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Clark: The Reality of Brock Lesnar’s SummerSlam Loss to Seth Rollins

After surpassing all expectations, Seth Rollins’ Universal Championship win over Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam continues to be the buzz of the wrestling world.

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WWE SummerSlam 2019 Seth Rollins

Seth Rollins’ Universal title win over Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam continues to be the buzz of the wrestling world. The match that many fans didn’t care about beforehand surpassed expectations and was a great final chapter in the Beast versus Beastslayer saga.

But as entertaining as the match was, it also revealed a fact that some fans may not have realized yet. This wasn’t just a top win for Seth Rollins and a rare loss for Brock Lesnar. This was a brawl between two pro wrestlers and not a fight to the finish against an unstoppable monster. Brock Lesnar was stopped. More importantly, he was human.

To understand the gravity of what this match means for Rollins and for WWE, fans must first remember how The Beast Incarnate has been booked. In the world of WWE, Brock Lesnar is a force of nature, a natural disaster in leather boots. It’s extremely difficult to slow him down and nearly impossible to beat him. 

He’s a one-of-a-kind killer, a being that’s more machine than man. He’s twisted and evil, relying on his animalistic tendencies and taste for blood. Long time WWE fans remember him as the phenomenon that took the company by storm in 2002. Modern day fans know him as the most indestructible predator that the business has ever seen.

So how does WWE book a man like that, except to put him over at every turn? How else could the company feature him? Brock had to win all of the time, despite what his critics said. A great segment of the WWE faithful hated Vince McMahon for always spotlighting Lesnar, but what other choice did he have?

Once Lesnar’s Beast Incarnate persona was fully realized, the company had painted itself into a corner. Booking him to lose at a certain point was no longer an option and perhaps it never was. However, everyone must lose eventually and the same is true of WWE’s German Suplexing Juggernaut.

But how? How do you beat a man that’s unbeatable? For the men who have done it, the answer is simple. The only way to defeat Brock Lesnar is to take him out of the hunt and the only way to do that is to even the playing field.

Most of the time, that happens with weapons. Steel chairs, chains, steps, kendo sticks and sledgehammers have all been used to either gain an advantage, or score a pin, on Lesnar. Low-blows have also been utilized on multiple occasions, by Seth and even The Undertaker. Any combination of these extreme tactics can lead to the fall of the monster.

Of course that fall is only temporary. Brock eventually gets back up and when he does, he’s even scarier than before. He adapts to the attacks and he learns to overcome the pain. He always comes back and he almost always wins the next round. But this time, it’s different.

Seth Rollins did not use a weapon at SummerSlam and he didn’t deliver a low-blow. He didn’t take Lesnar by surprise and he didn’t do anything illegal when the referee wasn’t looking. Rollins walked into SummerSlam, fought Lesnar on his own terms and walked away as the new Universal champion. Seth got a clean win over Brock Lesnar and he lived to tell about it.

So what does this say about Brock? The fact that Seth met Lesnar on his own level and won, speaks volumes about The Beastslayer. It could be argued that WWE’s faith in Seth is at an all-time high and this win is proof of that. Rollins is the best of the best now, because he beat The Beast and didn’t need to bend any rule to do it.

But maybe the biggest takeaway from this match is the fact that Seth Rollins is not a Hall of Fame legend like Goldberg. He’s also not WWE’s anointed top guy, like Roman Reigns. Rollins is a high profile star that needed a win in the main event and he got it. Brock is not often asked to drop a clean pin to anyone, but he’s now done it for Seth Rollins. It’s definitely a statement on WWE’s part and it may be something more for Brock Lesnar.

Is this a sign of things to come for Lesnar? While it’s completely unrealistic to believe that Lesnar will begin losing on a regular basis, it is however reasonable to assume that Brock is not the unyielding warmonger that WWE has presented. At the end of the day, he’s a performer portraying a character and doing whatever is asked of him.

Critics will continue to hate Brock for the wrong reasons and WWE will likely continue to book him for all the right reasons. Lesnar may or may not remain the invincible destroyer that fans love to hate. But it’s clear that when the time is right, Brock Lesnar will do business and that’s exactly what he’s done with Seth Rollins.

Popular opinion states that WWE has pivoted away from the top guy system, but that may not be true after all. Seth Rollins is the closest thing to being the face of the company than anyone else on the roster right now. Part of the reason for that is the work that Rollins himself has contributed. But the other part is due to Lesnar’s willingness to work with Seth and put him over when it matters the most. 

