Guys and Divas #4: Nowhere To Go But Up (Triple H, Daniel Bryan, Divas Tag Team Championships, Smackdown)

Good whatever-time-of-day, dear reader!

Welcome back to “Guys and Divas”; the only column on Inside Pulse Wrestling that has a Google alert for the terms “AJ Lee puffy coat”. (Am I kidding?–I’ll never tell.)

This week, I ruminate on the continued viability of WWE’s “blue brand” AND in this week’s “Divas” segment, I wonder aloud about pairing off some of our favorite fighting females for some prized waist-wear.

BUT FIRST(!), Monday night’s show-closing Hell in A Cell contract signing was at turns the standard affair and a promoing tour de force for its primary players. In the midst of all of it however, I suddenly had a spot of creative clairvoyance. Let’s explore it in this week’s…

GUYS

The main event pay-per-view contract signing.

Some dread it. Others are indifferent. The rest don’t watch the show.

This Monday’s take on the scenario brought a collection of the biggest names in WWE to the carpeted squared circle and they all came out swinging. Stephanie was traditionally catty but authoritative. Randy was…Randy. Shawn was goofy but serious when necessary. In the middle of it all, Daniel Bryan and Triple H began their road to Wrestlemania…or at least, that’s what I suddenly found myself picturing.

For years now, I’ve seen/heard so many speculate about HBK coming back to the ring for the fabled “one more match”; and that when that day would come his opponent would undoubtedly be his longtime best friend Triple H. After watching the two of them shuffle in and out of each other’s Wrestlemania moments these past five years or so, it seems like an inevitability…but maybe there’s another way.

So much of Monday’s segment centered around the idea of Daniel as Shawn’s former protégé and Triple H’s seeming attempts to undermine that relationship in order to sway HBK to his side in this Sunday’s match. Obviously, Shawn was having none of that, and his smiles and jests soon gave way to some serious contemplations of what happened to the man with whom (e.g.) he once played strip poker on live television.

It was a light shot, but the first shot in what I believe will be a long-running war between the two best friends. However, Shawn doesn’t strike me as the “I retire except for fifty more matches spread out over the next ten years” type. Additionally, there’s been so much talk about some sort of match involving Triple H, possibly some McMahons and surrogates representing them in said match, I feel that the conclusion is obvious.

We’re headed for Triple H vs. Daniel Bryan (with HBK in his corner) at Wrestlemania XXX.

Now, the first question of course: can they stretch this story out that far without wearing it out?–and to tell you the truth, I genuinely don’t know. Let’s face it. WWE isn’t known for strong long-term storytelling; and even when they seemingly pull a lengthy plot off, it feels more like a happy accident than well-prepared narrative.

The second question: will the era of “The Authority” (as we’re now calling them, apparently) even last that long?–Recent history says no. I may be forgetting but I genuinely can’t recall a storyline involving a villainous authority figure lasting more than four or five months at most since…well, probably the days of Austin vs. McMahon. It’s one of the many ways that it seems the show is catering toward an audience with a short attention span of late. The idea of the hero of our piece (Daniel) having to contend with a powerful enemy like this for what will amount to the next six months could wear out its welcome quickly with the common sports entertainment consumer.

I don’t mean to toot my own horn…but I’m not common.

Picture if you will the next four pay-per-views: Survivor Series, TLC, Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber. Picture also Daniel coming out undisputedly victorious this Sunday at Hell in A Cell. That gives us four months of a frustrated Authority throwing seemingly insurmountable challenger after seemingly insurmountable challenger at Daniel, with the beloved champion overcoming the odds at every turn; until finally, Triple H can’t take it anymore.

If no one else can end Daniel’s reign, he’ll just have to do it himself. He throws down the challenge for Wrestlemania. Daniel proposes making it a Championship vs. Wrestling Career Match. In his hubris, The Game accepts the challenge. Daniel wins at Mania, and the defeated King of Kings can finally no longer deny it: this goatfaced young man is the new face of WWE. Fireworks, fade to black, boom.

