For those of us that had the initial burst of hope when Triple H took over creative for WWE, the status of the company after last night’s Survivor Series: War Games
PPV PLE was about as sobering as seeing flashing lights in your rearview at 3 a.m. The company has one champ that puts on great matches… six times a year. They have tag champs who have no tag teams to wrestle. They took Raw’s top title off of Seth Rollins, who’s magic, to put it on Austin Fucking Theory. If it weren’t for Sami Zayn and Bianca Belair, New York might currently be as desolate as the most barren stretch under Vince McMahon.
The unquestioned nadir of last night’s PLE, which otherwise was very good, was Ronda Rousey doing whatever it is she does against Shotzi in a defense of her SmackDown women’s title. You’d think it would have been a clue to what her coworkers and fans think of Rousey’s ability that the company’s greatest talent on the women’s side, and possibly overall, Sasha Banks, preferred to quit the company altogether rather than work with Rousey and put her over. Last night was more evidence as to why.
It’s hard to know what exactly Rousey is trying to do, or what the company wants out of her other than getting to use her name recognition (and that’s it entirely). Rousey has basically sleep-walked through every match since she reappeared at the Royal Rumble last January, and yet keeps being pushed at the top of the roster. Almost certainly just to cash in on the fact that people have heard the name.
The problem lies in that Ronda can’t… really… do… anything. She should probably just be having a string of squash matches to establish her as an unbeatable force. But her moveset isn’t varied or imposing enough to make that work. Yet another judo throw isn’t really doing it for anyone. And if you’re going to squash everyone in three minutes, you’d better have something else going for you. You’d better exude charisma like, say, Jade Cargill. Ronda exudes all the charisma of a saltine (even if we leave out being an utterly wretched human being). Which is probably why she’s been paired with Shayna Baszler, who’s better than her in every category, to give her any sizzle at all. And while there’s always rough water to be found in comparing WWE to AEW wrestlers or vice versa, at least when Jade hits a pump kick or her finishing move, it looks really devastating. Rousey always looks like she’s completing the steps. And no, different varieties of Black Swan makeup isn’t enough.
But what other story can you tell with Ronda? If she’s not able to sell convincingly and not willing to take any medium-to-high spot from an opponent, there’s nowhere to go. Shotzi is not a top-level ring general but she’s a very good wrestler who has worked her way up from the indies and knows how to put on a couple different style matches. And last night’s match was a complete mess, mostly because this was the level of interest Rousey had in making Shotzi look good:
This was hardly the only bad moment, but it was the clear winner in the category. They obviously wanted to tell a story of Shtozi having to throw everything possible at Ronda in a hurry, given Rousey’s rep. Shotzi couldn’t slowly put anything together and leave an opening. But that doesn’t translate when Rousey is barely half-selling a throw into the ring-steps or avoiding taking any sort of bump and is only focused on trash talking to the live crowd who had mostly left their seats to get a beer. Rousey’s meandering through any part of the match that involved Shotzi’s offense doesn’t make her look good, it certainly doesn’t make Shotzi look good, and what does anyone get out of this?
So if she doesn’t have the personality to just be a squash machine, nor the skill or inclination to actually craft a match that tells a different story, what is it she would say she does here?
Rousey will still get a big time match at Mania, and probably at the Rumble too. And it’ll be Charlotte or Becky Lynch, or maybe even a returning Banks. All three of those women are talented enough to drag Rousey into a good and watchable match, which is the only way she’ll get there. And they may be the only three who can. Belair still might be a little on the inexperienced side to have to call and drag a less-talented opponent to greatness, though it won’t be that way for long.
Yes, Rousey isn’t for wrestling fans. She isn’t for most of those in the arena. She’s for people watching at home who remember her MMA career but forget it went to shit just as soon as it got challenging for her, much like her WWE career. That will always be a part of WWE’s calculations, no matter how infuriating it might be.
But the least they could do is ask Rousey to actually try. She could be helping other women on the roster to look better. Shotzi could have come out of a match last night looking like a threat in the future (she’s certainly got the personality). They had to reinvent Liv Morgan after her feud with Rousey to undo the damage done by being put next to her, and Morgan had about as much momentum heading into the feud as possible. No one looks better after working with Rousey, and neither does Rousey.
As stated earlier, the rest of the show was good to very good. The two War Games matches were most certainly the latter, with the men’s match being used to vault the company’s hottest story — Sami Zayn and his relationship with the Bloodline — to a new level. If they weren’t so fixated on getting The Rock back into the ring for Mania, a Sami turn and Zayn-Roman main event in LA is absolutely worthy of the stage now. The women’s War Games wasn’t as heavy on long-term storytelling, but a great platform for Lynch’s return while giving all 10 women a chance to shine at various points (and let’s get to Iyo-Asuka already). Even though Rollins dropped the US Title to Theory, making one wonder what exactly they’re going to do with Seth now, as there’s no higher title for him to chase with Roman’s road so clearly set for the next six months, he orchestrated an excellent triple threat along with Bobby Lashley.
And of course there was the latest chapter in the very large book, “Wait, has there ever actually been a really good Finn Balor match?”
It’s just disheartening that on the same show you can have an example of how really putting time into talented guys who genuinely care like Zayn, hardly an artist’s rendering of the company’s biggest star, can produce some of the best storytelling the company’s seen in years. And also someone putting in no effort like Rousey, getting by on people pointing at a TV screen, to produce a dry heave simply because.