Remaking The WWE Developmental System
Earlier in the week, a rumor began to circulate that WWE had notified its developmental territory, Florida Championship Wrestling, that it would be severing ties with the promotion. The rumor spread quickly, eventually growing to a level where WWE actually felt compelled to release a statement disputing the report. Triple H called the rumors, “absolutely not true”, and stated the system was going to be revamped, not shut down. If Triple H holds true to his word, an announcement of the changes should be made not long after WrestleMania. With any luck, this announcement will include news of the expansion of their training system, rather than just a simple relocation or other barely significant move.
Vince McMahon has said, on more than one occasion, that putting all the old territories out of the business was possibly a mistake, as it greatly decreased the number of outlets available to the WWF/E to acquire talent. If you take a look at the talent raids of the mid-80’s, the WWF became a powerhouse thanks largely to work put in by other promotions. Their top babyface, Hulk Hogan, came over from the AWA. The top heel, Roddy Piper, was a star in both the Mid-Atlantic and Portland prior to making his way to New York. Other huge stars like Junkyard Dog, Iron Sheik, Randy Savage, Curt Hennig, Greg Valentine, and many others all experienced massive success elsewhere before joining the WWF.
By the early 90’s, as the majority of the last few once relevant territories closed their doors, a huge drop in the overall quality of the talent pool became very noticeable within the WWF. In an effort to compensate for the lack of new, hot talent, the WWF resorted to silly gimmicks and ridiculous characters (shout out to Mantaur, The Goon, and Duke “The Dumpster” Droese). The end result to this shift was a drop in ratings and a very dark, sometimes unwatchable period of WWF/E programming.
Currently, WWE relies heavily on FCW to prepare pros for the big step up to the main roster. If you look at the results of the ‘single system’ method of preparation, I believe you’d have to say it’s far from perfect. Though FCW has trained a very fair share of superstars currently on WWE’s main roster, more must be done. Quite simply, relying solely on the Florida promotion for the majority of WWE’s younger performers is shortsighted. Working the same gimmick, night in and night out, in front of the same fans, at the same venue, does not typically give a performer all the tools they need to immediately step on the big stage and be all they’re capable of being. Think of it in the same way you would an actor. Sylvester Stallone is a very entertaining action star and has been for many, many years, but it’s all he knows. Put him in a straight up romance and fans aren’t gonna buy their ticket. Yes, he found a niche where he could be very successful, but he’s hardly thought of in the same light as the George Clooney’s and Morgan Freeman’s of the acting world.
I’d love to see WWE invest some real money in their developmental system by increasing the number of training grounds from one to four or five. Why not use Booker T’s promotion in Houston, TX, Pro Wrestling Alliance, as a developmental territory? Why not fund the expansion of Lance Storm’s Storm Wrestling Academy in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and make use of the wealth of knowledge he’s accumulated over his more than 20 years in the business? Do the same thing in California and/or Chicago. Hell, WWE is a global entity, so why not play off of that and set something up over in England? TNA has certainly proven that a smaller promotion can draw well throughout the U.K.
In my view, a massive expansion of WWE’s developmental system is exactly what is needed to take the next step with regards to the product. Not only would it give the WWE a larger talent pool from which to pull, but it would enable that talent to work different promotions, for different bookers, honing their craft and becoming more well-rounded. Take a guy like Richie Steamboat as an example. He, much like his father, is a born babyface and will almost certainly find his way to the main roster sooner than later, but prior to that, why not give him an opportunity to work heel in a completely new area, just to see what might happen? I firmly believe allowing these men and women in developmental to learn in various settings, from various trainers, while spending time with different roster members, would foster growth, which would result in a greater percentage of roster-ready pros, prepared for the big stage.
I understand for most fans, a statement regarding a promotion most have never heard of in the first place probably doesn’t rate very high on their list of things to consider, but make no mistake about it, this upcoming announcement from the WWE regarding their developmental system is extremely important. I’m hopeful it will signal the end to the ‘single system’ training method and that WWE will take the opportunity to right a 25 year old wrong. This shift in philosophy would only mean good things for not only the wrestling business, but more importantly, the fans of the industry.