From WarGames to Survivor Series & TV: What Worked & What Didn’t

It was a very important wrestling week.

It gave us the final chapter of a lot of highly-anticipated matches and planted the seeds for what WWE should be up to in the coming months.

Some of it worked. Some of it didn’t.

So let’s put our “student of the game” hats on…

… and dissect:

1 – Worked: The Wrestling

The perception that WWE currently “enjoys” its deepest pool of talent opposite its lowest storyline quality is popular, warranted, but not new.

However, it was certainly on display this week.

World-class talent like AJ Styles, The Usos, Cesaro and so many more showcase their talent with enough time to do so.

If you get the WWE roster ring time, they’ll give the fans a good time. That is a simple – yet major – victory.

This was especially evident at TakeOver: WarGames. Not just in the main matches, but also in great undercard matches. Arguably, the most complete story of the last week was this:

And for good reason.

Give the performers room and they will do the rest.

2 – Worked: The Booking of AJ Styles

Speaking of whom, I was very curious to see how WWE would choose to tell the story of Brock vs. AJ.

I was concerned it would turn out similar to either:

  • Brock’s match with Randy Orton, where Orton was set up to be a major threat but ended up being somewhat “Ivan Drago’d” and made a bit inconsequential by the end of the program
  • Or worse, it would look like Brock vs. Dean Ambrose, where none of the match’s violent potential came to fruition since, as Ambrose told it, Brock didn’t really feel like going along with Dean’s vision for the match.

Well, the match ended up being a significant step up from those matches and Styles had more than adequate time and situations to show why he is in permanent contention to be Wrestler of the Year.

AJ Styles wrestled as the underdog he rightfully was, but also with the quality he possesses, and few can match.

Save for losing to a single finisher from his opponent after hammering him down with repeated signature moves, the match served its purpose of showcasing both champions, without devaluing one’s stock.

Also, if you give AJ Styles time, he’ll put the crowd on its feet. It’s that simple.

3 – Almost Didn’t Work: The Booking of Braun Strowman

This was a close call.

For all intents and purposes, Braun was pivotal in Raw’s Survivor Series main event victory. He took out Nakamura, Roode and Orton cleanly, with his finisher.

If that doesn’t scream “Watch out for this guy”, I don’t know what does.

However, this message could have gone over significantly better if Triple H hadn’t butted into the final elimination.

Booking 101: you can’t get two things over at the same time. It’s like turning on Spotify and iTunes at the same time and trying to hear a song on both. You’ll understand neither.

By making Triple H the centerpiece of the final elimination, the crowd – which was plenty receptive to Strowman’s “song” – was left deflated when, suddenly, Triple H starting playing “his song”, by making sure he was the one who eliminated Shane, after sabotaging Angle’s participation.

The fix? Have Braun eliminate Shane and then Triple H can attack Angle (doing it before the win would still be confusing, in my heel opinion) and try to befriend Braun.

Braun’s stock went up. But not as much as it could.

4 – Didn’t Work: Survivor Series Main Event and Hunter Hearst Heverywhere

I can’t think of a figure as polarizing as Triple H: on one hand, his NXT vision has given the fans of bona fide pro wrestling a corner inside WWE where storytelling isn’t as fickle or whimsical as most Raw and Smackdown narratives.

On the other hand, you can feel him hogging a spotlight that, all too frequently, has no reason to be on him. From 20-minute opening promos back when Raw was a 2-hour show, to defeating wrestlers who had significantly more momentum than he did, we arrived at this past Sunday.

As Braun cleared the field, Triple H interjected himself to sabotage teammate Kurt Angle and polish off Shane McMahon himself.

This would be fine, had it not been Braun Strowman’s moment. Sure, the Monster Among Men will have more moments, but you simply don’t pass on chances like that when, as a booker, part of your survival is only assured by how well you put over your future stars.

And Braun would have been way more over at the end of the night with Triple H’s “hey, I’m here too”.

Let me give you an example: on Season 1 of the indy show I’m currently booking, I knew that on show 1, there was a Battle Royal in the main event and, on show 2, I wanted to have the champion drop the title to a guy who was on his way up. Who do you think won the Battle Royal? Mr. Up-and-comer. And how? Clean as a whistle, so no one could take away his moment.

I’m sorry but, if I can do it, it’s not that hard.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall at WWE headquarters, to understand if this was poor vision, or ego getting in the way.

5 – Didn’t Work: Drifting Midcard

One of the often seen consequences of being rich is one no longer values money as one did when there was little of it in the bank.

When one is talent-rich, your squandered bills become squandered wrestlers.

Instead of wasting money on frivolous items or not investing it, WWE has comfortably sat on its throne and forgot a Phone Book-sized stack of gigantic talent, lying dormant in its midcard, which could be inserted into storylines, developed and put to good use as fast as a millionaire who should be a billionaire can say “Go.”

Finn Balor. Samoa Joe. Shinsuke Nakamura. Matt Hardy. To name a few. In lieu of pushing these fine gentlemen, WWE has invested greatly more in part-time and low shelf-life projects like Kurt Angle (who is great to see back, don’t get me wrong), Shane “Throw My Ass Off High Shit” McMahon and Triple H.

But, let’s say it’s totally fine to make Trips, Shane and Kurt our booking priority. Why is it that Joe, Finn, Nak and Matt aren’t involved in any kind of meaningful story?

As Lex Luger would say:

I can’t think of any good reason. You either:

  • Don’t think storylines draw
  • Don’t think these talents should have a story
  • Don’t understand the synergy between character and story

Anyway, I don’t understand you.

But hey, I book an indy promotion in Portugal, make funny images and reply to messages asking me to bring back some kind of trailers (?). You run a multi-million-dollar internacional business.

Now, imagine if WWE told stories.

What do you think?

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