No matter what happens from this point on, the fact is that Seth Rollins will keep doing what he does best and Brock Lesnar will do the same. With any luck, fans and critics alike will recognize that and respect each man for his effort despite who wins or loses.


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Opinion

Three Important Things AEW Needs to Get Right in 2022

With 2021 coming to a close, Tommy decides to look ahead and throw out some ideas on AEW’s course of action in 2022.

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As the year winds down and wrestling fans begin to construct their obligatory 2022 Predictions List for Wrestling, All Elite Wrestling will certainly be amongst those ongoing discussions.  AEW has seen many drastic company changes in a short two-year timestamp, and while those changes have substantially improved the quality of the product in various categories (mainstream growth and finances to be specific), there are still a few major particulars that need to be given proper attention in the coming year.  The following list draws attention to some of those issues, although they are not exclusive to this list.

Roster Prioritization & Cutting Deadweight 

One incremental shift that we have seen in the last two years with AEW is their approach to their roster construction.  Whether discussing the accumulation of more household names like CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, or Adam Cole or analyzing the rotation of whom is being featured in more prominent roles, it is hard to argue against the idea that as it stands in 2021, AEW has crafted its most successful and star-studded roster since 2019.  However, along with the accumulation of recognizable and established names, AEW has also immensely increased its roster size since 2019.  And while there are multiple benefits to be had out of the roster growth, AEW has struggled to gain consistent ground with being able to effectively feature a hand-selected number of talents over extended periods of time.  Moreover, it is impossible.

Hence, we have seen them try to make up for this by pairing and grouping talents together in clustered factions in order to give them more “camera time.”  It has proven to be more of a recipe for disaster than actual constructive booking, as it paints them in a corner of having too many people on screen at a given time; the end result is that no one is actually being effectively spotlighted.  And if AEW is going to restrain from adopting a “brand split” between Dynamite and Rampage, the solution really comes down to using an old-school territorial roster booking approach.  In other words, they should ideally select between ten and fifteen wrestlers to primarily feature on their premiere shows in a two or three month timeframe in the lead-ins to TV specials or PPVs; the end goal is to build up several key programs and strictly focus on those important programs with everything and everyone else taking a backseat temporarily.

Meanwhile, they can use AEW Dark and YouTube shows to begin eventual methodical character progression before rotating their roster to new programs.  The other attention to detail within this booking formula is to ensure that they are only allotting TV time to proficient, ready talent and cutting back on the spotlighting of heavily “green,” inexperienced talent.  This is not to say that they can not feature lesser experienced talent, but they should abstain from focusing too much time and attention to them until their ring ability, promo work, and character development are ready for primetime television.

To this day, AEW’s greatest dilemma with their current roster is generating a cohesive talent pool to makeup for their ongoing J.A.G. (Just Another Guy) Syndrome.  The cold, hard truth  is that, given the depth of the current talent pool, it is extraordinarily difficult to assemble a roster of one-hundred plus wrestlers without falling into a pit of having a handful of those J.A.G. names in some capacity.  The issue is that AEW has too many J.A.G.S. at the moment, and until they cutback on the deadweight talent and prioritize on a selected few talent to prominently feature each week, this problematic pattern will continue in 2022.

AEW needs to remember the cliche phrase, “When you try to spotlight everyone, you end up spotlighting no one.”

Market & Brand to Mainstream Audiences

It is evident that AEW’s target appeal is for their primary demographic (males 18-49).  However, if AEW is looking to grow and succeed as a company in the next five to ten years, there needs to be a concerted effort to branch out and reach new viewers and new audiences.  One issue that AEW continues to struggle with is their assumption that everyone that watches their product understands and follows the inner workings of all storylines and angles.  While the “internet, hardcore fan base” may be privy to the intricate details of most AEW stories and characters, it is a poor business model to assume that everyone knows what is going on at all times.  AEW has been extraordinary hit and miss with its consistent presentation of stories and characters to an expansive audience.

