Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Time For A Change

Sean Taylor-Richardson presents his first article for ATPW, a look at how the WWE landscape could change in 2015.

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2015 is going to be a big year for the WWE. Maybe it’s biggest yet. 2014 presented the sports entertainment juggernaut with a considerable number of problems, from a CM Punk sized whole in the roster to financial reviews that left Wall Street investors calling for their lawyers to get the tables. For every defining moment that took place in the ring, and to be fair there were a few, there was an equally significant negative lurking around the corner: the rise of The Shield was tempered by the false dawns for Bray Wyatt and Cesaro whilst the untimely injury to Daniel Bryan that followed his epic Wrestlemania moment left fans wondering what might have been. For me,  the year never reached the heights promised by the spectacular 24 hour spell that encompassed the outstanding WrestleMania XXX and the electric Raw that followed it. So what does the company do now to rejuvenate those jaded fans who are so down on the product? What are the compelling feuds and potential world class match ups that will lock in those much sought after Network subscribers? 


There is only one place to start when forecasting the WWE of 2015: Wrestlemania 31. 
Simply put, this show has to be a hit. Whether it is through Network subs or traditional PPV buys, WWE needs to draw a million plus viewers to this show and to do that they need a card that combines the requisite dose of nostalgia with a sense of forward planning. Anyone who has had but a cursory look at the internet recently knows the rumoured current plans for the main event in Santa Clara. Roman Reigns (the sure-fire winner of the Royal Rumble) will challenge Champion Brock Lesnar, who will be fresh off a victory over John Cena at Royal Rumble. As a main event, this could go two ways. It could be a hard hitting brawl that ends in a star-making moment as the momentum of the streak is handed over to a young man destined to lead the company into a new era. Alternatively the crowd could turn on the still “green” Reigns, undermining his big moment with incessant booing and irrelevant chants. Despite the risk, don’t expect the company to change course like they did with Batista and Bryan last year. Vince and Trips are hot on Reigns and know that the company needs a new star- they will press on with this regardless. Whilst the Wrestlemania moment may not be passionate or as anticipated as that bestowed on Bryan this year, it will occur. And if nothing else it will guarantee a fresh line up of main events in the subsequent months. 


Roman Reigns making an appearance at Survivor Series. Photo credit - WWE


With Reigns established as the next big thing, it is imperative that WrestleMania season be used to cultivate a host of worthy contenders so that Reigns has a series of competitive, credible title matches that define his title run. Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins could well revisit their rivalry come ‘Mania which could lead onto a spring title programme in which Roman defends against his former Shield brethren in a triple threat, a tantalising prospect for sure. But Vince and co need to use ‘Mania to generate a bevy of challengers. For that reason, I'd expect Bray Wyatt to finally get a truly big PPV win, possibly at the expense of the rejuvenated Randy Orton, and be established as a future foil to the Roman Empire. Also at the big show, Rusev could tangle with Cena in the conclusion of the Russia v USA dispute; if the WWE has the conviction to have the Bulgarian Brute go over, Reigns would have a tailor made opponent and the possibility of a genuine feel good moment should he be the one to topple the surrogate Russian. However, the likelihood of Cena letting down his fans on the biggest show of the year is slim. Such has been the consistency of Rusev’s build that even a competitive loss to Cena shouldn’t harm him too much; one would expect him and Reigns to headline a B show at some point next year. 


