Doctor's Orders: February 13-16, 2017 - #AskTheDoc on Part-Timers, $150 Million Dollar Man, & Modern Drawing Power, Monday Night Raw's Recent Improvements, and WWE Elimination Chamber Review
By The Doc
Feb 16, 2017 - 6:15:50 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.
#AskTheDoc Answering Reader Questions From Social Media
Wait…Is Monday Night Raw Actually Good Again?
WWE Elimination Chamber Review
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Would you ever want to see an NXT takeover angle on WWE TV? If so, how would you do it?
David asks, “If you were Vince, who would you push as the top guy going forward?”
AJ Styles in the short-term while WWE collectively comes to the realization that nobody they have groomed will be able to reach a level of popularity necessary to supplant John Cena until they reduce the number of creative shackles currently in place. Styles, like Bret Hart or Shawn Michaels in the mid-1990s, is the most over member of the roster who is around every week and, with the promotional machine working in his favor, could pull a CM Punk and sell a bunch of merchandise to kids; also like Bret or HBK, Styles could bridge the gap between Cena becoming a part-timer and the emergence of the ideal WWE Superstar with the “it” factor and (relative) youth to be the face of the company for the long-term.
Joe asks, “When is the hardcore title finally coming back?
Though you can never say never, probably never. There is just no reason to bring it back. Hardcore wrestling lost its luster by being featured weekly and its modern equivalent would suffer the same fate.
Daniel writes, “While most have enjoyed Smackdown's TV over Raw, they are getting closer to burning out all 'fresh' available feud opportunities and their face/heel turns have left a lot to be desired with the resulting follow up & push.” He then asks, “What's needed for them to succeed in 2017 post mania and beyond?”
First, the introduction of one or two fresh talents from NXT or someone via trade with Raw inserted into the fold straightaway once WrestleMania Season is over would freshen up the scene and allow more flexibility with moving around the chess pieces. Second and most importantly, the continued development of the talents who are or who could be on the cusp of getting into the main-event picture. The writing team needs to be careful not to bungle The Miz’s re-ascent to the top, as he could carry the brand if his momentum is not squandered, as I feel Dolph Ziggler’s was when he was coming off such a strong fourth quarter of 2016.
Talent deployment is key. Baron Corbin, for instance, has not had a full-fledged feud at present time with any of Smackdown’s top stars. If they continue to develop him, he could step right into a major role by mid-year. Figuring out a way to better utilize wrestlers who are three or four steps away from being significant players is an always important task that Smackdown has not done well yet amidst their otherwise praise-worthy six months, post-split. Unlocking Apollo Crews as a character would be a nice boost for Smackdown’s long-term outlook, but they could also bring in a more ready-made personality from NXT for the spot AC currently occupies and said talent might have immediately brighter long-term prospects. While figuring out who they want the likes of Crews to be, it would help them build for the future if they did more with their tag team division too.
Smackdown generally does well to take its time and not rush through various angles, so if they keep up what they’ve been doing, they should be fine.
Caleb and The Quizzical One ask, “When should the WWE to scale back their dependence on older stars for Wrestlemania?”
The honest answer is that it will happen either because they organically decide that they can create big matches that would attract casual viewers using their regular roster members or because the formula that they have been using that involves so many part-timers stops producing at the box office. As annoyed as many of us get by their strategy, the clear reason why they do it is money and interest from casual fans.
Rich asks, “What do you think is the best WrestleMania match from each ten year set 1-10....11-20.....21-30?”
Bearing in mind that my definition for best and definition for greatest are not the same…
WM 1-10 it was Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart, with all due respect to Savage vs. Steamboat. The latter had a more frenetic pace, but that extra six-minutes allotted for Bret-Owen allowed the key parts in the story the space to breathe – to more flowingly earn your attention and reaction.
WM11-20 it was Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho. It was the best example from that stretch of how to build a compelling angle and conclude it with a thoroughly engaging in-ring story.
