Last night's edition of WWE Monday Night Raw brought us an all-too-frequent dose of been-there, done-that. Santayana's (not Tito, ole!) oft-mentioned quote seems apropos indeed: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Unfortunately, despite many of us not forgetting the past days and weeks, we appear to be getting condemned all the same. Don't get me wrong, I am all for the two biggest matches of the summer; both Brock Lesnar vs. CM Punk and John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan have all the ingredients to be showstoppers. But one can't argue that a major reason for that sunny outlook is that both matches feel fresh because they ARE fresh. Since Brock's return, we've all been waiting with bated breath to see when he would square off against Paul Heyman's other protégé, CM Punk. That time is now and that match will be amazing. It should be no surprise, since the build for it has been above average with two of the best talkers in the business doing the heavy lifting. What makes it even more impressive is that Lesnar himself has been less than visible for most of the build due to his limited dates. Only true talent could take this Phantom of the Opera act and turn it into a surefire winner.
Similarly, Cena vs. Bryan will be epic because it's also been long-awaited. Daniel Bryan is the hottest thing going in the WWE right now, and all the accolades and accomplishments mentioned both here at TJR and all over the internet have finally gotten him his overdue second crack at a lengthy championship run. Booking Cena is only challenging in that his opponents are rarely expected to win. Recent victories over Ryback and Mark Henry show the sloppy vicious cycle that the WWE has gotten itself into: booking someone as a dominant monster only works when you believe that someone IS a dominant monster. Ryback's unfortunate booking and Henry's past performances gave the Cena haters nothing to worry about. Even with Mark's above-average match at Money In the Bank, there was never a doubt he was losing that match. This match with Bryan is different. It has a true underdog feel that the WWE is smartly playing up each and every week. Ultimately, though, the fan support will be a big part of what happens here. Can't wait to see it.
Once you get past those examples, however, the rest of the summer lawn is littered with the trash of past parties. While I appreciate a nice lengthy storyline that gives us something to enjoy all summer long, some of the recent ones are just plain ridiculous. A very recent example is the booking of the Wyatt Family. I don't think anyone in the WWE is more buzzworthy (or buzzard-worthy, as it were) than the Wyatts. The build for them to make their appearance on Raw approached insanity. Then that moment finally came and did not disappoint. Laying out Kane while making an entrance? Awesome job. Since then, though, we've been stuck in neutral. Bray and the boys don't get as much credibility taking out also-rans like R-Truth and 3MB. They have been missing from shows just as much as they've been on them. Even last night's appearance seemed rehashed, with Kane once again getting left laying in the middle of the ring. The most burning question at the moment is why Wyatt lights his lantern just to blow it out one second later. This storyline should be driving the summer with all the play it was getting, but instead it seems to be revving the engine in neutral and leaving us underwhelmed.
Speaking of underwhelmed, how about the Divas? In honor of their new TV show on E! (did you hear they had a new show? I certainly knew nothing about it due to the constant barrage before and after of how incredible it will be), the WWE decided to go with another round of Kaitlyn vs. AJ Lee. Nothing better than a non-title match featuring two wrestlers who seem to have been in a feud since 2006. We're all well aware that competition is slim for Lee's belt; the roster isn't exactly packed with viable threats. I do like what I've seen from a few of the ladies in developmental, but there's nobody ready to knock on the door and the Funkadactyls have all the personality of wet paint. That said, they still do have Layla, Alicia Fox, and Natalya on the roster, right? Doesn't take a rocket scientist to work a new pairing out of that and give poor AJ something to do that hasn't already been done over and over. Even her other high-profile feud with Dolph Ziggler feels sort of forced to me. While I expect big things out of Big E Langston, this can only be seen as a step down for Ziggler and the ongoing one-upmanship between him and AJ has been painful. Each week we are treated to Lee brushing off Langston's help while going crazy in the ring. We've got it, writers: she's crazy and she's headed for her fifteenth on-screen romance.
