Doctor's Orders: March 13-16, 2017 - Why You Should Be Excited About AJ vs. Shane, What's Next After Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar?, & What WM33 Could Have Been
By The Doc
Mar 16, 2017 - 12:40:27 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.
Why You Should Be Excited About AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon
What's Next After Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar?
What WrestleMania 33 Could Have Been...
QUESTION OF THE DAY: How are you feeling about the forthcoming match between AJ Styles and Shane McMahon? Has WWE been able to win you over at all?
Something strange and unexpected has been happening over the past few weeks as Smackdown Live has been barreling down the Road to WrestleMania: they have managed to make a match between Shane McMahon and 2016 WWE MVP AJ Styles interesting.
Though I cannot admit to being one of the fans who drew a hard-line about the prospect of Styles being paired with a part-timer with whom he was perhaps least likely to be able to have the kind of flowing, aesthetically-pleasing masterpiece that has often gone missing from WrestleMania cards since Shawn Michaels retired in 2010, I certainly was one of the many diehard enthusiasts who was skeptical about The Phenomenal One’s rumored “Show of Shows” position. I was disappointed that Styles did not remain WWE Champion, especially given that he was not ceding the spot to the dream match between Undertaker and John Cena; I, to this day, cannot quite wrap my head around why Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton for the title was prioritized ahead of the guy generally regarded by fans and those within the business alike to have had arguably the greatest one year run of classic matches in WWE lore. However, I said on “The Doc Says” right after the Royal Rumble that, if they went with Styles vs. McMahon, I would keep an open mind and give them the chance to sell me on it.
Well, they have sold me on it…
AJ Styles has basically assumed the position previously occupied in WWE by Daniel Bryan and CM Punk; he is the immensely talented star who showed up, proved yet again the virtue in giving independent top guys a chance to shine on the biggest stage in the world, and became within short order one of the biggest assets in modern WWE history. And, to highlight how far we have come since even Bryan and Punk were on their way up the hierarchical ladder in WWE, just listen to the way that the announcers and other superstars have been talking about Styles since he debuted; he is not a fluke or a joke or a short order cook at Waffle House in any comment or promo, but one of the absolute best ever between the ropes (and, I’ll add, a much more engaging personality than anyone ever gave him credit for being). In that Bryan/Punk-type role, there is a relationship that he has with the audience, particularly our community, that cannot, should not, and apparently now will not be denied. WWE is very cognizant of what Styles brings to the table and are not shying away from how we feel about him.
The Shane angle, thus far, has done nothing more than present Styles in exactly the light in which we see him: as the wrestler who should really be in the main-event of WrestleMania. You know what I have grown to realize while they built up on television since late January just how deserving of the Mania main-event Styles truly is? If he is not going to be in the main-event with the WWE Title on the line, then this story with Shane is absolutely the next best option.
I believe it is the next best option for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that Styles and his legitimate grievances – that Cena was gifted yet another title shot after AJ had pinned him three times, that he never got his one-on-one rematch after the Rumble, that he won a Battle Royal to become #1 contender, and that he won another #1 contender’s match against Luke Harper to confirm the results of the Battle Royal, yet was still given another hoop to jump through – essentially offer us, speaking as a representative of the diehard wrestling fanbase – a story that we would otherwise not have at this year’s WrestleMania. To us, collectively, Styles is the #1 guy in the company and he is being held down by the system, a victim of the part-timer problem spoken and written about at length this WrestleMania Season. Along comes Shane ‘O Mac to exemplify the system so that Styles can run right at the system ready to knock it down and out at WrestleMania. That is what makes this angle so worthy of our investment…it’s “our” guy against “their” guy.
Another reason stems from Shane, indeed, being “their” guy. WWE could have very easily concocted a multi-man Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Championship and tossed Styles into that convoluted fray like Bryan was in 2015, but instead have lined him up against WWE royalty. Shane offers AJ something that Shinsuke Nakamura cannot, by the way; he offers Styles the potential for upward mobility. You have a great match with your NJPW rival on the grandest stage? Then what? There were over 25 four-star matches in WWE last year; the modern climate demands more if you want to become more. Personally, I feel Shane is about as valuable to WWE on-screen as his watch, but Vince McMahon feels otherwise and a match with the prodigal son means something more to the Chairman and the rest of the decision-makers than a five-star classic. If Styles can have a standout performance against Shane McMahon, then it could increase the likelihood that Summerslam’s main-event or next year’s WrestleMania main-event might feature The Phenomenal One having a five-star classic with the kind of full-on WWE creative support that could make it all-time-level great.
