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Just Business - The Highs and Lows of Another Year in the Ring with WWE: ‘Plan Asks About the Hot Topics of 2017
By Samuel 'Plan
Dec 3, 2017 - 10:00:16 PM

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Don’t forget to pick up your copy of my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, from the LOP Store or Amazon today! Simply click here to find mine and a host of other books and merchandise on offer, all courtesy of LOP, or on the icon to the left to be taken directly to Amazon!

Just Business - The Highs and Lows of Another Year in the Ring with WWE: ‘Plan Asks About the Hot Topics of 2017

From the Author

The final month of the calendar year is upon us, and that means the time is ripe to take a few moments and look back on the last 12 months in WWE. As is tradition, over the next three columns across the next three weeks I’m going to be doing just that. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be taking a look at my shortlists for Matches of the Year – the categories being Main Event, Mid Card, TV, Tag Team and Network, as always (so get your nominations in now!). Next week, it’ll be MVP day, where I’ll be looking to name the best contributors in WWE these last 12 months (nominations, again, welcome!).

For this week, though, I’m going to be looking back on some of the hot topics of WWE’s 2017, sharing my opinions on each and asking (not rhetorically, either!) whether or not you feel the same way.

As ever, my name is Samuel ‘Plan and I’m here to ask you about some of the highs and lows of another year in the ring with WWE!

’Plan Asks…

…is just me, or has the Second Brand Extension encouraged the bad habits of the First to resurge?

Just like the First Brand Extension, WWE has shown an increasing attraction towards bad habits; habits that the Reality Era, with great effort and controversy, worked hard to dispel.

Jinder Mahal’s main event title reign proved to be the zeitgeist of this unfortunate phenomenon. Unsurprisingly divisive, and perhaps even more unsurprisingly ineffective when said and done, WWE’s overnight ‘elevation’ of a man brought back as roster filler to a position that his in-ring library definitively proved he was unprepared for killed the previously widely felt good will towards the Blue Brand – a show many maintained was the bright point in WWE’s overall product.

The results have been far from good. The WWE Championship has spent most of the year languishing, after an already haphazard start throughout a hyperactive WrestleMania Season, and hot prospects brought in from NXT have found themselves unable to flourish as characters because of the knock-on effect of such poor roster positioning.

Risk remains that the championship may find its way back to the Modern Day Maharaja. While Mahal’s hard work and application is to be admired, his disappointing inability to fill the shoes he should perhaps have never been given – and at least never been given so suddenly – was the realisation of my worst fears last summer: the trend of under-qualified stars in over-privileged positions, that became such a hallmark of the First Extension, is back.

Repeating history if we fail to learn from it isn’t just a catchphrase, folks.

…is just me, or does anyone else feel like they never want to see The Undertaker wrestle again?

There is a reason the legendary Undertaker is perhaps the most respected man in the history of WWE; perhaps even professional wrestling. There is also a reason that 2017 was the year I came to terms with the otherwise difficult notion that I would prefer not to see the Phenom wrestle another match.

There was something uncomfortable about The Undertaker’s WrestleMania Season this year. If his hastily compiled feud with Shane McMahon in 2016 was too much of a mess to enjoy, with a laboured, quickly ret-conned pay-off, WWE’s decision to indulge in a feud between The Undertaker and Roman Reigns this year resulted in a bland storyline and uncharacteristically ragged in-ring effort from both.

News emerged in recent weeks that The Undertaker is in great shape now he has had some much needed surgery (the need for which was presumably the reason for his unusually awkward outings back in the first three months of the year). That once again raises the prospect of future competitive in-ring appearances from him, especially given Vince McMahon’s infamously fickle mindset.

It would be a shame if that prospect became a reality, though. As difficult as it is to accept that The Undertaker’s last ever match was a piece of work like that of the unsettling effort against Reigns, and putting any health and quality related concerns aside about further appearances, to bring the Dead Man back after what was clearly intoned to be a final farewell at WrestleMania 33 would simply be jarring. We don’t need still more fake retirements.

…is just me, or has the part-timer problem never been so obviously unsustainable; or frustrating?

In the past, I had no problem with WWE’s use of part-time stars. I thought it made sense because of a lack of viable alternatives. Ever since The Shield’s generation has emerged into the spotlight they earned by shattering the glass ceilings the preceding generation weren’t able to shatter, though, viable alternatives do exist. They have the talent – more so, I would venture, than the synthetically produced ‘OVW Class of 2002’ – but what they don’t have, many maintain, is the star power.

The problem, of course, is that at some point you have to take the risk on the future in order for that star power to manifest in the first place. The company is fast running out of half-retirees to drag out and parade in front of fans under the auspices that younger, superior, hungrier full-time talent aren’t as capable, so the need to commit to those full-timers has never been more urgent.

Whether it’s with a bored Randy Orton, a disinterested John Cena, a struggling Kurt Angle, an entitled Brock Lesnar, an irrelevant Triple H or, now, even an outmoded Batista, WWE are risking their years to come because of an inability to simply let go and move on to something better.

Roman Reigns shouldn’t be the only ones so unashamedly getting a share of the limelight all year round. Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, Braun Strowman, Bray Wyatt, Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode, Samoa Joe Sami, Zayn and the departed likes of Neville should be getting much the same treatment too.

Most enraging of all is the fact that WWE have shown a willingness to take the plunge and build a star of tomorrow; on Jinder bloody Mahal! Talk about priorities in wrong places.