WM21-30 it was Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle. Again, if we’re talking greatest, my answer would be different, but for the same reasons that HBK-Y2J earned the nod from me for 11-20, Angle vs. HBK earns it for 21-30; incredible build-up and marvelous storytelling once the bell rang.
Mark asks, "Do you think there should/will be a draft, this year? If so, who would you draft where and why?"
I'm actually hoping that they do away with the draft. I think that there should be a free agent period instead that shuffles a few pieces around rather than creates the kind of upheaval to which past drafts were prone. No matter how they go about it, I think Cesaro or Sheamus and The New Day should move to Smackdown and start wrestling for singles titles; they would all benefit from Smackdown's creative attention to detail. I would like to see American Alpha moved to Raw so that they could be utilized weekly; if they are not afforded any creative attention, they could at least on Raw be allowed to wrestle each week.
Nicholas asks, "Do you think WWE will ever give up on pushing who they want and start pushing based off organic growth?"
They will eventually, but I'm unsure when that will be. Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, and The Shield were all pushed because the fans wanted them to be. It has only been recently that WWE has gotten into such a poor pattern of forcing things that they want ahead of what the most vocal fans demand. WWE's momentum will have to cool on the economic side of things for them to change, though, because what they're doing is stimulating record financial quarters for revenue. In fairness, we all tend to look at the worst case scenario, which right now is Roman Reigns, who by all rights should be a heel because he's not charismatic enough to be John Cena 2.0. However, they're still pushing hard Kevin Owens, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, AJ Styles, Bray Wyatt, Finn Balor, etc.
Joe asks, "What's your favorite finishing move?? And what's the most devastating in your opinion?"
My favorites are the most devastating these days. Any move that involves spiking the head into the mat therefore gets the nod from me, so the Pedigree, the Tombstone, the Styles Clash, the Curb Stomp (before it was retired), and Dirty Deeds are in a dead heat.
Eric asks, "Should X-Pac have won the King of the Ring in 1999 instead of Billy Gunn?"
I was actually at that show in Greensboro. I do not think X-Pac should have won that year. It made sense to try Billy Gunn is a headliner, however poorly it worked out.
Muhibbur asks, "How interested you will be in if WWE goes forward with Miz/Maryse vs Cena/Nikki?"
It really and truly depends on how good they build it up on TV. On paper, I think it's a waste of a healthy John Cena, but I think it's an obvious step-up for The Miz to be on the marquee with the Golden Boy again. Miz has been a Mania afterthought for six years (since his last marquee match with Cena). It strikes me as the type of thing that could be very entertaining in a small dose, like Macho Man and Sherri vs. Dusty Rhodes and "That SWEET SAPPH-IRE!" in less than ten-minutes at Mania VI. Let's put it this way....I can be sold on it.
James asks, "Has Cena officially entered the part-timer club?"
It looks that way. When healthy, Cena was around for no more than two-and-a-half months at a time last year and reports are saying that he will be gone after WrestleMania for another hiatus. It's a good thing. It has been time for a couple of years. He's got a lot left to give, but he doesn't need to give his time in the same way that he used to and it'll keep him fresher on account of not being so visible on WWE TV.
Alastair asks, "When guys like Ambrose and Wyatt get top level title runs, does this represent a shift in how WWE understands its fans or is it just a brief gesture to keep the IWF happy for a month or two?"
I rather think it's representative of WWE's modern tendency not to think more than one step ahead. A month ago, Orton vs. Wyatt looked like a mid-card match at Mania and now it's going to be for the WWE Title. I don't think that's coincidental when you consider that Ambrose wasn't exactly a house of fire when he randomly got positioned to win the title a week before Money in the Bank. Given the emphasis that the company places on WrestleMania, I think the talents who win the title at Mania or carry the belt into Mania are far more likely to be regarded as the ones who WWE values most, as opposed to becoming World Champion being the indicator of their value in the minds of the WWE higher-ups.
