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411 Wrestling Fact or Fiction: Was WWE’s Premiere Week a Disaster?

October 9, 2019 | Posted by Jake Chambers
The Rock Smackdown 10-4-19

Welcome back to the 411 Fact or Fiction – Wrestling Edition, I’m your host, Jake Chambers. Every week, Fact or Fiction poses statements on pro-wrestling history, culture and current events and then challenges writers to explain why they believe each statement is totally factual or completely fiction. No middle ground will be tolerated!

This week’s guest is: Kevin Pantoja. As one of top pro-wrestling reviewers in the world, Kevin has been establishing a strong body of work at 411mania for a number of years with his take on the major events from New Japan, NXT and WWE PPVs like last week’s Hell in a Cell.

An awesome features of Kevin’s reviews is how he references past star ratings from marque matches, which helps establish a consistent voice and standard across the big rivalries. A proponent of logical and economical wrestling, Kevin is always very clear, opinionated and smart, so let’s see what he’s got in store for us on FoF this week!

Statement #1: WWE’s “Premiere Week” – with that awkward cuckold-ing angle to close RAW, terrible reception for the Ronda Rousey-led Total Divas, NXT getting destroyed by AEW in the ratings, Smackdown’s squash match main event, and a nonsensical no-finish to the Hell in a Cell PPV – was kind of a critical disaster.

Kevin Pantoja: FICTION – What makes this Fiction is the use of the words “critical disaster.” Was the Lana/Lashley angle dumb? Sure. Is the Total Divas rating a disappointment? Yes. Even though NXT put on the far superior episode of TV, getting stomped by AEW in the ratings wasn’t good. And the ending of Hell in a Cell and Smackdown were rough. All in all, it was bad. But it wasn’t a disaster. At least not all of it. Total Divas will be fine as it isn’t like the show needs to pull in a huge rating. Lana/Lashley isn’t going to be the thing that sends a show down the drain. NXT and AEW’s ratings should level out and be a bit closer as time progresses. The ending to Smackdown sucks but the rating was incredible. The Hell in a Cell ending was a disaster and that was indefensible. But the whole week? Not a disaster.

Jake Chambers: FICTION – Expecting anything but disappointment from WWE’s creative is kind of naive in 2019. Just calling it RAW’s “season premiere” doesn’t make the episode any different from the week before, unlike an actual TV series season premiere that pays off cliffhangers and refreshes new storylines. Moving Smackdown to a network wasn’t going to drastically change the way WWE creates content. Sure, there were some tweaks to the presentation, but it was predictably the same old format and style of matches. Therefore, I don’t think it can be a “critical disaster” if it was unlikely that anything (other than NXT) was going to be considered any good anyways. If anything, it’s AEW that might have been the disaster critically by presenting a “poor man’s” WWE and sacrificing any potential they had to be unique. For a company that I think will need critical praise in order to exist (unlike the WWE), AEW mostly just received praise for their ratings success.

Statement #2: You understand, and can explain, Bray Wyatt’s Firefly Funhouse / The Fiend gimmick.

Kevin Pantoja: FICTION – I feel like I get the main gist of it. He is someone with kind of a split personality and one of those is wildly dangerous. When someone pointed out to me that his Firefly Funhouse buddies are all some kind of incarnation of Bray Wyatt’s past (Sister Abigail, Husky Harris, the buzzard, and even Ramblin’ Rabbit is when he used to cut nonsense promos each week), it made seeing each of those more interesting. Outside of that, I don’t fully know all the intricacies. I think I can explain the basic premise but nothing more. And I think Bray kind of likes it that way.

Jake Chambers: FICTION – While I understand how those Firefly Funhouse segments are visually some kind of Mister Rogers or Pee-Wee’s Playhouse parody, what does it have to do with Bray Wyatt or WWE? There has never been any context for why these segments air randomly on TV. Are we to think Bray Wyatt has an independent production company? And why does a parody kids show lead Wyatt to transform into the monster-y Fiend persona? Kevin may be right that Bray wants it to be vague, but that doesn’t mean it’s artistically abstract. I see it as a disorganized idea with no point or goal, which has been the flaw of the Bray Wyatt gimmick from inception.

