It seemed like all of the wrestling world lit ablaze in recent months over two topics related to broadcasting the graps:
-The insane week of content leading into WrestleMania 37, and
-The recent rollout of WWE’s content to the NBC-owned streaming service Peacock.
The latter marked the end of the WWE Network in the United States and the changeover has been far from smooth, with content getting scrubbed for being inappropriate as well as delays in uploading much of the vast library the Network had housed for years. It’s been promised that this will be done before Fall 2021, but who can say what delays or problems may pop up before then. While there’s plenty of reason for annoyance or skepticism, there’s a lot already up and running at our fingertips that we shouldn’t take for granted. Now that Wrestlemania and all of its attendant buzz has come and gone, what can you do with the WWE content that is on Peacock? Here are a few suggestions:
1) Royal Rumble Entrant #31 – Freddie Foreshadowing
WWE has a few running tropes that turn up in most Rumble matches and are almost always the most enjoyable and important parts. Who will be presented as the indomitable force that eliminates the most people before being hoisted out themselves (aka the Kane Strowman Award)? Which underdog from an early number will go an hour or more before they just barely miss (Bob Backlund losing in 93 after 61 mins) or actually take it all the way (HBK/Flair/Rey Mysterio)? But my favorite is when two forces on a collision course we may not even be seeing yet have their first taste of conflict. If WWE really want to test drive something, they’ll have them be the only two in the ring at the moment.
Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker (Various)
The two longtime workhorses put on a spellbinding close to the 2007 Royal Rumble match as the last 2 participants battling to see which of them got a sure ride back to the biggest stage of all. I can’t remember many (if any) 1-on-1 showdowns at the end of Rumbles that went as long and were pulled off as well as their icon-on-icon showdown. They blew the roof off without making contact when Undertaker’s classic sit-up was met with a textbook HBK kip-up, telling us without a word that neither man would go quietly. One interesting dynamic of this final matchup was that, for all both men had on their resumes, ‘Taker had never won a Rumble while Michaels had such 2 wins under his belt. The most recent, in 1996, saw him take his old buddy Diesel out last via Sweet Chin Music sending the big man straight over the top. When HBK went for the same move here, it seemed like history repeating. Instead, ‘Taker countered and dumped Michaels out to make some new history instead.
After The Undertaker ultimately proved victorious, they pulled off an encore as Nos. 1-2 in the 2008 Rumble. The fever pitch to which they brought the crowd each time led to their twin bill of WrestleMania programs, including arguably the greatest match (25) and highest drama (26) the event has ever seen.
DON’T SLEEP ON:
-Hulk Hogan & Ultimate Warrior (1990)
-The Rock & “Stone Cold” Steve Austin (2001)
-Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn (2016)
2) Give the air time to unheralded builds
WWE has tried their hand at long-form stories in many different capacities, but one of the places where it most often flourishes is being ignored in the midcard. That’s because a lot of the company’s best stories are the ones where they’re not trying at all. Without a lot of pressure or interference from the top, the performers can craft their arcs in the manner they want and sell it in a way that catches us fans off guard with how compelling it is. Revisiting these ongoing tales knowing what we know now just allows you to catch all the little things you have may have missed in the moment or an episode you weren’t home for. The ultimate payoffs don’t always come where or how you’d expect, but they’ll feel more earned anyway.
The Miz vs. Damien “Mizdow” Sandow
Being assigned as The Miz’s “stunt double” was a clear sign that creative had nothing for Damien Sandow after he became the first man to lose his Money In The Bank cash-in. In real life, after all, a stunt double is hardly on camera and is supposed to be unnoticeable. Something funny happened though – in a stroke of genius, the re-named “Mizdow” turned himself into more of a literal double by pantomiming Miz’s entrance, poses, moves, and even bumps. This was unlike anything fans had seen and it quickly became one of the most over moments of weekly TV. Left to improv and fester on their own, Miz took to tearing down and berating his hired hand for taking the spotlight. This percolated around the midcard and tag team matches, with no real spotlight or PPV trajectory meaning that Miz and Sandow could build the tension, organically, until it ended in a fittingly unlikely place – the annual Andre The Giant Battle Royal. Sandow finally had enough, turned on Miz, and eliminated him to a huge pop that felt out of place so early in the show. That was wholly in line with a build that had little to do with the usual WWE writing and staging, but played out all the better without that overwrought interference.
While that build didn’t lead to much more for Sandow afterward in WWE, he’s doing just fine as the NWA’s Aron Stevens these days – free to unleash the same creativity that birthed this surprise story.
DON’T SLEEP ON:
-Matt Hardy vs. MVP
-“Diamond” Dallas Page vs. “Macho Man” Randy Savage
-Shelton Benjamin & Charlie Haas vs. Eddie & Chavo Guerrero
3) Revisit forgotten matches that surprisingly ruled
The much-adored Attitude Era of WWE has aged well in some spots, rather poorly in others. There’s no denying that the talent and action were top-notch given the iconic characters, promos, spots, and stories that we got to witness every week and month. That embarrassment of riches was backed up by such depth of talent that we often forget some moments that may have stood out on their own. Many matches had to live up to those lofty standards and came to life in ways that transcend how a card reads on paper. Conversely, the rough times and occupation-based gimmicks of the early New Generation obscure some hidden gems that stand out now. Peacock provides a great chance to jump around and discover new favorites you never knew you’d want.
“Double J” Jeff Jarrett vs. X-Pac; Hair vs. Hair Match (Summerslam 1998)
DX had many legendary programs during their runs both with and without Shawn Michaels. One of the first, shortly after HBK’s initial retirement due to a traumatic back injury, was with Jeff Jarrett and Southern Justice (the former Godwins). Jarrett ultimately paired up not with leader Triple H, but the lewd & crude X-Pac which is why the match went on 3rd at Summerslam. However, it came in with unique heat as the Southern boys had jumped Hall of Fame ring announcer Howard Finkel (RIP) in the weeks leading up to the PPV and shaved his head to show the threat of the stipulation. Finkel then came to the ring with X-Pac and even emphatically gave Jarrett DX’s “two words.” The crowd was hot right away and so was the action, with these two gifted and steady hands telling the story of how neither wanted to lose their famously long ‘dos. X-Pac roared out of the gate with spinning kicks, a leaping cross-body to the floor, and even a Bronco Buster before Jarrett dominated with some power moves (including brutal as hell Irish whips, seriously, sold incredibly by X-Pac who had recently returned from neck surgery).
The finish paid it all off perfectly, as Finkel distracted Jarrett while Southern Justice distracted the ref, allowing X-Pac to steal his opponent’s guitar off the lackeys and finish ol’ Double J off with a taste of his own medicine before breaking out the clippers. A great modern execution of a classic feud blowoff that is worth revisiting.
DON’T SLEEP ON:
-Rikishi vs. Val Venis; Intercontinental Title Steel Cage Match (Fully Loaded 2000)
-Test vs Shane McMahon; Street Fight (Summerslam 1999)
-“Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Shawn Michaels (Euro Rampage 1992)
As you can see, while far from perfect, there’s already plenty to be done with this new trove of wrestling content that you may be able to get your hands on through your pre-existing cable hookup (or your dad’s, your uncle’s, etc.). Before you know it, things will settle down to the point where you have to (*shudder*) actually leave the house and talk to people. So dive in, find some faves, and share them around while you can!