We just passed the six month mark of HHH’s tenure as head of creative and head of talent relations. How’s he doing? What’s good, what’s not so good? What’s gotten better and what hasn’t changed much? I thought I give a few answers of my own here. Now before we get started let me make clear that I’m looking at the big picture here and not how he’s booking wrestler X or Y. So if your retort to one of my points is the bring that up then save it. The man is going to make individual decisions we love, and some that we hate, but that doesn’t decide his overall performance in my book. Anyway, let’s get to it.
The Bloodline Story
It’s a running joke/narrative in the IWC that Roman Reigns and Paul Heyman are handling all their own creative for the Bloodline Saga. And to be honest I think that’s mostly true and while he’s definitely in on the meetings and providing input and making final decisions, it really does look like for the most part he’s letting the boys cook. And that’s proven to be biggest and most important decision he could possibly make. No other aspect of what we see on TV has had as much of a positive effect on the bottom line as the Bloodline Saga, especially over the past year. The worst thing any booker could possibly do is be so insistent on booking it his or her way that they mess things up. From TV ratings to ticket sales to internet traffic to merchandise the Bloodline has been moving the needle more than anything else in wrestling in years. Whether he is just sitting back and saying ‘y’all got it’ or had made some real creative choices along the way HHH gets credit for not messing it up.
From my estimation the other big creative success has been the handling of Judgement Day. When he took over they were in a bit of limbo, seemingly taking two steps forward one week and two steps back the next. But under his watch Dominik Mysterio was added to the group and their entire fortunes changed. Dominik’s onscreen relationship with Rhea Ripley has added a whole other layer to the group and has refocused both of their careers in a good way. Since he took over the reigns the group from floating in between big matches with Edge to making their own mark on the roster every week on TV and remaking the careers of everyone involved. This is a clear case of how good creative can enhance someone’s career.
Bringing back Braun and Bray
Braun Strowman may be a constant whipping boy of the IWC but the guy is over, always pops the crowd, and drives a lot of traffic with his big man antics. He’s one of the easiest plug and play guys on the roster and doesn’t need much of a story for anything. He was reportedly released because of his salary, and that is what it is, but he is the best of the returnees when you look at what he brings vs the amount of time and effort he requires.
Bray is loved by many and hated by a few in the IWC but if you’re into his stuff then you were mad to see him released last year, and thus happy to see him back. He sells merchandise and he gets the crowd involved when he’s out there. Yeah, what he does isn’t for me but even I won’t deny how much he does for the bottom line. Bringing him back has been as a hell of a goodwill gesture, too.
Now before I get started, I suspect HHH’s answer to everything I say next would be ‘how’s your territory going?’ and he’d be 100 percent right to do so. But that doesn’t mean we can’t point some things out, ok? Anyhow, here we go.
Sasha and Naomi
For whatever the reasons things fell through, being unable to get Sasha Banks and/or Naomi back has got to be recognized as a letdown. The roster has missed them over the past six months both for their ringwork and the energy they bring to the arenas. If you think they wouldn’t have vastly improved everything form the Money in the Bank match to the Royal Rumble match to the women’s tag team division then I’m gonna have to declare you an unserious person. The women’s division has struggled both in ring and in maintaining much interest beyond the regular TV viewing audience (I got proof!) and both women have more than proven themselves there. If you as a spectator want to see the best possible product then you gotta admit that not having them around meant that we did not get that.
And none of the attempts at erasure, be it from the company early on or by loud sections of the IWC after, are going to change that. You can be both be happy that Sasha has gotten to pursue a run a in Japan that she always wanted to do and recognize that the WWE has suffered onscreen without her. You can be happy that Naomi has able to pursue some things outside of wrestling and realize that she’s missed badly on TV. If Aaron Rodgers leaves the Packers next season and Jordan Love ends up starting, even if he plays well he isn’t Rodgers, at least not right now. Let’s call it like it is. As to the report that Sasha wanted more money…if it’s true they should have given it to her.
