Ok, so here is the space where I talk basically about why I did what I did in my Raw fantasy booking series, and try to justify the whole thing. I thought I had better make this a separate article after the final part started approaching 10,000 words (damn all those epic promos), but there are a few things I wanted to highlight here. Starting with…
So WWE’s perennial question right now is how to keep Braun Strowman strong, while still building towards Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns as the top match at next year’s Wrestlemania. This has meant that they are coming up with increasingly bizarre (see TLC) ways of writing him out of stories and giving him personal grudges. I wanted to protect him without resorting to those extremes every month, and really he is the most protected guy in this story – he never gets pinned once, and I think he only ever loses one match not including the Royal Rumble. When I took over the book, he was coming off a loss to Brock Lesnar that, in all honesty, didn’t make him look that impressive. So I wanted to re-establish his dominance in the first few weeks, and then had him be one of the two survivors for Team Raw at Survivor Series.
He of course survived with Roman Reigns, because I was still working towards that same Wrestlemania main event, and it gave me an excuse to rekindle the Roman Reigns vs Braun Strowman feud that has worked magic several times in 2017. I realise I went back to this well quite soon after it’s happened in real life, but this time I gave them something a bit more tangible to fight over: the final entry in the Royal Rumble. I felt like I could justify doing two more matches with them (yes, that was it, one lumberjack match and one 3-Stages-of-Hell match) because in my mind, that’s the last time we see it for at least two or three years. Plus, I felt like it would be a nice bookend for the feud to essentially define Raw in 2017, with it starting in January and ending the next January.
Basically, my story pans out for Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman to be the John Cena and Batista of the Brand Extension 2.0. After Mania, when Strowman goes to SmackDown, he stays undefeated and eventually beats Shinsuke Nakamura for the WWE Championship (using the story of being promised a title shot after Fastlane, but having to earn it again because he’s on a different show). Ideally it would happen at SummerSlam, but there may not be enough opponents to wait that long. He then holds it until at least Wrestlemania – if someone is built up well enough to warrant the title change then fair enough, but I’d have no quams keeping it on Strowman either. Hell, just keep the belt on Strowman until someone has enough momentum to take it off him, I wouldn’t even object to something in the region of a 600-day reign for him – that would be until around Wrestlemania in 2020. He would transcend face/heel in all this eventually in the same way that Brock Lesnar has, so he can face anyone on the roster. Can you imagine how much of a pop someone finally beating him for the title after that kind of reign would get?
His opponents over the next year would be Gable, Nakamura, Balor, Cena (he has to come looking for revenge after being taken out at Mania – the rematch would be a big-4 title match for sure), and maybe even the likes of Sami Zayn and Tye Dillinger. And somewhere further down the line, a couple of years as I said earlier, you bring Reigns and Strowman back together for a Wrestlemania main event that has the history of what their 2017 rivalry was, but also with how much each man has achieved since. It would be the biggest match WWE would have had in years.
Here again, I had to keep Joe strong, but he isn’t as invincible as Strowman or Reigns. Obviously from the start, I pitted him against Kurt Angle, with the idea of eventually building to Triple H vs Kurt Angle at Wrestlemania. The easiest way to get to Angle was through Jason Jordan, and that allowed me to put Joe over as dangerous because he would regularly try to take Jordan out, and even succeeding in January. Samoa Joe here is in a similar role to Kevin Owens on the SmackDown side, I am building him up to eventually be a strong number one contender in the post-Mania feud, where he can tap into never having lost to Roman Reigns to be probably the most viable and fresh, threat to Roman’s newly won Universal Championship. He beats Finn Balor at Wrestlemania as a credible opponent I think he could have an excellent match with (he already has in NXT), and Balor puts someone over before moving to SmackDown, where he can get a fresh lease of life and a fresh push. Plus, I don’t think there’s any shame in losing to Joe under these circumstances. I also like the idea that there will still be a grudge between Angle and Joe, but Angle can’t get rid of him because of the contract Triple H gave to Joe in the Fastlane aftermath.
