The first hour of this week’s Raw was commercial-free and contained two minutes of actual wrestling. Brock Lesnar appeared in both the opening and closing segments, opposing Roman Reigns (if only for a moment in the end), culminating in a nonsensical heel turn. Then there was a rerun of a women’s tag match WWE basically had the night before. All this among reports of changes being made on the fly. It sure felt like Vince McMahon was back in charge of creative on the Raw after Mania, supposedly an annual tentpole show that resets the company’s direction on-screen for the next few months if not the whole year.
If you enjoyed the company’s brief break from Vince booking, which at times at least hinted at being logical and featuring fresh faces, it’s over. You’re getting the same distilled bullshit, that essentially created the competition straight to the vein now. No wonder there are already rumblings of some stars looking at the exit door.
When we look back on all of this, maybe 137 years in the future when Vince actually dies, we may regard the opening of Raw on Monday to be one of the funniest moments in TV history. As Triple H was in the ring to tell every fan that WWE “wasn’t going anywhere” after the sale to Endeavor, and things would be brighter and better, his father-in-law was actively stealing his chair in gorilla position! Trips had one job when he headed to the ring to open the show, and quite a different one when he got back.
There’s even more curiosity about this because there’s a law firm sniffing around whether or not Vince actually short-changed the company and the shareholders on the sale of WWE. You’d have to hop a few lily pads to get to the conclusion that Vince just took the offer that would keep him in charge… but I’m going to go ahead and do that anyway because I’m an asshole and it’s funny as shit.
Second, AEW went ahead and had their own version of Raw after Mania, filling Dynamite with the kinds of surprises and new directions and stories that the Raw after Mania used to contain. Especially poignant was that Jay White, freshly off leaving NJPW and hotly rumored to be coveted by Triple H and near signing for WWE, arrived in AEW last night. And FTR, also rumored to be heavily desired back in New York by HHH with their contracts reportedly up this month, became tag team champs for the second time, meaning they aren’t going anywhere either. These could all be isolated incidents — White already had a relationship with AEW from last year’s Forbidden Door build, and FTR would crave the freedom that only AEW would provide them and WWE would not. And yet one can’t ignore the upheaval going on in WWE and at least wonder if both White and FTR decided they were better off away from it. Especially the latter, who languished under McMahon’s rule when they were in WWE and know his general aversion to tag team wrestling overall (enjoy the assuredly underwhelming Sami & KO run now).
An emboldened asshole is the worst kind
Endeavor isn’t exactly known for lavishly paying anyone or being afraid of paring down staff, and now with Vince, an eager scythe-wielder, back running things, talent is understandably a little jittery about their status within the company. Especially wrestlers that were already fired once by Vince and brought back by Triple H. Reports of morale already dropping through the floor just as it had last year are rampant, and will probably only get worse if it comes out that Vince is running SmackDown tomorrow night, either from backstage in Portland or remotely.
None of this matters to the people who matter to the company of course, nor those who run Endeavor. WWE has a built-in audience and following, and whatever the shareholders may have been shorted by Vince (if they were at all) they still collected a total of $9 billion from the deal — and something like half of that goes to Vince, but still. It’s a guaranteed product, and no matter how much Vince drives creative into the core of the Earth, there’s a known floor. Especially with a new round of TV rights negotiations set to begin this summer. Media companies may talk a big game about not wanting to be associated with McMahon, but there is such a dearth of live programming that people actually watch, and Raw and SmackDown are two of them, so the networks will come running.
And don’t be fooled, Vince will turn the product into dirt again. He’s even more emboldened by getting his job back after being forced into temporary exile courtesy of sexual misconduct accusations involving several female employees. Who can tell him no now? His daughter isn’t even around anymore, and he just emasculated his son-in-law for everyone to see. It took him a matter of minutes to vault Lesnar back into the main event scene. The repetitiveness, the blandness, the sameness, the illogical nature of one thing to the next, it’s all coming back. You saw it on Monday. Shows filled with decent-to-better 12-18 minute matches? Dust in the wind, friendo. But you’ll get Drew McIntyre wrestling Elias for six straight weeks and you’ll like it.
But go on, tell me again how this all sets up better for Cody Rhodes at SummerSlam. Really, I’m dying to hear it.
If you’d like more of Sam laughing at WWE fans maniacally, follow him on Twitter @Felsgate.