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Word on the Rings (1/9/16): A Stack Overflowing

With the siege of New Japan Pro Wrestling and the most competitive roster in its history, does the WWE have what it takes to showcase its talents? Or will the world's biggest wrestling promotion be left drowned in wasted opportunities?



Today’s WWE roster is arguably the most stacked it has ever been, since the World Wrestling Federation bought World Championship Wrestling in 2001. From top to bottom, the roster represents some of the best wrestling talent the world has to offer. And with news of AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Karl Anderson, and Doc Gallows reportedly signing on to WWE from NJPW, many wrestling fans are still feeling a belated holiday rush.

The signing of Bullet Club + Nakamura comes at a time where, just a few weeks prior, “The New Horror” Sami Callihan wrapped up his considerably long—yet somehow uneventful—stint in NXT as Solomon Crowe. Or how a few days prior, “Cowboy” James Storm moved back to TNA, after freelancing a bit in NXT. And so it goes with wrestling’s revolving door: with big names coming in, big names also leave.

To some, it’s just the way things are. To others, they’re wasted opportunities. Rightly or wrongly, wrestling fans lament the limited TV time of talent, or how Divas matches post-Divas Revolution have gone the way of the five-minute matches that they were before.

All this brings us to a rather interesting dilemma: with a roster this stacked, just how much wrestling do we get to enjoy?

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As a fan, I could advocate (or to be more precise, scream in my seat) for the WWE to sign people like Zack Sabre, Jr. (who is an amazing wrestler) or Sexy Star (who would make a great addition to the Divas division), but all this should be tempered by a dose of reality: the WWE roster is so stacked right now that clamoring for more new talent may come at the expense of talent already there. As it stands, the main roster has 78 wrestlers (63 male and 15 female), while the NXT roster has 33 wrestlers (25 male and 8 female).

This does not count for the other talent in the WWE roster, like referees and announcers, unassigned talent, and house show wrestlers. With over a hundred wrestlers spread across eight hours of wrestling TV a week—and always-on, always-there WWE Network on top of it—WWE shouldn’t really have a problem with maximizing its really stacked roster.

But it does: like a poorly-written play, the main event players get to soak up the stage lights, while the supporting players don’t even get to show the audience how much a cog they are to the big machine. It is a big roster, but at the same time, the depth is questionable: if there are really a hundred wrestlers in the WWE, how come we just get to see a couple of dozen of them in a year?

There's always the Royal Rumble for these things, but really.

I’m not saying that Cesaro should have 30-minute wrestling clinics every night on RAW, or that NXT should have an extra hour. After all, wrestling is not just what we watch on TV: there are house shows, dark matches, and international promotions. While it’s exciting to have Styles and Nakamura and the Bullet Club on board, I can’t help but feel a little iffy that things would more or less stay the same.

Like how a full hour of RAW would be spent cutting promos. Or how Nakamura would be booked as a token Asian martial-artist kind of character, his charisma lost in pandering to the exoticism of the East. Or how Styles would be called less to wrestle, but pull off stunts and spots instead. Or how Anderson and Gallows would be lost in a tag team scene that fluctuates in terms of direction.



That pessimism is there only because it has happened before, and it continues to happen. Not that the casual wrestling fan would know better than Vince McMahon on how to run a wrestling company, but that wrestling—not promos or PPV concert time—is still the lifeblood of a wrestling company. And I think there are some ways on how this really stacked roster can benefit everyone:

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Less promos, more action. Having 20-minute promos on an Authority storyline is okay from time to time, but too much of it at any given week takes away time for other stories and potential competitive matches. I’m sure watching the Roman Reigns vs. the McMahons story unfold is interesting, but it takes away time from equally compelling stories. Like the brewing storm in the Divas Division, or perhaps giving the Wyatt Family something more meaningful to fight for. Some time could be spent creating entertaining matches between Alberto del Rio and Kevin Owens, for example, or building up talent like Tyler Breeze and Neville.



That way, the WWE can maximize its roster and bring some of the spotlight on the wrestling, than on more minutes on the microphone. Different story arcs can also be explored, giving us fans more choices, and more exposure to great wrestling.

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SmackDown Brand Extension. What made the Brand Extension era interesting was that the large roster of talent and main event players meant making a bigger space to play in. SmackDown doesn’t have to be the “B-show” to RAW; for a time, it offered the superior wrestling product and better storylines (save for GM Teddy Long’s penchant for predictable tag team matches).

Holla holla!
Treating SmackDown as a hardworking brand on its own can help highlight new faces and offer an alternative to a more storyline-driven, “soap opera” feel that RAW seemed to be during the Eric Bischoff era. Talent like Styles and Nakamura would probably fit in very well here, along with NXT guys like Finn B├ílor, Hideo Itami, Bailey, and Asuka when they get called up. For all you know, that could be the next generation “SmackDown Six.”

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Bring back the “B-shows.” For all the disdain shows like HEAT and Velocity got during their run, they’re a great way to feature talent outside of marquee shows like RAW and SmackDown. Shows like these helped build talents like Mr. Kennedy and Paul London, and gave some life to floundering careers like that of Rob Conway and Chuck Palumbo. Right now, the B-shows: Superstars and Main Event, feature very quick bouts of wrestling, but more time is devoted to recapping RAW or SmackDown. This can eat away at valuable time that can instead be devoted to featuring talent who otherwise won’t have any room on the main shows.



Given the right treatment, even these B-shows can prove to be important avenues to showcase great talents, and perhaps even be critical to main-event storylines (like how it was during the Austin 3:16 era). Who knows: maybe Velocity could be a great avenue for cruiserweight spectaculars, while HEAT could form the backbone of a Divas show?

I’m not saying that these things would solve all the problems in wrestling (as much as they can be great thought-starters for the next instalments of this column), but that’s probably it: a roster stacked with talent overflows with potential. That is, if only the WWE could do a little less of promos on a Monday night, recaps on SmackDown, and end up not having enough time to showcase the most talented and stacked roster in its history.

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In the coming months, I’m sure that more talents would be signed to come work for the WWE. The names and possibilities are endless: Drew Gulak of EVOLVE, El Texano of AAA, even Madison Eagles of SHIMMER. Who knows: maybe talent scouts have their spotlights set on our very own PWR. And it shows just how much talent there is in pro wrestling today, and how much the WWE cares for its future.

On the one hand, it’s logical that the world’s biggest wrestling company should have the biggest names in the business. Making those names resonate on the big stage, however, is an entirely different story. Just how much wrestling we get to enjoy from it, depends on the decisions that will be made by the biggest wrestling company in the world. And it’s not just a question of who it will sign, but whether it has the avenues to showcase that talent or not. Otherwise, they’ll probably be just another number in the long list of opportunities that the WWE wasted over the past few years.

And at a time of a stacked roster overflowing with talent, decisions made for a hundred of the best wrestlers in the world will define the future for the very spectacle we enjoy.

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Marck Rimorin (@marocharim) is an advertising professional, writer, bookworm, and overthinker. While a lifelong WWE fan, he also watches puroresu, lucha libre, and old clips of European wrestling. When not caught up in reading, making brand communications, or eating waybread under the shade of mallorn trees, Marck writes the overthink piece for Smark Henry: The Word on the Rings.

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