In equally shaky footing are The Shield. It wasn't so long ago that they were THE reason to tune in to WWE programming every week. Despite the obvious nWo comparisons, The Shield boast better athletes and interesting characters. Week after week they took the roster by storm and overwhelmed their foes with brutal and violent attacks. Then all three won belts and the intensity wore off. They are spending far less time on the microphone these days, which Ambrose in particular excelled that, and they seem to have been largely forgotten already. Certainly they are not the focal point of the show. It's always hard to spend time on everyone you'd like to with a roster that large, but this is a major issue for the WWE. Even if I was convinced that putting two of your most underrated workers in Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins in a match against the Usos and Mark Henry on one of your biggest PPVs was a great idea, and I'm not, the weekly laziness of the Shield suddenly being overwhelmed by 3 vs. 3 and escaping through the crowd is getting old fast.
It doesn't have to be this way, of course. One of the better storylines coming out of MITB was Damien Sandow claiming a briefcase at the expense of his former partner Cody Rhodes. This move has given both men a chance to shine and allowed Sandow in particular to further excel in his role of comedian. Watching Friday's Smackdown with him flailing in the Gulf of Mexico was the most entertainment I've had watching a non-match in the WWE in quite a while. It also brought up fond, fond memories of CM Punk wrestling Chavo Guerrero in ECW. Bonus points for that! In any case, the fans are getting solidly behind Cody and the attempt by Sandow to present it as snobs vs. commoners and bring up Rhodes's legendary family makes total sense. I can only hope for a Goldust appearance at some point to bring this feud full circle. This build has been very good, with different segments each week and different guys getting the upper hand on each other. It really doesn't have to be that hard. Helps when it feels fresh though, doesn't it?
The favorite go-to for this type of thing appears to be Alberto Del Rio. I'm a fan of Del Rio's in-ring work, and I think he does a better job than many of getting you excited and interested in a match. There is something to be said for that, as it helps to capture your interest even if you're not over the moon on the particular combatants in that match. The booking strategy for Del Rio of late just seems to be pairing him off with someone and having him wrestle them about one thousand times in a row. While I appreciate that the matches are generally high quality, it does absolutely nothing for me in the long run. The current plan appears to be Christian getting a shot at the title, and that's fine with me. Christian always puts on a good performance, and I doubt the victor of this match matters for much besides an eventual drop of the belt to one of the MITB winners anyway. That said, it's already fallen into the ho-hum category of Del Rio/Ziggler and Del Rio/Swagger in that it's not interesting enough just yet. Del Rio has been flipflopped around so much that we're not sure how good he is anyway as viewers. Giving him the same thing to do every week is as boring as the played out mariachi band angle we've seen so often. Though that, too, brings back Punk/Chavo memories. Ah, those were the days.
Reading my esteemed editor's recent column concerning 3-hour Raws (I'd tell you to check it out, but there's no way you haven't) made me think of something even more horrifying: we're only scratching the surface on content. With the WWE's 24/7 channel still out there in the ethos somewhere, we're going to have far bigger fish to fry than trying to cram new ideas into an hour of Raw once in a while. While I fully expect the McMahons to go heavy on the nostalgia and the extensive tape library, and there is plenty of great stuff in there, it also means throwing much more of the same thing at us as fans and hoping it will stick. I could watch seventeen Daniel Bryan matches in a row and love every minute of it, but there is a limit before even the appearance of creativity has evaporated. It's ideas such as this that give me pause. This time of year should be presenting the matches and feuds and characters we'll be talking about all autumn long, but once you get past the high ticket matches it gets a little blasé for my liking. Not everything has to be brand new, of course, but further direction and development is needed to prevent the doldrums that can occur when lazy booking takes hold.
It goes without saying that not every feud can reach the level of the bigger ones, and certainly not every wrestler is capable of delivering in the ring or on the microphone to the level of those mentioned at the beginning of this article, but it shouldn't stop them from trying. An injury or stalled push can temporarily derail someone's chances, but perseverance goes quite a long way in this business and always has. While Wade Barrett has fallen completely off the radar screen, Antonio Cesaro appears to be regaining his previous form. The business is cyclical in that way. The best you can hope for is that the suits hear the reactions of the fans and make (and remake) their plans appropriately. A certain amount of booking on the fly is expected and not necessarily a bad thing. The minute people get complacent is the perfect time to shake things up. And that, in essence, is what's needed here. Putting a small variation on the same product week after week will neither attract new fans nor satisfy existing ones. Worse yet, the WWE has very little competition for viewers right now. Until we hit playoff baseball, there's little on the horizon to pull sports fans away from your product. The WWE is going in the wrong direction a bit too often and getting stuck in the proverbial mud. Familiarity has indeed bred my contempt.
