Fatal Four-Ways: Why Fans Should Remain Wary Going Forward
In the wake of the Fatal Four-Way match for the World Heavyweight Championship at WWE's Over the Limit, people like Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Mike Chiari have advocated for an increase in the number of Fatal Four-Way matches going forward.
The match, he contends, gives multiple Superstars a chance to compete for titles when they would otherwise be doing nothing of interest. It serves the dual purpose of pushing a Superstar as a championship contender and giving value back to the championship itself, as there are multiple people who are actually eager to compete for it.
In theory, I agree with everything he has to say, but in practice, the Fatal Four-Way match falls flat. It's not because of the action. Indeed, the very fact that there are four men in the match makes for literally double the excitement.
The match is usually done in, at least at first, by the commentary.
Quick: What percent chance does the champion have to win?
Quicker: Does the champion have to be pinned for the match to end?
If you thought about either of those questions for longer than one second, you didn't watch any of the buildup for the match or the match itself.
That's what really bothers me about the commentary regarding Fatal Four-Ways. It never changes. The announcers simply attempt to stress as much as possible that the champion is at a great disadvantage, ostensibly to tease the crowning of a new champion.
Fatal Four-Way matches have been around for most of my life. I've seen them straight up, and I've seen them elimination style. I've seen singles and tag team variations. I've even seen a Tag Team Fatal Four-Way Ladder match.
I know the rules. I know the probability. Even if I didn't, it's not hard to figure out. And while I can't give you the specific stats on how often the title is defended and/or changes hands in a Fatal Four-Way match, all that talk about Sheamus being at a disadvantage was for naught. He walked out with the belt.
The champion may statistically only have a 25 percent chance to win the match. But I'm willing to bet that in the history of Fatal Four-Ways, the champion has won the match more than 25 percent of the time. A lot more.
The other facet of this match that announcers attempt to sell is the unpredictability—not only regarding the outcome and the "insurmountable" odds the champion faces, but the inherent chaos of the match itself.
There are no friendships. It's every man for himself. And yet, without fail, two of the four competitors will form an alliance during the match to take out one or both of their opponents.
Fans know that the alliance won't last, and it predictably doesn't when, after dealing out heavy damage to the other two competitors, one member of the alliance goes for a pin. His temporary partner breaks it up, acts shocked that this enemy of his would attempt to, you know, win the match, and their union breaks down as words turn into shoves and shoves turn into fists.
It's not that WWE doesn't know how to tell a story in the ring anymore. It just tends to tell the same story over and over again. Only the characters change.
Just as everyone on the roster—from top guys like Cena, Orton and Sheamus down to comedy acts like Brodus Clay—seems to be developing a standard Five Moves of Doom for every match, matches themselves fall victim to this sort of lazy planning and repetitive storytelling. A Fatal Four-Way is no different.
1. The announcers will hype the 25 percent chance that the champion has going in, as well as the fact that he does not have to be involved in the decision (even though he almost always is in some fashion).
2. Two wrestlers, usually the heels, will team up to take out their opponents (the faces), only to turn on each other as one of them goes for the pin.
3. All four wrestlers will either attempt or successfully execute their finishing move only to have the subsequent pin attempt broken up by an opponent, usually one who has been previously dispatched to the outside.
4. One Superstar, usually the most limited of the four performers, but not always, is kept down outside the ring for an extended period before returning, usually to mount a major comeback.
5. Rarely will all four Superstars be in the ring at the same time—no more than three at a time until the end, when it's time for a flurry of finishers and a decisive pinfall.
Rinse, lather, repeat. And while a great Fatal Four-Way can be booked if given enough time, the three-week turnaround from Extreme Rules to Over The Limit made this particular match, which included all five of the aforementioned standards, much less exciting than it rightfully should have been.
I'm all for putting four Superstars in a match with each other, either for a title or for a shot at a title, but story matters, in and outside of the ring.
Anything can happen, WWE? Prove it.
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