wrestling / Columns

411 Wrestling Fact or Fiction: Was Super ShowDown a Booking Success for WWE?

March 6, 2020 | Posted by Jake Chambers
WWE Super Showdown Goldberg

Welcome to Round 2 of the 411 Wrestling Fact or Fiction Road to Wrestlemania Invitational Tournament!

I’m your host, Jake Chambers. I’ve gathered together 8 writers from 411mania who have all participated alongside me in the Wrestling Fact or Fiction column over the past few months, and I am pitting them against each other in a battle of wrestling smarts and wits, as they dare to explain what they think is totally factual or completely fiction for statements on pro-wrestling history, culture and current events. No middle ground will be tolerated!

This single elimination tournament will feature the familiar format we all know and love along with a few surprises along the way. Polls will also be included so YOU can play a part in who advances to the next round (more on the voting at the end of the column). Now, let’s “tourn” it up and meet today’s participants.

For this semi-final round DEBATE RULES are in effect! All of the writers will compose their responses to the statements based on an assigned a FACT or FICTION. They may not agree with the answer in theory, but they will try to use their powers of persuasion to convince you that their opinion is best.

Round 2, Week 2

Defeated Bryan Kristopowitz in the 1st Round, your 411 editor extraordinaire, Jeremy Thomas
vs.
Defeated Ken Hill in the 1st Round, your 411 legacy performer, Len Archibald

Statement #1: The WWE did the right thing by having popular veterans like Undertaker, Goldberg and Brock Lesnar basically squash AJ Styles, The Fiend and Ricochet at Super ShowDown.

Len Archibald: FACT – Sure, I would say WWE did the right thing here if the goal and message is simply that they are okay cannibalizing their own future “stars” by sacrificing to their older ones. I will say this: I personally did not mind the angle between AJ and The Undertaker. Phenom vs. Phenomenal is a WM-level match, although I am terrified to see the execution given the past performances of The Deadman recently. Also, AJ himself is 42 years old and can still perform at a high level when needed so this matchup being set up as some ageist agenda would be a bit hypocritical to the real heart of Super Showdown’s controversial narrative: Brock tossing Ricochet like Hercules launching a bear into space and Goldberg turning The Fiend into his bitch. At this point, WrestleMania is being built off the old guard: Brock, Goldberg, Taker, Cena, Edge and Orton. Seth Rollins won the Universal Title from Brock last WrestleMania and this year his path is unclear. But Seth Rollins ISN’T Brock Lesnar. Seth isn’t that “mainstream” star WWE craves. The Fiend vs. Roman Reigns doesn’t get the media buzz Reigns vs. Goldberg does. AJ going up against The Undertaker basically legitimizes his already legendary status within the wrestling industry. With all that said, the right thing could have been something different if WWE was a little less tone deaf in how they treat younger talent who are just starting to catch fire. Remember how everyone was ready to explode the first time there seemed like a chance Bray Wyatt could beat John Cena at WrestleMania? A different result at that match and Wyatt vs. Roman for the Universal Title by this time could be a sellable mainstream match. But this is the direction they chose not to go in and it makes them money. But, it could have been a lot more money.

Jeremy Thomas: FICTION – I can absolutely see an argument to be made for WWE having one — maybe even two — of these squash matches go down. I don’t think anyone expected Ricochet to beat Brock Lesnar or even be competitive with him, and while the match was the absolute definition of a squash match it’s at least less egregious than Kofi Kingston suffering the same fate when he was WWE Champion. Undertaker defeating AJ Styles in no time flat after a lackluster and oddly-booked gauntlet match is a bit more eyebrow-raising, but the shock value and Undertaker’s mystique can play into this, and I think it’s more important to tell the story of a feud building to their WrestleMania match.

Goldberg beating Bray Wyatt in no time flat was not the right thing, though.  I won’t make the argument that Wyatt has been completely destroyed by this, because that’s not how it works and if (IF) Wyatt gets a win over Cena at WrestleMania as has been rumored then a quick loss at Super ShowDown is quickly forgotten.  But again, that’s a big “if.” Hotshotting the title onto Goldberg for a match with Reigns is not the worst idea, but the execution was god-awful.  And the more important concern here is that by doing all three of the matches as they did, that turned what could have been one or two poor booking decisions at Super ShowDown into a theme for the whole show.  People can ignore one dumb result and it can be lost in the rest of the show, but now Super ShowDown 2020 is forever known as the show that saw the older part-timers destroy the full-timers WWE should be relying on ad building up.  The aura around Super ShowDown is now a narrative fueled by those three matches, which in turn enhances the effect of all three squash matches individually.  It was incredibly short-term thinking for a company that should damned well know better if they weren’t in WrestleMania Panic Mode.

