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October 2015: The Return of Del Rio and the Importance of Staying Fresh

This past weekend at WWE’s Hell in a Cell event we saw the return of Alberto Del Rio, who was the surprise challenger for John Cena’s United States Championship. The element of surprise is often times enough to kick start a program with enough steam to engage fans for a long term storyline as well as keeping talent fresh.

With three hours of Raw and a plethora of other programming such as Smackdown, Superstars, Main Event, Vintage Collection, monthly pay-per-views, the NXT shows and special events, exclusive Youtube clips and the never-ending labyrinth of material to watch on The WWE Network, it seems that wrestling fans have enough to watch to keep them busy 24 hours a day. While this may be every superfan’s dream, it also creates problems for the company who has to keep constantly churning out this content week in and week out.

The main problem is that these wrestlers get overexposed. John Cena is on every single Raw, every single week, every single year. I don’t care how good your writers are or how many of them you have or even how good Cena is, it simply isn’t possible to keep him interesting all year round when you’re constantly having him pushed in your face. Even though pumpkin pie is my favorite dessert, I really don’t think I would want to eat it every single night after dinner. Eventually, I would get sick of it.

In the territory days the solution was simple. When a wrestler would come into a territory it was known that he wouldn’t be staying there forever. There were of course exceptions, like Jerry Lawler in Memphis, but for the most part the guys floated around from territory to territory for short runs of a few months to a few years. When they started to get stale or if their popularity started to wane, or if things weren’t working out, they simply moved on to the next territory and started the process over again.

However, in today’s wrestling marketplace there are not many places for guys to work where they can make a decent living. Maybe New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor or TNA offer contracts, but even there most guys have to take other indy bookings just to make ends meet. So basically, the way it looks now, there are two territories - WWE and the indies i.e. everywhere else.

I think it would be healthy for the wrestling business as a whole if WWE started giving short term contracts to most of their top talents. Bring someone like Alberto Del Rio in for a short term run of 4 to 6 months. Let him be the big surprise return and capitalize off of this by being thrust into a high profile program before his contract expires again. The whole storyline from start to finish would be pitched to him in advance and both parties would know what to expect and what would go down.

Once his time is up, he goes back to the indies and is able to make the “fresh off of Vince” money for a while until he gets another offer to return sometime within the next year to year and a half. This method really helps talent stay fresh and avoids people getting fed up with seeing the same guys every single week on Raw. It also keeps the indies full of hot talent and could perhaps reinvigorate the scene and help more promotions get a foothold.

This system works and the proof are guys like Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker, Chris Jericho and The Rock. Every time guys like this come back, it’s special and their time there matters, because fans haven’t seen them for a while and know they probably won’t be seeing much of them in the near future.

How huge would it be if a guy like Kurt Angle suddenly showed up in WWE at the Royal Rumble and got into a feud with Brock Lesnar which culminated at WrestleMania? Would anyone complain if they didn’t see Angle or Lesnar again until SummerSlam? Probably not, because the next night on Raw another guy like James Storm, AJ Styles or Samoa Joe could make a surprise comeback or debut and take the ball and run with it.

They could also do this with veteran guys too. This is essential because it gives the younger guys time to work and travel with more experienced guys who can help groom the younger generation.

I really don’t like the way WWE has been handling talent in the past several years where they seemingly give guys one chance to succeed in developmental and if you don’t make something of yourself there, nine out of ten times you will not be given a second look.

It’s like they expect everyone to be the next John Cena who can make every single appearance, grant every wish, sign every autograph, and travel to every media appearance day in and day out, year round for 20 years straight with no vacations all with a smile on your face the entire time. John Cena is the exception, not the rule. This system would be much better for talent as it keeps them fresh, adds an element of surprise for the fans and keeps the indy scene healthy all at the same time.

- Daniel Austin (Don Roid) (blog) (podcast)

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