Can we dip this match into the Lake of Reincarnation?
I have returned, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks to a lot of stuff happening in my personal life over the last few months, including graduation from my PhD finally and the continuous output that follows, I haven't paid as much attention to the world of wrestling over the last few months. However, WrestleMania beckoned and I am all caught up. Undertaker squashed Cena like a annoying gnat (a simile which I think is very appropriate given the circumstances of the feud), the real King of Strong Style could be back, and Reigns...well we'll save that for a later edition, shall we? Today, let's look at last year's card.
In the Summer of 2016 Brock Lesnar returned to WWE television. To say that the guy was at a loose end was an understatement, as he had just come from a creatively bankrupt feud with Dean Ambrose, and was soon embroiled in a UFC drug scandal from his fight in UFC 200. So, due to the shiny new Brand Split that had just been set up, Lesnar was set up in a match with no stakes but for some nebulous notion of Brand Supremacy.
Against one Randall Keith Orton.
Now, putting aside that fact that the idea that there are not any 2 less 'team-orientated' wrestlers on the whole roster, the whole idea reeked of finding two main roster talents something to do.
I say all this because they had their Summerslam match where Lesnar proceeded to bash ten types of crap out of Orton...and really neither wrestler got anything out of it. Sure Lesnar looked brutal, but he'd then go away for a few months and Orton...was still at a loose end but with 13 stitches in his skull. So, with a smaller roster now beckoning, Orton found himself in a tangled mess of a feud with Bray Wyatt, who was now treading water at the top of a SmackDown card.
When we talk about the potential that this whole feud had, it is important to point out how dull the feud seemed at the beginning. Both superstars had a truly plodding affair at No Mercy, saved only with the return of Luke Harper, who then joined Bray Wyatt and seemed to up the stakes even more for poor Randy. So what did Randy do?
And thus the 'New Wyatt Family' was born.
This new twist was really what kicked this story into high gear. To the three worker's credit, each played their part perfectly. Orton was the cold, calculating Dragon of the Family, Wyatt was the egocentric patriarch full of equal parts hubris and menace, and Harper, who probably had the toughest job of all, tied it all together with his conflicting emotions of the loyalty he had to Bray with the scepticism he felt towards Randy.
And what made it better was they actually began to go on a tear throughout the WWE.
The three of them managed to uphold the pride of SmackDown by being the sole survivors of a cross-brand Survivor Series match up (well, Harper helped but was not in the match) before winding up as Tag Team Champions, defeating Slater and Rhyno for the SmackDown Tag Team Champs.
For twenty-three days, before American Alpha took the belts off them.
For a little while, this looked like a bum move, however all it did was open up to the next part of the program, where Harper and Orton's issues, became writ large for all to see, allowing a schism to occur and making poor Bray choose between the two, which he did after a match on January 14th 2017, hitting the defeated Harper with a Sister Abigail and leaving him in the cold.
And at the time, this program looked good. However soon, Creative started making mistakes that, while at the time didn't seem like a big deal, snowballed.
Firstly, the feud started to try and build a stupid sense of suspense at the expense of...well, sense. We all knew Orton was going to stab Wyatt in the back because...well it's Orton for God's sake. He is not one to play well with others. But rather than get it over and done with, they pushed it past the Rumble, past the Elimination Chamber and made it happen with only 3 or 4 weeks left before 'Mania.
One could argue that they were doing this to help put over the AJ/Shane story, but it really made for some pedestrian "will they/won't they" television. Furtheremore, it led to the WWE turning the wrong guy face!
Look, I understand the appeal of Randy Orton as a face. He has the most over face finisher in the whole of the company. But it has gone from a meme to a trend to a crutch, both on Orton and whoever is in the bloody ring against him. Orton as a face has the charisma of a bag of wet mice and essentially gets by because of his finisher and because of his pose. And on the other hand you had Bray Wyatt who, while not your typical looking face, was something different. Wouldn't it have been worth the risk to actually roll the dice here?
Because then the story makes more sense as well. Orton won the Royal Rumble with the help of Bray. He could then the next week stab Bray in the back, burning down Sister Abigail's hut in early Feb rather than March (in what was one of the most absurd segments of the year) and leaving Bray a broken (not like that!) man.
However, part of the problem with this is the pay-per-view (PPV) Schedule for SmackDown, which had a PPV 2 weeks after the Rumble, making it difficult for any major storyline movement. However, if they had Orton betray Bray between the Rumble and the Chamber, possibly beating the crap out of him as well, it would have allowed Bray to be protrayed as the wronged party. Furthermore, it would have also allowed Orton to look like the weasely heel that Bray could get his hands on when they came together at 'Mania.
Instead we're supposed to cheer Orton for desecrating a corpse and committing arson.
And throughout all this, arguably the most interesting dude in the trio was left on the sidelines!
Harper had also been wronged- by both his naive patriarch as well as Orton. But rather than get him into the mix for the WWE Championship, where he would have been a welcome addition with his ring work (and, if we are to be a little cynical, allow both other men to look strong by eating the pin), the WWE seemed to tease the idea that he was Main Event bound before booking him in the Andre Battle Royale. It was a real slap in the face for a guy who did arguably more than Wyatt and Orton to get this feud over
And I know Vince apparently isn't fond of Triple Threats, but they can create real gold. Also, and I don't think he gets enough credit for this, Wyatt really enhances multi-man matches through a combination of his psychology and an ability to look busy.
