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In this edition of “Five Count,” I’ll be looking at five lessons for WWE to learn from the Bayley title win on Raw this week and then the Elimination Chamber show focusing on the women’s and tag team divisions.
(1) The Chase Is Dead
I love Bayley. I cried when she won the NXT Women’s Title. I cried even during her entrance for that match. I was so emotionally invested in Bayley’s chase of the title in NXT. And it wasn’t an overly complex story being told or even an original story. The likeable babyface starts out at the bottom of the division, gets established in a certain position in the division, and over time and has to overcome defeat and adversity before finally reaching the very top of the division. It’s classic pro wrestling storytelling and, with the right person, a sure-fire success tale. So now that we’ve established that I get emotional over Bayley and that her progress through NXT was perfection, here was my reaction to her winning the Raw Women’s Title. I groaned.
This has been the case for years now in WWE and is by no means a new problem, but I’m just sick and tired of every new act reaching the top of their division almost instantaneously. When Bayley won the NXT Women’s Title it meant something because the story and the outcome and the title itself meant something. Winning a title in WWE doesn’t mean anything. Winning the Women’s Title on either brand especially doesn’t mean anything. Winning a title in your first year on the roster doesn’t even mean anything because it’s the same path that every act goes on. Kevin Owens was a World Champion in little over a year from his debut. Finn Balor was a World Champion on his first major show. A.J. Styles in less than a year. American Alpha pretty much straight away. Sasha, Charlotte, and Becky all within little over a year.
Can we not just have someone have to wait an extended period of time before they reach the top of their division? Can we not just go on a struggle with someone as they come up short and we see how they react to defeat and adversity. Can we not have moments again where someone goes on an actual journey progressing up the card rather than just debuting at the top and reaching the pinnacle in barely any time at all?
And I’m not even arguing that all them names listed above should have to wait years before winning the title. And, yes, I completely understand that the introduction of NXT makes the chase harder to pull off in a relevant fashion because “the modern chase” now encompasses not only a wrestler’s journey through NXT but everything leading to their signing with WWE. I’m not asking for WWE to start debuting acts like Bayley and Finn Balor as enhancement talents that have to work their way up the card from the very bottom. That would obviously be daft. But can we please just have somewhat of a chase so that it feels as though we’ve gone on some sort of journey with our favourite wrestlers? So that when Bayley does win that title it feels like somewhat of an achievement. I miss those true feel-good moments when guys like Daniel Bryan and Eddie Guerrero finally reached the very top after the journey not only they themselves but their fans got to go on with them.
(2) Winning Titles Is Meaningless
Leading in from the previous lesson, the other major reason why I just didn’t care about Bayley winning a slightly different piece of material to the NXT Women’s Title is because none of the titles in WWE mean anything. And my use of the word “anything” is become more and more literal with every title change that happens.
Winning one of the top titles should be an accomplishment. It should be a massive deal. It should be a huge talking point. It’s not any of those things in WWE and that’s because everyone gets their turn with the belt. Being the champion of your division isn’t unique. Everyone gets to hold the Women’s Title at some point and, if everyone gets to hold it, then why should I care when one particular person gets to hold it? If I’m the only person in my class to get an A on the test, then I’m feeling pretty great about myself and my parents would be super proud. But if they then learned that 80 percent of the class also got an A, what do you think happens to their reaction? The more scarce an accomplishment, the more prestigious it is. Everyone “getting their turn” with the belt totally kills off the prestige and the equity that belts hold and, without them, it’s nothing more than a piece of material that someone carries around with them.
And even when people do win a title, nothing changes. Keeping with the Bayley context, what changes now for Bayley? She’ll still be working with the exact same people she was before and the exact same people she would be had she didn’t won the title. The perception of Bayley won’t change. She won’t draw more money now that she’s a champion and she won’t be presented any differently. Nothing changes. Maybe a better example to use her are Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows. They won the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Championships a few weeks ago now and what has changed? Being a champion doesn’t prompt different booking, it doesn’t place them in a more prominent position on the card, it doesn’t cause fans to change how they look at them. Nothing changes. So where’s the value in being a champion?
And that’s the reason why I don’t get anyone reacting to Naomi or Bray Wyatt winning their respective titles like it’s a thing of consequence. It’s just their time to carry around that piece of material. Naomi will have some time holding that piece of material and then she’ll pass it on to the next person whose turn it is and her career will be the same it was before. You look at the Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton match for WrestleMania and how many people feel that, because it’s now for the title, Bray and Randy have been elevated up the card?
