Cast your mind back to early 2016. Vince McMahon stood in the ring with daughter Stephanie as she went to receive the first ever Vince McMahon Legacy of Excellence award, when suddenly… HERE COMES THE MONEY! Shane O’ Mac was back! The prodigal son had finally come home, and it was such a fantastic moment because it was a genuine surprise which we see very few of these days. It became clear almost straight away it was pretty much a given that he would be competing at WrestleMania that year considering the storyline of RAW v SDLive, and it was widely accepted by the fans who remembered his great feuds from back in the day, but unfortunately the reality has been something very different altogether.
What we were given just a few short months into his return was a quite horrible Hell in A Cell match against The Undertaker. It was boring, largely uneventful and just plain uninteresting aside from Shane’s inevitable trademark leap from the giant structure. It was an encounter which sadly failed to live up the substantial hype generated in the build-up, and it sadly just added even more fuel to the fire in terms of the ‘when will they let Taker retire?’ discussions. Taker deserved better than this.
Shane then actually managed to redeem himself by having a great feud and incredible match against AJ Styles. That really should’ve been it, going out on a high and all that, but WWE have a long history of not knowing when to quit. We were given yet another unnecessary feud, this time against Kevin Owens as retribution for KO’s disrespect for the McMahon family. Owens is one of the best performers in WWE today, but even he was unable to coax a good match out of Shane, and their Hell in A Cell encounter was average at best and once again saved by a predictable leap off the top of the cell, this time with Sami Zayn’s unexpected heel turn adding to the drama. The clever thing to do would have been move KO to RAW and have HHH seek the revenge instead as that could’ve led to a half decent match. But no, not while Shane is around with an ego to stroke.
As much as I dislike Shane I must take time to admit that he has been worth his weight in gold to the company since returning. The WWE Universe love nothing more than nostalgia, so every time Shane finds himself in another feud the fans inevitably get fully behind him. The matches themselves were poor, except for the Styles clash (pun intended), but I’ll give Shane credit where its due because he always has the other guy going over. He is the polar opposite of HHH, as much as he wants to be centre of attention he doesn’t do it at the expense of more talented guys and will happily do the honours. This raises one question though… if he isn’t going to win a major feud at some point, is his presence in the ring really needed at all? Styles, Owens, Zayn and Taker are all big enough to not need Shane to put them over, so we didn’t really gain anything from these programs.
While he may not be overshadowing the talent in the ring, the thing which bothers me the most is how much more deserving guys are losing spots to him in the first place. We’ve only recently seen pushes for the likes of Zayn and Rusev who should’ve been in much more lucrative positions over the last two years but have missed out on opportunities despite being on a show which openly prides itself on handing those out to anyone deserving. We are getting to a point now where we quite literally see more of Shane and Daniel Bryan on TV than we do of the WWE Champion AJ Styles, which is an absolute catastrophe.
The worrying thing is we know exactly what WWE are aiming towards in the long game, and it just doesn’t need to happen. The animosity between Shane and Bryan is quite clearly suggesting and teasing that a match will take place between them at Mania, and as much as we all want to see D-Bry back in action there are MUCH better opponents for him than Shane. A feud with KO makes sense considering the current storyline, as does the long-running rivalry with The Miz (hinted at again at RAW 25) coming full circle. Shane would do a huge disservice to Bryan, one of the most gifted technical wrestlers of his generation and would dampen the effect of the WWE Universe’s hero returning. To put it simply there is absolutely no need for him to compete at this year’s event.
That match is unfortunately the only one which makes sense for Shane to be a part of, but his feuds are having less and less appeal every time, so it would be hard to see how this would in any way deliver the fans expectations. The return of Bryan would be hands down the greatest WWE return of all time and should be treated as the most important match of the whole show, so a performer as talented as Bryan himself is the only way to go. The fact we have seen a lot less of Shane in recent weeks could be a good sign leading into Mania season and when you consider the potential strength of the card this time around it becomes even more clear that he just isn’t required anymore.
