When news broke of Vince McMahon retiring from the company he created, questions and theories began to populate the minds and keyboards of wrestling fandom. Who would run the show? For the first time in a long time, fans began to feel optimistic about something they loved and was perhaps lost. Fans felt hope.
Shortly after the dust settled, Triple H was confirmed to be the man in charge of creative in WWE. Fans exhaled a sigh of relief. NXT was the height of the industry for a handful of years with Hunter at the helm. And right when it felt like everything in his career seemed to be torn away, the King of Kings is back where he belongs: in charge. So, what should we expect?
It was fair to give Triple H a bit of a breather and afford the situation context before diving into a piece about what we want to see implimented in the weekly programs. But now we’re here. A couple Raws, a SmackDown or two, and the second biggest premium live event of the year in the rearview, what do we want from Hunter?
Give People Their Names Back
Let’s start with something light: names. Give them their damn names back. For some reason Vince McMahon in his old age decided to just take away first or last names of wrestlers. And I’m not talking about altering a name upon a call-up from NXT, but completley axing a name in half. Austin Theory is now simply Theory. Yes, because that sounds like the name of a human being. It’s small, yes, but Riddle isn’t a name; Matt Riddle is.
Renewed Focus on Secondary Titles
Despite needing to book two nights of WrestleMania this spring, neither the Intercontinental nor United Sates titles were defended. In fact, the IC title hasn’t been defended at a premium live event since last year’s WrestleMania. The US strap has fared slightly better, but not necesarily by leaps and bounds.
Bruce Prichard always said these championships were props in a story. Okay, fair enough. But you have to make them worth investing in. Why are we supposed to care if management doesn’t? That’s been a long-term issue within WWE’s philosophy, and one Triple H needs to address. Make these titles mean something.
If the world title scene is going to continue to be occupied, for better or worse, by wrestlers not performing every week, the secondary titles need to be a sought-after achievement. This past week’s Monday Night Raw was a good omen in this department, seeing three matches, three backstage interviews, and a video package highlighting its prestige lay the groundwork needed to prop up the US championship.
Emphasis on Wrestling
Now we’re getting into the thick of it. How does Hunter’s vision of pro wrestling really differ from Vince’s? One obvious example would be the types of wrestlers Hunter pushed in NXT, and how that clashed with McMahon’s preferred options. Once these wrestlers graduated onto the main roster, some of Hunter’s boys and girls struggled to live up to what Vince saw in a sports entertainer.
This issue boiled and came to a head, leading to drastic changes to WWE’s developmental system. NXT had changed from a pure meat-and-potatoes style of developmental to a hybrid of traditional develoment along side world-class independent wrestling. Triple H’s NXT birthed a great era of pro wrestling with its quarterly TakeOver specials, but failed to mesh with Vince’s stubborn approach. So it was scratched.
But that’s all ancient history now that Hunter is in charge. We immediately saw his booking philosophy when IYO SKY and Dakota Kai debuted at SummerSlam. And again the next night when Ciampa (see ”Give People Their Names Back” above) went from resident stooge to defeating Chad Gable, Dolph Ziggler, and AJ Styles in one night to earn a shot at US Champion and current freight train Bobby Lashley. Ciampa is a Triple H guy, and the new leader wasted no time in letting everyone know things are going to be different moving forward.
Hunter showed a preference for ring acumen over aesthetics when he captained the ship in NXT. Now, obviously, in pro wrestling there needs to be a balance. An array of body types and wrestling styles need to be on display for a wrestling show to scratch every itch. But Hunter knows that. Vince did, too, but was too stubborn to change.
Perhaps the most important aspect of WWE creative Triple H can improve is the consistency. Last week Wade Keller and Zach Heydorn of PWTorch spoke about potential changes WWE could undertake with Hunter at the helm, and how some may be slower moving as a way to show Wall Street that WWE is still a smoothly moving ship. But consistency in storytelling is something that can be done well, subtle, and quiet.
There are plenty of stories over the years of Vince McMahon nixing attempts at continuity by claiming that ”nobody will remember that.” You’d think, after 40 yeas on the job, he would have known that pro wrestling fans remember everything. We spend most of our free time thinking about wrestling, listening to podcasts about it, and, because of the vast amount that is on television these days, watching the product.
But despite the passion, fans often have their intelligence insulted and their loyalty not rewarded with inconsistent storylines. Now, yes, this is ultimately fiction, and in pro wrestling you can make up the rules as you go along to fit your narrative. But there has to be consistency in the way you tell stories week to week, and with a foundation of trust with your fans.
Triple H reveres wrestling. He’s proven himself to care about the details and reward fans for paying attention. Despite who he pushes or what kind of stories he wishes to tell, Hunter has a responsibility to present us with a consistent and well thought out creative moving forward.
Something tells me he will.
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