So this was the big “project” of the whole thing. Ambrose kept taking the fall or being the one to blame in his tag match losses with Rollins (and Reigns as The Shield), and eventually a guy’s gonna crack with that sort of record. I tied it into the Shield’s history, but I wanted to give Ambrose some extra motivation for snapping, something that would really tip him over the edge from the ever-building pressure. In my mind, it was Paul Heyman’s comments just before Fastlane, which is why Ambrose specifically mentions them in his justification of his actions. But you could use the argument that it was his loss to Reigns that was the breaking point, in which case there’s a nice symmetry there again with The Shield.
I was tempted to make the Wrestlemania match a no-dq affair, but this feud has to continue. There is too much history, and too much bad blood between these two for there to be one Wrestlemania match and that’s it. I don’t think I did this on the SmackDown side – most Wrestlemania matches are rivalry enders, but Ambrose vs Rollins is the first of a trilogy, where the bar is raised every time. I also thought it might be slightly overkill to have the inevitable Shane McMahon stunts, as well as the Cena/Strowman calamities, to then have a third match which would have the hardcore element. I think Ambrose, having lost so much, needs to win the Intercontinental Title to cement the success of his heel turn.
But at the same time, I’m not sure it really matters who is holding the gold at the end of the feud. The idea is that all the matches between these two are great, and both of them come out of the feud in better positions than they were before they started teaming. Eventually, whether there’s gold on the line or not, I think you have to transition to a Dean Ambrose vs Jason Jordan feud, building on Ambrose’s attack on Angle a couple of weeks before Wrestlemania. And speaking of which…
So he’s never really a big time player in this narrative, but I’ve sewn the seed for a future heel turn against his storyline father. That came in just one conversation in the run up to Wrestlemania, with Jordan asking Angle if his he took the Mania match with Triple H to protect Jordan. That one idea can haunt him, and eventually he can delude himself into believing that Samoa Joe and Triple H were right, and Jordan is only on Raw because of Angle. This could force Jordan to do something drastic to secure his place on the show, or else turn on Angle for not just trusting Jordan to be good enough to follow in his shoes and instead feeling the need to protect him. It would all be wonderfully misguided stuff, but the key is that Jordan would believe it, even if we all don’t agree. Alternatively, Jordan could blame Angle for him being injured and victimised by Samoa Joe and Triple H, and later down the line Dean Ambrose as well, and Jordan would become bitter about that. All Jordan has done since coming to Raw is fight for his father’s honour, even before his own, but all it’s gotten him is a lot of pain, suffering, and a target on his back. A heel turn would be really easy to do at some stage in the future.
So I struggled a bit with writing Matt Hardy in the new year, because I always imagined him Broken, but I also couldn’t fully write it in. So there was a conflict in how much I felt he should be pushed, and how much he realistically would be. Being Broken would make his feud with Bray Wyatt far more entertaining and much higher stakes. As it is, it’s basically a device to lead to Jeff Hardy’s return sometime after Wrestlemania, maybe even the next night. I’ve set it up so that Matt and Bray are 1-1, so they have a decider, Bray wins, he keeps the attack going and out comes Jeff for the save. Then the Hardys go back to the tag team division, Broken or otherwise.
Elias really dropped off the face of the Earth in the new year. He’s not someone I see attaining any real level of success any time soon, but I had to keep him strong in the early part for a variety of characters. Once Triple H, John Cena, Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle became regular focuses of storylines, there was no place for him, and he eventually was just just another guy in the Andre The Giant Battle Royal.
The Miz is a really interesting one. He is at his best as the annoying mid-card champion, so it was a no-brainer to keep the belt on him for as long as possible. I tried to make his eventual defeat a big deal, not least because the bigger the celebrations that his title run had come to an end, the bigger impact Ambrose’s heel turn would have, but I accept the turn may also have overshadowed the moment. I also had to hotshot his rematch the next night to build up Rollins vs Ambrose as much as possible, which I did feel bad about. I didn’t want to make him a Wrestlemania afterthought, but there really wasn’t space for another Mania match. Plus, as I said in Part 3, if I hadn’t forced myself to stick to the intra-brand booking I’d already done in the SmackDown articles, I would have had Miz win the Andre The Giant Battle Royal. So he’d still have been bragging about an accolade, even if it wasn’t championship gold for a little while.
