Since the rise of the Internet, and with a community of wrestling fans, connected by virtual means across the world, there have been undercurrents of discontent with how WWE books its talents. There’s the matter of which stories WWE chooses to tell, whom it pushes, which matches are lined up, and whether the company is in tune with its fan base at all.
Some fans suggest that powers that be, and particularly Vince McMahon, are out of touch. A more cynical theory posits that WWE is less invested in what its standing core of fans want than in making booking decisions around luring in new fans so as to broaden the overall audience of the company. Perhaps the most cynical theory of all: WWE is actively disinterested in what the fans want, and rather more invested in ego and doing what McMahon and other creative power brokers like Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, and The Road Dogg think is best.
The hardcore fan base’s discontent picked up in 2013, when Daniel Bryan was first elevated to a true main event push, only to appear as though he was shunted aside in favor of Randy Orton and Batista in the short term, and Roman Reigns in the longer run.
In an infamous quote when Vince McMahon gave Steve Austin a shoot interview on the WWE Network, he claimed that the company listens to its fans, and that he’s a pretty good listener. We can never know for sure the company’s long term plans, much less its intentions, but there is reason to believe WWE isn’t listening so well these days. This article looks at rumored plans that suggest WWE doesn’t concern itself with what hardcore fans want.
15 Roman Reigns Beats Brock Lesnar For The Universal Championship
It seems that ever since SummerSlam 2014, when Brock Lesnar won the WWE Championship from John Cena, WWE has been haunted by rumors that Roman Reigns will slay the Beast Incarnate to win a world title complete his coronation as the new face of the company. To be fair, this booking does seem to have been WWE’s intention on more than one occasion, and a vocal contingent of adult male fans, in particular, have rejected this impulse.
At WrestleMania 31, WWE booked its way out of corner by having Seth Rollins interrupt Reigns’ challenge to Lesnar’s WWE Championship with a Money in the Bank cash-in. At WrestleMania 34, the prevailing rumor is that WWE called an audible on Reigns beating Lesnar because of a negative reaction from the stadium crowd.
The conventional wisdom from fans would be that WWE should move on to someone like Braun Strowman, Bobby Lashley, or Seth Rollins taking the title off Lesnar at this point.
However, in continuing to book Reigns at the top of Raw, and given the indecisive nature of Lesnar’s win over him at The Greatest Royal Rumble show, all signs point to The Big Dog challenging Lesnar again at SummerSlam, and likely succeeding in his last opportunity.
14 The Authority Reloads
The May 21th episode of Monday Night Raw saw the return of Stephanie McMahon in her role as commissioner. She had previously been absent since tapping out to Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania 34, and then having her arm kayfabe broken by the former UFC star on the following night’s episode of Raw.
McMahon coming back and renewing her heel dynamic suggested WWE is not moving away form The Authority, and that their loss to Rousey and Kurt Angle at WrestleMania did not signal a blow off to their on and off story arc. While there is some merit to Triple H and McMahon remaining in power, particularly as they remain two of the most credible authority figures on the WWE landscape, there’s also little doubt that the fans are over them.
Since Eric Bischoff pioneered the heel authority figure role in WCW, and Mr. McMahon perfected it in WWE, there’s an argument to be made that wrestling has continued to chase, but never matched best the characters for this role. There are a handful of exceptions, like Dario Cueto’s fine work for Lucha Underground, or some of Bischoff’s best work at the helm of Raw in the 2000s. On the whole, though, this dynamic feels well past played out.
It’s convenient to book real life WWE power players Triple H and McMahon in kayfabe roles that exaggerate their actual identities and questionably fan friendly decision making. Most fans, however, would prefer WWE move on to other, and probably less pronounced figureheads atop the Raw brand.
13 A Comedic Finish For AJ Styles Vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
When Shinsuke Nakamura won the 2018 men’s Royal Rumble and immediately declared his intentions of challenging AJ Styles for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania, it was a dream come true for a number of hardcore fans. Not only was this a fresh matchup between two top tier workers who had mostly been kept apart in WWE. It was also a rematch of an all time classic bout the two had staged at New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom show just two years earlier.
The general consensus for Styles vs. Nakamura at WrestleMania was that the match was OK, but a disappointment. While Nakamura’s subsequent heel turn succeeded in generating intrigue, the story to follow hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. The two had other just OK matches at the Greatest Royal Rumble and Backlash PPVs, and the story of Nakamura continually giving Styles low blows feels repetitive and juvenile given the level of talents involved, and the prestige of the title they’re competing over.
Critic Bryan Alvarez suggested to The Wrestling Observer that one blow off to the feud could see Styles and Nakamura deliver stereo low blows, not unlike the finish to their Backlash match. The twist would be Styles comedically outsmarting Nakamura by wearing a protective cup this time. For all of its storyline logic, the finish feels like a terribly silly way to wrap up a disappointing feud.