For example, hardcore fans that follow New Japan Pro Wrestling may be knowledgable as to whom Tomohiro Ishii is and the significance of his affiliation with Orange Cassidy and the Best Friends.  However, a casual AEW fan who does not follow New Japan may not understand the nooks and crannies of that alliance.  And when AEW coldly throws them out to work a tag match on television with no video pretape or package to provide back-story, it assumes that everyone already understands what is going on.  Regardless of whether or not it seems redundant, it is always better to dumb stories down for the audience by some off-chance that a fan needs context or reason behind a given match or story.

Attention to Formatting

Angles in professional wrestling have been a constant part of the art form since its inception, but something fans forget a lot of the time is that wrestling angles also used to be special and unique.  When you watch an episode of NWA World Championship Wrestling from 1985 on the TBS Superstation, you may get one “angle” on the entire show, whether it was an afterbirth heel beat down or a verbal confrontation at the interview booth.  The point being that, it would standout as something special on the show, while the rest of the program consists of squash matches and brief promos.  While fans like to reminisce about the greatness of the Attitude Era period of wrestling in the late 90s, there is a valid case to be made that the Attitude Era helped to kill the value of professional wrestling angles.

Due to the nature of the business by that point and the ongoing battle between WCW and WWF for fan admiration and viewership, the concept of “Crash TV Angles” became second nature to what fans would come to expect on a given show.  Many matches and segments on Nitro and Raw shows included run-ins, interference, mass brawls and beat downs, and chaotic scenes, sometimes to the detriment of both products.  And while it may have worked for the time, it has also left a stain on the business in years to follow where other companies have tried to adopt that same Crash TV booking approach with the belief that it would carry weight in a much different period of wrestling.  Looking back through modern lens, would it be wrong to assert that it may have been “too much?”

The evolution of the “smart” wrestling fan can find it difficult to settle on matches with multiple run-ins, shenanigans, and angles without feeling overwhelmed and gypped if it does not feel warranted.  For AEW, this is still an area where they struggle to find a balance.  Again, this reverts back to the previous discussion of trying to book and spotlight too many wrestlers on a show at a given time.  Thus, AEW may find it crucial to get these wrestlers involved with interference and afterbirth angles just to “give them something to do.”  However, when AEW has three or four of these kinds of matches booked on a given show, it can be become problematic; the same can be said about booking backstage interviews that end in mass brawls multiple times throughout the show.  The end result is that nothing ever feels like it has any consequence or meaning.  The other dilemma is that it comes off as WWE Lite.

Again, AEW would greatly benefit from modeling the format of their matches and promos from a territorial standpoint.  Instead of implementing Crash TV booking for multiple matches and segments on a given show, they should limit this to one or two at the most.  This way, angles feel special, they have time to breathe, and the announcers can spend more time discussing the significance of said angles without needlessly forgetting about them the minute they end.

Conclusion:

AEW has improved the quality of their product in a lot of areas, but there is always room for improvement.  And while there certainly can be more additives to this list of things AEW need to focus on in 2022, these are some of the more apparent and essential ones.  Thoughts?


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Ratings Talk is Back!

Rob always brings logical insight to any topic, regardless of how often it’s brought up in the IWC. Sit back and give this a read, they don’t call Rob a genius for the t-shirts.

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OK, I know, I know, I’ve been saying it over and over for a very long time, ratings talk is dumb.  So why on Earth am I bringing it back?  Because now that some, ahem, developments have transpired I think I have a better case to make.  I don’t expect any of you who are obsessed with the subject to let it go, but you should at least hear me out here.  Now that the worm has turned a little, maybe the things that I and others have been saying all along will sink in a bit.

What am I talking about?  In short, AEW’s live audience numbers have taken a bit of a dip over the past couple of months, and this week even Dave Meltzer couldn’t say anything other than it was disappointing.  They haven’t gone over a million viewers for Dynamite in almost two months and Rampage slipped under five hundred thousand last week.  If this kind of thing was happening on the other side of the street then there would be some hot takes flying for sure.  So, are we going to get some of those now?  You know what I mean, things like:

  • AEW in the mud!
  • Worst ratings since (pick whatever date works for you)!
  • At what point does TNT start making demands on how the show is booked?
  • The ratings are obviously going down because the shows are unwatchable now!!
  • (Insert name here) is not a draw!
  • That title match in two weeks is hotshot booking to pop a rating!

