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Quick lesson for all the wrestlers in WWE reading this; if you want to have any success in WWE, be the bad guy. If you’re a good guy, then there’s this binding spell that turns you into not only a complete idiot but a complete loser of an idiot. Not only will you lose all your matches, but you’ll lose them in embarrassing fashion that makes people look at you and just shake your head.
While you’re at it, get yourself an entourage of geeks to assist you in winning all of your matches. You might get some dirty looks from a few people, but don’t worry about them; you’re standing tall winning titles and making money. They’re not looking at you with disgust, it’s envy disguised as disgust. They just wish they had the winner’s mentality that you have. And let’s face it, you gotta do what you gotta do, right Book?
So don’t be hometown hero Randy Orton looking for revenge; aspire to be like Jinder Mahal and get yourself an entourage so your opponent falls for the same trick twice in a row. Don’t be like The New Day playing by the rules; aspire to be like The Usos where if you feel like you’re in danger of losing your titles, just walk out and laugh at the good guys sat in the ring with their hands on their head watching as their title shot opportunity just strolls away from them. Aspire to be like Carmella and get yourself someone to do the hard work for you.
Heck, start planning ahead for the Royal Rumble now by forming yourself a little stable of minions who won’t be in the match; get two of them to guard you in the corner and get the rest to throw everyone else out of the match until you’re the last one left. Don’t take inspiration from a guy like A.J. Styles who has become a perennial loser since becoming a good guy, take guidance from the successful work that the likes of Carmella & James Ellsworth, The Usos, Jinder Mahal, and Baron Corbin are all doing.
On a slightly less tongue-in-cheek note, let’s move onto the Five Lessons To Be Learned From Money In The Bank 2017, looking at what can be learned from the damage done by all these god-awful finishes and a couple of positive takeaways from the show regarding the future of Smackdown.
(1) The Women’s Revolution Is Losing Trust
So far, 2017 has been a rough year for the oxymoronic self-proclaimed Women’s Revolution. After an initial bad start with Queen Steph placing everyone into teams for STABLE WARS!, the women really started making strides in 2016 in terms of being taken seriously as a featured part of the show and delivering quality. In particular, the Charlotte vs. Sasha matches really helped to not only put them on the map, but put them on the map as a valuable commodity.
So far, 2017 hasn’t had anything to shout and rave about as far as the women are concerned about, though. Coming at a time when WWE is trying to change the perception of women’s wrestling, reverting back to the standard of sub-par matches with awful booking will do more damage than it’s ever done before because it’s coming at a time when you’re trying to get viewers to buy into change. If you’re watching from inside the WWE bubble and don’t watch NXT, then what’s being presented on Raw and Smackdown is what’s going to shape their perceptions of women’s wrestling, perceptions that once they’re formed are hard to undo.
Over on Raw this year we’ve had the total failure that has been Bayley, Sasha Banks has spent the year as a third wheel in everyone else’s program, and, despite Alexa Bliss’s great character work, her matches aren’t reinforcing the idea that the women’s match on a PPV is something to expect greater things from nowadays. Smackdown has at least had a bit more going for their women’s division in a creative sense and while giving the division extra screen time and credibility is a good thing. There’s just not the in-ring quality to get people unfamiliar with NXT excited about women’s wrestling on the big shows.
Money in the Bank was another in a growing line of significant blows to the credibility of the Women’s Revolution, especially through the eyes of those locked inside the WWE bubble. After Backlash I wrote about the importance of the end product matching the hype in regards to Shinsuke Nakamura’s debut and that lesson would have been a great one to factor into the booking of the Money in the Bank match. Doing a terrible anti-climactic finish in a match like Naomi vs. Lana which has low expectations is one thing, but it becomes exponentially worse in a match that you’ve built up as being historically important which you’ve allowed fans to expect will be a great match.
