6 WWE Booking Decisions That Backfired in 2020
Nobody's perfect, and WWE exemplifies this every week.
Plagued by scripts that can change at the last minute, feuds written with no endgame in mind, injuries and other problems that can get in the way of proper storytelling, it's no surprise many angles never pan out well.
More often than not, it seems the company follows no logic or formula, merely hoping for the best to work itself out somehow.
Then, if the end result is gold, WWE acts like it was planned all along; if it's awful, though, WWE wants fans to forgive and forget, move on and look forward to the next supposedly wonderful thing without question.
This year has been an especially cruel one as the COVID-19 pandemic has been an undeniable hindrance to WWE's flexibility, roster and resources.
While there have been some great decisions, such as MVP becoming Bobby Lashley's manager, setting up Drew McIntyre to save the Royal Rumble and beat Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 36, there have also been plenty of mistakes.
We are midway through 2020 and can already look back on some booking ideas WWE made that have backfired badly.
Here are six of the biggest miscalculations the company has made this year.
Goldberg Beats Bray Wyatt to Set Up Match with Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 36
At Super ShowDown in February, WWE decided to switch the WrestleMania 36 card around by having Goldberg defeat "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt to become the new universal champion.
The idea was to set up an epic clash between Goldberg and Roman Reigns for the title at The Show of Shows, while Wyatt would get a nice consolation prize in a match with John Cena.
Instead, Cena vs. Wyatt became a video package rather than a match, and Reigns wasn't even on the WrestleMania card.
It's understandable why The Big Dog has stayed home during the coronavirus pandemic following cancer treatment, but WWE handled it all terribly.
Braun Strowman replaced Reigns for the title match against Goldberg, but nothing had been built up for the feud.
In an interview with Ariel Helwani of ESPN, Triple H reassured fans everything would work out: "I will say from our standpoint and the storyline standpoint, it's going to play out in a unique manner and we want it to play out that way."
What was this unique manner of explaining the change to the card exactly?
Less than 24 hours before the match took place, a graphic popped up on the go-home edition of SmackDown that simply stated Strowman would fight Goldberg on The Grandest Stage of Them All.
No explanation or effort was put into it. WWE swept it under the carpet as quickly as possible and kept talking about the rest of the card as if that was always the match.
But Triple H said: "I don't want to give away the ending of the movie before the movie takes place. Everybody just has to watch and see how this unfolds. It will unfold in a unique way, and I think it will be meaningful for everybody."
Surely that meant the underwhelming promotion and setup would pay off in the match itself, right? Nope. The Monster Among Men hit a few powerslams and beat the veteran in four minutes.
This made WWE and The Game look like con artists who were trying to pull one over on fans, mitigate the disaster ahead of time and get people to tune in despite the problems.
If they knew then what we know now, Wyatt would have never fought Goldberg and gone into WrestleMania as champion to lose to Strowman, which would have made far more sense and had a proper build.
Charlotte Flair Wins Royal Rumble as Rhea Ripley and Shayna Baszler Lose Big
Shayna Baszler had seemed like a lock to win the women's Royal Rumble in January, but Charlotte Flair tossed her over the ropes and became the last woman standing.
This decision ultimately resulted in Baszler and Rhea Ripley suffering a massive drop in their stock, all for The Queen to add an unnecessary accolade to her career.
WWE's idea to rehab Baszler's credibility was for her to take out every opponent in the Elimination Chamber in March.
That helped reestablish her as a threat to Becky Lynch for WrestleMania 36, but The Queen of Spades lost that match while The Man vacated the title after announcing her pregnancy in May.
Since then, though, Baszler has done nothing. Most weeks, she isn't even competing on Raw. This week, she was on Main Event—the show WWE doesn't even have listed on its own website.
Ripley, who beat Baszler for the NXT Women's Championship in December, was on a hot streak heading into 2020 but WWE managed to mess that up, too.
With immense bravado, the Australian challenged Flair to a title fight at WrestleMania, only to lose and then take a month or so off.
Just like that, The Queen beat the best NXT had to offer (including Bianca Belair en route to The Show of Shows) just so she could check off winning the Royal Rumble and another NXT title.
Was the idea to put Flair on NXT for a ratings bump? If so, that failed. It certainly wasn't a plan to make Baszler or Ripley look good, as they look worse now than in December.
Flair then dropped the title to Io Shirai at TakeOver: In Your House...with Ripley taking the pin.
Triple H addressed this criticism on the post-event call (h/t Wrestling Inc's Raj Giri): "For me, it's part of the long-term storytelling."
He specified that happened "for a very specific reason, for storytelling purposes. Hopefully, if we get to tell the story the way we want to over the coming months, three or four months from now, you'll go 'I know exactly why they did the finish they did.'"
It's been a month, and the clock is ticking for proof this isn't just the same as The Game's hyperbole for Strowman replacing Reigns.
In retrospect, Baszler should have beaten Lynch at WrestleMania after winning the Royal Rumble and Ripley should have beaten Flair. At least then, two of NXT's finest would not have lost their shine.
Otis Wins Money in the Bank but Then Loses All His Momentum
Otis had a great story for WrestleMania 36 in April when he fought with Dolph Ziggler and Sonya Deville over the affections of Mandy Rose, ultimately coming out of the feud with the win and the girl.
