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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: WWE Month-in-Review (October 2017) – The Kevin Owens Show, Wrestler & Match of the Month, A Tale of Two PPVs, November Predictions
By The Doc
Nov 2, 2017 - 11:24:40 AM

”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.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: What is, in your opinion, WWE’s Match of the Year to date?

Also, please share your picks for Wrestler and Match of the Month in WWE…

The following is a case study of WWE’s product for the month of October 2017.

A Tale of Two Gimmick Pay-Per-Views

WWE has caught a lot of heat from diehard fans for many years over the gimmick-themed pay-per-views that take up roughly half of the non-Big 4 special event calendar, but I have never really minded it. Personally, I enjoy seeing today’s talents attempt to one-up the stipulation-based work of their predecessors and, frankly, I feel that the heavy use of the most popular match-types is the least offensive of the trends that WWE has created over the last several years. It has been labeled “inorganic,” the use of these gimmicks at the same basic time each year, but the only stipulation match that ever truly needed to be organic was Hell in a Cell and, in all honesty, they have shifted the tone of Hell in a Cell well enough from “end of a blood feud” (see Foley vs. HHH et al) to “escalation of a storyline’s prominence” (see Charlotte vs. Sasha et al) that I have come to think of it as a glass-is-half-full perceptional tweak instead of a glass-is-half (or more)-empty total overhaul of a previously successful concept.

Hell in a Cell got its bearings in 2013-2014, after WWE figured out what it needed to be in the modern age, so I was very happy with the continuation of what I deemed a rock solid formula this year with Smackdown’s iteration of the PPV. The Usos and New Day deserved to end their feud in spectacular fashion utilizing a stipulation generally reserved for top singles stars and they made the most of it. Kevin Owens and Shane McMahon elevated their rivalry between Summerslam and early October to fit the more traditional view of a situation for which the Cell should be employed, and then delivered a hybrid of what the Cell used to be and what it has become, arguably the standard-bearing Cell match for this decade.

Sadly, TLC left its identity in 2016.

I’ll be blunt: TLC was the most fun of all the yearly gimmick-PPVs since the trend’s inception in 2009 and WWE had no reason to either move it from its usual December position or eliminate that which had made it successful. Fun is the operative word; positioned a week or two before the holidays, TLC’s ceiling was a blast of a show that you did not need to take overly seriously, like wrestling’s equivalent of the Dunk Contest or the Home-Run Derby. It featured the Tables Match, which was typically an enjoyable watch; it showcased the horribly under-appreciated Chairs Match, which I annually enjoyed seeing exceed people’s strangely low expectations; it provided a very good spotlight for the mid-card via the Ladder Match; and we even got a few Match of the Year-contending Tables, Ladders, and Chairs Matches out of it over the years.

What happened in 2017? The TLC Match itself was a total mess and they abandoned ship on the other fun gimmicks.

It was a Tale of Two Gimmick PPVs, Hell in a Cell and TLC, one mastering the formula created since the most popular stipulations of the late ‘90s and ‘00s earned their place next to the Royal Rumble and Survivor Series and the other steering in a different, far less agreeable direction. I, for one, hope that 2018 sees a return to TLC as it used to be.

WWE Hell in a Cell 2017 Review (Audio)

Match of the Month: Kevin Owens vs. Shane McMahon at Hell in a Cell

The deeper we get into this current era, which has as much depth in terms of wrestlers capable of regularly delivering four star matches as ever before and – not to be forgotten – affords far more opportunities (more time and/or less restrictions) for modern wrestlers to produce that caliber of in-ring work, the clearer I have become on what it takes for me to rate a performance as a cut-above. Mazza, former LOP writer and co-host of LOP Radio’s Right Side of the Pond podcast, stated on social media recently that an average match today was a good match 15 years ago and that a good match today was a great match 15 years ago, by-products of greatness having set in as an expectation due to the consistently higher quality work we have been seeing on the 20’x20’ canvas these past few years.

Finn Balor vs. AJ Styles at TLC was a prime example of a great match circa the so-termed New Era that really has no business in the Match of the Year conversation; and that is not intended to be as harsh a statement as it may read. It was a 4-star match, that much could be declared without batting an eyelash, and it was better than a lot of other 4-star matches in 2017 because it did not overdo it with finishing moves, as has become so common; it was a smarter and more nuanced match than many of its peers in the logjam of 4-star efforts in this and recent years and, therefore, seems destined to be more rewatchable. The New Day vs. The Usos at Hell in a Cell was a 4-star match too, that also can be said without hesitation, and it will almost assuredly watch back in future years as the right way to have ended the “Tag Team Feud of the Decade” frontrunner; it was extremely creative and it might even prove to be memorable. That said, neither of those matches were the total package of stellar physical action from bell-to-bell and deeply engrossing storytelling born of captivating character work.

Owens vs. Shane was a Lex Luger, one of the few total packages produced in WWE this year; it was the ideal blend of what happened in the six to eight weeks between the characters leading up to a PPV informing what happened during the PPV match and creative, well-paced, well-executed acts of combat drama across its run-time. Call it over-long at your own peril, Owens vs. Shane was a masterpiece for the enthusiast who loves the emotions evoked through a wrestling match coming from both the strength of the personas and their acting skills and the visual artistry of aesthetically eye-popping moves; it was Scorsese getting hold of the Transformers franchise…and I thought it was absolutely fantastic.

