Big E's WWE Title Win: A Creative Masterstroke Or Impulsive Reaction?
WWE surprised us all on Raw, but what does Big E's title win tell us moving forward?
Big E’s cash-in on WWE Monday Night Raw was a Rorschach test of a booking decision. The more you look at it, the more things it could potentially resemble.
Taken at face value, it’s a wonderfully significant moment for Big E, such a deserving, passionate and beloved member of WWE’s locker room. His name is forever etched in history alongside Sammartino, Austin, Cena and the rest - not least Kofi Kingston, with whom he and Xavier Woods celebrated in the aftermath.
It was an organically uplifting spectacle, especially when taken alongside his frank, important discussion about mental health on the most recent episode of The New Day’s podcast.
If the heavily AEW-leaning readers could forgive me for sounding naïve - and don’t worry, we’ll get to your viewpoint soon - this title change could also be seen as part of a thrilling few days for WWE. Last Friday’s SmackDown was huge. Framed by the iconic Madison Square Garden, we saw Lesnar and Reigns, Becky Lynch on the mic, Seth Rollins vs. Edge, and the appearance of a young, relevant celebrity: NBA star (and scourge of the New York Knicks) Trae Young.
Although Raw wasn’t quite as star-studded, it all centred around that huge one-night angle, sparked so casually by Big E himself on Twitter. Throughout the night, his various reminders of the impending cash-in almost seemed like overkill. Surely something would go wrong, and it almost did when Lashley nailed the spear.
Of course, this only served to make Big E’s survival and victory all the more exciting.
A couple of days removed from Raw, the whole event doesn’t quite seem real yet. WWE Title changes on TV have not been uncommon over the past year or two, but this felt especially out of the blue. Lashley and Big E had no real feud to speak of in the build up to this, with the New Day man confined to the SmackDown midcard, before forcing his way onto the red brand this week.
Needless to say, this sudden change of direction has raised a lot of questions in the aftermath. In a WWE where storylines often become overcomplicated, this one was almost too straightforward. What was the reasoning behind it?
Some will view this as a WWE masterstroke, or a shrewd manoeuvre at the very least. The recent ratings success of AEW and, of course, the first Monday Night Football game of the NFL season seem to have provoked a shake-up of the product.
This may even point the way towards an exciting, competitive future of the industry, where WWE is given greater motivation to create more compelling television.
But was Big E’s lightning ascent really a masterstroke, or simply damage limitation?
The ratings for this week’s Raw have revealed the lowest figures since the final days of the ‘ThunderDome Era’ - and would doubtless have been even lower were it not for the big title change. So which interpretation is the right one and how much credit does WWE deserve?
While I’m very happy for Big E - one of those wrestlers whose default state seems infinitely more entertaining than any of us at full-throttle - I’m struggling to shake off the scepticism.
That’s possibly why I front-loaded this piece with the more positive interpretations of his title win, in an attempt to combat my own biases. Because try as I might, it’s impossible not to be wary of WWE’s plans right now.
This isn’t Big E’s fault, or indeed any of WWE’s talented roster. Part of the reason is certainly the rise of AEW as an exciting, passionate alternative; but part of it is that WWE has simply lost my trust. Recent numbers suggest that the same goes for a sizeable chunk of the audience too.
We all know that, away from WrestleMania season, WWE’s booking has frequently drifted onto autopilot for many years now. But this staleness has recently morphed into something more reckless and arbitrary. Roster members are shunted around, matches are axed, pushes are reversed midway through their lifespan, all without explanation. We hear reports of TV scripts being ripped up on a weekly basis.
So forgive me for not holding out hope of a long and creatively fulfilling title reign.
Just look at Kofi’s for a sad reminder, which started out in even more incredible fashion, and ended in seconds at the hands of Brock Lesnar. In a startling turn of events, the take I most agreed with was that of Matthew Gregg, aka ‘the guy who does Botchamania.’
He’s hit the nail on the head. Even with a quick turnaround, WWE could easily have inserted an intriguing wrinkle into an otherwise basic storyline. The fact that this didn’t happen perhaps betrays a single-minded focus on the short-term, while sacrificing anything more substantial and long-lasting.
Matthew has also demonstrated a level of wisdom that I haven’t been able to here, by considering the title change completely apart from AEW. Therein, I think, lies the answer.
There’s a reason that, for all the deserved jubilation of Big E’s title win, it’s left a foreboding feeling for many - one which has nothing to do with the growing competition in Jacksonville.
Realistically, WWE’s motive behind this sudden change of direction probably has more to do with the NFL than AEW. But it’s the very nature of that motive - the continuation of such reckless, short-term changes in booking - that prevent me from being fully happy for an incredibly deserving champion.