Ever since Pope Gregory created the world’s most famous calendar, December has been a time of year for retrospection on the twelve months. It’s also the last chance people have to turn a poor year into a great one, and that goes for individuals and businesses alike. WWE is the same as all others in this regard, with the bonus that their TV schedule doesn’t stop for the holidays, meaning they get to use every last day they have left to turn things around.
Even those amongst us who love everything WWE has been doing acknowledge they could always do better, and the last chance December represents might inspire them to finally make some moves towards something new. We’re going to be upfront about this list and acknowledge WWE probably aren’t going to go through with most of our suggestions. However, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to give them, specifically about ways they could send out 2016 with a bang. Ratings have been going down for almost a full decade now and fans are leaving in droves, making it clear something huge will be needed to bring them back.
Traditionally, December has been a pretty slow year for pro wrestling, with Survivor Series wrapping up the last remaining threads the year had unraveled and the company waiting for the Royal Rumble to start something big. It doesn’t need to be that way, though. In fact, some of the biggest wrestling shows in history have been in December, most notably with the legacy of WCW Starrcade. WWE doesn’t need to go that big, but they should still switch things up at least a little. Keep reading to learn 15 things WWE needs to do before 2016 is over.
15. Tier The Network Already
From the day it was introduced, lifelong wrestling fans have been eternally grateful for the existence of the WWE Network. Casual fans apparently primarily use the Network for watching the most recent episodes of Raw and SmackDown Live and special events, while the more hardcore sports entertainment enthusiasts will likely never tire of the incredible backlog of material from the ‘90s, ‘80s, and earlier. There are definitely merits to both types of fandom, but the point is merely that at least two types of wrestling fans exist, probably more. Because of this, grateful though fans are about the Network, they’ve also been clamoring about how a tiered pricing model could make it better for everyone. For example, there could be a small price paid for just Raw, SmackDown, NXT, and special events, then maybe a little more for an extended WWE library, and a higher price still for the full monty (or whatever reality allows). WWE itself has spread rumors that they’re interested in doing business this way, and if the idea is even on their minds, they should pull the trigger already and let fans buy each other Network passes for the holidays.
14. Give Someone Other Than Vince A Chance At The Wheel
Vince McMahon, Sr. took the reigns of the Capitol Wrestling Corporation from his deceased father Jess in 1954, and he gave the company he renamed the World Wrestling Federation to his own son 28 years later, in 1982. Vince, Jr. has been the totalitarian dictator in charge since then, meaning he now has four more years of experience as the boss than his father even could have. However, this also means it’s almost impossible for Vince to escape burn-out at this point, as some of his more hair-brained ideas of late are making crystal clear. Pushing Roman Reigns as the top babyface when the whole world hates The Guy is as much an act of defiance as an admission Vince has no other ideas, and thus it might be time for him to give someone else control of an episode of Raw. We’re talking just one episode here, as a test run, during the timeframe WWE traditionally gets low ratings anyway—no one would even notice if Stephanie, Shane, Triple H, whoever, messed up particularly badly. Of course, this is another one of our items that is virtually impossible, but it doesn’t hurt to dream.
13. Calm Down With The Branding
More than a full year and a half ago now, back in June 2015, a Reddit user leaked extensive notes Vince McMahon allegedly gave to his broadcast team. Included amongst his micromanaging suggestions was a reminder to use certain words and phrases ad nauseam, regardless of how unnatural it feels in conversation. One constant issue is the mere name of the show SmackDown Live, where the mere addition of the word Live to the show’s title in and of itself feels a little pretentious with how often WWE screams in our faces that it isn’t just a name. Really, the best thing WWE could do is get rid of Vince’s notes altogether, which we’ll get into the specifics of as the list continues. Keeping it simple for now, however, merely letting the announcers speak organically rather than attempt to pigeonhole as many catchphrases, brand names, and Vince-isms would be a good place to start. In the very least, they should stop relying on them exclusively and let announcers come up with their own phrasings once in a while.
12. Save Us The Stupid Christmas Comedy
Almost every year around Christmastime, WWE decides to do something they think is cute or funny, but most fans think is a big waste of time if not just outright bizarre. The worst example was in 1995 when Balls Mahoney unfortunately turned into Santa Claus at the behest of Ted DiBiase. This year, there’s a good chance WWE will be trying to have Goldust, R-Truth, The New Day, or any other of their increasing numbers of comedy characters to do some silly nonsense about holiday cheer. It won’t have anything to do with wrestling, and the only people who laugh will be Vince McMahon and the announcers he pays to laugh with him. The simple solution is to lay the comedy to rest, or in the very least stop forcing full of fake holiday cheer. The current batch of comedians in WWE are generally at their funniest when left to their own devices, and Vince and the writers getting involved only hurts things. If they script an entire angle around holiday comedy, it could ruin the comic momentum they’ve all been building.
