Heyman, Bischoff & Vince: Make WWE Great Again!
Ugh, I appropriated a Trump slogan. Whatever. It's provocative, it gets the people going!
As I've detailed in past blogs, my WWE viewing has wavered since shortly after Wrestlemania, and it appears I'm not the only one based on recent TV ratings. I've read reports and caught clips of whatever little bits interested me (mostly the 24/7 Title shenanigans), but I haven't made watching Raw and Smackdown a priority as of late. The poor Superstar Shake-Up and subsequent Wildcard Rule have basically killed the brand split dead, and WWE's creative team have done a lacklustre job of keeping stories straight week to week. I understand that creative answers to an audience of one, that being Vince McMahon, and some of his ideas are bat-shit crazy. The most recent Vince edict- that wrestling should not occur during commercial breaks- has led to a bunch of convoluted ways to stop and re-start matches on WWE's flagship shows, and it makes for a really jarring viewing experience.
Fortunately, Vince seems to have finally realised that there's a problem. He made a pretty significant staffing change this past week. Paul Heyman will serve as Executive Director of Raw, and Eric Bischoff will serve as the Executive Director on Smackdown.
When I first heard this news, I almost ignored the article. It seemed like WWE were bringing Heyman and Bischoff back as television characters, revamping the GM role under the "Executive Director" title. That is to say, they had no legitimate power, it was just WWE choosing to use their name value and ability as performers to draw the attention of fans. Which wouldn't be a terrible thing. Both were excellent as the authority figures in storyline back in the day, so it appeals to nostalgia, and both are popular within the internet wrestling community- Heyman in particular for his ECW past, but Bischoff has also accrued some goodwill through his recent speaking tour "83 Weeks". Their inclusion in WWE programming would be a welcome one- for a couple of weeks. Then the novelty would wear off. With the current state of WWE television, it would be a band-aid on a bullet wound.
As it turns out, I was mistaken. The WWE article on this news item wasn't on the regular website, it was an official release on the corporate website. Heyman and Bischoff will be working behind the scenes, leading the creative team on their respective shows, and reporting directly to Vince. The last part of that previous sentence does temper my enthusiasm slightly- the buck still ultimately stops with Mr. McMahon- but this move wouldn't have happened if a need for change wasn't recognised.
Wrestlers that have left WWE have detailed the creative process, in that wrestlers and the writing team will come up with ideas, but they will be ignored in favour of Vince's vision. Those that have been in the inner circle of WWE for a long time are noted "yes men", with John Laurinaitis and Michael Cole being among the senior executives within the company. Heyman and Bischoff are the anti-thesis of "yes men". It has been well documented how much Heyman has clashed with Vince in the past, from 2002/2003 era Smackdown where Heyman was lead writer, to the 2006 relaunch of ECW that Vince took over, causing Paul to quit the company. So, for both Heyman and McMahon to agree to work together in a creative capacity again is a very significant step.
Eric Bischoff is an interesting choice to lead Smackdown. While he worked for WWE from 2002 to 2005 as the General Manager of Raw, it was purely an on-screen position. He did not work in any backstage capacity, he was simply a performer. That said, the Bisch does have experience in running a brand, and quite a prolific one, he was the President of World Championship Wrestling (WCW). For those who are unaware, WCW was the other large North American wrestling promotion in the 1990s, competing directly with WWE. Bischoff created the show Nitro to go head-to-head with Raw on Monday nights. With a lot of money and resources, Eric was able to elevate the WCW product to become the number one wrestling company in the world. He achieved this by stealing some of WWE's biggest stars- Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall- to work with names like Ric Flair, Sting and Goldberg. He was also heavily involved in the creation of the nWo, one of the most popular factions in wrestling history. He also had the business sense to raid the upstart ECW promotion, and put the high octane cruiserweight wrestling that they brought to the States on a worldwide platform, signing names like Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko and Rey Mysterio.
So with those things said, both Heyman and Bischoff are more than qualified for the new roles they find themselves in. It remains to be seen how well they will do. They both certainly have a good mind for the pro wrestling business, in my view it is dependent on how much creative power they have. If Vince vetoes all their ideas, it's going to be a rough time. I believe Vince wouldn't have brought them in to just be another cog in the machine. If he wanted someone to blindly agree with them, he wouldn't have hired Heyman and Bischoff. He's signed his two biggest rivals from 20 years ago to help make his company better.
As I understand it, this week's Raw was the first show with Heyman as Executive Director. I have read that Bischoff will assume his role following the Extreme Rules PPV. It seems as if some new creative approaches have already taken place on both shows. Obviously, you can't change everything overnight, but it seems that the foundations have been put in place for fresher, more compelling WWE programming. Let's go through what's gone down here:
1. Raw started off with a match!
In lieu of monotonous promos by Shane McMahon, or Baron Corbin, we get straight to the action with a Falls Count Anywhere match between Braun Strowman and Bobby Lashley. I mentioned in my Super Showdown review that I was really impressed by their match in the Jeddah heat, and they once again worked hard here. Great chemistry between the super heavyweights. Most importantly, starting with a match, especially one with a gimmick like that, sets an exciting tone for the show. Far better than 15 minutes of talky talky (that will probably set up a tag match after the break). Great idea to change the show formatting straight away.
