What if WWE held a pay-per-view event and no one cared?
Did it really happen? Does it actually count?
By Erik Beaston | On Twitter @ErikBeaston
The biggest wrestling promotion in the world is about to find out Sunday night as it presents Stomping Grounds, a show as lazily compiled as its stupid-ass logo. Full of rematches from Saudi Arabia, a grudge match between Roman Reigns and Drew McIntyre that has been all about Shane McMahon and an undercard inspiring ‘mehs’ from the fan base, the show is about as interesting as watching paint dry on a dreary Tuesday afternoon.
How did a card rife with talent, though, become so un-engaging and uninteresting?
And how does so closely, and uncomfortably, resemble the In Your House pay-per-views of the mid-1990s?
The two main events of Stomping Grounds were announced either during, or within minutes of the end of Super ShowDown in Jeddah. By the time Goldberg and Undertaker finished their negative-star main event, we knew Stomping Grounds would feature Seth Rollins vs. Baron Corbin for the Universal Championship, Kofi Kingston would defend the WWE Championship against Dolph Ziggler inside a steel cage, Roman Reigns and Drew McIntyre would wage war once more, and Becky Lynch would put her Raw women’s title up for grabs against Lacey Evans.
The problem with those matches? Each was a rematch from either a prior pay-per-view or the show that had just concluded. So, at a time when WWE Creative has been harshly (though deservedly) criticized, its response was a card chock full of rematches. Every single one of those matches had been seen on a big stage within the last three months, most within weeks. When the current creative direction is struggling the way WWE’s had been, the last thing fans want is confirmation that yes, the company is staying the course whether you like it or not.
Even the undercard, thrown together largely at the last minute, is underwhelming. Even a match as appealing as Ricochet vs. Samoa Joe was not announced until Monday’s show, when the former defeated four other Superstars for the chance to challenge Joe. There is no backstory, nothing for fans to sink their teeth into besides the promise that will probably be a really solid match.
Somewhere along the line, complacency got the best of the company, allowing them to turn out cards devoid of rhyme or reason beyond continuing a storyline fans have already expressed disinterest in. They rested on their laurels, hoping they could throw any two or more of the talented Superstars on their roster in the ring and the action between the ropes would make up for the lack of story that existed between them. We have seen many times, though, that is not the case. At the end of the day, it is still a live action storytelling artform. Fans need to be invested or it’s essentially guys doing moves for moves sake before one of them scores a three count.
Unfortunately, the lack of storytelling up until the last week of television, which was remarkably good, has doomed this pay-per-view to mediocrity before it even hits the WWE Network airwaves Sunday evening.
It also has it more closely resembling a notorious series of pay-per-view presentations once rolled out by WWE in between its higher profile shows.
Parallels to In Your House
The mid-90s were not a particularly successful time for WWE. House shows were down, television ratings were abysmal and worst of all, the shows themselves were nearly unwatchable as wrestling racecar drivers squared off with grappling plumbers. Yet, for reasons that lie solely in the almighty dollar, and a desire to not be outdone by WCW and their expanding schedule, Vince McMahon opted to overexpose his underdeveloped and underwritten product through a series of two-hour pay-per-views named In Your House.
The events were rarely good, relying on their main events to carry them. They were wrestled in less-than-full arenas, at a time when the performers themselves were not necessarily invested in the company. Some were even looking for ways out of their deals and the opportunity to take their talents elsewhere for bigger paydays and creative freedoms.
It has already been reported that Stomping Grounds is struggling to sell tickets. Throw in an underwhelming card, talent seeking employment opportunities elsewhere and the general apathy toward the WWE card and the event is taking on the characteristics of one of those infamous IYH shows.
Even worse than all of those elements, though, is the fact that nothing ever really happened at those shows. They were two hours of wrestling where a storyline may have been advanced here or there but by-and-large, they were placeholder shows designed to make a few extra dollars.
And that is where WWE finds itself with Stomping Grounds.
WrestleVotes is even reporting the wrestlers themselves are drawing comparisons to those much maligned events.
It does not appear, at least on the surface, that anything of any real note will occur at the show. There are no signs of a massive development involving any top stars or championships. Instead, it feels like a glorified episode of Raw that will probably clock in right around the same amount of time as the weekly flagship.
So why bother?
The WWE product is so overexposed thanks to the sheer amount of television it produces each week that no one can actually make the argument that a show like Stomping Grounds is a necessity. It serves no purpose other than eating up another three or four hours of the fans’ time and will be remembered for roughly one week until the bloom is off that rose and all eyes turn toward Extreme Rules, which may very well be another pay-per-view jam-packed with rematches.
Like In Your House, Stomping Grounds is a transparent cash grab. It is devoid of creativity, it feels like a placeholder and it has been approached as one by management. The most likely result? A show that fans blow off and management uses to set up Raw and SmackDown with, rather than blowing off ongoing stories like pay-per-views should.
By Erik Beaston | Follow on Twitter @ErikBeaston
Erik is a feature WWE writer for Bleacher Report. You can read more of his work here.