Monday, August 12, 2019

Breaking the WWE Roster Out

Imagine Reigns working the G1
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WWE is a weird company because it has perhaps the most talented roster in not only its history, but maybe in all of American wrestling history. It's hard to compare it to other historical Japanese companies and lucha promotions without being immersive in their history. That being said, the sheer number of preternaturally abled wrestlers on its roster, from the top of the main show all the way down to recent Performance Center signees, is staggering. That's why the company's malaise is so disappointing for people who are still holding on hope by watching whether monthly at the pay-per-views, weekly only for boutique shows like 205 Live and NXT, or for the brave souls who still watch RAW and Smackdown.

I don't want to be one of those wrestling hipster types who brag about not watching WWE anymore, but I haven't watched a minute of programming since Takeover XXV and have mostly moved onto American indies and New Japan Pro Wrestling. However, it's not that those areas have a better roster than WWE. New Japan, for example, may have a more personally satisfying set of shows, but for all the Tomohiro Ishiis and Juice Robinsons, there are also your Bad Luck Fales and Will Ospreays. Every wrestling roster has wrestlers you don't want to see, just as they all have wrestlers you probably should want to watch. The problem becomes WWE sopping up all the wrestlers to put in its prefab setting with no guarantee that they will even see the light of day, let alone get the chance to be in a filler match on weekly television.

Even if they do get to shine on main roster television, and to an extent in NXT and 205 Live, the match structures are rigid and usually unpalatable. To stay with the New Japan comparison, the matches that have the best chances of being enjoyable are ones wrestled by mostly everyone in the main event scene. Sure, you have the Kazuchika Okada Match or the Kota Ibushi Match, but they all tend to follow similar beats. The outliers are things like The Toru Yano Match and the Bad Luck Fale Match. Only one of those are good, and I'll trust you know which one. There's also variants of that main event match, like the Will Ospreay Match, which is like the Kota Ibushi Match, only far more extra.

In WWE, it's almost like the default style is the Fale Match, where you get one wrestler who can do it well against an opponent with an ability gap, and hey look, the finish is screwy because it can't work without interference. That's probably about 60 percent of the matches in the company. Next, they love the Ospreay Match, where you just get at least three more highspots and false finishes than you really need, all with unearned preening and people in the crowd chanting "This Is Awesome!" for reasons that if you're like me, you don't understand. That's about 39 percent of the matches. That leaves one percent of matches that break the mold and are incredible on their own two feet, things like in the past year Becky Lynch vs. Asuka at the Rumble, and Daniel Bryan vs. Kofi Kingston at WrestleMania.

Now, obviously, it's all subjective. People out there are gonna love the WWE style and the weekly output, and I guess that's fine. This post isn't for you. However, I can say that there are more than a few people who agree with me on the steady decline in in-ring action that goes along with the creative rot, and I would venture to guess that more than a few of those people would agree that a change of scenery is what's needed. It would be too easy to look at Juice Robinson or even Jon Moxley in how much they were able to grow as workers in the former or spread their wings for the latter, but the best example of someone benefiting from a release into the wild is none other than Cody Rhodes.

Granted, it took him a year or so to find his footing. Cody Rhodes: Indie Wrestler Extraordinaire was ill-fitting, but Cody Rhodes: Son of Dusty has produced some memorable results. He couldn't do that in WWE, because even The Revival has to do some sort of knees to the chest or back move to stay with the times. But Rhodes being able to be a throwback in his new vanity promotion has done wonders for him.

