If there is one thing most fans can agree on it is that the Royal Rumble didn’t deliver as far as star power goes. Booker T and Michelle McCool were the only true big names from the past who graced the Rumble and our television screens.
The success of Raw XXX is also debatable. While it delivered a much-needed ratings boost to the show, the actual use of the legends was criticized. I mean, you have an icon in Madusa (Alundra Blayze) and you cast her in a poker skit? Why wasn’t she interacting in some meaningful way with Bayley, Becky Lynch or Bianca Belair as a mentor to star-struck talent, for example?
It appeared to me whether it was Baron Corbin at the poker game or Gunther in the ring with DX, the approach the WWE took was to let the past superstars shine and the current superstars were made to be the laughing stock or the butt of jokes. Why wouldn’t you stand by your talent and elevate them with icons from the past?
Look at Corbin. He has been wrestling on the main roster for seven years in programs with everyone Rey Mysterio to Roman Reigns to Kurt Angle. You can argue whether he is a main event talent or not but what you cannot argue is whether he is a prominent figure in WWE TV and storylines three years shy of a decade.
So, what did The Godfather say to JBL when he and Corbin wanted to get into the exclusive backstage poker game?
“Who is this stooge you’ve got with you here?” asked The Godfather.
What kind of message does that send to Corbin, the WWE universe and the other talent on the roster? Throughout Raw XXX all the WWE did was slam its own talent and point out how indistinguishable and lackluster they are. It was actually quite shocking how they threw them under the bus like that… and then reversed running them over again.
What Raw XXX should have made quite clear to the WWE is that lapsed, casual fans want noteworthy names and faces. Why not pay those people to come back to have regular roles sort of like Sting and Billy Gunn in AEW?
WWE should finally be realizing what fans and the media have known for a long time. The WWE has very little star power and desperately needs it. The few real stars and by “stars” I mean talent that has or could have mainstream popularity, could carry a main event at WrestleMania, could be elevated by outside opportunities, are few and far between.
You may argue but at my count the only true stars on the roster right now are:
Potential breakthrough stars:
That’s 12 out of approximately 112 people on their current talent roster. Remember when mostly everyone on the roster from Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin and The Rock to The British Bulldogs, Brutus Beefcake, George “The Animal” Steele, Kane, Jake The Snake or Mankind were recognizable mainstream faces and established talent? Now there is more fluff than people with “the stuff” to really make it big in and outside of the business and the stars that the WWE does have like Roman Reigns or Becky Lynch wouldn’t be recognized by everyday people.
The last time the WWE had someone like that was John Cena but even during his heyday, the height of his popularity, Cena had very few people by his side who shone as brightly as he did, or had the influence on pop culture notoriety as he did. Just a few like Edge, HHH, Batista, The Undertaker, etc.
What the WWE needs to do to make a massive impact is do a Hollywood Hogan with John Cena but Cena may be well beyond the WWE at this point. The WWE may have missed their change to elevate, evolve Cena.
Not having star power is at the heart of not only the WWE’s struggles as a brand and a company but also the wrestling industry as a whole which has been a niche interest and not a mainstream one for years and years now. Most don’t recall that at one time Raw used to pull in six, seven or even eight million people an episode. These days it struggles to reach even two million. If the WWE was interested in a sale, it should have done so when the company and its stars were everywhere and anywhere, when even casual fans would wear 3:16 or DX T-shirts anywhere you looked. You would think that their lack of current and future star power would and should have an affect on the worth of the WWE if it is ever sold. At one time, the WWE was full of A-List athletes like Patrick Mahones and Aaron Donald. Now, the WWE is mostly comprised of those riding the bench for the Houston Texans.
Perhaps the worst revelation of all is that, sorry Triple H, the WWE Performance Center and NXT aren’t the training grounds or the proving grounds the WWE and you thought they would be.
At the time of its launch, Triple H talked about traveling around to NFL football stadiums and being impressed with their training and recruiting facilities and organizations. He wanted to replicate that for the WWE so the company could create its own stars from scratch.
“The hardest part about this business is there is no pathway. We’re creating a pathway. Vince and I spoke about it, and he said, ‘Let’s go do it.’ We are going around the world to look for international stars. If you want a career in the WWE, here is how to go about it. There is advice on what to expect at tryouts and testimonials from people who have careers in WWE. It’s all about creating the pathway, and this will really open the faucet and allow talent to flood in from a global level,” said HHH at the time. “Our goal is to find local talent to try out with the WWE, train them locally, then see the talent eventually move to the US, become part of a global brand in NXT, go to Raw, go to SmackDown, and then be a part of WrestleMania. What is that engagement then to those fans in that area? That’s transformative to a global audience.”
The facts are the overwhelming majority of the people who have had main roster success after leaving NXT were already had massive success elsewhere whether it be NJPW, Stardom, ROH, Impact Wrestling, and so on. They weren’t slotted into NXT and the Performance Center to learn their craft. They were sent there to learn how WWE does things, most notably TV production. People like Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura, Finn Balor, and Robert Roode, were already established veterans. Some of those like Balor and Roode have had limited success on the main roster as well. They weren’t and aren’t breakthrough stars, at least not in the WWE.
Whether they are veterans or not though, the current crop of main roster NXT alumni have floundered, failed and struggled to get over. People like Johnny Gargano, Dexter Lumis, Tommaso Ciampa, Candice LeRae, The Viking Raiders, Karrion Kross, Hit Row. The cold, hard truth is that for every Bianca Belair there are 20 Shotzis. One thing is very clear to anyone from the outside the WWE looking in: Fans don’t want Shawn Michaels’ NXT 2.0 or Triple H’s NXT 3.0. They want tried and true WWE. The Performance Center may be a great training, rehab, coaching center that does serve an integral purpose and has a great, positive influence over the WWE as a whole from far and near but it is not churning out the handcrafted, homegrown stars that WWE hoped it would.
As we have mentioned before here on Slam, HHH has only improved Raw’s ratings by about two percent since Vince McMahon left and Smackdown is down by the same. The WWE isn’t producing, creating breakthrough stars like it used to, whether it is Vince McMahon in charge of creative or Triple H. They have completely lost touch with what is popular in pop culture and the mainstream consciousness. That is clearly evident in the lack of development or popularity with their current personas and characters. Here’s some clues to success, WWE:
Top-Selling Video Games 2022
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II
God of War: Ragnarok
Top Movies Domestic Box Office 2022
Top Gun: Maverick
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Avatar: The Way of Water
Jurassic World: Dominion
Minions: The Rise of Gru
Thor: Love and Thunder
Spider-Man: No Way Home
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Top-Selling Manga 2022
Spy x Family
My Hero Academia
With this body of facts alone the WWE surely should be able to dissect the patterns, the themes, the stories, the characters that people are interested in following, watching and consuming these days. This is the compass for a road map to telling better stories than they are at present. While these ideas may not provide all of the solutions, they are the clues to something better than what is being produced right now not only by the WWE but every wrestling promotion. Without those breakthrough stars and their star power pro-wrestling will continue to remain its own small — perhaps even shrinking — universe in a larger, broader crowded galaxy of entertainment choices that includes social media, streaming services, video games, manga and movies, all of which are all competing with each other death match style for the free time and roving eyeballs of fans.