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Wins and losses are a funny thing in pro wrestling. For most of their existence, wins and losses meant everything to a wrestler's career, so much so that it was a frequent storyline that surfaced backstage that one wrestler refused to do the job for another, from Frank Gotch and George Hackenschmidt to Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels.
But now, with kayfabe all but dead, do wins and losses even really matter that much anymore? 95 percent of wrestling fans in 2015 now that the outcomes of the matches are determined beforehand, and that real skill and ability doesn't factor into who wins the match and who loses. To think about how serious wrestlers in the past have been about refusing to job to another wrestler is almost laughable, in 2015 almost everyone does jobs on a monthly, if not weekly, basis. During a promo last month, Nikki Bella said openly that wins and losses don't matter, and while that was a particularly poor choice of words for someone whose job it is to win wrestling matches, a lot of fans agreed that there was some truth to her statement.
WWE, the leader in professional wrestling, also agrees that wins and losses don't matter. Every storyline pretty much involves two wrestlers or teams going at it over a couple months and wrestling big matches at PPVs/special events. Chances are that they split the first two (or four, or six) matches before coming to some sort of conclusion where one of the wrestlers/teams wins the "last" match, although often times it is unconvincing on who actually won the feud and who lost it. The even-steven kind of booking is arguably the most impactful piece of philosophy WWE employs when it comes to getting talent over, and almost every single time it is met with lackluster results. Take a look at any wrestlers win/loss statistics for televised matches and outside of the job guys like Heath Slater and Bo Dallas, almost all of them will hover around 50 percent.
According to WWE, wins and losses only really matter for one guy, and his name is John Cena. What is Cena's win-loss percentage over the last five years? Why that would be 89 percent, far and away the highest percentage for any full-time talent. How is his number so high? While WWE likes to use the even-steven booking mentality for a majority of their talent, Cena has some special rules all to himself. The Cena booking rules involve him dropping the first match to an opponent, usually under sketchy circumstances, only to win the next three or four matches in a row. Instead of finishing the feud with a 2-1 edge in matches, Cena usually finishes with a 4-1 ir 5-1 edge. Just this year he has done that in feuds with Rusev, Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins. Cena's entire wrestling existence is built upon that booking method. Is it any surprise that seemingly the only wrestler WWE seems to have consistent confidence in as a main event talent is Cena? He is the only guy on the whole roster that WWE allows to look like anything more than just an average talent.
Guys winning a majority of their matches is historically how wrestlers have gotten over with the audience. Hulk Hogan, Sting, Steve Austin, Goldberg, Triple H, The Undertaker, they all got over with the audience because they won most of their matches, just like Cena has. Although we all accept that wrestling matches are predetermined, you still have to sell that talent to the audience as a viable contender.
The way wrestling fans care about the product in 2015 is far different than the way wrestling fans cared about the product in the heyday of kayfabe, but in a way it is still the same. The anticipation of big matches is still there, not really because we want to know who the better wrestler is, but we are interested in seeing who WWE allows to win the match, with the artistic merit coming in the way they win the match. As fans, we still care about who wins each match, not necessarily from a competitive standpoint, but because it will affect how we react to the product. Because of that, the fans have to believe that someone can be the world champion when they wrestle for the world title, and the way fans believe in someone is still based on their win-loss record, because when push comes to shove, that is still the tell-tale indicator of if WWE has confidence in that performer to be a top star.
A perfect example of this is Kane being the number one contender for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The match seems ridiculous because nobody believes Kane can become the world champion. And why is that? Because Kane has gone 13-87 in 2015 (which is actually an improvement over last year, when he went 10-125). As hard as WWE tries to make Kane seem like a viable contender over the last few weeks, they have been telling fans for years that Kane is a big loser, and fans have no faith in him to win the title, making the match predictable and disinteresting.
Another example of WWE not taking wins and losses seriously is the current state of the Diva's division. WWE attempted to revitalize the division by calling up new talents and pushing the division as something more than just a bathroom break for live audiences. Why did WWE do this? Because they wanted to get on the bandwagon of women making headlines in sports. That is not a theory from me, WWE openly admits that they are doing this because of the recent success of Serena Williams, Ronda Rousey and other female athletes.
Of course, WWE has dropped the ball with the so-called "Diva's Revolution" so far. WWE has once again employed the even-steven booking method, doing their best to make the nine women involved look like complete equals, all trading wins and losses with each other. That strategy is the exact opposite of what has made Serena and Rousey notable. They are known because they are dominant in their sports, not because they win half of their battles. As Chris Jericho mentioned in his "Talk is Jericho" podcast, it is impossible to successfully push nine people at once, but that hasn't stopped WWE from trying.
If WWE's recent struggles have taught us anything, it is that wins and losses most certainly matter, in fact they are critical for the success of the company. Two weeks ago when I wrote that WWE only has three full-time talents that can be reasonable champions, Cena, Randy Orton and Seth Rollins. The main reason they have so few guys over is because they act like winning and losing isn't that important and nobody is allowed to shine brighter than the rest of the talent. Their booking where everyone splits matches might keep the talent happy, but it is killing their star power.
You can follow Jesse Collings on Twitter @JesseCollings