Tables, Ladders & Chairs is in the books, and while certainly doing quite a bit to improve the rather lackluster reaction to WWE pay-per-views of recent memory, we're still a ways away from our destination. (RIP, REM.) While the main event was juicy enough to get people talking and finished without the absurd degree of tomfoolery that has riddled recent affairs, we're still stuck with Randy "Never Saw A Promo He Couldn't Screw Up" Orton as our INTERGALACTIC SUPERCONTINENTAL UNIFIED WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WWE. At least, I think that's what we're supposed to call him. Cue Don King. In honor of the holiday season, I present a few early WWE New Year's resolutions.
1. Turns That Make Sense
Why is it that nobody cares when The Miz wrestles Kofi Kingston? It might be because we've already seen that match 4,000 times, and despite the very athletic Kingston Kodak moment that will invariably occur and The Miz's ability to make really hilarious faces of frustration, we're just not that into it. Or perhaps it's simply that Miz never should have been made a face in the first place. There's nothing worse than a wrestler left hanging out to dry when the freshness of the packaging wears off. More curiously, WWE doesn't seem to know what they want to do with either of these guys, and it shows. Who are we rooting for?
This is a classic example of the flubbed turn. Miz is inherently irritating, and he's quite good at it. He's so good, in fact, that he doesn't even have to work at it. It's a skill, an inherited trait, and should be appreciated. In a vain attempt to sell T-shirts and market his catchphrase, bang! (sorry, DDP) he's a face. Nothing about him has changed whatsoever, really, but it's okay to like him now. Except most of us still don't and are very, very okay with that. WWE has had a long run of these moves lately, the most obvious being the ill-fated and ill-timed Ryback heel turn (which was actually his FOURTH, if you count the Skip Sheffield "era") that went so cold he's been buried in the tag division.
If WWE wants to make Brodus Clay a heel, I support them. It's a great moment to do it, as his gimmick is absurd and the only way to fix it is to go the monster route. It won't make Brodus a better wrestler, but it might make him relevant for a spell, and that's a good thing. As for the rationale behind it being that he's a main eventer, well hey, you can't have everything. That is a move that makes sense in the here and now and may pay positive (though likely brief) dividends. Injuries and circumstance will always lay waste to the best laid plans, but the WWE needs to make a resolution to try a little bit harder before giving up the ship.
2. Remember The Divas
Sounds like a movie title. The most evident thing about the AJ Lee/Natalya affair at TLC was that it didn't suck. That's what happens when you take two talented women and let them tell a story in the ring. Of course, it really didn't matter what either of them did in the ring, since all of the conversation about the match and the potential result centered around the AJ/Michelle Beadle "dust-up" about CM Punk at Tribute to the Troops. Is this Gossip Girl or the WWE? What was left in its wake was nebulous vagaries of punishment for AJ that might include her losing the title. How about her losing the title because creative told a great story about Natalya defeating her?
This is a division sorely needing some of the juice being funneled into tag action these days. Kaitlyn went from being a champion to not even appearing on television. Most of the women in the WWE have shown little to no character development since debuting. And now, the fleeting success of Total Divas makes even that seem a fanciful notion. The best female characters in the WWE are those that aren't even wrestling. Stephanie McMahon and Vickie Guerrero get more ability to flesh out their roles without even regularly suiting up. That speaks poorly to creative's ability to reach a massively underappreciated segment of the wrestling audience.
As an aside, I'm not strictly speaking about female viewers here. I'm not foolhardy enough to think that the WWE would import some of the creatively brilliant things done in the female divisions of Japanese wrestling, but most people want to see a great story. The Hunger Games is massively successful with a female protagonist because it's an interesting story, and has a kickass heroine doing really cool things. It's not as hard as they seem to think it is. If the characters are lacking in the division, hit the Performance Center and call a few up.
