This weekend the WWE will venture down under to host the biggest pro wrestling show Australia has ever seen, the WWE Super Show-Down. It will be a historic event for pro wrestling in my home country but there are a number of issues that suggest this may not be the success the WWE hopes it will be and worrying long term trends in the booking of these international stadium shows.
Firstly though, the positive, it is amazing that Australian fans are being treated to the closest experience many of us will ever get to Wrestlemania. Australia is quite literally on the other side of the world to the USA, so a WWE PPV or even just a TV taping is a 20 hour plus, thousand dollar venture before we even get into the arena. If UK fans see themselves as the ‘little brother’ to their US counterparts, then us Aussies are the awkward, red haired step-child. But that doesn’t mean we don’t love our wrestling.
We are a country with a proud if not largely forgotten wrestling history and a burgeoning indy scene. In Melbourne in the 60s and 70s, audiences used to pack out Festival Hall to watch World Championship Wrestling (no relation to the US based company) where local legend Mario Milano would wrestle the likes of Abdullah the Butcher, Killer Kowalski and even Dusty Rhodes. WCW was broadcast around the country on free-to-air TV and would draw an average attendance of 6,500 with a peak of 20,000 fans at its biggest shows.
Sadly the cancellation of free-to-air tv coverage by Channel Nine in 1978 in favour of World Series Cricket would see the country’s biggest promotion face financial ruin and the local wrestling scene hanging by a thread. However a dedicated few hung on and just like in American & the UK recent years have seen a growth in the local indy scene, with the epicentre of the movement being in Melbourne. It is from this scene that the likes of Tenille Dashwood (previously Emma), The Iconics and Buddy Murphy caught the eyes of the WWE Performance Center and others such as Robbie Eagles, Toni Storm and Gino Gambino have made international names for themselves. Hell, my favourite match of all time, Syd Parker v Falco was at my local indy fed Hunter Valley Wrestling (but more about that match another day).
The best us fans down under get from the WWE though is a once a year tour that brings fun matches but very few of the elements that the WWE has made synonymous with its presentation of big events. No meaningful championship matches where the title might actually change hands, no LED ramp or ring board and certainly no Titantron, the house shows I have attended didn’t even have a screen showing the matches for those in the nosebleeds despite it being in a close to sold out 10,000 seat arena. While that level of presentation would be acceptable at any indy show, one thing you wouldn’t seen even at the local bingo hall is a merch table only offering ‘Limited Edition’ Australian Tour T-Shirts. Oh and if you want to buy official merch from the online WWE store and have it sent to Australia, that will be $20AUD in shipping thanks.
All of this is not to cry poor but to show how exciting and meaningful it is to have a Mania level event coming to our shores. We are a country of only 25 million so our market is a drop in the bucket of the 300 million plus people that live in the States but we have a dedicated fan base crying out for an event like The Super Show-Down.
Make no mistake though, this is an incredibly ambitious venture for the WWE. Last weekend the stadium hosting Super Show-Down, the MCG, set an attendance record of 100,022 people for the AFL Grand Final. Some of the stadium will be cordoned off for the backstage area but once floor seating is added in it will still be one of the biggest shows the WWE has ever held. To give the WWE their due, they have picked a perfect date for the event; the AFL & Rugby League seasons have just finished and our main summer sport, cricket, has not started up yet either so the calendar is clear of other major sporting events that would draw potential crowds away. It is also school holidays in every state so parents will be looking for something to do with their children.
However, while there has been lots of build up on Raw and Smackdown, local marketing has not exactly been setting the place on fire. I live over a thousand kilometres away from Melbourne so I hardly expected to see anyone’s face on the side of my local bus but when I spoke to friends who live in the centre of Melbourne they were unaware the event was even happening, no billboards, no local radio, no signage. Granted they are not wrestling fans so they weren’t looking out for anything but even if there is something down there, it has hardly caught the eye.
Local media appearances have been minimal as well. AJ Styles and Carmella did the rounds on local TV and radio earlier this year but since then I have not seen anything in the local media about this show beyond a few token news articles when it was announced. Given how the WWE completely plasterers the town for a Wrestlemania week it does make me wonder just how seriously they are taking this venture. Of course they would know exactly how many local Network subscribers they have that would be likely to attend the show but you just aren’t going to sell out a 100,000 seat stadium without attracting a sizeable casual crowd.
The WWE has of course pulled out a few of its tricks to bring in the punters. A slightly balding John Cena will be pairing with Bobby Lashley in a tag match, they have wheeled The Undertaker and Triple H out for their second ‘last time ever’ match, the card is sprinkled with potentially world title altering matches and you can expect local heroes Buddy Murphy and The Iconics to get a raucous reception despite being heels.
However after The Greatest Royal Rumble saw zero significant title changes and the result of the main matches quickly forgotten, it is easy to wonder if matches as seemingly important as Daniel Bryan and The Miz for the WWE Championship Number One Contender slot will have results that match the proposed stakes. This is a match that could have long term implications, particularly if you subscribe to the Daniel Bryan v The Miz at Wrestlemania theory but will it just get rerun when they have nothing else for either of the men at their next ‘mega house show’, The Crown Jewel?
And that brings me to Triple H v The Undertaker, the last, last time or if reports are correct, the match before the last, last, last time. At this point the WWE is like an old rock band rolling out their greatest hits from the past to pack out these giant international stadiums. I understand it too, I went to see the Foo Fighters play earlier this year and while I was happy to hear them play Run and The Sky is a Neighbourhood off their most recent album, I really went to see them play Everlong, My Hero, Time Like These and their other past hits.
But the WWE isn’t a band and this current trend of booking old stars of yesteryear to sell out Wrestlemania and these stadiums is going to turn itself into a long term problem for the company. In rock music no bands that came to prominence before the mid 00s have been able to build a fan base that can fill these places. Older crowds would prefer to go back to the bands they loved when they were young and the younger fans have mostly moved on from rock music to other genres or completely different mediums like Youtube or Video Gaming. While the old bands that can sell out stadiums don’t need to look beyond the next 10 or so years, the WWE has to still be putting on shows like this in 10, 20 or 30 years time, when these older part time stars are just not going to be able to get in the ring.
To speak in purely business terms, for the WWE to make stars of the next generation, the current generation have to first be made into stars so they can pass the baton onward. That simply cannot happen when part timers who will not be able to wrestle the next generation are still presented as being the biggest stars in the company. After Cena v Triple H at The Greatest Royal Rumble, Triple H v Taker here and the rumours for The Crown Jewel, the WWE seems to be only doubling down on a policy that I firmly believe is completely stunting the development of the current generation of wrestlers. It is a policy that will mean the next generation and wrestlers that come after them will never be able to build up the kind of popularity and name recognition that can put 50,000+ people into an arena.
I am immensely proud and excited that my home country is hosting this gigantic show but I want the WWE to come back to the MCG again in the future. I want them to come to the Allianz Stadium in Sydney and the Gabba in Brisbane. I want to be able to take my daughter along to a giant show like this one day if for no other reason than I’m missing going to this one because of her imminent arrival.
So while I will be watching Super Show-Down this weekend, I will be watching it with my fingers crossed that the WWE’s own indifference and lack of true vision doesn’t make it the last time they venture onto the turf of the MCG.
Thanks for reading today, let me know what you think of the Super Show-Down in the comments below, on Twitter @Sir_Samuel or you can let me know on the LOP Forums (you can sign up right here). I will also be a special guest on LOP Radio’s Aftershock straight after the Super Show-Down so make sure you tune in!
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