This week on The Right Side of the Pond (TRSOTP), Maverick graduates to fully Joey-status as he takes a week off, leaving myself and Mazza an open forum to discuss whatever we wanted to discuss! So, knowing our tendency to disagree, we naturally decided to play it safe, and focus on the potential pathways stretching out ahead in the near future of our favourite wrestlers Seth Rollins and Daniel Bryan.
Truthfully, in spite of some lacklustre television (when isn’t there in WWE?!), there’s plenty to be excited about if you’re a fan of either of those two beloved wrestlers. On the Smackdown Live (SDL) side, Bryan has returned to the ring as if he never missed a beat, wrestled a shift in The Greatest Royal Rumble and, in spite of being locked in a feud with Big Cass going nowhere fast, nevertheless remains as popular as ever. Thankfully, that popularity hasn’t proven itself to be all-consuming, and has allowed WWE to begin a slow build towards what now feels like an inevitable confrontation with the Yes Man’s career-long nemesis, The Miz. This week, we delve deep into what might lie ahead for Daniel Bryan on Team Blue, and why, considering the apparent ‘Smackdown Six’ make-up the brand seems to quietly be adopting all over again, that future is as bright as ever.
Meanwhile, over on Monday Night Raw (MNR), Seth Rollins continues his ascent to the top of the company, with the announcers, one would assume under direction, openly recognising him as their currently hottest property. While the immediate decision to revert to the weekly open challenge format feels a little like comfortable, lazy, safety zone writing on the part of the promotion, it is nevertheless a format that lends itself perfectly to this iteration of Rollins’ character. His matches remain, quite obviously, his greatest asset and seem only to increase in quality as time passes. The spotlight is immediately his to lose every week from here to the end of the open challenge – a concept which offers up a wide variety of potential opponents we might otherwise not get to see him wrestle. There remains cause for consternation that this might see his character growth of the last two years stunted, but that consternation remains only mild. Thanks to his inspired use of the hash-tag ‘brockwho,’ his reign as the fighting champion has taken on a storyline meaning all its own, commenting, not all that passively, on the toxic main event scene Rollins is currently overshadowing and hopefully, as we mention on our show this evening, set to safely avoid!
It was in discussing these things with my long-time colleague Mazza that it started to click with me just how positive the recent and apparently future trajectories of Bryan and Rollins respectively really are; or, at least, how much I was destined to like or love them.
Anyone who follows my work here, on The Right Side of the Pond or even on Aftershock or social media will know that the New Generation Era (which I date roughly from the night after Summerslam 1992 to the night before WrestleMania 13), in spite of its widely loathed and condescended reputation, is an Era I love passionately and defend staunchly, and this year I will be starting the process of encouraging a popular reassessment of the timeframe. The reason for this contrarian position is simple: people have bought into WWE’s sponsored version of the Era being a complete disaster because of the dire financial straits imposed by ongoing legal battles at the time and the massive talent migration that rocker the roster, but remain apparently unaware of its creative successes that were innovatively ahead of their time in a lot of ways (if not all that financially beneficial). And all of this without mentioning the sheer quality of matches offered in the ring, including an apparently endless list of minor to outright television classics.
Today’s product is a far cry from that of the New Generation Era in most respects. The New Gen was not defined, as most believe it was, by nonsense gimmicks and cartoonish storylines, but by possibly one of, if not the strongest collection of in-ring talent of any single period in WWE’s modern history, each set on years-long character arcs that often found themselves interwoven with one another in seamless fashion, like a mid-1990s Marvel Cinematic Universe. This resulted in cards that might not look all that impressive on paper, but in reality were deeply engaging because of the creatively intelligent way they were built to, and the zealous energy of the live crowds prepared to be told the stories as the company intended them to be told.
Obviously, today’s WWE product lacks these strong traits. While it has the collection of talent, it arguably has too much of it – a bloated roster even with a Brand Extension instituted, where talents are promoted seemingly much too eagerly from NXT just to find themselves with nothing to do upon arrival on MNR or SDL, and where WWE snap up international and independent wrestlers with no clear vision as to what role or niche they are intended to fill.
