Wrestling, like any other storytelling medium, needs to be properly paced. Episodes need to flow well, as do long-term narrative arcs. If it’s too fast, people won’t connect and enjoy the story, but if it’s too slow, people get bored. While I do want to explore WWE’s pacing by episode, for this article I will explore their pacing for long term feuds.
WWE’s feuds can be frustratingly slow. When WWE gets a hold of a feud that they think has even a small amount of power to draw an audience, they hammer it dead into the ground. Let’s take a look at a recent example to see exactly how this plays out in practice: the Mysterio family vs Seth Rollins.
This feud began in May, when Seth first “sacrificed” Rey by shoving his eye onto the stairs. There were three big PPV events for this feud, starting with an “Eye For an Eye” match at Extreme Rules in July. Seth would go on to have a match against Rey’s son, Dominik, at SummerSlam in August. There was another match with Seth, Dominik, and Rey again at Payback. However, the feud didn’t end there, as the Mysterio family and Seth would interact up until November. And this isn’t including their feud in December of 2019.
Of course, the real issue isn’t the length of the feud — a well-written feud can last months and still feel fresh. Who doesn’t love long term booking? You know, the kind of booking with a slow simmering feud. You can’t be told a week before a PPV that “these two really hate each other” and expect a lot of people to really buy into it, so you need some sort of long, over-arching narrative build for a feud to feel good.
So what’s wrong in the case of Mysterio and Rollins? Well, it comes back to the thing that truly makes WWE feuds feel like they go on forever: repetition. Feuds that build over a long time are exciting, unless you watch that feud again and again every week with no breaks. People look forward to special events that come only once a year, not something that happens every week.
And oh boy does WWE make sure you watch the same feuds again and again. During the entire Rollins/Mysterio feud, we got nothing but interactions between Seth and Rey in some form. Again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again. My point being, for those seven months, Seth and the Mysterio family were interacting with each other every time they were on screen. Even when one of them is interacting with someone else it would involve the other one somehow.
Just look at how often New Day and The Revival feuded. Granted the matches themselves were never not good, but the feuds never felt of any consequence. Or look at Lacey Evans vs. Becky Lynch in 2019. The two faced each other in the ring eight times over the course of ten weeks. Eight! Or take a look at AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura in 2018, which saw the two meet in the ring nine times over three months.
It’s as if WWE is scared viewers won’t be able to remember anything if they are not reminded of it weekly. It sure doesn’t help either that the Rey/Seth feud essentially started with the Eye For an Eye match — when the stakes are that high right from the get-go, there’s no real way to escalate the feud from there.
But honestly, when feuds go on too long this is bound to happen. Take for example the Baron Corbin/Roman Reigns feud (the infamous “dog food feud”). It seemed finally to culminate at the Royal Rumble, but then continued even past then. Mind you, it still was pretty bad by the time it reached that point, but the fact it continued after the Falls Count Anywhere match made the feud go from bad to terrible.
Or take a feud like The Miz and Shane McMahon in 2019. The feud was honestly well done and I loved it, up until WrestleMania. While not a good end to the feud, it had no right to continue, and yet it did for another two months resulting in the same outcome, with Shane accidently winning again and again.
These aren’t some back-burner, curtain-jerking feuds, either — these are all fairly high profile feuds with some of the biggest stars in the company. While they didn’t all main event PPVs, they dominated the main events of Raw and SmackDown every week. These were the feuds that WWE held up for all to see.
It’s obvious how this sort of thing takes root within the main card: WWE relies on consistency. They are more than content to replay the same thing again and again, afraid of change. This applies to both the long term and the short term. In this case, when they find a feud that works (or that they think works) they will continue to push it. Much like a network sitcom, WWE feuds push way past their expiration dates.
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