The helicopters are no longer overhead, the fireworks are nothing but smoke in the wind, and the men and women of WWE are doing what they always do after their biggest night of the year: getting back on the road.
It’s interesting to me that so much focus is put on the road to WrestleMania, when the life of a WWE superstar is nothing but roads leading from one town to the next. It’s a crazy life, one that is filled right now with the promise of another year of stories, injuries, comings, goings, and all the other ups and downs of being a pro-wrassler.
I enjoyed Mania weekend, taking part by way of the WWE Network, in NXT TakeOver, most of the Hall of Fame ceremony and the grand-daddy of them all, WrestleMania itself.
I wish I could say that I was the type of industrious fan that watched the ROH/New Japan thing or scoured the internet for clips from the dozens of shows that popped up across New York, but that’s not me. My main event was NXT TakeOver, a show that I absolutely loved. I watched Mania, as I do now, with one finger on the fast forward option after PVR-ing the show. I also watched all of this week’s post-Mania programming. This column is the end of a busy week for me orbiting the WWE universe.
The WWE Hall of Fame is weird
I have never watched an entire Hall of Fame ceremony before. I have heard tales of the endless speeches, seen some clips here and there, but I never tucked in to watch the whole thing. From the red carpet to the crowd, to the speeches and use of the giant video entrance screen, it’s about as pro-wrestling an event as you can imagine. It didn’t help matters that two of the most gimmicky wrestlers of all time, The Honky Tonk Man and Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, both went in this year, but just the nature of the event is hard to imagine if you aren’t aware that it exists. It is a Hall of Fame put on by the owners of the Hall of Fame. It’s the worlds biggest wrestling (sorry, sports entertainment) company patting itself on the back. On one level, it’s a little obnoxious. But, if not for WWE recognizing these performers for their contributions to the genre, then who would? It’s kind of sweet. There are no Oscars of wrestling unless you count a poll in the Observer, which I don’t.
As much as the speeches dragged and it all seemed weirdly self-congratulatory, it was also nice to see old stars get their due. It’s nice that Vince gives everyone this chance to dress up and get together, even if you aren’t supposed to say his name during your speech.
The hardest thing for me was seeing them finally give Chyna her due, even if it was only as part of D-Generation X. She deserves to go in on her own. There is no question of that. But, truthfully, she made a lot of porn films and WWE exists, in many ways, to sell action figures. No judgment for the porn, or The Surreal Life or any of the choices she made, but I do understand where the WWE is coming from by taking her re-introduction to fans slowly. I wish she could be around to see it. I wish she got to walk out and tower over Becky Lynch like only she could. I wish we could see her get to make that return walk that everyone who comes home gets eventually.
Sadly, those things can’t happen. But at least this is a start in recognizing the Ninth Wonder of the World for what she is: the women’s evolution before the women’s evolution was a thing.
WWE as Feel Good, Inc.
The WWE has a heel problem. Looking down the roster, only one heel champion, Samoa Joe, remains with his hands on some gold. [Of course, now that it looks like Braun is going after him, those days are probably numbered.] It wasn’t a clean babyface sweep at Mania but boy, oh, boy, was the smiles-on-faces machine working overtime.
Kofi, Becky, Seth, Balor, the freakin’ Major Brothers: all had feel-good WrestleMania Moment wins on the big card. Now, this isn’t a bad thing when you look at Mania as the end to a year’s worth of stories, but it does suggest that the WWE needs to spend some time building its roster of bad guy challengers to make all these new champions look good.
Characters like The Bar, Rusev, Lashley, and others have been beaten so many times, it is tough to pick a credible threat to the title reigns of any of the top guys on either brand.
With the monster that is the WWE roster right now, it might be time for some mid-card babies to take a few L’s and let the villains run that part of the yard to build them up as a greater threat.
NXT TakeOver was awesome
There are few instances where you can point to a wrestling match and say, that is a piece of art. One such match was the NXT Championship contest between Adam Cole (Bay! Bay!) and Johnny Gargano at TakeOver. The rest of the card was great, the crowd was red hot, and the commentary was spot on. But Cole and Gargano painted a masterpiece on that canvas. The final five minutes of that match was as good as wrestling gets. The crowd was on their feet, the hero won, and the emotion after was thick, tangible and genuine.
Special shout-out to the guys in the Undisputed Era that ran in and took their heel-goon bumps like the pros they are. Those three guys, Strong, Fish and O’Reilly made Gargano look like a superhero out there. Bumping and selling are an art form within the art form and those three had dry paint all over them.
I would also like to wish a very special rest in peace (respect to Mark Calaway) to the ribs of the Bruiserweight, Pete Dunne, after his match with WALTER. Goddamn, those chops were brutal.
So what comes next?
This time of year is always a great time to sit back and armchair book. The Shake-Up is around the corner, the post-Mania house cleaning is probably on deck, and the landscape of WWE champions has been reset for some fresh matches on top.
There seems to be a fair bit of “winner take all” talk right now, so maybe we will see fewer titles across the two brands. While I like the Blue vs Red thing, I think it would be a good move to simplify network events and put more focus on a limited number of championships versus a divided focus across the large number they have now.
I know it’s crappy to talk about roster cuts with any kind of enthusiasm, but I really think a solid house cleaning would do the WWE some good. Whether it is guys and gals making the call themselves or the classic future endeavors, it’s time for many superstars to move on. The talent that WWE has under contract between its many brands is staggering, and it is frustrating as a fan to see so many of them floating along, barely being used, or left off TV for months at a time. I understand padding house shows and having lots of talent in place for injuries, but it really feels like something has to give right now.
My final thought this week is one of relief for the NXT roster. While seeing Ricochet and Aleister Black go up is tough, it looks like the current crop of Performance Centre residents are staying where they are. Judging by the brand new open for the show and the lack of title changes at TakeOver, it seems like the status quo is more or less settled for the black and yellow brand. Not that I don’t want to see Johnny Gargano become just “Johnny” and work a go-nowhere program with No Way José, but I’m much happier to see Johnny as the big fish in a small pond rather than just another fish in the endless ocean that is the main roster.
Til we kill the next town, I’ll see you marks around the loop.