I’ve been shouting at television screens while watching wrestling for longer than I can remember. It’s omnipresent in my life – through my writing, my conversations, my game-playing and my watching habits. But I’ve never been as close to giving up on it than I was after watching WWE Survivor Series this week.
For me the attraction of wrestling is much more than the action in the ring. Of course that’s integral – the star of Mick Foley doesn’t shine quite as much without 1998’s Hell in a Cell, for example. But that has to be supported by the storylines and the building of personalities.
We’re all adults here. We accepted the death of kayfabe a long time ago while still allowing the cognitive dissonance required to enjoy wrestlers playing different characters or to celebrate someone winning a title. That essentially leaves us with wrestling as a glorified soap opera. Sure, one where participants can get injured or worse – but a piece of fiction that needs direction, nonetheless.
Unfortunately it feels like WWE is heading only downwards, a momentum shift precipitated by the demise of Seth Rollins as WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
From the instant Rollins blew out his knee it seems panic struck in Stamford, Connecticut. Storylines which were planned out months in advance were gone and what has followed seems to bare no semblance to what I grew up watching and loving. I’m not sure whether it’s a lack of creativity in the writing room or it’s coming from the top, but I’m struggling to make any sense of it.
Momentum is important in wrestling storylines. The Money in the Bank cash-in at WrestleMania 31 worked because it had been a while in the making. Rollins had been built up as the sneaky heel. His former friend Roman Reigns looked like he was just about to capture the title. It made sense. It put Reigns in a stronger position and it built Rollins’ character to the next level.
Sheamus doing the same at Survivor Series? The closest comparison may be the resurrection of Bobby Ewing in the shower in television show Dallas, a move borne out of panic which didn’t pay any attention to what had gone on before.
Sheamus has had zero heat lately and even less momentum. His booking has been of a mid-carder, with no obvious storyline. If anything, he had been turned into a joke figure because of previous cash-in attempts comically denied due to holding on to the briefcase too long. Fans chant about him looking stupid. And he appeared in a bad traditional Survivor Series match earlier in the night yet walks out with the belt. I hated it. Hated it.
I won’t say it was a complete bolt out of the blue – I had brought it up in a Twitter conversation earlier in the day with a fellow wrestling fan, with both of us agreeing it was the worst case scenario.
If wrestling history tells us one thing it’s that former friends make amazing foes. If WWE wanted something that made some sense then Dean Ambrose turning on Reigns and winning the title would have done it. It had the potential to be a great feud.
But even better, in my opinion, would have been Reigns turning heel and winning the title because of underhandedness by The Authority. I’m a big fan of Reigns and I understand that he is walking a fine line between being accepted by wrestling fans and being rejected. This is because he has been, seemingly, anointed as the future of WWE and fans don’t like it being that obvious.
I’m old enough to remember Rocky Maivia being thrust upon us. Fans revolted and it wasn’t until his heel turn and he became The Rock it started to make sense.
The fans don’t need much of a prod to turn Reigns into a monster heel. Triple H walking out to ringside during the match would have raised expectations of interference on behalf of Ambrose. A referee temporarily knocked out, a face-off between Triple H and Reigns, and then Triple H turning round and Pedigreeing Ambrose would have had the crowd going crazy.
Triple H and Reigns embracing afterwards would have resulted in things being thrown at the ring. Reigns announcing that he knew he could win the belt without The Authority, but that he knew he couldn’t keep it – and the belt means more to him than any friendship? Bona fide giant heel.
And then you have the potential for some great matches between Reigns and Ambrose. Brock Lesnar could come back as a face for a programme with Reigns. And when the inevitable face turn comes down the line Reigns will be more popular than ever.
Instead we have a champion in Sheamus that makes little sense, Reigns still being barely accepted by the fans, and the knowledge that if he doesn’t win the title before the Royal Rumble then there’s only one winner of that 30-man match.
As for the rest of Survivor Series? Weird decisions (why would Bray Wyatt not choose Braun Strowman?) and matches that felt like they did little to enhance any storyline made the whole thing drag rather than excite.
Something has to change, and from the looks of Raw and SmackDown this week it’s not going to be soon. The only question is whether it will before I give up on it completely.