WWE‘s desire to go with old reliable rather than taking a risk on a fresh face has stunted the growth of the roster and the evolution of the company, something that will be on full display February 21 when the company presents its Elimination Chamber pay-per-view.
The 2010 event featured Drew McIntyre, Randy Orton, The Miz, Sheamus, MVP, John Morrison and R-Truth. A year earlier, Jeff Hardy competed in the namesake match. All of those men are either competing in the main event of this year’s show for the WWE Championship or will feature prominently elsewhere on the broadcast.
It is damning evidence of the company’s stagnancy.
What’s Old is Not New
In 1997, in the midst of a one-sided ass-kicking in the famed Monday Night Wars, Vince McMahon took a necessary risk and began featuring fresh faces in an attempt to win viewers and create a new, original and exciting product.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Mick Foley, The Rock, D-Generation X, Kane, and Sable all became staples of the WWE product and eventually led that company back from the brink and to its greatest success during The Attitude Era.
Unfortunately, WWE has no gumption to take the same sort of risk today. It has no, to quote the great Foley, testicular fortitude.
Shortly after last year’s WrestleMania, we watched as Paul Heyman maneuvered pieces on the Raw brand to try to do just that. Aleister Black, Ricochet, Andrade, Angel Garza, The Street Profits and Zelina Vega all saw increased television time. Heyman laid the groundwork, and the moment there was even the slightest negative movement in ratings, WWE cast him out and returned its focus to the established performers.
The result is a match out of time; a contest that feels antiquated in today’s wrestling world.
McIntyre may be rolling as champion, his potential finally realized, but there is no denying the fact that the field of challengers in the upcoming Elimination Chamber match have been overexposed over the last 12 years.
Is Orton great? Absolutely. He is coming off one of the best years of his career. Sheamus has been low-key excellent, too. But both of those guys have been in and out of the main event, up and down the card, to the point that it becomes genuinely difficult to invest in either of them at this point.
Ditto Hardy and Miz, whose individual credibility has been toyed with to the point that it’s almost comical that anyone in that company would think fans believe in them in that position on the card.
Imagine what it could have meant to Retribution’s legitimacy if Mustafa Ali appeared in the match, finally getting the championship opportunity he was denied two years ago. Think of how beneficial a spot in the contest would have been for the aforementioned Ricochet.
The company’s stubbornness to create new stars has doomed it to stagnancy and cost it opportunities to evolve.
Look no further than All Elite Wrestling, which exists partly because one such young star, Cody Rhodes, bet on himself by leaving McMahonland and is now one of the most prominent figures in the industry. His company more closely represents the future of the industry than WWE’s, which, apparently, is content with riding out 2010 over and over again.
Is There A Silver Lining?
The match will be great if nothing else.
No one is denying the abilities of any of the men involved. All have been here before and delivered. They have presented match-of-the-year candidates on the Road to WrestleMania, so there is little reason to think they will not rise to the occasion again, as long as WWE resists the urge to get too cutesy with the booking.
But therein lies the problem.
It’s the same old song and dance. Even in taking the positive into account, the staleness of WWE booking is glaring.
And it will continue to be.
This is not a problem that will away anytime soon. WWE will turn to one (or more) of those stars again as it tries to fill out its WrestleMania card, leaving promising, younger stars to wallow in some mangled mess of a Battle Royal instead of something truly meaningful. Then, at some investors call, McMahon will be forced to field calls about his company’s inability to create new stars.
Again. And again. And…you get the point.
It will trot out legends, icons, and Hall of Famers. The Miz will win Money in the Bank for the 19th time despite the creative team having absolutely no plans whatsoever for him once he holds the briefcase. Orton will be burning a new incarnation of the Bray Wyatt character alive a decade from now as the company looks to squeeze whatever juice The Viper still has in him.
And when the Ricochets, Garzas, Blacks and others get fed up with the lack of opportunity to be the stars they know they can be and leave for greener pastures, company officials and fans alike will be left to wonder at what point WWE finally sets aside the ghosts of its past and looks toward the future.