The Wrestling Connoisseur: Getting Lost On The Road To Wrestlemania; or Writing For The Wrong Audience Part Two
This post was originally published April 10, 2017 on Inside Pulse. For Part 1 see here!
Where did the Road to Wrestlemania go wrong? I’m going to try to answer this question. Or, more so, re-book the big matches slightly that lead to Wrestlemania 33. At this stage in the WWE season, everything is geared toward booking a product, Wrestlemania, that isn’t confirmed. Throughout the season there’s an idea of what is going to be the main event(s), who will be champions, and big specialty matches. As anyone that keeps up with wrestling knows, this changes on back and forth. Vince McMahon changes his mind as often as he changes his suits, even those hideous ones.
Early predicted matches included Undertaker vs John Cena or Randy Orton, as well as John Cena vs AJ Styles, Brock Lesnar vs Shane McMahon, Big Show vs Shaq, and the quite right Triple H vs Seth Rollins. Prior to Royal Rumble, it also looked like we would be getting a big pay off Reigns vs Strowman Wrestlemania match of some sort. The JericKO teaming of Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho was always expected to split up coming toward Wrestlemania for a match up.
Royal Rumble-The Exit Toward the Road To Wrestlemania. The Royal Rumble card never needs to be overly booked heavy. The main matchup is expected to be the Rumble itself with plenty of surprises. The event is long, in and of itself, with expected surprises and spots. There’s no point in wearing the fans out early on. Earlier Rumbles sported several low card matches with only one mid or upper-level match. Modern Rumbles feature matches with heavy storyline building to it. That’s not a bad thing, but again, more weariness before the Rumble match itself. With that said, I’ll focus on the main aspects of the shows that lead toward Wrestlemania.
Kevin Owens defended the Universal Championship against Roman Reigns with Chris Jericho hanging above the ring in a cage. The match was spoiled when Braun Strowman’s interference. Typically this would beg that Reigns would get revenge on Strowman in the Rumble match itself. Wrong. Strowman was eliminated early on by Baron Corbin. Diabolic booking.
Absent from the Rumble was a “banned” Seth Rollins. I’m not certain the mindset of keeping off one of the biggest superstars the WWE has from the Rumble. (Rollins reinjured his leg the night after the Royal Rumble.) It would have made more sense for Seth Rollins to have been booked against Kevin Owens in a Universal title match, or a tag match of Rollins & Reigns against Owens & Jericho. Either way, it’d make most sense by having either Rollins or Reigns or both in the Rumble later by not being part of a title matchup.
It’d have been simple enough to have Triple H interfere in a Rollins vs Owens Universal title match and cost Seth the title. Or, for that matter, debut Joe as Triple H’s Destroyer in the match up and cost Seth the title. Instead of just Jericho in a case, the match could have started as a No DQ match up. Foley could have later added the shark cage for Jericho. Samoa Joe interrupts the match up after Rollins Pedigrees Kevin Owens. (Who knows what would happen with injuries then.)
To continue on with the main title belt situations, having the World Heavyweight championship changing hands served little purpose with the Elimination Chamber around the corner. Crowning Cena a 16 time World champ to tie Ric Flair made little news, nor was it received well, or understood since he dropped the title at the Chamber. It has no bearing on booking really, just the question of why?
Several wrestlers were left out of the Rumble from the main roster. Some were injured like Kane, Erick Rowan, Finn Balor, and more. Surprisingly, many of the lower and mid-card names like Zack Ryder, Heath Slater, Jack Swagger, Tyler Breeze, Fandango, Titus Oneil, Sincara, Goldust, and R-Truth was left off the Rumble. Cesaro and Sheamus were included even though they had a match up earlier in the night for the tag titles. It’s an interesting aspect since Ellsworth, Mojo, and Gallagher were included. (Although who doesn’t love seeing Ellsworth being destroyed?)
The first part of the Rumble was the big showdown between Strowman and Big Show. Strowman entered #7 and Big Show #9. Mark Henry entered #6, another “favorite” that never wins. The battle of the big men should have been used better. Strowman eliminated Big Show, Henry, and Big Cass, before being eliminated by Baron Corbin after an onslaught from Corbin, Ambrose, and Zayn. It was a pointless elimination that did nothing for anyone. Entering Reigns earlier for the elimination or Strowman later would have made more sense.
One Rumble cliche has always been the biggest, baddest, most main event guys always enter within the last few numbers. Orton entered #23, Wyatt #21, Lesnar #26, Goldberg #28, Undertaker #29, and Reigns #30. Very rarely does an early entrant finish the Rumble. Only 6 men have won the Rumble entering #5 and above out of 30 Royal Rumbles to date; including names Ric Flair (#3), Mysterio (#2), & Shawn Michaels (#1). Thirteen out of 30 for #25 or higher and 20 out of 30 at #20 and higher have gone on to win.
