Day One: New Year, Same Old WWE
Brock Lesnar’s shock title victory at WWE Day One has got the wrestling world talking, but as Brandon Bethune writes, the feeling that the company is stuck in the grasp of their own status-quo is only growing.
When I heard the WWE Day One main event had changed to a five-way for the WWE Championship between Big E, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, Bobby Lashley, and new addition Brock Lesnar, I was intrigued.
As a man who typically doesn’t watch himself much WWE, especially as it’s grown increasingly unwatchable in recent years, Day One had piqued my interest.
Never mind that in 2021 WWE had released half its roster for ‘budget cuts’, ventured back to Saudi Arabia, killed NXT, and continued their boring and stale television with no sign of an upswing, I was willing to give them another chance and wipe the slate clean to start off the new year.
And y’know what, crisis mode WWE is often this chaotic company at its best, so who knows what would happen in the main event. We had Brock Lesnar going up against Bobby Lashley and Big E, interesting dynamics you wouldn’t have expected to see even a day before Day One. And at least if you can’t trust the process, you can trust the workers to deliver something fun in-ring.
The eventual five-way main event was an eight-minute sprint, the likes you’d expect from a Lesnar production. Rollins and Owens were the conniving heels, just trying to keep the collective bulls in Lesnar, Lashley and Big E in check. When they couldn’t, the mayhem that ensued was great to watch.
Seeing Lesnar and Lashley, and Lesnar and Big E, mix it up was magnificent in its short bursts, and this match was delivering on the chaotic nature promised of WWE with its back against the wall.
Then, after eight minutes of fun madness, Brock Lesnar scooped Big E up for the F5, pinned him, and became the new WWE Champion.
So, let’s unpack that. Brock Lesnar, new WWE Champion.
Heading into Day One, the Brock Lesnar/Roman Reigns/Paul Heyman storyline was not only the hottest story in WWE, but one of the most well told stories in wrestling at the moment. Meanwhile, the ever-changing four-way WWE Championship story was ice cold.
When Roman Reigns came down with Covid-19, having Brock Lesnar enter the WWE title match and WINNING, doesn’t sound like the worst idea in the world.
As I said, WWE usually does its best work when they’re backed into a corner. Or at the very least, their panic actions at least gives you SOMETHING to talk about, and the entire buzz surrounding Day One was the idea that SOMETHING would happen with WrestleMania implications.
So again, on the surface, a Brock Lesnar win does not sound like a bad idea. Because the one thing WWE promises, is moments. And Brock Lesnar becoming WWE Champion by winning a match he wasn’t originally scheduled to be in, is definitely a moment.
Yet as I digested what I’d seen, with Lesnar having the title draped over his shoulder once more, the more I began to despise what I was seeing.
Not being a regular viewer of WWE, you can often forget how numb a show like this can make you.
As a whole, the WWE product is an incoherent, over-produced mess that leaves you frustrated at even the slightest misstep. The awful commentary, schizophrenic editing, poorly scripted shows and characters, the piped in crowd noise, everything about WWE screams someone trying TOO hard to do the simplest things.
Nothing in WWE ever changes, and whether it’s Day One or Day 365, WWE will do WWE things. Case in point, ruining an absolute slam dunk of a WWE title run.
When Big E won the WWE Championship in September, the wrestling world rejoiced.
It’s often odd when WWE has one of their trademark ‘moments’ actually land, collectively, for the entire wrestling world. Yet, Big E was so universally beloved as a wrestler, entertainer and public figure, that a World Title win for him was considered long overdue, and a breath of fresh air to the main event scene.
Here you had someone with the prototypical WWE build. Great physically, massive amounts of addictive charisma, fine-tuned between the ropes, an accomplished singles and tag wrestler, and someone you could wheel out for any media appearance you desire, and he could connect with a mainstream audience if pushed as the star he is. As I said, an absolute slam dunk. Right?
Just like when Daniel Bryan won the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 30, it was a slam dunk. Just like when Seth Rollins won the Universal Championship at WrestleMania 35, it was a slam dunk. Just like when Kofi Kingston became WWE Champion at the very same WrestleMania, it was a slam dunk. You see what I’m getting at here?
WWE, being the awful and harsh company it is, struggles every week to build the one thing they built themselves on in the first place; babyfaces.
Hulk Hogan, no matter how hard he tries to ruin his reputation in real-life, was a likeable hero. Ditto Stone Cold Steve Austin. Ditto The Rock.
In this generation of wrestling heroes, WWE couldn’t ask for more likeable figures. Especially with the advent of social media, their top stars already have an in-built fanbase from their various other ventures, and simply being themselves online. It’s the reason why even someone with perhaps less in-ring chops like Liv Morgan, should be a slam dunk of a WWE babyface.
However, as always, WWE must always get their hands dirty to try and fix something that isn’t broken.
Big E is a likeable character, a hero to many in real-life. Yet in WWE’s fictional universe, even as champion, he is portrayed as weak. Simple background noise in the story of WWE branded GOOD GUY Bobby Lashley. Or even before that, the story of Kevin Owens’ heel turn, and Seth Rollins’ heelish deception.
The idea of WWE letting their wrestlers simply be wrestlers is a worn-out topic at this point, but bears repeating each and every time something like this happens.
Instead of following up on the natural momentum of a fan-favourite becoming World Champion, they will eventually return to the status quo, one way or another.
WWE will provide a trademark moment, such as Big E becoming WWE Champion, and provide absolutely no follow-up. Then they’ll wonder why none of this is working, and return to what they know best.
Day One was yet another example of falling into the WWE trap of moments. Brock Lesnar becoming WWE Champion again was shock and awe television, but then again, was it? Once more, I as a fan gave WWE the benefit of the doubt when I had absolutely no reason to, and rather than allowing us to invest in something new and interesting, WWE has instead presented us with the same old, same old. Yet again.
Instead of building new stars and interesting stories surrounding the up and coming Big E, we return to the status quo of a Brock Lesnar title run, just as we did when Kofi Kingston, Seth Rollins, and Daniel Bryan gave us false hope with their magical ‘moments’.
At the first hurdle of 2022, WWE have stumbled over itself to ensure that while entering another new year, nothing has changed.
Your Brock Lesnars stand tall. Your Roman Reigns. Besides that, there is absolutely no room at the helm for anybody else. WWE fail to put the effort in to put anybody else on that level, and in turn, suck any and all enjoyment out of their product because of a complete lack of felt progression or change.
To borrow a topical phrase to describe watching modern WWE, ‘if you except disappointment, then you can never really be disappointed.’