Cubed Circle Newsletter 175 – WWE Fastlane 2015 Review
The newsletter has returned to its regular weekly state with the new semester settling and WrestleMania fast approaching. This week we take a look at WWE’s Fastlane pay-per-view, and what such an unassuming, mediocre show says about the current state of the company, Ben looks at a disappointing follow up, a solid NXT, and the never noteworthy Thursday Night SmackDown.
– Ryan Clingman, Cubed Circle Newsletter Editor
WWE Fastlane 2015: The Road to WrestleMania 31 Runs Cold
To say that WWE’s Fastlane pay-per-view was as bad as its title, in comparison with most WWE events over the past eight or so months, would be an overstatement on my part. The majority of the matches were slightly below average to fairly enjoyable, with the exception of the main event, which was laid out extraordinarily, and saw Roman Reigns best Daniel Bryan to reclaim his position in the main event of WrestleMania 31. However, when evaluating the show within its context as the final pay-per-view on the Road to WrestleMania, then the state of, not so much the event itself, but the company’s creative direction towards their biggest show of the year, becomes all the more dire.
Unlike in decades past, the financial security of the company is by no means reliant on the success or failure of this year’s WrestleMania, and of course the WrestleMania name alone too means far more than it did pre-1998. However, when creative fails to pick up in a season where, historically, it has been so difficult to fail, then the promotion’s problems lie far beyond the scope of WrestleMania and the build there in. Despite what those in or outside of the company may think, the success of their key financial metrics in television rights fees, Network subscribers, and attendance, do fluctuate based on the long-term creative success of the promotion. For a metric such as attendance, feedback is far quicker than the other two, although still markedly slower than the likes of television ratings. Where as Network trends take a much longer time to develop, especially when non-current factors such as the archival content come into play, and of course television rights fees are a financial barometer far more dependent on outside variables such as the state of the television market, and only change every four or so years. Regardless, whilst it is evident that a “dire” creative state does not directly correlate to a equitable financial one, it does over longer periods affect the company’s ability to grow in popularity, and hence, maximize revenue – with the definition of “long” in this instance changing based on the metric in question.
Perhaps such a long term creative downfall will fail to occur, with those in the company possessing large amounts of experience, and the company itself facing no true competition and holding a fair amount of reserves, at least pre-Network. However, we have seen creative continue to decline for months, during states when they should by all means be accelerating, and similarly, television ratings have mostly been on the decline; a decline at an obviously far steeper rate than general television viewership erosion. What metrics such as these and analysis of the company’s booking, specifically at a time when they should be on a steep ascent, tell us about the creative process is that it’s significantly flawed – that the creative system is simply broken.
There is no singular reason for this breakage of course – general creative misdirection is a major contributor – and another may simply be that there now exists a greater audience/promotion and audience-to-audience disconnect. More so than in any other major American promotion’s history, the WWE in 2015 is attempting to cater for two very different markets, the hardcores and the casual viewer. There are times when the opinions of the two sets will correspond, as is the case with the likes of a Brock Lesnar or Undertaker; during other times there is a clear conflict, such is the case with Roman Reigns, John Cena, and others. Catering to either one of these audiences exclusively would be a naive move, as Jim Cornette’s model would suggest – pandering to only the hardcore fans leaves a product simply open to the most loyal and vocal viewers leaving the casual fans alienated, whilst chasing only the casual viewers has the opposite effect. What further exasperates this problem is their additional focus on the views and ideas of those within the company, as if they were their own unique audience. With creative attempting to control every facet of the product’s direction, when aspects of pro-wrestling, such as the fans themselves, are directly uncontrollable.
Choosing Roman Reigns as the next top star for the promotion is a clear example of this, as is the constant placement of Kane & Big Show in roles far beyond their current scope as performers, as though it was still the 1980s. Of course, the WWE audience, specifically the hardcore group cannot be allowed to steer the creative direction as they see fit, but even in the territorial days, where fan backlash of the current sort was far less prevalent, successful promotions were most often times the ones who gave the audience what they wanted, but simply not when they wanted. Last year’s WrestleMania direction is a strong example of using this principle successfully, although for how great the final stretch of Daniel Bryan’s push to the top was, Bryan in the Mania main event was not the original plan for Mania 30, and instead it was the fans who swayed the Mania direction. This year’s WrestleMania card was seemingly booked with little regard for the general opinion of their audience, which is why the majority of the card feels so cold. In essence, by booking Roman Reigns as the winner of the Royal Rumble, when it was clear that he would be booed out of the building, only to switch the decision again in booking the Fastlane main event, the strings have been exposed to many times for most to enjoy the puppet show.
The current WrestleMania card would seem to consist of: Brock Lesnar/Roman Reigns, Sting/Triple H, Undertaker/Wyatt, Goldust/Stardust, Intercontinental title ladder match featuring Daniel Bryan, Rollins/Orton, and Rusev/Cena as the main matches, as well as something involving Jon Stewart. The cast for the upper half of the show is more than sufficient to put on a great card if only the respective participants in the top matches had been placed in a different configuration/ I have a desperately hard time believing that Lesnar/Bryan, Reigns/Cena, Sting/Undertaker, and Rollins/Orton wouldn’t have garnered much greater interest. This is especially true with respect to the World Title and Undertaker matches, as there now exists a distinct lack of on explanation for Undertaker’s return, either creatively or in kayfabe, and the World Title match has a decent chance of falling flat against one of the most hardcore crowds of the entire year. Had Undertaker been booked opposite Sting, he have held a perfectly acceptable reason to return, with the streak over, but an opportunity to wrestle Sting in his first WWE match at WrestleMania.
I don’t feel anger towards the product, nor am I even all too annoyed, however the current outlook for creative is sad and highly frustrating. Whilst I can see the likes of Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, and Finn Balor freshening up the main roster, especially if they are given something to work with, creative incompetency, as it exists now, is bound to hold them down on the main roster. Change will come eventually, and at that point the company may very well begin to heat up, but as of right now, during the build to the supposed biggest show of the year, they couldn’t feel much colder.
General Questions/Feedback/Suggestions: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ben Carass’s Twitter: @BenCarass
Bryan Rose’ Twitter: @br26
Ryan Clingman’s Twitter : @RyanClingman