Sheamus vs Cesaro proved that short “best of” feuds are key to tidy booking on WWE

How on earth can one watch the same two wrestlers battle seven times in five weeks, and still want more? Whatever WWE have in mind, their booking of Cesaro and Sheamus since Summerslam has managed it, and it is a format that they need to continue with more of its roster in the mid-card.


Unless it had been for a belt, it is quite possible that Cesaro vs Sheamus might not have attracted much attention. Sheamus has not been booked well since the collapse of the League of Nations. Many have lost faith in Cesaro ever being given the chance of a position on top of the card – a total injustice considering his talent. It is a match with ‘mid-card’ written all over it, especially when nothing is at stake… in a match at Clash of Champions 2016.

That is before we even consider that this was the seventh match that these two have had in just over a month, in a “Best of 7” series. Would this be pointless? Would this just be filler as they aren’t enough things at stake for this PPV? Would this just get too repetitive? Shockingly, no. This final match between Cesaro and Sheamus stole the show. It was the match of the night.

Since RAW, we now know where this feud was heading – Mick Foley decided for some reason to set them up into a tag team. This might work fantastically at extending their feud in an interesting way, though it is obviously risky. However, whatever you think of their next step, their big Match No.7 match was fantastic for proving that WWE have a new way to effectively form feuds on the high-to-mid card – the best-of series.


Acknowledging a formula: One problem for many years has been WWE’s very contrived messiness and attempts at shock, when from the very beginning of a feud containing a top-of-the-card face, we know will last for three simultaneous PPVs, and the face will win the final battle. Run-ins and cheating are no longer a big deal. Rather than increasing heat against the heel, it is simply making matches more dull. Knowing from the beginning why they are fighting repeatedly is ideal for avoiding a collective sigh whenever there is repeated bookings, such as the many matches between Sheamus and Randy Orton.

And with a new formula, they have something new to break: To know from Day 1 that there is a larger competition, will open many other ways to surprise the audience. So long as the series doesn’t end anticlimactically, it is something new to cause to fall apart. During this series, all seven matches might have happened, but it was teased that the series was in jeopardy due to injury. It emphasised a structure that somewhere down the line is waiting to be destroyed, and if the series is long enough (as was the case in the “best of 7” – arguably too long), it can crumble only to come back around to a grand finale. The Sheamus vs Cesaro feud achieved this well, albeit predictably with Cesaro’s comeback from 3-0. However, there is now a new variable – what if not all of the matches had to be used to decide a winner? It is very rare even to see a two-out-of-three falls match end 2-0, (the last of which was fittingly Dolph Ziggler defeating Cesaro 2-0 at Hell in a Cell 2015). let alone a series of matches.

Uniting wrestling and plot (as they should be): The matches themselves were by no means much to write home about in this instance (or six instances). However some stand out to serve far more purpose than others, and not only to be yet another match to fill a small portion of three-hour episodes of RAW. While most matches hovered around the ten-minute mark, Match No.3 (above), which featured on RAW (5 September 2016) was only four-minutes long, and was there to feature as progressing plot in a far more savage manner (Cesaro had an injured back, in kayfabe, and this match was used to show his vulnerability) , which was referred back to multiple times for the rest of the series), which should be expected of a wrestling saga.

These matches gave viewers a far more wrestling-related method of progression than the standard promotional segment and backstage ambushes.


This is not to say that this was a standard wrestling match stretched to over an hour, but as a whole it followed the same formula. The match began with an aching Cesaro, and within very little time, it felt like the stage at a high-profile PPV match where nothing can keep the opponent down. However, instead of repeating finishers forever, the atmosphere of the match felt desperate. Within minutes, an aggravated Sheamus delivered multiple backbreakers in a row. Cesaro delivered a horrifying suicide dive late in the match as he landed on his head. This was their fifteen-minute version of the inevitable final five minutes of a Big Four main event.

The second half of this took this even deeper, essentially making it a finale to a finale, as the match got increasingly savage and there genuinely was a stage at which they were both resorting to unusual tactics when nothing else would work. Most notable was Cesaro’s decision to use a 619, which I thought was called brilliantly by the commentary.

Michael Cole: “Was that a 619?! Cesaro with a 619, out of Rey Mysterio’s play book! … It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective!”

Corey Graves: “If you run out of moves in your own arsenal, borrow from somebody else’s.”

Byron Saxton: “Why not? I’m sure Sheamus wasn’t expecting that!”

It was a legal equivalent of CM Punk’s famous last resort piledriver against John Cena (who later delivered his own not especially ‘pretty’ hurricanrana). The banter became increasingly brutal from both the men in the ring (“Come on you piece of crap!” – Sheamus) and the audience (Sheamus was angrily booed as he set up for the Brogue Kick. Is this how this series ends…?)

This frame of mind emphasised the importance and suspense of the match, and that much to the surprise of the audience, the last six matches began to make sense. It was a very important, deciding match. While the match ended in a ‘no contest’, it did not feel anti-climactic, as enough depth had been built with its finale-within-a-finale. The knowledge that an entertaining and big feud had ended this way added even more power to the bombshell. Something was seriously wrong, bringing more interest to whatever was coming next.


Shorter competitions: If all matches have to be used, then a shorter series (for example “best of 5” might have been a better way for progression, especially if promotional segments were used more sparingly. While it was great to see wrestling matter more to the feud than ever, it could have done with more promotional material, especially considering how RAW favours speaking a lot. SmackDown‘s ‘Talking Smack’ segment is especially good for this, as wrestlers are given ten minutes (the length of most of the Sheamus/Cesaro match in this series) to discuss their situation. The idea of official unfinished being referred to, as matches are due not simply because a heel is ranting at The Authority, has been used effectively before, as two match-of-the-year candidates were used so that Cesaro could resume his pursuit of the United States Championship after his first attempt on the US Open Challenge against Cena, was sabotaged.

More important awards at the end to justify the scale: This wasn’t acquired due to there being no victor. However, it is a matter that needs to be well considered especially on the subject of booking on Raw. If WWE are so insistent for the top title matches to always end messily, then it would be good for the No.1 Contendership feud to be far more tidy for most of its duration, so that there is structure for once at the top of the card.

A decent reason for these two being the candidates: Tournaments have been toyed with in recent times to make a point of the importance of a No.1 Contendership. The last to go by without incident was two matches, Del Rio/Ambrose, and Reigns/Owens at Survivor Series 2015, with the victors having a match of their own to end of the show, to win the title. However, in this instance, there was no reason in the plot for Cesaro and Sheamus to be bickering so officially. A tournament to decide the next step of the Contendership process would be great if this is a repeated process.

Avoid using all of the matches: This wasn’t necessary this time because it was the first series of its kind in recent memory, which needed to continue without incident, adding to future shock when other series fall apart.


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