During a match with Kane on the WWE European tour this week, Seth Rollins suffered a major knee injury and will be on the sidelines for the next 6-9 months, which puts the company in a tough spot just a few weeks before the Survivor Series pay-per-view event. Aside from being the WWE champion, Rollins is basically the only major heel on the roster so there’s more to the situation than just finding the next champion and because of that, the booking of the tournament scheduled for the PPV seems that much more important for the long term plans, especially considering that Rollins won’t be back for Wrestlemania 32. First, it has to be said that it’s extremely unfortunate that Rollins suffered such a serious injury and hopefully he can return to 100% because he deserves a lot of credit for his performances during his run in the main event picture, even if the booking was shaky at times. Is Seth Rollins the wrestler to launch wrestling into the main stream? Probably not, but the bottom line is, he can go in the ring and he has carried the company during a time when John Cena took somewhat of a more minimized role recently after working his own busy schedule.
That being said, Survivor Series is only a few weeks away and the WWE has to find a replacement for the champion, and the top heel in the promotion, which can be two completely different scenarios depending of how they book the PPV. Who really replaces Seth Rollins in terms of the major heel on Raw? Alberto Del Rio just returned to the company and won the US title, but he continues to be cheered. Kevin Owens is finally rebuilding momentum after he somewhat plateaued following the Cena feud and he’s the current IC champion, but could he leap frog that far up the card that fast? Don’t get me wrong, I think Owens has all the tools to be a main event star for the WWE, but you can’t manufacture a “pipe bomb” type promo to automatically propel him to the title picture after he just became established as the IC champion. Bray Wyatt continues to be an entertaining act and one of the more over performers on the roster, but he has basically only been used to get other competitors over, most recently Roman Reigns at HIAC and it worked as the match elevated Reign’s stock. However, that was designed to help get Reigns over, but when has Wyatt really been booked in a feud to make him become more of a star? It speaks volumes to his ability that he remains relevant despite being beaten into powder during most of the major angles he was booked for, including the match with John Cena, which could’ve helped establish Wyatt further up the card, but he did the job.
In my opinion, the perception of the lack of depth on the roster is a result of talent not being fully utilized when they are over with the audience, but the actual talent is there and in many ways, the WWE currently has the best roster they’ve had in a decade. Why hasn’t the WWE given Dean Ambrose a chance to work the main event picture? Instead, he was booked for cartoonish segments and then presented as Roman’s sidekick. Dolph Ziggler was put in the spotlight of the main event of Survivor Series last year, but was anything booked to capitalize on it? Brock Lesnar could always be added to the tournament to give it a spark, but if Lesnar would be used more often as the champion again, (which he would have to be considering the competitors that aren’t working TV at the moment) wouldn’t that be counter productive to the WWE’s strategy of making his appearances “special” events? The short term booking solution to prop up the star power on WWE TV of Lesnar working weekly could dilute the aura that’s established around Brock with limited appearances. It’s been said many times, but it applies here as well, the lack of competition within the wrestling industry seems to have led to the WWE overlooking the potential of certain performers. As I’ve said before, if WCW existed in 2014, would the office have shunned Daniel Bryan? It took the fans booing Batista out of the building (not his fault) and a near mutiny every week on Raw leading up to Wrestlemania for the WWE brass to actually present what the fans wanted to see in the main event.
Along with that, the business being completely over exposed has an effect on building new stars and specifically, the perception of main event heels. I wrote about it in a column last week, but if you blatantly tell the audience they are watching a staged product, it makes it more difficult to get an emotional investment into the characters. Granted, there’s an aspect of “suspending disbelief,” but the most successful performers in the history of the business were essentially themselves amplified through the scope of pro wrestling. When the audience knows specifically who is dictating the direction of the product, it makes it much more difficult for a heel character to get heat with the crowd. For example, when Daniel Bryan was eliminated from the Royal Rumble this year, the fans didn’t get mad at Bray Wyatt for sending him to the floor, they directed the heat towards the office for booking Bryan to get eliminated. Basically, when the audience knows who makes the decision, the WWE brass gets the heat for the heel’s actions, not the heel character and that makes it more difficult for the characters to establish themselves as legitimate stars. The talent and ability is there, but how many of the newer generation are perceived as money drawing stars? There’s a reason the WWE has relied on nostalgia acts to give their biggest events a boost in the past few years and it doesn’t seem to help to solidify any of the younger talent either. The combination of not giving certain talents the proper platform when they are over with the fans and the over exposure of the wrestling business has led to a lack of star power, which puts the WWE in a tough spot.
So, what does the WWE do for the PPV? As far as protecting the secrets of the sport, the horse has left the barn, the train has left the station, and you can’t go backwards in terms of what’s already been revealed. But, the WWE can work within the current perception of the industry and use it to build an intriguing storyline for Survivor Series. Ironically, it was the same event in 1998 that also featured a title tournament and it was when The Rock turned heel to become the “corporate champion.” A similar scenario could be used to cover all the bases for the WWE and allow them to accomplish what was probably their original goal for the event. It’s well known that the WWE still hopes to make Roman Reigns the next top star and despite some struggles, he seems to be adapting well towards an eventual title run. Again, the majority of the results the audience doesn’t want to see, the heat is directed toward the office and not the heels so the booking of the tournament could work towards that. It could be Dean Ambrose or Dolph Ziggler, both of whom the crowd perceive as being disregarded from the WWE office, challenge Roman Reigns in the finals and the Authority helps Reigns get the win so he takes his place as the “anointed champion.”
It uses the initial resentment towards Reigns as the motive for the heel turn and it to gives the WWE another top heel. Would it be predictable? Yeah, but if it works, what’s the difference? I think if Reigns wins as a baby face, it might fall flat and spark more hostility towards him so hopefully there’s some depth to the booking of the tournament. Regardless, there certainly a lot of buzz for Survivor Series and it will be interesting to see who is the next WWE champion.
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