12 John Cena Wins His 17th World Championship
At the 2017 Royal Rumble PPV, John Cena pinned AJ Styles to capture his 16th world championship which, in the WWE record books, tied him with Ric Flair’s all time record for most world titles won. Cena would go on to lose the title with little fanfare a month later in an Elimination Chamber match, which raised the question as to why he won the title at all?
While Cena is now working for WWE on a part time basis, he does remain active, looking good when he hits the ring and remaining credible as a main event player. As such, every indicator is that WWE does ultimately mean for him to win that record breaking 17th world championship.
The question remains, however, what fan actually wants to see that happen?
Cynical fans have transitioned to focusing their vitriol on Roman Reigns over Cena. There remains, however, a certain distaste for the Champ as soon as he transitions into what could perceived as taking headlining opportunities from younger talents. Contrary to past years when WWE could justify pushing Cena to please the kids, his part time status has also put that sector of his popularity into decline. The main takeaway, then, is that Cena may well win a seventeenth world title to the satisfaction of few to no fans at all.
11 Nia Jax Turns Heel
Nia Jax has never been an Internet darling, with fans usually dismissing her as someone WWE pushes for her size and being a part of the Anoi’a family, as opposed to impressive in ring skills or personality. After a middling run on NXT, she spent her first two years on the main roster playing a monster heel role befitting her size advantage over all opponents. Hardcore fans grew tired of her in this gimmick, though, particularly when she was featured at the expense of women like Sasha Banks and Bayley who were far more polished performers.
When Jax turned face in the build to WrestleMania 34, she was still met with a mixed reception, but the general consensus was that she was at least doing something fresh and new, and WWE hadn’t really explored the dynamic of a dominant heavyweight as a face in the women’s division.
A month removed from WrestleMania, WWE announced that Jax would defend the Raw Women’s Championship against Ronda Rousey. The rumor mill started up immediately that Jax was going to turn back heel to retain her title by nefarious means, or to attack Rousey after losing and continue their program. The seeds have already been planted on Raw, with Nia acting like a bully, like Alexa Bliss accused her of in their feud.
In the long run, Jax probably does make sense as a heel, but for now it feels way too soon for WWE to retreat to that familiar ground and undue all of its WrestleMania season storytelling. You’ll be hard pressed to find fans who would support this shift.
10 Rusev Splits From Aiden English
Rusev has been an unlikely success story over the last half year. Despite not getting a push, and in many ways being treated like a lower card threat than he had been in his heyday, the Bulgarian Brute has gotten over to an alarming degree. One of the keys? His partnership with Aiden English, who has largely served as the big man’s hype man and side kick, has felt like a revelation. In particular, English singing about Rusev Day in exaggerated fashion is exactly the sort of absurd sports entertainment shenanigan that, done with the proper gusto, captures the imagination of long time wrestling fans.
For all of the success the duo has achieved, rumors abound that the two will split up before long. The logic seems to be that WWE views English as a lower card comedy performer, and if WWE does mean to capitalize on Rusev’s momentum, it will want to push him more seriously. We’re already seeing inklings of Rusev reuniting on screen with his former manager and real life wife Lana, and English may be left out in the cold, likely as not after taking a brutal beat down from Rusev to reassert his mean streak.
The Rusev Day gimmick and partnership probably does have a shelf life, but it’s nonetheless a shame to see wrapped up so quickly when it’s one of the most organically popular acts WWE has going.
9 Bobby Lashley Stays In Place As A Backup Top Face
When rumors started up that Bobby Lashley was coming back to WWE, there was an immediate buzz. Lashley has star power, and has the physical tools for WWE to make him a legit main event star—picking up where Lashley left off wit him in 2008. Two possibilities were particularly electrifying, and not mutually exclusive. Lashley could finally work his dream match with Brock Lesnar—a guy he’s so physically similar to, and with whom he shares an amateur wrestling pedigree and MMA experience. In addition, Lashley could have a heel run, building on arguably the best work of his career with Impact Wrestling, and playing a fine foil to guys like Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman as that rare heel could believably take them on from a physical perspective.
However, Lashley’s return has not hinted at either of these dynamics. On the contrary, Lashley has found himself already adrift as Strowman’s tag team partner, and a rival to outmatched Sami Zayn.
To be fair, it’s still too early to say anything definitive about Lashley’s new WWE run, and WWE may well be testing the waters itself.
For now, though, all signs point to Lesnar using his limited dates to finish business with Reigns and maybe Strowman. Meanwhile, Lashley seems entrenched in an awkward third, fourth, or fifth from the top face position (depending on how evaluate him relative to Seth Rollins and Finn Balor) with little clear direction, and his best prospect being a suitable backup to step up if Reigns or Strowman were to get seriously hurt or get into trouble with the Wellness Policy.
