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Last night’s big show-closing angle on Monday Night Raw is generating fierce debate among fans. Was it a cool buzz-generating angle or utter nonsense, or is it too soon to tell?
For me, it’s utter nonsense. But the concept itself could have been done well. It’s too late to fix everything that was wrong with it last night, but not too late to try to plug some gaping logic holes.
It’s utter nonsense because you have babyfaces and heels fighting side by side for this imaginary “brand loyalty” that means nothing in the world WWE creates. Maybe Shane McMahon has “brand pride” or something, but what’s it based on? WWE talked a little bit about ratings when Smackdown closed in on Raw for a week or two, but otherwise there’s just no score-keeping in this regard.
Are wrestlers prideful of having “better matches” or putting on “better shows”? And how is that measured? And how are wrestler, who are typically selfish creatures acting in their own self interest to settle personal grudges and win matches and make more money, rewarded for having “better matches” or being part of “better shows”? They aren’t – not within the world WWE presents on TV.
Why would Bobby Roode suddenly fight side-by-side with Dolph Ziggler? Why would the babyfaces on Smackdown suddenly put aside everything their characters usually stand up for and partake in this mob attack, including an innocent backstage worker in a headset just going about his job? How can Becky Lynch for New Day ever stand up for fair play and honorable conduct when they were part of cheering on a gang style attack on Raw wrestlers without warning who were scattered around the backstage area, some nursing injuries (such as Jason Jordan)?
I’m in favor of the roster split, but not the unnecessary and illogical aspects of it. The Survivor Series as a concept featuring Raw vs. Smackdown wrestlers can work as an annual novelty, but it has to be handled with care, with attention paid to characters acting consistent with their moral compasses and constitutions that otherwise guide them throughout the other 11 months of the year and are the core reason we are motivated to root for or against them otherwise. Without that, an angle like this is just utter nonsense. Artistically, it’s offensive. Practically, it’s bad for business and undercuts what WWE does the other 11 months of the year.
The fact that Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn didn’t participate in an attack ordered by Shane McMahon is an acknowledgment that rivalries and grudges shouldn’t be set aside for mythical “brand pride.” But why are some grudges worth preserving and others not? Why do some heels have brand pride that rise above their disputes with babyface G.M. Shane McMahon, and not others? Worse of all, why would babyfaces act in such a way, including Shane, New Day, Shinsuke Nakamura, Chad Gable, Tye Dillinger, Bobby Roode, and Becky Lynch?
This doesn’t feel like some sort of culmination of a year of fighting for some collective cause. This feels like an annual fall booking stunt with a forced angle that makes no sense in any context.
— A.. Wrestling Fan (@RingGeneral) October 24, 2017
This could be presented in a sensible way from the start, though. It’s not that a Raw vs. Smackdown five-on-five match can’t work.
On Smackdown, Shane could bring together a group of wrestlers who aren’t otherwise represented on the card in the champion vs. champion matches. He could give a little pep talk about they have this annual battle, sort of like a company softball game between two divisions of the same company, and explain that there are stakes they are fighting for. He would acknowledge in the speech that not everybody here gets along, and not everybody gathered is willing to set aside differences for a greater good for one night. At that point, to protect his character, Baron Corbin should walk off. So should Rusev. Shane can nod and or roll his eyes or sigh at that point. Some heels just shouldn’t be willing to be corralled into some locker room and listen patiently and reasonably to a pep talk by their boss. They are outlaws who have no interest in such endeavors.
Then among those left, Shane could ask for volunteers who are willing to fight for Team Smackdown, and then explain the stakes. The stakes could be several things, and the particulars aren’t important. But for the sake of illustrating the point, Shane could say that the winning brand at Survivor Series gets the sole chances at the last four slots in the Royal Rumble, and the losing brand is stuck with the first four slots. So in the random draw, heels from Smackdown could lose their chance to get the coveted no. 30 spot and their chances of getting the dreaded no. 1 spot could double. Even (some) heels could get on board with plugging their noses and fighting alongside rivals for one match for that cause, because it ultimately serves their self-interest for the team to win.
Another simple option is just to announce a fake cash prize that the winning team splits. So Shane could say he has pride in the wrestlers he drafted and he thinks they are better than the best team Raw can assemble, but to make it worthwhile for the wrestlers fight for his own pride, there is a cash prize. The winning fivesome splits a million dollar bonus. He can say this is above and beyond the usual winners payday. Even better, to raise the stakes, he could announce that the losing team foregoes their usual payday and gets nothing.
Then, let’s say ten wrestlers volunteer for the match. Shane could match five heels against five babyfaces in a Smackdown main event, winning team represents Smackdown.
The same scenario could play out on Raw with Kurt Angle. Ideally, a heel team would win on Raw if a babyface team won on Smackdown. That way when the match took place, fans would have a universal reason to cheer for one team over the other, since truth be told, there aren’t really that many fiercely loyal pro-Raw anti-Smackdown WWE fans out there, or vice-versa. When you’re trying to draw money in pro wrestling, engaging fans in battles where they care who wins and are rooting for one side against another is, with rare exception, where promoters have the most success.
While there are plenty of viable variations of the above, the core non-negotiable aspects have to be adhered to. For the sake of protecting the integrity of the characters for the other 11 months of the year, no gang warfare attacks with heels and babyfaces fighting side-by-side for some nonsense “brand pride” that doesn’t really exist and, more important, doesn’t stoke any particular strong emotion with the fans, and instead just set up the Raw vs. Smackdown rivalry in a way that makes sense. The situation should involve wrestlers acting in a way that stays true to their established motivations the rest of the year, and should result in a match where fans have a rooting interest in one team winning over the other.
Could the Raw team, for instance, end up involving an unlikely alliance of three babyface and two heels against an all-heel team on Smackdown? Sure. Could that play into the finish, where the heels don’t cooperate and blow their top at some misunderstanding, which leads to the finish and Team Smackdown winning? Sure. That works, too.
There is no justification, and real damage is done to the whole narrative structure that creates the framework for the weekly shows otherwise, having babyfaces act totally out of character, like thugs, cheering on heels beating down unsuspecting, outnumbered colleagues from the other brand, or backstage workers just going about their business. There is no moral ground that Shane McMahon can ever stand on again with credibility after being the mastermind and leader behind last night’s show-closing “siege.” It was utter nonsense.
Fans excitedly saying “That was cool to watch!” no more defines a wise booking strategy than an eight year old saying “I love cotton candy!” is a reason to serve it as a main course for dinner every night. WWE’s job isn’t just to get a buzz-generating pop; it’s to make sure what they do fits in the context of efficiently drawing the most interest from fans in sustainable ways that ultimately draws money for themselves and the wresters they employ. Last night’s clustermess was as poorly thought through and counter-productive as anything they’ve done in years.
— Wade Keller (@thewadekeller) October 24, 2017