The post-Wrestlemania landscape is truly one of the stranger periods of the pro wrestling calendar. Sometimes, free from the bombastic constraints of everything having to be the most important thing that ever happened (TM), this time of year throws up a veritable cavalcade of interesting matches and angles. Alternatively though, we can end up with lazy, ill thought out fluff that is essentially killing time until Summerslam. Timing the Superstar Shakeup immediately after ‘Mania has not helped this aspect, essentially turning the first two weeks of TV after the Show of Shows into an extended exercise in treading water. This week’s programming, however, did point us in the general direction of where Money In The Bank is heading, so let’s evaluate what we’ve seen so far.
The re-invention of Bray Wyatt is something I have found fascinating. As soon as the buzzard in a box vignette aired on the Raw after Wrestlemania, I was excited, as it seemed to bring the character back to its creepy roots, roots which WWE had long since deviated from, taking the power of Wyatt’s aura away. Following up with an equally eerie witch doll, and then the alarmingly spot on spoof of a children’s television show, complete with Bray taking a chainsaw to a cardboard cut out of his previous incarnation, was absolute genius in my view. Mick Foley thrived in the 1990s and early 2000s from switching between different versions of himself; this reboot of Bray Wyatt may pay similar dividends. At the very least, I admire the fact that they’ve made vignettes rather than merely throwing him into the active roster and expecting people to care. I hope they continue the skits for a long while before he actually shows up. The guy is one of the most talented people on the roster and should be central to the product. WWE have got to get this right, because otherwise, it’ll be a colossal waste. The early signs are promising.
I am similarly enthused by the bold move of making AJ Styles the first challenger to Seth Rollins and his Universal Championship. This is history repeating itself to a degree, since they pulled something similar when Roman Reigns held that same belt in 2016. The Reigns vs Styles series was critically acclaimed, and there’s every reason to believe that The Phenomenal One will be able to do even better work opposite Rollins. I applaud WWE for going with the biggest match available to them for Money In The Bank and not “saving” it for later. I don’t need any complicated stories here, just two of the best wrestlers on the planet going one on one to see who is the best.
When WWE decided that they were ending the “GM Era” to make the McMahons the sole arbiters of authority, I was extremely wary. My misgivings have proved correct. Heel Shane McMahon is horrible to watch; bullying ring announcers, milking this Best In The World nonsense, calling out Roman Reigns, all of this puts him far too much in the foreground of the product. Meanwhile, spoiling Reigns’ refreshing move to Smackdown by immediately putting him in a tired authority figure feud with Vince and Shane is a major worry for me. The crowd were finally coming around to Roman after his courageous battle with cancer, but this might end the honeymoon period extremely quickly. No-one needs to see this Vince vs babyface thing anymore. It’s beyond done with. There’s no heat in it. Just don’t. Things are made even more confusing by the fact that Triple H seems nominally to still be a babyface, both in his feud with Batista for ‘Mania and in setting up his former protegé Seth Rollins’ first title feud. In 2019, what the product needs is less McMahon, not more.
I also feel strongly that WWE have inevitably fumbled Becky Lynch’s double title reign. Yet another match with Charlotte is predictable and dull, but perhaps not as predictable and dull as the kayfabe of Charlotte being the “favourite of the higher ups” (been done to death). Worse still though is the rapid and puzzling ascension of Lacey Evans, high priestess of X Pac Heat, who has perhaps performed better in her role than anyone expected her to, but that still doesn’t excuse the ice cold angle. I fear that we will soon see The Man drop the Smackdown title to Charlotte and leave her crummy Raw feud with Lacey to dominate the summer.
Let’s start with the Superstar Shakeup itself. Good lord, what a mess. There are several problems, as I see it. First of all, the kayfabe surrounding the Shakeup is not very well established. Who is making the swaps? Who knows about them? Who is eligible? These are important narrative questions that WWE have not bothered to address. It’s not like in the old days of the first brand extension, when the draft was a lottery, as in pro sports, or even in the first year of this split, when Angle and Bryan were seen in backstage segments negotiating picks and swaps. No, all we have now is someone’s music playing, and them walking out. No explanation, just…here’s this guy! Storyline continuity is important in any narrative form, I don’t care what anyone says. That’s just a fact. Then we get into further sloppiness, like moving wrestlers and immediately retconning it a week later, or changing the name of a popular tag team and then changing it to something slightly less stupid, but not explaining that that’s what you did. Really, when it comes down to it, the Second Brand Extension has been a creative liability, just as I predicted it would be at the time. What WWE really need to do is clear out the dead wood, streamline the roster, position it properly, and book it simply, as one entity. Sadly, that dream is far, far away, and may never come to pass.
Finally, the story that the Backlash pay-per-view was moved because it was due to follow another of WWE’s ill-advised trips to Saudi Arabia and they didn’t think the proximity flattered them…damn right it didn’t. The company’s continued relationship with a murderous despotic regime is a horrible, horrible look from a PR point of view, and I’m somewhat surprised that Vince hasn’t bailed out of it yet. Morally, as a fan, it makes supporting the company problematic. I won’t go any further down that line of thinking just yet, as this is a wrestling column rather than a politics one. Nevertheless, it’s troubling.
Well folks, those are my thoughts on the post-Mania landscape. What are yours? Do let me know in the comments below, or feel free to give me a follow on Twitter @Neil_Pollock79