Despite the incredibly smart mark wrestling fans that watch every second they can, Vince McMahon has historically refused to acknowledge his competition. Sure there have been a few exceptions over the years. There was that late 1990's stint when the NWA would appear on WWE Monday Night Raw. There have been sporadic references to the IWGP Championship when AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, or Brock Lesnar are being showered with affection by the announcers but a true acknowledgement of the competition is rare. It is almost as though Vince fears even one fan turning the channel to a competitor for fear they won't come back.
That may have been the case during the Monday Night Wars but that is far from the case these days. The vast majority of smart mark wrestling fans still tune in every Monday and Tuesday night on network television. They order the network and watch every pay per view. Despite their devotion to WWE, they also watch a host of other promotions as well. They tune in to Impact Wrestling, Ring of Honor, New Japan, Evolve, Rev Pro, AAW, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Lucha Underground, heck they even pull up Gala Vision and watch CMLL and AAA. They know who every significant Indy star is.
Because of this reality, WWE is losing out on a significant potential for growing their own brand. Understand this. WWE censoring the acknowledgement of their competition limits the creative forces that WWE will use once the talent eventually signs with them. It has been well documented that AJ Styles debut at the Royal Rumble was met with shock by Vince McMahon who didn't know if the fan base would recognize the newest WWE Superstar. That is an indictment on Vince McMahon's ability to identify what the wrestling audience really wants. It demonstrates how out of touch WWE is with their presentation. Maybe that is why every week we get the same episode of Monday Night Raw week in and week out. Perhaps that is why stars in NXT get called up only to toil in mediocrity on the main roster. They get to the big dance and no one has a clue what to do with them because they have been denied the ability to draw on the talent's prior exploits to inspire new stories.
What WWE needs to realize is that there is a huge opportunity to help their brand out in 2 ways. First off, WWE acknowledging their competition prevents them from introducing their audience to talent that will, at some point, become a part of the active roster. They can bring awareness to the industry and build passion in fringe fans when a new star arrives. When Ricochet debuts with NXT, there can be a firm understanding of where the person came from and that can build to their resume when they bolster the WWE roster.
I would argue that the most important aspect of acknowledging the competition is that it offers an opportunity to collaborate and give the fans matches they never thought possible. There is no true wrestling fan out there who wouldn't love to see Seth Rollins take on Kazuchika Okada at WrestleMania. New Japan ownership has already expressed an interest in working with WWE talent after the success of the Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega match at Wrestle Kingdom 12. It is time for WWE to see the bigger picture and start to adapt and evolve as the business has. It is time for them to embrace their competition and show why they really are the best company in the business. That or it is time for Vince McMahon to step aside and let someone do the job the way it needs to be done for the wrestling fan in this new generation of smart marks.
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