Vince McMahon once attached a phrase to WrestleMania as it being ‘The Granddaddy of them All’, with each passing year it is a phrase that seems more and more fitting and probably is the reason behind why Vinnie Mac has phased said phrase out.
Each year the flagship show promises to be bigger than the previous, and while WrestleMania 32 did break WWE’s attendance records, it was also knocked by its audience as an overly long, out of touch show.
So why are WWE seeming to struggle with producing a half-decent Mania in the modern day? This is very same event that saw the classics like Savage vs Steamboat, The Rock vs Stone Cold Steve Austin and a selection of other matches that epitomise what great wrestling can and more importantly should be. The name alone lends the kind of star power the likes of Roadblock could only dream of, but even with all the pageantry and guest appearances, the modern show usually ends up as nothing more than a major disappointment with a sprinkle of one or two memorable moments.
Some of the reasons behind the decline of the modern day WrestleMania are suggestively down to WWE culture – and the wider wrestling / fan culture – as a whole, but some link directly to the show itself.
Maybe WWE should take note of one of their commonly expressed sayings: the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
The length is killing us
This is a problem WWE has with its programming across the broad, especially with ‘special events’ and Monday Night RAW. While the company seem to think that more content equals better content, the majority miss the days when WrestleMania would last four hours.
Last year’s event, kick-off show included, was seven hours long. Seven hours. The average required for a ‘good night’s’ sleep (something that many UK-based fans would probably be very grateful for).
With NXT TakeOver: Orlando, WrestleMania 33, RAW, Smackdown, 205 Live, Talking Smack and NXT, WWE will be broadcasting just under twenty hours of live wrestling over the space of five days. That’s almost an entire day of content, a quarter of which is taken up by Mania alone.
WrestleMania 32’s intolerable length led to good matches being cut short, poor matches running too long, and an overwhelming sense that it was never going to end. You might argue that the majority of people will probably skip the pre-show, which leads to: what is the point in the pre-show? Surely a quick segment in which Renee Young efficiently hypes the card would suffice.
It’d certainly be preferable to a two hour slog packed with filler matches built around Total Divas.
Too many “Main Events”
The main event is supposed to be exactly that – the poster child for the larger show that makes everything else worth sitting through.
Not only is WWE now trying to push two top titles, while attempting to market secondary big name non-title matches as PPV headliners as seen at last year’s SummerSlam.
It’s not hard to see WWE doing the same at this year’s WrestleMania, particularly with Roman Reigns vs The Undertaker. But arguably all this creates is an awkwardly paced, top-heavy show, and only raises expectations further for the real main event that closes the evening. Case in point being last year when a slightly unpopular Triple H took on an even less popular Roman Reigns in the main main event of WrestleMania 32 – a match that was forced to follow higher quality encounters, and was thus booed into oblivion.
The obsession of breaking records and creating “WrestleMania moments”
WWE loves its statistics and last year’s show was no exception as it became plagued by shabby attempts to ‘make history’, like The Rock pinning Eric Rowan in six seconds, or the company allegedly breaking their own attendance record.. This kind of thing is fine, if it’s done in service of telling a story or making somebody seem like a big deal (such as somebody breaks an elimination record in the Royal Rumble), but more often than not it’s just there to fill time that could be used by another match.
Hardcore fans don’t care about records, casual fans certainly aren’t interested in them, and the only people slightly concerned are potential shareholders and sponsors. It’s just another ego stroking excuse at the expense of everybody else’s time and money.
Without significant build or a well thought out storyline behind it, a WrestleMania Moment is just another meaningless buzz phrase that gets thrown around. Every second of WrestleMania 33’s show will be a ‘WrestleMania Moment’, but for the sake of branding, it’s a term that defines a Superstar achieving personal glory at the biggest point in the wrestling calendar.
But all too often, these moments are shoehorned into the show in order to bring more meaning to the phrase, and to the WrestleMania brand. It doesn’t matter that Zack Ryder lost his Intercontinental Championship a day after winning it, he got his WrestleMania moment. It’s a catch-all excuse for a lot of the vapid nonsense that goes down at Mania each year, things that can often undermine larger story arcs taking place around the event.
Reliance on part-timers
One of the most omnipresent criticisms about modern day WWE is that the company spends far too much time fawning over has-beens, and less time cultivating new stars.
While there are without a doubt opportunities to tell great redemption stories wherein an old favourite returns to triumph over a cocky young upstart, all too often this leads to fresher talent looking weak. They might be older, but a lot of WWE’s returning Attitude Era stars can’t claim to be ‘old school’, as they’ve proven they’re more interested in putting themselves over than benefitting those who show up to wrestle consistently in the modern day.
There is no bigger an offender than The Rock, who only seems to return to demean current WWE talent in favour of promoting his Hollywood career. On RAW, he’ll trash talk the likes of Lana and Rusev without recompense, so you can only image how much worst it gets when the Brahma Bull ‘finally’ returns to WrestleMania. At last year’s event, he beat the imposing Eric Rowan in six seconds with a single Rock Bottom, all so he could break a record. It did nothing for The Rock, nor The Wyatts.
Looking ahead to WrestleMania 33, an event co-headlined by Goldberg vs Brock Lesnar, it’s highly likely we’ll see the same pulled again. The poster speaks for itself, with Goldberg, Lesnar, Undertaker and Cena all centre stage while the WWE Champion is almost invisible. You could argue that they’re box office draws, but sooner or later, they’ll retire from WWE for good, and there won’t be any more household names to replace them.