Charlotte vs. Sasha aside, the women’s matches have been one disappointment after another and there’s only so much goodwill that fans have before they start to lose trust in the women being able to deliver. Once the trust goes, so does the ability to make money. Becky and Alexa didn’t deliver in their pair of gimmick matches, Alexa and Naomi couldn’t have a good match, both of the women’s matches at WrestleMania were disappointing, Bayley vs. Alexa has been a mess, and the Women’s Division on Smackdown still feels stuck in first gear since the Superstar Shake-Up. There’s only so long that trend can continue on for before people start deciding that Charlotte vs. Sasha was an anomaly and that nothing has actually changed.
The double shot of the Money in the Bank match being a major let-down and the Smackdown Women’s Championship match being a poor showing involving two women who are great until you ask them to actually work a match does nothing to help mask the issue either. Lana’s an asset and she should absolutely be a featured part of Smackdown, but she isn’t a wrestler, she can’t wrestle, and she shouldn’t be wrestling.
Putting someone like Lana in the title match just reminds people of the way things used to be rather than showing everyone the new way that things are going to be as part of the “revolution.” The last thing you want in a revolution seeking positive change is to be reminding everyone of the ways things used to be that you’re trying to move away from. People who aren’t on board with the new era of women’s wrestling will see Naomi vs Lana as the title match on a PPV and understandably just assume that nothing has really changed because the hot girl in the skimpy outfit is still doing a poor job of pretending to be a wrestler.
Revolution’s don’t get over by just telling everyone what the revolution is; they get over by showing what is. That’s how it got over in NXT. WWE is doing a heck of a lot of telling when it comes to the women, but the actual showing part has been consistently missing and, without it, it’s just empty hype that kills the credibility of the promotion and the trust within the viewer.
(2) Awful Finishes Put Heat On The Promotion, Not The Heels
People aren’t looking at the finishes to the first two matches on the show and thinking, “God damn James Ellsworth & Carmella, I can’t wait to see Charlotte, Becky, and Naomi give them the ass kicking they’ve got coming to them after that” (mostly because the babyface kicking ass hahahahaha if we don’t laugh we’ll cry). And nobody needs to see The New Day get their rematch with The Usos to stop them from bailing like scared cowards again.
Both of those finishes were flat. The heels weren’t getting heckled out of the place, the crowd wasn’t chanting in anger. Even the babyfaces weren’t doing their part in putting the heat for the decision on the heel. Instead, they all just stare at the more resourceful heels like, Damn, why didn’t I think of doing that, you win this one old foe! The amount of heat for the heels to get for garbage “nobody-wins/nobody-loses” finishes like them are very minimal, but that very minimal amount of heat will only be gained by the babyfaces putting over the dastardly act. If they don’t convey outraged and angry emotions, then no positives are going to be gained from garbage finishes.
Instead, all these awful finishes just put heat on the promotion and contribute towards viewers losing faith in the product delivering satisfying conclusions. There isn’t any heat for them and, whatever perceived “heat” there is, isn’t the heat you want. The “this is bullshit” type of reaction in a way is “heat,” but there’s nothing positive you can do with it. It’s just “You’re pissing me off and wasting my time with this” heat that goes towards the promotion and heat towards the promotion is when you start losing (even more) viewers.
Patience and trust aren’t endless resources. We all have our breaking point. Testing how far you can push that breaking point with paying customers of your product isn’t wise. Now, if finishes like this were in isolation and infrequent occurrences then you can get away with them. The good outweighs the bad, net positive, and so on. But for a lot of people, as far as the current product is concerned, the good doesn’t outweigh the bad, and each of these garbage finishes pokes away that bit more at their patience and it’s reaching breaking point at a faster rate than the rate of new viewers are coming in at.