This Rumble actually witnessed the WWE creative and Vince McMahen use Reigns’ unpopularity with the fans as a device. The fans haven’t been happy the last few Royal Rumbles; Batista winning, Reigns winning. Having Roman come in late and one of the last few participants guaranteed whoever won wouldn’t get booed as long as it wasn’t Roman Reigns. It’s definitely a cheap tool to use on the fans and shows a greater problem with booking when one of “the top guys” and supposed face has to be used in a manner of “anyone but” Roman Reigns.
Was Randy Orton really the right choice to win though? The entire Wyatt/Orton feud has been a little corny. The Rumble win by Orton definitely set up the Wrestlemania championship match that Wyatt would later snag at Elimination Chamber, but to hold Cena vs Orton over everyone’s head going into 2017 was awful. Maybe the “casual fan” of 3-10 years old would be excited about such a match but for many of us Orton vs Cena has occurred for a decade already. Several times per year.
The magic phrase; if I had control of creative… Looking at the Royal Rumble and going along with the Wrestlemania lineup as much as possible I have to consider the more interesting builds. Orton joined the Wyatt Family out of an odd turning point in the feud. “If you can’t beatem…” But Orton was beating them really. The Wyatt Family, for all the hype, rarely walks away with a win. And that in itself is crazy. Since its inception there’s been a stout, thick evil cult genius that’s borderline mystical (if just on the totem under mainline WWE mystical characters), and two massive dudes from the start; Luke Harper at around 6 foot 5 inches who can do anything in the ring and Erick Rowan at 6 foot 8, and then Braun Strowman tossed in as a mastodon of a man. Why would Orton join them if those guys always lost? I didn’t get it then and I don’t get it now. But when he did join the rest of the fam went to the wayside. The Orton/Wyatt tag worked. But I really feel that the real intrigue and journey would be Bray chasing Orton for revenge, that revenge being taking what means most, the World championship.
It would mean more to build a talent that will be around for another decade and more than one that may have at most 5 years left and probably less. Having Wyatt win the Rumble sets up the same fateful Wrestlemania World championship match.
As I mentioned earlier, Rollins facing Owens for the Universal title helps prevent some (Reigns) overkill at the Rumble. I’d have swapped Big Show down the card with Baron Corbin. Let Strowman have a stronger showing and more build in taking out each big man, first Big Cass, then Henry. I’d have replaced Gallagher with Ryder or Goldust. Let Strowman systematically eliminate them and Zayn. Corbin comes. The Perfect 10. Ellsworth. Ambrose. Strowman rampages through them. Corbin eliminates Ambrose-they need some build here. Strowman tosses out Corbin while Ambrose distracts. The ring is empty except for Strowman and Jericho. Then the showdown with Big Show. Jericho sides with whoever gained the upper hand at that moment. (Jerishow baybay!) No? (You’re the man, Braun!) Others pour in to interrupt the showdown. Slowly they’re eliminated by Big Show and Strowman again until they square off. Big Show is ousted.
The finish edges down. Strowman would be in the ring for awhile at this point. Things would go down fairly much the same at this stage. Harper attacking the Orton and Bray. Brock decimating. Goldberg eliminating Brock. The Goldberg eliminated by Undertaker. Reigns would still eliminate Undertaker leaving Orton, Wyatt, Jericho, Strowman, and Reigns. Strowman eliminates Reigns. Even though he’s a heel, he’s had an amazing face reaction from crowds. No doubt he would receive, once again, a “Thank you, Braun” chant. But the vultures would be stalking. Orton, Wyatt, and Jericho would attack fast and eliminate a tired Braun as he and Reigns stare off. And then there were three. Jericho finds himself against the Wyatt Family. In the midst of the ensuing chaos, a bump sends Orton to the apron. Jericho gets the best of Wyatt trading blows. Springboard dropkick teases knocking Orton off the apron. But the final blow is Bray shoving Jericho into Orton knocking him off the apron. A dazed Jericho meets Sister Abigail and easily eliminated afterward. A pissed off Orton sucks it up and the Wyatt Family poses down.
This leads directly to the Elimination Chamber. The biggest change here, of course, would be Wyatt and Orton switching. Orton participates in the chamber match and Bray has the grudge match against Harper. Orton wins the Chamber match. It matters little if the title changed hands at Rumble. Backstage politics aside, keeping the belt on Styles until the chamber match sounds best to me.
This sets up better tension. Bray is supposed to be the master and up until now he was on track to headlining Wrestlemania while Randy Orton would be relegated to his corner and lower card. By strapping Randy with the World championship (in keeping with the Wrestlemania card) it puts the characters in a different predicament that’s not as clean cut. Everyone knew Orton would turn on Bray Wyatt, but would Bray so easily turn on his only remaining ally?
