Less than 24 hours after the Fast Lane pay per view that left us with only a main event, WWE locked in a few more big matches for WrestleMania on Raw. However, both of those new directions ended up raising more questions than answers for the company’s big stars, and their aim as a whole.
Let’s start with Brock Lesnar. In the build up to the Royal Rumble, he was locking horns with Bray Wyatt and the rest of the Wyatt clan, even to the point that Lesnar’s elimination came at the hands of the Wyatts. He didn’t get any measure of revenge for that, with the storylines instead placed him into the Fast Lane main event for the WrestleMania title shot.
Of course, Lesnar didn’t get the win, and that led us to resume the Royal Rumble storyline with the Wyatts, right? Well, not quite. Instead, hours before Raw, WWE posted a video online of Dean Ambrose being attacked by Lesnar, before being taken to hospital. On Raw, Ambrose returned to take another beating, setting up a No Holds Barred match between the pair in what some are looking at as the real main event of the show.
Who’s the baby face here: Brock or Dean? How does that translate into post-WrestleMania business? Brock usually disappears from the scene shortly after WrestleMania, and unless WWE have lost their minds, Ambrose isn’t going to come out on the winning end here. Cue internet speculation that he’ll get such a beating, that he snaps and turns heel on Roman Reigns in the weeks after WrestleMania. Was Dean Ambrose really the grandiose idea that creative had for Brock when they blew off the storyline with the Undertaker at Hell in a Cell back in October?
Also, what happens to the cult quartet? After Sunday, Ambrose was seemingly the odd man out. Now though, we’re left Bray Wyatt left on the sidelines, one year after his WrestleMania showing against the Undertaker. At least there’s always the Andre the Giant battle royal for Bray and his clan…
Going back to the Deadman, what on earth has happened? After the initial plans for the end of the Undertaker/Lesnar trilogy to have been held at WrestleMania were blown off, the Internet rumour mill had him pegged for a match against Braun Strowman… then Sting… then John Cena, which would have been quite a comeback from the latest surgery for Cena. In fact, we’re left with the Undertaker stepping back inside the Hell in a Cell… to face Shane McMahon. With control of Raw on the line.
Raw saw the return of Shane-O-Mac after over six years away. That in itself is something of a welcome return, even if Shane is only going to be around for a short time. The last time Shane was on WWE TV was May 2009, where he suffered a storyline broken leg as his involvement in a feud with the Legacy (remember them? Randy Orton, Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes) came to an end. Six months later, Shane’s resignation from the company was made public, and since then, Shane has distanced himself from wrestling.
That’s not to say that Shane’s been out of the public eye; indeed, his name has been around the media somewhat in the sporting world, as he sits on the board of International Sports Management – a sports agency which once represented Northern Irish golfer Rory McIlroy. Shane also dabbled in digital media, much like he did in WWE back before that took off, as he currently remains chairman of a company called You On Demand, the first such business to provide video-on-demand and pay-per-view services in China.
So, why is Shane coming back? Well, it seems that this is WWE’s answer to filling the holes in the WrestleMania card. This is what Vince meant by his comment earlier in the month on the financial results’ conference call about how they were going to get creative. However, the very match he’s coming back for makes little sense in the long run. This raises some fairly basic questions from the start:
- What exactly did Vince do to “mess up big time” and force him to cut a deal with Shane that was never even hinted at? Was this a secret lawsuit after having his leg broken on TV… and if so, why did he not do this sooner, like, say, when Kane electrocuted his testes?
- On a similar note, did that electrical shock have a delayed reaction and leave Shane with his new, less bombastic voice?
- If Shane wins, who gets SmackDown? Is this teasing another brand split?
- Will they still be having a Hell in a Cell pay per view in October after having one at WrestleMania?
- Why is the Undertaker fighting on the side of Vince and the Authority? Did we all miss a turn here?
- Why did they openly bury the company on Raw, with Shane talking about the current spate of injuries? Unless Hunter and Steph were playing Tonya Harding, I don’t think they were directly responsible!
Of course, we could see a switch-a-roo here, with the theory of John Cena returning from injury after all, and we end up with Vince vs. Shane in opposing corners, almost like it were WrestleMania 2000 all over again. But let’s play Devil’s Advocate and assume that this living embodiment of a WWE 2K16 Universe video game mode is going to happen.
We’re not going to see a five-star technical classic, and within the confines of the Hell in a Cell, we are likely to see a return to the stunt show that Shane was so well known for back in the day. Whilst I don’t expect to see Shane recreating a Mick Foley-like dive off the top, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility to see Shane, even at 46, revert to his old crash test dummy style of wrestling.
The return of Shane to face the Undertaker highlights a point that has been made time and time again in recent years – and this could well have been used as part of Shane’s returning tirade against his sister and brother-in-law’s reign of terror. Looking at the top three matches at WrestleMania, we have two matches that involve a part-time performer, and a third match between two part-timers. This isn’t exactly a new trend, but it continues the problem that WWE has yet to tackle head on.
Back in November, when Seth Rollins went down with a knee injury, the company had a golden opportunity to create at least one new main event heel that would work with Roman Reigns in the short- and long-terms. Instead of a new heel, all we got was Sheamus, who was going to struggle to be accepted as a top-line heel, and with the creative team giving up almost immediately, it was worse than never trying at all. Of course, it can be hard to create a new star – whether face or heel – if you’re having to pluck from a pool of talent that has not been taken seriously in the first place.
Save for a few characters, the majority of the WWE roster languishes in a world of even-steven (at best) booking. Everybody beats everybody else, and when the time comes to elevate someone, it’s a tough job to break someone out of the pack… or at least, it can be in the wrong situation. Look over at New Japan – the recent loss of AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura robbed them of two singles stars who had been feuding over the company’s secondary Intercontinental title. In their absence, New Japan took Kenny Omega – previously a contender for the company’s junior heavyweight title – and moved him into the Intercontinental title picture, ultimately winning the vacated title. Prior to that, as part of the Bullet Club, Omega was on a good run, having won nine of his prior eleven matches before claiming the Intercontinental title. Now look at WWE’s midcard – and aside from Kevin Owens, who is on any kind of run that would stand out as being ripe for any sort of escalation up the card?
AJ Styles has built up quite the run since his WWE debut, with only one defeat against Chris Jericho. Alberto Del Rio has gone from winning the US title from John Cena in his return, to being continually beaten like a drum on TV. Bray Wyatt has been pretty much 50-50 as he meanders to WrestleMania, whilst the likes of Kane, Big Show and Ryback are pretty much stuck in the midcard, having languished there seemingly forever. And let’s not even joke about Neville, Fandango, Jack Swagger, the Social Outcasts or Zack Ryder…
The arguments surrounding WWE’s myopic booking of the top of the cards will remain, even though it has given them problems that they’re finding increasingly tough to work around. For now though, the short-term focus has to be on WrestleMania – and whilst a surprise return will give the company a short boost, it is by no means the silver bullet that they are looking for.