Thursday 5 May 2011

Fantasy Booker: WWE part four

This is the fourth and concluding part to a series of blogs detailing what I’d do if given creative control of WWE. In parts one to three (which can be read at the following links: onetwo, and three) I laid out the changes I’d make to the developmental system, the approach I’d take to the on-screen and backstage aspects of running the company and gave an indication of the creative direction I’d take the company in. In this part I will reveal the booking decisions I’d make and the central matches I’d intend to have for this year’s SummerSlam and next year’s WrestleMania.

Before we get to that I will quickly discuss the process the writing team would go through. For the first five or six months, while settling in to my new role, I’d have one writing team working whatever schedule they’re currently on. They’d be told I’d be taking over the writing process around October and would be told the starting point I’d want for then. Whoever’s in the writing team now would be joined by Jim Cornette, who’d be used to oversee the process and provide guidance and suggestions.

Once I took over the TV writing the team would be split in two again. The specifics of who would go where would be decided closer to the time, once I’d gotten an idea of everyone’s strengths, weaknesses, styles and preferences. The goal would be to have those with a more realistic, sports-based approach on SmackDown and those with more of a bent for storylines and the soap opera approach on RAW. Cornette would be phased out and Gabe Sapolsky would be brought on to one of the teams to fill the gap.

As time passed I’d add to the teams as and when necessary, using writers from the developmental system. New writers would then be hired to fill the gaps in the territories. Depending on how things turned out I’d consider moving people from the main roster back into the territories, if they were feeling burnt out or wanted to have a lighter schedule or new challenge. The most important goals would be to keep fresh ideas coming and to maintain the different feels of RAW and SmackDown.

Each writing group would have their own suite of offices at Titan Tower (WWE’s Stamford, Connecticut Headquarters) where they’d meet at least three days a week. It would probably work out as a longer working week during the busier periods of the year, and would certainly be more for the first several months as I would want a significant lead time established on television scripts. Each group would attend their brand’s show every week, to witness the reactions the wrestlers received, and to provide the talent with the opportunity to discuss gimmick ideas with them. I would be attending as many meetings as possible with each writing team, and signing off on TV scripts. My job would be deciding on the direction of the company and the shows, it would be the job of writing teams to fit it all together and to work on ideas for lower down the card.

I would like to be working with a broad idea of the product one year ahead of time. After each WrestleMania I would want to be able to say what I’d want form the next year’s event and the central matches I’d want to promote. Doing that gives everyone a good amount of time to get everything in place and means there’s no panic at the last moment that there are no viable options for big matches. It would be at this time that the King of the Ring and Money in the Bank winners would be decided, along with the cards for SummerSlam and Survivor Series. None of this would be dictated, the point of the meeting would be to get input from everyone in the creative department before finalising plans and backup plans with enough time to sufficiently set everything up.

Around the time of Survivor Series there would be another big meeting focusing on the WrestleMania season, which would involve deciding on a Rumble winner, the key No Way Out matches, deciding when any title changes required would occur, the WrestleMania undercard, and plans for the top stars after WrestleMania. Call-ups from FCW for the post-WrestleMania period would also be discussed.

Having year long plans allows for more intricate, layered booking and permits more time being spent teasing a particularly lucrative main event. While I’m keen on planning ahead I’d also be paying attention to crowd responses. If there was someone I wasn’t doing much with that was getting strong reactions from audiences I’d find something for them to do. Similarly, if someone had been in a position on the card for several months and was getting no reaction I’d scale back their push or return them to the satellite leagues, or possibly turn them if they were getting the “wrong” reaction.

Now, finally, I’ll unveil my plans for the next year of WWE programming. I apologise in advance for jumping from one aspect of it to another.

I’ll begin with next year’s WrestleMania. I’ve said over the course of these blogs that I’d want to have year-long plans in place, so I think it makes sense to begin by establishing what I’m building towards and then work backwards. I haven’t decided on the entire card, but I know my top matches and have an idea of what I’d want form the undercard.

