It has been a weird year for World Wrestling Entertainment from a creative perspective. I’m not talking about the financial aspect of the company because things are going well, although not nearly as good as things can be.
This is about the on-screen product as it relates to WWE Monday Night Raw and WWE Smackdown Live. If you look at the roster from top to bottom, they are stacked with a lot of talent, but there aren’t that many names you could consider big draws aside from part-timers like Brock Lesnar and John Cena. Part of it could be because of the PG rating that limits what a performer can do or say on screen. Another factor could simply be that WWE’s creative team is wildly inconsistent.
WWE has made several mistakes from a creative team standpoint, and I’m going to count them down here. They will focus on a particular angle or character and I’ll try to explain where things may have gone wrong. This is only for Raw and Smackdown. No NXT stuff because they know what they are doing most of the time.
I’m not writing this to say that 2017 has been a terrible year for WWE. It hasn’t been. I’m writing it to remind you that even when you have incredible in-ring performers, sometimes even they can’t overcome the creative direction given to them. Also, I’m sure some of you are going to say: “Only 10 mistakes?” I could do more, but for space and my sanity, let’s narrow it down to 10. Off we go.
10. Jason Jordan revealed as Kurt Angle’s son
I didn’t rip on this story when it first happened and even today, I’m open to the idea of it possibly working out only because I’ve been a fan of Jordan’s going back to his singles run in NXT when he had trouble getting over. The problem with this is that when people looked at Jordan and his former tag team partner Chad Gable, it was Gable who reminded people of Angle a lot more. Plus, Gable has more of a personality than Jordan and could end up breaking out as a singles star.
The reason it’s not higher on the list is because the story is still relatively early. If this leads to Jordan turning heel possibly early next year and then that leads to some match with Angle that is awesome, then it could be the best thing for Jordan. I just don’t know if that’s the plan for Jordan or if they are going to stay the course with him as a face.
9. Rusev not being pushed after being moved to Smackdown
Rusev was not booked that well on the Raw brand when they did the draft in July 2016. I thought a move to Smackdown would work well for him because it’s the better show that would make people forget about the shitty Raw booking he dealt with.
In April of this year while rehabbing from an injury, he said he wanted a WWE Title shot. At the time, Randy Orton was WWE Champion on Smackdown, so it made sense. Instead, things changed with Jinder Mahal winning the WWE Championship (more on that later) and poor Rusev was left looking like a fool. The angle was completely dropped. Rusev was put into a feud with John Cena at Battleground that ended with Rusev putting over Cena in a very boring Flag Match.
I’m a big Rusev fan. I enjoy his current pairing with Aiden English and the way they always talk about “Rusev Day” as if it is every day. The problem is people laugh about stuff like that rather than take Rusev more seriously as a threat to win a major title.
8. No explanations given for “trades” in April’s Superstar Shake-Up
Shortly after WrestleMania this year, WWE did a Superstar Shake-up. In typical WWE fashion, they didn’t actually try to explain what it was. What they tried to tell us in the storyline is that some wrestlers from Raw would be moved to Smackdown and vice versa. The names just showed up on the TV shows that week and that was it. Smackdown became a worse show after the shake-up, although part of that is because of who they pushed which I’ll get to later.
Did Charlotte Flair get traded for Alexa Bliss? We don’t know. Maybe Charlotte got traded for Alexa and Mickie James? Who knows? WWE made no attempt to explain anything.
Guys like Kevin Owens and Bray Wyatt switched shows. Both of them held major championships earlier in the year, so it seemed like a fair trade, yet again WWE didn’t try to tell us that they were moved for each other. It was just “Wrestler A is on Raw” and “Wrestler B is on Smackdown” as if nothing matters.
I just want WWE’s creative team to be better. At least make an attempt to explain something. Think of it like professional sports leagues such as the NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL. Players either get drafted, signed as free agents or are traded for another player or a draft pick. In this case, WWE was basically simulating a trade deadline, so what they should have done is said this wrestler was traded for that wrestler, yet they didn’t try to explain it all. All we ask if that you try. It’s not that difficult.
7. Baron Corbin’s failed Money in the Bank cash-in
It was no surprise that Baron Corbin won WWE’s Money in the Bank match this year. He was a guy that most of us could see as a future WWE Champion because he’s taller, has a good look and just fits the type of wrestler that WWE likes to push. Back in January, if you would have asked me to pick one guy on Smackdown to win their first WWE Title, Corbin would have been the first name I picked.
Corbin was made to look like a fool on the Aug. 15 edition of Smackdown when he tried to cash in the MITB contract on Jinder Mahal and ended up losing on a dreaded roll-up thanks to a distraction from John Cena. By the way, Corbin lost to Cena at SummerSlam too. These days, Corbin is walking around with the United States Championship, so it would be wrong to say he was “buried” too much. It just turns out that he did by far the worst Money in the Bank cash-in in history.