That’s the reason promotions could get away with garbage finishes in the past. And yes they absolutely had garbage finishes. The ’80s, in particular, isn’t such a well-revered era for wrestling because of all the brilliant finishes. Most of them, in fact, when you watch them back now are pretty lame. The difference is they weren’t a negative because the good so heavily outweighed the bad. If the heel won via some bullshit finish, the crowds was still hot because they were so invested in not wanting but needing to see the babyface win and the heel lose and they knew that although it didn’t happen this time, sooner or later the babyface would get that revenge. Now it’s just deflating, and without over babyfaces and heels, and without enough goodwill from viewers, the heat for garbage finishes like these don’t go to the heel but to the promotion itself.
(3) The Titles Need To Be More Prestigious
This partly follows on from the previous lesson regarding awful finishes putting heat on the promotion. That wasn’t the only damage done by the garbage finish to the New Day vs The Usos match. Damage was also done to the prestige of the titles. Titles can be and should be a money drawing asset for WWE but they’re not.
They’re not even close to it in fact and it’s no wonder when you present a title match and it ends with the champions grabbing their belts and just walking out of the contest and yet they still get to keep calling themselves the champions. The last thing that any wrestling promotion should want is to have people watching their product and thinking it’s a joke with a complete disregard for the credibility needed in any real spectactor sport.
Quite frankly, the stipulation where the champions can retain the titles by getting themselves disqualified or counted out needs to go. “It’s the way it’s always been” isn’t a valid reason for continuing to present garbage. It makes the product look like a joke, and that’s something you should avoid at all costs. People new to WWE or on the fence about watching aren’t going to see the end to that match and feel like that’s something they want to get invested in.
Championships should be treated like the “be all and end all.” The champions themselves should only be the cream of the crop. Just getting a title shot should mean you’re a significant player in that division. Since the Superstar Shake-Up, Smackdown’s titles have really taken a kicking in the prestige department. How are people supposed to buy into them being valuable commodities when in the last two months we’ve seen Lana literally debut into a title match, the comedy team of Breezango get a title match, and jobber-to-the-stars Jinder Mahal even won the top title.
When the bottom players in the division are getting title shots, how is getting a title shot supposed to give a rub to someone else? Likewise, how much of a rub do you expect Baron Corbin to get if or when he wins the World Title? There’s no equity in the belts and, when that’s the case, there’s no value to pass on to whomever holds them. Which essentially makes them useless.
(4) A.J. Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura Will Be A Big Deal
It’s hard to call Nakamura a success this far into his run on the main roster, but one big positive to take from his run is that WWE is at least trying to book him as a money-drawing asset. They’re not knocking it out of the park, but you can see that the intention is definitely there. It becomes especially noticeable when that happens so infrequently. Sure, there’s things that are the WWE way that aren’t helping him like having to conform to the generic presentation of promos and matches, but he isn’t trading wins with anyone and he’s constantly being put over by the announcers. They’re self-aware that Nakamura can be a commodity for them and, for Nakamura fans, that’s very promising.
What they’re also evidently self-aware of is the fan demand for a Shinsuke Nakamura vs A.J. Styles match. Ever since Backlash they’ve made a point to consistently pair them off and lay the groundwork for when they do face each other. And I really like that they’re not rushing into it and that they’re planning ahead with it rather than coming up to Summerslam and realizing they have nothing for either guy and just throwing them together. They’re building the seeds of friendship so viewers new to Nakamura understand the bond between the pair and at Money in the Bank they gave you enough of a tease of them together to wet your appetite and need to see more. The fact that they’re doing that shows the intention is for it to be a marquee match because they never start hyping matches multiple PPVs in advance unless it’s for the John Cena’s and Roman Reigns’s of the world.
I’ve seen a lot of people suggesting that it’s building to a match at Summerslam because that’s the next big show and, when you build to a big match, it’s logical to build to it happening at a big show. I wouldn’t. I’d save it for after Summerslam. A.J. vs. Nakamura built up to right and with the slow and deliberate build that they have been giving it can definitely be an added value asset on a PPV.
Summerslam is going to draw just fine without that match, though. It’s a dual-brand show so you have double the star power on top of big matches involving Brock Lesnar and John Cena which not every show gets. Compare that to the Smackdown-exclusive shows and there’s a massive gulf in appeal. Not only for the big shows themselves, but for the TV leading into them.
