As long time wrestling fans, there are certain tropes, storytelling mechanisms, and match layouts that we pick up on over time. These aspects of wrestling either become second nature to a fan (the heat segment and hot tag in tag team matches), or they become a maddening sights and sounds that make our blood boil (the way competitors in ladder matches climb the ladder as if it’s the Bataan Death March), and I’d like to discuss one today that has become prevalent in modern WWE multi-man matches.
It seems Shane McMahon will not be available for Wrestlemania. Who will take his spot as Daniel Bryan’s partner? Here’s some of my top choices:
Jericho has a concert that night and would supposedly have to reschedule a bunch of shows leading up to Mania. Not likely.
He’s been a tweener for a little while, and this seems like something he might want to interject himself into just to be in the spotlight. Still, not a likely choice to me.
He and Bryan are good friends and have wrestled together in other promotions, so on that level it makes some sense, but he hasn’t been on air in months and nobody really cares that much, so this would be a huge disappointment as far as surprise partners go. Big NO on this one.
He works best as a heel, but Rusev Day is hot and over with the crowd, maybe he’s ready for a face turn. I doubt it, but this wouldn’t be a terrible match for him. Still, I’m leaning towards a not very likely here.
Moving into the realm of truly surprise partners, this would be an all-timer. I could see it happening. Think about DB and Rock standing tall, Rock doing a YES chant, the crowd going nuts. I give this a maybe.
Could Hell freeze over? There’s rumors that Hulk is nearing a return. What better time than Wrestlemania? IF that even happens, and it’s a big IF, would he actually wrestle? I’m going to say no.
Henry was a Smackdown world champion. He’s going into the Hall of Fame that weekend. He’s said not to rule out a comeback. Fans would like to see him in the ring again. I think he’s a semi-likely candidate.
Goldberg beat KO for the Universal Title. He’s also said “never say never.” I just don’t think he fits into the storyline here. Not likely.
Rumors are he’s coming back. If he’s coming to Smackdown, what a great way to announce a return with a vengeance and start a feud right away. This seems like a really good idea to me.
He has a history with DB. Fans love him. I don’t know if his NXT run is ending or not, but if it is, this would be a great way to bring him up to the main roster. However, a lot of casuals and people who don’t watch NXT know who he is, so I doubt that WWE would put him in such a high profile match with a lot of viewers saying who is this guy? Highly unlikely.
The Big Show
Big Show said he’d definitely be back by Wrestlemania. The logical thing would be to put in the Andre Battle Royal, but plans can always change, and I think WWE would put him in this match, which I think is a very underwhelming choice. I love Big Show, but selfishly, I’d like more of a shock. This one makes the most sense to me, and I think this is the most likely choice. Unless WWE decides to be bold and go with….
The pieces are in place. KO destroyed Vince last year. He beat the hell out of Shane multiple times. Vince never got revenge. It’s Wrestlemania. It’s personal. Vince can un-fire them so he can get have his vengeance on the grand stage. Would the 72-year-old wrestle a match? DB would obviously do most of the work and Vince would be much more protected than if it were a singles match. He’s show he can still take a beating. This is what I want to see. I don’t know if he’ll do it, but man I hope so.
Did I miss any logical or likely choices? Any off the wall choices you’d want to see? Fire away.
Tommaso Ciampa’s heel work over the past month has been some of the best I can ever remember. It took him weeks to say a word, and it almost didn’t even matter when he did. Facial expressions, crowd taunting, sign ripping, mannerisms, he nails it, and his timing is perfect. He comes out cocky as hell but ends up enraged because of his obsession with Johnny Gargano. Obviously you have people who are going to cheer the heel no matter what, but Ciampa is not trying to be a cool heel. He’s trying to be hated, detested, booed, vilified, and make himself into the perfect foil to one of the last remaning white-meat babyfaces in Gargano. You rarely see someone wipe their ass with a crowd sign, or taunt an old lady. I’m not exactly sure what it is that he has that other heels don’t that’s making him stand out so much, but I know I want to see more of it.
The following is one man’s opinion about the evolution of WWE content from the time he started watching in 1995 to present day.
