There's no getting away from it, 2016 has been a rough year for the WWE on a wide range of fronts.
Whilst a host of IWC favourites now call the company home, meaning that the in-ring product has often been hugely enjoyable, Vince McMahon's market leader has had to deal with some shocking ratings amidst a major injury crisis and with a face of the company who is getting rejected at each and every show.
It seems that barely a week goes by without Monday Night Raw pulling in a nightmare-ish low rating - something which likely has Vince twitchy in his pants - but what can the company do to turn 2016 around?
When you look at it, the WWE has so many of the right tools needed to make their product great and turn the corner before they hit the sh*t-really-hits-the-fan dreaded rating of below a 2.0, and here's 15 ways that they can make 2016 into a great year before it comes to a close.
Of course, whether the company does any of these things is another topic altogether.
15 Minimal Stephanie McMahon
Whilst Stephanie McMahon is now back on WWE programming following an absence of a few weeks post-WrestleMania, the product feels so much fresher when the Billionaire Princess isn’t on screen.
There was a time when Stephanie made for an interesting part of the product, but 3 years of seemingly-endless 20-minute Authority promos has definitely made the average fan reach for the mute button or, even worse, change the channel when Vince's heir-apparent is on screen.
Once again, the WWE is now about the McMahons – with Vince, Shane, and Stephanie current fixtures of the product – and it looks like the current direction will inevitably bring Triple H back into the fold, possibly to face Shane at SummerSlam, but even if that is the case then things feel so much more engaging when Steph isn’t on TV on a weekly basis.
After all, there’s only so many times that the Stephanie character can be used to berate audiences before fans eventually decide to just tune out. And this babyface run? Nobody's buying it.
14 Give Mauro Ranallo More To Do
Since coming into the company as part of the Smackdown announce team, Mauro Ranallo has been a total breath of fresh air.
With a rejuvenated Jerry Lawler and a Byron Saxton who’s allowed to speak also part of the team, Smackdown’s announcers blow their Raw counterparts out of the water. Whilst Lawler and Saxton more than hold their own, it’s Ranallo who is the clear star behind the show’s announce desk.
Ranallo has been used occasionally in a backstage role on Raw or as part of the PPV pre-shows in either a commentary or analysis role, but the talented Canadian is someone who wrestling fans can’t hear or see enough from right now.
In an ideal world, Ranallo would replace Michael Cole on Raw – hell, get rid of JBL too while we’re at it – but that seems unlikely now. Having him call some main PPV action before the year’s out would be a major plus point, though.
13 Scrap 50/50 Booking
Another one of the biggest problems of the last couple of years of WWE programming has been the dreaded 50/50 booking, as in guys just constantly trade wins with very minimal difference between them so that neither of them look particularly weak.
The problem with this is that, whilst you don’t make performers look weak, it also results in nobody looking particularly strong and additionally adds a sense of predictability to any rematch.
If the WWE was to scrap this idea and instead have talents comprehensively getting the best of their opponents in multiple matches, that’s part of how stars are made and is something that would put the company on the right track for 2016 and beyond.
12 Don’t Mess Up “The Club”
Many of us are hoping that “The Club” is merely a holding name for now – it totally sucks! – with potentially Balor Club becoming a thing down the line, but either way, keeping Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows strong is vital to the WWE.
Since debuting in the company, the duo have been massively up and down in how they’ve been used on WWE programming. From debuting strongly with attacks on The Usos and Roman Reigns, it didn’t take long before Anderson and Gallows were losing clean to Jimmy and Jey on Raw as well as taking countless Superman Punches from Reigns along the way.
With their future to involve AJ Styles and/or Finn Balor, whether it’s with them or against them, The Club needs to be kept strong for the rest of the year in order to feel like a genuine attraction and help out the overall WWE product.
11 Change Raw Back To 2 Hours
Is anyone out there actually keen on Raw being 3 hours long? Anyone? Any… one? No? Righto then.
