When looking back on the year that was, 2016 saw monumental highs and tumultuous lows. This year gave us some of the best and most unexpected wrestling matches, encounters that we’d never thought we’d see. It also did see some great potential squandered by performers and by promotions. I have decided to lay out what I want out of the major wrestling promotions in the coming year. I don’t think these will be any sort of cure-alls, but these broad strokes moves may help to either help thriving promotions to do even better, or for struggling ones to succeed in 2017.
RING OF HONOR: I would love for Sinclair Broadcasting to stop being so cheap and really, truly invest in ROH. Yes, the company has made great strides to up their production values, but they still have a long way to go before they look and feel like a top tier wrestling promotion. I also want the performers there to slow down a tad and get back to telling a compelling story in the match. Most of the roster has been guilty of doing a ton of moves just for the sake of doing moves and getting back to the fundamentals would do a world of good for many of the more risk taking competitors there. Also, ROH needs to rebuild their main event scene. Their roster is definitely in a rebuilding phase, so now is the time to get major press on guys like Jay Lethal and Adam Cole outside of ROH television and for up and comers like Dalton Castle and Donovan Dijak to make an impact. And finally, can they please get better time slots to air the weekly television show? Most people cannot catch it because of the weird hours that ROH airs. It would behoove TPTB to rectify this.
NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING: Similar to ROH, New Japan needs to make sure any contract issues are resolved quickly and without hassle. The success of Finn Balor, AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura in the WWE/NXT may spur others who previously stated they would never sign exclusively with a North American promotion (Kazuchika Okada for example) to sing another tune. Gedo will need to ensure that he is on top of all soon to expire contracts. Also, the newer signees need to be pushed to the moon to ensure these talents (such as Cody Rhodes) will want to stay for the long haul. Also, the American broadcasts of the NJPW shows need to catch up a bit, as the shows that air Friday nights on Axs TV are from shows nearly a year ago. It is hard to try to get lapsed viewers back into it when the shows are so far behind.
LUCHA UNDERGROUND: This is a company that revolutionized the industry two years ago with an amazing debut season, but now seems to be floundering. Ratings are down and financials are in question. The biggest problem seems to be that there aren’t too many wrestling minds at the top of the food chain. An experienced old school booker, working with the head creators of the show, can really help iron out some of the issues with questionable feuds and lack of interest when it comes to big time matchups. Also, the company needs to start doing shows on the road. The fact that fans get into the television tapings for free, the show being on a network so deep in the cable listings that many cannot find it (which means less ad revenue) on top of the fact that they do not have pay-per-view events makes one wonder how this promotion is making any money at all. Yes, Lucha Underground succeeded because it set out to be different from other wrestling promotions. However, not every aspect of their operations needs to be different.
TOTAL NONSTOP ACTION: I will not beat the recent dead horse with stating that they need to bring back Billy Corgan in some creative capacity. I believe that ship has already sailed. However, I will reiterate that TNA needs the “burn it all down and start over” approach. The wrestling talents work their asses off to try to give the audience the best show possible each and every week. They’re efforts seem hampered though by inept leadership. No offense to her, because I am sure she is nice as pie…but Dixie Carter needs to be removed from any creative or business capacity. Hopefully, the new owners, Anthem Sports, decided to keep her around just to keep up appearances. I would also highly recommend a complete rebranding and relaunch of the company, as the name TNA seems to have become an albatross around their necks. And if possible, they need to seek a new deal on a higher profile network, ASAP. I honestly feel that Spike TV may be willing to come back to the table for negotiating if Dixie Carter is a non-factor and Vince Russo has no iota of involvement with creative.
NXT: The farm league for WWE will need to find the right balance between being a feeder for new talent to go up to the main Raw and SmackDown rosters and being a touring wrestling entity in and of itself. Trying to be the latter is the reason that talents like Samoa Joe, Asuka, Shinsuke Nakamura, etc, have been down there long past when they should have been called up. With talent like a Bobby Roode, or Nakamura, who are in their mid to late thirties and only have maybe a few more years left in them, it is imperative that they get on the main shows, post haste. These performers deserve the opportunity to maximize their exposure, in the process, making their nest egg that much bigger. Also, homegrown talents need to be encouraged to have unique styles, strengths, speeds, etc. Many of the ones who came up through the WWE, instead of the indies, seem to all have similar in-ring styles and need to be allowed more individuality.
WORLD WRESTLING ENTERTAINMENT: There are so many issues that it is difficult to find a place to begin. The three hour Monday Night Raw, which has become a chore to watch, needs to come to an end. A two hour show is less likely to chase away the casual fan that they have been trying to get back for the past 15 years. The same goes for having more than one pay-per-view a month. 19 pay-per-views a year is just laughable, as this gives feuds less and less time to play out until a big grudge match. There should be 12 pay-per-views, 4 Raw exclusive shows, 4 SmackDown exclusive shows and the big four (SummerSlam, Survivor Series, Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania) would be joint productions. The voluminous writing staff, rumored to be anywhere between 25-35 writers, needs to be trimmed down. There are way too many cooks in the kitchen and this shows in the product. Scripted promos need to go the way of the dinosaur. SmackDown Live seems to have moved in the right direction and Talking Smack has been nothing but shoot promos. So if this can spread to the rest of the product, things will likely feel less robotic and lifeless. Stephanie McMahon is an amazing and charitable businesswoman, but she also needs to be removed as an on air persona. She and Triple H were stale two years ago and while Helmsley has been off camera for quite a while, Stephanie remains. The likeliness of this changing doesn’t seem good. Ultimately though, the majority of the problems seem to stem from a fundamentally out of touch leadership. That means Vince McMahon and his right hand man, Kevin Dunn. The product (especially Raw) has been stale for quite some time. Many superstars have been frustrated for years because of this. Some have even left because of it (CM Punk). As long as those two have the final say in whom gets top booking, in what storylines that the superstars have to carry and how the production aesthetics feel, things will not move in the direction they need to. The only way to bring back the casual fan is to tap into the zeitgeist of pop culture, and that isn’t going to happen as long as the current regime is in charge.
Here’s hoping that the entire industry enjoys a prosperous 2017 and that the popularity of pro wrestling continues its slow rise back to prominence.