*I'm likely not the best marketing shill, but I would highly suggest plunking down some of your dollars for ECW Unreleased: Volume 2, which is out today on DVD and Blu-Ray. The first volume was "extremely" well done (groan), and this should be more of the same. One benefit of the WWE owning just about all wrestling footage known to man is that no one can argue their talent for promotion and packaging, and that should be evident here. There is plenty of Chris Jericho on this volume, and that's definitely a good thing. You also get a 3-Way Dance with Tajiri, Jerry Lynn and Super Crazy, as well as plenty of Dudleys and Terry Funk, and even a Sandman, Taz, Tommy Dreamer & Al Snow vs. Sabu, RVD, Doug Furnas & Philip Lafon match for your trouble. If you've seen them before, it's worth seeing them again. If you haven't, you're missing out and you need to. Say what you will about ECW, but the passion and intensity in their matches is second to none. Highly, highly recommended for your summer viewing.
*Ryback made some news this week by confronting fans multiple times. He had harsh words for some Goldberg chanters, and later went off regarding a "Feed Me Roids" chant which is actually pretty entertaining. I personally wish Ryback would do more of this on-screen. I don't see the down side of WWE addressing the Goldberg comparisons, and I think Ryback getting frustrated over them and taking it out on opponents could add some dimension to his character. Less successful is the "repackaging" of Ryback as a bully, particularly as WWE is always telling us not to be one. Apparently that doesn't count for threatening Tough Enough also-rans and attacking indy wrestlers in the commissary. Ryback is going to have to go a long way toward getting out from under the bus of poor PPV performances, and he's been pretty listless as his feud with John Cena continues to be sort of not over. With Chris Jericho unfortunately back on the road, it will be interesting to see where they plant Ryback next. My vote would be Sheamus. Might not be pretty, but it would be high octane, fella.
*Rumors were abuzz that ex-George Clooney girlfriend Stacey Keibler might be open to returning to the WWE. Somehow this story morphed into her potentially managing Daniel Bryan. Those rumors were shot down a bit later, and it's not surprising. Keibler has been mildly successful and in the news since leaving wrestling and that success has allowed her to do what most do when they get out of the business, which is avoid it at all costs. Scoring her support would have been a big coup for the WWE, particularly with the media blitz over her personal life, but this is exactly what World Wrestling Entertainment needs to stop doing to itself, namely living in the past. I am all for scoring a big name for a bigger angle when the time is right, but calling anyone even momentarily in the spotlight just reeks of desperation. It's especially frustrating when actual active wrestlers like Kharma get into the promotion and end up leaving with no impact whatsoever. As much as we'd all enjoy seeing Keibler back in the WWE (or in general, for that matter), it's just not going to happen.
*I was disappointed but not surprised by the comments of Ahmed Johnson recently, who in addition to adding fuel to the already raging fire about Pat Patterson's predilections also announced that he wasn't supported or pushed by the company after questioning Vince McMahon as to why it took him until 1996 to crown a black champion. While I don't doubt that racism exists in all walks of life and there certainly can be a case made for many talents not claiming that gold, the real reason Ahmed didn't stick around is that he was a marginal talent at best as anyone could tell. It's irksome when someone who claims to be speaking out against racism invalidates their own claims by turning everything into a conversation about race. My issues with Ahmed Johnson concern his lack of anything approaching interesting when watching him in the ring. He couldn't even run with a decent angle when he had one. The fact that he waits so long before blasting the WWE with this is another problem. The WWE wants to make money, plain and simple. The characteristics of the person making them that money is beyond a low priority.
That's all I have from my corner of the world this week. I hope you enjoyed reading and as always encourage your comments, questions, opinions, and recipes. Feel free to leave a comment in the space below, reach out to me on Twitter @coffeyfan77 or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, this is Mike Holland saying thanks for reading, I was really hoping the royal baby would end up being the Gobbledygooker, and see you next week!