So, I’m sitting here in a hotel room in New Orleans, watching the people come off of Bourbon Street and stagger off down Canal toward the Riverwalk. It seems that there’s always a party going on here in the Big Easy, but the festivities will ramp up about a hundred notches next April, when WrestleMania returns to New Orleans.
I’m here for a conference – not location scouting – and I think this is one of the ideal cities for WWE’s annual show of the year. It’s bold, it’s colorful, it’s a little worn around the edges, but it’s still everything it claims to be. I can’t wait for the next WM in NO.
Speaking of WrestleMania….It’s been a few days since WM 33 in Orlando, and now that the dust has settled a bit, I have some thoughts about this year’s event.
What was up with the Kickoff Show? – I don’t expect any pre-show to exceed the actual PPV event, but this kickoff show was a dumpster fire. WWE did a great job of building anticipation for the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, mainly by hyping monsters Braun Strowman and Big Show. Then, the two behemoths come down to the ring, eliminate roughly 43 people in 15 seconds, and get tossed out immediately thereafter. Big Show was slightly protected, as he was thrown out by Strowman. Strowman looked strong because it took the other 43 guys in the ring working together to get him out. This was bad, but things only got worse. The winner of the (supposedly) significant AGMBR was….Mojo Freakin’ Rawley. Even better, he won by ousting Jinder Mahal. Seriously?? This was WWE’s way of getting the mandatory celebrity appearance out of the way by letting Rawley’s buddy, Rob Gronkowski, hop into the ring and knock Mahal to the ground. (With possibly the best block he’s ever thrown.) Somewhere, Bill Belichik was frowning. The best match of the pre-show was Neville v. Austin Aries for the Cruiserweight Championship. It was an excellent match – and belonged on the main card. Perhaps the most perplexing thing was that the Smackdown Women’s Championship fiasco was elevated to the main card while the Intercontinental Championship match between Dean Ambrose and Baron Corbin was placed on the pre-show. It was a huge letdown for the fans, and evidently for Corbin and Ambrose, given the quality of their match. The pre-show is for highlight packages and nothing matches. Having two titles contested before the actual show even started was a big mistake.
The Hardys are still awesome – I spend a lot of time complaining that WWE relies too much on older, more “proven” stars in big spots instead of building up the rest of the roster. It might seem hypocritical for me to say that putting the Raw Tag Team Championships on the Hardys was a good idea, but it was. There are a few differences between the Hardys and an act like Goldberg or Shane McMahon or any of the part-timers that seem to rise to the top of the card every April. As good as Lesnar or Goldberg or Shane can look in limited action, they’re still limited. None of them, with the possible exception of Lesnar, would be effective if they had to carry a show week in and week out. The Hardys can still do that. Hopefully, Matt and Jeff are back for the long haul. The Hardys were part of the greatest tag team era in WWE history, and could help usher in a new age of prosperity if they stick around this time. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.
Is WWE determined to sink Bray Wyatt? – How do you ruin a superstar that is so over with the fans that he doesn’t even need to care about championship belts? Give him a championship belt, then take it away again in a month. Bray Wyatt’s arc is becoming all too familiar. He engages in a weird, creepy feud with a fellow superstar. Bray cuts about 37 very odd promos, which seem to make no sense, but are cool as hell anyway. The other superstar seems at least very confused if not downright terrified by Bray’s antics. Eventually, the two meet at a PPV event. Usually after Wyatt and his minions have terrorized the other star for a month or two. At the event, Bray wrestles a solid match – and loses. Over and over again, he loses when it counts the most. There was some hope when Wyatt was the sole survivor at Survivor Series and actually won the WWE Championship at the Elimination Chamber event. However, at the biggest show of the year, he lost, again, to Randy Orton. Now, the two will engage in a “House of Horrors” match at Backlash in May. Wyatt may even get the title back again in this B-level PPV. Don’t count on him having it by the time SummerSlam ends, though. WWE needs to understand that an act like Wyatt’s wears out if he can’t back up his words.
