SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
(1) Bayley Needs A Reboot
To say that the Bayley character has been a flop on the main roster would be an understatement and a bit. And I say the character because it’s not really Bayley’s fault. Her matches with Charlotte were good and she got a better match out of Alexa Bliss than Becky Lynch managed. Her promos haven’t set the world on fire, but she’s generally got a positive reaction out of them. And no I’m not pretending like she’s been hitting home runs every week but where the damage has come from is the booking. A big part of me just expects WWE to mess everything up to a certain extent but even I didn’t expect them to botch Bayley up this bad this quickly.
It’s not even close to a year since Bayley debuted on Raw and there’s already significant portions of the fanbase who are just done with the character. She comes off as a stupid woman-child whose whiter than white act has been exposed as somewhat of a façade. Oh and she’s a loser as well. And she’s inevitably going to come off as a total idiot for not being able to foresee Sasha turning on her later this summer.
Now her first title reign has ended and calling it a disaster may not be too harsh a criticism. She only won it because of Sasha, refused to acknowledge that she won in the same way Charlotte would win, retained it because of her best friend interfering (the same angle WWE were running with Jericho and Owens the month before by the way), had a lacklustre match at WrestleMania that failed to meet the precedence set the previous year (due to time constraints and the need to get everyone on the card) and then in her big homecoming lost her title fair and square letting everyone down because she had no friend or exposed turnbuckle to assist her. Actually, disaster almost feels too nice after typing all of that out.
So where do we go from here? Well where we go will be Bayley and Alexa rematching likely twice more before transitioning into Sasha turning on Bayley either with or without the title involved. But where SHOULD WWE go from here with Bayley? She needs rebooting which means restarting from scratch which sadly means burying her down to the very bottom to start her way back up again.
Bayley’s title reign being a massive flop isn’t a good thing in any way but WWE still have the opportunity to spin it into something good. Rather than ignoring the fact, own it and embrace it and make it part of the on air story. Even from a kayfabe perspective Bayley did flop as a champion. Sure she won at Wrestlemania but the rest you can spin from the viewpoint of a heel adversary. Have them point out that she never deserved to be champion in the first place and when she came back to her hometown with the pressure on her to succeed, she choked and lost. Bring Stephanie back into the equation nodding along with everything the heel says and remove Bayley from the title picture. She moves down the card to work with an Alicia Fox for instance and you play up Bayley doubting herself and questioning if she really does belong on Raw, which would fit her character and be relatable to viewers as an everyday struggle. Hey, adversity for a babyface to overcome!
Work this direction for a while before you have the big catalyst angle where someone or something kicks Bayley back into gear and then you build her story moving back up the card (which sadly wouldn’t take long with the split division but hey ho). Then when you get back to her being in title contention again you’ve hopefully removed the bad stigma from her last run there and took her on the journey she needed to go on in the first place to get her over with a new audience. If you wanted to kick it up another gear you could even have Stephanie send her back down to NXT for a run (gotta sell them NXT tours remember) and have her rebirth start from there and that’s the reason she gets brought back up to the main roster and is presented as the reborn Bayley who got her swagger back from finding success again in NXT. Then when she does go after the Raw Women’s Championship again you have great promo material with the heel questioning if Bayley belongs and hey, adversity to overcome again!
That’s just one example of what WWE can do. The lesson is that they need to do something different because the Bayley character should be a really valuable asset for them and it’s dying a painful death on Raw. She can’t carry on having her character compromised and being made to look like a stupid failure. Viewers need a reason to care about her character and fully understand why her fans get behind her so much and have such great emotion invested in her (because shockingly NXT doesn’t draw the same number of viewers that Raw does). In a funny way being shot straight to the top of the women’s hierarchy on the main roster and failing may be for her own good if it prompts WWE into taking a step back with her and force her to actually work her way up the card overcoming obstacles and give her time to get fans properly invested in what her character actually represents.
(2) The Main Event Was Great
It actually wasn’t. And it was all down to Roman Reigns.
Bare with me, Empire.
Ignore the crowd reactions to both men and just look at the writing of this program since WrestleMania. Braun takes out Roman in a memorable attack featuring a visually stunning show of strength. The next week Braun and Big Show collapse the ring and throughout all the destruction Strowman stands tall seemingly unscathed. The week after he takes out hero of the kids Kallisto in another unprovoked villainous attack. All the while star of the show and top babyface Roman Reigns is at home nursing injuries so he can take on this heinous wrecking ball at Payback. Having not been seen since the memorable attack, Roman makes his first appearance back and with his arm and chest all bandaged up, clearly in no fit condition to wrestle, immediately takes the fight straight to the destructive monster who nobody has been able to put in his place since the unprovoked attack.
