Around the Loop: The FOX in the WWE Henhouse

Big Money, Big Exposure, Big Dog

For those of us with an orbit around multiple geeky celestial bodies, FOX media is taking up a fair bit of space in the room. For the comic book geeks, it’s the excitement over the sale of FOX studios to Disney which will reunite the X-Men and Fantastic Four with the rest of the Marvel Universe. Meanwhile, in the universe of sports entertainment, it’s the six billion dollar television deal that will move SmackDown Live to Friday nights on FOX starting this fall.

Why is the FOX deal so significant? Well, any time you put the word “billion” in a sentence while talking dollars, something big is happening. In this case, big money is pouring into the WWE to bring prime time wrasslin’ to FOX. This, along with one-off paydays like the Saudia Arabia arena shows, pads already powerful numbers for the WWE and its shareholders.

Suffice to say, the McMahon family will be enjoying cheese on their Whoppers for some time to come. The question is, how will this money trickle down to talents?

The other big question is. what will this new level of exposure mean for the blue brand in terms of its creative direction? A bigger spotlight probably means more focus from WWE chair Vince McMahon, who many wrestling pundits point to as the reason for many of the creative problems that are dragging down Monday Night RAW. Specifically, they mention his seemingly endless desire to push Roman Reigns at the expense of pretty much everyone else on the roster. For good or worse, The Big Dog got the shove from the chairman of the board and fans were left to decide what to do with him.

Spoiler alert: Prior to his battle with leukemia, they booed him. They booed him really hard.

Fans felt like Roman had been pushed down their throats. They turned on him like they were the Big Show and he was their tag team partner. Now, after some time off to get well, Roman is back and he has brought some good will with him as he heads over to SmackDown Live following the Superstar Shakeup. Nobody wants to boo the guy that beat cancer, at least not yet. For a little while, Roman can Superman punch Elias and people will be into it. But will that last?

It’s clear that Vince sees Roman as his leading man. This means that he will be getting pushed to the top of the SmackDown Live card sooner than later with an inevitable title shot in the not too distant future. Standing in his way however, is feel-good champion Kofi Kingston. Taking the belt off of Kofi and giving it to Roman is a sure fire way to head right back to boo-urns county. How will they get it off Kingston prior to putting Roman in the hunt?

Is a rushed feud with Kevin Owen going to be the end of Kofi-mania? Is the calculation that having Owens beat Kofi will put the right kind of heat on KO to make a challenge from Roman what the people want? It’s a gamble but, in my estimation, one that seems straight out of the VKM playbook.

With a big deal and huge spotlight, Mr. McMahon will want to see his top guy making the towns, appearing on morning shows, and being featured heavily in promotional materials. While Kofi and his New Day friends sell a tonne of merch and have a groundswell of support right now, Vince has shown an immutable resolve toward pushing Roman as the face of his company.

So, enjoy Kofi-mania while you can because, with the Big Dog in the yard, it’s only a matter of time.

Cashing in too early at Money in the Bank

This past week, we got a pretty clear idea of our world, universal and women’s title matches for the upcoming Money in the Bank event: Seth Rollins will defend the universal title against AJ Styles, Kofi will (likely) battle Kevin Owens, and Becky Lynch will defend one or both of her belts against Lacey Evans.

Are we ready for these matches?

Seth vs AJ is a huge match. Two of the best workers in the game facing off with a championship on the line is about as big as it gets, but is this too soon? I say, yes. In the massive WWE roster, were there no B-list heels that Seth could run through first? Going straight to a face vs face title match means one of these guys is going to lose. Either Seth in his first major defence or AJ in his first ever universal title match. Maybe this pops a number for the MITB show. But long term, one of these top guys walks away with a loss they didn’t need a mere month into the road to WrestleMania 36.

On the world title side of things, Kofi is riding a wave of good vibes and fan support after his title win at WrestleMania. Right away, he is slotted with a guy fans really want to get behind as a babyface in Kevin Owens. I ask the same question here: was there no mid-level heel that Kofi could beat on his first outing as champion? Could Rowan have come for revenge on behalf of former champ Daniel Bryan? Again, whoever wins this one, someone walks away damaged by a loss. There was equity in babyface Owens that could have lasted until SummerSlam or beyond. With a turn this early, who is really left being surprised?

Lastly, Lacey versus Becky… too soon. Way too soon. Aside from walking up and down the aisle once a week for the past several months, what has Lacey done to deserve this match? One win over perennial second-place finisher Natalya does not a contender make. If anyone can walk down the aisle in a hat, punch the champion in the face and get a title shot, then what the heck is all the rest of the wrestling about? Who is Lacey? Why does she want to be champion? Why does she deserve to jump to the head of the line? I know it is best not to overthink a wrestling angle, but Evans was a standout for me down in NXT. I have found the sanding down of her gimmick and rushed push to the top of the card really disappointing. She is also in there with maybe the most popular performer on the roster in Becky Lynch. So, she gets a title match on her first try, likely loses, and then what? Where do you take the character after that?

At the risk of being a broken record, in all three of these matches, someone is going to have to take a main event loss on an early season card for no good reason. I’m not saying these won’t be good matches or that I’m not happy for the main event payday all the talents will receive. But I am saying that as far as the long term vitality of all characters involved goes, this just isn’t best for business.

The part of my column where I’m an NXT mark

Hot damn, was that Roderick Strong versus Johnny Gargano match this week great. The guys put on a clinic, moved forward an angle with tension in the Undisputed Era, and gave Matt Riddle the rub as a top babyface coming out to the aid of the outnumbered Gargano. Simple storytelling, great wrestling, and a hot crowd equal wrestling at its finest.

I’d also like to shout out the fantastic heel work of Kassius Ohno working on both NXT and NXT UK this week. Watching a talent get to perform, really perform, a character with motivations and goals, both inside the ring and in well put together backstage segments, is a real pleasure. I never followed the work of the former Chris Hero in his pre-NXT days, but the guy is at the top of his game right now. I hope he gets to carry some gold for his trouble before too long.

Lastly, I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Shana Baszler scares the shit out of me.

Til next time, keep those flaming tables lit and I’ll see you around the loop.

 

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