The part-timers delivered – As much as I rail against putting part-time acts in spotlight matches at every WrestleMania, I have to give WWE credit for their execution this year. First of all, only Undertaker – the king of WrestleMania – worked the main event. Given that it was apparently the Last Ride for the Deadman, it was only appropriate. The other two matchs that featured part-time help, Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg for the Universal title and Shane McMahon vs. AJ Styles, both delivered far more than anyone could have expected. Lesnar and Goldberg lasted about four minutes – or roughly twice as long as their previous encounters. It was what it had to be. Goldberg managed to get in some of his offense, but also took about 10 German Suplexes before succumbing to an F5. Watching the match reminded me of an action movie trailer – all of the good stuff and no real story. For all of that, both men gave what they could give, and the match achieved what it was supposed to. Styles and McMahon also battled to an obvious conclusion, but both of them came out of the match looking strong. Shane McMahon is a guilty pleasure – like Pawn Stars or Little Women L.A. – that show you binge watch when no one knows you’re watching it. You’d never admit to liking it, but it’s compelling in a weird way. Styles did what he always does. He made his opponent look like a million bucks while getting himself over in the process.
Taker’s swan song was hit and miss – It was one of the most bittersweet moments of my life as a wrestling fan when my son and I watched The Undertaker strip off his gloves, duster and (absolutely f’n cool) hat, stack them in the center of the ring, and slowly walk up the ramp, and presumably out of our lives, for the last time. There has never been a better performer than Taker, and there probably will never be. That said, the match was a bit clumsy. It’s clear that Taker can’t quite go like he used to. (Who could?) Despite his limitations Taker and Roman Reigns put on a solid main event. The problem is that if you’re going to have a legend lose his last match, you have to get something out of it, and WWE didn’t. Reigns won, the crowd booed him out of the building, and he didn’t seem to care. In other words, it’s the same ending as every other match Reigns is in. A better ending would have seen Taker somehow defeat Reigns, then Reigns going berserk and pounding Taker into oblivion. The fans already hate him. It’s time to turn him heel. What better way than brutalizing the Undertaker into retirement? (Side note – it was extremely heartwarming to see Jim Ross brought in to call the Undertaker’s last match – particularly since his wife died about 10 days earlier. Unfortunately, Michael (*@#&$(#*& Cole kept talking over Ross on commentary. SHUT UP, COLE!!)
Like it or not, it really IS Roman’s yard now – Speaking of Reigns, he’s the real deal Big Dog now. According to the latest numbers, his merch is the top seller in the WWE Shop, at least amongst the full-time performers. (I’ve read various reports that say Cena still outsells him). He’s put in big match after big match, and even though the hardcore fans seem to hate him, he delivers every time. Seriously, when is the last time a Reigns match flat-out sucked? WWE needs to be able to see the trajectory. Remember, “Die, Rocky, Die?” That dude turned heel, turned into The Rock, sold a trillion dollars’ worth of merchandise, turned into Dwayne Johnson, and now makes about four movies a month. Turn Reigns heel. Let him have a long enough run to get the fans turned around a bit, then turn him back. He’ll never be as good on the mic as his cousin Rock, but he’s already every bit as good in the ring.
The Miz is utterly legit – Speaking of guys who are legit, the Miz has made it. He may have already headlined a WrestleMania, but he’s never been close to as good as he is right now. Miz is an old-school heel in the vein of Roddy Piper. He’s such a good heel that the crowd loves him. Add in the fact that his promos contain a good amount of truth, and you have the makings of a top-of-the-card bad guy for the next 10-15 years.
Next week, we’ll talk about the results of the Superstar Shakeup promised by Vince McMahon on this week’s Raw. Many fans think that Vince will finally try to balance out the rosters so that Raw and Smackdown are on equal footing. I have a feeling that’s not what The Chairman has in mind.