Again, I may be giving the creative team too much credit; and as we all know, wishful armchair booking is one of the things we of the IWC are best known…but maybe this time, we (or in this case, I) will finally get something right.

As always with a dash of hope, we move forward to this week’s “Divas” segment.

With the return of Nikki Bella to active competition this past Monday, we got what I felt was a tremendous Divas tag team match between the Bellas and the champ/heavy combo of AJ Lee and Tamina Snuka. In the aftermath, the old wheels in my head got to turning. Hence…THIS.

DIVAS

Over the past month here on “Guys and Divas”, I’ve seen a lot of debate and discussion about ways to improve the current fledgling Divas division. From scathing scorched-earth policies to the emergence of rising NXT talents, we’ve all had a lot to say.

Watching this past Monday’s quite entertaining tag team match, I was reminded of another tack that often seems to float around these kinds of discussions: the possibility of a Divas Tag Team Championship.

I’m certain there will be some that will put the Undertaker to shame with the whiteness of their rolling eyes at such an idea, but hear me out.

As mentioned a few columns ago, there are currently fourteen Divas actively competing (or at least, potentially so) in WWE. The debate about how many of those are truly ready for action aside, that’s still a lot of talents with often very little to do. (Compare this to the Knockouts Division of TNA [who just retired their own women’s tag team belts after the intergender pairing of ODB and Eric Young shamefully carried them to little effect], who now number at a startlingly meager six active competitors.)

Whatsay we pair up some of these ladies and see how they do in cooperative competition?

“But Jeff, as you say, there are only a few that can put on a solid match right now. How can you justify putting the rest in such a spotlighted position?”

Well, dear reader, let me throw this at you. What if we pair an established, ring-competent Diva with a struggling up-and-comer or a long-suffering B-lister?–It will allow some of the lesser known ladies more screen time, while helping them hone their craft alongside someone with experience.

Tossing aside established pairs like The Funkadactyls, The Bellas and the current AJ/Tamina shenanigan, allow me to propose some duos from the remaining names. (First bullet-pointed list of the week, GO!)

  • KAITLYN/ALICIA FOX – It’s a tale of two former Divas’ Champions, combining two fairly experienced veterans into one cohesive, potentially very potent unit.
    • STRATEGY: Kaitlyn would be the dominant force of the two, doing the heavy brawling and power moves. Our favorite “undefined” Diva Alicia tags in and puts the cherry on top with her aerial and acrobatic attacks, concluding with a classic axe and/or scissor kick.
    • BENEFITS: Kaitlyn, while one of the more competent of the new crop, could still use some work in terms of finesse and physical presentation. Pairing her with Alicia who–the writers’ inability to decide whether she’s a heel or face from week to week aside–has a lot of charm and charisma but lacks a bit in terms of execution, you get a perfect combination of strength and glamour.
  • LAYLA/JOJO – The de facto elder stateswoman of the division partners up with the newest of the newbies.
    • STRATEGY: Whether or not you think she’s been up to her full potential of late, Layla has the most honored history of Diva tag team work on the current roster. We know she’s got the ability to carry on a match and the years of experience within WWE to work with the audience. The adorable 19-year-old newcomer JoJo is utterly untested. In reality (and I say this with love), there’s little to no reason for her to be an active member of the roster and she’d be best served learning the ropes down at NXT for the foreseeable future…but if we’re throwing her into this proposed fray, there’s no one better than THE veteran.
    • BENEFITS: See above. (I sort of got on a roll.)
  • NATALYA/EVA MARIE – The absolute best in-ring performer in the division with the beautiful, yet often grating throwback to the poorly conceived “model casting calls” of  recent years past.
    • STRATEGY: Let Nattie handle all of the heavy lifting. No, seriously, ALL OF IT.
    • BENEFITS: In a word, ENDLESS. As we’ve seen on E!’s “Total Divas”, the crimson-haired rookie is 100% novice. It’s clear that like some Diva names that have come and gone, she only wants in this business for the exposure. What could beat that out of her better than the incomparable third-generation lady from up north?–Obviously, this isn’t a team that would be going for the proposed tag belts anytime soon, but this combination of Natalya’s unmatched skill and experience with the striking visual that is Eva Marie could be a fan-favorite in no time.
  • ROSA MENDES/AKSANA – The wild card of the bunch.
    • STRATEGY: Unknown, because…
    • BENEFITS: Well, what do we know of these two?–Frankly, next to nothing; but clearly Aksana has shown that she’s got the passion and the dedication to make something happen. Rosa meanwhile…I simply cannot fathom how she hasn’t been competing from the moment she hit our screens a few years back. During her days in NXT’s predecessor FCW, she made a lot of waves and impressed the folks down in the Sunshine State handily. That she’s been languishing as Primo and Epico’s (and very briefly recently, The Miz’s) arm candy through most of her tenure in WWE is just distressing. Now, as reported, she’s currently taking some time off to deal with some substance abuse issues and I certainly wish her the very best…because pairing up these saucy, raven-haired Divas could lead to some real fireworks, and I’m ready to “ooh” and “aah”.

