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Professional wrestling doesn’t have to be complicated to be successful.
The recent barrage of swamp matches, bone yard matches, climbing the corporate ladder matches, eye for an eye bouts, bar fights, back lot brawls, and the greatest wrestling match ever would say otherwise. Don’t be fooled.
The roots of the wrestling business reside in stars fighting stars with emotion and impactful stakes on the line. It’s an easy formula to understand and execute, which is why the business has been a part of and woven into the fabric of American culture for nearly 100 years.
This week on Raw, Randy Orton and the Big Show went back to those roots and reminded us how simple wrestling can be to be effective.
It starts with a story. Randy Orton had been on a sadistic tear since January 2020 and had decimated his loyal friends and confidants. Edge, Christian, and others caught the wrath of Orton as he shed all semblance of sympathy to regain the dark tropes of his legend-killer moniker. Throughout his downward-but-dominant spiral, Orton was even able to manipulate the mind of Ric Flair.
Enter, the Big Show. Show burst onto the scene of the story as a means to avenge his fellow friends, even if that meant sacrificing his health and career to do it.
Simple, right? Of course it is. Simple works in pro wrestling and this simple story had it all. The good guy, the bad guy, a grudge, a reason for fighting, and stakes on the line. Remember, not all stakes are silver and gold. In this case for the Big Show it was pride and standing up for his friends. For Orton, it was arrogance and dominance.
This feud had a slow burn that lasted nearly a month but avoided the common missteps of WWE booking. We didn’t see run-ins, backstage attacks, six-man tag team matches, or other physical crutches that WWE likes to deploy to carry programs from one week to the next. Instead, we saw well-crafted promo time utilized to hone-in on the emotional nature of the story.
Randy Orton has seen a rebirth of his career due to the promo time he’s been afforded. Orton has struck the right tone with his character that not only got over the nuances of his portion of the story, but he put over his opponent in the process. Orton is also abundantly clear as to what his mission is. Ahead of his main event, unsanctioned match against Big Show on Monday night, Orton tied together the weeks’ worth of build. He artfully echoed what he did to Edge and Christian to serve as a warning to Big Show. The promo invested fans in the match, and as a heel he gave fans an opportunity to root against him.
Big Show’s promo was correctly polar opposite to Orton’s. Show talked fondly about his history with friends like Edge, Christian, and Orton and used those friendships to showcase emotion and engage with the audience. People can buy into the story and emotion that Show conveyed. Betrayal, jealously, and arrogance are something that most people can relate to on some level. In terms of the delivery, the Big Show talked. He didn’t scream and he didn’t threaten, but he communicated in an intimate way. The intimacy and delicacy in which he spoke emphasized his points. He forced the audience’s attention and cultivated an environment that encouraged people to care about his revenge mission in the match.
It’s 2020 and while the light doesn’t shine brightest for Randy Orton and Big Show anymore, they are over enough acts with years of built-up equity with the audience that allowed for fans to easily buy into the narrative they spun. Star power matters and Orton and Show are legacy stars in the truest sense. People care about them.
During the global pandemic, WWE has leaned on the “new” to drive intrigue in the product – new concepts, new stars, and new changes at the drop of a hat due to unusual circumstances. I applaud them for that attempt. Carrying on like normal, when nothing truly is normal, would have been a recipe for disaster. Much of the new hasn’t clicked and even material that has been serviceable hasn’t halted plummeting interest.
Randy Orton and Big Show wrestled in the main event on this week’s Raw that produced a stronger rating overall than the week prior. Not a great rating by any means, but stronger. The first-to-third hour drop-off was 205,000, a notch below the 263,000 average going into this week as reported by the Torch. The build to this match and the simple storytelling involved was the key – back to the roots. Simple.
NOW CHECK OUT HEYDORN’S PREVIOUS TAKE: HEYDORN’S TAKE: Don’t hold me to this – WWE Extreme Rules 2020