Random Rants: Championship Confusion, Bryan Exclusion & Paige Delusion

It’s been a while, TJR wrestling fans, and you have my apologies. Between the woeful Philadelphia sports scene, the intrinsic joy of holiday retail, and the continued malaise that has permeated wrestling’s biggest company, it’s been a bit difficult to vocalize the frustration. But fear not, for the random rants have returned. What follows is an unranked, highly subjective series of comments about the news of the past several days in pro wrestling. Feel free to add your two cents below. Enjoy.

*The Seth Rollins injury hampered World Wrestling Entertainment’s creative plans, no doubt about it. Anytime you have to write out your world champion, you’re in trouble. To do it at a time when the company is short on top tier talent already on the disabled list is criminal. All of that said, the championship tournament and payoff match at Survivor Series are prime examples of why the WWE is struggling big time with their ratings. I’ll save the obvious disgruntlement over the individual bracket seedings and the failure to add several hands into the mix that would have increased the sexiness of such a tournament. There is little doubt the company could have (and should have) pulled out all the stops, from a one-off Brock Lesnar appearance to elevating some NXT talent to bringing back a blast from the past or two. Other than Kalisto’s surprising victory over Ryback, not much that was newsworthy came out of what should have been a very big deal. At least the final match would have some significance, as former Shieldmates Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose would square off in a battle equally heavy on implications and possibilities. Or so we would believe.

The intent to make Roman Reigns the next big thing in WWE has been much discussed, and perhaps even more maligned. The fact that he continues to get crowd reaction such as Monday night’s in Pittsburgh doesn’t appear to change the game plan of the big brass. To say it’s lukewarm would be an understatement. Therefore, chicanery would be in large supply. Would we witness Ambrose’s flip over to the dark side, or the more surprising (but natural) progression of Roman Reigns to use the tepid support to turn him into public enemy number one? The answer, of course, was neither. Simply status quo. Following a decent but unspectacular match between the two friends, it was Corporate lackey (and HHH lifting buddy) Sheamus who cashed in and collected the belt for the Authority. This was the easiest answer, and therefore the least effective of any scenario. Sheamus has been an ineffective heel, and isn’t solid enough in promos or ring ability to get the job done longterm. He’s a significant downgrade in that department from Rollins. Reigns becomes the number one contender, and as seen Monday will have obstacles tossed his way in typical recycled storyline fashion, but lacks the buzz to make things exciting. And everything around them stays exactly the same. When the WWE looks at their sliding ratings and sends out questionnaires to its fanbase asking what their lack of motivation to tune in and stay tuned in is, they should put this at the top of the list. How can you let a perfect opportunity to press the reset button (at least to some degree) fly by?

*Oddly enough, Adam Rose found something to do Monday. With pretty much no preamble, the man who used to party all the time in a rented Russell Brand outfit appeared on our screens to go over the relationship news of the day in a segment I can most nicely describe as TMZ-meets-The Daily Show, with neither the attitude of the former nor the intelligent snark of the latter. Rose’s character has morphed from a bitchy, boa-wearing sycophant to a bitchy, boa-wearing sycophant who’s essentially a vamping Rita Skeeter. I’m not sure whether to feel bad for Rose or happy for him that he’s still gainfully employed. What I can say is that this idea is nowhere closer to making him or his character relevant.

*Give the New Day credit for one thing: they do one hell of a job embracing their inner heels. While they range from mildly irritating to completely off-the-page maddening, that’s rather the point and so they get a pass. The success of this trifecta is shown not only by their ownership of the tag team titles, but also by the fact that they are kicking off shows and coming down to the ring with a brass instrument. Just like the Genius’s poems or Jimmy Hart’s megaphone, the presence of said trombone cements their ability to get over the best way they know how: annoyance. An oldie but a goodie technique to be sure, TND has turned it into an art form. Another secret to their sudden success is that all three members look to be having an unbelievably great time no matter how ridiculous the setup. They have bought in, and it’s turned into comedy gold. Please understand these are sentences I never thought I’d type. They are as far away from a Nation of Domination type faction as can possibly be. And that is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Don’t look now, but New Day are one of the top reasons to watch any WWE programming at the moment.

