Doctor's Orders: February 6-10, 2017 - Pros and Cons From WWE This Week, Replacement Options For Triple H's Opponent at WM, & WWE's New Glass Ceiling
By The Doc
Feb 10, 2017 - 12:20:30 PM
”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE's top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.
Pros and Cons From WWE This Week
WWE's New Glass Ceiling
Replacement Options For HHH's Opponent At 'Mania 33
QUESTION OF THE DAY: What is your Win and Fail of the Week in WWE?
Monday Night Raw: Two Pros
-Samoa Joe followed up his surprising and highly impactful debut last week by both opening Raw this week with a strong debut main roster promo and closing Raw with a dominant overall performance and victory over Roman Reigns. It was almost odd to see him in a suit, but it simultaneously looked strangely appropriate on him in a manner that could not have been predicted. Now, if we could just get him to ditch the skirt-ish thing he wears while wrestling, he would be good to go. It is going to be interesting to see what sort of role Joe plays as we advance further down the Road to WrestleMania, as he will likely enter a reasonably cluttered Raw upper mid-card scene that already has one monster (the same one, Braun Strowman, who took a little bit of shine away from his first main roster match). That said, the manner in which he has been presented thus far, from the prominent spot as Triple H’s henchman to the “Destroyer” nickname to the lip service from Stephanie McMahon to the victory over WWE’s new Golden Boy, has to make you feel good if you’re a fan of his. Also of note was that Joe’s bookending of Raw gave reason not to go to bed early.
-Though the thought of Goldberg holding the Universal Championship further dialed down my present enthusiasm toward WrestleMania, the borderline undeniable fact of the matter is that Goldberg’s segments are engaging the audience and he is more than holding up his end of the bargain opposite whomever they put across from him in the ring. Is it annoying that he treats everyone who is not Brock Lesnar like Neville treats the peasants of the Cruiserweight division? Yes. Are those interactions with fresh talents like Kevin Owens well-performed, however? Yes. Does that then make it akin to a turd covered in rainbow glitter? Possibly. The composite is a situation in which I find myself enjoying the moment and abhorring the direction that the moments are leading to, but this is not supposed to be Pros and Cons about what is rumored to happen four weeks from now. So, KO ending up booked in a title match with Goldberg offers a blockbuster main-event for Fast Lane and also reignites the flames of the Owens-Jericho storyline after the saga had been cooled since Roadblock: End of the Line.
Monday Night Raw: One Con
-Raw was really good this week, so there was not much to criticize, but is The New Day ever going to do anything interesting? We know that they are an entertaining act and that they sell a ton of merchandise, but is that ever going to translate to a storyline that allows them to evolve as characters? Some thought that their Tag Team Championship reign became an albatross because WWE telegraphed for four months that they were going break Demolition’s 478 day record. Now that excuse is history. Two months later, they are still doing their same old thing. Have they not earned the right to be utilized in a more creative manner?
Smackdown Live: Two Pros
-It was cliché to start a go-home show before a PPV with several of the participants in a multi-man main-event in a lengthy talking segment. However, instead of furthering the cliché by doing a tag team match, as I saw so often in my days reviewing Smackdown during the TRL Era, Daniel Bryan booked a Fatal Four-Way that turned out to be a lot of fun. I actually started fast-forwarding past the match when it seemed apparent that it would be Ambrose in an odd couple pairing with one of the heels against the other two and then rewound when I realized that they were all fighting each other. The action was quickly paced and the finish was quite eye-opening; Baron Corbin pinning AJ Styles at least gave the appearance of The Lone Wolf being a bigger threat in the Elimination Chamber and surely fuels the idea that he might be the one who ends up facing John Cena at WrestleMania.
