It feels like WWE only knows how to tell one kind of story any more — the question though is whether or not it’s a good one.
Going into WWE’s Royal Rumble 2019 PPV, the hottest superstar on their entire roster of talent was (and still is) Becky Lynch. Having restyled herself in 2018 under the new moniker of “The Man,” the wrestler born Rebecca Quin had won over pro wrestling fans with her feisty attitude and unapologetic attacks on those who had wronged her. The most notable name on Becky’s hit list was Charlotte Flair, her supposed “best friend” who had screwed her at SummerSlam 2018. WWE misread their audience badly, expecting the audience to sympathize with Charlotte when Becky jumped her, only to discover said fans were on Becky’s side and thought Charlotte deserved it after interjecting herself into what was previously a one-on-one title shot.
Now if you’re a fan of pro wrestling it goes without saying that the events are scripted, but that doesn’t make the emotions of the audience any less real. You don’t go to a movie like Captain Marvel thinking “It’s a shame that I already know Carol Danvers will prevail at the end, so I can’t get into in the outcome because it’s all fake.” Of course it’s fake. A lot of what can be lumped into the “entertainment” category is fake, including the luxury cars many musicians rent to use on the set of their music videos. Reality TV shows? They’re “scripted” too no matter how much they try to disguise it. The only thing that matters is if you suspend disbelief while watching any of these things and become invested in the story. A good story from any form of media can take us beyond our skepticism and get us wrapped up in the battle of protagonist versus antagonist, good versus evil, or babyface versus heel.
Back to the lecture at hand — we were talking about Becky Lynch being “The Man” to her fans. WWE (reluctantly at first) realized the vocal contingent supporting her were not going away, so they crafted a story where she would lose her title match to Asuka by submission, yet reinsert herself into the “Royal Rumble match” with 29 other women and emerge the last woman standing to get a NEW title shot at WrestleMania 35 this year. Once they realized they had caught lightning in a bottle with this story they couldn’t resist going back to the well. They kept stacking the odds against Becky at every turn. They even had Vince McMahon come out for the ultimate “eff you” to the fans by replacing Becky in the title match at WrestleMania with her most hated rival and former best friend Charlotte Flair.
If you follow pro wrestling you understand the purpose of Becky Lynch being screwed over yet again — it’s called “getting heat.” It’s supposed to make you want to see Becky Lynch overcome the odds even more. You’re rooting for her to take out each and every person who gets in her way, and that’s exactly what she did leading up to WWE’s Fastlane 2019 PPV on Sunday night. This isn’t in any way a problem in and of itself. The only problem is that this is the only story they know how to tell right now. When world champion Daniel Bryan’s rival Mustafa Ali was sidelined due to an injury, WWE inserted Kofi Kingston into his place at the Elimination Chamber event. Once again the company failed to read how much their own fans would get behind Kofi as the unlikely underdog, even though he had earned their respect many times over in a 12+ year career in pro wrestling. Once they saw how much fans wanted Kofi to beat Daniel Bryan, they pulled the bait and switch AGAIN. They even had Vince McMahon come out to play the bad guy again — a role he admittedly plays very well.
It’s arguable that it doesn’t matter if WWE only has one story they know how to tell right now. If the fans will get behind Kofi Kingston to the same degree they’ve gotten behind “The Man” it doesn’t really matter. If the emotional investment and suspension of disbelief are there and people care about the outcome then it works. The problem I have right now is that it gets harder to suspend disbelief when you’re paying attention to the story and realize they keep telling the same one by shuffling different players into the same script and having them act out the same scenario. I wanted Kofi Kingston to succeed even before Vince came out to be a heat magnet and make the fans want him to prevail despite getting screwed. The problem will be if WWE goes to this well one too many times — eventually the well will run dry.