Fact or Fiction – Quick Hits
– one sentence is all you need for this FoF lightning round!

1. So that’s it for Buddy Murphy then?

Kevin Pantoja: FICTION – WWE has shown that they can heat up anyone at any time.

Jake Chambers: FACT – Being “called up” is the kiss of death for not just the wrestlers but MY enjoyment, so I hope he gets “sent down” soon.

2. Will Ospreay is clearly the 2019 wrestler of the year.

Kevin Pantoja: FICTION – I can name at least 20 wrestlers who have been better than him in 2019.

3. The Boogeyman was scarier than Papa Shango.

Jake Chambers: FICTION – Pre-comedy Boogeyman might have gotten close, but Papa Shango looking like the voodoo guy from Live or Let Die always freaked me out.

4. Minoru Suzuki has been wasted by New Japan in 2019.

Kevin Pantoja: FACT – A lot of his recent years have been disappointing but not even being in the G1 or doing anything notable is a waste.

¡SWITCH!

Statement #3: The immediate praise for Kofi Kingston’s title reign, and outpouring of support following his squash loss to Brock Lesnar, has been patronizing.

Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler and Others Praise Kofi Kingston’s WWE Title Run

Jake Chambers: FACT – Kofi Kingston doesn’t need to be treated delicately because he fell prey to the dynamics of the pro-wrestling business and lost his belt to a wrestler who his corporate bosses feel is a bigger star. Kofi is a professional who did a good job for the past few months as part of a collaborative performance sport, which was pretty cool for a career mid-carder. He will join the list of odd B-level champions, like Bradshaw and Jinder Mahal, who never solo main event-ed PPVs before winning a match (unlike those two, Kofi didn’t even get to do that as WWE Champion). So, c’mon, the world doesn’t need to come to Kofi’s defense because he was squashed out of his title. Certainly when Jinder Mahal lost that same belt no one cared based on the subjective reasoning that he “sucked”, but if you were to put their championship singles matches side-by-side (and you can do it with Orton, Nakamura and Styles) you’re not going to see many objective differences. If the argument is that Kofi isn’t on the level of the great champions of the past, like Hogan or Austin or Cena, so he needs a kind of social participation trophy to make him feel better about himself, it’s patronizing and unnecessary.

Kevin Pantoja: FACT – I want to express that by me saying Fact, I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve the support. Kofi Kingston finally got his moment to shine at WrestleMania and it was a feel good moment. He was a very good champion and the end of his reign should have been better. I really liked the wrestlers showing support and love for him. But it reached a level of patronizing when things go too far. Some have said he’s an all-time great WWE Champion when that isn’t the case in terms of his reign. Some claimed that the Brock squash was a personal slight against Kingston. That’s just who Brock is. He squashes people. Daniel Bryan dropped his first World Title in 18 seconds on the biggest stage and rebounded fine. Kofi may never be WWE Champion again but he had a really fun moment in the sun. Let’s enjoy that we got something we never thought we would instead of complaining about it or taking the loss like it was the death of a family member.

Statement #4: You prefer regular cage matches to Hell in a Cell matches.

Jake Chambers: FACT – I think everyone can agree that the Hell in a Cell match has been completely degraded by being the arbitrary gimmick of a PPV. This has led to many instances, like we saw this week, where the match is used further storylines, or is just a box around what would be a normal No DQ match. When there was the threat of a stunt at the top of the cage that at least gave the match some unique identity, but they’ve wrung out any danger there once was from falling off the Cell. On the other hand, regular cage matches have a point. The option to escape the cage to win includes the gimmick in the possible outcome, which you don’t get in a Hell in a Cell.

