Monday 5 March 2012

Luck of the Irish

In an effort to surprise its audience WWE booked Sheamus to win this year’s Royal Rumble back in January. The promotion apparently felt that it was too obvious either Chris Jericho or hometown boy Randy Orton were going to win. They’re right: that was obvious. But they have nobody to blame for that predictability but themselves.

The central WrestleMania storylines should have been mapped out at least a month in advance of the Rumble. That would have allowed each episode of RAW and SmackDown to be honed and refined to advance the various feuds at the ideal pace. It also would have allowed WWE to realise in advance that a victory by ‘Y2J’ or ‘The Viper’ in the annual January event was predictable and made changes in advance. That could either have been picking a new winner and creating a worthwhile story for them or building up a third potential winner so fans were less sure of who was going over.

The problem isn’t that Sheamus won, because he’s sufficiently over enough to be a convincing victor. The problem is that as the decision for him to win was made at the last minute ‘Great White’ was left with nothing to do for several weeks.

Next World champ?

Look back at the last several weeks of television and you’ll see what I mean. In the three weeks between the Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber Sheamus was booked to give what was essentially the same promo several times over, sometimes twice in one week (on both RAW and SmackDown).

He didn’t wrestle on the EC card at all. That was foolish on several levels. Firstly he was featured on the event’s poster and television ads. From that alone customers were entitled to expect to see him more prominently featured than he was. Secondly, as the winner of one of the company’s premier events, it seemed reasonable to expect Sheamus to be featured in a match of some kind. That he wasn’t makes him look like an afterthought whom WWE has little confidence in.

Instead of a match or a memorable promo in which he officially announced which champion he had chosen to face at ‘Mania all Sheamus got to do at the Chamber show was come out to the ring after the SmackDown cage bout and attack Daniel Bryan. That was all the indication we were given that Sheamus had decided to face the World Heavyweight champ. He wasn’t even permitted to speak. The commentary team did that for him.

His matches over the last month and a half have generally been utterly forgettable affairs. Usually they’ve been tag matches in which he’s played second fiddle to someone else’s WrestleMania program. Tossing an attempting-to-escape Daniel Bryan back into matches has been his activity of preference in the last several weeks. At a time when he should be getting the biggest push of his career that’s not good enough.

WWE should have given ‘Great White’ a mini feud between the Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber. There are plenty of guys on the roster that would have benefitted from a short run with a guy in his spot. Had that been done Elimination Chamber would have provided with another worthwhile match. The perfect candidate would have been Jack Swagger: he was left doing nothing during this period, and he’s talented enough to lose an entertaining filler match while making his opponent look good. Sheamus v Swagger would also have had the added bonus of ridding the Chamber card of ‘The All American American’s’ boring clash with Justin Gabriel.

The Sheamus v Bryan clash needs all the booking help it can get. WWE may not be reliant on this match to draw viewers (that honour goes to Rock v Cena and, to a lesser extent Undertaker v Triple H and Chris Jericho v CM Punk) but it still needs to be presented as an important match in order to preserve the prestige of the World title, not to mention the two performers involved, whom WWE are going to be relying on for future business.

Sheamus isn’t a bad wrestler, nor is he a poor choice for Royal Rumble winner or WrestleMania title challenger. He’s simply the unfortunate victim of WWE’s inability to plan accordingly. There’s nothing wrong with a predictable match finish, especially at the Royal Rumble. In fact I’d say that’s exactly the sort of match in which you can get away with booking a predictable winner, because so much else about the match is unpredictable and surprising. Perhaps WWE could bear that in mind next year, and stick to their original plans.

What would be even better is if they exhibited the ability to concoct long term plans before next January rolls around. But that would be asking too much, wouldn’t it...

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