The main event can only be The Rock v John Cena. It’s already been announced, but aside from that I think it’s a match worth booking because it has genuine drawing power. Cena, like him or not, is the current face of WWE. Rock being its past face makes this a legitimate battle of icons, which is incredibly rare in wrestling. The last time I think something similar truly happened was Hulk Hogan v The Rock at WrestleMania X8. Interestingly Rock got booed that night because he was up against the more established star, and I think we’re going to see that happen to Cena next year: he’s not a popular man with WWE fans anyway, and it’s Rock’s hometown, there’s no way he’ll be cheered.

How would I book it? Without knowing Rock’s exact appearance schedule it’s hard to set out anything concrete for this. What I can say is that any time Rock appeared there would be build towards the ‘Mania XVIII match. Cena and Rock would not be getting physical with one another every time Rock appeared, because if that happened early on then where are you going to go in the final months of hype? I’d keep things between them verbal until SummerSlam, before escalating things into heated animosity once the Royal Rumble’s been and gone and we’re truly in WrestleMania season. I’ll lay out the specifics of what exactly would happen at SummerSlam below.

Between the Rumble and WrestleMania Cena would finally begin turning heel. For 2011 he would remain a face (or the impression he does of one at any rate), accepting the boos that are sent his way as he has done for the last several years. Making Cena heel would be a gradual process. He would edge closer every week, with the eventual reason for the turn being that fans continue to boo him in favour of The Rock despite him having been there all year and Rock only having made a handful of appearances. The heel Cena would remain proud of his popularity with the younger demographic, but become increasingly openly contemptuous towards adult male fans (the ones most likely to be booing him). The aim would be for Cena to have cut a scathing promo against the fans that turned on him weeks before WrestleMania. That should almost be a worked shoot situation, with Cena saying he gives everything he has when he performs but it’s not enough, and that no fan that boos him could get into a ring and do what he does. It should be a moment in which we see the real John Cena, and a moment that people can look back on to pinpoint precisely when Cena went heel.

Another match for WrestleMania XVIII that has been semi-confirmed is Triple H v Undertaker. They may both only be part time and they may both be in their forties, but they produced the best match of this year’s WrestleMania and I think they would do the same next year. Unlike the Cena v Rock match, these two are both available for appearances all year, which makes it easier to decide on how to prepare for it.

I would begin in the weeks leading up to SummerSlam. Under my booking Miz would have retained the title at Extreme Rules and would still be champion in July. From now until then I would establish Miz as a fighting champion, putting him in the ring with varied opponents and allowing him to go over decisively in competitive bouts. Not all of these wins would necessarily be clean, but enough would be to make Miz stand out as a strong champion. By July Miz would be cutting promos on RAW in which he states there is nobody big enough for him to beat at SummerSlam, as he’s already shown he can beat everyone. I’m sure you can imagine the sort of thing. After two or three weeks of this Triple H would make a surprise appearance and challenge Miz to a title match at SummerSlam. After a little coercing Miz would accept and the match would be made official.

John Cena would be booked as a referee. There are several ways that this could be approached in storyline terms, but the one I’d favour is to have Cena come to the ring the week after the match is announced to say that he’s more deserving of a title match than Triple H because he’s there every week. I like this approach because it paints Cena in a slightly negative, whiney light, and nicely foreshadows his reason for going heel next year. From there it’s a simple case of Miz or Triple H, or an on-screen authority figure, coming to the ring to get Cena involved in the bout as an official.

Triple v The Miz for the WWE championship, with John Cena as the special guest referee, would be the SummerSlam main event. The Rock would be announced as a “special guest” (or something to that effect) for the show. As he did at ‘Mania, Rock would come out and cut a promo earlier on in the night and perhaps bump into Cena backstage and wish him good luck on his refereeing assignment. Cena’s response would have to be something suitably irking to The Rock, with Cena ending the segment by walking away.