But what of Cena himself? If the plan is to make Reigns the perennial champion, Cena will find he is in a role not dissimilar to that held by Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker at the end of their careers. Big enough to not need the belt, Cena’s real issue is who is there left for him to fight throughout 2015? The inevitable Rusev programme will be fresh, as would a one on one encounter with Reigns (I'd expect Cena to do the job there, possibly when SummerSlam returns to New York/ New Jersey) but who else could he have a meaningful programme with across the year? Luke Harper is a possible feud but they’ve already met on TV on multiple occasions; the Big E contest that Cena campaigned for in 2013 now looks along way off. What Cena, and indeed the WWE needs, is for NXT to provide us with the next generation as soon as possible… 


John Cena hitting Seth Rollins with an Attitude Adjustment on this week's Raw. Photo credit - WWE 

Unquestionably the current roster, talented though it is, feels stale. An analysis of the rosters from two distinct time periods demonstrates the need for new faces in the present day. Discounting celebrity appearances and focusing purely on professional wrestlers, WrestleMania 1-10 featured 134 wrestlers whilst Wrestlemania 21-30 showcased 118 performers. Quite comparable one might think but this data includes both male and female performers and there have been far more female wrestlers appearing in the recent era, thus skewing results.  If the study focused only on male wrestlers it would reveal a total of 128 men competed for Vince at Mania between 1985 and 1994 whereas only 88 did so in the spell from 2005-2014. Interestingly, no male performer wrestled on the cards of both WrestleMania 1 and 10 (one female did: Leilani Kai) whereas 9 of the card from WrestleMania 21 also stepped into the ring for Mania 30. 


Clearly far more wrestlers passed through Titan Towers in relatively quick order in the 80s and 90s. Now the reasons for this are fairly obvious (where else is there for a mid-card act to go nowadays?) but it is time for WWE to shake things up. NXT allows them to do this- a flux of new talent should be available to step up to the main roster whilst mid-carders in need of a reboot could drop down to the Performance Centre in anticipation of a character overhaul. In 2015, the WWE’s mid card should be bolstered by the arrivals of Finn Balor, Hideo Itami, Kevin Owens, Tyler Breeze, Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville. Dream matches await when these men tangle with the likes of Ziggler and Cesaro whilst consistent, measured pushes (see Rusev and The Shield) could elevate them to the point where Cena and Orton genuinely have new opponents to tangle (2015 surely couldn't result in Cena vs Orton again…could it?) 


Hideo Itami & Finn Balor picking up a victory on last week's NXT. Photo credit - WWE 



Whilst the NXT migration is key to the long term future of the WWE, such pushes will take time. Adding some familiar acts to the roster would do no harm in the short term. Many forsee Sting finally appearing for the WWE at Wrestlemania but this will likely be a one shot deal tied into his Hall of Fame induction in March. The troubled waters that rock TNA could lead to acts like The Hardy Boys and The Dudley Boys becoming available for one last run. Their star power could transform a stale tag division or lead to interesting single pushes. At the risk of upsetting fantasy bookers everywhere, it is probably unlikely that many old stars will return next year: The Rock and The Undertaker are at best 50/50 for Mania whilst Austin and Punk are pipe dreams. Even Brock, the current champion, may wrestle only twice more for the company. There is one return that could well happen though… 


Yes (yes, yes, yes), I’m talking about Daniel Bryan. How WWE have missed him this year; a return from the flying goat will be pivotal to them turning the tide in 2015. If Lesnar’s contract is extended, he and Bryan could contest a series of dream bouts whilst pairing Daniel with any of the aforementioned NXT stars could yield match of the year contenders. His energy in the ring may be curtailed but he is so over now, and such is his adaptability as a performer, that he would surely mould himself into a new but equally captivating act, one that could enliven Raw each week. 


Daniel Bryan as Guest General Manager on Raw this week. Photo credit - WWE 



So 2015 could be the year we say goodbye to Brock and welcome back to Daniel Bryan. It could be the year Sting finally wrestles for Vince but the first Wrestlemania since 2000 not to feature the Undertaker. Cena and Orton could move into legend status and the mid-card could enjoy its biggest talent injection since the Radicals joined the Fed in 2000. New PPV matches could bolster Network subs and Roman Reigns could take the first step to joining an elite club (not that one, Vince). 2015 is a huge year in the history of the WWE. I’m ready for it. I hope they are.

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So what did you think of STR's first article for ATPW? Don't forget if you want more of Sean, you can follow him on Twitter @SeanTaylorR 

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