Monday, November 4, 2013

The Squared Circle Sound-off: WWE's Short-sided Booking

As I mentioned last month, WWE's big focus was on "what's best for business". HHH and Stephanie McMahon played a 2013 dual version of  the evil WWE chairman Vince McMahon. While not as menacing, they still had enough to be a believable force bent on oppressing the good guys- those good guys being mainly Daniel Bryan, the Big Show, the Rhodes and Dolph Ziggler. WWE was using a perceived notion from fans over the years in which they thought HHH and Stephanie held down certain stars- and made it into an angle. While it seemed very promising and could be used to build multiple stars, last week all but cemented the WWE's lack of big picture booking and/or faith in their young crop of talent.

While the booking of the angle had its moments of doubt, it felt important. The roster was brought on to the stage to watch Bryan wage his war against the new regime. Stars looked to be made: the Rhodes, Dolph Ziggler- heck, even the Miz for one fleeting moment looked positioned to get back at HHH and Steph. It had all the ingredients to create new storylines and new rivalries: underhanded agendas (HHH's), a handpicked corporate golden boy (Orton), henchmen (The Shield) and the classic story of the rebel looking to overthrow the dictator. 

Like Vince choosing the Rock as his corporate champion back in the Attitude Era, HHH and Steph nominated Randy Orton. Orton had been in a holding pattern for months, his white-hot 2010 version long iced over in favor of a pandering babyface. He was seen as a boring black hole of charisma, and fans struggled to cheer for him anymore. This newest heel turn gave fans a reason to despise him again and put him back in the title picture, restholds and all. 

Opposing him would be Bryan, as many believed the bearded one could be this era's Austin. Some scoff at that notion such as when people mention a player's name alongside Michael Jordan, and those people currently seem to be right. While the regime's reign of terror began suddenly and swiftly at the conclusion of SummerSlam in August, Bryan never turned the tide for more than a week or so at a time. Some around me clamored that HHH and company had too much momentum each week, to which I would tell them to wait patiently. Rome wasn't built over night, after all.

So weeks went by, and we all waited. And waited. And kept waiting. The RAW after Night of Champions, HHH would hold the belt in abeyance, due to referee Scott Armstrong's admittance of a fast count the night before. Neither Orton or Bryan would have the title for a month- which helped no one. (If HHH paid off Armstrong to ruin Bryan's win in favor of Orton as champion, why not just give RKO the belt instead of delaying the inevitable?)

Battleground saw the WWE title continue it's idle nature when the disgruntled Big Show came in like a wrecking ball and knocked out both challengers. The night's silver lining was the Rhodes procuring the WWE tag titles from the Shield after their five month run as champs.

Hell in a Cell finally saw the Viper defeat Bryan (via an HBK superkick) to regain the WWE's big belt. The funnier part? A fully healthy Dolph Ziggler on the sidelines as an "expert analyst" for the pay-per-view's panel used before, during and after the show like regular sporting events. So much for including everyone and creating stars, Vince.

The next night on RAW, Bryan got revenge on HBK with a crossface. Soon after he was with backstage interviewer Renee Young who saw the Wyatt attack coming from a mile away, while Bryan stood there clueless and oblivious before getting his head slammed into by Bray Wyatt- courtesy of a storage creight on wheels. The news after this attack being that Bryan (and CM Punk) are now set to be embroiled in a feud with the Wyatts for the time being. Also coming out of this is the fact that Bryan is now out of the title scene. Management is reportedly happy with the fact that Bryan can be seen to hang with their top tier players, and now shift their focus to an Orton/Big Show title feud. But that same reason is why they have it so wrong and have had it so wrong for some time now.

Back in 2006, John Cena was lording over the title for around nine months, having won it for the first time from JBL on April 3rd, 2005 at Wrestlemania. That same night saw Edge win the first ever Money in the Bank ladder match giving him a title match whenever he desired it. He chose January 8th, 2006 at New Year's Revolution to redeem it and win the title from Cena. Edge's character had a new level to it. He had a new attitude and sense of direction, finally coming into his own as a main event talent. But just as he was beginning to gain steam, WWE put the belt back on Cena at the very next pay-per-view three weeks later: Royal Rumble. Edge's run had been cut short due to a lack of faith in him carrying the ball. Those thoughts were proved to be ironic, considering the company's ratings had increased significantly after he won the belt for the first time.

Fast forward to 2010. John Cena is in the ring when he is confronted by the first crop of NXT'ers (Bryan included). They tear the ring and surroundings apart. No one is safe- not even announcer Justin Roberts. This is the first time in a while rookies look like a threat, and take out the biggest dog in the yard. Their feud with Cena continues to the end of the Summer and into the Fall. They lose to a mashed-up team of top level WWE talent at Summerslam, then are booked into semi-oblivion by Tables, Ladders and Chairs (ending in leader Wade Barrett being buried beneath a stack of chairs). The group is taken over by CM Punk by January, and splits into the Nexus and The Corre. Following Wrestlemania 27, neither cease to exist, and those young stars struggle to gain any traction, outside of Bryan and Skip Sheffield (more on him in later paragraphs).