2. The big stunt.
We don't see enough big stunts or dramatic moments in WWE these days, and if we do, it's usually on a PPV. The Attitude Era was full of wild and wacky things happening on Raw, it captured the audience's attention, it made them sit up, it made them want to tune in next week to see what happens next in the story. Strowman tackled Lashley through the LLED board on the stage, and while the explosion aspect was a little over the top, it got the point across and got a massive reaction.
3. "Holy shit!"
Those were the words uttered by commentator Corey Graves following the aforementioned big stunt. He was uncensored, and Raw has a 5 second delay that allows the producers to hit the censor, so that had to have been a pre-approved line. Also, it'd be a massive coincidence that Graves- who has never swore on commentary before- just happens to slip up on the first night former ECW owner Paul Heyman takes control. So there's a conscious effort here by WWE to give Raw more edge.
4. The broken stage.
This is just conjecture, but Strowman and Lashley breaking a main portion of the Raw stage could be the set-up for giving Raw a new stage. An overhaul in aesthetics would help breathe life into WWE along with the creative changes. Funnily enough, it was Eric Bischoff who recently talked about WWE looking too glossy and well produced. He spoke about a wrestling show needing "grit", and I agree with him. So bringing in a new look set that's not as sparkly would be nice. There's precedence for this too- in 2001, Rhyno Gored Chris Jericho through the original Smackdown set in a very similar spot, which led to a new set being introduced- the one with the infamous Smackdown Fist!
5. The Club.
It's nice to see Gallows and Anderson in a prominent spot again alongside AJ Styles. They're both very talented and deserve better than sitting around in catering like they were. Their backstage segment where they needle AJ, along with Abs Anderson putting his "hot Asian wife" on the line in a bet was classic banter. Good shit.
6. Drake Maverick, R-Truth and the 24/7 Championship.
It's not a new thing to do with Heyman, but I love it and it deserved a mention in the positive stuff on Raw. Drake's wife Renee Michelle is also playing her role in the insanity really well.
7. The Street Profits.
Was this a Heyman call or not? I don't know. We won't be told EVERYTHING about the Executive Director role, so I'm not sure if he has a role in asking for talent from NXT, or just working with the talent he's got. I hope the Profits still work NXT for a bit, they only just won the NXT Tag Team Championships and should have a bit of a run as defending champions in my opinion. I can take or leave Angelo Dawkins, he's been in NXT seemingly forever and hasn't improved that much, but Montez Ford is money. Ridiculous levels of charisma and athleticism, and I can't wait to see more of him on Raw.
8. The Undertaker promo.
I feel like we have Taker back on Raw because he wants to erase the bad taste of the Goldberg match as soon as possible. That said, he delivered a logical, interesting promo that elevated himself and his Extreme Rules tag partner Roman Reigns, addressed the issue he has with Shane and McIntyre, and kept continuity by addressing his history with Shane in the Wrestlemania feud. A really good segment. I hope Drew McIntyre gets a little shine next week though, he feels like Shane's sidekick when it really should be the other way around. Dammit, Super Shane.
9. Lacey and Corbin promo.
They both seemed really confident and it was well delivered and written. I have a feeling Heyman helped here. He's been credited with promo development for a lot of stars from the ECW days, all the way to today with Alexa Bliss' material.
10. Maria and Mike Kanellis.
Mike is blander than buttered toast, but Maria is a good talker, so I liked seeing her get a spotlight (plus she's pretty easy on the eyes). The story with Maria basically cucking Mike isn't exactly PG, and her line of "me and my bitch versus you and yours" to Becky was such a Heyman line, as was "maybe I'll ask Becky to impregnate me" when she was berating Mike. Side note, seems that she's legitimately pregnant. Congrats to her- not for getting pregnant, but for finessing WWE by signing a 5 year contract, THEN announcing her pregnancy. Pretty sure she basically did that on her 2017 return as well. Fool you twice, WWE...
11. AJ Styles heel turn.
If AJ's history in WWE has taught me anything, it's that he's far more interesting as a heel. Whether on the mic or just in general as a character, he just seems so much more in his groove. And once again, Gallows and Anderson get to shine beside him, but more importantly, it gives more life to the Styles vs. Ricochet feud. Ooh, imagine AJ Styles vs. Ricochet in a ladder or TLC match?!? *drool*
So that's Raw for you, well, all the good things. The "no wrestling during commercial breaks" rule is dumb AF, as it gave us that ridiculous Miz vs. Elias 2/3 Falls match, and weirdly short matches throughout the rest of the show. If Heyman can talk Vince out of that idea, we're off to the races. It was still a very enjoyable watch, with clear changes starting to be put in place, more pushing of the envelope and more creativity.