Here’s where I get judgemental of real life. There are so many options for great matches, yet time after time WWE gives us no reason to be excited about PPV events. My “Big-4” PPV cards across both shows gave us this:
Brock Lesnar vs Finn Balor for the Universal Championship
Team Raw (Bray Wyatt, The Miz, Samoa Joe, Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns) vs Team SmackDown (Randy Orton, Jinder Mahal, Baron Corbin, AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura)
Kevin Owens vs Tye Dillinger for the United States Championship
Team Raw (Sheamus & Cesaro, Seth Rollins & Dean Ambrose, Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson, Heath Slater & Rhyno, The Miztourage) vs Team SmackDown (The New Day, The Usos, Luke Harper & Erick Rowan, Breezango & The Hype Bros)
Team Raw (Asuka, Nia Jax, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Alexa Bliss) vs Team SmackDown (Natalya, Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Naomi, Carmella)
Jason Jordan vs Elias
Chad Gable vs Rusev
30-Man Royal Rumble Match
Brock Lesnar vs Seth Rollins vs Dean Ambrose for the Universal Championship
Shinsuke Nakamura vs John Cena for the WWE Championship
Kurt Angle vs Samoa Joe
Kevin Owens vs Bobby Roode vs Sami Zayn for the United States Championship
The Miz vs Finn Balor for the Intercontinental Championship
Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship
Shinsuke Nakamura vs AJ Styles for the WWE Championship
Kurt Angle vs Triple H
John Cena vs Braun Strowman
Kevin Owens vs Shane McMahon
Sami Zayn vs Bobby Roode for the United States Championship
Seth Rolllins vs Dean Ambrose for the Intercontinental Championship
Samoa Joe vs Finn Balor
Baron Corbin vs Randy Orton
Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal
Who wouldn’t want to see those shows? That’s a genuine question. If I had a match I knew wouldn’t boost excitement levels for the show, I tried to counter it with one I would would be a big deal. Take New Year’s Revolution for example, I’m well aware that Samoa Joe vs Jason Jordan and The Miz vs Matt Hardy probably isn’t going to sell many tickets, so I headlined with a 3-Stages-of-Hell match between Roman Reigns and Brawn Strowman, and a match that featured Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Finn Balor. It was the same on SmackDown too, Shinsuke Nakamura vs Jinder Mahal vs Baron Corbin isn’t the best match on paper, so I booked an Iron Man match between AJ Styles and Kevin Owens for the same show. I also took a similar philosophy to match timings – at Elimination Chamber most of the SmackDown side were in the Chamber match, so I booked a 2 out of 3 falls match alongside it to take up time. Those two matches on their own would take up maybe 70-80 minutes of the three hour show.
Obviously I’m going to be biased, but I think the cards both get better as the storylines become less based in what was happening in real life at the start of the columns, and also I think they are better than what WWE has actually offered up in 2017. For Survivor Series, comparing my card to the currently scheduled card, outside of the elimination matches I make it 2-1 in my favour in matches with a decent interest level. For the Royal Rumble, the match with the least interest would probably be the Intercontinental Championship, and at Wrestlemania Baron Corbin vs Randy Orton is probably the best candidate there for the pre-show. It’s unthinkable that WWE would really put Randy Orton on the pre-show, but it’s the match with the lowest interest level for that crowd.
I think the main reason for the difference between my cards and WWE’s product is the attention paid to second and third-tier stories. I tried to give just as much storyline development to the mid card titles and personal rivalries as the main events, sometimes even more so because I felt the main events would sell themselves. I say that to the point the US Title match at Wrestlemania, I feel, would be anticipated as much as any bout above it on that list. And the Intercontinental Title match and Balor vs Samoa Joe, if they’re not at that level, were only hindered by a lack of time to build the matches.
In the end, this was all a bit of fun, but going back to my original point way back at the start of the SmackDown articles – it is easy to be critical of creative. I think I’ve put together some well crafted (coherent at the very least) stories, on both Raw and SmackDown, over six and eight months respectively. And I’m not paid to do this. I sympathise when writers have to change a show at the last minute due to injury or whatever reason, and I don’t think anyone grudges a poor show under those circumstances. But too often we see inexplicably finishes or stories that make no sense in the moment, and have no impact later on. I think I’ve shown through all this that it’s more than fair to criticise WWE for that.
So finally, I’m going to leave you with two questions. Which show do you think would have been the better watch, Raw or SmackDown? And did I succeed in my challenge to myself – do you think I did better than WWE’s creative team?