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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: WWE Month-in-Review (September 2017) – WWE Should Tread Lightly With Its Insistence on Reigns-Lesnar II, Wrestler of the Month, Match of the Month, October Predictions
By The Doc
Sep 28, 2017 - 11:57:40 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: How does the presumed, telegraphed Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar main-event for Mania 34 make you feel, as a wrestling fan?

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 September 2017.

Tread Lightly, WWE; WrestleMania 34 Is Setting Up To Be Colossally Underwhelming

Roman Reigns as a WrestleMania headliner has generally gone over like a lead balloon these past three years. The respective roads to his main-events have been ridiculously sub-par, telegraphed at best and downright creatively morose at worst; his match with Brock Lesnar at Levi’s Stadium was outstanding (even pre-Rollins), but the bouts with Triple H and Undertaker were real chores to sit through. Overall, Reigns as the top Mania star has been a disaster, in the months leading up to and through the yearly Showcase of Immortals.

Most members of the audience, diehard and casual alike, yearn for something more organic in the biggest match of the year, like Daniel Bryan’s story in 2014, or something epic along the lines of The Rock vs. John Cena. WWE, and by extension Roman Reigns, has not been able to provide what fans expect of the WrestleMania main-event. Yet, here we sit, roughly six months away from 2018’s Show of Shows, and all signs are pointing to a heavily telegraphed rematch between Reigns and Lesnar that has been dragging down the enthusiasm for next year’s WrestleMania Season from the moment it was first rumored back in April. As mentioned on The Doc Says podcast this week, most of the audibles that WWE could have called to abort that plan and do something more interesting next April have already been used. Apparently, it is written in permanent marker in Vince McMahon’s mind that Reigns vs. Lesnar II is the way to go. Unfortunately, it is written in the stars that, should McMahon remain steadfast in his own desires, we are headed for one of the most apathetic responses to WrestleMania EVER.

WWE has a lot of good things going for it, but it also has a lot of negative things chipping away at the patience of even the most positive fans. Reigns vs. Lesnar II could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for many. Creative excellence quite honestly might not be able to salvage it given the inherently defeated attitude that it is already generating. One might say, “Well that is not fair to judge it before it happens,” but to say that would be to take a very black and white view on the matter. Lesnar has had one memorable match in the last two years, and 80% of the rest were colossally disappointing; Reigns, as a character, has yet to string together a consistent half-year run of not being altered in some way, the by-product being that nobody really knows who he is and how to react to him. Reigns vs. Lesnar II is a paper epic featuring two guys with massive kayfabe accolades, but in reality that match is the antithesis of epic and the antithesis of organic; it is a terrible idea that could create real backlash for WWE and they better be prepared for it.

The saying goes that diehard fans will keep showing up no matter what. Well, they are not showing up on Monday nights anymore, are they? They are not showing up in arenas at the same volume as in even the recent past, are they? How long before that translates to the WWE Network? You cannot punch someone in the stomach over and over again, ask them to accept it, and expect them to keep hanging out with you. So, be careful, WWE…

Match of the Month: Roman Reigns vs. John Cena at No Mercy

This has proven to be a divisive performance from two superstars who are not strangers to riling up conflicting emotions among audience members. Given the talents involved, the polarizing reaction to their match was not surprising, but unquestionably the WrestleMania-worthy showcase was a continuation of the same sort of style that Cena has made so popular and critically praiseworthy over the past several years, so the idea that one could call the Styles or KO series with Cena “great” but deride the Reigns match for its formatting is rather contradictory. Stylistically, little about Cena vs. Reigns was different from The Golden Boy’s recent body of work, though granted the missing piece of the puzzle could quite understandably have been a lack of personal investment in one wrestler over the other, especially as compared to the very organic dichotomy established between Cena and his distinctly unique opponents from the past (i.e. indie-darlings).