Speaking of psychology...Could we all sit down for a second and talk about Bray's character?
It's difficult to know exactly where Bray drifted from charismatic cult leader to man with totally delusional messianic complex. And that in of itself, is not terrible so long as there was some...backstory as such for Bray and they didn't just chuck fifty things at the wall to see what stuck. The Undertaker works because despite all the absurdities of the character they've managed to keep the aesthetic fairly consistent with a pseudo Western Mortician vibe- particularly since his return as the Deadman. Wyatt, on the other hand, seems to veer all over the place. After Orton burned Abigail's house to ashes, Wyatt went there and essentially bathed in the ashes. The week after that he ambushed Orton with a huge group of...people in sheep masks in order to 'bless' Orton with, what can best be described as a School woodworking project masquerading as some sort of unholy crucifix (was Nicholas doing Shop last year before being Tag Champion?).
And as a defender of Bray's, you'd continuously try to defend these segments, knowing though in your heart-of-hearts that this wasn't the Bray who was spitting fire with his promos when he first came up to the roster- who told 'B+ player' Daniel Bryan "what will they say when they see your dirty feet are spoiling their red carpets?" (arguably one of my all-time favourite promo lines. WWE had overloaded him with props and gimmickry to the point that it actually over-saturated the gimmick, leaving the performer to struggle underneath.
And that became even more apparent during WrestleMania.
Firstly, I'm willing to be Orton and Wyatt's match. which lasted 10 minutes was trimmed substantially by ahem...certain people before them who probably wanted a good 6-7 mins more on theirs. I'm not going to name names. The COO knows who he is.
Secondly, the announce team seems to think Wyatt is the face. JBL claims that Orton has had "the most calculated run to a championship ever". Well golly gee, burning down a house to get a championship sounds like a dick move to me.
The first couple of minutes of the match are Orton essentially beating ten tons of crap out of Wyatt before Wyatt manages to turn the tables when Orton chases him back into the ring. He then goes to the corner to do his signature upside-down pose.
Which is where things get screwy.
Apparently one of the supernatural powers Wyatt managed to master was how to use a projector because all of a sudden maggots were flashed on the ring surrounding Orton. These images apparently freaked Orton out enough to get out of the ring (ironic that a gif should scare Mr RKO-outta-Nowhere). However, the same images sucked any life out of the crowd who saw it as cheap and taking away from oh, I don't know, the wrestling.
The match itself, aside from those cheap parlour tricks is slow, but there is a kinda story they are trying to get across. Orton is spooked by Bray's power and Bray is dismembering Orton like any good heel. It's just that Bray is having to work a slower pace due to the effects and Orton is having to work an underdog babyface style that does not suit him. It would help if Bray focused on a body part to tell more of a story, or if Orton sold more than looking winded.
There's actually a nice spot where Bray comes off the apron into a dropkick but it is badly captured by cameras and by that stage they've lost the crowd. Even a Sister Abigail into the barricade barely raises a stir.
Even the finish is kinda loopy. Orton manages to hit an RKO on the floor and gets Wyatt back in for a two and a half count. He then hits a few of his spots before Wyatt counters a RKO into a Sister Abigail for a two and a half of his own. Then, finally, while Wyatt is towering over him. Orton just...hits an RKO and sorta sits there for a moment, as if Wyatt hadn't really been hurting him much at all.
And that's the real annoyance of this match. If you are going to go all-in with the hocus pocus, Wyatt has to win. If Wyatt has claimed to be more powerful by ingesting Sister Abigail, Wyatt has to win. Orton is still the same guy, but apparently Wyatt has got more powerful, and yet we get back to the whole "all it takes is one RKO schtick".
It was a slow disconnected match with the wrong guy winning.
Randy Orton is a 13 time World Champion. That is undisputed. However his legacy in the business when compared to the likes of Cena, Jericho, Edge and others is always going to be interesting, as they seemed to contribute more to the franchise than he does. And I'm not sure if that's just Vince not seeing Orton as a gatekeeper the way he saw Jericho or Edge, or whether he just doesn't have that ability.
Twelve months later Bray wasn't even officially on the card and Orton was US Champion. However, going out of WrestleMania, Bray suddenly looks to have the momentum that last year's WrestleMania sorely denied him. One match as part of a tag team with Matt Hardy has convinced me that this could be a real renaissance for the Eater of Worlds, as he took to the role of face like a duck to water. And the so-called 'smarks' greeted him by singing "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands".
The last time they sung that? The SmackDown after Bray won the WWE Championship.
And that is article 80! Next we visit Vinnie Ru's art of the worked shoot and Bill Goldberg's art of naughty words!
See you then!
The InVasion Saga
Article One: Shane has a surprise for Daddy
Article Two: Booker T vs Buff Bagwell and the Temple of Boos
Article Three: Daddy's little Girl Gets in on the Action
Article Four: "WHY AUSTIN DAMMIT?! WHY?