If the predominant theme of WWE’s product throughout 2019 so far is best described as frenetic, there can’t be any denying that April saw that theme reach a new ever-more frustrating apex. It’s difficult to believe WrestleMania was little more than a month ago, given how long it feels has passed since, and it’s worth remembering that we did kick this last month off with what I believed was, truly, a really good WrestleMania – or, a WrestleMania that was as good as a WrestleMania can be since its move to being three days long, at least.
I said several times over coming out of the big weekend at the start of last month that my enthusiasm for the product had been totally re-energised thanks to a version of the Showcase of the Immortals that seemed more interested in telling fun and engaging stories in the ring than reaching for some abstract concept of grandeur. I stand by that assessment. Coupled with a steady parade of winners that fans wanted to see win and the departure of acts that had long since, or were increasingly in danger of becoming stale, it felt like a new start for a company in desperate need of one thanks to a typically bungled build to the Grand Daddy.
As is WWE’s habit, though, the fresh start didn’t last long. In spite of the positivity of 2019’s WrestleMania weekend, we soon got treated to an infuriatingly nonsensical Superstar Shake-Up that exposed the sheer breadth of WWE’s contempt for the principles of good world-building necessary for any decent storytelling. Indeed, it seems like the shake-up continues even now, with the Smackdown Live (SDL) acquisition Roman Reigns already returning to Monday Night Raw (MNR)…. That the madness of stars moving from one show to another and back again, or moving to one show and staying there while somehow moving back, has potentially been necessitated by the rumoured demands of networks about to pick up WWE’s programming is no excuse either, and instead only demonstrates the chronic inability of the man in the charge to think ahead of the game adequately enough to run the creative side of his company not just well, but just in a manner that makes sense!
Matters only got worse as May began, thanks to the official announcement of another Saudi Arabia special, the next in what will be a very long line of events leaving a bad taste in the mouths of many fans. Apparently unhappy to stop with just upsetting their politicised fans, WWE may yet have gone to even further extremes to upset those able to pass over of the questionable morality of continuing on with the Saudi Arabia deal too, with rumours now circulating of a return to the ring for Goldberg, whose one remaining storyline in the company was exhausted two years ago when he was already indescribably irrelevant. At this stage let us just hope WWE aren’t quite so insane as to decide to give the man a WWE Championship run to go alongside his Universal Championship run. A show in Saudi Arabia staging an African American World Champion being beaten quite literally by an old white guy? I dread to think.
April has been a strange month then, one that started strongly and provided a reason to be once again enthused by WWE’s prospects before sinking back into bad habits and capping the month off with some foul amorality. As is often the case, though, once you wade through all of the dense mitigation that is now apparently a prerequisite of being a WWE fan, you find aspects to be excited about, and the process of naming my Wrestler of April has been a gentle reminder of that for me.
Becky Lynch had a history-making April, and one that has provided seeds of a future well worth getting excited about. Fears of Lynch possibly not being given the big moment in the first women’s closer at WrestleMania went unfounded, The Man picking up a pin fall victory over Ronda Rousey to become a double-champion. WWE, in the midst of all of April’s madness, have at least put Becky Lynch where most fans have wanted to see her: front and centre of the women’s division. So much so, in fact, she is set to pull double duty at Money in the Bank with not one, but two title defences.
April was a little quieter for Finn Bálor, but not for lack of accomplishment. Like Lynch, Bálor also started the month picking up gold with a decisive Intercontinental Championship win over the woeful Bobby Lashley at WrestleMania. He has defended his title since then and switched brands – a positive move that may finally allow him to escape the shadow of his spiritual forerunner Seth Rollins – and while he may not spring to mind as the most immediately apparent MVP of the last month in WWE, it’s telling that Bálor matches exclusively made up my shortlist for naming a TV Match of the Month. Simply put, he’s just gotten on with being great.
Kofi Kingston should rightfully take the honour for April, though, and no mistake. Sure, his work on television may not have set the world on fire as WWE Champion, mainly because of being given wafer thin material to work with, and some may see April as a one-accomplishment month for the reigning WWE Champion, but that accomplishment alone eclipses anything else to have occurred in WWE so far this year, quite frankly.
