WWE put the worst elements of their booking on display last night, and the bright spots even managed to prove the rule.
Elimination Chamber was symptomatic of a bloated creative team that hides its lack of good ideas in overwhelming volume—overwriting the simplest and most compelling elements of what makes competition resonate with people.
The Intercontinental Title Match
Inexplicably this match turned into a two-on-one match, presumably because someone who doesn’t understand how sports or competitions works thought Finn Balor would look more sympathetic and more impressive going against the odds in this way. But this is the point of view of a moron, because implicit in these two-on-one rules is that Balor can (and did) win the title by pinning either member of the two-person team, even though only one member was the defending champion.
So WWE expects this to be a significant moment when Balor wins the Intercontinental Championship — which he does by pinning the defending champion’s hype man. Balor wins the title by not defeating the champion. How is that supposed to get him over? How is that supposed to feel satisfying? Right away, he’s undermined by booking that routinely broadcasts its own lack of awareness of how athletic competitions work and why they resonate with audiences.
Then, since WWE focuses more on losers rather than winners, new-champion Balor disappears and the story becomes all about Lashley’s revenge on Rush for losing to Balor.
The focus is on losers who lose, and the winners gain nothing because they win in ways that undermine their accomplishments.
— WWE (@WWE) February 18, 2019
The Rousey-Lynch-Flair Mess
Wrestling has the opportunity to control the engaging elements of athletic competition to maximize emotional engagement; WWE’s complete lack of comprehension of basic storytelling ensures that they undermine that potential in favor of arbitrary complexity.
That is nowhere more evident in how they’ve made a mess of the Becky Lynch / Ronda Rousey feud. This thing was red hot, but their determination to wedge Charlotte Flair into the situation has cooled off the organic storyline and turned this thing into an absurd mess.
Anyone with a functioning brain who isn’t auditioning for a job with WWE knows that inserting Charlotte Flair into this match has taken it severely off-course. See this shining example from Chris Roling at Bleacher Report, where his argument can essentially be boiled down to “WWE can’t be trusted to write a simple story, so we should be glad they’ve chosen a convoluted mess instead!”
The point here is not whether something can be salvaged, or if you can rationalize creating a mold into which you can justify pouring molten-plastic former-human Charlotte Flair; the point is that they stumbled into the hottest storyline they’ve had since they similarly stumbled into Daniel Bryan’s ascent, and they’ve willfully chosen to complicate it and reshape it into something colder and less authentic.
If there’s any silver lining here, it’s that Becky Lynch apparently has the green light to completely shred the booking on Twitter.
Ronnie, did you feel that excitement and passion when The Man came around again? That’s what a main event is supposed to feel like.
Although I’m sure Char shouting into the mic, and you scowling for the next 2 months will keep the people invested too.
You think? pic.twitter.com/ndrtF73PWv
— The Man (@BeckyLynchWWE) February 18, 2019
The Rise of Kofi Kingston
The harder they try to get talent over, the more they cool them off. The best thing they can do for their wrestlers (and their audience) is to get out of the way and let the professionals do their jobs.
The New Day have been stuck in water-treading quasi-comic limbo for years, but all WWE needed to do was lazily insert Kofi Kingston into the Elimination Chamber match—just give him an opportunity to shine—and he took care of the rest. His natural charisma and in-ring storytelling were perfectly aligned to how desperate fans were to support him, creating a magical and memorable main event.
For a half hour or so, it was easy to forget how mistreated and wasted Kingston has been as a talent for the past few years—he felt like the hottest star in the company. It helped to have Daniel Bryan putting everything he has into his heel character, but these were two professionals who had the crowd hooked on every move in spite of what WWE creative has cooked up for them.
But eventually the magic had to face reality; the match ended, and WWE did what they do – focus on the losers. It was an excellent main event, but nobody can stay over in this company. If you get yourself hot, don’t worry—the writing team will be there soon enough to ensure you get brought back down.
Like most people after last night, I’d love to see a Bryan-Kofi rematch at Wrestlemania, but I can’t even imagine what damage the writing team will do to such a no-brainer in the meantime.
— Kell (@kelofthesea) February 18, 2019