Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Title’s the Thing

John Cena’s torn pectoral tendon is in the short term the worst possible news for World Wrestling Entertainment. Cena is far and away the company’s most valuable asset, and his departure leaves a major hole in the company’s planning. With that said, WWE should not bemoan the situation nor should it go into panic mode. The injury could in fact prove to be a blessing in disguise.

Following Cena’s injury, speculation has centered on who should be the next champion. This has been a major topic of conversation on the internet, and no doubt within WWE as well. The focus for most has been on whom to push. To me, that focus is misplaced. Rather than viewing this as a chance to build stars, WWE should focus on this as an opportunity to build the title.

WWE business in the past year has been a mixed bag. House show business has been strong, largely as a reflection of Cena’s star power. Cena’s departure will almost certainly hurt house show business in the short term, no matter how WWE proceeds. Pay-per-view business, on the other hand, has been on a severe decline. That decline reflects WWE’s inability to get people to pay to see specific matches. And that is where WWE may be able to profit from Cena’s departure.

John Cena has held the WWE title longer than anyone in almost twenty years. But WWE never was able to translate that into making title matches meaningful on pay-per-view. Cena relinquishing the title without losing it in the ring was unplanned, but it is a perfect way to end such a long reign. Built up correctly, Cena’s return can revitalize the significance of the championship.

Titles were meaningful historically in professional wrestling because they signified who was the best. In recent years, WWE has been so haphazard with match results that the title is more a prop than anything else. Randy Orton has been fighting for the title for almost three months despite rarely winning matches on television. Title challengers aren’t protected leading up to their title shots, and the lack of long term booking leaves the title feeling empty.

All of these problems can be combated over the period of Cena’s injury. Cena when he gives up the title will have a claim to being the best. Everyone knows he is WWE’s top star, and that he held the title for a very long time without losing it. When he comes back, he will have a claim to the championship.

Likewise, the individual who holds the title in the interim will have a claim to being the best. It is imperative that person hold the title from now until Cena returns, fending off all challengers. That sets up the most simple and effective of title programs. Two men have legitimate claim to being the best, and each can only prove his supremacy by defeating the other. That is a dynamic that has been missing for ages, and that WWE can rekindle over the next year.

So how do we get there? The first step is making John Cena’s relinquishment of the title as dramatic and sad of a moment as possible. Cena needs to show up on Sunday if at all possible to provide the visual of coming out and handing over the title that means so much to him. He needs to be completely and utterly devastated, in a scene so depressing that even some of the people booing him will feel guilty.

They should tease not only that Cena is out, but that he may never be able to return. A promo where Cena vows to win back the title would be counterproductive. The moment needs to be as somber as possible. They then need to replay that video every other week until he returns, throwing in occasional updates that talk about “setbacks” in the recovery that create doubt as to if he can return.

The question then turns to who should be the new champion. I think a number of choices would make sense, but it has to be a heel. A face champion would make the fans happy even with Cena gone, but this is precisely the point when the fans shouldn’t be happy. That’s the whole key to making his return impactful. I like the dynamic of a guy turning heel in winning the title. That will anger the fans even more. They thought their guy was going to win the title, but he wasn’t their guy at all.

That would make either Triple H or Chris Jericho the best choice. Both are effective heels, and are also over enough as faces that one turning on the other would get serious heat. Vince McMahon orders a fatal four-way with Randy Orton, Triple H, Umaga and a mystery opponent, Chris Jericho. The heels Umaga and Orton are eliminated first, leaving the fans excited about a face-face finale. One turns heel on the other to take the title, and continues to defend successfully until Cena returns.

In order for this dynamic to work, WWE needs to be patient between now and Cena’s return. They need to slowly build up that match, even if short term indicators are bad. Frequent vignettes should remind fans that Cena lost the title without being defeated, and the heel champion should regularly taunt Cena. Hopefully, when the program reaches its peak, you not only have a monster one time buy rate, but you have reinvested fans in the title to where you can start raising future buy rates as well.

8 Comments:

Anonymous themasterbater said...

Todd I think your point is pretty good but face it, WWE usually screws everything up at this point. I don't care if there is a fatal four way, three way, six way or whatever (I really think there should be a tournament but hey thats my opinion) but anyways my point is it doesn't really matter what they have because HHH will get the title regardless. This is an opportunity to get his 100th selfish title reign. And once again the WWE will drop the ball again.

6:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nobody's career is in jeopardy over a torn pec. This should freshen his character up though.

7:42 AM  
Anonymous Charlie Kane said...

