I remember one particular teacher back in grade school that imparted upon me the importance of certain parts of a piece of writing, or of a book, than others. When it was time for me to learn how to compose things people would want to read, those factors have always remained with me. It went something like this...
When you read a book, what are the things you generally remember the most? It’s usually the heavier content near the end, and it’s the first few chapters. People tend to care more near the open and the close than they do in the middle. While you may buy a hamburger for the meat, cheese, and fixins’, when it comes to reading, you often favor the bun.
In professional wrestling, the heat can make the match. When the heel has control and is in the process of cutting off hope spots and helping take an audience on the emotional roller coaster ride, it can be incredibly effective. But the establishing phase of a match, where the babyface gets the better of things early on, bringing the crowd up and often leading to a heel powdering to the floor to allow for loud cheers and time to breathe, is what sets the tone.
Formulas can change, but the five parts that define a match are items almost everyone learns very early in professional wrestling training. They’ve always worked for the consumer, and secondarily, it’s a way to remember your place in a match if you feel lost or maybe if you suffered a concussion and aren’t at your best from a mental standpoint. It’s a little different than a book, because you don’t often complete books in 15 minutes, but the analogy still works fairly well here.
Last night at Battleground, WWE gave us precisely one good wrestling match, then provided multiple convoluted or simply bad finishes that wrecked any chance of those bouts being memorable for anything positive. AJ Styles and Kevin Owens had a good match, though not a great one, but the decision-making in the final seconds was hideous. Baron Corbin’s nut shot was another instance of a flat finish to end a relatively flat match. Anytime The Great Khali is involved in something, that’s not a good finish. And Nattie pinned Charlotte after another awkward bump into the bottom turnbuckle in a women’s match.
That’s happened multiple times already this year, and it hasn’t gotten over well on any occasion, yet it’s still occurring.
What’s the big deal here? It was one bad night, right? Sometimes the finishes don’t click and WWE, or any other promotion, simply overreaches or overthinks it and it fails. Those questions would all be valid, were it not for the fact that over the course of the last three or four Pay Per View events, we’ve repeatedly seen just this sort of thing.
Recall Extreme Rules, where the Tag Team Championship cage match stipulation ended up being a near disaster that destroyed what was a very good match between Matt and Jeff Hardy and The Bar. How about the fart in church that was The Usos taking an intentional count out to end a red hot tag match with The New Day at Money in the Bank? It’s a heel move, but it’s still a lame finish for a company that loves to find ways not to put ANYBODY under if they can help it.
The Miz pinned Dean Ambrose in an EXTREME RULES match where Dean would lose his title if he were to be disqualified. What about the finish to the atrocious Kendo Stick on a Pole Match between Alexa Bliss and Bayley, following up on that same weird bottom turnbuckle head strike that beat Charlotte last night.
Finally, consider that after watching people kick out of finishers for years in WWE, Samoa Joe went down to just ONE F-5 a few weeks ago, and Randy Orton took one Khallas at Money in the Bank and was down for the three count. The inconsistency here is utterly maddening, especially when solo F-5’s haven’t beaten main event performers for a long time, right up until a credible challenger took one.
When an average match has a great finish, the opinion after the fact is more positive. But, as in the case with AJ and KO last night, when a solid match has a bad finish, everything that led up to it is basically meaningless. That’s why so many of these WWE shows as of late have been impossible to feel particularly good about. We may say, “That was a good show,” but it’s always with the caveat, “...but those finishes.”
WWE’s inability to put anyone over strong, the company’s fear of putting someone under, is a huge problem. This is why 50/50 booking is a thing people talk about so often when referring to World Wrestling Entertainment. “This guy has to get his win back tomorrow night on television.” Or, maybe the excuse is that both guys are hot, so we don’t want to cool one of them off.
In that case, don’t put those two individuals in the ring with one another.
WWE does such a poor job of building superstars, and the main reason is because it’s a “Well, he lost last week, so let’s put him over this week” mentality, and often it’s between the SAME TWO PEOPLE. What did Aiden English accomplish by pinning Tye Dillinger last night, after Tye had beaten him several times on television already? Nothing. All that was done there is harm to Dillinger, who seems a forgotten man before he ever got out of the blocks.
This is professional wrestling. One man, one woman, one team wins, and the other loses. Along the way, there are screw finishes and interesting twists to keep things interesting, to build heat, or to build a rivalry. However, the latter appears to be the only philosophy WWE is interested in facilitating and utilizing. What we need is more of the former, where two talented guys walk in and one beats the other one...clean.
You protect a few people, but you move guys around, in and out of feuds, you put heels over to start feuds and babies over in the blow off matches when you have plans for the fan favorite. Where you don’t, you put the antagonist over and build his or her resume. In certain cases, you keep both guys strong, but not through back-and-forth booking, unless we’re in a Best-Of-Seven situation.
This ain’t nuclear physics. This is basic storytelling logic. Harry Potter took down Voldemort, but it came at the END of the seventh book. He was built to be a hero because the enemy was presented as a monster. Cersei Lannister is going to get hers, and over the years, she’s dealt with small losses and even “SHAME,” but the entire series is building to the moment her life comes to an end.
In each of these two examples, the most important thing that happened was, surprise, at the end of the story. Or, in Game of Thrones’ case, still to be determined. When a movie has a shitty ending, it’s a huge downer. I loved Michael Mann’s 2004 crime drama, Collateral, right up until Tom Cruise turned heel and became a ridiculous villain. It ruined the movie for me, as it was the predictable thing I hoped they’d avoid going with, and instead they leaned right into it.
WWE is giving us unpredictability, but they’re doing it in a sizzle, not steak kind of way. Being off kilter because your finishes suck is not the answer. I’d rather feel confident going in who’s going to win a particular match and have that be the way it goes down, rather than being wrong because someone pulls a B-level swerve. What’s happened is the heels look weak or the babies look dumb. That’s been the result of over 50% of WWE Pay Per View finishes since WrestleMania. That’s not good.
Far too many of WWE’s climaxes as of late have been lacking on Pay Per View, with some designed simply to get people to watch television and boost sagging ratings numbers. I miss the old days, where TV was supposed to make you pay for the supershow. Unfortunately, the WWE Network has flipped the entire business model.
There were times when big TV matches would always end with the DQs and the interference, and you’d get the payoff bouts on Sunday nights when you opened your wallets. Today, we still get the nonsense on television, but often, we’re also getting the nonsense on Sunday nights.
That has to be fixed. Last night’s show was atrocious, and although not all of it can be blamed on the end of the Battleground book, a good bit of it certainly can. These weren’t cliffhanger episodes either. These felt like underwhelming season finales.