Whilst a 3-hour Raw may have resulted in the WWE having a truckload of money dumped at Titan Towers, it’s been a huge hindrance on the actual product that the company has been putting out.
In the history of 3-hour Raws, there’s barely been a completely great show out of the lot. So often all we get is viewing that feels dragged-out, formulaic, repetitive, and largely just simply dull. Also, it doesn’t help when each of these weekly shows were started off by a 20-minute Authority promo each and every time.
Obviously the WWE is tied into a contract to produce 3-hour Monday night programming for the foreseeable future, although there are ways around this particular problem. Maybe the 3-hour format could incorporate 2-hours of Raw and then an hour of NXT, some sort of post-Raw analysis or even some other Network-based output.
10 Look At Ways To Manage Their Injury Problems
This past few months have seen the WWE hit by their biggest injury crisis to date.
In terms of names, they lost WWE Champion Seth Rollins, face of the company John Cena, 11-time World Champ Randy Orton, former US Champion Cesaro, the Eater of Worlds Bray Wyatt, workhorse Tyson Kidd, and many others performers, not to mention having Sting retire due to various issues.
It was a nightmare and questions need to be asked about why so many injury problems have been occurring. The talent these days go hard on a nightly basis and push themselves to put on the very best match each time they step in the ring.
Seemingly, the most likely change would be to tone down the intensity of house shows, although an off-season would be ideal. That’s never going to happen, though.
9 Don’t Turn Shane McMahon
So often when a McMahon is on TV in a babyface role, the inevitable heel turn is just around the corner.
With that said, the WWE mustn’t, mustn’t, mustn’t (is that enough emphasis?) turn Shane McMahon heel at any time this year.
Since he made his shocking return before WrestleMania, Shane has been used brilliantly as an instrument of change. His inclusion on TV has lent itself to giving a vibrant, fresh feeling to the programming in a plethora of ways.
The villainous authority (no pun intended) figure is a completely played-out, redundant concept these days – a) because it’s been done so many times before, and b) because we’ve had a heel authority group rammed down our throats for 3 years – so let’s just allow Shane to be the on-screen element that allows for a change in the product without the WWE having to admit completely how out of touch it has been with so much of its fanbase for the last few years.
8 Give Kevin Owens A Main Event Spot
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about having KO take the WWE Title and headline every PPV of the year, but putting Kevin Owens in a main event spot challenging for the belt is a no-brainer at this point in time.
Simply put, Owens is the very best heel that the WWE has right now or has had for a long, long time. As well as that, he’s also one of the very best in-ring talents that they have and arguably the very best on the mic that they have right now, plus he elevates anyone he works with. The guy is the complete performer and deserves to be put in the main event going forward.
With Seth Rollins now back in the frame and with John Cena lurking in the shadows, KO would make for a great feud for Roman Reigns or A.N. Other WWE Champion to engage in before the year’s out.
7 Distinguish Babyfaces And Heels
One of the biggest problems of the current WWE product is the lack of reaction to a large portion of the main roster. Key to this issue is how the company seems to have deemed the concept of babyfaces and heels as largely redundant these days.
Sure, with fans now all being apparently smarter and with the business having been exposed, it’s harder to truly be a bad guy, but that still shouldn’t stop the organisation from trying. Just look at Kevin Owens or the most recent work of The Miz and Chris Jericho; they’re guys who are pure heels and are great at it, making people care about the babyfaces that they are facing.
Because so much of the past few years was spent being nonplussed about establishing good guys and bad guys, the WWE is now left with so many performers who fans simply don’t care about or can’t connect to.
6 Keep Brock Lesnar Special
There’s no doubt that Brock Lesnar is still a huge attraction for the WWE, but it’s important that the company does their best over the rest of the year to keep The Beast special.
Whilst Brock has yet to resurface after defeating Dean Ambrose, a little of the lustre around the former UFC Champion was starting to fade just a little in the weeks building up to ‘Mania. 2016 has been a so-so year so far for Brock, with him having a BS Royal Rumble elimination and then tangling with the likes of Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and the Wyatt Family.
