MR. TITO STRIKES BACK – What Can AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura Do For the WWE Long-Term?

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Welcome back to Mr. Tito‘s Excellence in Column Writing exclusively here at LordsofPain.net / WrestlingHeadlines.com. Sooooo… How about that RAW viewership number for Monday, 2/5/18? Barely above 3 million just 8 days following Royal Rumble 2018 and worse yet, 2 weeks from the RAW 25th Anniversary show that legitimately flirted with hitting 5 million viewers. I know, ALL OF YOU (or at least the small sample of the Comments section) are tired of me talking about ratings… FACT is that RAW 25th Anniversary show averaged 4.5 million viewers for all 3 hours and now, we’re at 3 million. In just 2 weeks, the WWE caused 1.5 million additional viewers to walk away once again. It was during early 2015 where the WWE last saw an average viewership consistently above 4 million. It has been all downhill ever since.

Oh, TV viewership doesn’t matter? Then explain to me why attendance at Live Events is down? Aside from Pay Per Views, the WWE has to tarp off parts of the arena for television tapings while houseshow business has become a disaster. Explain that.

Anyway…

One thing that won’t help the WWE draw big numbers is the WWE Title match-up for Wrestlemania 34 with Shinsuke Nakamura vs. AJ Styles. Now now now, don’t get me wrong here… I WANT TO WATCH THAT MATCH. In fact, I can even argue already that the bout will probably win “Match of the Night”. I’m not here to be a hater…

But, think about AFTER Wrestlemania 34… What will a great Shinsuke Nakamura vs. AJ Styles match do for their careers in the WWE? How will having that GREAT MATCH impact the WWE’s bottom line? Will fans start packing arenas to see AJ Styles and/or Shinsuke Nakamura? Buying merchandise? Etc.

Do you really think that Shinsuke Nakamura or AJ Styles as World Champion and top company guy can draw for the WWE? Oh, we now have a sample for AJ Styles. If you look at his runs as Smackdown’s WWE Champion, we had about 2.7 million viewers during 2016 to now having 2.5 million at best. Granted, the destruction of the Smackdown roster happened during 2017 with the awful Cena/Wyatt/Orton/Mahal title trade-offs… Won’t disagree. But Smackdown, without NFL Football as competitor on Tuesday Nights, could never get above 3.0 million in viewership. In fact, from 2016-2018, Smackdown has only beat RAW once and that was on a night where RAW was abnormally low and Smackdown had John Cena making a big return. In fact, if AJ Styles could draw above 2.7 million during 2016, they might have kept him in the WWE Title scene… Nope, he was wrestling for the United States Title for a while.

I love watching AJ Styles as an in-ring competitor, possibly my favorite… But he’s a 40 year old whose height at 5’11 has made him into a more aerial style wrestler. Sometimes, he’s a bit too reliant on the spot moves… His ability sell is what sets him apart from other wrestlers his size. What hurts AJ Styles, however, is a lack of charisma and just being OK on cutting promos. There’s just nothing that is too captivating about his character and the WWE refuses (same thing with Kevin Owens) to promote what a good family man he is as his character. That would draw because with the WWE’s audience from the late 1990s now older themselves, they could relate… It’s quite difficult to work in the WWE and raise a family with a loving wife who is willing to sacrifice.

Then, there is Shinsuke Nakamura… I WANT to like this guy… I’m trying. If you read my NXT Takeover Dallas review where he fought Sami Zayn, I gave it 5 stars and it became my 2016 “Match of the Year” without hesitation. LOVED that match… But after that match, it seemed to go downhill after that. As Nakamura went through the WWE filter of toning down the stiffer kicks/knees, his in-ring match quality diminished. He joined the WWE during 2017 and he couldn’t get a good match going with Dolph Ziggler. That is mind blowing… I can understand struggling with Baron Corbin and Jinder Mahal, but Dolph? And his match with John Cena was just OK and almost injured Cena by dropping him on his head. Nakamura has good size, a good look, lots of charisma… Language barrier hurts his promos, however… That’s just one weakness that the WWE could creatively cover. However, being unable to adjust to the WWE’s in-ring style will harm his progress as a draw.

