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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: July 10-14, 2017 - Jinder Mahal Was A Terrible Decision, Raw Sets Tone For Summerslam, & WWE Great Balls of Fire Review
By The Doc
Jul 14, 2017 - 1:59:10 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 worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.

Jinder Mahal Complaint

Monday Night Raw Review

WWE Great Balls of Fire Critical Review

I Can’t Get Over It; Jinder Mahal Was A Terrible Creative Decision

QUESTION OF THE DAY: If you have any non-snarky, non-"Don't Hinder Jinder" perspective to offer that might re-shape my opinion of what I'd call the dumbest creative decision in ten years, what is it?

I’m going to cut straight to the point and be very honest with you, ladies and gentlemen: I think WWE has made some fundamentally awful decisions in the last eight months and, while they may not have dampened my overall enthusiasm toward WWE, they certainly have triggered a more critical attitude toward the product. I am not becoming jaded so much as I find myself increasingly disappointed.

WWE fans have a well-earned reputation of being overly critical, but I think the tendency toward negativity is generally rooted in a desire to see the product be as good as it can be and often a feeling that it could be a lot better than it is. I have personally been looked at over the years as a bit of a WWE homer, far more apt to defend what they are doing than I am to condemn it even during years when it may not have seemingly deserved it; that is a reflection of my basic philosophy in life to embrace the good over the bad and ultimately to eliminate that which I do not enjoy. WWE is my greatest escape from the stresses of the real world, after all, so my stance when reviewing the product these past 13 years on LOP has been to fairly assess the ups and downs with an inherently enthusiastic bias.

Right now, though, I find myself feeling about WWE like a fan of a sports team would when it hires a coach who has never been a winner or trades its best player for paltry assets, or like an enthusiast of a film franchise that makes glaring errors in casting or creative. Sure, the behind-the-scenes people know more about the intricacies of their businesses than I do as a fan, but I have also been around long enough and have studied the ins and outs of the “game” long enough to be aware of questionable decision-making. I do my best to ascertain a balance between the desires of the fans and the economically-driven modus operandi of WWE as a business, trying to understand the rationale behind choices with which I disagree. However, I lose my balance, if you will, when the questionable decisions start piling up.

In reverse chronological order, my biggest gripe with WWE, presently, is Smackdown’s roster positioning since the Shake-Up in mid-April, and that begins and ends with the current WWE Champion. Should the quarterly financial report that WWE issues in two weeks reflect anything short of a substantial boon in the Indian market, I will be unable to hold back any longer from unleashing fully and confidently the following conclusion: Jinder Mahal is the worst WWE Champion of all-time. With all due respect to our readership in India, the former holder of that unfortunate distinction was The Great Khali, an actual Indian. At least Khali was a legitimate monster and at least his reign of dominance came at a time when WWE’s roster was pretty thin. Today, WWE employs its most impressive collection of wrestlers since 2001/2002, yet Jinder Mahal – a generic gym rat with no presence and both limited in-ring and verbal communication skills who WWE pushed for years, literally right up to deciding he should be a headliner, as a doormat – is holder of the championship most synonymous with success in professional wrestling. WWE has posted record financial quarters for two years straight and has incredible depth to its roster, yet they have chosen the path of the experimental champion in Mahal. Can you imagine Tiger Ali Singh winning the WWE Title during the Attitude Era?

Unless it has proven fiscally fruitful abroad, it is a decision that has no logical defense and no amount “Smackdown is the Land of Opportunity” or “he’s fresh” jargon can change that. It is the equivalent of hiring a coach with a 35% historical winning percentage or rushing through the Phoenix saga storyline (etc etc etc with crap decisions) in X-Men: The Last Stand; it is indefensible.

Most of the time, the issues that I have with the product are quickly put into a perspective that I can embrace for one reason or another. I wrote on numerous occasions throughout WrestleMania Season, for instance, about how troubled I had become by what I termed the “part-timer problem.” Between Goldberg, Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Triple H, Undertaker, and Shane McMahon, the sheer volume of wrestlers who would disappear from active competition the day after Mania 33 was astounding but, even if I will continue to believe that WWE should to a greater extent embrace its stacked every day roster during the most important time on the wrestling calendar, I cannot argue with either the financial or critical success of this year’s Show of Shows and I do believe that the build to Mania 33 was the strongest since Mania 28 five years prior.