Statement #2: John Cena is the greatest WWE/F “superstar” of all time.

Len Archibald: FICTION – No. That goes to The Rock. And before anyone blasts me with Hogan, Austin and Sammartino, here’s my one argument – The Rock is so interwoven into the fabric of global popular culture that it feels too good to be true to admit that HE admits that he’s a pro-wrestling dude, so we tend to hold onto the old school metrics of prestige (Bruno), cultural relevance (Hogan) and ratings (Austin) as those are concepts that aren’t as complex as legit transcendence: The Rock, a bred, touted and wildly successful third generation superstar is as about an omnipresent of a figure there is. John Cena carried the company on his back for 10 years – longer than any of Vince’s other ace’s and helped build the WWE’s financial and global expansion into new heights. He’s had countless classic matches and has provided countless moments. But – he’s not Dwayne Johnson. I can see Cena (or can’t see – let’s get that joke out of the way now) on The Today Show and as a wrestling fan be like, “Cool!” But, to think as a wrestling fanatic that if The Rock wanted to run as President…he could win. Is weird. And he just gifted the ‘E with his seed. In my mind, Cena is nowhere in the same multiverse.

Jeremy Thomas: FACT – The word “superstar” is the key here.  Is he the best wrestler?  Gods no, although I think he will always be a bit underrated as a worker.  Is he the best wrestling character?  Not at all; that would be the eternal Hulk Hogan vs. Steve Austin debate.  But I think we can argue that among the indisputable top names in WWE, he ranks well on all the various individual metrics and averages out to the point that he does qualify as the greatest.

Let’s break this down.  The contenders for greatest WWE/F “superstar” of all time have to be as follows, based on the fact that they led their respective eras of WWE history: Bruno Sammartino, Bob Backlund, Billy Graham, Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, and John Cena.  I will throw Ultimate Warrior in there as well, even though he didn’t really “lead” his era. Right of the bat, with all due respect to the old-school legends, I think Sammartino, Graham and Backlund don’t qualify because they were pre-Superstar era.  (I know, the irony of calling “Superstar” Billy Graham a pre-Superstar guy is real but I think you know what I mean there.)  When it comes to mic work, I think Cena is up there just behind Rock, Austin, and Hogan but on par with Michaels and ahead of Taker, Hart, Andre, Triple H and Warrior.  When it comes to in-ring work, he ranks well behind Michaels and Hart of course, but roughly in a range with Rock, Triple H and Austin and leap years ahead of Andre, Warrior and Hogan.  When it comes to pure charisma it’s all about Hogan, Warrior, and Rock with Cena coming in next alongside Austin, Michaels and Andre.  In terms of their characters, it’s pretty much a wash because every one of these characters is iconic.

When it comes to being an ambassador for WWE I find it very hard not to say that Cena leads the pack.  Hogan’s ambassador work for the company took a serious hit with his controversies while Warrior, Shawn, Bret, Austin, Taker, and Triple H were never built on spreading goodwill toward WWE.  Rock has done a lot of good by virtue of his charity work and his success outside of wrestling, but Cena has made a mark outside of wrestling and is the charity king.  Finally, in terms of impact on WWE and the industry I think you can put Cena just behind Hogan and Austin, on par with Triple (who gets credit for building NXT) and ahead of everybody else. Clearly, Cena is near the top in a lot of categories and it basically comes down to him and Rock.  While it’s close, I think Rock’s best known for his Hollywood work at this point (I have legit heard people say “The Rock was a wrestler?,” as crazy as that seems) and Cena is more strongly associated with WWE, making him the better superstar by a nose.  (For those curious, I brought a visual aid to debate class today to show my work, as you can see below):

Statement #3: AEW has the best wrestling storylines on Wednesday nights.