Oh, and Nakamura is about to turn 38 years old.

I know that AJ Styles is a great wrestler… We’ve seen 2 amazing years of in-ring material on display. But a drawing personality? It’s just not happening ALTHOUGH losing non-title matches as WWE champion hasn’t helped. Repeated non-title losses, too.

Nakamura, however… The in-ring woes adjusting to the WWE lighter style could be too much to overcome. After all, the WWE wants you to work 250 dates a year. WWE wants you healthy enough to work on those houseshows in addition to televised events. In addition, make many promotional appearances… WWE needs to hire a language coach to enhance Nakamura’s promo abilities OR given him a manager to speak on his behalf. That’s what managers are for although WWE sees managers as an additional cost. How much have we heard Brock Lesnar speak in the last 6 years? Not much because Paul Heyman speaks for him.

IF Shinsuke Nakamura can (a) adjust to the WWE in-ring style and (b) figure out a way to communicate his character to fans, then MAYBE he could become a draw. One “great” match at Wrestlemania 34 won’t cure that in one night… You need consistency.

What WWE is missing is their inability to communicate WHO and WHERE Shinsuke Nakamura is to the WWE fans. He just appeared in NXT one day and then appeared in the WWE when he debuted there. WWE makes no effort to advertise where Nakamura came from or what made him a wrestler worthy enough to win a Royal Rumble match. Nothing… WWE just assumes that all fans will hear that awesome theme music and get in line. WRONG. WWE’s storytelling to introduce wrestlers to the main roster has been way off for years… EVERYBODY debuts as a Main Event challenger now instead of starting low on the midcard and working their way up. For Christ’s sake, it has been LESS THAN A YEAR for Nakamura on the WWE main roster and he has already won the Royal Rumble match to earn a #1 World Title contendership at Wrestlemania 34.

I have repeatedly ripped the WWE for pushing the likes of Sheamus, Miz, Jinder Mahal, Jack Swagger, and Alberto Del Rio too fast to the World Title… Well, Shinsuke Nakamura could deserve to be in that grouping if he does NOT improve his in-ring adjustment to the WWE style!.

It could be easily argued that Shinsuke Nakamura vs. AJ Styles will “steal the show” at Wrestlemania 34 although I wonder how much time Vince will allow them to execute a match. Their New Japan Wrestle Kingdom 10 match that everybody raves about was almost 25 minutes long and it was action packed for the entire time. I’m sure that both will unleash the more stiffer New Japan style even if WWE management advises them to be safe inside the ring. Either way, we can assume that it will be a good to great match and likely to “steal the show”.

So? So what if it “steals the show”. What does “stealing the show” get you? REMEMBER, in the wrestling world, it’s NOT just the in-ring ability that draws. In order to become a WWE Main Eventer who draws, you must have:
(a) Charisma.
(b) Magnetic personality.
(c) Good communication skills.
(d) Nice look, preferably 6 feet tall or more.
(e) Have a gimmick that is an exaggerated extension of you and not a manufactured character that does not fit.
(d) In-ring ability that has convincing psychology.

Many Wrestlemania matches on the undercard have “stolen the show” but what have they mattered long-term. Let me give you a few examples.

Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat – Wrestlemania 3
Easily argued as the BEST match of Wrestlemania 3 and possibly the best in-ring match seen on televised wrestling to that point (1987). However, it was a midcard match fighting over the Intercontinental Title. What packed the Pontiac Silverdome with 78,000 to 93,000 fans (depending on who you believe) for Wrestlemania 3 was Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant. Their match wasn’t technically great but the impact of the characters involved made people CARE beyond the match. After Hulk Hogan beat Andre, fans wanted MORE of Hulk vs. Andre. In fact, that helped build the first ever Survivor Series during 1987, a huge rematch at a weekend Main Event show between Hulk & Andre (Andre won the WWE Title), hyped showdown at Wrestlemania 4, and then hyping SummerSlam 1988.