We already have AJ v Shinsuke Nakamura confirmed, Brock Lesnar v Roman Reigns guaranteed, Ronda Rousey likely entered into a Women’s Championship match, the potential for John Cena vs The Undertaker… does anyone really want to see a sad, ageing guy in a baseball jersey throwing poorly acted punches, getting tuckered out within 5 minutes and falling off tall things when we could have one more dream match on the card? With so many guys coming off the back of great 2017’s and even better starts to 2018, Shane’s spot could be going to a potential champion, a crowd favourite or someone capable of a 5 star match. We still have the likes of Braun Strowman, Elias, The Miz, Samoa Joe, Sami Zayn, Finn Balor, Baron Corbin and a whole host of amazing NXT talent who need something to do on The Grandest Stage of Them All.
Shane. We will forever be grateful for the memories and entertainment you have provided over the years, but its time to step aside. WrestleMania is bigger than you.
The Broken Road: Plans for Matt Hardy at WrestleMania 34
Matt Hardy is still Woken, still bent on deletion and still not reaching his full potential. In the past few months, Woken Matt Hardy has not gained any character development, nor has he done much other than laugh at the camera once in a while. This made me wonder what exactly WWE is going to give Matt Hardy at WrestleMania this year. Unfortunately, judging by the lack of creative direction with the character, it looks as if it could be nothing. Or worse, it could be another three months of the static feud with Bray Wyatt.
Bray Wyatt and His Booking
The Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt feud has been in effect for a very long time on WWE programming. Possibly too long. The beginning was fiery hot with all sorts of fun promos and an introduction to Woken Matt, but it slowly began to fizzle out when WWE would continuously deny it a proper payoff. The main problem with Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt was the problem in most Bray Wyatt feuds: a lack of progression.
Bray Wyatt’s feuds seem to be a flavor of the month. They’re fun and exciting for a few weeks and then they slowly become repetitive and overdone. There is such a thing as too many jumbotron promos. His matches may deliver sometimes, but it seems that WWE gets excited about a new Bray storyline only to forget about it a week later, providing it with no clear direction. Look at Bray Wyatt vs. Finn Balor, they had a few decent matches and there was no incentive to keep the feud going. Sister Abigail was supposed to make her appearance at TLC 2017, but Bray was out for an illness that day and WWE has not pulled the trigger since. Granted it may have gone poorly, but it was something to spice up a dead feud.
In addition, they were granted their first match against each other at Raw 25, which seemed like a big deal, but it really only brought an anticlimactic match finish with no indication of where to go next. They’ve been thrown in bouts together since then such as the Royal Rumble (where they eliminated each other at the same time) and a recent fatal five way match on Raw where Wyatt ate the pin. Other than those instances and costing each other matches though, what has changed?
The Solution: Storyline Progression
Nothing in this feud is exciting anymore because it is already played out. However, since I do not see any other way for Matt Hardy to get on the WrestleMania card, I believe the feud is salvageable. In order to get this feud to the top of Raw, WWE needs to frame it differently and give it more air time. They should frame it as an eternal struggle between two equal powers. They’ve already planted seeds of this, but in order to expand they need it to translate to the ring.
I like what they did at the Royal Rumble where they eliminated each other, but I say take it a step further. This needs to be like a bad movie, and to do that it needs some smidge of creativity and over-dramatization from all parties involved. Hardy and Wyatt should have a few matches before a big WrestleMania rubber match, but here’s the kicker: there should never be a winner in any of their matches until the April spectacular. I want all the stops pulled. Double count outs, double pins, dual disqualifications, almost as if they know what each other’s thinking every single match. That would really ramp up the humor that this feud desperately needs. Of course it cannot be overly repetitive, but each match needs to have a unique stalemate ending.
The Final Payoff
In order to end the rivalry once and for all, they should then have a match at WrestleMania – a falls count anywhere match in order to determine the true superior. To book this, Matt Hardy should go over, therefore recruiting Bray Wyatt to his Woken Wisdom. This would then take the relationship into a whole new direction as Bray can exercise his other creative abilities and not be hamstrung to the same nonsensical character. This could lead to a tag title run and much much more for the two, and Bray Wyatt would officially be Woken (and maybe get Senor Benjamin in there too?).
This storyline needs more layers and depth to become the thing that WWE wants it to be. By taking the correct steps and giving it the time it needs, this feud has the potential to be the most unique thing on WWE television. Until then though, I guess we’ll just be hearing laughs.
205 Live Holds The Key To The Future Of WWE
In advance of its debut, WWE 205 Live was promoted as the company’s innovative and exciting brand. Sixty-four episodes later, it’s living up to that billing and more. What’s the “more?” As of today, I’ll argue that WWE 205 Live is the company’s most important brand.