-The Elimination Chamber PPV could become the first time ever that three women’s matches take place on the same PPV (and, no, I do not count the pre-show…the PPV starts at 8PM ET and anything that takes place before that is, therefore, not on the PPV). Despite Nikki and Nattie reminding through their ineffective dialogue why there had to be a Revolution to restart the relevance of women’s wrestling in WWE, all three pairs of females are deserving of their spots should they all make the main card. During the dual contract-signing, Alexa Bliss showed why she might be the best character in the entire WWE women’s division, while Mickie James and Becky Lynch each displayed their own personic strengths; Naomi, in her first opportunity to speak at length in a meaningful situation in ages, stepped up to the plate and cut a fairly solid promo too. The quartet produced the strongest segment of Smackdown Live this week.
Smackdown Live: One Con
-WWE has an absolutely tremendous video production department capable of making a match between a blue pen and a black pen interesting, but there is no amount of video hype or commentating hyperbole that can make John Cena vs. Randy Orton exciting in 2017. I told myself going into Tuesday night that I would watch the latest bout in a rivalry that has struck few if any emotional chords with me since 2009 but, when the time came, I could not help but fast-forward until Luke Harper got involved. Had anyone of note beyond Mick Foley really put Orton over in the 2000s, then maybe The Golden Boy vs. The Apex Predator would have been that “generational” rivalry that they always claim it to be, but nobody ever did, so it’s probably not even in Cena’s Top 10. Just stop it, WWE…don’t be revisionists of history.
205 Live: Two Pros
-The Brian Kendrick’s role is great and this week’s show offered the chance to add some depth to the odds that his character is currently facing. Not only did he address Akira Tozawa as a star with lots of potential who he would like to make his protégé, but Tajiri came out after his defeat of Lince Dorado to spray him in the eyes with the mystical green mist. Any time that a WWE wrestler has multiple fronts to battle, it offers an added layer of flexibility as to what we can expect of him/her each week on TV; it helps to avoid linear, monotonous booking like we so frequently have seen on Raw for the last few years. One of the consistent strengths of 205 Live, thus far, has been the tendency to have each character develop numerous conflicts; thus, it is probably the most intelligently booked hour of WWE programming right now.
-Kudos to the five participants in the main-event for the #1 contendership to the Cruiserweight Title at Fast Lane. I echo LOP’s new 205 Live reviewer/recapper, Al.pYro, that it was the best match in 205 Live’s two month history, slightly edging out the highly entertaining “I Forfeit Match” from last month. The opening match of the night tied right into the last, giving the increasingly impressive Mustafa Ali a chance to shine in the spotlight against Ariya Daivari; either man could have conceivably won, adding an engaging measure of unpredictability to proceedings. The Fatal 5-Way could be viewed as a negative in theory, but the positive in it was that it re-enforced 205 Live’s modus operandi to keep a lot of its talents looking strong and positioning its roster accordingly by maintaining so many wrestlers within striking distance of the title. Ali was the clear underdog in the main-event and Noam Dar being a heel seemed to make him likely fodder given the character persuasion of the current titleholder, but any of the three between Cedric Alexander, TJ Perkins, and Jack Gallagher could have won the shot at Neville and it would have made sense.
205 Live: Zero Cons
-205 Live rarely does anything that I dislike. I’ve fast become a 205 Live mark.
The phrase “glass ceiling” in professional wrestling refers to a restriction in upward mobility that limits how high certain talents can reach on the hierarchy of success. For the longest time, it represented superstars deemed in some way exceptional who could never reach the top-tier spots in companies like WWE; and those top-tier spots were often represented by World Championship gold. However, during this decade, a new kind of glass ceiling has emerged, subtly at first and now as prominent as can be: WrestleMania.
Not to be mistaken with the kind of situation that someone like Zack Ryder faced in having been a member of the WWE roster for ten years before his theme music was played on the grandest stage, the above-referenced WrestleMania glass-ceiling is specifically indicative of the modern phenomenon that sees a star emerge as a bankable commodity utilized consistently as a major-player from April through January, but who then gets reduced to a lesser position once WrestleMania Season swings fully into high gear. Created simultaneously during the rise of part-time wrestlers – here defined as stars who have but a handful of matches per 365 days – being given greater than half of the top spots at the biggest show of the year, this new glass ceiling places a premium on the number of regular roster members on the Mania marquee and puts a cap on the frequency of their significant contributions.
