After Seven Long Years

Kevin Kelly

After Seven Long Years
By Kevin Kelly

These were the first words uttered by @TheRock during his goosebump-producing return on Raw but the title of this article also features hope for the future of the WWE. As first reported here on Wrestlezone recently, after seven long years, it looks as if the WWE is going to take a look at how they are developing the stars of the future.

And yes, the return of The Great One and the possibility of changes in talent development are inexorably linked because the dearth of new, top stars produced by the WWE since the Rock left in 2004.

According to the exclusive report from Wrestlezone’s Nick Paglino, Triple H is apparently pushing for changes in the talent development process, to get Jim Ross more involved in scouting and for Hunter to oversee some of what John Laurinaitis does when it comes to talent development. Whether or not these changes happen will, of course, be up to Vince McMahon.

Who chooses the athletes brought into the developmental system? When Jim Ross was in charge, he signed The Rock, the Hardys, Edge and Christian, Kurt Angle, Randy Orton, John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Shelton Benjamin, Batista. And more. Listen, not everyone JR signed worked out but all those mentioned became stars.

Over the past seven years, who are the top guys signed since that responsibility shifted away from Ross to Laurinaitis? CM Punk… Miz… Sheamus… Alberto Del Rio… Dolph Ziggler. Punk is fantastic but will the others make it to the level of Kurt Angle, Randy Orton or Edge? I am not even going to suggest that any of them will ever get to the Rock or Cena level because it’s so rare for an athlete to get to that stratosphere.

But over the same period, over 150 wrestlers have been released; many of them never saw the main roster. It sounds as if increased accountability is on the table and that is the best thing that has happened over the past seven years. Here is what I would do if put in charge of WWE developmental.

  1. Develop a Mission Statement and Get Vince to Stick to it.

Vince is famous for changing his mind. Make him sign his name to a document that clearly states what the mission of the Developmental division is all about. He can still change his mind (and will) but at least you got some level of buy-in from the Old Man. 

  1. Create a Business Plan and Stick to it.

Not only will the written business plan leave no room for debate on how to do things, it will force accountability for those in charge of day-to-day operations for the group. A written business plan also allows for duplication… it’s the key to McDonalds’ success and can lead to expansion for the division.

I bet Jim Ross could put a team together and draw up a fantastic business plan. Parts One and Two make up the Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the Developmental system. 

  1. Breed Out the Negative

A zero-tolerance policy must be established at the corporate level and enforced. Kevin Dunn was notorious for tearing down talent he didn’t like… Not to their faces but on the company plane, behind their backs. Not to help but to be vindictive and spiteful at something he never was… a caring, passionate, charismatic, athletic hero. His anger at his own physical and emotional shortcomings overwhelms this little man.

Here’s the rule going forward… if you know nothing about being a wrestler, you shut up. If you don’t respect the art of professional wrestling, you shut up. The judgmental voices must be silenced. Talent must be allowed to bloom and foster, grow and fail, improve and regress without fear of outside, debilitating forces cutting them off at the knees.  

  1. Study the Best of the NFL and MLB

Scouting and talent development takes shape in pro football and baseball across beautiful college campuses and in remote areas of Central America. In cramped film study rooms and hard aluminum bleacher seats at a high school field. Here, there and everywhere…

WWE should study what scouts do in major sports and apply their best practices. Develop “measurables” that apply to wrestling but trust the gut instincts. Forget “Sabermetrics”… they won’t exist in wrestling but create some objective evidence. Bret Hart featured a 30 point system in his book. Bring Bret in as a consultant, by the way.

  1. End the Mixed Signals

Grow your hair, cut your hair, throw more punches, your punches suck.

Wrestlers hear feedback all the time… most of it is counter-productive. A hundred wrestling experts could watch the same match and all hundred could have different thoughts, opinions and feedback. Many wrestlers themselves suffer “paralysis by analysis” but one voice for feedback going forward might quiet some internal paranoid that blisters up with multiple sounds of criticism.

  1. Teach More than Just Wrestling

Who promotes the towns for WWE? Who announces the matches? Who referees the matches? Who designs the website, writes for the magazines and develops the marketing? Where do they come from? Why don’t they come from the developmental system?

In the best major league systems, it’s all about symmetry. If a ballplayer is taught the same lessons in Rookie Ball, Single A, Double A and then finally Triple A, he comes to the major league club and does things the same way. It’s one of the reasons why the Minnesota Twins are so successful. Not only should the WWE promote wrestlers who do things “the WWE way” but the behind-the-scenes folks as well.

If a promoter learns to promote in the developmental system, he or she will be a valuable asset for the big club. Hire Jim Kettner (legendary ECWA promoter) to teach the newbies how to build towns and make it work. Let Jim Ross teach announcers. On and on…  

  1. Invest in Territories

Last but certainly not least, Vince McMahon must stop investing in developmental talent but rather developmental territories instead. I’ve talked about this before. Why pay people to train in one school when you can have them learn and pay their dues in revenue-generating towns all across the country?

Regional territories were the lifeblood of the industry for over 50 years… the rise of the WWE in the 1980’s was greatly enhanced by the talent they signed away from the territories to work with Hogan, Savage, etc.

Now, they should take some young, hungry promoters and combine them with some young, hungry wrestlers, savvy veterans and the right mix of outlandish characters/silly stuff and cultivate the winning formula to once day move up the best from the group to the big club. Do that in 6-10 regional groups and you can move talent around across the country to work with different wrestlers/in front of different crowds.

Considering how many non-revenue generating pieces Johnny Ace has hired during his tenure, Vince might actually save money by investing in the infrastructure to rebuild the territories, all owned by him.

I could go on and on but it’s time to wrap it up and get it posted. Do you have any ideas to add to this? My plan is inclusionary, not exclusionary. Only when they write the Mission Statement does the debate end. Up until then, the discussion continues. 

@realkevinkelly or

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