Bell-to-bell, both characters were dialed into the fiction, with Reigns assuming a familiar role as the ever-confident, attitude-fueled fighter and Cena quickly shifting from over-confident to the desperation-mode prevalent throughout his in-ring dealings with The Phenomenal One; they owned the match format, which was actually a little out of the ordinary for the more typically cerebral Reigns, dancing with what Cena has been bringing to the squared circle regularly since 2015. So, reception really boiled down to stylistic preference. The biggest knock on the “Epic” match type is that it is not particularly rewatchable, its drama created from big moves rather than psychological nuance, but it is often a blast to view at least on the night of; Cena and Reigns delivered a memorable performance that, even should it not translate to rewatchability down the road, was surely a rip-roaring, “Epic” good time for its 22-minute duration.

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), and Strowman vs. Lesnar vs. Joe vs. Reigns at Summerslam (Aug)

WWE No Mercy 2017 Review (Audio)

Wrestler of the Month: John Cena

Interestingly, this section was originally written in advance for Braun Strowman, who had a magnificent month of September leading up to No Mercy. It would have been his third Wrestler of the Month award this year and would have put him firmly in the driver’s seat for Wrestler of the Year. Unfortunately, No Mercy happened; his match with Brock Lesnar was a dud. John Cena, on the other hand, was equally as relevant throughout the last several weeks on WWE TV, delivering hard-hitting promo after hard-hitting promo and reminding of his considerable value when used as an attraction for big-time feuds and matches against today’s elite stars. Critically-uneven as the response to his match with Reigns may have been, it was another epic match to add to the Cena library; combined with his ownership of the microphone and verbal evisceration of The Big Dog, said match was enough to push him over Strowman.

Kevin Owens certainly made a strong case for himself over on Smackdown, his act largely overshadowing (in a good way) the host of issues that the blue brand continues to impose on itself. Had Hell in a Cell been in September, he might very well have been the recipient instead of Cena, but while KO as a character was best of the month, he did not contribute much in the match department. Alas, The Golden Boy rides off into the first phase of his career twilight as a special attraction hopefully used only for huge matches from here on, replacing the Undertaker in that position in WWE; his time was up as a regularly featured performer, but his time is now to play the returning veteran opposite the best of the best from this current generation when they’re ready. This might be the last Wrestler of the Month award he ever gets. Man, that twelve years really flew by…

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)

October Predictions

We will begin the month of October wondering if Smackdown can counter Raw’s September, which was blockbuster and must-see in a way that the post-Summerslam season has rarely been. Kevin Owens had an outstanding September, but how will that translate to the PPV match inside the Cell with Shane McMahon? KO actually seems poised to lose that match, but if he were to win it, then surely he would increase his lead as the top heel on the brand by about a mile over the lameduck Jinder Mahal, who will hopefully be put out of his misery as a top guy against Shinsuke Nakamura. Smackdown would be well-served to take a victorious KO and put him in a long-term feud with new WWE Champion, The King of Strong Style. One can wish, right?

Awesome to see that the SD Tag Team Championships will be defended using the Cell gimmick. The Usos vs. The New Day has been a phenomenal rivalry that has combined with what The Bar, The Hardys, and The Shield-ish have done over on Raw during the same span to help elevate tag team wrestling in WWE to its modern peak. Repetition does not go over well with the masses these days, but I predict that The Usos will regain the titles and that the feud will keep on going; where else could either team possibly go but down after they finish their story against each other? From a fan’s perspective, they’re the gift that keeps on giving; and I feel the same about Rollins and Ambrose vs. Cesaro and Sheamus.

Asuka’s debut later in the month at TLC is intriguing; what immediate direction that they take with her will probably define women’s wrestling on Raw for the next six months through Mania Season. Also intriguing is Enzo Amore’s character shift and the spotlight that it has provided 205 Live (and the underappreciated Neville), which is going to take its chance as more a sports entertainment show, at least in the short-term, to see if it can get some traction; so far so good on generating interest, as the angle they began this week – Enzo vs. The Cruiserweight division – is fascinating in its early stages.

What I hope NOT to see is a Shield reunion sparked by the friekin’ Miztourage. That would be like reuniting The Mega Powers to face The Beverly Brothers. I would much prefer that Reigns vs. Miz main-event TLC for the Intercontinental Championship and maybe a group of goons from Smackdown cost Reigns the match to help set-up Survivor Series. A Shield reunion, of sorts, could then take place as part of Raw’s team opposite Smackdown’s, borrowing from a concept that I really enjoyed at last year’s November Classic.

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