This week saw the first Monday Night Raw that was produced by Paul Heyman. It was safe to say that his influence was felt by many fans around the world. Eric Bischoff wasn’t at Smackdown Live this week, so understandably the blue brand didn’t look or feel much different, but maybe we’ll see something in the coming weeks, most likely after Extreme Rules.
Raw kicked off proceedings with a Falls-Count-Anywhere match between Braun Strowman and Bobby Lashley. A great way to start the show with them venturing out into the crowd and culminating in a Strowman spear that saw both men go crashing through the screens behind the entrance ramp and into a blaze of explosions, smoke and darkness. It was a welcome return for the pyro. The aftermath was interesting too; a cry of ‘Holy Shit!’ by Corey Graves and an unusual backstage camera positioned to look down as EMTs, refs and others rushed to help the stricken men while the crowd roared their approval of the segment.
Over on Smackdown Live, it wasn’t as explosive as Raw as I said, but as John Canton noted in his thoughts about Heyman and Bischoff, Eric Bischoff is more known for long-term storytelling rather than instant impact and memorable moments – hence why the Raw opening had all the hallmarks of Paul Heyman’s booking. Perhaps Smackdown will take a little longer to change when Eric takes the reigns. Bischoff was responsible for the creation and push of the infamous NWO and they had their fair share of memorable moments, but told over many weeks and months. Hogan’s heel turn at Bash at the Beach in 1996 would lead to the creation of one of the most well-known stables in all of professional wrestling. Though Smackdown was quite promo-heavy, it did feature one interesting storyline possibility and that’s what prompted me to write this today. Last week I took a look at what Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff would bring to WWE’s shows, this week I wanted to look at who could benefit most from their new bosses.
Samoa Joe – Paul Heyman has gone on record about how much he rates Samoa Joe (skip to 1:40 in the above video to hear him talk about it). To be fair, WWE hasn’t buried or forgotten about him and he has been in some good feuds over the years. His interactions with AJ Styles showed a wonderful creepy stalker-esque side to his character and his feud with Rey Mysterio was sadly cut short when Rey got hurt. I thought Joe was a good choice to hold the United States Title, but with no disrespect to Ricochet and others, Joe is bigger than that. Although he was on Smackdown this past week, could he find himself on Raw with Heyman calling the shots? If he does (Joe is technically on the Raw roster), expect the killer heel push with a license to go off-script we’ve been longing for. Samoa Joe could be hitting the headlines very soon.
Though we saw a heel turn from AJ Styles this week, and the official reuniting of The Club, it was against Ricochet, who is currently at the mid-card level. I fully believe this can and will lead to good things going forward and will boost Gallows and Anderson into the Tag Team Title picture. That leaves a gap at the top of the card which could be filled by Samoa Joe. As I said, his stalker ‘run’ involving AJ Styles’ wife was so different and good to watch that it makes sense to have Joe somehow re-create or improve on that somehow. Perhaps he could do the same, but this time involving Becky Lynch? Then again, should he stay on Smackdown and torment Kofi Kingston? I honestly don’t know, but as long as he stays in the main title picture, he’ll be great.
Drew McIntyre – I make no apologies for my support of Drew. A fellow Brit, he went away from WWE, worked the indies and more and returned bigger and badder than he ever was. He was the perfect choice to feud with Roman Reigns after the big dog’s return from leukemia. McIntyre is a credible opponent for one of the top guys in the company and Reigns had good chemistry with him. I’m very interested in the current Undertaker/Shane McMahon story as I think it isn’t about putting Shane over, but more about starting a simmering background feud between McIntyre and the Deadman himself. WWE must know that Shane isn’t the answer to their flagging viewing figures and though I believe he ‘took one for the team’ by winning the Saudi Arabia tournament last year, the office surely can’t pin their hopes on him going forward.
That being said, is it fair to pin hopes on The Undertaker? I don’t think WWE is. Advertise him to appear at a show and there will almost certainly be a spike in ticket sales, plus he strikes me as the type of guy who does what he wants anyway, and guarantees people will watch. He’s also known for wanting to push younger guys in the company and will take part in feuds if it means giving someone a push to help the WWE. Perhaps Drew McIntyre is that younger guy who both the Undertaker and WWE want to try and get to the next level? Only time will tell.
NXT – I’d imagine both Heyman and Bischoff will be cautious about bringing anyone from NXT onto the main roster just yet, or at least until they’ve fully appraised the rosters they’ve taken on. They’ll want to tweak or totally rebrand certain wrestlers and make them part of the vision they have for their respective shows. This could be advantageous for the NXT talent. They will be less likely to be drafted onto the main roster with little or no plan for them going forward (for previous examples see No Way Jose, Tyler Breeze, Apollo Crews and, dare I say it, Aleister Black – at least right now, anyway). This past week on Raw, we saw the NXT Tag Team Champions, the Street Profits, on Raw interacting with Heyman and reports have stated that they are likely going to be featured prominently on Heyman’s Raw.
If and when NXT wrestlers are brought up to the main roster, I’d imagine there to be a solid plan in place. Whether that be bringing in a faction or stable like the Undisputed Era or one or two names who have hit the glass ceiling like Johnny Gargano or Velveteen Dream and need to be pushed onto the next level of their careers, I can see Heyman and/or Bischoff working closely with Triple H on how to preserve and develop a character that has been years in the making and not immediately rename them and have their gimmick changed to something that doesn’t work or that the wrestler isn’t invested in.
Bray Wyatt – I see Bray as a ‘free agent’ in WWE right now. He hasn’t appeared on Raw or Smackdown for a while, yet his Firefly Fun House vignettes are a highlight of a show. Wyatt may find himself in an interesting predicament as to how he’s reintroduced to in-ring action. He’s done extremely well rebranding himself yet again and has lots of promise with this new persona. I can imagine Heyman and Bischoff will by vying for his signature and working with him to show this special character to a wider audience.
So what do you think? Will we see Eric Bischoff’s influence sooner rather than later? Will Paul Heyman keep turning up the dial on Raw? What other talent do you think will benefit from the new regime? I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, thanks for reading.