SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Before beginning the main thrust of this column, it would be a disservice to not say that Seth Rollins re-injuring his surgically repaired knee Monday night on Raw is awful news for both Rollins and fans. While the WWE bungled what should have been a massive babyface push for Rollins upon his return, he had just started to heat up again as his feud with Triple H gathered steam. That makes the news that Rollins suffered another injury during Samoa Joe’s debut all the worse.
It sounds like the injury could keep him out of WrestleMania, and who knows what that would mean for Rollins and his spot on the card going forward if he gets tagged with the dreaded “injury prone” label. That said, the show has to move forward, and there may be an opportunity to mine some storyline gold out of Seth’s personal misfortune. While most of the talk this week has centered on who should step into Rollins’s boots and face Triple H at Mania, maybe we’re thinking too small.
In 2001 Vince bought out both the WCW and ECW. Fans salivated over the possibilities over the stories and match ups that could emerge from the Invasion angle. For many reasons, 99 percent of which can be chalked up to “poor creative,” the angle is considered not only a failure, but a key factor in wrestling cooling off. By the time the Invasion angle sputtered to its conclusion, millions of fans had tuned out the product, never to return.
What if the WWE used Samoa Joe injuring Seth Rollins as a launching point for a new “invasion” angle? Over the past few years, WWE has snapped up talent that made names for themselves in Ring of Honor, New Japan, and TNA. The makeup of the main roster is a near split between long time WWE performers and “newcomers” who established themselves elsewhere. Since WCW and ECW folded up shop, Vince and company have had a near monopoly on the wrestling industry. They make it a point to never refer to TNA by name, as Vince seems to hold the belief that to acknowledge them is to lend them legitimacy. It’s only been since the emergence of NXT that the WWE has made reference to the larger global and independent wrestling scene.
As the storyline for Triple H and Rollins came into focus, Triple H began referring to himself as “The Creator.” The title in part implies the behind the scenes role Hunter has running NXT. As a means of kicking off this angle, it could refer to Trips “rescuing” these indy stars from obscurity, bringing them to the big time, and shaping their persona in order to fit into the WWE star-making mold. The underlying idea is no matter where one had wrestled, and no matter how much money one drew elsewhere, unless it was done in WWE, it does not matter a single lick. This arrogance on Hunter’s part, and by extension the WWE as a whole, would get under the skin of the myriad of performers that had logged years on the road and performed in every time of venue – bingo halls, minor league ballparks, all the way up to the Tokyo Dome.
Part of the reason the original Invasion angle failed in 2001 was it lacked star power. Still reeling from the failure of the XFL, Vince chose not to bring on the bigger names from WCW such as Goldberg, Ric Flair, Kevin Nash, or Hulk Hogan at the outset. Instead, those performers sat home and collected their guaranteed paychecks rather than negotiate and come to the WWE for less money. Eventually Vince would cave and bring those names and other on board, but by then the damage had been done. This updated Invasion idea already has the stars in place and, since they’ve been on WWE television in some capacity, the audience is already familiar with the key players.
In 2017, the stars needed to make this angle work are in place. Led by Finn Balor and Samoa Joe on the Raw brand and A.J. Styles on Smackdown, you have a crew of talent that can talk about feeling disrespected by the WWE machine. Styles can cut promos on how he has won titles and sold out arenas all over the world and yet is still made to feel like “just another guy” who is lower on the pecking order than the lesser talents Vince has picked. Samoa Joe can and should turn on Triple H and serve notice that injuring Rollins is only the beginning of something much larger. Standing over The Game in the center of the ring, Joe lets the fans know that no made man in the WWE is safe from him. Joe will see this as his revenge tour for being on the outside looking in despite being a badass that delivered night after night in areas all over the world because he didn’t have the kind of look the WWE could market. After a year of teasing fans with an emergent Balor Club, creative could take the idea and run wild with it.
If done right, this could be the dominant story in the build to WrestleMania all the way through Summerslam or further. During the original invasion the WCW and ECW, workers were made to look weak and took a backseat to the McMahons and predominant WWE stars. One hopes Vince grasps how he took all the money that could have been made if the angle had been done right and look like monsters this time around. Put the titles on all of them. Let the heels be heels and let them cheat to win. Do NOT let this be The Corre 2.0 where Super Cena puts on his cape, overcomes all odds, and kills the angle dead by single-handedly overcoming the adversarial team. The angle could work because there are the seeds of truth that lie in the invaders beef with the WWE.
With their broad reach across social media platforms and their own streaming network, WWE could stretch the angle past the two flagship shows and pull in fans that stopped watching the television programming. Imagine a YouTube clip where Joe confronts Kurt Angle post-Hall of Fame. Make a corporate-wide edict that, during the angle, the wrestlers are going to stay in character when using Twitter/Facebook/Instagram. If A.J. Styles gets called on to appear on ESPN to promote a pay-per-view, let him talk about his past outside the WWE and air his storyline grievances as part of the promotion.
If done with care, this could an angle that works up and down the card. It could help revive interest in a product that lost 400,000 live viewers from last year’s post Rumble Raw to this year’s show. It could strengthen and deepen the roster, and help get the next man ready to step up in case of emergency. Would it be easy to pull off? Of course not, but it’s the kind of big swing that Vince and the WWE creative team should take heading in to WrestleMania season when at least one of their key players looks to be sidelined.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S ARTICLE: THE CREATIVE CORNER: Examining Rumble’s potential winners from distinct possibility to outer edges of lunatic fringe