Sometimes less is more.
In the world of professional wrestling, this is the case more often than not.
When you’re a worldwide company catering to a worldwide audience, overcomplicating the process is not conducive to keeping the masses interested. That’s currently the case in WWE with the company’s main storyline — Daniel Bryan against The Administration.
A basic wrestling program is about three months. It essentially follows the basic story arch of beginning, middle and end, with the end being the climax or pay off.
Some programs have extended far beyond three months, but a basic program runs for that amount of time.
WWE, whether it realized it or not, set itself up for a great three-month program following Summerslam in August.
Triple H screws over the new champion Bryan and essentially hands the WWE title over to his hand-picked champion Randy Orton.
From there, WWE had three pay-per-views that no one was necessarily getting excited over shelling out $55 for: Night of Champions, Battleground and Hell in a Cell.
These three pay-per-views all of a sudden had some anticipation with the new hot angle and it lent itself to the basic main-event wrestling angle.
I’ve never booked a wrestling show or program but from studying the world professional wrestling past and present, it seemed so simple to me based off what’s happened in the past. Orton and Bryan would have title matches at Night of Champions and Battleground. In those title matches, Bryan does not win the title due to some form of outside interference.
How would you settle it? Put the two in a Hell in a Cell to settle the feud once and for all. Bryan would win to finally win the title back that he rightfully deserved. How basic is that?
You accomplish a number of things with this minimalistic program. First off, by not putting the title on Bryan during this program, his title win at Hell in a Cell would actually mean something. It would draw a significant pop from the crowd who had been waiting for Bryan to finally get his title back. A large crowd pop for a title win isn’t something you see all that much anymore.
Secondly, Bryan is made to look stronger because he overcame the odds and not only did he win his title back, but he did so inside a Hell in a Cell.
Thirdly, before Orton loses he actually looks like a somewhat credible champion because he (with some help) fended off Bryan for two months.
Lastly, WWE can actually use the Hell in a Cell match for its proper booking use. The Hell in a Cell is supposed to be for hot feuds only. It is supposed to be brought out only when two guys can’t even stand to look at each other. It is also supposed to be used to end a feud once and for all.
Since this hypothetical feud would have been built for a couple of months and is for the WWE title, the Hell in a Cell match would actually be warranted.
Since a Hell in a Cell match would actually be warranted, it may increase the interest the match, which would increase the buy rate for a pay-per-view that usually doesn’t make a killing at the pay-per-view box office.
A case of this being poorly executed would be 2012 when CM Punk faced Ryback for the first time inside a Hell in a Cell. Granted, the match only happened because John Cena was hurt and was unable to perform in the ring, but that’s part of the problem with having the themed pay-per-views — WWE books itself into a corner.
Since the show is called Hell in a Cell, WWE has to put on a Hell in a Cell match no matter the circumstances.
After this hypothetical Hell in a Cell match, Bryan could move on with the title and fend off challengers that Triple H and Stephanie McMahon throw in front of him for a couple months before dropping the title.
That’s very basic and to the point. Good guy chases title, good guy wins title, good guy defends title, good guy loses title and we move on to something else before people get bogged down with the same thing every week.
The structure of the feud itself harkens back to the old territorial days. When Bruno Sammartino had a hot feud going, the feud would be booked by the WWWF (now WWE) so that the pay off to the feud took place at their Shea Stadium shows because the company could get more people in their as oppose to Madison Square Garden.
If the pay off match took place at MSG, it took place inside a steel cage or something of that sort.
It may be simple, but the WWWF sold a lot of tickets nonetheless. Some things don’t change all that much over time.
Instead what we have is an overcomplicated, multi-layered story that is more fitting for a television drama than professional wrestling.
To be fair, WWE has to try to be original in some aspects. They try not to directly copy what has already been done. As a result, the creative team throws in a few wrinkles to make the angle feel fresh and new. In this specific case, there are way too many wrinkles.
Bryan won the title. Instead of him being upset and wanting to take out Triple H and Orton, he lets Triple H lure him into traps for almost a month straight.
Triple H and Stephanie McMahon talk about how Bryan isn’t championship material despite the fact he beat the top guy (Cena) clean in the middle of the ring at the second-biggest pay-per-view of the year. That doesn’t make much sense.
Triple H and Stephanie McMahon make themselves out to be the biggest heels in the entire angle instead of making Orton — the man carrying the title they gave to him — the main heel.
Bryan won the title again month later, which was met by a lukewarm response, only to be stripped of it less than 24 hours later because of suspected collusion with the official.
Orton, the hand picked champion, lost the title clean and reprimanded for not getting the job done at Night of Champions.
Then you have Big Show, who is knocking people out by the order of the bosses because he’s broke and doesn’t want to lose his job. The entire locker room feels the same way and stand there and watch as Big Show unwillingly knocks people out and Bryan gets beat up.
Triple H and Stephanie McMahon seem to be attempting to build a ton of heat despite, which is good, even if you don’t agree how it’s being done.
But that do they do next? They reward the same guys that bucked their orders because they were happy that the guys stood up and showed some guts — the same guts they essentially took away from them weeks earlier.
They, specifically TripleH, wants to show people that they’re fair. So he puts his own henchman (The Shield) in an 11-on-3 handicap match.
Are you confused yet? I know I am and I feel that way almost every time I watch Raw now. I have no idea what direction the creative is going. It’s not in the sit on the edge of your seat kind of way. Instead, it’s in a “Who made this mess? Someone needs to clean it up,” kind of way.
The effect of all of this is a storyline where people aren’t enthralled. They’re not invested. They’re just confused as to what in the world is going.
When you’re catering to 3-4 million people on a weekly basis, confusion does not amount to money. It amounts to nothing.
At their core, people want to see two guys who don’t like each other beat the crap out of each other. That’s it. They want to be entertained along the way, but they mainly want to see is two tough guys beat each other to a pulp.
WWE, however, want to give people layers and intricacies and as a result the company outsmarts itself. There's still more to this story that still has to be told, but with this storyline, WWE simply needs to get back to basics, but it may be too late.