11. Give The McMahons Some Time Off
Shane McMahon made his return to WWE after a seven-year absence in April of 2016, and some fans are already getting a little sick of him. Things would be fine if Shane were alone, but with his sister Stephanie still dominating the storylines on Raw and his father Vince always quietly controlling it all behind the scenes, any McMahon is too many McMahons. There have been many eras in WWE, some of them wildly prosperous, where the McMahons and authority figures in general played basically no role whatsoever in sports entertainment. A complete reversion to these times seems unlikely, although a month-long vacation for the bosses is far more possible. If the holidays have to come up, using them to write Shane, Steph, and their families off to an exotic family vacation could actually justify the idea. Or, they could just disappear. Let’s face it, though, there’s no use getting picky about this one, because it’ll never happen.
10. Stop Booking The Same Matches
While it would be naïve to deny the benefits of hyping rematch, or sometimes even a trio of matches, WWE has spent the past year booking the same handful of matches over and over and over again, to the point fans don’t want to see them anymore. Arguably the worst example of this has been The New Day and The Club, who feuded practically the entire year with back and forth matches that never made either side look better. New Day didn’t come out looking bad, considering they held the WWE Tag Team Championships the entire time, but The Club were left without any upsides. The same thing is happening to AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose now, with AJ looking solid as the WWE Champion, only for Dean to fall further down the credibility scale with each subsequent loss in his latest, most special rematch yet. WWE has one of their widest rosters in history, and with this in mind, their reliance on repetition is particularly puzzling.
9. Switch Up The Announce Team
The brand split was a double-edged sword the first time WWE tried the experiment, which is why they decided to start doing away with it less than six years in. It gives diverse superstars more room to breathe and extend their storylines, but it also limits the overall interactions said wrestlers are capable of having. The multiple Raw vs. SmackDown matches at Survivor Series were a good start towards getting things back on track, or at least it could be. As it stands, what Survivor Series actually was is almost completely pointless. Unless at least one superstar makes the jump to continue what they started, or just to rub it in to their former boss, fans are going to believe this roster split is for good. Which, to be fair, is what some people want. WWE needs to allow a little bit of crossover in one way or another, though, lest they shut themselves out of endless possibilities both at the end of 2016 and in the foreseeable future.
8. Have Goldberg Win AN Actual Match
Similar to Shane McMahon and arguably even a bigger deal, Goldberg made his long awaited WWE return this year after a 12-year hiatus from wrestling (minus a few Spears at local events, none of which lead to matches). Though Internet fans were skeptical Goldberg could still go in the ring—or that he was ever particularly good at doing so in the first place—The Man nonetheless caused a massive buzz upon his comeback, leading to an extremely high profile match against his friend Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series. The two growled and screamed at one another for the better part of two months, stepped into the ring at long last, and 90 seconds later it was over in Goldberg’s favor, apparently per Brock’s request. The moment proved so immensely popular that Goldberg has signed on for further WWE appearances, and has already announced himself as an entrant in the Royal Rumble. If WWE really wants fans to pay attention this December, though, what they need to do is have Goldberg wrestle a match on Raw. It can go the exact same way as the Lesnar match, but it shouldn’t be like when he Speared Rusev. While Goldberg’s popularity upon his comeback was impressive, he won’t really be back until he’s wrestling every week.
7. Fix The Announce Teams
Theoretically speaking, there are people out there who enjoy every one of the WWE broadcast teams, from Raw to SmackDown Live to NXT, plus whatever other network specials they contrive in the near future. We haven’t met any of them, though, and from where we’re standing, most people feel the exact opposite. Michael Cole is one of the worst announcers WWE has ever hired, and he might be the worst if not for the anachronistic bully JBL. And that’s not to mention the most inconsequential human ever to sit behind a microphone for hours at a time, newbie Byron Saxton. Mauro Ranallo earned rave remarks at first, only to quickly turn into an overloud, overhyped catchphrase machine like all the rest. The only difference is that Ranallo sounds enthusiastic, but so did Tony Schiavone each time he called Nitro the greatest night in the history of our sport. The list already covered Vince laying off on the micromanagement and ease off the focus on branding, and if neither of those things work, the blame will have to fall on the announcers themselves. If it does, maybe the best way to fix the problem is to salt the earth and try again with something new.
