WWE Payback 2020 firmly entrenched Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman as heels while solidifying Bray … [+] Wyatt as a fan favorite. (Credit: Ron ElkmanSports Imagery/Getty Images)
WWE Payback 2020 continued the shocking changes made to the top of the card on SmackDown after Roman Reigns surprisingly returned at SummerSlam.
It was barely a week ago that “The Big Dog” made his triumphant and unexpected return to WWE after missing more than five months of action due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and yet, he is already the new villainous Universal Champion after defeating Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman in a No Holds Barred Triple Threat match at Payback. Reigns winning the Universal title a mere seven days after returning is less surprising than the way SmackDown’s main event scene has been flipped upside down in a one-week span.
According to a report from PWInsider.com, WWE has indeed turned Reigns heel and Wyatt babyface, but that’s not all, as Strowman has moved to the dark side as well: “PWInsider.com can confirm that going forward, the plans are to push Reigns as the top heel on the Smackdown brand…With Braun Strowman also recently turning heel (which as of this week, is planned to be a permanent role for Strowman), we are told that WWE will be using Bray Wyatt as a babyface going forward with the idea of The Fiend being the top babyface for that side of the roster.”
Over the past several months, the blue brand has really struggled to consistently produce compelling programming, in particular with the lackluster feud between Wyatt and Strowman, and that’s been reflected in the show’s poor viewership. An overall lack of star power, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and generally underwhelming booking transformed SmackDown from “the land of opportunity” to a place where mundane storylines reigned supreme.
Reigns’ return, heel turn, alignment with Paul Heyman and Universal title victory, however, have completely changed that.
With WWE no longer running weekly live events around the globe, the company achieved record profits in Q2 2020 due largely to the significant decreases in production costs. The reality that WWE is not currently producing TV shows at different locations across the country has certainly helped generate higher profits, but it’s also done something else: Given WWE the opportunity to execute storylines fans never saw coming. With no fans in attendance, WWE has been able to pull off cinematic matches and re-tape things that don’t go as planned, but its biggest advantage is that it can now risk turning a guy like Reigns because he doesn’t have to be the company’s go-to babyface at live events.
What’s more, Reigns’ heel turn—which many fans have clamored for over the course of his career—can’t be rejected by fans in attendance at live events who don’t want to see him be a villain. It’s, thus, a win-win for WWE, which doesn’t have to rely on Reigns to sell a ton of merchandise or headline shows as the cookie cutter top babyface, as the company’s merchandise sales have consistently declined in recent years anyway. So, the unfortunate circumstances created by the Covid-19 pandemic have actually resulted in WWE fans finally getting their wish of seeing Reigns perform as a bad guy for the first time in more than half a decade.
That’s a wise decision that could completely reinvigorate Reigns—and already has—as a performer and increase interest in SmackDown in general (which it did last week), and it also allows Wyatt—once WWE’s top merchandise seller as a heel—to transition to an Undertaker-like babyface role that suits him best because of the uniqueness of his character. Especially after some questionable booking decisions involving The Fiend, like his loss to Goldberg at Super ShowDown, fans have really gotten behind him as a good guy despite his obvious status as a heel, at least in part because he’s such a fantastic performer in that role.
With Reigns now a villain, WWE had an open babyface spot for the top of the card, and in the absence of Daniel Bryan, Wyatt is the clear choice for that position. Wyatt’s babyface turn has also allowed WWE to go all in on Strowman as a heel, a necessary move for “The Monster Among Men” after he floundered as SmackDown’s babyface Universal Champion. Now is the perfect time for WWE to experiment with moving its biggest stars into different roles at the top of the card, and following Reigns’ alignment with Heyman and subsequent Universal title win at Payback, WWE is quickly committing to pushing these new stars in their new roles.
This is a win-win for all involved as WWE’s biggest stars are getting some badly needed character makeovers while SmackDown’s once boring Universal Championship picture is suddenly the most entertaining thing about the show—as it should be.
I’m a contributor for the SportsMoney team at Forbes, where I’ll examine the interesting effect that sports have on business…and vice versa. I graduated from Louisiana
I’m a contributor for the SportsMoney team at Forbes, where I’ll examine the interesting effect that sports have on business…and vice versa. I graduated from Louisiana State University in 2010 with a degree in journalism and a minor in English, and during my time in Baton Rouge, I worked for Tiger Weekly, a newspaper focusing on LSU athletics. Upon graduation, I spent more than three years as a columnist for a well-known national sports Web site. Name a sport, and I’ve probably written about it at some point in my life. My goal at Forbes is to analyze the shrinking space between sports and business, and of course, to stir up the discussion. After all, what fun would sports be if no one ever talked about them?
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