By Will Pruett
WWE loves being able to brand moments in time. They always have. Whether it’s the “Rock and Wrestling Connection”, The Attitude Era, The Ruthless Aggression Era, or The New Generation, WWE has always come up with a catchy title and a weird slogan for whatever they’re doing. It’s part of their job. It’s part of making an international product people want to see. I have no issues with branding.
WWE has branded the current moment in time a “New Era”. Well, they’re actually calling it “The New Era”. It was all over the advertising for this show, the pre-show video package with Shane McMahon reciting one of those weird pre-NXT Takeover Triple H promos, and all over the show itself. JBL couldn’t wait to scream “new era” into his microphone. While I don’t begrudge the branding in any way, this show made it clear that this is only branding. WWE is not entering a new era, they’re still doing the exact same things.
The most glaring example of this was the WWE Women’s Championship match. Charlotte and Natalya should have been the focus of this entire match, but even as Natalya was being introduced the camera was fixed on a clearly uncomfortable Bret Hart. The match itself was poor (but this can happen in any era). The finish of the match was downright terrible. Charles Robinson called for the bell to end the match in a tribute to Montreal. I praised WWE’s treatment of the women as superstars at WrestleMania and I have to deride them for this. They didn’t just make Natalya and Charlotte’s match play second fiddle to their male relatives who didn’t get along in 1992, they used the match to reference another match from 1997.
This kind of storytelling is the antithesis of creating stars. Charlotte gained nothing from this. Natalya gained nothing from this. It was a horrible followup to all of the good WWE did for the women at WrestleMania. (Also, where was the second or third women’s match on this show, proving we’re in “The golden era of Women’s Wrestling”?)
The new era continued to resemble tired eras as Vince McMahon chose between Shane McMahon and Stephanie McMahon. Even though the outcome is interesting, with Shane and Stephanie attempting to get along, the thought process behind it shows how nothing in WWE has changed. They still believe people would rather see McMahon’s argue about who is in charge than wrestlers wrestling for championships that matter. Even though WWE’s faithful fanbase has, for years, told them the opposite, WWE continues to deliver authority figure drama. This segment could have happened anytime in the last 20 years and fit in. This is anything but new.
A.J. Styles challenging Roman Reigns for the WWE Championship was the first main event of the new era and it resembled something out of 1998. Styles and Reigns had a very good match built around various endings and restarts (first the countout, then the disqualification). There was chaos as Gallows and Anderson and, later, The Usos interfered. A whole lot happened here building to an Extreme Rules rematch in three weeks. The match had a little too much going on, but the chaos was fun for an evening.
It’s hard to look at this show and see if anything in WWE has actually changed. There may be new stars, but the storytelling remains disappointing at best. WWE needs to usher in a new era with new stories, not rehashing the same 20 year old silliness. Only then can we actually see “a new era” begin.
And now for some random thoughts:
– I was very frightened when Enzo Amore was knocked out mid-match. I’m happy to see he is already on the road to recovery and was released from the hospital last night. I’ve called him the best product NXT has produced and I mean it. Enzo is filled with talent. I hope he is able to fully recover from the concussion and, in time, is able to step back into the ring.
– I rarely write about the pre-show, but having Baron Corbin lose to Dolph Ziggler is a very dumb thing to do.
– Also, Kalisto vs. Ryback was fantastic. Ryback imitating C.M. Punk for the Chicago crowd delighted me (as Punk’s narrative about Ryback was quite incorrect and too many people have believed it for too long). Ryback going on to have one of the matches of the night against Kalisto after “You can’t wrestle” chants rained down on him was glorious. Heck, Ryback even proceeded to save Kalisto’s life by catching him perfectly on a dangerous and ill-advised dive. All hail The Big Guy.
– Kalisto doing a series of open challenges for the United States Championship would still work. If WWE is committed to him, it’s a great way to make him a trademark star.
– Why did Simon Gotch grab Enzo on the floor after the frightening moment where Enzo was knocked out? This was super scary and, if Enzo would have had a major neck injury (and it looked like he might of), could have been life-threatening. WWE’s referees and doctors need to be quicker to hold talent back after moments like this.
– Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens had a very tough challenge in front of them. They were forced to wrestle after seeing what happened to Enzo and they had to win the crowd back. They were up to the task. Owens and Zayn delivered a great open chapter of their WWE feud. It was exciting, but not too exciting. It was intense, but left both with many places to go. Sami showed heart, but he didn’t have enough. This is the story fans have been waiting for with Owens and Zayn.
– Kevin Owens was a classic bully after his match with Sami Zayn and was very entertaining on commentary for the Intercontinental Championship match.
– The Miz’s post-WrestleMania revitalization has been wonderful. Marries adds a ton to his act and his promos have been delightful. In his match with Cesaro, Miz played his role perfectly. I know some folks are upset about Miz being Intercontinental Champion when Cesaro, Owens, and Zayn exist around the title, but it makes sense. I’d be upset if Miz weren’t doing some of the best work of his career. Lucky for all of us, Miz has actually been awesome.
– Cesaro vs. Miz was a sample of the chaos we would see in the main event. It worked. Cesaro losing to a cheating Miz after getting the visual victory is a fine way to continue all of these programs into Extreme Rules.
– One more thing on Miz as Intercontinental Champion: Sami Zayn really shouldn’t be fighting for a title yet. The deeply personal program with Kevin Owens is enough.
– Apollo Crews and Stephanie McMahon are best friends. The same goes for Sasha Banks and Shane McMahon.
– Chris Jericho vs. Dean Ambrose almost put me to sleep. It was long and felt kind of pointless. Dean has been uninspiring for almost a year. Jericho hasn’t caught on with me for most of this recent comeback. Somehow, I’m tired of both men. They’ve done nothing to make me care.
– Charlotte and Natalya was a bad match before the bad finish. They’ve had some really good matches together. This was the worst match they’ve had. Hopefully it was an off night for both and the (likely) rematch at Extreme Rules will be good.
– Imagine a wrestling show built around feuding wrestlers and not feuding authority figures…
– Roman Reigns may have had his best in-ring performance since WrestleMania 31 against A.J. Styles. When Roman is in the ring with a world-class wrestler like Cesaro, Daniel Bryan, or A.J. Styles, he looks amazing. When Roman is forced to carry a guy like Big Show, he doesn’t. There’s a lesson here. Roman holds up his end of major matches like this. Hopefully this momentum carries through in three weeks, as I want to see more Reigns vs. Styles.
– It’d be great (and an opportunity to make stars) if WWE named their shows for the wrestlers in the main events and not for the stupid concepts they come up with. “WWE: Reigns vs. Styles II” is a for more exciting, dynamic, and star-making title than “WWE Extreme Rules”.
– The mystery continues with Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. I don’t mind WWE dragging it out at the moment, but I hope they’re going somewhere good with everything soon. Fans are excited about this. WWE shouldn’t waste that.
WWE Payback (again, what a stupid name) was an interesting show. While it had some great moments, it also featured way too much of the counter-productive storytelling WWE has used for years. It’s time to change this. I can give the show a B-, declare it watchable, and still say WWE is going about almost all of their storytelling in the wrong way.
Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? If they aren’t super annoying thoughts (and please don’t ignore this and post super annoying thoughts), hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.