Titles need to matter and you do that by raising prestige and equity in them. If winning a title isn’t unique or a game changer, then why should people care about who holds a piece of material?
(3) Smackdown’s Tag Team Division Needs Credible Teams
Not that we needed the Tag Team Turmoil at Elimination Chamber to prove this point, but it really did make it abundantly clear just how deep of a mess Smackdown’s tag team division is. It’s not a quantity issue. Six teams is on the thin side for sure, but it’s something you can work with. The issue is who those six teams are.
American Alpha are a great pair of talents, but they haven’t gotten over on Smackdown and that’s because there are no teams with any credibility for them to beat (that, and their personalities haven’t been showcased at all). The only credible team they’ve even faced are The Wyatt Family and the only reason they beat them is because Harper and Orton couldn’t get along. They did have a good opportunity to finally showcase them at Survivor Series against credible teams but completely passed that one up.
The Usos should be a great team in this division with tons of credibility, especially coming off their heel turn, but they never beat anyone since turning. The greatest indicator for the failure of their act is how credible an act can look wrestling in street clothes. For a credible badass team it’s cool, but for anyone else they just look like schmucks. At the start of their run it gave them a bit of a swagger, but watching them at Elimination Chamber they had totally lost that swagger and were schmucks in that ring gear.
Slater & Rhyno are a comedy team. A comedy team that had a run with the belts and kept on beating The Usos, but regardless of all of that they’re a comedy team. A non-comedy team beating a comedy team doesn’t do anything for them. It’s fun when they win, but it never means anything for someone else to beat them. And then we have The Ascension, The Vaudevillians, and Breezango….
In the best case scenario, you have American Alpha and The Usos that you can run with in a credible program, but they’ve completely diluted that potential rivalry since the brand split by taking the poor hand they were dealt with the tag division and making it an even weaker hand. Remember coming out of the brand split when an Alpha vs. Usos series had people excited. Now who is excited for that match at all? So the one good hand you had to play now means nothing.
The fix isn’t easy. Raw has a similar problem – at least in terms of depth – with their tag division too. But the neat thing about tag teams is that anyone can be in one. It’s not like a women’s division where you need to have a vagina in order to compete in it. Yes, there are teams in NXT that could be called up to reinvigorate the division, but I’m not even going to entertain that as a solution because it’s not happening, just like how Smackdown won’t get to raid Raw’s tag teams. NXT needs their own tag division because NXT also needs to draw and that’s a third division thin on tag teams.
What Smackdown can do, however, is redirect directionless singles wrestlers into the division. Guys such as Kalisto and Apollo Crews are totally directionless and likely will be for the foreseeable future, so why not make them a tag team in the division. Okay, they won’t be the stars of the division, but you have American Alpha and The Usos heading up the babyface and heel sides of the division. What they’re in need of are credible supporting acts for each to work with.
(4) Nikki Bella Wrestling Just Isn’t Worth It
Okay, let me preface this by saying that I somewhat like Nikki. Her matches aren’t memorable, but they’re watchable and far from terrible. But that being said, if the reports about her health since returning from neck surgery are to be believed then she should really just retire because, frankly, it just isn’t worth her wrestling. Nobody really benefits from it. I mean, sure she’s popular and she has the benefit of being known to a somewhat different audience through Total Divas and Total Bellas, but that’s as a personality not as a wrestler. She doesn’t need to be wrestling in order to stay relevant.
The concept of risk vs. reward has been pretty much tossed out the window in the modern wrestling landscape, but with Nikki, the risks are so much higher. Neck fusion surgery is no laughing matter and not an injury to be just shrugged off as “oh, she’ll get surgery and come back.” The risks here are life changing. If she’s already feeling constant numbness and pain and she continues wrestling, then that’s not a remedy for improvement. Compare that to the rewards from Nikki Bella wrestling. She isn’t all that good of a wrestler. She’s like a two-star match kind of wrestler who can vary a star here or there depending on her opponent. She is somewhat of a draw, but not in a way that people are coming to see Nikki Bella wrestle matches. It’s a “oh, we know Nikki Bella from E! and we like her.” It’s the sort of pop you get for appearing, but isn’t maintained past that. And you don’t need to be wrestling matches in order to get that pop.
