The negative response to change in the WWE is their own doing
There is a wealth of criticism in professional wrestling today. One can hop over to “Wrestling Twitter” any day of the week to find complaining and arguing going on about the industry in some form. This week those sentiments were sent toward the WWE, which is usually the case, but this time it was for the presentation of Raw Underground. Looking back at the commentary, it is very interesting to see how wrestling viewers react whenever WWE attempts to do something different and where that vitriol originates.
Heading into Monday’s show there were rumblings that the taping of the latest episode was in what some would call “chaos.” While no one reported on exactly what was happening, it was clear that there were changes in creative direction coming and no one was sure where they would end up. That is usually the case when it comes to WWE Creative, but something about this felt different.
What resulted as a Shane McMahon led Raw Underground. This seemed to be a mix of the 1988 movie Bloodsport, staring Jean Claude van Damme, GCW’s Bloodsport and an angle developed by Chikara. Dabba-Kato, Erik and Dolph Ziggler each battered helpless victims before the Hurt Business came in to clear out the whole room, taking over. It was certainly different than anything WWE has done in recent memory, but that did not stop the hot takes from coming in high and tight throughout the evening and the day afterward.
While most of the complaining is typical banter that one can find on social media, perhaps the most telling question that was posed, not totally in jest, were the over/under betting takes on how long would Raw Underground last before it’s jettisoned like it never happened. Just another angle thrown away to the island of misfit toys. WWE has a track record of doing this and along the way it is almost insulting to the fan base that has stuck by them for years, if not longer.
The promised change that never came
In 2018 the McMahon family stood in front of the WWE Universe and promised to do better. They admitted to “not doing a good enough job for you [the viewers],” and “not listening to our audience.” They even admitted to “suffocating our superstars” before telling everyone in attendance and watching at home that “everything is going to change.” They walked away from that segment, promising new faces, new matchups and more “newness.” All things to get excited over.
But did that ever really come? Not really. Fast forward to 2020. In some ways it seems like the WWE has taken steps backward. Yes, a global pandemic is swarming the world, limiting the WWE from being able to use their full roster. Still, leadership has made the decision to return to old moves like putting Bruce Pritchard back in charge of the main shows. Names such as Randy Orton, Big Show, Ric Flair, and others are back in prominent storylines, while others like Chad Gable, Mustafa Ali, Ricochet and Aleister Black are stripped of everything that made them interesting. Raw Underground even has the return of scantily clad women that is a vivid reminder of Kelly Kelly’s placement on the rebooted ECW.
However, all of that is a minor point in the conversation as to why wrestling fans complain about WWE content so heavily. Raw Underground was not the greatest shift in direction WWE Creative could have launched, but it was something. While it may have been a panic move or not, that is only known to the highest levels of leadership, it did provide a positive bump in the ratings this week compared to last. But that does not mean it will correlate to future success as ratings across Raw and SmackDown continue to plummet.
The anger and dismissiveness that wrestling fans shower the WWE with after each show comes from the frustration of wanting the content to be better. Viewers know that WWE content can be so much better than it currently is. They have the most talented roster and some of the most creative minds in the industry, but sadly, they cannot get out of their own way. Therefore, they deliver segments like Raw Underground when fans just want wrestling content that does not insult their intelligence when the show is over. They want something they can get excited about watching week after week, instead of feeling like they have wasted an hour of their time.
With one presentation of Raw Underground in the books, it is way too early to tell if this is the type of content that will turn around WWE’s struggling ratings. The unfortunate truth is that the promotion does not have the track record to create the positive change needed to improve their show in a way to get back to ratings of yesteryear. That is why fans are so quick to get upset week after week. Even if they intend to tune in the next time WWE theme music hits.