Offering another example, I thought having Goldberg be the one to finally defeat Lesnar last November was moronic; considering that a constant complaint by management itself has been the failure of its regular roster members to get over to the extent of their peers from yesteryear, how could they possibly justify having a washed up 50 year old in a one-off or two-off slay The Beast instead of a star who could have used that platform as the launching pad to the rest of his career? Using that elusive Lesnar loss to “make” a new star was such an easy choice. Months later, though, it became clear that the Goldberg loss revitalized Brock and got him out of the incredibly stale 11-15 minute Beast Mode that had many calling for the impeachment of the Nightmayor of Suplex City. The situation added a layer of intrigue to the Lesnar character.

No different than if my beloved Fighting Irish stink on either offense or defense, but still only lose one game and challenge for the College Football Playoff, so long as I can see a net positive with potentially dubious WWE decisions, I will remain a pretty happy fan.

I keep waiting for the perspective to come with Mahal and it just is not coming; borrowing from the Irish analogy again, the team scores at will but cannot stop anybody and it feels like it is limping to a 7-6 record and a crap bowl game. I feel like that assistant coach in The Replacements who goes on the “it’s wiry” rant when people are barking at me, “Don’t hinder the Jinder” or are defending the indefensible and suggesting that the good in Mahal’s ascent is that “he’s not Orton.” “Give it a chance,” people have said. You may as well ask me to stand there and get kicked in the friekin’ nuts, knowing full well it’s going to cause agonizing pain. No thanks! Some decisions do not deserve a chance…

The once heralded Smackdown TV product is not better for having hot-shotted Jinder to the top (it’s actually far inferior to Raw, even if not everyone is ready to admit that), the PPV product sure as hell is not better, the TV viewership has not improved, house show business has reportedly slumped…what we have is a Smackdown show that lost its identity by seemingly having “fish your World Champion out of a hat” day and strapping a rocket ship to the back of the Canadian-Indian Chris Masters (circa 2005), setting a tone on Tuesday nights, which has permeated most of the brand, that mediocrity is OK.

With Summerslam that I am attending nearly upon us, I will tune back into Smackdown and attempt to ignore the WWE Champion for the time being, hoping to eventually gain the perspective needed to come to terms with what I otherwise believe is the dumbest thing WWE has done in at least a decade and, more accurately, hoping WWE resets the scene for the blue brand and gets out of its own way.

**End rant…I will now return to my regularly satisfied fandom**

Lesnar, Reigns, Joe, and Angle Set Tone For Summerslam Season

From pay-per-view cycle to pay-per-view cycle, the quality of the WWE product can routinely change. A PPV can peak a brand’s momentum, leaving it nowhere to go but down, and it can also build, maintain, or sap a brand’s momentum. Great Balls of Fire may not have necessarily been all that it could have been as a show, but it undoubtedly did its job in creating enough talking points to position Raw well enough moving into Summerslam Season. Monday, another rock solid episode kept the red team’s momentum moving in the right direction.

Raw was strong top to bottom and, as one might hope given the depth of its roster, avoided much in the way of filler en route to a mostly engaging three hours. As was alluded to earlier in the year, it is time that we adapt our general expectations to be more understanding of the limitations of the three-hour format, but when WWE creates simple stories across the board, one of the benefits is that matches that might have otherwise come across as mere air-time gaps between major talking segments instead prove adequate or better showcases for the wrestlers. Matches with limited meaning/purpose in an era of so much wrestling content to consume each week are, from a personal standpoint, completely skippable (see all of the tag matches from last night); that said, when Raw offers a pair of matches that could have easily made Sunday’s PPV in Finn Balor vs. Elias Samson and Goldust vs. R-Truth, plus a PPV rematch that quite naturally renewed a story prompted to continue by recent actions (Wyatt’s cheap win over Rollins), engagement in the show increases overall.

Wyatt scored another tainted victory over Rollins in a very good main-event. Most of the time, Bray’s rivalries are furthered by endless babble and, accordingly, feel like they are running in place. It is rather refreshing that this particular angle is playing up Wyatt’s dirty heel tactics, which is far more relatable than all of his talk of being a God. They have chemistry in the ring together that, combined with giving fans a reason to dislike the way that he is winning, might turn this otherwise placeholder feud into something to start talking more about in the near future. Then again, Rollins has hands full with The Miz and Dean Ambrose now. The best kind of unpredictability in wrestling comes not from shock TV, but from multi-layered storytelling. Rollins presently has clear issues with three different entities, each of whom offer him intriguing directions to take down the road to the Barclays Center.

