I’ve criticized him when I disagreed, so now I’ll have to praise him when I just witnessed a master chef deliver his greatest meal on Thanksgiving weekend! Triple H just changed the game. Now WWE is looking to start WrestleMania season with one of the more interesting stories going. I want to focus on not just what Triple H is cooking, but how he’s cooking it. What has Triple H done to make everything work so perfectly?
Rarely would a company be brave enough to sell a whole card on just 5 matches. Usually, multiple matches are needed to get the crowd invested. Like Kevin Sullivan used to say, you need variety. The cruiserweights are the trapeze, you have the comedy acts, the muscle men, then the finale, the man puts his head in a lion’s mouth and everyone goes home. Triple H said you don’t need variety, you need good old-fashioned comfort food cooked to perfection.
The Best Return for the Story
If Triple H knew he had CM Punk last week, the easiest thing would have been to book Punk’s return for Survivor Series. After all, it’s Chicago and you have an open spot storyline-wise. But sometimes the best meals don’t use the most obvious recipe. In this case, people weren’t expecting a CM Punk return. So you don’t need to give them the CM Punk return here. Instead, the storyline was more interesting with Randy Orton’s return. You see, Randy has a history with Cody Rhodes, Seth Rollins, AND Jey Uso. While we all want to see CM Punk’s return here, Randy’s return added much more to the story. Can Seth trust Randy, will Randy RKO Jey Uso? So many questions.
With Randy’s return being better for a story, how do you lay out the match so the crowd isn’t chanting CM Punk all match? Great question, and Hunter gave you the answer. The way this match was laid out, having Dom come out last was perfect because people booed him to no end. As Judgement Day took control of the match, people chanted for both Randy and Punk. Rhea coming out was also a nice touch. When Randy’s music hit, the Chicago fans still could have rejected it. But with Rhea out there, the fans wanted all of this to stop, so when Randy’s music hit the fans reacted in the way WWE had hoped. The story of the match told the fans this was the big pop moment, and they responded with such.
The Flawless Surprise
Once Randy entered the match, he hit all the spots. The JD RKO off the top of the cage was perfect. The fans loved it and no one was chanting CM Punk. Had this spot ended the night, people would have gone away. In their minds, they would have said, “Maybe I didn’t need a CM Punk return.” Triple H could have ended to show there. Since a surprise was heavily denied all week, if the show ended you’d still be fine. But, like all great meals, you need dessert. Dessert doesn’t provide any substance, but it’s sweet and everyone loves it. So right when I swiped my Peacock app closed thinking to show was over, Cult of Personality hit.
It was surreal, the crowd exploded, and CM Punk came out to a HUGE pop. Was it perfect, no, I am still confused about what they accomplished. But, dessert usually accomplished nothing for a meal health-wise. What dessert does provide is that feel-good ending. Grandma’s pie is always going to be amazing. And CM Punk coming out might have taken the attention off an amazing night, but it added to the night. Now with Punk involved, you can add so much to the story. Look at Seth Rollin’s reaction, that story is there waiting to be told. Is Punk a heel or face, will he confront Judgement Day, or is he as big a fan of Rhea as Jim Cornette?
From this storyline, it looks like the good guys finished their story with Judgement Day. I think you’ll see Jey Uso and Sami Zayn go on adventures with Randy Orton, Cody seems to be posed to find a way back to Smackdown to challenge Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins might be all alone here. After all, CM Punk I think will be occupied with Shinsuke Nakamura. Judgement on the other hand might find themselves with lots of drama. Rhea trusted Damian Priest to lead the War Games, which he failed at. You could argue JD McDonagh made the team much weaker than it needed to be against five legitimate main event faces. But that will not be the case come Monday, as Priest’s leadership will be questioned.
I do think soon after this, Priest will rush his cash in. With Judgement Day dominating Raw the last half a year, it would be fitting to see a member finally win the World Heavyweight title. I think Damian will cash in before the year’s end and fully establish himself as head of Judgement Day. Heading into WrestleMania season, we could see a new face emerge, maybe one who’s very popular. I’d personally heat LA Knight again and have him in this spot, but Hunter now has many babyfaces to choose from that can make sense. Heck, maybe we’ll see a Jey vs. Priest feud for the title, with Jey flirting with Rhea the whole time. Triple H has given himself so many options, there is no clear direction he can go, but any direction looks great.