The aim in the Network era should be to get viewers to pay for the Network on a continuous basis, month after month, not just in certain months for the big shows with loaded line-ups. Getting 100,000 extra people subscribing to the Network to watch the big shows is obviously good, but it’s more valuable to WWE to have a third of that number subscribing month to month throughout the year and, in order for that to happen, they need a reason to need to see the brand exclusive shows.
A.J. vs. Nakamura could be that reason. Put it on Summerslam and it’s probably looking at being the fourth or fifth match from the top and, as a result, it’ll be diminished in importance. Save it for the Smackdown PPV coming out of Summerslam and it’s almost by default the biggest match on that show, will get all the time it needs, and should be a match that can draw extra subscriptions. And that doesn’t mean you can’t still do it on a big show. If done right, the first match should only build anticipation for a rematch which can take place at WrestleMania.
Whenever it happens, the good news for fans of either is that WWE sees it as a big match worthy of building up to way ahead of time. It’s happening, and it’s not going to be some throwaway “let’s just do it to please the smarks” type of deal.
(5) Mike Kanellis Is Exactly What WWE Needs
I didn’t like the debut of Maria & Mike Kanellis when I first watched it. Maria’s shouting annoyed me, it was overly soppy, and I hated the fact that they renamed Mike Bennett to Mike Kanellis signalling that she’s the only reason he’s in WWE. Then I thought about it again after the show and the penny dropped. I’d been worked!
Wrestlers like Roderick Strong and Kassius Ohno are great, but the reality is that WWE doesn’t need them. Fan favorites who can have a great match but struggles to get over with a new audience isn’t the type of act that WWE is lacking. Both Raw and Smackdown each have more than enough of them. What WWE are seriously lacking in are mid-card heel acts that aren’t working against crowds cheering for them because they’re cool and witty heels. They need actual heels who the crowd don’t like (but don’t tune out because of) and that can get their babyface opponents over. Another Seth Rollins – someone who is a great wrestler and is over but not able to break through the glass ceiling over – isn’t as valuable right now as another Miz is. That’s what they have with this act.
There’s nothing cool about this act. He isn’t a flashy workrate wrestler who will undermine any heat he gets by popping the crowd during his matches. It’s a proper heel act that, as long as they don’t become too annoying, will get over great as a heel duo. His taking her surname annoyed me at first, but it’s actually a brilliant move. WWE is telling us he’s “not a real man, you see.” They’re implying to us that he’s his wife’s “little bitch.” He’s a cuck (although they won’t put it that way, of course). Taking the wife’s surname, especially when she’s the one with the notoriety and the star power, isn’t a manly move. It’s an awesome heel move, though.
They’ll be digging into some feelings of pent up aggression inside viewers from their own lives, too. Everyone knows that couple that are so lovey dovey, that just disgust you with their public shows of affection for one another and make you want to wrap your hands around their necks but you can’t because you’re supposed to be their friends. That’s the type of wrestling character that is easy to get heat with from live crowds who take out all that pent-up anger that they can’t display in front of their friend and bombard them with it.
No, it’s not an act that’s going to main event WrestleMania or significantly drive Network subscriptions. They’re role players if you will. Every team needs role players, though. And a roster is a team. You want it to be well-balanced. You don’t want to have an overstock of great Point Guards but then be left with no rim protection. In the same manner, you don’t want to have a roster with a ton of newly introduced babyfaces, that you’re working hard to get over, with no effective heels to help get them over. The Kanellis’s can be that role player that doesn’t draw a lot of money as an isolated act, but enhances the ability for the team as a whole to become better. Plus, there’s a great babyface turn in it when (not if – you should have seen that coming Enzo), Mike finally grows a pair.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIEW COLUMN: FIVE COUNT: Five Lessons Pro Wrestling Can Learn From What NXT Is Currently Getting Right