By Will Pruett, ProWrestling.net Senior Staffer (@itswilltime)
The last two WWE pay-per-views have featured wonderful moments with babyfaces fans believe in achieving or almost achieving their dreams. WWE television shows immediately following these moments have shown us the best of these wrestlers and allowed fans to invest more. Then another week has gone by and in both cases, WWE has had Vince McMahon pointlessly ripped the rug out from under fans and undercut what should be straightforward stories. With Becky Lynch and Kofi Kingston, WWE is insisting on over-complicating sure things and it’s killing the ability of fans to emotionally invest.
Let’s start with Kofi Kingston. WWE captured something amazing when Kofi, in a complete fluke of an opportunity, wrestled for over an hour in a gauntlet match on Smackdown before Elimination Chamber. They built on this momentum with Kofi’s stunning performance in the Chamber match, almost beating Daniel Bryan. You’d think WWE couldn’t go wrong with their longtime star’s momentum, right?
They did. They announced a title match for Kofi Kingston at Fastlane and fans saw it as a reward. Finally the long suffering New Day member would receive a one-on-one match for the title. A week later Vince McMahon appeared on television and nonsensically took it away.
I know the end goal is likely to put Kingston in a WWE Championship match at WrestleMania. I know he will likely leave that match the conquering hero and WWE Champion in a great and memorable moment. I know this and I still cannot condone the story WWE is telling to get there. Why make Kevin Owens look awful for agreeing to replace Kingston? Why make the entire company look and feel unfair? Why make the odds that are stacked against Kingston the machine of WWE and not the champion standing in his way?
WWE overthought Kofi’s path to WrestleMania and under-thought the original effort to get there. Does anyone complain about Eddie Guerrero winning the WWE Championship in February 2004? Sure, it was just a month before WrestleMania, but it still made an impact on fans. Kingston could have been another notable pre-Mania championship win with space to tell his story in the lead up to WrestleMania.
When you jerk fans around with potential matches and then tear them away, you lose their emotional investment. When you make the overall promotion seem unfair to the point of absurdity, you lose fans’ emotional investment. Imagine NXT telling stories this way, with Triple H as an unstable geriatric maniac taking away title shots wrestlers have earned. Imagine if NXT decided to make NXT the evil force every wrestler had to fight against.
Let’s move on with the overcomplicated story of Becky Lynch. Becky is the hottest star in all of WWE and has been since November. She won the Royal Rumble match and the ovation for doing so was deafening. WWE went on to have her choose Ronda Rousey and the Raw Women’s Championship for her WrestleMania shot the next night. The exchange between them was a highlight of both women’s careers. It was lightning in a bottle. It was the WrestleMania main event angle.
Sadly it happened in January and WWE has taught us that nothing good comes when they’re given more time. What followed was Vince McMahon randomly pulling Lynch from the Raw Women’s Championship match and replacing her. The month following this has had angle after angle where Becky has to fight against the company to get the title shot she already earned.
I firmly believe the last image of WrestleMania 35 will be Becky Lynch in the ring holding the Raw Women’s Championship while fans applaud her. This is the main event. This is her moment. The path to get here has been unnecessarily long and ill-conceived. Given how Becky entered the Royal Rumble, why not have Charlotte Flair challenge Becky for her title shot? This would end with Ronda Rousey’s interference and the announcement of a Triple Threat match. This is not a hard story to tell.
WWE is counting on their fans not caring or not paying attention. Fans would be better off not watching weekly television and retaining emotional investment. The more I watch WWE TV, the less invested I am in the story of Becky Lynch vs. Ronda Rousey vs. Charlotte Flair and it absolutely should not be this way.
My sincere hope is that WWE sets the wrongs right at Fastlane. Give Becky Lynch another major pay-per-view victory going into her crowning moment in the main event of WrestleMania. Give Kofi Kingston his WrestleMania title match against Daniel Bryan and reward the fans that have been jerked around.
Stop telling absurd stories where the company itself is suddenly against a rising babyface. It’s time to make WWE, the company that brags about putting smiles on people’s faces, that company in its own stories. Not every wrestler needs a corporate entity to push against. Not every fan wants to deal with months of unfair moments for one moment of victory.
When WrestleMania is over people will discuss how Vince McMahon and WWE did it again. They’ll say the company still knows how to tell great stories. It’s true that they know how to provide crowd-pleasing endings, but the storytelling is lacking. WWE seems to be doing one part right and ignoring the rest.
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To see his video content subscribe to his YouTube channel. To contact, check him out on Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.