Since its inception, 205 Live has been a hot topic of conversation among internet wrestling fans. The brand represented so much hope and potential, but also always seemed to be lacking something while living in the shadow of its predecessor, the WWE Cruiserweight Classic.
205 Live: Then
The cruiserweight brand was exciting, but it lacked attitude. The solution seemed to walk through the door when Neville showed up. Neville represented the cross-section between the main roster and 205 Live. He offered a character unlike any on the brand, and it led him to the best work of his WWE career. Neville showed up as the King Of The Cruiserweights, and most seemed to buy in before he even won the championship.
Neville engaged in a feud with Austin Aries, one where many expected the men to at least trade the belt back and forth once. That didn’t happen, with Neville always getting the better of Aries in the end. The result of the feud was Aries’ departure from WWE, but the bigger surprise was title wins for Akira Tozawa and Enzo Amore over Neville, and the king’s untimely departure from the purple brand that followed.
In his absence, a new king emerged. The king of both swing AND talk—but mostly talk—Enzo Amore took the reigns of the brand as Cruiserweight Champion. It represented the “then” more than anything. Enzo is character first, more talk than action, and brought about the brand’s biggest departure from the Cruiserweight Classic yet.
After winning his feud with Kalisto, Enzo was on a collision course with new top contender Cedric Alexander. While many fans weren’t split on the desired outcome, they were split on what would actually happen. It was unknown if Cedric would be the one to shut Enzo up once and for all.
The answer never came, as the brand’s third major personality (along with Neville and Aries) saw an unexpected and abrupt departure from the brand, and in his case, the company.
205 Live: Now
With no champion, 205 Live seemed to be a brand without a direction. After the their first 30-minute episode on January 16, Smackdown General Manager Daniel Bryan revealed that 205 Live would get its direction from an unexpected source: its own general manager.
A week later that general manager was revealed to be a familiar face, albeit one with a new name. Drake Maverick, the former Rockstar Spud, made his 205 Live debut, and immediately took the brand back to its roots. He announced a 16-man tournament to crown a new WWE Cruiserweight Champion at the sport’s biggest stage: WrestleMania.
This move brought back a focus on the in-ring performers, but it didn’t do it at the sake of storytelling. 205 Live instead returned to it’s true form of storytelling, that which happens inside the squared circle.
On one episode, the brand was seemingly “fixed” in the eyes of so many. But it took more than one man. It took several, but three are most prominent.
Many want to be “in the know” and refer to him as Paul Levesque, but we know Triple H from the ring and our televisions. We don’t get to sit in the boardrooms (despite most of wanting to), and that’s probably a good thing.
It’s been widely reported that Triple H has taken over the reigns of the cruiserweight brand, and it’s easy to see the effect. The show has adopted an easy to follow format, simple but in a way that accentuates its biggest strength: the in-ring action.
205 Live follows a fantastic formula: get to know the competitors, watch them compete, and celebrate the winner. From the start, 16 competitors are doing just that with one common goal in mind: winning the Cruiserweight Championship at WrestleMania.
Much like NXT, the Cruiserweight Classic, the United Kingdom Championship Tournament, and the Mae Young Classic, winning matters on 205 Live. It matters more on that brand than any other. The one similarity between each entity listed? Triple H.
The one position that many internet fans don’t quite understand is the producer. Every show has a direction—or more accurately a vision. It takes a producer, and in Pearce’s case a Lead Producer, to make sure that vision translates in the ring. Since the 205 Live “reboot,” you can’t give Pearce any grade other than an “A+.”
Pearce’s performance behind the scenes with 205 Live (among WWE’s other televised properties) shouldn’t be a surprise to an educated fan. For several years he traveled the globe carrying on the legacy of the NWA World’s Heavyweight Championship. He can be credited with restoring the prestige of the famous “Ten Pounds Of Gold” through his actions.
You might also know Adam Pearce as the former booker for Ring Of Honor, where he led the product’s transition from Gabe Sapolsky into the Sinclair Broadcast era, and infused the missing element of storytelling along the way.
Storytelling is where Pearce is a master. Regardless of the setting, or even the medium, Adam Pearce is a storyteller. It should come as no surprise that some of the most compelling in-ring action takes place on 205 Live, where Adam Pearce serves as the Lead Producer.
