By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Yeah, we’ve really evolved nicely as a human race.
Anyway, with the amount of knowledge now available to the common wrestling fan, the “re-book the territory” game is as prevalent as ever. And, as it goes, that exercise is practiced most on the biggest fish in the pond, the most successful and longstanding wrestling company of them all, WWE. Under the biggest microscope and most scrutiny of them all, Vince McMahon’s most successful business venture can range from the good (Smackdown last week was maybe the best WWE-produced television show of the year) to the bad (what exactly is going on with NXT?) to the ugly (yeah, one word: Raw).
So, with all that mind, far be it from me to throw my hat into the booking criticism game, but …
BEWARE OF THE MAN
Is there not anything sacred in that damn company anymore?
The answer is no, of course. We already knew that. The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak went kaput on somewhat of a whim. A gigantic mallet and a pile of chairs couldn’t keep The Fiend down, but Goldberg waltzes into Saudi Arabia, hits a spear or two and that’s all she wrote for Bray Wyatt’s former character. Asuka went from being an undefeated powerhouse in NXT to taking her first loss to Charlotte, having a couple title runs and now … can’t even get on Raw for weeks at a time.
Just when you think something is gaining traction in that company, McMahon or Bruce Prichard or whomever makes the decisions these days loves to pull the rug out from underneath all us fans. We don’t dare become too attached to something because the minute we do, it’s gone, and after seeing it so many times, you really do have to wonder if it’s a best for business approach or if it’s a personal, demented power grab from someone who likes to be reminded he’s in charge.
But wait a minute. Did I say demented?
AN AURA IN JEOPARDY
I did. Which leads us to The Demon.
Finn Balor’s alter-ego has yet to lose in a WWE main roster ring (note: The Demon did lose to Samoa Joe in a steel cage in NXT in 2016, but as WWE proved recently with Charlotte’s number of title reigns, NXT clearly doesn’t count anymore). And, from what we saw on Friday, it appears that The Demon will now be fed to Roman Reigns in a couple weeks at Extreme Rules.
Why? To give the match more juice? OK. Maybe Balor’s alter-ego provides a tiny bit of intrigue to the proceedings, but there isn’t a single wrestling fan on earth that believes The Demon is walking out of that pay-per-view with the title around his waist. Reigns recently celebrated being champion for a calendar year and he doesn’t appear to be done running through people like someone playing the 2K video game on extra easy mode would run through people.
So, again, why do it? Why sacrifice one of the increasingly few cool things the company has going for it just to give Reigns another win? I’m a fan of real-life sports streaks, and the more you can incorporate that into professional wrestling, the more authenticity everything seems to have. With the outcome at Extreme Rules hardly in doubt — and with Brock Lesnar looming in the shadows for Reigns — sacrificing The Demon eliminates one of the last compelling things WWE has going for itself.
How much more can Reigns possibly be elevated? He’s the company’s top guy, top heel, top champ. He seems to be on a collision course with The Rock, even if it has to wait a year. It kind of/sort of feels like even Lesnar is going to put him over, whenever that match happens, be it in Saudi Arabia or at Survivor Series. A title change with The Demon would be a welcome surprise, but it would obviously be done only to swerve those who think they know better.
And so, then, The Demon just becomes another guy. There’s no real reason to bring him out anymore if he loses to Reigns. Maybe if Balor finds himself in a blood feud and the program is really clicking and it’s been six months of a very well thought-out story that lingers near the top of the card … OK, I guess. But even then, why would we be inclined to think that it would matter, if WWE hot-shot-ed The Demon into this match with Reigns for the sake of … making it feel more important?
The juice ain’t worth the squeeze as the old saying goes, and nobody wins in the long run. Speaking of wins …
A CAUTIONARY TALE
Karrion Kross seems to be racking them up on Raw each Monday now and precisely zero people care.
That’s the thing: Kross is a perfect example of how much damage one sacrificial slip up can cause to one wrestler’s character. Who knows if it’s true that Kross was going to be booked to lose until Scarlett showed up to save the day and set him off on a dominating winning streak, but at this point, it doesn’t even matter. All wardrobe quips aside, I don’t know how Kross could have been booked any worse on Raw to date.
It’s such a 180 from how he was initially presented on NXT. His act with Scarlett is can’t-miss. From the entrance to the aura surrounding both of them, it was refined to perfection on WWE’s supposed developmental program, and now Kross seems … lost? Unsure? Empty? Pick any one of those words and you wouldn’t be wrong.
