John Cena. Seth Rollins. Randy Orton. Cesaro. Tyson Kidd. Nikki Bella. Sting. And, of course, Daniel Bryan. All of these performers have WrestleMania-level talent, some at highest levels of the card, yet all have fallen victim to the most pressing issue facing WWE at the moment: injuries. What was once touted as the biggest WrestleMania to date has now sputtered into an ever-changing mismash of styles and stories, all in hopes of selling out the enormous 105,000-person AT&T Stadium.
Hell, WWE is so diminished at the top of the card right now that a Hail Mary was thrown in the direction of Shane McMahon, the prodigal son who had been away from the company for six years. Would Shane-O be back in any normal year, never mind back to wrestle the damn Undertaker at the Showcase of the Immortals? Probably not, no. (Sidebar: Shane also became the first on-screen character to use the injuries as a story point, blaming them on The Authority during Raw and proving the script doesn't fall too far from reality). Sure, Shane is going to draw back fans from the Attitude Era, and it’s not like he won’t be an entertaining part of the show; it’s just that the move reeks of desperation from a company backed into a corner by their own brutal schedule.
So what can WWE do? How can they at least lessen the odds of injuries forcing them into another mad scramble in the future? Create a WWE offseason.
The ideal, from an injuries standpoint, would be to give the entire company three months off to rest and recuperate after WrestleMania, which these days serves as the professional wrestling equivalent to a season finale. This would follow the lead of both “real” sports and TV shows, which all take breaks in between seasons. Unfortunately, regardless of the broken bones and concussions and missing stars on the cards, it's difficult to imagine a scenario where WWE would ever consider this because there is simply too much money in a year-long schedule. Especially as WWE turns their sights on expanding further into new territories (Japan, India, the Middle East, and eventually China). Additionally, WrestleMania usually builds momentum for a few new stars every year, and stopping work completely for three months might derail that. So that’s out.
by rotating talent, WWE could kill any number of birds with one stone.
So let's consider an offseason that gives all of the main event-level talent three months off, allowing midcard stalwarts (the Dolph Ziggler/Neville/Rusev tier of the world) a quarter of the year to run the show. This would be a good time to highlight the secondary titles, as well; have the Intercontinental Championship function as your de facto world title for three months, and elevate some new talent so that if an injury does happen, you have a deeper roster to compensate.
The downside? A lot of WWE's business is heavily driven by top-level talents, especially at the house show circuit. Even losing John Cena by himself sends WWE into panic mode; now add Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, et al to that list and it again seems unlikely Vince McMahon and company would leave WWE's fortune up to the mid-range wrestlers. So, with all that we know—what's the long-term solution?
Rotate the wrestlers.
Let’s break it down: If WWE gave every wrestler a mandated three-month vacation every 18 months or so, but staggered them just right so that it’s never missing an entire chunk of the top-tier talent, they would be well on their way to finally addressing the injury issue. The benefits become clear immediately: less work on wrestlers allows them to heal up and rest so that they not only can perform for longer, but they can perform at a higher intensity. Think of it as getting a tune-up for a sports cars. Additionally, time off keeps superstars fresh (looking your way, Roman) and builds fan anticipation for their return—you’d be getting return pops from the crowd on the regular when a fan favorite returns.
A vacation would also allow wrestlers to tweak their characters, which would help those floundering between pointless back-and-forth heel and face turns ("welllll it’s the Big Show"). Finally, it would allow WWE to use the deep roster that they have accumulated by pushing everyone up one peg when a main event talent is resting; as an example, if Roman Reigns were to take a break, you move Dean Ambrose into his slot, Kalisto into Dean Ambrose’s, Neville into Kalisto’s, etc. It would allow fans to connect with some hidden gems on the roster while bubbling the fringe talent to rise into the next tier of stardom. Win-win for everyone.
Of course, there are other solutions: lessen the house show workload, lower the duration of Raw back to two hours, perhaps cut out a third of the PPVs (this would actually help Creative a lot too, but that’s a story for another day). None of these seem very likely, though, as they clearly would hurt WWE’s bottom line. Instead, by rotating talent, WWE could kill any number of birds with one stone. Not only would the injuries slow down, but the talent on the roster top to bottom would get more of a spotlight. Who knows? You could find the next Daniel Bryan or CM Punk if you give young wrestlers time and quality creative instead of five-minute matches on SmackDown.
And if you don't find that next star? Well, with some fresher bodies, at least you don’t have to rely on 46-year-old non-wrestlers to draw an audience for your biggest show of the year.