It’s fair to say things are not going according to plan. This was the Network launch; WWE putting on what they think is the best show they can. And, for the most part it was worryingly underwhelming.
This was a night where Hulk Hogan and The Untertaker returned, and Brock showed up. This was the biggest Raw since Raw 1000. How could it feel so flat?
For people who actually watch TNA (imagine the tiniest slice of a pie chart that you can. One that has to be labelled using an arrow), we know what to expect from 2014 Hogan. He trips over his words. His mind wanders. He is a legend; he is now actually quite old. It’s a bit like successfully palming off an elderly, slightly sad, high maintenance relative. He’s your problem now, WWE.
I will say one positive thing about this show: By beginning to actually acknowledge the boos for Batista they’re heading in the right direction. It’s not about turning him “heel”, it’s about giving him a persona that resonates in reality. That will help to get people invested in an Orton / Batista match, beyond simply hoping that it doesn’t happen.
I suspect it wont work, and here’s why: Fans aren’t booing Batista as such. They’re booing the fact that he will headline Wrestlemania. They’re booing the entire creative direction. I don’t know if that is actually fixable without changing the problem at source; i.e. cancelling or modifying the match. It might be. I’ll be impressed if they manage it.
And I’m not convinced that the crowd will be placated by Bryan vs Trips. Bryan’s whole schtick is being screwed out of the title. The only conceivable payoff is getting a clean shot at the title at Wrestlemania (win or lose). This has never been a revenge story about Triple H. And even if it was, the best revenge would be … winning the title. Bryan vs Trips doesn’t work; it feels like a consolation prize because it is.
I don’t want to moan too much. Batista aside, the in-ring product is as good as ever, but without the framework of intelligently booked stories it’s just Ring Of Honor with high production values. Christian, Cesaro and Swagger put in great shifts tonight. But the midcard is a wasteland of heatless feuds and abandoned directions. The main event is developing an entirely different problem: Being held captive by a star so over that the fans simply won’t accept a title match without him.
The solutions to these problems are fairly obvious. One assumes that either professional pride or contractual obligation are stopping them being pursued. As I’ve always said, I sincerely hope something can be worked out, or this is all a masterful work. With the current card, Wrestlemania thirty will flop, and that’ll damage the network and the future of the company.