I think your scenario is utterly logical and smart, which tells me that it won't happen. I think it'd be foolish not to put Jericho into the mix ASAP, as the fans will be so glad to see him back, and he'll be such a breath of fresh air in an entirely stagnant lineup, that the short term loss of Cena won't hurt business as much. The only thing is, if Jericho comes in as a heel, which he really seems to enjoy much more, outside of HHH, I don't know who the face competition would be for him. It's unlikely that Levesque would put over Jericho, if history tells us anything, and while I find Hunter to be a miserable face and a great heel, turning him now, out of the blue, wouldn't make much sense at all. Jericho left as a chickenshit heel, so there's no reason he can't come back as one. But, then what? It takes Orton out of the mix, Kennedy out of the mix, and leaves Jeff Hardy and...? I really agree with the scenario, but I'm just not sure where you go the day after the PPV. I also agree with the fellow who wants a tournament..I think that would help make Raw much more compelling television than it has been for a long while. I might even watch it for more than 3 minutes. If Cena is out for 6-8 months, that means Mania is likely his comeback. Will they put the belt on Orton or Y2J for that long, while Levesque paces the locker room picking out guys to bury in his anger? I just can't see it. Maybe YTJ gets the hotshot, and HHH goes heel to take it off of him..setting up what I'd guess was the plan for Mania all along. I dunno. Maybe they'll just put the belt on Hacksaw Duggan and leave it at that.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Todd Martin said...

HHH is unquestionably selfish, but he's a good performer and I think he could be effective as an 8 month heel champion to feud with Cena. Plus, as a heel he feels less need to win these ridiculous handicap matches and beat 8 people at once.

It doesn't matter if Cena's career isn't in jeopardy - you can tell that story effectively anyway. Worked for JYD with a whole lot less serious "injury."

I agree there is a thin face roster right now, but Lashley and Michaels will come back. So you've got HHH/Jericho, Jeff, Lashley and HBK as challengers and that can carry you six months. By then you hopefully have a new star that can do a program, or move someone from Smackdown.

1:00 PM  
Anonymous Charlie Kane said...

Yeah, I'd forgotten about HBK, and Lashley for that matter. I do hope that WWE goes at least near your idea...I think putting the belt on, say, Orton is just asking for it right now. I don't think the fans see him as a credible champion, despite the fact that he's actually been one. I can't remember the last time I actually saw him win a match. I also agree with you that Hunter doesn't seem to overkill his invincibility aura when he's a heel--he's smart enough to know that, eventually, the bad guy must fall. In an odd way, however, I actually think that this injury to Cena is good for him in the long wrong...he'd grown beyond stale, and the fans needed a break from him as this had gotten really Hogan-esque. I'd bet that, in his own mind, he is welcoming the break, too, as he'd really been worked hard over the last few years. I still like Cena, for what it's worth, but his title reign was feeling endless, until the inevitable drop to HHH. Now, it may be a chance for somebody else to establish themselves, if they're allowed to do so. I am a bit concerned, however, that you seem to have dismissed my desire to see Duggan get the strap for a long, Sammartino-like run. That's the definition of a money earner.
Of course, we all know that if Russo still had the book, there'd be little question that the next champ would be Hornswoggle.

3:36 PM  
Anonymous Dave S. said...

I like your idea, but I think it can work with a face champion just as well, if not better. I actually think the Undertaker is going to end up winning the title on Sunday, and if he is kept strong for 8 months (which I'm sure he would be), the eventual match against Cena will be huge.

Other than the Taker, it seems like HHH and Orton are the only 2 realistic choices to be champ. There is no way they are going to have Jericho win the title out of the blue on his first night back after 2 years out of the ring. He should (and will) be in the main event picture immediately, but he can't win the title that fast.

Anyway, my money is on the Taker, since he really has no place in the Smackdown title picture right now, and USA apparently wants him on Raw. He can easily slide into Cena's main event spot, and will actually seem fresh because he hasn't been on Raw regularly in years.

4:07 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

This could be exactly what Cena needs. Lord knows his character was incredibly stale. Maybe with 6 months to a year off, Cena can come back and get some more respect from the fans.

1:08 AM  
Blogger GERATAZZ said...

NOTHING AGAINST HBK,TRIPLE H AND JERICHO.BUT I THINK VINCE SHOULD BE SCREWED OVER AND THIS TIME REAL GOOD.AND WHO BETTER THAN STONE COLD.I THINK STONE COLD SHOULD HIGHLIGHT WRESTLEMANIA FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP BELT.RANDY ORTON vs STONE COLD. BUT NOW BACK TO HOW TO LEAD TO WRESTLMANIA.HAVE ORTON WIN AND ENTER WRESTLEMANIA AS CHAMP AND LEGEND KILLER.DURING HIS REIGN,FINALLY CALL OUT SOMEONE TO DESTROY AND OUT COMES STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN A TRUE LEGEND.THE THING IS AT WRESTLEMANIA STONE COLD WINS THE BELT AND SAYS THAT HE'S RETIRING BUT BEFORE HE RETIRES,HE LIKE TO CALL SOMEONE OUT.ITS JOHN CENA.STONE COLD SAYS YOU LEFT AS CHAMPION AND YOUR STILL CHAMPION (HANDING HIM THE BELT).VINCE COMES OUT AND SAYS YOU STONE COLD HAVE NO AUTHORITY,AND ANOTHER VOICE (LINDA MCMAHON)SAYS BUT I DO,NEW CHAMP CENA.STONE COLD SHAKES CENAS HAND AND STUNS VINCE. BEER TIME. JUST A DREAM

11:42 AM  

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