Take, for example, The Miz. In 2011, he was in the main-event at WrestleMania 27, where both the part-timer trend and the Mania glass ceiling first developed. In holding the WWE Championship, Miz broke through the glass ceiling by traditional standards, but considering that he has either been on the pre-show or in a 14-man tag, Battle Royal, or Ladder match at every Mania since 27, it would seem as though he found an altogether different glass ceiling to break, did he not? Sheamus has struggled to break through it as well. He was in a featured match with Triple H in 2010 and won the World Title in 18 seconds to open WrestleMania 28 in 2012, but he was bumped to the pre-show in between and proceeded to be six-man-tagged, battle-royaled, left off the card entirely even though healthy, and seven-man-tagged in the years that followed.
Two more recent examples would be Dean Ambrose and Rusev. While his former Shield-mates, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, have worked their way into the WrestleMania upper echelon, Ambrose has been picking up scraps. Though fortunate to essentially force his way onto the front of the Mania souvenir shirt with Brock Lesnar last year amidst a plethora of injuries, he was an also-ran on the 2015 card and appears headed for relegation back to a similar position of comparative irrelevance this year. Rusev, meanwhile, finished his incredible rookie campaign with a match against John Cena at WrestleMania 31, replete with a spectacular entrance that included a friekin' tank, but despite improving his overall skill set in the last two years, he will likely have had nothing to show for it on the grandest stage.
Contrast The Lunatic Fringe and Bulgarian Brute to CM Punk, who after three straight years of being in major matches with Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, and Undertaker, respectively, had pretty definitively shattered the “Show of Shows” glass ceiling; one could easily argue that winning the title a few times did not make him a “made man,” but that being involved in big matches at WrestleMania did. Going back to 2012, the year that the part-timer and Mania glass ceiling phenomena fully formed, and including the rumored card for 2017, only ten of thirty-six top three-level spots at Mania have been filled by wrestlers who debuted in WWE before 2002; and twenty-three of those aforementioned spots were occupied by part-time wrestlers. Putting that figure into greater context...throughout the entirety of last decade, only four part-time wrestlers were featured at WrestleMania (Vince and Shane McMahon, The Rock, and Mick Foley, unless you count Hulk Hogan in 2003).
Reflect on the 2000s and the modern Mania glass ceiling comes into sharper focus. After headlining WrestleMania 2000 and WrestleMania X8 and wrestling Taker in the semi-main-event in 2001, Triple H was forever more a superstar that would always be given the chance to showcase his abilities in a prominent way in late March/early April. Shawn Michaels re-joined him in that elite group in 2003, the same year that Kurt Angle joined the club; Orton, John Cena, Batista, and Edge would later become part of that upper class. Chris Jericho, during that period, sort of became the Jake Roberts of his generation, at least in regards to WrestleMania roster positioning, as he would more often than not be involved in, at the very least, spotlight bouts in the mid-card. Rey Mysterio reached a similar point in the latter part of the 2000s; Eddie Guerrero was poised to do the same before his untimely death. Even Chris Benoit and JBL, while perhaps not on the level as the others, were at least able to (mostly) avoid multi-man clusters and maintain a stature within WWE that afforded them chances at notable singles matches like Angle and Hunter, among others, regularly had earlier in their Mania careers.
As for this decade, the only stars to have broken through in the above described manner are Punk, Reigns, and Rollins, with Bray Wyatt definitively joining them presuming that rumors of a WWE Championship match this year at Mania are true (giving him arguably three top matches in four years). Half the number of superstars who broke through to being consistently featured performers at WrestleMania have emerged in the last seven years as compared to the seven years between 2001 and 2008.
