Last week, I penned an article about the Universal title situation, and more specifically how the limited Brock Lesnar schedule hindered, not helped the importance of the belt. Along with the perception of the championship, Brock’s matches became repetitive and complacent, which sums up his current title run. It appears that Lesnar’s stale act had a ripple effect on the other aspects of the WWE product, as many of the current feuds show a lack of any progression from either a storyline or character prospective.
At the top of the card, it was hinted on Raw that Reigns will challenge Lesnar for the title again. Again, as I wrote last week, the entire Brock/Roman angle has a “been there, done that” atmosphere to it. The feud peaked a WM 34 and if management was going to switch the title, which is still the plan then it made the most sense to book it at the biggest stage possible. Anything after that yields a diminishing return. But, WWE brass booked themselves into a corner with how they made Roman look inferior to Lesnar so many times, as it’s counterproductive to their intention of the “big win” for the anointed champion. The whole “Roman’s journey to the title” scenario already played out ahead of WM 34 so at this point, it’s a completely recycled concept that the audience already watched previously. At the same time, management wants the payoff of Roman Reigns beating Brock Lesnar so that will result in yet another rematch that doesn’t seem to be too in demand for one of the marquee shows of the year.
Sure, Braun Strowman’s MITB cash-in will probably play a role in the outcome of Summer Slam, but even that dilutes the process. Theoretically, if Braun cashes-in to disrupt the Brock/Roman match at Summer Slam, it gives Roman yet another excuse that he didn’t get a “fair” shot at the title, which is exactly what he said after the cage match against Lesnar in April. Is constantly complaining really a trait of a top babyface? It was said many times already, but the writing team does Reigns absolutely no favors with how he’s scripted on a weekly basis. When the dust settles and Brock leaves, will Roman Reigns be more over than he was previously?
This might be too pessimistic, but I didn’t necessarily see the value in Braun’s MITB victory. That’s not because he shouldn’t be the champion, he definitely should’ve worked the main event of WM this year, but rather that the stipulation doesn’t really suit his character. Strowman’s entire gimmick is that he’s an unstoppable monster, and he does a tremendous job of adding entertainment value every week. He portrays the character very well and that gives his persona versatility within the context of a storyline. Since Braun is over with different demographics of audience while maintaining his monster gimmick, it’s possible for the heels to get heat. That said, should the unstoppable monster really need a surprise cash-in to win the belt?
The Nia Jax/Alexa Bliss rematch at Extreme Rules is yet another retread from a storyline done earlier in the year, specifically when the angle peaked at WM 34 with the Nia win. Granted, the Bliss cash-in at MITB was a way to protect Ronda Rousey’s status, but if it involved another rematch of a recycled feud, maybe it would’ve been better to avoid a Ronda title shot right now entirely. Essentially, the Nia/Bliss story was already told and there’s not much new ground for this angle to cover so the rematch at Extreme Rules is mostly pointless. In fact, with the solid talent in the women’s division on Raw, it appears that it wouldn’t have been too difficult to book something fresh, even if it’s just a way to keep Bliss busy until the eventual Rousey return.
At the MITB pay-per-view, AJ Styles defeated Nakamura again in a WWE championship match, which more or less is all of the production that WWE brass is going to get from this feud. Styles and Nakamura was promoted as a “dream match,” which it was for American fans that didn’t see the two compete against each other in New Japan previously. The WM 34 match seemed underwhelming, but that might’ve been because of unrealistic standards for the bout. The AJ/Nakamura match was booked for four consecutive pay-per-views so there’s not much else for them to do at least for now.
If management wanted to keep the title on AJ, that’s understandable, but when you pair that decision with how Nakamura’s original push on Smackdown was handled, it certainly seems like management missed the boat with the Japanese star. The former IWGP heavyweight champion arrived on the scene in NXT with a lot of hype behind him and lived up to that hype with stellar matches against Sami Zayn and Samoa Joe on the brand. With his debut on SD in 2017, much of his mystic was minimized, and when he was booked in the title picture, he was basically used to attempt to get Jinder Mahal over, but that title reign flopped. Nakamura’s baby face run went nowhere and as unbelievable as it sounds, the charismatic striker floundered on the show. After the heel turn at WM, it freshened up his character, but again as a heel, there’s still no progression because he didn’t win the championship. Depending on the situation, that might be understandable if a particular challenger was just used to put over the champion, but was the long term goal for Nakamura really to be just another challenger for the title?
Surprisingly, Rusev won the number one contendership on SD and that provides a new match-up for the title, but even that decision was made at the wrong time. Rusev was one of the most over performers on the roster prior to WM, and the audience reaction has lessened since that time. The Rusev title push might be a few months later than it should’ve been if management wanted to maximize the potential of his main event run.
Finally and perhaps the scenario that will make you shake your head the most, is the Bayley/Sasha Banks angle. This storyline reduced two of the most over and talented characters to mostly cringe worthy segments on Raw. The way these two are booked to confront each other one week and then team together the next week makes them both look weak and leaves the audiences wondering what the logic is for this situation. This continuous confrontation was booked for months on TV to the point that you would rather see the segment end than an actual resolution to the conflict. If Bayley is a legitimate baby face, why would she continue to team with someone that attacks her backstage? If Sasha is going to be a heel that gets heat, why would she accept Bayley’s offer to team again after a confrontation? Don’t get me wrong, these two are some of the most talented athletes on the roster, but the scripted segments have completely hindered, not helped them display their ability on Raw.
I understand that WWE produces weekly content for the entire year so not every episode can be historic or memorable, that’s just not the nature of the situation, but the past few months haven’t featured much progression for either characters or entire storylines. In my opinion, the top of the card will dictate the direction of the rest of the Raw brand so a decision must be made about what to do with the Universal title. Hopefully, there will be a decision that moves the brand forward to avoid stale characters on Raw.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
E mail firstname.lastname@example.org | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta
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