Ten years ago this month—June for those of us still in a pandemic haze—CM Punk dropped the pipe bomb heard around the world. While the oohs and ahhs came from any line referencing John Cena, Punk’s status, or the apparent disdain for “Dwayne,” the real gem was his astute observation of WWE’s relationship with its wrestlers. Especially in light of Wednesday’s (June 2) bloodletting.
Punk was prophetic that summer night in 2011. Since then, Vince became a billionaire, amassed major content deals from two gigantic corporations, and WWE had its most profitable year ever. Oh, and, by the way, they achieved that last thing during a global pandemic. Despite below meh ratings and a product that never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity, McMahon keeps making money despite his best efforts.
Wednesday’s talent cuts put that race to mediocrity on display for the world. Braun Strowman, Ruby Riott, and Aleister Black aren’t names anyone expected to see on a future endeavors list. The fact that they are says more about the company than it does about them. This might come as a shock, but WWE mismanages its talent, period. Every now and then, they fall ass-backward into gold, like the New Day, the most recent incarnation of Becky Lynch, or everything with Roman Reigns as of late, but even those examples are based on pure luck.
New Day 1.0 was a Vince McMahon creation, and it bombed. Becky became “The Man” due to WWE giving its audience what they didn’t want, while Tribal Chief Reigns is the company relenting after years of stubbornness. To say nothing of CM Punk himself becoming a supernova when it was never part of the plan for anyone in WWE’s corporate offices.
What a horrible mismanagement of some really talented people. Sucks.
— Renee Paquette (@ReneePaquette) June 2, 2021
That Black, a former NXT Champion, can also call himself a former WWE Superstar, indicts Vince McMahon’s entire system. NXT is supposed to groom the company’s future as a direct pipeline to Raw or Smackdown. If guys like Aleister and Andrade reach the mountaintop on WWE’s
minor league development system third brand but amount to not much on the main roster, that illustrates dueling creative visions. The fact this tweet from Inside the Ropes even exists is more evidence that one hand in WWE either doesn’t know what the other is doing or, worse, doesn’t care :
Following Aleister Black’s WWE Release, more former NXT Champions have been released by the WWE than have gone on to win a WWE World Championship
— Inside The Ropes (@Inside_TheRopes) June 2, 2021
Granted, not everyone can be THE champion, but that stat shouldn’t be a thing. When a General Manager’s high draft picks are backups on another team or out of the NFL entirely within just a few years, that General Manager is updating their resume. Just mention Jerry Reese’s name to any New York Giants fan and watch them curl into a fetal position. I’ve seen it 100 times. But I digress.
The problem lies with management either not doing enough for these cats when they come out of NXT or not knowing what to do with them at all. After a while, they’re either billed as “formerly known as”, milk carton status, or lose what made them unique in the first place.
At a certain point, WWE became entirely too big to fail. For my money, it started the day McMahon bought his competition. Purchasing WCW began a song that crescendoed when Fox and NBC Universal threw Monopoly money at WWE’s feet because they looked like Gargamel in a land of television Smurfs.
WWE’s cultural clout isn’t what it was during the ’80s or late ’90s, but they have three live shows and a buttload—technical term—of content. The days of needing legitimate pop culture crossover stars like The Rock or Steve Austin are in the rearview mirror. Companies are interested in the brand and its library, while the wrestlers are just an added bonus.
Punk knows the root cause of the problem, just like he knew what it was way back when: WWE serves an audience of one. If Vince doesn’t “get it” and sees no way to make money, your favorite wrestler is probably dead in the water. There’s an inherent conflict when a billionaire in his mid-70s, who seemingly has no life outside of work, tries to determine what a younger generation thinks is cool. I mean, this is the same guy who didn’t know about Scarface in 1992.
As a result, WWE as a whole can’t even find the pulse of its audience, much less put the finger on it. And yet, here they are, still the envy of the wrestling world with no end in sight.
When WWF put out average or below average content in the early-mid ’90s to please one person, they suffered. When WWE does the same thing today, the company is rewarded on a scale many thought impossible. It’s why a company with at least three commas in its financial statements can say with a straight face they’re cutting people due to budget cuts.
As Punk said, the wheel keeps turning no matter what.