6. Justify Randy Orton’s Heel Turn
It would be a fool’s errand to try and explain what WWE is trying to do with The Wyatt Family. As the leader, Bray is unique, creative, and charismatic enough to survive anything. His underlings, however, tend to wander around aimlessly and act more as Macguffins than autonomous human beings. Adding Randy Orton to the group was an inspired move to actually give Wyatt’s followers a personality, but there’s been a glaring problem from the day Orton turned and joined the group: more than a full month later, we still have no idea why he did it. Wyatt and Orton won the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championships together at Survivor Series, raising The Family’s profile higher than ever, so WWE really needs to get this one out of the way stat. Wrestling fans will only put up with something that makes no sense for a certain amount of time, at which point they turn on it in vicious and unforgettable ways. Even Bray’s charisma couldn’t survive his Family turning into a mess.
5. Make The Cruiserweights Matter
If any one item on this list ends up happening, there’s a good chance it’ll be this one. WWE is definitely trying to enhance the role of cruiserweights on their programming, having recently revived the division and the WWE Cruiserweight Champion, having created two Network Original series to highlight them. Both the Cruiserweight Classic and 205 Live included the fastest and most innovative action seen in the WWE Universe for at least a decade, although for whatever reason, the same cruiserweights have been receiving almost no reaction when they pop up on Raw and special events. The fact 205 Live even exists despite the Cruiserweight Classic having generally failed at making any mainstream stars is a sign they haven’t given up on the idea altogether. Triple H is apparently spearheading the movement, and with his growing influence, so should grow the role of cruiserweights in WWE. Let’s just hope the crowd starts caring along with Hunter lest he start copying his father-in-law and forcing it down their throats until they do.
4. Call Up An NXT Star
Critics have been saying it all year long, and probably won’t stop: there are a good four or five superstars stuck in NXT to this day who could revolutionize WWE in 2016, even with the limited time they have left to do so. Names like Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, Austin Aries, and both the men and women’s NXT Champions, Shinsuke Nakamura and Asuka, are just a few who are more than prepared to take WWE by storm. The two champs are understandably busy down in NXT, though any of the others could turn great years for them into the greatest year of their career with one appearance on Raw or SmackDown Live. Obviously, they can’t simply debut on the main roster on New Year’s Eve and call it a night; the moment needs to be memorable, important, and impactful. The plus side is that the anticipation of a New Year makes it easy for any of these feelings to brew, both in the talent and the wrestling fans.
3. Start Preparing For WrestleMania
Thus far, the only things we know about WrestleMania 33 is that it will take place on April 2nd, 2017 in Orlando, Florida. The big day is less than four months away, and there’s not a single match announced, nor any sure things in terms of where the current storylines are going. There have been hints of a celebrity match with The Big Show and Shaq, and Goldberg-Lesnar III, both of which are good possibilities. Unfortunately, getting too close to the big day to rely on mere possibilities. The days when WWE would use a whole year to build to a single match are already over, despite how effective that strategy was as recently as 2012 and 2013. It’s too late or such a big gesture right now, but they still have some time in 2016 to at least get things started in earnest on the road to WrestleMania. At the same time, however, we have to implore WWE to do so in some manner more personal and meaningful than long-term feuding superstars “pointing at the sign.”
2. Cool It With The Title Changes
In addition to the already mentioned WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship change from Heath Slater and Rhyno to The Wyatt Family, in the past couple weeks alone, WWE has also changed both of their Women’s Champions, the NXT Champion, and the Intercontinental Champion, generally in traded title reigns that ultimately feel meaningless. The Raw Women’s Championship is getting it worst lately, with Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks going back and forth with month long title reigns where nothing is accomplished. If the only build is to a rematch that goes the exact same way the second most recent match went, both women are going to get lost once fans finally get tired of it. Luckily, the ladies are wrestling good enough matches no one is, at least yet. Whether or not the same holds true for the other championships is a matter of opinion, though the fact remains that gold is changing hands on a far to rapid rate across the board.
1. Rethink The Bi Weekly Special Event Model
There was a point in time when WWE ran four Pay-Per-Views per year. Granted, there was also obviously a point in time when they ran zero Pay-Per-Views, and it would be outright impossible for them to return to that sort of business model. However, the point remains a middle ground absolutely needs to be found, because two special events per month, only two or three weeks apart, is way, way too much content, especially if they’re trying to call it “special.” Since September 25, WWE has held six Network Specials, and there’s still another one to come before the year is over. Because Roadblock has already been announced, there’s no use in asking WWE to put an end to the specials for the year. Therefore, the one we can do is beg the company to rethink their business strategy. Less fans watching the show should in no circumstances lead to infinitely more show existing. All WWE is doing with their bi-weekly specials is overworking their staff, from the wrestlers to the writers to the camera people, and emotionally draining their fans.