Around the Loop: Three Reasons Why the Wildcard Rule is Not Enough

WWE fans may have seen the last Superstar Shake-Up. On Monday night’s edition of RAW, Vince McMahon introduced the Wildcard Rule. This stipulation, seemingly thought of in the middle of the ring, allows four Superstars per episode to crash the other show. Four competitors from RAW can show up on SmackDown Live, and vice versa. Neat, huh? Maybe not. Here are three reasons why the Wildcard Rule is one more knot in the noose for WWE.

Bad for hardcore fans

It’s no secret that RAW‘s ratings are slipping. This past episode drew less than 2.5 million viewers. That sounds like a lot. But, according to the Wrestling Observer, that’s still the second lowest rated episode that wasn’t a holiday show. Curiosity can account for some of those numbers. How fans feel about seeing Roman Reigns on both shows is another issue.

The company seems convinced (should I start stylizing that word so it reads “con-Vinced?” The elder McMahon is still making all these decisions) that Reigns is their hot ticket. They may not be wrong. The kids love Reigns. He sells merch like mad. This is the guy who beat leukemia. There’s a lot of goodwill towards Reigns right now.

But viewers who are convinced that Reigns is still being shoved down our throats may be less than thrilled with the Wildcard Rule. In fact, any Superstar a viewer is not a fan of could show up anywhere at any time. If there are people who watch a specific show just so they don’t have to watch a certain performer, then the Wildcard Rule becomes a dreadful thing. If Baron Corbin starts showing up on both main roster shows, I’ll never hear the end of it from Rich Kirwin.

Regardless, anyone can appear wherever, whenever, and that’s cool. Until it’s not.

WWE hasn’t pulled off a decent surprise in years

The WWE has a bad habit of telegraphing everything. It’s not simply foreshadowing. The announce team drops obvious hints, laying them at the audience’s feet like gifts left in tribute. The entrance theme hits and the performer hits the ramp while Michael Cole and/or Corey Graves lose their minds. They are scripted to act shocked that so-and-so is running towards the ring with vengeance on their minds. Meanwhile, those watching at home shrug their shoulders. We knew it was going to happen.

WWE saves their real surprises for the Royal Rumble. That’s fun because you never know who is going to run out there. It might be someone from the past, could be an NXT or NXT UK performer, it could be a celebrity. There’s an air of wonderment to those events that is missing on the weekly product. The last massive surprise was when The Hardy Boyz came back during WrestleMania 33. I can’t lie. I cried. That moment made my little dark heart soften up.

But that was two years ago. What has WWE done for us lately?

Here’s a typical setup. Sami Zayn is in a match. Graves talks about Zayn’s friend, Kevin Owens. Keep in mind: we’ve already seen a video from Kevin Owens about how he isn’t at the arena that night. Suddenly, Kevin Owens shows up to help Sami! It’s a crazy surprise! Except it isn’t. Anyone who has watched more than one episode of NCIS could figure out that Owens was going to appear. It’s Chekhov’s Wrestler. If the person is talked about in the first hour, they’ll show up in the third hour.

They can do better. It isn’t a matter of writing. It involves less writing. They shouldn’t mention the surprise at all, like they’re planning a birthday party. Let the performer show up and shock everyone without the LED boards lighting up or their music rattling the speakers.

Why is there a brand split at all?

Does the Wildcard Rule spell the end of the brand split between RAW and SmackDown Live? It’s a distinct possibility. Like a reckless wizard, WWE has created a portal between two worlds and left that sucker wide open. How long will it be before the entire thing breaks down, with performers showing willy-nilly to beat down their opponents whenever they take a notion? Doesn’t that ruin everything?

Nope. In fact, they should have been doing this the whole time.

Consider that one of the reasons WWE has been failing in the ratings has been the predictability of the shows. The brand split between RAW and SmackDown Live is directly responsible for that sameness. We know what we’re going to get when we turn on RAW. Seth Rollins is going to burn it down. Bobby Lashley is going to grump around the ring. Braun Strowman will do Braun Strowman things. We get it. You’re a wrestler.

It’s the same show every week with very little to differentiate between episodes. Why not let these people run wild between shows? Fights out of nowhere! Feuds that spread across the entire WWE playground. Crazy programs between performers we would never expect to clash. The possibilities are endless!

But not with things as they are now. The Wildcard Rule as it is, constructed as a safely calculated ratings grab, is not enough. It only guarantees that the top guys from each show will be on both RAW and SmackDown Live. With a roster as deep as WWE’s, there’s room for everyone to play. We don’t need to see AJ Styles twice a week when there are talents like Nikki Cross, Aleister Black, and Dana Brooke waiting for a massive push.

Kill the Wildcard Rule now. Go ahead and consolidate the brand split. Stop telegraphing so-called “surprises.” The opportunity is there for WWE to do some amazing things across their entire platform. Sure, throw Main Event and Superstars into the mix. There’s no reason why Samoa Joe shouldn’t show up on one of those ancillary shows.

WWE has been regimented and predictable for far too long. It’s time for the company to let chaos reign and really sports entertain us.

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