This week Dave "Batista" Bautista became the latest WWE star to criticise the current television output in the past few months. You can see the full interview here in Richard Gray’s report. In the interview he states he would be open to a WWE return but on the basis he had a contract similar to his close friend Chris Jericho’s last deal, where he would work house shows only with no TV appearances. "The television you are too locked in, too locked in to the scripts which I don't think are great these days. And I don't wanna be locked I just wanna go back and entertain the fans." Bautista explained.
I enjoyed WrestleMania more than any pay per view I’ve seen since Extreme Rules last year. I also attended a non-televised show on the European tour in Manchester which I enjoyed more than the episode of Raw filmed in London the next day. What do these two things have in common? They were both shows that in the main, concentrated on wrestling action rather than sitcom-episode length promos and sleep-inducing segments. So should WWE re-think their approach, perhaps reduce the influence and contributions of the creative team and instead focus on wrestling and allow story-lines to develop more organically?
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin is old-school and describes himself as a wrestling fan, not a sports entertainment fan and has echoed these sentiments. He had the following to say on a podcast late last year "You can put it under the umbrella of ‘sports entertainment’ but when two guys or two gals get in a 20-by-20 squared circle and start wrestling, it is professional wrestling and that is the end of the story" he continued "create and put out something that people can buy in to on a serious note, and don’t make it the three-ring circus that it’s become, and let it be wrestling." He continued on this theme when he had Triple H in the studio for his second WWE Network televised podcast, stating he liked NXT as they didn't start every show with a 20-30 min promo as Raw tends to stick to religiously.
In January of this year Chris Jericho revealed he had agreed a new house show only contract and in February he expanded on why he had come to that decision here. When asked why he liked working house shows he said “It’s a little more fan interactive. With the TV shows, everything is meticulously timed. There is five minutes for this and 12 minutes for that. At the live show, you work until you’re done. You’re allowed to finish the match.”. Then when asked about a return to TV he said “I really don’t think so. The live events are always so stress-free. You can do whatever you want. They don’t have specific story-lines you are beholden to. There’s a lot of TV that has to be perfectly timed to be watched by 5 million people. In the live event, it’s just for the people in the crowd. We stress the fun.” I have heard of plenty of wrestlers wanting to get out of house show appearances so this was a real shock. Now it appears that he isn't alone in his views with Batista wanting to follow suit.
In the now infamous Colt Cabana podcasts CM Punk repeatedly berated the creative team for stifling the imaginations of the performers and for having a lack of any sort of long term plans in place for superstars. He reiterated this in his recent and almost as controversial Sports Illustrated interview, when asked if he had a say over storylines "Yeah, eventually. But I was one of the few. And even in that, I could make a recommendation but at the end of the day, it’s Vince’s company and his say." which would suggest that 99% of what we see is Vince and his team's direction.
Rob Van Dam was another to take a shot at WWE creative, this time via Twitter. In February when asked by a fan if he would come back to WWE as he was missed, RVD had a short but telling response. “Cool! Wait...same writers?”. A short but all too telling response. I wonder if Roman Reigns would have had less of a tough time had he not been made to do all those awful promos prior to the Royal Rumble, it all just sounded too contrived and forced.
I think it is clear that the restrictions on performers is an issue. I'm not saying it should be a free for all but these are talented guys, you only need to see how the likes of Batista and The Rock do in the entertainment world outside WWE to realise that these are smart, professional performers. Was Steve Austin's "3:16" speech dreamt up by 12 guys in an office after a full day brainstorming? Was "Mr Socko" created after a series of meetings and 6 script re-drafts? Did The Rock have a guy in his ear piece telling him to threaten to shine an object up real nice and turn it sideways before inserting it into his opponent?
I certainly think there is a compelling argument for far more wrestling, less talking and more creative freedom for the superstars. There is so much talent on the roster that just needs a chance to shine, time I think to loosen the shackles and return to much simpler and better times.
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