The WWE Network is a superb product that cannot be rivalled by any other wrestling promotion, nay by many streaming services anywhere in the world.
The amount of content available is breath-taking, and the cost of £9.99 per month is remarkably good value from a company that isn’t afraid to squeeze every single dollar, euro and pound from each of its loyal fans ($6,500 for a Fiend belt anyone?) You get Pay Per Views, original content such as the excellent ‘24’ series and a frankly astonishing back catalogue which should keep everyone from Jim Cornette to Vince Russo occupied for years.
But earlier this year, on the night of WWE’s Money in the Bank PPV, which had previously been one of my favourite WWE events, I found myself without a subscription to the WWE Network having cancelled it.
Now, if I want to find the best Bastion Booger matches, I now have to go to YouTube. Want to watch a Barry Horowitz marathon? Maybe I’ll have to resort to DailyMotion. And if I want to watch the glory of Jinder Mahal’s championship run on repeat, I’ll have to buy the Modern Day Maharajah DVD series which I assume is on the verge of release any day now.
So why did I make this earth-shattering, momentous and Vince-enraging decision?
First the moral issues. I don’t pretend to know every detail of WWE’s business and there are excellent writers who are much more well-informed than me who can explain these issues in a far superior way to my useless self. But to put it simply, WWE are not a pleasant company.
The ongoing relationship with Saudi Arabia in the midst of a murder of a journalist that was, at best, strongly linked to the Saudi regime, is more than a little bit troubling. As was WWE’s apparent willingness to use its own wrestlers as pawns in the negotiations with the Saudis in 2019.
It’s a company that is more than happy to dabble in a cheeky little bit of misogyny and racism if they think it will help ratings, and as with Hulk Hogan they are delighted to ignore such misdemeanours if there is a pot of gold at the end of that particular racist rainbow.
Most recently, whilst WWE is not alone in putting money before safety as the rest of the world tries to recover from the Coronavirus pandemic, they did manage to put themselves at the top of the ‘baddies’ list with the events of ‘Black Wednesday’. Not content with unnecessarily sacking employees just so that they could post record profits whilst Vince himself sits on a Scrooge McDuckian fortune (for evidence of this see the fortune WWE are about to spend on ‘THUNDERDOME!!!!!!’), they have also doubled down on this by mocking those wrestlers who were let go, with the abhorrent Drake Maverick angle on NXT.
So I’d love to say that I cancelled the Network solely because their actions often make me concerned that continuing to watch WWE would slowly lead me to become some sort of worshipper of evil. I would love to say that and put myself on the moral pedestal that so many of us love to look down on others from.
But if I did I would be a massive hypocrite because deep down (okay maybe about medium down) I know that if WWE was pumping out great weekly shows, great PPVs and magnificent ‘must-watch’ TV, I would likely fork over my £9.99 whilst poking a child in the eye if Vince told me to.
The very simple fact though, is that I think modern-day WWE is just complete rubbish (or garbage, for our American readers).
Now, this isn’t a snobbish “I only like traditional wrestling” point of view. I am well aware that WWE isn’t trying to be a great wrestling product. The main roster hasn’t had a Wrestling Observer 5-star match since 2011, and whilst that is only one controversial man’s opinion, even Meltzer’s most ardent critics would struggle to think of many matches in that time which should have earned that accolade.
But WWE isn’t trying to get 5-star ratings. The wrestling is almost incidental at times, and let’s face it that’s been the case since about 1997. The name of their game is Sports Entertainment, not wrestling, and I’m absolutely on-board with that. The problem is that they don’t do Sports Entertainment very well.
WWE’s offering is turgid. Anyone who shows an ounce of their own character is immediately forced back into their box, even if the crowds love it (Zack Ryder and Rusev) and many wrestlers are forced into gimmicks that they clearly hate and therefore cannot carry off, Dean Ambrose being the most recent example.
Promos are so rigidly scripted that you can often see the performers reading it over in their heads, and matches are agented to within an inch of their lives to ensure that they all largely look the same.