Imagine, for a moment, if Styles is able to replicate even three-quarters with Shane of what Kurt Angle did at King of the Ring 2001 – if he beats him from pillar to post, bloodies him, drags him around the ringside area, and ultimately defeats him 1-2-3 or via tap-out in a memorable, hardcore scrap the likes of which we rarely see anymore. That is not out of the question; Styles is that good. If AJ pulls that off, the storyline implication is that we get to live vicariously through him sticking it to the blue-blooded naysayers who for whatever reason decided against him being in the main-event this year and the long-term implication for Styles the WWE Superstar is that it could mean an even brighter future.
So, I am most definitely sold. Styles vs. McMahon has jumped right to the top of the list of most anticipated matches at WrestleMania 33 for yours truly. Of course, WWE could pull the rug out from under us and have Shane get the win, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Right now, there is very real reason for excitement.
On a night when Monday Night Raw crafted a plot that would lead to Seth Rollins finally getting the kind of babyface pop that fans of his have hoped for, Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho continued to build what could prove to be the show-stealing rivalry for WrestleMania, and Roman Reigns responded to a Shawn Michaels cautionary message with a bit of potential blockbuster foreshadowing, perhaps the thing from the broadcast that stood out most was the realization that, three weeks from now, we are in all likelihood going to be coronating another title run for Brock Lesnar, which begs the obvious question: how long with The Beast Incarnate hold the Universal Championship and who will dethrone him?
It would seem that, in hindsight, Lesnar’s WWE Championship reign from Summerslam 2014 to WrestleMania 31 garnered mixed to favorable reviews. I, for one, quite enjoyed the break from monthly World Title matches on pay-per-view, having come of wrestling fandom-age during a time that it was not all that uncommon for the top star to go a few months without his next huge defense. Lesnar’s infrequent appearances were an annoyance to some, but to others they made the title’s presence feel more prestigious and, thanks to the premium placed on defenses of the championship, it once again became special to see a title match. A lot of the enthusiasm generated by Lesnar as the Heavyweight Champion of the World, though, was born of his character rejuvenation via ending Undertaker’s Streak at WrestleMania XXX and squashing Cena at Summerslam. Certainly, then, one of the questions to be asked that probably precedes the one posed at the end of the opening ‘graph is whether or not it is likely that WWE can recreate or refresh Lesnar in such a way that would make another sporadic appearance-laced #1 guy on Raw palatable.
Defeating Goldberg at the conclusion of what has generally been regarded as a high quality storyline dating back to last October should definitely give Lesnar and his advocate, Paul Heyman, something to talk about and a potential launching pad off of which The Beast can enter what may prove the twilight year of his career with a good deal of momentum. The Law of Diminishing Returns plagues every commodity if it does not get an update, so maybe all that Heyman and Lesnar need after the Goldberg saga ends is a bunch of fresh faces with whom to engage. If that is the case, then Braun Strowman could be integral to answering two of the core questions thus far asked; he could be the one who dethrones Lesnar and he could also be the catalyst to continuing the best thing that has come from the Goldberg feud – Brock showing vulnerability, a key tonal shift from the several years prior.
A lot of fans, myself included, desire to see Lesnar spend much of his last 12 contracted months through WrestleMania 34 giving back to a business that he has taken much from but given very little to, putting over at least one but preferably two or three talents on his way out to help silence the primary argument held by part-timer sponsors that new stars are not over and cannot draw. Strowman beating Lesnar for the title would, for lack of a better expression, “make him.” Even if they never wrestle for the big red belt, Strowman should by all means go over Lesnar eventually; there is no other monster persona in the modern game that comes anywhere close to Brock and there is, thus, no other monster that should pass the unstoppable torch to Strowman. Brock can do for Braun right now what nobody else can and that matters and should be taken into account in the grand scheme of all things WWE.