Similarly, storylines are haphazard, changed, we are told, on such a whim that even the finish to the biggest match of WWE’s year – the main event of WrestleMania – had an ending that got altered after the match had started. Character arcs are often no better, and Roman Reigns sits atop the mountain of stories that demonstrate that, being as his own has drifted through a good half a dozen varying and unclear iterations in only four years.
These difficult tendencies of WWE’s, especially when married to their fetish for excess and bizarre decision making of the last two years, make being a fan of their product oftentimes very hard. In those hard times, it helps to have a favourite wrestler about whom you are passionate, and helps even more when that wrestler is atop WWE’s product – like I have Rollins and Mazza has Bryan. That gets even better when those wrestlers begin to exhibit the best traits of a creatively excellent time like the New Gen Era too.
Rollins and Bryan are both in the midst of character arcs that, like those of the New Gen, date back years. Rollins’ seems to lie mostly behind him as he seeks to take the final step in resolving the redesign, rebuilding and reclamation of his own soul through the guise of a fighting champion, and Bryan’s seems to only just be beginning – his pathway from enforced retirement to recapturing a WWE Championship he never lost, going through long-time nemesis The Miz on the way, looks to be as clear as daylight.
Similarly, both are responsible for excellent ring work. Rollins has, you don’t need me to tell you, been tearing the house down and obliterating expectations for quite some time. His form has been as insanely consistent as the best stars of the New Gen’s own form often was, like Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels or Razor Ramon. His variety of opponents plays to that old school “challenger of the moment” mentality too, working his way through a roster of wildly varying characters, telling unique stories against each one in a fiercely cerebral manner just like a championship Hart or Michaels often would.
While Bryan’s own ring work since his return has been far from terrible, so too has it been limited thus far simply by circumstance: a tease of something greater with AJ Styles, a multi-man Rumble Match and an under-qualified big man don’t lend themselves to a full demonstration of his ability between the ropes. But that ability is clearly still there, and while Rollins’ own path has focussed seemingly on delivering action and content, Bryan’s has focussed on evoking emotion as a prelude to something greater. It’s a slow build; just like the best arcs of the New Gen often were.
Together, these two men are proving to be a breath of fresh air in the middle of a terribly sterile product that carries the smell of lethargy. They might be, disappointingly, the exception to the rule, but I can only hope they are exceptions WWE don’t mess up, and instead find an old form with that they haven’t had in over two decades. These are arcs that have earned proper resolutions, and not just have their narratives fail as WWE’s creative capabilities are depleted and found wanting.
Indeed, if they receive such satisfying resolutions – and if WWE can capture that lightning in a bottle and spread it out just that little bit more consistently, which isn’t too tall a task to ask – then who knows where it could lead? After all, we all know very well by now what the New Generation Era led to by doing just those things with solid regularity. WWE never shut up about it!
But you can hear more on all of this from Mazza and I in just a couple of hours on the next instalment of The Right Side of the Pond, airing only on Lords of Pain Radio to kick your weekend off right! The Right Side of the Pond airs only on LOP Radio every Friday night, 9pm BST / 5pm EST, or can be listened to on demand at any time via BlogTalkRadio or on iTunes, so be sure to check it out!
What’s more, you can hear me go into a little bit more detail about the New Generation Era and why it so desperately deserves a reappraisal when LOP Radio’s Aftershock crew team up for a Sunday special on Lords of Pain Radio this Sunday, introducing the first edition of our new spin-off: Retroshock! Join me and Steve of The Late Shift fame as we give the Aftershock post-show treatment to an event that represents that absolute pinnacle of misleading folkloric thought about the mid-1990s: WrestleMania XI!
Until then, if you have any thoughts on the current trajectories of Seth Rollins or Daniel Bryan, or of your own favourite wrestler(s), let them be known in the comments below, over on social media or even by signing up to our own LOPForums, where TRSOTP and every other LOP Radio show has its very own discussion thread for you to throw some responses our way without the limitations of Twitter or Facebook; just click here to sign up!