Tom Beasley, editor of The Popcorn Muncher, loves wrestling almost as much as movies. Here’s his latest column about all of the goings-on in the world of grappling…
The wrestling world had only one event on its mind this week, in the shape of the upcoming Survivor Series pay-per-view, which will take place this Sunday. It’s the first cross-branded event since SummerSlam in August and will see representatives from the two flagship WWE shows squaring off in a series of traditional elimination matches, with little other than brand supremacy on the line.
SmackDown, as well as building to Survivor Series, featured various festivities to mark the 900th episode of the blue show. Hall of Fame star Edge made his return to offer up a pep talk to the SmackDown men’s team for the pay-per-view, which was interrupted by the legendary darkness and gongs of the Undertaker. More on him later…
Loyalty over logic
During the original brand split, WWE made a huge deal of battles between Raw and SmackDown. Wrestlers fought not for individual prizes or to better themselves on the card, but to prove that their specific colour of ring ropes was better than their opponents. It didn’t make any sense back then and it makes just as little sense now that they’re rehashing that dynamic in the run-up to this weekend’s Survivor Series show. They’ve even brought back the excruciating coloured t-shirts, which look incredibly odd on the likes of Bray Wyatt.
The problem with prioritising brand loyalty above everything else is that it is not good for the characters in the mix. This came to a head during the women’s segment on SmackDown, which was interrupted by the five women who will represent the Raw brand on Sunday. Proudly wearing the red of their show, they beat down Nikki Bella until the rest of the blue team came out to clean house. Among those mercilessly hammering the fallen Bella were solid babyface performers like Sasha Banks and, worst of all, Bayley.
It’s fine for WWE to promote inter-brand conflict and the dynamic really adds an extra frisson to Survivor Series above all other shows. However, the company is leaving logic at the door in selling these matches and it will suffer as a result, particularly in terms of characters it is still attempting to establish.
Bayley is a prime example. She is just getting over as a main roster babyface and hit her zenith during last week’s episode of Raw from Glasgow, where fans chanting for her made it almost impossible for Charlotte and Sasha Banks to cut the promos they had planned. Booked correctly, Bayley stands a chance of catching on as a major babyface star, so it doesn’t help her persona to be heartlessly beating up a fallen wrestler as part of an invading mob.
It also works in reverse for people like Alexa Bliss. Bliss has been among the top heels in the entire company during her recent feud with Becky Lynch, but she had no problem legging it to the ring alongside Lynch to defend the honour of SmackDown on Tuesday night. The sight of the two bitter rivals standing tall in the ring was awkward to say the least and seriously undercut Bliss, particularly as she had expressed nonchalance towards the match when speaking to Daniel Bryan earlier in the show.
WWE is wise to use the brand split to create selling points for its big pay-per-view events, such as Survivor Series. However, the company must be careful to focus on individual characters and build their personalities rather than allowing them to be enveloped by a coloured t-shirt.
The Deadman rises again
On Tuesday night, the blue brand got an enormous boost when The Undertaker returned to SmackDown and said that his WrestleMania appearances will no longer define him. He hinted that he was back and ready to fight, suggesting that we may see him climb between the ropes for a match earlier than the Showcase of the Immortals. This is a mouth-watering prospect for fans, particularly given the number of dream matches that have surfaced due to recent signings and call-ups from NXT.
SmackDown can only benefit from having the undeniable star power of Taker on its show. It seems unlikely that, at 51, he will be stepping into the ring regularly, but there are few wrestlers who can make a show feel as important as Undertaker does. If WWE wants to reverse the notion, honed over many years, that SmackDown is the B-show, regularly using the Deadman is a great idea. His ominous warning suggests that he may make his presence felt at Survivor Series and WWE should use this to start a new story.
Taker’s return felt like a major moment and, with any luck, WWE will not squander one of the few genuine legends it has left on its roster. If the Deadman is back for one last, longer run, he has to be given the freedom to elevate talent and make a big impact. That should start at Survivor Series.
Heels in the form of their life shine
Both Raw and SmackDown are currently benefiting from veteran heels, who are currently in the form of their lives. On Raw, Chris Jericho has created a delightfully silly take on his own rock star persona, complete with dozens of catchphrases, a ridiculous attire and an often hilarious relationship with WWE Universal Champion Kevin Owens. This week, he was the MVP of the very strong final segment, informing many of the invading SmackDown superstars that they had “made the list” for their various crimes.
This has been the longest Jericho run in a very long time and it’s clear that he is having a lot of fun. This incarnation of the character is an absolute heat magnet, comedy gold and is doing a very solid job of giving Owens someone to play off. He’s the perfect addition to the Owens character and a vastly entertaining presence in his own right. His eventual rivalry with Owens will almost certainly be an emotionally-charged and utterly riveting series of high stakes bouts.
Meanwhile, over on the blue brand, few stars have improved as much as The Miz. His rivalry with Dolph Ziggler has been compelling in the ring and in storyline, culminating in the Intercontinental Championship war at No Mercy in which Ziggler put his career on the line. Miz without his title seemed to neuter the heel a little, but he won the belt back in a phenomenal match to open this week’s SmackDown. It seems likely that he will drop the title to Sami Zayn at Survivor Series, but I hope that SmackDown can find a place for a guy at the peak of his powers.
I wouldn’t have said this six months ago, but the prospect of another Miz world title reign doesn’t seem like a bad idea.
Did this week’s WWE shows hype you up for Survivor Series? What do you think WWE’s plans are for The Undertaker? Let me know in the comments section and come back next week for a new wrestling column.