Listen, WWE. I’m sticking with what I said yesterday – that it’s still you and not me, but now I have a really good example of why.
I watched Monday Night RAW last night. I know I said I wouldn’t, but then my phone blew up with people screaming about the return of Shane McMahon so I had to find out what in the holy hell was going on. I ended up watching almost the entire episode (I will admit to missing whatever happened with Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch because a friend needed a ride, though.) But three segments on this show that I did get to watch gave me some big things to consider in regards to what I was arguing in yesterday’s post.
After taking some time to digest it, the feud between Brock Lesnar and Dean Ambrose is absolutely perfect. In fact, I’m shocked that WWE has managed to give us something this good, considering how badly they’re struggling with just about everything else on the program. When you stop to consider all of the components of this particular storyline, it’s hard not to be enthralled by the potential. The story they created leading to the triple threat match at Fastlane was never REALLY about Dean and Roman’s relationship. It was about the Lunatic Fringe getting into the head of The Beast – a job Ambrose has pulled off magnificently. Brock Lesnar is not a person who is frightened of anything – he has no reason to be, he’s the baddest dude in any room he enters (including an arena full of a 100k screaming fans) so there was no chance Ambrose was going to intimidate him. The only thing the unpredictable ex-Shield member could bring to the table was the element of surprise. Imagine what was going through Lesnar’s head when Ambrose kept asking for more. He climbed into the ring and got in Lesnar’s face before Fastlane, he took F5’s just to find out what they felt like. He caught a serious beat-down before RAW, and then came back to challenge Lesnar to a match that (while Dean’s choice) doesn’t favor the former Intercontinental and US champion one bit. He’s going to be beat to a (hopefully bloody) pulp and continue to get up. I have absolutely no idea how Lesnar’s going to beat him, and that makes me ecstatic, not just as an Ambrose fan, but as a fan of good wrestling psychology and storytelling. Oh, and if that didn’t sell you, we’re going to get five weeks of Ambrose/Heyman promos. I may not even survive until Wrestlemania 32 – my heart my explode from joy before then.
ON THE OTHER HAND
Shane McMahon is back on RAW after six years away. I could not believe my eyes when I turned on my TV – Shane O Mac, in the ring with his father (who is apparently shrinking, I don’t remember him being shorter than Shane) and his sister. Not something I would have predicted, to be honest, and being surprised (as my friend Nat says) is better than the show being predictable. The boss’s son cut a killer promo on his sister, and then demanded control of RAW from The Chairman, after Stephanie left the ring. Of course this was an opportunity to make a deal, so Vince told Shane he could have RAW if he participated in a match where Vince chose the venue, the day, and the opponent, which Shane agreed to. That’s when it was announced that Shane would face The Undertaker inside Hell in a Cell at Wrestlemania 32.
This match – this program – is in forty days. There is plenty of time to lay out a solid story and get everything we need to become hooked as an audience. But that’s not what WWE did, so now we’re left speculating. Why on Earth would Undertaker take this match? Because Vince said so? Nothing we know about The Undertaker in recent years leads us to believe that he is beholden to Vince in any way – he has chosen his own opponents as far as kayfabe is concerned. He picked Brock Lesnar. He agreed to take on the challenge put forth by Bray Wyatt. Why would he fight Vince’s battle for him? Surely this will be explained, but it shouldn’t HAVE to be explained – it should be clear from the beginning. Part of what makes the Lesnar/Ambrose feud so brilliant is that the feud is a natural product of who the characters are. Lesnar is a beast who likes to cause pain, and Ambrose is a masochistic freak who is always looking for a fight. Really, they were MEANT for one another. Now, it’s fair to argue that a portion of the WWE Universe probably has no idea who Shane McMahon is, aside from what his promo told us, and doesn’t understand the history (google him, people) but there are certain details that those of us who are long-time fans know. And we all know who and what the Undertaker is. There are plenty of ways this whole thing could have made more sense. The first one that comes to mind is having Vince tell Shane he gets RAW if he wrestles in one match on one night, but doesn’t tell him when or against who. You could end the episode with Vince frantically trying to think of who to use, going back to his office where we see that he is in obsession of The Urn, the one guaranteed way to control Undertaker. Maybe the following week we get a backstory that Undertaker traded The Urn to Vince in order to get Lesnar as an opponent at SummerSlam in 2015. But WWE hates backstory – or through lines, for that matter. So instead they force themselves into a situation of setting matches/feuds up and then having to explain to us why they make sense. Have you ever heard of anything more backwards? But it’s not even the worst thing they’re mucking up. The number 1 ongoing feud in WWE is:
WWE vs. THE AUDIENCE
If I was the kind of person who understood how to make memes, I would take a picture of Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls and write the phrase “Stop trying to make Roman Reigns happen. IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.” I’m not sure why they refuse to give in to the audience, but creative is locked in one hell of a stalemate against the WWE Universe. In the past, some of the greatest character developments in the history of the company have come from creative turning the character (or allowing the character to turn naturally) in accordance with the response from the crowd. But they are either going to get Reigns over as a face or absolutely kill his career in the process. They have glimpses of success (the RAW after TLC comes to mind) but they are so inconsistent in booking him that they can never sustain his success. In an attempt to repeat what they had back in December, Reigns is embroiled in a feud for the WWE World Heavyweight championship against Triple H (who has thankfully shed his Brooks Brothers look to return to The Game persona we all know and love.) Trips has been a heel for a long time as part of The Authority, so it seemed a clear win to put him squarely in Reigns’ path and allow us to cheer him. Except that the loudest people in the audience aren’t kids who want to see Reigns overcome, it’s the adult fans who are nostalgic for the cocky badass version of The Game that we’re clearly getting now. He’s our hero, not the guy who can never be successful for more than five minute increments. Who wants a champion like that? Who wants to watch Roman Reigns overcome THE AUDIENCE? Not those of us sitting in it, believe that.
One thing that’s clearly an issue with the opening and closing segments that isn’t an issue with the Lesnar/Ambrose feud is that the characters themselves are not clearly defined. Who are these characters? What do they want? Why do they want it? How are they going to get it? Shane McMahon has almost all of these questions answered, but it’s not clear what he was willing to do to get it back BEFORE his father set up the match at Mania. The Undertaker really only has the “who” part answered. Reigns has always been vague for me on his “who”, but we know that he wants the title in order to provide for his family (I think.) His “how” keeps changing in terms of what he’s willing to do to get what he wants. Triple H has a huge problem in his “who” because sometimes he’s Corporate Trips and sometimes he’s The Game and sometimes he’s NXT Dad and that’s a problem. Because all three of those characters have different answers to the “what/why/how” questions.
As Shane O Mac put it last night, we can’t know what we don’t know. But know this: if WWE could clearly lay out for us the characterization of these four men, the feuds would tighten up as a natural result. It happened so easily with Lesnar and Ambrose; just let the plan fall into place.