Is Corbin in a better spot today than he was a year ago? Sure, he’s holding the US Title and he beat AJ Styles for it, but his Money in the Bank failure sticks out as a defining moment for him.
6. Roman Reigns should have turned heel after WrestleMania
I am not the first wrestling fan on the internet to say that Roman Reigns should have turned heel at some point in the last three years, nor will I be the last. It’s something a lot of us think. Prior to this year’s WrestleMania, I wrote a column here on The Comeback about four scenarios for the Reigns vs. Undertaker match at WrestleMania. The heel turn idea was suggested and people loved it. Some of the best feedback I received. Of course, WWE didn’t do it. Instead, Reigns beat Undertaker, left the ring after the match and Undertaker had his moment alone to sell the idea that he was done. The next night on Raw, Reigns was booed heavily for 10 minutes, said “this is my yard now” and that was it.
There was no change for the Roman Reigns character after WrestleMania. Reigns spent most of this year wrestling Braun Strowman in every kind of match you can think of and while I enjoyed most of those matches, there wasn’t much progress for Reigns. The reunion of The Shield has been fun. It’s really just a way to get people to cheer and keep him out of the Universal Title picture. By the way, last time Reigns was in a Universal Title match he took the pin at SummerSlam in the Fatal 4-Way, but I don’t expect WWE to bring that up.
We know what the path is with Reigns. He’s going to face and likely beat Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania in what will likely be Reigns’ fourth straight WrestleMania main event. Yawn. Boring. I’m not even a Roman hater because I appreciate his talent, but some changes would be nice.
5. Braun Strowman should have been featured at WrestleMania and won the Universal Title this year
I thought WrestleMania this year was disappointing. The show was seven hours long with the five-match main show and a two-match Kickoff Show so if you watched the whole thing, chances are you may have fallen asleep at some point. Who books an event for seven hours? WWE, that’s who.
In addition to that, I felt like the card was really lacking in terms of featuring newer, fresher talent that could shine on the big stage. The name that really stood out was Braun Strowman, who was pushed heavily heading into 2017 and I figured he would have a big win at WrestleMania. Instead, he was in the f’n battle royal on the Kickoff Show won by Mojo Rawley. Mojo Rawley! Are you kidding me? What a joke. Looking back on that, it’s terrible booking. Strowman shouldn’t have been in that match. The fact that he was and didn’t win it was awful.
Strowman has been one of the best performers on WWE TV this year. His improvement has been incredible. It would have been nice if he was rewarded for it by doing more than simply being featured in main event matches occasionally. When Strowman faced Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title at No Mercy, I thought Strowman should have won and Lesnar should have done an injury angle to put over Strowman. That would have let Strowman work as the Universal Champion for a few months to give him more credibility as a top guy.
If WWE wanted to go with Lesnar defending the Universal Championship against Roman Reigns at next year’s WrestleMania, they could have had Lesnar win it back from Strowman at Royal Rumble 2018 and got to that same point. I realize that the story WWE wants to tell is that Lesnar can beat everybody except Reigns, but they did that at the expense of hurting Strowman.
The booking of Strowman in general has been good. I just think he could have been an even bigger name had he been featured more at WrestleMania and if he was able to slay The Beast, Brock Lesnar.
4. Shinsuke Nakamura losing multiple WWE title matches to Jinder Mahal
The most anticipated main roster call-up this year was Shinsuke Nakamura going from NXT to Smackdown. It happened on the first Smackdown after WrestleMania in April. Nakamura beat Dolph Ziggler several times and even beat John Cena clean to earn a WWE Title shot at Mahal at SummerSlam. When they set that match up, I figured Nakamura was going to win. Mahal’s WWE Title run wasn’t that exciting, so Nakamura had to win. Oops. I got that wrong. When they did the match at Hell in a Cell in October, once again I thought it was time to pull the plug on Mahal as champion. Once again, I was wrong there. Mahal was still WWE Champion and this time, his win was even cleaner than at SummerSlam.
It’s amazing to me how Nakamura has become just another guy in WWE. He had this special aura about him in NXT. They protected him a lot by not having him lose many matches, yet here he was losing multiple WWE Title matches to Mahal. If it was me, Nakamura wouldn’t have even got a WWE Title shot until next year’s WrestleMania. Just keep him busy doing other things. I can’t explain why WWE booked Nakamura the way they did this year. It frustrated me a lot.
3. Bayley winning Women’s Title too early and losing momentum
I’m not sure what WWE was thinking with Bayley. They brought her up to the main roster after SummerSlam 2016. The plan from that moment should have been that she won the Raw Women’s Title at WrestleMania 33 in 2017. Simple, right? Nope. Not this company. Instead of waiting until WrestleMania, she won the Women’s Title from Charlotte Flair on the Feb. 13 edition of Raw. I didn’t remember the date by heart, but if it was WrestleMania, I would have known when it was. That’s the point. Instead of giving her a special “WrestleMania moment” that WWE mentions all the time, she got it on Raw.