The aforementioned General Manager is so much more than a figurehead. The man formerly called “Rockstar Spud,” a name the announce team hasn’t shied away from reminding us about, is more than just a matchmaker. A cruiserweight himself, Drake Maverick serves as the man championing the brand itself.
Everything decision, every declaration, every statement, everything Drake Maverick does is presented in a way to make 205 Live better. Much like everything with 205 Live, this is done with the lowest level of complexity and the highest level of effectiveness.
205 Live: Forever
The journey of 205 Live is much like that of WWE itself. “Then” the company relied on characters to get by, even going so far as to push the importance of in-ring competition to the background.
The phrase “Sports Entertainment” is often met with disdain by hardcore fans, but the moniker shouldn’t be shunned. Professional wrestling is the sport, but the spectacle and presentation creates the sense of “sports entertainment” that has influenced a “legitimate” sports promotion such as the UFC.
The phrase “evolve or perish” has been used many times by Triple H, and 205 Live is proof that the spirit of the phrase is alive and well. The cruiserweight brand has a vision through WrestleMania, and it’s what happens after that will determine the long-term success of this crew.
This is the future of the WWE televised product, where larger than life characters meet consequential in-ring competition. The stakes—both storyline and real life—have never been larger. With Triple H, Adam Pearce, and Drake Maverick at the helm, 205 Live (and ultimately WWE) is in very good hands.
How Should WWE Book Ronda Rousey?
Ronda Rousey joining the WWE was one of the worst kept secrets in recent years, and it was one met with many conflicting opinions. Who would she face? What show does she join? Will she be a full timer or just another Brock Lesnar? Why is she even here? Lets not beat around the bush, her acquisition is a HUGE deal for WWE, despite her UFC career going down the pan she is still one of the most recognisable sportswomen in the world and will undoubtedly bring in more of that sweet dolla dolla that makes Vince McMahon sleep easy at night. But what direction should WWE take with her and how can she be booked without alienating the fans and half of the locker room? Let’s take a look at some of the best and most viable booking options…
Four Horsewomen of WWE v Four Horsewomen of MMA
Let’s start off with the one which makes the most sense. At this exact moment in time we know how good Rousey in inside the Octagon of UFC, but we have no idea how well she will be able to adapt to the choreographed, dramatic showmanship which WWE prides itself on. Therefore, putting her in the ring with 7 other women would be the best way to paint over the cracks and hide any flaws she might have early on, as the last thing WWE would want is their biggest signing in years looking stupid and having the crowd shit all over her big moment.
This booking also makes sense because of who would be involved in the match. While the crowd may not be overly invested in the MMA ladies (Shayna Baszler, Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir) seeing four of the WWE’s best female stars compete together for the first time would certainly be a WrestleMania moment and keep the fans interested throughout. There’s no doubting the talent and experience of WWE’s femme fatale’s – Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Bayley – and any one of them would be able to help Ronda look good and like a legitimate badass.
Rousey’s debut in a WWE ring, and even more so her debut at WrestleMania, needs to be treated like the huge deal which it undoubtedly is. Millions of eye’s all over the world will be glued to the event to see what Ronda can bring to the table, so the mainstream appeal of this match makes it the ideal booking for everyone involved and also means that we get to see all of our favourite women involved without necessarily having to have Charlotte defending her title.
Going for the gold
The next most viable option would be Ronda going after one of the Women’s Championships… but which one? A lot of this comes down to what WWE choose do with Asuka, we’re no closer to finding out who she will be challenging after her historic win at the Royal Rumble and it’s a really tricky one to call. Asuka challenging Alexa Bliss, with the potential of Nia Jax joining to set up a triple threat, would free up Rousey to challenge Charlotte over on SDLive. This would arguably be the best 1 v 1 match available, Charlotte has proven time and time again how ridiculously good she is in the ring and she desperately needs legitimate competition after a few months of not exactly setting the place on fire, and she has really struggled to come even close to her fantastic rivalry with Sasha Banks. She has also improved substantially on the mic, which is the area Rousey will likely struggle the most, so Charlotte should be able to carry the feud in terms of promo’s with ease.
The other potential match up could be Rousey v Asuka, and a lot of people are getting behind this one but there’s one major flaw here… who wins? WWE have built Asuka to be the most invincible force we’ve ever seen, and while the streak has to come to an end eventually can you imagine the backlash if Rousey was the one to break it? It’s going to take a long time for her to settle in and be seen as a legitimate superstar so to have her defeat a fan favourite who made history and happens to have a record breaking undefeated run would do her more harm than anything. At the same time, can you really see Rousey losing at Mania? WWE need to find her someone she can beat with everyone accepting it, or have her involved in a match where she doesn’t win but also finishes the match without being the person to take the loss.