As much as I love Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat… FACT is that fans weren’t beating down the WWE’s doors to see more of Steamboat. In fact, his opponent “Macho Man” Randy Savage went on to do bigger and better things without the Intercontinental Title. As soon as Savage was turned babyface with Miss Elizabeth, he became a strong babyface draw and convinced WWE management that he was worthy to win the WWE Title at Wrestlemania 4. Steamboat would later resurface in NWA/WCW during early 1989 and though those matches against Ric Flair were great, they didn’t draw as well as they could. In fact, the famous 2 out of 3 Falls match Clash of the Champions event in New Orleans drew poorly and Steamboat fell quickly down the card after his Flair feud.

TLC Matches – Edge/Christian vs. Dudleys vs. Hardy Boyz – Wrestlemanias 16 & 17
As great as the TLC matches were at Wrestlemanias 16 and 17 (yes, I know that 16 wasn’t “technically” a TLC match, but it involved Tables, Ladders, and Chairs), it took YEARS for Matt Hardy, Jeff Hardy, Christian, and Edge to get respect as singles wrestlers. In fact, many of them were stuck in the Tag Team division longer than intended before getting any shots to become top singles wrestlers. It almost took the exits of many wrestlers like Rock, Austin, Foley, older WCW wrestlers (Goldberg, Hogan, Nash, Steiner), and even Brock Lesnar during 2004 to clear the path for those wrestlers to get any pushes. Hell, I’d argue that Edge got his first real World Title following the heat of the Lita/Matt/Edge love triangle.

Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels – Wrestlemania 21
In my opinion, Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels IS the best ever in-ring Wrestlemania match from a technical standpoint. It’s absurdly good that captured 2 wrestlers in their in-ring primes going at it for the first time. After that, we had another fantastic Pay Per View match up… But what about after that? Kurt Angle’s WWE career kinda struggled after that. Granted, he had some personal problems but his star power didn’t grow beyond what it was after Wrestlemania 21. Same for Shawn Michaels… Always good for a great Wrestlemania match but his star power never exceeded where he always was on the RAW brand.

The ONLY true example of an undercard match that “stole the show” where someone blossomed into a legit Main Event superstar because of that match was Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin during Wrestlemania 13. That was NOT just because of the amazing match that both put on but the STORY that both wrestlers told. Heading into that match, Bret Hart was the babyface and Stone Cold Steve Austin was the heel. By the end of the match, both wrestlers SWITCHED roles! Because of the match’s result where Steve Austin only lost because of blood loss, he not only became a babyface but a sympathetic one to fans. By the following Wrestlemania (14), he became WWE Champion and grew the business like wildfire after that.

In order for Shinsuke Nakamura vs. AJ Styles to succeed BEYOND Wrestlemania 34, something special from a STORYTELLING STANDPOINT has to happen to benefit either AJ Styles as retaining champion or Shinsuke Nakamura in a losing effort or becoming champion. Can’t just have a “great match” that “steals the show”. You need to HOOK fans in through other conventional means such as psychology, charsima, pushing a “sense of urgency” to win that match, or convincing fans that they are watching something real. Having a solid, great match won’t be enough if AJ Styles and/or Shinsuke Nakamura want to remain in the WWE’s Main Event scene long-term. They have to give the WWE more to work with.

Remember, Star Ratings for the WWE doesn’t draw money… Being healthy to work 250 dates does… Being able to cut convincing promos and doing other non-wrestling things to hype future matches does. Selling merchandise and packing houses for houseshows does.

