It could be argued that the most well known example of the numbered or chaptered match in the WWF or WWE, is the rivalry between The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Although they crossed paths week after week, their three Wrestlemania matches marked important occasions, and are reflected upon as Rock vs Austin, I, II and III, with the first and last taking place four years apart. This was helped along especially during the Attitude Era by the sheer chaos that live shows presented. They were regularly in each other’s company, but their Wrestlemania matches were promoted throughout these periods as of massive importance. On RAW and Smackdown, they would have ‘a match’. At a ‘Big Four’ pay-per-view, they would have ‘THE match’.
In spite of just how eagerly anticipated the Reigns vs Ambrose vs Rollins match was at Battleground, it was Sami Zayn vs Kevin Owens that stole the show with their emotional grudge match. The emotion, quality and importance has led it to be known as “Zayn vs Owens II”, or “Zayn vs Owens IV” if including their NXT TakeOver matches. Of course, WWE have brilliantly made a point of their connection stemming from many years before they arrived at NXT, but as far as fans are concerned, their rivalry has noteworthy bullet points marking the steps in the saga.
It is a dying tradition, that needs to be revived.
So, what prevents this from working as often as it should? One of the most infuriating problems that WWE bookings have faced is the fact that there are too few long-term feuds. John Cena may have been one of the faces of the company for many years, and his brilliant US Championship Open Challenge segment on Raw was brilliant, yet he has not had a feud longer than four pay-per-views since the departure of CM Punk. It is overly formulaic – victimise Cena over the course of three months, and make sure that Cena wins at least the final match, something seen in feuds in recent memory with Rusev, Kevin Owens and Bray Wyatt.
The issue arises here that each of these matches can be numbered and differentiated, especially if under different rules (for example John Cena vs Bray Wyatt III was a brilliant Last Man Standing match, but even the feud’s closure does not seem important enough. The last Cena match that felt monumental in the sense of marking change was the often derided ‘Twice in a Lifetime’ match at Wrestlemania XXIX – Cena vs The Rock II. That number should mark a turning point.
There are some ongoing dark clouds hanging over long term feuds meaning that such moments are almost inevitable. First of all, there will be a Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar II. Although the original booking of this match was criticized very loudly by many crowds, ‘Reigns vs Lesnar I’ was acclaimed. Although Reigns has shockingly lost in recent weeks (pinned at Battleground by Ambrose, and pinned at Money in the Bank by Rollins, both cleanly), there is no way that Reigns and Lesnar will not find each other in a singles match. Considering how elusive Lesnar appearances, there is no way that it won’t happen at a top-tier PPV.
There will also certainly be a Roman Reigns vs Dean Ambrose vs Seth Rollins II. The Shield’s first Triple Threat Match may have been a massive deal, especially considering its crowd-pleasing result. After all, it is a match-up that viewers have predicted would happen at both WrestleMania 31 and WrestleMania 32. It finally materialised at the lower tier PPV of Battleground, and there is little doubt that fans will see a “Shield Match II” with a year. Besides their connections, this is very easy to book. We have already seen Ambrose take a championship with him to SmackDown. The possibility of an ‘undisputed champion’ as Raw‘s Reigns and Rollins battle for Ambrose’s title could be booked today if WWE so wished.
These are obvious, but which lower feuds on the bill really need such recognition? Having cheered up Battleground as they teamed up, and one became Women’s Champion the following night, both treated as big deals, then Sasha Banks vs Bayley III needs to be treated as a massive deal. It is unfathomably eagerly anticipated. Even UpUpDownDown went out of the way to call their match on Mortal Kombat “Banks vs Bayley III”. However, with Sasha Banks already Women’s Champion, the purpose of a feud is in danger of becoming exhausted. This is another feud that needs their past dwelled upon – a heel Sasha Banks making a point of not losing her role as Women’s Champion be lost to Bayley once again. Revenge. Unfortunately, we have seen another rehash on Raw, of a classic women’s match (Sasha Banks vs Becky Lynch, first happening at TakeOver: Unstoppable) pass without much fuss and no revival of their feud. This shouldn’t happen again if their clash is to be considered important, and a continuation of their long-term rocky friendship/rivalry.
On the subject of the women, a Four Horsewomen II match that is actually fitting for being the occasion where Banks and Bayley have their next falling out. One match often considered the beginning of the Women’s Revolution was Charlotte vs Becky Lynch vs Sasha Banks vs Bayley, which showed off in fifteen minutes more talent than the main roster booking allowed in months. This is ideal for a Number One Contenders match and easy to increase hype as it requires that wrestlers from Raw and SmackDown be brought together, meaning that this match can’t pass without good reason. Unfortunately, the likelihood is debatable as WWE’s fixation on the Women’s Revolution ends, and there might not be much reason to bring these four women in particular together. If it doesn’t happen at the ‘Big Four’ PPV that follows Bayley’s permanent arrival, it might not happen at all.
This curiously, having not been separated by the brand draft, is a formula that has been very much followed as of late for Zayn and Owens, as they have regularly brawled backstage, appeared in multi-man matches together, amidst madness. When the two were finally alone to compete, one-on-one, the importance of the match was already emphasised. Ironically, considering the state of this feud, it is at this time that they should be spending an extended period apart, until at least one of the combatants has something big at stake. Then an eventual Sami Zayn vs Kevin Owens III can take place as one chapter ends, and the next begins. Hopefully division of wrestlers with the brand draft will make eventual collisions much more eagerly awaited.