For the past 10 years, WWE has become increasingly fixated on the concept of a WrestleMania Moment.
It's a "you know it when you see it" type of deal. It could be an underdog celebrating a rare victory, like Daniel Bryan did at the close of WrestleMania XXX. It could be a dramatic plot twist that shocks the audience, like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's heel turn at WrestleMania X-Seven. It could be some unbelievable feat of strength, like when Hulk Hogan slammed Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III.
WWE celebrates these moments, repeatedly and ritualistically, until they attain a mythical weight and importance. The company is masterful at mining its history for nostalgia and then redirecting that goodwill to current performers. You, the loyal fan, can bear witness as these men and women become gods. To participate in this shared experience is its appeal.
It was at WrestleMania XXV, however, that the general concept of a WrestleMania Moment was codified into a hashtag-friendly marketing campaign. To open the show, the WWE locker room sat down in front of static cameras, interview style, and shared their favorite WrestleMania memories before transitioning to the main point: tonight, they were going to make their own moments.
But these "iconic" moments used to feel more organically ingrained into the show (or if they were always meticulously planned, it wasn't as obvious). It's the difference between setting up a storyline, booking a match and recognizing the moment in hindsight, as opposed to orchestrating it from the jump.
Here's a clear example, although this is not technically a WrestleMania Moment; it's a Road to WrestleMania Moment. At the 2018 Royal Rumble, Ronda Rousey came out at the end of the Royal Rumble and continuously pointed at the WrestleMania sign. On different parts of the ramp and in the ring. It was awkward and bizarre-looking. But it didn't look that way during the subsequent highlight reels, and it didn't look that way in the still photos.
In this instance, WWE cared more about a single image—which it could use as visual proof of an iconic, symbolic moment in WWE history—than the live audience. Will people forget how terrible it was in the service of getting that incredible photo? Is WWE more concerned about creating moments for its archives or with entertaining the WWE Universe in the here and now?
Which brings us to the latest episode of SmackDown Live.
In a surprising turn of events, Asuka, the WWE Smackdown women's champion, faced off against Charlotte Flair in a title match. After a hard-fought bout with lots of violent-looking spots, Charlotte emerged victorious; she tapped out the Empress of Tomorrow with the Figure 8, and became an eight-time world champion.
The in-storyline reason for this left-field result is that Charlotte wanted to prove a point to Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey, with whom she will main-event WrestleMania 35 on April 7. She wanted to prove to them that she deserved to be in the match. But on paper, there's so much—too much—that has been sacrificed to appease a fictional character's ego.
Shall we count the ways?
It hurt Asuka, who only held the title for 99 days and had to drop the title on the weekly show, not even at a PPV that could be built up toward and promoted. This woman broke Goldberg's streak in NXT and deserves better.
It hurt the four other women who were booked in a Fatal 4-Way to determine the No. 1 contender for Asuka's title: Mandy Rose, Sonya Deville, Naomi and Carmella. The winner would have faced the Empress at WrestleMania 35. And all four of them took to Twitter to voice their displeasure. To what degree this anger is "real" is up for debate.
And it was also unnecessary from a narrative standpoint. The match at WrestleMania is for the Raw women's title. It did not need more stakes; Ronda, Charlotte and Becky were doing a fine job of establishing those on their own. And in the off chance that both titles are being contested at the same, that muddies the waters further. Is this a unification match?
WWE promoted Rock vs. Cena at WrestleMania XXVIII for an entire year. Imagine what WWE could have done with a simpler, more direct build to this historic women's main event without odd, 11th-hour alterations.
So in the absence of a narrative reason, is there a non-kayfabe reason for doing this? And that's when it becomes clear.
What if this is all to get a Four Horsewomen "curtain call" to close the show?
Think about it: If Becky wins at WrestleMania, she will be Raw women's champion. If she doesn't somehow lose the belt between now and the close of WrestleMania, Charlotte will be SmackDown women's champion. And if Bayley and Sasha also retain, they will be WWE women's tag team champions. Imagine them lining up, holding gold and throwing up four fingers each as confetti rains down.
WWE surely understands the appeal of this moment; the foursome did a non-kayfabe curtain call at NXT Takeover Brooklyn in 2015, and it instantly became an iconic image. The desire to replicate this, on the grandest stage possible, is no doubt tempting.
But this would feel so rehearsed and not like the spontaneous moment of joy it should be. And it's going to undercut Becky's well-deserved moment in the spotlight. She's the one who has given this feud its momentum and energy.
How much is a four-second clip, which WWE will plug into countless, inspirational highlight reels, worth? Unfortunately, we may soon find out. But considering what had to be sacrificed in service of this moment, it's a price too high. If you miss the organic WrestleMania Moment, you miss it. You don't turn the roster upside down and sacrifice the long-term plans to try to get it back.
WrestleMania 35 may be the night when three women got to main-event WrestleMania. But it will also be the night when the women's roster, as a whole, suffered multiple setbacks to make that possible.
One step forward. One step back.