1. Don't Impede the Awakening
To maximize what the "woken" version of Matt Hardy can become, WWE needs to give him the longest of leashes.
Micromanaging, over-scripting and timid booking will hurt what should be one of the most compelling and talked-about characters on the roster. Much like he had at Impact Wrestling, where this persona was born, Hardy needs creative freedom and the full support of the company to make this thing a hit.
After months of hints and teases, Hardy's whacked-out alter-ego finally emerged on the WWE stage on Monday's Raw.
A loss to Bray Wyatt last week proved to be the catalyst for a transformation. Hardy showed up on the big screen with a vacant look in his eyes and a toothy grin. He talked of being an ancient spirit who is no longer dormant.
And so began the WWE chapter of a story that originated on Impact Wrestling. Hardy referred to himself as "woken" rather than "broken," but this was largely the same bizarre character he played previously.
There was an immediate buzz in the arena when he began to use the familiar eccentric verbiage from his old self.
With good reason. At Impact Wrestling, Hardy made must-watch entertainment out of his unraveling.
That is set to continue in a new home.
ESPN.com columnist Tim Fiorvanti wrote: "In a single promo, which cut between his insane ramblings and Bray Wyatt's, Hardy got an audience more excited than they'd been at any point for him since his music hit inside Camping World Stadium back in April."
Mike Killam of ProWrestling.com is pumped about what's ahead, too:
Moving forward, though, WWE can easily deflate all that enthusiasm by not allowing Hardy enough space to work. The company has famously moved toward scripting promos rather than letting Superstars infuse more of their own voice into their work.
That can't happen with Hardy. This is his baby. No writer is going to understand the character the way Hardy does.
At Impact Wrestling, he toyed with the role and continued to find new, fun wrinkles again and again.
Teleportation of @MattHardyBrand to Egypt! @Vanguard1AAR is a magical creature! #IMPACTonPOP https://t.co/OTV1F4YPTp2017-2-24 01:04:04
WWE needs to allow him to do the same this time around. Surely, Vince McMahon and his crew will guide and direct the journey, but Hardy needs to remain the captain. The "woken" side of the former tag team champ must remain as wild, original and flat-out weird as it was in the past.
Otherwise, what's the point? The appeal of this alter ego is its strangeness, its ability to surprise.
Luckily, Hardy has the ideal dancing partner for the reveal of this persona in Wyatt. The Eater of Worlds is equally strange as him, and so it will be easier to push them off into an unexplored corner of the WWE world.
Hardy and Wyatt should clash outside of the ring, traveling to the Wyatt Family Compound or a place as odd as the Lake of Reincarnation.
The two enemies should be delivering moments we've never seen, not leaning on standard wrestling tropes. The cameras need to follow Hardy and Wyatt into their lairs. And much like we saw at Impact Wrestling, the woken warrior must incorporate an assortment of items, from drones to dilapidated boats, into his tale.
This is no time to tiptoe with a character. Only a full-on approach will do.
2. Ring Time Aplenty
Move over lengthy promos and hurried bouts—wrestling has been king on Raw of late.
Whether it's a result of the red brand trying to fill time until the next pay-per-view or a shift in priorities, the marquee show has delivered a stout amount of in-ring action in recent weeks. Monday's Raw had four matches go over 14 minutes, per CageMatch.net. Roman Reigns and Jason Jordan battled for over 20 minutes.
And The Big Dog has been the workhouse during that stretch. He twice had the longest match of the night and on the other episode had the second-longest bout. Reigns has compiled 51:23 worth of Raw ring time in the past three weeks.
Here's hoping this "Raw is Wrestling" trend rolls on.
3. Throwback Video of the Week: Andre the Giant
The legend of Andre the Giant will soon get the documentary treatment. HBO's He Was a God will highlight the big man's life and career.
And the first teaser is out.
Many of us remember Andre as the lumbering behemoth he was late in his career. Early on, though, he was far leaner, fitter and a better athlete.
That is on display in this 1972 clip of Andre (known then as Monster Roussimoff) hitting Strong Kobayashi with a Tombstone Piledriver:
It's worth noting that Kobayashi was 6'2" and 275 pounds, but he looked like a cruiserweight compared to Andre.
4. Cruiserweights on the Road
WWE hasn't given up on 205 Live. Low ratings and inconsistent buzz haven't deterred the company so far. In fact, the cruiserweights are getting their own house shows.
This will be a litmus test. It's not clear how well these events will do. To this point, 205 Live has aired after SmackDown. On its own, we'll get a good look at how much fans care about this division.
