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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business: The Renaissance Era Takes Shape
By Samuel 'Plan
Apr 9, 2017 - 10:03:07 PM

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Just Business: The Renaissance Era Takes Shape

What WWE have obsessively referred to as “the new Era” I have been referring to as the Renaissance Era, for a very simple reason: for some time now, WWE has been defined by an increasing return to older school elements; some older than others. Whether it be as incidental as borrowing talent from another organisation for a one-off appearance or as conceptual as creating an internal system of competing products (not just limited to the Brand Extension), there’s a whole shopping list of ways in which WWE have been informing their contemporary product with elements of both the recent and distant past.

It has been difficult to define just when this Renaissance Era started in earnest, and will probably continue to be so until such a time as we usher in the next phase of WWE’s modern history, whenever that might be. What I feel we can tell, though, despite appearances tempting to make us think otherwise, is that WrestleMania 33 was the biggest step forward in WWE for quite some time. It will, as with most things in the world’s leading pro wrestling promotion, all be in the follow-up, but there was, all the same, a definite sense of torch passing defining more than one aspect of WWE’s annual super-card; from Reigns retiring Undertaker, to Rollins burning down the Authority, to Owens despatching the legendary Jericho, WWE’s creative that night was one of big gestures.

It is my opinion that the following week’s programming only furthered this impression of progression. Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins both carried themselves like stars on a whole new level following their career-defining wins from the night before. Kurt Angle presented the first fresh on-screen authority figure since the birth of the Authority in 2013 (Shane is so intricately linked to Stephanie he did little to shake up that sense of sterility upon his return). Finn Bálor returned from injury to a huge ovation on Monday Night Raw, immediately occupying the spot at the top of the roster he left vacant upon injury. Further, debuts were rife; this is no unusual thing for a post-‘Mania week, but the difference here was the level of star power. The Revival and Shinsuke Nakamura are no small acts to come out of NXT, both contributing their blockbuster appeal (to the core wrestling audience at least) to further substantiate the growing cadre of well-rounded and readily identifiable characters littering WWE’s main roster.

In short, the Renaissance Era is now really beginning to take shape, as we see its most readily identifiable roster taking full and final form. The names now inhabiting Monday and Tuesday nights are the names I suspect will come to be as related to the Renaissance Era as the likes of Hart, Michaels, Diesel, Ramon and Bulldog are to the New Generation for example, or Austin, Rock, Triple H, Mankind and Angle are to the Attitude Era. This makes it, yet again, an exciting time to be a WWE fan. That the product has now comprehensively changed from how it predominantly looked during the Reality Era is beyond debate; what I believe to be the fifth period in WWE’s modern history is now completely behind us.

But I ask, knowing what we have currently, what might still lay ahead?

Well, what I thought might be fun, in acknowledging how we are at such an exciting moment of change in WWE history, would be to take a look at ten specific possible pairings for fans to get excited about and which could prove to be, if executed, some historic in-ring bests of their age.

Predictably, I want to start with my favourite, Seth Rollins, with what I like to refer to as “The Kingslayer Trilogy.”

Seth Rollins vs. Finn Bálor is one that we have already seen once, of course, at what might just be the first pay-per-view of the Renaissance Era for that matter. However, overshadowed by the short-lived controversy over the design of the Universal Championship, and the debate over Finn Bálor’s injury, I think the quality of that original encounter, and its generally epic feel, was lost on many.

Their tense stare down at the end of their Raw tag team match last week was a tantalising hint at the tension that yet remains between these two men, who now occupy the same side on the morality divide. Such recognition of long-term continuity serves wonders for any match, and for the product as a whole: it’s an inflection of shared universe storytelling that always has WWE at its best. It perfectly complements the natural symmetry in both men’s ascent through WWE too – an organic story that is now only taken further as they vie for the top babyface spot on Monday Night Raw. C’mon; how can you not be excited for a sequel, with such context?