Reigns’s selling is on point and he even gets to mount a seemingly impossible comeback culminating in him hitting his finisher on the monster. Except Strowman kicks out, works his way back on top and puts Reigns down for the count. The injured babyface against all odds put up a valiant fight and seemingly had the monster put down but it just wasn’t quite enough. After beating Reigns, Strowman then goes back to inflict more punishment in a disgusting post-match beatdown on our fallen soldier, obliterating him with the steel steps leaving Roman laid out in the middle of the ring in a bloody scene WWE viewers just don’t see these days.
Medics and agents spill out to check on our fallen hero but he refuses to give Strowman the satisfaction of seeing him carted off on a stretcher again, especially not after what happened the last time he was strapped onto a stretcher. They even did a post-show angle on Raw Talk to encourage people to stay tuned for the post-PPV shows where Braun played savage and dastardly heel again attempting to attack Reigns from behind but in a show of resilience and fortitude, Roman shows heart and fire to avoid the attack and mount a one armed attack on Braun, not to get his revenge, but just to survive the monster another day. We go home disgusted at the heel for taking out our guy and trying to put him out of action yet we still have cause for hope that Roman at 100% is strong enough to get his revenge on the monster and serve out a dose of justice.
The build up, the match itself and the aftermath were all memorable and both the heel and the babyface were perfectly written and played. But because Roman Reigns is so vehemently hated, the whole thing is hard to rate as a success. Despite them finally giving Reigns a great platform to turn his opposition around on him, the damage has already been and it’s stuck now. No matter how well you book Reigns as a babyface and no matter how well you book a heel to oppose him, it’s just not going to get the desired crowd reaction. They’re going to continue to express their hatred and it’s going to continue to present a black cloud over anything involving him.
To which WWE will probably cover themselves with their “any reaction is a good reaction” garbage and point to the fact that other segments of the audience are fully behind Roman. Here’s the problem with that philosophy though. It comes across absolutely horrible on TV. People reading this are established wrestling fans, we don’t need convincing to become fans. But put yourself in the mindset of a 8 year old kid who is discovering wrestling for the first time and watches a WWE show featuring Roman Reigns. How terrible must it come across to them when the heroic babyface is being treated as the most hated man alive. Does that sound like something that would convince you to become a fan and start watching on a weekly basis? If you tuned into a comedy show on TV and the live crowd were heckling the performer, does that sound like a show that’s a success, like a show that is must see television? Enthusiasm is contagious, resentment isn’t.
WWE don’t do a whole lot great these days. It’s frustrating and it’s sad but that’s the reality. So when they do get something spot on it’s beyond annoying that it’s ruined by their sheer defiance to ride the tide and turn Roman Reigns heel. Read through my play-by-play of the match again and this time imagine A.J. Styles in the babyface role of Roman Reigns. Imagine the difference in the crowd reaction towards both the babyface and the heel. Sounds like the type of program that would A.J. a massive star and a beloved babyface doesn’t it? *sigh*.
(3) The Difference Between House of Horrors and Final Deletion
House of Horrors was a horrible failure. It was pretty much unanimously negatively received and did a fantastic job of killing the live crowd dead for Joe vs Rollins which was slotted in the middle of this… whatever this was. Would we have ever got something like this if it wasn’t for Final Deletion? Who knows. I’d dare say probably sooner rather than later because WWE were going in this direction with the Bray Wyatt character before the Broken Universe became a thing. But it’s undeniable that there are massive elements of Final Deletion present in the House of Horrors match, as there were last year when WWE did The New Day visiting The Wyatt Family at the compound. So if there were so many similarities between the two, how did one become such a critically acclaimed success and the other… well, not a critically acclaimed success?
Final Deletion was in on the joke!
And that’s a HUGE difference, one that makes all the difference in fact. The Broken Hardy’s was technically awful. It was nonsensical drivel. But that was the point. That was the beauty of it. It wasn’t designed to get you invested in the traditional pro wrestling ways. It was never aiming to make you despise Matt and root for Jeff. It was never about who won and lost. It was there to amuse you and create a different type of appeal for iMPACT.
House of Horrors wasn’t in on the joke. It wasn’t meant to be amusing (that’s one way of determining it a success I suppose). It was meant to be dark and mysterious. It was meant to give you chills. You were meant to be rooting for Randy Orton. The announcers even did the hushed voice sell of it when they went back to the arena!
The whole thing sucked and the obvious lesson would be “NEVER DO THIS AGAIN”. But this is WWE and this is now what Bray Wyatt is and we know that they just won’t be able to help themselves. So keep doing it by all means, but if you do, go all in on it and realise what it actually is. It’s a joke. It’s not serious. It’s camp. Nobody buys into it. At least by making it a parody you can still get the same weird kicks certain people in creative get from these sorts of things while also getting it over with the fans. Granted not in the optimum way but it’s better to have fans laughing at Bray Wyatt and his supernatural wackiness than it is to have them chanting boring while the heat for the show is slowly drained out of them. The Broken Universe was a big joke that Matt was in on. He should probably let Vince in on it too.
