Forget the road to Wrestlemania, right now, the WWE needs to focus on the road to recovery. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s take a look at poor ratings, underutilised talent, repetitive matches and some underwhelming storytelling. I remember in the run-up to TLC reading comments by HHH that he understood the fans frustrations and claims that the WWE staff themselves were frustrated creatively. Between Survivor Series and TLC, WWE was probably in one of its worst runs. For instance, Jack Swagger was pulled out of the blue for a feud with Del Rio, MexAmerica happened and nobody cared about Roman Reigns and Sheamus and the infamous tater tot promo didn’t help. For me in particular, it was a poor run of Raws and I’m never usually too critical of WWE except on a few occasion. Never had watching three hours of Raw felt like such a chore in those weeks because otherwise Raw usually blows hot and cold.
The run of Raws leading up to TLC left fans with low expectations for the event, even though it’s hard to not get excited about ladder and table matches (chairs not so much) and the TLC match itself. Roman Reigns took the brunt of the fans anger and disappointment that he as had to deal with on and off since the Royal Rumble. I, like many others, felt that Roman Reigns should not have won last year’s Royal Rumble because he wasn’t built up well enough the previous year. For me, it wasn’t a case of his in-ring ability (although that did need to improve), it was a case of it not being the right time for Roman to win.
That is why it was a shame that Roman Reigns has been booked pretty well the last year in the run-up to Survivor Series that would justify him winning the WWE title. However, since the Royal Rumble, Reigns has had to deal with a lot of resentment even as time passes by and as he improves in the ring. Before people speak out about Reigns’ in-ring performance, there is a reason I use in-ring performance and not technical ability when talking about Reigns. That’s because Reigns will never be a great technical wrestler but that’s not to say he can’t put on good matches. I don’t want to see Reigns perform 1004 holds, I just want to see him doing what he does best which is brawling. In the early part of 2015, Reigns was developing a bit of a “Five moves of doom” vibe but he has improved a lot since then. His match with Cesaro, the Last Man Standing match with Big Show (which surprised quite a few people) and the Hell in A Cell match with Bray Wyatt showed how capable Reigns is.
Likewise, Sheamus splits opinions. There are fans who genuinely dislike Sheamus and there are fans who are more than willing to boo Sheamus as the designated heel. So, putting Reigns against Sheamus made sense to help Reigns get the fans back on side. However, it was the familiar tale of Daniel Bryan’s Summerslam title loss at Survivor Series for Reigns. Reigns won the title then Sheamus cashed in. The first problem with this is that HHH was there. When Bryan lost to a cash-in, HHH actually interfered and attacked Daniel Bryan in order for Orton to cash in. This time, HHH showed up, got speared and then Sheamus cashed in and yet the commentators made it seem as though HHH played some part in this, screwing Roman in the process. The second problem was the attempt at sympathy for Reigns immediately following Sheamus’ title celebration. The fans may have been willing to cheer Reigns over Sheamus but the obvious ploy for sympathy afterwards fell flat.
Then came the TLC PPV which exceeded many people’s expectations. The triple threat ladder match was an entertaining and brutal encounter, Kevin Owens and Dean Ambrose put on a good match (to nobody’s surprise), Del Rio and Swagger was as solid as it could be for a chairs match and the eight man table match was entertaining, if not a little flawed. Then came the main event. In the early goings, the fans made it clear they weren’t happy with the main event not because of any of the action but who was involved, even leading to chants for John Cena. As the match progressed, the fans got a bit more into the match and by the end, they realised they were actually watching a good main event. While the ending of the match was very simplistic with a League of Nations interference helping Sheamus, it was the aftermath which signalled a change for WWE.
Roman Reigns had been screwed out of the title or a title opportunity since Wrestlemania and we finally saw something different when he snapped at HHH. I know people have compared the Reigns attack on HHH (and Vince later on) as an attempt to replicate either Daniel Bryan or Stone Cold but it signalled something much more important than a recycled story. Just as at Survivor Series, it wasn’t HHH’s fault, the same can be said for TLC so Reigns has no justification to attack HHH. So, the fact that he does shows a different side of Reigns that the fans are more likely to get behind. In previous months, Reigns would have done nothing, come out the next day, smiled and said he would win the title at the next opportunity. Now, Reigns had simply had enough, how could he keep on smiling after losing the title shot one more time.
This led to two rarities on Raw, a WWE title match and a WWE title change. In previous months, Reigns would have probably talked about how he would one day face Sheamus again, probably at the Royal Rumble. The fans were noticeably behind Roman Reigns at the end of TLC and the Raw the night after and it’s not because the fans had been tricked into liking Roman Reigns through the Bryan/Stone Cold method. While there have been some obvious similarities between Reigns and Austin in particular the past few Raws (like attacks on Vince and Vince as the special guest referee), I highly doubt Reigns will have a long-running feud, after all, it’s not exactly like Reigns isn’t the corporate champ the WWE wants.
It’s not just at the top where WWE has improved since TLC and part of that is down to WWE acting quickly against things that aren’t working. It started just before TLC with the merciful ending of MexAmerica and then just recently with Tyler Breeze and Summer Rae going their separate ways. People have mixed opinions so far about the League of Nations but with Seth Rollins’ injury, it is important for WWE to build up four strong heels with Barrett and Rusev having been underutilised in recent months. Along with Kevin Owens, the League of Nations would have to be considered the main heels in the absence of Rollins and building these men up can help WWE and may even make Rollins’ injury a blessing in disguise.
The tag team division has been mainly centred around the New Day which is a good idea but just recently, this has stated to get grow stronger. You have the experienced Dudleys, the exciting Lucha Dragons, the solid Usos and the potential for the Wyatt Family and League of Nations to put teams together. Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler and Kevin Owens have all benefited recently too in regards to the Intercontinental title putting on good matches one on one and triple threat matches and the chance for all of them to give promos to build up the matches. Wins and losses in the WWE aren’t the be all and end all but recently, the WWE has been making sure that those who have lost recover quickly either through other wins or retaliation attacks. This has mainly been used in this Intercontinental title feud.
In my opinion, three out of the last four Raws have been good (the last Raw of 2015 was a bit of a struggle) and I hope WWE can continue to improve this. I believe a 2 hour Raw would help in the long term which would allow WWE to place more emphasis on making Smackdown important again. Having said that, this Monday’s Raw felt shorter than three hours because I was thoroughly entertained throughout and so if they can keep that up without becoming repetitive, I’d welcome them sticking with three hours.