Of course, Raw will (and, by all rights, should) be judged primarily on the strength of its promos and plot twists leading to the next PPV. Big Cass opened proceedings with another passionate monologue that built on his squash of Enzo Amore. He has the potential to become an elite superstar if the last 5 weeks are any indication. Is Big Show the right feud to segue into Cass’s next career step? Absolutely. Show’s TV feud with Braun Strowman earlier in the year provided The Monster Among Men a platform to prove himself and produced a pair of awesome matches. Hopefully, Cass will get a similar opportunity, maybe on a stage as grand as Summerslam; 75% of the Show-Strowman quality would boost BC’s cause for a bigger spotlight tremendously.

Summerslam’s pre-August tone was set nicely in the most eventful talking segment of the night featuring the majority of the major players in the Universal Title scene. Obvious by his absence was Strowman, whose defeat of Roman Reigns on Sunday makes him the clear favorite to be #1 contender; one would think that his presence will be felt next Monday when Reigns and Samoa Joe officially duel for the right to face Brock Lesnar at the Summer Classic. As it stands, it appears that Reigns vs. Lesnar is a go, but for Braun to delay his reaction to being left out of the championship picture would potentially be a mistake. The time is now for Strowman to ascend and WWE would be wise to strike while the iron is hot. Bring him back to maul both Joe and Reigns and keep the audience guessing for another week as to Summerslam’s Universal end game.

Even if Strowman is the odd man out, WWE fortunately has plenty of options in the main-event. Reigns delivered quite possibly the most charismatic line of his entire career (not saying much, granted) to Angle and Lesnar (paraphrasing, “You can’t stop Strowman and you’re never around to”), which seemed to evoke real emotion from the typically robotic current titleholder. Joe further antagonized the champ and the next would-be challenger, bringing his streak of excellent character weeks to six (or longer). Lesnar getting involved rather than just standing there was a welcome addition. People who say he cannot talk confuse that for being a reflection of his charisma. Go back and watch him after UFC 200 - he says fascinating things when he has adequate motivation to speak; he just is not the type that can recite week-to-week, ho-hum pro wrestling scripts. Joe ended up feeling like the odd man out, but he did everything that he could to save face and to avoid getting lost in the shuffle. It was all very engaging and presented all sorts of options for Summerslam if they audible out of Reigns-Lesnar (Joe-Braun, Joe-Reigns, a multi-man monster’s brawl, etc.).

Finally, it was revealed that Kurt Angle, on next week’s edition, will solve the riddle surrounding his cell phone messages from over the past couple of months. Speculation is that he will be joined by a female (Stephanie McMahon and Dixie Carter, of all people, are the favorites) to announce some sort of scandal, leading to a rumored match against Triple H at Summerslam. Color me unenthused about Angle’s return match being against someone he had only decent chemistry in the ring with in his prime, but it does set up next Monday’s Raw to be must-see and it will be absolutely must-see if Angle returns to the ring in August no matter who he wrestles.

All in all, Raw was packed with intrigue throughout the night and it immediately began to feel like its momentum heading into Summerslam Season was continuing off the back of a really good Great Balls of Fire cycle. It could have coasted for two weeks, waiting for Smackdown to get its PPV out of the way before starting the build to Summerslam, but instead barreled full steam ahead.

WWE Great Balls of Fire Tries Too Hard, Offers Less Quality When More Was Expected

Paralleling summer blockbuster season for the film industry, WWE typically offers a comparably stacked card for its annual August pay-per-view to its late March/early April WrestleMania. Next month may yet feature such an anticipated event, but last night’s Great Balls of Fire offered all the anticipation and build that we would often see from a Summerslam.

Unfortunately, #WWEGBOF (or #WWEBalls, as was the case for some) ended up being very similar to recent Summer Classics; there may have been a little too much hype, forcing a generally quite good show to undershoot expectations. Time will tell if future replays stripped of the hype reflect positively in shaping the overall perception of the event, but the knee-jerk reaction – though thumbs mostly thumbs up it would seem when perusing opinions across the internet – is to state that the latest Raw exclusive special was a good show that could have been great if it had not tried too hard, as evidenced particularly by The Tag Team Championship Match and Braun Strowman vs. Roman Reigns.

