WWE has managed to stumble with one of its bona fide can't-miss opportunities.
Granted, this could have fans thinking of a few different things, which says quite a bit about WWE right now. But the Seth Rollins-Dean Ambrose feud tops the list.
On the night Roman Reigns had to announce he was leaving the company, WWE presumably fast-tracked the Rollins-Ambrose feud, with the latter betraying the former. In short order, The Architect looked ready to seek answers as a brilliant sympathetic good guy while The Lunatic Fringe went off the deep end as the most hated bad guy in the company.
It was a thing of beauty. Ambrose looked conflicted while dishing out harm to his former brother. It almost looked like he might apologize. He was punching the mat, pulling at his own hair. And Rollins' character had depth out of nowhere. He was nodding, telling his former friend he understood; it was all right.
A few weeks later, Ambrose is cutting a promo in a doctor's office while getting prepped to have a needle stuck in his butt.
There are a lot of problems here. One that stinks? Ambrose is still money in the promo department. This is still...good—but not good enough for this feud. Not when it started so personally and created atmospheric expectations.
This isn't something WWE can wave off as Ambrose just losing his mind. It's a corny comedy act dreamed up by someone way out of touch.
Then again, WWE doesn't do nuanced stories—well, at least not often.
Instead of a good story with much-needed direction for the characters, we're back to the same old tired loop. Ambrose is coming out and falling back on talking garbage about the host city, holding his nose and saying pee-yew; Rollins is going out and playing up the crowd—he's Seth "freaking" Rollins, man.
We know—know—these two are going to put on a show at TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs. They have great in-ring chemistry and will leave it all out there. But it's just a shame the rest has been so bland, especially given the material they were able to start with and abandoned.
Ambrose as a character is a big part of the problem. Remember when he came back and didn't say a word? Remember the allure it had? Now the more he talks, the more this story just feels like cookie-cutter WWE. He's a "host city X is terrible" bad guy. WWE has endless villains like this. Contrast that with Daniel Bryan on the blue brand, who is doing something similar but organically.
Blame Rollins, too. The possibility of nuance and understanding of the character is gone. He's going out hosting John Cena-style open challenges, the crowd's queuing up to participate in his entrance, and Michael Cole is going blue in the face with the same callouts every time he walks down the ramp. (On a similar note, don't ever play a drinking game with "It's Boss Time!" while watching re-runs on the network). WWE has plenty of these, too.
What is Rollins' character, anyway? He has a few different nicknames and a high, solid work rate. Him trying to bring Ambrose back to the light before snapping was at least a chance to inject some sort of personality. Now he's just...angry and getting beat up often.
Most of all, blame WWE. Most of its characters these days fall into these blank categories. That's why guys who had established characters such as Brock Lesnar, Samoa Joe and AJ Styles, all capture attention in everything they do, the last name even making it work with someone like James Ellsworth.
Outside of the copious character problems plaguing the roster, look at this feud. Most of the promos have happened via video package, right? There are hardly any real meaningful encounters, just backstage chases and sneaky stuff. That's not building anticipation anymore, though we should consider it lucky the two haven't been thrown in a tag match on opposite corners of the ring, another modern WWE staple that ruins feuds.
Not that any of this should be a surprise. Nia Jax knocked the tar out of the company's most over Superstar, legitimately injuring her and ruining a highly anticipated match at a pay-per-view. WWE has used it as a scapegoat to push Jax. If needing that accident as a scapegoat doesn't showcase a major problem with WWE writing, nothing will.
And if that was usable, why pump the brakes on the post-Reigns drama here in favor of corny doctor's-office visits and gas masks?
Rather than a Raw-carrying feud, which WWE is trying to promote it as, this isn't much better than the decade-long running authority/general manager angle, this time featuring Baron Corbin with a haircut. It should stand out and make the red brand itself watchable, but instead WWE has managed to drag it down with the rest.
That is a shame given what could have been. It almost feels like the performers themselves were in control of the characters the night of Reigns' announcement, then WWE went to work interfering.
The result is a dud of a feud that might not be salvageable. We should be looking forward to the match at TLC, but instead it's hard not to hope these two are almost done with each other so they can move on to something else.
Given the layup that was the history between Ambrose and Rollins, not to mention the emotional kickoff to the feud, it's probably one of the most disappointing developments in WWE for quite some time.