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WWE booking is often maligned as the one aspect that holds the entire company back. Despite a strong roster, it can feel like WWE does not know what to do with anyone in the long term.
This isn’t entirely true. WWE has strengths in its booking that focus on promoting key talent and keeping fans invested in those stars. This results in noticeable variety for its leading names, built around a consistent pay-per-view schedule.
This does not excuse the key weaknesses, though. WWE certainly has an inconsistency problem where stories rise then disappear, especially outside the main event. The pacing combined with a rigid structure also make some shows hard to watch, even when the individual stories are strong.
The booking of WWE is built on the idea that the stars matter most, and this can lead to many falling through the cracks. That balancing act is what leaves mixed feelings for fans while following WWE shows.
The hope is WWE officials learn from mistakes and capitalize on triumphs. It’s important to focus on the strengths of booking while managing the weaknesses.
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Few companies promote a top star quite like WWE. When someone is seen as a top act, it is clear to everyone. The company keeps them front and center, and they often get multiple segments on every show.
This is how Roman Reigns was clearly established as the top star after the demise of The Shield. Even when fans were frustrated with his heavy promotion, WWE did not waver in keeping The Big Dog at the center of the product.
That has paid off in certain ways thanks to his show-stealing work these days as The Tribal Chief. He is clearly more comfortable in this role, but all the credibility he built has made it obvious just how much higher he is on the totem pole than most stars.
Drew McIntyre and Bray Wyatt have benefited from this focus as well. Since their respective rises to prominence, every story they are included in carries the show. It is obvious that both are at the forefront of the product from now on.
This same booking finally came to the women’s division in recent years, helping to establish Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, Bayley and Asuka. The New Day and The Street Profits have also taken that spot atop the tag team division, allowing them to be more than just champions.
WWE wants it to be clear who matters. No company does it better. Whether it’s matches, segments or marketing, there’s a clear divide between who is good and who is seen as truly great.
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The main concern with top booking is that WWE does not give this treatment to many, so those on the outside looking in can often get stop-and-start pushes that never fully materialize into something more substantial.
Until they prove themselves worthy of that top booking, other wrestlers will continue to be left waiting for their moment. At times, it can feel like certain stars are on the rise, but there’s an obvious disconnect between the fully established names and those still rising.
Because of this, WWE booking becomes ridiculously polarized between those who matter and those who can get a spotlight occasionally. Those outside the main ring of talent struggle for time; and when they do get it, the opportunity can disappear suddenly.
Fans subsequently experience an inconsistent product. Stories rise then stop. WWE will try to make fans care about a story then bail on it if it isn’t getting the precise reaction expected. This willingness to stop mid-story makes it hard to get invested.
Retribution is a recent example. After a hot start in which the group were established as an immediate threat, WWE lost interest. They were run off and then started losing matches. The company seems more invested in the success of the stable now but only as a middle-of-the-road collection of heels.
It happens constantly with stars who would be built to challenge the top names. Challengers to John Cena and Brock Lesnar could go from title contention to missing from television for a month far too easily.
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One clear focus for WWE is not overlapping angles, at least not those with priority booking. The top of the card is built on unique rivalries, while the lower end may be entirely rehashed angles.
This is not as much about which stars are in the feuds as much as what stories they tell. Drew McIntyre vs. AJ Styles is about The Phenomenal One trying to steal the WWE Championship with any help he can get. Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton is a revenge plot in which The Fiend wants to make The Viper suffer.
On SmackDown, Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens is built on the brainwashing of Jey Uso by The Tribal Chief. And Sasha Banks cannot go anywhere without Carmella attacking her.
These are just a few of WWE’s major stories. The point is that the company wants to keep stories fresh and consistently unique. This is a rare area where WWE has an edge on just about every other company. Even All Elite Wrestling and New Japan Pro-Wrestling have a tendency to miss when stories feel too similar.
It is a shame that this consistent variety cannot extend to the whole card, though. While WWE does try to make stories unique, the lower order can fall short. Raw is loaded with stables trying to destroy and recruit, while stories outside the title picture in the women’s division follow the same few standard formulae.
This does not take away from what WWE does at the top of the card, but it does show the level of consistency is difficult to manage as things stand.
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Three hours of weekly wrestling is too much, but even two hours can be a slog with WWE. Raw is the prime problem here as even at its best, the show is flat.
WWE struggles in particular with balancing the excitement of the show and commercial breaks. While commercials are inevitable for any television product, wrestling especially suffers because the average segment is broken up by at least one break.
Matches often crawl until the commercial and pick up massively afterward. Meanwhile, in-ring segments happen throughout the show to avoid one long promo that takes too much time away from the sponsors.
Pacing a wrestling show is difficult, even PPVs. The matches need to keep people invested throughout three or more hours of content. The segments need to draw people in emotionally. Every second is a chance to keep attention or lose it.
WWE has never gotten a firm grasp on pacing, and it shows. There is little difference to the casual audience member between a two-minute women’s match and a six-minute women’s match with a commercial break. The time in-between gives those in the ring more practice, but the audience gets little extra.
Some matches (especially in the women’s division) are badly rushed. Others, especially main event angles, lag on throughout the entire show.
It’s no wonder almost every WWE show starts with a stronger audience than it ends with.
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A PPV schedule that includes one show every month, sometimes two, can feel overwhelming on the surface, but it is smart business to keep fans invested. This booking style ensures stories are always moving forward.
WWE’s ability to present so many big shows makes it unique. There are so many PPVs at this point that major stars can miss an event and no one blinks an eye.
Every WWE event is a special attraction, and the company makes them feel important. It’s a straightforward selling point to any audience member. Whenever you tune in, you’re watching the build to a show on the horizon.
It can be a cheap excuse for fast-moving stories, but this process also forces WWE to take chances. Feuds need to build to a moment that fans remember at the big event. There is no chance to let the rivalry simmer and then disappear early if it is going to PPV.
Roman Reigns and Drew McIntyre remain dominant champions because they are always challenged. The women’s division often relies on the PPVs to keep the titles relevant as WWE is averse to putting belts on the line on TV.
This firm structure is what sets WWE apart, and it is a booking tool that no one else could even match.
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Nothing turns wrestlers away from working for WWE faster than realizing just how rigid the show structure is. Everything is measured and scripted. Few can get away with improving on any of the weekly shows.
The Performance Center was built to help train Superstars in the WWE style, which leads to matches and promos that feel similar from star to star. This takes away the individual heart of what makes these wrestlers more than just a cog in the machine.
Only once wrestlers prove their worth at the top level are they given any freedom. John Cena was stuck in that structure for so long that many were shocked when he finally was let loose. Most are stuck keeping to the script on the mic and in the ring. This leaves some out in the cold.
This rigidity was part of the reason why the likes of Dean Ambrose, Luke Harper and The Revival jumped ship to All Elite Wrestling.
While television is scripted, wrestling is improvisation. The more the practice is segmented into required moves, the less anyone will get excited. A truly great WWE match can make an impact more than just about any other style, but most of its matches are forgettable no matter the talent involved.
If there is one area where WWE must improve in its booking, it is this confining structure. Wrestlers will lose their spark over time and continue to leave if it carries on.
No one wants to be told how to do what they love, and WWE should allow wrestlers to express themselves. That is what the sport is all about.