Early summer is not usually a great time for WWE programming.
It’s an awkward limbo period when any residual WrestleMania programs have ended, but it’s a bit too early to start a SummerSlam story. And so, WWE fans are presented with random, meandering storylines and matches for the hell of it to hold the audience over till late June/early July. I mean, the Usos and the Revival are feuding in regards to the latter’s hygiene habits.
This is nothing new. JBL spent this time in 2004 protecting the border, 2006 heralded the arrival of The Great Khali, Jack Swagger became the World Heavyweight Champion in 2010, R-Truth feuded with Little Jimmy and John Cena in 2011, “People Power” in 2012, Blue-tista in 2014, and Backlash 2018 is regarded as on the worst PPVs ever. This time in WWE is, truly, just whatever. But there’s something special about this year’s meanderings. Something truly depressing entrenched in the melancholy.
There’s an unshakable feeling that WWE creative is flailing.
The amount of WWE programming has expanded exponentially since the WWE Network was introduced in 2014. First came a barrage of ancillary realty-style TV shows. This was followed by an increased number of pay-per-views and the rise of NXT. WWE then realized that they owned the means of distribution and began experimenting with expanded lengths of their pay-per-views, starting with WrestleMania 32. And from there they continued to grow to our current critical mass of programming that features a pay-per-view every three to four weeks, regular specials/pay-per-views emanating from other countries, televised house shows, seven-hour long WrestleManias, and rumblings of making WrestleMania a two day long event.
It’s an overwhelming typhoon of wrestling, but that’s not the problem. The typhoon of programming is easily dammed by simply turning off your television. The problem is that the creative powers that be are drowning while trying to propagate that typhoon, which leads them to, laughably, using the 24/7 Championship, the Beast Box, and Robert Roode’s mustache as life-rafts.
The 24/7 title was heralded with all the pomp and circumstance of a single bumper ad on a PPV and Mick Foley. The premise of the title, as the name so subtly indicates, is that it can be defended at all times and it could potentially give lower-card acts purposes for their matches. However, all of this potential was squandered with its debut. Titus O’Neil was the first 24/7 Champion and he won it after outracing all other members of the lower-card and literally picking up the title off the floor. R-Truth claimed the title a few skits later and has been running through Raw and SmackDown LIVE carrying its lineage (and Carmella) on his back. The title has yet to have any storyline significance, prestige, or to even be held by a prominent character for a substantial period of time and, more importantly, how am I supposed to invest in a brand new championship that was won by someone picking it up off the floor?
Coincidentally, the classic red tinge of the Raw set went black during the same segment the 24/7 Championship was introduced. Foley noted the occurrence by saying something along the lines of the third hour of Raw now being gritty, mean, and other buzzwords which were jarring at worst and confusing at best. Does that imply the first two hours were not gritty and mean? Is this supposed to mean that we will be given more controversial segments during that hour? Should I just not pay attention to the first two hours? Is Bayley, who is decidedly not gritty and mean, barred from the third hour of Raw? This new look to the third hour of Raw has yet to have any meaning.
Brock Lesnar is one of the greatest combat-sports athletes of our generation. He’s an NCAA Division I Heavyweight Champion, a UFC Heavyweight Champion, multiple time WWE World Heavyweight Champion, and has dominated the main event landscape of WWE since 2014. And how is this bloodthirsty warlord choosing to spend this time in career? By juking and jiving to some sick beats on a boom box.
Don’t get me wrong, “The Beast Box” is hilarious and I’ve been dropping that meme in all my text threads — but still, why? WWE has been riding a “f*ck Lesnar he’s never here” angle since early 2018 so it made infuriating sense when he interrupted last month’s Money in the Bank ladder match and won it. He’s generated a significant amount of heat and conceptually presents a huge threat to either Seth Rollins or Kofi Kingston. This was an excellent move, considering that Kofi and Seth are still establishing their title reigns and a looming Lesnar adds an aura of urgency to each of their segments as he can cash in at anytime. But then, Brock’s beat dropped.
Lesnar held the Money in the Bank briefcase like a boom box once, just one friggin’ time, and Reddit et al. ran with it. All of a sudden there were the gifs of The Beast juking to its imaginary beat and it was enough for WWE to throw away a potential character elevating moment for either Seth or Kofi. Lesnar, boom box and all, has been billed as a nigh unstoppable juggernaut who broke The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak, devastated Hulk Hogan and wiped the legend’s blood on his chest, broke all of DX’s arms, and essentially eviscerated every notable character to grace the ring since 2002. Fending off a cash-in attempt from Lesnar would have been a huge boon for either Kofi or Seth, but WWE was more interested in having Lesnar get a two-step shuffle over.
Look at this list of storylines/concepts that WWE has introduced since WrestleMania and, kindly, tweet me (@JBarrettWrites) if you can find a pay-off:
- Robert Roode’s mustache
- Splitting up SAnitY and The Riott Squad and neglecting all members of those respective factions since
- Mojo Rawley yelling at a mirror
- The Viking Experience/Viking Raiders
- Baron Corbin earning a Universal Championship opportunity
- Becky 2 Belts, t-shirts printed and all, losing a belt during her first rounds of defense
- Adding bullet ricochet sound effects to Ricochet’s entrance music
- Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins winning the tag titles and then going into the witness protection program
- EC3 and his burial
“Flail” is a verb that is defined as a wild, chaotic, and useless motion. Sadly, I can’t think of a better way to describe that past few months in WWE. All of the aforementioned storyline initiatives are motion for the sake of motion with not a single discernible pay-off among them. Is this from a lack of talent or ability at the talent or creative levels? Absolutely not — WrestleMania 35 was a monumental success that featured seven hours of excellent matches, unforgettable moments, and the crowning of three exciting new champions. WWE was shown to be capable of producing a great product as recently as two months ago and nothing has changed in their production infrastructure to affect that. So what is happening?
They’re reacting to something. AEW? SmackDown’s move to Fox? Declining ratings? I don’t know, I’m just some guy with a laptop at a coffee shop. But what I do know is that the company appears to be under some internal pressure, aside from the need to produce seven hours of first-run weekly television, of which none of us are privy to. So while I’ve had my fun taking pot-shots at The Beast Box, I think it would behoove all of us if we just tried to enjoy the show.
After all, Brock isn’t that bad of a dancer, the 24/7 title is one run with EC3 away from being relevant, and SummerSlam is just around the corner.