3. More Bray Wyatt
Bray Wyatt is the best thing to happen to the WWE in quite some time. The reason I say that is because he is one of those rare characters (like The Undertaker) who don't need a title to captivate an audience. Everything about him is mysterious: his promos, his entrance, his outfit, his backstory. As little pieces of it are revealed, what emerges is a very real picture of a very scary guy. And it's fantastic. Scary is in right now, from American Horror Story to The Walking Dead. We were left with plenty of questions about Taker as his career went on. We didn't care because he was so engrossing to watch. Ditto on Bray.
The Wyatt Family have definitely been interesting to watch, as they have avoided any sorts of championships or allegiances and have remained on the periphery, save a brief tete-a-tete with the WWE's other entertaining rapscallions, The Shield. While I appreciate Rowan and Harper and feel they both have plenty to give, it's Bray Wyatt who needs to be front and center on our screens each and every week. Watching him develop his cadence and flesh out his personality in front of us is like watching an audition tape for a monster movie; he's Jimmy Cagney and Lon Chaney rolled up into one. This is something special happening right in front of us, and it should be celebrated.
Unfortunately, whether due to injury or otherwise, Bray has been limited on the ring side of things thus far. It's time for that to change. It's clear that Wyatt serves a double function as manager/mentor and wrestler, but the latter will fire him into the world of superstardom much quicker. In addition, as mentioned, you don't need to place gold around his waist to have him get our attention. How many other wrestlers on the roster can we make that claim about? Precious few. There should be a plan for him each and every week moving forward. The right opposition in the right kind of match could elevate him beyond belief. Everything else is already there.
4. Revamp Commentary
I hate to say this, but commentary on WWE programming has reached an all-time low for me. The constant bantering between JBL and Jerry Lawler/Michael Cole has become almost unlistenable. JBL started out really strongly, but lately has been reduced to repeating the same thing over and over again and hollering along to R. Truth's entrance. This can't be the best he can do. WWE has plenty of guys that are strong enough on the mic to advance storylines while being entertaining. Some of them, like Dolph Ziggler or Damien Sandow, aren't even being used properly anyway. Might make sense to have a revolving cast of potential Curt Hennigs to improve the situation.
I've already campaigned in earnest for William Regal to get the call, but I'll do it again here. I have no issue with Josh Matthews, and let's face it, the play-by-play guy definitely has the harder gig, but commentary should be treated like an opportunity to feed the fans information and get them emotionally invested, and that just doesn't happen anymore. It's always going to be tough to overcome the loss of Jim Ross, but a good start would be less arguing about tweeting and the WWE App and more engagement about the product. If you must have a PTI-style debate session, keep it short and sweet. Announcers should enhance the action, not bark over it.
Would you tune in to see Shawn Michaels confront CM Punk? Of course you would. Would you have any idea that was going to happen if you weren't watching at the time? Probably not. And therein lies another nascent issue with the WWE: Failure to inform potential viewers of what's to come. Of course a certain element of wrestling has to be spontaneous; I'm certainly not suggesting that we know every detail of everything that's to come. Fans look forward every year to who those surprise Royal Rumble entrants will be, for example. But week in and week out, WWE fails to capitalize on what they theoretically should already know they're going to do. That indicates last-minute scrapping or general disregard for the audience, both of which are an issue.
WWE (and all sports) are at their best when they face competition. Viewers' appetites are fickle things, and what's popular right now likely won't be by the end of this sentence. That forces you to think outside of the box, but it should also encourage you to take your biggest names and best feuds and put them front row and center. Interesting stipulations, interview segments, and the like are all great opportunities to garner viewers who could potentially stay the course. For a company that is built on self-promotion, their weekly failure to do so is more than puzzling. Promising interesting television and delivering on that promise equals big ratings and better reviews. Plain and simple.
6. Figure Out The Network
Despite the ever-present Authority storyline, the big off-air corporate question is how and when WWE will make good on their long-heralded desire to have some form of a TV network. This is an excellent opportunity to reward passionate wrestling fans by offering a lot of exclusive contents and big discounts in order to make this risky proposition a success. And let's face it, a wrestling channel isn't exactly that crazy when you discover that it's no more of a niche than auto racing, home improvement, or courtroom trials. You may not want to watch it all the time (and everyone's got their limitations), but there's a plethora of excellent stuff out there to keep us entertained.
