ST. LOUIS, MO – The biggest talking point coming out of Payback and this week’s episode of RAW was that we are in the middle of a brand new era of the WWE.
Never mind that we still don’t completely understand why Vince McMahon has allowed Shane McMahon to even be in contention for control of his product, after the entire WrestleMania storyline in which he publicly disowned him as a son. Fine, I’ll let that one slide all the way out of here if it means that this “new era” will be worth much more than the old one.
A new era of storytelling
Although the entire new era concept is largely an onscreen deal that has more to do with status quo, I did notice that a part of it has to do with some more intelligent storytelling.
Take the main event feud surrounding AJ Styles, Roman Reigns, Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows, and the Usos, for example. Even though anyone can write up a compelling storyline just involving Styles and Reigns, the decision to not only involve a cast of supporting characters to build up as present and future stars, but also to actively write some nuanced storytelling (at the moment) is something that was unheard of before this year’s Mania, outside of NXT.
If you haven’t watched that segment, you really should. I feel like for once, we got an overbooked scene where all the characters’ respective logic and motivations worked. Styles did not want to be as brash as his friends and use the steel chair on Roman Reigns, who still doesn’t buy Styles’s relative innocence. The Usos got caught in the heat of the moment and went a little too far in trying to save their cousin. Reigns obviously didn’t like Styles beating his cousins up and went after him. There’s one of many major end goals for this: building up tension between Styles and the rest of the Bullet Club to set up Finn Balor’s eventual debut.
They’re painting shades of gray—and for once, it doesn’t feel like they’re doing it just for the sake of. I’ve held reservations about gray characters because they’re not a completely good influence for an audience that still needs to have a hero, but planting Styles as the clearest babyface of them all is a step in the right direction.
Another example is everything going on with the Intercontinental Championship scene right now. At first it was just Cesaro versus the Miz (without poor Zack Ryder getting his rematch) but now they were also able to effortlessly assimilate the Kevin Owens/Sami Zayn feud into it (which was also better-told in itself, highlighting the two men’s long career together). Nobody feels like they’ve been shoehorned into the story; everything feels like it was given the right amount of effort to set it up.
Not everything is perfect right now, and when you have 3 hours to fill and a deep roster to write for, not everything is ever going to be perfect. But to whoever’s in charge of this, whether it’s Vince, Triple H, or even former NXT and current SmackDown head writer Ryan Ward, I’ve got to give you my props. Continue this. Continue all of this. You’re winning people back.
Time for spring cleaning
Last night, while some of us were sleeping, WWE pulled the trigger and released a batch of Superstars.
Honestly, we haven’t really had a true spring cleaning batch since earlier in this decade. Beyond the occasional departure by a big star every now and then, it seems as though the WWE corporate monolith’s gains were enough to support a huge roster, and we’d gone a handful of years without seeing the dreaded spring cleaning.
Now that the WWE bubble is inflating faster once again (with signings of big names like Styles, the Bullet Club, Shinsuke Nakamura, and all of the former TNA stars down at NXT) this was a necessary call. The cap space needs to go to an NXT expansion more than ever.
Let’s take a look at the names that were released, and how it affects the WWE landscape:
Bad News Barrett
This one wasn’t shocking at all. It was rumored a couple of months ago that Barrett wanted to leave the company, and the dirt was pretty much confirmed once he got kicked out of the League of Nations right after WrestleMania. Injuries and booking mishaps marred a WWE career that saw Barrett progress from NXT blue-chipper to a solid upper-midcarder, and if things just went his way he could’ve been a solid young main-eventer.
Barrett’s wrestling style, as strange as this is going to sound, fits in New Japan a lot better than it would anywhere else. TNA and GFW will definitely come calling (and the odds are high that he’ll take that gig) and he’ll probably bolster the ranks of Insane Wrestling Championship in his home England, but NJPW is where he needs to be. His strength is his refined striking and brawling, and I wouldn’t mind him go toe-to-toe in either the NEVER Openweight or the IWGP Intercontinental picture, being another star gaijin going toe-to-toe with the likes of hard-hitters Tomohiro Ishii, Katsuyori Shibata, Kazushi Sakuraba, and Yuji Nagata. NJPW has a gift with taking America’s scraps and turning them into valuable assets, and in a time where they’re clearly rebuilding, they’ll need all the star power they can get.
