The Day after Tomorrow – The role of a great pay-per-view
SummerSlam has been and gone. Most of us thought it was one of the best of the year, and rightly so. There were three brilliant matches with, for me, Lesnar v Punk standing out. It was the ending of the pay-per-view that really stood out though. Bryan beat Cena and Cena, effectively, handed the baton to the ‘bearded one’ by shaking his hand. Then the fireworks and the tickertape. Then...’I hear voices in my head’. We all guessed the fix was in when Triple H inserted himself into the main event but when the PPV finally ended with half of Evolution standing tall, it was hard to take, and that was the final picture of the night.
When I switched off SummerSlam though, with Triple H holding new WWE Champion Randy Orton’s hand aloft, I enjoyed the feeling. Yes, I’ve made it clear I wanted Bryan to leave SummerSlam as champion but this only makes him the ‘Rocky-story’ underdog even more now. A Randy Orton heel turn, yes please. It was almost like he was mocking the audience in recent months willing them on to cheer his every move. When there is a strong PPV, no matter how it’s ended, it should make you pine for more. It should make you desperately want to tune in to Raw or Smackdown or TNA the next night to see what’s going to happen.
The obvious event for this is Wrestlemania. For three months from the Royal Rumble all stories are leading to this behemoth. All the wrestlers are focussed on that Wrestlemania sign that hangs above the ring. They point. They stare. They look forward to taking on one another in a one-on-one showdown on the biggest night of the year. The lead up is huge. Viewing figures go up. PPV buys invariably go up. All leading towards a balmy night somewhere in America where these long gestating stories can reach a conclusion in front of the biggest audience of the year. It’s what happens afterwards though that can excite us. Yes, for this particular PPV, the post Wrestlemania Raw is becoming almost as big a night as a pay-per-view. The excitement. The noise. The twists and turns. Recent years have seen Brock Lesnar return and Dolph Ziggler cash in. In a way, any PPV should not be an end for us but a beginning, even one as big as Wrestlemania which is often considered the ‘season-end’ for the WWE. There’s no point in aiming for a conclusion in an industry that goes for 52 weeks per year. We need a pull, a desire to see what challenges will be taken up next.
Obviously, the big return is a good way to pull and audience along with you. Whether it’s Goldberg spearing The Rock the night after Wrestlemania XIX or Chris Jericho returning as the number two entrant at this year’s Royal Rumble. Goldberg returning started a new journey for both him and The Rock. With Jericho, we were excited to tune in the next night to see what The Lion Heart would get up to. Obviously, Brock’s recent return was slightly ruined by that pesky internet and so the fans were chanting for him during Cena’s big in-ring promo to end the show but still, a debut of that size the night after Wrestlemania was a huge draw.
Following on from this, sometimes the ‘stories’ keep running. That’s why the Backlash PPV after Wrestlemania was often a strong one. It had the rematches, the revenge stories, the ‘one more shot’ moments that kept us intrigued. The 2004 triple-threat rematch. Batista going headlong back into The Game’s backyard in 2005. The Undertaker going back to war against Batista and then Edge in 2007 and 2008. In a way, it was Backlash that used to ‘end the season’. Sometimes, yes, the feuds went on longer (Batista versus Triple H in a cell at Vengeance) but by and large this was the big full stop before moving into the summer season.
When there is a poor PPV, whether through a rushed build up or poor matches, we often don’t care about what happens tomorrow, or the day after, and this malaise can go on for a long time. Also, although main events have been mentioned so far, the card as a whole has to be considered here. For instance, on Sunday, we had a short gimmick match to ‘warm-up’ the crowd with the Ring of Fire battle before several top-drawer matches. No just one big main event but at least three matches all around the four star mark. When the PPV doesn’t work though, it drains our interest. Obviously, the classic example of this was ‘December to Dismember’. There was no real interest in the card and it received the lowest buy rates of nearly any WWE pay-per-view in history. Also, with respect to those involved, Kevin Thorn versus Mike Knox and Balls Mahoney versus Matt Striker are television matches. Even the Extreme Elimination Chamber match suffered from, well, no-one caring. The fall-out from this was huge with Heyman ‘leaving’ and the ECW brand dead in the water.
