It's a line thrown out ad nauseam by WWE commentators. While I believe it was a soundbite originally from the Attitude Era, where damn near anything could (and did) happen, my brain tends to associate the phrase with Michael Cole and the past decade or so of WWE programming, and the words often ring hollow. Now, I'm not saying WWE should bring back the Attitude Era. That's a IWC stereotype as old as the Internet itself. But, I do think that "Anything can happen in the WWE" should be more than just a cute marketing slogan. Those words imply an air of unpredictability and excitement that we don't always get in our wrestling shows on Monday and Tuesday nights. Here are some ways to get there:
1. Don't advertise everything.
I understand why WWE do it. In the era of social media, you want to use your platform and reach to let the fanbase know when cool shit is going down. It makes sense. WWE want as many eyes as possible on the product. Let's be clear, I'm not saying they should never advertise at all. But there's a middle ground to be found. One of the hallmarks of the Attitude Era was the surprise appearance. It's harder to pull off now- again, with the power of the Internet- but when they can do it, it can create all time great moments. The issue WWE have with advertising everything of significance is that we've been conditioned to think that if nothing major is advertised for a given show, nothing major is going to happen. Whereas years ago, you had to tune into Raw because you never know who would show up or what would happen. Bringing back this approach would yield long term results- in the short term, ratings won't benefit from big returns, matches, and angles. But once word of mouth spreads- this is where social media becomes a help rather than a hindrance- then the fans come. Look at Raw Reunion. An unadvertised John Cena got his most positive reaction in years. Exhibit A for the power of the surprise appearance.
2. Get rid of announcing tropes
Any WWE fan that's, say, over the age of 15 and has been watching wrestling for more than a couple of years is familiar with the following- "It's all over!" and "We have a new champion!" When uttered during the course of a match, we know unequivocally that it is indeed NOT over and we DO NOT have a new champion. What drives this home more is the tendency of commentators to not say anything of the sort when the match finish occurs. This ruins the sense of drama for fans, as we can't buy into the near falls and it takes away from the impact of the actual ending. The lines don't have to be retired completely (although a break would be nice), but every once in a while, use them when the match is ending. Small details, but they're small details that can add or detract from the overall presentation.
3. Take it outside the arena
This is something WWE have actually started to do in recent times, with the arrival of the 24/7 Championship. For so long, the company shied away from doing anything really away from the ring or ringside area. Backstage shenanigans make WWE feel like a lived-in universe, rather than a carefully controlled production. Throwing to a camera backstage because Drake Maverick and R-Truth are running around, instead of Sarah Schreiber standing by rigidly for an interview, is far more attention grabbing. On the same lines, skits completely outside the building. Seeing the wrestlers in public places is a nice change of setting- recently seeing the skits in hotel rooms, wedding receptions and even San Diego Comic Con, it's all highly entertaining and much more memorable than simply having match after match in the ring with two guys. Funnily enough, Maverick and Truth have been feuding for months now, but are yet to have a straight up match in the ring. It's going to be a great payoff when it does happen. So this is something WWE are getting right, and I hope it continues. I also hope this expanded universe starts to include wrestlers and feuds outside the 24/7 scene.
4. More gimmick matches on TV
I understand the philosophy of saving gimmick matches for PPV. The problem is, WWE have rooted themselves so deeply in that mindset that it makes TV matches feel completely unimportant. Especially now with the WWE Network, the powers that be don't always have to save the stipulations for the monthly shows. We don't need gimmicks on every match on every show, but it wouldn't hurt once in a while to throw a ladder match or cage match, for example, on Raw or Smackdown. Nice way to pop a rating, and it keeps people eyes glued to the screen. "Hey, let's see what's happening on Raw. Last week, AJ Styles put Ricochet through a table!" I couldn't tell you what Rey Mysterio's last major TV match was, but I vividly remember him jumping off a cage in a Edge vs. Chris Jericho main event 17 years ago on Smackdown. You see? More sprinkles of chaos to add some flavour to the sports-entertainment sundae
Ugh. I don't even like using "sports-entertainment" for alliteration's sake. I feel dirty...
5. More title changes outside of PPVs
All title matches matter. Or at least, they should. 99/100 times, if a title match happens on TV, the championship isn't changing hands. If it's a title match on a house show? Better make that 99.9/100 times. I find it hard to invest in title matches on TV, the drama is almost non-existent. This came to the forefront of my mind watching Mick Foley's segment on Raw Reunion. He threw to the footage of him winning his first ever WWE Championship- on Monday Night Raw. The last world title change on Raw was Kevin Owens winning the Universal Championship 3 years ago- but that was necessitated by Finn Balor's injury. Over on Smackdown, Daniel Bryan beating AJ Styles for the WWE Championship last year was one of the best moments in YEARS, because it was so genuinely shocking. I want to be able to watch any title match and be on the edge of my seat because we could see a new champion crowned. Also, if they crowned more new champions on house shows, it would increase ticket sales, I believe. I know 2 things to be true when I attend a WWE house show. One- babyfaces will win 90% of the matches. Two- no titles are changing hands. WWE film everything anyway, they could post a clip of the match to social media or show it on Raw the following week.
The above suggestions are my ways to breathe life into the WWE product, to make "anything can happen in the WWE" more than just an empty catchphrase. Before I wrap this up, I want to be clear- the ideas here are things to be considered in moderation. I'm not saying we should have TLC matches every week, or that I want to see the Intercontinental Championship change hands 20 times a year, with 8 of the matches happening on house shows. Just implementing these ideas in different spots can make WWE feel more dynamic. Maybe Andrade wins the Intercontinental Championship at a Mexico house show in February. Maybe Heavy Machinery win the Smackdown Tag Team Championship on an episode of Smackdown in June.
Going back to the earlier points about advertising matches and surprise appearances- we have the 20th anniversary of Smackdown next month. I expect it to be a special loaded show. I'm really hoping they can get The Rock in for this milestone, and if WWE can strike a deal, fuck yes, promote the shit out of it. But maybe Edge makes a surprise appearance. They'll probably put together a big time main event for the show, promote that- like, say Kofi Kingston vs. AJ Styles for the WWE Championship. Elsewhere on the show, maybe the Usos issue an open challenge to any tag team, and they get the returning Hardys.
What it comes down to is this- WWE needs to give its fans reasons to watch. The more predictable it is, the less exciting it is to watch. There's a ton of talent signed to WWE, they just need to be positioned in a compelling way. That means thinking outside the box a little and maybe breaking some old habits. It won't fix everything overnight, but it calls back to a time when wrestling was great, And more importantly, when wrestling was fun.