…is just me, or could the rise of ‘peripheral product’ hint towards a new model in WWE’s future?

2017 has had plenty of downs; but it’s had a number of ups too. One of those has been the rise of what I termed in my #102 summer mini-series as peripheral product – a trend of one hour shows, starting with NXT, continuing with 205 Live and, potentially, even coming to include a British-based show too, all of which operate on the fringes of the main two brands.

What I find interesting about this emerging new trend is how it might hint towards the shape of WWE in years to come, as the Network continues to become increasingly central to the company’s output of content.

Whether WWE have developed these shows in recognition of the fact or not, the truth is that it has now never been easier for any pro wrestling fan to seek out an alternative product to WWE’s that is more to their taste. It’s no surprise, then, that WWE have attempted to bring that exterior variety in-house, offering a plethora of shows that they don’t seem to expect everyone to watch all the time, but rather seem to provide so that there’s “something for everyone.”

Best of all, because these shows thus far have adhered to that Holy Grail of pro wrestling TV – a weekly one-hour format – the quality of these peripheral products has been generally very strong. The popularity of NXT speaks for itself. 205 Live may be more divided in its reception, but I’ve always found its simple creativity and hefty doses of exciting ring action to be a great strength. The British lads have always impressed in their own outings too, and seeing what they could do with dedicated TV time every week, and characters to properly develop, is a tantalising prospect.

…is just me, or is there hope yet for the Tag Team Revival?

Tag team wrestling has been an odd thing in WWE this year. It’s gone through something of a cycle, all inside the span of 12 months.

The year opened in strong fashion. The main roster divisions were solid and steady, gaining an injection of energy on Monday Night Raw (MNR) with a returning, red hot Hardy Boyz. In NXT, we witnessed the final days of its golden Era for tag action too, with the Authors of Pain (AoP) making a name for themselves alongside a now established, instantly legendary feud between DIY and The Revival. Things seemed bright for tag wrestling in WWE, especially when The Revival were given their much earned ‘promotion.’

WWE (and a little bit of fate) then wanted to apparently undo that future, and busied themselves with some unnecessary spring cleaning. DIY, The Realest Guys in the Room and American Alpha all got pulled apart long before their times. Match quality in NXT dived, culminating with a logic defying, suspense shattering piece of nonsense between AoP and Sanity at Takeover: Brooklyn. Injuries played their part too, keeping the Revival off of television literally all year and quickly putting an end to the Hardy Boyz reunion tour. By the time Summerslam was about to air, I was ready to declare the Tag Team Revival dead.

Thankfully, the Usos and the New Day provided a perennial reminder that tag wrestling could still contribute to the product. When Rollins and Ambrose then weaved their effortless magic with their reunion storyline the resultant feud with The Bar, a dismal spring and wary summer start exploded into a glorious autumnal storm; eventuating in a groundbreaking Hell in a Cell Match, a TLC epic and a pair of dream contests at Survivor Series.

Whatever happens next for tag wrestling, I hope it’s as bright as what we’ve seen since August, and not more akin to what we saw in the months prior. I have a reason to hope too; The Revival should be due back any moment, and that could only lead to great things - especially if the Hounds get their titles back tomorrow!

…is just me, or does WWE still need to nail how to do four to five hour Big Fours?

The move to four hours, I felt, benefitted Royal Rumble back in January. It was one hell of a fun show, helped by a setting far grander than normal. At the time, I called it “my WrestleMania of the year,” as it reminded me of a time when I found the Grandest Stage much less garish; when it took place in medium sized stadiums and was far less self-obsessed. Best of all, the Rumble Match was afforded an epic run-time to breathe creatively without curtailing the undercard matches earlier in the show; all of which I felt held up their end of the bargain wonderfully well.

Survivor Series, both these last two years, has benefitted from the change too. With a longer run-time coupled with its new Inter-Brand Warfare theme, an event that some years ago was in danger of being scrapped altogether has been imbued with new life and promise, helping it to regain any lost sense of status following years of neglect.

On the flipside, the bigger half of the Big Four are yet to convince many fans, especially me, that moving to longer formats was ever a good idea. Summerslam this year was dreadful, quite honestly, and the two years before were considered only lukewarm successes in even the more positive areas of the fan base. Meanwhile, WrestleMania has gotten well out of hand, running at seven hours when including the pre-show.

Without cutting the fat and returning to a far more reasonable formula, WWE need to really figure out how to handle this longer version of ‘Mania. In both marathon versions so far, the event has proven good to great up to its mid-point main event; and in both marathon versions so far, the back end of the show that followed was dull, disinteresting and garish at worst.

In Closing

So tell me, is it just me? Share your thoughts with me on any of the issues I’ve discussed in this column in the comments below or over on social media! Better yet, alternatively, why not sign up to LOPForums and have a crack at writing your own column in response?!

Next week, I’ll be back to take a look at who I believe were the MVPs of the Year, and until then you can whet your appetite for the subject with the following column from an Unsung Heroes series written by one of LOP’s Columns Forum’s up and coming contributors, Clive: 205 Clive: Unsung Heroes of 2017 #6

Don’t forget to pick up your copy of my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, from the LOP Store or Amazon today! Simply click here to find mine and a host of other books and merchandise on offer, all courtesy of LOP, or on the icon to the left to be taken directly to Amazon!

Click here to add me on Facebook!

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