Bayley ended up retaining the Raw Women’s Title match in a four-way at WrestleMania that was just an average match. If she won the title there, it would have been much more memorable. That was followed up with Bayley’s terrible feud against Alexa Bliss, which saw Bayley lose the title to Bliss in her hometown of San Jose because for whatever reason, WWE loves booking people as losers in their hometown. Remember when Bliss did that “This is Your Life” sketch about Bayley? One of the worst segments of the year.
It’s no surprise that Bayley barely gets a reaction on WWE TV these days. The only time the fans really love her is when WWE is in England, where the fans sing the “Hey Bayley” song. For the most part, though, her crowd reactions have gone away and she’s barely on the radar on Raw these days.
The booking of Bayley on the main roster seemed so easy, yet WWE’s creative team managed to screw it up.
2. Bray Wyatt’s feud with Randy Orton that didn’t help either man
Bray Wyatt is probably the worst booked wrestler on any show and that’s been the case for a few years. What’s sad is that Wyatt won his first WWE Championship earlier this year at Elimination Chamber in a match that I thought was one of the best this year. On the Smackdown that followed, he had a great triple threat match with John Cena and AJ Styles where he won clean. Finally, WWE was pushing this man and utilizing him as a main event talent. Sadly, it didn’t last too much longer.
Randy Orton won the Royal Rumble, so that set up the Wyatt vs. Orton match at WrestleMania. Originally, Orton didn’t want to challenge his then-ally Wyatt, but it was all a ruse as Orton burned down Wyatt’s home and it turned Orton face again. That led to a WrestleMania match for the WWE Title that saw WWE try to do something different by utilizing this aerial cam that showed the ring full of insects. It was so cheesy. They didn’t do it again because of how much people hated it. Orton won the WWE Title from Wyatt in a 10-minute match, so Wyatt’s WWE Title reign lasted less than two months.
If you thought WrestleMania was bad, the House of Horrors match at Payback which followed was even worse! Once again, it was WWE’s creative team trying something with Wyatt that failed miserably. Wyatt ended up winning the match, which wasn’t for Orton’s WWE Title, because by that point WWE wanted Mahal to beat Orton for the title. Mahal even cost Orton the match. The whole thing was a mess.
This was the worst feud of the year and Wyatt hasn’t been able to bounce back even while feuding with a great performer on Raw.
1. Jinder Mahal’s monster push as the WWE Champion on Smackdown
— WWE (@WWE) May 22, 2017
I don’t think anything comes close to this choice. There’s no better reminder that WWE can do whatever they want with any wrestler at any time than what they did with Jinder Mahal this year. You may recall that at WrestleMania, he finished second to Mojo Rawley (what a choice that was) in the battle royal. Mahal got moved to Smackdown, was put into a multi-man match to determine the No. 1 contender to the WWE Title and he ended up winning, thanks to the debuting Singh Brothers helping him.
Mahal beat Orton for the WWE Title at Backlash on May 21 to become the 50th different man to hold the WWE Championship. I could hear people groaning just typing that!
The main reason why WWE put their most coveted championship on Mahal was because they want to grow their product in India. Since Mahal’s family is from India (he grew up in Calgary), I can see why they thought that way, but why not plan it better? If Mahal had an impressive showing in the Royal Rumble, it may have helped. Perhaps he could have won some midcard feuds to show that he had improved as a performer. Instead, they just thrust him to the main event, basically told the audience to believe in this guy and you could tell the people didn’t buy into it. Smackdown became worse this year largely because we went from seeing a great WWE Champion like a Dean Ambrose or AJ Styles to Jinder Mahal. It just didn’t work.
That’s why I was so glad AJ Styles won the WWE Championship from Mahal last week. The 170-day reign of Mahal as WWE Champion should be remembered as an experiment gone wrong. I don’t even blame the performer. He tried hard. It was just the matches were below average (aside from when Styles beat him because Styles is the best in the ring), promos were repetitive and he had “go away” heat rather than genuine heel heat.
By the way, bringing back The Great Khali to help Jinder Mahal retain the WWE Title against Orton in a Punjabi Prison match at Battleground was a terrible move too. So bad. One of the worst matches of the year.
If WWE had a plan to put the WWE Title on him, they should have planned it out for six months. Have a Mahal beat a solid midcard performer in a feud for two months, put him over a slightly bigger name, then an even bigger name and suddenly people can buy into him being at Orton’s level. By doing what they did, WWE didn’t let the character develop. That hurt him and it also hurt the quality of Smackdown.
Here’s hoping 2018 has fewer mistakes from a booking perspective and more mark out moments that we talk about in a favorable way.