WrestleMania 33 is a month away, and while there is the usual sort of buzz that always surrounds this time of year for the big event, this year, something feels lost.
Some will argue that it’s because Goldberg became Universal champion at FastLane last night by beating reigning champion and full-time wrestler, Kevin Owens, in 21 seconds. Continuing that same argument goes into the fact that Goldberg, a special attraction star, will face another special attraction star in Brock Lesnar for his newly won Universal championship.
While I have my arguments with that as well, I understand the business side of it. Is Goldberg an attraction? I would say the answer is yes. Although he may be making direct-to-DVD releases and 50 years old, he’s still a brand name that people will know and recognize and potentially bring long-lost fans back to the WWE to regain their interest in the product again. Same goes for Lesnar, who is a bigger name than Goldberg these days because of his larger than life physicality and former UFC career. I’m not against good business moves whatsoever, and it’s certainly not as if me, the fan, knows what’s best for business. But I do know what I’d rather be watching, and I’d bet others might feel the same way.
Now I say that and I still know that, no matter what, I’ll be watching, although maybe not always intently as in years past, every Monday night like I have been for the better part of my life. The diehard wrestling fan never truly lets it go. It’s like a bad girlfriend you can’t let go of, because you know, even if you don’t like what they’re doing and where your relationship is going, they’re always there. So you put up with them and all their mess anyways.
But I’d rather not be watching Goldberg versus Brock Lesnar for the Universal championship at WrestleMania, or, really, that match at all. That is the diehard fan in me, but also, the concerned fan in me of thinking, They can’t last on these part-timers, the special attractions, like this forever. I know we live in a world now where retro is popular, like that of a pair of Air Jordan sneakers relaunching every month, or the endless rebooted movie series that Hollywood pumps out every year. But eventually, for the WWE, what’s old is going to be old, or even worse, dead. The well is getting dry for former stars to return and actually contribute anymore, either through their age, their desire, or their passing.
Again, the hope is to bring back old fans that loved people like Goldberg and pro-wrestling back when the business was red hot. The hope is that they pay for Goldberg, but end getting their money’s worth and liking people like AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt and Kevin Owens. Their hope is that those stars will bring them back to watch every Monday and Tuesday night for Raw and SmackDown Live and stay with the product.
But I question how credible stars are made that way. To me, WWE has went against their own formula of making and producing new stars when they had to, to now just relying on every old star with a pulse to sell merchandise, tickets and Network subscriptions.
The formula they are using now is what Eric Bischoff was doing when he took over WCW. He had all the money he needed, the networks he needed, the billionaire he needed, and took the aged stars that the WWE created and brought them in to build WCW interest.
It wasn’t a bad idea, but it wasn’t sustaining. Granted, there were a lot more factors that went into WCW’s downfall, but lack of building new, credible stars was one of them. That’s something your fans see and value your product off of. When it was the same old episode of Nitro every week with the same old guys, people started changing the channel.
And this is where it seems we are at in WWE right now in 2017. They are relying on Goldberg and Brock Lesnar. They are still relying on John Cena and the aging Undertaker to sell tickets as well. Even The Rock — but I cannot knock them for ever bringing him in, in some capacity anyways … the biggest movie star on the planet, which was first their own creation.
WWE even in times where it was creatively stifled and produced lack of stars in the mid-90s still attempted to create new stars. It may not have always worked for the best, even been a disaster, but their desperation lead to a change and back to the drawing board. They had no other choice — everybody left for more money in WCW.
But now, Vince McMahon has all the money and the only circus in town. He essentially has all the power in the pro wrestling world. And he hasn’t been desperate in probably 15 years, since the purchase of his biggest rival company, WCW.
WWE has made new “stars”, they just don’t rely on them to sell their product when it matters the most. Because I wonder what even the former fan sees when he glances upon a poster of WrestleMania and sees someone like Goldberg or The Undertaker. Is it really the, I have to see this! Or is it, These guys are still around? They have to be 50-60 years old!
The question for WWE is: are you drawing people in, or just keeping them around for a quick visit? Are they actually going to buy something, or just browsing with what you’re giving them?
How long can you rely on the Goldberg’s, Undertaker’s and Brock Lesnar’s when their expiration dates are coming up, in one way or another? When will it be time to put the pressure and dependence on all the guys you have now, full time, like they did back in the day — when they weren’t the biggest stars yet — like with Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and Steve Austin?
Follow Shane Shoemaker on Twitter @SShoemaker24