Is it really worth her being in constant pain and anguish just moving around the house before she’s even 40 so that she can have more two-star matches with Natalya and Alexa Bliss. Is it really worth her not being able to run around the park with her kid if she ever has children? It really isn’t. It isn’t really worth it if you’re Daniel Bryan and you’ve just reached the peak of the industry and are about to make more money than you’ve made before, let alone Nikki Bella.
And Nikki Bella retiring from wrestling doesn’t mean you lose all the benefits that she brings to the table. She can still be an on air personality. Make her a GM, a manager, a brand ambassador – there’s plenty of roles that she can fill where she can still be “Nikki Bella: Role Model” and continue to be a relevant part of Total Divas. Or if for some reason wrestling is an itch she just can’t leave be, then have her work a no bumps schedule where she only works tag matches, comes in, hits her moves, and gets out. At the very very very least, please let’s not have her taking a superplex spot that barely gets a reaction.
(5) Naomi Isn’t A Good Wrestler
I know that opinions on wrestling quality are subjective and there are people who will read that and shake their head that someone could think such a thing. What it would probably read more accurately as is “Naomi Isn’t A Good Ring Worker.” She’s athletic, can jump high, and can do gymnast shit. Okay, cool. But that’s what makes her an even bigger danger inside the ring and why Naomi’s shortcomings are a lesson that WWE needs to take on board.
This isn’t a new thing with Naomi off the back off a fluffed ending to a match at Elimination Chamber. I’ve been saying that she’s terrible for a while now and the worrying thing is, she’s not improved since she started in WWE. But the match with Alexa Bliss really drove home the danger that she can be in the ring. Now don’t get me wrong, she isn’t alone in this category. Carmella is a really raw act inside the ring too, but the difference is that the danger level on the moves that Carmella is doing is much safer compared to the moves Naomi is doing. Because Naomi is such a great athlete and can do these more visually impressive spots, she’s allowed to do them and, for as fancy as they look, they’re also dangerous, especially if the person doing them isn’t a great in-ring worker. A split-legged moonsault for instance is a fine spot to do in a match between two experienced and polished workers, but when the person doing the move isn’t either of those things, moves like that become reckless and really dangerous for both wrestlers involved.
There were two occasions on Sunday where Naomi did the split-legged moonsault spot. The first time she was supposed to miss as Alexa rolled under it but ended up catching Bliss cleanly with it and caused a weird moment of confusion. Now I’ve seen some people blame Bliss for not moving quick enough, but if you watch it back, Naomi gives her no time at all to get firstly into position and then secondly to roll under it because she rushes to the spot a million miles an hour. And it’s not just a case of her rushing; it’s a lack of ability in doing the things between the spots. Once she has Alexa set up for her finish, she needs to let that moment breathe. Let the fans realise that she’s about to hit her finish and possibly win the match and the title. Let that feeling sink in for a few seconds first. Let the emotions of the match takeover. And in doing that you give you and your opponent more time to properly set up for what is a high risk spot. Instead she rushes through a high risk spot which then turns into a dangerous and reckless spot.
Same case for the second split legged moonsault spot. And this one was all on Naomi. First of all, her setup for the spot was horrible, leaving Bliss knocked down halfway across the ring. Which fair enough, it happens. But don’t just leave her that far out of position and race over to the ropes for your next spot. It’s like robots at work and, if something goes wrong, they’re not programmed to react accordingly. So already you’re making your opponent look silly for having to roll herself back into position to take a move she should be avoiding. If she can roll towards the spot, then why doesn’t she roll the other way out of danger? So once again she rushes the spot, doesn’t check to see that Bliss is in the correct position and ready to take the move, and this time she ends up hurting both herself and her opponent doing a high risk move which turned into a reckless move because she isn’t a good enough ring worker.
The lesson isn’t that WWE need to tell Naomi to stop wrestling. The lesson is that if she’s going to do these high risk spots, then she needs to become a much better, smarter, and safer worker inside the ring in order to take better care of both herself and her opponent.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: FIVE COUNT: Five lessons WWE can learn from Royal Rumble weekend including Reigns going heel, making outcomes matter more
(“Five Count” is a weekly Specialist column by PWTorch Specialist Matt Seabridge who will present a list of five lessons to be learned from various categories, theme, shows, eras, or events in pro wrestling.)