Making matters worse is the reality that even for as dominating as he was in NXT, the minute he, as NXT Champion, took a three-minute loss from a guy who now runs around chasing the 24/7 title was the minute he began to have diminishing returns on NXT programming. It’s awfully hard to take a tough guy as seriously as he needs to be taken after something like losing to Jeff Hardy happens these days. All respect to Hardy, of course, but it doesn’t quite seem like WWE brass is all that high on him if they have the guy running with people who dress up in dog costumes on Monday nights.
To what end? That’s my question. To what end? If there’s only one guy who has the ultimate say in the discourse of these wrestlers’ careers, why must he take the few good things he has and find a way to complicate it, change it or just plain ruin it? Kross should have been a star on the main roster, and I guess he still could be, if you sprinkle in Scarlett, compile a bunch of wins and get rid of the BDSM nonsense, but it’s going to take a bit of time to rehabilitate him.
It’s a wonder …
… how WWE hasn’t managed to mess up the Reigns act yet. Actually, the answer to that is most likely Paul Heyman, which is great for Reigns, but not so great for everyone else. At this point, you can’t imagine anybody beating Reigns for the title, barring some whacky finish, complete with multiple interferences and a handful of ref bumps. What I feel is curious about the relationship Reigns has with the title is that at this point, he doesn’t need it.
Which, of course, brings me to the point at the center of all this: I love the Roman Reigns heel act as much as anybody, and for months, it’s been single-handedly carrying all of WWE from Mondays to Tuesdays to Fridays. Without it, I’d be hard-pressed to find a single good thing on some weeks of the company’s television shows. But two things come to mind.
One, a Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns match sells itself without a title involved. You don’t need that in order to get people to pay attention to it or justify it as a main event. The same goes for Roman Reigns vs. The Rock. And two, where does this leave everybody who’s tried and failed to knock Reigns off his throne? More so, how does this help build a viable infrastructure of young talent that will someday be tasked with being a top guy or a champion or merely just relevant?
Sure, this Reigns push will (hopefully) ultimately elevate someone at some point. But we’re seemingly very far away from that moment as Reigns is showing no signs of slowing down. In the meantime, all these people left in his dust will continue to linger in mid-card purgatory, and in the case of Smackdown, the distance between the mid-card and the top of the card seems more pronounced than ever.
And that’s not to say the mid-card doesn’t have great wrestlers in it. Between Cesaro, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Shinsuke Nakamura, and a host of others, Smackdown can put good-to-great matches in the ring each week. But Reigns has been so dominant and he’s elevated himself so high that even working with Balor feels like a placeholder — and I love Finn Balor, I think he’s a star and I’m glad to see him be in a prominent role if only for this pay-per-view cycle.
But if Finn Balor should have a say …
… it’d be awfully nice if he said, “Nah, not gonna job out The Demon, guys. Love you, but no.”
Now, of course, that’s not the way the world works, and I feel kind of gross even saying that because there is certainly an argument to be made that we ought not be so precious with our wrestlers. And Finn Balor, I’m sure, likes his job at WWE, and I’m sure he gets paid handsomely to do it, so if someone says The Demon has to crawl out to face Roman Reigns to help spice things up, I don’t think anybody should blame him for doing just that.
The decision-makers at WWE, though? Well, that’s a different story. I hate to see them throw away these meaningful things as though they were always meaningless. And sure, go ahead and tell me that everything is meaningless in this business — that’s fine. But isn’t it Vince McMahon and Nick Khan who say things like, “sleep is the enemy?” If that’s the case, then it sure sounds like there are people there who give their lives to this stuff and if so, the notion of apathy seems both impossible and heart-breaking.
So, what’s the answer? Maybe show more respect for the things you built. Don’t treat them like pawns in some inexplicable, unpredictable game. Have respect for the fans who dedicate so much time and money to your product. Quit trying to outsmart them and quit trying to throw away the few nice things we have on account of … what, exactly? That, I’ll never know.
In the meantime, count me among those who will mourn the death of The Demon in a couple weeks. I hope I’m wrong, but unless we’re getting the upset of the century, that fantastically rare character will be sent to the House Of Kross, where the losses come sporadically and the intrigue in the presentation is sucked out of the arena like a milkshake through a straw.
And for that, though it be sad and unnerving, I shall fall and pray.