Seth Rollins vs. Shinsuke Nakamura may not be one to appear at the very top of a lot of people’s lists, but having seen what both are capable of individually, and having seen what Nakamura can do opposite performers like AJ Styles and Finn Bálor particularly, I think it would have all the makings of a top tier encounter. The story would need to really be fabricated from a blank slate, as neither, to my knowledge, have ever had any kind of a run in with one another. What’s more, I can’t help but feel like Nakamura would be better served going against the villainous version of Rollins rather than the heroic version; but there’s plenty of time to let that alignment happen of course. Although that being said, Seth Rollins as a hero is best when channelling some Savage-style intensity, and Nakamura might be the prime opponent to help draw that out in the ring. Regardless, I think Kingslayer vs. King of Strong Style would be hugely appealing to the core fan base, for the promise of its quality content alone.

He’s wrestled Styles; he’s wrestled Bálor; let Nakamura complete the set, I say!

Seth Rollins vs. Neville is a more personal choice of mine, and not one that would possess perhaps the same box office potential as the others listed above, but the Kingslayer and the King of the Cruiserweights have some engaging history with one another in the form of Neville’s WWE World Heavyweight Championship near miss from two summers ago, in an enrapturing television encounter.

Since turning heel, Neville has proven an absolute revelation, injecting huge amounts of character and subtext into his work in the ring and providing more engaging variety in how his overwhelming offense is deployed. Neville in his current war machine guise against Rollins would be a real treat that would appeal to old school storytelling fans and new school fans of hyperactive athleticism to equal degree. What’s more, drawing on that past encounter feeds perfectly into Neville’s villainous motivation of always being patronisingly pitied as an undersized underdog.

But, of course, Seth Rollins isn’t the only man on WWE’s roster, and I shouldn’t keep waffling on about just him (even if I could write 3000 words on why him vs. AJ Styles should headline WrestleMania 34…). As mentioned, there’s a whole litany of potential stories for WWE to tell with its new army of characters, including some that could provide us with a quotient of supernatural melodrama for those fans of the Brothers of Destruction mythology.

Bray Wyatt vs. Finn Bálor writes itself, doesn’t it? Both characters carry their fair share of supernatural inflection, and seeing how the Eater of Worlds would react to Bálor’s demon side would be very intriguing. Perhaps one thing Wyatt has lacked thus far – outside of some much needed consistency in his writing – is a supernatural rival; an antithesis; a Kane to his Undertaker. While the two characters obviously wouldn’t share the same fictional bonds of blood as the Brothers of Destruction, developing an on-again off-again rivalry between the two more mythological characters would benefit certainly Bray, at the very least.

You’d have to think their matches would be nice and bone-juddering too. Wyatt has always been at his best in the ring when operating at a brisk pace with a hard hitting aesthetic, and who better to facilitate that for him than a man influenced heavily by puroresu and who can move faster than most on the roster? The two could comfortably recreate the same vibes we saw with Bálor’s run ins with Samoa Joe, for example.

Bray Wyatt vs. Kevin Owens would be psychologically enthralling, and no mistake. While inside the ring Wyatt is best going fast and impactful – a style right up Owens’ street too – outside of it he is at his best when he has a very clearly defined character to prey upon. While I have my consternations when it comes to Kevin Owens, character is not, nor has it ever been, one of them. In fact, he might just be one of the more complex characters on the entire roster. His obsession with always looking better than his opponent, and his Darwinian efforts to bolster his own brand by undermining the brand of his enemy, would be a natural fit for the Eater of Worlds.

Owens could mock Wyatt’s unique brand of leadership, all the while Wyatt preying upon Owens’ inner insecurities. We’ve seen Owens add touches of fleeting madness to his performances through the years, and seeing that dialled up by Wyatt would be very fresh. It is once again a pairing that might not immediately spring to most people’s minds, but it’s also a pairing that I think could very easily work magic on screen.

