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Greener Pastures: How Life Outside of WWE Continues to Gain Appeal

In his latest piece for PWPNation.com, Eron Ramadanov explains how the business could look a lot different by this time next year and how that could come at WWE’s expense. 

In the professional wrestling business, there is only one superpower remaining from the days of the territories and from the wars that took place on Monday Nights. That superpower is World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

For almost two decades now, WWE has remained atop the pro wrestling ladder as the one true placeholder in the industry. Yes, they have seen challenges from the National Wrestling Alliance in the 80’s, they witnessed and experienced the wrath of a Ted Turner backed World Championship Wrestling, and they even survived the “crusade” from TNA Wrestling in the mid-2000s. But WWE found a way to overcome all those obstacles and remain as the head honchos of the rasslin’ business.

When we think of sports entertainment and professional wrestling, we do think of WWE first, no matter who you are. But the question is how have they been able to keep this strangle hold on the industry? Obviously, with the help of their billionaire owner Vince McMahon has something to do with it, but over the last several decades, WWE has been able to attract free agents, put on the biggest shows in the industry and produce memories that we all carry with us as wrestling fans.

Whether we like it or not, WWE is still the proving ground. It’s the mecca of sports entertainment, just like playing for the New York Yankees in baseball. It has a different feeling to it than playing for another team. But in saying all of that, there’s something in the air. There is something changing in the business, that may come at the expense of the industry’s global giant. It seems to me that WWE may be losing some of its appeal from not only their fans, but from performers.

I understand that we have seen this movie before, “WWE is finished! It’s only a matter of time!” You know, those people who think that because there was a low attendance house show in bumfuck nowhere, that WWE is doomed. Those people… are delusional and seem to be feeding a personal issue that they have with the company for whatever reason that may be. But, if we want to say that WWE may have a problem that will cost them P/R or money, then this is the conversation we can have. If we want to say that WWE’s pettiness will cost them in the long run, I’m willing to stand with you on that. If we want to say that WWE has been misguided in some of their decisions on and off screen, then that’s something that holds water. But, make no mistake about it. There is an underlining issue WWE is facing and they might not even be aware of it.

As I stated above, WWE has always been the end-game for most performers in the business because all of them grew up as fans. They dreamed of being at WrestleMania in the main event or being WWE Champion one day. WWE will always have that appeal and performers will, for the most part, always want to go to the dominant superpower that is WWE. But, the percentage of performers that feel that way is shrinking. And not only is it shrinking, but the people who are in that minority are guys that can do some serious damage on the independent circuit.

But the question is why? Why is it that performers aren’t striving for WWE as much anymore? From the outside looking in, it’s a perfect storm of mistreatment, bad booking, a questionable corporate and locker room culture and most importantly, pettiness, especially at the top.

As a corporate giant, WWE has always been petty. Why? Because of who they’re lead by. In the grand scheme of things, Vince McMahon has always shown a certain level of pettiness towards performers. Now, that’s not to say that Vince McMahon is a terrible human being or that he’s an “evil billionaire,” as much as he’d like you to believe that, because there are numerous accounts of Vince McMahon treating people great, especially if they hold value to him. But when it comes to small, tiny things that he could overlook, he chooses to not do so.

A prime example of that is the most recent cease and desist order placed on Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson, The Young Bucks.

Earlier this month, WWE sent an order to the Jackson brothers prohibiting them from using several phrases that WWE presumably has trademarks for like, “Too Sweet” and “Suck It,” which also includes the hand gestures that go along with it. After the news broke, fans and performers alike didn’t quite understand why WWE would waste their time and effort prohibiting guys from using a few phrases to help earn a living and feed their families. Oh, but of course it became oh so clear milliseconds after the news was reported that it had ALL to do with an episode of a YouTube web series called, “Being The Elite,” featuring The Young Bucks, along with several members of the Bullet Club.

Some of the confusion for why WWE would take this video above so seriously is beyond me, especially considering that these guys were doing the SAME EXACT thing WWE did in the later 90’s with Degeneration-X invading WCW. Not only was this just a fun, harmless video to entertain themselves and the fans who wanted to see the Bullet Club, but it unfortunately costed someone their job. If you are not aware, WWE writer and backstage agent Jimmy Jacobs was fired shortly after this day due to his “involvement.”

While the Bullet Club were filming, apparently Jacobs greeted his long-time friends and posed for a selfie with them. The photo, which Jacobs posted, caused WWE to absolutely lose it and fire Jacobs. Reports state that there was an accumulation of other things that contributed, as the great Dave Meltzer said, “this was the 400-pound anvil that broke the camel’s back.” In both of these responses by WWE, many people viewed it as petty and unnecessary due to the fact that several WWE superstars have been seen in past videos of The Young Bucks’ web show including Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and AJ Styles.

When we talk about pettiness coming from WWE, these are prime examples as to why the company is viewed to be high-strung, especially from the eyes of performers. Why would anyone want to work there if you can be fired for a photo and taken to court for a hand gesture? In the short term, WWE may be proving a point and puffing their chest, but in the long term, it may hurt them and they don’t even know it yet.

But pettiness isn’t the only thing that could lead to more staying outside of WWE or leaving. Another prime example of that is the mistreatment of Neville, who reportedly walked out on the company this past week before Monday Night Raw after hearing that he was scheduled to lose to Enzo Amore in the main event. Now, those are simply reports and we don’t know the reason of Neville leaving WWE. Maybe he was promised something and they didn’t follow through? Maybe he was fed up with the company? Maybe he was burnt out? But one thing I do know from watching the programming was that Neville, who I believe is a world-class performer and one of the best in the world today, wasn’t treated the way he should be.