Alastair also asks, "Also, if Wrestlemania 34 were to avoid featuring any legends or part-timers, what sort of reaction would it get?"
That's the thing; the legends serve a very specific purpose of attracting casual viewers, so it's highly unlikely that we'll see anytime soon a WrestleMania totally devoid of them. If we did, the reaction would be “the biggest show of the year feels like any other show of the year with a football stadium crowd instead of a basketball arena audience and more theatricality than usual.” The formula technically works, but it’s like a football team that commits too much to the run and not enough to the pass (or vice versa); there is not enough of a balance. If it was all current roster guys, they would have to produce excellent pre-match stories on an epic scale to induce the WrestleMania aura. We do not need all-or-nothing; we have to find a common ground that allows more than ten out of thirty-six top Mania spots to go to all-year talents and we should be good.
Paul asks, “Do you think there is going to be a NXT takeover type thing on the main roster, especially looking at the current champions?”
Personally, I think that’s one of those ideas that work far better on paper. Theoretically, it could be engaging. In actuality, I just don’t know if there’s enough interest in it. Let’s use this is a polling opportunity – do you want to see an NXT takeover angle on the main roster? How would you make it work?
Derek asks, “Given where he is at as a character right now, what can Roman Reigns do to make his probable storyline/feud with the Undertaker interesting?”
Play the heel in a situation that naturally calls for him to do so given Undertaker’s relationship with the fans. The whole “my yard” type of rhetoric from Reigns will engage viewers who have no desire to see him be the guy who takes out Taker for good, as their match will likely threaten to do given that Taker was basically set to retire last year in a match with Cena. His mannerisms should show no fear and it should be built as a Roman the young lion ready to slay WrestleMania’s king. All that I suggest is that people then not waste their time wondering why WWE is pushing him so hard to be the babyface when he so clearly is better suited to play a heel. I’m telling you right now – Taker vs. Reigns is going to be a classic.
Rance asks, “What constitutes a draw in your eyes, and who would you say are draws in wrestling in 2017?”
That is one of the hardest questions to answer about today’s product. WWE is arguably now the draw in and of itself as opposed to being reliant on one or two top talents to attract a bulk of the interest. I don’t think that TV ratings are the same kind of indicator that they used to be because they have been steadily decreasing no matter who has been on top. If Goldberg, who draws ratings now, was consistently part of WWE’s relatively monotonous Raw programming, the numbers would very likely regress back to the previous standard once the fans tuning into see him realized how mundane WWE’s top TV show generally is. So, a draw today is someone who sells a lot of merchandise, has a strong presence in the media (social and mainstream), and appears at the top of most special event cards, all in an effort to basically help WWE maintain their status quo, which to be fair has brought in record revenues for something like eight straight financial quarters dating back to 2015. The wrestling world today is largely what the NBA would be like if ESPN covered it a few times a week with talk shows and highlights, but all the games took place on a streaming version of NBA TV; we would have no real indicators anymore as to what truly draws, at least by comparison to traditional measures.
Martin states, “In Baseball, Bryce Harper will be a free agent come next season. He said he'll be looking for a $400 Million contract that will span 10+ years.” He then asks, “In Wrestling, who could justify a contract this long and that lucrative? Dollar amount adjusted for industry scale, of course.”
In my opinion, $150 million over ten years would be the WWE equivalent based on some of the figures I’ve read over the years about total earnings through WWE for top stars.
John Cena could have commanded that a decade ago. Throughout his thirties, he has been such a great ambassador to WWE while up until recently proving himself to be the ultimate multi-tasker, capable of wrestling a full-time WWE schedule and doing movies, talk shows, commercials, etc. on top of it. He was also durable enough to be able to consistently keep so much on his plate to the point that, even when he did have to go under the knife, he rehabbed so relentlessly that he proved a modern medical marvel and beat the timetable for his return repeatedly. John Cena is a machine; he is also not thirty years old anymore and expecting him to keep the same pace for another decade would be unrealistic, making such a lucrative investment unwise.
