By former Lords of Pain 205 Live reviewer, “205 Clive“.
Powered by RedCircle
WWE has had a funny old year. Seemingly, negative press is the only thing that gains the company traction and exposure. Some of which is wholly deserved. That’s not to say, however, that it’s all been doom and gloom for the wrestling giant. For, dotted throughout this brutal year has been many a shining light. Solid PPVs every month. Innovative technology. Characters moulded and refined to become the best versions of themselves. All major positives in my book. So, to see out a year in which reflection might not be top priority, allow me to at least attempt to take you on a happy journey down memory lane. With these, ten of WWE’s bigger successes in 2020.
Build Everyone Up and Leave
Talk about a case of absence making the heart grow fonder. In this instance, though, the same Roman Reigns who was absent from WWE TV half a year returned a different entity entirely. The Tribal Chief angle has rubbished any claims that WWE can’t do long term storytelling anymore. This story has more legs than the Spirit Squad. Baby-faces are lining up to be both emotionally and physically annihilated, while being presented stronger than they have in a long time. It’s a win-win scenario for everyone involved, and has given the much ridiculed – some would maybe even say cursed – Universal Championship the prestige it has often lacked.
Monday Night McIntyre
I’ve spoken ad nauseam of Drew’s successes this year. It would be remiss and downright insulting for me to omit him from this list. A memorable “Royal Rumble Moment” topped off, of course, with a win. Presented in 2020’s first quarter with a believability that he would fulfill his “Chosen One” destiny against Lesnar, who has himself held that moniker for years. PPV match after PPV match that stole the show. Against, might I add, a who’s who of WWE legends, past and present. A charisma that is equal parts charm, comedy, and brutality that ticks off several of those oh-so lauded demographics. I could go on, but other aspects deserve their time to shine today. In closing with Drew, then, to see him slowly become a main event mainstay, rather than a once and down Championship run experiment, is well deserved.
Lights! Camera! Action!
Now, granted. Some of WWE’s cinematic matches were very much hit and miss for me. But that’s not to say the experimental adaptation to such a medium was not a rip roaring success. The Boneyard Match introduced us to a number of “movies” that set the stage for a fun Spring in what was, frankly, a horrible place outside of wrestling. Unlike normal Money In The Bank or recent Undertaker matches, these will stand the test of time. What’s more, less than casual fans can find entertainment in them that they may not normally find within the squared circle. If that acts as an open door for said viewers to explore their curiosity further, then this hugely experimental time in WWE’s history can be seen as a success.
The Two Women Power Trip
I will maintain to my dying day, even if I’m found out to be wrong, that the multi year story between Sasha Banks and Bayley was intentional. Timing issues over the years aside, the culmination has happened in the year in question. Bayley was at times peerless during her tyrannical Smackdown Women’s Championship reign. Her initially stifling and nihilistic presentation morphed into a “Karen” on steroids, with all stereotypes thrown in for good measure. To think this is the same Bayley who hugged any and all, or had a potentially career damaging program opposite Alexa Bliss, is staggering.
So, too, is the transformation of Sasha Banks, who wore a lack of confidence on her face more blatantly than anyone in the locker room, since her fall from favour and grace after her classic 2016 Charlotte Flair feud. It’s been a very rough four years for Sasha, in front of and behind the television screen. But Banks is a prime example of the old adage, “good things come to those who wait”. As Banks is at her rightful place at the top of Smackdown’s Women’s division. And if form continues as it currently has been, long may her reign continue.
It wasn’t too long ago that 205 Live was considered the purple headed stepchild of WWE. A purgatory where highly competent technical and flashy wrestles went to…well….went. Fast forward a few years and the arguable Mount Rushmore of 205’s best is dotted all over Raw and Smackdown. Some, as Mustafa Ali and Buddy Murphy can attest to, are even in WWE’s most promoted angles. With Cedric Alexander shoring up The Hurt Business’ attack, and Drew Gulak offering equal parts comic relief and excellent wrestling on Smackdown, evidence has shown that 205 Live doesn’t have the ceiling many thought it had. Said ceiling might be higher than, say, NXT Superstars’ future prospects. But the cream always rises to the top, and these four are whipping up a storm.