Cena in the main event is status quo, but June 27th looked to kick off a new era: the Era of Punk- or in this case, the Summer of Punk. Cena had just been put through a table by Sheamus, and left for dead. Everyone believed the show was over, until bad guy CM Punk came out with a mic. He sat indian-style on the stage and began running down Cena, balancing his act for the show with real-life grievances. It was a breath of fresh air, something that wasn't normal. It came straight from the heart and was not rehearsed. Punk eventually had his mic cut, and would later admit  that was not planned. That promo kicked off Punk's rebellious summer which had intentions of winning the WWE title and changing the culture of the then-current landscape. Punk's promos would come to be known as "pipe-bombs", designed to shock the viewers and have them wondering what he'd say next- and it worked. The fact that this coincided with Punk's real life WWE contract negotiations only made it better. Would he return to the WWE if he beat Cena at Money in the Bank 2011? Was it part of the storyline? Was there a line anymore?

Punk would end up capturing the belt at MITB 2011 in his hometown of Chicago. The crowd was hot all night, and was one of the loudest I remember witnessing in my fifteen years of watching professional wrestling. He beat Cena in a 45 minute classic, and left the arena- but not before blowing a kiss to who else? Vinnie Mac. That was the exact moment everyone wondered "what's next?" That is the reaction and mindset any wrestling promoter wants his fan to have- but those opportunities come few and far between.Two RAWS later, Cena was crowned interim WWE Champion. Punk came out onstage to challenge Cena for sole possession of the title. It was not weeks, or even months WWE strung it out. In a matter of ten days, Punk was back in WWE. He would defeat Cena again at Summerslam, but would not make it  out of the arena as champion. WWE legend Kevin Nash would mysteriously return to powerbomb Punk, allowing newcomer Alberto Del Rio to seize the belt. That one powerbomb would end up as the nail in the coffin for the "Summer of Punk".

WWE's desire to create new stars is always countered by their massive dependance on their old ones. Cena and Orton are the heavy favorites, while Undertaker is still lurking. While Punk may have been cemented eventually into the top tier, there was another star in 2012 who looked to make ripples in the WWE landscape. His name was Ryback, formerly known as Skip Sheffield in the Nexus. This bald-headed, massive-framed wrestler had many comparing him to Ryback no only in appearance, but his moveset and matches as well. He showed his brute strength, many times defeating two wrestlers at once. He was on a tear from April 2012 until that fall. He became entangled in a feud with CM Punk (now a heel). While many were clamoring to see him with the belt, Punk would come out on top repeatedly, until Ryback came back down to Earth. He would then get turns later against John Cena in 2013- but would once again be stalled with repeated losses to the WWE's golden boy. He's never been the same, losing more often than not- most recently last week to CM Punk (now a face) in a street fight.

This year saw Dolph Ziggler finally become World Champion (those minutes on Smackdown in 2011 I do not count) after he used his MITB briefcase to wrestler the title away from Alberto Del Rio. The reaction was nuclear, as the crowd was seething for a Ziggler win. Soon after they turned him into a good guy, and even as champion he was losing more often than not. He would eventually suffer a legitimate concussion as Del Rio became champion again. While Del Rio defended his title and retained any way he could, Ziggler became mired in pointless feuds, and recently hasn't been featured at all on RAW after suffering at the hands of the Shield and HHH.

Last week not only saw the straw that broke the Ryback, but also the impossible loss of  Damien Sandow's MITB opportunity as well.  After decimating an already injured Cena, Sandow lost in typical fashion to the same man, albeit an essentially one-armed version. While he may not have been ready for the title picture, one has to wonder why it was necessary for him to challenge and lose the night after Cena had won it? (Sources say Vince thought it would help ratings against Monday Night Football.) Another prime example of a wasted opportunity.

So where are we now? WWE is going with Orton and Big Show at 2013's Survivor Series. Somehow fans are supposed to care about a notoriously bland wrestler matched-up against a big, slow and aging veteran whose character (after fifteen years) cannot save his hundreds of thousands of dollars he makes annually. Bryan looked to be matched up with CM Punk against the Wyatts. Dolph Ziggler  is in the midst of a nap most likely, and Cena is intending to add some shine to the World Heavyweight Championship.

As much as I have talked about WWE's poor choiced in regards to young talent, the one thing they HAVE gotten right is the Shield. The three rooks look like bonafide stars, beating down the Rock, Undertaker, John Cena, Mark Henry and more. They have all held titles, won consistently and been featured strongly on all WWE shows since their arrival last year. That is how you make stars. 

If WWE is complacent in that they proved to themselves and a small number of people outside the company that they could help Bryan be a star, then why not let him go all the way? Why hold up the title just for the sake of going back to the old guard in Orton? That sense of dependance on the old generation is what will end up costing WWE in the big picture.While good things come to those who wait, WWE cannot keep holding off on creating new stars. Before they know it, the old guard ready to retire and the younger stars won't be taken seriously as draws.

And that's NOT what's best for business.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Contact me on Twitter @SeanNeutron.

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