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KELLER BLOG: Amazing parallel with John Cena and Raw TV ratings five years ago this week

Oct 4, 2012 - 8:42:38 PM
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By Wade Keller, PWTorch editor

For those who are following politics, you have probably heard how history repeated itself last night. Five out of six previous live televised debates between an incumbent president and a challenger have been declared wins for the challenger. John Kerry, Walter Mondale, and Ronald Reagan were among them. History does have a way of repeating itself.

We're seeing it in pro wrestling the last few months. WWE, for short-sighted reasons, expanded Raw to three hours. Just like WCW Nitro, it's decimating the company and creating a sense that maybe the very future of WWE is at risk as a major cable attraction if they don't pull back quickly. The fact that Raw ratings are dropping due to overexposure and Smackdown ratings have dropped, and yet WWE has added two new national shows in the last few months (including ION TV's "WWE Main Event" last night) makes this even more alarming and astounding.

While formatting the "five years ago" back issue of the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter for VIP members tonight, I was struck by the opening and closing lines of my cover story that week. Here they are, unedited:

OPENING LINE: "Vince McMahon has been forced to make more last–second major changes to his storylines in the last five months than any time in his history, the latest being the untimely injury to John Cena."

and...

CLOSING LINE: "Raw dropped to a 2.8 rating the day after No Mercy, a ten–year low for the second Monday of October. Ratings with Cena hadn't been great, so McMahon being forced to shuffle plans due to Cena's injury may lead to some positive changes."

Sound familiar? A Cena injury led to a record-low rating. It turned out five years ago the go-to replacement was Randy Orton, plus Shawn Michaels returned. This time, WWE doesn't have Triple H to go to (he got a haircut after all, and he's well into his 40s and saving himself for a big WrestleMania match and payday). WWE doesn't have Shawn Michaels to go to (he's retired and already was used for the Summerslam hype for Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H). So, WWE promoted from within, moving Ryback to the top.

Five years ago, they had Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Bobby Lashley, Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, Jeff Hardy, and Mr. Kennedy on the bench. The bench now is thinner. But, as I noted in the final line, today's situation might inspire McMahon to make some positive, needed changes. Of course, the most important change he could make would be cutting Raw back to two hours.

This might be the most important decision facing him since he told me in a phone conversation early in the Monday Night War that he would consider "blinking first" and moving Raw to another night after Nitro began beating Raw badly in the ratings. Back then he didn't shift to a new night and he ultimately won the war. He shouldn't, though, use that as a reason to hold steady and stubborn to the failed three-hour format of Raw now.

Why not? Because, ironically, he won the Monday Night Battle not because he "didn't blink" and move Raw to another night. He won, in great part - perhaps more than any other reason - because WCW went after the quick buck and added an hour to Nitro, making it three hours, and around the same time added two other hours of programming to their weekly schedule (Thunder). Sound familiar?

Here is my complete cover story from five years ago. VIP members of PWTorch can read complete issues of the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter including my cover stories on the biggest happenings every week in wrestling history, including new back issues posted in tablet-friendly PDF formats and web browser and mobile browser friendly all-text editions from 5, 10, and 20 years ago every week. To go VIP, click here: http://www.pwtorch.com/govip/

COVER STORY by Wade Keller - Cover-Dated Oct. 13, 2007

Vince McMahon has been forced to make more last–second major changes to his storylines in the last five months than any time in his history, the latest being the untimely injury to John Cena.

On the Oct. 1 edition of Raw, Cena headlined in his first match against Mr. Kennedy ever on Raw. In a “fluke” incident, on a simple armdrag, Cena tore his right pectoral muscle. He gutted out the match in pain and got a lame–looking tapout win over Kennedy with a looselly applied STF.

Afterward, he was quickly diagnosed with a likely pec tear. The next day he was off to see Dr. James Andrews and have quick surgery. With this type of injury, having surgery quickly is a key to quick healing as the torn muscle will shrivel up and become more difficult to reattach if not tended to right away. Cena will miss 6–12 months of action. He is now off WrestleMania 23.