Well, we can’t say we didn’t see this one coming.
Sandow, for some reason, had been used sparingly ever since he split from the Miz last year. Nobody could really understand why; he got over as Damien Mizdow, he got over as the bullied understudy, so who held him back from being the star we all knew he could be? No matter how much we don’t know, Sandow’s story seems to be the one with the most politics involved. It’s a clear indication that pro wrestling really has to move on from its ingrained pettiness.
As much as I hate to say it, TNA is Sandow’s best choice at this point. His main strength is his mastery of the all-around WWE style, and while it’s a perfectly fine variation of pro wrestling, it wouldn’t fit in other places such as NJPW or Ring of Honor, which require some sort of specialization. There could be a case to be made for him being in ROH, but TNA is going to suit him best, even though it’s inevitable that Dixie Carter’s gang of hacks will write him a subpar story.
How the mighty have fallen.
If anything, Alex Riley was going to be the WWE’s next prototype. He was pretty much the Prototype: he had John Cena-esque looks, athleticism, and a charisma that could be tamed to Cena levels. It was unfortunate that Cena himself felt the need to politick away Riley’s chances at stardom. After so many injuries and starts and stops down at NXT—and a terrible PR attitude—everyone began to loathe the grandstanding Riley, and all his attempts at being an indignant hero that tried to rally support around him failed. He wasn’t terrible, by any means; he just regressed and could not catch up with the times.
Fortunately, Riley has the perfect look that TNA wants. TNA also needs all the stars it can get right now, and while they don’t have NJPW’s track record of turning discarded ex-WWE talent into gold, at the very least they give them a home and a chance to redeem themselves. This is A-Ry’s final break, though.
This one took me by surprise—I thought Marella had left the company again after his very short second run in 2014. It’s not really a shame, though, as the Milan Miracle’s neck is too wrecked for him to even wrestle. I figured he might serve as a trainer down at the WWE Performance Center, but with his own MMA school, the dude is set for life.
Interesting that they’d choose to release Colter as the Donald Trump campaign has gained all the momentum it can gain before the US elections can begin, but this is merely a coincidence. Colter hasn’t been used on TV since Alberto del Rio returned, and he should stay as far away from Jack Swagger as possible. (Speaking of, I expect Swagger to be released by the end of the weekend.) Colter’s now already with Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling.
The former Tough Enough alumna just couldn’t improve with all the time she’s had in the WWE system. She’s even gone back down to NXT, but she still hadn’t improved much. You may be thinking why Eva Marie hasn’t been released too, but at the very least, #AllRedEverything has a bit of mainstream, beyond-WWE attention. Cameron doesn’t have that, so she’s a redundant asset. It’s likely that TNA would also try to get her (as Carter isn’t discriminating when it comes to former WWE talent) but I wouldn’t also be surprised if they didn’t come calling.
Hornswoggle has finally outlived his use. Don’t worry though, Swoggle fans, he’s already with GFW.
Now, you might not think much of the dwarf wrestler, but their brand of wrestling is a legitimate form of the sport, revered in Mexico where dwarfs actually work like smaller cruiserweights. Now that the Los Matadores gimmick has been shelved, there isn’t really much use for Torito, a talented dwarf wrestler who has no other fellow talented dwarf wrestlers to work with. Of course, that means the best place for him to go is to Lucha Underground, who treats guys like him with a little more respect. For those who don’t know, the bigger wrestlers still treat them like jokes, but they’re allowed to work and show them up (before losing, of course). Time to bring back Mascarita Dorada.
Speaking of Lucha Underground, the show held its first I Quit match in this week’s episode, but of course with the awesome Lucha Underground flavor. One of the show’s strengths is their awesome world-building, and part of it is taking what we all know in more mainstream wrestling and painting it in their own unique brand. They called it a No Mas Match, and in a twist, for the first time (at least, that I know of) it was between two women, babyface heroine Sexy Star and the evil, mysterious Mariposa. The match was brutal (though still well within the LU standard) and it set the standard for what women can really do.
I suggest you go see it, especially if you haven’t jumped in Lucha Underground yet.
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