Wrestling is just like any other form of media. Trends are developed and brought to fever pitch; some overnight, while others a slow burn leading to a monstrous crescendo. The evolution of wrestling over the past 30 years has been an interesting one to say the least, but up until a certain point in the early to mid-2010 years, storyline has always been at the forefront of WWE content.
In the 80’s, the wrestling was hit and miss and the characters were hokey and all based on outlandish bastardizations of a vocation, but everyone’s motivations were laid out for all to see. Some messages were better than others (due to writing, the performer, or both), but everyone had a reason for their place and they told you about it. This perpetuated into the 90’s and 2000’s with the Attitude and Ruthless Aggression era respectively, with each character having motivations that drive a central story. Stone Cold Steve Austin would come out and rip people to shreds both verbally and physically, but he’d do so because there was rhyme to his reason. He attacked those who wronged him; he laced into people who cut him off when he was delivering content related to his motivations and then gave them the stunner for their hubris. The Rock’s vast catalogue of promos were so earthshattering that they can be remembered by fans to this day; each connected to a character, his interpretation of that character, and in relation to a storyline they both shared a path in. Undertaker’s feuds and the various nefarious things he did in every one of his incarnations could be remembered easily, not just because of the acts of violence he would commit or the “magic” he would conjure, but the context in which he worked within. Storylines are the reason we tuned into Raw and Smackdown every week; the unfolding of some new, critical information in the story leaving us salivating to know what the implications are for next week held us captive and yearning for more. That would not last.
First, we must review the climate of the world, as well as the climate of the wrestling community. Kayfabe was long dead at this point; the internet by the 2000’s had caught fire, leading to an influx of information being available to the wrestling community; Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer became more than just a publication for promoters to utilize in understanding what other territories were doing, but a guidebook for the overly nosy fan on how to overexpose the business for themselves. Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg I marked the first visible time the fans were alerted to backstage politics in such a way that they took matters into their own hands and hijacked the show to voice their opinion. The age of social media developed quickly from the ashes of AOL/AIM and the world began its cascade into the current craze of providing over-extended opinions coupled with a shunted understanding of the ramifications of one’s statements. WWE entered the realm of stocks as a publicly traded company; with the onset of this, Linda’s political campaigns, and the various scandals ranging from re-emerging accusations regarding steroids to Eddie Guerrero’s death and Chris Benoit’s murder-suicide, two letters would forever frame the content presented moving forward: PG. Wrestling minds that dominated the writing of WWE content soon gave way to Hollywood writers over policed by Grapefruits McGee himself (Mr. McMahon). It is to this writer’s detriment as a historian of wrestling content that I dropped off as a wrestling fan from 2007-2014. In other words, I missed almost the entirety of “Lol Cena wins.” I do know that it was during this time period that the Reality era came to be; a time period where the business had become so transparent that wrestling fans, now rubbed deep with the markings of socialization circa late 2000’s and forward, shed their skin of their wild fanatic 90’s selves and entered a phase of fandom that popularized the terms “mark” and “smark.” And lastly, the rise of popularity in Indy wrestling and NJPW, and their lasting effect on how wrestlers practice their craft, and how fans receive the product; here’s where we tie it all together.
With all of the aforementioned zeitgeist material in mind, we are able to take a look at what happened to storylines in WWE in order to better understand where we are today. Wrestling storylines, by the time John Cena took the reigns as the prominent face, were a shell of their former selves. The writing wreaked of content written by people with little to no understanding of the business and its lore; history began being re-written on a constant basis (see Kane’s career) or ignored outright to get the show to progress through the dregs of the three hour Raw and the SmackDown episodes consisting primarily of Raw recaps (notwithstanding brand split eras). The dawn of this time period marked the end of character development for many talent, as only a few performers would ever be so lucky as to draw water from the stone that was WWE’s writing staff. Talent would feud with each other for superficial reasons that a normal adult would find quite ridiculous to be upset about (see Jinder Mahal feuding with Bobby Roode over a top 10 list, Edge and Booker T feuding over being on a Shampoo commercial, and any current Dolph Ziggler program). “Storylines” like these insulted the intelligence of fans, making us cringe to get through the program, and ultimately sending wrestling back into a phase of existence as something that isn’t “cool.” Fans no longer were hungry to find out what would happen on Raw next week, as the content became predictable and bland. Instead, that yearning for something to rabidly kindle an interest in was redirected to behind the wrestling scenes into the backstage political landscape. “What will Stone Cold do next week in response to Vince McMahon’s attack?” was soon replaced by “Superstar suspended for wellness policy violation!” as the primary headline in wrestling news. I reiterate; wrestling stories became so uninteresting that it was more interesting as a fan to pick the business apart from the ground up than to care about the content on the show. As was stated, once in a while, you would find yourself embroiled in a story that has shape to it and gives meaning to the roles of the participants; stories such as CM Punk walking out of the company, Rock vs. Cena, or the Daniel Bryan story (we’ll get to that) would be lighthouses in the vast darkness of WWE content.
