The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of WrestlingInc or its staff
When WWE announced that Paul Heyman would be running Monday Night RAW, and that Eric Bischoff would be running Friday Night SmackDown, it seemed like some wrestling fans were seeing their dreams come true. The man behind the glory days of WCW and the creative genius behind ECW were going to come back and save WWE!
Okay, maybe most people were not that excited. In fact, I was somewhat disappointed about the hirings because they seemed like a regressive move, with WWE once again relying on success from more than 20 years ago to try and secure their present. Here is what I wrote back in June:
The move to bring in Heyman and Bischoff is in some ways the opposite of what made the late-90s such an exciting time for wrestling fans. Wrestling peaked during that time period because the promoters in their own separate way, where on the cutting edge of what fans wanted to see. Bischoff and WCW had the NWO and the "cool heels", Heyman and ECW embraced hardcore wrestling and mature themes, and Vince and the WWF did a little of both.
You know what they didn't do? They didn't go back to the 1970s and try and see what they could re-create. Over 100 years of wrestling history has told us that the best way to pop business and improve the product is to push forward and progress with the fans as their taste evolves and changes. Nostalgia and going back to the past can work at first, but the only way to keep fans engaged over a long period of time is to create a product that is new and exciting, not to play the greatest hits from the past.
Since then, Bischoff predictably flamed out and left the company months ago. Heyman on the other hand, has hung on and his fingerprints over the product are beginning to show more and more. While RAW still has plenty of faults, there is no denying that the average quality of the show is higher than it was before Heyman took over. At the Royal Rumble, some of Heyman's long term plans were evident and it created a more compelling product.
The final eight men in the Royal Rumble match were Drew McIntyre, Roman Reigns, Edge, Randy Orton, Seth Rollins, Samoa Joe, Kevin Owens and Aleister Black. That is about as strong of a grouping of eight men that you will find in any Royal Rumble match, and it would have been plausible for any of them to end up as the winner. In addition, for most of them WWE was able to work in some sort of storyline for how they would exit the match.
Samoa Joe and Kevin Owens were eliminated by Rollins, who was helped by the Authors of Pain, which is part of the storyline as Owens and Joe have formed a team to try and combat Rollins' group. In that mix as well was Aleister Black, who was tripped up by Buddy Murphy, who recently joined Rollins' group, and Rollins dumped Black as well. Again, this plays on a storyline that has unfolded over the last month between Black and Murphy, with Murphy frustrated by his losses to Black, aligning himself with Rollins.
Orton would be dumped out by Edge, which would be the key starting point for their feud that looks like it will be a key match at WrestleMania. Reigns would eliminate Edge and then Reigns was dumped out by McIntyre, which while not exactly a long term storyline, was the proper move to get the desired effect from the crowd by teasing another Reigns victory, only for McIntyre to end up winning.
Even something like how Ricochet was used showed an attention to detail that has been lacking in WWE. On RAW, Ricochet was embarrassed by Lesnar when he tried to confront him when Lesnar gave him a low blow. In the past, I could very well see that being the end of their interaction. However, in the Rumble Ricochet actually cost Lesnar, by returning the favor and hitting him below the belt, which set up McIntyre to eliminate him. In the past, Ricochet may have been left just looking like a geek on RAW, but instead a story was told and Ricochet avoided being buried.
This all may seem like simple stuff, but it is stuff over the past few years that WWE has often been unable to string together. A lot of the time, WWE does not reward its own viewers, because plans change so often and angles end up going nowhere, it is hard to have a long week-to-week investment in the product. Over the past several months, RAW has had more consistent storytelling, and it does feel like things are progressing in a positive manner.
Another key aspect in all of this is that WWE appears to be making more of an effort to get younger talent over, and guys are getting a fair chance to try and make it on the main roster. Since Heyman has taken over, the seeds have been planted in a number of names; most obviously Drew McIntyre, but also in Black, Murphy, Andrade, Humberto Carillo, Ricochet and The Authors of Pain, in addition to giving more consistency to talent like Rey Mysterio, Samoa Joe and Owens.
While impossible to prove, it would seem likely that pre-Heyman, a talent like Black would probably come up from NXT, be relevant for a few weeks as a new name, but then lose momentum as creative struggled to find something meaningful for him to do, and he would end up in WWE's bottomless mid-card. Granted, Heyman did have Black sit a room for months, but that at least kept him on TV and made him feel different, and it clearly has gone somewhere, unlike say, Mojo Rawley screaming at himself while looking in a mirror.
Heyman hasn't been a 100% success since taking over RAW. Cedric Alexander got pushed and then fell of a cliff, and it still remains to be seen just how well WWE will be able to push Ricochet. The Rusev/Lashley/Lana angle has been perversely entertaining to some, but was one of the worst angles of 2019. The title still remaining firmly around Lesnar's waist is still a problem for some people, although it looks like the way things are headed, that might all pay out at WrestleMania.
Something else to watch out for is that in the past Heyman has had some success in WWE before flaming out and leaving the company. Whether it was during his stint running SmackDown during the Ruthless Aggression era, or during the relaunch of the ECW brand, Heyman achieved initial success before shooting his way out of the company. With the recent major changes in WWE's corporate structure, WWE is clearly in a win-now mentality and while Heyman's shows seem to be setting up for strong, long-term development, they haven't exactly set viewership records (well, the right kind of records). A more hands-on Vince McMahon or more corporate pressure are a serious threat to send Heyman packing at any moment.
Heyman may not have solved all of RAW's problems, and frankly, that would be an impossible chore for one man, but he has had a clear positive influence on most elements of the product. WWE seems to be on a clear path forward when it comes to talent development and Heyman has brought some much-needed week-to-week structure to the show. There is no telling how long Heyman is going to last in his current position, but so far the results have been surprisingly strong.
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