The appearance of WWE Superstar Bray Wyatt's dead sister on "Monday Night Raw" only signaled that Finn Balor remains stuck in a feud going nowhere.
It seems like the WWE news this week should start with “Hell in a Cell,” where Shane McMahon took a 20-foot dive on to an announce table in his loss to Kevin Owens (thanks to a save from Sami Zayn), but the Eater of Buzz Bray Wyatt demands attention. Finn Balor is one of the WWE’s top stars, but his charisma and in-ring dynamics have evaporated in his feud with Wyatt. I wondered if Seth Rollins might be overrated during his program with Wyatt, but Rollins is fun again now that he’s with Dean Ambrose and feuding with Cesaro and Sheamus. Wyatt appears to be the weak link. Or his gimmick, to be more exact.
The WWE has long loved supernatural figures, The Undertaker being one of the company’s biggest success stories, but his success had more to do with Undertaker’s skill set—which even included walking the ropes when he was younger—than his haunted gimmick, which shifted around over the years. He was the zombie-like slave of manager Paul Bearer, who was also a spooky dude. Then he overcame Bearer and the talisman-like power of Bearer’s urn and became his own semi-maybe-undead-maybe-haunted man, then he just became a biker-like tough guy, then he got an evil brother who could summon fire from ring posts, and so on. A lot happened, little of it credible or consistent, and while The Undertaker is fondly remembered, how beloved are Papa Shango, Gangrel (the vampire wrestler), or The Boogeyman? Or The Ascension, who currently labor in the Palookaville District of Smackdown Live’s talent roster?
Even in an era when wrestlers were presented more like superheroes, supernatural figures had tough gimmicks to sell. Now that WWE Superstars are presented as real-ish people with such real-ish names as Sheldon Benjamin, Jey Uso, Sasha Banks and Braun Strowman (okay, an example too far), supernatural figures seem silly. Last year, Wyatt spouted less supernatural gobbledygook and was more of a religious cult figure, and it worked better. A little Flannery O’Connor matched with a soupçon of NIN video imagery and the sight of followers Erick Rowan and Luke Harper in animal face masks produced moments of borderline unease. Wyatt leaned harder on the leader side of character, and his weird relationship with Rowan and Harper gave the gimmick life. Now that he is on his own, he relies heavily on mush about souls and demons to seem spooky, but the B-movie patter doesn’t fly. Without Rowan and Harper, Wyatt relies too heavily on the magic that causes arenas to black out until the lights snap back on with him in the ring, poised to attack his opponent. There’s little mystery in that for anyone over 5, and since Revelations has little to say about invisibility, his supernatural side has become simply a way for him to do weird stuff. All those who come to wrestling for weird, spooky stuff, raise your hands.
This week, in the middle of a videotaped promo speaking to an in-ring Balor, Wyatt morphed into his own spooky talisman, Sister Abigail, to finish the promo. One thing Wyatt has had on his side has been mastery of video technology, and it’s easy to imagine the writers backstage excited by the technical way the transition worked. But as she spoke of being more evil than Balor, his demon, or anything he’s read in Irish mythology books, the audience can be heard talking over the electronic buzzing and electronic processing that gave Sister Abigail her voice. Because there’s one thing that WWE fans can feel fairly safe in knowing. Wrestling can deliver some over the top mayhem like “Hell in a Cell,” and it can dish out high octane faux violence, but all B-movie horror dissipates once the bright lights over the ring go on and the bell sounds to start a match. In that moment, all the atmosphere of dread goes away and we’re left with the reality of big, muscular guys in wrestling outfits grabbing, throwing, hitting and kicking each other. That brightly lit reality makes all occult pretensions seem suddenly foolish. The Undertaker was over for more than 20 years because of how he wrestled, not how he was packaged. He was over despite how he was packaged. Bray Wyatt needs a revamp as a character because as is, he’s bringing down every Superstar he feuds with. Or is that his truly evil power?
The highs and lows of this week on Raw:
- This week finally gave us our Shield reunion, and it gave us The Shield’s opponents at the upcoming “TLC—Tables Ladders and Chairs” pay-per-view. Instead of the Miztourage, thankfully The Shield will face The Miz, Cesaro, Sheamus, and Braun Strowman. Those seven guys with tables, ladders and chairs promises the kind of madness the WWE can deliver, as well as the renewal of Strowman’s feud with Roman Reigns.
