Top-Down Smackdown: Set Your Goals


One of the first rules of screenwriting, once you have your protagonist and antagonist, is that the characters must have a goal. Either the antagonist wants to do something bad and the protagonist has to stop him, or the protagonist has a concrete goal that the antagonist keeps getting in the way of. At the climax of the movie, either the goal is attained, or the character seeking it is soundly defeated for the time being. Until the sequel, anyway.

Traditionally, the goals in pro-wrestling have been pretty simple:

Scenario 1 – The protagonist wants the world title. The champion is therefore the antagonist.

Scenario 2 – The protagonist wants the world title, but gets sidetracked by an antagonist standing in his way somehow.

Scenario 3 – The protagonist is betrayed by a woman or close friend, and seeks revenge.

Scenario 4 – The protagonist is targeted or picked on for some reason. Maybe they’re a patriotic American, and an evil foreigner wants their head. Maybe they’re a black wrestler, and the villain is racist. Either way, it’s pretty much a schoolyard bully scenario writ large.

There are of course other variations – the above storylines tend to be the staples of indie shows that can’t rely on week-to-week storylines – but the point is that they work. When you know what both sides want, you can emotionally invest in the outcome.

Now, let us look at how the upcoming top WrestleMania matches stack up. I think you’ll see that goals matter immensely…and immensely more than Vince McMahon realizes.

The Main Event. With Randy Orton versus Batista, the most basic goal is present. One has the title, and the other wants it. The problem is that neither of them sold us on why. Are they friends, or are they enemies? If enemies, what is their issue? How would things be different if one tattooed, meatheaded douchebag lost to another tattooed, meatheaded douchebag? If Orton’s motivation is based upon not caring what anybody thinks, why does he suddenly rely on the authority of the fans to prove that Batista is not popular?

Meanwhile, lower on the card, fans were fully invested in Daniel Bryan wanting the title. He held it briefly, and it was snatched away from him. Every obstacle was put in his way. He was told he wasn’t the right person for it. These were all relatable, and the fans bought into it, particularly because it was based on reality – for years Bryan was hailed as the best wrestler of the indies, but one who could never make it in WWE. At the last minute, WWE creative realized they had to add him into the mix. Then, perhaps also realizing that Orton and Batista had no good reasons for hating each other, they threw Triple H into the mix. His goal was also clear – punish the squabbling children and show them that if you want the job done right, you have to do it yourself. He also finally embraced the full-heel role, thanks in large part to the fact that his wife Stephanie couldn’t be a babyface if her life depended on it.

The simple fact here: Triple H versus Daniel Bryan by itself is the main event fans wanted and deserved. They can’t get out of Batista-Orton, so they awkwardly wedged the match fans do want on top of it.

John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt. Wyatt has been a major character for a year now – and I still have no god-damned idea what his goal is supposed to be. That’s a problem. He talks nonsense, acting like the kind of scenery chewing psychopath a high-school drama student imagines. His character has also been booked inconsistently. If he’s a cult leader, why was his only active recruit a guy who begged to join, then quit two weeks later? If he’s a backwoods redneck, why and how did he and his family turn pyromaniac pseudo-demon Kane into a corporate villain? If he’s pro-corporate, why attack the Shield? And what was in it for him when he attacked Cena at Elimination Chamber?

Cena has been doing his damnedest to sell their issue as all stemming from his speech that anyone wanting to be in the title picture has to come through him. Which is fine, except we’ve been given no indication whatsoever that Bray Wyatt even wants a world title. After the feud started, Wyatt threw in some token stuff about Cena being a bad role model for kids, which is really pretty dumb – fans hate Cena because they perceive him to be too kid-oriented.

With Cena not an especially interesting in-ring performer, and Wyatt thus far only as good as his opponent, this match needed clear goals. It doesn’t have them.

Brock Lesnar vs. Undertaker. Here’s one that should have happened a couple years earlier, when Lesnar and Taker threw each other nasty looks at a UFC event. None of that is being used in their current feud, which is a total waste. Instead, Undertaker arbitrarily picked a fight. Paul Heyman, bless him, has been doing like Cena and trying to justify the rivalry after the fact, bringing up Taker’s match with previous Paul Heyman Guy CM Punk. Heyman, needless to say, is a lot better at this stuff than Cena, so it’s working better. But it’s still a case of cart before the horse. What was Taker’s goal in picking the fight with Brock? What is it now? The whole angle is being sold on Heyman’s goals, and he’s such a good talker they’ve gotten away with that.

Don’t get me started on the Andre the Giant Battle Royal.

Talk back about Raw amongst yourselves, below.