The match would be allowed around fifteen minutes or so before going to the fairly lengthy finishing sequence: The Rock would come out and begin trash talking Cena from ringside, which would prompt Cena to leave the ring and go face-to-face with ‘The Great One’. As that happens Triple H would hit a Pedigree on Miz and go for the cover, only for the arena lights to go out. After a few seconds they’d come back on to reveal the Undertaker in the ring. Triple H would scramble to his feet, but not quickly enough as ‘The Dead Man’ would scoop him up and blast him with a Tombstone piledriver, with Cena and Rock still having a staredown and/or jawjacking with one another outside the ring. The lights would go back out, coming back on to reveal an Undertaker-less ring. Miz would pull Triple H to his feet, perform the SCF, and then call Cena back into the ring to count the three. Cena would head back into the ring, reluctantly turning his back on The Rock and just as reluctantly counting Miz to victory.

This booking serves several purposes. It helps build two feuds (Undertaker v Triple H and The Rock v John Cena), creates a lively, unpredictable main event that (hopefully) fans would be into, and gives Miz a victory over ‘The Game’. Yes it’s a tainted victory, but it’s still something for Miz to brag about in promos. It also means The Rock and Cena can have a staredown to end the show, or one can hit their finisher on the other.

The following evening on RAW Triple H would cut a promo saying he knows why the Undertaker did what he did: he wants Triple H gone from WWE. He doesn’t want to face Triple H at WrestleMania again because he knows just how close ‘The King of Kings’ came to ending The Streak. Undertaker wants Triple H gone because he’s scared. That would be the gist, and it would end with Triple H telling Undertaker he’s not going anywhere. He may have been denied the title, but he won’t be denied The Streak. When Undertaker comes back, he’ll still be waiting.

From there Triple H would leave TV again until the Royal Rumble. I’m not sure if he’d be advertised as taking part or whether he’s be a surprise entrant. I think he’d work very nicely as a surprise: he’s a big name that could realistically be booked to win the match, there aren’t too many surprise entrants that can be said for. He would enter at number thirteen, with the commentators noting the connections that number has to bad luck. There would be five or six performers in the ring for Triple H to go through quickly, with entrant number fourteen being added to that group. Just as Triple H sent the last man tumbling from the ring the lights would go off, coming back on to once again reveal the Undertaker. Now before you think this is tediously repetitive remember that it would have been five months since the angle was done at SummerSlam, and part of the idea is for people to link the lights going out to the SummerSlam incident. It would that feeling of déjà vu from the audience.

When the lights came back up Triple H would be prepared. The two men would have a more even encounter than they did at SummerSlam but the result would be the same: the Undertaker would get the upper hand. Whether or not he hits a choke slam or Tombstone would be decided nearer the time, the important thing would be that Undertaker eliminates Triple H from the Rumble match. The lights would go back out, coming back on to reveal a livid Triple H going ballistic at ringside and the Undertaker nowhere in sight. Entrant number fifteen would then come to the ring, be flattened by Hunter, and tossed over the top rope. Triple H would then leave, hopefully to a strong reaction from the crowd.

RAW the next night would see ‘The Game’ reiterating his sentiments from the post-SummerSlam RAW and then challenging the Undertaker to show up at No Way Out (the February pay-per-view). It would need to be very clear that Undertaker v Triple H was not going to be a match at NWO, just an in-ring meeting between the two. That would then become a selling point of the PPV, with the focus being on whether or not Undi’ would show up and whether Triple H would challenge him to a WrestleMania rematch. Needless to say, he would show up, the challenge would go out, and it would be accepted.

Those are the two big special attraction bouts for next year’s WrestleMania. What about the WWE and World Heavyweight championships. I’ll discuss the World Heavyweight title first. Now, I’m a fan of Christian, but had I been booking WWE at Extreme Rules he would have been the one moved to RAW and Del Rio would now be the champion on SmackDown. For the next year I would build Del Rio up as the biggest heel in the company. He would be booked to win clean as often as possible, only cheating to win if a feud needed to continue or a face had lost several times to him already and would be harmed by another clean loss.