Unfortunately, he is the only logical answer to your question. Nobody else in the company is checks off all the boxes for what someone who could command that kind of offer would need to bring to the table.
Hitesh asks, “I'd like to see Raw be an Entertainment brand and SD a Sports brand like WWE and NWA in the late 80s. Do you think that could work?”
I think it’s an awesome idea. How they would go about executing something like that has always fascinated me. Ideally, I’d like to see Smackdown be booked like it was in 2002 and Raw booked more like it was either in the Attitude Era or at least like it was during Bryan’s run at the top of the card in 2013 with the constantly flowing narrative that hooked you week to week. Smackdown circa ’02 made you look forward to the next big match; Raw made you look forward to the next plot twist.
Andre asks, “Why is it so hard for the IWC to embrace older stars, even though they get the biggest pop during live events?”
I think it honestly boils down to a general desire to see the product move forward instead of live in the past. Having the part-timers come back is like going to a high school reunion; it’s fun for a night but, at the end of the day, high school has been over for a long time. While it may be enjoyable to occasionally reminisce about the old days – hell, it may even bring about intense feelings that few things in your present life can match – you want to create new memories that outshine the old ones and that involve the people that matter to you in the here and now.
Over the weekend, I was watching Batman vs. Superman with my wife. When we reached the scene where Superman utters the name, “Martha,” triggering the end of the superhero babyface match for the ages and transitioning them to the same page opposite common foes, I paused the film to show her a meme that was popular when the movie released last year; the meme had a picture of that scene, the two DC Comic titans realizing that their moms were both named Martha and one of them saying to other, “Does that make us best friends now?”
I flashed back to that moment while watching Monday Night Raw, which as it faded to black left me yet again intrigued to see what might happen next week and I had a comedic, Batman vs. Superman meme-like thought filled with images of the last several weeks worth of Raw episodes with a caption that read: “Wait, is Raw actually good now?”
While the show will continue to suffer from being three hours long, it only takes about an hour or so to watch the more eventful happenings each week thanks to the power of the fast-forward button, so the bare minimum thing that Raw needs to do well is write compelling television for a third of the overall run-time to meet my modern definition of successful. When you explore the programming since the start of the New Year, you begin to recognize that, even though Raw is not without its flaws, it has achieved pretty well its bare minimum purpose better so far this year than last.
The February 13th episode was a great case-in-point. It featured parts that were mundane (see Roman and Stephanie in the opening segment), parts that were extremely puzzling (Emma to Emmalina to Emma?), and parts that were just filler (apologies to them, but The New Day have become irrelevant to the week-to-week product), but there were a few things that were just flat out awesome. Not every Raw in 2017 has been able to overcome the mundane, puzzling, and filler with awesome segments and matches, but a lot of them have – particularly the past three since the Royal Rumble.
Specifically looking at the standout moments from last night, Samoa Joe’s presence has been so very important to this year’s Road to WrestleMania through the initial post-Rumble trio of red-branded shows. This week, as he was a week ago, he was utterly outstanding. His sit-down interview with Michael Cole answered a lot of questions that often go unaddressed by WWE in similar situations. The cadence in his voice struck the right chords when asked about his past and about Triple H, who had basically become the elephant in the room to people who were concerned that Joe might just be The Game’s hit-man. Anyone unfamiliar with Joe before January 30th now surely sees him as a supremely confident fighting machine with the credibility to strike down any member of the roster. The combination of his attitude, his aggressive in-ring approach, and his underrated theme music has served to make him an instant hit. It will be exciting to see what he will do next.