*One major issue with the Paige vs. Charlotte angle: Paige is a pretty horrible heel. I’m sorry to break this to everyone, but we really just want to like Paige more than she wants us to not like her. She’s young, she’s got a great look, she’s got wrestling in her blood, and she looks like she’d be okay with the fact that you sort of like that song by the Cure but don’t want anyone to know. A big side effect of this “anti-Divas” push is that women like Paige and AJ Lee experience a great deal of success because they don’t look and sound like everybody else. WWE has put Paige out there as a villainess for a while now, and in addition to the fact that her motivations for it don’t make much sense, she’s only half bought in. Eventually she’d round into a serviceable one, but at the moment it’s just not working. Let people like her and cheer for her and get her momentum going again. Then wait a while before the next storyline where she inexplicably turns on everyone who somehow convinced themselves she is their friend. As Charlotte demonstrated Monday, she’s already a better heel. She’s a Flair, for heaven’s sake. We already sort of want to not like her so that we can like her more later. That’s how it works. Make the switch.

*I spent zero time dwelling on whether the WWE was right or wrong to use Ric’s son (and Charlotte’s brother) Reid in their recent Raw promo building up their title match. Wrestling, and very certainly World Wrestling Entertainment, have a long history of using personal backstories to drive on-air agendas. Very often, it succeeds in adding other dimension of interest in what might otherwise be a marginally entertaining match. Bells and whistles, as it were. Any wrestling talent who objects to having their personal business aired out every week is doing the wrong thing for a living, and that’s said with all respect. The whole idea of the “pipe bomb” phenomenon is breaking the fourth wall and discussing elements often kept backstage to the delight of those who follow the business. What’s way more important and worthy of discussion is whether said information is being used in the right way. It’s sort of like a baseball pitch. Employ it once in a while to keep folks off their guard and you’ll have success. Use it all the time and it’s going to be far less successful, mainly because we know what’s coming. Did the mention add to the intensity of the match? Didn’t really seem like it. There’s your story.

*Did I miss something or has Becky Lynch pretty much had no traction whatsoever for quite a while since being called up? While I did like the inklings of doubt raised between her and good friend Charlotte on Monday’s Raw, there’s been nary a whit of character development for a woman that I find pretty darn interesting. She’s got a unique look, there’s an excellent steampunk thing going on, and she’s clearly got a story to tell. She can also go, something that we all saw in her excellent match with Sasha Banks at Unstoppable. Hard to believe there’s not enough time in a three hour show to give us a little something else about her. Perhaps the lesson here is that promos are a perfect time to learn a little more about somebody. Get her out of the corner and into the spotlight.

*It wasn’t lost on me that in separate interviews done over the past week, both NXT Women’s Champion Bayley and NXT Champion Finn Balor were less than enthusiastic about the opportunity to move up to the main roster. While there are legitimate reasons for that, mainly that NXT has indeed put on some very solid shows and become a surprising player in their own right, it’s more cannon fodder for the idea that WWE is having significant issues right now and both of these champions realize that. When working correctly, everyone in your feeder program should be busting their asses to get to the next level and stay there. You want to hear that they can’t wait to knock the doors down and blow the roof off the place. I don’t fault either champion for their answer, incidentally. It was honest and it was company friendly all at once. Who should be concerned by those sentiments are the residents of Titan Tower. When your next big stars are more than comfortable waiting in line for their number to be called, it speaks volumes about your current work environment.

