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REQUESTING FLYBY: Questionable Booking Decisions of 2014
By Maverick
Nov 16, 2014 - 7:26:20 AM

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Questionable Booking Decisions of 2014

Ever since us fans “smartened up” to the business, a process accelerated first by paper dirtsheets like The Wrestling Observer, and then by the explosion of web based versions like the very website you are browsing as we speak, we have enjoyed the process of putting creative decisions under the microscope and debating if the right decisions were made. In our ongoing collaboration series ATTITUDE, myself and Mazza have a “One To Watch” where we discuss a booking decision, push, or wrestling trope illustrated by that week’s pay-per-view (we began in January with Wrestlemania XIII and will finish up around New Year’s Day with Wrestlemania XVII). Watching Raw this week, it struck me that there were a lot of writing decisions on show that would lend themselves to that kind of discussion, with earlier calls from the previous ten months, and before in some cases, having a large impact on what we are seeing right now. So, I’ve picked out a few interesting debates from 2K14 that bear thinking about in some detail. Here we go!

Should WWE have called an audible on Jack Swagger at Summerslam?

It was interesting to me that last night’s Raw began with Jack Swagger being announced as one of John Cena’s hand picked team members for Survivor Series, only for him to then be written out of the storyline after a double kerb stomp by Seth Rollins. Back in the summer, after years of being pushed by WWE without it sticking, or being given opportunities by them that he did not take, Swagger finally got over when he took on the juggernaut that is Rusev. By turning his pro-American stance a full 180 to sympathetic, Hogan channeling babyface act, the All American American was getting some of the biggest pops in the company for a while there. After a knock down, drag out war at Battleground ended in a count out, the former collegiate athlete’s credibility was preserved for a flag match showdown at Summerslam.

Now, this is where things get interesting. Instead of booking a conventional flag match, WWE booked it to be a match to have the right to fly the winner’s flag, meaning that Rusev went over when Swags passed out in The Accolade. Since then, the Bulgarian Brute has carried on crushing the competition, defeating two similarly YOO-ESS-AY themed challenges from Mark Henry and The Big Show. There’s no denying that Rusev has done marvellously, in tandem with Lana, and right now he is one of the more entertaining heels on the roster, with tonnes of heat...and he still hasn’t lost. But what if his pinfall/submission 100% record had been preserved and he had instead lost a flag match to Swagger? I don’t believe that a streak is necessary for Rusev to function in the way that he has and continues to, particularly if his one L was in a match where the decision does not involve getting pinned or tapping out, and it might just have raised both Swagger and Rusev, rather than just the foreign heat magnet.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, I believe that Jack Swagger should have gone over at Summerslam in a traditional flag match. The crowd was falling over themselves to cheer a guy who WWE have always been DESPERATE to get over. He has the look, the size, the skills and a mouthpiece who helps him overcome limited promo ability. By building the Real American up only to knock him down, WWE may have deprived themselves of their last opportunity to make Swagger a major player. Even so, I would still have bought him in Team Cena. I would certainly have preferred to see him rather than Sheamus or Big Show. But in terms of kayfabe credibility, jobbing Swags out on successive TVs after Summerslam- where he looked really strong in defeat- finished him off really. Which is a shame. WWE have handled Rusev brilliantly and have themselves a great upper midcard hoss and heat magnet manager... but they could have had that AND a very over patriotic upper midcard babyface, and at a time when they are short, drastically short, of legitimate face talent.

Did The Eater of Worlds Need To Eat Cena’s World?

When a Wrestlemania Bray Wyatt vs John Cena feud was first mooted so soon after the former Husky Harris had returned under his new guise, many hooted with derision, but at Royal Rumble and then Elimination Chamber, it became clear that the Wyatt Family was indeed targeting Cena with their unique brand of psychological and physical intimidation. The early part of the rivalry was some of Wyatt’s best work to date, with a familiar theme of trying to expose John as a hypocrite, a monster hiding beneath gaudy colours and impassioned speeches. However, even by Wrestlemania, things were already going awry with the writing. John Cena hiding behind a sheep mask as a way of turning the tables on his tormentor was an incredibly silly go home angle, and many of Cena’s promos leading up to the event had him essentially no sell Bray’s character, which is exactly what Kane, Bryan and Punk had tried hard to avoid in their interaction with him. The character is all with Wyatt; can you imagine anyone in 1990 no selling the intimidation factor of The Undertaker? Of course not. Top guys like Warrior and Hogan actually showed doubt in the face of The Phenom.

Having said that, the Wrestlemania XXX match was wrestled superbly in my opinion. On the night, it was the bout I enjoyed most aside from the Bryan/Triple H curtain jerker. It really was an eye opening performance from Bray Wyatt on the big stage, and it was a performance that finally sold me on him for good as an in ring worker (those of you who listen to The Right Side of the Pond may remember me casting aspersions on his actual wrestling until he shut me up with three consecutive classics at the Rumble, Chamber and ‘Mania). The story of the match was all about Cena needing to embrace some sort of vicious streak at odds with his child friendly demeanour in order to vanquish Wyatt. Now, on the night, I was entirely ok with the finish, which I thought was quite cleverly constructed, but knowing how the feud went from there, it now seems like an erroneous booking decision to say the least.

