SI.com’s Struggle Week is published weekly and provides underlying coverage of professional wrestling activity.
Changes to ‘Talking Smack’ destroy the authenticity of the series
The energy returned to WWE. Fans are back in the crowd, ratings are on the rise and new life has been injected into the product.
But there is still a major problem to be resolved.
WWE shows, in particular Monday evening gross, are built around generating an immediate reaction. Standard operating procedure is to highlight current stars – or in the case of John Cena and Bill Goldberg, inherited stars – instead of constantly creating new ones. This approach has manifested itself in the recent change of Talking Smack in a studio show, and removing Paul Heyman from the show is a huge blow to fans and WWE talent.
Talking Smack added realism and authenticity to a heavily scripted WWE product. Heyman brought more viral momentum to Talking Smack than any other WWE program currently airing. New stars were constantly being created and Heyman was continually selling for talent – and always showcasing Roman Reigns, who showcased the weekly product. During his time on Talking Smack, Heyman both gained talent and helped them teach them how to recover so they could present themselves as real stars. Those who watched weekly saw how it worked off script but never off post. His interactions with Big E, Kevin Owens, Apollo Crews, and Sami Zayn were all examples of outstanding television.
Pat McAfee briefly replaced Heyman, and he would have brought a unique quality to the series, but the company decided it wasn’t possible to film. Talking Smack after Smack down Friday evenings. Unlike the ThunderDome, there is now an outage every week after Smack down. This left Talking Smack an entirely changed spectacle. It was a product that was better and unlike anything produced by any other wrestling company. But without Heyman or the show’s mix of new information and character development, WWE has lost a valuable piece of unique programming.
All of this has to do with the question of immediate reaction instead of building new stars. It is difficult to find several cases where long term goals are visible, especially on Gross. Too often, Gross is presented in a way that leaves no cards on the table for the show, even two weeks later.
Last week Gross was certainly not lacking in enthusiasm. Cena returned. Goldberg appeared for the first time since January. These are the moments that grab people’s attention. Nikki ASH closed the show by cashing it Money in the bank contract and win the Gross female title, which was really a highlight.
Now take a look at long-term planning. Kofi Kingston was demolished at Money in the bank to be built up to Goldberg. Shouldn’t it have been the other way around?
What about Karrion Kross? The undefeated NXT champion debuted on Gross and lost to Jeff Hardy. His arrival should have been full of pomp, aura and mystery. Instead, he loses a throwaway match against Hardy which immediately devalued his position. And why bring Keith Lee back to Gross and make him lose his first match? Lee should have won his first 25 matches. He is exactly the type of athletic, charismatic artist that WWE should build around.
WWE’s COVID-19 era should have been a chance to make new stars, which happened in NXT – and seemed set to happen on Gross during the Heyman era. But the plans have changed. Heyman was replaced as the show’s executive director over a year ago, and a different approach is now being implemented week by week.
The intention here is not to disparage Vince McMahon. McMahon and Company President Nick Khan have put WWE in a position to make even more profits than last year, a year that has seen the company experience its greatest financial success. McMahon’s job, at the end of the day, is to grow stocks and generate profits for shareholders, and it’s clear he understands distribution better than anyone. Still, the criticism is still fair, as he hasn’t embraced the cultural shift in how the product is digested and what it takes to get someone through in 2021.
The WWE roster is packed with a collection of the most talented women and men in the industry. Long-term creation must be the focal point of WWE as it returns to the live crowds, with a vision for next week. Gross, next month Smack down– and next year’s shows too.
Will we ever see this vision come to life every week on television? It is a vital part of the future of WWE.
Tegan Nox in her first title win
Tegan Nox Teams Up With Shotzi Blackheart On Smack down, and the new list calls are set to win the women’s team titles.
Nox is a spectacular talent and is only 26 years old, but she has already suffered two serious injuries. She tore her ACL and LCM in 2017, then tore her ACL again this fall. Remarkably, she continues to find a way to come back even stronger, and winning the tag titles with Blackheart would be a wonderful way to introduce her to the Smack down public.
Nox no stranger to championship gold, Nox first became champion of Southside Wrestling. Working as Nixon Newell then, she beat Kay Lee Ray six years ago in a match in Stevenage, England to claim the title of Queen of Southside.
“I won it in a ladder match involving Kay Lee Ray; she was the champion at the time, ”says Nox. “She’s one of my best friends so this game was cool. It was the first title I won, so it meant a lot to me. It was precisely on the 10th anniversary of my grandfather’s death that I won the title, which made it even more special.
Nixon proudly held this title for 161 days. When she tastes like gold Smack down, expect her to represent the brand with intensity and championship flair.
The (online) wrestling week
- John Cena looked great on Gross, and he’s working a lot of dates during this comeback run.
- Finn Bálor is back Smack down. He was booked as a legend in NXT. I hope there is a specific plan for him now that it is Friday night.
- With reporting from CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, it has been an extremely eventful week for the professional wrestling industry.
- Dynamite was hot again on Wednesday night (and even featured Nick gage), and ended in a surprise finish when Lance Archer defeated Jon Moxley to claim the IWGP United States Title. I love the victory of Archer, who is extraordinarily talented, although I wish he had gone undefeated longer after signing with AEW. Nonetheless, I’m thrilled to see how he’s featured in this title reign in AEW and New Japan.
- WWE will get another boost when Becky Lynch returns.
- If Nikki ASH keeps the Gross title throughout the summer to establish itself as champion? If Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch are having a grudge match at Slam summer, it’s a pretty important encounter even without a title in play.
- Jay White is somehow still one of the most underrated stars in the business. Hopefully his Impact run introduces more people to his glow.
- Why not bring Keith Lee back and win his next 50 games? Isn’t he exactly the type of athletic, charismatic artist that WWE should build around?
- Upcoming Northeast Wrestling Wrestling Day 25 In Poughkeepsie, NY, this August is packed with talent, so much so that it feels like an AEW house show.
- With the Money in the bank spitting feed for a good 10 minutes Sunday wasn’t a great look for Peacock.
Linda McMahon helps create a moment to remember for a young fan
John Cena’s return to Money in the bank was the biggest story of professional wrestling week. A moment that Linda McMahon helped make even more special for a young fan. Video circulating on social media shows McMahon preventing security from escorting the fan away from the ring as Cena enters the ring.
Paul “Triple H” Levesque can see how unforgettable the surprise apparition can be in the eyes of a child.
“That moment brought me back to Hogan slamming Andre,” Levesque says. “This is what I saw. This kid saw that in Cena. That’s the whole story. “
Linda McMahon is one of the main reasons WWE is a global entertainment powerhouse. Levesque noted that it was this type of approach that helped build WWE from the ground up.
“There is nothing like it for a child,” says Lévesque. “Linda knows this better than anyone. She’s been here with Vince from the very beginning. It was a beautiful moment, and we mean it when we say we want to welcome our fans home. “
Tweet of the week
I look forward to the start of the Big E era.
More wrestling coverage:
• WWE fans are back. How long will Vince McMahon listen to them?
• Triple H gives his opinion on a success Money in the bank
• Money in the bank Take away food
Justin Barrasso can be contacted at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on twitter @JustinBarrasso.