WWE has all sorts of reasons behind its tanking TV viewership, but here’s an overlooked one that frustrated fans should consider: The company’s creative plans have been unexpectedly thrown into disarray.
Let’s start with the obvious, which, of course, would be Roman Reigns. WWE has experienced a myriad of unforeseen changes to its programming over the past few months, the first major one being the absence of “The Big Dog,” who withdrew from WrestleMania 36 due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. That decision ignited an unanticipated domino effect that immediately impacted Goldberg, Braun Strowman, the Universal Championship picture and the main event scene on SmackDown, just to name a few.
Another big blow came when Sami Zayn followed in the footsteps of Reigns and removed himself from SmackDown programming because of COVID-19. After weeks of doing nothing with Zayn’s Intercontinental Championship, WWE made the decision last week to strip Zayn of the title, a move that reportedly did not sit well with some in WWE who were upset by that decision. But as they say, the show must go on, and go on it well, with WWE apparently taking the title off Zayn to “send a message” to the rest of the locker room.
WWE began an eight-man tournament to determine a new IC Champion on last week’s SmackDown, with Daniel Bryan and Elias becoming the first two stars to advance to the semifinals. Like Strowman stepping in to be the last-minute replacement for Goldberg, the IC title tourney was all obviously unplanned, which has become a forgotten and overlooked aspect of WWE’s ratings downturn. As both Raw and SmackDown have seen their viewership plummet to historic lows in recent weeks, it’s easy to point out WWE’s creative flaws and lack of star power as serious issues plaguing its creative process, and certainly, those are playing a role in the disappointing state of the red and blue brands.
But let’s not overlook the fact that the Universal and Intercontinental title pictures did a 180 at the drop of a dime, and now, WWE has been forced to do the same with the Raw Women’s Championship as well.
Becky Lynch, who had held that title for more than a year, was forced to vacate the title on last week’s Raw when she revealed that she was pregnant. To go along with Reigns’ absence, WWE will now be without its top two stars indefinitely, and Vince McMahon is already using WWE’s lack of those stars as an excuse for its disappointing viewership. Indeed, it’s easy to forget that Lynch had been planned for something big in the coming weeks and months, only to have it all fall apart. No one should be taking any blame for that, but it has put WWE in quite the pickle.
According to the latest Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Wrestling Inc), “The original plan was for Becky to face Nia Jax at last Sunday’s Money In The Bank pay-per-view…Becky was scheduled to retain the title, while [Shayna] Baszler was slated to win the women’s Money In The Bank ladder match and go on to feud with Becky for the belt. Following Becky’s pregnancy, the plans were changed for Asuka to win the match.”
In a matter of just a couple of months, WWE was forced to completely reinvent the wheel for three major title pictures—the Universal, Intercontinental and Raw Women’s Championship—and though the company has been far from perfect in trying to resurrect those title pictures, the company has also had its fair share of successes in properly pushing stars like Asuka, Aleister Black and Drew McIntyre at a time when interest in WWE is always low (the post-WrestleMania season) and when that problem has been compounded by a slew of unforeseen circumstances forcing WWE to make so many creative changes.
While some of the criticism directed toward WWE’s creative team and its lackluster overall product is justified, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that a wide array of circumstances—ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic to unforeseen superstar absences—hasn’t exactly made WWE’s job easy.
WWE will, however, get better as it almost always tends to do, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps fans just can’t see it yet.