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Reflecting On What We Think We Know About WWE by Matt Corton

There’s been a fair few people talking recently about the new President of the USA. A fair few other people are talking about how Britain’s parliament has voted to trigger Brexit. A fair few others are talking about the weather, like they always do.

I’m going to talk about WWE. Like I always do.

A lot of other people have been talking about the WWE too, and not in a “why the heck have you done that, you idiots” kind of way. People have been excited, some of them at least. Even the ones who haven’t been excited, they’ve been wondering out loud what is going to happen next.

That’s awesome. It really is, not only because it makes it much easier for people like me to come up with article ideas, but because it’s another thing that will drive viewership of the product.

If you know what is going to happen, exactly what is going to happen, on your favourite TV show, do you tune in with the same kind of excitement or intrigue that you do when you have no idea? It’s really not a hard thing for me to illustrate – you just think of the big TV moments like “Who Shot JR?” or “What’s Lost about?” or “Is Reddington Her Dad?” and every single one of them is an unknown waiting to be found out.

When you know exactly what is going to happen next, it can still be great. We all knew what the ending of Lost was going to be, deep down. We all knew Larry Hagman wasn’t going to be gone forever. We all know in every episode that Doctor Who is never, ever, going to actually be dead or even in any real peril.

That doesn’t make it bad. All you need to do is tell the story well and you can still get interested in what’s going on – in a wrestling sense, we all knew Rock was going to lose his last title to Cena. That didn’t make the match bad, it didn’t make it less of a spectacle and it didn’t make it less of a match in terms of what it meant.

We all think we know, now, what’s going to happen at Wrestlemania and it makes perfect sense for a show as big as that one, with as much riding on it from a commercial standpoint, that WWE knows well in advance what is going to happen.

The only thing we officially know for sure is that Goldberg is going to end his rivalry with Brock Lesnar. We think we know that Randy Orton is going up against Bray Wyatt, who we think is going to win the title from John Cena at Elimination Chamber, unless they do a triple threat or fatal fourway with AJ Styles. Wait…so it turns out we don’t really know that. Or Shane might face AJ. Perhaps.

We also think we know that Owens is going to drop his title to Goldberg so that the Goldberg/Lesnar matchup can be for the title. Unless Lesnar (who isn’t doing anything that night) costs Goldberg the title, adding more weight to their rivalry and meaning Owens can face Jericho at ‘Mania after Jericho loses the US title to Sami Zayn at the same show, which we think we also know is going to happen. So we know both things.

At first glance, then, the build to ‘Mania is already excruciatingly predictable and also unpredictable – just like the Rumble was. Hopefully, just like the Rumble, we get a surprise which can make up for the predictability of the actual match, because I didn’t think the Rumble match was that great. To be honest, I never do – I get really, really excited about it during the build-up and then it doesn’t live up to my expectations because they try and shoehorn too much into it. Everyone says it’s a really tricky match to book – I don’t think it is. Perhaps I’m being naïve. But it’s just about not having people laying around doing nothing, not having Brock Lesnar in total control but completely unconcerned with throwing anyone out of the ring for a good few seconds, just standing around clearly waiting for the next entrant. Don’t have Roman Reigns sleep outside for most of the match then win. Do what you did with Corbin and Strowman – book them strong and use the match to build them up. Don’t have no surprise entrants to get the crowd going.

Those things aren’t difficult, which is why I get confused when people say it’s a difficult match to book – they got the first part right in making it really hard to predict who was going to win. Big tick from me for that. They got the second part right in that they used at least part of the match to build up some up and coming wrestlers in Strowman and Corbin, another tick. Have big names in the match – tick number three.

Only they missed so much of the other stuff it makes me wonder if they let the wrestlers make that bit up as they go along. To have so many people lying on the floor with Brock waiting for the buzzer to go off looked ridiculous to me. Every moment of the match, for every wrestler, bar the comedy segments, should be trying to get other people over the top rope so you can win – even if you’re Brock Lesnar and we all know deep down you’re waiting for Goldberg to come out.

What was truly great about the Rumble though was that we didn’t know what was going to happen. While entertainment can still be great even if you know what is going to happen next, it’s never quite as good as if you have no idea because you don’t need to talk about it as much, at least not in a positive way. What gets eyeballs on your product and encourages people to tune back in next week is when the talking points are positive.

On top of that, there’s the beauty of thinking you genuinely know what is going to happen and having everything turned on its head, as it was when Zach Ryder won the IC Title at ‘Mania last year. Sure, it was short-lived and anti-climactic, badly built-upon and utterly thrown away, but for that moment it created a talking point.

We got both at the Royal Rumble. We had a match where none of us knew who was going to win, and we also got a match where the winner confounded any expectations. Randy winning the Rumble came out of the blue for those of us who steer clear of the inside stories in the days before a PPV, and that’s an absolutely awesome thing. I had Brock winning it for sure, which shows what I know. Others had Strowman. Others had Wyatt.

That’s what I want for every match. I don’t want to know who is going to win.

Which I know is spectacularly unrealistic when it comes to Wrestlemania season, but I think that’s a real shame.

Only I hope they learn this year. I hope they take note of the fact that when people know exactly what’s going to happen they don’t eat it up like they used to. The crowds won’t toe the line blindly unless it’s something they want to see. I think there’s a very real chance, if it happens, that the crowd will defecate all over Reigns vs. Undertaker. They certainly won’t react how Vince wants. I’m not sure how the crowd will react to Goldberg winning the title from Owens, should that happen, because Goldberg has had a far more positive reaction than I thought he would, in general.

If they want people to get excited about Wrestlemania and not start to get cynical about it, then they have to keep that element of surprise bubbling under the surface – and I think they’re doing that just about enough right now. We don’t need to know for sure until March. Let’s keep it at least appearing that way for now because everything I’ve talked about above is what everyone is talking about – and at the moment they’re talking about it in the right way.

What do you guys think? Do you lose interest when it’s too obvious the way it’s going to go or do you think that doesn’t matter for Wrestlemania?