Jackson Ball on how the SummerSlam card exposes a lack of main event talent…
WWE Battleground has come and gone, bringing with it a series of revelations that has set us on a direct collision course for Summerslam. ‘The Biggest Party of the Summer’ is one of the true marquee events of the wrestling calendar, second only to Wrestlemania, so it was to be expected that they were going to deliver something big for the August event. Few could have predicted though that the big delivery in question would come in the form of a returning Undertaker.
Lesnar vs. Taker is unquestionably going to be the main event, but what does that mean for the future of the company’s most prestigious championship? Well, if the post-Battleground edition of Raw is anything to go by it looks like Seth Rollins has already found his next challenger, and it’s a very familiar one: 15-time champion John Cena.
As the current United States Champion, Cena has been enjoying something of a purple patch in 2015. The consistently divisive superstar has been silencing his many, many critics, with his US Open Challenge being the undisputed highlight WWE’s recent programming. With his highly-acclaimed feud with Kevin Owens seemingly over, it appears that Cena is ready to return to the World Title picture, as evidenced by his confrontation with Rollins this Monday.
So that’s SummerSlam’s two main events pretty much in the bag: Lesnar/Taker and Rollins/Cena. That should have any fan salivating for the event, shouldn’t it? Well, perhaps not, as it may actually be an indication of what dire straits the current WWE roster is in.
Leaving the champion to one side for a moment, let’s just take a look at those other three men for a minute. The Undertaker has been around for literally decades now, with the general consensus being that his retirement is fairly imminent. The 50 year old has barely wrestled over the past few years, with his rare appearances being almost exclusively reserved for Wrestlemania. Similarly, Brock Lesnar in action has become a rare commodity, set aside for pay-per-views and special events. Even when Lesnar was champion last year, his schedule was part-time at best.
At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the omnipresent John Cena. WWE’s franchise player has been on top of the metaphorical mountain for over a decade now, with a title-count second only to Ric Flair (a record that Cena is sure to break at some point). The World Title picture has been satirised with Cena superhuman antics since Wrestlemania 21 back in 2005, much to the nauseam of a large section of fans.
So we’ve got two part-timers, and the company’s go-to guy for the past decade; three men that have combined experience of nearly 50 years and 26 World Title reigns. What does that say about the current state of WWE’s main event scene?
McMahon et al will be hoping for a huge surge in business thanks to SummerSlam, especially in light of Raw and Smackdown’s dwindling television ratings. However, that fact that he feels the need to rely on three veterans to do so is pretty damning indictment of the future World Title scene.
The case in point, what happens post SummerSlam? Both Taker and Lesnar will have filled their respective work quotas, and will in all likelihood disappear from programming until the build-up of Wrestlemania 32. Cena and Rollins will remain stalwarts, sure, but the prospect of carrying both the World Heavyweight and US Title divisions seems like a task too daunting for even John Cena.
But who else is there? Who else could legitimately main event a pay per view, or challenge for the title?
Roman Reigns may spring to mind, but given the backlash of his last push for the title, combined with the negative ratings-correlation for Rollin’s debut title reign, WWE creative may be a little reluctant to push the Samoan Superman back into the limelight.
Both Randy Orton and Dean Ambrose could be contenders, considering the successful babyface runs they’ve both been on, but both have had fairly recent feuds with Rollins and risk becoming irrelevant. Ambrose will get his chance if he continues on his current trajectory, but that may be some way down the line given that he has yet to have ‘his moment’ to announce himself as a main eventer (perhaps a Royal Rumble win?). Orton has a similar problem to Cena in that fans have grown numb to him. A 12-time champion himself, Orton may benefit from some more time away from the top of the card.
Already we’re running out of viable candidates, and the stats don’t flatter the situation either. On the WWE’s current roster (as listed by Wikipedia) there are 17 former World Champions. Removing the superstars that we’ve already discussed, that number drops to 12. If we then take away superstars on limited-appearance contracts, such as Chris Jericho, Triple H and The Rock, as well as ‘inactive’ superstars like Daniel Bryan and Christian, and that number falls to 7. Just seven superstars that have been previously trusted to carry the World Title remain as full-time performers on WWE programmers; Big Show, Kane, Mark Henry, Jack Swagger, Dolph Ziggler, Sheamus and The Miz.
You don’t have to be the Head of WWE Creative to see the problems with that list. Henry and Swagger have become glorified jobbers, while the Big Show and Kane are closer to retirement than they are another title reign.
And so, our list is down to 3: Ziggler is one of the most consistent in-ring workers on the roster, The Miz delivers better mic skills than most, and Sheamus is Mr. Money in the Bank. Despite this though, you wouldn’t bank on any them becoming the next ‘face’ of the company, capable of headlining a marquee event such as SummerSlam or Wrestlemania (yes, I know The Miz already has, but we’re not likely to see another anytime soon).
The lack of depth among the WWE’s elite is a worrying issue that has no quick-fix. Hypothetically, what if Cena was to get inured? Or Lesnar decides he’s bored of wrestling again? Who do you fall back on? Optimists among you will point the wave of new talent filtering through from NXT; superstars such as Neville, Kevin Owens and Finn Balor. There’s no denying there is future main eventers amongst that list who will probably go on to headline the company’s biggest events, but that is the future, and for a global company like WWE, tomorrow isn’t soon enough.
For now, Vince’s best chances of box-office return is to continue parading out his tried and tested money-makers, as the projected card for SummerSlam indicates. The thing about ‘transitional periods’ though is that, at some point, there is actually going to have to be a transition. Riskier options need to be explored for the company to continue evolving.
After all, relying on the same aging stars time and time again is dangerously close to the WCW philosophy.
Jackson Ball – Follow me on Twitter