*Could it be that the WWE doesn’t know what to do with Daniel Bryan, even when injured? Other than his run as a judge in the Tough Enough revival, Bryan has been noticeably absent while the company has closed ranks and instituted a news blackout regarding his injury status and his future with the company. Nobody knows for sure what will happen with DB from an active wrestling standpoint, but even if he does return the frequency and severity of his injuries gives us all pause and reason to doubt he’s ever likely to get an opportunity to run with the ball as the main guy. While disappointing, it pales in comparison to the blatant fact that the WWE isn’t putting a hugely popular superstar front and center in whatever capacity they’d like each week. Bryan is hugely likable and got himself over in a grassroots, throwback sort of way that’s anathema to the WWE’s highly compartmentalized creative process. That sort of draw is exactly what they need to give themselves a shot of adrenaline. It can’t be this complicated.

*JBL has gone downhill as a color man in a major way. It doesn’t bother me that he’s been placed in the role of the heel commentator, or at least as close to a heel as current company policy allows. It does bother me that he’s so one-dimensional in his views that he sort of doesn’t have any. He just yells things out loudly, sucks up to the heel wrestlers who sit in on occasion, and battles the other two broadcasters. I get JR’s point when he says that what he did and what the booth does now are two different things. What I don’t get is how anything those three guys are doing on Mondays helps attract interest to the product. Hype is one thing. Useless bombast is another. I’d rather see him as a manager at this point.

*It will be interesting to see if Zeb Colter’s return will get Jack Swagger relevant again. The WWE could certainly use it, as Swagger provides another potential fan favorite with significant wrestling ability at a point when they badly need it. Swagger could also theoretically help fill some of the large void left with the injury to Cesaro, but only if utilized properly. Swagger has his drawbacks, to be sure. His promos are below average, and the American Hero bit isn’t as big a draw as it once was. I do think timing can be everything, though, or close to it, and he deserves a shot at bigger and better things. Alberto Del Rio is clearly capable of delivering a solid match. These two have the potential to do some solid things, if they get the chance.

*The League of Nations was the big story coming out of Raw, and it’s a mildly interesting one in my view. The foreign nationals idea is a bit played out, but surrounding your heel champion with running buddies (and decorated ones at that) makes some sense. The fallacy in it is that each of these individuals should be so driven and egotistical that they’d never stand around in support of someone else. That could be the road this storyline eventually travels down, but it remains to be seen how solid a story will be told in the meantime. Rusev, Barrett, and Del Rio are all proficient enough in their own right, and an all-star-baddies unite idea worked for Marvel Comics and the Batman TV movie. It will take more than uniting foreign menaces, though, to get fresh faces switching the channel each week. It feels a bit backward when ideas should be moving forward. We’ll see where it leads.

*The Wyatts badly need the needle moved in a hurry. A feud with the Dudleys is a bit underwhelming after that whole business with the Brothers of Destruction, but perhaps anything would be. I’m still not sure what happened there, incidentally. The Dudleys provide an opportunity for a TLC tag match, so from that standpoint, I get it, but otherwise it’s more treading water. Even with the bizarro twists and turns that have stymied the Wyatts thus far, they remain solidly over with a good segment of the fan population, and the WWE needs to expand and expound upon that. Harper and Rowan oddly joining up again out of nowhere smacked of quick-fix revisionist history, and the addition of Braun Strowman, while temporarily interesting, is pretty much just more of the same. There’s way too much strange stuff going on with these guys not to get at least a glimpse of their backstory. Sister Abigail’s reveal is a given. Holding off much longer risks making the story much less interesting to tell. There’s only so far a group can go in the best of times. The clock is running. Too much talent here to waste.

*Good to see Goldust back, however briefly he may be. He and his brother deserved a finale to their story even before the unfortunate passing of their wrestling legend father. This has all the hallmarks of a great wrestling family story, if told correctly. WrestleMania, naturally, would be the perfect sendoff, and a scene where brothers have done battle to great success in the past. There’s just enough time to get this into gear for the proper payoff. Both guys, and the Rhodes family, deserve it.

Let me know your thoughts and opinions in the space below. Thanks for reading!

Twitter: @DharmanRockwell


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