But ever since WCW and ECW folded and
It all started with the ill-fated and horribly botched Invasion angle. What had the potential to be one of the most glorious storylines ever in wrestling history, instead became one big dud. The WWE failed to sign all of the big name WCW wrestlers, granted some were due to contract obligations with Time Warner. But why not wait until they could be signed? Vince McMahon rushed into the angle, and ruined it with his ego. The WCW wrestlers were treated like second-rate stars, and the angle ended up being another McMahon-fest. Shane "owned" the WCW, and Steph took over ECW. You know what? That's fine and all, but at that point we had seen enough McMahon feuding. Why not bring in Eric Bischoff (which eventually happened) to head the WCW team and use Paul Heyman, who was already with WWE at that time, to run ECW?
Then we had the Brand Extension, which I have mixed emotions about. On one hand, there's a lot of talent in the WWE, and splitting the roster gives us a chance to see more wrestlers (not to mention, it gives them a lighter travel schedule). But, at the same time it can make things stale -- which is precisely why they hold the draft every year, so the rosters can get shaken up and new rivalries can develop.
Eventually, the stars that led the WWE during the Attitude Era -- Steve Austin, The Rock, Mick Foley -- retired. New stars emerged, others stepped up from their mid-card roles to become main eventers. But, the product still lacked. From about 2002-2007, storylines were largely underdeveloped. They came about randomly, and even worse they dissipated without much satisfaction.
Titles have been treated more like props. Belts change hands far too rapidly. Last year, the World Heavyweight Championship changed hands seven times. The Intercontinental and US titles used to stand for something, and were great belts to put on up and coming stars. Now, they get passed around like a joint at a Phish concert.
And don't even get me started on the atrocity the tag team division has become. There are multiple episodes of Raw and Smackdown that don't even feature a single tag team match. Pitiful.
Also, while I'm not a big fan of it, the Cruiserweight division has been completely forsaken. The matches are quite popular with the general fanbase, and can be entertaining.
However, all is not lost. Last year showed some major promise, and it has continued so far into this year. There are a plethora of young stars that are showing promise. The tag team division has been getting some more attention lately -- although not enough. And we have amazing heels right now in Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, Edge and JBL.
Of course, I haven't even talked about TNA yet... maybe it's better that way. They are suffering from the same pitfalls that led to WCW's downfall: too much reliance on older stars, not pushing younger guys, lame storylines. But, there's something good hidden in there.
So, how can they keep improving? Well, to reiterate what I said above, start pushing the tag team division again. Tag team wrestling has been the foundation for some GREAT single careers. Shawn Michaels started in the Rockers. Bret Hart had the Hart Foundation. And there have been some legendary tag teams. The Road Warriors, The Dudley Boyz, Demolition, The New Age Outlaws, The Steiner Brothers. Why not let some new legends develop? TNA was on the right track for awhile, but they've neglected the tag teams lately. WWE is getting something started, with teams like Miz and Morrison, the Colons and Cryme Tyme.
WWE needs to bring back the Cruiserweight division. TNA's version of it, the X Division, is extremely popular. If the WWE brings back the division and its title, it has a place to put stars like Rey Mysterio and Evan Bourne -- a place that's not the stereotypical David vs. Goliath matches those stars get stuck in.
Continue to let the younger stars develop. Randy Orton is hitting new heights, and can only go higher. Guys like CM Punk, John Morrison, Ted DiBiase, Cody Rhodes, AJ Styles and Samoa Joe are the future of the industry. Let them get mid-card and tag titles (or in the case of TNA, let them win the World title).
Speaking of which, I love what the WWE is doing with their "new superstar initiative" on ECW. Using the weekly hour long program to promote new guys like Jack Swagger, Tyson Kidd, The Miz and Ricky Ortiz is a great idea. Look what it did for CM Punk and Kofi Kingston. They'll get key on-screen experience that they'll need down the road.
On the topic of ECW... please change the name. It's not ECW anymore, nobody's fooled. If you're gonna have a show called ECW, dammit make it Extreme Championship Wrestling. Give me tables, chairs, barbed wire and all kinds of crazy shit. So if we're gonna have regular wrestling, change the name.
Bring back factions and stables. It gives the roster some organization and creates new rivalries and storylines. TNA has a good thing going with the Main Event Mafia/TNA Frontline angle. The WWE is getting there with The Legacy. So create a few more, give mid-carders something interesting stories. Just don't overdo it. Remember what happened with the nWo after half the WCW roster joined it.
Personally, I think elements of the Attitude Era need to come back. Give me edgier storylines and wild matches. Maybe you don't need another "Pillman's Got a Gun" angle, but nothing's wrong with a little scandalous material.
Pro wrestling is cyclical, there will always be low periods and high periods. Hopefully, we're about to start the next great period in wrestling.
Oh, and Vince, it is professional wrestling, not sports entertainment.