WWE has spent the past 15 months navigating the treacherous waters of a fan-less era, and that’s been reflected in the quality of the programming for both the red and blue brands.
Just last week, Monday Night Raw bottomed out to its worst ratings performance of 2021, averaging a yearly low of 1.621 million viewers for the fourth smallest audience in the show’s nearly 30-year history. While SmackDown has fared a bit better on Fox, especially in terms of developing intriguing storylines, WWE’s new A show has also disappointed both in the important 18-49 demographic and in overall viewership throughout its run there.
Even at times when Raw and SmackDown have delivered angles and feuds that would seemingly spike fan interest, the glaring issues with WWE’s main roster booking have resulted in a stagnant product that badly needs to be revamped and reinvigorated.
And here are five ways WWE can accomplish that goal.
No More Rematches
Imagine if your favorite sitcom revolved around the same exact story every week. Tiresome, huh?
WWE is often like that, and it all boils down to one word: Rematch. Whether it be the automatic rematch clause for champions or WWE’s incessant desire to book controversial match finishes that result in a repeat bout happening on the next episode, the company has made a bad habit out of booking the same match week after week. Take, for example, the recent seemingly never-ending series of matches between Asuka and Charlotte Flair.
Asuka beats Flair one week, then Flair beats Asuka the following week. Somehow, that results in Flair getting a Raw Women’s Championship match against Rhea Ripley, but Asuka doesn’t get one. How does that make any sense? The lack of logic in WWE’s philosophy of constantly booking rematches is blatantly obvious and detrimental to its storytelling. Whether it be Asuka vs. Flair, Jeff Hardy vs. Elias or Cedric Alexander vs. Shelton Benjamin, WWE cannot simply book the same superstars against one another on a weekly basis and expect fans to remain invested in their characters.
Booking a variety of fresh matches—like we saw this week with Randy Orton vs. Xavier Woods—would go a long way toward curing fan burnout and frustration with the mundane nature and repetitiveness of the main roster, especially on Raw.
More Long-Term Storytelling, Like Roman Reigns’ Current Angle
Vince McMahon’s habit of changing the script has notoriously hindered WWE programming throughout the company’s history, with last week’s historically low-rated Raw serving as a prime example of last-second script changes throwing a show into disarray.
WWE’s short-sighted nature and its lack of long-term planning often overshadow the hard work and tremendous talents of its own superstars, with the on-the-fly style of booking leading to uncertainty for much of the roster. Perhaps the best exception to that in recent years has been the stellar booking of heel Roman Reigns, who is captivating audiences as part of his “Head of the Table” storyline that, in a rare twist, appears to have some sense of long-term direction.
The basis of Reigns’ character and what he is trying to accomplish is perfectly clear, which is what has made him such a must-see act as of late. McMahon and WWE should look to Reigns’ ongoing storyline as the poster child of what high-quality storytelling should look like and how entertaining it can be.
In other words, WWE desperately needs more angles like Reigns’ current one and less like Retribution or any other high-profile storyline that fails because it has no definitive endgame.
Make Each Brand Unique
Outside of their brand-specific rosters, the only major difference between Raw and SmackDown is that one show is red and the other is blue.
There really is nothing substantial that establishes any sort of significant difference between the two, with both main roster brands having the same aesthetic feel, similar sets, similar announcing styles, the same type of graphics, etc. When SmackDown was first created more than two decades ago, it was noticeably different from Raw, and at times throughout WWE’s history, that has remained true.
Nowadays, however, WWE’s cookie cutter mentality has made it clear that Raw and SmackDown are essentially one in the same, which, in turn, means that if a casual fan doesn’t like one show, then he probably won’t like the other, either. WWE can and should remedy that by finding ways to differentiate Raw and SmackDown from one another, perhaps by significantly changing the show’s format, their rosters, the type of champions and divisions they have, and so on and so forth.
WWE has relied far too heavily on the same tried and true format for its shows for years now, but changing things up so as to make each brand undeniably unique can’t hurt.
Scrap The Supernatural And Focus On Realism
Many critics have pointed out the drawbacks of the supernatural—the surreal, magic or whatever you want to call out—in pro wrestling in 2021.
In the 1990s and even before that, over-the-top, unrealistic gimmicks were all the rage. That’s when WWE was chock full of ridiculous characters, ranging from evil dentists to yetis, that would absolutely fail miserably today. Of course, the most successful supernatural gimmick ever would be that of The Undertaker, one of WWE’s all-time greats, but if he debuted with that character today, chances are it would be a total flop.
Simply put, the best characters today are the most realistic ones, those who are simply extensions of the superstars’ real-life personalities. That’s precisely why current dark or macabre characters like Alexa Bliss, Bray Wyatt or Aleister Black—no matter how well they’re performed by the talented superstars who portray them—typically don’t work or are limited in what they can do.
While characters like Wyatt can have a place in pro wrestling when their booking is carefully executed, WWE has proven time and time again that this typically isn’t the case. Because of that, WWE should consider scrapping any sort of significant focus on storylines like Bliss’s ongoing one with Lilly, and instead make a concerted effort to craft more realistic storylines that don’t require a nearly impossible suspension of disbelief.
Call Up Some Top NXT Stars—But Have A Plan For Them
NXT stalwart Finn Balor recently revealed that he wants to move back to the main roster, and truth be told, he is one of many standouts on the black-and-yellow brand who has accomplished all he can there and is ready to make the jump to Raw or SmackDown. In fact, the creative team reportedly wants him to move to the main roster.
The problem with that, of course, is that many former NXT studs quickly fizzle out on Raw or SmackDown, largely due to the aforementioned lack of long-term planning. However, especially after a recent rash of releases and with WWE’s upcoming return to live event touring, the company really needs to bolster its main roster to provide both Raw and SmackDown not only with more overall depth but also with more main event-level talent.
Names such as Balor, Adam Cole and Io Shirai really stand out as stars who are ready to move on to the red or blue brand, and they could be huge assets there—but if and only if they are called up with a goal in mind. NXT head honcho Triple H once noted that he didn’t want to move NXT stars to Raw or SmackDown without a long-term plan in place, and yet the likes of Andrade, Keith Lee, Black, Shinsuke Nakamura and a slew of others have been shafted by the lack of exactly that.
The stale nature of WWE’s main roster programming proves that Raw and SmackDown do need more stars in order to freshen things up, but if those stars—no matter how big or small—are promoted with no real plan in place, they won’t make any sort of difference when they get there.