Len Archibald: FACT – Based off the success of AEW Revolution – what Cody Rhodes discussed branding as AEW’s own WrestleMania-like supershow, I can say the main storylines on Wednesday’s are superior to NXT. Maybe it’s the larger arenas or the urgency of having to introduce so many new wrestling faces onto the mainstream, everything in AEW on Wednesday’s just feels bigger. This isn’t a knock on NXT – the “prophecy” of The Undisputed Era, the breakouts of Rhea Ripley and Keith Lee, Finn Balor’s return to the promotion he dominated, the weird and awesome partnership of the Broserweights and the never-ending struggle between Gargano and Ciampa, they have some of the best angles going in all of wrestling. But for me, seeing Jon Moxley return to being Jon *fucking* Moxley to claw his way to the top and become AEW World Champion just overshadows all of that. The antics of Jericho and the Inner Circle, Hangman Page’s brilliantly executed isolation with The Elite, the blood feud between Cody and MJF and the madness of The Dark Order just has a larger than life feel to them at this time. It feels like everyone has a part to play in this brand new universe so it is easy to get swept up with all the big personalities. Again, this isn’t a knock on NXT, but we are at the point where NXT is the status quo when it comes to the two shows. AEW is the new kid trying to knock it off its perch as the best wrestling show on TV. Right now, AEW feels a little more heightened than NXT and has given the wrestling scene a much needed shot in the arm. What it has also allowed is for NXT to step up its game to make sure it can match AEWs offerings with its own style. Wednesdays are awesome either way, we all win, and wrestling is awesome.

Jeremy Thomas: FICTION – There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of good stuff in AEW right now.  The Cody vs. MJF feud has been extraordinary, Britt Baker’s heel turn has been fun, and they’ve managed to capture a lot of positive attention with the Moxley vs. Inner Circle battle too.  But there’s a lot of bad too.  The Nightmare Collective is done, but its failure still looms large.  And the Dark Order storyline isn’t unsalvageable, but it’s certainly on life support at best.  While the tag team division has been delivering fun matches, I don’t think the talent there is being used best in storylines outside of Omega and Page and the women’s division has had a few flouderings.

Meanwhile NXT is still delivering on their storylines on a consistent basis.  Johnny Gargano’s heel turn, Velveteen Dream’s return, basically anything involving the Undisputed Era — all successes in a big way.  The Keith Lee – Dijakovic feud was a ton of fun and gave both men chances to excel, Finn Balor has found new life in NXT and the women’s division continues to kill it.  It doesn’t hurt that WWE has the flexibility to bring Raw and Smackdown talent over, especially with WrestleMania season upon us.  We can certainly argue back on forth on which show has the best overall product when you count in-ring work, production and the like.  But I think it’s Undisputed (forgive me, I had to) that NXT is delivering the most interesting storylines.

¡SWITCH!

Statement #4: The WWE should stop suspending wrestlers for any ‘wellness policy’ violations.

Jeremy Thomas: FACT – To make this clear right off the bat: WWE shouldn’t stop dealing with wrestlers who violate the Wellness Policy.  The policy is in place for very good reasons and has legitimately saved lives at this point.  It has to remain in place, not only to protect talent but to protect WWE and the industry from outside accusations of negligence.  However, the idea of “suspending” wrestlers isn’t really taken seriously anymore by anyone and for good reason.  The company has not done a good job of engendering trust in regard to how the suspensions are handled.  It’s funny how they almost always seem to come right as talent get hurt or once storylines have finished their blow-off match, not during said storylines.  It’s the worst-kept secret in the business at this point that WWE announces the suspensions when it’s convenient for them, and it’s hard to argue that this hurts the Wellness Policy’s credibility.  Add in the fact that we actively know — as in, WWE has publicly stated — that part-timers are not tested or subject to the Wellness Policy and it’s hard to take it as seriously as it deserves to be taken.

What they need to do instead is find a new way to handle these violations.  Hypothetical example: Fines sound like a slap on the wrist, and in a lot of cases they are.  But they also are a way to publicly show that they’re doing something to combat Wellness violations without having to wait until an obviously “convenient” time for the company.  Fines can also be applied to the part-time talent.  Make the fines escalating and based on the size of the contracts.  That sends the message that they’re serious in regard to dealing with big-name, big money guys by hurting them where it counts and yet doesn’t force them to completely re-write storylines.  Leave in the termination clause, but the “suspensions” don’t help anyone.  Transparency will always be the best way forward with policies like this, and WWE needs to figure out a way to earn trust in regard to the policy.  I just don’t think they’re doing that right now.

Len Archibald: FICTION – This is a real question. Okay, then. If you break a rule, you should face the consequences. The Wellness Policy works to ensure the health and safety of not only the talent, but the company itself. This was created after the Chris Benoit murder/suicide and it still looms heavy over WWE. Not suspending wrestlers who ignore those guidelines will pretty much undermine the entire reason for the Wellness Policy, but would place WWE under harsh scrutiny for its….why would they do this?

Statement #5: Beth Phoenix belongs in the WWE Hall of Fame.

