Due to unforeseen circumstances and streaming issues with the revamped WWE Network, I found myself binge-watching lots of WWE content this week. It’s fair to say that there were some good matches to be seen and the progression of some characters was a welcome surprise. WWE has come in for a bit of stick lately, what with the instant gratification some fans have wanted form Eric Bischoff and Paul Heyman’s new roles, but we need to understand that these things take time and though many do want to see wholesale changes in the product, the green shoots of promise are there to see and are growing week by week. I wanted to take a look at some of my personal highlights from WWE’s latest offerings.
I’ve written many times about Brock Lesnar being both a curse and a blessing to WWE. A blessing purely because of his natural look, ability and aura in the squared circle, and a curse because he sometimes is presented as that star attraction and once in a lifetime performer that is special in every way. The problem with that last part is that he’s difficult to book long-term because he should be dominant. He should beat everyone. He should be a champion with a lengthy reign. If this were boxing or MMA, then that would be great. He’d be defined as a pioneer, a true great of the sport and a legend. This isn’t boxing or MMA though, this is WWE. This is pro wrestling where – especially in this era – predictability and long-standing champions (who are absent more than most) devalue the title they hold and the product itself.
Brock Lesnar is freakin’ awesome. I think he’s elevated WWE in a way no other person could have done, but looking at it purely from a storyline sense, perhaps he was built up too big and therefore became this all-conquering dominant force, making it difficult to even think someone could topple him. True, WWE sold us a good story with Goldberg having Brock’s number on more than one occasion, but Goldberg isn’t a long-term solution. WWE needed to build up an opponent that was determined, a fighter, a bankable asset and someone who would believably beat the Beast when it came down to it. Enter Seth Rollins.
WWE had an easy out when it came to dethroning Brock, and that would be Roman Reigns. However, due to Reigns’ battle with leukemia last year, plus the lukewarm responses he was getting from crowds prior to his illness, Rollins seemed like the sensible choice. He had form; having cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase at Wrestlemania 31 to steal the Universal Title from both Reigns and Lesnar, plus his previous title reigns (even as Intercontinental Champ) elevated the titles. He comes across well with the fans, is a likable character and plays the underdog excellently when matched against bigger opponents. His arsenal of moves are varied; from high-flying dives, good use of the ring posts and turnbuckles to his swift finishing moves like the superkick and Curb Stomp, he can end a match in a matter of seconds.
What I particularly liked about his SummerSlam win this past week was the wonderful story the finish told. Rollins was never going to defeat Brock with one move, but the build-up to the ending was very well done. A splash onto the Spanish announcer’s table, another in the ring, a superkick and finally a curb stomp. It was a worthy set of moves to down the beast that is Brock Lesnar. Rollins came off the match as a fighter who put everything he had and more into the match to take back the title he wears with pride.
To quote Corey Graves; ‘Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.’ – Although I’m not talking about The Revival’s debut on Monday Night Raw, no, I’m talking about WWE putting Sasha Banks into the heel category again. For those who missed it, Sasha Banks returned to Raw on Monday while Natalya was talking to the crowd about her late father, Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart. Banks’ initially hugged the veteran and the crowd cheered for a second until Banks beat the crap out of Natalya. Becky Lynch ran in to help only to have her ass handed to her by Banks with the help of a chair. Then, like she did in her NXT days, Sasha sauntered back up the ramp, flicking her bright blue hair with a smile on her face and an acknowledgment to the crowd that she’d done what she intended to do; be the heel once more.
I’m not alone in saying that I think Sasha Banks’ best work is done when as a heel. She’s a likable babyface, don’t get me wrong, but to me, she revels in the bad guy role. She knows the nuances and small gestures that great heels have, whether it’s spitting a biting comment on the mic, pulling dirty tricks in the ring or making fans cry (seriously – the time she made the kid cry in NXT was a hark back to real old school wrestling), Sasha is and should be a big fixture going forward under this persona. I did worry for her these last few months. While the other three of the Four Horsewomen (Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Bayley) were gaining momentum and getting regular time on TV, Sasha was off TV since WrestleMania. Hopefully, she can stake her claim as not only a member of the roster who should be on our shows weekly, but as the serious challenger needed to reignite the Women’s Division and create a feud with Becky Lynch that should be epic if given the right time and build to it.
How awesome was that entrance at SummerSlam? After weeks and weeks of build, after weeks and weeks of vignettes and clips of Firefly Funhouse, we finally go to see the debut of The Fiend in WWE. Yes, I know it’s the artist formerly known as Bray Wyatt, but yet again he has revamped and reinvented himself into something new. The match itself was simple enough. It showcased what the Fiend could do; hard-hitting moves, a creepy, stalker-esque movement and a brutal approach to disabling his opponent. Credit must be given to Finn Balor for some of this too. It would be easy to have had the Fiend go against and unknown and toss him around the ring for two minutes, but in Balor I think WWE is building to something much bigger down the line.
What I liked about this new approach was that Balor played into the mindset of The Fiend and was caught out on more than one occasion by the shock tactics and unexpectedness he was presented with. Balor is a credible opponent and no pushover, so to have him brutalized in such a way on a big PPV shows that WWE really believe in the character.
It’s also worth mentioning that The Fiend didn’t appear on Monday Night Raw or Smackdown Live. I like this as too much of a good thing can dilute what is supposed to be a special character, someone the audience will respond to. It happened for a brief time with Becky Lynch who, being both the Raw and Smackdown Women’s champion, appeared on both shows and as such lost some of her star appeal since we saw her all the time. Drip feed us The Fiend. Let us see his alter-ego before we see the monster. Let Dr. Jekyll do the talking and let Mr. Hyde take action.
As for what the future holds, perhaps The Fiend will inevitably meet the Demon at some point. If the build to that is anything like it was these past few months for Bray Wyatt’s other persona, WWE could really be onto something special.
So what were your highlights from this week? Do you think Seth Rollins is a believable champion when it comes to toppling Brock Lesnar? How do you feel about Sasha Banks turning heel? How would you present The Fiend going forward? I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, thanks for reading.