Hideo Itami's arrival will help, but it's hard to imagine the cruiserweights doing the numbers WWE likely is hoping for. Diehards will shell out to see Cedric Alexander, Mustafa Ali and others tear it up, but casual fans will be harder to entice.
5. Great Taste in Cereal
Carrie Fisher's estate sale provided the latest bit of evidence that wrestling is everywhere. The late actor had a box of The New Day's Booty-O's cereal in her possession, as Chris Trew of Uproxx noted:
No word on whether she also had a New Day unicorn headband.
Fisher always seemed like the coolest of ladies. Her apparent New Day fandom only adds to that. It would have been so great to sit back and talk Star Wars, writing and wrestling.
6. The Show of Shows Sans Y2J
We're not likely to see any Lionsaults at WrestleMania 34.
Chris Jericho won't be at next year's big show as it seems he'll be touring with Fozzy instead. The band announced its upcoming tour dates this week. And Jericho will be in New Hampshire, not New Orleans, when WrestleMania kicks off April 8.
This will be the first time since 2015 that Y2J has missed the marquee event.
That gives WWE one less big name to plug in, but it's far from a devastating blow. The full-time roster offers a number of talents ready to shine. Shinsuke Nakamura and Finn Balor are poised to make their WrestleMania debuts. As is Asuka.
And this may be the year we see Batista make another comeback to the ring.
7. Cruiserweight Contenders
After each winning a Fatal 4-Way match, Rich Swann and Drew Gulak are set to collide next week for the right to face Enzo Amore for the Cruiserweight Championship.
Should Gulak dethrone the champ, the victory would mark only the third singles title reign in his career, per CageMatch.net. The Powerpoint expert won both the Wired Championship and World Heavyweight Championship while with Combat Zone Wrestling. He held both belts for long stretches—427 and 273 days, respectively.
Gulak has yet to taste gold in WWE.
As for Swann, a win over Amore would give the high-flyer his second cruiserweight title. He would then become only the third man in the title's history, per WWE.com, to win it twice. Amore and Neville are the only others to do that.
8. A Jim Johnston Playlist
WWE appears to have moved on from an all-time great. Composer Jim Johnston is reportedly no longer with the company.
Ryan Satin of Pro Wrestling Sheet confirmed the recent rumors.
Johnston has been a key part of the WWE machine for years as he has created some of the most iconic wrestling entrance themes ever. As a tribute to his work, here are five of his best songs:
- Mr. Perfect: "Perfection"
- Steve Austin: "I Won't Do What You Tell Me"
- The Rock: "Electrifying"
- Ryback: "Meat on the Table"
- Stardust: "Written in the Stars"
There are tons more where that came from. Johnston has hit the right notes with everyone's music from Undertaker to D-Generation X, Big E to Sting.
The obvious next step is to enshrine Johnston in the Hall of Fame.
9. No, Nia, No!
Nia Jax and Enzo Amore had a most unexpected exchange on Monday's Raw. She batted her eyes and winked at the cruiserweight champ backstage. Amore stood stunned afterward.
If this is a precursor to a romantic storyline between the two, WWE needs to rethink its strategy.
The last thing a wrecking ball like Jax needs is to play Amore's love interest. That's bound to get silly in a hurry. And why go that route before fully exploring Jax as a dominant predator first?
"Well, she's not doing anything else at the moment" is not a valid argument, either. Jax could use a fresh narrative, but there has to be a better route than one that sends her to Amore's side. She's likely to get lost and lose her edge that way.
Jax would be better off being for-hire muscle for someone, an attack dog for The Authority or Absolution's powerhouse. Making her the Beth Phoenix to Amore's Santino Marella is the wrong move.
10. Breeze on Fandom
As a current wrestler, it has to be tiresome to hear fans trash the current product and idealize the past. SmackDown's Tyler Breeze didn't hold back when firing back at a fan during a conversation along those lines:
Prince Pretty @MmmGorgeous
So you may not be as excited when you’re 35 as you were at 5. But damn man enjoy yourself or go watch something else. Don’t run down the roster of talent that sacrifices to entertain you. Btw working through xmas and New Years this year. Have some respect. https://t.co/iCmou6YtrU2017-12-2 16:21:46
Breezy is right. As much as some fans gripe, you have to wonder why they are even watching anymore.
There's plenty to criticize of the WWE product, but if you're not having fun, maybe it's time to find a new hobby. The next season of Dr. Who should be around before long.