Washington, DC - The Rock, John Cena, CM Punk, Undertaker, Brock Lesnar. There is no Smackdown taping on 4/2. Segments will be taped on 4/1.
So, the only episodes of Raw and Smackdown with "all hands on deck" so to speak for the build to the biggest show of the year, Wrestlemania 29, will be the final episodes taped 4/1, just prior to the PPV.
So, with five TV shows left to build to Mania, here are the stats:
No talents will appear on all five shows.
The only talents set to appear on every Raw are John Cena and CM Punk.
Rock is scheduled for three appearances. Two on Raw and one on a Smackdown where his Mania foe, Cena, is not scheduled to appear.
Undertaker is scheduled for two TVs to build his match against Punk, both Raws.
Lesnar is scheduled for two TVs leading into Wrestlemania, both Raws.
Note: Triple H is not advertised for any appearances, although with his backstage responsibilities, it stands to reason he will be at all events and ready to appear if so desired by the company.
What these Stats Tell Us:
What we see is here is likely the future of WWE TV unless new stars are finally built up and become legitimate stars. If no new, legitimate names are created, WWE will have no choice but to continue to rely on older names who come in to "pop the town" so to speak (Lesnar, Rock, Undertaker) and slot them at the top of the biggest show of the year because the common belief is that they are the names that will generate the type of income WWE is looking for out of Wrestlemania.
WWE would be correct, however, they will also also scorching their own Earth. The strategy is foolish for the long-term with the company actually making their own jobs even harder each year they continue this practice. Long-term, it could be the beginning of the end of WWE.
It's one thing to have Rock slotted into the biggest show of the year due to his level of stardom, but when the top three matches of the year are relying on "part time performers", there are several dangers in the strategy, should it continue:
1 - You educate the audience that the only names who matter are the ones who show up a few times a year, creating a true "glass ceiling" where no one who is around all year and responsible for carrying TV and live events are anything but secondary players, especially when they aren't presented on the same level as the "part timers." So, you create a situation where the rest of the year is meaningless, for the fans, for the talents, for the company. Wrestlemania season is when the super-heroes show up and the rest of the time, it's just wasted time. That's the message to the audience.
2 - By relying on "part timers" for major events and then not even having access to them weekly during those time periods, the company is painting itself into a corner, haphazardly, forcing last minute storylines to be forced (Punk winning a Four Way to wrestle Undertaker, for example) or for chances to legitimately build tension between foes (compare Cena vs. Rock build last year to this year) to be lost. The reliance on the part-timers are forcing an already difficult job to be even harder.
Sheamus, Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, etc. will be working the road and TV long after Undertaker, Lesnar and Rock have gone off to parts unknown, but they aren't seen on the same level by the fans. It shouldn't be that way. WWE's job is to manipulate their fans to see their stars as huge names and by not pushing them (or someone else) into legitimate roles, they are only hurting the company itself. Not everyone is going to be the next Ric Flair, but there is only a brief window of opportunity for all talents to break through and shine. After so long, the audience sees them as just another wrestler that doesn't matter.
Instead of using the "part-timers" as a stop-gap measure to help shore up the company while getting the next generation over as huge stars, WWE instead impedes the progress and evolution of the new talents, holding them in place as they parade the stars of yesteryear in and out during Mania season.
That may be fine for today. It may not mean anything today that Dolph Ziggler loses for the 1000th time, or that the Intercontinental and United States champions lose more often on TV today than Barry Horowitz did in the 1990s, but one day?
One day, the bottom is going to fall out. We are going to hit a date where the Undertaker's streak is ended by Father Time. Where Brock Lesnar decides he's going to go back into Minnesota farming seclusion. Where The Rock feels jumping on board a new sequel franchise will be more important than beating John Cena. Where age and injuries catch up with Cena, Punk and yes, even Triple H.
Then who does WWE look to to carry the future? Where are the Wrestlemania main eventers for Mania 35, hell Wrestlemania 31? They aren't going to be able to pluck, say Drew McIntyre, out of a lineup and place him in that role - not after the way they've beaten him down in the eyes of the fans. The problem is that they've got a roster of Drew McIntyres that are all seen the same way. From Ziggler to Zack, the audience keeps waiting for WWE to make new stars and well, they haven't in forever.
The last talents to use Wrestlemania main event matches to ascend to the top of the company were John Cena and Batista. That was Wrestlemania 21. Batista is off to make movies. Cena is still here, but what the hell happened the last eight years since? A reliance on the same old names, returns and guys like Miz being used as proxy talents since Rock wasn't going to give away his first match without a year-long build.
The stats above scare the living hell out of me and more importantly, they should scare WWE.
WWE needs to take a long hard look at the stats. It's not that hard, especially if they admit what the stats above are telling them. If they decide to play ostrich and ignore them, as opposed to building to a legitimate future, well...I'll miss pro wrestling.
Mike Johnson can be reached at Mike@PWInsider.com.