This past Monday, WWE was presented with an opportunity. With the brand split off and running now, they had the chance to reel in fans with “just enough” content on the show to hype their best matches for the brand, yet not give away too much for free. It’s an important balancing act that any promotion needs to work just days before their pay per view events.
It’s been discussed in online forums, on Twitter, on Facebook, and in audio since Monday. Drew and I will probably talk about it tonight again as we preview SummerSlam on Ring Rap Audio. Fan reaction seems pretty split overall, but I would argue that they fell a little short in finding balance.
Monday’s show, according to you the fans by voting in our reader poll, fell somewhere between average and good. For full disclosure, I voted average in our poll but I won’t disagree with those of you who voted good. There was a lot to like on the show. But let’s focus on two things in particular: “Demon King” Balor, and Roman Reigns vs. Rusev. These are the two things that I think WWE rushed to give us when there could have been better hooks placed to draw eyes to the “Biggest Party of the Summer.”
I took a little bit of grief for this, but I maintain my stance that it was a bit too early to pull out the “Demon” entrance by Finn Balor on free television. I have no issue with the technical execution of the parts in the segment. Seth Rollins cut his promo well. Finn Balor’s entrance popped the crowd, drawing “holy shit” chants from the Corpus Christi crowd. Corey Graves sold it perfectly with his commentary, despite being the heel on commentary.
“Somewhere deep in the mind of Finn Balor there’s a door that is kept under lock and key. When Finn opens it, he undergoes this sort of metamorphosis. It’s an otherworldly aggression that Finn Balor unleashes. It’s surreal to see.”
But, let’s look at the history of the “Demon” gimmick that Balor brings out, at least in WWE. He has saved it for his biggest moments: NXT: Takeover events, championship matches, and feud ending moments. In other words, he has saved that for the biggest stages. So it begs the question from me: Why rush that to a Raw show?
There are other ways to have presented the “Demon” without giving away the full entrance. WWE’s crack production team could have put together a video package that aired on the Tron, or they could have had a painted-up Balor appear out of the darkness behind Rollins (much like Sting has done in the past). Unless WWE has something much bigger and jaw-dropping in mind for Sunday, this was somewhat premature.
But the bigger offense of the two perhaps lies with the main event between Roman Reigns and Rusev. If you missed our coverage or the show, Reigns took the victory over Rusev in a 20-plus minute, pay per view quality match.
And therein lies the problem. It was a pay per view quality match with a decisive and clean finish.
Reigns continues to be a lightning rod for fans, but he continues to deliver when asked. His matches have consistently improved, as has his work on the microphone. The wellness policy suspension certainly didn’t help his cause, and surely draws some ire. He was effective on this night though, and you can’t deny that. His opening segment mic work was strong enough as he bantered with some funny lines. The backstage brawl between Reigns and Rusev worked as the two men roughed each other up all over catering.
If they stopped with the backstage brawl, I probably would have felt much more excited about Sunday’s match. But, they went ahead with the main event, where Reigns won cleanly. It’s not that Reigns won that ruins it for me. It’s that the match never should have happened.
This feud got a late start, so perhaps WWE felt that they needed to juice up the idea that Reigns could, or would, defeat Rusev at SummerSlam. So, WWE booked him to get the better of Rusev on last week’s show with a big spear, then again on this week’s show with a clean victory. This is where WWE left money on the table. Their match at SummerSlam is for the United States Championship, so the stakes are arguably bigger than defending Lana’s honor.
Use the backstage brawl as a jumping off point at the end of the show, having officials and talents pull them apart. Have the match end in some sort of schmozz finish with no clear winner. Or better yet, have Rusev look strong by beating down Reigns and standing tall over him in a no-finish situation. Rusev was supposed to be angered that Reigns insulted his new bride, so what better way to set up a payoff moment for Reigns to overcome the Bulgarian Brute than to have him succumb to the Accolade submission, or a brutal beatdown.
With the brand split, WWE is tasked now with finding compelling content for five hours of back to back live television weekly, and that presents challenges to their writing team for sure. However it can also open up the writing team to the pitfall of going to the well one too many times with angles and matches that will be showcased weeks or even days later on pay per view. It will burn out the fans and steal the energy of bigger payoff moments.