Women’s Championship matches in the main-event of Raw have in recent history proved regularly exciting; Bayley dethroning The Queen was no exception. Judge Charlotte vs. Bayley against the women’s matches from WWE television and pay-per-view in 2017 and you have what stood out as, by a wide margin, the most impressive female performance of the year to date. The little timing issues that plagued their solidly unspectacular outing at the Rumble were absent last night and the end result was a top notch match that continued the advancement of how women’s wrestling is perceived by the fanbase at large. Charlotte will presumably get her rematch at Fast Lane and continue her PPV title defense undefeated streak; some will likely scoff at the formula (lose on TV, win on PPV) used to exacerbate the circumstances between her and Sasha Banks being utilized again with Bayley, but it is difficult to deny the quality of the matches that prompt these title changes or the boost in excitement that they provide for Monday Night Raw.
Chris Jericho’s “Festival of Friendship,” meanwhile, exemplified a lot of what has made Y2J so good over the past year since turning heel last March. As years and years of history have proven, doing legitimately amusing comedy in WWE is not easy, yet Jericho has found something wildly entertaining that is actually quite funny. Take a moment, if you will then, to appreciate that said character will be absent for awhile in all likelihood as his persona shifts tonally to deal with the aftermath of his rather sudden break-up with Kevin Owens.
What a roller coaster ride of a segment, huh? The timing of the reveal that the gift given to Jericho by the Universal Champion was really a sign of Y2J’s impending doom was perfect, not just because of Jericho’s reaction and tone of voice when he saw his name on the list, but also because of the slower reveal that the clipboard read, “The List of KO” rather “The List of Jericho.” That Triple H met with Owens backstage, hinting at the possibility of a long-awaited loose-end – what sort of relationship do they have? – being tied up, only amplified the intrigue of it all. Beat-downs of that magnitude often spark memorable rivalries; you can mark me down as someone whose interest in WrestleMania received a much-needed shot in the arm as a result of that lengthy segment.
Speaking of WrestleMania, much of the concern that many fans and I have shared regarding the general format of “The Show of Shows” in recent years has been magnified by some very lackluster creative “Roads.” To say that it often felt like WWE was going through the motions and coasting off of WrestleMania’s previously-established reputation would not be unfair. However, there has, to this point at least, been a renewed sense of creative verve, with several engaging but not outrageous plot twists and a handful of must-see moments already this WrestleMania Season; if they keep it up, the dissenting opinions will slowly quiet down.
Elimination Chamber was the greatest challenge yet for the Smackdown brand’s smaller roster, given that six of their stars who would have been used to create depth in a hypothetical trio of singles matches were all wrapped up in the titular gimmick bout. The blue team was tasked with executing an over three-hour show to boot.
Your opinion of the success or failure of last night’s pay-per-view likely hinged on how you felt about the three women’s matches. The strength of the Smackdown women’s division was utilized to its fullest extent to fill out the line-up; for the first time ever, three women’s matches were featured on a WWE special event. The night’s opening contest between Mickie James and Becky Lynch was perhaps the most intriguing on paper and seemingly the most likely of the women’s matches to boost the overall card with its quality, but it was arguably the weakest of the three in execution. Though it was a solid effort featuring a creatively designed and crisply performed finish, it came across like they were holding something back for later (** ½) and, considering that there may not be another PPV “later,” that was a little off-putting.
James vs. Lynch certainly did not fit the definition of “hot-opener.” The Women’s Championship match between Alexa Bliss and Naomi would have been a better fit in that spot, not just because of the shocking conclusion that saw the veteran win the title but also because of the style and pace of the action. Though Bliss and Naomi had the shortest of the women’s bouts, they packed more into their run-time than did their peers (** ¾). It was not perfect in execution, granted, but it was a lot of fun and showcased a new dimension to what Bliss can achieve in the ring after several, more methodical performances with Becky. Curious to see how you feel about Naomi winning the title given the hot streak that Bliss had been on since last fall.
