WWE should use burning The Fiend at TLC as impetus for change

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Well, that’s one way to end a pay-per-view.

The image we were left with as WWE’s “Tables, Ladders and Chairs” went off the air Sunday night was Randy Orton posing after burning “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt to a crisp in the middle of the ring following his victory in the Firefly Inferno match.

It was a jarring image from a polarizing match that didn’t deserve to be the main event outside of needing to present its final scene — which clearly saw a stuffed body double and not Wyatt himself burned. WWE didn’t ring the bell to signal Orton had won after reversing the Mandible Claw and pushing Wyatt into the flames surrounding the ringside area and Alexa Bliss was nowhere to be found after months of storytelling.

Even so, the way the match ended has piqued the interest of many because this certainly wasn’t the Disney-like, PG-rated content we often get from WWE. With the ratings for “Monday Night Raw” hitting an all-time low last week, could the burning of The Fiend be a jumping-off point into some edgier content a large portion of the company’s audience has been clamoring for? The average person is more likely to show their friend a social media video of The Fiend getting burned than the amazing match between Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns.

It was also further proof The Friend isn’t like any other character in WWE. Sure, Wyatt has a backstory to every match – Orton has now burned down his house, Sister Abigail and now him. But everything with The Fiend right now is about the spectacle and little else.

First, there were the now-abandoned red lights and the giant mallet, then cinematic matches with John Cena and Braun Strowman and now fire and gasoline with Orton. The Fiend’s actual best matches and storytelling came against Daniel Bryan when Wyatt was very clearly the heel.

WWE hasn’t given the audience a reason to care about The Fiend other than to see what over-the-top thing we will see next and the visuals for this Firefly Inferno match were impressive. It’s hard to root for him because he is out to brutalize and torture his opponents mentally and physically. It’s hard to root against him because he was positioned as tweener versus Strowman. He was then the clear babyface against Orton but put the Viper in peril early in the match like a heel would do. It leaves The Fiend sitting in a very strange place.

The Fiend has been beaten, so why should anyone truly fear him? Because he keeps coming.

After the match, Wyatt posted a picture of a caterpillar inside a cocoon to Twitter with the words “Thank you” and a red circle. Maybe we get a reboot or Version No. 2 of The Fiend that is scarier and even more imposing. Maybe Wyatt becomes something else totally different, but some form of a change needs to made – even if it’s not drastic. WWE needs to pick a lane with The Fiend and stick with it going into 2021. The main event was part of a pay-per-view that was one of WWE’s best of the year.

Best in show

Reigns and Drew McIntyre continue to be the best champions WWE has had in a long time.

Anyone this version of Reigns has a program with leaves better than when they came in and that can be said for Owens. The former Universal championship re-announced himself to the main-event scene. “Fight Owns Fight” finally means something.

Owens never gave up despite the brutal beating Reigns dished out with tables, ladders and chairs and the constant interference from Jey Uso. It took a low blow on the ladder to finally allow Reigns to grab the Universal title. Owens now has a chance to be the uber babyface he was meant to be and likely have a long program with Reigns.

On the other side, McIntyre continues to overcome stacked odds and look impressive doing it – like any good babyface working from on top should. He had to fend of A.J. Styles and a lackluster Money in the Bank cash-in from The Miz to retain the WWE championship. A return date with Styles could happen or McIntyre may be moving on to Sheamus or Keith Lee.

There are credible champions in place on the women’s side as well, as Sasha Banks churned out another good match – this time against Carmella. Banks has successfully defended her SmackDown women’s championship multiple times now and is getting the run she deserves.

Bianca Belair appears to be getting slowly groomed to be a big-time challenger to Banks when we get there, but there aren’t a ton of credible ones ready to step in otherwise. Carmella could fall victim to a typical WWE trend of a returning wrestler with a new persona – and this edgier Carmella is better than her old one – or a wrestler debuting and putting them into the title picture too soon. Carmella put her finisher on Banks and got outside help and still lost. Where do you go from here?

Outside of a broken champagne bottle over The Boss, Carmella hasn’t given the audience a reason to think anything is really different about her. Her new assistant, Reginald, also feels like a fancier version of James Ellsworth.

One other thing that hasn’t changed is Charlotte Flair swooping in on other people’s title shots. The Queen, as expected, returned to take Lana’s spot as Asuka’s partner against women’s tag champs Nia Jax and Shanya Baszler. This at least made sense from the standpoint that Jax put Flair out of action in storyline back in June and the story told in the match made that clear. Flair got the pin to win the titles for her and Asuka with Ric Flair looking on backstage.

The victory makes Flair the only person to win six different women’s championships in WWE and sets her up for a potentially fun buddy storyline with Asuka. While it stunk this opportunity was taken away from Lana, the WWE’s women’s division is better when Flair is around.

Gold standard

The Hurt Business now holds a lot of gold and is even more legitimized after Cedric Alexander and Shelton Benjamin defeated Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods for the Raw tag team championships. Leader Bobby Lashley is currently the United States champion. There is potential for a rift as Alexander tagged himself in to score the pin.

Big E will get an Intercontinental championship match against Sami Zayn this week on “Friday Night SmackDown.”

Biggest Winner: Kevin Owens

Biggest Loser: Carmella

Best match: Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens

Grade: A-

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