However much it might put Lesnar back into an overly dominant personic position, another option for the wrestler who takes the title from him might well end up being Seth Rollins. As of right now, it seems like a long shot, but after an episode of Raw in which The Architect showed that, boosted by smart booking, he can absolutely get over to top level babyface proportions, it is within the realm of possibility that Rollins could leave WrestleMania with a defeat of Triple H to a thunderous ovation after the match that we collectively come out of the weekend talking about most. Should that happen, Rollins re-igniting his past issue with Lesnar would be very intriguing and would potentially allow The King-Slayer an opportunity to take the next step forward in his career.
Personally, I think it would be fascinating to see a smaller-statured performer be the guy to take down The Beast, as I am of the belief that the next protagonist to truly reach a Bryan-type, borderline universal popularity is going to have to be someone who could regularly be pitched as a believable underdog. Rollins checks a lot of boxes for what I think the next huge star might be; he needs that spark to reach higher than any of his peers have managed, though, and perhaps a story that culminates in beating Lesnar for the title could be that.
Others candidates to best The Beast include Reigns and Owens. I would argue that, if Reigns does indeed end Undertaker’s career as he alluded to on Raw last night, The Big Dog beating Brock could in some ways be considered a waste of an opportunity to “make” Strowman or spark Rollins to a level of heroism that I do not believe Reigns, at this stage, can achieve. That said, Reigns vs. Lesnar II does carry a fair amount of appeal to me and many others; we never found out who the better man was two years ago and they have but only temporarily re-engaged each other since. The WrestleMania 31 main-event was the best version of The Beast Mode-style of match in Lesnar’s library, in my opinion, and I would have no issue with them running it back for another round. Reigns beating Taker would not give him babyface momentum, but it would give his character the kind of momentum that would make putting Lesnar-Reigns on a marquee that much more attractive to outside viewers and would give Roman a chance to prove that he can draw. Owens would, of course, be a far more accepted choice over Reigns in our community. He should come out of WrestleMania with a huge victory of his own, he has a Universal Title shot whenever he wants it, and he has the support of the higher-ups in storyline; I have seen the idea pitched that he gets that title shot the night after WrestleMania and stops Lesnar’s latest title run before it ever really gets underway.
Presuming Lesnar does win the Universal Championship at WrestleMania, I would tab Summerslam as the likely place for Brock to drop the belt. The four months in between would give WWE ample time to build whoever they deem “The Chosen One.” For everyone’s sake including theirs, let’s hope they choose wisely.
Within the next couple of weeks, I will begin the process of putting the complete WrestleMania 33 card into context, hopefully helping to get those of you who are unhappy with the line-up but have not completely closed your mind to its potential merits excited for “The Showcase.” Today, though, I want to point out that which even the biggest WWE homer ought to be able to admit: that WWE had the chance to make this one of the greatest WrestleManias of all-time given their incredibly diverse and stacked roster, but have decided on a card instead that, at least on paper, is about half (or less) as good as it possibly could have been. Thus, I would like to take a moment to have a little fun and project what might have been had WWE tweaked their philosophy toward Mania to fit the modern sports entertainment climate. The following is what my WrestleMania 33 card would have looked like had I been in charge, with certain realistic creative adjustments made here and there to be explained throughout the run-down...
Raw Tag Team Championship Match: The New Day © vs. The Realest Guys In The Room
The opening contest for this ten match card would feature The New Day finally losing the Tag Team Titles after a feud that began in earnest at the Royal Rumble and concluded with Enzo and Cass winning their first championships together. New Day's reign would have continued once they had broken Demolition's record in December; they would have also continued their sense of desperation, openly wondering who they would be if they weren't “your W-W-E...Raw...Tag...Team...Champions!” It would be the biggest Tag Team Title bout in 15 years at least.
Ladder Match for the Smackdown Women's Championship: Alexa Bliss © vs. Becky Lynch vs. Mickie James vs. Nikki Bella vs. Natalya vs. Naomi
After their surprising rise to prominence on the blue brand, the women of Smackdown would be rewarded with a match to highlight the unity that boosted their collective elevation, what to my knowledge would be the first Ladder Match in WWE women's wrestling history. Lacking a single pair of dynamic personalities to equal what the Raw women could do, Smackdown's females would put their creativity to the test in an attempt to validate their position ahead of the Cruiserweight and SD Tag Team Titles on the main card.