WWE then took the lovable midcarder and had him skip several levels straight into the main event scene when he won the Money in the Bank briefcase the following month.
It was a gag. He was the least serious competitor of the bunch and the lack of follow-up since then proves it wasn't worth the laugh.
Ziggler went off to Raw where he's challenging for the WWE Championship, while Rose and Deville are back to feuding again on SmackDown.
Otis isn't playing into the Fire & Desire storyline anymore. In fact, he's been doing a whole lot of nothing. He isn't in a proper feud and hasn't been made to look like a credible threat to Braun Strowman or any other titleholder.
He's just there—when he's booked at all—holding the briefcase and reminding everyone that he and Rose are a thing. There's no story or direction, and it seems WWE has no idea what to do with his character.
Why give him the briefcase if there were no plans to use him?
Couldn't he at least be on a quest to prove he's not a bumbling idiot and try to legitimize himself by feuding with Cesaro, Shinsuke Nakamura, King Corbin and others? That way, he could start building up to the point where people would believe he might win a major title.
At the very least, why isn't he squashing guys like Mojo Rawley to look strong, or feuding with Heavy Machinery teammate Tucker over his lack of concentration on the tag team scene?
All too often, WWE thinks holding the briefcase saves a Superstar from losing momentum even if they're poorly booked. Every time that happens, the company is proved wrong and never seems to learn its lesson.
Just ask Damien Sandow, who jobbed out for over 100 days before failing with his cash-in.
Former WWE Creative writer Kevin Eck told Sporting News that Vince McMahon thought the contract kept Sandow safe, only to later regret giving him the briefcase after he no longer saw him as world title material—something the company was directly responsible for causing.
Otis is heading down that same path and proving The Miz and John Morrison were right to say he never should have had the briefcase to begin with and WWE should have gone with someone like AJ Styles instead.
Here's hoping Otis is able to bounce back from this and manages to save his career trajectory from a downward spiral.
Liv Morgan, Lana, Bobby Lashley and Rusev
For months, Liv Morgan seemed to be on the verge of a WWE return with a refreshed character fans could take more seriously.
She eventually came back in January when she ruined Lana's wedding to Bobby Lashley by alluding to a love affair she had had with the bride.
Morgan and Rusev teamed up against Lana and Lashley here and there with little chemistry or direction for this horrible angle. It stretched on and on with no purpose, only to be dropped like a ton of bricks.
Morgan seemed poised to feud with Ruby Riott and Sarah Logan, possibly for a Triple Threat match at WrestleMania 36, but instead had a random match with Natalya on the kickoff show that meant nothing.
Morgan is now trying to find herself for a third time in a year, with all the signs suggesting it's going to lead to nothing more than a reunion with Riott.
Rusev and Logan are gone from WWE, while Lashley has cut his ties with Lana and upgraded to MVP as his manager. Lana is struggling to start a new partnership with Natalya, and Morgan is heading straight toward being back to what she was the past few years.
No one came out of this storyline with credit, and it went on far too long before WWE realized it was a failure.
Rob Gronkowski Signs WWE Contract Just to Do Nothing
When it was announced Rob Gronkowski had signed with WWE to wrestle, it felt like a win for the company.
As a popular mainstream sports star, the NFL icon could draw in new fans, more viewers, bigger ratings and much-needed media coverage. Sadly, nothing came out of it.
Gronk and his buddy, Mojo Rawley, had some laughs at King Corbin's expense, which didn't even set up a match for WrestleMania 36.
After hosting a show in front of nobody, the former New England Patriots star won the 24/7 Championship and then sat at home for weeks with the belt.
Gronkowski is currently the longest-reigning champion because WWE had no means of using him for roughly 60 days until R-Truth won the belt back.
All of this meant nothing. Admittedly, this isn't all WWE's fault. Gronkowski likely would have made a bigger impact had WrestleMania taken place at Raymond James Stadium and the rest of the year played out the way it was supposed to.
But this just goes to show how WWE can't always deliver on its promises and the falls are even worse when the hype is at its greatest.
Near-Backfire Still to Be Resolved: Jordan Devlin Wins Cruiserweight Title
Rounding out this list, let's address a booking decision that backfired but WWE still managed to mitigate some of the fallout.
Jordan Devlin beat Angel Garza for the NXT Cruiserweight Championship at Worlds Collide in January. This allowed the latter to move up to the Raw roster while the former was primed for a run as champion.
Unfortunately, Devlin is currently on the shelf unable to compete due to travel restrictions and has been named in the recent #SpeakingOut allegations.
While those matters are being dealt with, WWE has at least managed to circumvent the title situation.
The mass release of employees on April 15 included Drake Maverick, but he continued to feature in the tournament to crown an interim champion.
His story was easily the crux of the story and the driving force to get invested.
This, along with his passionate Twitter video about his release, effectively saved his job and earned him a new NXT contract. He didn't win the title, but his livelihood has remained in tact.
Also, this has resulted in a massive push for Santos Escobar, who managed to debut as El Hijo del Fantasma, score major babyface points, turn heel, start a new stable and capture the championship all in the process of replacing Devlin.
While he's still referred to as the interim champion, he has far more value associated with the title than Devlin did before the pandemic changed plans.
It's unclear how Devlin's situation will go, but at least for Maverick, Escobar and the title, WWE got lucky.
Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.