Sunday’s WrestleMania Backlash incurred a significant change on 8 days’ notice. The WWE Tag Team Title unification match between The Usos and RK-Bro is now a six-man tag team extravaganza with Roman Reigns and Drew McIntyre added to the mix.
There is no more championship unification, no stakes, just another match with two added attractions. While the star power of Reigns and McIntyre will garner more eyeballs on the marquee, are matches where the sole purpose is to see big-name talent enough to move the needle these days?
One of the most notable All-Star Main Events occurred at the inaugural SummerSlam in 1988. The villainous duo christened the Mega Bucks, Andre the Giant, and “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, squared off against the immensely popular Mega Powers, “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan. It was the perfect vehicle to essentially present two matches for the price of one colossal showdown.
Their storylines melded together and got to the point where Hogan and Savage joined forces out of necessity to battle a common enemy. While the match was devoid of any championship implications, seeing four larger-than-life superstars battling in the same ring at the same time was the attraction
Another such match occurred the following year at SummerSlam. Hulk Hogan and Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake wrestled Randy Savage and Zeus to capitalize on the expected popularity of the film No Holds Barred…There was no popularity to capitalize on.
Countless episodes of professional wrestling programming book such matches as an attraction. And it worked for a long time.
An All-Star match with no titles, unique stipulations or mystery partner reveal is akin to the popular Marvel comic book Marvel Team-Up. Spider-Man was the lead character and would join forces with another superhero to defeat a criminal threat. Whether Spidey teamed with Iron Man or Doctor Strange, the hook was to see each month’s pairing.
Survivor Series 2011 saw The Rock make his big return in Madison Square Garden, where he made his WWE debut and teamed with John Cena against The Miz and R-Truth. The problem is no one saw Miz and Truth as believable challengers to the two titans of the squared circle.
While the show garnered 281,000 pay-per-view buys, it was viewed as disappointing. The Rock’s in-ring return only drew 36,000 more buys the year before. Unfortunately, WWE failed to make the match feel special. They essentially put The Rock on television and assumed the rest would take care of itself.
It also didn’t help that Rock vs. Cena at WrestleMania 28 was announced seven months earlier. Fans skipped Survivor Series and saved their money for their main event collision five months later.
RK-Bro vs. The Usos never felt like a strong main event. Rumors, backstage reports, and Zoltar the fortune teller had Roman Reigns on the card one minute and off it the next. There are no suitable challengers ready for Reigns right now.
What if Drew McIntyre were to, oh, I don’t know, beat Roman Reigns on Sunday? McIntyre going over would strengthen him up as a proper contender. However, a six-man tag is a lateral move because their participation was expected and announced later than usual.
Those looking for an engaging story won’t find one. Here is the narrative for the main event.
Roman Reigns forced WWE to cancel the original main event he ordered his cousins to make in the first place.
Wrestling is not popular enough in 2022 to put on a match merely because the top guy is involved. Raw averaged 3.10 million viewers in November 2011 when The Rock returned to team with John Cena. This past Monday, Raw averaged 1.581 million viewers, down from 1.613 million viewers last week.
It didn’t work nine years ago when more people watched the product. It’s not going to work now.
The same thing has occurred in Hollywood. Robert Downey Jr. will make bookoo money every time he dons the Iron Man armor but ask him to play Dolittle, and it’s diminishing returns across the board. The age of the superstar is dead.
Hogan, Savage, DiBiase, Andre, and others were larger than life, so All-Star matches worked years earlier. Besides maybe Brock Lesnar, no one in WWE today is larger than life. That happens when the brand is pushed as the main attraction instead of the talent.