I think it’s safe to say that this year’s WrestleMania had some big moments. In something that actually surprised me, we got three happy endings in the major matches, with Kofi Kingston, Becky Lynch and Seth Rollins all slaying the dragons and winning their titles. That was the right move to make as WWE needed to give the fans something to cheer for after a long stretch of bleak. WrestleMania is over now though and that means it’s time to start looking forward.
That brings us to the current problem, which is something that can be fixed and addressed, though it’s not something that can be done overnight: who in the world is supposed to be the big villains going after the new champions? Right now, who is going after Rollins, Lynch and Kingston? They don’t exactly have major heels going on and unfortunately, I have very little faith in WWE to build them up. This has been a problem for a very long time now and while it’s something that is dealt with every now and then, it has been an issue much more often than it isn’t.
The way wrestling tends to work is that top stars need top villains. Roddy Piper used to say that without him, there would be no WrestleMania because fans wanted to see Hulk Hogan beat him up. That’s absolutely true and it’s certainly not the only case over the years in wrestling history. As great as a face can be, they can only go so far without a major villain to fight against.
Consider Steve Austin. Yeah he was a rebel, but without someone to rebel against, how long do you expect it to be before he’s turned into a guy with a Confederate flag on the back of his jacket in the mold of Dick Slater? You can’t rebel against nothing, which is where Vince McMahon played a much more valuable role. McMahon was built up as the ultimate (and I do mean ultimate) evil and Austin was the warrior fighting on behalf of the fans, even if they never had to spell that out for you.
Imagine none of this:
Or Hulk Hogan. I know the formula that most people remember is Hogan vs. Monster of the Month, but look at the awesome villains that he fought over the years. In addition to Piper (Who Hogan never pinned, which was another key to the whole thing. If you pin the villain over and over, be it in lower level matches or in a tag match somewhere, it takes away all of the impact of the big match), there was Randy Savage, Paul Orndorff, Andre the Giant and Earthquake, but there was one more that mattered (arguably) above all the rest: Bobby Heenan.
While Hogan could fight and beat up all the evil wrestlers, how do you stop Heenan? It’s not like Hogan could pin Heenan to end the feud. Heenan was the machine that kept on producing these villains by getting inside their heads and making them realize that Heenan was showing them the way. That’s the kind of thing that can go on for years, much like McMahon paying wrestlers off, and that’s exactly what they did.
I could go on and on with this, but the point is clear: these new champions need villains to fight, even if it’s not some all time story. Based on what happened on television this week, it looks like we’re heading towards Lynch vs. Lacey Evans (who has currently won one match on the main roster) and Kingston and Rollins vs…..who exactly? They were both in tag matches that didn’t give a lot of indications about their future. McIntyre for Rollins? Cesaro or Kevin Owens once he turns on the New Day?
Now as mentioned, this isn’t a problem that is going to bring down their title reigns overnight and it’s not like they need to have some big epic story by Money in the Bank. A bunch of one off (or even two off) title defenses will be fine. The problem is so many feuds these days tend to go that route because WWE doesn’t seem to like doing the big stories anymore.
You’ll still get them from time to time, with something like the Authority or….actually that’s one of the only few from the last few years. Brock Lesnar is close to one, but when he’s only around every few months, he’s more of an enemy of the audience than an enemy of any wrestler. There’s always the McMahons but do we really want to go down that path all over again?
Fire from the hero and the dragon:
Who does that leave us with at the moment? As much as I hate to admit it, that would seem to be Baron Corbin, who isn’t a big bad. Corbin is a middle management goon who looks like an assistant manager at Ruby Tuesday’s. The only thing that should be scared of him is the trash that someone leaves on a table, and even it has the hope that he can’t put it in the trash can the right way. That seems to be the big bad that we’re building towards people, because that’s what WWE seems to think is the best villain that they can build up over the summer.
What WWE doesn’t seem to understand is that you can’t just stick someone in a match and have them be a big villain. Corbin isn’t a threat to Rollins or Kingston, but instead of going with someone who might cause a real problem, he’s just there because he’s been a top heel for a few months now. What does Corbin do that makes him a villain? His entire character is built around the fact that he used to be the General Manager. Why the McMahons would allow him to stick around when he was the official scapegoat for the television ratings being a disaster isn’t clear.
On the other side of the spectrum, you have the villains that are chased off far too fast. Consider Bray Wyatt’s WWE Championship run from two years ago. He was champion for 49 days, successfully defended it once, and then lost it to Randy Orton, who dominated the entire feud leading up to the title change.
Wyatt was a great example of someone who was given the title and then given nothing to go along with it. It was fairly clear that he was going to lose the title to Orton at WrestleMania for the sake of a WrestleMania moment and that’s not the best way in the world to get people into his title reign. On top of that, Wyatt was the guy who had lost big match after big match over the year, meaning his title reign was doomed from the start.
Here’s part of why it worked:
That’s what brings us back to the underlying problem: the lack of long term planning. For some reason, WWE doesn’t like going with the concept of building people up over time (it doesn’t even have to be years) and then making them a top villain. Couple that with how the title reigns rarely feel like they could go on long term (Did you buy Wyatt or Jinder Mahal as someone who was going to be champion for a long time?), the villains in WWE are as weak as they have been in a long time.
WWE knows how to build up heroes, but they have a long way to go in building up their counterparts. Without having challengers for these people to fight against, the heroes only have a limited shelf life. Wrestling heroes can only take you as far as their villainous opponents, and WWE would rather give us middle management lackeys. If that’s the best they can do, those great moments aren’t going to lead anywhere, and that’s a problem.
Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 50,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 5,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his Amazon author page with 28 wrestling books. His latest book is the the Complete 2000 Monday Nitro and Thunder Reviews Part 1.
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