United States Championship Match: Kevin Owens © vs. Chris Jericho
With my booking, Kevin Owens never would have been pushed to Universal Title status in 2016. However, his highly entertaining union with Y2J would have remained. The slow burn would have seen Jericho tease splitting from Owens after months of abuse, only to attempt The Festival of Friendship as a last ditch effort to keep them on the same page; KO would have hard-turned the same way that he did in reality, just with a little more momentum behind the break-up absent the stop-start nature of what we actually got.
Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton
Smackdown's mid-card break-up storyline would have, again mirroring the actual card, featured Randy Orton turning on Bray Wyatt, only in my scenario it would have been The Viper coercing Luke Harper to switch allegiances to a new leader, ditching the fairly recent rehash of Orton turning on Rollins in 2015 in favor of turning Wyatt babyface. Bray would go on to defeat Randy and take the next step in his career toward an organic rise to WWE Championship status.
Intercontinental Championship Match: The Miz © vs. Dean Ambrose
Following a career-year in 2016, The Miz would bring the IC Title into WrestleMania having successfully avoided Ambrose for most of the year leading up to it. Much of the same sort of reality-based couples tension from January would have been used in this scenario too, building heat consistently on Miz and making the audience very much want to see Ambrose give him comeuppance, perhaps with an assist from Renee Young. Miz's loss at Mania would then segue into his return to the main-event scene.
Braun Strowman vs. Brock Lesnar
Strowman's exact same push as seen from WWE these past several months would have simply added the element of The Monster Among Men eliminating Lesnar from the Royal Rumble Match. The Beast Incarnate, having mowed through Goldberg at Survivor Series, would set his sights on conquering the future of WWE before it ever happened, like a Terminator. However, in the end, it would actually be Strowman slaying The Conqueror and ascending to the very top of the company, offering something to the WWE main-event not seen in twenty years.
Raw Women's Championship Match: Charlotte © vs. Sasha Banks
There are great number of fans and analysts who believe Charlotte-Sasha to already be the greatest rivalry in women's wrestling history. Take the same feud from 2016, tweak the finish to the Iron-Woman Match and put in the same stipulation about the loser of the December PPV match not getting another rematch, only build a loophole for winning the first-ever Women's Royal Rumble Match in January. Banks would win the 15-Woman Battle Royal and finally beat Charlotte to end The Queen's undefeated singles PPV match streak.
Retirement Match: Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns (heel)
The wrestler to win the Fatal 4-Way with Triple H's help late last August would not have been Owens, but actually Roman Reigns, who immediately would have turned heel and become the corporate champion on-screen. Undertaker, months later during a Universal Title defense for Reigns at Royal Rumble against Seth Rollins, would return to act as the conscience of WWE, costing Roman the championship. The Deadman would take umbrage with the manner in which Reigns had come to dominate WWE, but Roman's friends in high places would give him the chance to end Undertaker's career in return; and he would do just that.
WWE Universal Championship Match: Seth Rollins © vs. Triple H
Logically, this would eventually have come to pass no matter what, only with Rollins having returned from injury last May by embracing the fans that stood behind him, there never would have been a weird face turn three months later and The Architect would be the most popular star on Raw. Triple H would have screwed him because he was unappreciative and off they would have went, eventually clashing at WrestleMania for the title. Rollins would win the match and start the one year build to Rollins vs. Reigns.
Main-Event – WWE World Championship Match: John Cena © vs. AJ Styles
The matches between them having gone over so well last summer, WWE officials would decide to have Cena win #16 in the fall of last year and for Styles, given his consistent popularity despite being a heel, to slowly return to the light and culminate his change of heart by winning the Royal Rumble Match. Cena would continue to field constant questions about his commitment to WWE while holding their top title and taking considerable time away. Punctuating the greatest debut year in WWE history, Styles would win the WWE Title from Cena in WrestleMania 33's final match.
So, as you can see from my card, there are several holdovers from what will actually be happening in three weeks, but the creative details have been altered to allow major rewards for the stars that excelled in 2016 to shine brightly in my hypothetical Orlando spectacular, the Smackdown women, Strowman, Miz, and Styles especially. Please, do not take this as a total indictment of the actual line-up, but I think even what I've put together, no matter how you feel about it, could easily be argued as a more complete use of an excellent roster.