Samoa Joe vs. Dean Ambrose might just be the match to bring out the edge of the Lunatic Fringe so many fans remain so desperate to see. In fact, Samoa Joe might just drag the edge out of him. Where many were left disappointed with Ambrose’s clash opposite a still heavily-protected Brock Lesnar, Ambrose vs. The Destroyer could provide the apology. It’d be great to see the heavy-handed smash mouth and physical realism of Samoa Joe’s style bring out the same smash mouth physicality in Ambrose that vigilant fans once witnessed the Lunatic Fringe utilise opposite William Regal in the (unfairly) long-forgotten days of FCW, and who knows where evoking the darker side of Dean could lead him – be it the realms of a vaunted heel turn, or a renewed energy as a more brazen and in your face anti-hero. Further, I would go so far as to say that if any match comprised exclusively of contemporary talent suited Hell in a Cell more than any other, it’d be this one.

Dean Ambrose vs. Sami Zayn is a pairing that many might think natural if Ambrose was, in fact, a villain. Though he has never truly shown it on the main roster since the Shield split, most wrestling fans today know what Ambrose is capable of when playing the bad guy. He’s a natural; not limited to being just crazy, he can be invasive, visceral and downright disturbing. Seeing that Ambrose rub shoulders with a hero that many WWE fans very naturally and organically identify and sympathise with would create, I think, a product that irresistibly draws the audience into the fictional narrative being woven. Zayn is so fresh-faced, and in possession of such a zeal for life, there’d be something ruinous about Ambrose seeking to eviscerate him.

Roman Reigns vs. Finn Bálor surely needs to happen on a big stage, following on the heels of their great clash on Bálor’s debut Raw last year? That match, while not quite as exciting on a re-watch, was nonetheless flawlessly performed, with Bálor evoking an air of legitimate threat from Roman Reigns, one in the vein of the very best bad guys; I think that might be because of the size difference. What’s more, the natural popularity of one would blend enticingly with the natural controversy of the other – and seeing a two-match series, where Reigns offs Finn only to later be confronted by an empowered Bálor, would make for some great fiction, I feel.

Finn Bálor vs. AJ Styles is another natural fit for the Renaissance Era and, interestingly, one that in any other age might never have had a hope of happening. One element that has greatly benefitted the product in recent years is the shattering of the old WWE taboo of recognising other promotions exist, and that stars of value have been there. WWE no longer shy away from the pasts of their top names, which means, while it would be done with the expected degree of careful censorship, the world’s leading promotion could finally bring together the two former leaders of the Bullet Club, with Gallows and Anderson adding extra intrigue to a feud that would perhaps be better for not even seeing the Demon emerge at all. Not only is this one that would draw in WWE fans, the real-world history would likely even draw in a number of hardened anti-WWE cynics too.

And finally…

The Shield vs. Anyone. Because that full on reunion has to happen. Just once. Please. Whether it’s against a known entity like The Club, a new stable coming up like Sanity, or even a coalition of stars like Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe (with a third added compatriot), The Shield should have a reunification, perhaps even if only as a one night deal. It was their Triple Threat at Battleground, I currently theorise, that put the full stop on the end of the Reality Era; an Era which they helped propagate. So why not close out the Renaissance Era – an Era in which they now lead - whenever that day might come, with a fully-fledged, one time only reunion?

So there you have it, folks.

Ten matches WWE could pull the trigger on any time they wanted, and ten matches that I think would majorly peak fan interest. Gone are the days of fabricated stars formed from an exclusively in-house developmental system creating a sterile product. WWE now, finally, have a deep pool of immensely varied talent and characters with an infinite number of enticing in-ring possibilities. Hell, I’ve only stuck to four or five key players. Expand to other levels of the roster and you find even more potential; still more so when you start including current NXT characters waiting in the wings.

Truly, the Renaissance Era is in full swing. The time has now come for WWE to start throwing out some of these blockbuster bouts, and let this new Era truly mature.

And while we wait for that to happen, why not share with me any thoughts you might have on my list of matches, and tell me what matches you personally can’t wait to see, in the comments down below!

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