At the same time I would be building Randy Orton as a big face. WWE have been trying to do this since early 2010 but it’s not really paid off to the extent they’d like. I’d try a different approach, booking Orton in shorter, more explosive matches in which he wins with a sudden RKO, and not having him talk as much. With Orton being a natural heel and thus very easy to dislike it’s important not to overexpose him and make the fans sick of him. I would want to reach the point where people are desperate to see him come to the ring just to see how quickly he can beat someone with the RKO.

The aim of this would be to have Orton and Del Rio clash for the World Heavyweight championship at WrestleMania XVIII. Orton would win the Royal Rumble and go on to feud with Del Rio throughout February and March. I think fans would be hot for this feud by then, with neither man having interacted with the other since they were put onto the same show nine months before. With Del Rio’s entourage of Ricardo Rodriguez, Broadus Clay and Rosa Mendes there are enough seconds involved in the feud to keep it alive for the required time. A No Way Out match with Broadus would be the most logical thing for Orton to do on the pay-per-view, though it could just as easily be a match with/pounding of Rodriguez, earned with a win over Broadus on television. There’s even the option of getting Orton over as a man who will stop at nothing to get the title by having him RKO Mendes, though this would have to be fairly close to WrestleMania as it’s going to be a big angle and hard to top for shock value. Keeping it for close to the end of the feud allows it to be built up to naturally, and foreshadowed with plenty of interference by Mendes in Orton’s matches.

With the right build I think this would be a worthy main event for the SmackDown brand. Orton would go over, ending Del Rio’s eleven month reign as champion in a relatively quick match and keeping Orton’s gimmick of winning with a sudden RKO alive while also saving valuable PPV time for other matches.

Sticking with SmackDown, CM Punk would initially be turned into a tweener and used in a tag team with Mason Ryan for two months, to help get the SmackDown tag division established. Around the beginning of July he would be turned into a face, still associated with Ryan, and enter into a feud with Del Rio. The aim would be to have the two men clash at SummerSlam and the SmackDown-only September pay-per-view. Del Rio would win by some sort of interference or cheating at SummerSlam, setting up a rematch the next month in which he could go over clean.

Beyond that there are two options for Punk. The first involves ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. During his recent return to WWE he said in interviews he would be capable of wrestling full time for two more years if he wanted to, which makes me think he could have been sowing the seeds for a future one-off match. I would find out if he’s interested in working a match with CM Punk, a man he’s stated several times he’s a huge fan of. If he was then the match would be planned as part of WrestleMania XXVIII or, if Austin wasn’t keen on being lower down than Undertaker v Triple H and Cena v Rock, the main event of SummerSlam 2012. If it were to be a ‘Mania match the build would start in time for No Way Out in February, with Punk chastising a returning Austin for his foul-mouthed, beer-swilling ways. With Austin only wrestling one match the feud would mainly be angles and promos, but with two great talkers that’s not really a problem.

If the match was held off until SummerSlam it would be the focal point of the event, and would feature the same build as stated above, just a few months later. That would leave Punk as a face going into WrestleMania, and the perfect backup opponent for him is Chris Jericho. They’ve never really feuded before and I think they’d produce a great match if given fifteen or twenty minutes. It could either be a face versus face bout or Jericho could go heel. If something was started around Royal Rumble then they would have enough time to engage in a feud people care about.

Moving back up the WrestleMania XXVIII card, the WWE championship would be contested in a triple threat match between The Miz, John Morrison and Christian. But Miz would not be going in as the champion. At SummerSlam Christian would win the Money in the Bank match and cash it in on the January 2nd 2012 RAW. Unlike most MITB cash-ins this would be a match announced a few weeks in advance so as to get as good a rating for the show as possible. Christian would win a lengthy, competitive match to lift his first WWE championship.