With the rise of NXT (the current incarnation; not the game show) off the backs of the growing popularity of the Indy scene and NJPW as alternatives to WWE’s bland repetition on the main roster, fans became attuned to wrestlers performing death defying feats that were ever only performed by cruiserweight divisions and technical wrestlers of old (Angle, Benoit, Guerrero, Malenko, etc.). Wrestling would soon enter a metamorphic phase in which all talent would aspire to blend every style available to them. Fast forward a bit, and you find that WWE has their eyes fixed on capitalizing on this new era of wrestling. The big man archetype has faded from existence, initially by popular demand by wrestling fans, and was replaced by smaller, leaner, more agile wrestlers. CM Punk was, in my opinion, proof that WWE did not get the allure of this oncoming change in trends at the time, but they would go on to attempt redemption through their eventual push of Daniel Bryan. His success as a prime star in a big man dominated world opened doors for men like Finn Balor, AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Andrade Cien Almas, Shinsuke Nakamura, and countless others to make the jump to WWE. Again, I have set the tone, but where is this leading?
Look to the aforementioned names and forget that you ever saw them in NXT (if they were in it at all). Do you actually know anything about that character? Do you know what drives them and motivates them? What makes them happy and sad? What sets them off as a person and puts them into that next gear where the ass whooping they hand out has an extra level of stank on it? Who is this person who has come to the ring and demanded my attention, and why should I give it to them? These questions don’t get to have answers 85% of the time, and therein lays the problem. Wrestling as a whole had taken to the trend of abandoning characters and story for the sake of in ring finesse. We have outlined a myriad of reasons ranging from the change in writing staff and the pressures they feel from all angles, to fan culture, to Vince McMahon and his various factors, to WWE’s position as a publicly traded company, etc. Wrestling story telling has died a death before the advent of today’s current wrestling style, but that style serves as the coffin in which storylines lay. What we have now are people, the horrible script they’re forced to learn and deliver 15 minutes prior to their scene, their entrance music, their movefset, loose alignments they may have made with other characters off s ly to balance out the Face/Heel ratio, and the nicknames Michael Cole has been instructed to call them. That’s who they are. Seth Rollins at the height of his time in the Shield and as a heel champion for the authority had every right to be called the “Architect;” it resonated with every action he did. Today’s Seth Rollins is “Architect” and “Kingslayer” in name only; what those titles mean in today’s incarnation of Seth remains to be seen, leaving them with little value beyond marketability. There is no intrigue for many of these characters; their stories either start out as stale as hospital food, or they start out with a large fizz only to go flat like a bottle of soda pop left out with the cap off (see Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton leading into WM 33).
It is not surprising to see WWE content end up in its current modality as an uncool product with stories that insult the intelligence of its fans; that was in fact the very tagline Vince McMahon attached to upon launching the Attitude era. He recognized the product had become stale and aimless, with the 80’s stars and stories leading the company into stagnant waters, ultimately forcing his hand to make changes. That is where we are today. So how do we fix this?