- The main event this week was once again Enzo Amore and the cruiserweights, which has to be seen as a capitulation to the strength of Monday Night Football and baseball playoffs with the Yankees and Indians. The title match between Enzo and Kalisto was created on the fly because the planned match—Enzo versus Neville—had to be scrapped after Neville walked out on the show after being told he’d job to Enzo yet again. The title match was a lumberjack match with the cruiserweights around the ring to keep Enzo and the action in the ring, and it led to Kalisto winning the belt. Since the WWE is happy to swap championship belts back and forth these days, it’s hard to imagine that Kalisto will keep it long. The crowd’s still over for Enzo while he runs through his catch phrases and gimmicks, and it only turns on him when he does really jerky shit, while Kalisto is everybody’s fifth favorite luchadore.
- For some strange reason, Bayley, Sasha Banks, Emma, Dana Brooke and Alicia Fox argued backstage over who’d get mowed down by Asuka first when she makes her debut at “TLC.”. Kurt Angle broke up the bad acting party and sent them to the ring to fight it out, where Emma won the elimination match by staying out of the way for most of it. The crowd booed Bayley, who seemed upset when Sasha Banks eliminated her, and I’m not sure how that reaction made sense in an elimination match What did Bayley think they would do? Co-win? The Raw women’s division writing has sad ADD issues, so feuds and alliances are remembered and forgotten as if the writers and performers are all suffering from brain traumas.
The highs and lows of this week on Smackdown Live:
- The “Hell in a Cell” pay-per-view gave us the reunion of friends-then-enemies-now-friends Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, and Zayn cut a great promo calmly spelling out how he realized that despite Shane McMahon’s assurances, his career was going nowhere on Smackdown Live—true—and that when McMahon ignored his warning about how crazy Owens could get, he knew he wasn’t taken seriously. He realized Owens may be an asshole, but he’s an asshole who’s right about how to get somewhere. The dialed-down, disturbingly calm Zayn was the most interesting version of him we’ve seen, and it’s of a piece with the calm Owens displayed during his best “Hell in a Cell”-related promos. Once again, Owens mentioned Heaven as talked about going to the pearly gates before his guardian angel, Zayn, brought him back, and his dispassionate delivery of it again gave the promo power. In another time, Owens mentioning Heaven would sidetrack him down a religious guy path, and it might even happen now with other wrestlers. So far though, it simply adds dimension to Owens, who still dreams of the day Smackdown Live becomes The Kevin Owens Show.
- The Usos opened the show by calling The New Day to ring to reminisce about the inventive brutality of their “Hell in a Cell” match and their feud in general, ending with The Usos declaring “Respect.” That sure sounded like the end of the Usos/New Day program, which is a shame because it has produced a lot of entertaining matches. Then The Ascension, the Fashion Police, the Hype Bros, and Chad Gable and Sheldon Benjamin met in a match to declare the new number one contenders. Gable and Benjamin won—no surprise—but it’s unclear what that means for The New Day.
- Before Jinder Mahal, it would have been unfathomable on Raw or Smackdown Live to have a show without its heavyweight champion. This Tuesday, he wasn’t there and really, what was there for him to do or say? Once again, he defended his Championship Belt on Sunday with help from the Singh Brothers, who distracted the referee while Shinsuke Nakamura pinned Mahal. It was a match like his last one with Nakamura which was like his last one with Randy Orton. If only there had been some sort of hellish, cell-like structure that could have kept them from disrupting that match like they disrupt all of Mahal’s matches ….
- At “Hell in a Cell,” Baron Corbin pinned Tye Dillinger in a three-way match to win A.J. Styles’ U.S. Championship, so Styles got his rematch Tuesday night. Oddly, Corbin pinned Styles cleanly in the ring with no chicanery to get the win and suggest the rightness of Sunday night’s result. That may not signal anything since the WWE writers’ room doesn’t protect its talent’s reputations like it once did. Traditional booking logic would dictate that you keep your strong figures strong by only allowing them to lose to some kind of underhanded act—the heel grabs the wrestler’s tights, or the rope for extra leverage—that would allow fans to say that the face would have won if not for the cheating. The clean win seems to say Corbin’s better than Styles.
- Former Bray Wyatt followers Erick Rowan and Luke Harper appeared in a video wearing hoods and looking haunted to announce their return. *sigh*