It's abundantly clear that WWE has a roster where members beg to be set free to test their abilities, or more naturally, they badly ache to be re-released into the places where they caught the attention of WWE scouts in the first place. Moxley, Robinson, and Rhodes have shown that sometimes, these wrestlers just need to be in a less corporately-structured environment or at least in the case of All Elite Wrestling, one where "the boys" are setting the tone rather than an out-of-touch, possibly blind, and most likely psychopathic septuagenarian. Granted, they want to go to WWE to get the big money, which is natural. Imagine a world though where WWE didn't necessarily pay the most. A lot of these wrestlers would be able to show out with the financial security they have now (well, relatively). I have a list of people that I don't think would matter either way if they left WWE here:
  • AJ Styles
  • Alexa Bliss
  • Alicia Fox
  • Baron Corbin
  • Big Show
  • Bo Dallas
  • Bobby Lashley
  • Brock Lesnar
  • Dolph Ziggler
  • EC3
  • Eric Young
  • Jinder Mahal
  • Kane
  • Lacey Evans
  • Mike and Maria
  • Natalya
  • Ronda Rousey
  • R-Truth
  • Seth Rollins
  • Tamina
  • The Hardy Boys
  • The Miz
  • The OC
  • Titus O'Neil
  • Undertaker
I mean, I know I'm going to get pushback on some of these names. Styles, for instance, is still a bubble favorite but I feel like he's breaking down and he's shown all he can show outside of WWE. This is a good retirement gig for him. The Hardys are in that boat too. The names up there aren't necessarily bad wrestlers. For example, R-Truth has seen a career renaissance, but he's the rare case of a comedy guy who fits better in WWE than out of it. That means a whole chunk of dudes and ladies could be ripe for some refreshment elsewhere, like...

Roman Reigns, Rusev, and Cesaro - This year's G1 was great, and I assume that the last two block nights and the final, which I haven't watched yet but know the results, follow suit. However, I found more than a few weak links in it. Obviously, Fale and Ospreay are on my shitlist given I used them to single out what was wrong with WWE above. I'd also think Jay White was a little underwhelming, which is crazy given how far he went in it. Anyway, imagine if Rusev, Cesaro, and the Big Dog himself were in those spots? Aside from the comedy of imagining Reigns in a match with Yano, I feel like those three in particular would stand up to the grind of the G1 and also play well with the others in it.

Heavy Machinery - They're woefully miscast in WWE, as right now it feels like they're going to go the way of a No Way Jose. They've lasted longer because they can work more "seriously," but I feel like Tucky and especially Otis would kill it on a longer term basis someplace like DDT or Chikara (if they can keep it PG for the latter). Otis has definite Fun Uncle Energy that he could use to rile up the kids at Chikara, but both his and Tucky's weird energy would let them not only kill it over here, but in DDT as well.

The Four NXT Horsewomen - It's depressing to think that WWE is at the vanguard for women's wrestling in America, perhaps second only to Impact at this point (shocking thing to write in 2019). But even in WWE with all its talk of women's revolution and evolution, women are still treated pretty poorly. Allowing the Horsewomen to travel perhaps to STARDOM would turn the world on its head and both provide great matchups while serving as a proving ground for them that they only got a taste of while wrestling Asuka/Kana.

Bray Wyatt - WWE has ruined him so much, but every time he comes back, he shows promise. People seem to be into The Fiend, and he got a big clean victory over Finn Bálor (where he might have committed murder on live streaming). The problem is I'm not sure which promotions can do macabre characters like WWE is trying to do. However, would I trust, say, All Elite Wrestling to handle him better than WWE? The Dark Order seems to be on a fine track so far, even if one show is a small sample size. Whether as their leader or an adversary, they seem like an ideal pairing.

Sonya DeVille - Honestly, even if she just ducked out to do the various Bloodsport shows, she'd automatically grow her following at least among the cool kids. She'd be incredibly good at it too, possibly better than some of the men they drag out. Keep her away from Phil Baroni though. Anyway, whether in a shoot-style environment or somewhere where she can face a broad range of opponents, DeVille feels like someone who isn't getting enough play in WWE because it only really likes having women feud over titles and there aren't enough of those slots to go around on pay-per-view.

John Cena - I've just got six words for you, "Tanahashi vs. Cena at The Dome."

Obviously, every other wrestler not in the "stay in WWE" list would be able to reel off an outside run like Moxley is doing right now, and it would be refreshing. However, the above examples are the ones that stand out the most to me. Either way, WWE is in a rut, and I'm not sure it'll get markedly better even if Vince McMahon croaks tomorrow. If you like it, that's fine. For those fleeing that product though, there's an intense longing to see the wrestlers who are known and loved but stuck in that rut as well to break out and do something different. Hell, if McMahon actually treated them like independent contractors instead of just abusing the label, maybe they would without having to leave the Big Trump Fundraiser.