And even when WWE do allow some creative freedom, they will ultimately ‘WWE all over it’ as happened with the disastrous Universal Title build up and eventual run for Bray Wyatt’s superb ‘Fiend’ character. Whilst Bray was in charge of it, the story was great. But once Vince got involved, the unstoppable Fiend was stopped by Seth Rollins…and then again by Goldberg…and was apparently last seen scaring Alexa Bliss having had a bit of a rumble in a swamp. Yeah…it’s not good.
Most worryingly for me, these traits are increasingly creeping into the previously excellent NXT. Whilst NXT still has some of the best actual wrestling on any of the weekly products, I am finding it harder to focus on this in the face of stultifying scripted promos, enforced and constant catchphrases (yes Keith Lee we know you are ‘Limitless’…please don’t say it again) and the seemingly pathological reliance on screwy finishes.
NXT was at its best when it offered an alternative to the main roster. Currently it is moving towards simply being a yellow clone of Raw and Smackdown, and in my humble opinion that is disastrous. It’s like watching a previously principled young journalist writing for the Daily Mail.
This lack of creativity and individuality has also recently been thrown into the spotlight with the arrival of AEW. In Jacksonville, AEW are allowing their wrestlers to largely do their own promos. They have a huge variety of styles meaning few matches ever feel repetitive, and perhaps most importantly they often listen to their fans when things aren’t working (such as the awful Nightmare Collective story) rather than stubbornly persisting which at this stage feels like it could be WWE’s motto.
Of course, AEW still gets things wrong. The booking of their women’s division continues to be lousy, for example, and the relatively recent memory of Mike Tyson roaming around Daily’s Place still leaves a bit of a sour taste. But overall it’s a promotion where variety and creativity seem to thrive which is something that couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to WWE.
Finally, there is a growing concern nestled in the dark reaches of my brain that I don’t think there is anyone on the main roster who is better in WWE than they were in their previous work elsewhere.
AJ Styles is fine, borderline good in WWE, but was considerably better in TNA and New Japan. Comparing Shinsuke Nakamura’s work in Japan with his main roster WWE run is desperately depressing. Samoa Joe, Finn Balor, Bobby Roode, Bobby Lashley, Asuka, Kairi Sane and Io Shirai. The list is a very very long one.
Similarly, we are now seeing wrestlers leave WWE and immediately improve massively. Dean Ambrose morphing back into Jon Moxley has been superb to watch in both NJPW and AEW, and Cody Rhodes’ exploits once he was free of the shackles of WWE speak for themselves. AEW even managed to give Jack Swagger some life (although only some).
Even within their own house WWE are seemingly determined to crush people with previous successes, with a frankly bafflingly high number of those who have moved from heroes in NXT to complete jokes on the main roster (through no fault of their own).
Shayna Baszler was incredible in NXT with her terrifying presence, MMA style and impressive win-loss record. On the main roster she was made to act like a vampire on night one and then effectively jobbed out to Becky Lynch at Wrestlemania….and it’s a track that has been worn by many NXT wrestlers before her.
So it begs the question, if all of these performers are better elsewhere…why am I not spending more time watching ‘elsewhere’?
AEW does Sports Entertainment better than WWE. Stardom is infinitely better for women’s wrestling. And NJPW, when it gets it right, combines the best of both entertainment and hard-hitting and technical grappling. And that is only the tip of an enormous wrestling iceberg. There is a huge variety of promotions, big and small, out there for us to investigate, and in my experience almost all of them are doing their thing brilliantly whilst WWE struggles to even identify what its thing is. So is there really a reason to keep persisting with Vince’s beefy goon parade?
I will always keep up to date with WWE because, for better or worse, it is still the core of the wrestling industry and the centre of most wrestling discourse. There is also an absolutely vast array of talent in their ranks and I largely don’t blame the wrestlers for degenerating into the robots they have become.
But considering they are cartoonishly evil at times and not actually very good at delivering the product they were previously renowned for, do they deserve my £9.99 a month?
Not for me Jeff.