Previous winners: Styles vs. Cena at Royal Rumble (Jan), Strowman vs. Big Show on Raw (Feb), Reigns vs. Strowman at Fast Lane (Mar), Rollins vs. Triple H at WrestleMania (Apr), Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne at Takeover: Chicago (May), Ambrose vs. Miz at Extreme Rules (Jun), Dar vs. Alexander on 205 Live (Jul), Strowman vs. Lesnar vs. Joe vs. Reigns at Summerslam (Aug), and Cena vs. Reigns at No Mercy (Sept)

WWE TLC 2017 Review (Audio)

Wrestler of the Month: Kevin Owens

Picking up his second Wrestler of the Month award for 2017 (and his first without an asterisk accounting for overall creative ineptitude), Kevin Owens absolutely owned the bulk of the last six weeks as one of the very few bright spots on WWE TV and PPV. Not only was his feud with Shane McMahon the most engaging post-WrestleMania storyline of the year to date and not only did their ensuing Hell in a Cell Match excel on every level sans for Shane ‘O Mac’s punches, but The Kevin Owens Show continued to peak with its wildly entertaining addition of Sami Zayn to the mix. The Shane ‘O storyline was, for KO, a steady stream of him at his menacing villainous best, while the pairing with Zayn has been reminiscent of his more aggravatingly antagonistic side ala his partnership with Chris Jericho in 2016/2017; if KO were a boxer, then the stuff with Zayn has been the latest reminder of how well he can jab and his work opposite the McMahons offered the latest evidence of his ability to deliver the knockout blow.

You hate to have to say stuff like this in 2017 but, since its McMahon Land, you must: if KO looked like Roman Reigns, business would be booming as WWE would have a fitting heir apparent to John Cena. Nevertheless, there may not be a more complete package of in-ring ability and verbal dynamism on the roster right now than Owens. The good news is that WWE seems keenly aware of it and have been pushing him as a Top 5 member of its roster for the last 14 months; and when he is allowed a consistent creative deployment and the opportunity to fully showcase his considerable overall arsenal, nobody is better.

Previous winners: John Cena (Jan), Braun Strowman (Feb), Roman Reigns (Mar), (Tie) Neville & Braun Strowman (Apr), Kevin Owens* (May), Samoa Joe (Jun), The New Day (Jul), and Seth Rollins/Dean Ambrose (Aug), and John Cena (Sept)

November Predictions

Survivor Series is about as an interesting as a re-run of Dawson’s Creek, so the month of November feels at the moment like something we have to get through more than something that we should be excited about. WWE is on thin ice with a lot of fans, yours truly included, and I feel about it similarly to how I viewed last year’s Notre Dame football team; it is a 4-8 kind of WWE season, these past six months, that does a couple of things right, but is really bad in some areas to the point where I’m, for the most part, seeking my entertainment elsewhere while keeping a peripheral eye on them in case they unexpectedly turn things around. Fortunately, WWE cycles sweep through a lot faster than football seasons, so it is possible that WWE could hit a stride by the end of this month (more likely next). As I stated on a recent “Doc Says” episode, though, I am in desperate need of a “Pipe Bomb” caliber moment to off-set my pessimism surrounding much of the current product’s lesser quality attributes.

That said, I am not much for making predictions right now because I do not wish to continue the generally negative sentiments I have been so guilty of spreading on these pages for much of the last few months; in fact, I have come up with a strategy to be unleashed very soon that will allow me to focus just on the good things going on in WWE, at least in column forum. Here are a few predictions, though: I think Smackdown will lose at Survivor Series this year to set-up Kurt Angle’s WrestleMania storyline with Triple H (yawn), that Lesnar will mow through Mahal in seconds (perhaps re-setting the record for a PPV main-event’s shortest run-time), that Smackdown will largely dominate the rest of the inter-brand bouts to help make up for their top men’s 5-on-5 result, and this year’s November Classic will be the catalyst for the fourth quarter’s WWE Network subscriptions to come in lower than the third quarter’s – let’s face it, this year’s Raw vs. Smackdown storyline is all kinds of stupid and the main-event is a blanking joke…and I do not plan to watch, instead saving NXT Takeover for Sunday to protect my college football viewing on Saturday, November 18th and then watching bits and pieces of Survivor Series before my podcast recording the next week.

If I might make a downside guarantee, it is that WWE will wake up to the fact that Jinder Mahal is not doing anything but creating apathy for its business and will pull the trigger on him finally losing the WWE Title before WrestleMania Season starts. The run of horrifyingly bad decisions did not begin with Jinder, but he is the poster boy for the dumbest decisions that WWE has made in the last year (last decade for that matter) and it is only a matter of time before something clicks in Vince’s mind that enough is enough and that it is time for a change. We all can be stubborn, but McMahon does have a history of caving eventually to the reality of bad business. Boldly, I posit that AJ Styles will beat Jinder for the title on Smackdown in the final week of the month.

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