Unfortunately, what used to be a huge PPV, Survivor Series, has hit these lower levels. This is due in part to WWE’s recent winter malaise, but also because the ‘concept’ has largely been forgotten. To focus on the Survivor Series match, last year was Team Ziggler versus Team Foley, the year before Team Barrett versus Team Orton and in 2010 was Team Mysterio versus Team Del Rio. The builds were either rushed or the Survivor Series concept was just plastered onto an existing feud. Compare this to Team Raw versus Team Smackdown (2005), Team Bischoff versus Team Austin (2003) or Team WWF versus The Alliance (2001). Obviously, I could go further back but then the match meant something and the outcome had repercussions that would play out on Raw and Smackdown for weeks to come. One can only hope that the prospective McMahon battle for power will at least re-ignite a PPV like Survivor Series this year.
We should finish a pay-per-view desperate to know either how the stories continue or what the next challenge will be. This is where The Money in the Bank PPV has come into its own. Yes, we have the title matches and on-going one-on-ones but we also have the two ladder matches. Of course, I miss this match on the Wrestlemania card but if there is one PPV in the year that can survive this loss, it’s the biggest one. What Money in the Bank provides us with is an on-going narrative of close-calls and inevitable cash-ins. Daniel Bryan’s win at one of the best PPV’s since the turn of the century on the 2011 card, Kane winning and cashing in half an hour later against Rey Mysterio or, of course, the ‘Viper’ Randy Orton winning this year with his heavily sign-posted cash-in at SummerSlam. When those two men win the contract, it keeps us hooked because we have no idea when they will do it.
Obviously, another great match which kept us watching after the close of the PPV was Money in the Bank 2011. This came off the back of one of the weakest PPV’s of recent years in Capitol Puishment with a main event of John Cena versus R-Truth (special moves including smoking at ring-side and hitting someone with a plastic bottle of water). The card wasn’t strong and the night ended with no-one caring. WWE had totally lost its way since Wrestlemania XVII with an average Extreme Rules (Cena defeating Miz and Morrison in a Triple Threat) and Over the Limit (Cena defeating Miz again). This year, perhaps more than any other was in danger of collapsing around the writers. Then, the night after Capitol Punishment, CM Punk won and became the number one contender. People sat up. Then, a week later, came the infamous pipe-bomb promo that essentially sold another 30,000 buys for the company. The WWE was reinvigorated in the weeks leading up to the PPV but also the card itself, and it’s internet happy results, created a new impetus in the company and, although the Sumer of Punk II was slightly derailed by The Clique, it didn’t change the fact that we were watching and caring again after a PPV. When CM Punk blew McMahon a kiss and ran out through the arena crowd, we had no idea what was happening. This is what drew the audience in.
So, for any PPV to work, it must make us want to watch the very next television episode as soon as possible. When Bully Ray won his first TNA Championship match at Lockdown, it piqued interest in the Aces & Eights storyline. It made fans want to see the reaction from not only his win but his reveal as the President on the biker faction. What happened after, with Hulk Hogan and Sting inserting themselves in the feud, was hardly Bully’s fault. We can now look at the Daniel Bryan story in a similar fashion. He is not only taking on Randy Orton, he is taking on The Corporation. Raw on Monday did a great job of building the tension to this story. How, like the true underdog he is, he will not back down from a fight. They will beat and batter him down and we will tune in and watch it. Why? Largely because we want that crowing moment we saw at SummerSlam to happen again and this time for it to last long into the night and that keeps us watching tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that. That is the role of a great pay-per-view and hopefully we’ve got several more to come this year before Wrestlemania season kicks in.
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Ta ta for now and hopefully see you next week.