The hardest task will be changing the crowd dynamic. The values we hold as a community has to become fair and level across the board; that means re-engaging in an attempt to suspend our belief for the sake of enjoying the product, and vocalizing our need for an interesting story. WWE is not hurting for talent by any means; they can give us a show with intrigue, but it is up to the fans to express a desire for this change. This means recognizing that while amazing matches have permeated the WWE product and assisted in making the content tolerable, diminishing returns is a thing. A dive doesn’t mean as much when you see them every other match; high flying can’t be special if everyone can do it. The specialty act with the specialty personality is the way to go. This is the WWE’s task to complete, and they have already started to show signs that they are aware of this need (we’ll get to that). The next thing fans would have to understand is trends themselves. WWE fans circa 2014-2016 wanted Vince’s big sweaty man fetish gone and the lean, mean cuisine machines in the spotlight. 2017 – Present saw the popularity of big men in wrestling resurge to the point that the former opinions have all but dissipated. Trends are cyclic, meaning they repeat overtime; it is no surprise that bulky brutes performing feats of freakish strength won the spotlight back in recent times; they have become a commodity in today’s climate. This leads me to my last point of this lengthy, overinflated article.
Wrestlers are people, and people are multi-layered, complex beings. Each person has their quirks and their strengths, and a good promoter will know how to play to a character’s strengths and hide their weaknesses. They will make them a specialty item in the eyes of the public; they will become unique. Enter Braun Strowman, Broken/Woken Matt Hardy, Elias, Kevin Owens, Alexa Bliss, Neville, Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn. These characters are the pioneers of actual character structure in WWE. I know EXACTLY who each of these people are and what motivates them: Braun Strowman is a bulldozer of a man who yearns for competition to test himself against; he seeks a challenge in Brock Lesnar because he has performed actions hinting that he can best the man. He panders to the crowd and destroys the arena at their behest, only deviating to destroy for his own personal gain if the motivation arises to do so. Woken Matt Hardy would literally require his own article for me to explain his character, so do your own research if you don’t know. Elias is a musician who wants to spread his word with the people of the world and does so through mockery and the conducting of the crowd. Kevin Owens is the prize fighter whose attachments to others are gimped by his obsession to provide for his family as the dominant force in all of wrestling. Alexa Bliss is a beautiful egomaniac with a mean girl attitude and a penchant for manipulation. Neville is a bitter British man whom resents WWE and society for having overlooked him up until his debut on 205 Live. Samoa Joe… a god on the mic; there is nothing more I can say beyond go watch him yourself. And then there’s Sami Zayn; the lovable underdog who fell from grace to become WWE’s most obnoxious sentient rubber band present in the company. The take away from this is simple: if you give me a product that has an interesting story with an engaging cast of characters, I will watch with excitement and eagerness to see what happens next. If you do not, my motivations to come back next week diminish just a little bit more.
The impossible has become the possible and Daniel Bryan has been cleared to return to in-ring action. I’ve shared this already with most people who will read this, but here’s my booking ideas: I think we can be fairly certain he’s going to team with Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn at Wrestlemania. But what about after? There’s going to be a post-wrestlemania superstar shakeup. The Miz, after retaining at the big show, comes out and gloats incessantly about beating all odds, all challengers, being the greatest IC champ ever, there’s no one left to beat. Cue Flight of the Valkyries. The match is made right then and there, and Bryan is the new champ.
But where to go from there? Do they put him back in the main event picture eventually? Will he stay in the mid-card? We don’t even know if he’ll be a full-time wrestler. Maybe he’ll stay as Smackdown GM, but I doubt it. If he is no longer GM, who takes over? Please just no Teddy Long. There’s a world of possibilities for where this goes. How would you book him? Let me know in the comments.
I enjoy streaks. I imagine most fans do. Except the ones who can’t wait to crap all over everything and chant “Goldberg”, but let’s ignore them. I also imagine that streaks are a burden for promoters and creative, trying to figure out new and creative ways to keep them going, and the biggest issue, when and how to end them. Did they even mean to start them to begin with? Do they all of a sudden realize hey this person hasn’t lost yet. Well let’s run with it, we can’t have them lose now. Is it a plan from the beginning that this wrestler is gonna win a set number of matches? Do they just keep going and going until someone says ok it’s time to end this? It’s probably a mixture of these things. To my point: when and how should they end Asuka’s streak, and who should end it? Now, nobody needs to tell me that Asuka is not Goldberg or the Undertaker. It’s not going to rock the wrestling world if her streak ends right now. And it’s not like she’s never lost before, she’s just never lost in WWE or NXT. To be fair, Goldberg had lost on house shows before his TV debut, so that’s a moot point. But still, her streak is one of the bigger storylines in WWE, and the biggest thing in the women’s division along with Ronda Rousey. There’s a few ways they could go with this, and obviously all of these hinge on the near-certain assumption that she will beat Charlotte at Wrestlemania:
1. Continue the streak forever. I couldn’t see this happening. I think it would hold down the rest of the division if she holds the title for however long she stays in WWE. I’m putting this in the “highly unlikely” category.