Playing off of the idea that the World Title is no longer the Holy Grail in professional wrestling, but rather headlining WrestleMania is, the 2000s produced nine first-time “Showcase of the Immortals” main-eventers (HHH, Jericho, Angle, Lesnar, Benoit, Batista, Cena, Edge, and Orton). All of them are well-regarded at least when it comes to their overall WrestleMania resumes during that time. Since 2011, there have been three (Miz, Bryan, and Reigns) and only one of them (Roman) has an overall Mania resume that comes close to even the weakest of the nine from last decade. Those numbers only serve to magnify the issue at hand.
This year, Kevin Owens is poised to get bumped out of the way so that two part-timers can compete for the Universal Championship. A proposed match with Jericho, while a step-up from a popcorn Ladder match a year ago, would still get relegated to mid-card spot-duty by comparison and perception. AJ Styles, consensus MVP of WWE in 2016, lost the WWE Championship to make room for lukewarm acts in the title picture and “free him up” to reportedly do battle with Shane McMahon in a match that has The Phenomenal One's most ardent supporters seething. Though his grand stage positioning in his two initial forays would compare favorably to the positions of wrestlers from the 2000s like Angle, had Styles been as over then as he is now, he would have likely advanced into a Top 3-level spot. Both AJ and KO will be the latest victims, in all likelihood, of the WrestleMania glass ceiling and the part-timer problem that caused it.
Just when it finally got interesting, it may have all fallen apart. Triple H vs. Seth Rollins at WrestleMania 33 was something we could see coming from a mile away as far back as last year’s “Show of Shows” in Dallas, but with The Architect suffering an untimely knee injury last week on Raw, it would appear that those plans are likely going to be postponed. Taking off the wrestling analyst hat for a moment and dipping into my real world job, though orthopedics is not my specialty, MCL tears are separated into three categories and, if reports are true and Rollins will be out upwards of eight weeks, then it suggests his MCL tear falls into the worst of the basic classifications. If reports are wrong, then Rollins could quite easily make it back for WrestleMania, as the recovery time for MCL repairs of lesser severity is about a month (maybe six weeks).
Let us, for the next few minutes, assume that Rollins is out. What does that mean for Triple H? Here are five options listed in order from least to most likely. Would be interested in knowing which scenario you favor of these five or if you have any other suggestions.
The Nearly Impossible
Triple H deciding not to wrestle is probably a pipe dream, but the longer he waits to step back into the ring for his next match, the more highly anticipated it will be and the bottom line really is that there is no need for WWE to rush an angle just so that Trips can get on a card for WrestleMania 33 that already features established draws such as Undertaker, Goldberg, and Brock Lesnar. For this Mania cycle, WWE is all set on part-timers brought in to boost the appeal of the biggest show of the year to casual fans. If Rollins vs. Triple H were to be postponed until Summerslam and the Summer Classic were then to feature matches involving both Lesnar (presumably) and The Game, it would just make the next of the Big Four that much more appealing to potential new subscribers and give Summerslam a bankable match that was penciled in for two straight WrestleManias.
No rumor mill is necessary to suggest that Triple H wants to wrestle at Mania. He keeps himself in peak physical condition for his one-to-three matches per year, so “The Showcase” could be in Poughkeepsie instead of Orlando (where NXT is based) and he would still want to be on that card. His open spot could elevate one or two other wrestlers, though, and rumors seem to indicate that this will be a Mania light on elevation of fresher talents.
The Highly Unlikely
Rather than shuffle the deck in such a way that would scrap other planned matches, the most logical choice from this particular analyst’s perspective would be to position someone opposite Triple H at WrestleMania that was not previously planned for a top-level match. If the original goal of The Game’s match had been to help get Rollins to the next level of his career, then why not maintain that goal and put Hunter in a match with one of the members of The New Day like Big E? No rumored card has New Day anywhere near a big match, but they were one of if not THE top merchandise seller in the company last year; surely they have earned a step up the hierarchy regarding their Mania role.
