The Wrestling Connoisseur: Getting Lost On The Road To Wrestlemania; or Writing For The Wrong Audience Part 1

One of the biggest problems a writer faces is delivering the goods. The aspect of knowing your audience runs deep. If you’re writing for a particular niche then you want to focus on what that particular audience likes. To do anything else is setting the story up for failure. This is true in pro wrestling as well. When the product doesn’t deliver what is promised the reader will chuck the book across the room, or the viewer will turn off the television, cancel their subscription, or just give up on the product altogether.
From January onward the first quarter of the year is spent leading to Wrestlemania for WWE. This is the finale of their yearly season and should be the pay off for a year of building. This year’s Wrestlemania was April 2, just a few days ago. I know zero people that were happy with the show. Granted, I don’t know any “casual wrestling fans” that the company uses as an excuse.
I say “use as an excuse” because I’m not so sure there are that many casual wrestling fans. The midpoint of the main show, the tag team ladder match, reintroduced the Hardy Boys as a surprise to large DELETE chants. An arena of supposed 75,000 people chanting DELETE. It’s my belief that Matt and Jeff Hardy aren’t part of the WWE casual fan base. Hardcore niche wrestling fans know the new Broken gimmick that Matt has forged. With that many chants for the Hardys I find it hard to believe that a casual wrestling fan base is filling WWE arenas and buying their merchandise and therein lies a huge problem.
WWE is not booking for its audience.
This excuse has been used for a long time. It’s the lie repeated so often that everyone believes it to be true. WWE has always attempted to make a product for a broad audience. But that is not the same as a casual fan base. A casual fan doesn’t know the ins and outs of the business. They aren’t exactly sure who is face and who is heel. They may like a particular wrestler alone. Somehow to WWE, this tally means that the dynamics of wrestling no longer come into play. Imagine making a movie for “casual fans”. Can a superhero movie be defined without a hero and a villain? For example, Disney movies follow a very specific formula, the Hero’s Journey no less. They play to their audience and follow their formula to create a product that fans will enjoy.
Wrestlemania, the wrestling matches themselves aside, was booked poorly and presented worse. Diamond Dallas Page, being inducted into the Hall of Fame the night before Wrestlemania, said Dusty Rhodes told him, and I paraphrase, “if he didn’t want to be world champion then what was the point?” For eons, the world championship has been the driving point of a promotion. Every wrestler wanted to be world champion, whether if it was within reach or not and every pay-per-view the world title was booked to be the last match of the night. Not at Wrestlemania 33. As a matter of fact, it was the fourth to last match.
The philosophy of it all; how does a company expect their fans to respect the “biggest prize in the business” if they don’t? It could be argued that the participants weren’t the biggest names on the card. Does anyone remember Wrestlemania 18? Undertaker versus Ric Flair, possibly two of the largest names in wrestling history, went on at match number 6 out of 12. And two more icons, The Rock and Hollywood Hulk Hogan, went on at number ten. The world title match closed the show.
But how did we get to this stage, the grandest stage of them all, a stage of gigantic let downs and disappointments? It all starts on that wicked turnpike where wrecks are bound to happen; the Road to Wrestlemania. That road begins from the Royal Rumble every year as we’re told over and over again. The Royal Rumble winner gets a title shot. (Not necessarily a main-event match, however.) The Rumble also serves to set up feuds to lead toward Wrestlemania.
Does anyone remember Hogan and Warrior facing down in the Royal Rumble? Back then the Intercontinental and World tiers didn’t cross over too much. Warrior showing down against Hogan center stage was a mind blowing experience. It led to the big showdown at Wrestlemania 6. The Rumble is still used to set these up, albeit more poorly.
The trip from Rumble to Wrestlemania took a few detours at Elimination Chamber and Fastlane. John Cena, after defeating AJ Styles to become tied with Ric Flair for the number of world titles held (blasphemy), lost the title to Bray Wyatt in the chamber match. Kevin Owens lost the Universal title to Goldberg thanks to Chris Jericho. Two super short title reigns to lead to Wrestlemania.
Was this what the fans wanted? Maybe the casual wrestling fans. Yes and no. The fans like Bray Wyatt; he’s great on the mic, good in the ring, and brings a different element to the product. Goldberg is a legend. His first WWE run wasn’t that great, but who wouldn’t want to see him with another title run? I think in that aspect the fans wanted to see both men with the straps. I’m not so sure anyone wanted to see Owens title reign end just so Goldberg could have one, though. And I don’t think anyone wanted to see interim champions just to drop the belts at Wrestlemania. In the case of the world title, two interim champions in John Cena and Bray Wyatt. (Especially when the case looks to be Orton versus Styles for the Summer feud.)
So that quickly sums up the Road to Wrestlemania as far as the main-event scene. That’s not including the build for (the pre-show) cruiserweight championship between Neville and Aries or the Intercontinental championship match between Ambrose and Corbin. *cough* Pre-show main-event status. And just clear the table of the Braun Strowman build or the heavily featured and madly over Sami Zayn.
Where did the Road to Wrestlemania turn into a single-lane, gravel, country road through the mountains? Where did it all go wrong?


To be continued…