Cena was scheduled to wrestle at No Mercy this past Sunday in the main event grudge match against Randy Orton. Instead, McMahon had to adjust on the fly, without an extra edition of Raw to reset storylines. He opened the PPV by announcing Cena was injured and declaring that no. 1 contender Orton would be awarded the WWE Hvt. Title. McMahon said he wanted to deliver a big match for the fans by offering a title match later. Hunter came out and goaded McMahon into letting him wrestle Orton right then and there. It seemed an odd placement of a world title match— opening a PPV – but it had a purpose behind it. Besides getting the show off to a big start, it was a set–up for Triple H wrestling two more times.

First, he defeated Orton to capture the WWE Title. It appeared that Orton was handed the title mostly just to give Triple H a chance to win the belt rather than have it handed to him, but ultimately he would be filling the top babyface champion spot from Cena. McMahon, though, wasn't through with Hunter, forcing him to wrestle his scheduled match against Umaga an hour later. When Hunter survived that match, McMahon ordered Hunter to wrestle again— against Orton again— this time a Last Man Standing match for the WWE Title.

That match, Hunter's third of the night, would end up being the best of the night— a four–star–plus bloody, grueling, dramatic finale that saved an otherwise below–par, odd PPV event. No Mercy featured a short women's title match, a very short ECW Title match with a lame interference DQ ending, and a pizza eating contest between two of WWE's better workers— MVP and Matt Hardy. But by the end of the show, Hunter and Orton saved it from being a total lemon. In PWTorch.com's online poll, voters were split 50/50 on whether it was a thumbs up or down show. Opinions were spread out, with 15 percent giving it a zero score, but 30 percent giviing it either a 7.0 or 8.0 grade, with all other possible scores getting between 5 and 10 percent of the vote.

It was a tough show to grade in part because it was so different than what was expected and had such a mix of oddball highs and lows.

The next night on Raw, WWE began to reshuffle the deck. Orton entered the show as the new champion, with Hunter set up to chase him. In a surprise return at the very end of Raw, Shawn Michaels came out to confront Orton, who was blamed for sending Michaels into virtual retirement with his punt kick months back. Michaels was not scheduled to return this soon, but was talked into it when Cena went down. Michaels and McMahon often butt heads, and have over serious issues in recent weeks and months, but Michaels is also a company man with pride in his career, and this was a major opening that was hard to turn down. In Cena's absence, there are big paydays to be had. Money that would have gone to Cena is going to end up in somone's pocket, barring a complete collapse in business.

So Michaels is either in position to be a top babyface and step right into the co–headline spot left vacant by Cena, or he can end up as a top heel opposite Triple H and perhaps a returning Chris Jericho later this month. It would be crowded on Raw to have Michaels, Hunter, Jericho, Bobby Lashley, and even Jeff Hardy sharing the top babyface spots without many strong heels (Orton, Kennedy, Umaga, and then a dropoff), so it seems someone is due for a turn.

Lashley may be the best choice to turn heel since he's so bland as a babyface, but Michaels would be the best. The problem is Michaels is that he won't do anything on TV that would embarrass him when he goes to church on Sunday back home in San Antonio. Plus, Michaels is so good in the ring, it's difficult to imagine what he could do to turn the fans against him that wouldn't be pushing too far for him to be comfortable with in real life.

WrestleMania 23 plans are also thrown off, with Cena vs. Triple H delayed at least a year yet again. Triple H and Batista had one of those foreshadowing cross–pathing moments backstage at No Mercy that suggested the two former Evolution members may build toward a “dream match” at WrestleMania. Meanwhile, Michaels moves up into a semi–main event slot with Cena gone, likely against Undertaker, with whom he had one of the best ten minute stretches of the year in the ring at the Royal Rumble earlier this year.

Raw dropped to a 2.8 rating the day after No Mercy, a ten–year low for the second Monday of October. Ratings with Cena hadn't been great, so McMahon being forced to shuffle plans due to Cena's injury may lead to some positive changes.


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