Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Nothing Gold Can Stay: The Fleeting Nature of WWE Alliances

Where have you gone, Wyatt Family?
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Around this time last year, WWE boasted two strong, cohesive trios that defied traditional standards within the promotion and that looked like they could stick around for awhile. The Shield was going through trial turbulence, but the Hounds of Justice hadn't been the subjects of any massively obvious foreshadowing. Meanwhile, the Wyatt Family, which had been in its infancy as a group, was already entangling itself within the tendrils of main event creatures in CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. Even if The Shield was bound to fall apart in a fiery wreck, the Wyatts were to remain a stable, nuclear stable unit.

Now, heading into Survivor Series this year, neither group is together. The Shield famously broke up like a hacky RKO after dominating Evolution in a series of pay-per-view trios matches. Meanwhile, WWE Creative scrambled to fix Bray Wyatt after it had ruined him in bad stories against John Cena, the Usos, and Chris Jericho, and the braintrust felt that stripping the Eater of Worlds of his acolytes was the best thing for all three. When Erick Rowan emerged from the back as a member of Team Cena and immediately started jaw-jacking with his former partner Luke Harper is when I felt the feeling at its strongest. Alliances in WWE are never meant to stay together.

The funniest thing about that maxim is that the company has an annual event, the second oldest of its pay-per-views, dedicated to eight-or-ten competitor tag matches. Building towards gang warfare would be a lot easier if gangs existed. The company had the right idea in 1997, except it had the wrong players executing on the plan. Don't get me wrong, the Nation of Domination and its splintering that led to all kinds of stables coming around was awesome in theory, but I sat through that event and had to watch basically two white supremacist groups fight it out using mostly sidewalk slams. IT wasn't good.

WWE right now is built for that kind of stable madness, and no other group proved it more than The Shield did between TLC 2012 and Payback 2014. They battled so many different combinations of wrestlers to great effect that one could fashion a statistics course using Shield opponents as the subject material. Not only is WWE stocked to the gills a supremely talented roster of singles wrestlers, those competitors do well in group situations as well. So why has WWE abandoned its two most successful stables a year after they ruled the roost?

One could argue that The Shield had no worlds left to conquer as a group. After basically going World Series sweep on Triple H's vanity stable, they had stood alone on the mountaintop, and while the way the group broke up left me nonplussed, I won't argue that splitting the three up was a terrible move. That isn't to say I had massive problems with the way things happened. For one, Seth Rollins turning out of nowhere made no sense, and I still contend that the group could have stayed friendly even as they went on and did their own things, kinda like how The Avengers still get together for the big missions but the individual members all have their own titles where they have their own adventures. Still though, the Rollins/Dean Ambrose feud has been a net positive.

But what storyline reason existed for the Wyatt Family to break up? Wyatt said he "fixed" his two acolytes, but really, Harper and Rowan were as feeble as a tag team as Wyatt was as a threat to Cena. WWE failed Wyatt and his family at every turn, and instead of fixing the group as a whole and building towards a story where Wyatt could show how he fixed them, the group was scuttled in the hopes it would spark something with crowds. Basically, two groups were blown up to make five edgy loners and a corporate sellout, which at this point seem to be the only archetypes WWE seems to have left for its white wrestlers. Black wrestlers get to do Black guy things, which hey, at least WWE is going to bring A New Day back into the fold. Still, Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods, and Big E are arriving too late to help with a Survivor Series card that could use them though.

The splitting of both groups feels endemic of WWE's booking patterns since the Attitude Era. No surprises exist when that window of a couple of years is perhaps the most fetishized time frame when it comes to original programming for The Network or for DVD releases. Basically, Vince McMahon has seemingly been ordering his writers to give him things that worked in 1998 reformatted with new stars when those new stars might fit in some other role. Every hero exists with an anti- out in front. Every heel is either a bloodthirsty HOSS or a chickenshit coward. Women are sexy cattle with two emotions. And no one can be a friend with anyone else for longer than a year.

All of those booking foibles are terribly tragic, but the last one is especially depressing in the face of another limp Survivor Series card, one that hasn't been fleshed out yet and where most of the matches won't be formally announced until they happen. Groups may not be necessary for a critically successful wrestling show, but when you have an event based around having big elimination tag matches, their presence can certainly help.