Tuesday 5 May 2015

Dark Day

Despite their general lack of direction WWE has a pretty strong top end on their roster right now. John Cena is experiencing something of a resurgence thanks to the varied opposition his fourth reign as US champ has provided him. They have cowardly, conniving heel Seth Rollins walking around as WWE champion without having fully earned the right. Roman Reigns is ready to be tipped over into headlining champ territory at a moment's notice. And there's Brock Lesnar waiting in the wings to make a triumphant return as an unstoppable monster out for revenge and the world heavyweight championship.

But despite this the company's hottest feud is between two mid-card tag teams.

The rivalry between Cesaro and Tyson Kidd's Brass Ring Club, Masters of the Universe or Best Team Ever (they're going through names like nobody's business) and the New Day trio of Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods is an example of a wrestling company listening to their audience and reacting accordingly. Two months ago Cesaro and Kidd were bad guys but their ring work has been so enjoyable that audiences have been supporting them (a theme throughout Cesaro's career). New Day are the opposite of this. Even though they've been positioned as good guys and their matches have always been solid the stereotypical characters they've been given to play have seen audiences booing them. That they're essentially playing 80's-style clean cut babyfaces has probably been a factor too.

The smart thing for WWE to do was to take the two tandems, flip their roles and put them in a series against one another. So that's what they did. Cesaro and Kidd are now free to officially encourage the positivity crowds send their way and ramp up the pop-inducing sequences in their matches.

New Day heat.
It's the New Day lads who have really benefited from this, and not just because their status as heat magnets has resulted in them getting a tag team title reign complete with the Freebird Rule. When they were lobbed together last year it took the writing team months to figure out what they wanted to do with them. They were eventually cast as bland babyfaces with unclear motivations. They spoke like gospel preachers and liked to clap, that was it. There was no depth to them and it wasn't clear what they were meant to be.

No reason was provided to cheer them. So people didn't. The resulting apathy gradually turned to active dislike, perhaps because the three New Dayers remained so positive despite being in such an obviously poor spot on the roster. That's the kind of blending of storyline and playing on audience's heightened knowledge of pro wrestling's workings that WWE (and others) should do more often.

The turn itself has been handled well and has allowed New Day to tinker with their performances. One of the key moments for the trio came when Kofi interfered in a match on Woods' behalf. The look Woods responded with was perfect, conveying that he'd only just realised in that moment that there was nothing to stop them breaking the rules. It created a reason for New Day to be booed and set up a simple booking formula for them: the cheat to win matches. And they had a reason for this change in attitude too. They were being booed while trying to fight fairly, so what did they have to lose by cheating?

Playing heel also suits the three men well. Kofi Kingston is essentially playing a slightly more arrogant version of the character he's always played, which makes sense as for him to make drastic changes nine years into his WWE run would be odd. I remember him saying in an interview years ago, so it's nice to see him getting the opportunity to do so. Big E is more at ease than he has been since his time with Dolph Ziggler, showing passion and presence both in the ring and on the mic. He's playing a man who knows that his obnoxious hollering will get under people's skin but who doesn't care.

It's Xavier Woods who has the most interesting character right now. He's coming across as a man with a lot of pent up rage inside him, glaring into the distance as Big E and Kofi prattle on during promos, clearly wanting to speak out about the ridiculousness of what they've been given to do but not quite bringing himself to verbalise his anger. If he ever gets to cut loose in a promo he could deliver gold.

I like what's being done with New Day. There's nothing revolutionary or amazing about any of it. It's just simple, effective booking that takes into account the crowd's views on an act. It's what WWE should do all the time but don't, so when they do it's eye-catching.

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