The Women’s Tag Team Division
Speaking of Sasha and Naomi, the tag division they left behind isn’t structured any better than when they left. Back in May they were one of two remaining women’s tag teams that had been together for more than five minutes; the other one was the team they’d just beat. Now nine months later there are the tag team champions and……..nobody. Yes there were a bunch of ad hoc teams thrown together to do a tournament, and one of them even stayed together for a few months afterwards! But we’ve been back at square one since December with no end in sight.
(Until the inevitable yearly slapping together of teams for the wacky tag team match at WrestleMania began, of course. I’ll be less cynical if these teams actually stay together past May)
Look, if these titles are ever going to really matter then they need to have multiple dedicated tag teams that are gonna stay together for more than 10 minutes. Right now they are nothing than props for the current champs and a way to have another title match on house shows. For all intents and purposes these titles are supposed to be a thing for the women who are not serious contenders for either singles title to chase after. Instead they are just kinda there to hold until it’s time to switch them off as part of some other storyline. It was like that under Vince and it’s like that now.
The Midcard Scene
While I think it’s a bit much to say that Vince never cared about the midcard or tag team scene, it’s totally accurate that at times he did pay them little to no mind. HHH has pushed the US, Intercontinental, and Tag Titles huge since taking over and has had multiple contendership matches, tournaments, etc. to set up new challengers for each. The IC title in particular has established Gunther as a major force and a guy who will one day challenge for the big title on a big stage.
We also need to give him credit for finding ways to keep Drew McIntyre, Sheamus, Becky Lynch, Liv Morgan, and others busy on TV while they aren’t in any kind of title feud. When someone is done with a title program it can be a real challenge figuring out what to do with them that doesn’t look like a step down or a waste of time. He’s managed to do that pretty well.
SAME OLD, SAME OLD
There have been some booking decisions that I’m still trying to figure out here. Seth Rollins is a babyface again but seemingly for no other reason than having sing along entrance music – there’s been no change in his actual character here, just who he’s fighting now. Iyo and Dakota look more the guys Batman and Robin used to beat up on the old Adam West show, than anyone to worry about. They’ve been beaten up despite having the numbers advantage more time than anyone should. Then there’s Sonya Deville, who is great at being a heel on the mic but has been beaten so many times on free television that no one could possibly take her as any kind of threat to win anything ever. And while sure, that’s her role, there’s gotta be a way to do it without her being a glorified jobber. And lastly there’s Bobby Lashley, who is…..what, exactly? He’s a face one week, a heel the next depending on what angle he’s involved in. It makes no sense.
Is the roster too big?
In a word, yes. Vince was haphazard, heavy handed, and downright wrong in the way that he culled the roster in 2020 and 2021 but there were way too many people for the amount of TV time they have. Even if you factor in having some folks ready to swap in for injuries or to give people breaks they still had way too many. It was their own fault for signing them all, by the way. You can’t blame anyone for taking a WWE deal when they were just giving money away from 2017 through 2019, but ultimately something had to give no matter how badly it was handled.
And now here we are with several of Vince’s releases brought back, and the same issues as far as TV time. This is especially true on the women’s side as there are now over 30 women signed to the main roster even though they get no more time on a weekly basis, save for when it’s time to qualify for a multiwoman match on a Premium Live Event, than they did when there were only a dozen or so women altogether. And that’s with NXT having several who will be ready to move up within the next year.
I have no idea how this gets rectified, without an eventual bloodletting of current talent from RAW, Smackdown , and NXT. I will put the blame on HHH for signing all these folks, men and women, who flat out weren’t all needed. We’ll see what happens down the road, but the idea that this will somehow lead to more efficient roster deployment has yet to be realized by any wrestling company in history. If HHH finds a way to sign everyone under the sun and use them in ways that satisfy everyone he’ll be the first one to ever do it.
Despite all my criticisms, I give him a B+. He’s nailed the most important creative decisions so far, but there are still things that earned him the red pen. Nobody’s perfect so I do expect perfection, but I’m not gonna give out extra points just because he’s not Vince McMahon. Vince had many shortcomings as a booker but at the end of the day he was right way more then he was wrong when it mattered most.