It’s easy to bemoan people playing identity politics, especially when you’ve never had to face any adversity in life because of the unavoidable facts of your identity, but the underlying theme of Kingston’s pursuit of and eventual attainment of the WWE Championship remain as vitally important after the fact as they were during. It helped that his match with Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania was, in its own right, quite apart from any extra social merit, an utterly stunning piece of work, but pile that social merit on top of it and you have the ultimate demonstration of what professional wrestling can become in its most transcendent form.
For the first time in history, an entire wave of WWE, of pro wrestling fans were able to look at the most prominent wrestling product in the world and see someone of their background overcome adversity, overcome prejudices and overcome the terrifying thought that the game is so rigged society might never give way enough for them to overcome any of it. It’s inspiring, it gets noticed, and with any luck it will have established a new status quo: that there’s no need to have one at all. Kofi Kingston was the face of that Event, and that puts him beyond the achievements of the rest of WWE’s locker rooms.
It’s no surprise, then, that my Main Event Match of April is Daniel Bryan vs. Kofi Kingston for the WWE Championship (WrestleMania 35). The social relevance and political message sent by their sublime masterpiece makes it one of the most important matches in all of WWE history, while its superlative content and outstanding execution serve to make it one of the greatest too. The palpable emotion, the supporting performances outside the ring, the structure of the story, every detail was passionately crafted right down to the most micro instance of body language, all of it combining to ensure that theirs was an effort that breathed rarefied air that night.
Undercard Match of April is a choice that may prove odd, but in remembering I define a main event as any of the top two matches used to sell a pay-per-view – defining the women’s triple threat as the other for April – I have to plump for Brock Lesnar vs. Seth Rollins (WrestleMania 35) in this category. Emotive in its own right, it was the culmination of a years-long story arc for both characters, tilted into original presentation courtesy of Paul Heyman’s opening promo and compiled in a manner that proved you don’t need to go thirty minutes between bells to spin a compelling yarn. My own personal investment does make this a deeply partisan choice, but such is the prerogative of a wrestling columnist! And don’t let that admission fool you: it may have been no longer than fifteen minutes all-in, but those fifteen minutes were laden with narrative and character commentary all the same.
Naming a Tag Team Match of April is something of a joy for me, as it offers an opportunity to sing the praises of one of the most well told stories going in all of WWE: the rise and rise of Amir Jordan and Kenny Williams on NXT UK, as the two endearing underdogs picked up a series of wins to take them to an unexpected but deeply immersive title shot in the coming week. And the best of those matches was Amir Jordan and Kenny Williams vs. Marcel Barthel and Fabian Aichner (NXT UK, 03/04/19), with its shock and awe aesthetic, electrifying conclusion and testament to how much a well constructed underlying narrative can augment what would otherwise feel like quite ordinary action.
Honestly, it was slim pickings for the TV Match of April because of the general madness of the month. Finn Bálor, though, offered up a series of good to great matches, the best of which was Finn Bálor vs. Ali (SDL, 16/04/19). It was a simple story with no stakes, but one told dramatically and infectiously well, marking Ali’s transition from being a plucky underdog to a savvy one – and, maybe, one day, an Intercontinental Champion too. A feature-length pay-per-view encounter between the two would be most welcome.
The Network Match of April was an all-Takeover conversation and, in the end, I opted to go for Velveteen Dream vs. Matt Riddle for the NXT North American Championship (Takeover: New York). Dream is a prodigy whose reputation precedes both him and this column, and Riddle has quickly proven his own natural instincts as a storyteller. Together, the two men wrote a scintillating story of survival for the champion while firmly establishing a bright and certified future for the challenger – a man I’ve become a fan of , quite against all odds!
What are YOUR thoughts on the WWE product in April? What wrestler did YOU think had the best month? And what matches do YOU feel were April’s finest in the realm of WWE? Sound off in the comments below, over on social media or by joining LOPForums today!
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