There would be a rematch between Miz and Christian at the Royal Rumble in which Christian would retain, and then John Morrison would get a shot at No Way Out, losing clean to the champion. Following that bout Miz and Alex Riley (who I think works well in a lackey role and would be kept in it until the time was right for him to split off as a solo act) would hit the ring and beat down both Morrison and Christian. RAW the next evening would host a three-way promo segment in which a triple threat match for the WWE championship is agreed upon for ‘Mania.

This feud would mark the first time in years that one of the company’s old guard of main eventers wasn’t involved in a WWE title match at WrestleMania. Even though Miz and Morrison have wrestled many times before I think it would be a fresh dynamic, and it would certainly be a good match. While Christian isn’t young enough to be considered a rising star, I think he’s someone that would need a boost to become a true main eventer, and going into WrestleMania as the defending world champion would do it. It’s also nice to have lots of options for TV matches leading up to WrestleMania: Morrison v Miz, Morrison v Riley, Christian v Riley, Christian and Morrison v Miz and Riley, and perhaps one-on-one title matches too.

Miz would regain the championship at the big show, because I like the idea of him being the next man to build a WrestleMania streak. He may not have the aura of the Undertaker but that’s part of the point. Miz is an average sized guy and so it’s easier to believe he will be beaten. Having him create his own streak would help his career in a different way: while it’s become the storyline focal point of ‘Takers career it would give Miz, the man who loves to boast, something else to brag about and in time would establish him as a someone the fans can believe will win, whether he be a heel or face. In a decade’s time it could begin to be as significant to Miz’s career and WrestleMania buy rates as ‘Taker’s streak.

Moving out of WrestleMania, those three men would face off in a rematch at Backlash in April, before going their separate ways. The long term plan would be to have a heel Morrison dethrone a tweener Miz, tipping Miz over into full time babyface territory. Ideally that would be at SummerSlam, but it’s too far away to make those plans concrete.

The rest of the WrestleMania card wouldn’t be finalised until around November, but there are rough ideas for the event now: Tyler Black (more on him to come) and Richie Steamboat could be involved in a World tag team title match with Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara, with Mysterio possibly going heel on Sin Cara afterwards to freshen up his act (an idea you can read about in more detail here); Derrick Bateman and Bryan Danielson could clash over the United States title in a match with student versus master overtones and possibly feature Bateman going heel if Rey hadn’t turned to the dark side elsewhere o the show; Lucky Cannon and Evan Bourne could face off in an Intercontinental championship match; and Skip Sheffield could face Dolph Ziggler. There’s nothing concrete there, but it’s a rough idea to work with and to discuss with the creative team.

What would happen with the resurrected King of the Ring and relocated Money in the Bank? Well, Money in the Bank I’ve already said would be won by Christian, and the match would feature predominantly upper mid-card guys. By the time of the 2012 MITB match the men introduced to the roster this year, such as Lucky Cannon, Broadus Clay, Johnny Curtis, and Sin Cara, would hopefully be ready to get involved. As for this year’s King of the Ring (crowned at a pay-per-view in July) I like the idea of Lucky Cannon winning. He’s a man I think could go far: he has a good look, works audiences very well, and wrestles as well as can be expected when your only platform is NXT. He’s someone who would get a heel push right away, with the King of the Ring win hopefully giving him that extra boost. The next month at SummerSlam I would have him in a singles match against R-Truth for the Intercontinental title (with Truth having been given the title early on in my run with the company). Cannon would then hold the belt until WrestleMania, where he would lose it to a babyface like Evan Bourne (as mentioned above) or Skip Sheffield.

Sheffield is another man I think could become big. If his matches are kept short, he’s not asked to talk much, and his appearances are kept brief, then he could take off as a face. There are enough big men on RAW for him to power over and look impressive against, and the plan would be to give him several months with the Intercontinental championship in 2012 before advancing him into feuds with established main event stars. By 2013 he would hopefully be a Goldberg-style draw for the company.