Pleasure Doing Business With You
Speaking of Alexander and his newfound stablemates, The Hurt Business has been a constant for WWE. A steady and growing source of cool, suave, and threat as it sees out the year. It ticks off all boxes for what one looks for in a stable, too. The veteran talker/leader in MVP. The muscle (on more muscle) in Bobby Lashley, and amateur wrestling prototype in Shelton Benjamin. And the young and dynamic star for the future in the aforementioned Alexander. Who, by the way, was the one to score the pin that added more gold to the group, in the form of the Raw Tag Team Championships. Hurt Business’ presence has been felt for a large chunk of 2020. With two titles to their name (at time of writing), 2021 is looking equally cool for the four men.
The Empress of Corona
If ever a conversation is to be had about which wrestler took the empty arena shaped bull by the horns from the off, Asuka surely has to be near the top of the list. With the maniacal, kinetic, LOUD energy Asuka brought to the hushed Performance Centre setting, one would be forgiven for forgetting fans weren’t in attendance. Her reliability in an unsettling time was rewarded with Money In The Bank and subsequent Raw Women’s Championship victories. A cross-promotional feud with white hot Banks and Bayley ensured she shared the same heat throughout the summer, too. Asuka may have had a quiet Fall. But make no mistake, Asuka’s contribution this year could see her as the Empress of not just Tomorrow, but of years to come.
NXT’s Mid-Card Magic
NXT has been tough this year. At times, even a slog. But in amongst the drudgery, several wrestlers have made a permanent home in our hearts with their diverse characters, wrestling styles, and possibilities for the future. Messrs Lumis, Grimes, Priest, and Reed have all had a wonderful 2020. Going toe to toe with some of NXT’s more established stars, in at times successful outings might I add, these men have cemented themselves as solid, reliable and, most importantly, entertaining mid-carders. The only way is up for this group, as has clearly been evidenced by their booking, presentation, et al.
Theme Nights Rule OK!
Staying with the black and gold brand, and specifically its most likely conscious decision now and again to counter AEW programming. The themed television episodes have been a highlight throughout the year for NXT. The Great American Bash and Super Tuesday double bills, and Halloween Havoc (hosted by 2020 standout Shotzi Blackheart), all went a long way in helping forget about the stresses of the outside world. They help keep the creative team on its toes, so as not to fall into a lull in between Takeovers. In some instances, their quality even surpasses those of the NXT PPV style specials. What’s more, they have become a precursor for more in 2021. As New Year’s Evil is already shaping up to be a huge night, as well as a statement of NXT’s intentions going forward.
Thunder…. Thunder!…. THUNDERDOME!
WWE’s post apocalyptic theme in 2020, through extreme anti-establishment stables and underground fight clubs, was a subtle nod to real world events this year. An homage to the Mad Max series put this theme front and centre with the aptly named Thunderdome. This was a massive breath of fresh air in contrast to the Performance Centre’s stuffy studio setting. There is, of course, an enhanced sense of artificiality with piped in crowd noises and fans given orders to visually boo or cheer. That doesn’t, however, take away from the fact that this is the closest, and safest, WWE can be to performing in front of a live crowd. So innovative was the move, metal veterans Metallica recently performed a gig in a similar controlled environment. It’s not perfect. It’s not authentic. But it’s as close to adapting with the times – maybe even the future – that WWE can get.
Well, that concludes what I feel are ten of WWE’s biggest positives to take away from a soundly negative year. Do you agree with the above? Are there others you feel should be in the conversation? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, or on social media. Otherwise, thanks for reading not only this Brand Extension installment, but all of them throughout these….(altogether now)……unprecedented times!
Read my previous Brand Extension columns here.
Try your hand at writing in Lords of Pain’s very own Columns Forum.