Back To The Future: How WWE’s Obsession With Yesterday May Ruin Tomorrow

There’s a degree of comfort in looking back to the past than allowing yourself to be open to disappointment. The certainty of hindsight over the doubt of a better future. Pining for the past is such a powerful force that even forgetting the positive, the negative plays well in our minds eye, so long as enough time has passed.  The allure then, to look back upon history – good and bad – rather than face forward, becomes all the more dangerous.

When it comes to bringing back those that we have all loved in the past and playing with our heart strings in such a way, wrestling is hardly a solo act.  There’s something to be said in all forms of media for simply showing us something older and beloved over and over again rather than taking the risks required to find something different.  For starters trying to find something contemporary that hasn’t been seen before and isn’t unintentionally reminiscent becomes ever more difficult as time goes on.  It also takes a lot less effort to reignite an old flame than it does to spark up a new one.

It’s no secret that Raw’s ratings have been in the tank for some time.  This is a particularly bad place in the WWE’s yearly cycle to begin with given that there’s almost always a post Survivor Series inertia that waits for the Royal Rumble to come along and kick everything into gear again.  For the most part, creatively they’ve been doing slightly better than usual in that there are actually some storylines running parallel at the top of both cards which could either be discarded or left to simmer, right in time to boil over at Wrestlemania.  The problem Vince and those around him have is that while nothing of serious consequence is likely to happen in the immediate future, they have no mind for playing the waiting game.  

As generations of talents move on and eras change, so too do the issues that need to be addressed.  Much like everything else, this too is cyclical.  One crop of superstars might be over reliant on gimmicks and not be as well versed in the technical aspects of wrestling.  It doesn’t even matter the make up of the rosters so much because eventually there will be some balance, albeit skewed heavily in favour of those who make it to the top.  As a collective however, while they may be markedly different to what came before the danger is in even implying they are inferior.  Something which has become an alarming trend in the WWE over the last decade or so.

Even without all the questionable baggage that comes with it, the idea that in 2021 a Hulk Hogan TV appearance is of more importance than any single member of that roster is such a slap in the face.  How would the Monday Night Wars have gone if the shows were built on the back of Lou Thesz and Killer Kowalski (absolutely no disrespect to them).  One of the big reasons this situation has been allowed to manifest in the first place is the overreliance on guys that were draws back in the day.  Which would work perfectly well if they ever came in and had the slightest whiff of equal footing with their modern day counterparts.  Now there is a vacuum of credibility within the casual or lapsed fan the solution cannot ever be more of the same.

None of this is to say anything as simple and naive as new equals better.  Within the limits of reasonable argument it’s unlikely anyone will ever be convinced that anyone on Raw, Smackdown or NXT can even lace the boots of the household names of the late 80s and mid 90s.  There is a difference however between accepting that reality and then playing into it.  The panic button has – as it has been many times before – been pushed and this coming Monday we are to be treated to a Legends Night.  This would work better in terms of drawing a temporary fix in getting a few more people to watch were it not something that has been leaned upon so often in recent years, so it won’t even have the desired effect.  What it does instead, is something much more unhealthy.

If the problem is that if there are no stars around to pop a rating, then when the time comes for the baton to be passed it really won’t matter. It takes twice as long to build a believable threat if all they have around them are straightforward conquests.  Social media consensus – for whatever that is actually worth – seems to suggest that this latest effort is destined to fail in even its most modest of expectations.  As unlikely as it may be, here’s hoping this is indeed the nadir for nostalgia.  Then we can finally start once again looking ahead, rather than constantly having one eye on the past.

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