The WrestleMania part-timer problem
Examining WWE's problem with part-timers in prominent positions for WrestleMania.
Once upon a time, the main event of WrestleMania was generally meant to be the culmination of the journey to the top for a particular Superstar. Somewhere along the way, that changed and shifted to focus on part-time wrestlers and special attractions.
Being the apex of the WWE’s pay-per-view spectaculars, of course, the promotion needs a major attraction as the main event. However, the focus needs to revert to what the main event used to be.
How should it be?
At WrestleMania XIV, Shawn Michaels faced, “Stone Cold,” Steve Austin in the main event for the WWF Championship. This was what WrestleMania main events were meant to be about. The upstart Superstar that had gained support amongst the fans finally getting his opportunity to become the WWF Champion.
They brought in Mike Tyson to be the Special Enforcer for the match, and that was their big attraction, teasing what would happen between Tyson and Austin. They ramped up the speculation by having Mike Tyson join Degeneration X.
Everything was set for the main event to be an explosive situation, and it ended up being the culmination of Austin’s journey to the top of the WWF, as he defeated Shawn Michaels and celebrated with Austin before knocking out an indignant Heartbreak Kid.
That is the perfect type of main event for WrestleMania: the white-hot rising star getting his chance to main event the biggest show of the year against the established Champion.
How has it been?
Somewhere along the way, that formula went by the wayside. Ever since WrestleMania 28 in 2012, the main event has been reserved for a part-time Superstar who was there to collect a paycheck and to boost viewership.
Granted, the formula has seemed to work for them as far as numbers are concerned in the short term, such as pay-per-view revenue.
What’s the problem?
So, what’s the problem, then? The WWE is making money showcasing these part-time Superstars on the biggest stage of them all, so why is that a bad thing? As documented on Sportskeeda before, the ratings for Monday Night Raw have been in a steady decline since 2012, when they started making the main event of WrestleMania about part-timers.
What does that say about the product?
It says that the “regular” WWE Superstars aren’t interesting enough to command people’s attention. Rather, that they’re not presented in such a manner.
It’s actually a logical argument. If a superstar like AJ Styles, who arguably had the greatest year in WWE history in terms of in-ring performances are concerned, isn’t positioned as a top superstar at the “Grandest Stage of Them All,” what do casual fans think?
Fans have spent the entire year watching AJ Styles have incredible match after incredible match, but the WWE is basically telling them that he’s not important enough to main event the biggest show of the year.
By having part-timers in the main event, WWE is essentially telling their audience that there’s no reason to watch our weekly shows and get invested in those stars, as they’re not important enough to have a WrestleMania main event match.
Why does this happen?
There are many different reasons why WWE has chosen to take the route of promoting part-time Superstars during WrestleMania. I believe that a big reason for this is that WWE is desperate for another boom period like the mid-to-late nineties.
In order to achieve that kind of success again, WWE keeps going back to the well of part-time Superstars, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle once more.
The problem with that is that the climate has changed from what it was back then. Part of what caused the boom period of the mid-to-late nineties was the competition between WWF and WCW. The fact that there is no other viable number two promotion in the United States right now devastates the possibility of another boom period.
How do you fix it?
With all of the problems that arise from the use of part-time talent in premier matches at WrestleMania, the WWE needs to take a good long look at how to actually fix this. It’s well and good that WrestleMania has become about breaking attendance records and box-office records, and it can still be about that, but the way that the WWE accomplishes that has to change.
WWE has to make new Superstars, and they need to do it sooner rather than later.
The closest they came to making a new Superstar over the past few years was with the rise of Daniel Bryan, and that was due in large part to fans hijacking their shows and forcing the WWE’s hand. If WWE wants another boom period in a time where the state of professional wrestling, in general, is different, it has to figure out how to build up full-time talent.
Let’s just say that some lapsed fans actually come back to the product for WrestleMania. What is the incentive for them to continue to watch if both of the wrestlers in your main event are just going to stop showing up?
At that point, you’ve essentially told them that all of your full-time talents don’t matter as much as the guys that aren’t going to be there week in and week out. They have to stop worrying about pulling in fans that have stopped watching for whatever reason. Instead, they need to focus on fans that have continued to watch.
Word of mouth from loyal fans is what is going to end up causing the next boom period in wrestling. If you want wrestling fans to promote your product, then give them dynamic characters and engaging storylines. Give them things that they actually want to talk about with their friends who may have watched wrestling in the past.
If the WWE ever hope to pull lapsed fans back into the product, that's how it has to happen.
The company must also reward Superstars that have performed at the highest level, and let them do what they do best in the premier spot on the “Grandest Stage of Them All.” Don’t worry about finding the big attraction for WrestleMania this year. Create the big attraction.
The WWE currently has one of the most talented rosters that it has ever had, and the promotion is wasting it.
There are a lot of people that love professional wrestling. If you’re reading this, you’re likely one of them. All we need is a reason to keep watching, and we will. If the reason for us to watch isn’t going to be a part of the show regularly, then we won’t watch regularly.
We want a hero we can get behind or a villain we love to hate. We don’t want special guest stars. We want the full-time stars to be special.
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