I have been waiting to touch on this for a while. I started to write a column on them, but in my personal life we bought a house and I’ve been so busy with the move. Now I have time. So let me start by saying the LWO was handled masterfully. In the beginning, I think most knew someone was turning on Rey Mysterio. Rey is this generation’s Sting. He’s the over-trusting babyface that everyone loves, so when they turn on him, people care. And the first thing I noticed about El Legado Del Fantasma is no one cared. Santos Escobar as leader might have been the most WWE-ready luchador I’d ever seen. In Lucha Underground, I compared his King Cuerno character to Lucha Randy Orton. His joining WWE was always a no-brainer, but how do you get people to care?
One problem many heel luchadors have is it’s hard to believe they are heels. Aside from el Legado Del Fantasma, teams like the Garzas and the Colons all struggled as heels. Being small is a huge disadvantage for a heel. Triple H though had something to correct this failed recipe. To care about these small heels, first, we must care about them as faces. Having them join Rey Mysterio in his battle with his son and Judgement Day was perfect. Rey needed backup, and by recruiting an already established group, Hunter made people care about them. Replacing el Legado Del Fantasma with the LWO logo made them familiar to the general audience. People were now buying it.
If you’ve watched Santos Escobar for the number of years I have, you realize he’s a much better heel. His work, his promos, everything is better as a heel. I knew it was always a matter of time for him to turn on Rey. But I bought my LWO shirt and other WWE Shop items while I could. When Santos turned, it was understandable. Rey took his US title opportunity, Rey overshadowed Santos. In some ways, they borrowed Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage Mega Power’s exploding recipe for this. Carlito was brought in to have an outside perspective and warn Rey of what was happening. Like Kevin Owens, Carlito seems to be the only one who watches the show.
What has surprised me is how strong they are making Santos be. He took out both Carlito and Rey. Now everyone here is over 40, so that will tell you WWE is using older talent to put over newer talent. So Santos has gone over two proven names that the audience knows and respects. Judging by the crowd reaction at Survivor Series, the turn worked, as now people care about him. Hunter has made the audience care for an undersized luchador heel. Vincent Kennedy McMahon could never!
I once thought Santos would be the perfect person to unmask Rey Mysterio. I am not sure that’s the right path now after watching everything unfold. Give him some wins, and start to branch him outside of the luchadors. Santos beating non-luchadors will make him a greater threat. Also partner him with the Garzas, as Angel Garza is a natural heel as well. Santos Escobar’s heat would rub off on the Garzas, which would elevate that team. Escobar could even win the US title that Rey kept from him. Eventually, though, he will have to be defeated. And the one to defeat him should be Dragon Lee. Dragon Lee has one thing that the others in this LWO storyline don’t, and that’s youth.
Once all is said and done, in two years, all of this should set up Dragon Lee to be the luchador that Rey is now. If all of this works out well, Dragon Lee will sell his mask around the world and WWE will have a new luchador hero. Escobar does seem to have many more years as well as a heel. His talent is truly one of a kind, and part of me is mad at El Rey Network, as they kept him from signing with WWE for many years. Santos though now is the key to going from Rey Mysterio to Dragon Lee as the face of WWE lucha libre. And judging by their match at Survivor Series, Lee will do great in that position.
WWE is truly in good hands with Triple H. Right now Triple H is booking the best wrestling show we’ve seen in a long time. At first, it was just the Bloodline story, which people thought was the exception. But by moving the Bloodline aside, other stories have developed and allowed us to breathe. No longer are people just waiting for one story, in due time you can see many stories take place across the show which people are tuning in for. Triple H is truly cooking now.
I do want to leave off with the big return. Now I have no idea where it is going. But I can assume CM Punk will start a program with Nakamura soon. This will more than likely lead to a CM Punk vs. Seth Rollins program. These two seem to have natural beef, which would fuel a feud like this. I also expect to hear the Young Bucks say something, and Tony Khan to ignore it. Wait, did I just mention AEW in this column? Well, I have a reason.
But that will have to wait. For now, I will congratulate Triple H on the amazing show. I hope the record attendance in Chicago, and the viewer count of this Premium Live Event gives the WWE confidence to take more risk. Don’t count on the obvious (like CM Punk as a surprise), trust your stories (like Randy Orton being the surprise), but that doesn’t mean we still can’t have CM Punk. Sometimes you have to ask, why not both? And in this case, Triple has served you a bomb ass ham, with all the sides and fixings, AND gave you that great pecan pie for dessert. Everyone left satisfied.