2. Have her lose on any show other than a Wrestlemania. More likely than the first possibility, but I don’t think they would do it. Even Summerslam or Survivor Series seems like too small of a stage for this to happen, but I don’t put it past them to do it. Unlikely.
3. Stay unbeaten until next Wrestlemania, and lose to Ronda Rousey (or whoever is the bigbest deal at the time, I’m assuming it’ll still be Ronda). This seems like a logical thing to do. Build Ronda up for a year. Turn Asuka into the cocky heel she was in NXT. Make people want to see her lose. Give Ronda the huge rub on the grandest stage of them all. We’ll call this “likely”.
4. Have Carmella cash in immediately after Asuka’s win at mania. This hinges on how highly WWE things of Carmella. Only Seth Rollins has ever cashed in at Wrestlemania. Carmella would not only do that, she would end The Streak. It would be a daring move, and you’d be taking a huge gamble that Carmella works out as champ. This was originally my favorite idea, but I really don’t think Carmella would have a successful title run, meaning this would be a huge moment wasted on someone who doesn’t do much with it. It would garner her a ton of heat and a ton of publicity and be a huge push, but thinking about it now, I think it might be a better idea to try a cash in and lose, either at mania or sometime after. I still think this might be something they’d do. Call it “somewhat likely”.
Which do you think will happen? How would you end the streak? Are there other options I’m missing? Let’s hear it.
See? There are numerous legends that a female battle royal could be named after that didn’t die of drug overdoses or were PIMPS AND ABUSERS. What the hell could WWE be thinking? How do they think this is going to go over with the fans, especially the crowd at the big show? There’s not enough editing that can be done to drown out that much booing. This is not a minor thing, and I don’t know how these wrestlers in the promos can sing her praises the way they do. God dammit, please change this.
Update (3/15): You guys did it. Thanks to everyone who made it a priority to express your feelings to WWE. This was very distressing and made me have serious thoughts about how I could continue to support and follow the company. Thankfully they made the right decision.
I love watching Rusev work. He really seems to understand ring psychology and the intricacies of working the crowd and the match. When I was watching him last night constantly roll in and out of the ring, and the crowd booing more each time, I was so impressed that even though “Rusev Day” is so over with the crowd, he can still get the reaction he wants from them. As for how he wrestles, he seems to be able to work with anybody. He can slow it down to set up a raging comeback by the face, or he can have an explosive offense and keep up with almost anyone. I could easily see him working in any era of wrestling. When I think about top guys of the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, I think he could put on a really good match with any of them. He can adapt to any style and can cut a better promo than most “foreign heels” of the past. I could see him getting a WWE/Universal Championship run eventually. I think it would have to be as a heel, because I can’t see him as a main event face. Run with Rusev Day as long as it’s hot, and hopefully big things are on the horizon for one of WWE’s most talented performers.
Starting with the kickoff show, Breezango and Tye Dillinger vs. Rawley, Gable, and Benjamin
Ignoring how well all of these guys can wrestle, it was a great match to get the crowd hot. Breezango is over, and everybody loves Tye, while Rawley and Gable especially are great heat magnets right now. Gable seems to get the intricacies of heel work while Mojo knows how much he can piss people off. Really good choice for an opening match.
Shinsuke vs. Rusev
I’ll be writing a Rusev post later about the type of performer he is because I think it merits a lot more discussion. Shinsuke seems to have been made to tone down his style for WWE and I think it stops him from having the great matches people know he can have. Still, this was a good match with a lot of good ring psychology, and the crowd was totally invested in this one. He sold that Machka Kick like a champ, that looked brutal. Thankfully this did not seem to have the effect that I worried about, which was the crowd turning on Shinsuke. Everybody loves the KINSHASAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
Orton takes the US Title from Roode
This match was a lot better than I thought it would be. I wasn’t really invested in this one and thought it would be a bore, but their styles seem to really gel in the ring. Neither guy is a high-flying or fast-paced worker, so they played to their strengths. A really good crowd helped out. I think Orton got the rub so he could be a grand slam champ and be promoted as such, but it really didn’t matter who won it, because obviously there will be a triple threat with Jinder at mania. Tonight’s match got me a little more interested in that one, which is to say a little more than no interest. Still, it’s a logical feud, and I’m not going to crap on them trying to entertain us. Here’s hoping they deliver at the big show.