As much as I rip Roman Reigns, I GET why the WWE is pushing him so hard to become their #1 babyface. They are trying to manufacture him into another John Cena who can do non-wrestling things as a Corporate spokesman for the WWE. They are trying to show that Roman has a personality, can cut promos, and can have convincing in-ring matches… But, he just doesn’t have any of that for most of the time. Vince McMahon loves his look and thinks that he is “the guy”… As much as I disagree with WHO was selected to be Cena’s replacement, I *get* why the WWE is trying to craft Reigns into the top guy. In case you haven’t noticed, Reigns gets through his match without much effort and doesn’t rely on death defying spots or stiff shots. In fact, he’s a very safe wrestler to work against.

I KNOW that AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura will be a great match… Pretty obvious based on their previous match in New Japan. But the folks over at 205 Live have had many good-to-great matches and they aren’t drawing… TNA wrestling using to have great matches but they weren’t drawing. Ring of Honor has good matches but they aren’t drawing as they should. Why? Because you need MORE than just in-ring stuff. What you do when you’re NOT wrestling is equally, if not more, important than the in-ring wrestling stuff.

That, and performing in-ring moves is one thing but performing PSYCHOLOGY to engage fans emotionally is another.

By the way, Smackdown Live has had 2 weeks of viewership declines since Royal Rumble 2018. I don’t believe that many WWE fans were as excited for Shinsuke Nakamura winning the WWE title than what many Internet wrestling fans want you to believe. WWE started the year with viewership numbers of 2.6 to 2.7 million and the last 2 weeks following the Rumble have seen viewership under 2.6 million fans. Not a good sign after Nakamura’s big win.

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TRIPLE H to ‘SAVE’ 205 Live?

Speaking of 205 Live… Reportedly, Vince McMahon is stepping down from overseeing the production of that show and is handing it off to Triple H. GREAT NEWS… Based on what I’ve seen from NXT during 2014-2017, 205 Live could be in good hands. Can’t get any worse…

In my opinion, though, the WWE has to move away from 205 Live airing AFTER Smackdown. That’s just insane. It needs to be taped BEFORE Smackdown or maybe consider taping it elsewhere. After watching 2 hours of Main Roster WWE action, fans are exhausted.

Vince McMahon has a firm grip on RAW & Smackdown and that’s not changing. He’s already said that when XFL begins during 2020, he’ll still try to manage both.

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WWE FINANCIAL RESULTS – 2017

Because the WWE offers shares of ownership traded on the Stock Market, they are REQUIRED by the Securities Exchange Commission to publish their Quarterly (10-Q) and Annual (10-K) results to the public for fair information made available to investors. If you want to read the report for yourself, Click Here.

Just to give you my own financial opinion over the WWE’s 2017 results, here are some of the highlights of the report that I noticed:

– TELEVISION Cash Remains King… WWE made $270 Million during 2017 for television revenues and that owns 33.7% of the WWE’s revenue stream. Even though many are cutting the cords, television deals are still important. Just in the United States alone, the WWE makes between $175 to $200 million with the Comcast/NBC/Universal deal. Hence why it’s very important to obtain another deal during 2019 when the current 5 year deal expires.

– WWE NETWORK costs continue to reduce and revenues continue to climb. It’s doing well…

– LIVE EVENTS are even on cost margins (Revenues – Costs). Considering that WWE raised prices on live events, the revenues rolling in are a bit inflated. Attendance numbers for United States events are down during 2017 on average versus last year. Also realize that 2017 had a full year of the brand extension and had more shows.

Mostly good news for the WWE… My worries remain for the FUTURE of the WWE. We’re still reliant on older wrestlers and nostalgia while continually pushing the WRONG guys to the top. The declines in Attendance combined with the 2019 Television Deal expiration will shape the WWE’s future. With John Cena leaving soon for good, the WWE has to come up with a valid babyface replacement. WWE wants it to be Roman Reigns, but so far, the fans don’t like him. To me, losing 1 million+ RAW viewers since the 2014 television deal was signed is troubling. Trying to restart the XFL is also troubling.

SO JUST CHILL… ‘TIL THE NEXT EPISODE!

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