Admittedly, the reception to Sheamus & Cesaro vs. The Hardys in the first-ever WWE Ironman Match for tag teams prompted an abrupt rewatch prior to writing this column, but the same issues that plagued it on initial viewing were there again the second time. The bottom line is that the Ironman gimmick is built around a basic psychology that inherently tests a fan’s investment in the involved characters, in part because there are a lot of down periods and also because falls occur more readily than they would beyond the stipulation, stripping the performance of the drama born of false finish. Falls themselves are not nearly as gripping without the substantial lead up to them; in Ironman matches, falls often just happen. The downtime, meanwhile, works better at a main-event level, primarily due to heavier investment in more distinctly defined characters. So, The Bar vs. The Hardys was a good match (***), but it was a case of too much time that they could not entertainingly fill thanks to a rivalry that was running on fumes featuring very surface-level personalities; playing armchair booker for a moment, cut ten minutes and do away with the gimmick, use a lot of the spots that led to actual falls as near falls instead, and the good match becomes a great one.

Then, the situation surrounding Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns, who many are speculating turned heel via his post-match actions, dragged on for what felt like a half-hour at a time when, historically, the main-event would have been underway. Michael Cole’s commentating weaknesses are exposed during angles where he has to try to be emotional about campy shock-television. Conjuring memories of Cole “lowlights” such as “That dog was his rock” and “He was raped of his dignity,” listening to him try to sell the gravity of an ambulance being purposefully rammed into a semi-truck – “A human being was inside that ambulance, guys” – made the presentation that much more groan-worthy to sit through. The good news is that Strowman looked that much better for having walked away under his own power, but the painfully drawn out situation, the entirety of which was captured continuously on camera, overshadowed Braun’s moment of mystifying resilience, his defeat of Reigns to end another strong showing in their saga (*** ¼ - the weakest in their trilogy, granted), and the possible ramifications for Roman’s character moving forward.

The night started well enough, with Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt using the curtain-jerking role to make their match feel less like a thrown-together scrap and more like the first PPV singles meeting between two of this era’s foundational stars. Rather than phone it in, they put together a match equal parts smart and stiff (*** ¼), a statement that describes Wyatt in his element. If they can add some storyline elements to spice up their issue with each other, Rollins vs. Wyatt can be more than a placeholder.

Big Cass squashing Enzo was the point on the show when things started going downhill. The television build for their match was outstanding and, in place of a satisfying payoff, we really just got another layer to the build of Big Cass into whatever he is intended to become in the near future. Looking at the forest through the trees, a 5-minute squash (*), while a tad off-putting on a show that could have been one of the best year of the year and fell well short of its mark, will be the least of GBOF’s worries in hindsight should Cass become a star, but you could certainly have been forgiven for hoping the break-up of this generation’s New Age Outlaws would have translated to something greater.

Sasha Banks vs. Alexa Bliss (***) confirmed suspicions that their matches will be the money-play for the women’s division this summer and perhaps beyond. They displayed chemistry on-par with Ambrose vs. Miz (** ¾), who got stuck in a lousy spot on the card, and crafted the first chapter in what will hopefully be the rivalry that makes everything involving Bayley’s main roster flop a distant memory.

The main-event was very interesting, as Brock Lesnar matches usually are. You cannot judge them traditionally since they are so atypical, so you wind up comparing them to their peers in the Lesnar library. Samoa Joe’s title shot took a page from the recent Goldberg and Lesnar bouts, filling a sub-ten-minute scenario with balls to the wall action that unquestionably gets the crowd locked in. You find yourself venturing into the unknown, wondering if the match will end at a moment’s notice or if they will extend the runtime; and that is a good thing. One of the primary talking points on “The Doc Says” podcast this week will be whether or not Joe got enough out of the match to reinforce the strength of his 5 week build leading up to it; as of right this second, that is difficult to determine. Nevertheless, Joe was impressive, as was Lesnar, and the match was quite good, arguably the best of the night (*** ¼).

Overall, Great Balls of Fire was perhaps the deepest non-Big 4 PPV line-up in years, but the decisions to have a lukewarm feud be furthered in a 30-minute match and to follow-up a nice and neat (albeit extremely hard-hitting) Strowman-Roman battle (16-minutes in length) with another quarter hour or longer of PPV time fit for Monday Night Raw basically sealed the fate of the show. A rock solid (with a Jello-soft finish) Cruiserweight Title bout between Neville and Tozawa (***) was relegated to the Kick-Off and three other matches that would have likely added a lot more to the show were capped at 12-minutes; though all were good, none were more than good and what this show really lacked was something great in those minutes taken away from the mid-card to push the event over the top. As such, it was a little disappointing. More was expected and they delivered less; such is the downside of expectations.

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