Of course, this is all just theoretical; but as you’ve hopefully learned over the past four columns, I think the world of these women and want to see them all flourish. Perhaps this is just the way to make that a reality.

…and as we draw near to our goodbye for the week, we turn to this week’s edition of “The Bonus Ball”.

This week, a tweet from a reputable wrestling pundit gets me blue, and in my classic style, I try to find the silver lining. (Get it?–Blue and silver! …Oh, me.) Anyway, here’s this.

THE BONUS BALL

During my traditional Monday Night Raw live-tweet this week, a tweet from beloved Grantland columnist David Shoemaker caught my eye. It reads:

I chuckled, but almost immediately regretted it; as it raised a question I’m sure a lot of us ask regularly: what happened to the blue show?

Time was there was a reason to tune in to each and every WWE program. Now, I make no bones about my commitment only to Monday Night Raw and most pay-per-views. On Friday nights, I’m often too busy having an adventure about the city with my girlfriend to devote even a moment to the comings-and-goings of the superstars on SyFy.

Now, being that I strive for optimism and problem-solving here at “Guys and Divas”, I can’t just leave it at that realization. Having started watching wrestling in 1998, “Smackdown” has been as much a part of my life as “Raw” (and before them, “Nitro” and “Thunder”). I feel a responsibility, even merely in theory, to find a way to keep this just so.

I’m not going to lie to you. My ideas probably won’t break new ground, but I hope these expansive ruminations might open a nice stream of consciousness as to the future of WWE’s Friday night offering.

Let’s dive in.