As well, a cage match seems to be used when necessary as an organic end to a rivalry, rather than a signpost on the PPV calendar where predictably a SummerSlam feud is going to end. And the constraint of the tight cage makes for more logical use of it as part of the action, for example, being flung into it, fighting in the corner while standing on the turnbuckle, launching off the top. Whereas using the distant mesh of the Hell in the Cell for things like sticking chairs to the side or angling Singapore canes through, like we saw with Becky and Sasha, is trying too hard and takes you out of the moment.

Kevin Pantoja: FICTION – Let’s be honest. Outside of a handful of occasions, WWE has never booked great Steel Cage matches. Somehow, a match designed to keep out interference is often riddled with it. Something that is violent when it is at its best is often tame. WWE cage matches come across like regular singles matches with something obstructing the view. To be fair, Hell in a Cell can usually be your ordinary Street Fight but inside of a cage. At least those still deliver from time to time. Becky/Sasha was great and we’re just a few years removed from New Day vs. Usos being one of the best Hell in a Cell matches ever. I can’t even name the last great Steel Cage match on the main roster. NXT had a couple of really good ones but that’s it. Give me Hell in a Cell any day.

Statement #5: Over the past 32 years, Survivor Series has been, on average, the best of the “Big Four” WWF/E PPVs.

Jake Chambers: FACT – Unlike Wrestlemania and SummerSlam, Survivor Series has rarely been weighed down by the pressure of delivering on marquee singles matches. Unlike Royal Rumble, where the Rumble match itself has become a predictable gimmick with only ever a handful of options to win every year, traditional Survivor Series matches are always weird mixes of stars where anyone could surprisingly shine, and you never know what you’re going to get from the format. The Survivor Series events from 1995, 1996, 2001, 2002 are all arguably in the WWE’s Top 10 PPVs of all time, and I’d probably throw last year’s version on that list too. So while it is often considered kinda lame, I think the Survivor Series is low-key the best flagship event they’ve got.

Kevin Pantoja: FACT – I came in expecting to say fiction but I actually thought about it and this surprised me. More often than not, I find myself enjoying Survivor Series. There are some bad ones like 2013 off the top of my head. But I’m a sucker for the traditional Survivor Series style matches so even when it is bad, I find some enjoyment. Years like 1996 and 2002 gave us some of the best WWE shows in history. We’ve had great moments like Sting’s first appearance, Edge’s return in 2008, Undertaker’s debut, and more. It also helps that it doesn’t get held in as high esteem as the other three. WrestleMania can be good but if it isn’t great, it might get viewed as a disappointment. The same goes for SummerSlam. The Royal Rumble is usually determined by how good the Rumble match itself is. Survivor Series flies under the radar and usually delivers.

Thanks again to Kevin for participating this week, and be sure to keep up with his posts every week on 411, especially the RetrospectiveMania column series. He is so thorough and committed to his reviews that after garnering some attention from a very positive review of this year’s less-than-positively received Wrestlemania 35, Kevin decided to go back and apply his current-day evaluation system to past Wrestlemanias in chronological order. Every week he comes up with fresh insights based on careful and balanced reviews of the matches and culture of each event. A highly recommended regular read, and one I’m curious to follow to the end to see if this leads him to re-assessing what he though of this year’s show.

If you like that there’s plenty more over at his The Kevstaaa Patreon where you can get retro reviews, weekly TV reviews, daily movie review, his weekly Fav Five, and tons more!

Keep up with all of Kevin’s thoughts and posts over at his Twitter account.

And I hope you enjoyed this week’s edition of Wrestling Fact or Fiction. While you’re over at Twitter go ahead and follow me too and join a tiny elite of bots and defunct accounts that are treated to random and “hilarious” New Japan tweets. I’m going to be scouting for new participants who want to step up and take the FoF challenge, so that will be the best way to get in touch!