The ever popular Fastlane payperview is tonight, but the real buzz seems to be surrounding this past week’s Smackdown Live. While Raw’s exclusive Fastlane event is trying to get eyes on the product using the marquee value of Goldberg, Smackdown Live is taking the high road with some of the best writing in years. Sure, the bar for WWE Creative is set lower than TNA’s ratings, but lately they’ve developed some inspired work. The Randy Orton-Wyatt storyline has been one of the most well structured stories in the past decade. And the rekindling of Miz’s feud with John Cena is entertaining enough to make even a mixed tag match at WrestleMania work.
After his first year or so in the company, Bray Wyatt has lost match after match despite being one of WWE greatest assets on the mic, performing consistently in the ring, and staying healthy. Because he’s such a talent as a character, the theory is that he can rebound from losses with some crafty promos and wriggle his way into the next feud. So far, it’s been proven successful, as he’s the current WWE Heavyweight Champion. When Randy Orton joined the Wyatt family, it was fairly obvious that he would eventually turn on Bray. But just because something is predictable, doesn’t mean it’s poorly written. Tales as old as time, allegories and fables of characters retelling the same morality tales from centuries past should never be mistaken as unoriginal.
“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” has been the theme of this tale. At long last, after months of standing alongside Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton did the thinkable by turning on Bray Wyatt on Tuesday. But it was the manner in which he did it which makes it one of the most unforgettable segments in WWE history. After a long, well recited monologue, the Viper burned down the Wyatt family compound and destroy the soul of the mythic Sister Abigail. Of course…we don’t really have any idea what Abigail symbolizes or how it affects Bray Wyatt aside from the go-to broad advantage of “mind games.” It was dramatic, visually pleasing, and told the story of how Randy Orton infiltrated the Wyatt family to turn Luke Harper against Bray, so he could finally defeat The Eater of Worlds; and for his newly won title no less.
Orton has never been known as an excellent talker, which is why, I assume, they pre-taped the segment on the titantron. That…and I wouldn’t expect them to tape a live arson. But this shows that WWE Creative might finally be learning their lesson that they need to accentuate the positives and hide the negatives of a Superstar to get them over. It’s also become clear that The Miz has turned a corner, and he’s finally found himself in his character.
At the start of Smackdown, we were treated to an episode of Miz TV, where the former Real World star had one of the most real moments of his career. By calling out John Cena and blaming him for being a manipulative backstage politician who essentially buried the Miz after their WrestleMania match, WWE reached another level of a worked shoot. The exchange between Miz and Cena was almost uncomfortable at times, as it made even the most cynical smark wonder if Miz was truly lashing out. Even though these things are usually green lit ahead of time, there was still such density of truth in what both men said to each other, that the lines were blurred as to how much of it was legitimate animosity.
And that’s the kind of wrestling I love. When you wonder if anything is real, for even a moment in the pro wrestling industry, they’ve done their job. This is the kind of rehashing of a feud that would otherwise have fans chanting “same old sh*t,” but the difference that good writing makes is undeniable. They’re taking a few big risks with this matchup. For one, there’s little precedent for it. Aside from The Miz attacking Cena after being eliminated from the Chamber, there hasn’t been much in the way of buildup. It’s a feud that’s been done at WrestleMania before, and a notoriously unpopular one. If this had been a match at WrestleMania even a year ago, I would have zero interest. But the Miz has done so much to develop his character and come into his own in the past year that it’s drawn me in. And finally, it’s going to be a mixed tag match. Since Maryse has aided so much in Miz’s advancements and with the popularity of Nikki Bella on Total Divas, it makes some sense. And it seems like a complete waste of a name like Cena at WrestleMania on paper. But somehow, some way, by verbally laying into each other with a believability rarely seen, they’ve grabbed me.
Two incredible segments bookended Smackdown last week. Alongside Jericho and Kevin Owens’ Festival of Friendship, no one can argue that WWE is putting a lot of effort into improving their storytelling ability. Each of them are unique and keeps us wondering what the WrestleMania card with look like, exactly. If there’s one thing that some wrestling fans need to understand, it’s that a great match can be made with the story and characters, even before they step through the ropes. The Miz and Randy Orton, two men who always had a little trouble breaking through to the next level with their character, may have finally done just that.