Monday 9 May 2011

Reaching for the Stars

It’s no secret that WWE is desperate for star power. Retirements, office jobs and injuries have taken their toll on the roster, to the point where there are barely any workers left capable creating a ratings boost. This is why The Rock, Undertaker, Triple H and ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin were called back in for WrestleMania. The company realised it could not promote a satisfactory show without them.

Rock’s affiliation with the company is going to remain strong until at least next April when he faces John Cena. During the intervening months he will presumably make appearances on RAW every once in a while to keep interest in their feud alive. As long as these appearances are announced in advance they should help with the ratings struggle. If the booking team are smart major angles will be saved for shows on which Rock is set to appear, giving viewers who have only tuned in to see ‘The Great One’ a reason to tune back in the next week.

Austin is in a similar position to his former rival. Both are essentially retired and concentrating on acting careers. Rock has been confirmed to return to the ring for at least one match next year, and while nothing has been mentioned on air regarding the possibility of an Austin match ‘The Rattlesnake’ did mention in interviews before ‘Mania XXVII that he would be physically capable of wrestling a full time schedule if he wanted. While I don’t think he would actually agree to doing so I do think he could be convinced to wrestle a one off match at a suitably prestigious event. WWE should attempt to get something arranged now, ideally for this year’s SummerSlam. Austin returning to the ring would be a big draw in itself: against the right opponent it could be massive.

But Austin’s return is currently nonexistent and Rock’s appearances are going to be irregular. Neither man is the immediate solution that’s needed. Creating new main event talent is the obvious answer and something fans have been crying out for the company to do for years. But that process takes time.

Besides The Rock and Steve Austin there are a handful of people outside the company that could be brought in to help reverse the slumping ratings. The biggest name on the list is Brock Lesnar. While he’s currently under contract to UFC, and will be for some time to come, he would bring a lot of UFC viewers and media attention to WWE if he returned. When he left the promotion in March of 2004 he was one of the biggest names in wrestling, and his UFC career, and reign as heavyweight champion, has only enhanced his profile. If Vince McMahon could convince Brock to re-sign with his company when the opportunity rises then Brock would be worth his weight in gold.

More readily available are Chris Jericho and Batista. Up until a few weeks ago Jericho was on TV every week as a contestant on Dancing With The Stars. Doing that show has exposed Jericho to a new audience who found out what wrestling fans already knew: Jericho is a talented, witty individual and a natural showman.

As the most likely man to return to WWE there’s a lot of talk as to whether his first appearance back should occur on pay-per-view. There are arguments for and against that move. There’s potentially a lot of money to be made in making people to see his first appearance in a wrestling ring this year. But if the market being targeted is those people who first saw Jericho on DWTS (and that’s who the return needs to be aimed at if viewership is to be increased) then having his return on RAW is the best option. I don’t think too many people would buy a pay-per-view just to see the appearance of a guy they found reasonably amiable on a dancing show, but I do think they’d tune in to a free TV show for it.

Ideally Jericho would return as a babyface. It’s true his best work has traditionally been done as a heel, but right now popular guys that make you want to tune in every week are what are needed. Jericho telling people they’re morons for watching is not going to have the desired effect.

As for Batista, he’s not done too much since leaving to embark on an MMA career twelve months ago. At the tender age of 42, and having spent a year trying to sign a deal with an MMA organisation and meeting no success, a return to wrestling is the best chance he has of making a living.

He has his detractors, but Batista is easily a better addition to WWE’s television product than John Cena or the majority of bland big men that the company has in developmental. Over the years he has participated in many memorable matches and angles, been smart enough to stick to what he’s good at in the ring, and been a hit as both a heel and a face (just look at how over he was as a narcissistic heel before he left last year). He’s underrated as a talker and as someone who can carry opponents. His return may not create the same buzz as Chris Jericho’s, but he would be a welcome addition to a very thin line-up.

Both Jericho and Batista are likely to return in the near future. Jericho’s comeback has been rumoured ever since he was voted off DWTS, partly because he said he would be returning to the world of wrestling once he was eliminated. While that return has yet to happen it’s surely imminent. Batista, as noted above, has spent a year attempting to get signed by an ultimate fighting group. That he has name value, a great physique and has apparently begun training for his first fight and still hasn’t landed a deal should tell everyone, including ‘The Animal’ himself, all they need to know about how good his chances are.

I hope Batista and Jericho both return soon. They would freshen things up and, with any luck, start helping to create the new batch of stars that the company desperately needs. These men are not going to be around forever, they need to be used to build new acts whilst the chance is still there.

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