This is also a rarity since fans lean more toward liking Bray Wyatt. He’s can be a bizarro of a character elements from Dusty Rhodes to the Undertaker. The fallout from Elimination Chamber still allows for the other Smackdown Wrestlemania matches to be set up the same; AJ vs Shane, Cenas vs Miznanins, and the wasting of Luke Harper in the Andre Battle Royal.
The Fastlane build and booking also is slightly mindboggling. What feuds culminate here and which lead to Wrestlemania? For the sake of continuity, I assume Seth Rollins would still be injured the RAW after Royal Rumble or at the Rumble itself. At any rate, Samoa Joe versus Seth Rollins would be set for Fastlane right away, with Rollins to be replaced by Sami Zayn due to injury. The Rusev/Mahal debacle at Fastlane would be swapped for implosion after losing to Cesaro & Sheamus on a RAW.
Strowman versus Reigns. This match is out of sorts for Fastlane. While a win for Reigns keeps him strong for the match against Undertaker he doesn’t really need to look strong(er). It does, however, hurt Strowman’s credibility that’s been built. All momentum is lost and he’s no longer undefeated. There seems to be big plans post Wrestlemania for Strowman. Big Show versus Strowman would make much more sense at this point while still teasing a showdown between Reigns and Strowman in the future. I would even interject Reigns to be in Big Show’s corner and possibly causing a DQ. Superman punch and knockout punch spot to put Strowman down?
Best Friends on the Road to Wrestlemania. While Chris Jericho isn’t Universal champion he’s played a humongous role with Owens as champ. The best friends have looked to implode many times and always made up. The big celebration of friendship could have gone either way. It showed what a mastery Jericho holds over the fans and the psychology implored. The question is for the long haul who is better off turning face or remaining heel. Jericho’s time left is over around Wrestlemania. At the time also, rumor had it that Goldberg would be gone after Wrestlemania. And Lesnar works on a limited basis. The top full time faces on RAW are Seth Rollins and (not so favorite) Roman Reigns. Fans respect Owens work enough for him to get over and Jericho could easily turn heel to get Owens over. I would hold off the turn between friends until Fastlane.
In absence of the turn, Jericho would be booked to defend the US title at Fastlane. Mick Foley would declare that Chris Jericho not only will defend his title but in a six-pack challenge match. Throwing their names in the mix would be Sheamus and Cesaro. Not to be outdone, the New Day would also reveal they have no plans, but before all three could claim the remaining spots Jinder Mahal would demand to be in the match. Xavier Woods loses his spot to Mahal. Jericho pesters Owens for help at Fastlane for weeks on end. Owens has his own problems though.
The Goldberg/Owens match sounds good, but Goldberg has always been known for quick bouts. It’s believable that Owens could carry the entire match. But why not play off of the entire build from the Royal Rumble? When else will we get a sampling of Goldberg versus Undertaker or Goldberg versus Reigns? When Goldberg tosses his name in the championship hunt, Reigns does also. Of course, reminding everyone who’s yard it still is, the Undertaker shows up as well. Kevin Owens defending the Universal championship against all three in a Fatal Four Way at Fastlane would allow for the small spots for the old timers while Owens and Reigns take the most punishment and carry the match.
The betrayal of friendship occurs when Owens doesn’t help Jericho retain the US championship. The most viable option for a new US champion, the one to get the most out of it, would be Jinder Mahal and would allow the tags to stay together. (It also keeps from using the belt as a tool in feuds.) Jericho goes on to cost Owens the Universal title when he seemingly will retain.
This keeps the Wrestlemania card intact with small changes and teasers. We’ve had a taste of Reigns versus Undertaker. Jericho versus Owens has the same amount of animosity, if not more. The ill-fated Goldberg-Lesnar match for the Universal championship still goes down. The remaining 3 weeks left can be used to build the angles further; Jericho visiting Owens family and making it more personal and Undertaker/Reigns less respectful.
Why would tossing respect out the window help Undertaker versus Reigns? More brawling is always a good cover for less mobility of the Undertaker. Not only that, if the plan is to help make Reigns more sympathetic then major beats downs help, as does bleeding. On the opposite hand, if the idea is to push Reigns as a heel, then they did a great job already.
Goldberg and Lesnar goes down exactly the same. The World championship would be the exact opposite. Bray chases the title and wins at Wrestlemania. I’d argue there’s more mileage in this manner. Orton could chase the belt on to Summer Slam and Wyatt could also defend against Harper. A face Owens opens up more storylines and matches. Triple H wouldn’t be happy with a now good guy family man Owens opening up a Samoa Joe/Kevin Owens feud. A return Universal championship match against Brock also opens up. Of course, as we know now, everything is about to get shaken up.
So that’s what I’d have fought for building to Wrestlemania 33, at least with keeping with the card presented to us.