I'll briefly touch on Smackdown, as I mentioned earlier Bischoff takes over the Executive Director role after Extreme Rules. There were clearly a couple of positive changes made in the general approach though. It makes sense for Bischoff (who was apparently backstage at the show) to wait until the build for this PPV is done before stepping in, especially since he hasn't worked there for a while. He's got a couple of weeks to start building a rapport with everyone before taking on that executive role.
1. Acknowledging the Braun/Lashley angle.
Look, I like the brand split, and would rather see the shows as separate entities. Fact is, they're melded together pretty well at the moment with this fucking Wildcard Rule- I hope Heyman and Bischoff get that stupid idea scrapped ASAP. But the fact is, it was a major angle that sent two wrestlers to hospital, even within the confines of strict brand split, I'd make exceptions for acknowledging this kind of thing on the rival show to help sell the seriousness of it.
2. Lashley's promo.
He's never been a great talker (understatement), but with Lio Rush in the doghouse he had to do his own thing, and it was well done. Hearing him drop "son of a bitch" was encouraging too. I don't want to give the wrong idea here. A few cuss words don't automatically make everything better. But when it's a TV show based around acts of violence, it's more realistic to have some off-colour language. It's extra cringey when they try and keep the words kid friendly. I remember Cena feuding with JBL and deciding to spray-paint an insult on his limo... "JBL is poopy". Adults in conflict don't call each other "poopy".
3. The Kevin Owens Show.
As much as I prefer action to start the show over talking, kicking things off with the KO Show was fine, because Owens is a very entertaining talker. Plus, his smart-ass attitude where he took shots at Shane and Dolph Ziggler indicated the beginnings of a face turn, which we almost got earlier this year until Kofi needed a credible challenger for the WWE Championship. I'm all for babyface everyman Owens. Plus, he's brought back the Stunner as an actual FINISHING move, so he's over with me automatically for that.
4. Daniel Bryan vs. Big E.
These guys work well together, great big man/little man dynamic. And also, because Smackdown can have picture in picture commercials, they were able to have a longer form TV match without the bullshit restarts and the multiple falls.
5. Bayley/Nikki/Alexa storyline.
Honestly maybe the best story going in WWE right now, and it does pre-date Heyman and Bischoff. Nikki wanting to be loyal to Alexa, but facing conflict over wanting the title, Bayley doing the right thing but wanting to keep her title, and Alexa there trying to manipulate her way into getting the advantage and the title at Extreme Rules... really good stuff. Hopefully Bischoff is paying attention to this and keeps the character arcs moving in a logical way.
6. Joe/Kofi exchange.
Joe is always fire on the mic, and he put forth a nice narrative about Kofi's nice guy persona being fake. Kofi stepped up his promo game though, and I thought he countered Joe well. And, the middle finger. Kofi's a nice guy- until you cross him. Then he'll tell you to go fuck yourself- with a smile on his face. Love it. And, Joe in the title picture is a great thing.
7. Owens/Ziggler vs. Heavy Machinery.
Otis and Tucker are great, and they won the main event of Smackdown. The match was a good TV main event, nothing more, but I'm genuinely looking forward to what is now a Triple Threat Tag between Bryan/Rowan, New Day and Heavy Machinery. And based on the post match Stunner on Ziggler, Owens is now a babyface. Happy days!
The Heyman/Bischoff news got me to watch Raw and Smackdown in full for the first time since just after the Superstar Shake-Up. I really enjoyed it. It seems like, along with the creative team changes, WWE are trying to put together a better PPV than Stomping Grounds. Here's how the arena for the last WWE PPV looked:
A whole damn side of the arena tarped off! You couldn't really tell watching on PPV, but WWE basically played Tetris with the crowd and used clever camera angles to hide the fact the place was so empty. Also, the fans that DID turn up turned on the Rollins vs. Corbin main event hard. I think that had to be a wake-up call for WWE.
Also, let's acknowledge the elephant in the room. AEW has come in, with a billionaire's money, a TV deal set to kick in in October, and a couple of strong events to start All Elite Wrestling off on the right foot. Stomping Grounds had around 6000 in attendance, while AEW's debut PPV last month, Double Or Nothing, put 12000 people in the MGM Grand. Their second show that took place last week, Fyter Fest, also did well. AEW didn't promote it as a major PPV- it was a free event held within a gaming convention and still drew approximately 5000 fans. And of course, AEW have already sold out their next major PPV, ALL OUT in Chicago, 10000 strong in the Sears Centre.
It seems like a combination of bad creative, fan disinterest and some competition on the block are creating some hard times for WWE. They're trying to put their best foot forward here with the Extreme Rules PPV and this Heyman/Bischoff hire. Can the former owners of ECW and WCW make WWE great again? I don't know, but I'm intrigued to find out.
Until next time, take care,