By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – June 24, 2019
Last night at WWE Stomping Grounds – a show much maligned in advance for ticket woes and basically retreads of mediocre matches from the past two months – Vince McMahon managed to allow much of his talent to take center stage in a heavy in-ring show that dispensed with much of the fluff and “sports entertaining” that has led to the current product malaise. That’s not to say there wasn’t some eye-roll WWE material in there, most notably in the final hour of the show, but the undercard was filled with bouts that exceeded expectations and provided a glimmer of hope for what could be.
We’ve had this feeling before, we often get the tingling sensation around WrestleMania every year, and by the end of April, it’s been replaced with either apathy or anger. However, one match last night that came about following virtually zero build DID have expectations based upon the quality of the two performers. One week ago on television, 30-year-old Ricochet, a high flying spot machine who oozes charisma inside the squared circle, won a five-way elimination match to earn a shot at the United States Championship, at that time held by Samoa Joe, ten years his senior.
This one mattered because it was a dream match of sorts for the hardcore fan base, featuring two incredibly gifted workers with different styles, and even better, it was a pairing we had not seen before. It’s amazing what novelty can do for interest level in a pro wrestling match. However, because it’s WWE, we had to wonder whether Vince would allow these two guys to go out and tear the house down together, or whether he would wreck it with a convoluted or unclean finish that would do nothing to enhance either the champion or the challenger.
The answer to that question was refreshing. McMahon gave the match just under 12 and a half minutes and they put on one heck of a show. It wasn’t a match of the year contender, but it told a tremendous story of Joe, a brute with a mean streak, double tough, but also with submission skills, against the high flying, scintillating young upstart (for the WWE audience that hasn’t watched NXT, PWG, NJPW, or Lucha Underground at least) with STAKES. By the time Ricochet won his first main roster title following the 630 senton off the top rope, these two had accomplished their goals. Joe dominated much of the match with his power and cutoff spots, with Ricochet selling like a madman and getting whatever he could in along the way.
The match was structured well, it was paced well, they made the most of the time allotted, and in the end, WWE got it right. Even though Joe holding the United States Championship for the rest of the year and plowing through a cavalcade of hopefuls would have worked, Vince McMahon needs STARS, and he needs them now. Last week’s RAW delivered a “we’re competing against the NBA Finals” kind of number, but there was no basketball. The series had ended the previous Thursday, so only a five percent jump from the week prior, and at that moment, these ratings became an even bigger problem than they already had been. Add to it the end of a three decade partnership in the United Kingdom with Sky Sports, who reportedly lost interest due to the numbers, and you have a company that’s trending very much in the wrong direction just a few months before SmackDown debuts on FOX television.
WWE has done not just a bad job, but an absolutely putrid job of creating new stars, and somehow an even worse job of taking developmental NXT favorites and capitalizing on the characters and ring work that made them so popular in the first place. However, at Stomping Grounds, WWE gave us a reason to think Ricochet might be different, and it really wasn’t about the victory. The old adage in pro wrestling is always true: You don’t have to GO OVER to GET OVER, provided the folks making the decisions and the candidate in question are in sync and on their games.
Following the win, WWE showed Ricochet walk back through the curtain at the gorilla position, where a handful of workers, including WWE Universal Champion Seth Rollins, multi-time WWE Women’s Champion Charlotte, and WWE COO and the man behind NXT, Triple H, were there to congratulate him. The latter embraced Ricochet, which signified to the audience that this dude means something. It also did the usual, which is make H appear to be a kingmaker, but I digress. Ricochet didn’t just win, he got the after-match rub of someone Vince wants his audience to notice and pay attention to.
Even more interesting was a brief backstage segment a little later in the evening, where Ricochet was taking promotional photos with the gold on his shoulder. He was interrupted by Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows, and one of WWE’s best, AJ Styles. There was a tease of something happening tonight on RAW, though it’s yet to be determined whether it’s a possible Club alliance or something more nefarious. My guess would be we’re building to an AJ Styles vs. Ricochet match at August’s SummerSlam event in Toronto. If indeed that’s the case and it’s given 20 minutes, it’s a surefire match of the year contender for the company.
The “Mann” (Trevor Mann) behind the gimmick has just about every tool in the arsenal to at WORST become the new version of Rey Mysterio, if not exceed that level. His work in the ring, due to uncanny balance, creativity, and athleticism, is second to none for the style he uses. He has been criticized for engaging in “spot fest” matches with no story and no psychology, but what we’ve seen as he’s matured is someone capable of altering his style, much the same way other red hot acts like Will Ospreay, Kenny Omega, and the Young Bucks have done, where they can do the crazy stuff or they can slow it down a half step and draw out the drama.
Here’s why I wrote this article. It’s not to tell you how awesome or unique Ricochet’s skill set is, because if you’re actually reading this, you already know how good he is. It’s to explain that right now, and for a short time, Vince McMahon has the opportunity to turn this guy, very much in the prime of his career, into a top babyface and maybe even a legitimate draw, because WWE’s shoddy booking hasn’t defined him down yet. He hasn’t been 50/50’d (you win this week, I win next week) to death and he feels a little special. The polish is still on him. It hasn’t been dulled.
At a time when the company’s numbers are tanking, when nobody on the shows feels important, and when competition isn’t just near, in the form of All Elite Wrestling, it’s very much HERE, why not protect THIS guy that can work with anybody, who can keep your attention when he wrestles, who looks like a million bucks, who’s likable, and who is driven like crazy to succeed? It’s even better that he’s not a behemoth. Vince doesn’t like short guys on top, but at 5’9″, his salesmanship is more believable and he’s a perfect guy to take heat from larger, meaner heels like Joe.
If there’s a flaw in his game, it’s his promo skills, but it isn’t that he can’t talk at all. As he gets more reps, he’ll get better, and he’s so good between the ropes that his work alone does much of the speaking for him. He has charisma without speaking, in much the same way, though not to the same degree as someone like Shinsuke Nakamura. Some wrestlers are so incredible in the ring that it doesn’t matter if they’re mute, but Ricochet is someone who can grow into more of a speaking role. Rey Mysterio hasn’t said much at all in his WWE career, with most of his promos cut short 30 seconds after they begin, but he’s been one of the most beloved characters of the century, even if he never rose to the John Cena level.
Ricochet is exactly what the WWE needs. After misfiring with Finn Balor, Vince McMahon simply has to find a way to get this right. Let him showcase his ridiculous talent in the ring, wow these crowds, and win a lot of matches. Give him the credibility 99.9% of your roster lacks due to your subpar storytelling, 50/50 nonsense, and planning. If he works with AJ, let him shine. He is the fresh coat of paint the promotion needs and today, there’s a window to strap a rocket to his back and let him soar to the moon. Don’t overthink it. You got this right last night.
Now, build on it.
You need this guy in this spot.
And so do we.