Jeremy Thomas: FICTION – Listen, I like Beth Phoenix a lot.  I think she is inarguably an important part of her era of women’s wrestling.  But is she more important than a ton of women from that era who aren’t in yet? Mickie James was absolutely more significant to that period of the Divas Era, and I would argue that for all the crap she gets for being Undertaker’s wife, Michelle McCool did more for that era in terms of accolades and recognition/progress for the women.  Beth’s most memorable runs were her admittedly sometimes-entertaining angle with Santino Marella, her appearance in the Royal Rumble, her feud with LayCool, and serving as Trish Stratus’ bodyguard.  All of those are things were either she was not the most compelling part of the story (LayCool’s dissension was more of the focus than Phoenix for that one) or things that she was following in Chyna’s footsteps over.  And while Chyna is in, it’s only as part of D-Generation X at this time.

Bottom line here: we all know that the WWE Hall of Fame “qualifications” are dubious at best.  But within the bounds of this question, while Phoenix perhaps does eventually belong in, she doesn’t belong in before several other people.  And not just the obvious choices like Miss Elizabeth, but people specifically associated with her.  We can all make the argument of “Kelly Kelly/Koko B. Ware are in, so anyone can get in at this point,” but a lot of wrongs don’t make a right.

Len Archibald: FACT – Beth Phoenix existed during the heyday of the “Diva Era”, where in-ring skills were secondary to the physical aesthetics of the model-turned-athlete archetype. Beth Phoenix stood out with her size and power. She was also very good in the ring when she was in there with someone who was able to match her own prowess. She also was the second woman ever in the Rumble, eliminating The Great Khali. She has been part of some very memorable moments in WWE history and a multi-time Divas champ in an era where she did not fit the mold. I would say she is HOF worthy.

Statement #6: The “Road to Wrestlemania” is the most compelling time of the year for the WWE.

Jeremy Thomas: FACT – This is simple math.  While you can argue individual years being more compelling outside of the Road to WrestleMania (see: Summer of Punk), in an overall capacity that’s absolutely the case because WWE puts the most effort into their storytelling during the months from the Royal Rumble to WrestleMania than any other month.  We’ve all seen plenty of times where WWE just lets things slide during the down months, particularly in the fall when they start to take viewership hits due to the fall season and football.  For good or bad, it’s very rare that WWE doesn’t put forth their utmost to make the Road to WrestleMania must-see WWE television because they want to get people invested so they have a reason to watch the big show.

And indeed, let’s look at the other times of the year in a general capacity.  The time after WrestleMania is almost always a breathing period where lingering feuds are resolved and new champions at Mania face people in forgettable feuds designed to put the new champions over.  The summer has SummerSlam, but tends to be fairly directionless in the two months beforehand because people’s attention is elsewhere. Fall is a coasting time as I said before, and while I generally enjoy Survivor Series it’s about random teamups for the most part.  And then we have the winter where not a whole lot happens as a rule.  It may be a tougher argument to make in WrestleMania’s favor this year because it really does seem like they’re not putting much heart and soul in outside of Edge vs. Orton and who knows what will be coming up after, but all in all I don’t see how you can argue for another time of the year being the case.

Len Archibald: FICTION – It honestly used to be, but I actually get excited after Survivor Series, as that is the path to the Royal Rumble. I’m more excited to see who gets a Rumble push as it is a little more unpredictable. The road to the Showcase of the Immortals to me has lost a little bit of its luster over the past few years. This year especially gives me pause: in the leadup to the Rumble, there were so many possibilities of winners and feuds that could carry into WrestleMania. Now that they are crystalized, at this time only Drew/Brock, Shayna/Becky and Charlotte/Rhea feel like WrestleMania-level builds. Everything else is just…there. WrestleMania should not feel “there”. It should feel like WrestleMania. But the Rumble for me feels more like Mania. And that is strange.

Voting

To determine the victor in each round, the SIX other participating writers will cast a secret vote, along with a SEVENTH, and potentially tie-breaking vote, that will got to the winner of the reader’s poll below.

Anybody can, of course, vote however they like, but I’m introducing these criteria to help guide everyone’s decision:

Persuasiveness = ability to convince you that the writer’s Fact/Fiction choice was the best opinion

Knowledge = demonstration of the history and theory of pro-wrestling (even if not an expert on the topic in the statement)

Use of language = eloquence of the written word; creativity, imagery, comparisons, tone, voice

Plus = Executing the “Debate Rules”


I don’t know how you pick a winner there! Remember when you’re voting, the responses were not necessarily their real feelings on these statements, but how well did they do in convincing you it was?

Thanks to Jeremy and Len for participating, and good luck to them on the Road to Wrestlemania and their quest for the coveted 411mania Invitational Tournament championship title!