For me that could quite easily come in the form of a fatal 4 way for the RAW Women’s Championship. We still have nearly 2 months until Mania and plenty of opportunities to shoe horn Rousey in to the title picture by having her ambush various superstars. Not only does this get her on TV and help to build the storyline, it also means she doesn’t necessarily need to have a 1 v 1 match in the build up and can save that moment for Mania. Now that we know she is signing her contract during Elimination Chamber, I would have her interfere in the Nia Jax v Asuka match so that Kurt Angle is forced to have all 3 women face Bliss at Mania. Rousey can dominate the match, clean house but be ganged up on by all 3 women and roll out of the ring for a while. Bliss eventually takes the pin from Asuka who wins clean. Everyone is happy. WWE get Rousey bringing in viewers at the biggest event of the year, Nia and Rousey don’t look bad in defeat and Asuka continues the streak and wins the gold. BOOM. Book it. Money.
Ladies and Gentlemen…
This one might just be wishful thinking on my part but hear me out for a minute. I’ve made no secret of my admiration for Paul Heyman (as seen here), the man can spin gold on the mic and gets us so much more invested into Brock Lesnar’s rivalries than we really ought to be. But with Lesnar likely to leave WWE when he drops the Universal Championship to Roman Reigns at Mania, what is there left for Heyman to do? Joining forces with Rousey, essentially the female Lesnar, has huge potential. I’ve heard Rousey speak at press conferences and seen her act in movies and it’s a little bit … let’s say uninspiring. That’s not a dig at her by any means, not every great superstar has been incredible on the mic and she’s entering a world in which she has no experience at all, but having the incomparable Heyman working as her mouthpiece is best for business. Lesnar has always been horrible on the mic, so WWE did the right thing by pairing him with Heyman and its didn’t exactly do Lesnar any harm now did it?
I can even picture the perfect way for the pairing to be introduced. Rousey enters the ring to sign her contract at Elimination Chamber with Kurt Angle already in the ring. After a little bit of pandering to the crowd and saying how happy she is to be here, Stephanie McMahon comes down to the ring because GOD FORBID she should stay off TV for more than a couple of months. She enters the ring and talks some rubbish about women’s revolutions and making history. Steph comments on what happened at Mania 31 (we’ll get to that later). Rousey goes to sign the contract but hesitates, grabs the mic and says that she isn’t comfortable signing the dotted line without someone there to give it a once over first. She needs her advisor… her trusted accomplice… her advocate.
Regardless of who she faces at Mania, Heyman’s inclusion in the program would make it must see TV. The hype he could generate would certainly get people to rally behind Rousey, in the same way they have with Lesnar, when before they may have been sceptical after the way she was introduced at the Rumble, taking away from Asuka’s win and the horribly awkward interaction which followed.
Do you smell what The Rock & Ronda are cooking?
This seems like the least likely of the bunch but its still worth mentioning. The WWE Universe will forever love The Rock, and with good reason, so he would be another prime candidate to get the fans to rally behind Rousey. The whole premise of this one would be as a continuation of the interaction which saw R&R (Rubbish I know but I’m sticking with it) take HHH and Stephanie down a peg or two at Mania 31. These are the McMahon’s we are talking about here so no doubt some day they will be looking for retribution after being humiliated publically.
Frankly I hope this one doesn’t happen, and I struggle to see it coming to fruition regardless of my feelings towards it. The Rock seems to care less and less about WWE now, and in a sense I cant blame him. WWE need The Rock, The Rock does not need WWE. When he first started off in Hollywood it was expected that he would still make the odd appearances and have the odd short term program, such as when he came back to face John Cena. However now that he seems to be in a new movie every other week, what would even be in it for him anymore? It would be a throwaway match that the majority of fans wouldn’t care about, and takes up a slot which more deserving superstars could be utilizing.
So to summarise… it doesn’t need to happen. It would be a waste of a match/slot on the card. Talented superstars would be overlooked. Most fans wouldn’t care. It would only serve to boost Stephanie and Trips humongous ego’s. So… you can almost guarantee it’ll happen then. because WWE that’s why!