It would offer WWE a chance to gauge the readiness of Big E for the main-event spotlight in 2017 and simultaneously offer him, Kofi, and Woods a platform to change up their routine and get a little bit more serious; and, from a creative standpoint, The New Day were one of the acts that storyline-befriended Rollins after he turned babyface in addition to having had their issues with Stephanie McMahon in the past.
The Diehard Fan-Favorite
AJ Styles is the name that keeps popping up on my social media feeds, as disgruntled fans unsatisfied by his loss of the WWE Championship and by a rumored match with Shane McMahon at Mania would see The Phenomenal One given an opponent in Triple H with whom he could showcase closer to the fullest range of his capabilities. On paper, it is a match that Hunter would undoubtedly enjoy as well – one that would afford him the caliber of opponent that he was already planning to work with and one that would allow him to play the kind of role that he was planning to play against Rollins. Triple H is at his in-ring best in modern times when playing the heel that holds the newer, smaller talent down; his matches with Daniel Bryan and Dean Ambrose in recent years were excellent in part because his character dynamic was so simple and natural. Styles definitely fits that same mold, arguably even better than Rollins does.
Unfortunately, Styles has been WWE’s top heel for the last eight months and a match with Triple H would require an abrupt personic shift. Simply put, it does not make as much sense when you move the concept of the match from paper to the creative deployment phase. Could it be made to work? Absolutely. Would it be best for both of them? Undeniably. It just does not seem all that plausible, though, does it?
The Possible, But Not Probable
Should WWE decide to just tweak the story they were attempting with Rollins and play up to the NXT tie-in for Triple H, then a whole host of options prevent themselves. Sami Zayn would be a natural fit, as would Finn Balor, because they were both regarded as the faces of Triple H’s brand and could offer a lot of unique material to throw at Hunter’s creator/destroyer character. The match structure would work well too for the same reason as it would be expected to work with Styles or Rollins. Balor we already know WWE is willing to push to that kind of level from Summerslam 2016 evidence, while Zayn has been pushed strongly enough against Braun Strowman that it would not be totally out of left field.
Another option of a similar ilk would be Kevin Owens as Triple H’s opponent with the added bonus of keeping the Universal Championship at stake. There are some problems with the character dynamics in that situation that are non-factors against Balor or Zayn, but Owens brings to the table that he was the recipient of Triple H’s anti-Rollins campaign last August. On the other hand, KO would likely be telling almost the same story with Trips as Rollins would, so that probably cannot work, no matter how intriguing it might be.
The Most Likely
Shane McMahon is the odds on favorite to take the Rollins spot from what has been reported to date. It was a match that we heard a lot of rumblings about a year ago and there are a lot of fans that want to see it for a wide variety of reasons. WWE having already settled on their yearly part-timer exclusive Mania match in Goldberg vs. Lesnar, Trips against Shane is not going to be a preferred option for a lot of people that are already feeling jaded by the sheer volume of non-regular roster members in top Mania spots this year; it would mean that two wrestlers originally scheduled to be paired with modern stars would then end up facing each other, further proving what they showed last year when their hand was forced that they are going to look at the past before thinking about the present or future when these types of situations arise.
That said, there is a wealth of material that could realistically be thrown together hastily for a last minute storyline audible comparable to 2016’s Taker vs. Shane change from Taker vs. Cena. There is real life heat between Shane and Trips/Steph that could be exploited for TV and last year proved that fans of all persuasions have a large appetite for McMahon family drama. They only scratched the surface during the lead-up to the Shane-Taker match a year ago; large parts of the audience would get sucked right into that stuff again, that much is a borderline guarantee.
Here’s hoping that Rollins either is projected to return soon enough that they do not scrap the Trips-Seth match right away or that one of the more attractive options above is chosen.