(4) Wrestlers Need To Stand Up For Themselves
As I mentioned previously, House of Horrors was a horrible failure that did a fantastic job of killing the crowd dead. But in fairness to WWE, who could have seen that coming? Right? RIGHT? I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I’m fully aware of the inner workings of WWE and spout preachy crap aimed at wrestlers demanding that they stand up to the boss and argue everything they believe in. I get it. Nobody there has John Cena bargaining power, Vince holds all power, like it or lump it, we’re the ones doing you guys a favour, you should be happy just to have a job here, etc, etc. But for god sake people you gotta stand up for yourselves when it comes to crap like that House of Horrors garbage.
Honestly, this is probably most aimed at Seth Rollins more than anyone else. Bray has no reason at all to speak out against the direction he’s taking this year because it gets him a better spot on the card than he’d have without it. He’s not a legit top guy being bogged down by this trash. Sure he’d be better without it because who wouldn’t but creative love this trash and it’s security for Bray so yeah, he’d have to be completely clueless to speak out against it. Randy is Randy. I’m sure he’s 100% aware how trash this whole thing has been and I’m 100% sure he just doesn’t care about it. His legacy has been written, trash like this isn’t changing how he’ll be remembered or how much money he’ll make in the future.
But if you’re Seth Rollins, someone who is somewhat of a big player in the current WWE landscape, and you see that your match is following the House of Horrors, how hot do you think the crowd will be for your match? House of Horrors sucking the life out of the crowd for whatever directly followed wasn’t a tough prediction to make. And not only was Rollins vs Joe following that but it was also following Bayley losing her title in her hometown. Personally, I’m struggling to move past the disbelief that the crowd weren’t into that Rollins vs Joe match.
The politicking masters of the 90s tend to get frowned upon, and sometimes rightfully so, but the reality is guys like Triple H and Kevin Nash wouldn’t have been the stars they were if they didn’t stand up and protect themselves when it came to matters like this. I bet not one person thinks that Triple H would have just accepted his match being positioned in that slot. And he’d be right not to. If you’re a guy like Seth Rollins and you’ve spent over a decade working hard to get to the position that you’re at now in WWE, make use of the perks that come with being one of the top stars in the promotion. Look out for yourself. Don’t just accept crap like being positioned after those two acts that were locks to deflate the crowd, nod your head and say yes sir. Use your influence to get your match moved to earlier in the show when the crowd won’t have been euthanised. Stand up for yourselves people!
(5) Give Them Cameramen A Raise!
How great of a job did those cameramen do filming the first part of House of Horrors! They shot that whole thing LIVE!
And don’t try to think you’re smarter than me by saying it was pre-taped. I think you’ll find your wrong because it said LIVE in big capital letters in the top right corner of the screen throughout the whole thing. So it must have been live right? I mean they take it down when they go to a pre-taped commercial or a video package? So they don’t just pretend everything is shot live. WWE wouldn’t lie to me about a detail like that would they?
With something like House of Horrors you’d expect some production shortcomings but those guys captured everything! As they went from one room to another, the next camera guy was there ready to cover his crew mate and get in on the action. At some points they were switching between shots in a matter of seconds. Big shout out to Kevin Dunn really earning that salary there. That must have been a really intense situation for him in the production truck managing all those camera shots all at once, LIVE! But the old dog pulled it off. There’s life in him yet people. They even co-ordinated the score perfectly with everyone’s movement! And they were access all areas as well. They were in the limo as Randy arrived and as Bray left. They seemed to take a break during the journey from the house to the arena but a well earned one at that I think we can all agree.
They weren’t perfect though and this is why I’m championing for them all to receive a pay rise, not equity in the company. They didn’t follow Randy as he left the House of Horrors. We as viewers were left with no idea if even survived the fridge fall let alone how he got out of the house and made it back to the arena. Or even what mode of transport he took! Was Randy the Limo Driver all along? (I can’t believe WWE with their love of that spot didn’t do it here by the way) How did he beat Bray back to the arena? Did he literally travel at the speed of light and bring daylight back to San Jose for his arrival at the arena? I also feel that at least one of them should have followed that driverless tractor. I know they wanted to capture what Randy and Bray did and rightfully so but man I just gotta know how that tractor was moving. And moving backwards too!
But give them a metaphorical round of applause. They did a damn great job capturing every shot and every angle and well done Kevin Dunn for constantly finding the best shot out of multiple choices to choose from. It was a tough task but the whole team delivered, LIVE!
P.S. This is what being in on the joke looks like.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: FIVE COUNT: Five Lessons WWE Can Learn From The Roster Split So Far – What’s worked and what definitely hasn’t?