Some of the WWE’s best rivalries have spanned months, if not years. Triple H and Shawn Michaels’ epic battles can be traced all the way back to when the pair formed D-Generation X in 1997 and culminated in a near hour-long Hell in a Cell in 2004. The Undertaker and Kane have warred on and off since 1997 and, thanks to their captivating history, is a matchup which would still be welcome to many fans.
Very recently, the WWE has had some glowing examples of lengthy rivalries. Tension permeated Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose and the vigor with which the two young superstars approached the program made it arguably the best feud of 2014. John Cena and Kevin Owens tore the house down on three consecutive pay-per-views this past summer.
However, the WWE has relied too heavily on extended rivalries, especially in its mid-card. Stardust and Neville are still stuck in their feud. Sheamus and Randy Orton reignited their middling rivalry for seemingly the millionth time this past summer. Dolph Ziggler and Rusev, after several boring months, looks as though it’s mercifully come to an end.
Make no mistake, the WWE’s committment to lengthy, meaningful rivalries isn’t an inherently bad thing. John Cena and Triple H, in 2002 and 2005, respectively, took their World Championships and went on a tear through new foes on a seemingly monthly basis. As a result, both superstars seemed downright unstoppable — not in a good way.
One of the biggest gripes about the so fondly-remembered Attitude Era is that competitors jumped from feud to feud without rhyme or reason. That randomness, though part of what made the period so fun, also made it tough to follow at times. The WWE shouldn’t totally revert back to that formula, but sprinkling a few fresh battles into the mix with regularity would be a welcome change.
One of the biggest issues with the WWE having their rivalries span months at a time is it makes tough to decipher who “won” the feud. Sure, one guy (or girl) will take the program’s final bout, but that’ll usually come after trading victories with their opposition. Again, that’s not always a bad thing, but in some instances it’d benefit one Superstar over another to come out as the undisputed winner.
For instance, in Sheamus’ recent program with Orton, did the two really need to trade wins? Orton’s well-established, a guy that could be inserted into the main event scene at a moment’s notice. Sheamus, on the other hand, has been out of the title picture for years now. As the current Money in the Bank holder, an emphatic victory in his program with Orton would do wonders for his legitimacy.
Along with that, some rivalries seem to go on and on simply because the WWE can’t come up with anything else for the Superstars involved. Neville and Stardust is one such example of that. A more prominent one is Ryback’s program with Big Show and Miz.
The Big Guy winning Intercontinental gold, his first championship in the company, was initially a feel-good moment. However, the luster soon wore off as his battles with guys who haven’t been seen as legitimate threats in years wore on. Around the same time that this was going on, Kevins Owens and Cesaro were feuding.
Their rivalry began over a shared desire for the United States Championship. With that belt out of the picture, though, it’s not hard to envision a scenario in which they set their sights on the Intercontinental strap. It would get Ryback out of an underwhelming program and, even though he’d likely still lose the belt to Owens, it’d produce a memorable match or two in his short-lived reign.
Not every rivalry needs to go three or more months. Nor do they need to end after a single month. What the WWE needs to find is a balance between the two. Let some new guys factor into the mid-card. Luke Harper, Big E, Cesaro, Stardust, Neville, even Jack Swagger would all be fresh faces for Kevin Owens and (relatively fresh faces) for John Cena. If such rivalries don’t stick after a month, the company can simply go back to the well.
What they can’t do is continue to force feed fans rivalries that fell flat long ago.