8 Owen Hart Remains Out Of The Hall Of Fame Mix
With the possible exceptions of Bruno Sammartino up to 2013 and Randy Savage up until 2015, no one has had more Hall of Fame buzz around him from hardcore fans than Owen Hart. Indeed, The Rocket had a more than Hall of Fame worthy career, given his undeniable talent in the ring and on the mic, his classic matches with his brother, his King of the Ring tournament victory, and the length of his tenure as an upper mid carder and fringe main event guy. Moreover, given that he died doing a stunt for WWE, it seems only fair that the company would go out of its way to honor him.
Celebrating Hart’s legacy in this forum is complicated, to be fair. For a number of years after the Hall of Fame got going full speed, Owen’s even more famous brother Bret was still on the outs with the company. While that relationship has been mended, word is that Owen’s widow Martha remains staunchly opposed to WWE and blames the company for killing her late husband. On top of all of that, there’s the matter that WWE is typically reticent to induct dead wrestlers for fear of bringing down the mood at the induction ceremony, and the fact that WWE accidentally caused his death doesn’t help matters.
If, however, WWE listens to its fans and gives them what it wants, there’s no Hall of Fame induction that would be sweeter to the company’s faithful followers.
7 Sami Zayn Feuds With Kevin Owens… Again
Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens came up together. They rose from the Montreal independent wrestling scene where they cut their teeth, through the indies where they became two of ROH’s top stars before Zayn, then Owens made it to NXT, and then Owens, then Zayn graduated to the WWE main roster.
Along the way, Owens and Zayn have teamed up and feuded against one another a lot. Their rivalry felt like a revelation when it first hit NXT, and the by the time they had their blow off match on the main roster at Battleground 2016, it felt like the right time for each man to go his own way. They capped that iteration of their issue with an exceptional, match of the year contender of a match.
The problem is that Owens and Zayn have stayed on the same roster consistently ever since and thus revisited their feud time and again for one of matches or short programs, before finally getting on the same page to become a heel team. As bad guys, the two have found new life, with Zayn’s heel act surprisingly good and Owens seeming energized to work with Zayn. Rumor has it, though, that they’ll splinter soon—a dynamic WWE has already teased more than once since their move to Raw—and wind up feuding again.
For as great as Zayn-Owens matches have been, it’s a feud that is well past its expiration date, not to mention that there’s still plenty more for them to do as allies. Hopefully WWE doesn’t rush them into a program again.
6 Jinder Mahal Factors Into The Universal Title Picture
Jinder Mahal spent more than half of 2017 reigning as WWE Champion. It was a pretty absurd scenario, given the company elevated him to the main event scene with next to no build, and when he got his big break, he demonstrated no meaningful growth in the ring or on the mic. Accordingly, business did not do well for the SmackDown brand with Mahal on top, in terms of television ratings and live event attendance.
There have been suggestions of Mahal trailing off, including being demoted to the US Championship scene, losing that title immediately after WrestleMania, and since dropping a match to Chad Gable. Mahal has since been booked against Roman Reigns, though.
There’s a reasonable argument that Mahal is one of the very few figures fans across the board tend to hate more than Reigns.
However, in inserting Mahal so high on the card again, for a match that could realistically main event the Money in the Bank PPV, WWE is force feeding fans a matchup that absolutely no one was clamoring for. Moreover, WWE seems to be actively keeping Mahal at a high enough level that he could very well transition to the Universal Championship picture, especially once Brock Lesnar drops the title.
5 No Future For The Woken Universe
WWE seemed pretty reticent about letting Matt Hardy have his way with his Woken Universe. It’s easy enough for fans to follow management’s reasoning. Hardy’s Broken work for Impact Wrestling was pretty off the wall. It included elements of magic like the Lake of Reincarnation that restored wrestlers to earlier gimmicks, besides serious suspension of disbelief even by wrestling standards like the Hardys shooting rockets at their opponents. For as absurd and campy as Hardy’s vision was, it was also unique enough to garner attention, and entertaining enough to get over with fans.
WWE offers a more mainstream, polished product, though, and there were justifiably questions about whether Hardy could make his strange vision work within the company’s corporate confines. Vince McMahon himself reportedly went so far as to have Michael Cole apologize to fans in advance of the Ultimate Deletion segment. After the match got a huge reaction on social media, WWE seemed to rethink things, including booking Hardy to win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, and casting Bray Wyatt as his tag team partner (and the both of them as champions) moving forward.
However, despite the Woken Universe getting over reasonably well, it has largely stagnated since with little more character development or expansion. Rumor has it that WWE has taken the gimmick as far as it’s going to. That’s a shame because fans seem ready to bite on Hardy seeing his vision through.
