by Christian Bortoluzzi
Is good storytelling more important than match quality in the WWE?
WWE only occasionally put on storylines that have you gripped and ones that you want to see what's going to happen next. But that's not how it's always been. In the Attitude Era, WWE put on storylines that had you dying to see the next episode of Raw or Smackdown, to see what twist would happen next. One thing we don't miss in the Attitude era was the quality of the wrestling WWE was putting out every Monday. While the stars in the match kept you entertained, the actual wrestling didn't. If you compare the Attitude Era's best in-ring competitors like Triple H or The Rock to today's best in ring competitors such as AJ Styles or Shinsuke Nakamura, you could show a non-wrestling fan these wrestlers in their prime and that person could, without doubt, tell you that the stars of today put on better matches than the stars of yesterday.
The Attitude Era is referred to by many wrestling fans as the best era in WWE history. And that's because of the "anything can happen" mentality. Remember Austin stunning McMahon or DX invading WCW? Stuff like that won't happen in this day and age because WWE has to impress sponsors; they wouldn't tell Impact Wrestling that their owl sucks or anything even close to being that risky.
The best storylines WWE has put on in this "New Era" have been organic, like the Daniel Bryan's triumph at Wrestlemania 30. It wasn't the original idea but the fans made that happen by hijacking shows, and look at what we got out of it: a storyline that will never be forgotten. And the very recent Randy Orton vs Bray Wyatt story WWE pulled out something magical and unexpected when Randy Orton burnt down Bray Wyatt's compound with the remains of Sister Abigail buried underneath. It felt like a flashback to the Attitude Era, like something we would have seen then rather than in 2017. Yes, the match sucked at 'Mania but for the weeks leading up to that match, everybody was enthralled in what was happening; it felt realistic, like what we had seen years previous in the Attitude era.
One of the things hurting storylines in this day and age is all the promos have been scripted down to the comma. So we won't be getting any "pipe bombs" anytime soon and that is having a negative impact on loads of storylines. The Miz's feud with Daniel Bryan was an exception; that had electric promos on Talking Smack. That feud if you can call it that, was a well-remembered highlight of what Smackdown can do post-brand split. Ditto the Styles/Cena feud, where they were spitting out incredible promos on a weekly basis because they were not as scripted as others. Imagine if The Rock had these obstacles - the greatest talker in WWE history would be nothing.
The match quality in WWE is nothing in comparison with some of the indie companies like PWG and ROH. But it is getting better; just look at now vs. the Attitude Era. With WWE changing their views on signing independent talent, more of the "indie" style is coming to WWE. Aquisitions such as AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura are also bringing that Japanese strong style into the fold. With a few big Japanese and indie stars coming out of contract in the next year or so, if WWE realizes the opportunity in front of them they can cement one of the most talented rosters ever.
WWE are changing with the times, and now is the time of athletic, hard-hitting incredible wrestling, just like the 80s was the time of the big men and selling was extremely important. The 90s was the time of brawling and moves that make the crowd pop. In this day and age, it's harder to get a reaction out of the crowd so these athletes perform more high-risk moves than ever before and that's not necessarily a good thing; with more high-risk moves comes more injuries. Look at recent examples like Shibata sustaining a likely career-ending injury from a move that wasn't needed in the match, but he performed it to excite the crowd. High flyers like Will Ospreay, Ricochet and the young up-and-comer Lio Rush have ushered in the era of "flippy sh*t" where it's expected from the crowd that these men perform moves that could all go wrong if they're an inch off - that's not sustainable for these men their entire careers. Imagine if one of these men came along in the 80s or 90s - he would have been told he's not the right fit for WWE. But in this day and age these men are embraced with open arms and with them being so young, the style they use will be more widely adopted by wrestlers in the years to come, potentially becoming so dangerous someone will get seriously hurt. Do we want that style to evolve much it could kill someone? That is just one example of wrestling styles evolving over the years.
With WWE setting their sights on wrestlers that are great in the ring, the future of WWE from an in-ring standpoint looks vibrant. But does that make up for the bad and at times horrible booking and storytelling? No it doesn't because WWE is the biggest promotion in the world and it's not necessarily their job to put on 5-star matches every night. While that wouldn't hurt, WWE needs to focus on telling a story every week on Raw and Smackdown because what's a weekly show without a story? It's just a buncha matches put on TV every week, and if they were putting on 5-star matches that wouldn't be as big of an issue, but they’re not. So if the biggest wrestling company in the world is just putting on mediocre matches with no story why watch?