Naomi and Becky vs. Natalya and Carmella
Sorely disappointed in this one. I had high hopes but everyone seemed to be out of sorts here. I expect they’ll still throw something together with a couple of them and the Riott Squad for mania, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if they worked themselves off the show.
Usos vs. New Day
My man Chris nailed it with the Bludgeon Brothers. That was a great match and an absolutely brutal beatdown afterwards. The powerbomb to Woods was horrendous looking. I loved them selling it with the EMTs and how long it took them to get out of there. Is there going to be some kind of tag team turmoil match at mania? A triple threat tornado tag? A gauntlet match? I’m excited for this and I hope they put the belts on Harper and Rowan. I would love for that to set up the debut of the Authors of Pain and maybe a match at Summerslam for the titles.
Charlotte vs. Ruby Riott
Great match. I wish these two went for 10 more minutes I was enjoying the match so much, and I’m sure they could have and made it awesome. But obviously the big story is Asuka. This is the match everyone wanted, and they’re delivering. Great swerve with everyone thinking it was going to be Asuka vs. Alexa Bliss at mania. I can’t wait for this one. I think they’re are going to get a lot of time at mania and put on a hell of a performance before Asuka goes over.
Six Pack Challenge
Everything I hoped it would be. The guys who weren’t going to win went out and just wreaked as much havoc as they could. Baron and Dolph destroying the arena was awesome. AJ’s hang time on the Cena AA through the table was… wait for it… phenomenal. The biggest question coming out of this unfortunately shouldn’t be the biggest question coming out of a championship match this close to mania: where does Shane fit into this and what happens going forward? The biggest question should be what happens with Cena, but Shane’s involvement overshadowed that. They even had Shane on Talking Smack after to talk about what happened, but nobody said a word about Cena. Will it be a triple threat with Shane, Owens, and Zayn? I’m not sure, but I do want this to end. It was intriguing to me in the beginning but now I’d like to know what the resolution is going to be. Does Cena get Undertaker? There’s rumors Mysterio would return to wrestle him, but he also just tore his bicep, so that might not even be an option anymore. Cena says he wouldn’t put it past Vince to leave him off the show because that would be an even bigger story that who he might wrestle, but that could obviously be a swerve there. I’m glad we’re talking about it, I’m glad I don’t know who he’s wrestling yet. It’s fun to speculate on what might happen without knowing through spoilers.
Overall I was entertained by this show, but nothing terribly special.
Becky Lynch & Naomi vs. Natalya & Carmella
Four good workers, hopefully they kill it and make this a really gun match. Picking Becky and Naomi here. Why does Carmella look like Donatella Versace all of a sudden?
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Rusev
Nakamura will win, but I’m not sure if this will make the crowd happy. Rusev Day is so over with the fans. I could see English costing Rusev the win tonight and getting a beat down to turn Rusev full face.
Charlotte vs. Ruby Riott
Charlotte will carry a hopefully great match. Ruby is really good but as usual it’s up to Charlotte to make her look terrific. My first instinct was to say Charlotte retains, of course, but then I thought about it, and I can’t rule out the Riott Squad costing her the title. They have been on a roll and the women’s title would certainly give them even more credibility and power. I still think Charlotte retains.
Usos vs. New Day
Usos retain in heel fashion. I’m feeling a Dusty finish here. Maybe a “twin magic” moment.
Bobby Roode vs. Randy Orton.
Roode retains. I’m not very hyped up for this match. Roode doesn’t really do it for me and Orton is just kinda there. Jinder will obviously inject himself into the match somehow. Could it become triple threat? Maybe, but I’m guessing they do that at Wrestlemania.
Six Pack Challenge
A.J. retains. I just hope it’s pandemonium. Really looking forward to this match and hopefully these guys all let loose and just do what they do.
Disagree with these? Let’s hear it.