Many may be calling for Lesnar’s return to WWE TV, but that is something that should only happen if the company has something big lined up for the four-time WWE Champion. Keeping Brock Lesnar special is key to making the most out of the performer, which in turn helps out the WWE.
When it comes to the WWE product, there’s an element of change amongst its TV output at the moment. And key to all of this should be a very simple mantra: K.I.S.S… as in Keep It Simple, Stupid.
Nonsensical, convoluted storylines don’t work for anyone; fans lose interest, whilst performers struggle with what they have to work with and ultimately struggle to get over. As proven by the buzz around NXT, so often the best way for a wrestling product to connect to an audience these days is to just keep things simple.
With 3 hours of Raw to contend with each week, not to mention 2 hours of Smackdown, an hour of Main Event, an hour of Superstars, and then monthly PPVs, there’s a lot of WWE TV to consume for fans. So, it’s key to keep things relatively light and easy to follow in order to not make watching become a chore.
4 Keep John Cena Away From Roman Reigns
Whenever John Cena is on WWE TV, he’s immediately seen as the guy. Forget Roman Reigns’ new catchphrase about not being a good guy or a bad guy, it’s Cena who is really the guy.
As such, the easy option is to slot Cena straight back into the main event picture and have him target the WWE Title. That’s the easy option, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the correct option.
Despite how tempting it may be, it would be best to keep Big Match John away from the title picture for the rest of the year. In an ideal world, you’d have Cena and Reigns in an eventual clash of the titans at next year’s WrestleMania.
In the meantime, Cena could be used to bring some solidity to the midcard or maybe even win back the US Championship and once again bring back some prestige to the belt that he held last year.
Of course, this could all be a non-issue should Vince still want Cena vs Undertaker at next year’s ‘Mania, but at least keep Cena and Reigns separate for the rest of 2016.
3 Make Finn Balor A Huge Deal
With Finn Balor seemingly set to debut on the main roster any day now, all we can ask is that the WWE doesn’t screw up the massively talented former NXT Champion.
The Irishman is a truly unique talent and he should be treated as a major player as soon as he is brought up from NXT. Going into the WWE Title picture right now doesn’t really seem like an option – and in all honesty, that would likely be too much at this stage – but Balor needs to be made out to be a huge deal when he finally does make his bow on Raw and Smackdown.
If handled correctly, Finn could and should be a big time player for the WWE for years to come. Key to that, and something that would put the company in great stead for the rest of the year, is to make sure that Balor is treated like an absolute superstar once he finally does leave NXT.
2 Turn Roman Heel
We’ve all wanted it for what seems like an age, but will we ever get it?
Yes, it’s the obvious need for the WWE to embrace that people just don’t want to cheer Roman Reigns in his current form and let him turn heel to boost the product going forward.
In terms of main event heels, the WWE is lacking right now; it'll be a struggle to keep Seth Rollins booed. One would have to think that Chris Jericho will be taking a hiatus soon. Kevin Owens isn’t positioned as a true main event player just yet. Triple H is still off T. And The Miz is doing great where he is as the IC Champion. With fans constantly booing Roman out of the building, the WWE needs to swallow their pride and admit that their babyface push of Reigns hasn’t worked.
Roman is a natural heel and would be fantastic as the cocksure powerhouse who takes great pleasure in revelling in the boos that rain down on him.
1 Make Seth Rollins The Face Of The Company
With Seth Rollins now back from injury, the Architect received a deafening response from the WWE Universe at Extreme Rules.
It seems absolutely stupid for the WWE to have Rollins return as a heel, but that's what they're doing. Regardless, they should go the other way and have him be the absolute face of the company.
Since bursting onto the scene as Tyler Black, Rollins has always been a phenomenal in-ring performer, but in the last few years he’s improved vastly on the mic and is just itching to be given a huge babyface push.
Rollins’ full arsenal is one of the best in the game, and if he’s pushed as a babyface and allowed to use his full moveset, the WWE has somebody on their hands who could and should be the face of the company for many years to come.