4 Roman Reigns Breaks A WrestleMania Main Event Record
At WrestleMania 34, Roman Reigns accomplished the unlikely in main eventing his fourth consecutive WrestleMania. While WWE has long tried to push the idea that a show might have multiple main events, the only main event all wrestlers, fans, and critics can come to a consensus on is the last match of the night, and Reigns has now had that match opposite Triple H, The Undertaker, and Brock Lesnar twice. To accomplish this feat four times at all is a mark that only Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, The Rock, The Undertaker, Triple H, and John Cena can match, and to have done so four consecutive years? Only Hulk Hogan did that before, in a run that stretched from WrestleMania V to WrestleMania VIII.
Reigns is still just getting started as WWE’s top guy. Assuming the company stays the course, there’s reason to believe he still hasn’t peaked in kayfabe, and won’t reach that point until he makes good on his destiny of unseating Brock Lesnar for a world championship. It’s way too early to predict the card for WrestleMania 35 with any certainty, but unless WWE throws a curveball like going all in on Ronda Rousey for the first women’s ‘Mania main event, the safe bet is for Reigns to close the show again and to inch closer to Hogan overall mark for headlining WrestleMania more than anyone else, consecutive years or not. With each passing year, it’s harder to find a hardcore fan who’s happy about this particular march of history.
3 Lana Is Due For A Push
After spending her first years on the WWE main roster working exclusively as a manager, mostly in Rusev’s corner, Lana broke out as a wrestler in her own right in 2017. She got hot-shotted into the SmackDown Women’s Championship picture in the summer, where she rightfully took the decisive loss, but showed glimmers of potential as a legitimate pro wrestler.
Now, rumor has it Lana is in line for a sustained singles push, possibly in conjunction with Rusev. The pieces seem to be falling in place, given her surprisingly earning a spot in the 2018 women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match, and that Rusev’s sidekick, Aiden English, provided the distraction to help her win.
While Lana is a beautiful woman and a reasonable enough manager, she feels anachronistic as a wrestler, representing the old guard of models hired for their looks, and on the hopes they could be trained to work five minute matches safely.
When the Raw, SmackDown, and NXT rosters are each at least five deep with more legit female wrestlers, fans have little desire to see Lana pushed in this fashion.
We can hope Lana will continue to progress and prove us wrong, or that WWE will make the most of her heat to make her a heel we love to hate, things aren’t looking great at this point.
2 Bayley Gets A Heel Run
For quite some time, the prevailing theory was that Bayley and Sasha Banks would wind up in a sustained feud on the main roster together, in an echo of their classic rivalry from NXT. Their kayfabe friendship (which mirrored their reported real life bond) was laying the groundwork, and as we broached WrestleMania 34, the partnership looked ready to explode.
Banks and Bayley never picked clear face and heel sides in their issue, though, and the slow burn continued with the two tentatively trusting one another even as their tempers boiled over into a backstage brawl at one point. Surely, at this stage, Banks would revert to her most natural position as a brilliant heel, and renew her issue with Bayley as one of the best pure babyfaces WWE has had in recent years.
The feud still hasn’t properly launched, though, and from what hints we have seen, the jury is still out on who—if anyone—will play the heel. In short arming Banks in tag team matches, sneaking an elimination of her in the WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal, and cutting her down in promos, Bayley has seemed more heelish than ever before on the main roster. Moreover, with rumors that WWE management has given up on her face character on the main roster, there’s reason to believe that this fan favorite who played the underdog hero so well in NXT is going to get the heel turn no one was asking for.
1 Daniel Bryan Held Back
In the lead up to WrestleMania 34, fans got the welcome surprise of finding that Daniel Bryan had been cleared to return to the WWE ring. As one of the most popular and undeniably talented stars of his generation, this comeback quickly made its case for the feel good story of 2018.
After the dust settled from WrestleMania, and Bryan looked like his old self, there wasn’t so much a question of whether, but rather when WWE would put Bryan back in the proper main event picture. The company even teased what may be to come in positioning Bryan against WWE Champion AJ Styles for a SmackDown main event shortly after ‘Mania. Since then, however, Bryan has been featured, but kept a notch below the proper main event or world title scene. He got the iron man run in the Greatest Royal Rumble Match, and bested Big Cass. Still, Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe, at the least, have been positioned as world title contenders ahead of him.
Rumor has it that Bryan hasn’t yet committed to a new contract with WWE, and there’s still a sense management may be hesitant in fully committing to him given that he was only cleared to wrestle again this spring.
Whatever the case, fans are all too eager to see Bryan and Styles mix it up in a more meaningful program and PPV match, not to mention to see Bryan regain the WWE Championship that he never lost in the ring.