Something struck me while I was watching Raw and SmackDown this week and it came out of the mouths of the announcers. It’s not often, frankly, that they make me stop and think with their constant marketing spiel that commentary seems to be these days, but Corey Graves has brought a level of sincerity to Raw that really bumps up my interest level. Ranallo, the same on SmackDown.
So what struck me? Well, whilst me going away for a few weeks seems to have coincided with WWE really pulling its finger out in terms of stellar shows that I haven’t been able to see, what really interested me on my return was a change in attitude for a few of the roster.
There’s not much wrong with the in-ring product that WWE puts out, I think, when it makes the in-ring work the focus. It’s head and shoulders above what it used to be and that’s partly why I wasn’t as thrilled as everyone else to see the return of the jobbers, because those matches get really repetitive and boring fast. That aside, I think that their presence allows several superstars to develop in a way they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
I talked a few weeks ago about how I’d like to see the (now absent?) Braun Strowman’s character develop and how I liked the aggression and ruthlessness his character had been exuding. Well, they seem to have taken that aggressive character tone and applied it to a few of the others – and I love it.
Why do I love it? Because it seems sincere.
I know WWE is about more than just wrestling – it’s an entertainment show that is primarily geared toward the young and all of us could remember that a bit more often I think. The thing is, what a lot of larger organisations think is what the young want, isn’t. A children’s story doesn’t have to be one-dimensional and deliberately simple – CS Lewis, Philip Pullman, Roald Dahl and even Dr. Seuss have taught us that – and nor does wrestling.
Sure a simple story works wonders and can be as captivating as a complex, gripping tale, so what I want WWE to give me is a mixture of the best of both.
That said though – WWE is nothing without the wrestling. It’s the lynchpin around what the stories and entertainment are built around and whilst the in-ring action itself is better than it’s ever been, the crux of what a lot of my articles have been about for the past year (yes, it’s been a year!) is that I want it all to feel a bit more real.
I know it’s not real. I know it’s a storytelling device, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want the characters to develop as a result of their matches, it doesn’t mean I don’t want them to change as the years go by and they get older and it doesn’t mean it should be as overtly presented as not real as it sometimes is.
A simple way to make things feel more real is to bring more emotion into it and that’s just what WWE has done with Bo Dallas, Jack Swagger, Jinder Mahal and, perhaps most prominently, Gallows and Anderson.
They all seem to have developed ‘new attitudes’ while I’ve been away. Bo is following the recently well-trodden path (by Strowman and Jax) of crushing jobber talent, Jinder Mahal became, I believe the announcers said, a ‘new’ Jinder Mahal, by actually getting some offence in and Gallows and Anderson went ‘back to basics’ all over the New Day. Jack Swagger is, apparently, going to be a big problem on SmackDown.
I like all of those things. But the main thing that struck me while I was watching WWE this week was that I really liked the increase focus on the aggression from the announcers. That makes me think it’s not such a flash in the pan thing as it has been in the past.
Those guys mentioned above are probably the most prominent examples of an increased aggression, but there were drops of it elsewhere throughout Raw (more than SmackDown – you need to have a bit more wrestling than SmackDown had to have aggression) and it was those little drops, the little things, that interest me.
When the announcers say it’s “back to basics for Gallows and Anderson” that’s them saying more than “we messed up with that awful ‘old day’ segment last week, but look, they’re still a threat!” – it’s them saying “this is what Gallows and Anderson should have been all along, I get that now,
Because the tag team division worries me a bit. You have what is essentially a joke team as SmackDown tag champs (popular, but a joke team nonetheless). New Day as champs on Raw pull of the balance between entertainment and wrestling perfectly, because all three of them can go in the ring. Beyond that, you also have: Hype Bros, who I see as pretty much a comedy team; Vaudevillains, who have been booked like a joke team; Enzo & Cass, who operate on the New Day level of comedy; Shining Stars, who are basically comedy and a waste (in my opinion) of two excellent talents; and The Ascension, who I’m not sure I’m supposed to laugh at, but do.
It’s too much comedy, not enough aggression. The tag division is crying out for some intense, bitter rivalry with some proper storyline development and it’s just not happening. I don’t really know why, because they have clearly understood, when you look at the way Jinder, Bo and Swagger have been booked this week, plus how Ambrose, Owens, Rollins and Brock have been booked full stop, that attitude and aggression is as important in wrestling as comedy. Team Hell No were essentially a comedy team, but you never once got the impression that they came to a match without attitude and aggression. They kicked ass. Mick Foley made jokes but he also put himself out there in the ring and you genuinely felt he was someone the other wrestlers didn’t want to be facing because along with the jokes he brought menace.
That’s why I’m so glad Gallows & Anderson were booked on Monday like an aggressive, dominant force who are not only hard to beat but like to dish out punishment. That’s what the division needs, more teams like that – which is why I really want to see The Revival called up as soon as possible and with absolutely no funny or entertaining lines whatsoever – just ruthless aggression, to coin a phrase.
It’s also why I like Corbin more than I like Crews – I know Crews is better in the ring, I know he is capable of more, but I like Corbin’s attitude better. He’s there to win things, beat people up and do things his own way – that’s wrestling, to me.
But I also know you need both Corbin and Crews on the roster for the roster to work. I know a lot of people love the goofier stuff WWE does, I’m just not one of them, but I do know WWE needs a bit of everything – I just think it shouldn’t be too much on the comedy side.
I don’t know if Jinder or Bo, given their booking history, will be allowed to develop this new side to their characters, if Swagger is going to be allowed to finally build on what are his strengths rather than trying to shoehorn him into a role he isn’t right for, or if Strowman is going to be back on our screens soon to build on what he started, but more than for any of them, I really hope this is the route they go down with Gallows & Anderson.
As Corey Graves said – beat people up, make money, win championships – without that premise the wrestling doesn’t mean anywhere near as much.