    • MAKE THE SHOW LIVE FULL-TIME – It’s the age-old suggestion. While we may be within the mostly white-washed confines of the “PG era”, a little spontaneity is invaluable; not just to the viewers, but to the creative team. When the writers don’t have to worry about their show being spoiled three days in advance, they’ll make a point of making their show must-watch television and the results will be marked and arguably immediate. Now, obviously this would take some doing in terms of scheduling on the road, which means the process could take a year or two…but the rewards are worth the risk and effort–and that’s just if they stick to Friday nights. As we’ve clearly seen, it’s not out of the question to shoot the show live on a Tuesday night; it’s merely a matter of network scheduling and frankly, I don’t think SyFy’s got anything it can’t shift right now. Point is, give the audience a reason to tune in right then, right there…and they will.
    • SPLIT THE BRANDS AGAIN – It’s the OTHER age-old suggestion. When the brand extension started its long road toward complete dissolution a few years ago, I was a bit excited. It would be like the early days of Smackdown when the cliffhangers with which we were left on Mondays would carry over to Friday (or as it was then, Thursday) nights…but then it wasn’t. Not even two years ago, Raw and Smackdown–while starting to share more and more talent–still felt like two separate and vital entities. At the very least, the two shows’ top titles (WWE and World Heavyweight) still seemed exclusive to their respective brands. Now, the WHC is caught in a nebulous, “close but no cigar” second banana role to the WWE Championship; and with the forgettable reigns of Alberto Del Rio and even Dolph Ziggler these past two years or so, it doesn’t look like the creative team has any plans to elevate it anytime soon (or at least they didn’t before John Cena’s “miraculous” rapid recovery). Not to mention the countless superstars and Divas who seem doomed to pointless midcard throwaway matches, with little to no hope of ever reaching the heights of the paltry handful of men and women who seem to be our indefinite top-tier cast members. They could use a home. Why not a cozy spot on a distinctive sapphire-tinted brand?–There’s zero reason they can’t have it, and even less of a reason to re-merge the brands. You tried it, WWE. It’s not working. To quote your chairman, “It’s time to shake things up again!”.
    • SOME NXT EXCLUSIVES – What if Smackdown became the bridge between NXT and the proverbial big time of Raw?–Picture it. A few of the most promising up and comers start appearing on Friday nights in exhibition matches. Then, perhaps we add a mid-card title into the mix; either pre-existing or new (TV Title, anyone?), and as things progress, the best of the best are gradually filtered over to Raw. It would kill three birds with one stone: making Friday nights more of a destination, creating new stars AND making sure they’re truly established before putting them into high-profile situations. For example, just think how much bigger Big E Langston would be–Monday night’s appearance notwithstanding–if the primetime SyFy audience got to know him before he showed up as AJ/Dolph’s heavy all those months ago. Or what about the man who beat him to become the current NXT Champion Bo Dallas?–He had that vague program with Wade Barrett earlier this year and then…GONE, without a trace (to the common viewer, as it were). I know NXT does okay on Hulu, but let’s face it: most people just stick to what they can easily find on their televisions. Why not give the audience the biggest bang for their buck?
    • GET IT BACK ON NETWORK TELEVISION – Let’s be real here. All the trouble can pretty much be traced to the day Smackdown moved to basic cable. I don’t know what it was about WWE on broadcast network television that made it seem so much more…magical…but there it was. One of the best things about Smackdown was always its accessibility. It was the great economic equalizer, because anyone could watch it; cable/satellite subscription or not. One of my fondest memories of the show is watching it on a portable black-and-white TV while I rode around the town on my high school graduation night. It was there on one of the most important days of my life, and I still remember the episode fondly. (Watch for a future “Wayback Championship Wrestling Federation Entertainment” edition of “The Bonus Ball” on that very episode. I know I’ll want to go there eventually.) True, I graduated high school right before the mandatory switch to digital broadcast television, so such a feat would be nearly impossible today…but you get what I mean. In many ways, Smackdown was the A-show for a lot of people over its 10+ year run on broadcast television; because it was there and we could all enjoy it. I know this is probably the least likely/least financially feasible idea on this list…but I can hope.

So, yeah. Maybe I’ve covered some previously trod ground here…but I think saving WWE’s Friday night presence doesn’t require much thought, i.e. it’s a no-brainer…or it should be, at least.

…and so ends our fourth week together as columnist and reader. I hope you enjoyed it; and with that in mind, posting some questions for you fine folks to ponder in the comments seemed  to work like gangbusters last week. So once again, some homework for you (and our last bullet-pointed list of the week):

  • What are your thoughts on the future of the Daniel vs. The Authority storyline? Will it lead to my proposed Game vs. Goatface confrontation at Wrestlemania XXX or could there be another direction?–Lay out your potential bookings for this blockbuster.
  • I laid out some potential pairings for a Divas Tag Team division. Would you swap some of those names? Are there any NXT Divas ripe for cooperative action? What are some pairings of former Divas you’d love to see?–Gush and grumble about fighting females brawling two-by-two.
  • Is Smackdown still appointment television for you?–No matter your answer, layeth the commeneth down with your thoughts on how to make the blue brand shine brightest. (That was a stretch, but it got us there, eh?)

As always, join me this coming Monday night for my weekly Raw live-tweet (username: @biscuitman18; hashtag #GuysAndDivas) and be sure to join me for my final column of October next Wednesday right here at Inside Pulse Wrestling!

Until next week, I’m Jeff Heatherly saying “SPORTS GO SPORTS!“. See you again, everybody!

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