For over a year, Neville was asked to carry a division that was poorly rolled out and wasn’t high on WWE’s priority list. But once Enzo Amore came along, it seemed like WWE cared more about the division and his rise would come at the expense of Neville. Whether I agree or disagree with Neville’s methods of protest, one thing that can’t be denied in my eyes is that Neville busted his ass for the company in every way possible and wasn’t rewarded for it. Sadly, Neville isn’t the only example of mistreatment by the company, as we all know that countless others have been dealt a raw hand and have left because of it.

An example of that would be the rise of Cody Rhodes.

From Stardust to the American Nightmare, Rhodes has been able to leave WWE and truly turn his entire career around. After years of mistreatment, Rhodes realized his worth and decided to test his drawing power in Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Impact Wrestling and all over the world on the independent scene. And news flash… he’s never been better.

Since leaving WWE, Rhodes claims to making more than his highest pay-scale in WWE and seems to be happier than ever working with his friends and living his dream as the Ring of Honor World Champion. Rhodes is a perfect experiment for what a talent can accomplish outside of WWE. Rhodes has proven that someone doesn’t need WWE to have a profitable and success career.

The reason why this is important is Rhodes is becoming the handbook for others who want to leave WWE as well. According to some of the dirtiest of sheets, several current WWE talents have reached out to Rhodes for advice on how to leave the company and what to expect once they do. This could spell out something concerning if you’re WWE. But the needle won’t move if someone like Dolph Ziggler or Zack Ryder decide to leave the company and try to follow in Rhodes’ footsteps. Granted, they may find similar success, but there is one guy that could change the game and bust this thing wide open.

His name is Daniel Bryan.

The story of Daniel Bryan is one that can’t be told within this article. But knowing what I know about his career and his road to WWE, Bryan seems to have something different from everyone else, especially when he’s an active wrestler. Yes, there are performers better than Daniel Bryan, but there is something about him that fans gravitate to that makes him something special and unique, which is why he could become the most dangerous weapon against WWE if he seeks to destroy them.

Daniel Bryan has made it no secret that he plans on wrestling again, whether that is for WWE or not. Bryan’s contract with WWE ends in 2018 and there has already been rumors running wild about where he will end up. Obviously, some of the favorites would be Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Bryan has talked about some of the match-ups he’s always wanted to have with so many guys who are currently on the independent scene that he never got the chance to work with and even some guys who he wants to work with again.

The point is that Daniel Bryan is the biggest piece to a growing movement of having a wrestling career outside of WWE. No offense to Cody Rhodes, but if Daniel Bryan can be a huge success outside of WWE, it could change the business forever.

Daniel Bryan is one of the most popular performers in the last decade or so, and if Bryan decides to leave WWE in order to wrestle for ROH or NJPW, it can turn the business on its side. Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that WWE will go out of business or they’ll begin to lose money at a rapid pace, but I am saying that Daniel Bryan is a big enough star that he could be of real benefit to any promotion, especially companies like ROH and NJPW that are seeking to expand. And if Bryan decides to leave and becomes a bigger success on the independent scene once again, you better believe WWE will not be happy and will lash out with more cease & desists and will be much hungrier to eliminate the competition.

Also, if Bryan joins the likes of Cody Rhodes and others who have left WWE for greener pastures, I believe it could start a ripple effect inside in the WWE locker room, for several talents who are too afraid to leave or aren’t confident in their abilities to jump ship. As much as people think its crazy to say, Bryan is an industry changer. Wrestling fans will come out in droves to see him perform and so will casual WWE fans.

My prediction has always been that Daniel Bryan will leave WWE. He will wrestle for Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro-Wrestling. He will be a huge asset in helping ROH begin to move into 10K arenas and will assist along side the Bullet Club to help New Japan expand into the United States. Now, assuming things go as well as they possibly could, meaning Bryan is a huge success in one of the two companies I keep mentioning, Bullet Club and the rest of the major independent scene continues to thrive, I can very easily see others joining the fray and leaving WWE, causing the business to look completely different than it does in 2017.

In closing, I believe WWE needs to change several key institutes that they currently practice and move toward a more innovative way of becoming more likable by talent and their fanbase. Will they? Probably not. It’s likely that WWE will continue with business as usual, as talent continues to be unhappy and popularity for the product continues to decline. Life outside WWE continues to gain appeal because the freedom, both creatively and financially, is greater and the tone of this “evil empire” seems to be really taking a toll on their attractiveness within the industry. Granted, WWE doesn’t really care about being “cool,” but once it begins to effect their bottom line, they might change their tune quickly.

In the end, do I think WWE will ever truly be challenged by another company in the mainstream market? No, probably not anytime soon. But, there is something to be said about the gaining appeal for wrestlers to stay away from WWE.

At some point in time, whether it’s in 2018 being led by Daniel Bryan or not, there will come a time where WWE must look at themselves in the mirror and realize that professional wrestling is going to become a niche product over the next 5-10 years. Understanding that allowing performers like Daniel Bryan, Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks and others remain outside of their empire will only result in a growth of popularity for non-WWE content and will allow growth for the companies that are housing these performers. It’s only a matter of time, and if WWE doesn’t realize it soon, they could be in for a rude awakening come 2018 and beyond.

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About Eron Ramadanov

Editor-in-Chief & Senior Columnist at PWPNation.com