Each of the women’s bouts brought something to different to the table. Becky and Mickie brought a certain in-ring savvy, Bliss and Naomi brought high octane athleticism, and Natalya vs. Nikki Bella brought – at least last night – a superior brand of in-ring storytelling. Neither Bella nor Neidhart are good enough combinations of character and wrestler to achieve much more than they did at Elimination Chamber. However, for what they were trying to achieve, they did very well and told an enjoyable story. On the other hand, after so many teases of their in-ring confrontations over the past two months on TV had ended in brawls that seemed to suggest a PPV climax, it was a little disappointing that they went with a double count-out. Had they capped off what they had done for the first thirteen-minutes with a more engaging final ten seconds, it would have been the definitive third best match of the night in my opinion (** ¾).
Overall, the three women’s matches pretty well summed up my opinion of the entire show: above average. The space between Becky vs. Mickie and Nattie vs. Nikki was occupied by exemplifications that Smackdown does not yet have a very deep roster. Tag Team Turmoil was alright, especially once it got down to the final three teams. In fact, American Alpha absolutely benefited from their role on the card, having defeated both The Usos and The Ascension in such a way that made them feel like underdogs instead of the prohibitive favorites that they rightfully were (** ¾). Four out of the six teams involved, though, are basically jabronis at this point thanks to Smackdown’s biggest creative weakness since the split – ineffective use of the tag division overall. If you disagree with that last statement, then perhaps you believe the handling of Apollo Crews is the blue team’s top creative weakness. Did anyone benefit from the Crews and Kalisto vs. Dolph Ziggler match? It looked like a pre-show match and it was essentially wrestled like one.
The most interesting matches last night involved The Wyatt Family. Given the heavily rumored plan for WrestleMania 33’s WWE Championship situation, the manner in which Luke Harper and Randy Orton wrestled was one of the major talking points going into the night. Harper was the clear babyface in the match and Orton the ultra clear heel instead of the tweener he might have been expected to be. Maybe it proves to be too much of an assumption between now and late March, early April that Orton’s decision to “join them” last October was merely a means to infiltrate and destroy from within? What if Orton’s role ends up being to turn Wyatt’s dynamic around? Anyhow, Orton vs. Harper was a good status-quo match, easily the second best on the show, that came across to me in the end like a match simply needed to fill PPV time that ultimate advanced nothing (*** ¼). It was great to see Harper get that kind of singles spotlight as quite possibly the most underutilized talent on the roster, though.
As for the main-event, it was a strong candidate for the best iteration of the Elimination Chamber match. Though the Smackdown versions in 2009 and 2011 would still rank ahead of it on my list, the 2017 edition delivered in spades.
The revamped structure made the match presumably safer by replacing the old chain-outside-the-ring surface with what appeared to be similar to a typical wrestling canvas with a black covering; it also situated the pods to make them easier to climb and more amenable to high risks. The changes seemed to cultivate an environment ripe for an awesome performance and the six participants did not waste the experience. John Cena and Miz, as Chamber veterans, played their roles well and the four competitors making their Chamber debuts took full advantage of both the revised anatomy of the beast and of the opportunity to shine that the gimmick generally affords. Cena and AJ Styles anchored the presentation, Dean Ambrose added a devil-may-care flavor to the mixture, Baron Corbin looked strong during his time in the match and might have sparked an Intercontinental Title rivalry with Ambrose on his way out, The Miz was the perfect coward in his limited duty, and Wyatt stepped up to produce one of his finer outings in over a year (**** ¼).
In addition to being a great match, it gave us our twist on the Road to WrestleMania needed to turn WWE away from the temptation of running Orton vs. John Cena further into the ground. Wyatt is the new WWE Champion, ending a fairly lousy eighteen months for his character by comparison to his first two years on the main roster with the biggest night of his career.
The Chamber match put the stamp on an enjoyable evening of WWE viewing. For much of the night, I had a feeling eerily reminiscent of Smackdown brand-only events from twelve years ago that were regularly underwhelming and EC2K17 was quite comfortably the most anemic Smackdown show of brand split 2.0 but, thanks to the Chamber, last night’s PPV watches in hindsight as a program that built slowly and peaked brilliantly. If TLC and Backlash were dramatic touchdowns for the blue team, Elimination Chamber was a field goal.