Thoughts Pre-Elimination Chamber: Start in the Middle

There are always things that can be better in a wrestling promotion. Sometimes it’s on the technical side – the lights, the venues, the camera people. Sometimes it’s the wrestling. Sometimes it’s the marketing & publicity. Sometimes it’s the stories. But whenever something goes wrong (and this applies to most things in life) it’s best to return to fundamentals – that’s where you find your base.

There are so many things happening in professional wrestling today, it would be hard to pick just one thing the fan base would like to see changed. Part of the reason I choose to talk about story lines and promos is because I have a background in theatre and writing, so I feel my opinion has fundamentals behind it. When I think about my ultimate fantasy, the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel goal for any wrestling promotion, it would be to build one massive story arc that every player could play a part in. I know that, too a lot of people, this sounds like War Games. I wouldn’t hate that, but I am talking even bigger. In WWE, from Wrestlemania to Wrestlemania there should be a way to trace every character for a whole year, and their role should be relevant to the promotion as one entity. But that’s hard to do when, as a company, you’re not actually paying attention to your whole roster.

I see, day after day, people holding up the NXT promotion as if it is this singular perfect thing – the answer to all of the problems of the main roster of WWE. News flash: it’s not. Everything we see weekly on NXT is great, and enjoyable to watch, but leading up to NXT Takeover: Unstoppable, we had seen symptoms of the horrendous illness of the main roster – a focus around a core group of individuals in the title picture and sending everyone else to obscurity.

Since getting into the NXT roster about a year ago, I’ve enjoyed falling in love with the characters as they grow each week. I’ve also enjoyed going back to find more about the individual wrestlers’ history and seeing where they came from. It became almost expected that every Ring of Honor darling would eventually find their way to NXT, it was just a matter of when and who would be there to be in dream matches with them when they arrived. It has been a real treat to see kings and queens of the indie scene get a chance to perform on a top-tier program with high-level production values. But it wasn’t until NXT Takeover: Unstoppable that it occurred to me NXT has come dangerously close to simply being “Ring of Honor: Now With Bigger Budgets”. Of course it’s not the same, WWE is working in a totally different box, and while there’s more money behind it, there are certain rules that can’t be broken. There is always a give and take. For me, what was being given up was the heart of what NXT was meant to be – a developmental program.

Let’s get real about some facts: Samoa Joe is a 16-year veteran. Kevin Owens, Hideo Itami, & Finn Balor, 15 years each. Sami Zayn, 13. While it’s fun to see guys with equal parts talent and experience come to a beloved promotion, they don’t really need it. Perhaps it does take some getting used to in terms of how things are run at WWE, which is understandable. But it doesn’t require an NXT title belt or a year-long run in the title picture. How are you supposed to get people to develop into characters that really connect with the fan base if the fan base never sees them because they’re clamoring for their indie favorites?

Let’s put a pin in NXT for a moment, because the problem on the main roster is not that far off. One thing I’ve brought up before (and I will keep bringing up until it stops happening) is how the main storyline for YEARS now has been The Authority vs. Not The Authority. Triple H, Stephanie and whoever is on their “side” at the moment. Currently counting among the Authority side is Corporate Kane, J&J Security, and current WWE World Heavyweight Champ Seth Rollins vs. just about everyone else in the title picture, like Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Randy Orton. Momentarily at last year’s Survivor Series we saw the tendrils of this boring feud reaching as far as Luke Harper and Erick Rowan, Dolph Ziggler, Ryback, Big Show, and John Cena. But at the moment, none of the story lines outside of the title picture really involve The Authority at all. Occasionally, Kane comes out to make a match by the power vested in him by Vince’s Daughter and her Hubby, but you never see a real presence of the Big Bad in the mid card – and that includes the other titles. Oh, sure, once in a blue moon we do get Stephanie showing up like Lady Macbeth to stir up the Women’s Diva’s division, but most of the time they’re creating intra-division turmoil.

“So what, J? This is how it’s been for a long time.”

I am so tired of hearing that – just generally in life. Just because something is how it’s always been doesn’t mean it can’t change. When something doesn’t work anymore you fix it – or replace it. There was a definite shift in NXT after NXT Takeover: Unstoppable. The next week new story lines began to surface involving lesser-used performers. Currently Jason Jordan is getting himself more screen time, as is Solomon Crowe (who I hope wasn’t just fed to Owens to disappear again). Knowing that Owens has signed a main roster contract and Samoa Joe hasn’t yet fulfilled his contract to ROH, I’m excited to see them use more of the talent that is currently working down at Full Sail. Perhaps someone in Triple H’s office realized, if you’re going to try and sell the show Tough Enough, you shouldn’t also be advertising to the potential contestants that they’d have a better chance of being on WWE TV if they started on Destination America.

Meanwhile, on the main roster, let’s give the mid-card something to do. Right now I am glad to see how full the card is for Elimination Chamber tonight. While I’m sure many of those guys are just glad to get PPV pay days, I’m also sure they’re more likely to get over if they’re actually working. I’m not a huge fan of gimmick-based PPV events, but I think a 6-team tag inside the actual Chamber is a great way to give these particular 12 (potentially 13) guys a chance to show what they’ve got. Something like the Elimination Chamber (along with Hell-in-a-Cell and a steel cage) makes it hard for the fans to actually see, and in this case there will be so many other people in there with you, you have to go big or risk being lost. As for the IC Title match, which is a traditional Elimination Chamber match, I’m not even sure what to think, except good for R-Truth getting some on-screen time. His 5 opponents have been circling the main event picture of over a year now, none of them actually making it into the Authority’s radar for longer than a month. It’s as if the six men in question have suddenly developed their own IC division, and that’s not a good thing.

The best way to get a promotion over is to zoom out – way out – and see the whole picture. Look at your women, at all your titles, at all your story lines, and figure out where you’re going. There should always be someone for the fans to root for. If they’re not cheering or booing someone, it’s usually not the person in the ring’s fault. You could have helped to put them over with how you wrote the match into everything else. “The Brass Ring” has become like an inside joke to wrestling fans, and now every young kid with a Wrestlemania Main Event dream is dropping the phrase into interviews and podcasts. But they can’t get there by sheer will. Someone has to give them a chance to get into a place where they can shine. As a die-hard Shield fan, I’m thrilled to see three of my favorites in the main event picture at the moment. As a huge fan of Prince Devitt, I’m glad to see him as the #1 contender for the NXT Championship. But I’m not the only fan in wrestling, and they’re not the only guys on the roster.

Somebody ought to tell the powers that be – they’ve been stuck in neutral for far too long. They’d better start reaching for their own brass ring, before their ride comes to an abrupt, and silent, stop.

-The Lady J Says

The Lady J “To Watch” List  (The Elimination Chamber Edition):

1. Fight Owens Fight – Regardless of my feelings on John Cena by himself, I think this is a really interesting place to put him and Kevin Owens. The match will be solid, and it’s hard to figure how to make the outcome work in the long term. Could go either way. Stay tuned for a lot of me yelling. Neville vs. Bo Dallas – if you never saw them in NXT together, just trust me on this one.
2. #ExplicitAmbroseViolence – Hopefully it involves him and Rollins in a completely ridiculous spot that makes me cover my face, and does not involve electronics or Bray Wyatt.
3. Tag Team Match – It’s not all Bad News. Currently, the tag team division is solid on the main roster and this ought to be a barn burner. I’ll be the one on twitter shouting “LU-CHA, LU-CHA, LU-CHA!”
4. Naomi 4 Champ – Please for the love of all things good and holy.
5. Neville vs. Bo Dallas – if you never saw them in NXT together, just trust me on this one.

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