Wrestlemania season is supposed to provide the highest tension and greatest intrigue of the entire year to the WWE’s product. Some of the most memorable stories told inside the squared circle have taken place on the road to wrestling’s equivalent of the Super Bowl, World Series, March Madness, or what have you.
The point is – for what is supposed to be the biggest show of the year, fans are supposed to be treated to the most exciting programs in fevered anticipation for new matches. In 2016, things have just simply failed to click yet.
Wrestlemania 32 was expected to be the biggest ‘Mania of all time, with the WWE striving for a new attendance record in Dallas, Texas. Vince McMahon was rumored at one time to be pulling out all the stops to get some of the most hallowed names in wrestling history to return for the show.
Then, a rash of injuries sent John Cena, Seth Rollins, Sting, Daniel Bryan, and Randy Orton to the sidelines. The Rock wasn’t cleared to wrestle due to insurance conflicts regarding one of his upcoming movies. Stone Cold Steve Austin could not be coaxed out of retirement. Batista turned down a role at the show – so on and so forth.
For weeks now, programming has felt like a jumbled mess without any clear direction. After a white hot build to Wrestlemania XXX, we’ve endured two years of mediocre-at-best booking leading up to the ‘Showcase of the Immortal.’ At least Wrestlemania 31’s build was consistent – a bit strained and boring, but at the very least, clear and stable.
So, where were the missteps? What has caused this year’s build to be so confusing and stagnant?
Roman Reigns still isn’t over
It’s been written here on WrestlingNews.co before, and I’ll reiterate it: it’s not Reigns’ fault that he has been chosen as ‘the guy’ and is being force-fed hokey scripted promos. He’s a tremendous asset to the WWE for his looks and dependability – much like the guy fans were rioting against 10 years ago at Wrestlemania 22, John Cena.
Still, there’s an adage about (American) football that says something along the lines of ‘you don’t force players to fit into your system. You build your system around your players’ strengths.’
That could not possibly be more applicable to the Reigns situation right now. We’ve seen on numerous occasions how the fans react to the quieter, more reserved ‘Samoan badass’ beating down his foes ruthlessly. It’s pretty cool.
But, all too often, that’s followed with a sufferin’ succotash, B’lieve dat promo that creates a disconnect between Reigns and the audience because it feels far too forced. The quiet charisma worked for Goldberg, and he wasn’t half the worker Reigns is.
My theory? The crowds aren’t so much booing Reigns as much as they are booing the fact that we know who is going to win the majority of the pay-per-view main events for the next five years.
Roadblock served as a huge distraction
Triple H’s WWE Championship defense against Dean Ambrose is sitting atop my early ‘Best of 2016’ list for Match of the Year honors. It was awesome – but, what did it really accomplish? The focus of WWE programming was pulled away from building towards Wrestlemania, and then just picked back up on Raw the following Monday as if Roadblock never happened!
Triple H was feuding with Reigns, then Ambrose, then Reigns again! Likewise, Ambrose called out Brock Lesnar, then called out Triple H, and after losing, just went back to calling out Lesnar!
The show did not add anything to make Wrestlemania more intriguing, and never really shook my feeling of watching the WWE simply turn the cameras on at a house show.
They should’ve taken note of the Saturday Night Main Event held back in 2006 before Wrestlemania 22.
Lack of depth in Shane/Taker storyline
Several weeks removed from Shane McMahon’s (albeit awesome) return, and it’s starting to feel like more of a panic move than anything else. We still don’t have an answer as to why The Undertaker would even entertain the idea of being Vince McMahon’s puppet, Shane is botching promos and throwing awful rabbit punches, and the whole thing just feels like a drama without substance.
All that had to be said was:
Vince: “You’ll wrestle this match or I’ll fire you.”
That’s it! It could’ve been accomplished in a two-minute promo! Instead, Undertaker is just blindly accepting his fate, but is getting really mad if you point it out to him.
Wyatt/Lesnar was abandoned
After the Royal Rumble, it looked like fans were going to be treated to a program between Lesnar and The Wyatt Family. The program did not survive its’ infancy though, as it was scrapped in favor of Lesnar/Ambrose.
Ambrose and Lesnar won’t disappoint, but the way Lesnar/Wyatt was dropped seemed hasty and awkward. Factor in the awful Lesnar/Luke Harper match at Roadblock, and it just doesn’t make sense.
All in all, I can’t recall the WWE changing direction so much in a matter of a couple of months. Wrestlemania 32 will be a good show with a good main event, but come on, we can’t get through these last couple of weeks fast enough.
Stoney Keeley covers the WWE for WrestlingNews.co, and is the Tennessee Titans Featured Analyst for Pro Football Spot. You can follow him on Twitter at @StoneyKeeley and the SPOT’s Tennessee Titans Twitter feed at @spot_titans.