After a couple of weeks of six man tags with little storyline progression, Wyatt unleashed the choir of children with sheep masks as Cena was forced by a WWE App vote to take on the entire Family. He gave a masterful promo the next week inside the cage that was reminiscent of Bret Hart in 1997 losing faith in everything as he was continually screwed, rejecting the crowd for their fickle nature, yet in the VERY SAME SHOW he came back with a load of lame jokes about a donkey called “Gluteus” and completely no sold the mind games that had gone on in the previous weeks. From that moment, the feud was stone dead. It lost all heat and everything that went on after was basically worthless. An absolute turd of a cage match, which Wyatt only won with heavy interference from his goons and from a creepy little kid, levelled things up at a match apiece, before another confusing and contradictory few weeks of build led to Cena triumphing in an entertaining but flawed last man standing match at Payback. It’s a feud which promised so much in the short term but actually became one of the most crushing disappointments of the year, both because of the way that the writers could not decide on a consistent direction for it, and because of WWE’s obsession with protecting Cena. The things is, the Franchise Player is absolutely bullet proof, has been for years. He can afford to lose a feud! And if he did lose a series, that would be a huge for the man that made it happen. Wyatt should be on top of the wrestling world by now instead of having to be taken off television and reintroduced. It’s now up to Dean Ambrose to “make” Bray Wyatt something again, when Cena should have already made it happen months ago. And it would have been so simple. John’s refusal to embrace the hate should have led to the Eater of Worlds pinning him at the Showcase of the Immortals, following which, Cena went crazy and bloodied Wyatt in the cage match (with Harper and Rowan instructed by their leader not to interfere so it was a true one on one effort), leading to shenanigans in the LMS leaving Bray the winner of the feud. With Cena booked to win the title ladder match at Money In The Bank, he would have come back strong anyway.

Should Cesaro Have Gone Near Paul Heyman With A Twenty Foot Pole?

Well, the short answer is HELL NO. At Wrestlemania, the Swiss Superman ditched Zeb Colter and Jack Swagger and went on to win the biggest match of his career to date, the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal. The pop when he picked up The Big Show and slammed him over the top rope, in a nod to Hulk Hogan’s famous body slam of Andre himself at Wrestlemania III, instantly turned the former US Champion babyface, a fact underlined by the display of respect from the World’s Largest Athlete afterwards and the crowd reaction. Then, bizarrely, the very next night, he joined up with the most heelish manager in the business in Paul Heyman. Now, I can only assume that this was a lock prior to Wrestlemania and therefore Creative just followed through with their existing plan, rather than seeing the reaction post-battle royal and realising that an audible needed to be called. To take a man who had been in limbo with a yodelling gimmick, turn him into a badass tag wrestler and then break him out as a huge upper midcard face is really the stuff of booking dreams, but for reasons best known to themselves, WWE stamped all over it and tried to make Cesaro a heel alongside Heyman.

Now, for one thing, the crowd were desperate to cheer Cesaro, so he lacked heat, particularly as his primary opponents were RVD and Sheamus, both of whom were not exactly overflowing with face pops having become overexposed down the years. For another, Heyman did very little selling of the King of Swing as he continually blew his own trumpet as “the one behind the one in twenty one and one” and garnered crowd heat by extolling the virtues of Brock Lesnar. Meanwhile, Cesaro himself did nothing different from his usual act other than wearing a sparkly cape and then an old school ring jacket (and let’s not even talk about that godawful theme tune with its endless crappy remixes, each worse than the last). His matches remained impressive, of course, but as a character, he went nowhere, and the very point of having a manager- to cover for a performer’s lack of promo ability- was lost as Heyman added absolutely nothing to Cesaro’s presentation. If anything, Paul E. actively harmed his client at a time when he seemed to be on the verge of grasping a huge opportunity.

For years to come, wrestling writers will likely be discussing WWE’s ill-fated decision to place Cesaro with Paul Heyman and force him to remain heel the night after he became the de facto number four or five face in the company. I personally feel that he will be just fine- he’s too talented not to be- but imagine where he could be by now. He’s doing great work in that midcard on a night to night basis, be it over the US or Intercontinental Titles, but it would be remiss of me not to point out that the roads are littered with the bones of talented midcarders who just never quite got that final shove over the top into the main event- X Pac, Ken Shamrock, Billy Gunn, John Morrison, MVP and Shelton Benjamin to name just a few. It remains to be seen whether Cesaro will join that list or join the likes of Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, Chris Benoit, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan as talents who kept knocking on the door until they burst through it. I hope it is the latter, because there’s no doubt that WWE missed a trick by not strapping a babyface rocket to the King of Swing’s back following the thirtieth edition of the Grandaddy Of ‘Em All.

Well dear readers, now it’s over to you. What booking decisions of 2014 would YOU change? Be sure to let me know in the comments below!

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...this is Maverick, requesting flyby!