SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
We know the narrative that WWE likes to spin for its fans and business partners. Vince McMahon is a maverick. He’s a leader and a visionary who risked it all to achieve greatness in the pro wrestling industry. Blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada, WrestleMania, WrestleMania, WrestleMania. We get it.
Not everything has to be a risk though, right? This week’s episode of Monday Night Raw was jolting. Not only did it air as news broke regarding a positive COVID-19 test from within the WWE’s protected Performance Center fortress – the result of an irresponsible and dangerous risk on multiple levels – but also it featured a storyline that plopped WWE Champion, Drew McIntyre, in the middle of an angle that’s better suited for an episode of Maury than it is for a weekly wrestling show. That’s a different kind of risk than the COVID risk for WWE, but one that could potentially have long-term negative effects on the company.
After a win over Bobby Lashley at Sunday’s Backlash PPV event, McIntyre teamed with WWE 24-7 Champion, R-Truth, in a tag team match against Lashley and his manager, MVP. Due to the WWE 24-7 title being a regular fixture at the bottom of the card, the WWE Champion should be kept far away from that title and that titleholder as they essentially live in two different universes. In addition to teaming up with Truth, McIntyre was embroiled in a series of backstage vignettes in which McIntyre played a father-like figure to Truth and his one note comedy character. On this night, the serious Drew McIntyre was duped and convinced to put his WWE Championship on the line within the tag team match – a scenario in which he wouldn’t have had to be pinned to lose the title. In a different segment, Lashley’s wife Lana said she should have married McIntyre instead of her current husband as a means to run Lashley down ahead of a divorce. Is your head spinning yet? My eyes are rolling that’s for sure.
The WWE doesn’t need the WWE Champion within a storyline like that to get it over. It’s a mid-card story at best and in this instance wasn’t the least bit entertaining. McIntyre being associated with nonsense like this that lives far outside the bounds of the character that has been successful is a foolishly stupid risk for WWE to take with so much on the line.
What were they thinking? Drew McIntyre has been a centerpiece figure on Raw since the calendar turned over into 2020. Since that time, he’s turned babyface, won the Royal Rumble, main-evented WrestleMania 36, beat Brock Lesnar cleanly in the middle of the ring, and became the WWE Champion. McIntyre has achieved all of that with seriousness as the root tone of his personality, character, and mission statement.
That presentation has worked. McIntyre won over fans around the world as the guy with a life story that wanted to win the big one and be the guy in the WWE. Fans connected with it. It’s fun watching someone overcome obstacles and reach goals. McIntyre’s serious nature thrived in WWE’s narrative environment, but also in the Meta world WWE likes to blend with its stories. WWE Chronicle charted Drew’s path to the WrestleMania main event and other interviews authentically portrayed him in a way that allowed fans to engage with his journey.
When Drew McIntyre won the WWE Championship in the middle of the pandemic, he was the first performer to manipulate his style to fit the circumstances of the new reality. In a serious way that jived with his act, McIntyre used the intimate environment to talk with the audience through the camera and to his opponents with an intense voice that articulated how much being the champion meant to him. In his empty arena matches, Drew has delivered due to the sport-like and serious nature of his presentation. McIntyre has been WWE’s rock during this time. He’s been that rock by being himself. In a world where the audience is leaving the WWE product, McIntyre has kept the ship from sinking with critically acclaimed performances on the microphone and in the ring.
That success made this week’s Raw concerning. WWE has spent years trying to find their next major babyface star. Roman Reigns had a plethora of issues, but silliness like “suffering succotash” and “Jack and the Beanstalk,” promos hurt his credibility as a serious competitor with fans. Braun Strowman teaming with a child at WrestleMania halted the momentum of his push, and Seth Rollins losing focus as a competitive threat and teaming with his girlfriend Becky Lynch in a less than serious manner started his descent down the card after a main event match at WrestleMania in 2019.
On Monday night, McIntyre played in those same treacherous, risky, waters. Comedy isn’t McIntyre’s lane. Can he do it? Sure. Should he? No. Just ask Stone Cold Steve Austin about that topic. Drew McIntyre can make the most money for the WWE as the fighting champion that’s trying to build a legacy. That’s the sweet spot. Even without a crowd, a WWE intern simply scrolling through Twitter will confirm that fact with WWE’s fan base.
Monday’s needlessly risky debacle with McIntyre and R-Truth was a step in the wrong direction. With an audience on hand, it could have easily been Drew’s “magic beans” moment that severely hurt his act and derailed his momentum. Drew McIntyre is a key component to WWE’s current and future success. He’s got the ball as WWE’s premiere star and the audience is with him. The Maverick Vince McMahon should love that, protect it, and enhance it with careful, calculated choices in line with the character to keep the train moving fast on the track.
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