Always Crashing In The Same Car: Familiar Hits and Misses From WWE In The Post Mania Landscape
On this week’s edition of LOP Radio’s The Right Side Of The Pond (airing 5 EST/9 GMT!) I make an analogy between WWE in the post Mania landscape and one of my favourite David Bowie songs ‘Always Crashing In The Same Car’, in the sense that the success and failures in booking and storytelling coming out of Wrestlemania season into the new wrestling year are oh so familiar. While I don’t subscribe to the view that Backlash was a bad show – I actually enjoyed the majority of it, though that is no doubt helped by watching the next day at my leisure rather than staying up for it – there has been an inconsistency to the quality of the product over the past month which contributes to the mutinous mood in the more vocal sections of the fan base. Meanwhile, the bright spots haven’t gotten nearly enough credit, so I’m here to cover both, and maybe suggest how we might stop having to go through this every single April and May.
The Superstar Shake Up, just like its predecessor, the Draft Lottery, has proven to be problematic; for every clever roster move, there is a corresponding head scratcher, and the decision to book Greatest Rumble and Backlash matches while the Shake Up is ongoing just caused mass confusion. The Bar sent to SDL by Kurt Angle mere days after he had placed them in the final of a Raw tag titles eliminator anyone? Samoa Joe confronting and challenging Roman Reigns but then being drafted to SDL? Miz getting two more bites at the Intercontinental cherry before he finally gets to concentrate on his new brand? Just really odd stuff all around, particularly as they never really cleared up whether titles move with superstars or are static to the brand they belong to. Let’s throw in the fact that WWE seem to be incapable of creating two balanced and diverse shows at once; in 2016, Smackdown was the darling, in 2017, Raw took over, and now once again Smackdown has the edge in talent and booking. Surely it should not be so difficult to take that stacked roster and divide it into two balanced halves?
On the other hand, there have also been some tried and tested storyline techniques that have made parts of WWE programming highly enjoyable lately. The brilliant character arc of Shinsuke Nakamura since the first moment he hit Styles with that first low blow has been a joy to watch, a genuinely despicable heel who is funny with the “no speak Engrish” interview shtick, but not for the sake of seeking cheap pops. The fact that he is up against such a beloved face in AJ Styles means that he benefits from being the undisputed bad guy, and small, subtle touches like the addition of rapping to his theme to stop fans chanting along with it have created a brilliant total heel package. I have also greatly enjoyed all of their matches; I felt that the Wrestlemania bout was imprisoned somewhat by expectation, card position, and it taking place at an absolutely lousy Showcase of Immortals, but when watched in isolation, it’s a brilliant first act of the longer story. I also personally loved the two no finishes; I wonder what it is with modern wrestling fans that they don’t enjoy these? Leaving more on the table is never a bad thing, and the tone and intensity of the Greatest Rumble and Backlash matches was very much up my street.
Another positive would be Seth Rollins establishing himself as the workhorse champion, defending the gold all over the world, night after night, putting it all on the line. After the triple threat stole the show in New Orleans, we then got a match of the night ladder match at Greatest Rumble, and then the WWE match of the year so far at Backlash in a performance reminiscent of Randy Savage at his best. There is no doubting that Seth is approaching the peak of his powers, with the crowd firmly behind him and Monday Night Raw as his oyster. Seeing where WWE go with this arc beyond the usual open challenge approach will be interesting as we move forward, particularly with Jason Jordan and Dean Ambrose to come back before the year is out. The contrast to his former running mate, Roman Reigns could not be more stark. I feel disgusted at the way Reigns has been treated by WWE, hung out to dry by being pushed in a way that antagonised a large portion of the fanbase, only to not follow through time and time again, making it pointless to have pushed him to that extent in the first place. We seem trapped in a permanent loop of Roman being built up for a Mania main event only for him to have a trapdoor open up beneath him. The less said about the Lesnar matches at Mania and Greatest Rumble the better, whilst the Joe match was a stinker too, and a feud with Jinder Mahal hardly seems promising either. I’m not one to blame every WWE on Vince going mad, but I have to say that the constant flip flopping on Reigns, keeping Lesnar even though he offers nothing, and the positioning of talentless big men like Cass, Jinder, Lashley and company have his fingerprints all over them. It’s a depressing thought.
However, now that the wreckage of Wrestlemania season is in the rear view, and the dust from the Shake Up is beginning to settle, there are promising signs for Money In The Bank.The qualifying matches were an excellent idea, greatly enhancing the quality of the two shows this week, and the decision to have Rusev go over clean against Bryan is one I applaud wholeheartedly for its boldness. I also like that we have both brands in one ladder match; when there were two briefcases, one for each brand, it got ridiculous. One women’s and one male match is more than sufficient; add in some midcard title matches, the conclusion to Styles and Nakamura, and some cruiserweight or tag action, and you’re looking at a very good card. Once Money in the Bank is done with, we’ll be on the road to Summerslam, where hopefully we’ll see Brock Lesnar finally drop the title to somebody and leave (though I might be asking for too much there).
In summing up, Wrestlemania’s bad booking over the past few years seems to take at least one more pay-per-view to get out of the system; where Backlash, Payback and Extreme Rules (the three post Mania shows over the past ten years) used to be a strength, they have become a weakness, mostly due to the Show of Shows being handled the wrong way and the brand extension leading to experimentation and tinkering that hampers quality. Maybe that’s something they’ll learn from next time, or maybe they’ll just keep crashing in that same car.
This is Maverick, requesting flyby!