Sound familiar?  We’re gonna see these soon, right?  No?  Why is that?  Are you trying to tell me that wrestling media doesn’t call this stuff the same on both sides of the street?  Seriously though, here are some other familiar things for you to chew on:

  • Dynamite is the highest rated non-NBA show on TNT, and it’s not close
  • Even on a disappointing night, it finished third in the ratings on cable
  • Rampage is the next highest rated and watched show on TNT after Dynamite
  • Fewer people watch TV now than before

Those are the kind of things a lot of us would say every week after people on the internet waxed doom and gloom about Monday Night Raw, of course.  And we were summarily dismissed as E drones or whatever.  But now that the falling numbers have struck AEW, the same rationalizations have begun.  But here’s the truth in both cases:

Everyone is doing fine.  RAW, Smackdown, NXT, Dynamite, and Rampage are all leading their respective channels for the day they air.  They all are among the top shows for their respective channels, even the much maligned (for their live audience numbers) NXT and Rampage.  There is literally nothing to see here folks as none of these shows are in any danger of getting cancelled.  No one is actually in the mud, guys.  The networks all know that Nielsen is suspect at best when it comes to measuring audience numbers, and they act accordingly.  There is no reason to rush to Shobuzz Daily every day at 4:30 unless you are just a numbers nerd like me but even then save the pontificating, ok? The numbers exist and that’s about it.  They serve no purpose for us as fans beyond goofy talking points.

But doesn’t it mean SOMETHING?

Well no, it doesn’t.  There are things you can derive from looking at the patterns over time but trust me when I tell you that your entire  narrative can be blown up in a matter of two weeks.  So don’t bother.  As I and many others have said before, a good rating does not mean a good show and vice versa.  There was a lot of trying to figure it out in the replies to Meltzer’s ‘disappointment’ tweet, and while there were reasonable takes there was also a lot of nonsense.  Which has been par for the course with RAW since like…….2002 at least.

So why do we keep doing this thing?

Well, it was a talking point that Eric Bischoff used to show how he was kicking the WWF’s butt over those 83 weeks.  But once that ended it became less and less relevant over time.  And then once TV viewership made the shift to streaming and DVRs it’s relevance was all but dead.  And it should have ended entirely once WWE signed two $1 billion TV deals in the face of nonstop ‘what about teh ratingz?’ talk on the internet.  That should have totally killed the conversation, but your friends Meltzer and company kept it going even though they (should) know better.  And they did it for traffic.

‘Fed bad’, ‘Fed down’, and ‘Fed in the mud’ has been selling Observer subscriptions for almost 40 years now while it has spawned a whole cottage industry of podcasts, YouTube channels, and websites over the last decade.  There is little to no truth to what any of these people are telling you when it comes to ratings, because if there was then they would be firing off the same takes about AEW that they’ve been using about WWE right now.  But they aren’t and that should be a tell.  If you ever needed proof that it was nonsense the last two months should be it.

Here’s a dose of reality for you:  Nielsen numbers are not accurate.  Several networks have already announced that they aren’t relying on them, Nielsen itself has lost it’s accreditation as an information gathering service, and the company itself has begun a shift to overall impressions from traditional audience measuring via Nielsen boxes.  What you read every day at 4:30 or on some wrestling website is by all accounts an inaccurate at best and dishonest at worst representation of how many people are watching these shows.  And the recent reporting of Fast Nationals, aka Overnights has only made it worse because those are a hastily gathered version of an already inaccurate report.

Here’s some more reality for you.  Regardless of what Nielsen says the live numbers are both WWE and AEW are going to get a nice bump in TV rights fees when they negotiate their new TV deals.  Other sports with smaller audiences just got more, and the NFL and NBA continue to get price hikes even as their numbers aren’t what they once were.  And your favorite internet loudmouths will continue to spout the same factually challenged gibberish that they’ve been saying for decades now.  None of it will matter unless you guys keep giving them money and traffic every month.

I’m going to make a bold statement here:  there is not a single thing that ratings talk has done to help the fan experience and in fact it’s only made things worse.  But it has made money for a lot of bad faith actors out there, many of whom want us to treat them as if they are reporting on Watergate or the Civil Rights Movement while they spout off takes based a change up or down of 100,000 people watching a wrestling show on TV.  At this point anyone writing serious essays or going on rants about ratings is not someone you should take seriously.  Just go do what you should have always been doing.  Watch the shows, enjoy the shows, go to the shows, talk reasonably about them with your friends, etc.  Anything else is just dumb.


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