I think the sky is the limit for this, and hopefully WWE is thinking big, but attainable. Think of being able to watch a live event from anywhere in the comfort of your living room. Think about "shoot" style interviews with big names in wrestling, particularly with the access to tape libraries that WWE possesses. Think about the ability to pull up related content during a match from your TV or tablet. There's no way to get all of this into whatever form the launch takes, but the opportunity exists to really make this special and completely redefine the industry. That alone makes it an exciting time to be a fan. Let's hope WWE resolves to get it right.
*Best match at TLC? I'm sure most will say the main event (and I did appreciate the creative finish), but once again I felt tag wrestling ruled the day. I'm not clear on why it wasn't an advertised elimination match, but that was definitely a smart decision and it showed. I feel like I'm touting Goldust after each and every PPV at this point, but he is incredibly over and deservedly so, so riding the hot hand makes sense to me. Antonio Cesaro and Jack Swagger have actually ended up being quite the solid tandem. Big Show's booking has been so bizarre as to defy explanation, but he and Mysterio add some clout and name power to the card, and Ryback & Axel got a whisper of temporary relevancy. The tempo of this match was great, the eliminations were done quite well, and overall it added further impetus to the idea that Triple H's desire to get tag wrestling back front and center might actually happen. Really impressive and really fun.
*The two handicap matches, on the other hand, didn't do that much for me. While I think all involved acquitted themselves as you'd expect, I couldn't shake the feeling that it was a glorified Raw match and lacked that main event feel I want from top-tier PPV bouts. Punk vs. The Shield was the stronger of the two, in my view, telling a decent story despite the obviousness of the internal friction component, and I thought it allowed all four guys to do the things that they do best. If Roman Reigns doesn't end up in an Elimination Chamber pod, the writers should get canned the next day. The idea of him utilizing his spear in that environment is tantalizing. As for Bryan vs. The Wyatts, it was another opportunity for D-Bry to work his excellent underdog-overcoming-the-odds story but seemed a bit lacking at the end of the day. I would have preferred more Bray participation (what he did do was sensational), and the ending seemed unfinished. How many times will we close a segment with the Wyatts carting Bryan away only to have him back as if not much happened the next night?
*I was quite impressed and surprised to see how much money The Rock made Hollywood last year. It's been a running gag that wrestlers want to be actors and vice versa, and the results generally haven't been very pretty. I give The Rock complete credit for having not one, but two, highly successful careers, and it should be seen as a big positive by wrestling fans that someone so entrenched in the fabric of the business is out there making his mark and perhaps opening doors for others. Hopefully WWE recognizes that a big part of Rock's story is that he wasn't always so popular with the fans. He, too, was burdened with an obvious, see-through gimmick and paid the price in front of millions. One trait he unquestionably has is adaptability, however, and it continues to show. The lesson should be learned by all guys (and girls) with an axe to grind in developmental or the bleachers of the bigs that with adversity comes strength. It's obvious that his kind won't come around too often. A big part of that is the failure of those with potential to maximize it.
*Will there ever be an end to the "one guy wins on the pay-per-view, his opponent beats him the next night" mantra? I realize it's difficult to keep feuds fresh, but the amount of times this has been resorted to of late can be attributed to lazy booking. Everything doesn't have to end fair and square. Sometimes one person is better, and it's not to say the tables can't be turned later, but to immediately switch back the other way is unrealistic and way too frequent. If you must feature the same combatants, at least make it a tag match or add some other unique element. The first Raw after a PPV is rarely the best one, but new grudges and rivalries should begin right away and they have a massive opportunity to strike while the iron is hot and they've got increased traffic from last night's results. There's certainly enough faces on the roster to make this go away once and for all.