Over on SmackDown, I think Titus O’Neil is someone who could progress into the main event. He’s one of the few men that I think has the Undertaker-esque stature of not needing to hold a mid-card championship before progressing to the top of the card. That doesn’t mean he’d be moved into the main event any quicker. Building him steadily as a happy babyface would seem the best approach: he’s shown on NXT that he can connect with the fans, and although he’s not the best worker he would have time to improve. I think within eighteen months he’d be ready for a reign as World Heavyweight champion.

I mentioned above that Alex Riley would remain affiliated with The Miz for some time, only splitting off form him when the time was right. He’s not someone I see ever making it to the top of the card, but I think he would make a very successful Intercontinental champion. By keeping him with Miz for a lengthy period of time their eventual parting would have more impact. Once it happens Riley could either work as the babyface underdog who gets an upset win over his mentor or, more likely, the arrogant heel who cheats to gain a victory over the man that brought him into the company. This wouldn’t be a long running feud, but it would help A-Ri make his own name and set him up as a strong upper mid-carder.

The final young talent I have plans for is Tyler Black. I believe he has the look, wrestling skills and talking ability to be huge. His charisma could be better, but that would come in time. I would begin with a very slow build on him, the plan being for him to be “the man” in around four years time.

I would begin by debuting him as part of a babyface tag team on SmackDown alongside Richie Steamboat. They would not immediately launch into contention for the tag titles, but around October or November they’d have been on TV long enough to take the World tag team titles and have a run as champions. The aim would be for them to become two or three time champions and then amicably go their separate ways around May of 2012. This would be instigated by Black, who would cut a promo saying he feels they’ve achieved everything they can as a team, having won the belts multiple times and beaten every duo on the roster.

They would wrestle as singles babyfaces for a couple of months, and then meet in the SmackDown semi-finals of the King of the Ring tournament. Tyler would go over in a competitive match, and the two would shake hands afterwards. Tyler would go on to win the tournament and move into contendership for the US belt. After winning it with a low blow or handful of tights he would gradually become more heelish, officially turning heel in a rematch with whoever he beat for the title (someone like Danielson, Kingston or Bateman).

This would mark the beginning of a sustained push for Tyler. He would have several months as the US champion, ideally becoming a mutli-time champion in various feuds with a wide variety of opponents, during which he would become known as ‘The Ace’, ‘The Ace in the Hole’ or, most wordily of all, ‘SmackDown’s Ace in the Hole’ in reference to his being the most reliable man on SmackDown for delivering exciting matches. After nine months to a year of this spot in the upper mid-card he would lose the title for a final time and cut a promo in which he states the fans don’t appreciate him and so he doesn’t appreciate them. He would then leave the ring and it would be announced on commentary and the WWE website the following week that he’d quit.

Writing him off SmackDown achieves two things: it gives Tyler some time off from the travel schedule and allows him to be moved off of SmackDown (where he would almost certainly have faced everyone by late 2013). On RAW he would have a roster of guys with whom he’s never interacted. The plan would be to have him win the Intercontinental title very quickly (maybe answering an open challenge as his debut on the brand) and be used as a key part of the upper mid-card. At this point he could be either a heel or a face, as the move would be a fresh start for him. Once again he’d have a year in the spot before being moved, only this time he wouldn’t be moving to another show, he’d be moving up the card into the main event. At this point I think he’d be ready for a WWE title run, and then possibly a move back to SmackDown. It’s possible he’d even be over enough to be considered as a WrestleMania opponent for the Undertaker.

I realise that’s a relatively lengthy, in-depth plan for one man, but I am confident it would work out well. Having watched a lot of his worked on the independent circuit and some of his FCW matches I know he’d be capable of making the push work. Ideally, he would become one of the company’s top stars.

That’s how I’m going to end this series. I could have written scripts for every episode of RAW and SmackDown for years to come, but that would be an act of futility and too much of a drain on time, for myself and anyone reading. Hopefully what I’ve written over the last four blogs sounds like it would make a good television product. If any of it makes you wish it were on TV then writing this has been worthwhile. Even if you’ve disliked everything proposed at least you now know how I’d run WWE.

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